HL Deb 01 July 1975 vol 362 cc95-115

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. The subject before the House today is one in which your Lordships have throughout taken a major interest, and I see from the list of those who are to speak today that with a nice sense of balance there are eight noble Lords and eight noble Baronesses who wish to address the House.

It was, indeed, in your Lordships' House on 14th March 1972 that the Anti-Discrimination Bill introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, received its Second Reading. The House then took the unusual course of committing the Bill to a Select Committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Royle. The Committee came to the view—and I will quote their conclusion if I may—that the: … overwhelming weight of the evidence they received establishes beyond doubt that unfair and unnecessary discrimination on the ground of sex exists in this country at the present time; that this state of affairs is both unjust to individuals and damaging to the economy; and that legislation would make a significant improvement and ought to be passed by Parliament as soon as possible. I should like at this stage to pay tribute to the hard work done by the members of the Select Comittee which made, as I think we would all now acknowledge, a major contribution towards convincing the country that there was widespread inequality between the sexes and that legislation had an essential part to play in dealing with it.

The Government's Bill now before the House goes a long way beyond the original Bill introduced by the noble Baroness, and even beyond the Bill as it emerged from the Select Committee. It gives effect to the principle set out in the White Paper, Equality for Women (Cmnd. 5724), published last September. It is, I believe, the most comprehensive and far-reaching legislation of its kind in the world. The Bill is designed to combat unfair discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity. Its scope is far wider than the proposals of the previous Administration. Briefly, the Bill before us, as the Conservative proposals did, makes sex discrimination unlawful in employment and training and related areas. Unlike the previous Governments proposals, however, the present Bill applies to the educational field; it also applies to the provisions of the generality of goods, facilities and services to the public. It covers discriminatory advertising, victimisation and pressure to discriminate. The Bill reflects the importance which the Government attach to effective enforcement by combining the right of individual access to remedies with the establishment of a powerful Equal Opportunities Commission charged with enforcing the law in the public interest.

There are at least two major respects in which the principles on which the Bill is based go beyond the White Paper's proposals. First, it goes beyond direct and intentional discrimination to cover a practice which, regardless of motive, is discriminatory in its effect on persons of one sex and which cannot be shown to be justifiable. Suppose, for example, that an employer requires that would-be employees should satisfy a requirement, such as a minimum height requirement or a requirement for a number of years of continuous service, with which considerably fewer women are able to comply than are men. If such a requirement is not justifiable in terms of the requirements for a particular job it will be unlawful, regardless of whether or not it was in fact intended to exclude women.

The second extension of principle is that we have made provision to allow certain kinds of "positive" or "affirmative" action designed to help women compete for employment opportunities on genuinely equal terms with men. Thus, the Bill permits in Clause 46 single sex training and encouragement for women, or where relevant for men, to take advantage of opportunities for doing work which members of that sex have not previously done. This does not amount to "reverse discrimination"; rather, it represents a real and necessary attempt to enable members of one sex to apply, or to become trained, for jobs which have traditionally been the preserve of the other sex.

I should like to add that the Government propose to introduce further Amendments of the same kind to the Bill in Committee. The first of these will permit the Manpower Services Commission and its agencies, industrial training boards or other bodies designated by the Secretary of State, to arrange special training courses for women who, because of family or domestic responsibilities, have been out of the labour market. The second Amendment will permit trade unions and other bodies covered by Clause 12 to retain or introduce special arrangements to ensure that at least some seats on elected committees and other bodies are filled by persons of the sex which is not normally represented on them.

