HL Deb 01 July 1975 vol 362 cc123-92

4.5 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, it might be tempting to me to make some observations on the very important statements which your Lordships have just heard, but I should be out of order in doing so and it is my duty to return your Lordships' minds to the Bill which is before the House. I rise simply to congratulate the Government and, in particular, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, Mr. Jenkins, and Dr. Shirley Summerskill, who dealt with the Bill in the other place. I think this is a splendid Bill. It is, of course, a vast improvement on the Bill foreshadowed by the last Conservative Administration, and on the Private Member's Bill to which your Lordships gave a Second Reading and sent to a Select Committee on which I had the honour of serving.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has said, this is not a field in which the law can do everything. However, we need the law as a basis. In this country, I believe that for too long every decision that matters has been made by a minority of the population who are men. This applies in Government, the Civil Service, industry and practically every walk of life. Whether they have made a perfect success of the way they run things is open to question. I have nothing against men, but they are competitive and have a great love of power. Women are not so interested in competition; they prefer collaboration. Few women want power; they are interested in service—in serving the community as well as their families. Men are aggressive. More than 90 per cent. of all crime is committed by men; and if men behaved as well as women, the whole crime problem would be solved overnight. Their qualifications have never been evident to me. I should not like to see a world run by women, but I have always thought that there is no rational argument against the claim that there should be equality of opportunity for women.

I shall not speak to any question of detail. My original criticism when I first read the Bill—I have not told anybody of this—was very much in line with that raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers. Some of it seemed absolutely incomprehensible—pure gobbledygook. However, as a result of the constant demands made in another place for the Minister to put into English what the legislation was trying to say, there has already been a great improvement, though I still see phrases like "by reason that" when what is meant is "because".

As I have said, I do not propose to deal with any questions of detail. If there are supporters of the Bill who are minded to improve and enlarge it, may I, with great diffidence and humility, as one who has a long experience of getting reforms through, say that I hope that what the supporters of the Bill will do is to get it back to the other House as soon as possible. I do not anticipate the Government falling, though it has a majority of only one. If that were to happen before the Royal Assent, it would probably be ten years before we saw the same kind of Bill again. But it is possible, from the Statement which we have just heard, that other urgent legislation is coming along and we are at a difficult time of the year. Therefore, I hope—and I am expressing a very personal view—that all the supporters of the Bill will do their best to get it back to the other place as soon as possible.

My Lords, this is a happy day for me. It was just after the First World War—now over half a century ago—when I began to make speeches about votes for women, as I am afraid I did about capital punishment and many other things, including divorce law reform and so forth. It is one of the advantages of age and it is rather unfair—and in this connection, I have always assumed that anybody whose opinion differs from mine is equally sincere and probably more intelligent—that, other things being equal, those on the Left lead happier lives than those on the Right because, if one is on the Left and if one lives long enough, one lives to see one's dreams come true, whereas, if one is on the Right, one only lives to see one's worst fears confounded.

There is one point on which I have changed my mind. Once, I strongly held the view that nobody of 75 or over ought to be allowed to say anything. Now that I am 75, I have rather changed my mind about that. It is a nice day for me: there is a beautiful sun outside; today—1st July 1975—is the day when the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 comes into force, and here is this splendid Bill. I wish it every success.

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, on listening to my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner, I thought that if only we had more men of his generation we should not today be trying to pass this simple little Bill. We should have had equality; we should have seen many women on both sides. I agree that we may not have seen this in the Church, but nevertheless this House would have been more equally distributed so far as the sexes are concerned, and the same would apply in the other place. As it is, my Lords, we have struggled on, year after year, trying to get through piecemeal legislation in order to establish equality. As one who has been concerned for almost an entire lifetime with trying to establish a just society for women, I welcome this Bill as another short step towards our goal. To expect more is to ignore the deep-rooted pre-indices which have already been mentioned, which stem from custom and tradition, and which are the product of centuries of injustice.

I remind the House of the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act which, by its very name, promised equal status, but which over 55 years has in practice been treated with mere contempt by, for example, the Church, the medical and legal professions and the higher grades of the Civil Service. Of course, I recognise that these professions are not representative of the vast masses. Nevertheless, if the men privileged to enter a learned profession often, by the way, at the expense of their sister's education—can conspire together to outwit women, what can we expect of the many men denied these advantages?

I am hoping that this little Bill will help to create a climate of public opinion which will reinforce our demand for the next step. Meanwhile, women must be vigilant, for I expect every manœuvre and trick to be deployed to evade the provisions of this Bill, for there are those who are determined to cheat women, just as we have been cheated since the 1919 Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. If there are those who think that I am being unduly suspicious of men's motives, I refer them to the outstanding book just published, entitled, Management Attitudes and Practices towards Women at Work. This is an employment policy survey carried out for the Department of Employment by Audrey Hunt. I ask noble Baronesses to read today's Times in order to brief themselves. Mrs. Hunt's survey covered establishments from steelworks to symphony orchestras, and it discovered that only a quarter of the formulators of personnel policy are in favour of equal pay, more women in senior positions, and more access to training; and this Bill is concerned with these aspects of equality for women.

I remind the House, in case your Lordships think I am tempted to exaggerate, that despite the great shortage of doctors since the war medical schools limit the intake of women to a small quota. They prefer to encourage foreign doctors, even with an imperfect grasp of English, rather than provide places for brilliant British girls, and when the pressure for admission increased the medical schools raised the entrance of "A" level standards for girls only, without giving publicity to it. This was revealed when the Select. Committee was sitting. We had the opportunity of having the Deans of the medical schools come to us, and we asked whether this was true. I use the word "conspiracy", my Lords; here it was throughout the country. Headmistresses were writing to us saying that they had girls with brilliant brains and longing to do medicine, but they could not get into medical schools because it was said there was no room.

