HC Deb 16 May 1975 vol 892 cc930-66

Order for Second Reading read.

2.4 p.m.

Mrs. Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)

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

I am extremely glad to have an opportunity to bring the Bill before the House today. I was, I fear, beginning to think that the guard dogs had taken over, but I suppose someone had to—because where have all the Members of Parliament gone?

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

The reason why so many of our colleagues—

Mrs. Colquhoun

Practically everyone.

Mr. Mather

—practically everyone is absent today is that Members were under the impression that the debate on guard dogs would be a filibuster, the unfortunate intention, it was thought, being to prevent the hon. Lady's Bill coming before the House. I think that that is the reason why the benches on this side are empty.

Mrs. Colquhoun

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that explanation. I had no idea of the discreditable intentions of my Government. As I listened to what I thought was the excruciatingly boring case deployed on guard dogs, however, the more I heard—I must say this in fairness to my hon. Friends—the more I realised that it had some validity. I hope that I have not been unkind in calling it excruciatingly boring because it has, in fact, taught me a lesson. Perhaps we should come in more often on a Friday to listen to the debates. I admit that I was in the end glad that I was present, since the more I heard the more I realised that I supported my hon. Friends in what they were doing.

Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

I hope my hon. Friend appreciates that we did not have equality of the sexes in the debate on the Guard Dogs Bill.

Mrs. Colquhoun

The idea behind my Bill is not original. It is one that I had no hesitation in borrowing from Bernard Shaw, who warned the suffragettes, after they got the vote, that unless a Bill was introduced to make it compulsory for men and women to be on public bodies and boards in equal numbers they would never get very far. He said also, at the time of the first General Election after women had the vote, when not one woman candidate was returned, that first-rate women candidates were defeated by mere male nobodies". That situation often persists even today, but it is a matter quite separate from the Balance of Sexes Bill, and it is up to the political parties represented in the House to deal with it.

My Bill is designed positively to discriminate for women, to Ensure that appointments to the boards of public bodies and corporations, to certain committees, panels and tribunals, and to juries and the House of Lords, shall consist of women and men in equal numbers. Writing to me in March about the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said: A requirement of equal numbers of men and women on public bodies would in effect define a person's sex as a relevant and justifiable basis for different treatment. The Home Secretary is a thoughtful and helpful man with a very friendly attitude towards women's aims, and I have not the slightest intention of trying to score political points off him, but his remarks took my breath away, because our present situation is one in which the constitution of public appointments is decided on a sex basis—the male sex. It may be wrong—I agree that it is wrong—but that is the reality of the situation. That is why I am here today, in this almost empty Chamber, seeking to remedy it.

We have been assured that the Sex Discrimination Bill is a great step forward for women, the great opportunity that women outside have been waiting for. Surely that Bill is not now to be used as a weapon against us when we try to promote our rights. The Sex Discrimination Bill will not correct past discrimination against women. Moreover, as a member of the Standing Committee on that Bill, I am not at all sure that it will correct future discrimination against women, certainly not unless it is radically amended to give it real meaning for working women. Indeed, we had a simple amendment the other day in Committee about the constitution of the Equal Opportunities Commission. That amendment, if it had been accepted by the Government, would have assured the aim of the Balance of Sexes Bill—that 50 per cent. of the membership of the EOC should be women.

In the Sex Discrimination Bill, above all other recent legislation for women, it was a vital amendment. What did the Government do? In effect, they said Trust us. We will not write anything into the Bill, but we are sympathetic". I am sure they are. I do not doubt that for one moment. Unfortunately, sympathy does not carry much weight on the statute book.

We in Parliament, who believe in making life better for women and that they should be the legislators as well as the makers of cups of tea, believe that our aims must be translated into laws which will be binding not merely on the present Government but on future Governments. That is what I consider I am here for.

It is significant that today there are more public jobs on boards, corporations, councils and commissions within the gift of Ministers than at any other time in Britain's history. It is also significant that nearly all the 4,500 jobs that I have discovered are jobs for the boys.

In the breakdown of those jobs one comes up against the statutory woman. But, of course, "statutory "is the wrong word. "Nominal "is a more accurate description of the women who serve on those committees. Women are not on those committees by statute they are on them by grace and favour. The Bill seeks to remedy that situation.

It is intolerable to women that in 1975 half of society is not properly represented on these committees. Women have simply been excluded. Are we to believe that that exclusion, to date, is because there are not enough women in a nation in which there are more women than men? Are we to believe the arguments of some of my hon. Friends who have spoken to me about the Bill—for example, "Your Bill is impossible. It is an impossible situation that you wish to create because there are not enough women"? Or is it, as is far more likely, that women have been deliberately excluded because the authorities which have made the appointments prefer men?

I should like to take some examples of the situation as it exists. I will spare the House the ordeal of listening to a breakdown of each of the public bodies affected by my proposed legislation. According to my count they total no fewer than 174, although there could be even more.

Only the other day I discovered that there was an advisory board on pop festivals. It seems grossly unfair that there is not also one on string quartets.

There is a Committee on Bird Sanctuaries in the Royal Parks. It has eight men but no women.

There is an Office of the Umpire, which has absolutely nothing to do with either cricket or tennis but concerns something much nearer to the heart of this House—the law. The umpire, is, of course, a man.

I shall not be drawn into dealing with the more recherché areas of ministerial patronage. I shall merely draw the attention of the House today to some of the everyday bread-and-butter bodies that affect everybody's lives. For example, the Sugar Board has five men and no women. The Agriculture Training Board has 27 men, no women. Is it to be said that the only rôle of the woman in agriculture is that of the farmer's wife?

The Committee of Investigation for Great Britain has seven men, no women. I cannot think how Great Britain can be investigated without the help of women.

The Covent Garden Market Authority has six men, no women. I do not know whether that authority was responsible for the environmental damage in Covent Garden. If so, it might well have been improved with some women on the board.

The National Bus Company has seven men, no women. Of course, women do not travel on buses. Neither, apparently, do they travel on trains, because the British Railways Board has 12 men, no women.

What about the 14 male members of the Building Research Establishment Advisory Committee? Surely they need a little help from their friends. I suspect that there is one thing we can say for them. They obviously do not believe that a woman's place is in the home.

Among the 24 members of the Advisory Panel on Arms Control and Disarmament there are no women appointed, yet surely disarmament and arms control is a subject very much of interest to women. They ought to be there and they ought to be having a say. Or does the world of men still believe that They also serve who only stand and wait"? I must confess that all is not entirely bleak. I was delighted with the appointments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, whose Department has just set up the National Consumer Council with 13 women and five men. That is something for the Guinness Book of Records. I suspect that it is the only Government-appointed body with a majority of women. My right hon. Friend has followed through in her Department her belief in women's ability. How I wish that other Secretaries of State—indeed, other women Secretaries of State—would use their powers to set up balanced committees, but they do not do so and they are not balanced.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

It strikes me that the illustration just given by my hon. Friend is not a balance of the sexes. There seems to be a complete preponderance of women in that illustration.

