§ Order for Second Reading read
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill gives effect to the principles set out in the White Paper "Equality for Women" which we published last September. The unequal status of women in our society is a social evil of great antiquity. Its causes arc complex and rooted deeply in tradition, custom and prejudice. Its effects create individual injustice and waste the potential talents of half our population at a time when more than ever before we need to mobilise the skills and abilities of all our citizens.
The area of unequal treatment is vast. There is inequality in employment, in training and in related matters. There is inequality in educational opportunities. There is inequality in the facilities and services which women receive as members of the public. Paradoxically, these inequalities are in some ways felt more strongly because of the very improvements which have occured since the end of the nineteenth century in the situation of women.
The combination of longer lives, younger marriages and smaller families has resulted in revolutionary changes in the lives of many women, whether as wives, mothers or workers. Today, nearly half of all married women in this country are in paid employment. Women's working lives have been transformed. Instead of work being an interlude between school and motherhood, it now increasingly tends to follow motherhood. To the physical and emotional strain of bearing children and caring for them in their early infancy have been added the demands of work in shops, offices and factories. Also, there are many women for whom paid work is not a matter of self-fulfilment but of financial necessity.
But treatment of women at work continues to be unequal and unjust. Most women do lower-grade jobs for lower rates of pay than unskilled men. They are less likely to be found in charge in 512 business or industry. Proportionately, five times as many boys as girls take up apprenticeships—and most of the girl apprentices are in hairdressing and manicure. Five times as many men attend further education establishments on day release by their employers. Fewer girls than boys go on to higher education, and the choice of subjects which they can take is narrower.
There has been surprisingly little improvement in the proportion of women in the professions since the removal of sex disqualification by Parliament as long ago as 1919. Less than one-seventh of our medical practitioners are women. Women are in a majority in the teaching profession, but, none the less, only two-fifths of our primary school head-teachers arc women. Despite the encouraging increase in the number of women trade union members, there has not been any significant improvement in the numbers who become union officials or are able to participate in union-governing bodies. There is unequal treatment, too, in the provision of goods and services, such as grants of credit or mortgage facilities or the provision of housing accommodation.
The Bill is designed to combat unfair discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity in these fields. It is, I believe, probably the most comprehensive Bill of its kind in the world. Certainly its scope is far wider than the proposals of the previous Government. The Bill before us, as those proposals did, makes sex discrimination unlawful in employment, training and related areas. But, unlike those proposals, it also applies to the educational field, to licensing bodies, to partnerships and to the provision of the general run of goods, facilities and services to the public. It also covers discriminatory advertising, victimisation and pressure to discriminate. The Bill reflects the importance which the Government attach to effective enforcement by combining the right of direct individual access to remedies with the creation of a powerful Equal Opportunities Commission to enforce the law in the public interest.
Before describing the contents of the Bill in a little greater detail I should like to explain, as I see them, both the proper rôle and the inevitable limits of legislation of this kind. There are two types of inequality which particularly 513 affect the female half of the population: first, the less favourable treatment of women than men because they are women; secondly, the handicaps which result from the past unfair treatment of women—for example, the fact that traditionally few women have been trained or recruited for a particular type of job, so that few women could at present compete for that job on genuinely equal terms with men. The first of these disadvantages is amenable to anti-discrimination legislation of the sort that we are proposing. The second requires positive action to compensate for the handicaps inherited from past discrimination.
In addition, extra demands are made on women because, in general, they carry more than their fair share of the practical responsibilities for looking after a home, children, aged relatives, and need, for example, special help to meet the demands associated with child rearing. But these are not problems to be tackled in a Bill which is concerned with discrimination, and it would be misconceived to criticise the Bill for failing to deal with a whole range of problems which are to some extent inherent in our society.
I now turn to the Bill itself, and I should explain at the outset that there are at least two important respects in which the principles upon which it is based go further than did the September White Paper, because we have been persuaded of the validity of the criticisms of the White Paper made in these respects by many women's and other organisations.
We said in the White Paper that, although it will be possible in many instances to infer a discriminatory motive from the fact that a person of one sex is treated less favourably than persons of the other sex, to understand the full meaning of unlawful discrimination it is essential not to confuse motive with effect. We have tried to avoid such confusion in the Bill, but we have also come to realise that the Bill would be too narrow if it were confined to direct and intentional discrimination. It will apply not only to intentional discrimination but also to a practice which, regardless of motive, is discriminatory in its effect on persons of one sex and cannot be shown to be justifiable.
Suppose, for example, that an employer requires would-be employees to satisfy 514 a requirement—such as a minimum height requirement—with which considerably fewer women than men are able to comply. If such a requirement is clearly justifiable in terms of the needs of the particular job that is one thing, and it may have to be accepted, but if it is not so required it will be unlawful regardless of whether or not it is intended to exclude women. An employer should be required to stop carrying on a practice which is unjustifiable and has a discriminatory effect even if the intention is not that it should be discriminatory. But he should not be penalised by damages for an effect which was not intended. He should be required to stop the practice, but lie should not have damages given against him.
The second extension of principle is that we have made provision to allow "positive" or "affirmative" action designed to help women to compete for employment opportunities on genuinely equal terms with men. The Bill will permit, and, indeed, encourage, single-sex training for women or, where relevant, for men, to take advantage of opportunities for doing work which members of that sex have not habitually done. This does not amount to what is sometimes called "reverse discrimination", where, for example, a woman is preferred for a job over a qualified man because women have traditionally been excluded from that sort of job. However, I believe that we should not be so blindly loyal to the principle of formal legal equality as to ignore the actual and practical inequalities between the sexes, still less to prohibit positive action to help men and women to compete on genuinely equal terms and to overcome an undesirable historical link. The Bill recognises the obvious fact that special steps are necessary and desirable, for example, to encourage women to apply or to become trained for jobs which traditionally have been the preserve of men.
Part I of the Bill is concerned with the definition of discrimination for the purposes of the Bill. Nothing in Part I, of itself, makes discrimination unlawful. It is only where a person discriminates in a situation dealt with subsequently in the Bill that discrimination is unlawful. In the interests of clarity and to avoid—or 515 at least to try to avoid—over-complicated language the Bill as a whole is drafted in terms of discrimination against women. But it applies, equally, to discrimination against men. This is achieved by Clause 2(1), which provides that in relation to the treatment of men the Bill should apply in the same way subject to requisite modifications and that a reference to "a woman" should read as a reference to "a man". This drafting device reflects the realities of the situation. Sex discrimination is widespread against women and rare, but not non-existent, against men. The same drafting device was adopted in the Equal Pay Act 1970, which this Bill complements.
A number of organisations asked that the Bill should make unlawful discrimination on the ground of marital status as well as on the ground of sex. The House may recall that the Lords Select Committee recommended this primarily to cope with the problem of the marriage bar in employment. Marital status is, of course, particularly important for the very many arrangements relating to family support in the social security and taxation fields. The White Paper made it clear that the Bill could not deal with social security, pensions or taxation matters. They are governed by their own legislation, and that is firmly the case. But those aspects of marital status which are properly within the scope of a Sex Discrimination Bill have been dealt with in it. Thus Clause 1(2) covers, as discrimination on the ground of sex, the position where a person treats a married man more favourably than a married woman. Clause 3 deals with discrimination in employment on the ground that a person is married, thus making a marriage bar unlawful. To go further would bring into an already fairly complicated Bill many other complications relating to trifling matters which are not directly relevant, which would not be justified and which would certainly not ease the passage of the Bill.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned taxation and other matters which cannot properly be included in the Bill. I accept what he has said about that, but is there anything he can do to set up some machinery to enable the spirit of the Bill 516 to be considered in relation to tax, pensions and other legislation by the Government Departments concerned? Is there not some way in which the initiative which lies behind the Bill could be stressed in areas such as taxation where it is relevant?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I have not ignored that and neither have my colleagues most concerned—namely, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. Of course, they fully support the spirit of the Bill. We are set in a direction in which they will move and in which there have been some moves already which have been announced since the Bill was published. I think that the hon. Gentleman and the House will appreciate that it would not have been practicable to have brought the Bill forward at this stage if it had dealt with a great range of complicated tax and social security matters involving vast sums because, although it is an important Bill it is not a money-spending Bill. It is genuinely appreciated by the Government that the Bill helps to create a climate of opinion which will create a momentum in the right direction in these different but related areas.
I turn now to Part II. Clauses 6 to 21 and Schedule 1 deal with employment. The Bill makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate either on the ground of sex or against married persons as regards the recruitment of new employees or his treatment of existing employees—for example, promotion, training, transfer and dismissal. It complements the Equal Pay Act 1970 by dealing with non-contractual aspects of employment and certain contractual matters not covered by the 1970 Act. The amendments to the Equal Pay Act are mainly clarificatory, although that may not be immediately apparent on reading them. They are designed to ensure that complaints under the Act are, as is generally assumed, limited to contractual matters. We must ensure that the broad structure of the 1970 Act, which is known to industry and which is due to come into full operation at the end of the year, is preserved.
Part II of the Bill also deals with discrimination against contract workers by trade unions, professional bodies and employers' associations and in the granting of licences or other qualifications 517 which facilitate the carrying on of a particular trade or occupation. The Bill provides that there should be no discrimination in the provision of training by the Manpower Services Commission, the Training Services Agency, industrial training boards and certain other bodies. It provides that there should be no discrimination in the provision of services by the Employment Services Agency, the local education authority careers services and employment agencies generally. We have also covered—here we have gone further than the White Paper—all kinds of partnerships and not merely professional partnerships of more than five partners.
As foreshadowed in the White Paper, the Bill contains two kinds of employment exceptions. There are specific exemptions and provision for exceptions where a person's sex is a genuine occupational qualification for a particular job. The specific exceptions include employment in the private household or in a firm of five or fewer employees. In Clause 6(3), employment for the purposes of an organised religion in Clause 19 and employment in the Armed Services in Clause 75(2). There are special provisions relating to employment in mines and quarries or as midwives in Clauses 20 and 21. Although we are not exempting midwives completely from the provisions of the Bill, employment covered by the protective legislation relating to the employment of women is exempted under Clause 43.
The criteria for judging when a person's sex is a genuine occupational requirement for a particular job are set out in Clause 7. This is inevitably a difficult drafting job, but I am quite clear that it is much better to start with a general provision against discrimination and to exempt where necessary rather than to start the other way round and to build up where it can be shown that the reverse is true. In the main the exceptions are set out in the White Paper. They cover the position where the essential nature of the job or the duties which form part of it call for authentic male or female characteristics, where there is a need to protect decency and privacy or where the job relates to certain personal services. The exceptions have, however, been further restricted by the provisions in Clause 7(4). They restrict the operation of the genuine 518 occupational qualification when an employer already has sufficient employees who are capable and reasonably available to perform the duties concerned.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)
As the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with exceptions, has he considered that there might be a need for exceptions not only as regards sex but on the ground of marital status? Has he considered whether there might be certain jobs for which it would be desirable and proper to seek an unmarried person?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I think I can conceive that this might be so. It is a point we can look at in Committee. We have to look at these questions through a pretty close sieve because it is only too easy for the position to become unacceptable. Perhaps my metaphor there is a little confused, and a fine sieve might prove a little opaque for the observance of what is happening on the other side. Perhaps I should say that we should consider these matters in relation to a closely-sieved process, because otherwise we could find that there would be too many exceptions. I do not rule out the possibility of what the hon. Member said, and this could be looked at in Committee.
Part III, Clauses 22 to 28 and Schedule 2 relate to discrimination in education. It is made unlawful for the body responsible for a school, university or other educational establishment specified in or designated under the relevant clauses to discriminate as regards admissions or other treatment of pupils. In these respects the Bill treats educational institutions, whether in the public or private sector, in the same way as other persons covered by the Bill.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Yes it does.
Clause 25 goes further, however, and in relation to the public sector imposes a positive duty on educational authorities. Local education authorities and other responsible bodies will thus be required not only to ensure that their present policies are not discriminatory—that is not to exclude a girl where a boy is admitted—but also to consider their future 519 policies on the positive principle of inviting girls to enter. The clause also applies the powers of the education Ministers to the enforcement of the legislation in the public sector of education.
As indicated in the White Paper, the Bill makes an exception for single-sex educational establishments. There are at present about 3,000 single-sex schools in England and Wales, of which about half are maintained schools. The Government think it right that parents who prefer single-sex schools should retain their freedom of choice, although we expect, and hope, that the trend towards co-education will continue and will be strengthened by the whole philosophy behind the Bill. The Bill will not, however, require an essentially single-sex establishment to go coeducational. However, the Bill enables such institutions to go co-educational, if they so wish, over a period of time which takes account of the accommodation, facilities and resources of the responsible body. The school or college may apply to the Secretary of State—or, in the case of a private sector establishment, to the Equal Opportunities Commission—for a transitional exemption order covering the period during which its character is changing. The object of this is to avoid a position in which a school can discriminate completely but loses exemption if it wishes to move gradually towards non-discrimination and, therefore, has only the choice of moving overnight or staying where it is.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
Is the Home Secretary satisfied that the Bill covers the situation in which one of these single-sex establishments has made that decision just before the Act comes into force? It would appear possible that it would then not be able to get a transitional certificate of exemption.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I will look into that matter. It would be the fault either of the concept or of the drafting if this were so because that would not be the intention. I am anxious, as I said, that the whole trend should be away from single-sex and towards co-educational institutions, but I do not believe that one should force this by means of the Bill. Equally, one should make it as easy as possible for people to move gradually but with reasonable speed in this direction.
520 Clauses 29 and 30 make it unlawful to discriminate in the provision to the public, or a section of the public, of goods, services and facilitics, and of housing accommodation. Examples of services and facilities covered by Clause 29 include loans, finance. mortgages, and facilities for recreation and entertainment. The list is similar to that in the Race Relations Act 1968. and the wording of these clauses is also similar to the wording in that Act. This has been done deliberately. It was made clear in the White Paper that the Bill is not intended to affect facilities and services provided to the members of genuinely private social clubs, or to private and personal relationships. However, I would not wish hon. Members to assume that the provisions of this Bill pre-empt the proposals for amending the Race Relations Act in the context of clubs which may emerge as a result of my current review of the race relations legislation.
Clause 32 sets out necessary exceptions. In the main these cover single-sex facilities cr services —for hospitals or other establishments for persons requiring special care, attention or supervision; situations where provision on a single-sex basis is required by religious doctrine or is the main object of a voluntary body; and situations where questions of decency and privacy arise. The exceptions for small residential accommodation follow those in the Race Relations Act.
Clause 33 makes it unlawful to publish an advertisement which could reasonably be understood to indicate an intention to do an act which is unlawful under the provisions of Parts II or III of the Bill. It will not apply unless the act referred to in the advertisement is itself unlawful. However, the publisher will not be liable if he reasonably relies upon a statement made by the advertiser that one of the exceptions applies; but the advertiser who knowingly makes a false statement commits a summary offence. Other clauses deal with discriminatory instructions, with pressure to discriminate and with cases of vicarious liability.
Part V of the Bill specifies a number of exceptions to the scope of Parts II to IV; for example for acts done in compliance with charitable instruments or existing legislation; in relation to 521 sporting activities in which by reason of physique women arc at a disadvantage to men; or, in the life assurance or similar fields, but only on the basis of reliable and relevant actuarial or other statistical data.
I now turn to the enforcement machinery and the Equal Opportunities Commission. Here again the Bill goes well beyond the previous Government's proposals, which would have given no enforcement rôle to the Equal Opportunities Commission, aid which were, in general, somewhat lacking in teeth. Also, the Bill in some respects has strengthened what was proposed in the September White Paper.
We propose to set up an Equal Opportunities Commission. The commission will be able, on its own initiative, to investigate discriminatory practices; for this purpose it will have powers to require the production of relevant information, and it will be empowered to deal with unlawful discriminatory practices by issuing "non-discrimination notices" which will require the cessation of those practices and will be enforceable by the courts by way of injunction. The commission will have power to assist individual complainants to pursue their cases, though it is our hope and intention that they would reserve this for important or significant cases and concentrate upon the strategic rôle.
The commission will have a general responsibility to oversee and advise on the working of the legislation as a whole and on related matters, such as the protective legislation governing the employment of women, for however long that continues to be necessary, and to point the way to increasing equality of opportunity between the sexes in areas not covered in the Bill.
§ Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)
Clause 46 provides that the Equal Opportunities Commission may promote research. Will it be entitled to carry out research in all fields of discrimination, including social security which, after the passage of the Bill, will be the most flagrant area of discrimination against women? Or will its research be limited only to the provisions of the Bill?
§ Mr. Jenkins
Under the proposals the commission will be entitled to carry out research into any field related to sex 522 discrimination. It will be a matter for it to consider exactly what research is carried out, but there is no statutory limitation on its ability to range widely.
The general approach to enforcement is to combine the right of direct individual access to county courts, or industrial tribunals in employment cases, with the strategic rôle of the powerful Equal Opportunities Commission, which has the responsibility and the powers to enforce the law in the public interest. Complaints about sex discrimination in employment and related matters, which may well be closely linked with complaints under other employment legislation, such as the Equal Pay Act, or in respect of industrial dismissals, will be dealt with by industrial tribunals, and the normal facilities for conciliation will be available. Other complaints will go to the courts, except that complaints related to the public sector of education are to be made in the first instance to the Education Ministers, so that they may consider using their powers of direction under the Education Acts. In three areas where the public interest rôle predominates—advertising, discriminatory instructions and pressure cases —enforcement is in the hands of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which can, if need be, obtain a court order.
The remedies available from the courts in individual cases will be damages, a declaration of rights and injunction. Industrial tribunals will be able to award compensation on the same basis as the courts can award damages, subject in their case to the limit in unfair dismissals legislation, which is currently £5,200. They will also be able to make a declaration of rights, and recommend a particular course of action. Damages and compensation, as I have already indicated, will not be available in respect of unintentional indirect discrimination.
The proposal in the White Paper that tribunals or courts should be able to make a "general finding of discrimination", which was criticised by a number of organisations as being clumsy, has been dropped in favour of a provision which enables the commission to go more readily to the courts for an injunction against persistent discriminators. That is dealt with in Clause 63.
For the purposes of helping a person who considers that she or he may have been discriminated against, a procedure 523 has been devised in Clause 66 whereby she or he may, using prescribed forms, question the respondent about the matter, and provision is made for the questions and the respondent's replies to be admissible in evidence in legal proceedings.
Part VIII deals with supplemental matters. Clause 70 gives the Secretary of State, after consulting the commission, a limited power to amend certain provisions of the Bill. The power is proposed because of the difficulty of defining in advance the exceptions to the principle of non-discrimination in this new field, where public attitudes may change over time, and where we may gain and learn from experience.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for not having raised this matter before we moved on to Part VIII. Clause 58(4), in Part VII, seems to provide for the introduction of something which, so far as I am aware, has not hitherto been well known in English law; namely, damages for injured feelings. Is the right hon. Gentleman proposing to give any direction or advice to the courts about how to interpret and measure the new concept of damages for injured feelings?
§ Mr. Stanbrookindicated dissent
§ Mr. Jenkins
As the hon. and, perhaps in the future, learned Gentleman knows, I do not have expertise or experience in the courts and the law as such. However, I believe that I am right in saying that this is not an entirely new matter for the English courts, because it applies in defamation cases. I do not envisage heavy damages, but there are circumstances in which damages for injured feelings are the only way to deal with a situation which has occurred and cannot be put right. I believe that that is the correct way to proceed in this matter.
Clause 73 gives the power to bring different parts of the Bill into operation at different times. It is my intention to bring the Bill generally into operation on 29th December 1975, the same day as the Equal Pay Act comes into full operation. However, there may be a need for 524 a grace period related to the academic year, especially as regards admission to educational establishments.
The House may have been a little surprised to see a Bill of this length and complexity. It is, I fear, more than twice as long as the Sex Discrimination Bill prepared by the Lords Select Committee two years ago. Its length and, to some extent, its complexity are partly due to a combination, for which I in no way apologise, of ambitious aims tempered by a regard for what is practical and in accord with common sense. Because it is comprehensive in its scope, we have had to define the situations in which separate or different treatment is justifiable, whether as a matter of propriety, privacy or common sense. Because individuals are to have direct access to legal remedies, we have had to specify certain guiding principles in the Bill—for example, the criteria for the genuine occupational qualification exception. The need to dovetail the provisions of the Bill with those of the Equal Pay Act has brought its own complications.
