HL Deb 14 March 1972 vol 329 cc334-421

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships will be aware that my status in relation to this Bill is that of foster-parent. This, with slight alterations of an insignificant nature, is in fact the Bill which was introduced in another place by Mr. William Hamilton on January 28, with support from Members of all Parties, but talked out on that occasion in what seemed to many of us a cavalier fashion. It occurred to me then that it would be possible in the more liberal atmosphere of your Lordships' House that this Bill would receive more favourable treatment than it received in another place. So I asked permission of Mr. Hamilton to introduce a similar Bill here, and I am grateful to him for allowing me to do so. This Bill, as your Lordships will be aware, deals with only a limited, though very important, aspect of the problem of discrimination in relation to men and women. It deals with questions of employment and of training and education. It might have been better had its extension been wider, but the importance of these particular aspects, in my view, warrants the Bill that is now before your Lordships' House.

I should like first to draw your Lordships' attention—and this I believe to be of the greatest importance in this question—to the economic loss to the nation of the present archaic and wasteful use of womanpower in the labour force of this country. The basic fact about the employment of women is that there are in reality two labour markets: one for men and one for women, with a very small overlap area between them. For a long time we have lived with customary men's jobs and customary women's jobs; and it is well known that the customary women's jobs, with few exceptions, are to be found at the bottom of the pile. I may be out a point or two, but of the 9 million women in employment in this country, approximately 75 per cent. are employed on jobs which take less than six months to learn; are employed in fact on semi-skilled and unskilled work. The arithmetic of that statement proves that we are using women of considerable capacity in jobs which require very little of the abilities that they have to offer.

It is the purpose of this Bill that gradually the two labour markets should be integrated and that, when a job has to be filled, instead of thinking in terms of women's jobs and men's jobs, we should ask ourselves what person, be it male or female, has the qualities and qualifications most suited to fill the post; and that that person, irrespective of sex, should then be appointed for the work to be done. I believe that this would not only be fairer but make a great deal better use of the resources of manpower and womanpower on which the economic development of this country so largely depends. I believe that the basic question that we want to see asked is the question which, when I examined these matters in Scandinavia, I found was being asked in, for example, the steelworks at Västeros and engineering works in Sweden. The question was: What job in this organisation cannot be done by a woman solely because of her sex? Of course, it is a very different question to say: In what jobs should we normally not employ a woman? Or: In what jobs would most women normally not wish to be employed? But the eliminator they were applying was the eliminator purely of the fact of sex, other things being equal. Very often, I admit, they are not equal—in training, domestic circumstances, willingness to undertake a job. But, other things being equal, the question asked was: What are the jobs in which we cannot employ women solely because they are women? In the case of Asea, the steelworks at Väisteros, when one job after another was examined systematically it was found that although (your Lordships will, I am sure, agree) a steelworks is likely to be a customary preserve of male employment, there was only a job in the foundry in which it was unsuitable, for physical reasons, to employ a woman. This did not mean that they hastily put women into all men's jobs. On the contrary, they slowly and systematically selected appropriate women and trained them for jobs which had been in the customary men's sector—and found that the results were very satisfactory. It is this approach to this question which I wish to put before your Lordships this afternoon.

Let us look at what the effect of dividing jobs into men's jobs and women's jobs is at the present time in this country. In 1968 in industry there were in the jobs that ranked as management jobs just under 400,000 men employed, but only 3,000 women. Perhaps more serious from the economic point of view, in jobs graded as scientific and technological—and, after all, these are jobs on which the development and growth of industry so largely depend—there were 92,000 men, approximately, and under 3,000 women. Yet in our universities we have many women going through the science faculties who are capable of undertaking tasks in industry classified as scientific and technological.

Let us take the task of draughtsmen. In this country at the present time 1 per cent. of the draughtsmen are women. In Sweden the figure is over 50 per cent. There are, of course, plenty of tracers: tracers are the ladies-in-waiting of the draughtsmen, not the people who do the central job. Throughout the post-war period we have been short of draughtsmen; development in industry has been held up again and again in parts of this country through lack of draughtsmen. The price of draughtsmen has gone up accordingly. If we had been able to allow women to move slowly—and it would have been slowly—into this task as they have done in Sweden, then the economic advantage of so doing would have been very considerable indeed.

It is not only the situation as it is to-day that is so wasteful. If we leave things as they are the situation will get worse. Opportunities for women will decline and, from an economic point of view, we shall make even worse use of our labour force than we do to-day. Why do I say that? In the first place, an increasing number—and this is happening in all countries, not only here—of women in their late thirties and early forties are moving into the labour force. To-day, as is well known, women are having smaller families and having them earlier in their married life. By the time a women is 30, on average she has had her last child. Indeed, some people put the date a year earlier, but it is not always easy to know when the last is the last. This means that at 35 a woman's youngest child is going into school and she is returning into the labour market with 20 or 25 years of work ahead of her. These women are the basic source of supply of woman power; we shall be able to tap their resources for a long period of time. The old argument that there is not much point in training a woman for more skilled work falls to the ground when women's employment is seen to be a two-phased affair, with a relatively short interruption in the middle while she is bringing up her family at home. This is the pattern of women's lives which is emerging in country after country. So more women will be looking for jobs.

But the numbers of customary women's jobs, the jobs in the women's labour market, are going to contract. That is the forecast of the Applied Economics Research Department at Cambridge in its long-term manpower forecast. It sees a contraction in clerical jobs and in manual jobs where women are overwhelmingly employed. No less than 40 per cent. of all women school-leavers go into clerical work, but these jobs will decline in the future because it is the jobs where women are overwhelmingly employed which are most likely to be affected by automation. This is already happening in Western Germany. There, in the mid-1960s we saw an actual con- traction in manual jobs and an extension in white-collar jobs, but the contraction in manual jobs was proportionately greater for women than for men while the expansion in white-collar jobs was proportionately greater for men than for women.

Left to itself, the position of women and the utilisation of women will get even less good than it is at the present time. Nor is that all. We passed an Equal Pay Act in 1970 which I greatly support, but at the time that the Bill was going through Parliament many of us urged that an Equal Pay Act without an anti-discrimination clause would make the position of women worse and not better. I have good support for this argument from no less a person than Mr. Robert Carr, who at that time was Shadow Minister of Employment and who now of course is the Secretary of State for Employment. Speaking in that debate Mr. Carr said: … there is the silence of the Bill "— the Equal Pay Billon the vital question of equality of opportunity for employment. The Bill is intended to prevent discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment between men and women, but it leaves untouched some most important aspects of discrimination. For example, it does not apply to freedom of opportunity to apply for or to enter any form of employment, or to he admitted to training courses. Experience abroad, notably in the United States, where equal pay has been statutorily required for some time, suggests that, as a result, the number of opportunities for women in higher grade jobs may have been reduced. Enforcement, without some attempt to ensure equality of opportunity, could therefore be a doubtful advantage. Similarly, there is no reference in the Bill to discrimination by professional bodies or by trade unions as regards membership or equal treatment of men and women members. Such discrimination can he a bar to employment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 9/2/70 col. 936.] If Mr. Carr thought that in 1970, I cannot believe that the Present Government disagree now, and I cannot believe that the present Government will continue to deny the need for an anti-discrimination clause to complete the job started but so disastrously left unfinished, when the Equal Pay Act was passed.

Those are the major economic reasons why we need this Bill to-day. Let us now look at some of the objections that have been raised to the Bill. Some people have said to me, "But is it really true that there is discrimination?". My Lords, let us look at one or two examples which, unless you are infinitely credulous, you must recognise as being examples of discrimination. A little while ago we saw an important re-organisation of the social services following the Seebohm Report. Work in the social services is not even in the customary men's labour market. We all know that it was women who built up the social services in this country, and in the institution in which I am employed we have seen many very able young women pass through to man the social services. But, when it came to making appointments of directors for social services, what happened? By May 1 last year there had been appointed 147 male directors of social services and 14 women. It is not true that women did not apply for those jobs. We could all name many women who did. I absolutely refuse to believe that there was no discrimination when those appointments were made. Again, let me look at the appointments to boards of nationalised industries and public authorities generally. The last White Paper showed that those public appointments numbered 422 men and 5 women. My Lords, could this conceivably be the result of anything other than discrimination?

Nor is discrimination solely on the management side of industry. Let us look at the situation inside the trade unions, for women have long learned that they cannot rely on the trade union movement to defend the under-dog when the under-dog happens to be a woman. The General Council of the Trades Union Congress has two women out of a total membership of 39. The Transport and General Workers' Union, of whose membership 13.6 per cent. are women, has among its 600 officials only one woman. The A.E.U.W., with 11.1 per cent. women members, has 200 officials, of whom only one is a woman. The General and Municipal Workers' Union, scoring a slightly better record, with women forming 25.8 per cent. of its membership and 162 officials, can proudly boast four women officials. If not to your Lordships' House, to whom are women to look if discrimination is to be rooted out?

Then there are individual cases. There was the case of the young woman trying to become a technical operator in the B.B.C. She was told, when they did not know her sex, that her qualifications were entirely acceptable. She has now been told that physically she is not up to the job, although I understand that her doctor does not agree and she herself is fully satisfied that she is capable physically of performing the work required. Again, in the Press a few weeks ago a woman was writing to say that she had written to the British Council to apply for a post in their overseas service. Perhaps foolishly, she put "Mrs." after her name when her application went in. She received a letter back saying that married women were not considered for that post. She added in her letter that she has a husband who is a free-lance writer and who is perfectly prepared to go wherever she wants to go. This case illustrates particularly well the position against which we are protesting, in which generalisations are made about women as a whole, as a class, just as generalisations are sometimes made about immigrants as a class, irrespective of the merits or demerits of the particular woman applying for that particular job; and yet it is this, surely, which ought to determine whether the woman is appointed or not.

As I have said, this Bill deals not only with employment but with opportunities for training. When we come to look at apprenticeship figures, we find in 1969 that of school-leavers getting apprenticeships, among boys the proportion was 42 per cent. and among girls 7.1 per cent. And perhaps even more serious—for, with all respect, some of us to-day have some reservations about apprenticeship—in regard to day release for further education the figures are: boys, 39.7 per cent.; girls, 10.4 per cent. To those who ask, "Is there discrimination?" is it necessary to pursue any further examples to establish the point?

There are many people who will say, "Yes, we agree that there is discrimination; yes, we agree that the present situation is wasteful, but we do not believe that legislation is the way to deal with it." It is said that the root of the trouble is a matter of attitudes and that one cannot deal with attitudes by legislation. I entirely agree that attitudes, and often subconscious attitudes, which are the most difficult to deal with, are indeed at the base of this discrimination. When, some years ago, I was involved in a study of eight companies in which we were looking at the position of women in positions of responsibility, and we had great difficulty in finding enough women to make the study statistically valid, we found that the attitudes of managers to women were a block to advancement, and these attitudes undoubtedly had pretty profound psychological roots. We asked, for instance, what jobs, in the view of those managers, women could not do because they were women; and in no single case of a job mentioned were we unable to find an example in one of the other companies of a woman who was performing that job. The reasons given by the managers why women could not be employed included: "Women are emotional and cannot cope with crises"; "men never lose their tempers, never throw things about". One seemingly rather fortunate man said, "Women cannot speak forcibly and openly." Some said, "Women are not respected abroad." One even said, "Women cannot stay alone in hotels."

My Lords, those were the rationalisations of men in quite high positions in industry whose attitude towards women they had the greatest difficulty in masking. This attitude runs deep and wide far beyond the frontiers of this country. It is best summed up in an incident which took place two or three months ago in a distant country, once a protectorate of this country, in which there was a celebration going on. The British High Commissioner was being entertained by the African Administrator; at the end of the party the African raised his glass to give the Loyal Toast, and he said "To Her Majesty, the King". You see, my Lords, there is such a deep-seated, belief that if there is a superb job being superbly done, it surely must, in the last analysis, be done by a man.

It is indeed attitude that is at the basis of the whole problem. But I do not accept—and this is where I part company, and I suspect the first place at which I part company, with the noble Baroness who is to move the Amendment this afternoon—that legislation can do nothing to change attitudes. Legislation can alter behaviour, and the experience of changed behaviour can in itself change attitudes. I do not for one moment suggest that if we pass a Bill of this kind it will be possible by its application to detect and check all acts of discrimination. Of course that is not so. But what would happen if the Bill were to become an Act? The large companies, the large employers in this country, who do not break the law, once it is the law of the land, would say, "What is our policy in this respect? What must we do to see that at least we keep the right side of the law?" And they would review those policies and give instructions down the line that discrimination must cease. I do not say that it would automatically cease, but I do say that there would be a very powerful beginning of change. They will not do this unless there is legislation; but if there is, they undoubtedly will.

Again, I accept that the Bill which is before your Lordships' House to-day is not perhaps a perfect Bill. I believe that it lacks a clause allowing the proposed Board to make regulations to deal with exceptional circumstances, or circumstances of which commonsense requires that exception should be made. Such a clause could be added in Committee. Then the problem of the religious organisations is not dealt with in this Bill; that matter requires special examination. Then there is the problem of the more intimate and personal kind of appointments in which, as in the Race Relations Act, it is accepted that exceptions may have to be made. I believe that the Board should be given this sort of power, and that if it were that would meet some of the more obvious objections that have been raised by some people in discussing the Bill now before the House.

A further objection made by some people is that women do not in fact want these opportunities. This is largely an irrelevant objection. If they do not want them they will not apply for the jobs in question. However, I believe that they do not want them largely because of cultural conditioning. The Swedes, in their systematic way, have been going through the textbooks in their schools and, as they remark, "When we find a textbook which shows mother doing the washing-up while dad sits and reads a newspaper, then we ban that textbook". As a teacher, I remarked, when this was said to me, "Over my dead body will any bureaucrat tell me what textbooks I use". But while one may not like the method, there is a great deal in the point that they are making. If this change is ultimately to come about, as come about it must, then undoubtedly it is a change very early in life that needs to be made.

It is said also that it is wasteful to allow women the expensive training which many of them, once they are married, do not fully use. I am sure that this point will be made in the debate this afternoon. But before any of your Lordships jump to the conclusion that this is a good reason for denying training to women (almost all of whom to-day will marry because of the excess of males over females, if for no other reason), let me remind you that until recently the tax disincentive has been so great that it is no small wonder that many women who have had expensive training have not in fact pursued their careers vigorously after marriage. The late Professor Joan Woodward, who was a close friend of mine and who was married to a senior executive, told me that she was taking home less than four shillings in the pound of what she earned. Women say that they want the opportunity to give all it is in them to give; but they do not wish to be taken quite as literally as that. However, it is much to the credit of the Government that they have now altered the situation. Before anyone is entitled to say that highly trained women do not use their training, we have to wait and see what the alteration in tax which this Government have given us will do to the willingness of women with high qualifications to continue at work. I have not the slightest doubt that the change will be quite dramatic.

Those are some of the major objections which have been advanced to the Bill. In presenting it to your Lordships I have stressed the economic arguments rather than the arguments of justice. Some people will say that I have not said enough about fair play and justice for women. Justice is a profound and immensely important concept, and I would not wish to bandy it about lightly; but the fact remains that there is great unfairness in the lack of opportunities open to many women. I suppose all the women in your Lordships' House who have had these opportunities could not, in decency, fail to wish that other women who have had less chances should have greater possi- bilities open to them. We know, as many of them do not, and as perhaps many of your Lordships do not realise, just what it has meant to have opportunities for education, opportunities to take part in jobs which have opened up channels, information and experience, which have shown us the world, and have shown us ourselves in a way that nothing else could have done. This has been a tremendous privilege for us, and we wish it to be far more widely spread than it is at present. I do not say that this small Bill before the House makes a great contribution to the cause of justice, but I do say that it has its part, albeit a small part, in the long human trek from bondage to freedom. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Seear.)

4.26 p.m.

BARONESS SHARP rose to move, as an Amendment, to leave out all the words after "That" and insert: "this House, while recognising the need to secure fair opportunities at work for women, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, by seeking to deal with a complex set of problems through generalised legal provisions would be quite uncertain in its application and would be unlikely to contribute towards any significant improvement in the opportunities for women at work". The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this Amendment I want to start by making clear that I have considerable sympathy with the Bill's supporters. I accept much of what the noble Baroness has said. Of course there is a great deal of wholly unwarranted discrimination against women in many employments, both in the industrial and in the professional fields; discrimination in recruitment, and subsequently in training and promotion.

The noble Baroness said that customarily women's jobs are at the bottom of the pile, and that most women are used on unskilled work. It is true. Women are still often regarded in the employment field—despite all the progress that has undoubtedly been made, to which I think not enough tribute has been paid—as second-class citizens. Although I do not happen to have suffered from it (I was fortunate because I was in the Civil Service where, by and large, women have been given a fair deal and are now to be given a still fairer one), nevertheless I resent as bitterly as anyone this assumption of male superiority for all the best jobs.