Mrs. Colquhoun

In that case my hon. Friend should be cheering.

All that I have said so far relates to Clause 1, subsections (1) and (2), but I am aware that immediately following the introduction of such legislation there will be a period when it will be difficult to find sufficient women to fill all the places created by the Act.

I am reminded of a comparable situation in 1922 when the Labour Party, to its great surprise, found that it was in the position of forming the first Labour Government and there were not enough people—or so Ramsay MacDonald thought at the time—to fill all the Government jobs. The Labour Government resorted to the practice of inviting Liberals, and even Tories, to fill some positions, with the most disastrous results Were I to advocate a similar line of conduct over my Bill, I should say that the remaining unfilled places should be filled by men, also with a rather pointless result.

Instead, therefore—this is the point of Clause 1(3)—I am proposing that these places shall be left vacant until the women come forward in their multitudes, which I am certain will happen if the thousands of letters I have received from women throughout the country are serious, and will undoubtedly happen if the men cannot fill the places except by seeking women to fill them. This applies particularly to political parties. If they have to find women to fill jobs on Government bodies, they will find them.

I now propose to say something about the rôle of the Women's National Commission because I understand that, together with the Civil Service Department, it has developed a new nomination form and procedure for women who wish to put themselves forward for what is called by the Government the "central list "but is commonly called the "list of the great and the good".

That central list is kept and held in the Civil Service Department and made available to all Government Departments. The Home Department tells me that the improved nomination form, together with the publicity which the Women's National Commission is giving it, should both encourage more women to put themselves forward and give greater scope for describing the particular contribution which these women feel they can make.

As a woman Member of Parliament I am not entirely satisfied with what is being done. I have not had any sight of any publicity, any sight of the improved nomination form or any sight of the central list that is held in the Civil Service Department.

I should like the Minister to tell me whether there are other ways of accepting nominations. I am thinking, for example, of women who do not work within the traditional organisations and yet have so much to contribute to life as it is lived today. I am thinking particularly of the younger women in the women's liberation movement and in the women's rights campaign. I cannot speak in this debate without paying tribute to the work that the women's rights campaigners have done over the Sex Discrimination Bill, working night after night to improve it and make it more meaningful to women. They have done a first-class job in briefing some of the Labour women Members on the Committee.

The Minister might also give consideration to attracting Women in Media and the National Abortion Campaign. These women would not necessarily support the traditional political parties, but they generally have a lot of intelligence, creativity and ideas. They genuinely care about other women, and if they could be persuaded to contribute to the traditional committees and commissions they would have an overwhelmingly valuable contribution to make towards making life better for women everywhere. I, as a British woman Labour MP, want to see the Labour Government make a real effort to attract women who work creatively outside the political parties and women's groupings.

I believe very sincerely that the women's liberation movement is the best thing to have happened to women in this country since the suffragettes. It is significant to me that the liberationists have had such a bad Press and that the communications media generally—and men in particular—have been so frightened of them that they have constantly sought to downgrade them, even in the eyes of other women, with sexist jokes about burning bras and the other rather emotional and destructive things that have been set up in the media.

I should like our public committees to draw part of their membership from women working in communes, in self-help medicine, in the battered wives' situation and in pressure groups such as Gingerbread and Sapho. They would work alongside the national Labour, Tory and Liberal women's groupings, townswomen's guilds, women's institutes and Co-operative parties. I commend this idea to the Government and ask them to find some way of extending the central list to welcome—indeed persuade—these women to contribute to the life of the country which is reflected in the work done by these Government Departments.

I suspect that the present central list is narrow, rigid and very conforming and does not adequately reflect either a balance of men and women or a balance of creativity and ideas which exist in society outside this kind of hot house of selectivity and the kind of thing that the Government set out. Committee structures need conforming people, but they also need, if they are not to die—and many of them must be dead now anyway—young people whose ideas are of now and whose message is that reforms are needed now.

What we really want, I suppose, is a fundamental change in public attitudes by both men and women. I believe that women should not have to prove that they can make a contribution to public life. Men do not have to do that, and women start with a disadvantage if they have to prove that they are capable of making a contribution. I shall be very much happier when women get to the position which men hold where they do not have to justify their interest and capability in public life, when it is taken for granted. But that is not yet.

I am often asked, always by men, mostly by men television commentators, what kind of contribution women can make in public life. The answer is a contribution as varied in its quality and validity as any man can make. We have not come very far since Horace Walpole called Mary Wollstencroft a "hyena in petticoats". For centuries in this country there has been the idea that women must be restricted to their own areas of development and that they must be excluded from the privileges which are automatically available to men.

I often wonder what the early campaigners for women's rights, such as Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst, would think of women today. Would they be disappointed at the huge number of women who are persuaded by magazine articles that intelligence would rob them of their charms? Would they be dismayed at the number of housewives—though, thank goodness, it is decreasing—who still have no time for politics and who vote according to the wishes of their husbands? Would they be upset at the huge areas of complacency that still exist among traditional women's organisations? I believe that they would. Most women are still content to be treated like children handed out a few presents from man's wealthy hoard. Man has been accumulating this hoard of privileges for thousands of years and it is only in the last generation or two that women have ever been allowed to covet them.

Two battles face women today. One is to hold on to what they have won and the other is to get a better share of what they have not yet won. The Bill, I hope, is a contribution to both battles. It enables society to take a closer look at the present situation and provides a true and distinctive strategy for advance. I shall look forward to hearing the views of the House, though I regret that Conservative Members may not be making a contribution to them.

2.31 p.m.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

I welcome this modest Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) on bringing it in. I am one of its supporters, not only because its enactment would be further recognition of the due right of women to play their rôle in our public institutions but because it is an attempt to open up the establishment, that particularly secretive power group whose selection is hidden from view. I therefore see the Bill as treating of both the women's rights issue and the issue of who has a say in public policy.

The organisations whose controlling bodies we are seeking to alter are part of the luxuriant undergrowth of public administration. They run to hundreds. In fact, no one knows how many there are. About 120 are listed in the schedule, but in answers to Questions that I have put down over recent months, Ministers have admitted making appointments to about 350 public bodies. Some estimates of the number of quasi-public bodies over which the executive exercises patronage have identified as many as 700.

I am disturbed as to the extent of the public accountability of all these public bodies. Although they may be subject to what passes for a State audit in this country—a mere check on the book-keeping—none seems to be subject to an audit of its efficiency or value. Further changes in that direction must await the development of an effective State audit, but that is a matter for another debate.

The appointment of people to these bodies—they must run to about 10,000—is done in secret by the Civil Service, which I understand maintains a list of the great and the good—worthies who appear to be sound enough to warrant reward by service to the State. The effect of that system can be seen in the composition of these bodies—overwhelmingly middle-class, middle-aged, white, male and, I suspect, public school and Oxbridge. In other words, the Civil Service selects in its own image. The establishment gratefully selects the establishment and we have a self-perpetuating sytem which is rich in amateurism, poor in imagination and innovation and out of touch with ordinary working people.

