HL Deb 29 June 1973 vol 343 cc2191-209

11.27 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Baroness Seear.)

Clause 10 [Investigation Without Complaint.]

LORD DERWENT: moved to leave out Clause 10.

The noble Lord said: my Lords, I hope that your Lordships will not think I am wasting the time of the House in moving an Amendment on a Bill which will probably not get very much further this Session. I am doing this for two main reasons. First, I believe that there is a serious matter of principle here; and secondly, my noble friend Lord Colville said in Committee that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce their own legislation. If he confirms that, I think it would be just as well that the opinion of this House should be known to the Government before they finish drafting their legislation. I moved a similar Amendment in Committee. I then withdrew it, largely on the suggestion of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition who I think—on re-reading his words—went further and almost suggested that I should raise the question again to-day and possibly get a decision of the House. As I always follow his advice that it what I am doing now.

My Lords, Clause 10 says quite briefly that where no complaint of any kind is made to the Board, the Board may make their own inquiries. In my view such a clause should not be put into any Bill unless it is quite obviously a necessity. As I have said before, the people of this country are going to get more and more fed up with the number of people who can interfere with their private doings, who have right of entry into their houses and their offices. Some 10,000 inspectors of various kinds can already do this. But the large majority of those inspectors do so for reasons of safety, either of employees or of neighbours, people like fire inspectors, or for health reasons. Therefore, whether one likes them or not they are necessary.

When I raised this question on the last occasion, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, quoted at me the clause in the Race Relations Act. Re-reading his words, I thought that he rather gave the case way. He did not quite say so, but he more or less implied that because it was in that Act the Committee had perhaps been rather influenced by that in thinking that it would be a good thing to have it in this one.

Personally, I regret that a similar clause was in the Race Relations Act, but I admit that in that case it was absolutely necessary. This was really a case of probable intimidation, not just against individuals but against whole communities. Serious intimidation was expected and to some extent has arisen. It was thought that people were frightened to make complaints under the Race Relations Act—and I think rightly—because they would be afraid, if they complained, of not being able to get a job, not being able to get a house, in certain case being under pressure of being turned out of their house, in some cases blackmail, and in other cases they were afraid of personal violence if they complained. Those ideas may have been a bit exaggerated, but they have not been entirely exaggerated, and I think that in that Act such a clause enabling a board to make inquiries without any complaint was absolutely necessary.

I do not think that this Bill is anything like that. I pointed out to the Committee that if it was simply a question of a man or a woman being refused a job and he or she thought that the refusal was on the grounds of sex, there would be really no fear on the part of that person of going to the Board and complaining, though they might have considerable difficulty in proving their case. That is already covered under the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, came back at me and said that it was not just a question of getting a job. It was a question of a woman—it might well be a man, I suppose—being frightened; that in the case of being passed over for promotion or not getting on to a training course with a view to promotion she would be afraid to say anything about it because of her colleagues who were also trying for these jobs. They would take offence, so she would be frightened to do so. The noble Baroness might also have added that she might be frightened to do so because of her employer. But the scale of fear there is really not comparable with the Race Relations Act. Really it is not a question of intimidation; it is a question of personal nervousness.

Let us get down to the practical and common sense view of this clause. What on earth is the point of this clause? The noble Baroness tells us that a man or a woman may be frightened of complaining because of her colleagues. That is possible. But what on earth are the Board to do? No complaint has been made to the Board. Neither the person concerned nor any friend of hers has complained to the Board. The Board will know absolutely nothing about this, that the woman is frightened of complaining. There is no method of them knowing. Are they to go round from firm to firm trying to find out whether something has gone wrong? They are likely to get a dusty answer. If the woman is not going to complain because she does not want to upset her colleagues and the colleagues have not already complained, the Board are not going to get any answer at all.

In my view this kind of clause, which interferes with personal liberties of various kinds, is essential only if the case is absolutely made out that it is necessary. In my view, this clause in this type of Bill is not only unnecessary, it is unworkable; and I think that is a tendency—I believe the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, said that this was increasingly likely to happen in legislation of this kind—if this type of thing is allowed to creep in where it is not necessary. I believe that it is quite wrong in principle. I therefore hope that when it comes to the end of what we all have to say noble Lords will think that this kind of clause should not go into this sort of Bill, being both unnecessary and unworkable. I beg to move.

