HC Deb 11 June 1981 vol 6 cc565-636 4.36 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

I beg to move, That this House deplores the deliberate attacks of Her Majesty's Government on the status and opportunities of women which have undermined advances such as paid maternity leave and protection from dismissal because of pregnany; deplores the restrictive decisions on the payment of social security benefit; further condemns Her Majesty's Government for its cuts in local authority finance, particularly for the social services and the provision of child care facilities and adequate school meals; condemns the divisive effects of immigration rules which discriminate against British women who wish to be joined by foreign husbands or financés; demands recognition of a woman's right to work and condemns Government economic policies which have deprived women of jobs at an even faster rate than men; pledges its support for positive policies towards equality, including improved education and training programmes; considers that the attacks on the National Health Service have directly and adversely affected women, from ante-natal to geriatric care, and demands the provision of proper health facilities such as cervical screening and birth control and abortion clinics; and calls for radical changes to improve Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts so as to promote genuine equal opportunities and fair remuneration, and for the removal of all forms of discrimination in taxation and pay, thus enabling women to play their full part in society. The attitude of the Government to women may be best summed up by quoting Alexander Dumas, fils. He said: According to the Bible, woman was the last thing God made. It must have been a Saturday night. Clearly he was tired. If hon. Members think I am exaggerating, perhaps I might quote no less an authority than the Secretary of State for Social Services. His attitude, as given in an interview on television, was even simpler. He said: Quite frankly, I do not think mothers have the same right to work as fathers. If the good Lord had intended us to have equal rights to go out to work and behave equally, he really would not have created men and women. These are biological facts. I am always delighted to know that the Government are catching up on fact, but, unfortunately, that is a demonstration of an attitude of mind.

Politicians are occasionally accused of wanting to change the whole surface of the earth and not being able to do so. It is astonishing how much the Government have managed to change the rights and status of women in a short period. It is essential to understand the extent of the changes that have taken place. The Government seem to have created the impression that the female of the species has benefited excessively from past legislation and now must be ready to relearn her place in society.

Mrs. Peggy Fenner (Rochester and Chatham)

What about the Prime Minister?

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am glad the hon. Lady has intervened so rapidly. It is ironic that it should be the first Government headed by a woman who have done so much to damage the place of women in the community. From the sexist attitudes regularly applied to the Prime Minister we can only assume that she is a demonstration of all that Conservative politicians hate most.

What is frightening about what has happened in the past two years is that women have been told in effect that they must not expect to be treated as equals either at work or in the home. They must not expect assistance to protect themselves from exploitation.

Indeed, the Government seem to think that even elementary rights, such as the right to proper health care, a good education or training for work are not genuine rights but almost a wicked attempt on the part of the female of the species to waste Government resources. Rather than seeking to increase public expenditure in this manner, the Government seem to say that women should realise that their true role is to provide the unpaid, unsupported and unregarded work force which fills the gaps created by the cuts in the social serrvices.

If a local authority cuts its home help sevice, the Government seem to say that individual females will just have to cope—and for "female" please read "mother, sister, daughter". If there is not enough sheltered housing for the elderly being built, the immediate family circle must find a way of coping with the aged parent. If there are not sufficient places in nursery schools for the under-fives, because the Government have cut back on local authority expenditure, the working mother must be made to realise that this is the penalty she has to pay for daring to seek employment outside the home.

The Government's policy is a reflection of the philosophy which regards women as inferior, and working women as most inferior of all. Socrates said that once made equal to man, woman becomes his superior. I can only assume that that is the basis of much of the legislation that has been introduced by the Government.

The situation of women in Conservative Britain is very uncomfortable. In the past two years women have suffered disproportionately from the effects of the economic recession. Many work in low-paid jobs and are largely employed by industries which are most under attack—textiles, shoe making and the distributive trades, which suffer first when the economy contracts.

In the new, thrusting, affluent, Conservative Britain, the Low Pay Unit has given figures showing that most women still work for appallingly low rates of pay. In April 1980 almost 4 million adult workers worked a full week plus overtime and still earned no more than £75 for a standard working week of 40 hours. Of those, 2.6 million, or 65 per cent., were women. Since 1976, women's rates of pay relative to those of men have deteriorated, so that women's earnings have remained frozen at 73 per cent. of the pay of men, and nothing has been changed by the Government. Women provide the bulk of part-time workers, and as soon as there are problems of any sort they are among the first to be declared redundant.

The difficulties of the home worker are even better documented. Many home workers work under dreadful conditions. They work long hours and receive less than 50p an hour. The changes in the national insurance contributions have encouraged employers to freeze the wages of part-time workers at a low level. If a worker who receives £26.50 per week is given a rise of £1, both the employee and the employer come within the scope of increased national insurance contributions. Inevitably, the employer seeks to restrict his women workers to low wage rates, and again the woman suffers most.

In April 1980, one in 10 full-time women workers earned less than £50 a week; 28 per cent. earned less than £60 a week and 38 per cent. earned less than £78 a week. The comparative figures for male workers in those three categories were 1 per cent., 2 per cent. and 7 per cent. respectively.

Irrespective of what the Conservative Government would like to imply, modern Britain is not made up of families in which the male is automatically the largest wage earner. In 1978 there were 825,000 one-parent families, and 725,000 of those were headed by the mother. The calm assumption that the woman's contribution to the household income is pin money that can be discounted is outdated, but revealing when elevated to the status of a policy.

A woman's wage is now a vital part of every household budget, and the impact of Conservative economic measures has made that even clearer. The Government, however, refuse to accept the part played by women workers. Amendments made by the Government to employment legislation have lowered the protection available to working women, made it more difficult for women to return to work after childbirth and lowered their entitlement to fair treatment.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), whom I am glad to see in the Chamber, explained the thinking behind this change. She said on one occasion that perhaps in years to come "the country" would look at the labour market and decide that perhaps it would be better for women with children to stay at home. She did not say that the woman and her family would think it better, or even possible, for her to stay at home given the present economic restraints, but that the country would think it better.

I am not alone in suspecting that this means that in a shrinking jobs market the Government have deliberately decided to squeeze women out of the work force. Presumably, when there are stresses in the labour market, the easiest group of workers for the Government to have a go at are those who are not as heavily unionised and who, more often than not, work in low-paid jobs—the women.

The number of women who register as unemployed shows that the Government may be succeeding in their aim. There are more women without work now than there have been since May 1979. The number of women registered as unemployed is 704,200—double the number in 1979. The figure under-represents the number of women who are seeking jobs. We all know that in our constituencies many women do not register as unemployed because they have not been paying the full insurance contribution; therefore, although they are anxious to go back to work, they do not register.

In January 1976 women were 22 per cent. of the registered unemployed; by January 1981 they were 29 per cent. This is the woman, the mother figure, that the Conservative Government eternally hold up to us as the cornerstone of the family. Conservative mythology says in effect that we should be concerned above all with the woman and the family. But how have the Conservative Government treated women?

It is the woman who is most affected when local authority services are cut back. It is the woman who, if the aged parent cannot be found sheltered housing or be moved into suitable accommodation, is expected to support that aged person irrespective of other calls upon her time. If she wishes to return to work, or even if she believes it is in the interests of her under-five child that he should go to nursery school, when those facilities are not available, because they have been so drastically cut back, she is the one who has to find an alternative.

When any problem arises with the home help, social or educational services, it is the woman of the family who is expected to step into the breach, yet by assisting the woman we assist the entire family.

The Black report has not been debated in the House. The Secretary of State seemed to imply that it needed more examination because the facts and figures were not available. The report states that poverty has a direct correlation to the health of the family. It spells out that a person born into social classes 4 and 5 is two and a half times more likely to die early, receives worse ante-natal care, worse care as a child and worse care at school-leaving age, and that when that person starts a family exactly the same disadvantages will arise for that family.

Despite all that, the Government have not been prepared to put greater resources into health care; instead, they have cut existing services. Although we hear a great deal about growth in the health services, the decision to move towards cash limits can lead only to a positive rundown in the available facilities. How does that affect women?

Under the Government's aegis, far fewer facilities are available to women in all types of health care. Fewer clinics are available to them for cervical cytology. Although the Minister has given his warm support to the need for more services, it is an empty suggestion if there is no finance to back it up. Those health authorities that felt that they were providing sufficient day-care abortion facilities have not been able to open new units, because the money has not been available.

In many instances the number of clinics has been cut. Before the Conservative Party took office, 50 per cent. of abortions were carried out in the National Health Service. That figure is now 46 per cent. In other words, we are rapidly returning to a situation in which women are forced into the private sector for such treatment. Inevitably, that will mean the development of a two-tier service in which those who have the money can get what they want and those who rely on the National Health Service are badly treated.

The Government have not restricted their activities to destroying existing services. They have taken positive steps, in a number of ways, to change the situation of women. The last Budget not only widened, but deepened the poverty trap and caught more families in it. It made things more difficult for low-paid families and increased their tax burden. Inevitably, that must have an effect not only upon the woman but upon the child.

The Budget changes, which stemmed from a refusal to implement the Rooker-Wise amendment, meant that a whole new group of women were caught within the tax law. In future, women aged between 60 and 65, who are divorced, widowed or single will have to pay tax even if they do not have any income other than the State benefit. That, from a Government who persistently tell us that they value women for their important place in society! The reality is that both by legislation and by deliberate policy decisions the Government are making more intolerable for women the undoubted stresses of the 1980s.

I hope that the Government will tell us that they intend to put a considerable amount of money at the disposal of the health care services and the social services in general, but that is exceedingly unlikely. Unfortunately, the evidence is to the contrary. Whether in employment legislation, finance, or taxation changes, the woman has been positively penalised.

The Government were not content with that. Under the Labour Government it was decided that, as a concession—I was not satisfied with the use of the word "concession"—women should have the same rights as their male equivalents in relation to nationality and to the admission of foreign fiancés to Britain.

The Conservative Party came to power on a marvellously ambivalent manifesto, which seemed to say at one and the same time that it would treat everyone equally before the law but that it would treat women less equally than anyone else. The British Nationality Bill removed the concession and made it twice as difficult for women to enjoy the same status as men.

That status is enjoyed not by concession but by legislation. Women—whether they are born in Britain or, even more importantly, are Britons working abroad—will face problems unless they fall within one or two of the special categories that can be protected by the Home Secretary's word. I do not believe in protection before the law that relies entirely on the Home Secretary's attitude. If the House was representative of the population, women would enjoy those rights without having to ask for them. They would have them enshrined in legislation.

In effect the Government are saying that there is an inferior class of nationals in Britain and that, unfortunately, most of them are women. The Government are carrying out a policy that can be seen only as plainly divisive. It is worse than that, because it particularly attacks those in the migrant population who were born here but who may have relatives overseas. There are real dangers in the proposition that is being put forward.

The Government have taken legislative measures to lower the status of women, to reduce their protection and to change the opportunities open to them. Over two years they have consistently done that. Sometimes they have done so by administrative means, but more often they have directly attacked the role of women in society.

We should have reached a stage at which women are accepted as the equals of men in every sense of the word. I do not mean that they should be eternally and stridently asking for "women's lib", but they should have the rights that men enjoy. For example, in this House they should have the right to be mediocre. I do not wish to be unkind, but we shall have equality in the House only when there are as many female Members of Parliament as there are male and when they represent a cross-section of the population.

The Labour Party has made a positive effort to ensure that there are female candidates. Perhaps we could do with a little positive discrimination. We shall certainly not get that from a Government headed by a female Prime Minister.

Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)

Does the hon. Lady accept that the most effective and practical way of improving the number of female Members of Parliament would be by introducing an appropriate system of proportional representation?

Mrs. Dunwoody

That would probably be the worst way of changing anything in the House, particularly the role of women. If a system of proportional representation were adopted it would lead only to a morass of indecision that would make even the Social Democratic Party look decisive.

It is obvious that the Government's policy can lead only to considerable stresses and strains. I have always been impressed by my daughter's generation. That generation does not feel any need to explain, stridently defend or put forward a case for its own sexuality, intelligence or role in the world. Perhaps it has more backbone than my generation. Members of my daughter's generation have great intelligence and faith in the future. They will be best served if we change the Government as rapidly as possible.

In the interim, the responsibility falls on a Government headed by a woman to improve the conditions of females and to end the attacks on them at work, at home, in schools, and in the health care services. Perhaps that is too much to hope for. Perhaps we shall not see the dawning of that great day. If so, I hope that the next general election will, for all our sakes, come as quickly as possible.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

I should announce that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

5 pm

The Minister for Consumer Affairs (Mrs Sally Oppenheim)

I beg to move, to leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: 'this House, recognising that the needs and aspirations of women can only be achieved within a free and fair society and a healthy economy, welcomes the measures which the Government has taken to achieve these.'. The motion chosen by the Opposition for a full Supply day debate has demonstrated, in its spurious and inappropriate attack on the Government, two things above all else; first, how hard up they are for ammunition to direct against the Government, and secondly, how few issues there are left on which they can present a united front.

It is also worth noting the paradox that two weeks ago there was a Conservative women's conference nearby, which debated serious working party papers on all aspects of the present and future of women and employment—debates that were highly commended even in such newspapers as The Guardian—while this week we have had a Labour Party women's demonstration about women and unemployment, the two being perfectly contrasting examples of the constructive as against the destructive approach.

I welcome a full day's debate on this issue. What I regret and deplore are the terms of the motion. If there are two things that are certain to undermine the progress towards a fairer society for women, for which many of us have striven, inside and outside Parliament, for years, the first is the more extravagant proposals of the extreme fringe elements of the womens' liberation movement and the second is the equally damaging attempt to politicise the issue, as the motion does today.

It is an issue of great importance. Over the past two or three decades, any debates on this subject that have taken place in the House have done so in an atmosphere of constructive and non-party political debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes they have.

Today's debate represents a wholly unwelcome and destructive departure from that tradition. I totally reject the charge made by the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) that the Government's policies have undermined the status, rights and opportunities for women. The facts refute that.

To criticise, for undermining the status of women, a Government who have as their head a woman who has done more by her example, her achievements and her leadership to elevate the status of women in the eyes of the world, than 100 years of Government legislation and womens' lib demonstrations could have done, is bizarre in the extreme.

The motion refers to the rights of women. The Government, unlike the Opposition, are dedicated to the rights and freedoms of the individual, to freedom of choice and equal opportunities—a cause espoused by the Opposition only on a highly selective basis when it suits them.

The motion refers to opportunities for women. Despite a world recession, a difficult economic climate and high unemployment, in December last year there were more women in employment in this country than there were in 1974, and 1 million more than there were in 1964. So women represent a significant proportion of the total work force.

Moreover, the contribution that women's earnings make to family income as a percentage of the total family income has doubled in recent years, and average contributions by women to the family income is continuing to rise—

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

It is still below the rate for men.

Mrs. Oppenheim

—while the proportion of women unemployed, as a percentage of the total unemployed, has fallen over the past year which is encouraging [Interruption.] Go ahead and cheer. At the same time, the percentage of women unemployed, as a proportion of the total unemployed, is the second lowest in Europe. That is another thing that we can applaud.

Eighty-five per cent. of all part-time jobs are filled by women. The part-time job is a vital social necessity for a great many women. I shall have more to say about that later. Eighty per cent. of part-time women workers are over 35, many having returned to work after marriage and bringing up young childen. The consolidation by the Government of the WOW—the wider opportunities for women scheme—has helped a significant number of women returning to work to retrain and readjust.

The three phases, not of this Government's but the Labour Government's, pay policy—the final phases concentrating as they did on percentage additions to incomes—forced pay differentials between men and women apart. While figures published by the EOC annual report yesterday show that last year, under this Government women's earnings as a proportion of men's has started to rise again. I do not accept the assumption in the report that that will not necessarily continue to improve. It is interesting to note that women's earnings as a proportion of men's is much higher here than in the United States where there is a battery of legislation.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

As the Minister referred to the Labour Government's pay policy, which I consistently voted against, why are the Government, who were elected To change that, keeping the nurses down to a rigid 6 per cent. pay policy? The majority of nurses are women, although there are a few men. Will the right hon. Lady use this opportunity to make it clear that the Government are not talking about the status of women in general? Will she make a statement to the effect that the Government will support the women workers in the Lee Jeans factory in Greenock, who are fighting for their jobs? Instead of waffling on about general matters, let us hear something specific—that the nurses will receive an increase in wages consistent with the rise in inflation and that the right hon. Lady will see to it that those women, young and old, at Greenock will keep their jobs.

Mrs. Oppenheim

If the debate is notable for one thing, it is the hon. Gentleman's conversion to the cause of women. This is the first occasion on which I have heard him make any—

Mr. Skinner

I am married to one.

Mrs. Oppenheim

I thought that the hon. Gentleman made that sedentary observation with a note of regret in his voice.

Mr. Skinner

I have two daughters as well.

Mrs. Oppenheim

I have two daughters,, and a grand-daughter.

Mrs. Renée Short

The right hon. Lady mentioned the EOC report. I think that she should get the figures correct. Is she aware that, according to the EOC report, women's earnings as a percentage of men's this year were 73.5 per cent.? At the time of the election in 1979 the figure was 73 per cent. The Government have managed to increase it by ½ per cent. In 1978 it was 73.9 per cent., so it has decreased since 1978 under the Conservative Government.

Mrs. Oppenheim

The hon. Lady is correct. It did decrease, but it has increased since 1979. The important point is that the trend is rising at a time of difficult economic circumstances.

I return now to the educational opportunities and facilities under this Government.

At one end of the scale, contrary to what the hon. Member for Crewe says, the number of children in nursery schools and centres has risen, not declined, over the past two years. At the other end of the educational scale, the number of girls applying for university places last year exceeded the number of boys. In fact, over the past two years the number of places at universities and other places of higher education for girls has increased substantially. The percentage of women attending both places of higher education and advanced higher education has also increased over the past two years.

Much more importantly, to encourage the interests and achievements of girls in subjects that have traditionally either been discouraged or been something of a male preserve, in which girls have not hitherto taken sufficient interest, the Department of Education and Science recently published a discussion document entitled "A framework for the school curriculum", which examines the possibility of a core curriculum specifically aimed at encouraging and enabling girls to follow a curriculum that will fit them for a much wider choice of career. That represents a vital contribution to the objective of encouraging girls to be more ambitious in their choice of career—a subject to which I shall also return later.

On the subject of training, an excellent working paper survey presented at the Conservative Women's annual conference by the Wessex area has shown that under this Government industry as a whole, the retail trade, the hotel and catering industry and local government have provided equal training opportunities for women, although—I shall deal with this matter in more detail later—women do not yet appear to be taking advantage of the opportunities higher up the scale. Notwithstanding this development, a recent EEC report shows that a greater proportion of women are to be found in administration and management in Great Britain than in any other country in the EEC.

The motion before the House attacks the Government's record on the cost of school meals.

Mr. Skinner

Hear, hear.

Mrs. Oppenheim

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says "Hear, hear". I have to admit that the price of school meals has been raised twice under the Government by a total of 40 per cent., 20 per cent. of which was an increase proposed and approved by the Labour Government, who, when in office, raised the price of school meals by no less than 108 per cent.

The motion also refers to taxation. The Government have made taxation concessions, in particular to widows. War widows' pensions have been freed from income tax. We have given 30,000 pre-1950 Service men's widows a pension to which they were not previously entitled. Widows will also receive extra tax allowance in the first year of their bereavement.

The Government are particularly concerned about the tax of married women. A Green Paper "The Taxation of Husband and Wife" was published in December last year. It examines ways to improve the tax status of married women.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Oppenheim

It puts forward for discussion major options for change, such as the ability to choose individual taxation, with an equal division of reliefs and allowances. Personal disposable incomes have risen in real terms by 8.4 per cent. between 1979 and the end of 1980.

All those facts and more—time will not permit me to give further detail—support the case that the Government, far from diminishing the status, opportunities and rights of women, have increased them and are continuing to increase them.

Women, as consumers, have enjoyed over the last two years the first real "buyers'" market that we have known since the war. Competition for their custom has been extremely fierce, leading to lower prices, higher standards and better services. At the end of the day, it is the conquest of inflation that is an essential and fundamental prerequisite to the future of jobs and to the security and stability of jobs for men and women.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

Will the right hon. Lady name one lower price?

Mrs. Oppenheim

The hon. Gentleman asks me to name one lower price. The rate of inflation has been coming down consistently. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, from what I am sure are his frequent excursions into the high street, that a number of claims about lower prices are being made. I have faith in the discernment of the British consumer to evaluate whether prices are lower. The fact is that they are being claimed. The competitive structure in the high street has become far keener and fiercer over the last two years.