The preparation of this major piece of social legislation owes much to detailed consultations with outside bodies. I am grateful to them for the representations that they have made and for the advice that they have given us. I think that many of them will agree that we have been extremely anxious to take into account what they have said and to learn from it. It has required considerable efforts from many Government Departments. I am grateful to officials in the Home Office and other Departments for the hard and detailed work that they have done in order to bring the Bill to fruition.
It would be foolish to pretend that this or any Bill can be anything but a beginning to an attack on sex discrimination, which, perhaps because it is so deep-seated, affects not a minority, but half the population, or a small majority, and which is the most resilient of all forms of discrimination.
The Bill is a necessary pre-condition for an effective equal opportunity policy, but it is not a sufficient condition. A wide range of administrative and voluntary measures will be needed to translate the ideal of equal opportunity into practical reality. The responsibility for these wider 525 measures does not, and cannot, rest with the Government or with the legislative processes alone. It must be accepted by employers and trade unions, by commercial undertakings and the professions, by universities, colleges and schools, and by the community as a whole. It must be accompanied by a profound shift in the attitudes and actions of all of us, which the Bill can assist, but which it will not in itself secure.
The attack on discrimination must be mounted with vigour and flexibility, with persistence and with imagination. The Bill is only the first step—but a major and essential step—towards true equality for women. I commend it to the House.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
I welcome the Bill just as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) welcomed the Home Secretary's White Paper. It is a great relief to have a piece of legislation from this Government which is not directed against any particular set of people, which is not based on obsolete doctrine, and which is not totally removed from the serious problems which the country faces. It is a huge relief to find a piece of legislation which is not designed largely to undermine what the last Conservative Government did but is designed to build on what we achieved.
It may be helpful if in outlining the Opposition's attitude to the Bill I look back briefly at the Conservative record in these matters so that it may be seen how the country arrived where it is now. We put right a number of injustices to women in the application of the law. First, we passed the Guardianship Act 1973, which gave mothers equal rights with fathers to make decisions about a child's upbringing. Secondly, we stopped the distasteful practice whereby, in assessing damages awarded to a widow, the court had to assess her chances of remarriage.
Thirdly, we made a number of improvements in the arrangements for maintenance. We passed the Attachment of Earnings Act, which required husbands who were liable for maintenance payments to inform the court when they changed employment so that the maintenance order might be carried over from job to job. 526 We also enabled maintenance payments to be made by post, so avoiding time-wasting and the sometime distressing business of having to collect money from the court, and we managed to make arrangements with many other countries to prevent men from avoiding payment of maintenance by going abroad.
Fourthly, we enabled married women living apart from their husbands to have a legal domicile of their own. Fifthly, by ending the property qualification for jury service, we enabled many more women to sit on juries.
In taxation, too, the last Conservative Government introduced a number of reforms that were beneficial to women. First, in the Finance Act 1972 we introduced specially favourable arrangements concerning the liability for estate duty of surviving spouses. Secondly, we ended the situation in which some married couples paid more tax on their joint incomes than they would have paid if they were not married.
In the social services we introduced a number of benefits which were particularly helpful to women. I mention especially the attendance allowance, which helped single women or widows who devote their lives to looking after an elderly mother or father who requires a great deal of care and attention. We also closed another gap in our social security provisions by introducing a sliding-scale pension for women widowed between the ages of 40 and 50, who had previously received no pension. I think that I was the first Member to raise that point, more than 10 years ago.
Much more remains to be done, and much more would have been done by our tax credit scheme, which we regret the Government have abandoned. For a start, those proposals would provide child credits paid in cash to mothers for all children, including the first or only child. The Home Secretary knows that many divorced, separated or deserted wives have one child, and so would be helped by that reform. One-parent families would also be helped by the other possibility envisaged in our tax credit scheme, which was that a single parent looking after young children would receive the benefit of the higher married couple's credit, instead of being treated as a single person for that purpose.
527 I know that such mothers do not come within the scope of the Bill, but it is important to make the general point that there are a number of women who need help rather than wider employment opportunities, since, because of their circumstances, they are in no position to take up employment.
Towards the end of our period in office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr) produced his proposals for legislation in the document entitled" Equal Opportunities for Men and Women", in which he said:The Government has decided to introduce legislation to make unlawful discrimination in employment on grounds of sex…and to encourage the changes in attitudes which are required if women arc to obtain opportunities equal with men.We have every reason to be proud of our record. We did more in this respect than any Government of any Western European country have done during a similar period in office.
We on the Opposition benches are far from thinking that legislation in this matter is out of place. We think that it is essential. Although the law cannot by itself create new attitudes and a different atmosphere, it can help to achieve those objectives.
Despite all that has been done, we remain a man's world. Extraordinary determination, ability and hard work enable many women to succeed, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has recently conspicuously shown.
§ Mr. Gilmour
My right hon. Friend is so successful that she is unable to be here.
Nevertheless, deeply embedded feelings about what constitutes a woman's place sabotage both sexes, inuring women to discrimination as much as allowing men to perpetrate it. While social attitudes cannot be overturned by legal coercion, they can be shifted gradually as more women take their rightful place in a nondiscriminatory society. A country which considers itself just and democratic cannot afford to institutionalise prejudice against half the population, particularly when it is almost broke.
528 Legislation is necessary, because it affects the climate of opinion, but Governments do not affect that climate only by passing laws. They should affect it by setting an example. The right hon. Gentleman made that point in his White Paper, where he said in paragraph 4:There is much that the Government can do by example.There are undoubtedly some areas in which the Government are not setting an example. To use a prejudicially feminine expression, they should clean their own house first. If non-discrimination is to be imposed on everyone else, despite what the Home Secretary said this afternoon, the Government should look more urgently at their own policies on, for example, nationality, marriage, health and family law, where discrimination still lingers on.
But the most inexcusable example of the Government's failing to practise what they preach is their inactivity on the Factories Acts. There can be no justification in today's conditions, and in a Bill seeking to end discrimination, for the Government's continuing restrictions under the Factories Act 1961, and associated legislation, relating to hours of employment, including overtime, Sunday and night work, or for their perpetuating the restrictions relating to working with moving machinery. As my right hon. Friend said in paragraph 2.18 of his document, if the restrictions were continued, they wouldproduce an unsatisfactory situation affecting some two million workers across the whole range of factory employment. Factory employers could justifiably claim that it was impracticable to require them not to discriminate in favour of men for certain jobs requiring frequent night or weekend work.If women are prepared to do the job, they should be allowed to do it. What used to be discrimination in favour of women has become discrimination against them, or just plain discrimination It is illogical to continue it. After all, plenty of women, such as nurses in hospitals, do shift work at night.
The Government are creating a Catch 22 situation. An employer advertising for men to operate machines on a shift system will presumably be breaking the sex discrimination law. But if he took on women and allowed them to work the night shift he would presumably be breaking another law. The Labour 529 candidate for Crosby, Miss Hignett, on 9th August 1974 in a publication calledLabour Weekly—which I am sure the Home Secretary reads avidly every week —wrote:The midwives who wish to keep their profession for women only are to lose this right, but the big trade unions who wish to keep the nineteenth century based laws which stop women working night work and restrict the hours of overtime are to keep theirs … Why squash the midwives and defer to the big unions?Why indeed? This lacuna in the Government's proposal seems to us indefensible, and we shall aim to deal with it in Committee. For the Government to assume that private individuals will co-operate with a law whose principles are flouted by the Government which introduce it is rash indeed.
One of the most important aspects of the Bill and of the whole question of equal opportunity for men and women is education. We must get the situation right in the schools, universities. polytechnics and further education colleges. The Home Secretary gave some scarifying figures. I understand from the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of Universities that, although more boys than girls go to university, if one compares admissions with applications, a higher proportion of girls who apply are successful. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will confirm that.
I am interested in the position of medical schools in view of the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman, because I believe that many women would like to have a woman doctor. Is it true of medical schools that women applicants are more successful than men applicants in gaining admission?
We have to persuade more girls to apply for higher education, and that brings us back to opportunities at school. How are we to encourage more girls to take up, say, mathematics and science at the higher levels, and what can be done about this by teachers? The country is badly in need of engineers, scientists and technicians of all kinds, and we are unlikely to get all we need by looking solely to one sex to provide them.
I hope that the Secretary of State will assure us that he will have more discussions with those who are concerned in education in the broadest sense to further 530 the practical application of the Bill. He said enough this afternoon to show that he is aware that passing a law saying that something will or will not be so does not by itself achieve the desired aim.
If the prime requirement of a law of this kind is that the Government should set an unimpeachable example, it is scarcely less important that there should be nothing in the legislation which may bring it into contempt. That means, among other things, first, that the law should be generally seen to be workable, practicable and enforceable and, secondly, that it should not include any provision which seems ridiculous or unjustified.
We are, after all, using the law to change attitudes, and if anything in the legislation strikes ordinary people as either ridiculous or utterly misconceived attitudes will not be changed but will be reinforced. We do not want to get rid of historic anomalies only to see them succeeded by legal anomalies created by an enormous legal edifice which might itself soon become anomalous.
One can scarcely avoid some doubt whether the Bill as it stands is fully workable. The Government have made things as difficult as possible for themselves by producing apparently very tight criteria and then imposing them on virtually everybody. We restricted the operation of our proposals to firms with more than 25 employees. In their White Paper the Government unwisely reduced that figure to 10, and in the Bill, even more unwisely, they have reduced it to five. I imagine that it will not usually be easy to prove that employment was refused because of sexual prejudice, considering the plethora of possible evasions. How on earth in any likely circumstances could it be proved that a firm employing four men had been discriminatory in taking on a fifth?
Incidentally, Clause 7, the "genuine occupation" clause, now contains the words "authentic male characteristics", whatever they are—I hope that the hon. Lady will tell us—instead of the words in the White Paper:for reasons of physiology or authenticityThe words seem a good deal vaguer now, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will tell us why they have been substituted.
531 In Part V of the Bill the exceptions categories seem to be very narrowly drawn. Part V appears to mean that, for example, political parties are subject to the Bill. As a result, reserved places for women in these organisations will presumably become unlawful. I imagine that there will no longer be places on the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party reserved for women. If the Home Secretary has surveyed his party and come to the conclusion that its constitution is defective, few people will disagree with him, but if the constitution of the party is to be altered, surely it should be done openly and not furtively, still less by mistake.
Moreover, this would have considerable results in the Conservative Party which I should strongly deprecate. If that were so, I would strongly deprecate that the Conservative Party was not among the many organisations of the House that were consulted by the Home Office. Perhaps we were meant to be consulted but something went wrong. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will tell us the exact position and whether the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), the right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) and others are to lose their places on the National Executive Committee. Will she also tell us what will happen to the other voluntary women's organisations, such as the National Council of Women of Great Britain? Either the Bill has been badly drafted here, as in other places, or the Government apparently do not know what they are doing. I may perhaps have misread it, but I think not.
§ Mrs. Renée Short
I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman says about the composition of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, and I am touched that he is concerned about my future on it. Will he be kind enough to tell the House to which clause he is referring in his comments about political parties? Am I right in assuming that he means Clause 29?
§ Mr. Gilmour
No. What I said was that political parties did not seem to me to be excepted in Part V of the Bill and, therefore, they are included, but I am open to correction. No doubt the Under-Secretary of State will be able to reassure 532 the hon. Lady about her future on this important and friendly body.
The avoidance of the ridiculous in this sort of legislation is vital, but I fear that the Government have not avoided it. In our proposals my right hon. Friend suggested that public opinion might prefer some anomalies to be retained, and he instanced the midwives.
The Government have taken the opposite view, and they have logic on their side. But, quite apart from the contrast in their treatment of the midwives with their treatment of the powerful unions, they have misjudged the probable public attitude. I do not detect any great public pressure for the enrolment of male midwives, yet the Secretary of State for Social Services solemnly told the General Secretary of the midwives' organisation:I am convinced that despite the practical difficulties …which I readily admit, it would be wrong to rule out male midwives as a matter of principle, and that to do so would damage the reputation of the midwifery profession in the eyes of the public.If the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Social Services is capable of believing anything quite so idiotic as that, it is not surprising that the National Health Service is in quite such a mess.
That is not the end of the matter, because in the same letter the right hon. Lady gave the assurance that… in many situations chaperonage of male midwives will be necessary.At a time when the National Health Service is short of just about everything, the spectacle of male midwives trotting round Britain chaperoned by, I suppose, female midwives is not likely to reassure the country about the quality of the administration of the health service or about the good sense of our laws against sex discrimination. It may, however, confirm some people's views about the right hon. Lady.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
Will not yet another chaperone be necessary, because the patient will want one too?
§ Mr. Gilmour
I am not an expert on chaperones. I thought they had gone out of fashion. However, my hon. Friend may be right.
Clause 33 of the Bill carries a similar risk. It virtually outlaws in advertisements the use of such words as "waiter", 533 "salesgirl", "postman" or "stewardess". Surely such toying with terminology is ridiculous and misplaced. Moreover, the Bill contravenes the rule only 12 clauses later by referring in Clause 35 to "chairman" and "deputy chairman" of the Equal Opportunities Commission. If a restaurant is to be forced to advertise for a "wait person" a shop for a "sales person", and the Post Office for a "post person", surely the least the drafters of the Bill could do by way of example would be to suggest the possibility of a "chair-person". Subsequently, in Clause 66, "the person aggrieved" is referred to throughout as "he". It seems unlikely that many "he's" will be aggrieved. In any event, to ban words such as "waiter" - or "salesgirl" in advertisements can serve only to bring the Bill into ridicule.
A third piece of nonsense, in so far as I understand it—and I am afraid the Home Secretary's explanation did not help me very much, which was probably my fault—is the introduction of the concept of "unintentional discrimination". This seems to be confused and confusing, and the example given by the right hon. Gentleman confused me further. In regard to height qualification, he said that if a certain height is necessary for a job that is all right, but if it is not genuinely necessary and has the effect of discriminating against women, that would be unintentional discrimination. But it seems that in the case he gave this would be a clear case of inferred discrimination.
I do not follow the new concept of unintentional discrimination and why it is necessary. I do not know what it means. It is surely difficult enough to legislate in the arena of sensitive human relationships where intent is provable, but to obfuscate an already difficult subject by introducing this concept is regrettable and wrong. I hope that in Committee we shall look carefully at that matter. Furthermore I believe that the concept of vicarious liability should be reviewed, as also should the point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook).
I shall end as I began by Welcoming the Bill, though for the reasons I have given that welcome is not as unqualified as I would have wished. But I assure the Home Secretary that this legislation will 534 get through Committee a great deal more easily than will most of the rest of the Government's legislative programme. But we must learn lessons from similar legislation in the United Kingdom. It is difficult enough to draft clear-cut legislation for equality, as some of the highly obscure clauses in the present Bill only too clearly demonstrate, but it is no less difficult to ensure that it works.
The Equal Pay Act 1970 is consequentially amended in the present Bill, but it is instructive to see just how ineffective that piece of well-meaning legislation, passed with all-party support, in some ways has been. Now that we are nearing the end of the transitional period, we discover that the latest figures show that men are now earning on average 107.8p per hour, whereas women still earn on average only 61.2p per hour. The Equal Pay Act is ill-equipped to close these gaps and is shot through with loopholes. Let us hope that it will not be possible to say the same thing after the passing of this Bill.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Fraser)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Conservative Government did not use the powers which they possessed under the original legislation—namely, to make a 90 per cent. order during 1973 and to bring about substantial improvements during that period—rather than to save it until now to make niggling comments about this Bill?
§ Mr. Gilmour
The hon. Gentleman has got the situation wrong. We made substantial progress during our period of office. We took special pains in stages 2 and 3 of our prices and incomes legislation to see that progress towards equal pay continued. The great need is for the public to have confidence in this Bill. Although I accept the need for enforcement procedures, we want to see as much conciliation and as little litigation as possible. I think that there is a strong case for making conciliation compulsory before a case comes to court. At a later stage we shall want to examine all the powers of the Equal Opportunities Commission—a body which seems to be policewoman, prosecutor, judge, jury and even probation and after-care officer for those caught in this peculiar brand of sexual delinquency. No doubt its 535 intended rôle is strategic in the identification and elimination of discriminatory practices. But some of its powers need probing.
§ Mr. John Garrett
I am sorry to interrupt the intellectual pyrotechnics of the right hon. Gentleman's peroration, but how does he see compulsory conciliation working?
§ Mr. Gilmour
It should not be difficult. A conciliation officer could examine the matter before the case goes to court, and that is surely reasonable. If that does not work, then that will he the situation, but such a system should be tried. Surely the House would approve of the idea that it is best to conciliate if that is at all possible.
We have need to probe the powers of the commission. Clause 51 says that the commission…may require any person to furnish such written information as may be described … and may specify the time at which, and the manner and form in which, the information is to be furnished".Is this to be just one more example of the greater daily interference with people's lives by those who sometimes seem to have greater powers than the police—such as the disruptive incursions of the now-dreaded VAT men? However, I hope that that will not happen.
Our anxiety is to ensure that this is a workable piece of legislation because we think the principles behind it are right. We want to see it working well and we want it to win high public respect. But in order that this may happen much work remains to be carried out both in the Bill's remaining stages in this House and in the years to come. That certainly will be our aim.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I think the whole House will agree that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) will never have a more difficult job than he has had in making the speech that we have just heard. It must have been difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to attack a monumental Bill of this kind, an Everest of a Bill, and be compelled to pad around in the foothills talking about midwives, the avoidance of the ridiculous and 536 all the piffling details with which he had to deal. We ought to sympathise with him. The right hon. Gentleman has done his homework and knows that the proposals put forward by the previous Government were appalling. Their proposals were minimal compared with the provisions of this Bill. That is why his job today was impossibly difficult. Therefore, we should sympathise with him in his difficulty.
The right hon. Gentleman made one or two points which I should like to correct at the outset. He told my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that it was confusing and wrong to bring in a distinction between unintentional discrimination and deliberate discrimination. I believe that my right hon. Friend was correct to bring in this distinction. The Bill is concerned mainly with deliberate discrimination, but we must have some regard to unintentional discrimination. I am glad that my right hon. Friend dealt with that point.
The nub of the argument put forward by the right hon. Gentleman was contained in his phrase about preferring conciliation to litigation. We all prefer conciliation to litigation, but what has characterised their approach to sexual discrimination is the inability and reluctance of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side to use the law as a vital instrument in ending discrimination.
We know that the law cannot be used in isolation and that it will not end discrimination. The emphasis on conciliation is a striking contrast to the attitude shown by the Opposition on industrial relations, for example. They not only threatened but used legislation in industrial relations. Now, when it comes to women, the large oppressed majority, they suggest conciliation.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
Is it not just as inconsistent to oppose legislation in industrial relations, as the Labour Party does, and to support it here, as to do it the other way round? Is not the truth of the matter that we are not assisted by comparing like with unlike but are much more assisted by a constructive examination of these particular proposals?
§ Mr. Ashley
I am suggesting that legislation—legal enforcement—is necessary. 537 I agree that we must try to persuade people, if possible, so I am in favour of conciliation. The danger is that in our anxiety to emphasise the virtues of conciliation we will refuse to use the law. That would be fatal.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
I apologise for interrupting, but the hon. Gentleman has slightly misunderstood my argument. I was talking of conciliation in the context of the law and of the enforcement procedure merely as a prelude to litigation. That seems a sensible approach. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should attack it.
§ Mr. Ashley
I understand conciliation to be a necessary prelude. All I am suggesting is that it should not be regarded, as it has been by the Opposition, as the be-all and end-all on this matter.
