HC Deb 14 May 1986 vol 97 cc811-26 10.34 pm
Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

I disagree with almost everything that the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) said. I welcome the Minister's wise words. One always worries in such debates that the Minister will have to kow-tow to spurious ideas of equality and that some of the dafter notions about how to achieve equality will be on their lips. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister is more robust than that.

Tonight we are discussing three directives. I shall set aside the draft directive on equality in self-employment, because from what I have read of it we are already carrying out most of it—especially on equality of access to loans. The hon. Member for Battersea should know that, because it was his Government who passed that legislation some 11 years ago. In law and in practice, the bulk of the suggestions in the directive have been carried out in this country for a long time.

I wish to concentrate on occupational pensions and on the overall Community action programme for equal opportunities for women. I note in passing that it proposes to spend 2.6 million ecu on the latter by the year 1990. I suspect that such groups as the late lamented GLC women's committee, which managed to spend £16 million before its demise, could show the Community a thing or two, yet it did not bring about a scrap of additional equality in this city.

Mr. Marlow

My hon. Friend mentioned the late and unlamented GLC women's committee. As she has read and understands all the detail of the legislation, can she advise me whether it would be possible to have a women's committee without also having a men's committee?

Mrs. Currie

I refer my hon. Friend to the Minister, who is not only fully briefed by his Department but is a learned member of the law and therefore better able than I to advise my hon. Friend.

I wish especially to discuss pensions. Like most women Members, I take a close interest in my pension entitlement. I am statistically more likely to draw it than my male colleagues, and for far longer. Therefore, I take a close interest in pensions. My oldest constituent is a lady who will soon celebrate her 106th birthday. She has been drawing a pension for 70 years, and is taken to collect her pension by her son, who will be 87 this year. That is a fate that I suspect will befall a good number of the female members of our community, but precious few of the male members.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

If the equality of opportunity to live the sort of stressful life that is commonplace among men is extended to women, does my hon. Friend believe that women will continue to enjoy this ext

Mrs. Currie

Naturally and absolutely—it as been like that since Bible days and beyond, and it looks as though it will be like that for a few more millennia.

The occupational pensions draft directive seeks completely to ignore the differences in demography between men and women. The European Commission considers that the use of statistics relating to ill-health or life expectancy that differ for the two sexes is contrary to the principle of equal treatment if used to set different levels of benefit or contribution. Yet male and female mortality rates are different and women do live longer than men. One might as well try to abolish the real world.

I call in evidence professor David Wilkie, research actuary at Standard Life Assurance in Edinburgh. Back in November 1983 he warned of enormous difficulties in the crude implementation of a principle of equality. This was quite inappropriate for funded schemes. He was absolutely right.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

The hon. Lady referred to life expectancy being different, but the report from the Comission states: differences in life expectancy are very clear-cut between categories of male workers, according to the occupation pursued. if account is not generally taken of them in calculations it is difficult to see why an exception should be made only in the ease of female workers. Does not the hon. Lady agree with that?

Mrs. Currie

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait until the last few words of my speech, when I shall take up some of his points.

If women want equality of treatment, they must earn it. They are earning it substantially because more than 60 per cent. of women are working, and more than 70 per cent. of those of my generation are doing so. We now form over 41 per cent. of the work force, and the percentage is rising. We have been mightily successful in the new forms of employment that have become available in recent years as we seem to be taking the bulk of the new jobs.

If women want equality of treatment, they must pay for it. They must earn it and pay for it, and that is where it gets harder. I suspect that many of my sisters are not willing to pay. Many of the women who are working now are paying little or no tax arid low-level or no national insurance contributions. By far the largest bulk of women currently drawing pensions are doing so on their husbands' contributions and not on their own. National insurance contribution law changed in the mid-1970s, but it will be many years before a full generation of women are drawing state pensions that are based entirely on their own contributions and not those of their husbands.

My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State mentioned the Green Paper on personal taxation, which proposes transferable allowances. That was widely welcomed, but one of the implications for the 2 million women who are currently paying no tax on their earnings is that they will have to do so in future. They will not like that, and they will not thank my hon. and learned Friend or any of my colleagues for the equality that they are buying.

Many of the calls by women for equality of treatment ignore the whole question of paying for it. It is part of the general malaise of the British people that we all want the services but think that there is a special tree growing in No. 10 Downing street that has little golden apples on it that will allow someone else to pay.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

The hon. Lady is presenting a picture of women not wanting to pay. Is she aware that, because the Government are putting such emphasis on increasing part-time jobs, with most of them going to women, most women do not earn enough to be called upon to pay contributions?