Mr. John Fraser


Mrs. Oppenheim

It would be unfair to Opposition Members, who are obviously keen and raring to go, if I were to extend my remarks beyond what would be an acceptable period of time. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security in winding up the debate, will deal with benefits and allowances for which her Department has responsibility. These present a significient improvement in the status of women. My hon. Friend will also reply to points raised on the British Nationality Bill.

Having dealt with the Government's factual record—[Interruption.] I hope that Opposition Members think that the Labour Government's factual record, in terms of achievements for women, measures up to the factual record that I have given for I come now to the wider issue of the creation of a fairer and freer society for women and to remove my discussion of this important subject from the political arena.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

Keep politics out of Parliament.

Mrs. Oppenheim

I hope that my own credentials are well established. I was a sponsor and supporter of the two anti-discrimination Bills of 1972 and 1973 introduced by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton).

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Keep my name out of your ruddy speech.

Mrs. Oppenheim

The hon. Gentleman invited my sponsorship and I was a supporter of both Bills. There was no division then and there is no division now between both sides of the House on the subject. Inequality of opportunity and discrimination existed then and exists now in a number of areas. However, some substantial progress has been made. There is no doubt that the adverse effects of these disadvantages affects certain categories of women much more severely than others. I refer to the mother in the one-parent family who has no choice but to go out to work, the single daughter with elderly dependents to maintain and those women who, on top of the emotional shock of divorce, of desertion and of becoming widows, often face a barrier of discrimination that will bring them face to face with frustration and financial hardship simply because they are women. For such women, the struggle is still very unequal. I am the first to acknowledge the fact.

I acknowledge also that it would be wrong to pretend that opportunities for women in the range of jobs and careers available to men are anything like equal yet, or that in certain cases they ever will be equal. Considerable progress has been made, but the actuality of equal pay and equal opportunities is far from being fully realised. This debate provides a useful opportunity to discuss the question.

I should like to make one thing clear. There is a limit to what any Government can or should do in improving the status, rights and opportunities for women. This is not a problem that arose in May 1979. It will not be solved quickly. Governments can, have, should and will continue to strive to ensure that women have equality under the law, equal educational and training opportunities and equal opportunities at work. Governments can create the right climate for advancement and for a sound and prosperous economy. Governments can create the framework for a fairer society for women. However, no Act of Parliament will eliminate discrimination or change attitudes.

One cannot prescribe attitudes by legislation. We have to look at the root causes before we can attempt to eliminate them. The two greatest stumbling blocks are still attitudes—the attitudes of women themselves and general prejudice. Until and unless women themselves are readier in larger numbers to compete and train for more ambitious jobs, this problem will not be solved. Anyone who professes to be genuinely concerned about the social position of women should be informed first and foremost about these attitudes, which prevent women from responding fully to the changing employment demands of society.

I should like to deal first, in this context, with the important question of the attitude of women in education. Here, old attitudes die very hard. Evidence shows that arts orientated curricula still prevail in most girls' schools. To paraphrase the recent words of my noble Friend Baroness Young, all those responsible for our education service have to make sure that new jobs do not become just jobs for the boys. I should like to take this opportunity to pay a great tribute to my noble Friend for all that she has done in this sphere in her Department and in her capacity as vice-chairman of our party responsible for women's organisations in the party.

However, all the equal educational opportunities in the world will mean far less than they should unless we can persuade young girls and women to make use of new opportunities, and unless we can arouse their interest in them. That, of course, is where the core curriculum comes in. All too often in the past their interest in subjects, skills or careers that have hitherto been attainable only after surmounting daunting obstacles, has, instead of being stimulated, actually been sedated both at home and at school.

It is the attitude of women themselves that present one of the greatest barriers to advance. The other great barrier is prejudice, which in the case of prejudice against women, unlike racial or religious discrimination, is not sinister or malevolent. Nor is it motivated by hatred or fear. It is founded on custom, ignorance, lack of confidence and sheer indifference, often expressed in the very unquestioning attitudes of women themselves.

The reshaping of those attitudes is one of the most important problems that we face.

Fortunately, for the most part, discriminatory attitudes against women are not so intransigent as to be totally unresponsive to education, to reason and, above all, to example. Indeed, time and again, even in the case of the most confirmed male chauvinist, these are swept aside in a moment by a woman with sufficient and outstanding abilities. In other words, the more women that are seen to be successfully fulfilling those roles that women are so often denied, the easier it will be not only to overcome prejudice and discrimination but to encourage girls and women to aim for these objectives in their own careers. That is the main problem that we face.

Apparently, another major factor—it does not stem from Government legislation or from anything that has happened under previous Governments or under this Government; it is a fact of life—is that a great many men still wish to maintain the status quo. They feel threatened by any advance or encroachment on their preserves, and they are fearful that services that they have depended on women to provide them with throughout the centuries will be withdrawn. They are right, although I believe that they need gentle encouragement, rather than open warfare, to wean them away from these attitudes.

Perhaps Freud and early psychoanalyists played their part in reinforcing prejudiced attitudes. As Dame Rebecca West once said Thanks to Freud the whole of the United States is covered with millions of grown men grizzling about the way they were treated by their mothers. There is evidence, too, in Sheila Rowbottom's book "Women, Resistance and Revolution" that the traditional figures of revolution, Rousseau, Robespierre, Karl Marx, Lenin and others were no great emancipators of women and were themselves chauvinist. They left their wives slaving over a hot stove—or had the lowest opinion of womanhood. The fact is that, like most men, these revolutionaries did not fancy forfeiting home comforts, and it suited them to have the dinner on the table when they came back from making their revolutions.

Happily, everywhere, except apparently in the Labour Party itself, we have advanced considerably since those days, and more and more women have been reshaping attitudes by their example, not only in this country, but throughout the world.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Does the Minister intend to relate any of her remarks to 1981? Perhaps she will get around to some of the facts that we were talking about. The truth is that the Government have taken specific action against women, and we want her to answer some of the questions.

Mrs. Oppenheim

I spent a considerable time at the beginning of my speech dealing in a factual manner with the completely false assertions in the Opposition motion which the House is debating. I dealt with those matters in a factual way. I made it clear that, providing in the interests of greater opportunities for women, of raising the status of women and of increasing their rights, I wanted to take part of this debate outside the political arena. That is what I am attempting to do, and it is in the interests of progress in this sphere. I am dealing with the facts as they exist in the real world and not in the political mythology of the Labour Party.

Where women need or want to work and use their talents and abilities to the full—here I agree with the hon. Lady—they must be given every opportunity and they should be given encouragement to be more ambitious in their choice of careers than they are at present. That—and here is the difference between the two parties—is the fundamental right of women—the right to choose.

Now I should like to draw the attention of the House to what I believe is the essential equilibrium that must be maintained if we are to progress realistically towards the realisation of that aim. I shall also sound a note of caution.

First, we should not in any way single out for derision those women who do not choose to go out to work, either part-time or full-time, or to pursue a career. Women who are fulfilled and happy in the role of housewife and mother, who often make considerable financial sacrifices in order to stay at home with their families, who do a tedious, demanding and lonely job, play a crucial role in the family and in society. To be a good housewife and mother is a high aspiration not easily achieved, and it is to be greatly commended.

I fully accept that a large number of women need and want full-time jobs. We must accept that an even larger number need and want part-time jobs. As I said earlier, the part-time job fills a vital niche in the social structure of the working woman, for a variety of reasons.

In a few cases it is true that part-time work is done just for the extra pin money, but in many more cases part-time work carried out by women is embarked upon to top up an inadequate family income, and such women are able to do that with the help of a part-time job that enables them to spend crucial time with their young families. A number of such women that I know have two part-time jobs. They have one in the morning, when their children are at school. They come home in the afternoon to look after the children, and when their husbands return from work and take over family responsibility they do a second part-time job in the evening. So the continuing growth in the number of part-time jobs is very important. It is to be encouraged, and not denigrated or derided by Opposition Members.

I have already referred to the adverse effects of extremist and unreasonable approaches to this issue, which often lend themselves to ridicule. We have long suffered from such denigratory descriptions as, for example, "the statutory woman". I noted with some alarm for the first time an Equal Opportunities Commission report this week that the "statutory woman" has now been joined by something called the "hypothetical male". The mind boggles at the thought of them ever meeting, and what they might produce if they did. Let us not allow this issue to lend itself to ridiculous jargon of that nature.

I come now to a more controversial issue. Even well-intentioned measures, if inequitable, can do great harm. I refer here to those provisions of the Employment Protection Act repealed in the Employment Act 1980, to which the hon. Lady referred. There is no doubt that women's jobs in smaller firms were lost, not gained, as a result of those provisions. I make no apology for the repeal of that provision. I believe that in doing so my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has in fact helped to preserve and create jobs for women in certain sectors that would otherwise have been destroyed.

Mrs. Dunwoody

What are the facts?

Mrs. Oppenheim

The facts are the countless numbers of small businesses, not least in the tourist industry—our third largest exporting industry—which could not afford to employ women while those provisions were in force.

It will have been noted that I have not often used the word "equality". That is because we should be cautious about how we apply the notion of equality to the elevation of women's status. There is a limit to the degree of equality, outside the specific spheres that I have mentioned, that we should consciously pursue in our own interests. There is a difference between equality and equality of opportunity.

How much equality should we seek and how much should we sacrifice in gaining it? Some High Court rulings have demonstrated what is likely to happen to awards for maintenance when a wife earns much more than her husband or has independent means. That occurs in a minority of cases. The awards to widows are also sometimes much lower. How much are we prepared to sacrifice for perfect equality?

I firmly believe that one of the greatest services that we can do for our country is to encourage a hitherto untapped source of talent and potential in women, who are playing an increasingly important role in the nation's economic life and who have a valuable further contribution to make which we cannot afford to neglect, whether in Government or out.

There are few pinnacles today that women, in ever increasing numbers, cannot reach. However, surely the final achievement in the elevation of the status of women will come only when nobody finds it remarkable that a women has scaled those heights.

The Government, far from having anything to reproach themselves for, have not diminished the status of women, limited their opportunities or restricted their rights. On the contrary, by striving to overcome inflation and to create a sound and healthy economic basis from which to promote conditions that foster the creation of new jobs for men and women alike they are working not against, but towards the reinforcement of all three objectives.

5.32 pm
Dame Judith Hart (Lanark)

We have just heard the head girl of St. Swithin's. If we had such a position, I would probably be the "Mother of the House". I cannot rival my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) in his experience in the House. However, the Prime Minister and I became Members of the House on the same day in 1959. There were similarities and differences between us. We had children of the same age, but there was a profound difference in that she had a nanny and I had a granny.

I shall trace the change in attitudes in the House, not only towards women, but of women. Since I entered the House there have been two profound changes. In 1959 the assumption was that a woman Member would wish to concern herself mainly with what were called women's subjects. We tended to concentrate on social security matters. At that time the mother of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) was a Member. Social security, education and welfare were women's subjects.

In 1959 my view, which was shared by Barbara Castle, who was then the Member for Blackburn, was that the next blow for freedom was to strike out into the spheres which were the absolute prerogatives of men—economics and foreign affairs.

A big blow for freedom was struck when a former Prime Minister, Sir Harold Wilson, appointed the first woman Minister to the Foreign Office and the first woman Minister in an economic Ministry when he made Barbara Castle Minister of Transport. That was a big jump forward. That was in the 1960s.

Since then a new emphasis has emerged. It was assumed that all would go well, that we would move forward, that there would be an end to discrimination and that opportunities would come the way of women. It was assumed that the provision of nursery schools and improved social services would help women in taking up employment and in seeking new opportunities. It was assumed that all would go well. The equal pay legislation was a dramatic step forward.

In the last decade it was recognised that all that was not enough and that we would not achieve the liberation of women without attacking specific issues. Under any Government, and particularly under the present Government, there must be specific campaigns for preschool education in nursery schools and playgroups. There must be a specific campaign on a matter which is of great interest to the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker)—social security legislation and regulations as they affect women. I am thinking in particular of the appalling cohabitation rules, which reflect a Neanderthal attitude to the freedom, rights and equality of women. Specific campaigns on a range of specific issues are needed.

What are the key priorities? Of course women must have freedom of choice. Whoever said that they should not? However, for freedom there must be opportunity. There is no freedom if the factory gates and the office doors are closed against women. With freedom must go opportunity. The vast increase in unemployment under the present Government has seriously limited further the opportunities of women in particular.

The Minister mentioned some unemployment figures, but she did not refer to the 1 million women who do not appear on the unemployment registers. The numbers are increasing. Factories in my constituency have been closed, but the names of the majority or women who lost their jobs do not appear on the unemployment register.

The Minister and the Government must accept that the disastrous de-industrialisation of Britain since they came to power has seriously affected the opportunities of employment for women. There is a world recession. OECD says that the Government have intensified rather than minimised the depression. Our position is worse than that of others, because of the Government's policies.

Unemployment will always represent an attack on the opportunities for women. The concept of working towards full employment, difficult as that will be in the new technological age, must embrace the concept that employment for women is essential if we care about women as one element of the people. The right hon. Lady did not touch on the challenge that will face us because of new technology.

The Labour Party produced a considered document about nine months ago which dealt with new technology and microelectronics. It pinpointed some of the problems that will arise for women simply because such a high proportion of them are in occupations that will be deeply affected by technological changes during the next 10 to 20 years. I had hoped that the Minister would touch on that matter.

Another problem that needs to be emphasised is the issue of low pay. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) referred to the work of the Low Pay Unit. The Minister quoted from The Guardian. I wish to quote an excellent article from The Times, which summarises many of the facts that have been produced recently. It states: 55 per cent. of the female manual workers are in catering, cleaning, hairdressing and other personal services. Of the total number of people employed in those services, about 80 per cent. are women. In many cases women in such jobs have no comparability with the wages of men, because men do not work in those areas. Therefore, the equal pay legislation is not of any assistance. We must find some way to assist not only women but the many men who are in low-paid occupations.

Many women in my constituency work in the catering industry. They do a split shift, working in the morning and returning in the evening. They serve meals, cook and wash up. They are taking home about £35 per week. That is scandalous. Because men do not work side by side with them, the equal pay legislation does not help. We must build on the concept of equal pay and attack the problem of low pay—not only for women, but for men. That would be the greatest economic assistance that we could give to working women.

I shall not go into any detail about the effects of the cuts in social services. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe mentioned them and I am sure that other hon. Members will do so. They bear most heavily on women who have to try to match the care of a home, a family, and possibly an elderly relative with work. They rely heavily on social service provisions, which they have a right to take for granted. Those provisions have been swept from under their feet by local authorities suffering the consequences of the cuts imposed on them by the Government.

I wish to mention one specific point simply because it would be a pity to waste this opportunity to do so. The Minister might like to take up the point. I have corresponded with the Prime Minister about the matter, because it is directly within the Government's control. I cannot envisage any problems in putting it right. If any woman civil servant travels abroad, perhaps to a conference, and suffers an accident or is killed, she will have no compensation or award unless her husband is dependent upon her. If a male civil servant travels abroad and has an accident, his wife—whether or not she is dependent on him, and even if she is a full-time worker earning more than her husband—will receive compensation. I throw that point at the right hon. Lady, although the Prime Minister tossed it off in a rather uncaring manner.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Was not that point raised with Mrs. Barbara Castle when she introduced legislation? I know that it was raised by many women at that time. Precisely the same point relates to pensions in the House. Mrs. Castle deliberately excluded that from her legislation.

Dame Judith Hart

That was a question of pensions in the House. I am referring to a point that came my way somewhat fortuitously when I was Minister for Overseas Development, when I realised the difference in treatment between women civil servants—including myself, as Ministers come into the same category—and male civil servants. I took up the matter with the Prime Minister about a year ago. She said that the Government could not do anything about it because it would lead to many consequential implications. Indeed it would—but those consequential implications need to be dealt with.

I come now to the position of women in the House. Most of the ladies in the Chamber today have been spared the struggles that one or two of us had with all the tiny discriminations—for example, any communication that we received from the Serjeant at Arms automatically began "Dear Sir". We managed to smooth out of the way a number of minor irritations before some of our colleagues became Members.

We are asked over and over again, especially as a result of the proliferation of research students—I hesitate to think of how many PhD papers are being written about women in politics—why there are not more women in the House. It is not an easy question to answer. Even if women do not experience discrimination against them in their political life—I can honestly say that I never did, but many women do—how can they find the hours worked in the House compatible not only with looking after children and bringing up a family but simply with managing to co-exist in a marriage? To do so they need tremendous assistance from many people. We all know the rate of broken marriages in this place. I do not think that any of us can purport to be sincere in our intent to push away the constraints that stand in the way of women playing a full part in the politicial life of Britain until we are prepared to consider with seriousness and determination the nonsense of the way in which we run our affairs in the House.

5.49 pm
Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

Eve said to Adam as they were walking through the Garden of Eden "I think we are living in a period of transition". The comments made so far in the debate show that that period of transition still exists. I speak as one who willingly and enthusiastically endorses the position of women and their status both in Britain and in other countries. I may be somewhat biased, because I am lucky enough to have had a mother and a great-aunt who were Members of Parliament. There was a time when there were two ladies in the House with the name of Rathbone.

That may have given me an insight into the biases and difficulties which women have faced in the House, which were mentioned by the right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart). It is peculiar perhaps that the most outstanding bias was not mentioned by the right hon. Lady and is not mentioned in the motion. The House must be one of the few places where the equal opportunities legislation does not apply. There are two completely different sorts of Member. There are Members and there are lady Members, as any lady Member will know who has passed through some of the doors marked "Members Only".

I wonder whether these little biases—one finds that there are little biases in all parts of life involving different types of person—are especially important. I have a feeling that they are not. They certainly do not matter as much as they did when the suffragettes were fighting their battles or when my great-aunt was a Member of this place. That is because the major influence in politics has come not from women as Members of Parliament but most certainly from women as voters.

There can be little doubt that it is the preponderance of women voters that has brought about the new political significance of what were once referred to as women's issues—for example, the Health Service, welfare, personal social services, maternity benefits, nursery education, equal pay and such contentious issues as divorce law and abortion. Politics is without doubt more humane in consequence.

It is not surprising that relatively new-found rights for women have been so quickly translated into such enormous new-found power. Within living memory the control of child bearing and the ability to choose the time and occasion of pregnancy has brought about a physical freedom for women completely different from anything that existed in the past, which should lead in turn to an increasing number of women in this place as Members. That, taken with the legal insistence on equal pay and equal opportunities, is forcibly changing the role of women in the British population. In our population women have outnumbered men for many years. The way in which our equal opportunities legislation is an insistence by the minority on establishing equality with the majority is perhaps unique.

There are not only more women, but they are better educated. The improvement in education is irreversible in its effect and it will continue to show. Once educated, women make an ever-increasing and dramatic change in the work force. The steep increase in the labour force in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was caused by the entry of women. It is interesting and worrying to consider the problems that are being caused as a result of unemployment, which is likely to bear more harshly on women than on men, because they are the late entrants to the working force.

These crude increases hide the areas in which women are still too little represented. For example, one in three of those engaged in the engineering industry in China are women. In Russia the proportion is one in five. It is one in 50 in the United States, one in 60 in France and Germany and one in 500 in the United Kingdom. It seems that for the moment at least women are blocked, presumably by social factors, although it is open to question whether the trade unions have played as active a part in encouraging women into such jobs as they could have done and as they did in the past.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

My hon. Friend refers to the important issue of the trade union outlook. Does he recognise that there is no way that any woman can get a job below ground in SOGAT or NATSOPA? There is the most blatant discrimination against which no action has been taken by any women's organisation so far.

Mr. Rathbone

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for raising that issue. It is an ample illustration of the part that powers outside the House have not played in widening opportunities for women. However, we are still evolving.

Mr. Rooker


Mr. Rathbone

Some hon. Members may have read in The Observer magazine some time ago an article on the pit-brow heroines. It was interesting to note that their existence led to concern in southern England, not so much because of the tasks that the women had to do, but because the wearing of trousers by women at work might encourage immorality. Even now we still have the same sort of qualms. There is perhaps less concern about immorality and more concern about the strain of the job when it comes to women working in our fire service, among myriad instances.

I come from a Liverpool family. In the First World War there was much brouhaha about an experiment that led to employing women to unload ships at the docks. Nearly everybody thought that the experiment would be a failure. On the contrary, it proved to be an outstanding success—so much so that the women had to be withdrawn, because they showed that they had a genius for carrying heavy weights. The men became jealous. They were concerned that there would be a growing danger of female dock labour after the war and demanded that at the war's end there should be an end to the jobs for women. That goes further to underline the argument that my hon. and learned Friend advanced.

