HC Deb 24 May 1976 vol 912 cc202-25

12.1 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ray Carter)

beg to move, That the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 11th May, be approved. The purpose of the Order is to apply to persons living and working in Northern Ireland provisions similar to those applying to persons living and working in other parts of the United Kingdom under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

Much of the information contained in the White Paper "Equality for Women" (Cmnd. 5724) on the status of women in Great Britain applies equally to women in Northern Ireland. Indeed, evidence shows that the position of women in Northern Ireland in relation to equality of treatment in employment, the provision of goods services and facilities and other matters is in many cases worse than that of women elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

It has been said with some truth that Northern Ireland is a male-dominated society, but there are signs that women there are becoming less prepared to accept a subordinate position. The economic pressures on young people to make their way in industry, business and the professions has meant that an increasing number of women are competing with men for employment and promotion. It is only just that they should be accorded an opportunity of making their way by their industry and ability in the same manner as their male colleagues, and I believe that the provisions of the Order will enable them to do so.

In general, the Order prohibits discrimination in employment on grounds of sex or marriage and discrimination in the provision of goods facilities and services on grounds of sex. Indirect discrimination, instruction or pressure to discriminate and discriminatory advertising are also prohibited. The employment provisions apply equally to employment for the purposes of a Minister of the Crown or for a Government Department, and appointments to public bodies by Ministers of the Crown or by Government Departments are required to be made without discrimination. The Order also amends the Equal Pay Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 to make it clear that it applies only to contractual terms of employment and to harmonise it with the provisions of the Order.

Certain exceptions are made. They relate, for example, to employment in a private household or in a firm employing not more than five persons. The main exceptions, however, lie where sex can be regarded as a genuine occupational qualification for a job. The criteria for determining genuine occupation qualification are set out in some detail in Article 10 of the Order. They cover such matters as physiology, including physical strength and stamina, considerations of decency or privacy, and jobs in single-sex establishments—for example, prisons, single-sex hospitals or parts of hospitals or special care establishments, and places where the character of the establishment requires a particular job to be held by a man or a woman. In many cases a job will not consist entirely of work which fulfils one or other of the genuine occupational qualifications stated but will contain some duties to which one of the criteria applies. In such cases the genuine occupational qualification exception will normally apply to the whole job.

In addition to the genuine occupational qualification exceptions there are other exceptions. They include certain requirements of the police and prison services, employment for purposes of an organised religion, employment and training of midwives, single-sex establishments of education, education courses in physical training and charities. They also include insurance, communal accommodation and certain forms of discriminatory training designed to enable persons of either sex to fit themselves for certain types of work or for entry or re-entry to the labour market—for example, after a period of domesticity.

Elected bodies such as committees of trade unions may reserve a number of places for persons of one sex so as to maintain a reasonable balance between the sexes. Finally, acts of a discriminatory nature empowered by any enactment enacted before the making of the Order or empowered by any instrument made or approved before or after the making of the Order under any such enactment are excepted, as are discriminatory acts done for the purpose of safeguarding national or public security. Transitional provisions are designed to enable organisations and professional bodies to comply with the requirements of the Order within a given period of time.

The Order prohibits victimisation of any person in relation to any provision of the Order where that person has brought proceedings under the Order or, under the Equal Pay Act (Northern Ireland) 1970, has given evidence or information in connection with such proceedings or has taken any action whatsoever under either enactment provided that such action has been taken in good faith.

The Order establishes an Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland to work towards the elimination of discrimination, promote equality of opportunity between men and women generally, keep under review the working of the Order and the Equal Pay Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 and, if necessary, propose amendments to these enactments. I hope to appoint 12 commissioners, one of whom will be chairman and another deputy-chairman.

Legal action under the Order lies, in employment cases, to industrial tribunals and in other cases to the county courts. Damages of up to £5,200 may be awarded against a respondent found guilty of discriminatory practices. Provision is made for appeals.

The Equal Opportunities Commission may, in specified circumstances, initiate proceedings in industrial tribunals and county courts. It may assist a person with the preparation and presentation of a case to an industrial tribunal or a county court where such case raises a matter of principle or is so complex that it would be unreasonable to expect that person to deal with the case unaided. It is also empowered to carry out formal investigations. In doing so, it may make recommendations for action to obviate discrimination. A report of its findings will be made available to the public. The Commission also has the power to issue non-discrimination notices requiring persons to desist from discriminatory practices and to furnish evidence to the Commission that he or they have done so.