11.37 a.m.


My Lords, I hope that the House will resist the Amendment. As Chairman of the Select Committee, I want to assure your Lordships that a great deal of thought was given to the matter by the Committee before it was decided to include this clause in the Bill. We recognise that there were differences between the race relations aspect of this matter and sex discrimination. We recognised that there were very great differences in emphasis. But we had a feeling all along the line that there were many women particularly who, not because of any threat or what an employer would do, but out of sheer nervousness of themselves would be deterred from making a complaint to the Board. We felt that this was an opportunity for the Board in their wisdom and in their experience and out of the evidence which was coming to them over the days and the years, that they would seek circumstances and positions which would need this kind of investigation on their part as an initiation.

I would draw the attention of the House and of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, to the very first words of Clause 10: If the Board have reason to suspect that an act of discrimination has been done in contravention … Those are the operative words. This is not the setting up of a bunch of snoopers; it is an authorisation to the Board to initiate inquiries if they feel that it is necessary. I feel that this is something which perhaps gives added teeth to the Bill and—I finish where I began—the Committee did not come to this decision without very many not minutes but hours of discussion and thought. I hope that the Amendment will be resisted.


My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, on this. I am sure that my noble friends on this side will not agree with me. What I dislike about the clause is comparing it with the Immigration Act. One cannot say that the Sex Discrimination Bill is in the same category as the Immigration Act. They are different. There are some issues which one would fight for, but which one would not die for, if noble Lords understand me. So I have some reservations about this.

My noble friend Lord Royle said that the Committee in its wisdom knew what it was doing when it included the clause. That may be so. All the same, the fact that the fear is not the same in relation to the Sex Discrimination Bill as in the Immigration Act really does make a difference to me.


My Lords, the noble Lady keeps referring to the Immigration Act? Does she not mean the Race Relations Act? If she is drawing a parallel with the Immigration Act, it may be that she has confused the issues herself.

BARONESS GAITSKELL: My Lords, no, I do not think I have.

11.41 a.m.


My Lords, as one of those on the Committee, may I say that it was not until I heard the speech of my noble friend, Lord Derwent, that I realised that this proposal could be associated with any tremendous invasion of the rights of private citizens; and when I heard him say something about the rights of private inspectors to enter houses I was not really sure that I could have been sitting on the Committee and approved this if there had been any such sinister intent behind it. I do not consider that this is the most important clause in the Bill, and I must frankly say that. I have no reservations about it, because I think it is justified. There might be occasions when the Board, who are responsible people, might have reason to suspect the discrimination was being practised but that the complainant felt unhappy about making the complaint.

I think that the Board will have quite enough to do, under Clause 9, without going round to find work for themselves. To object to this clause and to object to what the Board can do under Clause 13, where they have power to investigate undertakings, is really to make a molehill out of a mountain. It is the other way round. The Board have far wider powers under Clause 13, and no objection is taken to that. So I hope that the House will not take this clause quite so seriously and think that it is a major invasion of the rights of citizens.

11.43 a.m.


My Lords, as another member who served on the Select Committee for a year, I hope that the House will have confidence in us as their representatives. We represented both sides of the House. We discussed this matter at some length. If any noble Lord would like to hear what we had to say about the matter he has only to go to the Printed Paper Office and he will find our Report. Of course, people differ. There are those who are bold and courageous, who have been conditioned to be so as children. There are those who are less bold and who may have been bullied by their schoolmasters—and may I remind the House that this can apply to a man. When these individuals, who are modest and shy and find it difficult to put their own case, are discriminated against, they generally turn in on themselves, become a little embittered and recognise that they have got to put up with it; otherwise they feel that in the future they may again be jeopardised.