We should not become too gloomy about lack of opportunity or under-achievement. Over the years and throughout the world women have made the running in completely male-dominated societies and even in societies dominated by male deities. Cleopatra led Egypt and Helen ruled Troy. Elizabeth I ruled Britain and much of the developing world and Queen Victoria ruled Britain and the far-flung British Empire. Madame Pandit is the Prime Minister of the burgeoning Sub-continent of India. Even in the male domain of piracy Anne and Mary were two leading buccaneers in the Bahamas in the eighteenth century.

I could not help but notice that recently there have been so many various and successful women that the custom of nominating a woman of the year has been abandoned. Is it not a sign of the times, too, that whereas women in the music halls used to be dressed as men, we now have men dressed as women, as Barry Humphries and Dame Edna Everage illustrate?

In such obvious and simple things we find an illustration of how women have progressed that is perhaps more readily understood by the population outside the House than that offered by the great names of successful women such as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson or more recently, Annis Gillie in medicine, Emily Davies in education, Mrs. Justice Lane in the law, Ann Goodwin in the trade unions and Margaret Bonfield, the first British woman Cabinet Minister. That brings us to the present day and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, our first woman Prime Minister. I do not mention these names in terms of congratulation, because that would be condescending. However, I note their status and the lead that they have provided for other women to follow.

Women have achieved parity because the law has changed to allow them to do so. Women's organisations have had a potent hand in that. Perhaps they have had a greater hand in it than any other group, in the House or outside. That is in part because society accepts women's ability to achieve. Most of all, they have achieved because women have started to wish to achieve.

Women are not daunted by the out-of-date portrayals in "Coronation Street", "Crossroads" or conventional, even Victorian-based, leanings towards the sexes. Women have succeeded because, like successful men, they have been blessed with the talents necessary to succeed and because they have had the drive and energy to carve out their own place regardless of their precedents.

Women may have been helped by their femininity, peculiar as that may sound, because the ability that women have shown is nearly always more noticeable. Instead of this vituperative motion, women outside Parliament can make a major contribution to the continuing struggle to answer the key question relevant to everything that affects family life.

I now touch upon a point that was raised by my right hon. Friend the Minister. Where and on what grounds should a line be drawn between the responsibility of the State and that of the individual for the welfare of people? It is crucial to the freedom of individuals that we get the balance right. I wonder sometimes whether leaders in our community, male and female, recognise sufficiently and remember often enough the contribution that mothers and parenthood make in striking that balance. We cannot pay enough attention to the condition in which the future generation will be brought into the world and the way in which it will be brought up in that new world. The importance of the home cannot be over-emphasised, nor the continuing importance of women within it.

If today English men were always as good as English women, I believe that we would have a better understanding of microeconomics, particularly where the value of money is concerned. We would have fewer disruptions in our business and personal lives. It is not just to a woman Prime Minister that Britain can now look to women for a lead. It is to the increasingly financially and socially independent women throughout the country that we must look and to whom the House, through its hon. Members of both sexes, must give a positive lead. The entirely unfair, incorrect, harping and negative motion has no part in that important process and it deserves no support from any part of the House.

6.1 pm

Mr. Frank R. White (Bury and Radcliffe)

I am grateful for having been called in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) on the detailed way in which she opened the debate. She set the tone that we should follow this evening. I apologise to the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) for not following his wide-ranging points. I shall address myself to a specific matter, which follows the point briefly made by my hon. Friend when she referred to homeworkers.

If there is one group of people in this country who have no rights, no status and little opportunity, it is those who work at home. It is difficult for many people fully to accept that in this day and age of organised trade unions, when so much publicity is given to the so-called power of the trade union movement, there exists a group of workpeople who are exploited and subjected to employment conditions that can unemotionally be termed as slave labour.

In 1906 the country was rocked by the Sweated Trades Exhibition, arranged by the Daily News. The resulting public outcry led to some Government action on behalf of the homeworkers employed in those sweated industries. I have secured a copy of a Fabian tract of 1907. It is regrettable that some of the comments made and details and conditions highlighted in that document are still relevant today in certain sections of homeworking. Following that disclosure and the great exhibition in 1911 some action was taken. However, since 1911, home-workers have been the forgotten, ignored and abused sector of British industry.

All successive employment legislation has ignored the working conditions of homeworkers. It concentrated on the employee but somehow ignored the homeworker in his home environment, thereby pushing him into the hands of the unscrupulous and unprincipled employer. I accept that homeworkers were neglected by trade unions and often regarded as employers' scabs during the lockouts and depressive years of the 1920s and 1930s. Only in recent years have homeworkers been regarded in a different light.

More than anything, the cause of that new awareness of homeworkers' needs has been their evolution into three distinct social groups. By their composition, those people have no industrial muscle or voice and must therefore turn to others for sympathy, support and action. On two occasions, through Private Member's Bills, I presented their case to the House, with the support of my hon. Friends. Those workers turned to the House, but they turned in vain.

Estimates of the number of homeworkers in the United Kingdom range from 150,000 to 250,000. Some authoritative sources put the figure even higher. Whichever number one accepts, the numbers of homeworkers are substantial. They are mainly composed of three groups. The vast majority have one thing in common—homeworkers are women who have no choice but to work at home. They are mothers with young children, who have no access to child-care facilities. Worse still, in the present economic circumstances of public expenditure cuts, those mothers are finding that nurseries are closed and that facilities are no longer available.

The chronically sick and disabled, who, even in good employment conditions, suffer from the reluctance of employers to take up their registered disabled employment quota, in the present conditions of high unemployment have little or no chance of employment. That is bad enough if one is a disabled man; it is worse if one is a disabled woman. If one is a black, disabled woman, it is nearly impossible to find a job unless one can feed 5,000 with five barley loaves and six fishes—and then it is only in a works canteen.

Women caring for elderly relatives are often in need of additional family income. The lack of adequate facilities for elderly day care prevents that opportunity. Members of the ethnic minorities suffer language and cultural barriers to working outside the home, and possibly other discrimination if they break the barrier. All share the common ground of needing income to meet rising costs. All present themselves as a ready-made, captive labour force, to be discarded at will and abused on demand.

Those accusations may seem a little over-emotional and unjust, but how does one describe the following situation of a lady in Manchester, whose name I cannot disclose? She packages baby powders for export. She would not be allowed to package at home baby powders that were to be used for consumption in this country. She receives 30 pence for every box of 240 powders. That works out at ⅛ pence per powder. In a 40-hour week, while catering for the needs of a husband and two children, she manages to pack 4,000 powders, earning £5. From that she has to deduct the cost of bus fares when she travels to the factory to pick up the packets and powder for the following week's work, while delivering the current week's production. Is it worth it?

Another lady in Humberside has crocheted gloves at home for the past six years. Having responded to an urgent request to meet an order on demand, she finds that she cannot even be paid for the work that she has done. She would not find it easy to have recourse to law. There must be some protection.

Today the weather has improved, but when we put up our umbrellas we should remember that homeworkers are paid 75p a dozen for stitching them together. A homeworker may also be paid only 50p for turning and hemming 150 yards of cloth on both sides for curtains.

It may be asked why homeworkers do not organise themselves into trade unions. Mrs. Pat Frolich of Leeds, did just that. She met other workers at the factory gates when picking up supplies. They were appalled when they discussed their conditions among themselves, so they organised themselves into a union. They were employed to put tassles on bobble hats and football scarves. They joined the General and Municipal Workers Union. Here I declare an interest. I am a sponsored Member of the union. They were successful in improving wages, but from the moment that the concession was obtained Mrs. Frolich received no more work.

The media have been kind to homeworkers and have spotlighted the problems. Hon. Members may recall various television programmes. However, they have a great problem in getting people to come forward with horrific stories about their work. They are reluctant to be identified, as the work will dry up if they are. Socially deprived people badly need the extra income, and homeworkers who protest lose their jobs.

Mrs. Frolich's case is by no means isolated. There was the disturbing case of Delia Cope, who was sacked by Airfix Footwear. She won a declaration of employee status at an industrial tribunal and then at an employer's appeal tribunal. The argument is whether homeworkers are employees or self-employed. Generally, companies will not accept that they are employees. The matter was referred back to the industrial tribunal for a decision on unfair dismissal. The company was not prepared to take Mrs. Cope back and the case was settled out of court for £700. All the company's homeworkers were circulated, and the company stressed that they were self-employed. They had to sign a disclaimer to that effect, or work would have ceased. That is a typical example.

It would be unfair not to acknowledge that in certain areas there are good relations between employer and homeworker, generally as a result of long-standing agreements with local trade unions and where there are close community relationships. In the valleys of Lancashire the trade unions and workpeople live cheek by jowl and there is a close relationship with the mill owners. An employer may have trained a first-class operative, who leaves to take up family responsibilities, and it is in everyone's interest to maintain an employment relationship based on good conditions.

The Government may say that the wages councils protect the homeworker, but the reality is different. Only 30,000 homeworkers are covered by the councils, and even many of those receive less than the statutory minimum rate of pay. With the Wages Inspectorate being cut under present Government policy, employers will continue to cock a snook at their statutory obligations.

The only way to protect homeworkers and to give homeworking women rights, status and opportunities is for the House, homeworkers and their supporters to retread the path of Shaftesbury, Owen, Wilberforce and the other reformers and ask the Government for protective legislation. By doing that we should be following the examples of Germany, France and Italy, whose homeworkers are protected by legislation, much of which goes back over 30 years.

The issue is simple. The two homeworkers' protection Bills that I presented, which were blocked primarily by the Conservative Party in Opposition and in Government, sought merely to designate homeworkers as employees. From that would flow the benefits enjoyed by every other employee, such as sickness and holiday pay, good standards of health and safety at work, decent rates of pay, protection from unfair dismissal and the opportunity to receive maternity benefits.

It may be suggested that that would kill off homeworking, but I say to those strident and insensitive voices that that is not so in Europe, where the homeworker is protected by law and accepted as making a valuable contribution to manufacturing. The British homeworker is no less deserving. Blind prejudice has never succeeded in deserving cases; nor will it in this case. Eventually, we shall have legislation.

The more that the Government refuse to act to the immense benefit of working women, the more they will deserve the condemnation referred to in the motion.

6.17 pm
Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Never in our long history have women had so many opportunities as today, some of which have resulted from the work of women in the House.

I recall a remarkable old lady, who was a good friend to many of us—Dame Irene Ward. She once saw an advertisement in The Times for librarians for the House of Commons. It ended with the words "Men only need apply". She instantly tabled a question, and received a masculine, unhelpful and stupid reply, to the effect that work in the Library involved carrying heavy ladders, which women could not manage. Dame Irene threw her Order Paper on the ground, stalked out of the Chamber and along the passage to the Library. She picked up a ladder, put it across her shoulder and marched back to the Chamber.

Unfortunately, the Serjeant at Arms, called upon to make a snap judgment, decided that the ladder was an offensive weapon and allowed her no further than the Bar. She stood there, with the ladder over her shoulder, calling to the Minister that it was not too heavy. There were other hon. Members at the Bar. Every now and then Dame Irene turned round, cutting a swath front and back and causing havoc. The result is that we have some excellent women in the House of Commons Library today.

Nevertheless, in considering the opportunities open to women today, I believe that the time has come to consider the advisability of encouraging women with very young children to stay at home. With the best of intentions, all kinds of arrangements have been made which make it easy for a woman who becomes pregnant to take just a little time off to have her child and then return to work. We positively encourage women to do that. I seriously question whether that is a wise procedure when the child is very young. I do not think that it is wise for the child. No matter how good the nursery, how excellent the grandmother, or how efficient the child minder, to my mind the child needs his mother when he is very young and will miss her care whoever else may look after him.

It is also a great pity, by applying social pressures, to deprive a woman of the short time, which is soon over, when her children are very young and she can enjoy bringing them up. Not all women enjoy it. One of the saddest things that I ever read was the comment of a woman who said that any woman who became pregnant had to face 15 years' hard labour. I am happy that only a tiny minority of mothers regard their children in that way.

For the sake of the public, I believe that we should now look again at our policy. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that half ofthe people arrested in London last year were under the age of 21. I believe that child crime may be linked in a rather worrying way with the number of women at work.

Mr. Gilbert Kelland, Assistant Commissioner (Crime) of the Metropolitan Police, recently commented: Why do youngsters commit street robbery and attack old people? I do not know. The police officers who deal with them say there is little moral shame when they are caught. Morality seems to have gone out of the window, and that has been a monitor of society down the years. I find it a horrendous statistic that half of those arrested are under the age of 21. Moreover, according to arrest statistics, children aged 10 to 16 carried out 14 per cent. of all assaults, 30 per cent. of all robberies, 34 per cent. of crime involving vehicles, and 24 per cent. of criminal damage. I find that, too, horrendous.

The statistics for crimes committed by children under the age of 10 in the last year for which records are available show that there were 52 cases in Bedfordshire, 182 in Cambridgeshire, 209 in Devon and 623 in Manchester. The statistics for children over the age of 10 are, of course, far worse. I worry especially about these little children. The chief constable in Humberside made the very strong point that Too many children under 10 and below the age of criminal responsibility continue to come to the attention of my Department. I discovered from further statistics that the graph of child crimes really began to rise in 1959, which was just when women started to go to work in large numbers. Therefore, I say again that we should examine our policy of encouraging mothers of young children to go out to work, because just as more and more women with young families have started to go out to work, so the graph of child crime has risen. I am happy that in the last short period the rate has begun to fall a little. However, that may reinforce my point, because unemployment means that women have been losing their jobs, which may have affected the statistics.

Frequently, women have no choice. They have to go out to work because the family budget could not otherwise be met, and I worry about that. I believe that we should consider tax incentives such as are used in France, to encourage women with young children to stay at home. I would not wish to go as far as the Germans, who grant an allowance to households in which the wife has no job, through a system under which, the Opposition will be surprised to hear, the higher the husband's earnings the greater the allowance made for the wife who stays at home. I do not suggest that we should follow that pattern. Nevertheless, bearing in mind also the cost of juvenile crime to the nation, we might examine ways to help and encourage women to stay at home when their children are very young instead of their having to go out to work because they need the money.

We might consider abandoning the earned income allowance for married women below a certain age who have children, and perhaps also examine the question of unemployment benefit. We might scrap unemployment benefit for that group but give a cash benefit instead and provide that if they obtained a job that made them liable for PAYE they would lose that benefit and would be taxed upon the whole of their earnings. There would then be a tax incentive for them to stay at home and look after their children. Some women have no choice but to leave their children. It is those women that I am concerned about.

As soon as it is feasible I should like to see schemes to encourage the training of older women either to return to their previous jobs when their children are older or perhaps even to train for new jobs. At present the schemes run by industrial training boards in relation to skill training for women seem almost entirely designed for young women. There is little or no chance for a woman whose children have grown up to go back for training. We should concentrate much more on that.

A consultative document issued last month takes note of this. I wonder whether the Opposition are aware of this publication. In this new training initiative the document mentions four kinds of need that must be met but are not being met at present. It states that growing numbers of those with competences which have become outdated or rusty through lack of practice are seeking retraining or refresher courses. They include large numbers of married women returning to work". If the Opposition think that the Government are lacking in energy and action, I draw that document to their attention and point out that it has been signed by no fewer than four Secretaries of State, all of whom clearly endorse the intentions stated in it and have said that they intend to act upon it as soon as possible.

At this point I also draw the attention of the House to the report of the Select Committee on Unemployment, which I read with great interest. On 27 November last year the Equal Opportunities Commission gave evidence to the Committee as follows: It is of concern to the Commission that formal barriers exist to the employment and training of older workers by way of age-bars, which in some careers may amount to unlawful indirect discrimination against women. The industrial tribunal case of Belinda Price v. Civil Service illustrates the way in which upper age-bars prevent women who wish to return to work following a career break to rear children, from so doing. This seems so important that we should consider it with the utmost seriousness. We should encourage everything that would help to combat the crime rate in young children. We should therefore encourage women to remain at home as far as they can when their children are young and to return to work afterwards.

I wish to raise one further point, which concerns what I regard as a gross unfairness to women. It relates to the rules governing the invalid care allowance. It is wrong that that allowance should be available to men and single women but not to married women. There must be many women whose husbands are disabled. They must go to work to support the family, but apparently because they are married they are not entitled to the invalid care allowance.

It has been estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 women in Britain stay at home and care for disabled husbands. If a man's wife is stricken with a disabling disease and he brings in a housekeeper to look after the family while he goes out to work, he is entitled to the allowance. But if the situation is reversed, and it is the husband who is stricken, the woman cannot get the benefit. That is wrong. I hope that Ministers will look at this matter again. It is right that single women should get this benefit, but at present married women are disadvantaged.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. She will probably note that we keep this matter under constant review. The invalid care allowance has been of valuable and beneficial help to people who care for those at home. I hope that my hon. Friend will note that from 1 June this year we have extended the allowance to non-relatives. That underlines my hon. Friend's point even more.

Mrs. Knight

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that she has sympathy for the points that I have raised. It is right that single women who have had to care for an elderly parent should get the benefit, but for the life of me I do not see why married women are ineligible. I have the Minister's sympathy. I am sure that as soon as possible I shall also have her action.

6.31 pm
Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

The whole House is grateful for the opportunity to debate the issues raised in the Opposition's motion. We have very little opportunity to have a wide-ranging debate on these issues, which are so important for every family—not just for women but for men and the members of women's families. I am glad that a number of men want to participate in the debate, and I am also glad that the opportunity seems to have been taken with both hands.

Perhaps the House recalls the words—wrongly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi—of the Prime Minister on the steps of No. 10 immediately after the election. I am grateful to the former Leader of the House—the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas)—for the correction, because in an interesting interview on television yesterday evening he gave the source as a French archbishop of the last century. Therefore, the words are not quite as old as many people had thought. The words, which stick in my mind, and which were quickly abandoned after the election, were: Where there is discord may we bring harmony". We have had very little harmony since the election, and that is not surprising. Those words were abandoned because the Government turned the battle against poverty, which the Labour Government had been fighting hard, into a battle against the poor. As a result, those who have suffered most have been poor women in poor, low-paid jobs—if, indeed, they have jobs—struggling to bring up a family, often on their own, as well as poor elderly men and women.

The poor elderly were clobbered when indexing according to earnings or prices, whichever was the higher, was taken from them. The sick and the ever-rising ranks of the unemployed have also suffered from successive Budgets. The scrapping of the earnings-related supplement means that all unemployed people are back to a flat rate, and the low rates of unemployment pay and supplementary benefit mean dire poverty for the family.

I am sure that all hon. Members will know from their weekly or monthly surgeries about the increase in the number of families on supplementary benefit who come to see us with all kinds of related problems. Clearly, there is at present a great deal of poverty among the working poor.

The indecency of the Government's Budget proposals immediately after the election, when such an enormous amount of money was given to the well-off, set the tone for everything that has followed. In the first Budget, tax cuts to the well-off amounted to £3,500 million, 40 per cent. of which went to the top 5 per cent. of wealthy taxpayers. That meant that a man earning about £30,000 a year got a £4,000-a-year gift from the Chancellor. However, that Budget meant nothing for the poorest.

Over and over again during the lifetime of this Government, benefits introduced by the Labour Government to help lower-paid families in particular—especially women bringing up a family alone—have been abolished. Those benefits include heating allowances and school meals, which have been abolished in some county council and local authority areas. Where school meals have not been abolished, the price has been increased considerably. School transport would have gone in the Education (No. 2) Act had it not been for the revolt in the other place. I am all in favour of retaining the other place. While it would not necessarily be the same as it is now, another Chamber is needed.

As a result of the abolition of these benefits the woman in the low-paid job has been caught in a severe poverty trap. Today, one in every five working women is the sole breadwinner of the family, and the majority of working women make a vital contribution to the family budget. Without their wages, three times as many families would fall below the official poverty line and have to go on supplementary benefit. Therefore, the Government ought to encourage women to work and to improve the family income.

The Minister for Consumer Affairs took exception to the figures that I quoted, but I should like to give her some more. I asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many women have been registered as unemployed in April each year since 1970; and what percentage change this represents in each case."—[Official Report, 5 June 1981; Vol. 5, c. 431.] The answer showed that in 1980–81—that is, to last April—the percentage increase in the number of women unemployed was 51.8 per cent. In the year to April 1979, during the period of the last Government, there had been a fall of 6.1 per cent. in the number of women unemployed. However, the figure rapidly rose to 21.9 per cent. by April 1980 and to 51.8 per cent. by April this year. That indicates the measure of the increase in women's unemployment.