Mrs. Currie

The hon. Gentleman has put my argument in a slightly different way. If and when the time comes and the rules are changed and women are required to pay tax and national insurance contributions, every Member of this place will have a postbag full of letters from women saying, "If this is equality, I do not want it." I look forward to the day when they will say, "We want this and we are prepared to pay for it."

Mr. Field

That will occur only when women have the chance to obtain full-time jobs.

Mrs. Currie

They do have the chance. We all have the chance. These opportunities are taken up.

If we want equality, it will cost us. If we believe in equality, we should be willing to pay. If we are not the bulk of the work force but we are the bulk of dependants, we must accept inequality, which cheerfully and wickedly works in our favour—in other words, it is the men who are paying—or start digging deeper into our handbags. That is a reality that we must begin to face. Whatever the Common Market says, the demography will not go away, and neither will the inexorable logic that that imposes.

We see exactly the same double-think in employment protection. We have heard about the sex discrimination Bill that is to be introduced this year, which will remove the protection that prevents women from working at night and in certain occupations. Women in my constituency have told me, especially those who are breadwinners, that they welcome the proposed change. They would like to see the restrictions removed, but self-appointed women's groups are talking about women being at risk and how dangerous and difficult it will be if women have to work at night or undertake the sort of dreadful work that some men have to do. There are howls of rage on those grounds.

It seems that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister is on a hiding to nothing, but I wish him well. I should like to see the present restrictions removed and to see competent people, whether male or female, take their place in the job market as they will, wherever possible. I support him on that, but I warn him that he will find himself up against the women's groups, which are all so keen to have the directive on equality which is causing the changes to be brought about.

I long for a world in which we no long see the words "man" and "woman" in every piece of legislation that is written. I would prefer a world in which we see people—collections of individuals—with their own ambitions and abilities. Each person should be encouraged—I agree with some of what has been said this evening—to make his or her best efforts and the best contribution that he or she can make to our society. I want a world in which family responsibilities are taken seriously by all the members of the family, preferably before the family actually arrives, and in which those responsibilities are shared not in an artificial way, not in the way that is set out in the directive, but according to the tastes, abilities and interests of all concerned. That is the true path to equality of recognition and equality of achievement for women in Europe, and I commend it to the House.

10.44 pm
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

In the two years that I have been a Member of this House there have been few debates on equality between men and women, and they have always been greeted with ridicule by Conservative Members. This is a serious subject that ought to be debated properly. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) speaking about parental leave. Her speech was rubbished throughout by Conservative Members who refused to give her a fair hearing. I hope that we have some semblance of a decent debate today. If hon. Members have nothing better to do than ridicule and make fun of serious proposals, they should leave now.

The Government's attitude to equality between the sexes is clear from their being prepared only to take note of the various Community documents. The Government have almost always had to be prompted by legal action in the Community even to begin to amend the sex discrimination and equal pay legislation, which was progressive in its time, but which have loopholes that have been described time and again. The Government are dragging their feet on the Sex Discrimination Bill in the other place. Discussions in the Community on further directives or legislation to promote equality will obviously not be treated seriously.

In 1981, the Equal Opportunities Commission recommended 25 amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. The Government have accepted only three. That shows how seriously they take the subject. They have accepted the equal pay recommendation, which is to widen the definition of equal pay on which a claim can be based. The Government are also accepting the reference to collective agreements and the reference to include small firms and undertakings.

Anyone who has followed what has happened in the European Court of Justice can only be ashamed by the attitude of Britain, which is depicted by Conservative Members who do not understand what proposals are being made, cannot be bothered to listen to the arguments and have never taken the subject seriously while they have been in the House.

Those who have experience of being in the European Parliament can only feel ashamed that Britain has appeared before the European Court of Justice on sex discrimination issues more than any other EC country. I do not know how the Minister expects to be believed when he says that the Government are full of good intentions, bearing in mind the Government's refusal since 1979 to tighten loopholes in the sex discrimination and equal pay legislation.

Miss Helen Marshall, the retired dietician, is the most recent in a long line of women who have caused the European Court of Justice to pronounce Britain's equality laws as leaving women far from equal with men. She fought for six years against her enforced retirement at an earlier age than if she had been a man doing the same job in the National Health Service. The Government have acted with some speed to implement that particular ruling against the compulsory retirement of women at the age of 60, but it is a pity that they did not see fit to rectify the anomaly until ordered to do so by a court outside the United Kingdom. When the Sex Discrimination Bill is suitably amended, probably this summer, women will have the legal right to stay at work until they are 65.