The third Amendment affects education rather than employment and is designed to make it easier for the trustees of educational trusts, whose benefits are now restricted to members of one sex, to open them up to both sexes. The Government are fully aware of the principle in charity law that the law should respect, so far as is practicable, the donor's wishes. But there are precedents for a rather greater degree of flexibility with regard to educational trusts to meet major social changes. My right honourable friend believes that there is a case for implementing the principle of the Bill in relation to educational charities by enabling, but not requiring, trustees to obtain leave to alter the original purpose of a trust so as to delete a condition or requirement based on sex. If no such change were to be made in the Bill, trustees of a single sex educational trust might have difficulty in moving to co-education. However, the Government recognise that there are problems about permitting trustees to have an unfettered and arbitrary right to modify their trusts if they feel so disposed. The Amendment which will be put before the House will therefore provide, subject to appropriate safeguards, for the modification of the trust instrument by an order by the appropriate Education Minister on the application of the trustees.

I should like now to draw attention to some of the more significant aspects of the Bill as it stands. Part I is concerned with the definition of "discrimination" for the purposes of the Bill. Nothing in Part I of itself makes discrimination unlawful. It is only where a person discriminates in a situation dealt with subsequently in the Bill that discrimination is unlawful. In the interests of clarity, the Bill as a whole is drafted in terms of discrimination against women. This drafting device, which was adopted also in the Equal Pay Act 1970, reflects the realities of the present situation. But the Bill applies equally to discrimination against men. This is achieved by Clause 2(1).

The Select Committee in your Lordships' House recommended that the Bill should make unlawful discrimination on the ground of marital status as well as on the ground of sex. The intention was primarily to cope with the problem of the marriage bar in employment. Marital status is, of course, particularly important for the very many arrangements relating to family support in the social security and taxation fields. The White Paper made it clear that this Bill could not deal with social security, pensions or taxation. These are complex matters which must be governed by their own legislation. But those aspects of marital status which are proper to the Bill have been dealt with in it. For example, Clause 3 deals with discrimination in the employment field on the ground that a person is married, thus making a marriage bar unlawful.

I come now to Part II of the Bill. Clauses 6 to 21 and Schedule 1 to the Bill deal with employment. The Bill makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate, either on the ground of sex or against married persons, as regards the recruitment of new employees or his treatment of existing employees. It complements the Equal Pay Act 1970 by dealing with non-contractual aspects of employment and certain contractual aspects not covered by the 1970 Act, which is amended by Clause 8 of the Bill so that the two pieces of legislation do not overlap.


My Lords, will my noble friend give way for one moment? A point has struck me, after reading John Knox last night, about the trumpet against this monstrous regiment of women. What does my noble friend say if I am the manager of a colliery and a woman applies to me for a job at the coalface cutting coal? Would I still suffer punishment for refusing her the job?


My Lords, that point is dealt with in a subsequent Part of the Bill. The noble Lord will be gratified to learn that there will be no such requirement so far as women working at the coalface are concerned. But the Bill provides that women will be permited to work in certain situations. such as disused coalmines and places of this kind, which I am assured have a particular degree of importance and relevance, which had escaped me until I asked about it yesterday.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the question of women working underground in the pits of Britain is covered by the Mines and Quarries Act 1954?


My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend, but, as I say, I think there is no immediate prospect of the problem arising under the terms of this Bill.

The Bill also covers discrimination against contract workers; by partnership; by trade unions; professional bodies and employers' associations; and in the granting of licences or other qualifications which facilitate the carrying on of a particular trade or occupation. The Bill provides that there shall be no discrimination in the provision of training by the Manpower Services Commission, the Training Services Agency and by industrial training boards, or in the provision of services by the Employment Services Agency, the local education authority career services and employment agencies generally. On the other hand, the Bill contains two kinds of employment exceptions: specific exceptions, such as Clauses 6(3), 19 and 80(2), and provisions in Clause 7 for exceptions where it may be considered that sex is a genuine occupational qualification in relation to a particular job. The debate in your Lordships' House on 12th June indicated support for reasonable exceptions in legislation of this kind.