It is foolish not to recognise that, in general, men and women have different aptitudes. But I believe—here again I agree with the noble Baroness—that there are few jobs, other than those demanding exceptional physical strength, which a woman cannot do as well as a man if she is given the chance, and if she sets her mind to it. It is not for that reason that I think we should not give a Second Reading to the Bill. I simply do not believe that it is practicable to make discrimination illegal, as the Bill seeks to do. I do not think that you can deal with this very complex matter by law—at any rate, not without landing yourself in a sea of troubles. This is a very different matter from discrimination on grounds of race or colour—though I believe that that legislation has had its difficulties. By and large, I believe that discrimination on grounds of race or colour is very seldom warranted, if indeed it ever is: almost always it stems from prejudice. I do not think this is true of discrimination on grounds of sex. It may stem from prejudice—it often does; but it may not.

To my mind, the trouble is that there can often be legitimate reasons—often over a much wider field than the noble Baroness allowed—why an employer should prefer either men or women for particular types of employment, even though they are equally qualified. One of the more obvious reasons why an employer may prefer to employ men on some occupations and in some circumstances rather than women, is that young women do not offer the same promise of permanence as young men. Fewer of them will stay the course. Whatever development—


Then why cannot they employ an old woman if they think that a young woman is going to leave?


My Lords, I shall come on to that. It must be recognised that here we are dealing with an enormous variety of kinds of employment, of kinds of employers and of sizes of organisations. The variety is infinite and one cannot prescribe that one will employ this or that kind of person, no matter what the work is. The fact is—and we have to recognise it as a fact, and indeed women do recognise it as a fact—that whatever development we see in nursery schools and in help for women, and even if a private employer is prepared to grant leave for maternity and for crises with children, which is a good deal to ask of the private employer if there is no advantage to him in employing women, most women will decide to leave their employment, perhaps for a time, perhaps indefinitely, when they start a family. For an employer who wants as stable a labour force as he can get—he does not always want it, but very often he may really need a stable labour force—this is a real disadvantage. The hard fact is that women have disabilities as employees. They often have advantages, too, but we cannot ignore this fact of the disabilities.

When I was in the Civil Service I had a good deal of experience of some of the very bright young recruits coming in from schools and universities, to whom in the first few years of their employment I gave training, and time and again the women left just as they became really valuable. Although I believe that the public service has to put up with that—it is essential that there should be women at all grades and at all levels throughout the public service—I think it is a lot to ask of the private employer. It can be very difficult for the Civil Service, which is a very big organisation and can usually close the gaps, but for the small employer it can be a very difficult problem.

Under the terms of the Bill, is the employer to be required to employ women even though his judgment is that it is not in the best interests of his firm to do so? Must he do so whatever the nature of his employment—provided of course that women can offer the essential qualifications—whatever the inconvenience, whatever the cost? Would he commit an offence under the Bill if, genuinely believing that it was not in the interests of his firm, he did not do so? Of course he might be moved only by prejudice, but he might not. What view would the Anti-Discrimination Board or the courts take? I am not very clear myself—at least, I was not when I read the Bill—whether the Bill as drafted would allow the Board or the courts to find that discrimination could ever be justified. But if it can never be justified that really must be absurd. The noble Baroness said that the Bill might be amended to allow very exceptional cases to be considered by the Board, but I think it was her idea that they would be very few and exceptional. I do not think that makes sense. If you look right across the field of employment, there must be many cases where it is legitimate for an employer to take the view that he wants men or a man for certain jobs or job, or sometimes women or a woman for certain jobs or a job.

A few days ago—I know this is a trivial case but it is the sort of case which one will hear—a very small employer said to me that he was just about to advertise for a male director for his firm. Of course I asked. "Why a male?". He said, "Because at the moment I happen to have more women directors than men, and I think that the nature of my business is best served by an equal number". Your Lordships will say that that is very exceptional, but my point is that there are many exceptions in the field of employment when it is legitimate for the employer to prefer either men or a man, or women or a woman.

As I said in the Amendment, my main objection to the Bill is that the law will be uncertain. Nobody will know until it is tried whether or not in a particular field discrimination would be regarded as justifiable. As I have just said, I was not sure what was the intention of the Bill, but it seems to me that if it is to proceed there will have to be some provision to ensure that discrimination is illegal only where there is no good and reasonable cause. But as soon as one gets to that point, one is in even greater uncertainty. The employer simply will not know where he is, and I am not sure that the Anti-Discrimination Board will know where they are, either. Law which is uncertain is thoroughly bad law and, unless we are going to say that there can never, or practically never, be a good reason why an employer should prefer a man to a woman or a woman to a man for a particular job, any Bill on this subject will be uncertain in its application. Mr. Hamilton, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, recognised that it would be difficult to enforce. He said that although there would be provision for the Board to have recourse to the courts, that would be a last resort. The main purpose of the Bill was educational and to achieve results by persuasion. I think that is the right way to achieve them, but I do not think this Bill can be said to be simply a measure of persuasion. It is not persuasion; it is force.

Let me deal with promotion. The opportunity for promotion is perhaps where women suffer most, and the Bill would make it an offence not to give a woman the same opportunity for promotion as a man. That sounds fine, but how is it going to work? A general rule that women were not eligible for higher responsibilities, even though equally qualified with men, would be ruled out of court. But I do not suppose—perhaps I am wrong—that that, and only that, will be enough to satisfy the people who very reasonably feel that women are often discriminated against in promotion. They will be satisfied only by the results; that a reasonable proportion of women is being promoted; that relative to the men there are as many women getting into the higher jobs. It really is impossible to remit to an outside Board, even more impossible to remit to the courts, the question: Are the promotion results in this firm, in this organisation, showing discrimination against women?

The employer could go along and say, "I just do not think that the women who came up for promotion were as good as the men." That may be prejudice or it may not. But I do not think that the Board, or the courts, or any outside body can possibly take a view on the internal running of any firm or organisation, about who ought to be promoted to the senior positions of responsibility and who ought not. So, though I know it is a hard thing to say, I do not myself think that there is any way by which women can secure fairer treatment at work—and I want to see them secure that fairer treatment—except the hard way, by continuing individually and through their organisations to batter on the doors; to demonstrate that they can give as good value as men, can do the most demanding jobs—as they can—as the men; to demonstrate, too, as I believe, that a mixed labour force will often give better results than a single sex one.

I do not think we should underestimate what has been achieved by this steady persistence. I find it very hard to believe, as was said in another place, and as I think the noble Baroness said, that matters are getting worse, or will soon get worse. I should have thought that over the last fifty years we had seen a really startling progress in the acceptance of women for a whole variety of jobs, and I do not understand—apart, of course, from the present difficulties of the disastrous unemployment figures—why it is thought that women are falling back. I should have thought that the more women you get into these various jobs, into these industries, into these professions, showing what they can do and showing their way, the more it will go on.

When I came into the Civil Service I was one of the first women to do so, and obviously there was prejudice, there was dislike. It took time, it took many more women, and it took women doing all sorts of things and slowly spreading themselves around, for the prejudice to melt away, as I think in time, in a few years, it did melt away. I do not think it ever melts away completely: anybody is prejudiced against anybody who does better than they do, whether it be a man or a woman. But I would have supposed that this experience was not unique to the Civil Service, and that in other occupations one would find the same thing happening: that, as it is realised how women can do just as good a job as men, and without creating any sort of difficulties in the organisation, the prejudice would begin to melt. I am astonished when I am told that among the university professions and the medical consultants the attitude is hardening, and I wonder what the evidence for that is.

But certainly there are some occupations, some professions, where women have as yet made little headway, and where, as I believe, the reason is prejudice. Always there will be prejudice until you get enough women in to show what they can do. I believe that there are very few women bankers, accountants and surveyors; and there are quite certainly too few women architects. There are far too few women also in the local government service. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, referred to the situation concerning the recently appointed directors of social service. I think this is a real weakness throughout the local government service: not merely in the social service departments, but right through all the departments. I do not really understand this, because local government is distinguished by the quality of its women councillors and undistinguished by the absence of its women officers. I really do not know why the first cannot do something about the second. I do not know how hard women have tried to break into these professions, for all of which, in my view, they can be perfectly well suited. I know it is hard going for the pioneers, but I believe you can break down prejudice only by persuasion and demonstration, and not by the use of a sledge hammer, although I confess I think it is often very tempting to try the sledge hammer.

Then, equal pay. Of course I recognise that the provision for equal pay has made the task harder; but there it is, we have got it. Women will have that much more difficulty in persuading the employer that it is worth employing them despite the undoubted inconvenience it may mean. At any rate, the terms are now equal. Women have to demonstrate that, despite their disabilities, they can give value for money, as very often they can. But I cannot persuade myself that, having got the right to equal pay, it is right that they should now ask that the law should see to it that they get the jobs, too. I think we have to see to it for ourselves.

I think that perhaps there are still some things that the Government could do. It was said in another place that a part of the trouble is a real inequality in the opportunities that girls, and later undergraduates, have in education. The Government must exercise a good deal of influence over the education service, and I hope that we shall hear from the noble Lord who is to speak from the Government Front Bench that in this matter the Government will exercise whatever pressure is necessary or give whatever directions are necessary. In my experience this Government do not hesitate to give directions to local government, and here would be a good sphere in which to do it. If it is true that the opportunities in education are unequal, they should really bring pressure to bear on local education authorities to see that they are better. Indeed, while they are about it I think they might see whether they cannot use their influence with local authorities over the whole business of the employment of women in the local government service.

Then it was said that there are not enough women on the nationalised Boards. This is true. As one who spent an incredible number of hours in my official career trying to find women to serve on nationalised Boards—because it was always supposed by my colleagues that, being a woman, I was sure to know women—I can say that it is extraordinarily difficult. I do not think we did it well enough; I do not think we tried hard enough. But, of course, the fact that there are rather few women on the nationalised Boards is a reflection of the whole "fewness" of women in the higher grades of employment. Now I do not think that need be. One could find women—and I think one possibly might have the help of the women's organisations in finding them—who would be very useful indeed on the nationalised Boards; and I think the Government could and should do better in this respect.

At the end of the day, I believe that the greatest need that women have in this whole employment field is for very much more help in coming back to work when they have had their children. I think that this is perhaps the main frustration, the main waste of talent and skill. For a woman in her thirties, anxious to get back—and, as the noble Baroness said, free of her most demanding family responsibilities—it is very difficult. In that otherwise admirable Report by the Civil Service Department on the employment of women in the Civil Service, I thought that the chapter on reinstatement was, on the whole, the most disappointing. Provision is made for women coming back but you could not say that it was enthusiastic; and as soon as it comes to their returning to the grades which are the promotion grades for others, then of course it becomes distinctly cool—and one can understand why: because the staff representatives are very uneasy about it. But I think that a major effort ought to be made by the Government, wherever they can and wherever they have influence, to help women, positively to encourage them, to come back to work after they have had their children.

I should have thought that this was particularly important in the teaching profession. It is true that a woman can get back—not, I think, without difficulty—into teaching at the age of 30; but I think I am right in saying that she will start, pay and all that, where she left off at 23 or 24, no matter what she has done meanwhile and no matter what her additional experience or her additional value may be. I think this is really quite wrong. I have to confess that this part of what I am talking about goes beyond the particular limits of the Bill, although I think it is a matter of enormous importance in the whole complex of the employment of women. My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Leave out all words after ("That") and insert: ("this House, while recognising the need to secure fair opportunities at work for women, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill, which, by seeking to deal with a complex set of problems through generalised legal provisions, would be quite uncertain in its application and would be unlikely to contribute towards any significant improvement in the opportunities for women at work").—(Baroness Sharp.)

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I listened with close attention and a good deal of sympathy to what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, had to say in her very persuasive speech in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. While I must say that I share many of the doubts expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about the appropriateness of the method adopted in the Bill to try to eliminate discrimination against women, there is little between us, I believe, as regards its underlying aims. Discrimination, like all forms of prejudice, is abhorrent if it prevents people from fulfilling themselves to the greatest possible extent within the limits of their own personality. In the field of employment it is, apart from anything else, shortsighted since any economy will benefit from tapping all available reserves of latent skill and ability. If discrimination exists, whether in employment or elsewhere, whether on grounds of colour, religion, sex or any other distinguishing factor, it needs to be identified. That is why debates of this sort, and public discussion generally, are so valuable. If discrimination exists it needs either to be justified or to be eradicated.

This, my Lords, is what I judge to be the background to to-day's debate. The Bill itself is perhaps less important in what it says than in what it stands for. It is, moreover, a Private Member's Bill in this House, as it was in another place, which will be supported or opposed by individual Members of your Lordships' House on the basis of the arguments advanced by the mover of the Bill and by the mover of the reasoned Amendment. With this in mind I should like to address myself to two questions only. They are both large ones, but I shall try to discuss them as shortly as possible. The first is this: are women discriminated against in employment in ways that are no longer acceptable in the context of present-day society? And the second is: if this is so, what can the Government do to improve the position, both as regards employment generally and in the sector which they themselves control—that is, the Civil Service?

If we examine the labour market as a whole to try to find some answers to these questions, one of the first things that stands out, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, reminded us, is that there are certain jobs that are traditionally done by men and certain jobs that are traditionally done by women. Sometimes there may be good reasons for this, related to physical capacity or other qualification. Women would not be expected—nor, presumably, would they themselves expect—to compete with men for some jobs in basic industry (for example, in coal, steel, heavy engineering) although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, told us on the basis of her experience in Sweden, by no means all jobs even in these sectors should be automatically regarded as unsuitable for women. There is also a tendency to accept that women have a greater manual dexterity than men which has marked out fine electrical assembly work, for example, as a female occupation. But over a wide range of occupations, and an increasing one as mechanisation takes the physical drudgery out of various tasks, the work could be done as easily by women as by men. Since the Bill would apply to men as well as to women, it might not be out of place to say that the obverse ought to be equally true: that there is also a range of jobs which could be performed as well by men as by women.

Before making up our minds on how best to set about putting right those aspects of women's employment which cause concern, we need to understand why they have developed in the way they have. It is not necessary to call in professional researchers to know that not merely the examination of human behaviour, whether rational or otherwise, but the underlying reasons for it are essential factors in determining the appropriate means by which that behaviour might be changed. As we might expect, many of the influences which have determined the present pattern of employment are historical. The transition from a rural, agricultural society to an urban, industrial society pushed women into jobs based to some degree on experiences obtained in the home; for instance, food processing, textile and clothing manufacture, and catering. Later, market forces took advantage of—I do not use the word "exploited" which has both a technical and an emotive meaning—the skills and interests of women to give them a preponderance in such fields as retail distribution, nursing and social work.

Equally important, however, in determining work patterns are the attitudes of society, including those of women themselves. I readily accept that these have in part been shaped by circumstances—not always directly connected with employment—which are no longer relevant in the last quarter of the twentieth century, including the weak position of women under the law. This is not the right occasion to go in any detail into the measures which the Government are taking to clear away the dead wood of various branches of the law which relate to the status of women. When the Conservative Party were in Opposition, the Conservative Political Centre published the Report of a Committee under the Chairmanship of Mr. Anthony Cripps, Q.C., entitled, Fair Share for the Fair Sex, and substantial progress has been made since 1969 in implementing its recommendations. Indeed, I understand that over half the 34 recommendations either have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. But there are inevitably some residual attitudes—


My Lords, we were told in December by the noble Earl the Leader of the House that one-third had been implemented. Can the noble Lord tell us what new ones have been implemented in the last two months; and can he at the same time tell us what further legislation, which we were promised, is in the pipeline?


My Lords, my noble friend was being very cautious, as he often is. I have a list of some five foolscap pages. I do not want to interrupt the flow of what I have to say, which is a considered speech on this subject, with a dialogue with the noble Lord opposite. Perhaps we could pursue this point later.


My Lords, I am suggesting that the noble Lord has a dialogue with his noble friend; and agree with him before he gives different figures.


My Lords, I should like to continue; I have a good deal to say and there is a long list of speakers to follow. I know that the House would like to reach a decision before too late an hour.

As I was saying, there are inevitably some residual attitudes which take longer to eradicate, especially when there are social pressures which combine to preserve them. These traditional and social pressures remain deeply engrained in the attitudes of many women towards the work they do. It is not surprising—although hardly likely to be palatable to the more militant advocates of women's rights—that in 1968 a national survey of women's employment carried out by what was then the Government Social Survey and is now the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys indicated that the great majority of women were satisfied with their jobs. It also showed that to married women (and I should perhaps remind your Lordships that nearly 60 per cent. of working women are married; and this is a significant statistic) promotion, the opportunity for using skills, and the availability of training were comparatively unimportant in considering the attractions of a job. This was an important finding of that Survey. Nevertheless, of women involved in the Survey, a fairly substantial minority, both of those at work and of those intending to return to work, were willing to undertake some form of training. But the interesting, if rather disheartening, rider was that in the great majority of cases they would have chosen training in, what? In office work; in teaching; in nursing; hairdressing; welfare and social work. In other words, in precisely the range of employment which is already generally associated with women.