I think I have described a woman throughout, as I find women. She is found in many places. In the Civil Service, I remember, I came across them as people who had been overlooked and who felt that they dare not object because that would make the position difficult. But I shall take a specific case. I shall take this all the way from the shyness and the modesty of the individual who feels that she has been discriminated against, particularly in this manner. The House will know that on various occasions over the years I have raised the question of discrimination against women medical students. I have said how absurd it is for the country to be short of doctors and for our hospitals to be forced to employ doctors who find it difficult to speak English, when nevertheless all over the country there are brilliant girls who have been denied the opportunity to enter a medical school because there is discrimination against women. The figures have been discussed; they are roughly 25 per cent. in Charing Cross Hospital, 15 per cent. in St. Thomas's Hospital and so on. Everybody has agreed that undoubtedly there has been discrimination.

A year or two ago the Headmistresses' Association wrote to me—and noble Lords will know that teachers are very slow to complain—about one of the most brilliant girls they had ever met. She had tried to get into a medical school and had been refused. They felt that this was a case of discrimination. The noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, was on the Woolsack at the time and I asked his advice. I asked whether it would be possible to invoke the Sex Disqualification Removal Act and whether we could raise it as a test case and so prove that this girl had been discriminated against; and I pointed out that it would be in the interests of girls throughout the country. My noble friend said, "Yes; go forward." So I did what I thought was the right thing; I told the Headmistresses' Association what we proposed to do.

In consequence, the parents of the girl were communicated with and asked to co-operate, not only so that their girl should find a place in a medical school but also in the interests of all these brilliant girls who had been turned down. Here I was, asking for an investigation without complaint—what the noble Lord is complaining about. We did not say that the girl or her parents necessarily had to face any awe-inspiring tribunal, but of course we wanted their co-operation. They refused it. They felt that to do a thing like this would not be in the interest of their daughter, because in the future it would become known that she had been used as a test case and the chances of getting into a medical school would be impossible.

Here is a case in point that surely must prove to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond—who is generally a very fair man—that an investigation without complaint in certain circumstances is absolutely justified. We are not dealing in any frivolous manner with cases in the Bill. It has been made quite clear in the clause, where we mention the word "frivolous", that a frivolous complaint would not be entertained. But in such a case where it has been felt by people in authority that there has been discrimination, surely the House would say that that girl should have the right to put her case forward.

11.48 a.m.


My Lords, I rise not to follow up the point taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill; she undoubtedly speaks with knowledge and authority on that particular question, so I do not propose to continue it. I speak particularly on my noble friend's Amendment, because he impressed me with the line that he took, and I was impressed also at Second Reading. Against that we have the assurances of the application and devoted thought that had been given to the Bill in Committee. At this stage it should have reached the point of being acceptable.

So I would follow the noble Lord, Lord Boyle, and say that I am impressed by what he said, and not a little by the remarks of my noble friend Lord Reigate, which were persuasive, though few. However, for myself, I had some misgivings from the start as to the wisdom of much that was attempted in this Bill, and the difficulties that would probably develop in carrying it out, if and when it reached the Statute Book. My noble friend Lord Derwent has certainly emphasised to me again the fact that this can interfere more than is necessary or indeed wise, with regard to the carrying out of the clause.

I refrained from saying anything in Committee, but I say it now, because of my misgivings. I do not like more bureaucracy being developed. Goodness knows! this must inevitably develop bureaucracy and investigation. However, I will use this opportunity to put a question to the Minister in charge. Discrimination is a word that is considered reprehensible. I have a great admiration for ladies who are red-haired, but I would say to the Minister's interpretation that there are individuals in the world—large employers of labour—who have an idio-syncracy about this, and it is a rule of the house that no red-heads are to be employed. How is such a bar to be interpreted under these clauses? One must respect idiosyncrasies in many ways, but this is something on which I should like an interpretation. Having said that, would repeat my support for the Amendment of my noble friend.

11.52 a.m.


My Lords, I strongly support the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. I cannot pretend to be keen on the Bill as a whole. I believe this country needs a reduction, not an augmentation, in legislation which involves interference with personal choice and judgment.

I agree that there are fields in which the law should intervene more decisively than it now does to protect the rights and the well-being of women. One thinks of the terrible saga of the battered wives, about which there has been so much in the news recently, where the law seems curiously reluctant to interfere. Again, sexual assaults on women have been increasing. Could this be because sentences imposed for such assaults seem to be shorter than those imposed in other English-speaking countries? Perhaps in this sphere stronger legislation is called for.