I should make it clear, however, that we have not sought to exclude Home Office services from the scope of this legislation. In particular, both the police and the prison service are covered. As regards the police, there is complete integration in the Metropolitan Police. Outside London there are separate establishments for men and women police officers. But the days when policewomen had only a limited range of specialist duties have gone. In every force, women are serving in at least some of the specialist departments such as the Criminal Investigation Department. We have encouraged police authorities to ensure that the separate establishments for women make provision for an adequate career structure. Under the terms of the Bill, the police will have to consider applicants for posts solely on the qualifications required for the service or for the particular post, and select the best one, man or woman. A number of jobs in the police and the other Home Office services may fall within the scope of Clause 7 of the Bill, but the point is that we are subjecting these services to exactly the same tests as any other employer.

I should like to mention briefly another Home Office service which has always employed a substantial proportion of women and provides an example of a different aspect of the effect of the Bill. The Probation and After-Care Service has for many years recruited a substantial number of women. Indeed, currently the proportion of entrants to the service is in the region of half and half. The proportion of women in the basic grade is one out of every three. But this proportion is not at present reflected in the higher ranks. Among the rank of assistant chief probation officer the proportion of women is not one in three but one out of six, and among the 55 chief probation officers there is only one who is a woman. I regard this as an entirely unsatisfactory situation. Reinforced by the Bill, we are determined to do our best to ensure that we get far more women into senior posts in the Probation Service.

Finally, in relation to Part II I should mention the protective legislation relating to the employment of women, mainly in the Factories Act 1961. The previous Government proposed to repeal this, but there was much criticism from the trade unions and some other organisations. The Bill, as introduced, retained this by means of the saving for existing legislation in what is now Clause 48, although it contained provision for review by the Equal Opportunities Commission in conjunction with the Health and Safety at Work Commission.

We have been giving further thought to this in the light of developments in another place, and are considering the possibility of putting before the House Amendments to that part of the protective legislation which concerns restrictions on women working with moving machinery.

As regards the remaining restrictions, which mainly concern the hours of work of women, we have strengthened the requirement in Clause 52, which now provides that the Secretary of State may not only ask the Commission to report on the restrictions but require it to do so by a certain date. The Government are determined to see that at least a first review of all the provisions involved will be completed by the end of 1978.

I now turn to Clauses 22 to 28 and Schedule 2 to the Bill which relate to discrimination in education. It is made unlawful for the body responsible for a school, university or other educational establishment specified in, or designated under, the relevant clauses to discriminate as regards admissions or the treatment of pupils. In these respects, the Bill now treats educational institutions, whether in the public or private sector, in the same way as other persons covered by the Bill. Clause 25 goes further, however. It carries out the White Paper proposal in relation to the public sector that a positive duty should be laid on educational authorities. Local education authorities and other responsible bodies will be required not only to ensure that their present policies are not discriminatory but also to consider their future policies. This forward approach is of particular importance in education where planning is necessarily long term.

However, the Bill makes an exception for single sex educational establishments—both those which exist now and ones which may be set up in the future. The Government think that it is right that parents who prefer single sex schools should retain their freedom of choice, although we expect, and hope, that the trend towards co-education will continue. The Bill will not, therefore, require an essentially single sex establishment to go co-educational. However, the Bill enables such institutions to go co-educational, if they so wish, over a period of time which takes account of the accommodation, facilities and resources of the responsible body.

Clauses 29 and 30 make discrimination in the provision to the public, or a section of the public, of goods, services and facilities and of housing accommodation unlawful. Examples of services and facilities covered by Clause 29 include loans, finance, mortgages and facilities for recreation and entertainment. The list of exceptions is set out in Clauses 31 to 34. In the main, they cover various facilities or services organised on a single sex basis.

In Part IV of the Bill, Clause 37 makes it unlawful to publish an advertisement which could reasonably be understood to indicate an intention to do an act which is unlawful under the provisions of Part II or Part III of the Bill, unless the act in question is in fact not unlawful. The publisher will not be liable if he reasonably relies upon a statement made by the advertiser that one of the exceptions applies; but the advertiser who knowingly makes a false statement commits a summary offence. Other clauses deal with discriminatory instructions and practices, with pressure to discriminate and with cases of vicarious liability.