That is a far cry from the early 1970s, when Britain seemed to be at the forefront of those giving women more equal status, particularly at work. The key legislation was the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975—both infants of a Labour Government. The European Commission has taken a much more genuinely equal view of women's status through a series of directives which the Government have repeatedly refused to implement. Britain has been one of the states most prone to drag its feet to obey them. A series of defeats at the European Court of Justice has torn both those Acts asunder, leaving Britain with a poor image on equality.

It is worth looking briefly at some of the background. Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome states that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. Pay is defined as the ordinary basic or minimum wage or salary and any other consideration in cash or kind which the worker receives from the employer. The Council of Ministers has also adopted three directives on sex equality at work. The 1975 equal pay directive sets the principle of equal pay for equal work. The 1976 equal pay treatment directive aims to overcome sex discrimination in the hiring of staff, in vocational training, and in promotion and working conditions. It also forbids sex discrimination, particularly in connection with marital or family status. That directive was breached by Miss Marshall's enforced retirement at a younger age than a man.

The 1979 social security directive forbids discrimination over contributions or entitlements to social security and benefit schemes. The British Equal Opportunities Commission and the European Court have highlighted time after time Britain's failure to treat women equally, although many other EEC states have also been found dragging their feet.

I shall not go through all the incidents in which the United Kingdom has been dragged before the European Court of Justice, but the court ruled against Britain in 1982. As a result. Britain had to amend the Equal Pay Act. Since 1 January 1984 women have been entitled to equal pay for work of equal value. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) seems to believe—I suggest she looks at the new earnings survey 1984—women were still earning less than men in 1984 in a range of occupations, including those where the concept of equal value is easy to assess. Recently, the EC backed a test case where a cook from Cammell Laird claimed her training and work was of equal value to that of other craftsmen in the company. That case will be dealt with shortly. If that cook wins, the Equal Pay Act will be redundant in all but name. Women will once again have scored a victory, with enormous cost implications for private and public sector employees.

Mrs. Currie

I should be grateful if the hon. Lady would explain how insisting on higher pay for women will aid the promotion of employment for women. Will it not result in many of those good ladies losing their jobs because their employers cannot afford to keep them on?

Mrs. Clwyd

The hon. Lady has missed the whole point. I was arguing not for higher pay for women but for equal pay for women doing equal work. If she had looked at the new earnings survey, she would have seen that women's earnings as a percentage of men's earnings in a whole range of occupations are much lower. That is the point. We want equal pay for equal work. I was not arguing for higher earnings.

Mr. Cohen

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) implied that higher pay meant job losses. But does not the privatisation of, say, hospital cleaning mean lower pay and fewer jobs?

Mrs. Clwyd

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The information from Conservative Central Office is obviously not as good as the Labour party's information, which is contained in "Women, Low Pay and Employment Protection". If Conservative Members want to know the facts about low pay and the employment of women, they should look at a copy of that document. They might find it very useful, and discover what low pay is all about.

The policies of the European Commission can be effective only if national Governments have the will to implement them. I believe that organisations and individuals have a role in putting pressure on their Governments. The United Kingdom Government are the only Government, of course, planning to exercise a general veto on the parental leave measure. [Interruption.] Nine other EC countries have already introduced various forms of parental leave. Thus, once again, this country is dragging its feet. I hope that those women who listen to the debate or who read about it tomorrow will write to some of the reactionary Conservative Members present and spell out their views on this important issue.

Nowhere are these European Community policies needed more than in the United Kingdom. Three important directives are returning to the Council of Ministers for ratification in June. All three have been blocked by the United Kingdom Government in the past.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Well, they have done something right, anyway.

Mrs. Clwyd

It is interesting to hear Conservative Members say how much they approve of blocking measures for equal treatment for men and women—[Interruption.] I hope that their constituents are listening. The first directive proposes equal treatment for men and women in occupational security schemes. The second introduces protection for self-employed women during pregnancy and motherhood, and the third covers parental leave. No doubt the Government will again be dragged screaming and kicking in front of the European Court of Justice for failing to implement EC directives when they become law. If the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South has read the new report of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which clearly showed the amount of sex discrimination in recruitment, she cannot possibly believe the arguments that she put forward. That report found that most employers still saw jobs in terms of men's or women's work. They specifically seek women to fill the jobs offering lower pay, and poor promotion prospects.