I should like to give an example. The Disabled Persons (Employment) Act contains certain legal provisions. Any firm employing more than 20 workers is under an obligation to employ a quota of 3 per cent. of disabled people. Successive Governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been reluctant to bring pressure to bear on employers to fulfil their quotas. About 60 per cent. of employers are not fulfilling their quotas. The last thing that I want is for people to be going to the courts every few minutes, but there comes a time when the law—enforcement —must be used. Over half of this country's employers are failing to fulfil their obligations under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act. Therefore, the law should be used. I am anxious that this legislation should be used. By all means conciliate, by all means use persuasion, but let it be clear that there is a place for the use of pressure. I hope that all complainants will have access to legal aid. I recognise the difficulty of giving legal aid to everyone. I know that this is probably too difficult for the Government to handle. Nevertheless it is important to have regard to the fact that at industrial and social security tribunals most of those who are not represented fail in their applications. The reason is that they lack expert guidance and representation. If complainants could have skilled representation—preferably legal representation—I believe it would go a long way towards correcting wrongs.
538 I am glad that damages are included, because they are important. It would be inadequate simply to compensate for loss. Sex discrimination is a serious offence which should merit a serious penalty. Therefore, damages should be awarded.
I believe that the Government should publicise the provisions relating to women. The Government, having made provisions of different kinds, should not just forget about them. What kind of publicity campaign do the Government propose to mount to let women know of their new rights under the Bill, if and when it becomes an Act? This is profoundly important. There is no point in making new provisions for women's rights if women do not know what they are.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham that the Government should give a lead. They have an important rôle to play. But what sort of lead should they give? The right hon. Gentleman did not elaborate. I should like to elaborate in two ways. First, the Government should ensure that in all areas of government, the Civil Service and elsewhere, there is no discrimination. They should be active in that sphere. Secondly, the Government should carefully consider withholding contracts from firms which practise regular and serious discrimination. I refer not to the occasional incident but to serious and continual discrimination by firms. The Government should lean on firms which continue to practise discrimination.
I want to mention the need, which is behind all these provisions, to make specific provision in various ways for women. For example, there is no point in providing employment opportunities if women are unable to take advantage of them. The Government should request every employer of more than 10 workers to provide special child-minding facilities, because if a woman with children is tied to her home she will not be able to use all the rights in the world if she has them.
I hope that the Government will seriously consider that proposition. I know that all firms will not be able to provide such facilities. Small firms will experience difficulty in doing so. However, the Government should put forward a proposal and urge big firms to make 539 the necessary provision for child-minding. The Government should make a beginning. They should also ask every firm to grant paid maternity leave to all women.
This is a great Bill, although I do not believe that it provides the be-all and end-all panacea for sex discrimination.
All aspects of our society are lacking with regard to sex discrimination. Employers, trade unions, educational establishments and the professions are guilty of practising sex discrimination, which occurs equally on the shop floor and in the board room. Trade unionists are guilty of failing to fight against sex discrimination. Let there be no breast-beating by Government supporters, or by anyone else, about what we are or should be doing. We are all guilty of failing to tackle the problem.
I hope that we shall all support not only the Bill but all the other aspects requiring the ending of sex discrimination in the United Kingdom.
§ Mrs. Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not fair to point out that only men have been called in the debate? We hope that you will not be too discriminatory towards us in the future.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
This is entirely a matter for the Chair, but I assure the hon. Lady that the Chair is sympathetic.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I cannot evade the complaint of the hon. Lady the Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun), but at least I shall not incur the anathema which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) pronounced upon the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) for having found minutia with which to criticise the Bill; for I make no secret at the outset of the fact that I am opposed to it in principle.
It is an ungrateful task to oppose a piece of legislation which will certainly be wafted on to the statute book by the combined commitment of all political parties. There is a German proverb to the effect that against stupidity the Gods themselves contend in vain; but when 540 the stupidity is fashionable to boot, the frowning battlements are indeed impregnable.
Nevertheless it seems wrong that those who believe that the result of this legislation will be to disadvantage not only the community at large but those whom it is intended to assist should remain silent. It ought not to be supposed that they do not share the satisfaction, which the Home Secretary mentioned, with which we all contemplate the revolutionary improvement in the conditions and the opportunities of women during the present century. That improvement was accompanied by the removal of legal disabilities; and if there are further legal disabilities to be removed I would lend my hand, with that of anyone else, to their removal. But it was not brought about by the effort to detect discrimination and to lay it open to legal proceedings.
I go straight to the heart of the matter with a provision in the Bill which the Home Secretary described as "difficult drafting". It is indeed difficult drafting. But it is much more than that. It opens up what I believe is the fundamental question. I refer to Clause 7(2), which deals with the exceptions. There we read:Being a man is a genuine occupational qualification for a job only where—(a) the essential nature of the job calls for authentic male characteristics, so that it"—that is, the job—would be wholly different if carried out by a woman".I am not making a point of the drafting difficulties—they have already been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman—in the expression "authentic male characteristics". I wish to direct the attention of the House to the word "wholly":the essential nature of the job is such that it would be wholly different if carried out by a woman".Why is there this insistence upon all or nothing? Of course, there are jobs and functions which, if they were carried out by a woman, would be wholly different from what they are when carried out by a man. But why refuse to recognise that there is an immense gradation, infinitely subtle, of the differences in the carrying out of a whole range of jobs according to whether it is a man or a woman who does so? This depends not only upon the 541 nature of the job but upon the period of time for its performance—whether it is a matter of a short time, a year or a career which is envisaged—and varies almost invisibly with the changes in society, with the changes in qualifications and with the changes in industry.
This clause brings us face to face with the fact that the Bill is a denial of the infinite differentiation of jobs and of those best fitted to perform them, that the differentiation of sex is all-pervasive and, in relation to different jobs and functions in society, confers—now in one direction, now in the other—more or less advantage and benefit on the way in which they are performed. Yet here is a Bill which sets out to eliminate the effects of that differentiation except where it is total or absolute.
This is a defiance of reality. Indeed, the concept behind the Bill is a defiance of reality. It is impossible, even if we try to do so, by legislation to prevent these gradations and differentiations from being matched by the opportunities for employment which are provided and the remuneration which is attached to that employment.
To some extent this measure was the foreseeable next stage of the equal pay legislation, which I also attacked and opposed at the time. If we seek to impose an equal price on essentially different items, goods or services, the next stage inevitably is that we are obliged to carry on and impose duress upon those who offer and those who invite services. So this Bill is, not solely but to a considerable extent, the logical consequence of the mistake which was made in legislating for equal pay.
It is in the context of pay that one can illustrate most simply what also applies to the whole range of opportunity. It is not possible for long or over a very wide area to pay different sums for services of the same value. It is simply impossible, because if services of the same value can be obtained under a different label more cheaply, those who so obtain them will drive out of the business of providing the goods or the services those who pay more than they need for a given quality of labour or of service. It is a process which works automatically and unobtrusively—not indeed perfectly, but it has the advantage 542 that it works, and that it accommodates itself to all the changes and varieties of the real world.
Of course there are prejudiced employers, as there are prejudiced everything else. Of course an employer may say "I prefer to pay more than I need for a given factor of production." Everyone is entitled to conduct his own business to his own disadvantage; but those who do so are destined to be in a small and disappearing minority, for the simple processes of society and of the market will tend to ensure that those prosper and continue to provide services who pay the going rate for the best available factors of production. It is, therefore, a delusion to suppose in the field of pay that as between men and women there can be unequal pay for identical services.
The services which are unequally paid are themselves differentiated, either in the short term or in the long term; the payment—I am using the word "payment" in the widest sense, to include all remuneration—cannot but accommodate itself to the real long-run value of the services which are rendered.
I re-emphasise that I am not speaking as if services rendered by women were, as such, inferior to services rendered by men—this cuts both ways, as indeed the Bill specifically notes—but in any given employment it will be the services which are most apt for that employment which will be attracted into it and which will earn the highest remuneration in that application.
What applies to pay applies to the whole gamut of opportunity. It simply is not possible in a live and dynamic economy for services which can be rendered by women to be refused and rejected simply because they are offered by women. What will happen, on the contrary, is that the most apt services will be selected for the appropriate application; and sex differentiation, not only physically—which is mentioned in the Bill—but mentally, emotionally and in terms of the life cycle is such that there is bound to be a far-reaching difference in the pattern of the employment of women and the employment of men.
In short, so far as it is practicably obtainable, the object of the Bill, as of the Equal Pay Act, attains itself. I say "So far as is practicable." But then the 543 objection is raised: "Then let us go further. Let us invoke the law. Let us discover cases where, being wiser than the individual citizens and wiser than the employer, the law knows that it would have been better to employ a man or a woman but the decision has been swung the other way by prejudice. Let us, having discovered these instances, bring the panoply of the law and a commission into operation to prevent it."
§ Mr. Powell
Certainly, and I would expect the same improvement to go on as has been witnessed during the last 70 years, except probably at a faster rate.
But I shall tell the House what is going to happen. What will happen is that this Bill, in its implementation, will introduce suspicion, discord, doubt and anxiety on the part of employer and employee. Wherever it is sought to be enforced there will be the intrusion of the law and of the investigatory powers of the commission into the affairs not merely of large fiarms but of all but the smallest.
Where before there was a perfectly natural relationship founded upon common sense and on an understanding that the opportunities were adapted to the different propensities and skills which were on offer, in place of that there will be introduced discord and envy. The price that we shall pay will be the construction of a bureaucratic machine which, since it will fail—for it is bound to fail—will be driven forward with ever more force and ever more elaborations. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham was only touching the hem of the matter when he referred to the potential absurdities in attempting to control advertisements.
One cannot but be moved by the description, which the White Paper quotes from the Finer Report, of the process which has been witnessed in our lifetime:Longer life, a sex-ratio near unity, more and younger marriages and small, consciously-planned families, with fertility compressed into a narrow band of years, have resulted"—
§ Mr. Powell
"Have resulted"—the hon. Lady should notice the tense—have resulted in revolutionary alterations in women's lives as wives, as mothers and as workers.Legislation of this kind can do nothing but interfere with the realisation of that continuing process, because it is only the adaptations of society and of the economy to the new potentialities thrown up by those changes and by others like them which we cannot foresee which brings about that kind of revolution. If we attempt to do it by law and compulsion we shall destroy where we intend to create.
There is a mania today in legislation for attacking discrimination, oblivious that all life is about discrimination, because all life is about differences. This Bill is a particularly heinous example of the follies into which Governments and Parliaments are led when they give heed to this fashionable but foolish craze.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) may have many attributes, but I hope and pray that prophecy is not among those that he has already displayed.
§ Mrs. Miller
Modesty normally prevents hon. Members from claiming that. However, some points in the right hon. Gentleman's speech warrant immediate reply.
The right hon. Gentleman may be surprised to know that I sympathise with the points he has made on Clause 7. When the Government considered the White Paper, many people warned them of the dangers of definitions which could not be clearly understood and, more strongly, about exceptions which provided loopholes through which coaches and horses could be driven. A great deal of further thought and discussion is necessary on this to ensure that the real objects of the Bill are met.
I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman opposed the Equal Pay Act. I could not understand from his argument whether he objects to equal pay for the same work. In many areas of industry women work alongside men for different rates. In other areas work is clearly 545 defined as women's work and is paid at a lower rate. It is interesting to note that in New Zealand, where there has been legislation of a similar nature, this was dealt with by establishing a notional male rate which was the rate for the job. It was the value of the work done which was classified and not the sex of the worker. If we had this kind of approach, much of the right hon. Gentleman's argument would fall to the ground. If a woman is engaged on a task and if her abilities and talents are the same as those of her male fellow worker, she should have the same opportunities.
The information which the Home Secretary gave us—he touched on only a fraction of the areas of discrimination which are well known and documented —clearly showed the areas in which women are still at the gravest disadvantage. Although heartily welcoming, this legislation, we are only too well aware of the many areas, some of which the Home Secretary mentioned, which will not be covered by the Bill, such as taxation, social security and nationality.
Many women, notably those represented on women's organisations, have studied this problem and have struggled for this day for many years. They are anxious to know when these areas of our life will be catered for. The right hon. Member for Down, South seems to have forgotten that for many years an increasing number of girls have been educated alongside boys and that more and more girls have similar ambitions in their working and educational lives.
It is not just a matter of discrimination against women—something which women should be talking about. I should like to refer to an interesting report of the Junior Parlour sub-committee of Pembroke College, Cambridge. This is a male college. The young men of that college carried out a survey of the situation in Cambridge colleges which have become co-residential. They came to various important conclusions.
In the area of academic excellence they concluded that co-residential colleges enjoyed extremely high academic reputations. They attributed this to the fact that those colleges had gone co-residential. In the social sphere they asked the fellowship of their college to accept that they grew up in a social environment that did not exclude women and that, with few 546 exceptions, they would be returning in their careers to an environment which recognises women as professional equals.
They believe that in Cambridge women have been considered as a phenomenon and not a reality. They say:we believe that hitherto relationships have been too often characterised by their fragile and contrived nature… this situation will be perpetuated by a decision for our college to remain exclusively male. The absence of women in our community is to us as unnatural and abnormal as the presence of such company in colleges was felt to be 30 years ago.They conclude their interesting survey with these words:Most other reports conclude with a list of recommendations. We have only one, that the Society vote to admit women to Pembroke".They say that this is not simply because they like the pleasure of the attractive undergraduates who will be joining them but because the statistical evidence they have collected from colleges which have become co-residential in recent years encouraged them to want the competition of women working alongside them.
§ Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
I am touched by the interest the hon. Lady is showing in the university in my constituency. I do not disagree with her general approach to the Bill. I hope she will visit Cambridge and allow me to show her, at first hand, the realities of life in the university in contrast to the rather superficial judgments in the report from which she is quoting.
§ Mrs. Miller
I was given this report while visiting Cambridge and discussing the matter with a group of students, who included some of my constituents. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) referred to protective legislation. The need for this legislation is not only urgent for professional women. Women working in industry are not ready to give up protective legislation until they are satisfied with the more important changes that are necessary in employment protection. Many of the protections which apply to working women might well apply to working men to the benefit of our society.
A great many aspects of the Bill will be warmly welcomed, but there are still 547 a number of areas which warrant further and more detailed consideration. In some areas the definitions are too narrow. Clause 1(1)(b) is far too conditional It needs expanding so that it is clearly understood as it affects employment. 'Hie exceptions in the Bill are unfortunately still far too wide.
Mention has been made of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the need for a considerable number of women —if possible, an equality of women—to serve on this commission. Although the commission will have the right to undertake educational and research functions, there is provision in the Bill for charges to be made. I sincerely hope that the charges the commission imposes on anyone needing educational material and requiring research facilities will not be such that people will be precluded from using it.
In the main, the most serious discrimination occurs among those women who are least able to protect themselves, probably among those who are not organised within the trade union movement, those who are condemned, because of the inequality in education which has existed until now, to doing no more than the most menial jobs in our society. For people with this double disadvantage extra help is needed.
For this reason I regret even more the fact that even in the White Paper the idea of positive discrimination to favour women, certainly in education and training, has not been introduced. The statistics we have and the evidence which has been produced to innumerable Select Committees of this House and the other place and the Private Members' Bills which have been before this House on numerous occasions clearly show that this is so.
I hope that when the Bill gets into Committee a number of the points which I have raised, and which will no doubt be raised by other hon. Members, will be taken into account and the Bill will be amended so that it will receive a wholehearted welcome from the whole community, particularly from those women who in many cases are members of organisations which for the past century have been fighting to see legislation of this kind on the statute book.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Having listened to the extraordinary list of Conservative achievements which the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) detailed with all the verve and panache of a speaking clock, I have to admit that there is a great temptation on the part of any Liberal to draw to the attention of the House the real achievements of my party in its fight against sex discrimination. It is a proud record. I shall not take up the time of the House with that.
My right hon. and hon. Friends warmly welcome the Bill, which we think is the most comprehensive step to combat discrimination on the grounds of sex in any part of the world. We welcome the Bill for the fair deal it gives to men as much as to women. Perhaps the most villainous aspect of sex discrimination has been the old-age pension which is given to women at the age of 60 and to men at the age of 65, in spite of the well-recognised fact that women live longer than men.
We particularly welcome—and here the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham will disagree with me—the reduction in the size of companies that fall within the net of this Bill from those with 10 employees in the White Paper to those with five in the proposed legisla-tion. I do not know what research the Government have done but I think that there would be something in excess of half a million people employed in companies having a staff of five or fewer. There are dangers here, and there were greater dangers in the Conservative proposals limiting the number to 25, since it would be simple for someone to discriminate against the sexes simply by forming a single-sex subsidiary company.
It is probably the first time that justice in this country will have been dispensed according to the size of the unit in which the injustice is perpetrated. It is an unwelcome legislative breakthrough.
We welcome very much the speeding-up of the enforcement procedure of the Equal Opportunities Commission. The Minister will know that previously the commission would apply for injunctions against an employer and there would be a wait of as long as three years. Some- 549 times superannuation had taken place by the time the case came to court.
I listened carefully to what the Home Secretary said and my major criticism, also voiced by a number of hon. Members, is that nothing has been done about social benefits and taxation. The Bill properly requires an end to commercial and industrial discrimination on the grounds of sex. But while fiscal administration, over which the Government have sole control and responsibility, remains outside the scope of this legislation, employers will be legally bound to abide by this admirable measure, while the Government in the form of the Department of Health and Social Security and the Treasury will top the league of sex discriminators.
There will be a huge gap between the law by which employers will have to abide and the measures which, for instance. local education authorities are allowed to get away with. I have in mind such matters as the granting of maternity leave for married teachers but not for unmarried teachers and the inequity, in my opinion, of student grants which virtually encourage students to cohabit because if they marry the grant goes down. There are also the pension schemes which continue to discriminate against women.
It seems wrong that pensions, which after all are simply deferred wages, should give unequal benefits when equal contributions have been paid; it is even less fair that these unequal benefits should come at unequal ages. One estimate is that even with the new safeguard 2 million women will receive lower benefits than men, which is wrong and cannot have been the intention of the Government.
By the same argument, there are many instances when there will be discrimination perpetrated by Government Departments. I have in my constituency a lady doctor who pays a compulsory contribution for a pension. If she dies her husband will receive nothing. If she changed her sex, the doctor's wife would receive a substantial sum of money, as would his children. In a Government-sponsored sex discrimination measure this is an anomaly to which careful thought should be given.
There is no protection for the married person who, because of status, is treated 550 less favourably than an unmarried person of the same sex. This relates to Clause 3 and is something which must be looked at in Committee. Again, when we come to immigrants, which is the responsibility of the Home Office, the words on the form which the immigrant has to fill in state that he is welcome to this country. It says that students, business men and visitors may bring a wife or dependant. This is totally sex discriminatory.
I have in my constituency a college of further education. A Malaysian male student attending that college was given permission to bring his mother to this country yet a Burmese female student was refused permission to bring her brother. Surely "students, business persons and visitors"—as presumably it will be—ought to qualify for equal rights.
The most surprising thing about the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was that it did not refer to the fact that the Bill makes no reference to Northern Ireland. I admit that sexual discrimination is not perhaps the major problem in Northern Ireland, but sexual discrimination in the Six Counties is quite as widespread, perhaps more so, as in the rest of the United Kingdom. I urge the Home Secretary to think about extending this admirable Bill to include Northern Ireland, which is so often excluded from progressive legislation.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
Perhaps I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I hope, if the Bill goes through, that we will have somewhat similar legislation introduced by the Council for Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Powell
May I confirm that it is vary rare for Northern Ireland to escape the legislative follies that afflict Great Britain.
§ Mr. Freud
I am not very clear how the Bill will affect women's sections of political parties. I found, as did many other hon. Members, that there were clauses which were confusing, but of course the Bill is very complicated. I believe from what I have read that the illegality is vested in being an offshoot or subsidiary of an organisation, but perhaps the Under-Secretary when replying will explain just how it is. It is significant 551 that private clubs and voluntary organisations are excluded, and although they are excluded it has probably been noticed that some, like the Carlton Club, have already started accepting female members.
§ Mr. Freud
Which is discriminating, I suppose.
Finally, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and I welcome the opportunity for the time being of so calling you, and not having to refer to you as "Deputy Speakperson" —there is a modicum of nit-picking in the Bill, but I think it should be the ambition of enlightened countries to abolish the words "man" and "woman" from their legislation and substitute "person". This Bill goes a very long way in that direction and we offer our congratulations to the Home Secretary and to his advisers, presumably of both sexes, who drafted it.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)
The Sex Discrimination Bill is the most recent of a number of laws which have been designed over many years to improve the legal position of women, and like everybody else, welcome it very much indeed.