In employment cases, a duty is laid on the Department of Manpower Services to attempt to promote a settlement through its industrial conciliation service. Provision is made for the Order to come into operation on such day or days as the Secretary of State may by Order appoint.

I am sure that the House will welcome the extension to women in Northern Ireland of the valuable protection provided by this legislation. I commend the Order to the House.

12.8 a.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

I feel privileged on behalf of the Opposition to be able to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on his first speech from the Dispatch Box. I shall resist the temptation which he placed before me to rehearse the arguments on the Act which applies to Great Britain. The learned Gentleman told us how similar the two measures are, and one wonders why it was not found simpler and possible for the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to apply to Northern Ireland.

I know that there are differences between the two measures. Article 9 of the Order does not appear to be in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. What are the special circumstances of Northern Ireland which require this article, because it is not a reproduction of any part of the Great Britain Act? Have the Government had new thoughts since the Great Britain legislation? If so, will they share them? Or are they conducting some kind of experiment with Northern Ireland?

Another difference is that under one of the schedules to the Sex Discrimination Act an annual report has to be laid before Parliament. But there is no such requirement in the draft Order for that to be done in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman was spared the long sittings of the Standing Committee on the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill, in which there is also provision for an annual report—from the Fair Employment Agency—to include a general survey of developments during the period under report. Whey is an annual report called for in the Great Britain measure and not in the Northern Ireland measure?

These differences do not in themselves justify separate legislation for Northern Ireland. What the Government want to do could have been provided for in a single Act. Some public money would have been saved, and so would some time of public officers and the House. I wonder what is the additional cost to the taxpayer as a result of the legislative procedure preferred by the Government. I also wonder what will be the extra expense to industry in Northern Ireland at this time of economic stress.

What will be the effect on employment? Northern Ireland, where the textile industry has been so prominent, is a Province where there is a higher proportion of female labour than in Great Britain—44 per cent. compared with 40 per cent. High male unemployment in Northern Ireland has always been a distressing feature of social life there. It has been demoralising to the workless and disturbing to the peace. It has bred crime and violence. It is significant that the Government in Dublin have, I understand, decided not to proceed with legislation of this kind at this time of economic difficulty in the British Isles as a whole.

Are the Government satisfied that this measure will not bring more damage than advantage, particularly if it is brought in now, or does the Secretary of State perhaps intend to delay its coming into operation, as he is empowered to do under Article 1(2)?

12.12 a.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

In the Twentieth Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, the passage relating to this Order expresses grave concern about the continuation of the inadequate and, by general consent, unsatisfactory procedure for dealing with Northern Ireland legislation. On page 3 of the extract we read: The Committee appreciate the argument for maintaining consistency in drafting practice and style during what was hoped to be a short-lived period of direct rule; but the longer direct rule lasts, the more inappropriate the former conventions become. The Committee are most concerned that the procedure applicable to Northern Ireland statutory instruments, and the scrutiny which they accordingly receive, should be so far out of line with those applicable to other instruments. In a Written Answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), the Secretary of State listed 10 Acts of which eight had been applied to Northern Ireland without very substantial modification. I understand that the Secretary of State is considering to what degree Northern Ireland can be brought more fully into the general stream of Great Britain legislation or what would then perhaps be more accurately, properly and in full reality termed United Kingdom legislation. I hope that that assumption of mine is correct, because such a trend would certainly have our full support. It would quite clearly have the approval of the Select Committee and I see no reason why it should not be supported by all parties, since the inclusion of Northern Ireland in United Kingdom Bills would mean a considerable saving in the time of the House.

We have just passed the hour when supernatural happenings are reputed to occur. During the debate on Seychelles, we came close to fantasy several times. I should like to think that at this late hour we were retracing our steps to rather firmer ground. I fear, however, that we are going on to even greater nonsense. It may be harmless, but it is a nonsense. As we are part of the United Kingdom, however, we have to take the useless with the useful.

It may be claimed that the passage of the principal Act has already had an influence in Northern Ireland. If so, I have not seen any evidence of it. As far as I can ascertain, the balance of the sexes employed at the quarry near Crumlin has not altered since the Act was passed. Maybe that will have been put right by the time I return at the weekend.

I end by offering the congratulations of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself to the Minister on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. Hon. Members from Northern Ireland are the only elected representatives entitled to speak for the people of Northern Ireland. The Minister will find, as his colleagues have already found, that we are prepared to co-operate and act in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland at all times.