According to other figures given on 5 June, there has been a 110.8 per cent. increase in women's unemployment in the Wolverhampton area since the Government took office. In the West Midlands as a whole the increase has been 129.8 per cent.

I presume that the Minister for Consumer Affairs would not cross swords with her colleague over those figures. They show that poorer families who rely on women's wages have suffered severely. According to statistics published by the hon. Lady's Department, only 5 per cent. of male workers provide the sole support for their wives and young children today. That is a staggering figure.

Many firms have taken the problem of women workers very much to heart, particularly firms in the food industry, which rely on women's seasonal employment. With trade union support, some of those firms have decided to give the jobs that they have to unemployed youngsters and to women bringing up a family on their own. That is a commendable attitude on the part of those employers, particularly in the food industry, in the eastern part of the country, and on the part of the trade unions, to help women who are bringing up a family on their own, and to help young people who otherwise would not have a job.

The Government are to introduce a new sick pay scheme in the next Session. I think that it will be a slightly re-jigged version of the one that the Select Committee examined recently and for which the Committee, the CBI and the organisations of small businesses all showed little enthusiasm.

The new proposals offer the employers compensation—rather more compensation than was originally suggested—for running the scheme. They involve paying a flat-rate sum during the first eight weeks of sickness. Employees will be able to certify themselves for short periods of sickness, but in this scheme there will be no extra cash for wives or children, as there is under the present sickness benefit scheme, so women will be on the receiving end yet again of even more problems caused by less money coming into the home when the breadwinner is sick. I wonder how the hon. Lady can defend that.

In addition—this is part of the object of the exercise—about 5,000 civil servants will lose their jobs when the scheme is introduced. Many of them will be women, so that there will be more women losing their jobs, and probably more hardship will be caused in their families.

From the Ministers in the Department of Education and Science and in the Department of Health and Social Security, I suppose the factor that most women with a young family look for is the provision of nursery education or day care for their under-fives. Because of the severe cuts in the allocation of resources for nursery education, especially for nursery building, many women in the poorest areas, suffering severe educational and health deprivation, are being prevented from seeking part-time or full-time employment.

The figures given to me on 18 January by the Department of Education and Science show clearly what has happened in the deprived areas. I am picking out the most deprived. Birmingham had over £1 million allocated in 1975–76 for nursery building, but only £56,000 in 1980–81. Walsall, which is one of the most deprived areas in the West Midlands, had £296,000 in 1975–76. Now it is getting only £42,000. Wolverhampton had £293,000 in 1975–76 and only £84,000 in 1980–81. The Inner London Education Authority, with its massive responsibilities and an enormous number of families, had £2½ million in 1975–76 and only £283,000 in 1980–81. Rochdale had £134,000 in 1975–76, £73,000 in 1979–80, and nothing in 1980–81. I do not know the reason for that. Perhaps the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) should take note of that iniquity and campaign very hard for his disadvantaged area in this respect.

The last area of serious discrimination that I want to raise affects the hon. Lady's Department. I refer to the Secretary of State's refusal to provide the modest amounts for which the Select Committee asked in order to bring down the perinatal mortality rate in these islands to the Scandinavian level and to that of several European countries that have done very much better and are continuing to do very much better than we are at the present time.

Where poor housing, bad diet and a history of family deprivation exist, so does a high mortality rate among neonates. Where antenatal care is inadequate and badly delivered, where women are treated like cattle, where labouring women are left alone for hours with no one heeding their calls for help, where expectant fathers are shooed away when they want to stay and give support, where nurses and doctors talk to women in the wracking pain of childbirth as though they were silly creatures making a fuss over nothing, and where women are left for hours hitched up to machines and given no encouragement or company, tragedies will occur.

It is my belief that the overwhelming majority of obstetricians and midwives are caring and kind, and that they know very well what needs to be done to make childbirth a rewarding and wonderful experience. But the minority certainly make women suffer. So I hope that when women complain to the Secretary of State he will personally ensure that their complaints are put right and that he will provide the resources needed, and recommended by the Select Committee, to provide the proper care that women need for themselves and their babies.

Recently the Select Committee learnt in Sweden of the generous parental leave that is given when a baby is born. The leave can be shared by both parents as they wish and as is best suited to the family needs. They are given nine months in all. Some of it can be taken before the birth and some after the birth by either the father or the mother, as is most convenient and beneficial to the family. Parenthood, after all, is a male function, and the Swedes recognise this, just as they recognise that women have the right to choose how many children they have and when they bear them.

Freedom of choice should be the right of men and women in these matters, as is indicated in the Opposition's motion, but I think that we shall have to wait for the next Labour Government before that sort of choice is available.

Another interesting phenomenon at which the Select Committee has been looking is the shortage of doctors in certain areas of medicine, in certain specialties, and in certain parts of the country. Women doctors in training and in postgraduate education need opportunities for part-time training in order to get the experience that they require. They also need the opportunity for part-time jobs if they are to work after they finish their training and if their family commitments are preventing them from taking full-time work. Part-time posts appear to be necessary, although one can see that there are problems.

When the Select Committee went to Edinburgh it had an opportunity to talk to women doctors who were sharing posts, sharing the care of patients. It worked very well. Obviously, the two women have to be compatible and able to work well together. If one of them leaves to take another post, or for other reasons, immediate problems present themselves, but with a little imagination the problem can be dealt with, to the benefit of the women themselves and their patients.

Some of the problems were presented dramatically to the Select Committee during its recent visits. Where women doctors are married to men doctors, there are problems of mobility and of careers. Generally, the men feel that the women should be willing to hold back in their career advancement in order to allow the whole family to move to an area where the husband has the opportunity of promotion. But times and attitudes are changing, and one hopes that sometimes we shall hear that the male partner is willing to allow the family to move so that the wife can get the promotion that she needs.

I remind the House of the question that I put to the Prime Minister on Tuesday, and which I was anxious to present to her at Question Time today. Unfortunately, I am not very good at catching Mr. Speaker's eye. I asked her what assessment she has made of the effect of the Government's economic policies on employment opportunities for women. I shall not comment on her reply: The Government's policies will strengthen the economy and thus lead to increased employment opportunities for both sexes."—[Official Report, 9 June 1981; Vol. 6, c. 85.] I wonder when that will be!

6.50 pm
Mr. Gerry Neale (Cornwall, North)

Having realised yet again how valuable are the services of my wife, who in my absence for long hours in this House deals with the affairs of our home efficiently and effectively, I arrived here to find that the debate was to be opened by an hon. Lady, followed by a right hon. Lady from the Government side and that it is to be closed on behalf of both sides by Lady Members. As a male, I wonder whether I should ask for permission to speak. The right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) described herself as one of the mothers of the House; I do not know whether she was seeking to describe herself as Mother Superior. The tenor of the debate makes male Members wonder whether they should seek a debate to try to recapture some of the ground that they have lost.

The speech of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) was described as having real invective in it. Her strongest argument was that she might be regarded as mediocre in the House. May I be the first to describe her contribution as a superbly mediocre speech?

Recently many matters have been projected, whether by the female or the male sex, as causing undue indignation or embarrassment. It is ridiculous when things like manhole covers are referred to as personhole covers. In various public houses in Cornwall they are advertising ploughperson's lunches instead of ploughman's lunches. One wonders where this sort of thing will stop.

Moving on to more serious matters, I should like to pay tribute to the efforts of various voluntary organisations composed of women who seem to understand what needs to be done in various areas. I have recently been involved in the work of the Women's Institute. Like the Women's Royal Voluntary Service and other organisations, it provides many of the services which various Members have said are lacking, but which are far better provided by the voluntary organisations.

One injustice for women relates to taxation. It is crazy that a husband and wife should be taxed as one unit instead of individually. I ask my right hon. Friend to convey to her colleagues that this should be altered.

Another problem that has come to light relates to small businesses whose lady employees wish to return to work after having babies. Those of us who have been involved in running small businesses are aware of the value of employing women who, in many instances, fill the role far more willingly than men. We are aware that many of them wish to have children, but many small businesses cannot afford to help pay for that right in the way the law decrees. Keeping jobs open as required and having to employ other staff in the interim makes it extremely difficult for small businesses to plan—

Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that in the end employers do not have to contribute to maternity pay? Secondly, has he read the evidence gathered by the Department of the Employment survey, which showed clearly that maternity leave did not present a problem to small businesses?

Mr. Neale

I do not dispute the information that the hon. Lady has given. My experience in businesses in which I have been involved is that maternity leave plays a part in staff planning. If a small business employs only four, five or six people it is very difficult for it to take account of the requirements and rights of lady employees who wish to have children. All I am saying is that it is a commercial factor that cannot be ignored.

It has also been mentioned that in cases of redundancy and reductions in staff ladies suffer first. They are laid off in places with the least heavy union control, the assumption being, I presume, that unions would prevent them from being dismissed if they had greater domination. I did not see any great support for people like Joanna Harris or the ladies in Walsall who were dismissed because they would not join unions. We must ensure that ladies have the right not to join a union.

I should like to echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Crewe and the right hon. Member for Lanark, who both recognised that in the home women respond well to problems of stress and illness and the difficulties which child bearing raises for families as a whole. They did not touch on the fact that ladies have a far clearer understanding of strikes. Often they encourage the men to go back to work and accept the economic realities.

Women understand these problems better than is often thought. They should be allowed to decide for themselves whether they want to make sacrifices in their homes, whether they want to limit the number of children in the family, whether they want to have children at all. A woman should decide for herself whether she wishes to make an arrangement with her husband on the role she plays in society. If women decide that they want to make sacrifices to enable them to take up a career, there is little in this life that prevents them from reaching the goal they set.

Aspects have been highlighted which could be altered, but they are purely technical matters. I echo the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs, who said that in the final analysis the law can do very little. What is required is a change of attitude of women towards the role they wish to play in society. They have in their own hands the power to make progress if that is what they wish to do.

7.1 pm

Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)

Today is "ladies' day" in the Chamber, and every lady Member should have an opportunity to express her views on this important matter, so I shall be brief.

It is a sad reflection on our society that we should be debating an important subject touching on the lives of women throughout the United Kingdom in a Chamber in which women are so grossly under-represented. Few of us sitting complacently here today would have achieved our present status without the support, encouragement, hard work and ability of women, many of whom have been denied the chance of standing for Parliament, despite our sex discrimination and equal pay legislation.

There are only 19 lady Members of Parliament. In the last Parliament there were about 30. The time has come to change the electoral system by introducing proportional representation so that many more lady candidates may stand for Parliament and eventually be elected to this Chamber. Many people blame women themselves for not standing for Parliament, citing lack of ambition and lack of total commitment to a job of work. But I am convinced that the answer lies deeper than that. It lies in the attitude of society towards the status of women in general and the lack of political will to discriminate in favour of women. If women were given the right support and encouragement by men, equal to that which they give us, I feel sure that these Benches would soon see a fairer representation.

An even sadder aspect is that we should have this debate when we have a woman Prime Minister, and when we realise that a disadvantaged section of our society is being penalised still further as a direct result of policies espoused by the Prime Minister.

The fact that of the low-paid category 65 per cent. are women and that of all women in work 54.5 per cent, are low paid should shame us all. What is even worse is that current economic conditions are placing even greater stress on the low paid and that women's jobs seem to be the first to disappear. As job opportunities get fewer, more employers feel able to disregard the Sex Discriminaion Act and misuse the Equal Pay Act, and part-time jobs, in which a large section of the female work force is involved, are the first to go.

The national insurance scheme in its present form also operates against the low-paid worker by setting a ceiling of £27 above which national insurance has to be paid by both employer and employee. This has the effect of either penalising the employee who earns just over this amount or of tempting the employer to keep wages artificially low and to convert full-time jobs into part-time jobs. It is a classic case of the poverty trap.

Another blow to women's opportunities under the Conservative Government is the savage cut in expenditure on social services. Day nurseries have had to go, fewer home helps are available and school meals have been curtailed. This means that many mothers have been forced to give up work even when the money is sorely needed to keep the household solvent. Many such families have had to resort to supplementary benefit from the State, making nonsense of the Government's avowed aim to save money in the public sector.

Liberals are wholly committed to the policy that gives every woman the right to work and provides the necessary financial support and services to enable her to do so. We want a national minimum wage and a strengthening of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act, so that they can no longer be circumvented by employers. We want an end to discriminatory tax and social security laws which operate so unfairly against women. We should also like more money to be put into further and technical education for school leavers; and we want a fair share of the school leavers who are trained to be girls, so that they can compete on an equal footing with boys in the job market.

It is possibly true that we cannot legislate to change attitudes, but it is important that we in the House should set an example and at least make it possible in practical ways for women to live full and useful lives, whatever their chosen career in society. The quality of life can improve onlyif women take their rightful share of the responsibility and the rewards—from shop floor to board level. We must today reject the policies of the Government, which so patently have failed to recognise the rights and aspirations of women in all walks of life.

7.9 pm

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

Several hon. Members have referred to women as being the majority who are the minority. That should form the focus of our debate, because we are discussing a division between the sexes that is also a division of labour.

We have heard much evidence about the way in which our economic and social systems continue to discriminate against women. A cause of great concern is the way in which our attempts to intervene in this area—in the limited way in which "labourism" often tends to intervene in society—has failed to right those differences. It is important that someone who is a member of a minority party and who is not a member of the official Opposition should stress that the position of women did not improve substantially under the Labour Government. The legislation introduced by the Labour Government has proved inadequate, as the Equal Opportunities Commission has recently shown in its third report.

Let us consider women's pay as a percentage of men's over a period. The gap between male and female earnings is narrowest for average hourly pay. In 1974, women earned 67.4 per cent. of what men earned. In 1976 they earned 75.1 per cent. of male earnings. However, that relative rise in women's pay has not been maintained and appears to be, to some extent, a temporary effect of the legislation of that period. Later figures show that in 1978 the proportion had slipped back to 73.9 per cent. In the public sector, women's wages as a percentage of men's wages amounted to 65.4 per cent. in 1974. They increased to 72.1 per cent. in 1976 and went back to 70.3 per cent. in 1978.

Those figures clearly show that the attempt at intervention by the equal pay legislation was unsuccessful. In the private sector the position is even worse. It has already been said that when legislation was introduced many employers undertook so-called regrading exercises to prevent comparison. The difference between male and female pay often shows that there has been a failure—it is right that I should say this as a trade union member—on the part of the trade union movement to struggle effectively, even for women within its ranks.

In our society women's jobs are divided from those of men. There are two divisions of labour: a vertical division, where women are at a disadvantage in terms of pay and conditions of work, and a horizontal division of labour, where women are concentrated in particular types of work. A staggering 41 per cent. of all women with jobs in the United Kingdom work part time. That figure comes from a recent issue of "Social Trends". Female wage labour is characterised only by low pay. Reference has already been made to homeworking and assembly work on piece-rate contracts, which is certainly the most exploited form of work. Women undertake such jobs because of their domestic and parental responsibilities. There is a disadvantage in the pay and security of part-time work.

As long as there is a differential between part-time and full-time employment in terms of pay and conditions there can never be equality of employment or of opportunity for women workers. Women workers are more vulnerable to redundancy during a recession. That is an important aspect of this debate. Department of Employment figures show that since 1974 the recession has resulted in women being made unemployed at roughly three times the rate of men. Since married women are frequently not eligible for State benefits, it is unclear what proportion of unemployed women are registered as such. The evidence fluctuates.

It is clear that female workers, particularly those who return to employment after having raised a family, are especially vulnerable where a "last in, first out" principle applies. Indeed, that principle is applied too often when it comes to redundancies. Not only do women suffer from two forms of division of labour, and not only do women occupy more insecure and lower-paid jobs than men, but they are less likely to be promoted. That generalisation applies to particular trades, industries and professions and across their whole range. It is a form of fragmentation within the labour market, which the legislation that was calculated to bring about greater equality has failed to tackle.

Hon. Members have cited women who have done well in their professions. That is not the subject of this debate. The subject is sex discrimination and inequality, which is a structural problem within our society and economy. Women have traditionally constituted a high proportion of the work force in industries such as textiles, and today they still make up 74 per cent. of the work force in the clothing and footwear industry. Women comprise 64 per cent. of the education, health and welfare labour force, 73 per cent. of the clerical labour force, 58 per cent. of the selling work force and 75 per cent. of those employed in personal services such as catering and hairdressing. In addition, 60 per cent. of the entire female work force is concentrated in 10 occupations, headed by clerical work—which takes 17 per cent. of women workers—followed by shop assistants, typists, secretaries, maids, cleaners, nurses, teachers, canteen assistants, shop managers and sewing and textile workers. Most of those jobs can be broadly described as service work, the caring occupations and various socialised forms of domestic service.

Many feminists have rightly pointed out that the distribution of women in the employed work force bears a striking resemblance to the division of labour within the family. I am concerned about the recession's immediate impact on women. Between 1973 and 1978 female unemployment doubled. Female school leavers faced particular difficulties. In addition, unemployment among that group has risen substantially from 35 per cent. to nearly 50 per cent.

Industrial South Wales has suffered more perhaps than any other region from the effects of the recession. Again, the number of women who are registered as unemployed has increased substantially. Official figures always underestimate female unemployment by at least 30 per cent. In the case of married women, that underestimation is nearer 100 per cent. A recent study produced by Welsh Women's Aid called "Mrs. Hobson's Choice"—which I recommend as required reading for all hon. Members—showed the restricted job opportunities available to women in Wales. It showed the low average hourly rates paid to many women and showed that there was a ghetto of jobs for women with domestic responsibilities, which established a routine and a low threshold of expectation that they adhered to throughout their later working lives.

That pattern of discrimination within our economic system is bolstered by discrimination in our social security and tax systems. As a result, it is reflected in our tenure and housing systems. Relatively few women can, in their own right, have control over property or access to housing. In Wales, not one woman was rehoused last year by a housing association. The housing associations did not give tenancies to single women. As a result of the Government's cuts in social services and housing provision, four of the 14 refuges established by Welsh Women's Aid for battered women who had been the object of domestic violence are not being funded.

The effect of the recession is particularly severe on women who shoulder the increased burden of looking after their elderly and handicapped dependants at home. That ties up with my earlier point about the way in which the division of labour reflects the role of women as being in the caring and service occupations. In addition, those who provide domestic labour within the home are not rewarded. The truth is that social service cuts being imposed by the Government are increasingly forcing women to provide that form of unpaid labour in the home. The report by the Equal Opportunities Commission in March last year on the experience of caring for elderly and handicapped dependants found that there were three times as many women carers as men. The responsibility for looking after an elderly or handicapped parent usually falls on the nearest female relative. The largest group of carers is made up of middle-aged women.

When the Government say that they are interested in increasing voluntary care within our society—they are reducing public expenditure and do not want to see more social workers and more social service provision by local authorities—what they mean is that it is women at home who should provide care in the form of unpaid labour for the elderly and disabled in our society. The Government's cuts in public expenditure are falling to a greater extent on women. The Government have had to justify that through their ideological statements on sexism. That is the only description that I can give to the famous quotation that we have heard from the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Ministers praise the selfless devotion of women carers to justify their cuts in social services and to justify their penalising of women financially. Recently a hypocritical and extraordinary statement was made by a delegate to the Conservative Women's conference to the effect that, typically enforcing the domestic labour ideology of the Government, a part-time worker is putting her home first and does not qualify for equality". That statement was quoted in The Guardian on 20 May.

In households where there are handicapped persons, especially a handicapped child, the burden and additional cost of the disability always fall on the unpaid labour of the nearest woman relative. As long as that situation exists in our society, the division of labour that applies outside the home will continue to apply more strongly inside the home. In that sense I want to appeal not to women in the House and outside, but to the men. I ask my men comrades to stop treating women's rights as if they were matters for women alone. Until we struggle as hard as our female sisters for creches and nursery facilities, and until we take our part in domestic labour, we cannot have equality inside or outside the home.

I give one short personal example. This year, for the first time in our home relationship, I have tried to play some part in the bringing up of our youngest child.

Mr. William Hamilton

For the first time?

Mr. Thomas

Of course for the first time, because I have been working in the House and in a divided family and was unable to provide the time that I should have provided in sharing domestic responsibilities. My wife has become a part-time student and I have tried to meet some of my domestic responsibilities. I have tried to explain to constituents and to people outside the House that the nature of my job makes it impossible for me—

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

It is about time that that was said.

Mr. Thomas

—to provide the time to share and to take part in domestic responsibilities. Until we men with families are prepared to share in the domestic division of labour, women will continue to be exploited. Not only is that exploitation at its base within the family structure, where we expect women to play the so-called caring role in domestic circumstances, but it is paralleled outside in the stereotypes of men and women in our society.