The first anti-discrimination law was passed in 1919. It was called the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act and it made it unlawful to bar women from public posts on grounds of sex. It fell to the ground simply because there was no method of enforcing it, so really it has been inoperative ever since. We have seen other Acts which have been of considerable assistance to women and which have made their lives much more bearable because of the ability to enforce the law. As we all very well know from the traumas over the past few weeks, we have, had since 1967 had an abortion law which has been of great help to very many women in this country and has strengthened their case.
We have had the Equal Pay Act, which was passed in 1970 but which will not become fully operative until 1975 and is already being evaded by a large number of employers. And we have seen a number of attempts in the past on the part of hon. Members—notably my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green 552 (Mrs. Butler) and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) —to produce Private Members' Bills, but, of course, as with most Private Members' Bills, they did not get very far.
For all these reasons, I and all my colleagues on this side of the House welcome very warmly indeed this particular Bill. It is the most comprehensive attempt ever to have been made to try to produce legislation which will get rid of the worst effects of the discrimination which we have had up to this point. It is a positive move.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) talked glibly about a number of measures which his party had passed, but his party has never produced a Bill of this sort. His party produced a White Paper which was so loosely written that one could have driven a coach and horses right through it. Indeed, a number of my hon. Friends who were members at that time did just that. But our White Paper on this subject and our Bill are very much stronger.
I am particularly glad, as are other hon. Members, to see, for example, in Clauses 1(1)(b) and 4 the extension of the definition of discrimination to include victimisation of people bringing a complaint and also unjustifiable but unintentional discrimination. This is to be warmly welcomed.
As the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) suggested a few moments ago, it is most welcome that the figure of 10 in the White Paper to indicate the size of the firms to which the law will apply has been reduced to five. Frankly, I cannot see what is so magic about five either, because there are a very large number of firms with fewer than five employees. Why should those people be left outside the law?
Clause 40 is also very helpful since it allows positive discrimination in training and recruitment where one sex has been excluded from any particular kind of work or responsibility.
These are positive attempts to combat the effects of past discrimination and they are essential if the new law is to have real effect in improving the position of women.
The Bill permits employers to organise special training courses to fit women for skilled manual work. I hope that the 553 Equal Opportunities Commission will positively encourage them to do so, because it is no use simply putting it in a Bill, its becoming a piece of legislation and the employers ignoring it, as many of them will no doubt try to do.
The Bill also allows trade unions to run special schools to encourage women to become shop stewards. This is a particularly important point. Not only do we need more women shop stewards, but in connection with this particular piece of legislation it will be necessary for women to be represented at the tribunals and before the Equal Opportunities Commission and it will be helpful to them if they have women shop stewards to whom they can go and whom they can consult.
§ Miss Richardson
Why not? It is often very much easier for women to talk to women in this particular way. I can tell the hon. Lady that very often they do not get very much good advice from men.
The hon. Member for Isle of Ely also referred to the speeding up of the enforcement procedures in the White Paper. These enforcement procedures could have taken up to three years and I am very glad to see that, as far as I can understand the clause, they will be considerably speeded up. This will help women very much.
There are some areas, however, in which I think that the Bill has uncertainties. I know that this is a very complex problem, that it is perhaps impossible to legislate absolutely for everything and that this has, therefore, resulted in a very complex Bill. I hope that we shall have an opportunity in Committee to put right some of the wording where the Bill is not well enough drawn and perhaps also to include some things which have been omitted. I should like to refer to just a few of these.
Clause 3, for example, makes it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of marital status, but that applies only where a married woman is treated less favourably than an unmarried woman. There is no protection for unmarried people who are treated less favourably than married 554 people. For example, although married women are entitled to maternity benefit, unmarried women are not. There is no valid justification for not paying maternity benefit to an unmarried woman who becomes pregnant. The law must be extended to protect single women from unfair discrimination of this type.
Much has been said about Clause 7 and the loosely-drafted phrases "genuine occupational qualification" and "authentic male characteristics". What was said in the White Paper was probably better, namely—for reasons of physiology or authenticity".I wish that that phrase had been used.
The clause goes on to talk about preserving decency and privacy, which I gather is intended to cover lavatory attendants and employees in cramped quarters. As drafted, the provision could apply to a number of other categories of people. It could apply to doctors and nurses treating patients of the other sex, to radiographers, to school matrons, to hairdressers and to dentists. The list is endless. Although I understand the intention behind the clause, I believe that it should be tidied up.
The clause will also allow employers to discriminate wherethe job needs to be held by a man because of restrictions imposed by the laws regulating the employment of women".This is doubtless put in because of the Factories Acts, but it could be used to justify an argument that because night work might be involved an employer could not take on a woman. This point should be tightened up.
I had hoped that the Bill would spell out, as the White Paper does, the criteria which will not justify exemption. The criteria in the White Paper are, first, the extra cost of employing both men and women; secondly, statistical proof that the employment of men is more advantageous because of lower absenteeism or turnover rates; thirdly, customers' or clients' prejudices; and, fourthly, exposure to physical danger or adverse working conditions. These arguments, particularly those in relation to absenteeism or turnover rates and customers' or clients' prejudices, are used more than any others to justify employing a man instead of a woman.
555 Reference has been made to the exclusion of Northern Ireland from the provisions of the Bill. We have heard from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) of the thinking behind some of those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. That leads us to wonder whether the Government were not over-persuaded by what the reaction of those people might be.
There is no reason for excluding Northern Ireland from the Bill. The question of discrimination may not be the most difficult problem facing Northern Ireland today, but discrimination exists in Northern Ireland just as it does in England, Scotland and Wales. 1 hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will tell us why Northern Ireland is not included.
Clause 32(1)(c) means, amongst other things, men's clubs. It talks of places where embarrassment might be caused to male users.at the presence of a woman".I have never been in a men's club except the House of Commons. One hears a great deal about, and even sees depicted on films, the embarrassment of elderly gentlemen when women venture through the portals of their club. I hope that clubs will be included in the Bill.
I am sorry that single-sex schools are excluded. This is a retrograde step. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked about freedom of choice. This is freedom of choice to use single-sex educational institutions only for those who have the money to pay. This does not afford any extra freedom of choice to the average man and woman.
The traditional attitudes to woman's rôle and capabilities are actively encouraged in most schools, especially in single-sex schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) referred to a study which has shown that on the whole co-educational establishments produce better academic achievements and social adaptability than single-sex institutions. The replacement of single-sex schools by co-educational institutions would be a positive anti-discriminatory measure.
There is a need to change teachers' attitudes and teachers' methods. A great 556 change muse brought about in the overall attitude to women. Although the Bill cannot cover everything, its very existence will help. Girls are positively harmed by having it suggested to them from birth—in their homes, at school and eventually at work—that their domestic and maternal rôle in life is more important and more meaningful than a career outside the home. That is how women are taught and have been taught.
It is increasingly obvious that women play, and must play in our present economic circumstances, an important rôle in supporting their families as well as giving birth to and caring for children. However, girls are pressured—in the home, at school and on television. Any hon. Member who gets out of this place often enough to watch television advertisements will know how many of them are geared to the notion that woman's place is in the home. The context in which it is put is that she is a wonderful mother, and she is shown using a particular kind of frozen food. The indoctrination of such ideas the whole time can do nothing but harm to girls and young women.
§ Miss Richardson
There is nothing wrong with associating a woman with the home. Women are in their homes, they have to be in their homes and they have homes. My argument is that if the emphasis were not almost exclusively on the home it would take its proper place and woman would have a better rôle in society and allow their talents to be offered in a way in which, because of the pressures of films, television and schools, they do not offer them at present, simply because they do not think it is the right thing to do.
It is said by the managers of industry that women cannot be persuaded to take promotion. I am not sure that that is true. Even if it were true it is understandable, because all their lives women have been led to believe that they should be in a supportive rôle. When they leave school many girls go straight to secretarial courses and then become secretaries, fulfilling a supportive rôle to decision-makers.There are very few female decision-makers in British industry.
557 Some time ago, before I became a Member of this House, I had occasion to talk to two fairly senior executives in a very large firm. I asked as a matter of interest whether they had any women in similar executive positions to their own. They told me "No, there are just not enough women in our firm who want to do that kind of work". I suggested that they should sit down and think about the women employed in the firm, and consider whether or not secretaries, clerks, those doing estimating, working computers and so on would be capable and would have benefited from a management course. They told me "No, there is only one woman who is absolutely exceptional in our firm. She is the chairman's secretary. She is absolutely marvellous. He, of course, is always in the South of France and she carries the whole of the department and, in effect, the whole of the firm". I asked them "So why is she not the chairman?" They said "That would be absolutely horrible. We cannot have a woman as chairman of a great firm like this."
This may sound like exaggeration but I beg hon. Members to believe that it is the way that British industry looks at this question today. This is one of the reasons why we want to see the introduction and passing of the Bill, which will give so much help to women, will give them a much better, far more productive rote in life and will help the country.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
There are 14 hon. Members who want to catch my eye in the next two hours. It will be very difficult if there are long speeches.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)
What an intimidating start for me! On principle, I welcome the Bill because I believe that it will give greater freedom of choice to women to pursue whatever they wish to do in life, whether it be a career or in the home. I am not one of those who sneer at the contribution that women make to the running of the home. I cannot say that solely running a home would appeal to me but women should have the right to do either and should not be hindered but should be encouraged if they wish to enter either the one or the other.
558 In some ways it is a disappointment to me that we need to have a Bill at the present time. I would have hoped that after the initial impetus in the early twentieth century things might have been left to take care of themselves. But alas! I do not believe women have fulfilled their full potential, despite the changes that have occurred in their lives through the operation of family planning and all the other matters which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who has now disappeared, mentioned in his speech. Despite that, they have still not realised that potential, and that is why we need the Bill.
We need it because women no longer just fill in on a job between leaving school and marriage and never thereafter go back. We need full opportunities because for them it is a lifetime career. Now we have the opportunity to put this right. I felt that my right hon. Friend, in speaking of what the Conservative Government had done along the road, was over-modest because he did not mention that it was a Conservative Government back in the 1950s who introduced equal pay in the non-industrial Civil Service, teaching and local government, which was a most important milestone in its day.
There are two very important reasons why we ought to release this talent. The first is that it is in the national interest to do so. We are constantly told that one of our greatest assets, though not, of course, like other raw materials we have or food, only part of which we have to import, is the talent that is possessed by the population of these islands. One half of the population is female and it is not being fully utilised. In my view, that represents a waste that we can ill afford.
Then, there is the level of the individual. I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Down, South can ever have talked to those women who have felt themselves at a disadvantage in their careers or he would know that the envy and discord which he believes will be engendered by this Bill if it becomes an Act are already there among women who feel that their talents are overlooked. We could all come forward with individual cases of women who have been overlooked, even where their talents are recognised. The hon. Lady the Member for 559 Barking (Miss Richardson) made a very good point about secretaries who are very able but never make the grade to the executive class. I can think of one or two such women within my personal acquaintance. One can produce all kinds of examples, even the woman journalist who finds great difficulty in breaking out from the women's page and getting on to something else, perhaps of wider interest.
I recognise that any Bill of this kind must, in the nature of things, have certain shortcomings. There must be occasions when it is very difficult to detect discrirnination as such. I think, for example, of instances where there is intense competition for jobs and where, perhaps, the qualifications are not specific. Looking at this close to home, one thinks of the capabilities of a woman parliamentary candidate in relation to men in competition with her. Discrimination there is something which would be very difficult to prove afterwards.
But I believe that the Bill, if it becomes an Act, will at least set standards and that it will no longer be possible to have the kind of thinking reflected in what I am assured was a statement made by a member of a Conservative selection committee less than a decade ago. The chairman announced "This, of course, is a big rural constituency. We could not expect a woman to have the physical stamina to go round at election time and address perhaps eight meetings a night, as is done in rural areas". The whole selection committee accepted that as a good argument for not having a woman candidate. That kind of argument will no longer be acceptable or accepted.
Again, I recognise that in seeking to make the Bill comprehensive it becomes complex. When I sat down to read it I was at first dismayed by its length and complexity. Obviously, at the Committee stage certain points can be clarified. Nevertheless, the general idea, to set up the principle that there shall be no discrimination and then to give the exceptions to it, was right. We can then argue over what is acceptable at the present time by way of exceptions. I have. however, some reservations about the Bill. I 560 am disappointed that it is not to deal with taxation and the social services, but I recognise that to do so would make it an even larger Bill.
I believe, nevertheless, that it is in those areas that a great deal remains to be done. I am not convinced by the argument that some things can be taken care of by other Ministers and other Acts of Parliament. If that is so, why include education in the Bill?—because that, too, can be taken care of by the Education Acts and the Ministers concerned. I suspect that the reason is quite different. There is a very great deal of money involved in these other Departments and I believe there is a reluctance to take it on board in case the financial repercussions are proved to be rather more than might be thought at first sight.
The absence of a reference to taxation particularly annoys me. Over and over again one encounters instances where women are treated unfairly. I feel that this stems from the basic mistaken idea of taxation law that two separate people should be charged as one. In the present day, with divorce rates fairly high, with separations, and with women earning in their own right, this is no longer an acceptable principle.
I am disappointed, though I understand the reason, that the Government have fought shy of any interference with church organisations. I suppose that that would have conflicted with the idea of religious freedom, but I trust that those denominations which do not accept women as priests or ministers will be shamed into thinking out their ideas again and considering whether those ideas are not wholly outdated. I know of several women who would gladly be ordained in the Church of England if it were allowed there, and I believe that they would make an excellent job of it. Certainly they could not preach a worse sermon than many ministers I have heard, and I dare say their advice would be more practical and probably less long-winded.
I have a big query about midwives, because they have succeeded in getting themselves in a tangle. There is a logical argument for saying that midwives should be exceptions and the job should be confined to women, and in a logical way one can equally argue that the job ought to 561 be open to men, but I see no reason for saying that there shall be male midwives but they must be chaperoned. It would be better to say "Let them train if they so wish", but ensure that any woman who really finds it distasteful has the option of a female to attend her. I hope that that matter can be considered again.
I now propose to deal with advertising. Much play has been made of the regulations stipulating that it will be an act of discrimination, unless there is something to counter it, if one uses the word "waiter"or postman" or "salesgirl". I think that this could be got over fairly easily if, for example, advertisements are being grouped, as they often are, in newspapers by having a general heading for the advertisements saying that all the words used can be applied equally to either sex, so that we avoid the ridiculous result of having "chairpeople" as my right hon. Friend said. Surely there could be some arrangement of that kind, in the same way as newspapers sometimes put in a disclaimer that they cannot be held responsible for any proposals made where people are asking for business partners, and so on.
I welcome the Equal Opportunities Commission, which was initially a Conservative creation and not a Labour one. I welcome, too, the fact that it has teeth. I see no difficulty in having a commission which is able to look at the situation widely and, at the same time, is able in certain circumstances to take action on its own.
The Bill will be a landmark and will, I hope, get women to think again about the position which they occupy in society, because part of the difficulty, apart from active discrimination, has been the low value that women have put upon themselves and upon their capabilities because they have been so schooled by the general expectations of society. I hope, too, that by the time we reach the end of this century we shall have got so far with equal opportunities for women that the Bill will become obsolete. That, I believe, will be the real triumph, when we no longer need such a Bill as we hope to pass tonight.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)
I agree very much with most of the general points made by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). She mentioned the problem of 562 lady journalists. Perhaps I may tell her that last night I witnessed on television a breakthrough in this field, when a lady newscaster intervieved a lady expert in the almost exclusively male field of international relations.
I should like to add my tribute to the Home Secretary and those at the Home Office who have worked with him to produce the Bill. Of all the legislation brought forward by the present Government this Bill is the most significant. It seeks to eliminate injustices which are age-oldߞin the true meaning of that overworked termߞand to undermine prejudices and attitudes which exist at the deepest levels of consciousness of us all.
But, as the Home Secretary said, one must be cautious about the impact of legislation in an area which is bound up with the most intimate relationships between the sexes. No Bill, even one more radical than the present one, could usher in a sexual Utopia. But I believe that this Bill, together with the Equal Pay Act, will be seen as a watershed from which will flow fundamental and enduring changes in the status and rôle s of women, and I hope that one day, as the hon. Lady said, the Bill will become obsolete.
There have been a number of sea changes in the status and rôle s of women in recent decades, to which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was probably referring, but he seemed to prefer a state of nature. The Second World War proved again that women can do most of the factory floor jobs that only men are supposed to be able to do. There has been a desire for a better material life, and in recent years this desire has become a necessity as women go out not to earn pin money but to help ends meet within the family.
Perhaps most important of all, there has been the sexual revolution. The introduction for women of a simple, relatively safe and cheap method of contraception has given them almost an equal right with men in deciding when and if they will have children.
All these factorsߞeconomic necessity, the Pill, the Equal Pay Act and now the Billߞwill impel growing numbers of women to come out of the kitchen and go into the office or on to the shop floor. But they will still not find full 563 equality there unless further conditions are satisfied. Some can at least be initiated under provisions of the Bill, but some, regrettably, cannot.
The first problem is what is sometimes called "poverty of aspiration". By the age of four my daughter had acquired the notion that doctors were always men and nurses were always women. We all know how this kind of attitude, even with constant parental counter-propaganda, is instilled and how difficult it is to eradicate because of the pervasive nature of these ideas in children's publications.
I have here an example of what 1 mean. It is a children's book entitled "When I grow unߞwhat will I be?" It almost amounts to an international conspiracy against women, for the idea and the illustrations were done, apparently, by an Italian, the book was originally written in French, it was printed in Romania and it is published in English here in Britain.
The characters are animals, but the message is clear. The private detective is Harry Hound, the astronomer is Hoppy the male rabbit, the cartoonist is Bert Badger, the ambassador, of course, is Sir Percy Penguin, and the mechanical shovelman is Louis Lion. There are many other examples of the jobs which could be done by women but are automatically assigned to males. The only females are Mrs. Mouse, the dressmaker, and Lily Lioness, the inevitable nurse. Even the chef is Hubert Hippo, a fact which underlines that most grotesque of inequalities. that a major feature of women's normal rôle is cooking at home but when it comes to cooking for money, when it comes to cooking as a job, it is men who have taken over the dominant rúle.
I am not singling out this quite attractively-produced book for special criticism. This is merely one of countless thousands of examples with which I am sure hon. Members are familiar, and many do it in a far more subliminal way which is far more difficult to counteract. If the Bill is to have its desired effect the Secretary of State should require the proposed Equal Opportunities Commission ߞthe formation of which and the powers which it is to have I welcomeߞas a matter of first priority to investigate the children's book publishing industry and 564 to take positive steps to encourage the production of less sexist booksߞto use the jargon. This will not be an easy job, nor a quick one, for children's books tend to mirror the most conventional images of our society.
But even if girls arrive at school with a relatively undistorted idea of the potential rôle s which they may play in life it will still be essential to ensure that such enhanced aspirations can be satisfied in the classroom. It is no use a girl believing that she can be an architect or an engineer if her teachers guide her, however gently, towards English, foreign languages and history, and an almost certain career in teaching. At the moment, three-quarters of all women with A-level qualifications work in health and education. Only 1.4 per cent. of girls reaching higher education study engineering, and they are outnumbered 35 to 1 by men.
The objectives of the Bill for equality in education will be achieved only if the Equal Opportunities Commission sees it as its job to make use of the considerable evidence in this field, to initiate further studies into our educational system. and to come forward with recommendations for altering these obvious biases. It is in this area amongst others that I believe. like my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller), that there is a case for reverse discriminationߞnamely, discrimination in favour of girls. I regret that my right hon. Friend, the Home Secretary, seems to have ruled it out in every possible case. I believe that the Government should study the possibility of making conscious efforts to encourage the recruitment of girls into traditional male spheres of study even at the expense of boys. Only in that way will the balance be righted at a reasonable pace.
I now focus on reverse discrimination. It is not a question of compelling companies to employ a statutory woman who might be under-trained, ineffective and positively injurious to the cause of equality but a case of spurring on the education and training of girls in such a manner as to enable them to take their rightful place, without fear or favour, as the equals of men in traditional male occupations.
