HL Deb 30 June 1972 vol 332 cc1095-8

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many appointments have been made to the population panel, and how many of these are women.


My Lords, as I think the noble Lord is aware, a chairman and six other members have been appointed to the Population Panel. One of the members is a woman.


My Lords, I was aware of that but I thought that some of your Lordships may not have had knowledge of these figures, which are shocking. Is the Lord Privy Seal not of the view that the question of population is of some interest to the women of this country? Should not the whole question of appointments to Departmental committees of all kinds, and this one in particular, be looked at by the Select Committee on the Anti-Discrimination Bill?


My Lords, I am not quite certain about the answer to the second part of that supplementary question, but I would remind the noble Lord that members have been appointed to this panel for their broad and relevant experience and for having the necessary qualities for the job, the job being to assess the available evidence about the implications of population growth in this country, and I suggest that sex should not necessarily be a major criterion in that respect.


My Lords, would my noble friend give the names of the members of the panel?


Yes, my Lords. The names of the members are Mr. C. R. Ross, who is chairman of the panel and who is deputy to Lord Rothschild on the Central Policy Review Staff; Mr. Michael Abercrombie, Director of the Strangeways Research Laboratory at Cambridge; Mr. Grebenik, Head of the Civil Service College; Mr. Richardson, a Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford and University Reader in Economics; Mr. Brown, Chief Statistician at the Department of the Environment; Mr. A. J. Collier, Under-Secretary at the Department of Health and Social Security; and Miss J. H. Thompson, Chief Statistician Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware—he must be because he told me he had read my book—that the responsibility for initiating the birth control movement in this country rested with women, who were responsible not to the tune of 1 in 6 but, I think, in the proportion of 99 in 100? Is he also aware that for many years birth control clinics, which did the work and were in touch with the needs and responsibilities of the population, were staffed almost entirely by women doctors, nurses and lay workers and that many, if not most, of them are still so staffed?


My Lords, I read selected portions of the noble Baroness's book but I am not certain that my eye lit on that particular passage. I suggest that the wise course would be for noble Lords to await the report of the panel, which is due towards the end of this year, and then if they are not satisfied that the study has been as thorough as I think it will be, we can revert to this matter.


My Lords, how can the Government be so obtuse as to set up this panel on population with the usual statutory woman? Is the noble Earl aware that statistics have little to do with sexual intercourse? Is he aware that it is the woman who plays the most important role in the productive process? Who is it who is so blind, so stupid and so lacking in understanding as to produce this kind of panel to examine population problems?


My Lords, I think I was aware of most of the facts which the noble Baroness has made clear—


My Lords, we are serious about this matter. I am sorry that the noble Earl is so jocular about the subject. If he was aware of these facts, why was the statutory woman appointed to this body?


My Lords, I was giving the noble Baroness, who I appreciate asked a serious question, a serious answer and I appreciate that this is a serious matter. I was simply saying that she is wrong to assume that there is a statutory woman on this panel. Miss Thompson, who is an eminent statistician, is there because she is an eminent statistician.


My Lords, why cannot the Government put a proportion of at least 50 per cent. of women on panels of this kind on such relevant subjects? Why can they not do more than pay lip service to the principle of equality?


My Lords, may I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he is aware that we all agree with him that a panel like this should not be decided on grounds of sex? May I further ask him as a fair-minded man, which we all think he is, how he can possibly equate that answer with the present proportions of the panel?


My Lords, I think that this is a question of particular qualifications, and not one of discrimination at all. The sensible thing is to await the report of the panel. I again suggest this to noble Lords. I notice that there is strong feeling on at least one side of the House on this matter and I have taken due note of that.


My Lords, is the noble Earl satisfied with the representation of biologists on this panel?


My Lords, may I ask this final question? Was it not originally the intention to have a larger panel than seven members? Are the Government still open to persuasion that the panel should be increased in size; and if I were to submit to him a list of names of women with broad and relevant experience, would he undertake to look at it?


My Lords, I would of course be glad to give that undertaking; but with a panel of this sort there is much to be said for keeping it fairly restricted and limited in membership. I am not myself—and I confess this freely to the noble Lord—necessarily a believer in large committees; I believe that work is often done much better in a smaller committee. But I will gladly take note of the noble Lord's suggestion and certainly I confirm the undertaking that I have just given.


My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I have not a list of women available with me, but I am wondering whether the Government would slightly enlarge the size of this panel so that there would be at least one married woman on it.


My Lords, I have said that we are quite prepared to look at the question of the size of the panel. My own present instinct would be, quite frankly—it is not for me to appoint this panel—against advising that it should be enlarged at this stage of its work. I do, however, have a certain predilection in favour of small and reasonably restricted numbers.


My Lords, can the noble Earl tell me what the panel is expected to do? If mathematics and statistics and forecasting the future of the population are the function of the panel, then I would be able to follow these questions intelligently.


My Lords, perhaps we should be considering closing this discussion; but it might just be useful to the House to know the terms of reference of the panel. They read as follows: To assess the available evidence about the significance of population growth for both public affairs and private life in this country at present and in prospect: to make recommendations about further work required, and how it should be conducted: and to report within one year. It was set up, I think last autumn, but I speak subject to correction.

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