There is a major role for education and the media to intervene effectively. In coverage given to both genders in the media, we see typically in various textbooks and programmes that 75 per cent. of characters in a recent study of women in the mass media were male and 25 per cent. female. In pictures, 75 per cent. were male and 25 per cent. female. Boys and men are supposed to express so-called male themes, and there are supposed to be female themes often connected with dependence and nurturing. As long as we have those stereotypes in our literature, in the mass media and in our education system, it will not be possible to provide equality of opportunity in our society.

In that sense I draw the attention of the House to work that has been pioneered in the project on girls in science and technology, which is the most effective positive action programme aimed to induce girls to achieve more in science and to encourage more girls to consider occupations in science and technology. It is funded by the EOC and by the Social Science Research Council. I hope that as a result of that project more schools will actively commit themselves to an attempt to provide equality of opportunity in the education system for girls to ensure that there is no discrimination in the school system, that there is recognition of real sex differences and that imaginary sex differences or ideologically constructed differences are demolished. We should ensure that in our schools we work hard to create a system that attempts to undo the deep divisions created by sexual divisions of labour. That is the underlying subject of the debate.

7.26 pm
Mrs. Sheila Faith (Belper)

I am delighted to follow three gentlemen on this day, which has already been referred to as "ladies' day".

The Opposition's motion is the typical short-sighted and nonsensical motion that one would expect from them. Nevertheless, I welcome an opportunity to discuss the status of women in employment. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim), who so ably opened the debate for the Government, that this subject should surmount politics. In this century opportunities for women have developed and increased rapidly. That process cannot be suppressed by a Government of any persuasion. The desire of women to use their abilities and talents to the full, so that they can serve their community and obtain job satisfaction and independence, is almost as great as the instinct of women to become home-makers and raise a family.

We have heard that more women are working now than ever before. While everyone must welcome that and the fact that women now have greater educational and career opportunities, most of us surely recognise that most important changes have been brought about not by Governments but by medical science and technology. Because of a better understanding of diet and health care, women are living much longer and, most importantly, because of the improved knowledge of contraception, women are no longer spending the greater part of their lives child bearing and looking after small children.

If we must look to Government in these matters, the Act that did most to liberate women was the Clean Air Act 1956. That resulted in a high proportion of "black" areas being converted by smoke control orders. Therefore, there was far less dirt and dust for women to clear up. That further released women's energies and more women realised that it was possible to raise a family as well as follow their chosen career.

While no one could deem war desirable, the First World War also hastened the emancipation of women. As a young girl, my mother replaced her brother in the family business and developed a taste and ability for a business life. Many other women served in factories and as auxiliary soldiers and sailors. However, we cannot deny that at a time of world recession many women who would like to work cannot find employment. Often women are the first to lose their jobs. That situation is exaggerated because women have worked for many years in old or declining industries, such as textiles, footwear, distribution and retailing. Many women's jobs are now threatened by new technology.

While the world is in recession, our position is made worse because of years of low productivity due to over-manning and slack management. As we are becoming more productive, at the same time there is a temporary cost to jobs. All developed countries are having to face the fact that work of an unskilled or semi-skilled nature is disappearing. That should not necessarily result in high unemployment because the new technological revolution means that the type of work is changing. Even now there is a shortage of women and men in some skilled jobs. Bottlenecks are appearing in engineering and work involving computer-controlled machinery.

We need not be despondent about the new technology. We should note, that new technology, embraced quickly in Japan, has increased employment. We should follow that example. If some women have been losing jobs, it is not the fault of the Conservative Government or the wish of the Government. Conservatives have always regarded discrimination against women as unacceptable and far removed from our policies of developing and rewarding talent wherever that talent may appear.

The Conservative Government stated in December 1973 that they would introduce legislation to take unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex and to provide equal opportunities. The Labour Government introduced the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Conservatives welcomed the Act. Most of us believe wholeheartedly that women should have access to courts or tribunals if they believe that they have been discriminated against. I think, however, that many of us would agree that the Equal Opportunities Commission has not always behaved in a sensible manner and has brought ridicule upon itself by some of its activities and publications. I hope that the commission will pause to think that it may be damaging the reputation of women and therefore job opportunities.

There is no doubt that prejudice against women exists in many fields. I feel that legislation is not the way to tackle any problem of prejudice. The only way to overcome prejudice is for women to demonstrate their ability. It is interesting to note that during the early and mid-1970s, when there was no legislation, women's pay increased to 75 per cent. of men's earnings. By 1979, when the Labour Government had been in power, and following years of equal opportunities law, it had fallen to 73 per cent. The gap between women's and men's earnings is widening all the time. An article in The Times today refers to the last five years during which equal opportunities legislation has been in force as five wasted years.

I should like to draw attention to a letter written by Mrs. Joanna Bogle and others published recently in The Times. The women who wrote the letter are aged from the 20s to the 80s. All are successful in their careers. They call for the abolition of the Equal Opportunities Commission. They are particularly worried about the literature sent by the Equal Opportunities Commission to schools to promote the cult of unisex. The letter states: From the proliferation of 'free' but lavish Equal Opportunities Commission literature we learn that conditioning for unisex should start early with 'ending sex stereotyping in schools'. Female Red Indian chiefs are advocated, although historically inaccurate, and wall friezes of 'parenting' activities should show men feeding the baby. Bottles of course. Unisex cannot deliver the top grade article. If, on this scholastic diet, literacy is achieved, why, then, we must change the language: use 'firefighter' instead of 'fireman', 'synthetic' instead of 'man-made'. Laughable? Or frighteningly akin to lunacy? Of course we do not want children's books always to picture women in a subordinate role, but we must keep a sense of proportion. There is no doubt that pupils of both sexes must be encouraged to take an interest in mathematics and science and we hope that more of these pupils will be girls. Certainly, many years ago, in my single sex school, I was encouraged to develop my talent in mathematics and science. There are reports that girls in single sex schools do better in mathematics than girls in mixed schools. This matter should be further investigated. Incentives should be given for women to come forward as mathematics and science teachers so that they, in turn, can look out for young women who have a natural aptitude in these subjects.

The Government are taking action. They have conducted a thorough review of the curriculum. There have been detailed discussions with all partners in the education service. The school curriculum has been published as guidance to local education authorities. It emphasises the need to maintain essential subjects like English, mathematics and a modern language for all pupils by giving them a specific place on the school timetable. We must prepare women to be independent in this era of rapid change. Husbands may spend some time retraining and changing careers. A wife's salary may be necessary to maintain family security. Elderly parents are living longer and require more support. Sadly, many more women have to bring up children on their own.

It is difficult for women to reach the height of their professions. In spite of the fact that the proportion of women in medicine is now about 22 per cent. and women will make up half of the intake of medical schools by 1985, women hospital doctors have particular difficulty in getting into the highly competitive specialties such as general surgery, general medicine and cardiology.

I am privileged to be a member of the Social Services Select Committee. Its Chairman has already spoken in this debate and referred to our investigation into postgraduate medical education. We have experienced great difficulty in finding out exactly why women do not reach the heights. Those who specialise tend to concentrate in great numbers in specialties where there is a shortage of applicants. Shortage of part-time jobs is often given as a reason for this situation. Lack of child care facilities is also quoted.

Last month our Select Committee visited Sweden. The lessons that we learnt are interesting and important. Sweden is considered to be a progressive country. It is often stated to be way ahead in giving consideration to equal opportunities. In Sweden there is no shortage of part-time jobs for doctors. Even men may prefer shorter working hours, because of the heavy tax system. While there are facilities for pre-school child care, they have been spurned, we were told, by the intelligent young women doctors.

In spite of all the advantages in Sweden's society, a greater proportion of women doctors are still not achieving special status and are still to be found more usually in general medical practice. This apparent under-achievement is strange, because the Swedish Government give great assistance to women and have helped them in many ways by legislation.

Since 1939 it has been illegal for a woman to be dismissed because of marriage or pregnancy. The employer has been required to keep the job open for her return. Equal pay for equal work was adopted by the trade unions and employees as official policy in 1960. Over the years attempts have been made through the educational system to break down traditional attitudes towards the sex roles. In 1971 the tax position of women was improved to encourage them to return to work. New parent allowances introduced in 1974 were designed to promote a sharing of the child-minding role. Yet, although a high proportion of Swedish women work and there has been maximum legislation and Government assistance, women are still in subordinate roles.

It is attitudes that must change, and not legislation. I also believe that the high proportion of mothers who work in Sweden has made it more difficult for the children to develop. The country has a high incidence of psychiatric problems. I would not deny the necessity for a form of creche to cater for the children of some single-parent families or for those few mothers whose emotional development is retarded and who cannot look after small children. It is important for us to note that our Committee was told by a prominent Swedish doctor that as many as 25 per cent. of children put into creches at an early age showed some sign of psychiatric disturbance later in life. This is a cautionary tale for those organisations calling for more creches in factories and other establishments.

In April a former Swedish Minister of Health visited this country. She came to study our Health Service, but more particularly to learn about the wonderful voluntary work done in this country. Because the Swedes have come to rely on the State for all social services, and also because a high proportion of women work, there are virually no voluntary or good neighbour services in Sweden.

I received a report this week from the Derby Council for Voluntary Service. I was gratified to read of the wonderful work done by people voluntarily in the area that I represent in citizens advice bureaux, the leagues of hospital friends, parent-teacher associations, marriage guidance councils, the Samaritans and in work for spastics. One could go on listing the organisations. We are proud of the work done in Age Concern and the role performed by the WRVS. All hon. Members, I am sure, are conscious of the fact that our democratic processes are helped greatly by the wonderful work done by women in helping political parties.

Many people in this country do not realise the high proportion of our personal social services that are carried out by voluntary workers. Of course some of these services are carried out by women still in work or in early retirement, but often the work is carried out by young women who take time off from looking after their young families.

The Equal Opportunities Commission gave the impression that it would like to see a takeover of all child care by the State, and would also wish to bring all women into the job market, even if they are not particularly anxious to do so. That would be a great disservice to our voluntary services. None of us can contemplate how soul-destroying it would be to live in a country where that type of service was not available. The State would become all-pervading, there would be less experimentation, and there would be no choice for those who are averse to seeking State aid.

The hospital service in Sweden suffers also from a lack of voluntary workers in the wards. The nurses are too busy creating a sterile atmosphere to give the patients the kind of warm attention that people receive in our hospitals. We must meditate on the Swedish experience. I believe that emotional stability depends very much on the early years, and there is no substitute for mothers at that time. Therefore, greater status should be given to young women who decide to spend several years with their young families. They should be given tax incentives to do that, and possibly allowances, as happens in some other countries.

The Government have helped women. They have removed discrimination. There are to be changes in social security benefits, which will represent one of the biggest improvements in the status of women since the present social security system was introduced over 30 years ago. Widows' pensions have been freed of income tax. About 30,000 pre-1950 Service men's widows have been given a pension to which they were not previously enitled.

As a result of prompting by the Social Services Select Committee, the Employment Act 1980 gives working women the right to take time off to visit antenatal clinics. When I served on that Committee, we found that one of the prime reasons for perinatal and neonatal mortality was that mothers did not attend antenatal clinics soon enough. This legislation is most important if we are to improve the health of women and babies.

I do not accept that this Government have discriminated in any way against women. The Labour Party believes in the power of Government intervention and talks of political will. I believe that it is up to management, unions, schools, universities, parents and women themselves to ensure that women are given opportunities, not only to have employment, but to use their talents fully.

I much regret that of the 77 brand new Conservative Members elected in 1979, I was the only woman. However, I assure the House that I was given great encouragement by the Conservative Party, for which I am grateful. The Prime Minister demonstrates that a woman can show qualities of leadership, courage, determination and ability as great, or even greater than, any man. I hope that the Opposition will withdraw the motion.

7.44 pm
Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

Having listened to some of the speeches of Conservative Members, particularly that of the hon. Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith), but perhaps more so the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs Knight), I was reminded how, in crisis situations such as the last war, when women were required in the national interest to go out to work, creches and nurseries were provided within a few weeks. There was no talk at that time, or immediately after the war, about latchkey kids and child deprivation, because their mothers were out at work and their fathers were away at the war. Those services were withdrawn because, unfortunately, the old attitudes crept in immediately after the war.

The fact remains that if a country wants to provide services for its people it can do so. It can find the money and the resources. All that is needed is the will to do it, and that is what I want our society to do in the near future.

Much play has been made of the fact that more women now go out to work. Of course that is true. For the great majority of women, to go out to work is the norm, not the exception. A decade or two ago it was less the norm than it is now. In those days more people went to school, had training, took a job, got married, and were expected to stay at home. That no longer happens. Now, on balance, women prefer to work, either for economic reasons or to widen their horizons, and not to be stuck all the time in the home, often with very boring jobs.

Over 40 per cent. of our work force today are women. Most women expect to be in paid employment for the best part of their adult lives. Over three-quarters of all non-married women are either in jobs or looking for work, while over half of all married women, and 70 per cent. of married women between the ages of 35 and 54, go out to work, and expect to do so. Of course women expect to stay at home at some period if they cannot make other arrangements during their child-bearing years, but the fact remains that women are an accepted part of the work force.

The latest figures for women in employment show that over 9 million women are in paid employment, compared with 13 million men. So work is considered to be a shared thing in this country—and perhaps generally in Western society. So it ought to be. Attitudes will begin to change, and some attitudes have changed.

Much play was made earlier by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) and by the right hon. Lady about the so-called failure of the Sex Discrimination Act. I was a member of that Standing Committee, and I wish that some of my advice had been taken at that time. I accept that that legislation was only a framework and that some of the things that were said at the time have been proved right and that the measure is not strong enough. I am much in favour of a legal framework within which we can build. We cannot get rid of discrimination and change attitudes until we have a legal framework that forces people to think about the matter. There has been a change of attitude, in spite of the weaknesses of the sex discrimination and equal pay legislation. Between men and women there has been a shift over the past five or six years since that legislation came into operation. It is not enough, but it is a beginning.

Three-quarters of all women work in service industries, as many hon. Members have already said. They occupy a large proportion of the jobs in shops, cafes, hairdressers, hospitals, schools and offices. They are in largely unskilled, badly paid and part-time jobs, to fit in with their family responsibilities. I am not knocking part-time jobs. Over the next decade or so more and more people may participate in job sharing or do part-time work when we have a shorter working week. That is a good thing. I am not knocking part-time work, but I am knocking the fact that women are denied jobs and training for jobs in skilled areas, and are often committed to jobs in unskilled areas when they could be doing more. Most working women are badly paid compared with men. That does not mean that there are not low-paid job sectors for men. We want to raise the general average of wages.

We could take action immediately. I am sorry that neither this Government nor the previous Government took the necessary action. We should amend the Equal Pay Act. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) said that the Act was fine as far as it went, but that it affected only women who could compare their jobs with men's jobs. That leaves a large part of industry serviced by women who have no men with whom to compare their wages. We should change the Act so that women receive equal pay for work of equal value. That is a better base on which to work. The EEC directive on equal pay uses that formula. I am no supporter of the Common Market, but I am happy to pinch from it any good ideas. One does not have to be in the Common Market to draw on the experience of other countries.

The Equal Opportunities Commission has called for a strengthening of the Equal Pay and Sex Disrimination Acts. The Fawcett Society, a respectable society the members of which could hardly be called bra-burning women's libbers, is about to submit proposals for changing the law.

In October 1946 the House adopted a fair wages resolution to ensure that Government contractors paid fair wages and observed fair conditions of employment. It has no statutory force, but it expresses Parliament's will about the way in which the Government should safeguard workers' interests. That resolution could be amended to include a provision that firms should take positive steps to encourage the recruitment, training and promotion of women and racial minorities. That is a practical step.

We should give the Equal Opportunities Commission more teeth. The hon. Member for Belper made some snide remarks about the EOC. I believe that the EOC is weak. We should give it more power. For example, firms on which a non-discrimination notice is served should lose their eligibility for grants from public funds. That would soon make them sit up and do their stuff. Such firms should lose their right to tender for contracts or sub-contracts paid for out of public money. That would hurt.

We should ban discrimination on grounds of marital or family status throughout all areas covered by the Sex Discrimination Act, not just in employment. We should examine seriously education, credit and mortgages, where discrimination still exists.

Jokes have been made about the EOC report on educational material. We have only ourselves to blame if we continue with discrimination by allowing sexist teaching materials and books in schools. A girl's image of herself begins at home and is continued at school. By the time a girl reaches the second half of her schooling, her image of herself is set by the training that she has had.

Hon. Members have mentioned the difficulties that many women in part-time employment, in particular, are experiencing as a result of public spending cuts and redundancies. They have said that only paid employment suffers. The social services that should be provided and that society has come to expect to be provided by the State or by local government are being withdrawn. Women are expected to pick up the tab and do such jobs.

The Tories have walked out on the sick, the old and the disabled. They have left their health and welfare to the womenfolk at home. The hon. Member for Belper talked warmly about the good work of the voluntary services. I agree with her, but I do not want our social and health services to be replaced by voluntary services. We have seen too much of that. Immediately after the war, before the introduction of the National Health Service, that was the norm. Everybody had to go cap in hand to the soup kitchen and to the people who provided voluntary services. Good as it was, I do not want to return to such aid.

The Government have taken many strides towards encouraging women to be full-time caretakers, looking after their children, aged relatives and invalids. Women comprise a frustrated work force. They are unpaid workers at home doing work that should be done for them. They are being discouraged from going out to work.

Discrimination still exists in the form of the notorious married women's non-contributory invalidity pension. The scheme involves disabled married women undergoing a household duties test to prove that they can perform such duties, before they are awarded a pension. That test does not apply to married or single men, or to single women.

The battle has been going on for a long time. It arose under the Labour Government and the problem was referred, with the full support of the present Secretary of State for Social Services, to the National Insurance Commission for a definition of household duties. The household duties test is discriminatory in principle. I cannot understand why married women are not treated the same as married men or single men and women. The test is based on the outdated view of the role of married women and that of women in general. The scheme has proved to be impossible to operate on an equitable and sensible basis.

The National Insurance Commission reported to the DHSS last July, nearly 12 months ago. The Secretary of State's response was to set up a review of the household duties test to see whether it was a proper test that should be applied. We have heard nothing. Week after week I and other hon. Members have asked when we can debate the NIAC report and see the DHSS review. What stage has the review reached? When can we see it and debate it? Married women are becoming extremely militant about the matter. They are fed up with being treated as a tiny minority that can be ignored, despite all the difficulties that they have to face and the humiliations that they are still put through when applying for a non-contributory pension.

I hope that the next Labour Government will set out a comprehensive package of reforms right across the range of social security discrimination, taxation discrimination, provision of proper services through local authorities and the Government, nurseries, and so on. I shall not go through the whole range, because most people understand what we are discussing. We should set out a package of reforms towards which we, as a Labour Government, could work as quickly as possible during the next few years.

No one would expect things to be done overnight, but certain things could be done fairly quickly. As long as we know that we shall carry out the policies, we carry the women with us. If we begin on that road it will give women confidence in themselves. they will see that there is a legal framework and proper social services to enable them to make the choice whether and when they stay at home or whether they go to work.

I hope that we shall do something about the image of women as portrayed in the media. The hon. Member for Merioneth referred to that. I look at the matter from the other side of the coin. I once spent a whole Saturday evening looking at television advertisements because I was making a speech about them. I was horrified to see the way in which women were portrayed. Because women absorb an image—we all do, including myself—that using one washing powder or another is important, it is no wonder that they accept the view that theirs is the supportive role of ensuring that their husbands' shirts are whiter than white. They are sometimes portrayed as sex symbols. Even in cartoons they appear as little Mrs. Mops. One does not see little Mr. Mops. The whole scene militates against women and against their realising that that is an image of themselves which the men want them to have. That is the basis of the issue. It is no wonder that they often do not aspire to great heights.

It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen, and perhaps some hon. Ladies, to say that women can get anywhere they want if they have the talent and try hard. I am talking not about the few women in the House—although I wish we were more—or about the few women judges and the few women consultants, but about the great mass of women in Britain—more than half the population—who may be mediocre people, similar to some of us in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) made that point in her excellent opening speech. Such women have a right, as we all do, to stretch their minds and their horizons, to have a job if that is their wish, and to have job satisfaction.

During the next decade, or before if possible, I want to see a pattern set for women that will release them from the burdens of the home. I am talking not about taking them out of the home altogether but about releasing them from some of the worst burdens so that they can play their proper part in decision-making in our society. They want to do that. They want to have a hand in shaping Britain for the future, not only for women's rights, but for the sort of society in which they want their families and children to live.