I applaud the positive encouragement that is given in the Bill to the training 565 of women. Reverse discrimination, like charity, should begin at homeߞnamely, in the Equal Opportunities Commission itself. I urge that at least 50 per cent. of its staff be women. I know it will be argued that that, like other elements of reverse discrimination, goes against the whole spirit of the Bill, but the inequalities faced by women are so subtle and pervasive that they can be fully appreciated only by women themselves.
As has already been pointed out, it is clear that the right hon. Member for Down, South is totally unable to understand women's frustrations. If the Equal Opportunities Commission is to be a dynamic agency for change as opposed to merely research and enforcementߞof course, those are vitaly important functionsߞit must be staffed by people who feel the inequalities in the very marrow of their bones. That provision seems to be of particular importance when we recall that the cases that the commission will investigate may end up in the county courts. According to the evidence submitted to the House of Lords Select Cornmitee on an earlier anti-discrimination Bill there were 114 male judges and only one female judge.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
I suppose that is progress.
It is because of the preponderance of men in the courts and in the tribunals that I ask my right hon. Friend to look again at the very first clause of the Bill ߞClause 1(1)(a)ߞto see whether he cannot devise more generous language for judges to interpret. The clause talks of discrimination against women in circumstancesas nearly as may be resemblingthose in which a man is treated differently. But a male judge or a male-dominated tribunal might interpret that provision narrowly and might take into account quite irrelevant issues such as age. Could not a phrase like "broadly similar to" be substituted to give the Bill a far greater likelihood of generous interpretation?
Another important means of positive discrimination is by Government Departments. First, they should set their own 566 house in order. A report recently coming out of the United Nations revealed that only 7.5 per cent. of the non-clerical jobs in Whitehall are done by women. That puts Britain twenty-second on the international civil service sex equality table, just below Guatemala and a fraction above Syria. Even the presumably liberal Home Office which has fostered the Bill is not immune from this kind of discrimination.
Government Departments should insist on dealing with firms which do not discriminate. To this end the Equal Opportunities Commission should initiate studies industry by industry to establish under Clause 7 what truly is men's work. I appreciate the problems but I believe that after considerable investigation a schedule could be drawn up. Having done that, the commission should run seminars for managements, unions and workers to educate them in the ways and attitudes that apply in many firms and particularly in smaller firms. There are many such firms in my constituency. The full impact of the Bill may not be appreciated not through malevolent. anti-feminism but through ignorance. That is because small firms do not have the money, the facilities or the time to investigate what pathbreaking legislation like this should mean to them.
There are many other matters on which I should like to touch but doubtless other hon. Members will take them up. I close by referring to one aspect of discrimination which is not touched upon by the Bill but must be tackled if general equality for the sexes is to be achieved. I refer to women's double rôle s. Even today when married women work in increasing numbers it is still normal for the women to do the housework and child-caring. That is why women undertake far less shift work and often work only half-days or three-quarter days. It may be difficult for most hon. Members to focus their minds on this issue because no group of working women has a dual rôle forced on them so absolutely as do the wives of Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
Yes, of course, but very few of them. The long and peculiar hours that we work prevent anything but the most notional of burden sharing. How the situation of hon. Members' wives can 567 be changed must await investigation or possibly a change in the sitting hours of Parliament.
In the case of most of our fellow citizens there can be remedies. There should be far longer paid guaranteed maternity leave for women than appears to be envisaged under the Employment Protection Bill. There should be more flexible working hours for men and a great expansion in baby-caring facilities. There should be statutory paid time off for either parent to look after young children up to, perhaps, the age of three years. Those are the sort of measures that will be necessary to back up the Bill.
Coleridge said that the happiest marriage is that between a deaf man and a blind woman. I sometimes think that that has been the characteristic of the relationship between the sexes throughout the agesߞnamely, men being deaf to women's distress and women being blind to their own potentialities. If Rome was not built in a day surely sex discrimination will not be ended in a generation. This truly will be the hardest battle ever fought for the hearts and minds of men and women, but I believe that the Bill will be a powerful, if not the ultimate, weapon for winning that struggle.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lynda Chalker (Wallasey)
Like the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), I welcome the Bill, but I regret that after all the advance made since the turn of the century we now find it necessary to introduce legislation to give women an equal chance to live a full and complete life in the 1970s and beyond. I have always preferred voluntary agreement and conciliation to compulsion and dictatorship.
The real problem perhaps turns on the words which were skilfully manipulated by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) when he talked about "differentiate" and "discriminate". We all know that in every walk of life we have to make decisions. These demand the weighing up, on the one hand, of those things deemed to be advantageous and the weighing up, on the other hand, of those things which are deemed to be disadvantageous. In that way we discriminate. Those of us who welcome the Bill regret that we have to have legislation to 568 prevent unfair discrimination taking place from the cradle through education, employment and family life as a mother or as a member of a larger family. There has always been unfair discrimination in some respects. It is enshrined in everything we learn right at the start of our days.
If we are to talk of unfair discrimination it must be acknowledged that there is a case for widening our discussion beyond the problem of the sexes. There are many occasions in employment when discrimination is based on age and not on sex. That is something that I find regrettable. So many elderly people are prevented only because of their age from playing their full part in life when they could well do so. That is not a matter for the Bill but it is a matter that I hope the Government will consider when, as they surely will, they consider wider issues of unfair discrimination in future.
I find this legislation extremely confusing and complex. I wonder whether there is any way in which through amendment we can make it intelligible to the average employer. We have heard from other hon. Members today that the problem will occur in both small and large firms. The large firms have the capacity to deal with complex legislation, but the small firms do not. In most cases the Act is read by one person in that firm, and he is possibly without legal training. The first warning that that person gets of any infringement of the law is when he is actually infringing the law. There is no help to warn him of the steps he might take to avoid that infringement, and that is something that I have been concerned about as I have read the Bill completely twice.
When we consider complex legislation of this type we must ensure that, while we urge on firms that in every aspect of life there should be no unfair discrimination, we should also seek to do the same in our legislation. There was a humorous moment some months ago in the Committee stage of another Bill when we were discussing the problems of disabled housewives. As drafted, that Bill provided that a male disabled housewife would benefit from the non-contributory invalidity pension while a disabled female housewife would not, even though she might he doing exactly the same jobs. 569 We have there a lesson for our own legislation.
There frequently appears to be discrimination in the Civil Service, where the Government are employing more and more people. However, I do not blame the employing Departments for that, just as I do not, in many instances, blame employers where discrimination is apparent on the shop floor, in clerical posts and in junior and senior management. The answer lies in the basic education system.
I welcome the extensions in the Bill over what was contained in the White Paper last year. I am glad that the definition of discrimination will include the victimisation of people who complain. However, I would welcome clarification of the point concerning unjustifiable but unintentional discrimination. This question seems to me appropriate for amendment in Committee. We must be clear about exactly how this provision will come into force. Clarification is needed both for those of us who are down to earth and for our colleagues who survey these matters from the legal heights.
I particularly welcome the positive discrimination in favour of training and recruitment, because this deals with the lack of opportunity in education which has so stymied many women with what have always been termed "men-like" qualifications who would like to take up jobs in industry at a senior level. I welcome the speeding LID of the enforcement of the Equal Opportunities Commission on employment. It would have been ridiculous if we had had to continue to wait three years before an injunction could be made against an employer who was proved to have discriminated unfairly against a man or a woman in making an appointment.
I have certain criticisms about the Bill. Its complexity and length make it almost impossible for us to take many positive steps in the next two or three yearsߞonly perhaps in the next 10 yearsߞtowards changing the situation. I believe also that there needs to be a major effort to change people's minds rather than force the law down their throats. This could be done not only by example but by publishing the effects of not allowing 570 female manpower to be used to its full potential.
Many criticisms have been described tonight as nit-picking. Nevertheless, I beg the Minister, in addition to taking another look at the conciliation and encouragement I have referred to, to consider the definition of the genuine occupational qualification. There may have been titters about Clause 7. There may be further worries about Clause 39. But the worries on that score will be nothing compared to the time wasted in the courtsߞthe county courts, the sheriff courts, and perhaps even tribunalsߞif this matter is not rectified before this commendable Bill is enacted.
I have a major criticism which was referred to earlier this evening, and it relates to the treatment of discrimination on grounds of marital status. Clause 3 makes it unlawful to discriminate in the field of employment on grounds of marital status. However, that clause applies only where a person is treated less favourably because she is married than an unmarried person would be treated. However, an unmarried person treated less favourably than a married person has no protection under the clause. I suggest to the Minister that that is a matter appropriate for amendment.
It would also be unlawful to provide benefits for a single employee which were not also available to a married employee or to operate a "marriage bar" in employment. However, it would still be lawful to provide maternity benefits for a married woman only and to refuse the same benefits to a single woman—that is, if I read the Employment Protection Bill aright—for I am referring here to the extra maternity benefit, not the basic benefit, which is the confusison which arose earlier. This matter should be sorted out in Committee.
I must draw to the Minister's attention the fact that the Equal Pay Act still is limited in the jobs which are covered, even with amendments made by this Bill. I find that most worrying. A person in non-contractual employment is covered by the Equal Pay Act, but the new law does not cover a person serving under contractual terms of employment, and that is something which must be looked at.
There will be many enjoyable scenes in the political parties from now on. How 571 regrettable it is that there are only 28 Members of the one kind in this House and more than 600 of the other kind. This apparently is not thought to be job which the present minority are competent to do. Yet we see on both Front Benches, and in all but two of our political parties, Members of this minority who are just as able to cope with the rigours of staying up all night and returning early the next morning as the men, and very often look much better doing it.
We have heard about the pensionable age and the fact that the Bill does not cover social security, pensions or taxation. We have heard about all the things which have been left out of the Bill, and perhaps we can encourage Ministers to consider some of those matters more favourably when they are composing their amendments. It would be legislatively impossible to include many of these in the Bill, of course, but I regret that fact.
I welcome the Bill's provisions on housing. When attempting to purchase a house some years ago I sought the help of no fewer than 12 mortgage companies, all of which turned me down because I was a woman on my own, despite my salary of over£4,000 a year at that time. I was told that I would not necessarily secure a mortgage over a long period. It was as unjustifiable an argument then as it is now. I am glad that women are to be helped in that respect, especially in the sale of goods and services. It is an indignity that when a woman wishes to sign a form to purchase goods, albeit valued at only£20 for her home, she is immediately asked for the signature of her husband. If she does not happen to have one, it is her father's signature that is wanted. I have always objected to this, even when I was married. Now, thank goodness, it will no longer be possible to put women in such an invidious position.
I turn to education and jobs. At the very start of education we instil into female children the idea of limited capacity. There is no need for limitation, with our modern educational system. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Education would be fighting even harder on that score if he thought that children would be divided so exactly. Yet still we learn from an early day that it is dolls for the girls and trains for the boys.
572 It is not just in that aspect of teaching that we must accomplish changes. We must especially accomplish changes in career teaching, the standard of which is abominable at present. We fall down time and time again by not giving opportunities to both sexes to participate in what have traditionally been the rôle s of the other half.
There is no reason why a woman cannot become an engineer. I read with some interest a report from The Engineer Special Report, headedA woman's place is not in the home…which says that it is very worth while to train women, and that the highly qualified woman does just as good a job. It also says that the woman is better at staying at work. She has less absenteeism than men. Since 38 per cent. of all those who work are women, it is regrettable that only around 11 per cent. get into an engineering job.
Women are just as capable as men. From a report of the European Community on "The Employment of Women and the Problems it Raises in the Member States of the European Community", I can do no better than to quote the following:One mistake is the ludicrous system of vocational guidance which leaves unused and sterile a large part of the intellectual and active potential of women by channelling it towards the few and over-full 'feminine' occupations. There is nothing more basically feminine in roasting a joint than in drawing machines, in operating a typewriter rather than a linotype machine.That sums up the stage we have reached. I am glad that that approach is being enshrined in legislation.
In welcoming the challenge given to us by the right hon. Member for Down, South, I continue to say "Vive difference". I also say "Give us the opportunity", because that is what the Bill should do. Let us put right what is wrong with it in a formidable Committee stage, so that women have the chance to succeed just as much as men.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I add my voice gladly to the general welcome that has been given to the Bill. The only dissenting voice was that of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), although no doubt if the hon. and learned Member 573 for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there will be another discordant voice.
There have been two or three hon. Ladies sitting on the Opposition benches waiting for their opportunity to speak. I wonder where the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition is.
§ Mrs. Short
She should be gracing the Opposition Front Bench today of all days, when in International Women's Year we are introducing a Bill to end discrimination against women.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
The Leader of the Opposition is on record as being against this kind of legislation.
§ Mrs. Short
Maybe that is why she has not shown her face today, but time will tell. She is a firm believer that merit alone is sufficient to enable people to get on. She said that after she was elected. All too often the dice are loaded against women with merit. Through the generations it has been found that it is difficult for women to achieve their goal in politics, the professions, industry and the arts.
More concern is now expressed in the political parties and in the women's organisations. There has been a great upsurge of pressure from women, which I welcome. The Government realise that it is necessary to take action to redress the balance which is tilted against women. Therefore we have the Bill, which I hope will have a speedy passage through Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) said that women made a tremendous contribution to the national effort during wartime, when no job was barred to them. All sorts of facilities were made available to make it easy for them to carry out jobs in industry as well as the care of their young children. We had an enormous number of day nurseries throughout the country, practically all of which have disappeared. Only a handful are left. They have been gradually eroded since the end of the war.
We have made little progress in introducing equality, in standing up for women's rights and seeing that they have equal representation on, for example, 574 public bodies. There are only three women on the boards of the main retailing companies in Britain, yet most of these companies are largely concerned with department stores, for example, which cater largely for women with articles concerned with women's clothing, household goods and food. These firms employ large numbers of women, but few women are involved on the management side. There are only two women on the boards of the leading 1,000 companies in industry. These two women happen to be their company chairmen, or chairpersons. There is not one woman director or managing director among the top firms. Less than 2 per cent. of the membership of the Institute of Directors are women. In industry women are conspicuous by their absence in the top echelons of industry.
The Government are not setting a good example in this regard. Attention has been drawn to the fact that in the senior Civil Service jobs in Whitehall there are few women. In the Richard Crossman diaries there was mention of the Dame, who was the exception rather than the rule. I put down a Question recently to approximately 18 Ministers about the number of women they have on their lists in their Departments for nomination to boards and public bodies to which they have the power to nominate. I received the following stereotyped reply from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister:Lists of names, which include women, are drawn up whenever there is a vacancy on the public bodies and committees for which I have some responsibility. I maintain no general list of the kind which my hon. Friend has in mind." ߞ[Official Report. 17th March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 282]Fifteen Ministers gave me more or less the same reply, presumably drawn up by the same man somewhere in the Whitehall machine. Only the three woman Ministers showed any understanding of the need to find suitable women and make sure that they were put on those public bodies and boards. In our own area, where we have a great deal of influence, a great deal needs to be done.
When we look at the Board of the BBC, the British Tourist Authority, the General Medical Council, the Arts Council and the British Board of Film Censors, we see that the overwhelming majority of members are men. As the hon. Lady has just pointed out, in this House we are 575 a minority. 1 believe that we are 26 out of 635, which is a poor position.
Last December Social Trends, a document that all of us who are interested in the problem should read, produced a depressing report, saying that in spite of the Equal Pay Act, in spite of the changes that had recently taken place in people's attitudes at home and work, men were likely to take the majority of top jobs for the next 20 years at least, unless there was a considerable shift in opinion and positive discrimination. That means that women will continue to be in subordinate jobs and will be discriminated against in the top jobs.
With my Expenditure Committee, 1 examined the problems of women's employment and related problems in 1972. We found a serious position. When children are just old enough to look at picture books, the conditioning into sex rôle s begins. It is always the little girls who are helping mummy in the kitchenߞno doubt preparing for the time when they try to find their way to a man's heart through his stomachߞand it is always the boys who are doing the active, energetic things in the garden or on the car with daddy. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will take the matter on board immediately. The women in my party have been trying to persuade him for some time. He should now have discussions with the publishers of children's picture books and story books to see that this discrimination and moulding into the sex rôle s at such an early stage is eliminated and that both boys and girls are seen to be doing all these things together.
The conditioning continues throughout the school phase. At secondary school early choices must often be made by girls but not by boys of the subjects they will take for O-level, which affects the choice of subjects taken for A-level. This often means that certain jobs, careers and professions are closed to girls. It denies boys and girls a choice of not only academic subjects but the craft and practical subjects that they should have the chance to do. This also conditions the jobs they take when they leave school.
In our inquiry into employment we found that only 8 per cent. of girls took up apprenticeshipsߞand 75 per cent. of 576 them are in hairdressing. Whereas 40 per cent. of boys take up apprenticeships in industry, very few girls get such apprenticeships. The attitude of the trade unions has not helped in this regard. In the West Midlands, where my constituency is, I know how difficult it is for girls to take up apprenticeships as capstan setters, for example. It is practically impossible for them to be accepted, yet there is no reason why they should not do that job.
On leaving school 40 per cent. of girls will take clerical work, because it is regarded as suitable women's work, but only 7 per cent. of boys take such work. After 0-level and A-level, the brighter girls are steered towards nursing or teaching. That is very unadventurous. It shows no imagination at all. We have very few women civil and mechanical engineers, no women pilots and no women telecommunications experts. The reason is again the way in which girls are taught in school. Generally speaking, certainly in the single-sex girls' schools, mathematics and science are not very well taught. Those subjects are needed for the engineering, technological and technical jobs and professions that I have mentioned.
Therefore, I am disappointed that the Bill does not say that there is to be an early date for the phasing out of single-sex schools. I understand that money would be needed to turn girls' schools into mixed secondary schools, because additional facilities would have to be provided, but that is not a good enough reason to say that more generations of girls must continue to be denied the right to have the full choice of both academic and craft subjects that they should have.
One good result of the Bill will be that the restriction of entry on girls into medical schools will be ended. We must also make sure that boys' and girls' applications are treated on an equal footing and that the medical schools are not allowed to demand better A-level results of girls than they do of boys.
I very much welcome the equality to be introduced into the Government training centres, the skillcentres. Most of the courses are now geared to men's interests and jobs. Women are not encouraged to apply for training in these spheres. Let us bear in mind that a married woman with children is at a considerable 577 disadavantage in taking up any place that might be offered. This applies to women who now take commercial training in the skillcentres, the only course specifically open to women. We have only a limited number of centres through-out the country. A woman with young children has great difficulty in making the necessary arrangements for her children to be looked after while she is training. This is expensive. It adds to the cost to the family if the wife is to take up the training course place available to her. The matter needs to be considered urgently.
The changes that are to be made compared with the proposals in the White Paper are very welcome. The reduction of the exemption for small firms and partnerships from 10 employees to five is welcome, but why leave it at five? The exemptions should be eliminated altogether. The broader scope of the Bill and the definition of discrimination are also welcome.
Part II, however, seems to be lull of thorny problems. Clause 7(2) states the only cases in which being a man is a genuine occupational qualification for a job. One is(b) … to preserve decency or privacy because…(ii) the holder of the job is likely to do his work in circumstances where men might reasonably object to the presence of a woman because they are in a state of undress or are using sanitary facilities".That applies to male midwives as well, does it not? This is an anomaly that will have to be carefully considered in Committee. Clause 7(2)(d) states another case, which is thatthe nature of the establishment, or of the part of it within which the work is done, requires the job to be held by a man because—(i) it is, or is part of, a hospital, prison or other establishment".Clause 18 makes a change in the prison regulations. The words:and if women only are received in a prison the Governor shall be a womanare to be repealed. Does that mean that a woman may be governor of a men's prison? If that works one way, it should work the other way. It might be an improvement to have a woman as governor of a men's prison. It would be an interesting theory to try out.
578 I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will enlighten us as to the composition of the commission. I hope that it will not be overwhelmingly male, that it will not necessarily have a male chairman and that the chairman with not be a superannuated lawyer. Ministers on both sides of the House always look for a superannuated lawyer when they want someone to carry out a job of this sort. Let us get away from the elderly lawyer syndrome.