Part V of the Bill specifies a number of exceptions to the scope of Parts II to IV. I come now to Parts VI and VII of the Bill. These provide for the setting up of an Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity between men and women. The Commission will be able, on its own initiative, to investigate discriminatory practices. It will have powers to require the production of relevant information and it will be empowered to deal with unlawful discriminatory practices by issuing "non-discrimination notices". These will require the cessation of those practices and will be enforceable in the courts by way of injunction. There will be power to require recipients to inform the Commission of steps taken to comply with a non-discrimination notice. The Commission will have power to assist individual complainants to pursue their cases when these raise questions of principle, or special considerations apply. The Commission will also have a general responsibility to oversee and advise on the working of the Bill and the Equal Pay Act and to point the way to increasing equality of opportunity between the sexes in areas not covered by the Bill.

The general approach in enforcement is to combine the right of direct individual access to county courts or industrial tribunals, with the strategic role of a powerful Equal Opportunities Commission which has the responsibility and the powers to enforce the law in the public interest.


My Lords, do not these powers far exceed any of those possessed by the Manpower Commission or the Race Relations Board?


My Lords, I am sure that my right honourable friends—I am using the plural on the basis of the Question which was asked by my noble friend at Question Time—will be aware of the point that the noble Baroness has made and will take account of this in their future action. Complaints about unlawful discrimination in employment and related areas—which may well be closely linked with complaints under the Equal Pay Act or in respect of unfair dismissals—will be dealt with by industrial tribunals. Conciliation will be available as it is at present in the case of unfair dismissals.

Other complaints will go to the courts, except that complaints related to the public sector of education are to be made in the first instance to the Education Ministers so that they may consider using their powers of direction under the Education Acts. In four areas where the public interest role predominates—advertising, discriminatory practices, discriminatory instructions and pressure to discriminate—enforcement in cases of this kind will be solely in the hands of the Equal Opportunities Commission which can, if need be, obtain a court order.

The remedies available from the courts in individual cases will be damages (including damages for injured feelings) a declaration of rights and injunctions. Industrial tribunals will be able to award compensation on the same basis as the courts can award damages (subject in their case to the limit in unfair dismissals legislation which is currently £5,200) a declaration of rights and a recommendation as to a particular course of action. Damages and compensation will not be available in respect of "unintentional" indirect discrimination. Part VIII of the Bill—


My Lords, if I may be so bold as to interrupt the noble Lord, are we expected to follow this long and gabbled reading out of something which has been written not by him but by somebody else?


My Lords, I am sure that was graciously meant, as it sounded. I am going through what is a long and complicated Bill for the interest of those Members of the House who wish to follow me.

Part VIII of the Bill deals with supplemental matters. Clause 75 gives the Secretary of State, after consulting the Equal Opportunities Commission, power to amend certain provisions of the Bill. The power is proposed because of the difficulty of defining the exceptions to the principle of non-discrimination in this new field. Clause 78 gives the power to bring different parts of the Bill into operation at different times. It is my right honourable friend's intention to bring the Bill generally into operation on 29th December 1975, the same day as the Equal Pay Act. The implementation of these two important pieces of legislation will be both a fitting contribution and a suitable end to International Women's Year.