8.4 pm

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

When looking at the content of the motion on the Order Paper it appears that the debate should be taken for 19 days, rather than being the 19th allotted day. The hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), who opened the debate on behalf of the Opposition, dwelt at considerable length on the generalities, rather than giving the House any idea of what the Labour Party might do if it were ever returned to Government. On the basis that the motion includes a mass of evidence about guilty actions by the Conservative Party, there could have been a greater degree of thrust from the hon. Lady.

The Opposition's concern about the issue has not permeated through to their Back Benches. Only 10 hon. Gentlemen and eight hon. Ladies were in their places to hear the hon. Lady make her opening speech, yet 284 Opposition Members support the Labour Party—[HoN. MEMBERS: "What about Conservative Members?"]—This is a Supply day, with the topic submitted by the Opposition. It is a day of criticism of the Government by the Opposition. Where are the members of the Opposition? Are they in their places to support the hon. Lady?

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting—and if he is, we accept it—that on Supply days the sole prerogative of speaking should be in the hands of the Opposition? Is it not true that the Tory Whips have been scouring the building to get the few Tory Members who are around into the Chamber?

Mr. McQuarrie

That is typical of the rubbish that I expect from the hon. Gentleman.

Mrs. Kellet-Bowman

I must say in my own defence that I have sat in my place during the whole debate and listened to the speeches with great care.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The hon. Lady is one of only three Conservative Lady Members.

Mr. McQuarrie

I shall leave the comments of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) unanswered. It is difficult to speak in detail about the many subjects contained in the motion. Most are criticisms or wild statements that have no substance. As my right hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, the motion shows how bereft are the Opposition when trying to find a subject for a Supply day debate.

I want to concentrate my few remarks on the demand in the motion for further abortion clinics. Why the Opposition should seek to increase their number is beyond me. On a number of occasions we have debated the subject of abortion, but, regrettably, have so far been unable to limit the number of abortions that take place in Britain each year. The figures for 1980 are frightening and prove that there is no justification for the demand to increase the number of clinics.

In England and Wales the number of notified abortions increased from 147,451 in 1979 to 163,126 in 1980, an increase of 10.63 per cent. That needless waste of 163,126 lives shows clearly that abortion clinics are nothing more than the gas chambers of the Hitler era. Any steps to increase them should be resisted by the House. The Opposition say that they are interested in equality, but what equality did they give the 163,126 aborted children?

The Opposition motion condemns the Government for their policy towards the status of and opportunities for women. It is clear that neither the hon. Member for Crewe nor the members of her party have followed the steps taken by the Government to maintain their commitment to a society in which all individuals have equal rights in law and equal opportunities to work. In 1981 the Government's youth opportunities programme will provide 50 per cent. more opportunities for unemployed young people, including young women. The opportunity for young mothers to take up employment will be further aided by the extra nursery education places that will be available. Since the Government took office there has been an increase of 5,600 extra nursery education places. I accept that that is not enough, but it is a significant figure.

Let us consider some of the other positive decisions that have been taken by the Government in bringing equality to the sexes. Under the Labour Government, a married man drawing unemployment benefit or sickness benefit could draw an additional sum for his wife if her earnings were below a certain level. He could draw also additional benefit for his children. However, when the Opposition were the Government the reverse did not apply. There was no equality of rights for women under the Labour Government. A married woman drawing unemployment or sickness benefit could not draw additional benefits for her husband or children. Under the present Government, and following EEC rules, a woman will be entitled to draw those benefits. From November 1983 a married woman will be able to claim benefits, including maternity benefit. By 1984 she will be in a position to claim all the additional benefits, and that will give her the same status as a man.

The Government have taken steps to ensure that by November 1983 a married woman will be able to draw additions to her invalidity pension for a dependent husband. She was not able to do so when the Labour Government were in office.

Dr. McDonald

She will have to pay tax.

Mr. McQuarrie

No, she will not have to pay tax. The Social Security Act 1980 introduced legislation that will bring other benefits to women and give them rights equal to those enjoyed by men. The changes that I have described, which will all come into effect by November 1984, will represent the largest improvements in the status of women since the present social security system was brought into being 30 years ago. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs said, taxation changes for the benefit of women have been and are being brought into effect by the Government. Women are now enjoying larger maternity allowances and better conditions than ever before. The opportunities that are being offered to schoolgirls cover the spectrum of industry and commerce.

The Government have played their part in putting right the many ills perpetrated upon the British people by the Labour Administration. It was nonsensical of the Opposition to table the motion when the majority of the blame for the state of the economy may be laid at the door of an inept Labour Government. The Government will continue to press ahead with positive policies that will soon lead to a free and fair society and a healthy economy. The motion should be treated with the contempt that it deserves. If it is pressed to a Division, I hope that it will be firmly defeated.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth.

Mr. William Hamilton

The hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) has only recently entered the Chamber.

8.13 pm
Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Thornaby)

It is not enough to do what so many hon. Members have done and merely point to the defects of those on the Government Benches and, in common with the motion, rest their case on that basis. The Government's record is deplorable. There have been cuts in the social services that have taken away many of the limited freedoms that women had acquired little by little from the Welfare State over many years. The Government's legislation, including the Nationality Bill, inherently judges women to be inferior citizens. The Government's appalling record of unemployment has been masked by the way in which some of their policies have denied women access to work and have thrown them out of work as well.

The Government are no more than a symptom of society's inability to offer women an equal role. We must at the same time severely criticise institutions in our society as well as the Government for refusing to make changes. Women's involvement in all institutions has increased in the past 10 years quite considerably, but they are everywhere under-represented in positions of power. That applies to both sides of industry especially. The TUC and its member unions claim that they have the interests of women at heart. Demands for equal pay and equality and their accompanying rhetoric have been on the agenda for discussion at the Trades Union Congress and at union conferences year in and year out. These demands have been on the list alongside men's objectives, but when the chips are down they fall off the end of the list.

Women represent over 40 per cent. of the work force and form 30 per cent. of trade union membership. However, unions still organise around full-time work and for fringe benefits from which women are largely excluded by their domestic role. There are no women general secretaries, and even in unions where the majority of the membership is female there are few on higher policy-making committees.

Trade unions are by no means the worst offenders. They reflect the world of work and to some extent they are trying to help women. The same cannot be said for institutions governing the professions and business. The figures in the annual report of the Equal Opportunities Commission highlight that fact. Women make up only 13 per cent. of the Institute of Bankers, despite the very many women who work in banking organisations and institutions. They make up only 4 per cent. of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales. They make up as little as 2 per cent. of the Institute of Marketing. Even in teaching, where women predominate, the record is appalling. Although women constitute 44 per cent. of teachers in secondary education, only 16 per cent. manage to become head teachers. The new earnings survey reveals that only 7.6 per cent. of managerial staff are women. Only 1.5 per cent. of the members of the British Institute of Management are women and only 2.2 per cent. of the members of the Institute of Directors are women. That is a minute proportion of their memberships.

The Equal Opportunities Commission clearly demonstrates that women's pay had improved to 73½ per cent. of men's hourly earnings, but that improvement has now ceased. That has happened for two reasons. The first is that the majority of women workers are concentrated in low-paid, undemanding work, with few prospects. They are in jobs where nearly all the employees are female. Thus, the comparison with men's earnings under equal pay legislation is largely irrelevant. The second reason is that men's pay is made up by bonuses from productivity schemes and overtime earnings. Women are not able to compete with men, because they still have a major domestic role caring for children. It is the assumption that women will remain the domestic parents that is at the heart of women's disadvantage.

In the eyes of employers and unions men's wages are defined as the family wage. We still assume that women work for a second income—that is, second in order of importance—and that income is often described as pin money. That applies even where the basic rate of pay is the same for men and women. Women remain on the basic rate and men earn more. In reality, the problem of equal pay is that of low pay.

It is due to their domestic role that too many women choose to do part-time work. The only long-term solution to the problem is to change the way in which society organises work and to make more part-time work available. That will benefit women, but women need flexible hours, job sharing, part-time working and an end to the institutionalised overtime that has become a norm in many industries. It is crucial that men and women should be free to play an equal role in child care and to vary their working patterns with no disadvantage to their career prospects.

Paternity leave should be seen to be just as important and available as maternity leave. If we are to be serious about women's rights, we must recognise that for women to benefit it will be necessary for men to give up some of their privileges and traditional roles. Not only would paternity leave help women at the time of childbirth; it would establish in employers' minds the idea that all their employees, men and women, are equally responsible for their children. Employing a woman would no longer be seen just as a liability and would no longer be regarded as more of a liability than employing a man.

Mrs. Dunwoody

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the debate. I know that many hon. Members are waiting to speak. It is a slight imposition if, when many hon. Members have been sitting in the Chamber all through the debate, someone is allowed to enter the Chamber at a late hour and instantly take part in the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The choice of speakers is a problem. However, that matter is for the judgment of the Chair. We are bearing in mind the growth of the minority parties, and so on, and we are trying to reach a proper solution to the problem.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Like some other hon. Members who are wishing to speak, we have responsibilities in Committees in other parts of the House. Therefore, it is difficult to attend the whole debate. Those of us who are on Committees have attended as much of the debate as possible.

Paternity leave would bring about a radical shift in attitudes. It would do so not only in industry but in society as a whole, in which the attitude towards parenthood is rather old-fashioned. Paternity leave would show that a man's place is not necessarily just at work, and that a woman's place can be at work as much as it is the man's.

Special measures on behalf of women have been effective, but only in a limited way. We now have to find a way of taking into all legislation that is put before the House the objective of benefiting women. Immediate legislation could be framed to end descrimination in taxation, superannuation and welfare benefits, which punish women who spend portions of time out of their working life caring for their children and make the assumption that there will always be a man to support them.

An example is to be found in the special programmes for young people. This is a statutorily funded area where we can establish a model for good practice and ensure that young women are given wide opportunities to experience work outside the narrow, traditional female sphere. At the moment, women have access to only one six-month block. Almost inevitably they end up in low-paid, low-status women's jobs such as hairdressing, secretarial and nursery nurse training. It is for those responsible for such schemes to ensure that young women are offered broader horizons and to break the patterns of sexual stereotyping for both boys and girls.

Women now need not so much special legislation as for their interests to be taken into account throughout all legislation. Many policies fought over in the sterile battles between men of Left and Right take on a new perspective when women's interests are allowed to be voiced. By looking at some of the major issues of the day through the eyes of women, instead of the eyes of men in positions of decision-making power, we might end up with different policies.

Mr. Dobson

If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned to have women in positions of power, why is his party not choosing a woman as its candidate in its first parliamentary by-election?

Mr. Wrigglesworth

I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will happen soon. I shall refer to what our party proposes to do to ensure that more women enter the House.

We need to make a change in order to ensure that all legislation takes into account women's rights and opportunities. When discussing the question of raising the standard of education of our children, we seem to continue to assume that the mother is at home at 3.30 pm when children come out of school. We continue to assume that the mother is there all afternoon to help her children with their homework and any other activity. That assumption is made with no regard to the fact that 68 per cent. of married women now go out to work, and with no regard to the real educational needs of children. Latchkey children living in homes where there is little room for doing homework pose a greater threat to educational standards than arguments about poor curricula.

If we considered educational needs from a woman's standpoint, we might conclude that keeping open schools until 5.30 pm would do more for education than anything else. Undoubtedly that would cut across traditional, rigid conventions and agitate the relevant unions, but it is such institutional immobilism that has prevented both parties from making the radical changes that are needed in a society that has changed radically.

Legislation for equal pay and sex discrimination has, by and large, done as much as could reasonably have been expected of it. The United States and some European countries have abandoned the passive approach to rights for women, having realised that legislating against discrimination can achieve only limited results. It is now time for us to follow their lead and look seriously at the introduction of positive discrimination in favour of women, going as far as considering quotas to stamp out discrimination against them. One cannot give equal opportunities to people who are seriously disadvantaged, without giving extra assistance to them.

The Manpower Services Commission has recognised that women are a large and permanent part of our labour force. The Government must ensure that women are given equal educational and training opportunities so that they cease to gravitate towards the low-paid, low-status jobs. Women of all ages need special courses to introduce them to jobs that have not been traditionally women's work. The Government can do that direct where they are responsible for funding training and education and by giving a lead to those responsible for education and training in industry and in commerce.

At the end of the day, the only way that that will be done is by seriously considering the introduction of quotas for women, until such time as they are no longer necessary. Many people are shocked at the very idea of that and cling to the notion that jobs in offices of all kinds should go to the best man, regardless. That is just it. The best man always gets the job. Women never get the chances that they need, or the experience, so that they are selected the next time round. Where quotas have been used, as on the TUC general council, for example, after the initial opposition women have rapidly been accepted as part of the normal political process, albeit for only five out of the 45 members.

The Social Democratic Party is proposing to take positive action to ensure that women and other groups within the party are truly represented at every level. Nowhere is that more necessary than in choosing candidates for the House. We believe that the Government should give a lead by taking positive action through Departments. All companies applying for State finance or Government contracts should be required to ensure that women's rights are taken into account.

It is easy to talk about legislating on behalf of women, but the real test is to give them their own share of legislative power in the House. We believe that ending the two-party block political voting system through proportional representation will automatically increase women's representation in Parliament and in the policy-making process. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?".] There is much interest in the topic, although hon. Members on the Opposition Benches seem to regard it as hilarious. Either they have not seriously considered it or they are not seriously interested in the issue, and all the evidence from the Labour Party is that it is not seriously interested.

If a system of proportional representation, for instance, on a regional list system, were introduced, it is virtually inevitable that the party choosing the list would ensure that it contained a reasonable selection of lady candidates to make it a balanced ticket. Similarly, if it were being done on the basis of a multi-Member constituency, again the party would almost certainly want to ensure that it got a balanced ticket and, as a result, would put a proportion of women on the list to ensure that it was truly representative of the area.

If we look at examples in other countries where proportional representation operates, we find that, for instance, in West Germany, 44 out of 496 Members of Parliament are women and in Sweden it is 26 per cent., or 92 out of 349. That is why we claim that proportional representation will lead to more women being elected to the House.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)

I am a long-standing supporter of proportional representation and I believe that the hon. Gentleman is right. Had he not made such a long speech, I should have been able to make the same point in my speech. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to proportional representation, however deathbed. Our point is that the Social Democratic Party has in Warrington a chance to show its attachment to women candidates. Why does it not seize the chance and put up a woman candidate?

Mr. Wrigglesworth

The possible candidates took the decision to stand or not to stand. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to Mrs. Shirley Williams, she made the decision. Labour Members are taking a great deal of interest in our activities. I assure them that it will not be long before Shirley Williams is back in the House.

All political parties should pledge themselves to positive discrimination in favour of women candidates, instead of making hollow gestures like putting up women for unwinnable parliamentary seats. Traditional political parties have long pleaded their history and institutions as an excuse for denying political power to women. They will no longer be able to give that excuse in the face of this Parliament having the lowest proportion of women in post-war years.

The Equal Opportunities Commission report confirms that if we are committed to a society based on sexual equality the excuses of history must be replaced by positive action. I hope that before long the pressure of women outside this place will ensure that all political parties will introduce policies and constitutional systems for their own parties and for the system of electing hon. Members to the House to ensure that women play their rightful part in the country's life.

8.34 pm
Mrs. Peggy Fenner (Rochester and Chatham)

I feel as though I am about to intervene in a rather private quarrel. I appreciate that the party of the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) includes the former right hon. Lady who was tipped as "the most likely" but then was not. I know that the hon. Gentleman has been in Committee and I appreciate that he found it necessary to come in rather late and take rather a long time to make his campain speech for Warrington.

To return to the subject under discussion, I wish to make just a brief contributions. I sometimes have the impression that if there were more women in the House we might have more contributors to our debates.

Some years ago, before I was elected to the House, I worked in the National Council of Women, which was carrying out almost simultaneously two surveys, which perhaps showed the balance of concern among women in this country. I shall not repeat all the statistics, as those fortunate enough to be called before me have made it clear, and we all now understand, that nearly half of the working population are women, 65 per cent. of whom are married. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) who chairs the Select Committee on Social Services and has many years experience in this matter, made the point that one in five of those women have a responsibility to care for a family. But let us consider also the other four out of five in the 65 per cent. of women who work.

We should all find it difficult to define exactly why they work. I do not believe that it matters. I share the view of the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) that if they want to work they should have the opportunity to do so. She must also realise, however, as I am sure she does, that if they represent 41.8 per cent. of people now in work in this country, at a time of world recession we certainly cannot cushion them from sharing the unemployment total.

I must make it clear that I do not like to hear certain jobs demeaned by the derision poured upon them by the hon. Member for Thornaby when he referred to low-paid, low-status hairdressing and secretarial jobs. I find that demeaning. Perhaps things will change now—I believe that they will—but I was raised in a fairly tough childhood, in which work was an ethic. There is nothing demeaning about any kind of work. Too often hon. Members seek to divide jobs into those with status and those without. I find that disappointing. If we are to be leaders and set an example, we should show that we believe that all work is valuable. It may be claimed that hairdressing and secretarial work are low paid, but low status they are not, and I do not admire such comments.

I wish to make two points, and I know that my remarks will be controversial. At this time, when we share with many other industrial nations a high level of unemployment—I say that with feeling, because, although I represent a seat in the South-East, we have 12.3 per cent. unemployment and a large number of women are included in that total—many small businesses in my constituency are facing difficulties. I have received letters and have written letters to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment about this.

Those small businesses are struggling to keep open some part-time jobs, which I believe are extremely valuable for many married women in my constituency, but they find themselves placed at a disinct disadvantage when they are informed by the Low Pay Unit or the wages council that they should pay more for that work. All too often, sadly, this results in the loss of a job. I deplore that. Moreover, very often the women themselves are not making the claim for extra money. I do not deny that when the economy is strong and the jobs are available we should fight both for equal pay and for a good rate for every job. Nevertheless, the additional burden placed upon small businesses in a time of recession merely ensures that there are fewer jobs available. Surely none of us wants that.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs said that as a result of legislation we had learnt the unpalatable truth, because, although its intentions were good, it often did the exact opposite. That is the point that I wish to make.

The hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) noted with pleasure that her daughter and young people do not now talk in the same way as their parents did about the need to improve the status of women, because they are confident about it. I have a daughter and two grandchildren. My daughter is also confident about it. That is perhaps because when the National Council of Women undertook its surveys 12 years ago it looked at one case which the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) might find interesting. It showed that women of higher academic quality were being turned down and men of lower academic quality were being chosen for training in our best medical schools. That is a terrible waste of enormous talent. Some of these things gradually, painfully and perhaps too slowly are being put right.

The other survey carried out by the NCW might attract the support of many women, both those who work and those who do not. It looked at the value of the woman in the household in terms of her contribution to the nation's economy. Whatever else we do, we should say that we believe in equal opportunity and the status of women. Goodness knows, most of the women in this place have belonged to organisations for many years, and the direct objective of one in particular has been to improve the status of women.

My right hon. Friend made an outstanding speech. I have often heard her speak on this subject since I knew her, and she first mentioned in particular the mistakes that we have made in education over the years. I should like to believe that we are now putting some of them right. I often fear that those who offer greatest support for an improvement in the status of women sometimes overstate the case to the point that it creates a powerful head of resistance to it. The status of women has not been enhanced nearly as much as it ought to have been by organised labour. That was one of the few things with which I agreed in the speech of the hon. Member for Thornaby.

The right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) was worried that we were not taking sufficient account of what the microchip technology would do to work patterns. I believe that it will change work patterns enormously, and I foresee many more part-time and work-sharing jobs. Many trade unions will have to lose their addiction to overtime work.

I hope that I have not taken too many of the few minutes that remain in the debate. I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Employment that attempts can be made to improve job opportunities for, and the status of, women. However, we must be careful not to follow some of the patterns of the past and do exactly the opposite.

8.44 pm
Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

When I looked at the Order Paper I was surprised to find that, in response to our indictment of the Government's policy towards women, the Prime Minister and her right hon. Friends could only table an amendment saying that: recognising that the needs and aspirations of women can only be achieved within a free and fair society and a healthy economy, welcomes the measures which the Government has taken to achieve these. That is a very feeble response and tells us much about the embarrassment of the Government—led, as they are, by a woman Prime Minister—over their treatment of women, with the reduction in their rights, status and economic opportunities. That no doubt explains the Government's "wet" amendment to our motion—if I dare use such a word in relation to the right hon. Lady.

The Government's economic policies have increased unemployment among women to 29 per cent., although they constitute only 40 per cent. of the work force. That proves that a disproportionate burden of the unemployment is borne by women. It is hardly surprising when we look at the way in which unemployment has affected the country. The textile and clothing industries, education, welfare and health services are all areas in which women are mainly to be found.