The House knows well that women Members do not shirk their responsibilities. They are keen to be appointed to Select Committees, especially those that are concerned with their lives and health. I hope that a considerable number of lady Members will play their part in the Committee which is set up to consider the Bill and that we shall not have a repetition of the fiasco of the membership of the Select Committee which is considering abortion. The membership of that Committee is a disaster for the women Members of the House and has caused great feeling among individual women and women's organisations outside the House.
I have no illusions that the Bill will change opinion. It will not persuade Conservative right hon. and lion. Members who are entrenched in their attitude of opposition to the Bill, neither will it change the attitude of people outside the House who oppose it. It will, however, create a better climate of opinion and help to educate the prejudiced, so that in the critical areas which affect us closely there will be a better atmosphere and we shall be able to achieve the progress for which we have been waiting for well over a century, ever since women first started campaigning for an improvement.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it not be of assistance to the House occasionally to hear the case against the Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The choice of right hon. and hon. Members who are called is entirely a matter for the Chair.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Discrimination against women on the sole ground of sex is widespread and bitterly unfair. From that it will be apparent that I strongly support the aims of the Bill. But I have to say that at the beginning of the debate I was far from convinced that legislation carrying penalties and the prospect of people being hauled before what is virtually a court would be the best way to tackle discrimination. It may be, and I am open to argument. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) weighed heavily with me. It may be that the Bill is the best way to deal with the present unfair situation, but I am not sure.
I remember a story about a one-time colleague of ours who has now been elevated to the other place, having been a Member of this Chamber for many years. Dame Irene Ward was incensed to see in the columns of The Times an advertisement for a librarian in the House of Commons which stated that men only need apply. Dame Irene put down a Question to the relevant Minister. In reply she received an unsatisfactory answer to the effect that she must understand that a librarian in the House of Commons Library would be expected to carry heavy ladders to get books down from the upper shelves.
Dame Irene threw down her Order Paper in anger, stalked out of the Chamber, went along to the Library, picked up a ladder, put it over her shoulder and came back into the Chamber, or tried to do so. The Serjeant at Arms, called upon to make a snap judgment, decided that it was an offensive weapon and would not allow her to enter the Chamber. Dame Irene stood at the Bar of the House with the ladder across her shoulders. and I am toldߞI was not here at the timeߞthat it occasioned considerable trouble, because as she turned from side to side many hon. Members were in constant danger of decapitation. She shouted "I have the ladder, and it is not too heavy". Dame Irene made her point. As we all know, we have many excellent women working in the House of Commons Library today.
I am a little worried because in matters of this kind Parliament can easily be 580 made to look silly. In America the battle of the Equal Rights Amendment rages. Some States have accepted it and others are fighting it. In America it is unacceptable to use the term "mailman", as under this Bill it would be unacceptable to use the term"postman". America, the term "male person" has to be used. It is not even permissible to say" "mailmaid" because one must not say whether the person is a man or a woman.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) referred to "chairperson". When I was speaking recently in America, I was just about to say "Mr. Chairperson" when I realised that that did not sound quite right, and simply to say "Chairperson" sounded rude.
The Americans had to search for an alternative to the normal business letter salutation of "Dear Sir I gather that "Dear You All" has been proposed. That may be redolent of Southern geniality but it is hardly conducive to an atmosphere of efficiency or formality.
Parliament must not be made to look foolish, but I detect a little foolishness in Clause 4, which states:A person discriminates against another person … if he treats the person victimised less favourably than in those circumstances he treats or would treat other persons, and does so by reason that the person Victimised has x2026; brought proceedings against him".Then there is the ridiculous part at the end of the clause:or by reason that he knows the person victimised intends to do any of those things, or suspects the person victimised has done, or intends to do, any of them.Imagine trying to put that to a court of law about a bad-tempered man. Imagine having to say "He is victimising me because he suspects I intend to do something". The law looks rather stupid in Clause 4.
Parliament might look foolish if the law dragged the whole of a constituency committee which selected a parliamentary candidate before the Equal Opportunities Commission. as might occur under Clause 6(1). I do not say that that would be altogether bad because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake said, vicious and unfair discrimination crops up in parliamentary Committees of Selection.
581 I suspect that there may be some trivialities in the Bill. Judging by Clause 6(2), it would appear that women Members of Parliament could demand a women's hairdresser to be provided in the Palace of Westminster. [Hon. MEMBERS: Hear, hear."] We know that the men already have a hairdresser in the building. I have a sensitive feeling about the pockets of the electorate. If women could demand such a facility as a hairdressing service within the building, we should either have to be charged a very great sum of money for that service, or the cost would have to be borne outside. I do not think that would be altogether fair.
§ Mrs. Colquhoun
Does not the hon. Lady know that many women Members of Parliament already use the barber in the building to have their hair washed and blow-dried?
§ Mrs. Knight
I can only say that I would not altogether recommend a woman who was particularly interested in a handsome coiffure to go downstairs to the men's hairdresser.
Clause 29(2) of the Bill will give some men-only clubs a nasty jolt, and perhaps that is not such a bad thing. But I must express a worry about the freedom issue. If men want to gather together in clubs, so far as I am concerned they are welcome to do so. I rather like Townswomen's Guilds and Women's Institutes. I regard it as a matter of freedom that people should be allowed to join with other people with whom they want to spend time. Therefore, we must be a little careful in taking any action in that respect.
Clause 29(2) would make it illegal to refuse to put up a woman in the YMCA although a man could not be expected to be given a room in the YWCA. I am not sure that the Bill is fair since it wavers about, sometimes favouring men and at other times favouring women.
Men are certainly favoured in Clause 7. Why should they have their sensibilities protected while women's sensibilities are ignored? The clause is most unfair in that respect. Why should it be the case that a job needs to be held by a man to preserve decency or privacy? Why should not such a job be held by a woman?
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Surely the matter is dealt with in Clause 3(2), which governs the whole legislation.
§ Mrs. Knight
If my hon. Friends cannot agree among themselves what the Bill says, surely it is not extraordinary that I should ask the Minister for clarification of some of its provisions.
Clause 33 would make it illegal for a professional woman to advertise for a woman to take care of her children or for a busy housewife to advertise for an au pair girl. I do not think that is a good thing.
I thoroughly agree with the Bill's support for women's rights to mortgages. It has been most unfair that women have been discriminated against in that area, and also in regard to their entering into hire-purchase agreements.
One area of unfairness lies in the fact that many thousands of women do not know what their husbands earn, and their husbands do not give them a fair amount of money with which to run the house and pay the bills. There is nothing we can do in this Bill on that score. Nevertheless, it is a cruel piece of discrimination.
One of the biggest villains of the piece in discrimination against women is Her Majesty's Inland Revenue. Recently, by some strange mischance, I overpaid some tax and, lo and behold, my husband had to sign a form allowing me to get my own money back from the Inland Revenue. That kind of attitude is most unfair. Other hon. Members have mentioned the situation of disabled people in the home. What is so unfair is that if a man has a wife who is struck down by a disabling disease, he can claim tax exemption for a housekeeper to run the house, but if a woman's husband is struck down with a disabling disease and she has to go to work to keep the home and family together, she cannot claim a penny. These are areas of unfairness which the Bill does not tackle.
I am bound to say that I like the small courtesies of life. I like doors to be held open for me. I like to have the feeling that I am occasioned these courtesies 583 because I am a woman. Clause 1 says that a man must not treat a woman less favourably. I want to be treated more favourably. But I realise that I cannot eat my cake and have it. The question is whether the general increase in opportunities—if the Bill turns out to provide them—is worth having if one is to lose all the advantages and comforts of being a woman.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) appreciates that if, as I hope, a woman hairdresser is appointed in the Houses of Parliament, she will also be able to provide for the hairdressing needs of many women on the staff of the House and that therefore there will be no need to call on the taxpayer to support that new venture. I hope that this will turn out to be the situation.
As other hon. Members have touched on the history of the Bill, perhaps I might make a small excursion into history. It may be some consolation to any dyed-in-the-wool opponent of the Bill who regards it as a way-out Women's Lib effort to knowߞand this puts the matter well above party politicsߞthat it was the Queen who started the whole thing off. In her Christmas broadcast in 1967 the Queen drew attention to the position of a woman in society and stressed the need for changes to be made. In the year following that speech I tabled an Early-Day Motion drawing attention to the broadcast. I sent copies to all the major women's organisations and said "What do you think we need to do?".
I then heard from a London bus conductress who had been refused training as a bus inspector because she had never been a bus driver, and indeed could not be a bus driver because her male colleagues opposed it. I realised the real weakness of the situation facing women in employment and saw a need for special provision to give them redress against sex discrimination. As an immediate result, in May 1968, I introduced the first anti-discrimination Bill, which made provision for an anti-discrimination board to which women could refer. I introduced that measure four times under the Ten 584 Minutes Rule, with some minor amendments. It was that same Bill for which my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton)ߞand I was very grateful to himߞgained a Second Reading in this House, and Lady Seear introduced the measure in another place. That same Bill was the basis of discussions in the Select Committee on this topic, which produced a tremendous amount of evidence of real discrimination against women in employment, education, training and a variety of other ways.
This is a moment of pride and pleasure for me. I am especially proud that this Bill is being introduced by a Labour Government. I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is to reply to the debate since she has done so much work on the Bill and for the whole of her political life has been an active campaigner against discrimination.
It is a welcome thought that, at long last, such a measure stands a real chance of reaching the statute book and of becoming law. Although London bus conductresses can now become bus drivers and bus inspectors, few have been appointed in both categories, and women in employment still find many difficulties in obtaining the necessary training for the jobs they want to do. They find difficulty in getting promotion and in getting round the applications for jobs, which they are well qualified to do, which are advertised for men only. In many other ways this discrimination needs a measure like this to remove the obstacles to these women doing the kind of work that they want to do. It is important not only for career women but for the great mass of women who work in the low-paid women-only jobs. These are the women whom we can most help by this measure.
I regret that the Equal Opportunities Commission, established by the Bill, does not seem to be designed to receive and deal with complaints from individual women in the first instance. The women who will be the pioneers in using this new legislation needs an anti-discrimination ombudswomanߞin view of the terms of the Bill, perhaps I had better make it an ombudsboardߞto whom they can apply in the first instance. The boardߞit could well be the Equal Opportunities Commissionߞcould sift these complaints 585 at the outset and attempt to get conciliation before and possibly avoid altogether the need for going to the courts or to an industrial tribunal.
I noted what was said by my right hon. Friend about the powers of the Equal Opportunities Commission regarding special cases. I hope that some means will be found for enabling the commission, or a section of it, to deal with all the cases which are likely to arise with the coming into operation of this legislation. This will be valuable of only to women in getting the thing off the ground but to the commission.
The legality of discrimination on the ground of martial status is a welcome part of the Bill. Like other hon. Members, I regret that this provision cannot be extended to the tax law. Reference has already been made to the disability of married women in that respect.
For example, despite the fact that I have made a wife's earnings election and a claim for separate assessment, which means that I am now taxed as a single person—I have that disadvantageߞrecently my husband received a letter from the tax office asking him to make a return not only of my income but of my parliamentary expenses. I wonder whether that could be a breach of parliamentary privilege. It is a new point which we might consider regarding this discrimination. Even if I could establish that fact. it would be a comparatively minor point compared with the married woman—the hon. Member for Edgbaston referred to her own caseߞwho has a refund due to her from the tax office and finds that it is returned to her husband. Such a woman may often not know that that has taken place and will have no means of getting the money from her husband if he does not want to part with it.
I also take the same view as expressed by other hon. Members about the regrettable fact that equal pension ages and allowances are not to be made available under the Bill.
I turn now to one of the exemptions in the Bill. I feel very strongly that, despite all the difficulties of applying such legislation, organised religion should not be exempted. I should like to see something less negative written into Clause 19, which exempts ministers of religion from the provisions of the Bill. 586 There is a strong feeling that women who feel themselves called to the ministry should not be barred. In addition, many of the disabilities which hamper women have their roots in religious attitudes which are now completely outdated. The Society of Friends and the Salvation Army are notable exceptions where women have complete equality. I believe that we should at least nudge other Churches in this direction in a Bill of this kind. I hope that the Home Secretary and the Minister involved will look at the possibility of doing that.
I take the view that it is much better to have as few exceptions as possible, if we are to have any at all. It would be far better left to the enforcement provisions of the Bill and the building up of case law to establish any exceptions which may be necessary after full examination of the pros and cons in particular cases. That is very important.
Having made these few critical comments, I must underline the tremendous satisfaction which I believe most women and many men will feel about this historic Bill. I say "most women" with certainty and conviction because, although it is sometimes questioned whether women want a Bill of this kind, in recent years I have been immersed in all the problems and activities of women in many groupsߞthe women I meet in shops with their domestic worries, women organised in clubs, guilds and societies with wide and specialised interests, deprived women in acute social need, elderly women acquiring new confidence as they shake off some of their traditionally imposed sense of inferiority, working women who are proud of their jobs and angry at obstacles to their success, young mothers producing incredible benefits to small children through pre-school playgroups, stay-at-home wives anxious to break down barriers which isolate them from each other and from the whole community, women in the media with their dedication and energy, and my women colleagues here. I refer not only to the old-established Members, with whom I have worked over many years in a variety of campaigns for women's rights but the lively, new young ones who have come into the House recently. I know from the talks and discussions that I have had with all these groups of women how much they 587 have looked forward to a measure of this kind. After all, they represent a large section of the women of this community.
It has been a most memorable and moving experience for me to share with all these women's groups their passionate desire to make the fullest possible contribution to society of which they are capable and to end finally the waste of talent and energy which tradition has too often imposed on them.
Not all women have the same ambitions. They want to do their thinking in their own way. But they are united in seeing a measure such as this as a necessary step towards removing many of the barriers which inhibit them from doing what they want to do. I believe that, if they had the opportunity, women would join me in welcoming the Bill and wishing it a speedy transition into law.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Time is moving on. Since a number of hon. Members still desire to catch the eye of the Chair, it would be helpful if speeches could be reasonably brief.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
I shall try to accede to your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, you will know that virtually the whole of this debate has been taken up with paeans of praise from both sides in support of the Bill. It would be a little hard if the appeal for brevity came just as, after a long interval, some considerations against the Bill were to be put. I cannot imagine that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), my hon. Friends who hope to catch your eye, or I, however long we spoke, could make an even balance against those who have deployed arguments in favour of the Bill. I shall not try to do that.
The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) sincerely felt that she spoke on behalf of the majority of women. I believe that she is mistaken. Many women looked forward to the Bill because they have been enormously misled by a large number of people as to what an Act of Parliament would do or what, if anything, needed to be done.
There has been endless repetition of words such as "prejudice", "lack of opportunity", "inability to realise potentialities" and clichés of that sort 588 with which we have become so familiar in the discussion of this subject. There are no legal impediments to women doing what they want or becoming what they wish. All the talk about women's rights is wholly misleading, misconceived and beside the point.
It is because many women have probably been led to believe that a Bill such as this would vindicate, protect or enlarge their rights that they welcome it, if indeed they do.
As the right hon. Member for Down, South pointed out, for 56 years there have been no legal restrictions upon what women could de. There are no legal rights which can be given to them. It may well be asked why a Bill is needed. A parliamentary Bill can only make law. What can the law do when no legal impediment exists? That takes us straight to the answer.
This Bill, like previous Bills on other subjects, has as its purpose the regulating of the minds and judgments of the citizens of a free society and telling them that they may not exercise their judgments freely. They may exercise their judgments, but with a Bill such as this they are enjoined to ignore considerations and facts which they believe that they see, because it will be unlawful for them to take those into account.
The situation is the same as that under the Race Relations Act 1968. When that measure was debated I said that when an immigrant entered this country he stepped at once into all the rights enjoyed by an established citizen of the United Kingdom. There was no question of civil rights. That Bill was the first in a sequence of legislation designed to clamp people's minds and tell them "You may not discriminate". Without discrimination there is no life. From the most minute form of animated existence, discrimination is the principle of life. However, people were told "Discrimination is the weapon of progress. Discrimination is always right."People were told" You must not discriminate. You must not use your judgment in a way which offends the political principles which we, having a majority in Parliament, hold dear."
When the Race Relations Act was debated I said that what was called the educative use of the law was a dangerous road on which to start. I said "That is 589 not the last of such Bills. The next Bill will concern sex." I was right. I said that the next Bill would concern age. Already one Government supporter has proposed a Bill to outlaw discrimination on grounds of age. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) has said there should be such a Bill, and that we must not discriminate on grounds of age.
Lord Hailsham, when, as Mr. Quintin Hogg, a Conservative Member of this House, put down amendments to the Race Relations Act which would have applied to the whole of its oppresive apparatus not only to sex but to language, nationality, social position and birth. You name it; it was in his amendment. If we proceed like this, what sort of country will this be to live in? The whole of the arguments we have heard today have been political arrogance and nothing else. The hon. Member for Wood Green is not an arrogant person, but she said that we ought to force the various religions to conform in dogmatism. Of course, religion can only exist if it is dogmatic. One cannot have an undogmatic religion. But it has been implied that their dogmatism, their various concepts of revealed divine truths, must be swept aside by political action in a Billߞif you pleaseߞbecause they are inconsistent with the views of the British Labour Party. Could one have a more preposterous and arrogant contention? What business is it of this House how the priesthood of various religious denominations is selected or what their beliefs are? Who are we to describe them as outdated? Besides, if the truth is alleged to be divine and absolute, I cannot see how it can be outdated.
This is legislation by pressure group. Unfortunately, we have reached the position in parliamentary government where any set of dedicated cranks can in the end, if they are sufficiently persistent, get on the statute book legislation embodying their prejudices, and they do it by describing all disagreeing concepts as prejudices.
Equality is a question of fact. It cannot be created by legislation. Indeed, can one apply the word "equality" in its generality to human beings at all? One may say that one person is equal to another in the game of tennis or in a 590 particular respect, such as calculation or something like that. But how can one say that one person is equal to another in an absolute and unqualified sense? Equality in that way is a mathematical concept. It does not exist at all, and it certainly cannot be achieved, as between men and women, by a process of legislation.
§ Mrs. Knight
What about the laws which permitted women to have the vote? Surely they were passed by the House and made us equal in that regard.
§ Mr. Bell
My hon. Friend has wholly failed to perceive the main line of my argument. I started by saying that all questions of civil rights were swept away 56 years ago. Where there is a legal barrier that can be removed by law. Indeed, it cannot be removed in any other way. But when all the legal barriers have gone and one uses the law, that is when one embarks upon an illicit course of action, because one is trying to use the law to control men's minds and to tell them that they must disregard in the working of their discrimination factors which they believe, rightly or wrongly, to be significant. One is substituting one judgment for the multifarious judgments of all the individuals who make up one's contemporaries in the world in which one lives at the time. That is the road to prescribing one judgment for all and to saying that all others shall be unlawful. That is what a Bill of this kind tries to do.
There was an old saying that Parliament could do everything except make a man a woman or a woman a man. Goodness me, that is exactly what we are trying to do in the Bill. It is an attempt to make the facts fit abstract and shallow political theorising rather than using facts as the basis of theory. If there is one rule of life which is absolute and the only good one, it is that one follows the truth wherever it leads. We do not start by working out our theories in the abstract and then twisting the facts to fit them.
591 The differences between men and women are real. They are not the ossification of an antique attitude which the Home Secretary condemned as anachronistic. They are the realities which have emerged in the thousands of years of the evolution of life. There was never one moment when someone imposed this. It is the way we have evolved and developed from the beginning.
Differentiation by sex, not merely in the reproductive function itself but in general physical and mental characteristics, is observed not only in man, throughout his history, but throughout animal life. Far from being a primitive phenomenon which is now anachronistic, it is, if anything, more marked in the higher manifestations of each category of life than in the lower. The overlap is vast. The polarisation of function, interest and attitude has been strongly marked at all stages of our development. The advance of human society has certainly not diminished itߞit has probably increased it.
That being soߞand who can deny that it is so?ߞa heavy burden of argument and justification lies upon those who seek to suppress, by coercive measures, a natural and spontaneously evolved element of human life. I would not feel that that burden would be discharged by reference to a House of Lords Select Committee. To be satisfied that discrimination should be banned, we should need to be convinced by an argument of the rigour and sustained relevance of a proof in natural science.