12.17 a.m.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I shall take only a few minutes in welcoming the Order and the application of the principal Act to Northern Ireland, with the means to greater equality and opportunity which it will hopefully provide.

I am a member of the Select Committee whose report is mentioned on the Order Paper, and we have had continuing difficulty with Statutory Instruments which apply to Northern Ireland. Our Twentieth Report drew the attention of the House to certain specific aspects, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take them into account.

As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, this is primary legislation. The question has already been asked why this Order is necessary and why the principal Act should not apply to Northern Ireland. This is primary legislation, subject only to this debate and not to the full procedure of Readings and Committee stages of principal Acts.

That is fairly straightforward, but complications arise with subordinate legislation arising out of this Statutory Instrument. Article 79 includes the words: The Secretary of State may by an order the draft of which has been approved by the Assembly". Article 80 states: An order made by a Northern Ireland department under the preceding provisions of this Order". Under the Northern Ireland Act 1974, where a Statutory Instrument made under primary legislation such as this is subject to the negative procedure or annulment by the Assembly, no parliamentary procedure at Westminster would be applicable. That is disturbing. One recognises that it is because of direct rule. Because we have no knowledge of how long direct rule will last, the Committee thought that procedures should be instituted whereby elected representatives should have some scrutiny over these subordinate items.

At present, with no Assembly and with that legislation not subject to Westminster scrutiny, Orders can be produced by the Executive without any democratic scrutiny. This is a grave concern of the Select Committee, as it says in its report. We had civil servants along for questioning. They said that they followed a procedure laid down in 1953. That is all very well and good, but it does not mean to say that it is very adequate, because it happened to be laid down not by Parliament, incidentally, but by the First Parliamentary Counsel to the Department in 1953.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has already said that the Committee is concerned that the procedure for Northern Ireland subordinate legislation should be so much out of line with the subordinate legislation for this country.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would agree that, without any statutory change, it would be of assistance if the Select Committee on Northern Ireland was able at any rate to consider the reports upon Northern Ireland secondary legislation which are from time to time rendered to this House by the very able scrutineer, who does, in fact, read them. That would not meet the point entirely, but I hope the hon. Gentleman would agree that that would be some palliative and at least would enable points that applied to more than one Order to be put right for the future.

Mr. Cryer

I hesitate to go even partially along the road of slight agreement with the right hon. Gentleman, but his point is valid. At least the Select Committee would have some element of jurisdiction. Indeed, at the end of its report the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments states: The Committee consider that there is a good reason for a thorough review of the whole question of the procedures applicable to Northern Ireland delegated legislation during the period of direct rule. I therefore recommend to the Minister that the Government should consider perhaps either an extension of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland or a separate Select Committee on Statutory Instruments from Northern Ireland to give this degree of scrutiny.

I conclude by welcoming the Order in general but asking the Minister to direct his attention to the matter I have mentioned. Tonight he may have to give me a very short reply saying that he will consider the matter. I hope that it will be considered, because in the present situation, with direct rule likely for some time yet, it is the duty of Parliament at Westminster to ensure that there is democratic scrutiny and that the powers inherent in this Order are not allowed to be continued unchecked, as has occurred in the past.

12.23 a.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his first speech from the Dispatch Box. By now he will have realised that responsibility in Northern Ireland is no mean undertaking and that on his first occasion at the Dispatch Box he is fortunate to be presenting an Order such as that before us now.

I can certainly relieve my hon. Friend's mind of any anxieties that he may have by quoting to him a resolution carried at my party's annual conference in Northern Ireland last year, in which it was said: We would therefore give unqualified support to the introduction of legislation in Northern Ireland similar to the Sex Discrimination Bill at present before the British Parliament. Therefore, I certainly welcome the Order. The Act which applies to Great Britain may have been overdue, but similar provisions have certainly been long overdue in Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend has said that women in Northern Ireland have been in a position much inferior in many respects to that of women in other parts of the United Kingdom where there have been different social atmospheres and circumstances and where unemployment has not been the problem that it has been in Northern Ireland. Indeed, it would be appropriate to remind the House that the first women ever elected to this Parliament, with all its centuries of tradition, with the hundreds of years that it has behind it in seeking to bring into operation democratic principles, was an Irish woman, Countess Marcievitch. She was elected in the 1918 election in Ireland but she did not take her seat. Therefore her election seems to have gone unnoticed, and Lady Astor became recognised as the first woman to be elected to this House. In fact, it was an Irish woman who was first elected to sit in this Westminster Parliament.