Furthermore, I do not deny that some women have valid financial grievances, ranging from the totally inadequate tax allowance for single women who look after their aged parents, to the fully justified complaints of the women competitors at Wimbledon over their inadequate share of the prize money. After all, their style is as good as that of the men; their game is as interesting and as enjoyable to watch; and this year, at any rate, their sportsmanship is far more in evidence. I suspect that they will get a larger slice of the prize money within the next two or three years anyway, and this Bill will have no effect—and, as I interpret it, could not have any effect—on the outcome, because this is the way that things are moving of their own accord. This was exemplified by the recent action of the London Stock Exchange in admitting women on to the floor of the house, belatedly following the example set by provincial stock exchanges some years ago. Had the big stick been wielded, members might well have dug their toes in against change, human nature being what it is.

I appreciate that there still are spheres of employment where either women are excluded completely or promotion to the highest rank is difficult, if not impossible. However, for psychological and biological reasons, I wonder whether the sum of human happiness will be increased if every little girl is brought up to believe that she has as much right and chance as her twin brother to become an astronaut, or Chairman of I.C.I., or Shell or Unilever, or Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, with motherhood and domesticity relegated to the second rank.

I appreciate that I may be quite wrong about this, and that many noble Ladies feel so; and if the overwhelming majority of women feel this way, perhaps this Bill is the answer. However, this does not shake my conviction that Clause 10, and possibly Clause 13, which the noble Lord on my left mentioned, go too far.

I should not like this country to go the way of the United States of America, where coercive "liberalism" can be seen in its most extreme form. Professional comedians derive much useful and amusing material from some of the absurd laws in force on that side of the Atlantic. For instance, in New York State, as I understand it, not only is it illegal for an employer to advertise specifically for a female secretary, but if a man and a woman present themselves at the same time for a job, and the man has higher shorthand and typing speeds, the employer is legally bound to employ him, to the exclusion of the woman. Again, American airlines are now forbidden to select air hostesses on the basis of their youth and looks. One might think that flying was quite boring enough—and often rather alarming, too—without being deprived of the consolation of an atractive air hostess to look at.

More seriously, this anti-liberalism leads to such extremes as the bussing of small schoolchildren all over the country—not, as is claimed, for the betterment of their education, but in pursuit of an abstract ideological objective. The quota system is also being discussed in the United States. It is suggested that firms might employ 50 per cent. women, 11 per cent. Negroes, x per cent, other minorities, and so on. But, my Lords, the quota system is a two-edged weapon. It seems fair, superficially, but noble Lords may remember how it was used in various parts of Europe—and indeed in the United States—to cut down the number of Jewish students entering universities, medical schools, technical colleges and so on. I do not think that this is a good idea in any way.

One might suppose that the British character is such that we are never likely to go to such extremes over here; but I fear that Clause 10 could push us some way in that direction. The reason is that, clearly, while the officers and servants to be appointed by the Board, as paragraph 3 of the Schedule sets out, will, like the members of the Board, be people of the highest integrity, highly educated, hardworking and conscientious, by the very nature of things they are almost bound to be people who, consciously or unconsciously, feel that women in the past have generally had a raw deal. It could hardly be otherwise: they would not have applied for the post in the first place if they did not tend to feel this way. Their very sincerity and dedication is likely to instil them in a small way with a crusading zeal, pursuing sometimes the reality but more often the shadow, of sex discrimination into every nook and cranny of this country's industrial, commercial and educational systems.

I cannot think of anything more likely to turn public opinion against the Bill and its objectives. Given the importance of getting public opinion on one's side, I suggest that even those noble Lords who, unlike me, are strong supporters of this Bill, ought seriously to consider supporting this Amendment.

12 noon.


My Lords, if I may reply briefly to that argument, I think that the length of sentences in sexual cases is somewhat remote from the Amendment. However, as the noble Lord has mentioned it, may I say that seven years ago I conducted a careful inquiry into the average sentences passed before the war. I found there had been a great increase in the average length of sentences since the war. So much so that, broadly speaking, it is true to say that where three men now sleep in a cell made for one, only one would have been there before the war, the second is there because of the increase in crime, and the third is there because of the increase in sentences. Then I made a careful comparison of three categories of crime—housebreaking, sexual offences and crimes of violence. I found that the average sentence had gone up most for sexual offences and least for crimes of violence.