My Lords, this Bill is an essential condition for an effective equal opportunities policy. But it would be foolish to pretend that the passage of this Bill will end discrimination overnight. The prejudices not so much of decades, but of centuries, will not be swept away as easily as that. But the passage of this Bill will at least mark the intention of Parliament to begin a determined campaign against sex discrimination, It will indicate that even at a time of grave national economic difficulty, Parliament thought it right to give priority to a measure designed to rid this country of the blight of irrational prejudice against the majority of our fellow-citizens who happen to be women. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)

3.14 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I am very glad indeed to have the opportunity from these Benches of congratulating the Government wholeheartedly on the piece of legislation which is before the House this afternoon. There is no doubt at all that it is a very great improvement on the many previous attempts that have been made to introduce legislation against discrimination on grounds of sex. Those of us who have been concerned with previous efforts must particularly appreciate the amount of work and thought that has gone into the measure which is before your Lordships' House today. I would particularly welcome certain of the changes which the Government have introduced, and, although I have not yet had the opportunity of seeing the Amendments which the Government propose to introduce later, I believe, from what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has said, that some of them will be a further advance in the policy embodied in this Bill.

In particular, I am glad that there is an enlargement of the scope of the legislation. Previous proposed Bills have said that discrimination should be banned in the fields of education, training and employment. All of us who have discussed this subject have felt that this left out a number of matters of very great importance to women, and I hope that with the extension of the scope of the legislation we have now done for ever with the disadvantages and idiocies that have affected women in the areas of finance, mortgages, housing and the many other ridiculous examples of discrimination which have on previous occasions been brought to the attention of your Lordships. I am also very glad about the realism in this legislation. We are dealing here with a very complicated and subtle matter, and merely to legislate against discrimination without taking account of the real facts of the present scene would not get us very far.

The two changes which particularly demonstrate this realism are, first, the indirect discrimination clause. Clause 1(1) (b) will mean that a great many cases which could have been maintained legally without this clause will now fall. It is true that there could have been the appearance of non-discrimination, but no reality of it unless it was required of employers—as this new clause now requires—that any differences in the conditions laid down must be justifiable and not merely applied equally to both men and women. For example, this will raise issues of seniority where women are often at a considerable disadvantage. A woman who has had a break in her period of employment and returns either to the same employer or, as frequently happens, to some other employer, would always be at a disadvantage where rigid seniority was always applied. In certain cases, it may be shown that seniority requirements are justifiable, but where this cannot be shown women will stand on all fours with men in competition for jobs which previously, by this provision alone, would have been barred to them.

Secondly, great realism is shown in the training provisions, particularly the permission for what amounts to a degree of reverse discrimination in relation to training. The fact of the matter is that without very great emphasis on training this Bill would be frustrated in its intention. If you look at the figures for men and women in both skilled employment and in the professional and semi-professional occupations, and leave out what are loosely called traditional women's professions—nursing, teaching, and social work—less than 10 per cent. of the women have qualifications, with the exception of medicine and dentistry. It seems rather odd that the profession in which women have achieved most is medicine, though in any discussions on this subject the finger has frequently been pointed to the medical profession as being an arch-discriminator. It is nonsense to talk about equal opportunity when we find, for example, that under 3 per cent. of qualified accountants are women, and that in many other areas qualified women are not there to fill the jobs. I want to emphasise as strongly as I can that to put the weight of effort behind improving training and to take full advantage of this clause—which is, of course, only permissive—to discriminate in favour of women in the area of training, is the sine qua non of turning the intention behind this legislation into a reality.

I would also congratulate the Government on what I believe to be the very successful balance which they have struck between a degree of reverse discrimination in regard to training, and resisting the pressures for a more widespread application of the policy of reverse discrimination. Of course it is attractive to many women, and there are a number of groups of women at the present time who would like to see widespread reverse discrimination, with the opportunity for women to be given jobs simply by virtue of the fact that they are women, and so that they can, as it were, claim a certain percentage of jobs. In the discussion on the Select Committee two years ago we were quite clear that this would be a wrong policy and I think it has to be spelt out again just why it is a wrong policy. In the first place it is a wrong policy because women have claimed all along that, if there is no discrimination, then on their merits they can get the job as persons; they do not need preferential treatment in order to get the jobs that have to be filled, provided discrimination is removed.