Many Irish women, in contradistinction to what we have admitted, whilst being the underdogs in Irish life throughout the island, have by their activities stamped their authority on the pages of Irish history. I should like to place on record, in case some people may not be aware of it, that three women have been president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, or the Trades Union Congress as it was then. I refer to Louise Bennett, Helena Maloney and Helen Chenevix.

Irish women, particularly since the Land League agitation in Ireland, have played an active part in the trade union movement. Because of that, they were more aware of the social conditions and social deprivation that were suffered by their sisters throughout the island of Ireland. Indeed, in Northern Ireland, that small six-county State that we have now, more than 50 per cent. of the population are women, and, therefore, in the absence of this legislation it could be taken that more than 50 per cent. of the population there could have been subjected to discrimination of some sort or another.

There are various forms of discrimination in Northern Ireland. My colleagues from Northern Ireland will know that we spent many hours in Committee discussing the fair employment legislation which I sincerely hope will become an Act as soon as this Order becomes operational in Northern Ireland. We have had discrimination on religious and political grounds. We have had discrimination on the ground of sex. If one takes the two types of discrimination together, one sees that in certain parts of Northern Ireland it would have been difficult for a Catholic woman to have got a job in any circumstances.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) said that social and economic conditions in Northern Ireland are different from that they are in other parts of the United Kingdom. One can readily think of Derry, where the woman of the household is the breadwinner, and this situation has existed for many years. In a society such as one finds in Northern Ireland, where there has never been full employment, where many areas have suffered grave under-employment—again one can refer to specific geographic areas such as Strabane, Newry, Derry and certain parts of West Belfast—employers have taken advantage of the fact that the only type of work available suited women and have employed women rather than men, and at an unfair wage. With the deprivation that existed in Northern Ireland, women were forced to take such employment and they were paid extremely unfair wages.

One would like to see the creation of economic circumstances in Northern Ireland which would mean that jobs would be available for women at fair wages and, much more important, that there would be jobs for men, which would make it unnecessary for women to go to work if they did not wish to do so.

This Order will attempt to end discrimination against women in Northern Ireland. I think that we in Northern Ireland recognise more than most people in this House that legislation by itself cannot prevent discrimination. When the Order becomes law, it will not stop discrimination against women on the ground of sex. It will create an atmosphere which will make it more difficult for anyone to discriminate against women on the ground of sex, just as the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill, when it becomes an Act, will create an atmosphere to make it more difficult to discriminate on the ground of a person's religion. That is why the Order is welcome.

However, I find it hard to understand the line of reasoning of the hon. Member for Epping Forest. In his opening remarks, he seemed to welcome the Order, but as he went along he put in some qualifications and asked the Government whether this was the right time to introduce the Order. That seemed to be completely contrary to what the hon. Gentleman said only a few minutes before, that when the legislation became law in Great Britain it should become law in Northern Ireland and that extra expense was created because this was not done. The hon. Member cannot have it both ways. If he believes that the law as it applies to Great Britain should have been implemented in Northern Ireland at the same time, he cannot ask the Government whether this is the right time to introduce the Order.

The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Government of the Irish Republic were not at this moment seeking to introduce such legislation. I say as an Irishman that, whatever the Government of the Irish Republic do, I think that this is an opportune moment to introduce this legislation in Northern Ireland. It is also an opportune moment for the Government of the Republic to bring in like legislation. I would hope that my colleagues in the Labour movement in Ireland and the Irish Labour Party will use whatever influence they have to ensure that legislation such as this is introduced in the Republic of Ireland.

This legislation will be welcomed in Northern Ireland. I hope that it will not meet the same opposition as has been (Northern Ireland) Bill. I believe that the voiced against the Fair Employment Order, while it may not end discrimination, will certainly create the atmosphere which will do away with many of the injustices suffered by far too many Irish women in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

12.32 a.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

I welcome this Order. If I have any criticism to make it is only to criticise the Government for taking so long in producing it.

I am not one of those who support the argument that matters affecting Northern Ireland should be incorporated automatically in an Act of Parliament applying to the whole of Great Britain. I reject that because it is turning one's back completely on the restoration of the Stormont Parliament one day—soon, I hope. Those who argue that all legislation affecting Northern Ireland should be incorporated in Acts apply to Great Britain rejecting the restoration of a local Parliament.