I think the noble Lord will agree that the Sex Discrimination Board will be composed of reasonable people operating their powers reasonably. I hope that the House will retain the clause as it is, because one of the principal reasons for the clause is that any women's organisation can give examples of women who have been discriminated against but who are frightened to complain. Some employers keep black lists. Quite naturally, the women are thinking of their future. One rather striking example was given by my noble friend Lady Summerskill. The 1919 Act clearly makes it illegal to discriminate on grounds of sex when people want to enter a profession. Yet there have been medical schools which have required a higher academic qualification from women students than from men students. There have been very good medical schools which have fixed a quota and will not allow more than 30 per cent. women. That situation could be dealt with by taking proceedings for a declaration that what is being done is illegal, yet this practice has gone on now for over 50 years without a single case having been brought because—and it is not unnatural—a woman who is still hoping to become a doctor does not want to start off by bringing an action against very distinguished members of the medical profession.

Therefore, I support the clause, broadly speaking, on the ground that the Sex Discrimination Board will use their powers wisely. It enables the Board to intervene where they have cause to suspect that there is discrimination but the women concerned are too frightened to complain.


My Lords, my noble friends, Lady Summerskill and Lord Gardiner, have given good reasons why we could not accept the Amendment. I have no case as precise as that quoted by Lady Summerskill, but having, worked for many years in a university it has always disturbed me that there are very few women professors in universities. If one goes round the country, the number can be counted almost on the fingers of two hands. This does not necessarily arise because of clear, defined discrimination, but having served often on selection boards I have little doubt that members of such selection boards have a certain bias against the woman candidate. This bias may come out in a variety of ways. It may be said that it is a position involving administration and that since it involves supervising the work of a number of male colleagues, perhaps it would be better not to have a woman. In my own personal opinion, there would be appreciably more women professors if the appointments were made with no bias at all on the part of selection Boards.

It is extremely difficult for someone who has failed to secure an appointment to make a complaint. The immediate suspicion on the part of all outsiders is, "That person has some rancour in the matter because she failed to get that appointment. We cannot really say that she was turned down for sex discrimination. Obviously, she was not good enough; there were better candidates." In such cases, as in the case quoted by my noble friend Lady Summerskill, there is reluctance on the part of the individual concerned to make a complaint. This is where a clause such as Clause 10 can be invoked. It means that, if there is suspicion of this sort, the Board itself may bring up the case and have it considered. For that reason I support the Bill in its original form and oppose the Amendment.

12.5 p.m.


My Lords, may I first say to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, that although I am in disagreement with him with regard to the Amendment, and my remarks may even suggest that there is a touch of lack of chivalry, none the less he showed chivalry on the previous occasion when he withdrew his Amendment at the Committee stage. At that time the attendance was thin and there was a danger that there might not have been 30 Members present. Therefore, I appreciate and think it entirely appropriate that he should bring up this matter on Report. I shall direct my remarks to the Amendment, but I am bound to say that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, succeeded in widening the debate somewhat. He did not make a speech on Second Reading on the subject, and he will not need to make one now on Third Reading, since he has dealt with the general issue.

One of the difficulties in this matter is that some of us who have considered it in detail are further along the line, and the arguments used by the noble Lord were no doubt used when we considered whether we should be happier, for instance, if there were noble Baronesses in this House. I think we all are happy. We were almost back to the argument about whether this Bill implied that, somehow, men and women and boys and girls are the same. The fact remains that they are not, and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will not have to go through the business of having a baby.

The simple fact is that those of us who have had experience in industry or in Government service, but particularly in industry, know that, apart from actual prejudice, there is a great deal of largely unconscious prejudice. The House has decided and accepted this, and the Report of the Committee and the House's decision has made this clear. My position is almost identical to that of the noble Lord, Lord Reigate. I do not regard Clause 10 as major, but I regard it as essential to complete the picture. If we are prepared to swallow the rest of the Bill, including Clause 13, it is logical to swallow this one. There are valid reasons for it. I have known cases where there would be no possibility of an individual bringing a complaint. Although it speaks of a complaint, it means what might have given rise to a series of complaints. Whereas, under Clause 13 the Board would be able to carry out general inquiries in relation to an industry or an undertaking, there may be reason to suppose, and it does become known, that in a certain firm or in a certain part of a firm (and I gave instances on previous occasions of cases where there was prejudice when no one would have thought of making a complaint) a complaint could have been made.

