HL Deb 23 July 1974 vol 353 cc1574-80

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, may I now repeat the Statement made by the Home Secretary in another place:

"I will, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a Statement on the Government's proposals for securing equal status for women and give a brief outline of my proposals for a Sex Discrimination Bill. These will be set out at greater length in the White Paper which I intend to publish in a few weeks' time.

"The Bill will apply to employment, education, housing, the provision of goods, facilities and services to the public, and to advertising.

"Discrimination on grounds of sex or marriage will be made unlawful in employment, training and related areas. It will complement the Equal Pay Act. It will be comprehensive, subject to some limited exceptions: such as for employment in private households, and, at least initially, for small firms, as well as for a few carefully defined instances where sex is a genuine occupational qualification for a particular job. The Bill will apply to employment agencies and training organisations; employers' organisations, trade unions, professional associations, and bodies issuing licences connected with employment. Existing protective legislation, contained mainly in the Factories Act 1961 will be retained for the time being but will be kept under review.

"In the field of education, the Bill will lay a duty on educational authorities in both the public and private sectors to provide facilities for education to either sex of the like quality, in the like manner and on the like terms in and on which they are provided for members of the other sex. There will, however, be a saving for single-sex educational institutions. Complaints relating to the maintained sector of education will be dealt with in the first instance by the Education Ministers.

"The Bill will also make it unlawful to discriminate in the provision to the public of goods, services and facilities, the main exception being where such services and facilities are clearly designed for one sex.

"The Bill will not cover fields dealt with in separate codes of legislation, such as social security and pensions.

"Effective enforcement is essential. The Bill will provide individual civil remedies for the victim of unlawful discrimination and will make provision for dealing with general practices of discrimination. Employment complaints will be considered by industrial tribunals, which will also be dealing with related issues arising under the Equal Pay Act; other complaints will go to specially designated county courts in England and Wales and to the sheriff courts in Scotland. The number of women appointed to tribunals will be increased.

"The Government propose to set up a powerful Equal Opportunities Comm- ission with responsibility for enforcing the law in the public interest on behalf of the community as a whole. The Commission will be able to represent individuals in suitable and significant cases but its main role will be strategic: to identify and deal with discriminatory practices by industries, firms or institutions. It will be empowered to issue non-discrimination notices, which could if breached be enforced through the civil courts, as well as to follow up court and tribunal proceedings. It will also be able to conduct general inquiries and research, to advise Government, and to take action to educate and persuade public opinion. The Commission will have adequate powers to require the production of relevant information.

"Consultations will be undertaken with interested parties on the basis of this Statement and of the White Paper.

"These proposals go well beyond those put forward by the previous Government both as regards scope and enforcement. They are founded on the principles outlined in the Labour Party Green Paper. They take account of the findings of the two Select Committees which considered Private Members' Bills introduced into this House and another place, the practical experience of the operation of the race relations legislation in operating similar legislation, the recommendations of the Street Committee, and the views of many organisations and individuals.

"I have tried to avoid a number of the weaknesses which have been revealed in the enforcement provisions of the race relations legislation. Sex and race discrimination will be dealt with separately at this stage, but my ultimate aim is to harmonise, and possibly to amalgamate, the powers and procedures for dealing with both forms of discrimination."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, this is an unusual form of Statement. So far as we can tell, it is not attached to any event. It relates more to the intentions of the Government. Why is it being made now? Why is it being made in this form? We are told that there will be a White Paper. If the Government's proposals are ready, why is the White Paper not published?

My Lords, this is a subject which is well known to Members of this House. Very expensive proceedings took place on the Bill which was introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and a Select Committee of the House sat. We know that there are, indeed, considerable problems in this field—in education, for example, and in pensions. I understand from this Statement that it is likely that pensions will be left out completely. On education, there is a sentence in the Statement which we have just heard that facilities should be provided, for education to either sex of the like quality, in the like manner … with a …saving for single-sex educational institutions". The whole problem is contained within that single sentence. There are problems, and they should be debated and discussed upon the Government's White Paper or upon the legislation which is forecast and which we are told is to be introduced. It is almost impossible to deal with it in the form of question and answer. It is regrettable that there are these references to the Labour Party's Green Paper and to the fact that this Statement goes considerably further than it was believed that the previous Government would have gone. I think that it is regrettable and therefore I make these comments. My Lords, I do not propose to pursue the subject at this moment. It is a subject which is important and it is one which we know is important, and we must discuss it when we see how realistically the Government will approach it when the White Paper is published.