The report said that employers neither understood nor were they concerned with upholding the sex discrimination legislation. The research took 10 years. It was very thorough. I do not think that even Conservative Members would dispute the findings. For almost half the vacant jobs, the employer already had in mind the sex of the person to fill the post, even though 86 per cent. of the jobs attracted applicants of both sexes. Discrimination occurred between men and women according to the characteristics of the jobs. Employers preferred women for the jobs with lower pay, fewer promotion prospects and where work colleagues and supervisors were female.

Let us not argue for one moment that women receive equal treatment. That is simply not true in terms of pay, social security and a range of provisions. I wish that Conservative Members would try, for once, to conduct a reasonable debate on this important issue. I am sure that women electors in their constituencies will show their disdain for the way in which they treat problems that affect those women, and their disdain for the way in which they treat them in the House. I think that it is disgraceful, and Conservative Members should be ashamed of themselves.

11.1 pm

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I endorse many of the thoughtful and correct comments of hon. Members whatever their party. [Interruption.] I think that we would agree that it is rather sad that the public school boy hooligans are out in force tonight.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

They are not public school boys. They are a poorly educated lot.

Mr. Kennedy

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It may be an unfair reflection on public schools. [Interruption.] If Conservative Members will allow me to to do so, I shall endorse many of the points and thoughts that the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) put forward.

Mr. Budgen

Has the hon. Gentleman heard the arguments before?

Mr. Kennedy

I noticed that the hon. Gentleman breezed in half way through the debate. I hardly think that he is in a position to make such a comment. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley made a lengthy speech. I shall be curtailed from doing so because the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) wishes to contribute before the winding-up speeches begin. I think that we should conclude on a high note of levity.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) put forward her view of the legislation. She told us that it was up to society to treat people as people and that such legislation was not necessarily helpful. It is worth remembering that the hon. Members for Cynon Valley and for Derbyshire, South, are in this institution, very much the exception rather than the rule in terms of their sex and their membership of the House. In considering in detail, as the documents do, the need to change not only attitudes but Government policies to provide fairer treatment and opportunities for men and women, we need look no further than the House of Commons, which is one of the most drastically unrepresentative institutions in western Europe. [Interruption.] Conservative Members should remember that, earlier this week, the alliance was delighted to welcome a lady into the House of Commons as one of our Members of Parliament.

I endorse the view that the Minister's opening speech was somewhat disappointing. The Government have given a lukewarm response to the draft directives. It is strange that the remaining bastions of liberal thought, as they affect legislation in this country, are invariably the House of Lords, the High Court and European legislation or directives. Little innovative or progressive work in these matters is initiated in the House of Commons by the Government. Time and again we find ourselves at this hour of the night debating draft directives and alterations to statutory instruments which are the result of external pressure on the Government, not a positive desire by the Government to promote policies on sex discrimination which should have broad support and in which Parliament should show the lead. This is a matter for all parties, not one party or one side of the House.

The Government's reluctance to give these documents the wholehearted approval which they should have is very much related to the point made by the pensions industry on the implications of equal treatment on existing United Kingdom legislation. The Government may take cognisance of the views of the pension industry and reflect its concerns about the possible effects of these directives if enacted in Britain. However, I wish that they had been willing to give so much attention to that industry's views when they reformed the state earnings-related pensions scheme. If the Government were a little more consistent and less selective in listening to and ignoring the views of financial institutions, they might have had slightly more credibility in advancing this argument. The Government's response is disappointing. We cannot and will not support it.

We accept that, in taking a rational look at the horrendous long-term costs of pension provision, there cannot be overnight reform. No one suggests that there can be. The Minister rightly emphasised that point. If we want the principle of equality of treatment, as opposed to equality of access which we have under existing legislation, and want greater sexual equality through our institutions and our legislation, we must start to be more committed and wholehearted and stop waiting for Europe, the courts or the House of Lords to tell us how to make our decisions.

Until we have a House of Commons that reflects more accurately the breakdown of society into two sectors, it is highly unlikely that we shall have a Government who are as committed as they should be. Until that day comes, I doubt that this Government will bring forward the type of legislation that we want. On that basis, the Goverment's response is inadequate and disappointing, and we shall not support it.