At the risk of seeming tedious—and I hope that your Lordships will bear with me a few moments longer on this aspect—I should like to refer to one other finding of this Survey on women's employment; namely, the marked association of better jobs with higher education. This highlights the importance of the time when girls are still at school, not only in persuading them to reject the limitations imposed by traditional thinking about suitable jobs for women but also in explaining the advantages of continued education and helping them to choose subjects which will not result in debarring them from particular vocational training and education at a later stage. These, my Lords, are very big tasks, but they are ones which are acknowledged and are being undertaken. The encouragement given by the Department of Education and Science and the local education authorities—a responsibility touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in her speech—to young people to take maximum advantage of educational opportunities at school and in further education is, of course, given to all children irrespective of sex.

Considerable attention is paid in both girls' and also boys' schools to sound careers guidance. Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools are now conducting a national survey of careers education in schools and I am sure that, when the results of their investigation are available, they will be studied with great interest by all concerned and the lessons will be taken to heart. In its publications the Central Youth Employment Executive sets out in detail the careers open to boys and girls and the educational standards required, or normally expected, from candidates for particular careers.

As no doubt a number of noble Lords will know, the Youth Employment Service maintains a staff of specially qualified careers officers. They have an important role in the context of this debate. They can ensure that information about the full range of jobs is available in all schools. They can encourage girls to be open-minded about the suitability of jobs and to see work not merely as something to fill the years between school and home-making, but also as an activity to which they are likely to return later in life. They can help parents to a greater appreciation of other than traditional jobs, including technological jobs for their daughters. They can seek to influence employers towards a less restricted attitude to the employment of girls. There is no doubt that widespread efforts are being made in this direction but, of course, by their nature they are unlikely to yield quick results. At the same time, if we are to have a full and informed debate, it is important to recognise what influences are at work in society especially where, as in the examples I have given, they follow on conscious decisions of public bodies.

So far, my Lords, I have been arguing that it is social, historical and traditional pressures which underlie the present pattern of employment. But there is also prejudice. This is a difficult subject to define, as we know, and to discuss in rational terms; but nevertheless, most people know it when they see it. It may be found on the part of an employer, or in the actions of a trade union branch. Sometimes it is subconscious and sometimes it reflects a judgment about the attitudes of male employees; for example, that they would be unwilling to work with a woman, which may or may not be correct.

Sometimes it is the effect of an assumption, still widely held although discredited, particularly in this House, that women are intellectually less capable than men. Sometimes an employer may reject the possibility of appointing a woman to a responsible job, especially a married woman, because he has doubts about her ability to reconcile a demanding job with domestic or family responsibilities. The cost of initial training has already been mentioned in the debate as being a factor which sometimes causes an employer to decide that he will not got an adequate return on his investment if the woman leaves his employment to start a family; although quite apart from the arguments brought forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, this overlooks the increasing tendency of young men who train for executive posts to move from one firm to another in the early stages of their careers.

For these reasons, my Lords, we must, I think, conclude that the answer to my first question will all too often be in the affirmative. Although in some respects the position has improved, particularly as regards certain professions, there remain considerable areas of employment in which women are at a disadvantage compared with men. Almost wherever one looks there are, of course, exceptions: the women of unusual skill or ability, or women who, perhaps just through sheer persistence, have achieved a responsible job and, surprisingly often, managed to combine it with a full and rewarding private life. But creditable though this is, both to the women themselves and to the organisations in which they work, and important as it is in a country that still pays far too much regard to precedent, it does not invalidate the general picture.

If this is so, what can be done to improve the position? One answer is to legislate, and the Bill before your Lordships is an example of that approach. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, herself remarked in the debate in this House in December on the employment of women in the Civil Service, it is a mistake to rely too much on changes in the law or administrative practice. Her words on that occasion rang so true that they are worth repeating again today. What the noble Baroness said in that debate was: Because it is so much a matter of attitudes, because the questions of men and women at work and their relationships at work are a facet of the much wider and deeper problems of the relationship between men and women, it is only when there are changes in the hearts and minds of men that we shall really make great progress."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8/12/71; col. 819.] My Lords, changes in the hearts and minds of men, as in the hearts and minds of women, come about through changes in public opinion which are reflected in altered attitudes. Public opinion may be influenced by legislation, or in a sense it may be consolidated and drawn together in an Act of Parliament. In either case the fullest possible information is needed.

Noble Lords are aware of—indeed, it has already been referred to in this debate—the interest taken by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment in the need for wider opportunities for women at work. His comments, when in Opposition, during the passage of the Equal Pay Bill in 1970 were quoted to-day and also in the debate in December. I might add, my Lords, that his interest in this matter goes back a good deal earlier than that, and that he still adheres to the views that he expressed on that occasion. I have had the opportunity of discussing this whole question with my right honourable friend and he has asked me to state in the debate to-day that he has instructed his Department to make a detailed study of the problems encountered by women in securing equal treatment with their men colleagues in matters of employment and training.

This study will be concerned with determining the specific areas in which overt or concealed discrimination actually occurs. It will also be concerned with identifying those areas in which differences in treatment between men and women are natural and desirable. It is only on the basis of such detailed and specific analysis that it would be possible to identify the kind of action which is most likely to have a real impact on discriminatory practices. The study will take full account of the effects of the equal pay legislation. The Department of Employment will be in touch with the and the T.U.C. and other organisations concerned with these matters to secure their help in identifying the problems in practical terms. The Secretary of State for Employment in no way rules out the possibility that legislation may be required in respect of certain aspects of this problem, but he believes it is essential that whatever action is taken should be likely to lead to a real improvement in practice as regards the opportunities open to women in employment.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point—and it is an important statement that he has just made—can he give any indication how long his right honourable friend feels that this survey will take? Is it a matter of a few months or something much longer?


My Lords, I am afraid I am not in a position to add to what I have said. I will make inquiries from my right honourable friend to find out what sort of time-scale he has in mind, and I will communicate with the noble Lord.

I do not want to end without saying a few words about one other way in which the Government can influence both practice and opinion on this matter; that is, by the example set in relation to their own employees in the Civil Service. It is appropriate to do so having just heard from one of the most distinguished former members of the Civil Service in the debate this afternoon, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in a speech that we listened to with much interest. I will touch on this aspect only briefly, partly because I am afraid I have already spoken for some time, and also because the employment of women in the Civil Service and the Report on which the debate centred was discussed in your Lordships' House as recently as last December. Noble Lords who took part in the debate on that occasion will remember the excellent Report of the Departmental Committee. I will not rehearse now the philosophy contained in that Report, the main recommendations of which have already been accepted in principle by the Government. In the course of our previous debate my noble friend the Leader of the House said that he hoped that discussions with the National Staff Side would go ahead as quickly as possible so as to enable detailed advice and instructions on the implementation of those recommendations to be issued.

My Lords, I can now say that these instructions have been issued, and that Departments are being asked to put into practice the changes set out in the Report. These changes will provide for more flexible leave arrangements, so that anyone faced with normal domestic crises, or with special problems involved in the care of children or infirm or dependent relatives, will receive sympathetic treatment. Departments are asked to identify more jobs which can be done on a part-time basis by those who would prefer not to return to full-time work. The instructions provide for increases in maternity leave. They encourage Departments to make the maximum use of their authority to allow flexible working hours, provided the execution of the work is not affected. Finally, they offer help and guidance on retraining facilities for those who return after a long absence. All these provisions will also be extended to men where this is appropriate.

Good progress has also been made as regards the Report's recommendation that a nursery should be set up on an experimental basis to help women with young children either to return to work or to continue in employment, and I can now say that we intend to establish a nursery at the Inland Revenue office at Llanishen, near Cardiff. Details are being worked out with a view to setting up this nursery as soon as possible. Indeed, we have moved rather further than the Report recommended, and are already considering the location for a second nursery experiment.

My Lords, let me end with this thought. In the half-century since women first obtained the vote we have seen the gradual development of a new kind of consciousness. Most women still, of course, retain their age-old interest in the home and in their family. But there is an increasing awareness that their interests need not be confined within this framework, which can be constricting as well as satisfying. The task now is to encourage women to realise and achieve new aims, whether in paid employment or in voluntary organisations. I hope I have shown, in what I have had to say today, that the Government are alert to these changes; are sympathetic towards them; and intend to do all that we can to help.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, bearing in mind that this is a Private Member's Bill and that we are considering also an Amendment which has been placed before us, I will take as short a time as possible, because I think that on this occasion the vote is the important matter. We have listened to a powerful speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who introduced the Bill, and we have listened to the argument put forward for the reasoned Amendment. May I remind your Lordships of the words of the reasoned Amendment? It concludes: … by seeking to deal with a complex set of problems through generalised legal provisions would be quite uncertain in its application and would be unlikely to contribute towards any significant improvement in the opportunities for women at work. That is the reason given in the Amendment why we should reject the Bill. Surely the majority of Bills brought before Parliament deal with "a complex set of problems" in a greater or lesser degree. And "generalised legal provisions" are, of course, always uncertain in their application. Is this going to be seriously advanced as a reason for not attempting to legislate at all? Even if the Bill has some imperfections—and the noble Lord the Minister who has just spoken, has not in any way proved to me that the Bill is not essential at this time—the reasoned Amendment to me suggests no reason for voting for the Amendment and against the Bill.

The noble Baroness who introduced the Amendment did not contradict that there was discrimination. I can only say that the worst aspect of discrimination is that the person who discriminates rarely admits to the discrimination. Women are not often turned down because they are told they are women; there will always be some other reason for doing it. In fact, it might be found difficult to locate the area of discrimination. Men and women are conditioned to accept prejudicial attitudes, and they even argue in favour of them—as I strongly suspect we shall find during the debate to-day. Sometimes discrimination is ignored because men, and fortunate women like those of us who have the privilege of sitting in this House, prefer to ignore it—in what we might call in more up-to-date parlance, it is a case of "I'm all right, Jill."

Women make up a third of the labour force and we could all advance arguments on discrimination. I will give just one or two very simple ones. At Christmastime I visited a local post office and asked the postmaster at the end of my tour whether he had any postwomen. He said, "I would like to have postwomen but the union" (and he pointed to a gentleman who was present) "will not allow them because they cannot lift 55 lb. bags." I pointed out to him that in the first place there was no need to have letters in 55 lb. bags because you could have three bags of 20 lb. each and then anybody could lift them. But equally, is it not a fact that nurses are expected to lift, and do lift, 30 stone "bags"— both male and female—in the course of their work? I give this as an example of the nonsensical reasons which are advanced for the non-employment of women. We all know of the case of bus drivers. There was a desperate shortage of bus drivers in one area but the authorities were not allowed to employ a woman driver, not because she could not drive a bus but because she was a woman. This is the kind of nonsensical discrimination we are up against. When I was a Baroness-in-Waiting in the last Government, travelling in a Royal car to represent the Monarch, I went to some of the more curious of the male clubs in the heart of London. The Royal car had to be taken to the ladies' annex because I could not enter by the front door. Such a thing may not be covered by this Bill, but it is the kind of discrimination which goes on all the time.

I should like to mention one more point which amused me at the time it occurred. My son married three years ago and lived in a furnished flat in what is known as a "high risk area". He wanted to rent a television set and he asked me to be a guarantor for £70. I agreed, but then I had a telephone call to say that I could not be accepted as a guarantor for £70 because I was a woman—this, my Lords, at a stage when I was a member of the Government and one of Her Majesty's justices of the peace. Now if that is not discrimination, I should like to know what is!

I have just been reading one report submitted by the Business and Professional Women's Club. This is a group of very competent, able and responsible women. The report is headed "No Room at the Top". They said there: There is—apart from the present unemployment situation—normally no shortage of jobs for women. They are welcome as members of the labour force, just as long as they are content with unskilled, poorly-paid work and do not expect the normal opportunity for promotion which a man in a similar position would expect. The report goes on to explain that, contrary to the belief which appears to be circulating, the situation is not improving but is getting worse, even in such areas as the medical profession, which one would have thought by now had become educated. If there is no dis- crimination, my Lords, I would ask, why are women so poorly represented in the professions and in technical and managerial posts? We have heard to-day of several professions. Of architects, only 4 per cent. are women; and only 8 per cent. of barristers are women. Of chartered accountants, only 1 per cent. are women and—I have said this before—women are actually much better financial geniuses than any man. Any woman who has had to handle a budget as a housewife would, I suggest, be able to handle figures very competently. When one comes to engineers, chemical or electrical, and so on, only 0.07 per cent. are women. Then we find that 2 per cent. of solicitors are women. Even with teachers we have only just over 50 per cent. And only about 20 per cent. of medical practitioners are women.

I have worked with women all my life: I know that they want to take advantage of the opportunities offered. I know that they apply and are often refused without any reason being given. Discrimination and prejudice varies from one industrial firm to another, as the noble Baroness who introduced the Bill pointed out. Some managers consider as unsuitable for a woman a job which is actually being carried out by a woman in another works. I had the privilege of introducing the Bill on equal pay into your Lordships' House and I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, made a very impressive and telling speech in which he pointed out that we had to change attitudes if the Act was to work. Indeed he moved an Amendment to this effect. He said that he wanted a new clause put in, reading as follows: The Secretary of State shall, in consultation with such organisations as he thinks fit and as appear to him to represent the interests of women in employment, carry out a comprehensive review.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20/5/70; col. 1070.] We have heard from the Minister to-day that this is in fact being done; but I would say that those of your Lordships who believe in this philosophy and who were present at the time of the Equal Pay Bill, can to-day support this Bill, and they will be completely in line with the policy which they advocated at that time.

We know that in America there is an Act which deals with discrimination, not only on grounds of sex, of course, but on grounds of race, religion, national origin and age. It is interesting that after one year's work of the complaints submitted to it the commission set up as a result of this Act received 37 per cent. on grounds of discrimination by sex, as opposed to 60 per cent. of complaints by discrimination on grounds of race. This fact surprised the people on the board. In other words, discrimination did exist.

As the noble Baroness who introduced the Bill said, legislation against discrimination shifts the emphasis from a situation in which discrimination is actually permitted to one in which it is not. Most citizens are law-abiding and if there are no laws about a particular set of circumstances they tend to coast along saying. "We are not doing anything which is actually illegal." A very famous woman, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, asked: Where do universal rights begin?—in small places close to home, so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are in the world of the individual person. The place he works in, the neighbourhood where he lives, the school or college he attends—these are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity and equal rights without discrimination. My Lords, this is all any woman seeks. She seeks to be accepted as a human being without discrimination on grounds of sex. I ask your Lordships to support this Bill.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to speak very briefly in support of this Bill; and before I do so may I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on being his normal, courteous, calm, encouraging and confidence-inspiring self? I remember that one felt like that during the passing of the Immigration Bill, and the next day one read in Hansard what he had said and found that one had been subjected to a sort of verbal marijuana. His assurances were not really what they seemed, and I hope that the situation to-day is not a repeat of that one. May I refer more particularly to the pronouncements of his colleague, the Minister of State, in another place on January 28 this year on the Second Reading of this Bill? He said at column 1825: In some ways the Bill seems to assume that men and woman are the same in every respect, which is a biological fallacy. Of course, men and women are different biologically, but the contrary is also equally silly and fallacious: to say that men and women are different in every respect is ludicrous and absurd. I suggest that the differences between the sexes are much more than biological; I would say the biological differences are less important than some other differences. For example, most of the important differences come from our environment, what we are taught. We learn that some attributes are mannish, manly or male and others are feminine, womanish or female. Our language is suffused with the idea that some things are appropriate to one sex and some things are appropriate to another. I suggest that these differences between the sexes, or many of them, come from our culture and our customs and our emotional and intellectual heritage, and it is these forces which mould our ideas of the opposite sex so that we are conditioned into thinking what is and is not suitable for each sex. This Bill is part of the process of destruction that must go on on these bogus categories.

How do we undermine these barriers, the barriers of conventional wisdom, of tradition and of hocus-pocus? We cannot attack the biological barriers, but these are over-stated and exaggerated in many cases. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was quoted recently in the Guardian as saying that what were needed to overcome sexual discrimination were persuasion and education. I hope that I have quoted her correctly. I agree with her. That is why we need this Bill.

I ask your Lordships to look at the situation in race relations. We all know that the Act is not perfect; for example, the Board has no discretion to refuse frivolous requests. The machinery has by law to go into action even if the complaint is about something utterly absurd, like porridge. The Board is then ridiculed by malicious people for being an ass when in fact it is the law which controls the Board that is an ass, and the Board cannot do anything about it. Leaving aside these minor defects, what has the Act achieved? There are few, if any, notices of rooms to let saying, "No blacks". There are very few racially segregated pubs; there are fewer blacks who are surcharged by insurance companies; there are more black bank workers.