This Order will be welcomed in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that the remark of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), who described it as "nonsense", or the remark of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) who has said it was "rubbish", reflect the opinion of the people of Northern Ireland. They are an enlightened people, despite seven years of terror, and they will not believe that their public representatives are truly representing them if they turn their backs on this Order.

It is incredible that only now, in 1976, are we considering making women equal with men before the law. It is almost 60 years since women were given the vote. When the Representation of the People Act was before this House in 1918, many believed that the country was on the road to ruin. We hear similar voices in the Chamber tonight. They did not relish the prospect of giving the vote to women in those earlier days and it seems that times have not changed the opinion of some hon. Members.

Whenever human rights are debated, the outraged and the righteous combine to prophesy social ruin for the country. It is only 100 years ago that a husband as of right sequestered all the worldly goods of his wife: the wife suffered the same punishment in matrimony with regard to her income and personal belongings as a person guilty of high treason. The most terrible indignities were inflicted upon women because of the state of the law and because of their inability to claim the protection that the law willingly gave to their husbands and brothers.

If the law today goes most of the way—although not all the way—towards recognising equality of partnership in marriage and gives married women and single women equal rights with men when it comes to jobs, this is due more to the dedication of many women in the struggle for equal rights than to any extravagant generosity on the part of men. I am not aware of one history of Ireland which includes the word "feminist" in its index. There are references to "Fermoy" to "Ferns, Bishop of" and to "Fenian", but none to "feminist". But both parts of Ireland have produced remarkable women and perhaps would produce many more but for the low esteem in which they were held before the law.

Nowadays, women play a leading part in church organisations, charities like Combat Cancer and movements like the League Against Cruel Sports. In my constituency women have been the inspirers of community effort in the soul-destroying anonymity of the vast housing estates, designed largely by men and usually without the community and youth centres which are so vital to the wellbeing of young and old. We should pay tribute to their work.

The purpose of the Order is to get rid of discrimination. It seems to go some way towards achieving the ending of discrimination in employment. With increasing unemployment and the cut in public spending, women will be enabled for the first time ever to ensure that they do not suffer twice over from their sex and from a legal inability to pursue the object of social security on an equal footing with men.

If I have one other criticism to make, it is that the Government should have changed the name of the Department responsible for the Order—the Department of Manpower Services.

12.38 a.m.

Mr. McCusker (Armagh)

The last comment of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) was typical of the nonsense which attaches to debates on legislation of this sort. Both the hon. Member and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in one breath talked about the second-class nature and down-trodden lives of Irish women and in the next admitted their worth and the part they have played throughout Irish history. It is a sad underestimate of Irish women down the generations to suggest that they have been anything other than extremely powerful and influential figures in the life of Ireland.

Legislation like this will not help them to improve that position. I demonstrated my opinion of it last year when I voted against Second Reading of the Sex Discrimination Bill. As I sat in Com mittee on the Bill and heard childbearing described as "a temporary disability" and child-rearing as "an inconvenient social function", I felt that my view was completely justified.

Whether the hon. Member for Down, North knows it or not, women are different. I believe that they have a perfectly natural function to perform, and that is primarily as mothers and wives, and legislation such as this and aspects of the Employment Protection Act which bribe and induce young mothers to leave their babes in arms and to return to work undermines motherhood, the essential relationship of motherhood and the family.

We tend to pay lip service to the values of family and motherhood and then set about undermining those foundations of our State. Consequently, we have delinquency, teenage murders on the streets of our capital city, broken homes and an accelerating divorce rate. If women were performing the function of motherhood and providing an anchor in the home and family, as they did in the past, perhaps we should not have those problems.

But I do not want to rehearse all those arguments. I have advanced them in the past and I have not changed from them.

Mr. Kilfedder


Mr. McCusker

If the hon. Member for Down, North would sample family life, he might be better equipped to comment on these issues.

Mr. Kilfedder

I trust that after this stupid speech the women of Armagh will not vote for the hon. Gentleman at the next election.

Mr. McCusker

What interests me about the Order is that it sets up what will be known as an Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland which will have a membership of between six and 12, plus associated staff. We already have in Northern Ireland a Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, with a membership of about eight, with a staff. We are shortly to have a Fair Employment Agency which will have a membership of between five and 11, with a staff. When we approve, as no doubt we shall, the Industrial Relations Order we shall have a Labour Relations Agency for Northern Ireland which will have a membership of 10, plus a staff.