11.8 pm

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

When I first became a Member, I may have been a little naive and a little simple—[Interruption.] I thought that that would get them going, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believed that Governments could decide and choose what legislation they wanted to bring forward. I did not realise the extent to which outside lobbies, bodies and foreign institutions were able to bully, cajole and press Governments into bringing forward the sort of nonsense that we are considering. As a member of a Conservative governing party which was elected on the platform of less law, I am appalled that this sort of nonsense has been brought before us tonight. If I had brought a random sample of my constituents here to watch our proceedings and they had seen that we were discussing this issue, not because we in the United Kingdom wanted to discuss it, but because we had been told by Europeans to do so, they would have been appalled and amazed.

Europe is about trade and co-operation. It is not about Socialism. It is not about imposing complex legislation of a pan-European nature on social issues. I understand that day by day, week by week and month by month, the Labour party is becoming more enamoured of the European Community. We understand why; because of the bureaucracy there and because of the ability to espouse Socialism and force Socialism on this country from the institutions on the other side of the Channel.

We heard a lot from the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) about the European courts, and she is ashamed that we are made to take measures because of the European Court. I will tell the hon. Lady, as the vast majority of my constituents would tell her, that we could not give a fig for European courts. We are legislatively mature enough and long enough in the tooth to decide on our own social policy, our own measures and our own laws, and it is only right that we should make our own laws without having advice and influence from overseas.

The hon. Lady, who took about 20 minutes of the House's time, was going on about discrimination against women. What about discrimination against men? When men get the pension at the same age as women, I will pay a little more attention to what the hon. Lady says. When we act fairly towards men who suffer divorce and whose ex-wives, who are in receipt of finance from them, go and live with other men and still get the full divorce settlement from their husbands, although their husbands have other children to look after, then I will listen to the hon. Lady. If we are to have no discrimination—it is not possible, because men and women are different and long may it remain so—let us have no discrimination in both directions.

We believe in the market in this party, and we believe in the private sector. The private sector provides pensions, just like the private sector provides insurance. If someone insures a sports car, he pays more because the chances are that he is more likely to have an accident. If he has a red car, he pays more for the insurance, because he has been assessed as being more likely to have an accident. Women live longer than men. If women are to get a better deal on pensions, and there is only a certain amount of money available, it means that men will get a less good deal. That is unfair to men.

It is nonsense. It is against the interests of this country. We will make up our own minds.

11.12 pm
Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

The speech of the hon. Member for Northampton. North (Mr. Marlow) was no laughing matter. I wonder where the Conservatives of Northampton, North found the hon. Gentleman. I wonder, too, why, when there is any possibility—there are few—of a debate in the House on equality, it brings out the chauvinistic, not to say sexist, bores in the Conservative party. I hope that television cameras will come into the House soon, so that the behaviour of hon. Members on the Bench below the Gangway will be seen by their constituents. They would not remain here for much longer.

This is a serious matter and I make no apology for taking it seriously, as the Government took it seriously in tabling the motion. It seeks support from the House for the Government's singular failure to implement the Community's first action programme, which began at the end of December last year. Moreover, by endorsing the Government's record and approach to equal treatment, the motion seeks to congratulate a Government who have played a prime role in blocking arid obstructing progress and agreement in this area in Europe, and who have obstinately deferred and unnecessarily complicated all practical, progressive measures that have been forced on them by the European courts.

The Minister of State, Home Office, ridiculed us for including equal pay for work of equal value in our motion. We did that deliberately. That concept was introduced after the Government had been dragged through the European Court and were brought kicking and squealing into this Chamber not wanting to introduce it at all. The Government introduced it in such a complicated and obstructive form that it is almost impossible for women to take claims before the court.

It is important that we support the call for approval and implementation of the directives. If we do not, we cannot be sure that the Government will support the medium-term Community programme for 1986–90. The Government have done hardly anything, in spite of what the Minister said, in the programme for 1982–85. In the introduction of the medium-term programme the Commission noted that the programme can be realised only if it is supported by the "political will" of all the parties, particularly the member states. I have no love for the European Community and I agree with those, including the hon. Member for Northampton, North, who say that we should introduce our own legislation. However, we are not introducing our own legislation. Therefore, we have no other option but to try to bring to the attention of the House the legislation going through other parliaments.