I say this to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp: the Race Relations Act is succeeding, though only partially, through education and persuasion as well as enforcement. Discussions were held with the publicans, the pub owners, the banks and the insurance companies. The Act was declaratory; it said this or that was wrong. The process of education and persuasion started with the declaration; it was, as it were, the trumpet blast of principle. Of course the walls of the city of prejudice do not collapse at once. But because the power is there and can be enforced employers know that they have to do something, and they learn; they are educated and new attitudes filter through society. Of course the cumbersome machinery of the Race Relations Board needs reforming in order to make it more effective. Declaratory legislation which does not provide easy methods of implementation can easily do more harm than good.

My Lords, I suggest that now is the time to improve the machinery of the Race Relations Board, as has been suggested in a recent book by Lester and Bindman. Now is the time to extend its functions in a manner in which the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack was advocating when the Race Relations Bill of 1968 was going through another place. The noble and learned Lord, then the right honourable gentleman, said: I thought, and I think now, that it was a major defect in the Race Relations Act, 1965, that in effect it confined its declaration against discrimination to race discrimination. That is not what the Declaration of Human Rights does: it includes religion; it includes class; it includes many other things."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 23/4/68; c. 76–7.] That is the end of that quotation. I have taken the trouble to check, and it also includes sex so we want one Board to deal with all discrimination. But meanwhile let us capitalise on the success of the Race Relations Act and let us support this Bill.

My Lords, I hope that you will have heard from my voice and will have understood from my delivery that I am not entirely well, but my wife and my daughter are more unwell and I hope you will understand that in the cause of sexual equality I may have to go home later in the evening and cook supper.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, it is delightful to hear the noble Lord. In view of his illness, I am prepared to offer my services, provided he does not mind a woman doctor; because I notice that there is a male doctor sitting on his left.


I already have a woman doctor—my wife and I already have a woman doctor.


Congratulations! My Lords, so much has been said on this subject that I am quite sure that every noble Lord present has already made up his or her mind. In view of the very long list of speakers I feel that speeches now should be kept very short. I propose to set an example and not to speak for more than five or six minutes—perhaps it is this new instrument in front of me that reminds me of this.

No doubt many people, reading the newspaper reports on this Bill, must have said to themselves: surely to-day this is an anachronism when it is recalled that on the outbreak of war women took over smoothly and efficiently jobs that had been done for generations by men. Yet, 33 years later, such is the irrationality of prejudice that women are denied some of these jobs on grounds of sex. When I heard my noble friend Lady Sharp solving the whole problem by saying, "Girls, wait and be patient, just bash away and things will come your way", I realised that the war had been over for 27 years and that women to-day were not allowed to do those jobs which they were permitted to do during the war. Of course we all know that the changes in the law cannot change ingrained attitudes overnight; but I believe that the provisions contained in this Bill will provide a constant reminder to the prejudiced man that he cannot enjoy a privileged position at the expense of women. This is the reminder to prejudiced employers; and it is remarkable how, when they know that the law has spoken, they change their attitude to women in employment.

The Secretary of State for Employment, in one of his immoderate utterances, suggested that a core of unemployed was helpful to production. Equally, women held in a position of inferiority as cheap labour have for generations subsidised production. In my opinion, both concepts of an individual's position are immoral and an affront to human dignity. Nothing has been said about dignity in this debate, yet I wonder whether noble Lords appreciate how a woman feels working next to a man in a job knowing that she is paid much less simply because she is a woman, although she is doing precisely the same job as a man. She might have been paid more if society had not deemed it right to treat a woman as an inferior worker and therefore paid her less. It has been asked, I think in another place, whether this Bill would permit women to go down the mines—because in some men's minds that would absolutely damn it. My Lords, women will not hew coal for the same reason that men will not occupy maternity beds: they are equally unsuited.

There has been reference by one noble Baroness to the waste of talent and ability. I should like to emphasise that. The waste of talent and ability is seen in the fact that only 7 per cent. of our girls are apprentices. I read in the newspapers that girls are doing much better in the "A" Levels than boys; yet, having obtained their "A" Levels their struggle against prejudice starts. In school they have an equal opportunity, but immediately they get their "A" Levels they are marked as having a brain but functioning as a woman. Therefore, prejudice then starts to work. I may say, by the way, that the usual excuse for not training a girl—that she will get married—is no longer valid. The new, permissive Divorce Act is demonstrating that there is no longer any security in marriage, however chaste a wife may be. In the old days men used to say to me: "Well, why put my daughter in for a profession? She'll get married. Then she's secure for life." That situation has gone, my Lords, with the new Divorce Act. A woman can be the most perfect wife, but her chances of being divorced in the future are greatly increased. Therefore again we must change our attitude towards girls. We must ensure that they are trained to do some job other than that of marriage.

Last week I made a speech from this spot on the Employment Medical Advisory Service Bill, which provides for a substitution of doctors by nurses because we are short of doctors. It is a hundred years since Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was pelted with rotten tomatoes and had the doors of the examination hall held against her by male medical students. That is the story, such was the prejudice. In fact, they said, "Any woman who wants to see a body naked must be an indecent person". Here we are, a hundred years later, and women doctors have proved their worth. The noble Lord has just pointed that out; he has a woman doctor, having chosen me rather than the noble Lord, Lord Platt.

My Lords, women doctors have proved their worth. Yet such is the strength of prejudice that the governors of hospitals prefer to import male doctors who can barely speak English rather than remove the sex bar which allows only a small percentage of British girls a medical training. This is a case of emotion defying reason. We are desperately in need of doctors. We were dealing with a Bill last week which shows that we cannot provide the doctors. Yet brilliant girls, with "A" levels, who are longing to go into a medical school, are denied a chance to do so simply on the grounds of prejudice. Does the noble Baroness say, "Keep on bashing away, girls!"? The situation is an absolute disgrace to this country—a scandal. We have heard about teaching. Although teaching is a sphere in which women have been in the majority, there are to-day 3,000 male professors and only 44 women. Indeed, there is no profession in which prejudice does not rear its ugly head.

I believe that the Government have misjudged the mood of the women of the country. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, gets up and tells the House that another Committee is going to sit to examine the question. Does he not know that the pigeonholes of organisations up and down the country are full of reports on this matter? Does he not know that professional women have done this over and over again? He is given this feeble little brief to tell the House that there is to be another Committee.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness allow me to intervene? I understand that this work has not been done before. Surveys have been made. There was the recent P.E.P. survey on top women. The noble Baroness mentioned professional women. In the Government's view, the vital point is to look at the question of the entire body of between 8 million and 9 million women at work and to see how their conditions can be improved. That is what the survey will be about.


My Lords, before the noble Lord starts on the millions of women at work I would say this. He was asked how long it was going to take. Now we know. If the Government are going to consider the conditions of millions of women it will take years and years. May I ask the noble Lord just to examine the P.E.P. Report on the top women? We are talking about top women—are we not?—when we say there is this appalling prejudice against professional women. I ask the Government to apply themselves to an important Report that has already been made. I am quite sure the women of the country would rather accept a decision from that, than to wait for years for the kind of report we might expect from a forthcoming survey.

My Lords, I said I would speak for five minutes only. I had hoped to set an example because we want an early Division. I am sorry to hurt the feelings of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. The last thing I am in life is feline; she should know that. But the Amendment she has put down is a wrecking Amendment. It has been put down, I believe, by some of the most backward Members in this House. I cannot believe that it is the brain-child of the noble Baroness whose name has been used for this purpose. She has been given equal opportunity in her education and her subsequent work. She was fortunate enough, I believe, to have a Minister, when she was appointed, who was a feminist. Does she deny that? No. Well, this is very important. She therefore happened to have circumstances which permitted her to be appointed the first woman Permanent Secretary in the country. But she was very, very fortunate; very, very lucky. I was a Minister who saw brilliant women overlooked, and I had to push their claims. My Permanent Secretary told me that it was very difficult because men were jealous: in the privacy of my room he told me what I knew was a fact. My Lords, it should be obvious that a vote for this Amendment is a vote to negative the Bill. I ask your Lordships not to do that. Furthermore, the Conservative Members here remember full well the Manifesto of their own Party during the last Election, which said they would do their best to remove discrimination. Therefore, if your Lordships vote for this Amendment you will be rejecting the Conservative Manifesto, which opposed discrimination against women.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, one of the oldest jokes about politicians of all Parties is that when elected they find "jobs for the boys". The debate to-day might well be sub-titled "jobs for the girls". I would, however, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, very much for introducing this debate. I always listen with admiration to her speeches and have never ceased to be impressed by her fluency and clarity of thought; and when we have added to it to-day the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, with knowledge and great experience of public work and of a most distinguished career, we are fortunate indeed.

My Lords, I should like to begin by saying that I fully support the aims of this Bill. No one could be a stronger supporter of my own sex than I am. As my husband said when our third daughter was born, "I can see you're determined to found a matriarchy!" But, seriously, whenever it has been in my power in local government to appoint a suitably qualified woman I have done so, and I have on more than one occasion insisted, as the only woman on an appointing committee, on interviewing women applicants as well as men. I therefore feel that the most important aspect of this debate is that it is taking place. There should be far more informed public discussion about discrimination against women, much of which, in my view, is entirely based on prejudice. Prejudice is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "an unreasoning predilection or objection" and is therefore extremely difficult to overcome. But I am certain that serious public discussion can help.

No one can doubt, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has pointed out, that in the position in which our country finds itself to-day it cannot afford not to make the best use of the resources it has, and the brains and abilities of half the population should not be either unused or under-used because of prejudice. The question really is whether such a Bill as the one before us will in fact completely meet this situation. It seems to me that one basic question must be whether by general legislation of this kind we shall make the opportunities for all women better. It appears to me that in some cases it can, and I think particularly of the cases quoted, such, possibly, as a bus driver or a postman.

I think the Amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, deserves to be considered very seriously indeed, because I believe that this is a much more complex situation than the Bill would lead us to suppose. One reason is that if all overt discrimination—and I take it that what the Bill means by this is advertisements for jobs which specifically indicate that only a man should apply, when a suitably qualified woman could perfectly well do the job—is to be prohibited, those jobs which to-day are specifically for women will also be open for men. One point which we must weigh up is whether the loss that will be found when a discrimination in favour of women is swept away will be outweighed by the possible gain when a discrimination in favour of men is abolished. It is impossible to make a precise calculation because one cannot carry out a controlled experiment, but I suspect that those who drafted the Bill were somewhat concerned about this possibility, for in regard to the composition of the Anti-Discrimination Board it is said quite specifically that there must be six women. Is this not in itself an admission that there must be positive discrimination in favour of women? If left to what might generally be expected to happen, are we not afraid that we should get all men, or that splendid figure, the one statutory woman? I have never been in the happy position of being asked to be a statutory woman and I wait with baited breath for the day when I shall receive a letter from a man who will say, "Do come on my committee and be my statutory woman". Be that as it may, in a sense it is a non sequitur in the Bill.

I should now like to turn to the university world, with which I am quite familiar. Looking at the figures in the report of the University Grants Committee for 1969 one finds that there are two universities, Oxford and Cambridge, in which there are women's colleges. All other universities are mixed and, to the best of my knowledge, with very few exceptions all posts for teaching on the staff are open equally to men and women and are so advertised. The statistics show that of the staff at Oxford University 14.1 per cent. are women whereas of the staff of all other universities 10.9 per cent. are women. I quote these figures because it looks as though one can draw at least one conclusion: that in a situation such as at Oxford, where there are 24 men's colleges, 5 women's colleges and 5 mixed graduate colleges and it might be assumed that women would be worse off, in fact the figures show quite the contrary; they are better off. That suggests that if we have a Bill such as this, which says that in no circumstances must there be any discrimination in favour either of men or of women, women would not necessarily benefit in every instance.

Turning from the universities I should like briefly to say a word about comprehensive schools. One fact which has quite clearly emerged in the profession is that the number of top jobs going to women in mixed comprehensive schools is on the decline, and although I have not been able to get the figures for this, so many women teachers have come to me and said "We are seriously considering leaving the teaching profession; there is no future for us in this big mixed school", that I think it must be cause for concern. These top jobs are not advertised as being for men only, and so far as I know there is no intention shown in the terms of the advertisement or in the information that goes out to candidates that they are for men only. Yet I myself am on an appointing committee next week for an important girls' school which has just advertised for a head, and although we advertised for a woman quite a number of men wrote in, asking for the particulars of the job. Only when they were told that the appointing committee would not consider a man did the whole matter come to a conclusion.

I should now like to turn to local government, and I would support the figures given by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about directors of social services. Perhaps I can prove my good faith by saying that my authority is one of the fourteen which has a woman director of social services. Here again I do not think that any indication will be found in the advertisements for local authority jobs that the post is for a man. However, one finds that a great many men are applying for these top jobs, and when discrimination occurs it is a very complex matter to find out why it occurs and who has caused it. It does not appear to be overt discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment.

Any of us who have been in political life at all know how difficult it is for women to be selected for anything. According to the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, on the management of local government, only 12 per cent. of the members of local government are women. Yet in a sense this is a job which is admirably suited to women. It is perhaps for a wide variety of reasons that they have not had the opportunity to offer their services, or, having offered, they are not selected. Even more depressing are the statistics relating to the number of women candidates standing for the House of Commons, where the actual number of candidates selected has fallen. I make these points because the whole question of discrimination is a subtle one and I have no doubt that in many ways I shall be misunderstood in what I have said.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Baroness before she concludes this part of her speech, may I ask whether she would not agree that in the university world, which she knows well, there has in fact been the most immoral and criminal discrimination against women, even in the ancient universities which she was praising? I remember as a young Don taking part in a meeting of Congregation of the University of Oxford which imposed a numerus classis on the admission of women to the university, on the ground that if there were too many women then in some subtle way the ethos of the university would suffer degradation, and it is notorious that owing, I deeply regret to say, to the activities of one of the leading economists in the history of British economics, women were denied degrees in the University of Cambridge until the year 1947.


My Lords, if I may say so, that was not quite the point I was making. What I was speaking about was the staff. I accept that there is prejudice. I have met prejudice in my life and I have seen it on committees. I have seen it on appointing committees as well as in other occupations. My point is that in a public advertisement for a job no indication is given that it is to be for a man only, and I think this distinguishes it from the Race Relations Bill because it is not exactly parallel. The advertisement goes out but a woman is not appointed. It is difficult to prove why she is not appointed, except for the fact that it is prejudice, and the point is whether the Bill would overcome that prejudice. I entirely take the noble Lord's point about admissions, which is another point I shall come to later.

I wish to conclude by saying that I do not think it is at all helpful to be critical and not make constructive suggestions. In my view it is not so much general legislation which puts all women together in a group that is needed, but legislation on the conditions necessary to make it possible for women to compete fairly with men and ensure that equal qualifications will lead to equal opportunity. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, quite rightly pointed out, most jobs, and certainly all careers, assume unbroken service, something very difficult for women employees, most of whom are married and most of whom have children. What I consider we should be addressing ourselves to is the conditions necessary to make it possible for married women to work throughout their married lives. Where there is no discrimination, then attitude and policy on the part of the employer is all important. Certainly the debate we had on that very important Report on the employment of married women in the Civil Service was valuable, and I was much encouraged by the words of the Minister, Lord Windlesham, when he spoke.

The part of the Bill which appeals to me most is Clause 4, on equal educational opportunities. I myself have always supported the raising of the school-leaving age, and I think it was singularly unfortunate that it was put back two years by the Labour Government, because it affected all those least able to help themselves. It very much affected girls who tend to leave earlier than boys because their misguided parents say, "What is the point of staying on? You are only going to get married".

I very much support the provision of nursery schools, and I was pleased to see in a recent edition of the educational magazine Where? that my own authority comes eighth in the list. I think we should do better, but at least we are trying. I have always supported the Open University, because I think it offers opportunities for education and retraining of married women who missed out earlier in life. I certainly think university entrance should be by ability and not quota. Here I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, in her observations upon medical schools, which I think are deplorable, and I should very much like to see legislation on this subject. I also welcome and support the efforts of Her Majesty's Government in their changes in the tax laws affecting married women, because it has always seemed to me quite absurd to expect women to take on positions of increased responsibility and not get any increased money for doing so. No man would consider doing this. I should have thought that everyone would be grateful for the changed tax laws in this respect.