I have listened to virtually all hon. Members who have spoken and I have not heard a word of justification for the Bill. It has been taken for granted. Some hon. Members have said that equality is right and must be legislated for, and that we have only to mention discrimination to know that it is wrong. It can be seen in every aspect of the animal kingdom. It has not diminished but rather developed as man has grown more complicated. It has been presumed that it is right for women to specialise in certain aspects of life and men to specialise in others. A girl likes dolls because one day she will be a motherߞa doll is a "pretend" baby and the doll's house is a "pretend" home. Boys like trains because through the centuries they have 592 been the engineers. No one starts off as a stereotype. These characteristics develop naturally in the un-self-conscious periods of the human race.
Why should it be assumed that this is a wicked conspiracy? Yet this has been assumed totally. Not one word of justification or argument has been advanced by any hon. Member as to why it should be totally repressed by law.
Finally, I deal with the absolute prohibition in the Bill of taking into account the differences between the sexes. The Home Secretary boasts that it is the most comprehensive Bill in the world. I bet it isߞfor the very good reason that nowhere else in the world would any legislature be so foolish as to attempt to pass a measure of this all-embracing character. It is so all-embracing that, as the Home Secretary said, we can only make it look plausible by having specific exceptions. If we forbade all recognition of the difference between the sexes in every aspect of the services, utilities and goods of life, we could not live with the resulting situation.
Take lavatories. We have managed to have lavatories for men and women for hundreds of years without thinking about it. We shall not be able to under Clause 1. So we need the "lavatory clause". There it is, in Clause 32. The phrasing is a joy. The House should have a look at it. It speaks ofFacilities or services… provided for, or … likely to be used by, two or more persons at the same time"—we all know that—andThere we are. We need a special law now to have lavatories. Here we are, in our stupid, reactionary, dull prejudiced way, playing football with a male team against a male team. We have done it for years. That does not survive Clause 1 for a moment. So there has to be a "football clause". It is Clause 39 which says;
- (i) the facilities or services are such, or those persons are such, that male users are likely to suffer serious embarrassment at the presence of a woman, or
- (ii) the facilities or services are such that a user is likely to be in a state of undress and a male user might reasonably object to the presence of a female user."Nothing in Part II to IV shall, in relation to any sport, game or other activity of a 593 competitive nature where the physical strength, stamina or physique of the average woman puts her at a disadvantage to the average man, render unlawful any act related to the participation of a person as a competitor in events involving that activity which are confined to competitors of one sex.In other words, Leeds United can carry on.
There are other gems. I have them marked here. There is the reference to any activity where failure to discriminate between these two sporting sexes might result in persons of an opposite sex touching each other. If that happened, and it might happen, we can discriminate because I suppose it would be risky for a man to be touched by a woman or a woman to be touched by a man—or at any rate the people who drafted this legislation and prepared everything thought that they ought to leave that little loophole.
The hon. Member for Wood Green said that she did not like all these exceptions. She was inclined to think that there should not be any. I do not know what Leeds United thinks about that. I would point out that if the Gents is abolished, so is the Ladies' Cloakroom, and the ladies might not like that.
Other hon. Members have referred to this ban on advertising for postmen and so on. The point in the end is a broad one. We are making fools of ourselves with this sort of legislation. It is silly, it is ridiculous, it is petty and in the end it gets us nowhere. If the truth is that men and women are totally interchangeable, which God forbid, then this will work itself out in the free ebb and flow of society. We do not need Parliament. But if it happens to be the case that Nature, evolutionߞcall it what you willߞthrough all the aeons of time has not been wholly wrong but that some polarisation of function, interest and aptitude is natural, is goon, that these differences between men and women are not just the differences of the two individuals who mate together to produce a new individual but are the very interest and spice of life so that the differences give a stereoscopic view of life without which it would be flat and dull, this Bill is not merely foolish and ridiculous but positively wicked and evil.
Do not let us forget that we are embarking upon a path which does not stop 594 here. We have got it for race, we have got it for sex, and there are people crying for the next one already. In the end we shall be so hemmed in with proscriptions that people who want to breathe fresh air and live their lives as they wish and differ from other people, not on petty things but on fundamental things, will leave a country which has become so potbound by proscriptions and seek fresh air and liberty somewhere where politicians are less arrogant, less pervasive and less active.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
Nothing that I can say can drive the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) from his neolithic cave. I never thought that he had a sense of humour until I listened to parts of that particular speech, but I recall him not so long ago, in my presence, describing women very seriously as second-class citizens. If that is his view, of course he will vote against the Bill tonight and thus put it on record that he is not against the practice that half the population wants to change by law. This place exists to remedy injustices and half the population of Britain, for one reason or another and largely on grounds of their gender, think they are unfairly treated right across the spectrum.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
This is the second occasion on which the hon. Gentleman has said this. On the last occasion he virtually refused to give way and I had no opportunity of dealing with it. He knows quite well that that phrase "second-class citizen" was his own, which he had been using in a broadcast with me over and over again. 1 he conversation he is referring to took place over drinks in the Green Room afterwards and was facetious on my side, throwing his own phrase back at him. He himself described his use of it by saying "I was cheating".
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that that is a lie. I can produce the witness at the television studio—
§ Mr. Hamilton
I withdraw the word. I say to the hon. and learned Gentleman 595 that he strayed from the truth, because I can produce the witness in that very Green Room he is talking about who will verify the fact that the hon. and learned Gentleman said that women were second-class citizens. That is a phrase which I did not use.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is going to exercise his vote tonight against the Bill because he does not believe that women are discriminated against solely on grounds of sex, despite the evidence, not only in this country but throughout the world, that women all over the civilised world in particular are determined that they shall have their rights.
When the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) was speaking, she modestly referred to her own part in the campaign and said that the Queen had started all this off in 1967 in her Christmas broadcast. But it dates much further back than that. I wish that the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield and, indeed, every hon. Member would read the long essay written by John Stuart Mill more than 100 years ago, in which he said:The subjection of women to men being a universal custom, any departure from it quite naturally appears unnatural. But how entirely, even in this case, the feeling is dependent on custom, appears by ample experience. Nothing so much astonishes the people of distant parts of the world, when they first learn anything about England, as to be told that it is under a Queen: the thing seems to them so unnatural as to be almost incredible. To Englishmen this does not seem in the least degree unnatural, because they are used to it; but they do feel it unnatural that women should be soldiers or members of Parliament.That was 100 years ago.
§ Miss Richardson
It has not changed. Mr. Hamilton: The essay continues:In the feudal ages, on the contrary, war and politics were not thought unnatural to women, because not unusual; it seemed natural that women of the privileged classes should be of manly character, inferior in nothing but bodily strength to their husbands and fathers.This essay was written more than 100 years ago.
The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) referred to practices which I think are still in vogue 596 in the Tory Party. When a married male candidate goes before a selection committee, his wife must go on parade just as if it were a cattle market. The wife must make a speech and be paraded as if it were a cattle market.
§ Mr. Hamilton
No. The hon. Gentleman must bide his time. This practice may have been modified in the last year or two, but there are men sitting on the Tory benches not because they have anything up here but because their wives have something down there. That is the crux of the matter. If the hon. Gentleman argues in favour of such a practice, it is up to him to show it by his vote tonight.
The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Drake complained about exclusion from the Churches, the operation of the tax law and the treatment of women under the social services. I agree with her comments in all those respects. I go further. I hope that the Department of Education and Science will refuse sanction for local authorities to build any more single-sex schools, because that is where discrimination starts. Men and women must learn to live together right from the day they are born. The only way to do that is for us to be done with the single-sex school, because that is where discrimination starts at a very impressionable age.
Many of the points which have been made in the debate are Committee points. There will be a long and interesting Committee stage. I fear some of the legal jargon. I fear that ordinary working men and women on the shop floor will be frightened of the enforcement procedures and will be frightened to take action because of the Bill's complexity. I hope that the Government will look again at this aspect.
I quote from an editorial on the Bill, not in a Labour newspaper but in the Glasgow Herald of 13th March:Last month the Tory Party made their concession to International Women's Year by electing Mrs. Thatcher as their Leader.But that same right hon. Lady gave evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons to the effect that there was no evidence of discrimination, 597 certainly not in education, a sphere for which she was then responsible. It would be interesting to know her views on the Bill.
The leader in the Glasgow Herald continues, and I agree with this too:Passing a law will in itself not eliminate discrimination but it will provide a recognised basis from which progress towards a fair and equitable society for both sexes can be made.In recent years there has been a gradual change of attitude towards the rôle of women and there is now a greater awareness of the sheer costs of outdated prejudice.That is also a very important aspect on which the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Drake touched. It is in the national interest that we should use the intellectual and physical resources of women which have been under-utilised to date.
The Government deserve great credit for producing, if not a wholly comprehensive Bill, at any rate a more comprehensive Bill than has been produced in any other country.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
I join in the general welcome that this Bill has received, a Bill built on foundations laid by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). I returned a few hours ago from a visit to the United States of America with the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. We went there mainly to study the race relations situation but inevitably, although incidentally, spent a lot of time discussing sex discrimination also, a subject on which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had preceded us to America by a few weeks.
I wish to make two comments in the light of my personal impression of the American situation. The first is the need for a strong Government lead in the drive to get rid of unfair discrimination whatever form it may take, including this one. The aim is to change individual and corporate attitudes, and this will be easier if the Government are seen to be acting boldly. The Conservative Government took a positive position on this, and the present Government are doing likewise. I hope that tonight the House will be seen, 598 on both sides, to be strongly in support of the general lines of this legislation.
My second comment is on the relationship between this legislation and the legislation on race relations. In the White Paper, paragraph 24, the Government say their aim is to "harmonise" the powers and procedures in the two fields. Can the hon. Lady tell us when she winds up whether this rules out possible amalgamation of the two procedures? In the United States, as she no doubt knows, there is normally one single administration and procedure for the two fields. There are arguments on both sides, but I hope she can confirm that the Government's mind is entirely open on whether the two procedures might be not merely harmonised but amalgamated.
I have only time to touch on one or two of the points that are significant in the Bill. Employment, I am sure, must be the first priority, and in the employment field let the searchlight be turned particularlyߞas one or two hon. Members on the other side have askedߞon the trade unions. So far as education is concerned, I am glad that there is still to be provision for single-sex institutions because we need flexibility and not rigidity in this field, not only at the schools level but in the universities as well.
On goods and services I welcome the provisions in the Bill that should make it possible to end the present unfair practices in regard to television hire and obtaining mortgages. Enforcement has to be clear and effective, but I hope the Government will take great care not to create an elaborate bureaucracy. I am afraid there are signs of this in the Bill, and that is something which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) said in opening, will have to be looked at particularly in Committee. The law will certainly be a help but the real aim is the changing of attitudes with the limited helpߞand it is only limited help, as the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said in openingߞthat the law can give. It is a delicate field, one which I hope the Government will tread with great care. There is a lack of clarity in certain parts of the Bill, and its details will need as great scrutiny in Committee as any other Bills with which we are dealing during this Session. I hope the eventual Act will avoid 599 both ambiguity and absurdity. Subject to that, I believe the main thrust of the Bill is right. It deserves the support of the House
I end by expressing the hope that justice for women will not be at the expense of chivalry, as my hon. Friend for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) feared it might; the two can and should go hand in hand.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mrs. Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will forgive me if I do not say any of the nice things that I was going to say about the Bill, because I understand that I have only five minutes in which to make my speech. It is a splendid Bill, but I want to get on to the nitty-gritty of where it is important that the Standing Committee should scrutinise this measure.
I begin by mentioning the language of the Bill. It is difficult to understand and it is discriminatory. This is ludicrous in a Bill which seeks to end discrimination. I suggest that it will be proper if, when the Bill comes out of Committee, the language has been changed. I should like to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to Clause 66 because this is an example of unbelievably contorted language. All through the clause, which appears under the headingHelp for persons suffering discrimination","he" is used in describing the person. May I say quite loudly and clearly that "he" does not mean "she"? Why cannot "s/he" be used? Plurals can also be substituted.
The House will remember that Mrs. Pankhurst's husband brought a case in Manchester in the 1860s, before the suffragettes really began their fight, claiming that as the law then stood "man" automatically included "women" so that women house owners had the right to vote. The court ruled against him and said that "man" did not mean "woman", and it was after that court ruling that the suffragette battle began. I suggest to the Secretary of State that "he" does not mean "she" and that the language must be changed.
After all, language not only reflects but affects the way people think, and as it 600 stands at the moment it is ludicrous for this anti-discrimination Bill to appear on the statute book when it is itself using discriminatory language. If we cannot persuade the Government to change the language, I suggest that we shall have to begin a test case as soon as the Bill becomes law against them and the Parliamentary draftsmen who show such unbelievably chauvinistic thinking.
In Clause 1 at line 20 the word "justifiable" could be open to much abuse, and I hope that more precise criteria and perhaps specific guidelines can be laid down.
In Clause 3, marital status is mentioned but not parental or single status, or that a woman can be considered as the principal breadwinner with financial responsibility for dependants. This is a most important principle, and I wonder whether the Government will change the clause to make it have more relevance to life as it is lived by women in a real world.
We want the Government totally to rethink Clause 7. This is not a balanced viewpoint. Incidentally, this is one of the arguments that have been used by Oxford and Cambridge to preclude women for decades.
Turning to Clause 14, as a general principle I must point out that without "affirmative" action women will continue to be discriminated against until they acquire qualifications and experience.
Clause 19 must end at "doctrines of the religion", and the rest of the sentence must be deleted because, left as it is, it means that women can be excluded from managerial positions in all kinds of jobs ߞcharitable organisations, adoption societies and so on.
Will the Minister kindly explain Clause 29(3)? As it stands, it is unintelligible
Does Clause 45, which set up the Equal Opportunities Commission, mean that we are to have a commission of men and one statutory woman? Surely, in this Bill above all others, it is vital that at least 50 per cent. of the commissioners should be women. This is yet another example of the extreme chauvinism of the parliamentary draftsmen.
Clause 51 is also very important in that it provides sanctions. A fine not exceeding£400 is far too small. I hope that the Government will think about fixing 601 the deduction of a percentage of profits from private companies or the withdrawal of funding from public companies. That has happened in America and has been an important part of its legislation.
Clause 67 must be vastly improved, and legal aid must be granted to complainants on the same terms as in any other civil or criminal action. The absence of this will mitigate especially against the rights of working women. I think that I had better sit down as I have had my five minutes.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)
I must start by saying what a profound relief it was to me that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) managed to participate in this debate. I observed her sitting in Trappist silence throughout the whole of the Oil Taxation Bill in Committee and I noticed that she had a lot of points to make. If the hon. Lady had been confined to silence throughout this debate of all debates, I think that I should have burst on her behalf. I hope that the hon. Lady noted the trans-sexual chivalry between the Front Benches that allowed her to make her valuable contribution tonight.
§ Mrs. Colquhoun
I hope the hon. Gentleman will recall that I sustained his patronage during the course of the Oil Taxation Bill. I had cause to remind him that it was International Women's Year and that we were equal. Let the hon. Gentleman cut the patronage.
§ Mr. Alison
I am sorry, I was trying to be chivalrous. I was not trying to be patronising. I always enjoy the hon. Lady's contributions. She makes good speeches and she made a good one tonight
This is an important Bill and it is important to try to put it in its proper perspective. In my view the Secretary of State for the Home Department was right to place the Bill at the outset in the context of the long-term secular changes that have taken place in our attitudes towards women and women's work and which have evolved over the past 50 years or more. I want to stess that aspect because the essential need in any legislation, and particularly in this Bill, is to fensure that we have our feet firmly on 602 The ground of reality and that we deal with the real world.
The realities with which I am concerened and which we must keep firmly in view are prettty obvious but I think that they bear repetition. There has been the large post-war upsurge in the number of women at work. There has been a 50 per cent. increase from approximately 5½ million in the 1930s to over 8 million today. There has been the dramatic increase in the number of married women at work. But above all other factors I want to point to what I would describe as the causal realities for the change in the amount of women's work in the post-war era, namely, policies of economic expansion and full employment coupled with increased opportunities for women to work in the kind of work which is fashionable and in demand, such as the service industries and light industry.
The Bill arrives at a moment when a number of background features, particularly the economic environment, are beginning to change. Some of them may change radically and permanently. For example, unemployment is rising sharply and we do not know when there will be a significant downturn, Equal pay will be operating from the same time as the Bill is enacted, and again we do not really know what the effect of that will be upon differentials between men and women for equal or unequal work.
The Bill's provision for maintaining protective legislation in the context of equal pay could make the employment of women a net liability, a net cost in economic terms, and not the asset that it should be and that it has been in the past.
§ Mr. Alison
I suspect that the maintenance of the 1961 legislation in this Bill could genuinely make keping women at work more costly, and it was discrimination on those grounds that the White Paper said the Bill would try to prevent.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the Provisions in the Government's Pensions Bill could militate against women being in contributory schemes unless some alteration is made to it?
§ Mr. Alison
I note my hon. Friend's point, but I do not want to get drawn into 603 the question of pensions. The Home Secretary rightly kept off of that subject because it is a matter for separate legislation.
Against this background of a possibly less favourable economic environment for women's employment, we must consider how the Bill will affect the fortunes of women. There could be real forces in the current declining levels of employment working in the opposite direction, reducing the opportunities for women to work. The Home Secretary said that the Bill was ambitious but tempered by what is practical in terms of common sense. Will the ambition of the Bill be powerful enough to offset the present trend in the economic environment, which may be going in exactly the reverse direction to the general post-war trend, which has accounted for the upsurge in women's work?
In order to see how effective the Bill will be we have to look carefully at the terms of the crucial operative clauses. I want to scrutinise carefully Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 4 where the main concept of nondiscrimination on grounds of sex is laid out, defined and put into some sort of statutory or legal form. I want particularly to consider what is meant by the terminology of Clause 1(1)(a), which deals with discrimination against a woman and where the important words areon the ground of her sex".Discrimination on grounds other than the ground of sex, including—a remarkable fact, which is actually included in the White Paper—unfavourable discrimination, is admissible. Only discrimination on the ground of sex is inadmissible.
Discrimination of some sort, of course, is not only unavoidable; it is inherent in any process of selection, and the employment provisions of the Bill naturally deal with the whole question of selection. The first thing we have to get quite clear from the Bill and the White Paper is that discrimination is to be considered normal and admissible in a whole range of acts of selection provided it is not on the grounds of sex. It is therefore crucial that we should try to understand exactly what is this "fine sieve"—I borrow the Home Secretary's metaphor—which is suggested by the words:on the ground of her sex604 The easiest and perhaps the most profitable examination would be to try to discover what it is not. One has to go into the world of negation and find out whaton the ground of her sexdoes not mean. The first thing it does not mean is that it is a matter of qualifications. That is to say, it is not a matter of academic, professional or any other qualification.
Paragraph 33 of the White Paper makes the matter clear when it says that the discrimination provision of Clause 1 and followingwill not apply to differences of treatment made for any other reason, e.g., because a potential employee is not suitably qualified".Qualifications, or the lack of them, will continue to constitute a basis for legitimate discrimination.
I hope the House appreciates that this is inherent in the way the clause has been drafted. This will be cold comfort to the whole range of women about whom details are given in paragraph 14 of the White Paper, which says:in the 25–34 age group, some of whom towards the end of the century will be assuming many of the most responsible positions in our society, only two and half per cent. of women as against seven and a half per cent. of men have university degrees or equivalent qualifications and 59 per cent. of women compared with 48 per cent. of men have no formal qualifications of any kind.It is as well for the House to bear in mind that the phraseon the ground of sexdoes not include the possession or the absence of qualifications. Therefore, academic, professional, technical or any other qualifications will provide legitimate grounds for discrimination.
The hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr) drew his White Paper wide enough to take a coach and horses through—a graphic phrase. It may be surprising to hon. Members that possession or lack of any sort of qualification constitutes a legitimate ground under the Bill for exercising discrimination.