The Bill is concerned with the gross under-representation of women and seeks to redress the balance, but other sections of our community are also underrepresented—people who work in clerical and manual occupations, professional managers and blacks, for example. In all these bodies, decisions are being made which affect the lives of everyone in the community by men from the inner circle of privilege who rarely understand the preoccupations, concerns, attitudes and aspirations of the other 99 per cent. of our community.

The low representation or absence of women has a direct effect on the quality of decision making in these organisations. First, the bias in selection fails to make use of the available talent, experience and skill represented by women. There is no evidence that women are in any way unfitted for service but their absence gives rise to a self-fulfilling prophecy that they cannot be found for service.

Second, I believe that women, because of their place in our society, have an extra contribution to make. Since most of them spend most of their time running homes, they are better able to see the effect of decisions made by bodies like these on the family, the neighbourhood, the immediate community, children, schools and the family budget.

Third, I believe in positive discrimination in favour of those who have never held an appropriate place in our power structure. Women are one, but only one, such group, and to that extent the Bill seeks to remedy a flagrant injustice. Clearly, the selection of people to these public bodies must be based on ability to contribute, but women will increase that ability only if they are in the selection field in the first place.

Discrimination against, or the refusal of equal opportunity to, women is a deep-seated feature of our society. A few years ago I carried out a study of the personnel management of a large multinational corporation. There were about 70 women out of 5,000 in the middle management in that company, which prided itself on its enlightened paternalism. No woman had ever reached departmental manager or assistant manager level. They never received the training, the job rotation, the foreign assignments, the experience, to fit them for higher posts. When I made a report pointing this out, the power group in that company quickly shelved it, and so far as I know it is still gathering dust, because it told them a truth that they did not want to know.

I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is present because I have here the latest computer print-out of staffing in the Home Office. That shows that at under-secretary level there are one female and 20 males and at assistant secretary level there are four females and 53 males. That is the top management element of the Home Office itself. However, among middle management, from which all that talent is supposed to be coming, at executive officer level—that is typically the area of the Civil Service from which future top management comes, or at least, post-Fulton, it should be—there are 560 females and 895 men. So, from a proportion of around half as many women as men at middle management we go in the top management to a ratio of one female to 20 males.

Choosing a further example from the Home Office, the Department which is supposed to be the vanguard of the attack on discrimination, I select one specialist class. It is one for which on the face of it women are as well fitted as men—the psychologist class. At senior psychologist level there are 18 men and 16 women, but one grade above that, at principal psychologist level, there are two women and 12 men.

I should have thought that that kind of balance in my hon. Friend's Department would make it summonable before the Equal Opportunities Commission, as soon as it is set up, on prima facie evidence of discrimination. My hon. Friend might care to reflect on the prospect of having herself to appear before the commission charged with being a discriminatory employer.

I am glad to see, however, that each succeeding generation of women is less willing to put up with this situation. The denial of equal opportunity is an offence to justice and in this case a grave loss of ability and of a unique kind of experience to the design and implementation of policy and decision making in public institutions much concerned with the quality of life.

I hope that the Bill becomes law and that women's organisations will exploit its provisions to see that the smug, discriminatory world of establishment appointments is opened up to a wider spread of recruitment.

2.40 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) mentioned the Guard Dogs Bill. I presume that in that Bill "dogs "includes "bitches", although that was not made clear.

My hon. Friend's aim is wholly laudable and understandable, although the schedule shows some of the difficulties. It seeks to be fairly comprehensive, but it shows the dangers of seeking to deal with this problem by piecemeal legislation. I may be wrong, but having looked carefully through the Bill I cannot see mention of the BBC. The BBC is probably the most important medium of communication in the United Kingdom. The annual report of the BBC shows that throughout the hierarchy women are discriminated against. These appointments are made by Ministers right from the top and fairly well down through the hierarchy. That is a surprising omission.

There is the example of bishops of the established Church. That is an important medium of communication. Britain is supposed to be a religious country. The appointment of bishops is within the patronage of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is invariably a male and he invariably appoints males as bishops. Both bishops and the BBC are omitted from the Bill. However, provision is made to add to the schedule from time to time.

There is no mention of the House of Lords and the creation of life peers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North was speaking, I took my Labour Party diary from my pocket. There, sure enough, we list first the peers, and the House of Commons comes second—even in our own diary. Therefore, there is discrimination in our own diary between elected Members of this House and non-elected Members of Parliament. Although the figures may be out of date, according to my diary there are 126 Labour peers, of whom 11 are women. It would probably be unchivalrous if I said that I doubted whether more than one or two of them were under 60, including the mother of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. It is the quality that counts, I suppose, rather than quantity.

I mention these points to show the enormous difficulty of dealing with matters such as these in this way, except as a method of airing the problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton. North is absolutely right to air the problem, but the suggestions that she makes in the Bill could easily be incorporated in the Sex Discrimination Bill, now in Committee.

There were some quite amazing proceedings in the course of the discussion on that Bill. I have with me the report of the Second Reading debate. Prior to that Bill coming before the House I went up and down the country addressing meetings, mostly of women. I always asked whether they would be agreeable to having a man as a midwife. Invariably, most of these meetings comprised a mixture of middle-class and working-class women. They agreed that they would not mind having a man delivering their children. I do not think we could call him a midwife; I do not know what we could call him. I do not believe that anyone who goes into an operating theatre would mind the sex of the surgeon who was doing the job as long as he knew where he was cutting or what he was doing—or, perhaps I should say, what she was doing. That is the most important thing.

The Under-Secretary said on Second Reading of the Sex Discrimination Bill, on the question of midwives: There are potential problems. We recognice 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. If there is to be a male midwife, he must be chaperoned. I made an interjection: Will the chaperone be a man or a woman?"—[Official Report, 26th March 1975; Vol. 889, c. 613.] The Under-Secretary made no reply.

In Committee on that Bill one of the most ardent feminists, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) voted with the Tories to prevent that from happening. She voted against the principle. As a consequence of her vote, the Government were defeated. She said that in no circumstances must men be allowed to train as midwives.

There was another occasion when lady Members voted to preserve some kind of female domain. The lady Members on that Committee voted against the principles to which my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North is drawing attention today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) quoted figures about the Home Office. They did not prove anything. Figures depend upon the scope for training and for promotion and upon the initial nominations for entry into the Civil Service. To play the numbers game does not get us very far. This is one of the greatest criticisms of the Bill. To play the numbers game, we have to provide back-up facilities to enable women to take the opportunities that are presented. We have to provide social service facilities such as nursery schools and créches to enable women to get these jobs. If this Bill were put on the statute book and those facilities were not provided, it would have no effect at all because, for one reason or another, women are so tied by other problems that they could not come forward. In this case the Ministry would be in the invidious position of seeking to try to implement a Bill for which there is no enforcement provision. There is no provision in the Bill for enforcement.