Finally, I think we come down to changed attitudes, and this is very much a fundamental matter. Perhaps I may tell one true story told to me last week by a young friend of mine, a most able girl, aged 24, who applied for a job earlier this year as an investment analyst. She was interviewed by two men, and at the end of the interview they said: "You are a very nice and a very able girl, but the fact is we cannot stand competent women". This sums up so much that is terribly true, and the question is whether this Bill would really help that kind of situation. I think public debate will help. When these stories are told they appear funny, but of course really they are deplorable in 1972. Public debate has made the legal position of women vastly different, and the long list of Bills which have contributed to this are well known to us all. Let us see that women are given equal opportunities for equal qualifications in the valuable work that they can do.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I rise shortly to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I should not be doing so if it had not been for the Amendment. The reason why I should not have done so but for the Amendment is that, knowing the traditions of your Lordships' House, I would have assumed that a Private Member's Bill would naturally get a Second Reading.

There are really two questions here, are there not? First, is there still too much discrimination against women in the field of employment? If so, is this Bill likely to help to amend that situation? I propose to say nothing about the first question, because every single speaker has agreed that there is still far too much discrimination against women in this field. The real question, therefore, is the second one. It has been as much a disappointment to me, as I am sure it must have been to many Members of this House, that we do not hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, more often. I think we have heard from her only about once a year since her elevation. I am not clear from what she said whether she realised that while it is not unheard of it is most unusual for anyone to try to stop the Second Reading of a Private Member's Bill in this House. It is, after all, a Bill which is supported by I think all the women's organisations, by that very old and reputable body the National Joint Council of Working Women's Organisations, the Six Point Group, the Married Women's Associations, and, I am told for the first time in their history, by the Women's Institutes, which I always regarded as rather a Right Wing body.

We remember what Mr. Carr's view was on this point when the Equal Pay Bill was in the other place last Session. He did not suggest that there ought to be a Departmental committee. He wanted that Bill to deal also with sex discrimination in employment. I have always assumed that that was what the Conservative Election Manifesto was referring to when it said: Many barriers still exist which prevent women from participating to the full in the entire life of the country. Women are treated by the law in some respects as having inferior rights to men. We will amend the law to remove this discrimination. Then there was that admirable Conservative Central Office publication Fair Deal for the Fair Sex, which said, on page 47, after referring to the fact that a number of women were refused loans by building societies simply because they were women: We put forward tentatively for consideration the suggestion that it might well be desirable for some public authority to keep other instances under review and make from time to time any proposals that seem to be necessary in day to day practice as well as in the law to prevent discrimination against women. In North America bodies like the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, an agency of the U.S. Federal Government or State Human Rights Commissions, all of which were admittedly established to deal with discrimination on the grounds of race, have in some cases been given the additional responsibility of similar grievances on the ground of sex. We believe that the next Conservative Government should perhaps consider enlarging the role of the Race Relations Board in the same kind of way. We had yesterday the new report by Political and Economic Planning, costing £1, but I think a good poundsworth. They stressed the need for education and persuasion. They also point out: While political Parties have for years supported the principle of equal pay, while even public government bodies have actually carried it out, no real effect was made outside until we got the Equal Pay Bill. They refer approvingly to the Bill which was introduced so recently in the other place and which is the substance of the Bill now before us. The Civil Service has now been dealt with.

I was re-reading last night the interesting maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on the Civil Service, in which on her own merits she achieved such a very high position. Of course the administrative branch I think was always one in which there was no discrimination. At that time, I may remind your Lordships, there were 98 different positions in the Civil Service from which women were completely disqualified: calf-certifying officer; fatstock technical officer; Ministry of Information paper keepers. Women could not be Customs or Excise officers; at the Ministry of Defence they were excluded (I am not sure about this; it sounds at first sight rather like woman's work) from the reproduction class, grade 1. In the wireless service a woman could not be a stores supervisor grade or operator technician. In the Ministry of the Environment, she could not be an attendant/cleaner. She could not be a traffic examiner grade; and she could not even be an immigration officer at the Department of Health and Social Security. So I was looking with interest to see what the noble Baroness, in her most interesting speech on the Civil Service, made of this and what efforts were being made for persuasion—because she said, as I understood, that we ought to do all this by persuasion. She did not in fact refer at all to any of our unfortunate sisters in the Civil Service who were discriminated against; and it was due, I think, only to my noble friend Lord Shackleton and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, that they have tackled so very quickly this situation as it existed in the Civil Service.

I conclude simply by saying that it is very unusual, I think, to oppose, or to try to stop the Second Reading of, a Private Member's Bill in this House, unless, of course, there is some question of conscience, or something of that kind. This afternoon we are in this extraordinary position: that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that there ought to be far more informed public discussion, yet the result of carrying the Amendment would be to deny to Members of this House any further discussion of the subject. Many times in the past seven years we have had a Bill which we knew could not possibly become law that Session (and this has applied particularly to Bills in the social field), but we have had the Second Reading and the Committee stage when the question as to whether this was the right way to do it, whether there ought not to be some special provision made for something else, has been argued out; and the very fact that this House has discussed the Bill has meant that it has been possible to see what is the right road ahead during the next Session. Secondly, the mere fact that we have spent quite a long Committee stage on the Bill has itself had a very wide educative effect among the Press and the public. It is on those grounds that I hope very much that the House will not deny to the Mover of the Second Reading an opportunity for the whole House to give further consideration to this very important subject at the Committee stage of the Bill.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, in seeking to support the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in her Motion, and to obtain a verdict that will comply with the most eloquent plea that has just been made by my noble friend, I take it that there is no need at this stage in this debate to echo what has been said already about the evidence of that kind of discrimination which is both criminal, as was said a moment or two ago, and frequent. It is perhaps necessary—I find it necessary—to stress one aspect that has not been accorded such universal assent: that an Equal Pay Act which comes into force in a few years' time is half-baked and inadequate unless it is reinforced by equal opportunity on the part of women to avail themselves of those occupations which can thereafter provide equality of pay.

It was stressed by one speaker to-day, and it seemed to me to carry conviction, that there is already in public affairs evidence that there is firmer discrimination precisely because of the prospect of equal pay for women coming into effect. I find this suggestion substantially reasonable, and I am aware that there is a background to this particular problem of discrimination. I would, for a little while, invite your Lordships to recognise, as I am sure you do, that we in the Church have something to do with this. If I come before you in sackcloth and ashes it is precisely because I am aware of the highly dubious record of the Christian Church. I might be excused the ashes because, as a Methodist, we have felt to put it right. Our Nonconformist cloth is perhaps a little better than Episcopal lawn, and it is not surprising to me that the Church of England at this moment will have to take a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards this particular Bill, precisely because again our record is of discrimination. The discrimination is in two fields: first, the over-emphasis of the masculinity of God or the Deity, in which we imply that sacramental grace can flow only through masculine channels—which is a piece of blasphemy; secondly, the inference thereby to be drawn that if there is a priesthood of all believers, the ordained priesthood is the preserve of men. This must have had a profound effect upon the thinking, or the feelings, not only of men but also of women down the Christian era.

My mother was a suffragette, and it was she who first told me—I do not know whether it is accurate—of the occasion on which Mrs. Pankhurst advised the suffragettes who were chaining themselves to the railings of Downing Street, "Put your trust in God, and She will defend you." If that comes with a sense of shock, it necessarily carries with it an element of the Christian faith which I believe has been vastly ignored, even within the Roman Catholic Church where the cultivation of thought and veneration for the Blessed Virgin Mary has done something to fill that gap.

There is another aspect of this problem which is of even greater malignancy, and it is derived mostly from the Pauline suggestion that man is a superior creature. This is not to be laughed out of court. If it is said that women should keep quiet in church in order that they may not interfere with the sonority and profundity of what the men are saying from the pulpits, this would, I think, be a scandal in the eyes and the experience of many women who have every reason to know how imperfectly men have discharged the function within the general area of the Church.

It is for these reasons that I am prepared, if you like, to be offered up as the sacrificial lamb, or mutton, on the altar of atonement to-day, and to say that we have a heavy burden of responsibility; and we have not completely discharged that responsibility even when, at a belated time some of us have seen the light (although we were not up at the crack of dawn), and we are now prepared to recognise that to offer to women equal opportunities within the general framework of the Church is one way of suggesting that this discrimination is utterly wrong and of doing something to repair the damage. The problem exists, and it is by no means to be minimised.

The question which I think must exercise your Lordships, as it exercises my mind, is what is the proper way in which to deal with the matter. Here I find the Amendment excellent substance and justification for a Second Reading of the Bill. The Amendment contains coyly the word "fair", and that immediately puts me on my guard because "fair" is a derivative term, it is a secondary term, it is contingent. What is "fair" depends on the principle by which you make the judgment, and if the only litmus paper of test is sex, the fairness will depend on the concept you have of the relative values of men and women. I remember when papers were marked and I was a student that the worst one could get was "Poor"; then came "Fair", and then that tautological inexactitude "Very fair", and then only after that could you get to the region of "Good" or "Very good", let alone "Excellent". This is a clear example of the utter imprecision of a word which is attempting to deal with such a colossally difficult and complex problem. It always reminds me of the way in which those who are not prepared to make restitution of their ill-gotten gains, under the inspiration of the Gospel rely upon the word "stewardship", which gives them the opportunity of retaining those ill-gotten gains and to aspire to a certain piety.

"Fair" is a word which has no relevance unless it is related to a principle, and it is for that reason that it seems to me that to attempt, in the fashion which is set forth in this Bill, to provide some general agreement or some general standard by which this vexed and complex question can be treated is a very reasonable and obvious way of beginning to deal with that problem, even if it cannot finally and completely exhaust all the ramifications of it. Surely the old adage is true: that if you cannot make people good by Act of Parliament you can make it much more difficult for them to be bad. And in the endeavour to make it much more difficult for people to practise discrimination, a court of this kind seems to me to be an admirable and necessary process in the attempt to get rid of a manifest and very great evil.

For those reasons, and making a suitably short speech, I invite this House to continue the debate and not to short-circuit it and stultify it by an Amendment which does no credit to the reasonableness of the cause which has been presented by those who defend the Amendment. Neither does it offer any prospect of going ahead to meet a problem which is vexatious and continuous, and which stands in the way of the sense of justice which everyone ought to feel in a world such as it is to-day.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I must start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for bringing this Bill to the notice of this House, because that gives some of us the opportunity of airing our views on this particularly difficult and thorny problem. But while welcoming the opportunity for discussion, I am afraid that for two reasons I cannot welcome the Bill as it stands. Because the time goes on and I do not want to be counted out, I shall be brief. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, talked about nursery schools. I am a member of the Finer Committee, which is looking right across the board at the problems of one-parent families. Despite the fact that we have been meeting for two and a half years we have not yet brought a report before either House, but we are hoping to do so in the autumn.

One of the conclusions which I am sure we shall reach is about the fact that the term "one-parent family" usually means that a child is brought up by its mother and is therefore devoid of the father's influence in its early years. I think everybody recognises that the most important time of one's life is the years from nought to five, and if a young child is then devoid of any form of masculine education, help or guidance it will suffer greatly. One of the recommendations which I think will be made is that males should be encouraged to come into a sphere which up till now has been thought of as a completely female province; that is, teaching those aged from nought to five. Your Lordships may say that that will be discrimination in favour of the male; and I think it will. It may well be illegal if this Bill is passed. But it is very important that we have this complete switch-over in what has up till now been considered a woman's province.

I feel that the provisions of this Bill are unenforceable, because it is impossible to legislate for people's thoughts and reasons for doing things. If legislation cannot be implemented, it is wrong to pass it, and I feel very strongly that it would be impossible to implement this Bill. I know that my late husband felt exactly the same when he talked about the Colonial Office, and about trying to pass through Parliament legislation whereby people's thoughts and deeds would be made the subject of laws. He felt that that was completely wrong, and during the time when he was Leader in another place I think that very little was done about that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is a magistrate, as I am. If this Bill becomes law and it becomes illegal to discriminate between male and female, the Board will be set up and people will be able to take their case from there to a higher court. I am sure that the wisdom of Solomon is paramount in the judges of our land. I sit on a very ordinary magistrates' court and in a Crown Court, but, envisaging the difficulties that might arise, I should hate to give judgment in any of those cases which might be brought before us. When a man and a woman, on equal pay and with equal qualifications, are after the same job it is up to the woman to prove that she is better fitted for that job. I should not have liked to vote against the Bill, but I am indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for moving the Amendment for which I shall be voting.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her a question? I very much sympathise with the first part of what she said, because I take great trouble to practise what she recommended; that is, that the man should play a part in the bringing up of young children. But may I ask her about her condemnation of laws which attempt to influence the way people think? I am not a lawyer, but surely the law very often takes into account the intention of a person: did he mean to steal something, or did he take it by accident? Surely the race relations legislation does the same sort of thing.


My Lords, I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. It is difficult to comment on what he said, but, certainly in the magistrates' court where I sit one takes that factor into account. But it is very difficult to legislate even for intent. That is one of the difficulties in all the present laws on which I have to adjudicate. But to prove that a man or a woman has been discriminated against would be almost impossible.

6.29 p.m.


My Lords, as I made a reasonably comprehensive speech in our debate on December 8 on the employment of women in the Civil Service, I had not intended to speak to-day, but when I saw the Amendment which had been put on the Order Paper by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I was so very much astonished that I telephoned yesterday and asked that my name should be put on the list of speakers. It seems to me that it would be a very great pity if the Amendment were carried at this stage of the Bill. In all the speeches made this afternoon it has been admitted that this is not an easy problem, so it is surely all the more desirable that we should have a really close discussion, of the kind that one can get only during the Committee stage of a Bill.

It is easy enough for any of us to get up and, in very general terms, give our attitude towards the employment of women, but one cannot meet the real difficulties of how possibly to forward this desirable end unless one has at least the opportunity, as my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner said, to discuss the matter with the kind of sharpness and concentration which one gets, not on a Second Reading debate but on Committee stage. If, after going through that stage, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, still feels that her reasons for opposing the Second Reading of the Bill are justified, she has other opportunities at a later stage to say, "I am sorry; I have listened to all the discussion which has gone on, but I am not convinced. Therefore I am now"—at Third Reading, for example —"moving that we should not give a Third Reading to this Bill, because I do not think that the arguments put forward during the discussions at the earlier stages are sufficient to overcome the disadvantages of legislation in this field".

Therefore I hope very much that even those who may feel somewhat disposed to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will not support the Amendment. She has now just left the Chamber—I make no complaint about that because she has been here since the outset of the debate—but I hope that at this stage she will not press her Amendment to a Division. I think it would be frustrating the wishes of many of us in this House who may also have certain doubts, certain hesitations, possibly, about the Bill in its present form, but who would very much wish to face the problems and the difficulties and try to see whether we can work out something which would be more practicable and more acceptable in certain aspects than the Bill which is before us now. That, quite frankly, is my attitude towards this Bill. I recognise that there are problems. I also recognise that sex discrimination is not quite the same as discrimination on grounds of race. On the other hand, many arguments which were used against any legislation about racial discrimination are also being used as an excuse for not legislating in a comparable field.

I should like—and I wish to be brief—to concentrate for a moment or two on the whole question of whether or not one can legislate in such a matter. I should like to call in aid—and reference has already been made to it—the words of the present right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for Employment, because when Mrs. Castle's Bill was going through another place he had no doubt in his mind that sex discrimination in opportunity as well as in pay ought to have been covered in that Bill. I think we should bring this quite forcefully to the attention of the House, because he said: Until we take action with massive insistence on equal pay, with legislative pressure"— and I emphasise the words "legislative pressure"— for equal opportunity for women to work, the purpose of the Bill"— that is, the Equal Pay Billwill not be achieved". There was nothing wishy-washy or namby-pamby about that. Robert Carr is a man of great experience, both in industry and in Ministerial office, and he had no doubt that this was a subject which ought to be covered by legislation. He said it more than once. He made it quite plain that it was not just general public opinion or persuasion: it was legislation that we needed as a basis for persuasion and for possible changes in public opinion.

He also very clearly saw what I think is concerning very many of us, and that is that the effect of equal pay, in certain spheres at least, is going to be to diminish the opportunities for employment of women. We are in great danger at both ends of what might be called the ability scale, and there is no doubt whatever that the implementation of the Equal Pay Act is going to mean that employers will use mechanical means of one kind or another to replace women in many jobs which women undertake at the present time. I think there is going to be a real problem of unemployment among women, within the general problem of unemployment, which will increase as we get towards 1975, when the Equal Pay Act is going to be fully implemented. This is something which many of us were aware might happen, but it is all the more incumbent upon us to make certain that there is no added element of discrimination against women in the case of jobs for which they could in fact apply, and be suitable.