The Government do not have the political will. If they did they would have set out approval of the documents in their motion. Among the 16 actions set out in the 1982–85 programme, the Commission has stressed the importance of adopting the draft directives based on them as a demonstration of that political will and commitment. We all know that the directive on parental leave was emasculated by the Council of Ministers before it ever came to us and, to the eternal shame of the Conservative Benches, it was rejected by the House in November 1985. Not only have the Government refused to adopt the diluted proposals for parental leave, but they have actively withdrawn support for child care and other services for adult or handicapped dependants by restricting local authority and health authority spending.

The other two directives we are asked to underline tonight have already been mentioned. One is about helping the problems of farmers' wives. In my view, that directive does not go far enough, because the families of farmers as well as their wives do much unpaid labour and that should be taken into account. The Commission also calls for the implementation of the directive drawn from action 4, the aim of which was to achieve equal treatment in ocupational social security schemes.

It has not gone unnoticed that the Government have seen fit to point out that equal treatment does not preclude reducing benefits for one sex rather than increasing them for another. The Tory Administration has been an abysmal failure in this policy area. One has only to look at the so-called Fowler review of social security—heralded as the most comprehensive review since Beveridge—the European ruling on the Marshall case, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and at the Advocate General's guidance on the extension of invalid care allowance for married and cohabiting women.

The Government have disregarded not only the views of the European Commission but the views of their own Equal Opportunities Commission, as well as the views of many distinguished women's groups and organisations throughout the country and in Europe. They have in4isted upon retaining and consolidating the breadwinner concept and aggregation, which constitute and perpetuate indirect discrimination against women.

Similarly, the Commission's proposal on action point 8, to end discrimination against pregnant women, has been flagrantly flouted by the Government. They have launched an unprecedented attack on all maternity benefits, through the Fowler review and their proposals for so-called reform of statutory maternity allowance.

Strangely, although perhaps not really so strangely, coming from this Government, who have so consistently used equality as a mask for worsening the conditions of women and men—we have only to look at the ill-fated Shops Bill and the Wages Bill—the Government have grasped only one of the action points, and are seeking to abolish protective legislation in the Sex Discrimination Bill, which has been through the House of Lords and is coming to the House shortly. That will worsen the position of women.

It is not surprising that the Government seek to ignore the Commission's better recommendations by merely noting them. They expose the only real strategy that the Government have in relation to women. It is, under the guise of economic necessity, to block all advance and, wherever possible, to undermine existing achievements. I cannot put it better than a paragraph of the 12th report of the Select Committee on European Legislation, on 26 February 1986, which states that the Government conclude that any further legislative burdens on employers must be considered in the light of their likely detrimental effect on job creation and hence on equal opportunities, and consequently will seek to ensure that any resolution adopted by the Council contains no unacceptable commitments as to further directives. In other words, the Government, in the name of lifting so-called burdens from employers, blame equal opportunities for their failure to tackle unemployment. In short, they are making women pay for the failure of their economic policies; it is that economic, social and political fact that our amendment seeks to expose. I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to support me in the Lobby against the Government.

11.22 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Ian Lang)

The debate has ranged wider than the three European Community proposals concerning equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women. Even the three proposals cover the responsibilities of at least three different Government Departments, but I shall try to answer as many of the points that have been raised as I can in the time that remains.

I should like to begin by reaffirming the Government's commitment, as the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) seems to be in some doubt, both to the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women, and to action to help make it a reality. Of course, there is a long way to go, but we have already passed some milestones. Today there are nearly 11 million women economically active in Great Britain, making up some 40 per cent. of the labour force. The United Kingdom has the second highest female labour force participation rate in the European Community after Denmark, with about 60 per cent. of women of working age economically active, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) said in an excellent speech.

The United Kingdom accounted for more than half the Community's total female employment growth between 1983 and 1984. The number of women in full-time jobs rose by 17,000 in the year to September 1985, and the number in part-time jobs by nearly 180,000.

I think that all hon. Members recognise the Government's achievements in the sphere of training, particularly youth training. The youth training scheme is particularly significant for girls, who have obtained only a tiny share of traditional apprenticeships. In the one-year scheme, for example, 80 per cent. of all young women on the scheme were in employer-led provision, gaining direct experience of industry and commerce. In two-year YTS, with its increased vocational focus, all young people will have the opportunity to acquire a vocational qualification or a credit towards one. That will revolutionise the opportunities which 16-year-old girls leaving school have until now had to obtain such qualifications.

Last December, the Youth Training Board endorsed a package of measures designed to challenge sex-stereotyping in YTS and further encourage girls to consider training opportunities in occupations in which they are under-represented. The package includes encouraging providers to set up single-sex schemes in occupational areas not traditional to women.