The public spending cuts, the Government's failure to give adequate support and protection to industries such as textiles, clothing, and the shoe industry, have led to increased unemployment among women and to loss of part-time opportunities. Even the figure that I quoted from the Equal Opportunities Commission obviously understates the case, as many married women do not register as unemployed, particularly when they lose part-time jobs.

The Government's economic policies have seriously affected employment opportunities for women. The Government have not only failed to encourage women's opportunities; they have lost opportunities of improving the status and pay of women. The April 1980 survey shows that 4 million adult workers worked a full-time week plus overtime, and were still low-paid. Of these, 2.6 million—65 per cent.—were women. If overtime earnings are excluded, the number of full-time adult low-paid rises to almost 4¾ million.

On these official figures, one in five full-time adult women were low paid, but well over half of all adult women—57 per cent.—earned low wages. Among manual women workers, three-quarters were low-paid. Taking part-time women workers into account, although the statistics are not very complete, it would appear that the average rate of pay is less than £2 per hour for such women.

The hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner) referred to wages councils and to the difficulties that she claimed are faced by small businesses that want to provide opportunities for the employment of women. When we examine what the wages councils lay down as the minimum rates of pay for a full-time working week, we find that these range from £35.50 to £57.60. That is for a full week's work of 40 hours.

If small businesses expect to employ adult workers at amounts less than that per week they ought to be ashamed of themselves, because those pay levels are already dismally low. Many small businesses are able to avoid paying those amounts because the Wages Inspectorate has been much reduced by the Government and there is no efficient means of checking on the kind of pay that is offered.

If the Government are seriously concerned to establish a "free and fair society" in which the needs and aspirations of women can be properly recognised, they should take two things into account. They should look seriously at the whole question of low pay and strengthen and extend wages councils to deal with the problem of job segregation. The limitations of the Equal Pay Act have been referred to. I do not want to cover that ground again, but one reason for its limitations is job segregation. In many areas of employment the workers are almost entirely female. There are no men with whom to compare their pay. The Government ought to strengthen the Wages Inspectorate. It ought to be part of the policy of the Labour Party to introduce a statutory minimum wage. That is the only way to provide women with an adequate wage for a full week's work.

The Government ought also to look at the legislation on equal pay and at the EEC recommendation of equal pay for work of equal value. That should be introduced as quickly as possible to ensure that women have a decent standard of living. All too often the woman is the main or sole breadwinner and she should be given a proper wage. Women should not be found largely among the ranks of the low-paid. If the Government were to adopt the policies that we have advocated they might begin to congratulate themselves on doing much to increase opportunities for women and to bring about equality. Their economic policies have served to attack women and to make their working life more difficult as support services for the care of the elderly and children, the provision of meals in school and so on have been withdrawn or made ridiculously expensive. The Government have attacked the economic position of women in society and so failed to provide opportunities for them to fulfil their needs and requirements.

8.53 pm
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

I do not wish to argue with the hon. Lady the Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald), because this is not the time to debate much of what she said. Her views on wages councils are opposed to mine. If we were to strengthen them we would find that unemployment, particularly of women, would be higher, because many businesses are unable to afford the constant increases in wages, regardless of their profitability. That is not the purpose of the debate.

I heard with some astonishment that this debate was to take place. As a mere man, may I ask whether we can expect a debate in a few weeks' time on the problems of men? Surely it is against the spirit of all the equal opportunities legislation that there should be a debate on this subject. This is an Opposition Supply day, but I would point out to Labour right hon. and hon. Ladies that if they had a constructive conference, as the Conservative women did only last month, they could discuss much more profitable subjects, such as employment for women. That was a first-class conference and I recommend to the Labour Party that it should engage in such discussion rather than in the internecine strife that we have witnessed.

Problems affecting women have arisen not just in the last two years. The Government have moved further down the road of equality than many other Governments. A man is now entitled to claim family income supplement. He is not yet entitled to retire at 60, and from what I have heard no one on the Opposition Benches has yet advocated that. Possibly that should be introduced when we can afford it. If not, why should we not argue in a debate like this, without rancour on either side, that women should retire at 65, as men do? Equality must, I suggest, work both ways.

There are two spheres in which the Government have a record to be proud of: maternity welfare and taxation. Next year the maternity grant will be made non-contributory—a long overdue measure of reform. The Employment Act 1980 gave women the right to take time off to attend pre-natal clinics. That was a fight that was only just won, but it was won.

The Government should go further down this road as soon as possible. The Select Committee on Social Services reported last year on the problem of perinatal mortality, and pointed out how money could be saved in the long run, and children's lives and happiness assured in the short run, by implementing its modest recommendations and taking a much more robust line on antenatal welfare. Mothers are still going to clinics that are like chicken factories. They resent it. The women who most need care are the most reluctant to use the clinics. The result is handicap and tragedy on a significant scale.

I do not believe that the Government have accepted as wholeheartedly as some of us on both sides of the House would have wished the recommendations of the Select Committee. Everything costs money, health not least, but there can be few more worthwhile and humanitarian investments than the prevention of child death and child handicap.

We can be proud of the improvement in the taxation treatment of war widows. Over the years we have constantly been asked to make this improvement, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his first Budget gave war widows the opportunity of having a tax-free pension.

Apart from the treatment of women on widowhood and at the maternity stage, there is no special case for women or for debates on women. What is needed, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs said, is a change in attitude, not least on the part of women. That is a matter not for legislation but for women themselves. If a woman wants to be a coal miner, so be it. It is not a matter for Parliament. Society must treat men and women as equals, but it does not yet do so. Even in this place we have a room that is labelled "Strictly lady Members only". Why?

Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

Because it is a lavatory.

Mr. Alexander

It is not a lavatory; there are those as well.

Dr. Summerskill

How does the hon. Gentleman know that? It is guesswork.

Mr. Alexander

I have to admit that I peeped in. It is full of desks. I should like to see a room in this place labelled "Strictly male Members only". We must have equality, and it must work both ways.

The change in attitudes must start with education, and that is happening slowly now. When I was at school it was unusual for boys to take cookery lessons or for the girls to play cricket. Now girls with a mathemaical bent are encouraged to go on to be engineers and are not thought of as freaks if they want to design roads and bridges and rockets that go to the moon. I want the optimum for women. They must be helped to achieve their objectives and ambitions. The Government do nothing to discourage them. However, at times women are their worst enemies. Women are people. Government policies damage them no more than they do men. In many cases they get special treatment. If they want equality, they must not constantly cry "inequality". Therefore, I hope that the motion will be defeated and that the amendment will be wholeheartedly accepted.

8.59 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

I am always under a special sense of obligation in the House, because my predecessor was a distinguished female Member of Parliament. She demonstrated two things that are of immense value to my constituents. She fought hard to improve the role of women and was active on issues such as abortion, contraception and equal pay. She also demonstrated that it was crucial that all women should play an equal part in matters connected with world peace, war, disarmament, unemployment and the general run of the economy. She was an example not only to female hon. Members, but to all hon. Members.

Women are bearing the brunt of the recession that the Government have helped to produce. They are doing so in three ways. They are losing their jobs more quickly than men. They are losing the services on which they, rather than men, tend to rely. In addition, it has not yet been mentioned that married women bear the weight of the depressions and problems that go with a loss of money when husbands become unemployed and with trying to sustain unemployed husbands or children who cannot find jobs. That burden is generally borne more by mothers than by fathers.

A disproportionate number of women are losing their jobs, because they tend to be employed in what society regards as marginal jobs in both the public and the private sectors. Many women do part-time work. During the recession such work has taken a bigger beating than full-time employment. As a disproportionately high number of women are employed in certain businesses and services, they are in the direct firing line of the Government's policies. For example, women are predominantly employed in the provision of school meals, in running nursery schools, in the home-help service, in the teaching professions and other public sector jobs. Such jobs are in the direct firing line of the Government's deliberate policies. The Government have intentionally cut those jobs.

Women tend to depend more than men on many of the services that are being deliberately cut. The provision of those services affects families. The Government have cut services for children, for the old and for other relatives. In addition, they have cut health services. If such services disappear, women will suffer. In our society women are expected to look after old ladies who are no longer being cared for by the social services. Women will be expected to look after sick members of the family for a bit longer if they cannot get into hospital or receive the treatment that they deserve.

One other aspect is frequently ignored. Services, particularly those affecting pre-school care and schooling, are used to give women the opportunity to work. The demise of such services curtails that opportunity. As a disproportionate number of women use public transport to get to work, the transport cuts that are being experienced all over the country will, in turn, have a disproportionate effect upon them.

In many ways the most important point is that women bear the brunt when a family has to cope with adversity. It is no good millionaire Tory Front-Bench speakers smiling. Women bear the brunt of poverty. They bear the brunt when the husband is out of work and there is less money coming into the house. They have to put up with the problems of a man who has lost most of his self-respect, who may be mooning around and severely depressed, causing problems for the wife and the children because of his behaviour, which is understandable but difficult to cope with. There is a problem that the millionaire Front Bench spokesmen of the Tory party will not have to deal with when their children leave public school, and that is the problem that the parents of 100,000 young people in London are coping with, trying to explain to the children what a rotten society they are living in when they cannot get a job on leaving school.

All those things impinge heavily on women. There is also the direct attack on women through the Employment and Training Bill, which involves their right to work and makes it more difficult for them to have jobs and carry out their duties for their family.

There has also been an indirect attack on women by the regressive nature of the new national insurance contributions. Many women are poorly paid. As a result of the changes in April this year, when a lower-paid person is over one of the lower thresholds national insurance contribution is not paid on the small amount over the threshold, but the increased contribution is paid on the whole amount up to the threshold as well.

There is a general Government attack that affects women and those least able to look after themselves. Organisations such as trade unions, advice services and law centres designed to help those who find it difficult to help themselves are under deliberate attack from the Government. We must remember that the discrimination against women structurally pervades our society. It is combined with a structural discrimination on grounds of race. Above all, the predominant discrimination is still class discrimination. Where there is a combination of all those facets, as I see in my constituency, with Bengali women married to Bengalis working for abysmal pay in restaurants in my area, these people are at the bottom of the pile, because they are discriminated against on grounds of class, sex and race. We must do something about that.

We shall not solve the problem by attacking the Government on their response to the general world recession. Those who are in work have a duty to look after those who are out of work and to look after themselves. They must also be prepared to look after everyone, including women, in the technological revolution that faces us. The expected technological changes are likely to wipe out what are now regarded as some of the reasonably well-paid women's white collar jobs. New technology represents a future threat to women's jobs whatever party is in power. We must concentrate attention on looking after the badly off because of structural problems in society. That means predominantly looking after women, especially working-class women, because they are suffering most from the recession. We shall never get that from the Government, because they are determined to attack the working class and they will attack it at its most vulnerable point, which is working-class women.

Mr. William Hamilton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You probably do not know, but I have been present from the first minutes of the debate. I have not missed a speech. I make no complaint about not being called, except to make the point that there have been six speeches from the Labour side of the House. It is our Supply day. We chose the subject. It is our time. Those six speeches have taken 85 minutes. Three representatives of minority parties, representing 20 hon. Members or thereabouts—they are a small and unrepresentative minority of the House and the country—have taken 46 minutes. This is a great abuse of the time of the House.

I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will take up this matter in higher quarters. It concerns the Chair. The minority parties should be told that they will be allowed one speech in a debate. They can fight it out for themselves. That all the minority parties should expect Members to be called in every debate is nonsense and an injustice to some hon. Members who attend more regularly than most representatives of those parties.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand the strong representations that the hon. Gentleman makes. I assure him that his remarks, which have been recorded, will be drawn to the attention of the proper authorities.

9.10 pm
Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

It must be unprecedented for the House to have a debate in which all Front Bench speakers are women Members. To those Conservative Members who have commented on this fact as a sexist arrangement and who have referred, in private, to a monstrous regiment of women, I would merely say that it serves to correct, in a small and token way, the imbalance of tens of thousands of debates that must have taken place since Parliament was established during which hon. Gentlemen have dominated both Front Benches.

It is to the credit of the Opposition that this important and long-overdue debate has been initiated. In opposing our motion, and in an effort to put the Government in a good light, there has been repeated reference from the Conservative Benches to the fact that the Conservative Party has produced the first woman Prime Minister, as if that alone justifies the Government's rather feeble amendment. Instead of being a matter for pride, it is all the more inexcusable and shameful that her Government's policies have damaged the rights, status and opportunities of women.

There must be millions of women who voted Tory two years ago in the firm belief that a Prime Minister of their sex would have their interests at heart and would promote their welfare with a special understanding and knowledge of their problems that is denied to male Prime Ministers. How wrong they were then, but how wise they are now. They will not make that mistake next time round.

During the general election campaign the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister took advantage of being female by claiming that this had given her special experience on how to budget widely for a household and therefore for the country, but after taking office she proceeded to double the rate of inflation. Even today it is still higher than it was when she took office. I suggest that she became leader of the Conservative Party not because she is a woman, but in spite of the fact that she is a woman. We are led to believe that she became leader having been discovered by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. JohnStevas) and inspired by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). She was then judged, in the face of formidable competition, as being the best person for the job.

That is no substitute for positive Government policies that will defend and extend the rights of all women throughout the country. These have been conspicuously lacking in the past two years as our long and detailed motion, the contents of which most Conservative Members have ignored, points out.

The Prime Minister has herself been guilty of saying that she owes nothing to women's lib. I am sure that she is right, because the women's lib movement and legislation to help women are primarily intended to help the great mass of women, not the small minority who have the ability and opportunity to enjoy higher education and to enter the professions.

My hon. Friends have emphasisd that the most obvious and unacceptable effect of deliberate Government policy on women today is the fact that women are prime victims of the massive unemployment that affects the whole country. They are becoming unemployed at a faster rate than men, and to a disproportionate extent. I regret that many prejudiced employers hold the view that working women are in some way expendable and that during a recession it is the women who should go to the wall first.

The Labour Party believes that the concept of equality of opportunity between men and women involves the right of everyone to work, regardless of sex. If a woman, through choice or necessity, or both, wants to work outside the home and to provide for her own needs and that of her family, she should not be prevented or deterred from doing so by the Government, by employers or by the pressure of so-called public opinion as voiced through the media. There should be no economic, legislative or social barriers to prevent women from going out to work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) told us about the sexist pronouncements of the Secretary of State for Social Services, and even one from the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State who is to wind up the debate—the feeling that it would perhaps be better for women with children to stay at home. She said that perhaps in years to come the country would look at it in that way. Whatever happened to Tory freedom of choice, if that is the feeling that exists on the Conservative Benches? It reflects a reactionary and totally outmoded attitude to the rights of women.

The traditional role of the sexes is being challenged all the time, and the Conservative Party cannot hold back that challenge and turn back the clock, even if it wants to do so. It is no longer true that every man is a breadwinner and every woman is a man's dependant and that if she goes out to work it is only to earn a few extra pounds for some luxuries.

Let us not forget all the single women who are self-supporting and may have children or dependent elderly relatives, the divorced and separated women and widows. They work outside the home because they have to do so to survive. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, single and married women, with or without children, have gone out to work in the industrial towns of the North. In my constituency of Halifax there is an extermely high proportion of working women, as there always has been. There, male wages are low, and an additional wage is not a luxury but an essential to maintain the family budget. Today, as has been said repeatedly in the debate, women comprise the majority of the work force in the low-paid jobs, such as textiles and the clothing industries, which have been hit by Government policies. They also occupy the majority of jobs in teaching, nursing and many unskilled jobs.

The Government have restricted women's right to work by their economic policies, which have hit particularly women working part-time or those who have not been long with their firm. There is also the hidden unemployment. The true figures among women are not known, because many thousands do not sign on, knowing that they are not eligible for unemployment benefit. Since the Government took office the number of women registered unemployed has nearly doubled. At the same time, deliberate Government policy has amended the Employment Protection Act and made changes in the maternity provisions. It was designed—or, if it was not so designed, this is the effect that it has had—to make it extremely difficult for women to return to work after having a child, thus causing unemployment. The rights to paid maternity leave, training opportunities and apprenticeships have been reduced, so that for women they are now almost non-existent.

Apart from being hit by unemployment, women are the prime victims of the Government's public expenditure cuts. The cuts are eroding and mutilating community services throughout the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) made an eloquent plea on behalf of the Health Service in general and the obstetrics service in particular.

Mr. John Major (Huntingdonshire)

How are the Government damaging the Health Service when they are increasing expenditure in real terms by 4 per cent?

Dr. Summerskill

If the hon. Gentleman were to ask any hon. Member what is happening to the Health Service and social services in his constituency, he would be told that the services are being cut. That is what matters.

Cuts have been made in the provision of nursery education in creches and playgroups. It is accepted that education for the under-fives is as essential a part of a child's development as any other five years in a child's early life. It is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. It is a necessity for many mothers who have to do a job outside the home. One in eight of all families in Britain is a one-parent family.

Cuts in day centres for the elderly and handicapped and in school meal provision have their effect upon women in the family, who bear the additional, unpaid workload and responsibility. They are being used to fill a gap left by disappearing statutory health and social services. The Government are under an obligation to provide such statutory services, and yet they are asking women to take them over, bit by bit.

Few Members have mentioned the effect of the new immigration rules. They were introduced soon after the Government took office. They discriminate blatantly against women who are lawfully settled here but who were not born here and whose parents were not born here. They cannot be joined by a foreign husband or fiancé. As a consequence they have become second-class citizens.

Mrs. Fenner

The hon. Lady must be aware of arranged marriages. Is she in favour of them?

Dr. Summerskill

The Conservative excuse for the rules is that the arranged marriages are an abuse. We introduced measures to deal with such abuse. Just over 300 people have been sent out of the country as a result of arranged marriages. That means that the rules have been introduced to get rid of about 300 foreign husbands.

The Conservative Party promised firm measures against immigration. The rules, which are racist in purpose, are sexist in effect. Throughout the general election campaign the Prime Minister proclaimed that people lawfully settled here would have nothing to fear. These women are settled here, although they were not born here. The new rules are offensive, divisive and heartless as much today as when they were introduced.

Many women may have dependent or elderly parents, or other close relatives in Britain. They may wish to stay in Britain for health or financial reasons, or may simply want to live in their own country. Yet the Home Secretary has described the new rules as justifiable discrimination. That is a contradiction in terms. He then said that, in accordance with the customs of Europe and the Indian Sub-continent, the abode of the husband should normally be viewed as the natural place of residence for a family. The Home Secretary is living in another age.

That view is a narrow-minded and outmoded stereotyping of the female role. It represents an obsolescent philosophy which, I am afraid, still exists among Conservative Members. About 20,000 non-British women entered Britain last year to settle here, to use our social services, to travel on our public transport and to take jobs. Many of them will produce children. Those women can enter Britain as free as a bird because they are joining men. They are foreign women, but are called dependants of the men already here. Men have an absolute right to bring in wives from anywhere in the world. The rules are wholly illogical and an attack on human rights, because they discriminate between men and a certain category of women regarding their right to live in their own country with whoever they choose to marry.

The Government stand condemned, not only for the things that they have done, but for the way in which they have neglected to promote positively the status of women. I have examined the 1979 election manifestos of the three main parties. The Liberal manifesto had a special section entitled "Equal Opportunities for Women and Men". The Labour manifesto had a special section entitled "Equality for Women". I searched in vain through the Conservative manifesto for any mention of women's rights or opportunities. However, I found a special section devoted to animal welfare.

What do Conservative Members feel that they have positively done during the past two years for women? Let them look at the two Acts that the Labour Government succeeded in putting on the statute book, and of which they are rightly proud—the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Pay Act 1970. I had a special responsibility at the Home Office for the first of those Acts. It is time that both Acts, having been fully in operation for some years, were reviewed and amended.

Only last November I was told by a Minister at the Department of Employment that he was generally satisfied with the operation of the Equal Pay Act and had no plans to amend it. Yet the European Commission has alleged that the Act does not comply with the terms of the EEC equal pay directive, which applies the concept of equal pay for work of equal value.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and many others have pointed out that our Equal Opportunities Commission, which has been studying the operation of the two Acts, has sent to Ministers 25 recommended changes which would radically strengthen the Acts and lead to greater equality between the sexes. When the Minister replies to the debate, perhaps she will let us know the Government's view on the 25 recommendations, which I am sure they have studied carefully. The Equal Pay Act 1970 is in need of more urgent amending than the other Act.