I next refer hon. Members to paragraph 20 of the White Paper, which speaks of 605the adverse treatment of someone on grounds irrelevant to that person's intrinsic qualities".That means that it is relevant to discriminate on the grounds of intrinsic qualities but that it is irrelevant to discriminate on the ground of sex. I hope it is clear that a differentiation is made between discriminating on the grounds of sex, which is improper and is not allowed by the Bill, and discriminating on the basis of intrinsic qualities, which is allowed. I wonder what "intrinsic qualities" are and what that phrase embraces. It can be as wide as anyone may wish it to be.
Next, the "ground of sex", which is the sole arbiter, the thin mesh of the sieve, does not include the concept—here I quote from the new subsection 3(b) of the Equal Pay Act, inserted by Clause 8(1), which, making the exception in the case of equal pay, speaks of:qualifications, experience, length of service, or other personal attributes (other than sex).It will be proper, permissible and acceptable under the Bill for discrimination to be made, not on the irrelevant ground of sex but on the basis of experience, length of service or other personal attributes. Could there be anything wider than the phrase "other personal attributes" as the basis upon which discrimination is legitimised in the Bill?
§ Mr. John Garrett
The hon. Gentleman seems to be amazed that the Sex Discrimination Bill deals with discrimination on the grounds of sex. Has he been present during the debate? Is he spinning out time or simply indulging in random talking?
§ Mr. Alison
Perhaps I shall be able to enlighten the hon. Gentleman when I come to the crux of the argument. He has not taken on board how important it is to be able to make certain that "ground of sex" has an identifiable and precise meaning. So far I have been able to show, I hope with relevance, that the "ground of sex" is not a question of qualifications, intrinsic qualities, experience, length of service or other personal attributes.
We can go even further. We may deduce from Clause 39, the so-called Leeds United clause, that "ground of sex" does not includephysical strength, stamina or physique".606 It is true, that, as an exception, these qualities are treated as inherent attributes of sex. Here I come to the hon. Gentleman's point, that there is an attempt to link to the inherent attributes of sex certain specific qualities. It is said here that in the case of "the average woman" —the key words are "the average" —features of physical strength, stamina or physique are held to be attributes of sex. But precisely because it is an exception, and because every case of real selection in employment about which the Bill is mainly concerned will never be dealing with the average woman but by definition with the individual woman—and the White Paper says that there are more differences between members of the same sex than there are between the sexes—the give-away Leeds United clause means that the attributes of physical strength, stamina or physique will again be legitimate grounds for discrimination.
I ask the Minister to refer to the important paragraph 48 of the White Paper, which says:The Bill will not, however, allow exceptions in the following circumstances:—Where in the Bill is the principle of paragraph 48(a) implemented?
- (a) where the employment of members of both sexes would be more costly than the employment of members of one sex only".
With regard to the key phrase of discrimination on the ground of sex, what are we left with as the real definition? How can it be used when every sort of qualification is excluded, when intrinsic qualities are not part of it, when experience is not counted, when length of service is irrelevant and when most personal attributes—physical strength, stamina and physique—have all been stripped away?
I believe that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) will understand the significance of this. Let us suppose that in the current environment of economic downturn there are some parts of the Bill which employers find oppressive, unsatisfactory or pointless. In my constituency there are plenty of small firms employing 10 or 20 people, often working in single covered premises or a small shed, doing printing, light woodwork and so on. The necessity of taking on one woman will produce social and personal problems in the context of an all-male labour force. Employers will 607 want to see whether it is possible to find a means of getting round the Bill.
The Home Secretary made clear that motive is not the crucial point. What has to be judged by the courts is the effect of a particular act of selection. Any employer—and I fear there may be plenty—who wants to make a discrimination on the ground of sex has in the Bill a list as long as my arm of external grounds which cover practically any conceivable circumstance upon which he can legitimately advance good cause for making an act of discrimination. My list has specified them; none are "grounds of sex". In most of the circumstances in which the Equal Opportunities Commission will have to act in examining a particular employment situation, it will be pursuing a phantom. Its teeth will be totally irrelevant.
There will be many opportunities for employers to say that they are discriminating because the person who presents himself has more experience or is stronger, or because of his intrinsic qualities of X, Y, Z or his physical strength, stamina or anything else which I quoted in my list is self-evidently better. All those provide admissible grounds which an employer can take as a basis for the selection. They are perfectly acceptable, they are allowed in the Bill, and the Equal Opportunities Commission armed with teeth will nevertheless be impotent when faced with something so nebulous and indefensible as the "ground of sex".
That makes me wonder whether those outside the House who believe that the Bill will raise substantial expectations and yet do little to meet them do not have a good deal of sense and intuitive insight in their feeling. It is a serious point of criticism that the House should allow a Bill of this sort to emerge from Second Reading with so much fanfare, and launch before the public the concept of a fundamental sea change in the conditions and the lot of women at work, and the sort of work they can get, without warnings about loopholes.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) mentioned many serious defects of the Bill, and we shall do our best to improve it in Committee. The Home Secretary must be careful in the publicity he gives to the Bill and in the speeches he 608 makes about it to continue to temper the ambition which he rightly sees as a feature of the Bill with the other qualifications he added to its needing to be reasonable, sensible and practicable.
In fact—as I suspect lady Members on both sides of the House feel instinctively —the Bill is a paper tiger. It pretends ostensibly to launch a great crusade for the cause of women at work but it allows so many exceptions—I have quoted exceptions inherent in the concept of the ground of sex in Clause 1 and many other specific and formal exceptions are included—that it will have very little effect when it is applied through the Equal Opportunities Commission or through the operations of the industrial tribunals. It will be difficult to isolate sex discrimination from discrimination in the context of one of those many other let-outs which the Bill contains. I hope that I shall be proved wrong, but we shall have to look carefully at the Bill in Committee and get a clear explanation from Ministers of what they feel the key phrases mean.
As it stands, I suspect that the Bill will do very little good, certainly not enough to offset what I fear is the secular trend at present towards higher and persistently higher unemployment, a reduction in the real demand for women at work and a tendency for men in jobs to want to hang on to their posts and not allow anyone new to come in. These long-term subterranean forces will be too strong as the Bill stands to enable the sex clause to bite and move things in the opposite direction.
We shall see. I hope that the Minister will be able to put our minds at rest. I hope that she will be able to deal with the important point as to whether or not the Bill contains provision to make employers take on women, even though it will cost them more than it would to take on men.
§ 9.35 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summer-skill)
It is with very great pleasure that I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. The Bill has today received a general welcome from the House and marks another milestone in the history of women's rights. Yet women's rights are but one aspect of human rights. Every 609 person, regardless of sex, colour, race or creed, has a right to achieve full potential as a human being. Therefore, I believe that the whole of our society—men and women, boys and girls—will benefit from the eventual effects of this legislation. It is clear that the country is ready for these new measures. They constitute an ideal which has found its time.
Women throughout the world are that unique thing, an oppressed majority. Discrimination against them is not confined to developed or undeveloped countries, nor to countries of a particular political complexion. It knows no barriers of class or race. Therefore, in International Women's Year I am proud that Britain is introducing this major piece of legislation. A pledge to legislate was included in our election manifesto. Our proposals were set out in the White Paper "Equality for Women" and now, six months later, we have introduced our Bill which incorporates the principles set out in the White Paper, in the light of comments received from women's organisations, industrial and educational bodies, political parties and many others.
This measure, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department said, is the most comprehensive and far-reaching legislation of its kind in the world. I wish to pay special tribute to my right hon. Friend for the admirable part he has played in ensuring the successful introduction of the Bill.
In the 57 years since women obtained the right to vote, most of the legislation affecting them, welcome as it has been, has tackled particular aspects of women's equality. It was plain that we could no longer rely on the gradual process of voluntary initiative and piecemeal amendments to allow them to achieve real equality. The Government recognise their responsibility to change attitudes which are deeply entrenched in our social and economic life. A recent answer to a parliamentary Question revealed the fact that, whereas the average man can expect to live for 77 years, the average woman can expect to live for 80 years. That would appear to discriminate against men, but we were powerless to cover that in the Bill.
The fact is that a longer expectation of life, younger marriages and smaller 610 families have resulted in major changes in the lives of most women in the last 50 years. However, discrimination persists. The average wage paid to women is just about half that which is paid to men, and 8 per cent. of women receive higher education compared with 22 per cent. of men. Women's work is low grade, low paid and uninspiring A total of 9.2 per cent. of girls obtain day release for further education compared with 36 per cent. of boys; 7 per cent. of girls are accepted for apprenticeship training compared with a figure of 42 per cent. for boys; less than 25 per cent. of girl school leavers take any kind of job training. The TUC has 1,400 paid officials, only 25 of whom are men [HON. MEMBERS: "Men?"] I am sorry. That was a Freudian slip. I should have said that only 25 of them are women. This is due partly to prejudice, which is hard to define and to prove, partly to discrimination, which is easier to define and to prove, and partly to the conditioning of boys and girls at home, at school and in the community about their respective rôles.
Today nearly half of all British married women are in paid employment. They not only make a major contribution to our national economy but add significantly to the prosperity of their own families. It is not good enough that they do low-grade jobs, are less likely to be promoted than men and are rarely to be found in charge in business or in industry.
The Government can set and enforce standards of conduct. Legislation cannot in itself change attitudes and eliminate centuries of deep-rooted prejudice, but it can make it harder for prejudice to survive and flourish and it can create a climate of opinion for progress and change.
We hope that the spirit of this legislation will find expression among those concerned with education, among employers and trade unions, among those working in the media and in society as a whole. In that way, outmoded attitudes held by boys and girls and by men and women about women's work and women's place or men's work and man's place will become extinct and women will be encouraged to make the fullest use of the opportunities which the Bill will open up for them.
611 We have had a good and worth while debate. I know that there has been a remarkable change in the climate of opinion in this House over the last five years, having attended all the debates on this subject in that time. I welcome the all-party support for the Bill. It is the culmination of a number of efforts in recent years to introduce legislation. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) and Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who have played such a valiant part in preparing the ground for this measure to be introduced.
From what we have heard today, I think that we can look forward to an extremely interesting, constructive and detailed Committee stage, if it has not already begun. We have heard many suggested amandments. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) and the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) that we will take a close look at Clause 1(1)(a) before the Bill goes into Committee, and even during Committee, to see whether it can be redrafted to be made clearer.
The general debate has covered all aspects of discrimination and been extremely wide ranging. However, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, it was not possible for the Bill to cover matters like taxation and pensions, which involve millions of pounds. I know that the House is aware of the Social Security Pensions Bill which will make substantial progress towards achieving equality.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Yes. That will provide the same pensions for men and women with the same earnings and protect women's pension rights during periods of home responsibility. For married women it will abolish the special contribution "half test", the lower rates of short-term benefits, and the option not to pay contributions through employment.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) referred to "unintentional discrimination". There is scope for further discussion later, but 612 the Bill proscribes not only overt discrimination but practices which are fair in form but discriminatory in operation. An employer should be required to cease carrying on a practice which is unjustifiable and which has a discriminatory effect, but he should not be penalised for it if its effect is unintended.
§ Mr. Alison
Will the Under-Secretary of State comment on the words "discriminatory effect"? What is, or is not, eligible as an act of discrimination? Does this refer to sex discrimination or to discrimination over the range of other possible differences which I have suggested?
§ Dr. Summerskill
The definition and meaning of "discrimination is covered in the first part of the Bill. It will clearly be the subject of much discussion.
An important question was raised regarding the statutory restrictions on the employment of women. The majority of these are found in the Factories Act 1961 and in its associated legislation. When the Conservative Government proposed to repeal the restrictions in respect of women aged 18 and over relating to hours of work, including overtime and night work, there was considerable criticism of the proposal on the ground that the repeal might place undue pressure on working women. We propose that those restrictions should be retained for at least the present. However, Clause 47 of the Bill seeks to impose a specific duty on the Equal Opportunities Commission to keep under review protective legislation which treats men and women differently and to draw up and submit to the Secretary of State, if it thinks necessary, proposals for amending them. The EOC would do that in consultation with the Health and Safety Commission, which has general responsibility for health and safety at work. If the Government decided that there was no longer a case, on grounds of safety and health at work, for the retention of a particular provision, there would be power to repeal it by regulations.
The Government are very much aware that the subject is controversial. It is true that the restrictions do not apply to persons not covered by the Factories Act, such as nurses in hospitals, and it is argued that the restrictions can operate so as to deny opportunities to women to 613 work at night. On the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) supported the idea of preserving this part of the Bill.
This Bill will operate in conjunction with the Equal Pay Act 1970. This is important. The freedom and opportunity which I hope this Bill will bring is useless without economic independence and security. Clause 8 of the Equal Pay Act will be amended to clarify it and to bring it into line with this Bill. The Bill will cover the non-contractual aspects of employment, whereas the Equal Pay Act deals with the contractual aspects. It is hoped that this Bill will make it harder for employers who are evading their responsibilities under the Equal Pay Act to continue to do so.
The subject of midwives was raised frequently in the discussion. Under the Bill men can he midwives, although employers of midwives will in certain respects be exempted from the Bill's requirement not to discriminate. I am aware that the proposal in the White Paper to remove the statutory bar on the employment of men has been controversial. However, we believe that it would be counter to the spirit of the Bill, which is concerned with breaking down barriers against men as well as against women, to fail to deal with this important one, which can prevent men from entering the nursing profession.
There are potential problems. We recognise that a patient should have a right—this has been stated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services—to choose a female midwife if that is her wish. That right will be retained. It is also accepted that in many situations chaperonage of male midwives will be necessary. [Interruption.] I do not know why that should cause amusement in the Chamber, because it is a well-known feature of hospital life for medical students and even for some doctors that there should be chaperones in certain circumstances.
§ Dr. Summerskill
We are confident that it will he possible for male midwives to be employed in certain centres as a preliminary to men in that profession being fully accepted in the future.
614 I turn now to the education provisions of the Bill, which are completely new. These are matters which were not touched upon by the Conservative Party when they were in Government.
§ Mr. Alison
I am so sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but as she is leaving matters concerning employment will she deal with the critical part of the White Paper in which it is said explicitly that an exception will not be allowed where the employment of women would cost more? Where is that in the Bill?
§ Dr. Summerskill
The exception is not allowed; therefore it does not appear in the Bill. The Bill is silent on this point because there is no exception.
I now turn to education. I should like to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) and others who have raised the important question of curricula in schools. I am pleased to say that, although the Secretary of State for Education and Science does not control the curricula or what is taught in schools, Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools have completed an inquiry into the extent to which curricular differences and customs contribute to unequal opportunities for boys and girls. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is arranging for the early publication of the results of that inquiry, and I am sure that it will make a valuable contribution to the examination of the question raised in this debate.
However, I think that all hon. Members would agree that it would be wrong for any Minister to interfere with publications or in any way to try to stop certain books being circulated. But local education authorities and teachers will now, I hope, as a result of the Bill, take a hard look at the organisation of their curricula and be more critical, perhaps, then they have been up to the present.
§ Mrs. Renée Short
I did not put forward such a harsh or hard suggestion as my hon. Friend imagines. I suggested that my right hon. Friend might like to have a chat with the publishers of books to suggest that it may be possible to change the kind of pictures and things that they produce.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I stand corrected.
615 I now turn to the subject of political parties—which are of interest to every hon. Member. Political parties will be covered by that part of the Bill which deals with the provision of services and facilities to the public, although the Bill does not refer specifically to them. I should like to explain that the Bill is silent on political parties, and they are therefore covered by it, but I am undertaking discussions with each of the three main political parties to see what views there are on this matter. I shall ascertain before the Committee stage exactly what feelings there are on this most important question.
The subject of advertisements, dealt with by Clause 33, was raised by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham. He is under a slight misapprehension. All that the Bill says is that any description of a person can be used, subject to the condition that the job must be open to both men and women and that this must be made clear in the advertisement. The House has made this slightly more complicated than it really is.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
If that is all that is needed, why does the clause state that a reference to waiters and salesmen should be taken to indicate an intention to discriminate? Surely it is the other way round.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The right hon. Gentleman will see that the Bill states that as long as it is clear that the people who are wanted can be either men or women, the actual nomenclature is not unlawful.
The provision of legal aid has been mentioned. I cannot deal with every point, but I assure the House that the Lord Chancellor's Legal Aid Advisory Committee has recommended that legal aid should be extended to all statutory tribunals at present within the supervision of the Council on Tribunals.
The Bill does not attempt to tackle the problem of women's rôle in society and subjects like facilities for child care, family law and the special problems facing the one-parent family. However, once the
§ Bill is on the statute book matters like these will be affected by the influence and the propaganda that this legislation will generate.
§ The Bill is important for all women and girls, not only for the small minority who aspire to be judges, company directors, editors of national newspapers or trade union leaders. It is important for the great majority of women and girls who meet prejudice and discrimination in their ordinary lives, whether at school, at work or simply living in the community. It is important for the 40 per cent. of working women who are single, separated, divorced or widowed, and for all those women struggling to bring up children on their own.
§ It is not a Bill about what women should or should not do. It is about those things they should have the opportunity to do. It will remove barriers which currently prevent them from realising their full potential as individuals in whichever area of life they choose to pursue that goal. They will still be able to decide how they want to arrange their lives. If they wish to spend them making a home and bringing up a family, that is their right. However, they must be free to decide, knowing that the choice is not forced upon them either by lack of opportunity or by the prejudice of society. They must be free to acquire qualifications, skills and experience on a basis of parity with men throughout the whole range of human endeavour. It is important that women should not undervalue themselves or be undervalued.
§ Dr. Summerskill
As a nation we cannot afford to waste the skills and intelligence of over half the poulation. I am sure that all hon. Members endorse the ideals of justice and equality. This Bill aims to achieve reality for these ideals for all members of our society.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 104, Noes 5.617
|Division No.. 163]||AYES||[10.00 p.m.|
|Alison, Michael||Blaker, Peter||Chalker, Mrs Lynda|
|Allaun, Frank||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)|
|Ashley, Jack||Booth, Albert||Coleman, Donald|
|Bagler, Gordon A. T.||Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen|
|Bates, Alt||Carmichael, Neil||Concannon, J. D.|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Cartwright, John||Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)|
|Cryer, Bob||Kirk, Peter||Rooker, J. W.|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Lane, David||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Davidson, Arthur||Leadbitter, Ted||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Le Merchant, Spencer||Short, Mrs Ranée (Wolv NE)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Luard, Evan||Silverman, Julius|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Skinner, Dennis|
|English, Michael||Madden, Max||Small, William|
|Faulds, Andrew||Mates, Michael||Snape, Peter|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Spearing, Nigel|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Mikardo, Ian||Stallard, A. W.|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Millan, Bruce||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'wd)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Freud, Clement||Miller, Mrs Millie (Illord N)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Thompson, George|
|George, Bruce||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Tinn, James|
|Golding, John||Neave, Alrey||Urwin, T. W.|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central File)||Newton, Tony||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||O'Halloran, Michael||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Hunter, Adam||O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Palmer, Arthur||Wellbeloved, James|
|Jeger, Mrs Lena||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Welsh, Andrew|
|Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)||Pendry, Tom||Whitlock, William|
|John, Brynmor||Penhaligon, David||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Perry, Ernest|
|Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Prescott, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Richardson, Miss Jo||Miss Betty Boothroyd and|
|Kilfedder, James||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Mr. David Stoddart.|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|McCusker, H.||Ross, William (Londonderry)||Mr. Ronald Bell and|
|Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Mr. Ivor Standbrook.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).
§ SEX DISCRIMINATION [MONEY]
§ Queen's Recommendation having been signified—
§ That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to render unlawful certain kinds of sex discrimination and discrimination on the ground of marriage, and establish a Commission with the function of working towards the 618 elimination of such discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity between men and women generally, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
- (a) any sums required by the Secretary of State for paying, or making payments towards the provision of, remuneration, pensions, allowances or gratuities to or in respect of members of the Commission set up by that Act, or for paying expenses of that Commission, or for defraying any other expenditure falling to be made by him under or by virtue of that Act;
- (b) the remuneration of assessors appointed for the purpose of proceedings under that Act in a county court or sheriff court;
- (c) any increase attributable to the provisions of that Act in the sums payable out of money provided by Parliament under any other Act.—[Mr. Roy Jenkins.]