The Manpower Services Commission is also promoting equality of opportunity in vocational training in a number of other ways. For example, it is currently involved in the programme of "Women's Training Roadshows" touring the country under the auspices of the Women's National Commission. The roadshows are exhibitions aimed at encouraging girls and women to consider careers not traditionally associated with their sex, particularly science and technology-related careers.

The hon. Member for Battersea referred to the bus that set off from Westminster on Monday. I helped to send that bus off under the auspices of the WISE scheme—women into science and engineering. There is also a scheme known as WOW intended to give wider opportunities for women. The Government are also bringing forward the Sex Discrimination Bill which will shortly come to the House for Second Reading. We have also, of course, supported the Equal Opportunities Commission's code of practice of 1985.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) referred to women's pay and complained that insufficient progress was being made towards equalisation of pay rates. She might like to know that average weekly earnings for full-time adult employees since 1979 have risen by 93 per cent. for men and for women by 99 per cent. There is a divergence of 6 per cent. at a time when the inflation rate rose by some 75 per cent.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley also referred to the Helen Marshall case. Of course, if the Social Security Pensions Act 1975, brought in by a Labour Government, had provided for equality in retirement, Miss Marshall would never have had to resort to the European Court.

Mrs. Clwyd

This is 1986. Where has the Minister been in the meantime?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Lady also referred to the United Kingdom blocking the occupational pensions directive. I must tell the hon. Lady that we are not blocking that directive. The approach adopted by the Government, and outlined in their explanatory memorandum, commands considerable support among other member states. It offers the best hope of securing a directive. Also, we are not blocking the directive on the self-employed. There is certainly disagreement over some of the provisions that it contains from a number of countries, but we hope that a suitable draft can be achieved. We are simply trying to amend those aspects which are unworkable.

Special training for women is being offered by an increasing number of institutions which my colleagues and I have designated under section 47 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 which allows training to be restricted to one sex only where it is for work in which members of that sex are seriously under-represented or where the trainees have been out of the labour market for some time discharging domestic or family responsibilities. To date, some 150 bodies have received such designation—all but one of them since the Government came to power. In 1985, the United Kingdom topped the European league for women's training, with 92 projects obtaining social fund money. Second came Italy with 13 projects.

With regard to the parental leave directive, to which the Opposition"s amendment referred, of course the Government recognise that domestic responsibilities are a constraint on pursuing a career for many women, at least for a time. But reconciling child care with employment is not a problem to which there is a single solution suitable to be imposed by legislation. Indeed, there are a number of possible solutions, and parental leave itself is only a temporary and partial one.

The Opposition amendment also referred to the equal pay for work of equal value directive, to which the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) also referred. I cannot understand what the Opposition mean in the amendment when they draw attention to the Government's obstruction to equal pay for work of equal value. The Government amended the Equal Pay Act 1970 in 1983 to provide for equal pay for work of equal value following the judgment of the European Court of Justice. The original Act, which was introduced by the Labour Government, did not fully implement European law on that matter. I stress that the Opposition did not choose to include the concept of equal value in the Act that they introduced in 1970.

The Opposition are in no position to criticise the Government. The same story applies if we consider the invalid care allowance. That is currently the subject of a reference to the European Court of Justice to ascertain whether the EEC directive on equal treatment in social security matters applies to that allowance.

We have not yet received the court's judgment—it is expected next month—but the Government have made their position quite clear. We have a good record in complying with the directive and in removing discrimination from schemes—discrimination which was often introduced by the previous Labour Government, as was the exclusion of married women from the invalid care allowance. We have often gone further than the strict terms of the directive.

Equal treatment for men and women in occupational pensions is a principle which few would argue against. There can be as little justification for inequality here as in any other area of economic activity where men and women work side by side, but there is a basic problem in applying the principle of equal treatment to occupational pensions. It is to decide what "equality" means. There is no shortage of opinion and assertion on the question; some of it is informed and some of it is expert, but, regrettably, much of it is neither.

Our approach to the discussions that have taken place—

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business), That the amendment be made.—

The House divided: Ayes 82, Noes 157.