More fundamentally than that, society after all has a right to demand that the person best qualified for a job should be the person who gets that job, and it should not be given out on any principle other than that of the person best qualified to do the job. We should not accept any other principle. I know, of course, that the principle is abused again and again and is not applied; but that it needs to be upheld is beyond all doubt, because once it is accepted that jobs are given to people not because they are best suited to have them but for any other reason, the door is open to appoint- ments for all manner of irrelevant and indeed harmful reasons.

I would also congratulate the Government on the way in which they have established the Equal Opportunities Commission and have left enforcement in individual cases to the industrial tribunals. I believe it would have greatly weakened the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission if they had been lumbered with a very large number of individual cases. They would not have been able to direct their attention to the kind of activities which it is most necessary that they should undertake, if they were expected to deal with individual cases.

Of course, in saying this I do not say that I have no criticisms at all of this Bill. That would be very surprising indeed. Most of the criticisms I have to make are Committee points rather than matters to be raised at Second Reading. As many other people will be, I am sorry—although I entirely expected it—that the Government are absolutely adamant that they will make no change with regard to pension age. They regard it as an immutable fact of nature that women retire at one age and men at another. A great many people have pressed this point on a number of occasions. It is obvious that there are difficulties in making the alteration and one could not expect it to be made straight away, but it is disappointing that there is no sign coming from the Government that they have any intention of looking again at this matter. Certainly, it was a great surprise to our EEC partners to find that we took this attitude towards the retirement age and made this extraordinary exception in non-discrimination practice in legislation that we were proposing.

I am also anxious about the enforcement procedure with regard to education. There is no doubt that education and training are the key to ridding ourselves of sex discrimination. Where appointments are concerned, there is the machinery of the industrial tribunal but there is no real corresponding machinery inside the educational field. It is true that the Secretary of State for Education can order an inquiry through the local authority, but as I read the provisions for enforcement in the education field it seems to me that they are to work very slowly, and in educational matters it is not very much help if the procedure works slowly.

If a girl wishes to go into a class for mechanical drawing and she is told at the age of 14 that that class is only for boys—and girls have been told that in the past—and this is taken up through the procedure laid down in the Bill, it seems likely that her protest may benefit subsequent generations of girls but she will have passed into another class, or indeed passed out of the school altogether, before an inquiry can be ordered and undertaken. In the enforcement procedure with regard to education there is an element of the Ministry being judge in its own case. This raises some doubts in my mind as to whether in this Bill for ensuring that equal opportunity comes about it will, in fact, come about in the education service and come about with the speed which is so important.

With the passing of this Bill—and I think there is no question but that this Bill will pass—we have come to the end of the first phase of ridding the country of sex discrimination. We have not got rid of it. In my view it is absolutely vital that there should be legislation: legislation puts the seal of approval of society on a very important social change; legislation provides sanctions to use against those people who try to resist the elimination of discrimination. That seal of approval and those sanctions are a vital part of the progress towards a society in which discrimination becomes a thing of the past.

But as has been said again and again, legislation by itself will not get rid of discrimination. At the stage we have now reached, I believe that the lawyers should go to the back of the stage and the social scientists should come to the front, because we are now dealing with a change in the attitudes of people and how that change is best brought about; not, I think, by wielding the big stick, although it has to be there in the background. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in referring to the functions of the Equal Opportunities Commission, drew attention to its power to take cases to the courts, to its power to undertake investigations and to serve non-discrimination notices. This is right and this power has to be there, but this is not the way in which real changes of attitude take place. Changes, be they in an individual or in a social group, really succeed only if the individual or the group takes inside itself the need for change. This is far more difficult to do than merely to serve a non-discrimination notice.

Change is not brought about by authoritarian methods, although having them there may help. It seems to me that the prime work of the Equal Opportunities Commission will be to find words with which the people who need to be changed are themselves to be convinced that it is both right and worth their while to work for change. May I illustrate what I mean by something which has been going on in the field of race relations. On the one hand we have had the Race Relations Board attempting to enforce equal opportunities policies, and they admit disappointment in the results. I am bound to say—and I said it to them before they embarked on this policy—that I am not in the least surprised that they are disappointed because, in fact, the organisation which has the prime responsibility for law enforcement is not the organisation which is perceived to be, or can be, the most effective persuader, the most effective educator, the most effective researcher.