At the other end of the scale—and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has already touched on this aspect—many of us are concerned that, particularly in the academic world, the teaching world and so on, instead of matters improving so far as the employment of women is concerned they are getting worse. The noble Baronesss, Lady Young, mentioned comprehensive schools. It is not only the comprehensive schools, my Lords: it is, for example, the changing pattern of the village schools. The village headmistress, who could very often be a tremendous influence for good in her village, is being done away with as the village schools are being concentrated. There may be good reasons educationally for that concentration, but I have no doubt that, so far as the employment of women as headmistresses is concerned, their opportunities are shrinking year by year. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned the older universities. At the moment there are still separate colleges for women in both Oxford and Cambridge, which means that so far, at any rate, we have opportunities for very distinguished women to be principals of these colleges. If these colleges become mixed colleges, as they well may in the next few years—there is a good deal of discussion going on about the desirability of mixed colleges in "Oxbridge"—how many of these will continue to have women as heads of houses? I reckon that what has happened in the comprehensive schools will probably also happen in "Oxbridge" colleges. Without going into further detail on that, I think there are genuine grounds for apprehension that the opportunities for women, far from increasing, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, seemed to be indicating, are, if anything, diminishing.

I want to say just one other word on this question of legislation, as to whether this is the right way to try to deal with some of the problems, at least, which can arise; and I would call in aid, as did my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner, a report which was issued only a few days ago. It may be that some of your Lordships may not have had an opportunity to read it, but it is a report just out under the aegis of P.E.P.—Political and Economic Planning. This is the fourth report from this organisation within the last two years; it is not an isolated thing. Political and Economic Planning was commissioned by the Leverhulme Trust, and has been working in collaboration with the Tavistock Institute on a study of professional and managerial (as they themselves call them) top jobs, and they have done this study really in depth. They have already published three reports on different aspects of the subject, and now they have brought out a further one which they call The Next Move. After discussing the pros and cons of legislation, they say quite plainly—and I quote from page 76 of this report: what has been said about the danger of an over-legalistic approach … should not be taken as a rejection in the field of sex roles and sex discrimination of the type of partly conciliatory, partly compulsory approach embodied in the existing law on race relations. … A well-planned legal attack is not to be neglected so long as it is understood that its principal role is by way of demonstration and of providing a base for education and persuasion. It is in that sense that a general amendment of the law, perhaps on the lines of Mr. William Hamilton's Anti-Discrimination Bill"— which is in substance what we are discussing this afternoon— or on those proposed in American terms in the Yale Law Review in the autumn of 1971, could be relevant in Britain as well". They refer, also, as my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner did, to the Equal Employment Opportunity Act in the United States, which is a Federal Act. This, as I say, was after a long study of the situation of women who are the best placed in the employment field, the professional and managerial women. If that is the conclusion of people who have given a number of years to this study, then it seems to me that the very least we can do, my Lords, is to give adequate discussion to the proposals put forward in the Bill moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that nobody thinks that I am a very late intervener in this debate. My name was on the original list; it was inadvertently taken out, but was kindly put hack by the Whips later on. Of course, this Bill ought not to be necessary. It is absurd that in 1972 it is thought reasonable to legislate in order to protect whom?—in order to protect one half of the population against unfairness. This unfairness is so conspicuous, the discrimination is so widespread that sympathetic people here this afternoon have argued that it is useless and hopeless to legislate against it. You cannot, they say, move by mere law such a mountain of ignorance and prejudice. Better to wait for the mountain to erode as public opinion changes and as a new age of enlightenment develops. But nobody imagines that a limited change in the law is going to blast that mountain away and achieve the emancipation of women to-morrow. Even if this Bill is, one day, passed, it will still be possible to keep women out of some of the more attractive jobs which fall within their capacity and to keep them off the rungs of the promotional ladder which their abilities would enable them to climb. That happens now all the time—as we have been told this afternoon—in organisations which affect to give equal opportunity to women but which, in practice, are a masculine conspiracy to keep women from realising their legitimate aspirations. The conspiracy is subtly concealed by the willingness of some men to allow occasionally the exceptional woman to break through in this country. The exceptional woman may, if she is lucky, rise to a senior post. But, as everyone knows, the efficient, highly-intelligent woman who is not exceptional too often must contain her indignation while men of equal or inferior talents receive promotion.

It happens in politics, it happens in the B.B.C. and it happens in Fleet Street, too, to mention the three worlds I know most about. I do not believe that in the whole Conservative Party there is only one woman capable of being in the Cabinet. My own Party has given women more opportunities—but not so many that one can boast about it. But in order to do this in the Party itself we have had to discriminate by making rules in favour of women. All but two of those lively, forceful women who serve on the national executive of the Labour Party are there because provision is made for five women members to be elected by a separate voting procedure.

My Lords, what will this Bill do? What would it do? There seem to be some organisations which by rule exclude women simply because they are women. I imagine that such rules or principles would simply become illegal; although, as I have suggested, while it will still be possible to get round the law, it would be less easy. And if a commission is established, it could look at such institutions from time to time and ask them why they are still wholly masculine or ask them why they still have so few women within their ranks. What is vital is not so much the redress of the wrong done to any individual woman as the educational effect which a commission backed by the force of law could have. It would have one tooth at least if this Bill went through. I should imagine it is far more capable of looking at such problems with legislation behind it—to engage in some form of action research, as it were—than would be the kind of commission about which the noble Lord spoke this afternoon.

I said a few moments ago that the exceptional woman would break through. But I wonder whether this is as easy to-day as it was only a few years ago. I wonder how many potential Evelyn Sharps there are in Whitehall to-day. I wonder where in the B.B.C. are the successors of Mary Adams, Mary Somerville and Grace Wyndham Goldie. It is surely remarkable that in the B.B.C., where not a single job is outside the scope of a woman, so few women are able to reach high places. It is surely ridiculous in an age when so many women make a distinguished contribution to political life, that a woman professional broadcaster is rarely seen deal- ing with news or current affairs. It is even stranger in my own profession in Fleet Street. There are many women journalists; but I know of only one woman on a daily newspaper who has reached the rank of executive editor—and that I am glad to say is on the newspaper I serve. Elsewhere I do not know of one woman who has become an assistant editor. For 40 years Fleet Street has known that a paper which does not interest women is a paper heading for disaster. Yet Fleet Street remains predominantly male. A woman news sub-editor is a rarity even to-day. Yet 30 years have passed since I appointed a woman as a news sub-editor—although the road to promotion for her proved to be not through the general channels but in a specialised job as a very distinguished woman editor of the Guardian. The Guardian, I may say, is the only paper which I know that has a woman news editor; and she was the second in the line, the second woman news editor they had had. Yet in Fleet Street we are not overtly prejudiced against women journalists. Men and women work together in happy companionship; but there seems to be an unconscious limitation placed on the aspirations of women journalists. I wonder if it could be, as one woman journalist suggested to me, that we mistake a genial patronage for genuine equality.

I do not believe, however, that this masculine domination is going to last for ever. There seems to be a great movement now under way in the Western world; those people who have come to see that racial discrimination is a sin against the light are now beginning to recognise that sexual discrimination, too, cannot be tolerated. And this movement is not wholly middle class, although like all movements of its kind it depends on middle-class leadership. In the debate in another place a Government spokesman mentioned (and I think it was repeated here) that the jobs done by most women are an extension of the tasks they have learnt in the home. That is one of the problems which ought to concern us. Women are becoming more and more reluctant, as their children grow up, to sit all day in a suburban prison which gives scope for the expenditure of about one-third of their physical and about one-tenth of their mental energies. Yet the choice of jobs open to them when they wish to go to work is limited to jobs which are, on the whole, unskilled and underpaid because the opportunities to acquire a skill before marriage are hopelessly limited. I hope that the women's organisations make this one of the targets of their campaign.

It is the custom for men advancing such views as I am advancing to condemn the more bizarre aspects of the "Women's Lib." movement. I am not going to do that. I do not know whether the extremists help or hinder the cause of women's rights. But I do know that when slaves revolt you must not expect them to behave like dissenting philosophers. It may be felt that the word "slave" is too strong; but I am speaking not about physical but about mental and spiritual slavery. Women, and men too, have been conditioned by parents, by school, by society to accept a more limited role than they are capable of performing and a narrower life than they wish to live. They are robbed of their natural aspirations as human beings and then their lack of ambition is thrown back at them as a reason for not increasing their opportunities. I remember as a boy 50 years ago my mother talking up and down the country on the subject we are discussing to-day. It was then called "Married Women in Paid Professions". In those 50 years we have come a considerable way. But what progress there has been has come less from the enlightenment of men than from the necessities of two World Wars and inflation. We have a long way to go yet.

I am most unimpressed by the arguments based on opinion polls which were advanced in the other place and brought up again to-day here that most women are content with their lot. Even if the poll was valid, what about the minority? And the problem is not wholly about women as they are. Many of them hold views about their own nature and their own needs which have been pumped into them since early childhood. The problem is what women might become if they were allowed to have both the material chances and the psychological freedom which any human being deserves to have. So for these reasons I welcome this Bill. If it is improved in Committee and goes through Parliament, it will certainly help some women, and it could do quite a lot to change a climate which is less oppressive than it was, but which still bears heavily on half the human race.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, I have always championed the cause of women in connection with the various Bills which have come before your Lordships' House, and particularly in respect of the Divorce Law Reform Bill which I thought unfair to women. I also championed the cause of the fair sex in respect of the Equal Pay Bill. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who said that he did not agree with the adjective "fair" opportunities. I have always supported the idea of fair opportunities at work for women. The noble Lord appeared to think that "fair" was a rather deceptive word to use, but he did not explain what word he would use. If one said "good opportunities", it would not mean as much as "fair opportunities". I cannot understand what all the hubbub is about. This modern trend in which the sexes vie with one another—or at any rate the fair sex vies with the opposite sex: I do not think that members of my sex indulge in it—is to me extraordinary. There is no question of superiority. Neither sex is superior to the other; we are both complementary. This competition is an extraordinary attitude which has come about in modern life.

Where this Bill falls down, in my opinion, is that it fails to take notice of the biological difference between the sexes. We have heard that many jobs are more suitable for men and that there are many jobs that are more suitable for women. But nobody rightly argues that intellectually, in the examination room, there is any difference between men and women. Women do not work on night shifts in factories; so far as I remember, it is illegal. The Post Office does not employ women as night telephone operators. Women do not go down coal mines; they are protected by law from engaging in various dirty and heavy occupations. Some philosopher once said that a woman may come to any conclusion you like, but in the end she is always swayed by her emotions. I would not go so far as that, but there is a good deal of truth in it. How can I describe the difference, my Lords? I think that many women would travel first-class by train on a second-class ticket and it would not worry their conscience at all; they would not realise that they were doing anything wrong. But most men would feel rather uncomfortable.


My Lords, has the noble Viscount studied the figures of convictions of men and women for cheating the railways?


My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Baroness "has me" there, I have not studied those figures. But I agree that if you take the figures for crime those for men are far worse. There are other reasons for that, but we will not go into them to-night.

We have heard to-day that there are many spheres in which women are at a disadvantage because of their sex. We have heard about chartered accountants. I think one noble Baroness mentioned that only 1 per cent. of chartered accountants are women. That seems to me a most extraordinary thing because women are generally good at figures; and I cannot understand why that should be so. We could certainly have women architects; there is no reason to suppose that they would not make superlative architects.

My Lords, I feel that to-night I am speaking about the majority of women. Noble Baronesses in your Lordships' House are exceptional women, but I think that the great majority of women must beware of demanding their cake and eating it. I imagine that some noble Baronesses in your Lordships' House will not agree, but surely one of the greatest advantages for women is their femininity, and if they lose that they are liable to get the worst of both worlds. So I hope that women will not go too far. There is no reason why women should not become bus drivers or airline pilots, or drive a train; or even, as they do in Russia, become ship's captains. But who would want to take out a girl who drove a bus? It is not a female occupation. I certainly would not want to do so; it would put me off. If a woman were captain of a ship it might be very awkward if there were an all-male crew. The captain might fall in love with a mutineer, and then where would the ship be?

You cannot have it both ways, my Lords. There are many professions that are closed to men. For example, men do not become seamstresses, and there are other such professions. If women try to invade every profession, I think that their sex will lose a lot, and they will regret it. Some women make very good pilots, but the training for an airline pilot is very expensive. If a woman is trained to be an airline pilot the employers are not to know that she will not go off and get married. That is why private employers in such organisations as airlines are very chary about training women. The advantages of the expensive training may be lost to the employer. The situation is different in the Civil Service, and I am pleased that great strides have been made in the Civil Service in respect of equal opportunities of employment for women. But the Civil Service, I repeat, is quite different from private employers and private industry. It is possible to discriminate both ways. I would never employ a male secretary. If this Bill becomes law I presume that under Clause 3, which contains provisions relating to advertising, it would be illegal to advertise for a woman secretary. I think that is absurd.

I think the great thing about women is that they can be extraordinarily loyal; and surely loyalty and kindness are the greatest virtues. It is asked why there are not more women bank managers or accountants. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, who said that she wanted to guarantee her son's or her daughter's television set but the guarantee was not accepted because she was a woman. It is true that if a single woman wants to buy a house she finds it almost impossible to get a mortgage without a male guarantor. I think that that situation should be put right; but heaven knows how it could be done in law!

There have been many references to the Race Relations Act, but one cannot compare that Act with this Bill. The Race Relations Act makes it difficult enough for employers but, so far as I am aware, there are no biological differences between white and coloured people. So at least there is one simplicity there which we do not have in this Bill. I always listen with extreme attention to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, and hang on his words, since he is such an esteemed lawyer; but if this Bill became law as at present drafted, it would surely make a nonsense of the law. It would certainly make a complete nonsense for all employers.


My Lords, the noble Viscount will forgive me for interrupting him, but is not the object of having a Committee stage to get the Bill put right?


The noble and learned Lord is quite right in saying that; but I think that, rather than a Committee stage, we should have to have a new Bill to put into law all the thoughts expressed in this Bill, and it would probably run into about 150 clauses. I do not see how a Committee stage on this Bill could achieve that.

I am all for helping women to achieve parity with men in following careers, but one must bear in mind these biological differences. Women, it is true, suffer under the law; the law as at present is unfair to women. First of all, I think we should put that right. I do not want to be too hard on the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who introduced the Bill extremely ably and covered every argument. Perhaps I can cheer her up by quoting Socrates, who said: Woman, once made equal to man, becomes his superior. I doubt whether Socrates is always right, but unfortunately he never told us how that was to come to pass. I cannot repeat too often that discrimination is distasteful to me; but, having said that, I must add that I feel I cannot vote for the Bill and shall vote for the Amendment.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, because I think he put exactly the right parallel which is relevant to this Bill. He made the parallel between race discrimination and discrimination against women. The discriminations which have been referred to in this debate, and from which we suffer, are very closely parallel to those suffered by the coloured people in our community. There are, however, two differences. The first difference is that they are a minority, and, unhappily, all minorities are in a vulnerable position. We are the majority sex, though nobody would think it. The frail sex is catching up because of its superior power of survival, so that men are surplus right up to the middle forties. Nevertheless, we still are the majority of the community. We get awfully tired of seeing all the pictures of important people signing treaties, conducting debates, forming commissions and all the rest of it, almost always entirely masculine, and certainly with a vast over-representation of the minority sex.

The second difference between us and coloured people is that it is still possible to speak about women in terms in which it is no longer possible to speak about discrimination about our coloured friends. I very much regret that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, is not in his place, because I should like to go right through his speech and translate it into a speech about coloured people. We should then see that it would have been quite impossible for him to have made it.

I know that the Government are in a difficult position, but I can only refer to the noble Lord's speech as a complacent and patronising historical essay. He began by telling us about how women had conic into the position which they now occupy—which we all know very well, and it does not help us in the present situation. He then went on to say how we must learn that there is an association of the higher jobs with higher education: "So let us tell the girls to get some higher education." He could not say: "Let us tell the black people to go and get higher education, for jobs which they will not get." He said: "We must encourage the girls to be open-minded about the jobs they can do, even to qualify as engineers, for jobs which they will not get". He could not say that to the black people. "We must encourage their parents similarly to be open-minded about the jobs they can get." By the way, I have a little advice to give to parents on this point. If you are a female or a coloured person you are at a great disadvantage when applying for a job, and it is a great help if you can conceal your sex. Some friends of mine once had a kitten about whose sex they were rather dubious, and they decided to call it Leslie Evelyn Cecil, because these are unisex names. I would therefore advise parents to give their daughters one or more of these unisex names. They will have a much better chance of getting an interview, although, unfortunately, if they turn up in skirts, or if they have coloured faces, they will be at a great disadvantage. We were also told that we must educate males who are not willing to work with or work under women. You could not say that to coloured people. We were told that we must try to disabuse people who doubt the ability of women. You could not say that you should disabuse people about the ability of coloured people. Finally, we were told that there must be a change in the hearts and minds of men, and that is the only way that we shall get on.