The Equal Opportunities Commission has said that no further progress can be made on women's pay unless the Act is amended. It has said categorically that women's wages are only 73 per cent. of men's wages. I have always held the view that the most unacceptable form of discrimination and exploitation is not to pay a person the wage for the job. Many of my hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White), have pointed out how much lower is the wage of the women in their constituencies who work in what are traditionally called women's jobs, and where there is no man's wage to make a comparison.

On one occasion an employer took me round a factory that was full of women. I saw no man working there, save for the man who showed me round the factory. I asked him how much the women were earning, and he said "£45 a week, which is not bad for a woman". That is an attitude that is only too commonly found.

Two out of every five British workers are women. They make a vital contribution to the economy. The Government will be investing in employment if they ensure that women are kept in work that they need to do and want to do.

Further inequalities concern the taxation and social security systems. I agree that the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 omitted these major aspects of inequality in the treatment of women. However, they were deliberate omissions. We decided that it would not be possible to incorporate into the Act two extremely complicated legislative proposals, both of which, unlike the Sex Discrimination Act, would involve a great deal of money. The reform of taxation and social security law would mean at least two separate major Bills passing through the House. However, there is no excuse for the Government's not applying themselves to changes in the relevant legislation.

Taxation law continues to penalise working women. The basic unit for tax purposes should be the individual, whether that individual be a man or a woman. Individuals should be treated as equal and separate. When the Under-Secretary of State replies, I hope that she will tell us of the response that has been received to the Government's Green Paper on taxation and the action that is being taken to put forward some definite proposals.

We know that there is strong feeling that there should be an equal retirement age for the sexes as soon as that is practicable. In my view, there should be equal contributions to and equal rights under the scheme.

The issue of rights and status for women is not peculiar to the Labour Party or even to the Equal Opportunities Commission. It is an international issue. For two years I served as the United Kingdom delegate to the United Nations Status of Women Commission. The result of its work was the United Nations Convention on Discrimination Against Women. The United Kingdom has still not signed and ratified the convention. Britain and the Irish Republic are the only European countries that have refused to do so, yet it is the advanced developed countries that should be setting an example in providing legal, social and economic equality for the sexes.

Why has the convention not been signed? In a written answer to a parliamentary question I was told by a Foreign Office Minister that possible areas of difficulty in relation to present practices were still being identified. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will tell us what those areas of difficulty are and what action she is taking to solve the problems.

Discrimination is usually directed at minorities in any community, but women comprise the majority of the United Kingdom's population. However, centuries of prejudice have combined to create a society in which women often behave like second-class citizens. That is because women are so often treated as such.

Women cannot be taken out of politics. That seemed to be the suggestion that the Minister for Consumer Affairs was making throughout her speech. Every suggestion in the motion requires political action. I agree that legislation cannot abolish the prejudice, but it can create a climate of opinion in which prejudice finds it hard to flourish. It can certainly have the effect of abolishing inequalities.

Ever since Annie Besant organised the London matchgirls' strike in 1888, through to the suffragettes and the present day women's movements, the battle has been long and hard. We must not forget the men who took part—John Stuart Mill, H. G. Wells and Bernard Shaw. There is still much to achieve. The whole of society can be enriched in the process of that achievement. Tennyson said: The woman's cause is man's: they rise or sink together". We condemn the Government for damaging the hard-won progress that has been made towards providing equal rights, status and opportunities for women. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends, and in fact the whole House, to support the motion.

9.31 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

This has been a long, interesting and diverse debate. At times a number of strange statements have been made, but the debate has been stimulating in part. There were one or two occasions when one might even have described the debate as hilarious. Labour Members were keen to laugh at one hon. Member who contributed to the debate. I hope that, above all, the debate has shown the determination of the House to work to change attitudes in our society towards equal opportunities for women.

Let us make no mistake. It is not only men's attitudes that prevent women from having equal opportunities; it is sometimes the attitudes amongst women. Women have to be willing as well as equipped to move away from traditional female areas of education, employment and other pursuits. As women, we have to be prepared to accept the unusual challenges that can clear the path to new opportunities.

I was interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner). She was looking to the future and realised that always going back over the past would not serve the cause of women, provided that we learnt the lesson of going too quickly or in a not sufficiently considered manner in certain legal requirements.

We must get rid of the prejudices in society. We know that that is not an easy task. It is a combination of the determination and positive effort that I believe is present in this country. It is now coming to the fore largely as a result of better education for women since the 1944 Act. Many of those women are now in professional positions and are taking up positions of leadership, but still not enough. It is a question of opening closed eyes and minds to the talents and abilities that abound, and to the needs and hopes of more than half the population.

I pay tribute to all those women who accept the challenges. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned many of them. There are those who work positively and creatively to improve the opportunities—for example, those who are publicly appointed to the Equal Opportunities Commission, which has done some valuable things, although I know that some of my hon. Friends have doubts about it in all its aspects. However, it has provided a focus for many women's hopes.

We must all seek the opportunities. That is the responsibility not just of lady Members of the House but of Parliament as a whole, and it is a responsibility for the country to provide the best opportunities for women to use the training that is available, and further to extend that training and those opportunities.

I pay tribute to the Conservative Party's women's organisation. This year it has again played an important role in educating some of its membership and people outside the organisation by undertaking some valuable research throughout the country for its conference in May. As volunteers, the women in that organisation are providing the leadership that can open closed eyes.

We must also help to change attitudes. In The Times today, Frances Gibb says of discrimination and lack of opportunity: The biggest stumbling block in all this is still that of attitudes. We may have special problems because of the recession, but for the future it is a question of opening eyes and changing minds.

The Labour Party is clearly concerned with developing its policy towards women. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), as chairman of the party's home policy committee, has asked for greater consideration to be given to the views of women. In passing, I am sure that the House will join me in wishing the right hon. Gentleman a swift recovery from his illness. In his letter he says that the party must emphasise how important it is for all aspects of policy fully to reflect the aims and perspectives of women, and that women should not be confined to work on so-called women's issues. For once I agree with him. As the right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) said, we all too often confine ourselves to women's issues, and we must break away from that. I believe that all women Members and those women who would like to be here wish to do so.

There are other signs that women are being encouraged to make a greater contribution. There are 300 groups that encourage women to prepare themselves to play a role in public life, irrespective of party politics. Appointments now being made show that the Government are at long last improving dramatically the opportunities for women to participate. The figures have dramatically increased in the past two years, particularly in areas where women are confident of being able to use their experience. As more doors open, they will branch into other areas.

We are not always aware of who these able women are. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs for increasing the proportion of women appointed. The number has increased from 4 per cent. and 6 per cent. in 1977–78 and 1978–79 to 31 per cent. and 29 per cent. in 1979–80 and 1980–81. That is a significant improvement, although much remains to be done, and we need to know more about the women who are willing to contribute. The Government must provide the framework, but it is up to women to take advantage of the opportunities through education and training.

If I do not have time to answer all the points raised I shall write to hon. Members about the substantive ones. The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) mentioned the United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, which we have not yet signed. Our consideration has necessarily taken time. The convention covers an exceptionally wide field, so a number of Departments are involved. We also have an exceptional constitutional complexity. We have to consult the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and all the dependent territories, and we have to deal with more than one legal system even within Britain. The prospective change in our nationality legislation will help to sort out some of the outstanding problems. I repeat, however, that we have not concluded that we cannot sign. We are actively pursuing our consultations in the hope that it will prove possible to do so. I trust that we shall come to that decision soon.

Another issue raised in the debate was the difficult area of nationality and immigration. It has been a matter of long debate over recent years how we may best deal with the problem of giving fair treatment to people who have settled in this country and made it their home, and to second and third generation immigrants. Government after Government have talked about the responsibility to clarify and amend the law. The Labour Government produced a Green Paper on nationality in 1977, but it fell to this Government to make the necessary changes that have so recently been debated. We heard in today's debate how unhappy many people are about nationality and immigration.

I understand some of the fears and I do not seek to belittle them. Nevertheless, under the new nationality Bill, a mother will for the first time be able to pass on her British nationality to her child born overseas, which has never been possible before. That is a positive step forward, which should not be ignored.

The hon. Members for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) and Halifax commented on changes in the immigration rules concerning husbands or fiancés. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be considering what changes need to be made in immigration rules already approved by the House in the light of the new nationality Bill when it becomes law. He will note what has been said in this debate and will consider in his review any changes that should be made with a view to securing equal treatment. Any such changes will, of course, be brought before the House. I appreciate the great concern about nationality and immigration issues as they affect women and I shall ensure that the comments made in this debate are brought to the personal attention of my right hon. Friend.

The major part of the debate has been concentrated on women's employment. I should say at the outset that the Government are firmly committed to a policy of equal opportunity for women and are doing all that they can to encourage employers, workers and unions to give practical effect to that policy. Ministers have said that there can be no question of discouraging women from working in order to ease the unemployment situation for men. It would be politically and economically wrong to do so.

In a letter to the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth), who has explained to me that he can no longer be present in the Chamber, the Prime Minister said: I cannot accept that it is right that any adult should be disqualified from taking work which may be available because of their age, sex or marital status". That stands. Equally, however, Ministers have rejected the reverse, that is to say, discrimination in favour of women by setting targets or quotas for men's jobs as the hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest was the answer. As we sadly know in other fields, setting quotas is by no means a guarantee that we shall achieve what we set out to do. I certainly do not believe that it would be in the interests of women to set targets or quotas in different industries.

The Government have said that they are concerned to make full use of the contribution that women can make to the economy. There are many ways in which this must be done, particularly in more skilled and technical areas of work and in industrial management, where women are very much a minority. That is being pursued in a number of ways.

The hon. Member for Halifax asked about the Equal Pay Act 1970. That Act has worked well towards eliminating discriminatory rates of pay. Women are making progress, although that progress is rather slow in some industries. Nevertheless, levels of earnings are rising, although there is still some way to go. The Equal Opportunities Commission has a statutory responsibility to keep the working of the Act under review and it submitted proposals for its amendment earlier this year. Those proposals are now under active consideration by the Department of Employment. As soon as there is anything to be explained to the House about them, that will certainly occur, and I shall bring that matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

I believe that the Sex Discrimination Act has largely removed overt discrimination in advertising and created a greater awareness and knowledge of the principle of equal opportunity. However, there is still widespread ignorance of the Act on both sides of industry. We hope that the EOC, which has this as a primary task, will be able to work further towards the elimination of discrimination as well as the provision of equality of opportunity.

The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) referred to homeworkers. The Government recognise that there is anxiety about the possible exploitation of homeworkers that occurs in certain areas. There is no doubt some justification for that claim, although research recently carried out by the Department of Employment suggests that certain activities, including some clerical occupations, are nowadays carried out by homeworkers, where the pay is quite high.

The situation has changed, but there is a great lack of hard evidence about the practice of homeworking in general in modern conditions. The Government are therefore engaged in further widespread research, which is expected to provide the answers to a number of the questions that have been raised in the House about homeworking, on the basis of a national and representative sample. We shall then be in a very much better position to assess the situation and to decide what action is required.

In the meantime, some of the traditional trades that employ homeworkers, such as clothing and toy manufacturing, are covered by wages councils, which fix minimum rates of pay. As in the past, the Wages Inspectorate will continue to check the pay of homeworkers in those trades and will investigate any complaints of excessively low pay.

The Department of Employment has introduced many measures to try to help solve the problems of unemployment, but when I look at the figures for female unemployment I realise that they are not as chronic across the country as a whole as some hon. Members might have us believe. They are specifically hard in many areas—that one must accept—but in May this year, female unemployment stood at 700,000 compared with 1.8 million registered males. That represented 7.2 per cent. of the total number of women in work or seeking work.

As hon. Members have said, the figure probably underestimates total female unemployment. However, many women do not wish to register, and the real level of unemployment is much closer to the figure that I have mentioned than some hon. Members would have us believe.

A high proportion of women are still employed in Britain compared with our major competitor countries, which face exactly the same problems of recession—in some areas worse problems—than we do. We must realise that vast changes have taken place. Fifty years ago only 10 per cent. of married women went out to work. Today the figure is nearly 50 per cent.

A number of hon. Members referred to training in general. They also talked specifically about training in relation to the new technology. The Manpower Services Commission assists the training of more than 7,000 people a year in the computer-related occupations under the training and skills programme, TOPS and the threshold programme. A company called JPL, which was founded in 1962 specifically to use the pool of skilled women who had previously worked full-time in the data processing industry, has done exceptionally well. It is now a flourishing enterprise and a great success.

Many hon. Members have commented upon the views of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. The remarks of my right hon. Friend were taken out of context. Young children depend on their mothers and it is no good any of us trying to get away from that rather basic fact. Yes, there may be a time when people at large believe that better mothering might result from mothers being at home. In a recent survey, 85 per cent. of the mothers responding said that mums with very young children should be at home. We are talking about what they would most like to see, even if for many of them it is not today economically possible.

I am sure that it would be better for many young children to have that close link. That does not mean that I am not fully behind, or that the Government are not fully behind, the provision of opportunity of choice for those women—provided that they realise their responsibility for young children. We must have our eyes wide open and recognise the responsibilities that a young mother puts on herself if she does not have to go out to work but nevertheless chooses to do so. The children are the future of the country and they need that support of the mother. I hope, therefore, that we shall hear no more of the sort of comment that the hon. Member for Crewe was making on that subject.

I was asked about taxation. This is the first Government to have produced any discussion document about the taxation of married women so that we have the chance to look at the differences that exist in that respect. Women can, of course, elect to be separately assessed for taxation, but that does not change the overall taxation problem that married women face under the present system. We have to see whether a more radical change in the direction of taxing all husbands and wives independently would help the women who want that independent assessment, and whether it would help them to obtain what they are seeking to achieve.

I should like to deal briefly with some comments that were made about cutbacks in services. Nursery education was mentioned by many hon. Members. In January 1980, 43 per cent. of 3-year-old and 4-year-old children in the United Kingdom were receiving nursery education, compared with 17 per cent. 10 years earlier. If we count also the 4-year-olds who now attend primary school because of falling rolls, we find that the figure in 1980 was 46 per cent. of all 4-year-olds. The very fact that the number of children in nursery schools has increased this year by 5,900 shows that it is untrue to say that we are not opening up opportunities for those children. The pre-school playgroup movement also plays a valuable part in that respect.

I deal briefly with education. Many more girls are now, thank goodness, studying science subjects. One of the problems that there has been for women in attaining equal opportunity to compete with men in equal work has been that the syllabus has been oriented against those subjects that they need desperately if they are to compete. The new moves for the core curriculum are vital if we are to give girls the proper opportunity to benefit from the scientific and mathematical subjects that are available.

I must bring my remarks to a close, although there is much more that could be said in the debate. With regard to the health services and social security, we have increased the amount of money for personal social services by 4 per cent. over the last two years. We are increasing the number of nurses in the Health Service and are taking careful note of what the Select Committee said about the wish to reduce perinatal mortality. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) mentioned smoking by women. We hope that women will take more care of their own health in their antenatal period, so that their children will be born healthy.

On the question of equal treatment for women, my hon. Friends have repeated time and again those measures that we have brought into law this year that will enable women to achieve equal opportunity with men in social security. I hope that hon. Members will realise, in the Prime Minister's words, that there is a continuing role to play to eliminate sex discrimination and to promote equal opportunity.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 108, Noes 168.

Division No. 219] [10 pm
Allaun, Frank Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N) Cryer, Bob
Bidwell, Sydney Cunliffe, Lawrence
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Dalyell, Tam
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Davidson, Arthur
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd)
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Deakins, Eric
Campbell-Savours, Dale Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Carmichael, Neil Dobson, Frank
Carter-Jones, Lewis Dormand, Jack
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Cook, Robin F. Dubs, Alfred
Cowans, Harry Dunnett, Jack
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Eadie, Alex Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Eastham, Ken Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
English, Michael Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Evans, John (Newton) Palmer, Arthur
Faulds, Andrew Pendry, Tom
Flannery, Martin Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Foster, Derek Race, Reg
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd) Richardson, Jo
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Ginsburg, David Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Graham, Ted Rooker, J. W.
Grant, John (Islington C) Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Sheerman, Barry
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Short, Mrs Renée
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Skinner, Dennis
Haynes, Frank Soley, Clive
Heffer, Eric S. Spearing, Nigel
Homewood, William Stallard, A. W.
Hooley, Frank Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Horam, John Stoddart, David
Howells, Geraint Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
John, Brynmor Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Johnson, James (Hull West) Torney, Tom
Kerr, Russell Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
Kilfedder, James A. Welsh, Michael
Lamond, James Whitlock, William
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Litherland, Robert Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W) Winnick, David
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Woolmer, Kenneth
McElhone, Frank Wrigglesworth, Ian
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Wright, Sheila
McNamara, Kevin
Maynard, Miss Joan Tellers for the Ayes:
Meacher, Michael Mr. Frank R. White and
Mikardo, Ian Mr. George Morton.
Alexander, Richard Dorrell, Stephen
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Dover, Denshore
Banks, Robert du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Bendall, Vivian Dykes, Hugh
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Eggar, Tim
Berry, Hon Anthony Elliott, Sir William
Biggs-Davison, John Eyre, Reginald
Blackburn, John Faith, Mrs Sheila
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Finsberg, Geoffrey
Braine, Sir Bernard Fisher, Sir Nigel
Bright, Graham Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles
Brooke, Hon Peter Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Fox, Marcus
Browne, John (Winchester) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bruce-Gardyne, John Glyn, Dr Alan
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Goodhew, Victor
Buck, Antony Goodlad, Alastair
Bulmer, Esmond Gow, Ian
Butcher, John Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Butler, Hon Adam Greenway, Harry
Cadbury, Jocelyn Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Grylls, Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hampson, Dr Keith
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Hawksley, Warren
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Hayhoe, Barney
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Clegg, Sir Walter Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Colvin, Michael Hooson, Tom
Cope, John Hordern, Peter
Costain, Sir Albert Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Cranborne, Viscount Hunt, David (Wirral)
Critchley, Julian Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Crouch, David Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Dickens, Geoffrey Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Kaberry, Sir Donald Pollock, Alexander
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Kershaw, Anthony Proctor, K. Harvey
Kimball, Marcus Rathbone, Tim
Knight, Mrs Jill Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Lamont, Norman Rees-Davies, W. R.
Lang, Ian Renton, Tim
Lawrence, Ivan Rhodes James, Robert
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Le Marchant, Spencer Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rossi, Hugh
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Royle, Sir Anthony
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo) Shepherd, Richard
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Silvester, Fred
Loveridge, John Sims, Roger
Lyell, Nicholas Skeet, T. H. H.
Macfarlane, Neil Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
MacGregor, John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Squire, Robin
Major, John Stanley, John
Marland, Paul Steen, Anthony
Marlow, Tony Stevens, Martin
Mates, Michael Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus Stradling Thomas, J.
Mellor, David Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Thompson, Donald
Moate, Roger Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Molyneaux, James Trippier, David
Montgomery, Fergus Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Viggers, Peter
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Waddington, David
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Wakeham, John
Murphy, Christopher Waldegrave, Hon William
Myles, David Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Neale, Gerrard Wall, Patrick
Needham, Richard Waller, Gary
Nelson, Anthony Ward, John
Neubert, Michael Warren, Kenneth
Newton, Tony Wells, John (Maidstone)
Normanton, Tom Wells, Bowen
Onslow, Cranley Wheeler, John
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Wickenden, Keith
Osborn, John Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby) Wolfson, Mark
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Parris, Matthew
Pattie, Geoffrey Tellers for the Noes:
Percival, Sir Ian Mr. Carol Mather and
Peyton, Rt Hon John Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 32 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, 'That this House, recognising that the needs and aspirations of women can only be achieved within a free and fair society and a healthy economy, welcomes the measures which the Government has taken to achieve these.'.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During the course of the previous debate the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) raised a point of order on the selection of speakers. He misled the House on the question of the participation in the debate of the minority parties. The facts are not as he related to the House. Out of about five and a half hours' debate the minority parties took up 46 minutes. In addition, they have 40 hon. Members and not, as the hon. Gentleman said, fewer than 20. I hope that those facts will be taken into consideration.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When the Chair considers this matter I hope that it will be borne in mind that in a Supply clay debate, belonging to the Labour Party, 46 minutes,—[Interruption.] The debate was initiated by the Labour Party. Judging by the number of Conservative Members in the Chamber, the debate certainly belongs to the Labour Party. The minority parties accounted for 46 minutes of debate. As a result, several hon. Members who had sat in the Chamber from the beginning to the end of the debate were not called. Others who had not been in the Chamber came in, were called instantly, and spoke for 21 minutes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The selection of speakers is a matter for the Chair. I assure hon. Members that we have the record of today's speakers. It will be carefully checked and all the representations that have been made will be given consideration.

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