Let us suppose that a Minister were to choose seven men and three women to serve on a commission of 10. Who would take the Ministry to court? There is no provision whatever for enforcing the pro- visions of the Bill. Moreover, if a commission is to be comprised half of men and half of women, it would have to be an even number. We could not have commissions of 3, 5, 7 or 21; we would have to have them of 2, 4, 6, or 8 and so on. To try to approach this problem by arithmetical formulate is a superficial way of dealing with a real problem.

In saying that, in no way do I denigrate from the aim of my hon. Friend. It is a good aim, but this legislation would not achieve very much if it were put on the statute book.

2.50 p.m.

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

I should like to congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) on the modest and sincere way in which she has put forward her Bill. The House listened to her with close attention.

However, one has only to look round the Chamber to see that hon. Ladies have made a considerable impression and impact on the House. The hon. Lady the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) is here as spokesman for a Government Department, and we wish her well in her career and wonder to what dizzy heights she may eventually succeed. I do not know whether there is any jealousy on the part of the hon. Lady, but on our side of the House the leader of our party is a woman, a fact of which we are proud; it has nothing to do with sex but entirely to do with merit.

Mr. William Hamilton

It was to do with Heath.

Mr. Mather

Merit certainly does not come into the Bill. The hon. Lady the Member for Northampton, North mentioned women's institutes and townswomen's guilds. I wonder what their attitude would be to the Bill. Although they support the objectives of the Sex Discrimination Bill in general terms, perhaps their attitude to this Bill might be ambivalent.

Is it the right way? The hon. Lady said that what was required was a change in public attitude. I do not think that this type of Bill is the right way to make the change that the hon. Lady so desires. Rather it might militate against the cause that she supports because of the way it discriminates.

The Sex Discrimination Bill, which is now going through Parliament, is based on equal opportunity. That is a principle that this Bill denies. The hon. Lady quoted the Home Secretary saying that sex as a basis for separate treatment was not acceptable. That view will be generally accepted on both sides of the House as a fair way to approach the problem.

This Bill discriminates against men. The hon. Lady has given us a list of Government boards and Departments with a preponderance of men. As the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said, the hon. Lady can play the numbers game to her heart's content, but the right way to set about this matter is to allow the Sex Discrimination Bill to get on the statute book and to allow its effects to work through the system.

If the hon. Lady wants a change in public attitudes, a Bill of this sort will not have that effect. The change needs to be brought about differently, and there are many different ways in which to achieve it.

2.53 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) on the able and enthusiastic way in which she has pressed her case. I am in favour of doing everything I can to further equality of the sexes and to put forward the claims of women in this respect. Were this a Bill that did simply that, I should support it in every way, but it is not.

I would agree with it if it dealt with the qualifications for the job on the part of the sexes, or if it encouraged equality of opportunity. I am all in favour of equality of opportunity for women in every possible direction, but that is not what the Bill proposes.

My hon. Friend is to be congratulated on a wonderful effort, particularly on the long list of public bodies that she has accumulated in her schedule. However, she must agree that, practically, the Bill is impossible. For example, Clause 1(1) says: Subject to the provisions of subsections (21 and (3) of this section, appointments to the bodies listed in the Schedule to this Act shall be so made as to ensure that the membership of those bodies comprises men and women in equal numbers. One example is the British Railways Board. There may be a case for putting some women on that board, but surely the qualification for membership ought to be whether a person, male or female, is best fitted to serve as a member.

I note with interest the example of the Gaming Board for Great Britain. I do not know whether it is suggested that women might play a special part there, but again the qualification should obviously be whether a person is best fitted to serve.

I am very interested in the Law Commission. The Law Commission comprises a number of judges. Are we to be precluded from having men serve on the Law Commission because an equal number of members ought to be women? From where would the women be taken? There are women judges, but whether those women judges would be fit to be members of the Law Commission I do not know. There are other examples—the Post Office, the Pensions Board, the Restrictive Practices Court, and so on. In each the test for membership of the board should be whether the person has the qualifications.

To add insult to injury, so to speak, in subsection (3) the hon. Lady says: Where a vacancy has occurred which, under the foregoing provisions of this section, would fall to be filled by the appointment of a women but for the time being a suitable appointment cannot be made, the vacancy shall be left unfilled until such time as a suitable appointment can be made in compliance with the foregoing provisions of the section. What does my hon. Friend contemplate? When the Gaming Board or the Law Commission has a number of vacancies, are those vacancies not to be filled until a suitable woman is available?

It is a very good Bill and a worthy effort, a wonderful idea in its way, but to command support the Bill should have supported equal opportunity for the sexes to get different jobs in different spheres. As the Bill has been put forward, however it is impracticable.

2.57 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) on her success in the Ballot for Privates Members' Bills and on giving us another opportunity to debate the important subject of the position of women in our society today.

I totally agree with a large part of my hon. Friend's analysis and survey of the subject. This is an extremely significant year for women. Not only is it International Women's Year, but the many events which are being held in this country and abroad indicate that Governments and other bodies are taking their responsibilities seriously in this field. We all hope that 1975 will see further developments advancing the equality of the sexes all over the world.

In this country in particular this year will include several most significant advances. We shall see the Equal Pay Act finally take full effect. There will be important developments in social security through the Social Security Pensions Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services this year sees the introduction of the Child Benefit Bill. Above all, it will see the Sex Discrimination Bill becoming law. That Bill will make discrimination on the ground of sex unlawful for a wide range of activities and situations. Hon. Members will recall the debate on Second Reading of the Bill. I think I can fairly say that the view of the great majority of Members present on both sides of the House was that the Bill presented a comprehensive, constructive and positive approach to tackling a long-needed reform.

Altogether, the present Government have a record to be proud of in their efforts to achieve equality for women in our society. We are fully aware that much remains to be done and that legislation alone, although it has an essential part to play, will not bring about that essential change in attitudes which we wish to see. However, it can create a climate of opinion in which prejudice finds it harder to thrive and flourish.

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the extremely important aspect of women's rights which she is emphasising in her Bill. As she knows, I have spent a large part of my political life concerning myself with the very issues about which she has spoken. We all agree that women should have a greater opportunity to play a full and equal part in public life. My hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention to the serious problem of the under-representation of women in one particular respect—the holding of public appointments. Nobody who has examined the relative number of men and women appointed to public boards and bodies can fail to detect an extreme numerical imbalance of the sexes. But it is not a numerical imbalance by legislation, and in my view the remedy should not be a numerical balance by legislation. My hon. Friend's approach in her Bill is in my view unacceptable, because it is inconsistent with the approach in the Government's Sex Discrimination Bill, as shall show.