I do not believe that the function of the policeman and the function of the educator really combine very well. On the other hand, the Community Relations Commission, with the help of the Department of Employment working through the business schools and the technical colleges, is getting a considerable amount of collaboration in undertaking case studies inside organisations, in order to study their problems of race relations and the integration of immigrant labour. What it is doing here is not coming and ordering, but working alongside the people who have, in fact, to bring about these changes.

As I see it, the primary role of the Equal Opportunities Commission will be to work alongside the trade unions, employers and education authorities to explore the problems, examine the difficulties, put forward research, and in any other way they can bring about the changes which are accepted internally by those who have to bring those changes about. This is a far harder task, but far more likely in the long run to get the results for which we have all been seeking for so long, and which it is the intention of this legislation to achieve.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who introduced the Bill, for the clarity with which he did it, and for the sympathetic way in which he seemed prepared to accept Amendments in Committee. I should like also to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for the tremendous work she has done for this cause over many years. I have been out of it for some time, because I lost my seat, but I have read most of what has been produced by the noble Baroness, and thank her very much for what she has done. May I also thank the Secretary of State for Social Services. In her previous Ministry, she helped with the Equal Pay Bill and is now supporting this Bill.

My Lords, before we go into detail on the Bill, I should like to suggest that the career of a housewife is a very real one. Housewives are the backbone of our society. In times of war, they have come out in their thousands to help their country. This Bill will help those who want to work either for economic or professional reasons, or who have the time and need to use their many abilities in a job of work. I wish to follow what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said with regard to pensionable age. I regret that we have to follow the Communist countries in this; they have differences in pensionable ages. Also, I am sorry that we have not yet disposed of the Factory Acts.

With regard to the educational points raised by the noble Baroness, may I suggest to her that more people are now employing girls, for example, in engineering. If the Royal Navy can have girls in the dockyards—and the Royal Navy is one of the most staid organisations—this is a great step forward. I am delighted that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, is leading from this side, because I know that previously he has been successful in helping us. He has also been very sympathetic.

My Lords, I suggest to your Lordships that this is a complicated Bill with, I regret to say, many loopholes. Clause 1(1)(b)(ii) states: … which he cannot show to be justifiable irrespective of the sex of the person to whom it is applied", and (iii) states: … which is to her detriment because she cannot comply with it. The word "justifiable" is open to abuse. The Equal Opportunities Commission, as does the Race Relations Board, will not investigate all complaints, nor will there be a conciliation committee. The individual will have a right to go direct to the Industrial Tribunal or the county court, and because the latter may be quite expensive, I should like to know whether there is to be any free legal aid.

Freed from involvement with every complaint, I gather that the role of the Equal Opportunities Commission will be mainly strategic. The Commission can conduct investigations into situations where major sources of inequality will be found; in other words, they will have a certain amount of independence. This change in the thinking of the Government owes much to the experience in the United States, which has shown that discrimination must be seen as the product of practices and systems which may be extremely complex, and which may not be the intentional act of anyone. I should like to know whether the Government are considering issuing guidelines for the Equal Opportunities Commission.

My Lords, I have just received a document called Management Attitudes and Practices towards Women at Work written by Audrey Hunt on behalf of the Department of Employment. She says: It is hoped that this will bring light on possible ways of reducing or eliminating differences in the field where they are not justifiable or reasonable. She goes on to say: Sampling difficulties led to the exclusion "— this is what worries me— of agriculture, mining and quarrying, gas, electricity, water, professional services and public administration. So it seems to me that even this document does not give a full survey. I hope this point will be looked at in Committee.