This goes some way to countering the allegation made to the Minister responsible for manpower services that he is always reducing employment prospects in Northern Ireland. In this respect, we are improving them. Taking into account the membership of all these commissions and agencies, together with the secretariats, advisers and research workers associated with them we shall have quite a substantial involvement in these matters.

The First Report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights went some way to supporting my original comments. In paragraph 52 on page 16 it states: It may be argued that legislation on sex discrimination would have little relevance in Northern Ireland because the majority of women do not feel they are treated unfairly. It appears that now, and probably for years to come, many married women will be satisfied with a role that is mainly domestic and, to a large extent, dependent. Indeed many women in Northern Ireland may feel this is the appropriate role. It might have been better to have said that this was the "natural" role.

The Commission goes on to say: A further objection to legislation of the kind now proposed is that there would be substantial social costs if women sought and achieved equality of opportunity in employment. It is said that if this were to happen on a large scale the nature and quality of family life and of the upbringing of children would change for the worse. We recognise that this is an extremely important and complex subject". Therefore, it did not rule out my arguments in the cavalier fashion adopted by the hon. Member for Down, North. It took into account the fact that the legislation which we are enacting for Northern Ireland will create a strange situation in which we shall be faced with a complexity of commissions and agencies.

In paragraph 55 on page 18 of its Report the commission states: For the reasons set out above we have advised you that we recommend the introduction of a Sex Discrimination Bill in Northern Ireland on the same lines as the measure for Great Britain. We have, however, some reservations about the form an Equal Opportunities Commission to supervise the legislation in Northern Ireland should take". It goes on in paragraph 56 to say that to call for the creation of a new agency, in Northern Ireland this may only add to the plethora of agencies already in being, some of which do not exist in Great Britain. This may be counter-productive and uneconomic. We hope therefore that the extension of comparable legislation in Great Britain to Northern Ireland would allow, where possible, for the administrative co-ordination of the operation of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Fair Employment Agency. In other words, the commission that we are establishing tonight could be linked with the Fair Employment Agency—indeed, they could be one and the same—and there is no reason why we could not also include the Labour Relations Agency, and I do not see why we should not also include the Standing Advisory Commission.

These bodies have features in common—they have statutory trade union and employer representation, at least one lawyer, their share of do-gooders, and the statutory woman. If we are to have these agencies and commissions, the Minister should carefully consider whether a community with a total population of 1½ million needs this sort of supervision to implement legislation of the type that we have been discussing.

12.46 a.m.

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

It has been noticeable this evening that a number of those who have spoken have welcomed the legislation with open arms, and I was happy to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) strike a slightly discordant note, and I have much pleasure in following him down that path. Indeed, any Ulsterman who listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) this evening could only have accused him of practising the most blantant vote-catching blarney on womanhood. No doubt the same Ulsterman would equally have accused the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) who, unfortunately, has left us, of talking nothing more nor less than blethers.

Mr. Kilfedder

Does my hon. Friend wish to retain the legal disabilities that women in Northern Ireland suffer?

Mr. Ross

No, and we have not said that, and if my hon. Friend had been listening, he would have realised that.

The plain truth of the matter is that this legislation is simply a nonsense, nothing more nor less, and it can be nothing more than a nonsense because it tries to change the natural position of men and women and to bring about some strange neuter unisex being which cannot exist.

I should like to do a little nitpicking with the Order. Article 3 says that a person discriminates against woman if he applies to her a requirement or condition which he applies or would apply equally to man but— which is such that the proportion of women who can comply with it is considerably smaller than the proportion of men who can comply with it, and … which is to her detriment because she cannot comply with it. In Article 4 similar restrictions are applied to a man.

What happens if an employer wants to hire half-a-dozen Irish navvies to dig a trench? A girl of 4ft 10in would not be of much use to him. And a navvy who was 6ft 4in and weighed 17 or 18 stone would look rather out of place on a secretary's chair in the Minister's office. This proposal is ridiculous and people know it is.

This is trying to apply a proposal that cannot be applied and made to work in reality. It is simply creating a situation in which there will be endless possibilities for litigation—which will keep all the lawyers happy—to the general detriment of the country as a whole.