What would my hon. Friend's Bill do? It is concerned with appointments to public bodies and to juries. Its object is to require that future appointments to the bodies listed in its schedule, most of which are set up by legislation, are made in such a way as to secure that an exactly equal number of men and women are appointed. It would impose the same requirement in respect of all ministerial appointments to bodies other than those listed in the schedule—for example, to the commissions, committees and working parties. It would impose the same requirements in respect of the selection of jurors. There is a reference to the House of Lords in the Long Title, but this is not pursued in the Bill. The Bill is an attempt to reach an equality of representation between the sexes throughout a huge area.

I shall deal first with public appointments. The Bill's approach has its attractions. Women comprise a little more than half the population, yet such appointments have gone overwhelmingly to men. On some public boards there are no women at all. The White Paper which lists members of public boards of a commercial character as at 1st April 1974 shows that there were no women members on the British Railways Board, the British Transport Board, the British Waterways Board, the National Bus Company and the National Freight Corporation. There are many other boards where women constitute only a small minority. Hon. Members have been confronted with evidence of the under-representation of women in the making of appointments on various occasions.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has pursued this matter with great vigour and energy for a number of years. He succeeded in eliciting information from Ministers of the previous Conservative administration as well as from this administration We are fully aware of the stream of Questions on the matter that are tabled by many hon. Members.

I must assure the House that the Government are in no way complacent. As I shall indicate, the Government are taking positive steps to tackle the problem at its root. However, I must put some of the issues in perspective. I make the obvious point that the reason for making appointments is that there is a job to be done. Public boards have responsibilities for running nationalised industries. A Royal Commission or a departmental committee is established to consider and report on a particular subject of public concern. Such bodies are fulfilling a public duty for the benefit of the public. The primary reason for selecting a person to serve on a public body is and must be that he or she is a person whom the appointing Minister thinks can make a valuable contribution to the work of that body.

Although it may well be desirable to secure some balance of knowledge and experience on a particular body, there is the overriding need to choose people who are likely to make the greatest and most valuable contribution as a result of their knowledge, wisdom, experience or other personal qualities. The moment that Governments lose sight of that principle, they will get into difficulties. The emphasis then shifts to some characteristic other than personal qualities. If we start imposing quotas, there is no obvious reason for imposing quotas based on—

Mrs. Colquhoun

Does not my hon. Friend accept that this country, which has been run by men for generations, could not be in a worse position than it is today?

Dr. Summerskill

That is an extremely sweeping statement. I believe that this country has been in many a worse position than it is in today.

Mrs. Colquhoun

I do not think so.

Dr. Summerskill

But that has nothing to do with what I am trying to explain. If we start imposing quotas, there is no obvious reason for basing them on one characteristic rather than another.

Mr. John Garrett

The characteristic on which selection is based at present is merely whether a person is on the list of the "great and good"—namely, of sufficient prominence to catch the attention of the Civil Service. That is one characteristic, but that does not necessarily have anything to do with ability.

Dr. Summerskill

Perhaps my hon. Friend will listen to me. There is no obvious reason for imposing quotas based on one characteristic rather than another.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North is concerned about the under-representation of women. Other hon. Members may be equally concerned about the under-representation of other groups. For example, they may be concerned about the unequal representation of the regions on different bodies or about industrial or educational experience on other bodies. They may want quotas based on age or on political parties. Once we start on the principle of quotas based on sex, we shall have other people wanting race quotas, age quotas and every other sort of quota. By imposing quotas we would be imposing structural rigidities on appointments to certain bodies. The principle would be extremely difficult to maintain and pursue. I believe that to most hon. Members it would be an unacceptable principle.

Of course, we are all agreed that we want men and women to be appointed or selected on grounds of merit or ability and not on the basis of sex. I thought that was commonly agreed. To legislate for a sex quota is totally contrary to that principle. If the Bill became law it would mean that the most essential consideration when making appointments would be the sex of the person to be appointed—so as to maintain the statutory requirement of the sex balance. Merit, ability and experience would be secondary considerations, and they are not statutory requirements under the Bill.

The law would require that for every woman appointed there would have to be a man appointed, and vice versa, regardless of whether for a particular post there might be available many more suitable women than men or many more suitable men than women at any given time. The sex balance would have to be maintained even, on some occasions, at the expense of not appointing the most suitable person.

For instance, I imagine that when appointments are made to the National Dock Labour Board there will be far fewer women than men with experience of the docks which would qualify them for appointment to the board.

Mr. Mather

I agree with the hon. Lady in what she says about a quota system, but she might consider as an alternative whether it might be better for the next leader of the Labour Party to be a woman. Has that idea occurred to her?

Dr. Summerskill

I am surprised that it was not included in the Bill. It shows the difficulty of trying to proceed by way of quotas.

On another board it might be found that on grounds of experience and ability many more women than men were qualified to serve. Under the terms of the Bill, half the appointments made to the National Dock Labour Board must be men and half must be women. On other boards there must be exactly the same proportion, regardless of considerations of merit and ability.

Mrs. Colquhoun

I did not include in the Bill a provision that the leaders of political parties should be women because of the experience of the right hon. Lady, the Leader of the Opposition, who, having reached that position, failed to appoint women to her Shadow Cabinet in suitable numbers and therefore let down the rôle of women in society. Having achieved a high and important position, she still appointed very dull men.

Dr. Summerskill

Does my hon. Friend wish the quota of 50 per cent. men and 50 per cent. women to be a statutory requirement for the Shadow Cabinet or the Cabinet? We should get into a very difficult position.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

I note the difficulties which the Minister finds in a rigid 50–50 split. Would her objections be modified if there were, say, a 60–40 split?

Dr. Summerskill

I am sorry that the theme of my speech has been lost on my hon. Friend. I am saying that the whole principle of fixed quotas on grounds of sex, age, race, religion or anything else is wrong and is an impracticable way of making appointments, much as we all wish to see the end of discrimination on grounds of sex.

Mr. John Garrett

As the Minister is so keen on ending discrimination on grounds of sex, will she comment on the over-discrimination in her own Department and the likelihood of its being brought before the Equal Opportunities Commission?

Dr. Summerskill

I was about to deal with this subject. I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) when he pointed out that we all know that there are far too few women Members of Parliament-26 women, 635 Members. We know that there are far too few women in the higher grades or even the middle grades of the Civil Service, a matter to which I shall return in more detail a little later. We know that there are too few women senior trade union officials, and too few women managing directors. This is common knowledge to every hon. Member. But the Bill, which would impose a 50 per cent. sex quota on public appointments, has really nothing to do with this, as my hon. Friend pointed out.

I deplore the fact that there are too few women at the top levels in the Civil Service, not only in the Home Office but, I am sure, in most other Departments. My hon. Friend's Bill, as I read it, would not remedy that situation, but our Bill, the Sex Discrimination Bill, in the immediate future, in the mid term and especially in the long term, will do very much to alter the attitude of the community in general to the sort of career women can take up, the sort of career that hitherto they have been conditioned to avoid or have felt they cannot attempt to enter. This is a completely different aspect of the problem, and the Sex Discrimination Bill, which will introduce equality of opportunity over a wide sphere of jobs, will remedy this situation.