We all know that there is discrimination. My noble friend Lord Hardwick referred to the B.B.C. Last night I counted in the B.B.C. Year Book (I hope I did not make a mistake) 236 posts of senior B.B.C. staff, seven of them held by females. There are still some jobs that women cannot hold. They cannot drive taxis in London and they cannot be priests either in the Church of England or the Church of Rome. A very interesting thing happened just to-day: for the first time the British Marbles Board allowed women to compete in international marbles championships. My Lords, you may laugh; but I want to make this parallel. The British Marbles Board could not have maintained a veto on coloured people and you would not have laughed had you been told that they had withdrawn it.

We have been told that we have different aptitudes. Indeed we have; but we do not have different aptitudes when we are qualified university professors, qualified bus drivers or competent shop assistants. We have different aptitudes at home and, if your Lordships will allow me to say so, in bed; but we do not have different aptitudes with regard to the professions which we have chosen and to which we have been appointed. I am very surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is unaware that the very great progress which has been made in her lifetime and in mine which I fully admit, is now coming to a halt. We have "blitzed" our way into a number of occupations, but we have made no progress in getting anything like the representation which our qualifications would justify, nor in getting anything appropriate to the numbers of competent persons. I know that times have changed since I was at university, but then I was not allowed to take the degree for which I had qualified by examination because I was a female person and a woman was not allowed to take a degree even if by her examination results she had stood ahead of all the males who competed with her. Oxford and Cambridge, who maintained that position for quite some time, were shamed out of it not very long afterwards. Those times have gone and most doors are open now, just as the doors of the Ritz are open to the unemployed.

It would be nice, as the noble Baroness has said, to be able to achieve this without legislation. But, after all, we have waited for half a century, making our slow progress, and legislation can do something. Again I come back to the parallel with coloured people. Legislation has done something. First of all, it is declaratory: it states what is the received doctrine and what are the standards which people are expected to observe. We know that it is possible to wriggle out of these legislative requirements; that people can say that a white man was better qualified, and so on. I think we would accept that it might even be very difficult to employ for a permanent job, perhaps involving a lengthy training period, a woman in the eighth month of pregnancy. However, I have no doubt that arrangements can be made to deal with cases like that. But it is declaratory: and secondly, it has worked. The British Marbles Board could not have had a ban on coloured people thanks to the Race Relations legislation.

It is very significant that very little reference has been made in this debate to the real difficulties about women having to withdraw from their occupations for some time while they are raising their families. There are real difficulties; and one great thing about legislation is that it forces society to adapt its employment arrangements to the realities of the two sexes. It has done that most effectively in the Civil Service, of which the noble Baroness who has moved this Amendment was such a distinguished member.


My Lords, if I may say so, it has not been done in the Civil Service by legislation.


No, it was not done in the Civil Service by legislation: that is indeed true. But the pattern has not been followed, and what we want is legislation which will generalise the pattern. Thirdly, legislation is sometimes effective. As I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, said, we have talked and talked and have given lip service to equal pay for years but now that the Act is on the Statute Book we are seeing with terror that we shall very soon have to implement it. Here may I say that the Equal Pay Act is the strongest of all reasons for giving support to this Bill, because it will be very tempting for employers to say: "If we have to give the same money to a man or a woman, we would rather take the man,"—either from prejudice or perhaps having regard to the real difficulties about employing women. If we have the two Acts together, it will be impossible to wriggle out of the provisions in that way. In the light of what has been said to her about the customs and practices of this House in relation to Private Members' Bills and in relation to the very real contribution that legislation might make to the cause which we know she shares with us I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will think again.

7.16 p.m.


My Lords, I intend to speak for only a very short time indeed, just to add an independent opinion on the debate today. Everything that has been said on the subject of discrimination has been said brilliantly by the noble Baronesses, Lady Summerskill, Lady Phillips, Lady Wootton of Abinger and Lady Young. We all know that we live in a world in which there is discrimination against women. The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, reminded me of the years during the war. I sat on the Women's Consultative Committee at the Ministry of Labour for nearly 20 years, and during the war women were called up for national service—indeed everybody was called up on equal terms on an equal basis; and women took over jobs which men had always done before. Looking back on that time, it all went amazingly smoothly; and it was quite extraordinary, when one thinks about the conditions under which we worked and lived during the war. I think we were the only nation where there was a basis of equal national service for men and women. I do not think they achieved it in Germany, and they did not try in France. At any rate that was a remarkable achievement, and I think that if it could work in those circumstances there is absolutely no reason at all why it should not work now and why there should, in the circumstances under which we live to-day, be this discrimination which your Lordships' House has been debating and on which we have heard chapter and verse.

I do not think that this is a good Bill. Reading it, one finds it has a great many faults, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, who said that it is much better to debate the Bill, to discuss it in Committee and, if need be, to amend it, and then, if we cannot get it right, to throw it out, than to turn it down now before we have had the chance of discussing it more fully.


Hear, hear!


I think we should give this Bill a Second Reading in order that we may discuss it. In law I think it is probably a very bad Bill, and certain things about it I do not like at all. But we can at least talk about it; we can move Amendments and, if we cannot get the Bill right by Amendments, we can reject on the Report stage or on Third Reading. After all, we have been fighting all our lives for women's rights, for professional women and ordinary women—at least I have, and I believe the same is true of everybody in the House to-day. Here we are in the fortunate position of being members of an assembly where there is no discrimination against women at all. The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and I, are the survivors of the first four women to come here and I can honestly say that from the first moment I sat on this Bench—I may say that it was next to my noble friend Lord Conesford, and he has had to put up with me for 12 years now—no discrimination has ever been shown against me. So we are indeed fortunate in that. I should like to see that attitude pervading the country, in industry, in the professions, indeed everywhere. Surely if to-day we can give a lead in this House, where we have given leads on many subjects which have been turned down by people in the other place, we shall at least be doing something which is well worth doing.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am very pleased to speak briefly in support of my noble friend's Bill. I hope that this will be the shortest intervention in this debate because I want to make only one point on the Bill, and one on the Amendment. This Bill is about attitudes and how they can be changed to give equal opportunities to qualified people who are debarred by sex from the advancement of their careers. I feel that when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed in 1919 its prime intention was to give equal opportunity to men and women alike, to further their careers in both the public and the private sector of British life. If noble Lords will bear with me, I should like to remind them of what I believe to be a relevant sentence from that Act: A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post, or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation, or for admittance to any incorporated society (whether incorporated by Royal Charter or otherwise) … Although I am no lawyer, I sense in those words that it was tacitly assumed that if there was no disqualification there could be no discrimination. Unfortunately, this has not turned out to be the case during the intervening years. I believe that if the Bill that we are now debating becomes law it will be a natural and necessary follow-on from this Act of 1919. I trust that noble Lords will accept this as such and support the Motion for Second Reading.

Finally, one word about the Amendment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, noted in his excellent speech of support that it was unusual for an Amendment along the lines proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to be included on the Second Reading of a Bill. I would go further and say that it was not only unusual but almost unladylike to propose an Amendment, which was described by one speaker as a "wrecking Amendment", without proper consultation beforehand with the Mover of this Bill. I cannot accept this Amendment, leaving aside its destructive wording, because the principle behind it seems to be that that it makes the Bill unnecessary on the premise that discrimination can be dealt with outside the law. I do not accept this; nor, I think, do a number of other noble Lords and Baronesses. Therefore I trust that they will reject this Amendment.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, my difficulty in the reasonably short speech that I hope to make is that I agree with so many of the things that have been said in support of the Bill. At the same time, I am entirely convinced that it is a bad Bill. I do not doubt that there exists discrimination against women that is undesirable. Our economics, and many other things, may be improved if such discrimination ceases to exist. But with all respect, that is not the question which I believe it is the duty of the House to consider to-night. The question that we have to consider is: is this a good Bill or is it a bad Bill? I hope that when we divide those who vote for the Bill will vote for it because they believe it is a good Bill, and those who vote against it will vote against it because they believe that it is a bad Bill; but nobody will vote for it, I hope, because they think that the noble Baroness who moved the Second Reading has her heart in the right place, and all the rest of it. Of course she has! She speaks with great force and charm, and we all regard her as a great ornament of this House.

One of the things that astonished me was the assumption that this would be a useful Bill. One of the strangest ideas was that it would be useful because legislation was necessary to get rid of discrimination. Yet arguments were used in support of the existence of discrimination taken from professions where there is no bar at all at present against women joining that profession. For example, the Bar was mentioned where comparatively few women make their career. But there is nothing to stop them. Membership of the other place was mentioned. It was said that there were few women compared with the number of men. But there is no bar to them. How does that show the relevance of and need for amending legislation if the very example quoted to show discrimination takes place in those spheres where there is no legal objection whatever to the employment of women? I might mention many others: the solicitors' profession; the architects' profession, where we have one or two extremely distinguished women architects. I wish there were more. There is no law standing in their way.

Why do I say that this is a bad Bill? Let me try to give my reasons very simply: the reasons that I am putting forward are reasons which might appeal perhaps to lawyers, or academic lawyers, and I admit that the speech which shook me was the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, which was as persuasive as ever. I have already given my view of the duty of this House: it is to decide which is right—the argument in support of the Bill, or the argument deployed for the Amendment. Let me say what I mean by what might be considered an academic lawyer's argument, or an argument of jurisprudence. Let me give a quotation from a famous Franciscan philosopher of the 14th century, William Occam, now remembered for what is known among philosophers as "Occam's Razor". I shall quote a few words at first in Latin and then give the translation. He said: Entia non multiplicanda praeter necessitatem which, translated, is: Entities must not be unnecessarily multiplied. I remember my noble and learned friend who is now the Lord Chancellor, in a debate some years ago, speaking from the Dispatch Box in front of us, quoting "Occam's Razor" by way of rebuking the Bench of Bishops for inventing new sins which he regarded as undesirable—he thought there were quite enough sins already. In the same way, I should be very slow to add either to the number of crimes by inventing totally new crimes or inventing totally new civil wrongs or torts. The Bill now before us invents new civil wrongs or torts. In the case of crime the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, will probably agree with me that one of the wisest chapters on the conditions which should be observed before any act was made criminally punishable was the famous second chapter of Kenney's Outlines of Criminal Law, in which he states the six conditions that ought to be satisfied before anything is made a crime. Unfortunately I cannot quote anything equally simple and direct that shows what conditions should be satisfied before we create a new civil wrong or tort. But one thing I would submit to the House: we should be very careful not to make something a new wrong which does not strike reasonable men as a wrong at all.

The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, in a speech which I must confess did not command my assent at all generally, made one observation which I thought was completely correct—there were more, no doubt, but the one I am going to quote, which I think is very germane, is this. Under Clause 3 it would be unlawful to advertise the fact that you were seeking a woman secretary. That is not a chance absurdity. That goes to the very basis of the Bill. That is what the Bill is about. It says in the most general terms that all discrimination is wrong, and therefore it is wrong to advertise for a woman secretary. There is a later clause dealing with education. I do not know what the intended effect is, but one of the actual effects may be that it becomes unlawful to run either a girls' school or a boys' school, or a men's college or a women's college at a university, because whichever sex you limit the institution to, somebody may come along and say that members of the other sex have been discriminated against; and then a body created by Statute, which shall have at least five women and may have 10 women, shall decide and the matter may go before the courts.

I listened with the greatest interest to some of the examples given in a persuasive speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. She gave as an example of unreasonable discrimination that women had been rejected as bus drivers on the urging of the trade union. I wonder how she imagines that this Bill, if carried into law, will improve that situation in any respect whatsoever. Who is going to be sued? Are the employers to be punished because the trade union will not submit? Or what is to take place? My Lords, I believe that legislation is a very difficult business. I believe that when we make new torts, new civil wrongs, we should think out the matter most deeply. I believe that in the advance in the sphere which appeals to the noble Baroness who moved the Second Reading of this Bill—and in this I agree with her—there are matters of law which need to be corrected. But they want to be stated with complete precision and persuasiveness and be such that they can be carried and can be calculated to cure the evil without introducing many other evils. This Bill is not of that type at all. It produces a major new civil wrong which, from the examples I have given, is something which reasonable people would not think a wrong at all.

I come lastly to what to me was the most persuasive speech made in the debate, that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner. I would come down on the same side as he did if I thought that this Bill was remediable in Committee. Frankly I do not take that view. I think it is fundamentally wrong because it states something to be wrong which everybody knows is not necessarily wrong at all. That I believe to be the essence of the Bill. I do not believe it is remediable, and for that reason I shall support the Amendment.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a very short question? Is it not true that there have been many Bills presented in this House for Second Reading which have not been at all perfect but which have been perfected and amended in the course of the Committee stage and the Report stage?


My Lords, I daresay the noble Baroness is right. I cannot for the moment recall one which started by being, in my opinion, so fundamentally bad as this one is, that has ever been amended satisfactorily.

7.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should first of all like to congratulate noble Lords. I think it was my noble friend Lady Summerskill who set such an excellent example for short speeches, and it is a matter of some congratulation that we have got through about nineteen speakers in a relatively short time. I intend to intervene only briefly in this debate, but it is a subject in which I have been deeply interested, and indeed very concerned, for a long time. I want to explain to the House why, having heard the arguments against the Bill—there has been no argument about the purpose of the Bill but merely against the Bill—I intend to vote for the Second Reading, if we are not able to persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to withdraw her Amendment.

I want to emphasise what has been made very clear in the debate—and I do not think anyone disputes it—that there is large-scale discrimination against women in employment. As I say, I think no one in this House disputes that. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is a very distinguished person. Her exceptional qualities were likely to bring her to the top, although, as was suggested by my noble friend, perhaps she had a more open-minded Minister at that particular moment to help. Nevertheless, it is very unlikely that even somebody with the ability of Lady Sharp would have become a managing director of I.C.I., or Shell, or even the chairman of a major public Board. We know that in the last year of the 120 appointments that have been made to public Boards by the Government only one is a woman. The facts, if we are prepared to face them, are really very serious indeed and we ought not to take a comfortable view of the situation. I would not suggest that Lady Sharp is motivated by an "I'm all right, Joan" argument. But I am bound to say that those of us who have been concerned directly—I know she has been concerned as a great administrator—and professionally involved in personnel management are more deeply aware of the extent of this discrimination than many other people. It is noteworthy that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is uniquely qualified in this field, not only as an observer from outside but as somebody who has contributed decisively to the thinking in this matter.

I have myself had many years in personnel management; I have talked with many people in personnel management, and indeed my attitude to this problem and to the existence of discrimination is largely conditioned by my experience in personnel management. I remember speaking to senior colleagues in business, urging them to make a particular appointment. I remember one, a very able young woman who was well qualified to pursue a career and to move out of personnel into organisation and methods. A very senior director, who was otherwise a charming, liberal-minded man, like so many noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, said "Oh no, it would not be suitable for her to go and work in a warehouse". This attitude, this discrimination and prejudice, exists, and it is all the worse because so many of those who practise it either accept it as part of the natural order or are unconscious of their attitude. There is no doubt that the attitude of the majority of men and even, possibly, for all I know, the majority of women reflects this discrimination. I cannot stress too strongly again that this is a major problem of social justice. It is a problem of major importance to us economically and it is because we fail to tackle it, as we fail to tackle other problems, that extremist movements grow up. I only wish my noble friend Lord Pethwick-Lawrence could have been here; the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, will remember when we first came into the House that beautiful and lucid mind of Lord Pethwick-Lawrence, one of the earliest personal suffragists, who had to battle against this sort of problem.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to the Civil Service, and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, gave us some encouraging news about progress in the Civil Service. I want to stress to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, first, that we have been singularly slow in tackling discrimination in the Civil Service and there are many hurdles to get over, but the fact that the Civil Service is setting an example does not mean that the rest of the country will follow. We have had equal pay in the non-industrial Civil Service for a very considerable time, but practically no progress was made. There was every sort of argument against equal pay legislation, as there is against this sort of legislation. It is a difficult area in which to legislate, but in the end one has to face it, and when the noble Baroness. Lady Sharp, referred to the Race Relations Act and suggested that this was different from that particular proposition, how many people opposed the Race Relations Bill on identical grounds, as my noble friend Lady Wootton made clear? I rather wonder whether the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who said it was so different, in fact favoured the introduction of race relations legislation until gradually the argument had got across.


My Lords, if I may say so, I did. I was in favour of it from the very start.


My Lords, I am delighted to hear that. The question is whether we are right to proceed by legislation. Not much has been said about the Bill so far and I should like to mention some of the clauses. I shall come in a moment to the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cones-ford. Clause 4 says: it shall be unlawful for any person or body to discriminate against any person seeking to obtain training or education for which he or she is qualified or suited. My Lords, if the Bill contained only that one clause, even if we struck out all the other clauses, it would still be worth while. Powerful arguments are put forward (and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, gave examples) of why people will not train young women; namely, because they are afraid that the young women will go off and get married. I happen to think, as a manager, that those people are misguided and that the work these young people do while they are being trained, when they are not paid as much, is ample return for the sums spent. I know this to be true of young women.