When the noble Lord, Lord Monson, spoke about "coercive liberalism", he put his finger on a difficult issue. Clearly, the pursuit of justice can lead the State into extremes in which the end is worse than the beginning. This clause is not of that order. If we do not leave the clause in the Bill, we shall be saying that even if there are known to be grounds for complaints, no one is to do anything about it and the injustice is to be allowed to continue. I cannot believe that your Lordships intend this. We do not hear much outcry about hordes of inspectors, and the noble Lord put this aspect of it, about which we have heard so much in the past, in a moderate form. As my noble friend Lord Gardiner and others have indicated, this is a clause which gives entire discretion to the Board. It is a permissive clause, if I may use the word "permissive". The Board are very unlikely, since they will not have the necessary resources, to go all over the country inspecting. The question of going into people's houses will not arise in any case, as I think that domestics working in homes are excluded. The Bill will relate to business. The picture of inspectors going into people's houses is a little misleading.

My Lords, we are presumably to have a short intervention from the Government. We have encouraged the noble Viscount to help us with our considerations on previous occasions and I hope he will intervene soon, before all those who support or oppose the Amendment have spoken, so that it will be possible for people to comment on what he may have to say. This applies in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I think it is important to get the Bill through. I do not feel that we are bound to accept every recommendations from a Select Committee, but, none the less, this is a properly drafted and complete Bill. We are not sure what the Government's final position will be on this matter—we are not too hopeful about the legislation that they may put forward—but I think it is vital to get the Bill through, incomplete or imperfect as it may be, as it is such a vast advance and it is consistent. This particular clause is an integral part of the Bill and without it the Bill would be quite significantly impaired in the totality of what it is attempting to do. Therefore, my Lords, I hope that we shall proceed to reject the Amendment, acknowledging the way that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, proposed it. Indeed, he was so reasonable that I am wondering, having heard such powerful voices, whether he may not feel moved to withdraw the Amendment.

12.14 p.m.


My Lords, there have been three appeals to me to intervene in the course of this short debate, and I shall of course respond, though rather briefly. First, my noble friend Lord Barnby wanted to know whether discrimination in favour of redheads was covered by the Bill. I think it is perfectly plain from Clause 1 that it is not. Secondly, I should like to respond to the request from my noble friend Lord Derwent and also from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to say what the Government are doing and how they are progressing in this matter.

I do not want to comment on the substance of the Amendment and I shall explain why in a moment. The prime reason is that whatever I say might be misinterpreted as an indication of the nature of the proposals that the Government will put in the consultative document which I promised on May 14, and which, as I then told the House, we hope to produce this summer. But in reserving comment I should like to make it clear that we are making good progress in preparing this consultative document and we shall complete it quickly as soon as we receive and consider the Report of the Select Committee in another place, which is doing a parallel job, and which has been examining another Anti-Discrimination Bill. I gather that the Committee is soon to finish that particular job.

We are fully aware of the importance that Parliament and the public attach to this subject. On publication of the consultative document we intend to press forward as quickly as possible with the consultations. We shall carry out these consultations with a sense of urgency and when they have been completed we shall seek the earliest possible opportunity to introduce a Bill. There are conventions about the earliest opportunity that we can find. I do not think I can go further than that, but I think noble Lords who are versed in the ways of Parliament can read into what I say the urgency of the intentions that we have in this matter.