My Lords, I welcome the Statement. While recognising the point which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, we have awaited this Statement for some considerable time and in so far as we know from the Statement what the Government now intend to do, it represents an advance upon what was proposed by the previous Government. I do not think that this is the time or the occasion to discuss the detail. I should like to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said in regretting that pensions are once again explicitly excluded. It may seem rather ungracious to pick on one particular point when a good deal is being offered for which we have pressed for so long. All that I should like to say at this point is that we should like to see the "colour of your money" as soon as possible in the form of a Bill.


My Lords, may I begin by saying that I welcome what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said in welcoming the proposals which I have indicated that the Government will be introducing. If I may deal first with the points which have been made by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, this is one of the most important single issues with which the Government will be dealing in the next Session of Parliament; it will be the major piece of Home Office legislation. I am bound to say that it would seem to me to be a very extraordinary thing if the House were to rise and a White Paper were to be produced in the Recess. I suspect that then we might hear criticisms of a rather different character from the Opposition—that the House had not been informed before it adjourned of something as important as this. That is why my right honourable friend the Home Secretary considered that it was appropriate to tell Parliament as early as possible of the general broad scope of these proposals. And that is what he has done.

To deal with the specific points which have been made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, pensions have been excluded. Both of my noble friends are wholly right in saying that. A number of matters have been dealt with. A number of questions of taxation policy have been excluded for the same reason, and these will be dealt with separately.

So far as education is concerned, this is a difficult point. No doubt that is why the last Government did not deal with it. We are devoting a substantial amount of our attention to it at the moment; but there is a very serious problem, as I am sure that the noble Baroness will confirm, about the substantial number of complaints which have been received about the unequal treatment of girls in the maintained sector of public education. That is why we are making these proposals.


My Lords, while on this occasion the intentions of the Government seem to be wholly honourable and, indeed, commendable, is not the effect of their Statement to-day an apology for not having the White Paper ready now? Will the noble Lord undertake that the White Paper will be printed, as he said, within a few weeks—and, I hope, a very few weeks? Will he undertake that it is published before the end of September?


My Lords, the intention of the Government is to do just that.


My Lords, will the Government's White Paper make it quite clear in what respects it differs from the Bill which was introduced into this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear?


My Lords, I will certainly draw that request to the attention of my right honourable friend. I can give a guarantee that it will certainly deal with the differences between these proposals and our predecessors' proposals. I will see whether that particular point can be dealt with.


My Lords, may I ask that the interval between the White Paper and the Bill should be the shortest possible interval? We do not need another period of discussion of this subject, following a While Paper. We can deal with a Bill without a White Paper.


My Lords, as a result of the Statement which has been made to-day we shall begin a period of consultations which will be intensified after the publication of the White Paper. On this point I agree with the noble Lord that highly complex issues are involved and that a number of organisations will have to be consulted. The proposals which we are making go substantially further than any of the proposals which have hitherto been made by anybody. As a result of that, we shall have to discuss the matter and give people an opportunity to let us hear their views.


My Lords, are we to understand from the Statement that the intention of the Government is that the curriculum in schools for boys and girls should be exactly the same? Does the Minister realise that at present there are no mixed schools? There are only boys schools which girls attend. This seems to me to be very reactionary.


My Lords, I do not think my right honourable friend the Home Secretary or, more important in this context, my right honourable friend the Education Secretary, have any designs on the curriculum. But my right honourable friend is certainly determined to deal with the problem on which the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, agreed with me a moment ago; that is, the very substantial volume of complaints about the unequal treatment of girls in the maintained section of education.


My Lords, while welcoming this Statement—which goes a lot further than any by the previous Government—I press the hope that the White Paper will not result in so long a period of consultation as to delay the Bill.


My Lords, the Government's intention is to bring the proposals before Parliament as rapidly as possible after the publication of the White Paper, consistent with giving people an opportunity to express their opinions. We wish this Bill to be on the Statute Book by the end of next year so that it can take effect at the same time as the Equal Pay Act.


My Lords, is the noble Lord able to tell us how its contents were so accurately forecast in The Guardian this morning?


My Lords, I cannot, I fear, assist the noble Lord in that respect. With his experience of Government, he will appreciate that it is always difficult to know how members of the Lobby discover these things.

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