I want to stress that this Bill relates only to jobs for which a person is suitable or qualified. We have not had the silly arguments that are sometimes put forward about women not wanting to go into coal mining or heavy engineering. This has been a serious debate. But the fact remains, and I think all noble Lords are agreed, that there are many women who could do many jobs which are still male preserves—and, let us face it, there are many jobs that men could do as well as women which tend to be women's preserves, if in fact men had the inclination to do them. What we are trying to do is to deal with underlying attitudes, and it is fair to argue that it is difficult to legislate to make people change their attitudes. But it really is naive of noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod—I wish she were here—or indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to think that if we give this Bill a Second Reading we are committed to passing what has been described as "bad law". Even the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in her able speech, spoke about "passing" this Bill. We are doing nothing of the sort. If we give it a Second Reading we are approving the principle, we are sending it to Committee, and it is the experience of many of us in this House, as my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner and as the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said, that some of the most useful legislation in social and other fields is passed into law after it has been debated, amended and, in the end, got into a form which was suitable.

I should like to give one example to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, a simple, fairly non-controversial example—the Seals Bill which was introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrooke. The Government of the day, of which I was a member, was unsympathetic. Indeed, I was briefed to oppose the Bill on the grounds that legislation was not the right way to proceed with the problem: that the particular proposals were unsuitable; that it would make bad law and that in any case the Home Office had too much to do and did not want the extra burdens put upon it. It was the Home Office which was in fact, for understandable reasons, most opposed to it. When we came to the Second Reading it so happened that my noble friend Lord Stonham was ill and I took his place. It was obvious that, as in the debate to-day, the majority of the House wanted to give that Bill a Second Reading. We did so, and the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrooke, then took no further steps. On that occasion we did not even have a Committee stage. There were discussions with the Government; there was a re-draft; that Bill went through this House again and I am not sure that we did not have a third "go" at it. In the end the Commons picked it up and a very useful measure was passed into law.

I am bound to support what my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner said: that in a measure of this kind—although I have known measures to be thrown out on Second Reading—where there is a degree of support for the purposes it is right to give it a Second Reading. Some of the provisions may be unsatisfactory—I happen to think that some are; but it is very difficult for private Members to get Bills right. I can think of Amendments that I should like to see made. But this House has a good reputation, as Lady Seear said on the radio this morn- ing, for being liberal in its approach and not necessarily dominated by Party politics or a wish merely to be tidy about a matter. I suspect that the Government—and I do not wish to defame them—are not without competence in this matter; they have taken some reasonable steps to block the Bill. I may add that, in other circumstances, I might similarly have been asked to take such steps; and I do not suggest for one moment that noble Lords on the Government Front Bench have behaved improperly in this matter; they have a duty. None the less, as my noble friend Lady Stocks once said, in a somewhat interesting remark, this is a House in which there is no class distinction, Party rancour is negligible and there is no sex discrimination.

It is my view that until we have legislation of this kind actually being discussed and worked on, with the sponsors bargaining with the Government, we shall not make progress. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, used to "chase" me once a month until I got the Home Office moving—luckily, I had one or two allies in the Government. The sort of progress made without legislation is much too slow. I would remind noble Lords, and particularly noble Baronesses, of the striking strength of support for this Bill in another place. That is why I am so delighted the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, has taken the view she has. In another place there were Mrs. Kellet-Bowman and Miss Janet Fookes, Mrs. Sally Oppenheim, Dame Joan Vickers, all sponsors of the Bill on an all-Party basis. I am a little afraid that the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, has been misled. She said that she would find it difficult to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. But, of course, support for this Amendment would have precisely the effect of voting against the Second Reading of the Bill. That is the purpose of this Amendment, whether we call it a wrecking amendment or whatever it may be. The object of the Amendment is to throw out the Bill, and if Lady Macleod votes for the Amendment she will in fact be doing what she has told us she does not want to do—that is, voting against the Second Reading of the Bill.

I appeal to noble Lords opposite to give this Bill a Second Reading. We have had some discussion about what the Government were intending to do, about other proposals in the pipeline. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, clearly did not wish to be quizzed in any depth. I can understand, if he has a schedule of 36 proposals, or something of that kind, as to what is happening in the Civil Service, this is not the time to reveal it.


My Lords, I have the information, but I do not want to break into the noble Lord's speech as he is nearing his peroration, any more than he broke into mine. It is a detailed complicated matter, but I have the information.


Yes, my Lords; I was really patting him on the back for resisting my blandishments in the matter. He is perfectly right. If we were left at the end of the day—and this is perfectly possible, and would be perfectly correct Parliamentary procedure—with Clause 4, an amended Clause 2, and Clause 6, particularly the Anti-Discrimination Board, this would be a big advance. It would he a first step. It would more strikingly put on record the attitude of this House and would provide a real psychological shock to those to whom such a shock ought to be delivered.

I would suggest to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that she should agree that if this House agreed to give the Bill a Second Reading—perhaps we could even persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to withdraw her Amendment—she would undertake to have discussions with the Government to see whether we can get the Bill right: this is what we did with the Seals Bill. It may well be that, we should go on to Committee stage; and if then, at the end of the day, we find that in important respects the Bill is unsatisfactory, it will nevertheless have been a most valuable exercise. We are not at this moment very busy, because so much legislation is hung up in another place. Let us find something useful to do, and the House of Lords, above all places, is the right place to do it. I must stress to noble Lords that this really is a deep social problem, and here we have an opportunity to strike a blow—and I do not think these words are excessive—for justice. At least it might have the effect of making a number of people re-examine their attitudes. I appeal to the noble Baroness who is due to speak to consider this argument and consider whether we should not now give the Bill a Second Reading. If people argue that this Bill is a blunt instrument, then I can only say that a smart blow from a blunt instrument is what a great many people in this country need in this matter.

7.57 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the Amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I would like to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that it is not that I am not in complete sympathy with the objects of her Bill, but that this is not, I feel, the right way to set about achieving them. I support the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, in what he said; if this is a had Bill there is no point in wasting time on a Committee stage and then throwing out the Bill. If we want more publicity, there is no reason why we should not have a general debate on the subject at any time. I believe that we already have too much legislation. I cannot think what heroic people are going to sit on this Board and judge between men and women when a case is brought before them. Because it is a bad Bill, I cannot support it, and therefore I am on the side of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. The Bill seems to me—and I think this is a pity—to stress the antagonism between the sexes, which is not helpful. I am on the side of St. Francis who said, "Where there is hate let us show love." That seems to me far more appropriate between the two sexes than this Bill.

I have been in politics now some 45 years, and through all those years I have fought against discrimination and tried to open doors for women who came after me, being younger. I should like to assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, that he will find that the promise in the Manifesto will be fulfilled before the next election. A lot of it is already done, and some of it is now in process. If he wishes, I can let him see what is going on. It has been a very long struggle against prejudice, jealousy and indifference, but we have come a long way; and while it is not yet quite a matter of knocking at a completely open door, the door is certainly very far ajar compared to the 1920s when I started in political life. I do not think we want more legislation; we want more understanding. We do not want more penalties; we want more opportunities. We do not want pitched battles; we want the hand of friendship and companionship.

May I take your Lordships back to the beginning of the world, according to Genesis. I am following the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who finds the Bible a very great help. According to this record, a woman was the last creation, in which a portion of man's body was incorporated. One would of course like to think that the last creation was also the most perfect. Be that as it may, it is recorded that Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge first, and it is not recorded as to how much she ate, but we know that she only gave one apple to Adam. After expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam, having the greater physical strength, became the hunter and the defender of the home against marauding beasts and enemies, and Eve tended the home fires and the children. The trouble really is that now, where brawn takes second place to brain and perhaps to the computer, this early picture has remained in the male mind as a fixture, and it is forgotten that Eve also ate, and perhaps largely, of the Tree of Knowledge, and has not only a right but a duty to train and develop her brain to its fullest capacity and then put it to the good use of her family and humanity.

I think one of our chief complaints—it has been mentioned by several speakers here this afternoon, and it is generally supported—is that until quite recently opportunity for girls to develop their intellectual capacity and intelligence has been inferior to that of their brothers, and the opportunities are really not good enough yet. I belong to the generation—as I daresay do one or two other noble Baronesses here, too—who went, when it was considered unusual for a girl, to university. I had to live down the awful label of being a "blue stocking". I am glad to say that I have at this moment two grand-daughters who got quite naturally to university, and I cannot see that their attraction for the opposite sex has in any way diminished—perhaps rather the contrary.

We have progressed quite a long way. I think it was beyond the wildest dreams of the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, and myself at that age that there should be women Prime Ministers in the world to-day, or that women should sit in the Speaker's Chair in another place, and here on the Woolsack. Yet this has happened, if a little slowly, without any penal legislation. What I think we need now is a little extra effort, and some sensible publicity, if I may say so.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might interrupt the noble Baroness. She used the words "penal legislation"; and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, who was in fact talking about civil wrongs and torts, used the word "criminal". This of course does not create a criminal offence.


My Lords, may I intervene briefly to say that I had a separate passage dealing with crime, saying that there was nothing equally simple that I could say about civil wrongs or torts. I did not suggest that there was anything penal in this Bill.


My Lords, I understand that if you come up before the Board you will suffer a penalty if you do not carry out what the law is; it is, therefore, penal legislation. I think that we must have some sensible publicity and less ridicule, and less exaggerated criticism. What I have found throughout my long life is that if a man makes a mistake everybody says, "Poor old boy; he'll be all right next time"; whereas if a woman makes a mistake then it is because she is a woman and ought not to be there at all. If I might make a suggestion to the Front Bench, there was at the 22nd Session of the United Nations a "Declaration on the elimination of discrimination against women". We took quite a prominent part in the debate and supported it, and I suggest that a minute should be sent to all Ministries, local authorities, nationalised industries and so on, calling their attention to the fact that we did support that Declaration, and asking that what it implies should be fully carried out.

I would end by saying that I truly believe that the better the education of women, the greater their opportunities of understanding the world we live in and the more they take their share of responsibility, the better the companionship there will be between the two sexes and the more sensible and responsible mothers women will be. Our young, as I think somebody said this afternoon, are mainly in their mothers' hands for the first and most impressionable years of their lives. That is still the greatest responsibility a woman can have, and she cannot be a good mother unless she is also a mature human being. Eve must have and take her place, not as a second-rate but as a first-class citizen, complementary and not inferior to her mate, the delightful Adam.

8.6 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank your Lordships very much indeed for the support that has been given in this debate. I think we can all feel, whatever the outcome, that we have had some extremely interesting and worthwhile speeches on a subject that is unquestionably of great importance. There has been a considerable measure of agreement between us. I think nobody has suggested that there is no discrimination in this country, and nobody has suggested that discrimination is in itself defensible, although, quite properly, some noble Lords have pointed out that there are certain situations in which clearly a man is more suitable than a woman, and in others a woman more suitable than a man. But it is probably at this point that we part company. To those who have said, while deploring discrimination, that we should rely on persuasion, because after all it is argued that progress is being made, I would say that they are living in a fool's paradise.

I want to emphasise now, as I emphasised in my opening speech, a quite precise but very important point, particularly for those women who are not likely to see the inside of your Lordships' Chamber or to be competing for the higher posts in the Civil Service; the millions of women who are going to be affected by the Equal Pay Act. I would remind them, as Robert Carr said, that the Equal Pay Act, without equal opportunity, can lead backwards for women, not forwards. We cannot underline this point too heavily. There is no automatic progress for women in the situation as it is, and, if anything, the signposts are set backwards. Therefore, do not let us rest on the idea that all we have to do is to leave well alone and that slowly—perhaps a little too slowly, but still surely—progress will be made. I am totally unconvinced—especially since the passing of the Equal Pay Act—that that is so. The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, who has just spoken so eloquently, said that we should rely on love; but I would remind your Lordships that the gospel of love rests also on a gospel of law, and perhaps it would be easier to love more if we had a little more law and not a little less.

It has been argued that legislation cannot change attitudes and is inappropriate for dealing with general problems of this kind. Robert Carr has been quoted several times this afternoon. May I quote him once more from the same debate: It is a legitimate function of the law to put on record the judgment of the community about what is fair and reasonable. It is also a useful and legitimate function of the law in practical terms, because law does form opinion and influence behaviour."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 9/2/1970, col. 932.] It has been argued that legislation in this field will not change attitudes, but may I repeat that the leaders of industry are basically law-abiding people; once the law has been passed, they will insist that their policies are reviewed in the light of this legislation. Reluctantly, and in many cases very unwillingly, behaviour will alter, and as behaviour alters so attitudes will change. As noble Lords have said, this has been the experience—although inadequate and insufficient—following the passing of the Race Relations Act. There are differences as well as similarities between the problems of discrimination in matters of race and in matters of sex. But just as that inadequate legislation has affected for the good relations between the races, so I believe that legislation in this sphere would affect for the good relations between the sexes, and the opportunities for women.

It has been said that this is a bad Bill and I do not claim that it is at all perfect; I believe that it needs improvement. But it is capable of improvement; on this I should not like to commit myself at the moment, but probably on the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. What would be the greatest pity is that after the debate that we have had to-day the subject should be closed. This is not a matter which one would have expected to discuss and solve in the course of an afternoon's debate, even among such distinguished debaters as your Lordships. But there is a strong undercurrent of feeling in the country that something needs to be done in this field. We in your Lordships' House have an opportunity to take a lead here which was denied to the elected Members in another place. We surely have an enviable reputation now for taking a lead in matters of this kind; but if the Amendment is accepted the discussion will be at an end.

Even at this late hour I would ask the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, after the discussion which we have had, whether she will consider withdrawing her Amendment, not in order that the Bill in its present form should go forward, but in order that we may have discussions further continued so that in Committee we can improve and adapt it. It is only by the working of mind on mind, by the working through of controversial issues, that it is possible for a problem of such complexity and such difficulty finally to be resolved. But I believe that we have our opportunity, and it is our responsibility to do just that.

I was particularly delighted, as I am sure were other Members on this side of the House, that the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, decided to vote in favour of further discussion, because that is what the vote will be about. Do we say that we have finished with this subject? If we do, then the Amendment will be accepted. But if we say, as we have surely been saying the whole of this afternoon, that this is a matter of the greatest importance on which we most certainly have not had our last

thoughts or spoken our last words, then I beg your Lordships to reject the Amendment, to vote for the Second Reading and allow us to apply our minds to producing a much improved version of this Bill and to finding solutions to the issues raised in this afternoon's important debate.

8.14 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may first say one word about the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner. He said, I understand, that it is extremely unusual for the Second Reading of a Private Member's Bill to be objected to in this House. I find that in the last seven Sessions of Parliament twenty-two Private Member's Bills have been objected to on Second Reading in this House, three by reasoned Amendment. So I do not feel that I made quite such a "boob" as I was afraid I had made when I first heard the noble and learned Lord's speech.

I am afraid that I cannot withdraw my Amendment. Nothing that I have heard in the speeches has really touched the point I made, which was that however strongly one may feel—and many of us feel very strongly—about discrimination against women in employment, it is not a matter which can be dealt with satisfactorily by legislation. That, I am afraid, is still my conviction, so I am afraid that I cannot withdraw my Amendment.

8.15 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 34; Not-Contents, 50.

Abinger, L. Gainford, L. Reay, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Gisborough, L. St. Just, L.
Belstead, L. Gowrie, E. Saint Oswald, L.
Bridgeman, V. Hives, L. Shannon, E.
Coleraine, L. Hood, V. Sharp, Bs. [Teller.]
Conesford, L. Hylton-Foster, Bs. Somers, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Lauderdale, E. Strathclyde, L.
Emmet of Amberley, Bs. [Teller.] Loudoun, C. Sudeley, L.
Macleod of Borve, Bs. Vivian, L.
Ferrers, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Windlesham, L.
Ferrier, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Young, Bs.
Fortescue, E. Northchurch, Bs.
Annan, L. Bacon, Bs. Birk, Bs.
Ardwick, L. Beaumont of Whitley, L. Blyton, L.
Arwyn, L. Beswick, L. Brockway, L.
Carnock, L. Jacques, L. Serota, Bs.
Chalfont, L. Janner, L. Shackleton, L.
Champion, L. Maelor, L. Shepherd, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Milner of Leeds, L. Simon, V.
Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Newcastle, L. Bp. Soper, L.
Foot, L. Nunburnholme, L. Stocks, Bs.
Fulton, L. O'Hagan, L. [Teller.] Strabolgi, L.
Gaitskell, Bs. Phillips, Bs. Summerskill, Bs.
Gardiner, L. Platt, L. Tanlaw, L.
Garner, L. Popplewell, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
George-Brown, L. St. Davids, V. White, Bs.
Granville of Eye, L. Sandys, L. Wootton of Abinger, Bs.
Henley, L. Seear, Bs. [Teller.] Zuckerman, L.
Heycock, L.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.