With regard to Clause 3, I should like to know under what section the widow comes. In Clause 7(d) I note that hospitals are exempt. I realise that this may be in order to protect the one-sex hospitals. I gather that in the nursing profession, particularly among the women, the question is raised of whether this could be used to support a decision to offer a charge nurse post on male wards only to men. Women are very worried about this point. It is considered at present that, in proportion to their numbers, men hold too many of the higher posts in nursing; in some hospitals I know that the matrons are men, or there would be no matrons at all! This is a point which I think could be looked at again.

Also in Clause 7, I think it is unfortunate that subsection (f) states: … the job needs to be held by a man because of restrictions imposed by the laws regulating the employment of women,". This comes back again to the Factory Acts. With regard to subsection (g), women cannot hold jobs in overseas countries, in Muslim countries, for example, where it might be difficult for them. I have held jobs in Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia. I cannot see that there are any particular difficulties for women who hold jobs here, so perhaps we could have detailed reasons later on.

Many of your Lordships will have received letters from the Association of Assistant Mistresses with regard to the future of their employment. This refers to Clause 12(1). It seems unfortunate that Clause 19 should be included in the Bill. This deals with religion. The General Synod of the Church of England were debating on Thursday, I gather. I realise that the argument regarding the traditions of the Church of England is a matter of pure doctrine, with resistance on theological grounds, but 30 out of 43 dioceses have decided there would be no fundamental objection to the ordination of women. I suggest that the Church of England at present is undermanned. In the area in the country where I live, the vicar has three parishes. Most noble Lords will agree, I think, that most congregations are made up of women. Women hold a women's Day of Prayer, which is entirely run by women. The Congregationalists have more than 49 women ministers; that is the latest figure I have been able to obtain and includes a well-known one, the Rev. Elsie Chamberlain, who happens to be married to a Church of England clergyman. The Methodists have deaconesses with the same duties. Recently in Hong Kong, in the Church of England a woman was ordained.

My Lords, the leading article in The Times today reads: The most obvious practical effect would be to make it more difficult to achieve inter-communion with the Roman Catholic Church. I do not think this ought to stop us making any changes. Perhaps we might consider Henry VIII, and what he did in previous generations. I wish to refer to Clause 29, in particular, because I find it extremely difficult to understand a great many of the clauses. This is what worries me about the Bill. Clause 29(3) states: For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that where a particular skill is commonly exercised in a different way for men and for women it does not contravene subsection (l) for a person who does not normally exercise it for women to insist on exercising it for a woman only in accordance with his normal practice or,"— and this is one I really object to— if he reasonably considers it impractible to do that in her case, to refuse or deliberately omit to exercise it. It would be very interesting to know what this really means.

It is, I suggest, extremely complicated. If the laws are to apply equally to men and women, action should be taken to amend the Street Offences Act 1959. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, tried in this House, I think, on three occasions, certainly two, to get some action. I do not want to see women soliciting in the streets, but in all fairness they would not be there if it was not for men. The number of prosecutions since this Act, regrettably, is going up; it was 3,466 in 1972. The Josephine Butler Society urged that the law must apply equally to all citizens, men and women. Surely, if this Bill is trying to get equality for men and women, this should be included, and no person should be convicted of annoyance without proper evidence from the person aggrieved. The Street Offences Act 1959, which I fought in the other House, is a major discrimination against women. I am bringing it up because a number of women earn their living this way, keep their families this way. It is unfortunate. But their action is not considered under the law to be criminal, and, therefore, I suggest that, as it is not a criminal offence, they should not be penalised. This might be brought into this Bill to get the situation rectified.

Finally, may I ask the Minister where the office of the EOC is to be established. It has been rumoured that it will be established in Manchester. I hope he will say that this is not the fact, because all the women's organisations are centred in London and I think it is essential that one should keep in contact with them. I shall hope, perhaps, to put down several Amendments on Committee stage, but I should like to thank the Minister for the fact that the Bill has now at last reached this House.