That does not mean there are fewer able women than able men to take the jobs mentioned in my hon. Friend's Bill, but we must remember that perhaps there are fewer women emerging to take the jobs because they feel that they do not have the relevant experience. This is not their fault. Here again we hope that the Government's Sex Discrimination Bill will make it easier for them to acquire this experience.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, in response to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) about appointments to public bodies and committees concerned with overseas development, said: It is certainly my aim that they should have more women members. My hon. Friend will appreciate that women with experience and qualifications in these overseas and specialised fields are not easy to identify, for few women in the past have rarely had the opportunity to acquire them."—[Official Report, 17th March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 290.] It may be that the traditional catchment areas for selection undervalue the distinctive contribution that women can make, and the Government are continuing their efforts to identify women whose qualities may not have come to notice in the traditional way. But to the extent that selection for some of these appointments is drawn from people who have already proved their competence in some aspect of public life, the right way to tackle the problem is to improve opportunities for women generally to make a full and equal contribution to all aspects of public life.

The way to tackle the problem of the under-representation of women on public boards is not by imposing quotas but by attacking the root cause of the inequality, in the way we are doing in our Sex Discrimination Bill. My hon. Friend and the Government are at one in wanting to create equal opportunities and to remove the barriers which exist against women achieving their full potential in public life. We think that the best way of helping women, who are obviously the disadvantaged sex at the present time, is to remove distinctions based on sex; not to reinforce them, which is what the proposed quota system would do.

The philosophy in the Government's Bill is that, save in certain carefully defined circumstances, sex is an irrelevant and unjustifiable basis for treating one person less favourably than another. Our approach is perhaps not as spectacular as that of my hon. Friend, but I am convinced that it is fairer as between individuals, that it is far more likely to be effective, and that the results will prove lasting.

My hon. Friend mentioned the statutory woman, though, rightly, she preferred to call her the "nominal "or "grace and favour "woman because she is not statutory. But we do not want to substitute for the patronising concept of the statutory woman blocks of statutory women and blocks of statutory men, as my hon. Friend's Bill would. At the same time, I believe—this is entirely in line with the philosophy of the Sex Discrimination Bill—that we should not be so blindly loyal to the principle or form of 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 that special steps are necessary and desirable to encourage women to apply or to become trained for jobs which traditionally have been the preserve of men.

I shall mention various practical steps which the Government have taken to correct the imbalance. Whenever a vacancy occurs, the Government are considering suitable women candidates extremely carefully. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the Women's National Commission has developed with the Civil Service Department an improved procedure for women who wish to put themselves forward for the list of people suitable for appointment to public bodies. The final selection is in the hands of the Minister concerned. I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. She illustrated her argument by referring to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and the situation in her Department, although that example is not exactly a balance of the sexes, as I pointed out, but rather a tilt the other way. As my hon. Friend said, it makes a pleasant change.

Let me give my hon. Friend some other examples. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is cochairman of the Women's National Commission. Her Cabinet colleagues are in no doubt as to the part they can play in ensuring that the contribution women can make is recognised fully. As a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have indicated, they welcome information about potential candidates who have the appropriate experience and qualifications.

The Department of Employment has taken an initiative in two specific cases to increase women's representation on public bodies. The first is that of the industrial tribunals. In seeking nominations last year from the CBI and the TUC, Ministers emphasised the need to increase substantially the proportion of women members. The result has been that now 20 per cent. of the members are women compared with 11 per cent. before.

The second case is that of district manpower committees. Here, appointments are made by the Manpower Services Commission and the Employment Service Agency. But my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment wrote to the chairman of the commission drawing attention to the desirability of women members and members drawn from any local immigrant population being appointed to the district manpower committees.

In the Home Office—I do not want to boast, so I have left myself to last—we are trying to follow the same principle, and I personally am doing this in appointments to boards of visitors and to the Parole Board. I assure my hon. Friend that this is a principle which is being followed actively throughout Government Departments. We are looking at the practices which are adopted in making these appointments and considering what we can do to increase the proportion of women.

Any change of emphasis takes time to work through the system, because the more usual case is that only a few appointments on the standing bodies change hands each year. But we are making a good start. I can assure the House that the will and the spirit to make the changes are there.

I come to the Government's Sex Discrimination Bill for one moment. Special provision is made in Clause 75 for persons in the service of the Crown, since most such persons, including civil servants, have no contract. Clause 75 extends the Bill's protection to persons in the service of the Crown whose relationship with the Crown is, in substance, an employee- employer relationship, like civil servants. But the Bill goes further than this. It will in some instances cover appointments to commissions and committees or inde-independent offices where these are made by or for the purpose of Minister of the Crown or of Government Department.

I have dealt so far with the principle of my hon. Friend's Bill. We do not think that it is right to legislate for a quota where we are dealing with the power of a Minister to appoint the person he thinks is best fitted for the job. That is incompatible with our own Bill. However, I would like to mention two detailed points which were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central.

According to my hon. Friend's Bill there must be equal numbers of men and women. If we look around for a suitable woman and we cannot find her, either we are forced against our better judgment to appoint somebody less suitable or we leave the vacancy unfilled—which seems wrong. What is the position to be if there is a statutory requirement that there shall be X number of members on one body, yet because of the Bill we can achieve only X minus 1 because we cannot find the right person of the right sex to fill it?

I now come to the question of juries. That is an important subject. I should have found it difficult to justify the lack of women on juries one year ago. I am pleased that the situation has greatly improved. When the departmental committee on jury service considered these matters in the 1960s it reported that the effect of the requirement that a juror must in general be a householder was that women formed only 11 per cent. of the total number of available jurors. It understood, as indeed we would expect, that on this basis it was rare to find more than two or three women on any one jury. When I used to visit the Old Bailey I was struck by the fact that serving on juries were rows of men. Often there were no women serving on juries. The position is, happily, different today. The departmental committee accepted the point put forcefully by several women's organisations.

Perhaps I might quote a short passage from the argument: The contribution which women can make as jurors to the administration of justice is no less valuable than that made by men. It is in our view inherent in the very idea of a jury that it should be as far as possible a genuine cross-section of the adult community, and we think that a system which has the effect of arbitrarily restricting the number of women jurors is indefensible. That was one of the two major considerations which influenced the committee to recommend that the basic qualification for jury service in England and Wales should be citizenship as evidenced by inclusion in the electoral register as a parliamentary elector.

The Criminal Justice Act 1972 gave effect to the committee's recommendation. The provisions came into force at the end of March last year.

Mr. Weitzman

I should like to echo what the Under-Secretary said. I had the good fortune to be a member of the departmental committee which made those recommendations. Women are just as much entitled as men to serve on juries if they appear on the electoral register. The suggestion in Clause 3 is that the numbers of men and women on juries should be equal. That would be impossible to achieve with juries because members of juries are picked out by chance. If it were laid down that there should be an equal number of men and women on juries, it would be impossible to hold fair trials.