In Article 20 we read that prison officers are not to be discriminated against on grounds of height or physical disability. In an earlier article there is the same provision regarding policemen and policewomen. Article 10(2)(a) contains the strange words-— for reasons of physiology (excluding physical strength or stamina)". I went to the Library and looked up "physiology" in the dictionary. I learned that "physiology" meant the normal functions and phenomena attached to the person or creature in question. Surely one of the normal functions of a man is to be physically stronger than a woman, to have greater stamina than a woman. In the very next line that is specifically excluded, which does not seem to be very sensible.

Article 14(1)(d) provides that a woman shall have equal benefits. In Article 19(2)(c) we read that for police pension purposes a woman can be treated differently. There was a young police woman in Londonderry last night who was not treated any differently by the IRA because she was a woman. I do not think that any of us want our women, in Ireland or anywhere else, to achieve equality by means of a bullet through the face. We think a lot of our women. Most of us have found a woman to love and to marry. We do not want to see them suffer under any disability. Neither do we want to see them confronted and confounded with nonsense.

Article 82(1)(a) provides that the Order applies to the Crown. This means that if the Crown treats women and men differently, the Crown is guilty. Inevitably that applies to Ministers as well. On 8th March of this year I tabled this Question for Written Answer to the Secretary of State for Social Services: what would be the total amount of pension payable during their lives to (a) a single woman, (b) a single man, and (c) a married couple, at present rates, if, in each case, they retired at the normal ages and died at the average ages for each sex. This is where most of us would be glad to become a woman—at age 60. The answer was: A single woman will, on average, receive £14,230 in pension, a single man, £8,470".[Official Report, 8th March 1976; Vol. 907, c. 106.] I hope that the Under-Secretary will impress upon his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government the vital necessity of the Government bringing pensions for men and women into line as soon as possible so that men receive over their pension life on average the same amount as women.

Article 21 states that the Order does not apply to organised religion if it is against the doctrine of that religion. If it is against the doctrine, why not have freedom of conscience as well? As the doctrines of all religions and churches and denominations have been known to change, perhaps the Minister will tell us whether this is to be a one-way street. If 10 years ago a church decided that the teaching of St. Paul in regard to a woman keeping silent was the rock upon which its precepts should be accepted and now accepts women as preachers, and if the church were to change that doctrine again in the future to the former position, would the church be discriminating against women by making that change? This is yet another example of the way in which this legislation can be brought into disrepute.

Article 34(1)(a) and Article 79(1) refer to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I suppose that this reference is included because the 1973 Act is still on the statute book. I hope that it is not an attempt by the Government to resurrect the dead. That Assembly is past and gone and cannot be brought back to life. It seems rather silly to include it in this Order.

Article 34(2) has special provision for women in political parties in certain conditions. If a woman wishes to join the Orange Institution or the Black Institution, which are responsible bodies, does she have to be admitted even if the rules of the organisation are against it? If she wishes to join the Freemasons, does she have to be admitted? Are these organisations to find themselves outside the law because they are "men only" systems?

On a more serious point, I want to mention charities, under Article 78(1)(a) and (b), which appears to apply only to property. Does "property" include money? A large number of small bequests have been made for the education of the poor, for example. Some are perhaps 100 years old, and some have been left for the education of children of a particular sex. There are such bequests in my diocese. Is the law to compel these bodies to make their money available for both sexes?

Finally, what is the position of educational charities that have their headquarters in Dublin, as many Irish charities do? In some of these cases, the money is administered from Dublin, which is also where the education of the children concerned sometimes takes place.

12.47 a.m.

Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)

I wish to ask the Minister about a problem which has been raised by the application of the Act in the Post Office telecommunications department in Northern Ireland. I have received a complaint from a couple of men about the situation.

There are many small telephone exchanges in Northern Ireland. There are instances where a man and a woman have been locked up together at night in a small exchange, with no supervision because the supervisor generally goes off duty at 11.30 p.m. Most of these small exchanges are locked up at night because of the security situation.

Should there not be some special provision for such circumstances? Whilst I do not want to introduce a carping note, a situation where a man and a woman are locked up at night in one of these exchanges could bring about home problems, especially where there already may be some uncertainty, with perhaps an unsettled marriage. Such things can cause trouble.

I have communicated the problem to both the head postmaster in Belfast and the head of the telephone department. They have not yet replied or given an indication of a solution. Perhaps something could be done.