With regard to the Amendment, surely the machinery for the enforcement of any anti-discrimination measures is so important that it is something which we are bound to consider with the greatest possible care, in order to get it right. I emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said to me: that the Government welcome the views of this House on this clause in the debate we have had this afternoon in exactly the same way that we welcomed the Report of the Select Committee of this House and we shall welcome the Report of the Select Committee in another place. It is a real, genuine help to have these views put forward and to have the sort of examples that the noble Baroness and others have given us. From our point of view the debate has been well worth while. It is crucial to get this important part of the Bill right. I hope that I may be allowed to study very carefully what has been said and meanwhile leave that general statement of the progress we have made which I hope will be encouraging to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and others who are interested in this matter.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister very much for that helpful and most encouraging intervention, which I find very much more to our liking than the interventions he made on a previous occasion. I hope this is a sign of a conversion which is going ahead at a fast and satisfactory rate. I hope too—and I think there is some reason to think it will be so—that when the Government's Bill comes it will be an improvement on the Bill we have before the House this morning. We are fully aware that there are limitations to this Bill. It is—thanks to the skill of those who aided us in drafting it and to the evidence of the Select Committee—a great improvement on what we had before. But perhaps the Government will be able to give us a wider, more comprehensive and even better thought-out Bill than this one.

Having said that, may I say that I think we are making slightly heavy weather of the Amendment, cautiously and considerately as it was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. Speaking from these Benches of all places, if I thought that we were letting an army of snoopers loose on the homes and factories of this country, I should be the first to vote in favour of the Amendment and against the clause. I think the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, must know that nobody in this House, and certainly nobody from these Benches would want anything of the sort. But there are good reasons for keeping the clause in, and I very much hope that the House will resist the Amendment if the noble Lord presses it to a Division.

I believe that when legislation on sex discrimination comes into being it will be effective to the extent that public opinion has accepted that such legislation is necessary, or, to put it another way, when public opinion has come to wish these changes to take place. In the end the changes will come only because men and women up and down the country want them to come. Persuasion and voluntary action are, I agree, far more important than powers of enforcement. But at the same time, I believe that there must be legislative powers in the background. I do not believe that they will be very frequently used. Progress that can be made without enforcement is far more important than progress which is made because of action taken in the courts. But the right to take effective action must be there. Where I part company from the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, is when he makes a sharp distinction between Section 17 in the Race Relations Act—which has been very useful on specific occasions—and the requirements of the Bill.

I go along with the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, when she makes the point—which she made frequently and convincingly in the Select Committee—that there are a great many women and girls who would find it extraordinarily difficult to bring a case forward themselves. It is true that in bringing such a case, particularly in connection with promotion, one is bringing a case against one's employer, and one does not wish to make oneself grossly unpopular with one's employer by bringing him up in front of a public body, and perhaps ultimately in front of the court. One may also become unpopular with fellow-employees, particularly those who have obtained the promotion that one has failed to obtain oneself. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, was right to emphasise also that there are what she called "timid little women"—I call them "little Ediths"—women who would be unwilling to bring actions themselves. It is for such people that we need to have this clause. I would point out that it is only where: "the Board have reason to suspect…". They are not to go round putting their fingers into all sorts of places, when they have an idea in the back of their minds that it might be rather nice to look to see what was going on. There must be a substantial reason for their making this inquiry.

Why I think it is so important to have this is that I personally hope that the law will not be used very frequently. But if there is a law—and there must be one—it must be seen to act and to produce results. To have a law which is not used is worse than having no law. Unless this power is here for the Board to take action itself, in many cases people could go on knowing that a real injustice was being done; the law would not be brought into play; and people would say, as they have said far too often in connection with the Race Relations Act, that the law is a dead letter, and the last state would be worse than the first.

For all these reasons, my Lords, I hope that you will accept that this is not a gross invasion of personal liberty, and that you will see that while I do not think that it is the major part of this legislation, it is an important and necessary part, and that you will resist the Amendment.


My Lords, may I start by thanking those noble Lords who have spoken on my behalf, and the noble Baroness opposite. I am sorry, but I still think that this is too important a matter merely to talk round the subject. What I really object to is a clause of this kind when, in my view, it is not absolutely necessary. It is not so much the Bill; it is the tendency. We are getting Bill after Bill of unnecessary interference.

In view of what my noble friend Viscount Colville of Culross has said—and he knows that some of your Lordships have strong feelings about this—and being a Friday morning, I shall not answer all the speeches that were made. I must say that I found most convincing the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, who did not try to put up what I consider somewhat spurious examples. I shall not go further than that. I believe this clause is unnecessary. I believe it is wrong in principle. I shall not ask your Lordships to go through the Lobby, but I shall not withdraw the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

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