Division No. 180] [11.30 pm
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Kennedy, Charles
Barron, Kevin Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Kirkwood, Archy
Bermingham, Gerald Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Boyes, Roland Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Bray, Dr Jeremy McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) McKelvey, William
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) McNamara, Kevin
Campbell-Savours, Dale Madden, Max
Canavan, Dennis Martin, Michael
Clay, Robert Maxton, John
Clelland, David Gordon Maynard, Miss Joan
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Michie, William
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Miller, Dr M. S, (E Kilbride)
Cohen, Harry Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Nellist, David
Corbyn, Jeremy O'Neill, Martin
Craigen, J. M. Parry, Robert
Cunliffe, Lawrence Patchett, Terry
Dalyell, Tam Pike, Peter
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Prescott, John
Deakins, Eric Raynsford, Nick
Dewar, Donald Redmond, Martin
Dixon, Donald Richardson, Ms Jo
Dobson, Frank Robertson, George
Dormand, Jack Rogers, Allan
Dubs, Alfred Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Rowlands, Ted
Eadie, Alex Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Eastham, Ken Short, Mrs (W'hampt'n NE)
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Skinner, Dennis
Ewing, Harry Snape, Peter
Faulds, Andrew Steel, Rt Hon David
Fisher, Mark Strang, Gavin
Flannery, Martin Straw, Jack
Foster, Derek Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Foulkes, George Wallace, James
Godman, Dr Norman Welsh, Michael
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Haynes, Frank Tellers for the Ayes:
Heffer, Eric S. Mr. Ray Powell and Mr. Chris Smith.
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Alexander, Richard Brooke, Hon Peter
Amess, David Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Ashby, David Bruinvels, Peter
Aspinwall, Jack Buck, Sir Antony
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Budgen, Nick
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Bulmer, Esmond
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Burt, Alistair
Baldry, Tony Butterfill, John
Batiste, Spencer Carlisle, John (Luton N)
Bellingham, Henry Carttiss, Michael
Benyon, William Cash, William
Bevan, David Gilroy Chalker, Mrs Lynda
Biffen, Rt Hon John Chope, Christopher
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Blackburn, John Colvin, Michael
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Conway, Derek
Boscawen, Hon Robert Coombs, Simon
Bottomley, Peter Cope, John
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Couchman, James
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Cranborne, Viscount
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Currie, Mrs Edwina
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Dorrell, Stephen
Bright, Graham Dover, Den
Brinton, Tim Durant, Tony
Eggar, Tim Lang, Ian
Eyre, Sir Reginald Latham, Michael
Fallon, Michael Lawler, Geoffrey
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Forman, Nigel Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Forth, Eric Lester, Jim
Fox, Marcus Lilley, Peter
Gale, Roger Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Galley, Roy Maclean, David John
Garel-Jones, Tristan McLoughlin, Patrick
Goodhart, Sir Philip Major, John
Gow, Ian Marlow, Antony
Gower, Sir Raymond Merchant, Piers
Gregory, Conal Meyer, Sir Anthony
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Ground, Patrick Miscampbell, Norman
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Osborn, Sir John
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Ottaway, Richard
Hampson, Dr Keith Porter, Barry
Harris, David Portillo, Michael
Harvey, Robert Powell, William (Corby)
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Powley, John
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Rathbone, Tim
Hayes, J. Rhodes James, Robert
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Heathcoat-Amory, David Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hickmet, Richard Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hind, Kenneth Roe, Mrs Marion
Holt, Richard Rowe, Andrew
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Sackville, Hon Thomas
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N) Sayeed, Jonathan
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Jackson, Robert Soames, Hon Nicholas
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Speller, Tony
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Spencer, Derek
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Stanbrook, Ivor
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Stern, Michael
Key, Robert Stradling Thomas, Sir John
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Sumberg, David
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Taylor, John (Solihull)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S) Whitfield, John
Thurnham, Peter Wilkinson, John
Townend, John (Bridlington) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Trippier, David Winterton, Nicholas
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Wolfson, Mark
Viggers, Peter Wood, Timothy
Waddington, David Yeo, Tim
Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Walden, George Tellers for the Noes:
Waller, Gary Mr. Michael Neubert and Mr. Francis Maude.
Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Watts, John

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 6871/83, draft proposals for a Directive on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment of men and women in occupational social security schemes, 5825/1/84, draft Directive on the application of the principle of equal treatment for men and women in self employed occupations including agriculture and on protection during pregnancy and maternity, and 4118/86, communication from the Commission to the Council concerning a medium term Community programme (1986/90) on equal opportunities for women; and endorses the Government's commitment to the principle of equal treatment while seeking to ensure that unnecessary burdens are not imposed on business in the United Kingdom.

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