Dr. Summerskill

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. There is at present a random method of selection for juries, and many people apply to be excused if they are selected, but I believe that overall this makes it a fair system, because there may then be some juries with more women than men, some with equal numbers, and some with more men than women. I think that the present position is extremely satisfactory, in the light of the Criminal Justice Act.

The Government are fully aware that women are under-represented on many public bodies. We want to see more women on public bodies, and I hope that I have shown that we are actively taking steps to achieve that end. We are at one with my hon. Friends in our objective, but her methods and ours to achieve it are fundamentally incompatible.

The philosophy of our Sex Discrimination Bill is that, as a general rule, sex is an irrelevant and unjustifiable basis for treating one person less favourably than another in the situations and activities to which the Bill applies. A statutory requirement of equal numbers of men and women on public bodies runs counter to that philosophy, since it defines, in effect, a person's sex as a relevant and justifiable basis for different treatment.

The proposals in our Bill, the initiative we are taking to seek out more women for public appointments and the climate of opinion which this will generate will ensure that women, on the basis of their individual qualities, and without regard to their sex—the same considerations as apply to men—will participate much more in all areas of public life. Inevitably, this will take time, but I do not believe that it would be right or in the long-term interests of women if the process were to be artificially shortened by an approach such as that in my hon. Friend's Bill, which would in obverse form reinforce the very kind of discrimination which we are seeking to eliminate.

3.32 p.m.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

As a young child, I was advised to keep out of disputes, and I was advised also that it is expedient to keep out of disputes and fights involving two women. I am in the invidious position of having to support neither party to the present dispute—neither my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) nor my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), the Under-Secretary of State.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Then side with the Whips and sit down.

Mr. George

I remember reading some years ago some advice given in a book by that distinguished political philosopher Machiavelli—"Be careful—avoid being neutral"—because, he said, a man who commits himself to one side at least has friends on that side and will incur the wrath only of the other, whereas by being neutral or failing to commit himself to either party he incurs the wrath of both. I fear, therefore, that when I have finished I shall probably be hotly pursued by both.

I declare an interest. I speak as a former male chauvinist. I changed my view over a period of years, unlike the religious leader Calvin, who said: As if by a sudden ray of light I recognised the abyss of sin and the profundity of filth into which I had hitherto been plunged. In my case, it was no Pauline conversion but a conversion over a period of years.

I believe that what the Government are doing in their legislation dealing with sex discrimination and in creating equality between the sexes is commendable. We have gone a long way in the past five years, even though few women's organisations will believe, even when our sex discrimination legislation is on the statute book and implemented, that this will be the opportunity to sit back and say "We have done what we set out to do". Obviously, this legislation is but one further step on a lengthy, protracted journey towards final female emancipation.

The Bill calls attention to a number of problems on which I wish to dwell. One is the process by which appointments are made to public bodies. The Bill focuses attention, as does other legislation, on the way that British society is dominated by the principle of discrimination, and not just discrimination against women. I want to broaden what I am talking about. There is discrimination against other groups, against ethnic minorities and against those whose position on the social scale is rather low. Surely as Socialists we must concern ourselves not only with the rights of women but with the rights of the disadvantaged.

Mr. Cormack

The self-employed.

Mr. George

I am talking about the disadvantaged.

I want first to discuss the principle of appointment to public boards. The process of selection is mysterious. Winston Churchill described the Soviet Union as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. The appointment to public bodies is equally mysterious.

The way that individuals are invited to hold authority is of vital concern to politicians, to students of politics and to the public at large. We have been elected by our constituents. Whether that process can be improved upon is a matter of debate. We have been elected to positions of authority but not, as Mem- bers of Parliament, directly to positions of power.

The bulk of positions of authority and power within this country are held by people who owe their positions not to election but to appointment.

There are four methods by which people are selected to hold public office. The first is the principle of heredity, which I wholheartedly deplore. The second is as a result of competition or election. The third is the result of patronage. The fourth is the element of chance, which I could spend a great deal of time elaborating.

Patronage is a feature of authoritarian régimes. There are many societies in which every office is based on the principle of patronage. Democracies have reconciled themselves to the existence of patronage. Indeed, many democracies, like Britain and America, enjoy within their systems a degree of patronage and appointment which tends to make a mockery of the democratic process. I look round and see a society in urgent need of reform—a society characterised by injustice, inequality and discrimination and in which a tiny portion of the nation's population concentrates in its hands a degree of wealth, power and influence which makes a mockery of the democratic process. Whilst we profess democracy, we operate on the principle of appointment and patronage.

"Patronage" is an emotive word. It is associated in the public eye with corruption. I am not talking about the corruption of political life in this country. Patronage can operate within a framework of legality and justice. Patronage can operate within the principles of the public interest. I am not suggesting that patronage is necessarily corrupt in a financial sense, but it is corrupt in one respect mainly, and that is that people are put into positions of authority to make decisions when they otherwise would not be.

There is a great deal of talent and experience which lies unharnessed in our society. I am not talking about the way in which we have failed to mobilise the talent of half the population namely, women. I am talking about the other strata of society which the Government do not normally consider sufficiently when they are thinking of appointing people to public office.

Patronage is extensive and the Bill focuses attention upon patronage in government. Far from declining in importance, it is increasing. The scope of patronage is enormous. There are appointments to political office, to membership of administrative boards, to advisory bodies, and to benches of magistrates. If ever there was an area of life that was worthy of drastic alteration and amendment it is the principle of appointment of justices. We are talking not about a national elite but about the creation and perpetuation of a local elite. To my mind appointments to magistrates' benches are the perpetuation of the dominance within a local society of certain groups of people.

Patronage extends to appointments to administrative tribunals. The Prime Minister has it within his gift to make appointments to the Church, and to confer honours. These are the areas in which patronage has a grip on our political, economic and social life.

It is true that in any walk of life decisions have to be made by people with experience, but such people are not to be found only in certain sections of our society. If we want to utilise to the full all the experience within our country the Government must look to areas which have hitherto remained largely untapped.

Mr. Weitzman

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the provisions of the Bill were enacted patronage would still be there with regard to men and women equally?

Mr. George

I was going on to make the point that appointments will still have to be made by one process or another but I should like to see the catchment area broadened. I am not rigidly opposed to the quota system referred to by the Minister. I am thinking of an important institution within the French political system called the Economic and Social Council. It is a kind of parliament, an advisory body, which compartmentalises society into groups. It fills its office with representatives from well-defined areas of society, and there is provision for a quota of women to be appointed.

I repeat that I am not opposed to a quota system, but, having listened to the Minister, I feel that the Government are not committed to this proposed legislation. Nevertheless, I refer again to something said by Machiavelli in his advice to statesmen. He said that being a statesman is like being an archer, and added, to paraphrase, "You should aim beyond what you feel you can naturally reach as a result of pulling back the string of your bow".

If the Bill dies the death at four o'clock—some might say that it died the death the moment that I got up—it has pointed out deficiencies within the system of patronage and appointments. I suspect that it will not reach the statue book, but at least it will have achieved some objectives—

Mr. Weitzman

That is good feminine logic.