1.0 a.m.

Mr. Carter

I thank those hon. Members who welcomed me to the position I now have. I hope I can do some good in it. In my first few weeks in Northern Ireland, wherever I have been I have been welcomed by everybody. In spite of the problems, Northern Ireland in my experience is an extremely friendly place. Whether in Belfast, Armagh or Derry—or Londonderry, whichever hon. Members prefer—I have been welcomed in schools and other institutions. I know that I shall enjoy my time in the Province.

Very early in this short debate I wrote down that all speakers were pleased with and supported the measure. I have had a quick reminder this evening that in matters involving Northern Irish affairs we can never rush to conclusions as early as that. But I think it would be true to say that the general tenor of the debate is in favour of the Order.

A number of points were made concerning the way in which Northern Irish legislation is dealt with. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) mentioned the question of delegation to which the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has drawn the attention of the House in its report on this Order.

As my right hon. Friend has made clear, he is currently reviewing the nature of continued direct rule and will in due course bring forward proposals for its renewal, including any changes which may be desirable. Nevertheless, the current procedures for handling Northern Ireland delegated legislation are fully in accordance with the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1974, which Parliament debated at some length and to which it gave its approval.

Moreover, while it is true that under the terms of the Act many Northern Ireland subordinate instruments are not subject to any procedure at Westminster, they are nevertheless subject to scrutiny by the Northern Ireland Examiner of Statutory Rules, whose terms of reference are closely based on those of the Joint Committee. The examiner's reports are made at regular intervals and copies are placed in the Library, as are copies of the instruments themselves, or as soon as possible after they are published.

I ought, I think, to leave it at that. It is something of a minefield. Clearly, the Secretary of State understands the anxiety, and I have no doubt that in the not too distant future his views will be made known.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest mentioned a number of matters and I shall try to deal with each of them. The first concerned the effect on male employment. It is not expected to be marked, but once again we ought to emphasise that the essential point is to provide for equality of opportunity.

Secondly, he mentioned the cost of the Equal Opportunities Commission. It is expected to be in the region of £83,000 per annum. The cost to industry generally and to commerce is unquantifiable, and to some extent it will depend on the extent to which the people of Northern Ireland seek to apply the terms of the Order.

The hon. Member went on to ask about the date of enactment. It is scheduled for summer enactment and it is hoped that the Equal Opportunities Commission will be operative in the autumn.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest asked why Article 9 was necessary in this Order and not in the Great Britain Order. The reason is that in Great Britain appointments are the direct function of, for example, education authorities. In Northern Ireland, the statutory bodies are given recommendations by another tier of elected body—for example, school committees—and it is these that we must ensure do not discriminate. That is why we have Article 9.

Then the hon. Gentleman asked why a report was required. Apparently, it is the normal practice for statutory bodies to give to Parliament reports of their activities.

As a general point, the hon. Gentleman asked why we were doing this in Northern Ireland when the Republic was not taking parallel steps. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out, that is a problem for the Government of the Republic. It is not a matter for us. We are dealing with Northern Ireland legislation. We only hope that what we do here will spur that Government on to take similar action in the Republic.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I was not suggesting that we should follow the Irish Republic. I was merely suggesting that it was significant that they were having regard to economic conditions in the timing of the bringing in of legislation of this kind.

Mr. Carter

That again is a matter for them. We cannot interfere with them, and we do not take our standards from them. We would argue that, on this issue, we are somewhat in advance of them, even though some Opposition Members have expressed doubts on that score.

The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) criticised the establishment of another statutory body. I should point out to him that there are provisions in this Order for the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Fair Employment Agency to use a common staff. That should have some effect on costs.

In a rather lengthy speech, the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) raised a number of matters. He said that the Order was complex and that it was unlikely to have much influence, basically because it was complex. The important fact to bear in mind in matters of this kind is that, although no one can guarantee that every woman in Northern Ireland will take up the provisions of this Order, they will have an influence for good generally and they will spur people towards a recognition of the fact that, from 1976 onwards, the rights of women are equal to those of men in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman wanted to know whether money was property. I am reliably informed that it is.

As for the point raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) about mixed staff being on duty at night, if the job needs to be held by a man to preserve decency or privacy, under Article 10(2)(b) it is not discriminatory to employ a man. But if decency is not involved, it must be a management matter to ensure that the staff are content.

I trust that the House will now accept the Order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 11th May, be approved.