Mr. George

I say in jest, that my hon. and learned Friend had better not say that outside.

I heartily welcome the sex discrimination legislation which will shortly become law. It is not a final pronouncement, but women can feel that this Government's decisions have furthered their interests. This Bill is positive discrimination carried to its illogical conclusion. It goes much further than I would like.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife Central (Mr. Hamilton) has left, because I want to talk about sex discrimination as it relates to the Monarchy, which is not included in the Bill. That is a fundamental criticism of the Bill, which deals only with public bodies.

The principal upon which one succedes to the Monarchy is that of heredity and descent. That discriminates against women. The last thing I want to do is set myself up as the promoter of the interests of Princess Anne—I am sure that that is the last thing that she would want—but it is fundamentally unfair that legislation going back to 1700 means that Princess Anne, although second-born, is only fourth in line to the Crown. If we are to have a Monarchy—the demand for its abolition seems limited—it should be based on the principles of the present sex discrimination legislation. The accession should be based on the normal principle of heredity, without discrimination in favour of males. I am sure that if this proposal were adopted. two little boys up the road might view me with some displeasure, but I am talking about principle, not individuals.

We are talking about legislation on male dominance which may have been justified in a feudal era. This principle was created because if a woman ascended to the Throne in medieval times, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North might say, there was an inherent danger of domestic unrest and chaos.

In the modern era, the law relating to the succession should be brought within the scope of sex discrimination legislation. I should not have thought that the principle on which the Monarchy has been based would be undermined or destroyed by a few speeches or articles. I feel it is worthy to raise this issue because it is very much a question of encouraging others. If we can see that the Monarchy is being brought into line with principles of equality and of opportunity among the sexes, this will act to encourage people who are living in rather less exalted situations. We are talking not merely about legislating to change behaviour. We are talking about a gradual change of attitudes and of behaviour which can be brought about as a result of examples being set.

If the Home Office could consider altering the law relating to the Monarchy, this would be an enormous boost for female emancipation. I am not an avid reader of "Burke's Peerage" or "Debrett", but the law relating to the acquisition of titles exhibits the same principles of discrimination about which I have been talking.

My support for the Bill is not absolute. The Bill has performed a number of useful functions—not only this afternoon. I hope that it will not die the death completely, because it shows that there is discrimination against women. It also shows that there is discrimination against other groups within our society. We are living in a society in which people who happen to enjoy certain positions within our social environment dominate almost every institution of decision making within the community.

I hope that this proposed legislation, if not implemented, will at least burn itself into the minds of the Home Office Ministers. If they will not say that we can create quotas legally, perhaps when they are making appointments to the hundreds of offices within their competence they will accept that, although there is no legislation compelling them to do this, they can appoint people to these official bodies, if not legally, at least by the implementation of unofficial quotas.

In response to requests from my colleagues, I shall desist from discussing the Bill further.

3.53 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

To rise to my feet during the debate on this Bill seems to be the only way in which I shall be able to address the House this afternoon. As my Bill was to be next in the batting order, perhaps I shall be allowed to make a few remarks upon the piece of legislation that is currently being debated.

It is obvious beyond a doubt that the Government, with the Whips scurrying hither and thither, have been conducting one of those rather disreputable Friday afternoon exercises to keep out a very necessary piece of legislation. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun) agree with me. I should like to pay tritribute to her for the moderate way in which she has introduced her Bill and for the fact that although she obtained a place in the Ballot which I was not lucky enough to have, she did not speak at inordinate length. She made her points with precision and conviction. She would not expect me to agree with everything she said, but she did not attempt to take up the time of the House unduly.

I should also like to pay tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), to the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who has left the Chamber, and to the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett). They all had points which they wished to make, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), but they made them briefly and succinctly.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the rambling, turgid, philosophical discourse of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). He occupied the time of the House far too long this afternoon. We had a perverse illustration of the tact that brevity is the soul of wit because we had exactly the opposite at inordinate length. Although there are parliamentary occasions, such as the all-party committee on widows and one-parent families, when the hon. Gentleman and I share certain interests, this afternoon I thought he was less than fair, either to the subject under discussion or to the subject matter of the Bill which I was hoping to propose to the House.

The substance of the address of the hon. Member for Northampton, North was the inequality of the sexes. Although there can be differing interpretations and differing degrees of emphasis, I do not think anyone would dissent from the basis of her argument that, indeed, for far too long there has been far too much unfair discrimination. Without being out of order, I should like to indicate that in the Bill that I was hoping to commend to the House this afternoon we were attempting to propose a real solution to some real discrimination, because many of the women who are discriminated against most particularly are elderly women ratepayers.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

Like me.

Mr. Cormack

The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) says "Like me". Far be it from me to comment on her rateable status, but chivalry is not yet dead and I entirely dissent from her proposition that she is elderly, because her frequent and valuable and vociferous contributions to our debates reveal an alacrity of spirit and youthful enthusiasm that would not be possible if combined with an elderly frame.

I revert to the elderly ratepayers, particularly the elderly female ratepayers. There will be throughout the length and breadth of the land a great outcry that the subject of rating reform has not been debated today. In the past two years, when we have had the rates explosion, one of the features that has impinged on our consciences more than anything else has been the inequitable way in which the rate burden has been thrust on so many widows and elderly spinsters who see themselves living in properties adjacent to those occupied by families with three or four wage earners and yet paying the same rates.

Mrs. Colquhoun

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Would he say what is the number of elderly women on rate assessment panels?

Mr. Cormack

I am sure that the hon. Lady and I could conduct a joint investigation that would enlighten the nation as well as the House, but at three minutes to four on a Friday afternoon, Mr. Deputy Speaker, neither you nor she would expect me to come up with the answer, though I accept the general gravamen of the hon. Lady's charge that probably the answer is "Not enough".

Throughout this land of ours, in my constituency and in Croydon, where 17,000 people signed a petition that was presented to the House this morning, there are millions of elderly women who live—I had better not say cheek by jowl—side by side with families in which there are several wage earners and yet whose rate assessment is exactly the same. That is most unfair. It is discriminatory.

It is a parliamentary scandal of the highest order and the first degree that the scurrilous scrurryings of the Whips should have prevented proper discussion'of rating reform this afternoon when it was obvious beyond peradventure that the commendable proposals of the hon. Lady could have been voted upon and her Bill allowed either to proceed to Committee or to fall by the wayside. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr), who interrupts from an antipodean posture, as he frequently does, will not be allowed to prevent me from completing the essential stages of this afternoon's proceedings, because I always have a fundamental distaste for and dislike of hon. Members who talk out the legislative endeavours of their colleagues, and I shall now sit down so that the hon. Lady the Member for Northampton, North, if she wishes, may call a Division.

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

With the permission of the sponsor of the Bill, I beg to move.

That the debate be now adjourned.

Question put and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday 18th, July.