I am pleased to say that foreign doctors will now be expected to speak the language and to reach an academic standard equivalent to the British, and in consequence I hope that there will now be more room for brilliant British girls to enter our medical schools. In law—the noble Lord must not look at me, because it might embarrass me—there are only two women High Court judges, and I suspect that the "old boy" network operates so successfully that women find it very difficult to get chambers.

My Lords, I am very pleased to see three Bishops on the Bishops' Bench, because I have been asked why the Church was omitted from this Bill. For my part, I think it wise to avoid futile discussions which, let us admit, are today of only academic interest; and I also have to admit that not one woman has ever written to me stating that she wanted to go into the Church. However, as an example of the ingrained prejudice with which women have to contend, which condemns them to subordinate positions in all kinds of fields—generally without pay—the treatment of the Established Church should go on record. I ask noble Lords to go to the Library and look at The Times of 23rd June last and read what the Provost of Canterbury wrote. It is a long letter and I shall not weary your Lordships with the whole of it. He stated: With many others in dioceses which voted by substantial majorities in favour of the principle and practice of the ordination of women, I have read with dismay the report that the standing committee of the General Synod has decided to recommend to the Synod that the majority opinion of the diocesan Synods be rejected. There seems to be a deep hypocrisy about a decision which, while recognising that there are ' no fundamental objections ', should nevertheless refuse to make the honest decision to proceed to give effect to that recognition.

The Lord Bishop of SALISBURY

My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness for a moment to say that we are not aware of the existence of a Provost of Canterbury?


I can only say, my Lords, that The Times must be aware of his existence, because it tells us that this letter has come from him. Knowing Time Times, I consider that it is very accurate and that this would not have been put in the paper if it had not been—I am sorry, my Lords, I should have said "Coventry".

The Lord Bishop of SALISBURY

There is a slight difference between Coventry and Canterbury, my Lords.


The right reverend Prelate was sitting near the place where the Archbishop of Canterbury sits. I hope he will agree that there is a Provost of Coventry.

The Lord Bishop of SALISBURY

There was this morning.


Good. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate should quibble over this. The Provost of Coventry does exist, he did say this and it has been reported in The Times.

The Lord Bishop of SALISBURY

I happen to be married to a woman doctor, my Lords, so I am very keen on accuracy.


I hope that the right reverend Prelate is keen on women doctors as well.

My Lords, I believe that it is wise to limit the Bill in its application. I agree with what the noble Baroness opposite said about the number of things which could be put into the Bill. But I have learned from personal experience that, in promoting legislation which involves a sex issue, one can succeed only with piecemeal measures; and I regard this Bill as a piecemeal measure. In another place in 1952, I endeavoured to pilot through the Women's Legal Disabilities Bill. I had the help of some of my noble friends here, and may I say that when one has three or four men, such as we have here today, who are dedicated to the woman's cause, then as a politician one never forgets their support. But I tried with their help to pilot through the Women's (Legal Disabilities) Bill, believing that the time had come in 1952, after the Second World War, to remedy the injustice suffered by the married woman who does not work outside the home but who is denied a legal share of the family income. That "blanket" Bill was decisively rejected by the husbands and potential husbands in another place.

Since then a number of limited Bills have been passed improving the lot of the wife and mother, but she is still financially deprived as the only unpaid member of the family circle who, nevertheless, works unlimited hours. I hope that this Bill will serve to prompt those wedded to social justice to remember that equality should begin in the home, and that marital problems, starting from the first quarrel, can often be traced to the financial dependence of the wife who is usually ignorant of even what her husband earns; and what I say about the results of quarrels in the home is supported by marriage counsellors.

It is possible to refer only to certain aspects of this Bill, but I gather from the debates in another place that strong feeling was aroused on the question of protective legislation—this was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich—and on whether, in the name of equality, a woman worker has the right to benefit from legislation which does not apply to men. It would seem to me that the protective legislation, which has the full support of the TUC, was designed in the first place for the protection of the pregnant woman and mother, and the potential mother. I find it difficult to understand how this discriminates in her favour when no man can be included in any of these categories; one cannot possibly argue discrimination. This matter was raised in an Unstarred Question by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, who drew the attention of the House to the Twenty-first Report of the European Communities Committee on Equal Treatment for Men and Women Workers, and to the Draft Directive which provides for no exceptions, including the Factories Act 1961.

As a doctor and a mother, I feel strongly that this is a retrograde step and I must emphasise what I said recently—I said this despite the assurances of my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich. There is one function—that of child bearing—which women alone can perform and which the State recognises as an important service to the nation and to posterity. Therefore, the factories legislation had the support of the medical profession and the workers' organisations.

Women manual workers, it must be remembered, comprise about one-quarter of the women in employment in the country, and the restrictions in those Acts include a limit of 48 hours work per week which must not start before 7 a.m. or end after 8 p.m., or 1 p.m. on Sundays. I beg the right reverend Prelate's pardon; I should of course have said Saturday rather than Sunday; there is no work on Sunday. There is a rest interval of at least half an hour after four and a half hours' continuous manual work, and overtime is limited to 25 weeks in any year. Surely nobody can regard these regulations as being over-generous to a married woman, a potential mother or a woman who is already pregnant. These are the regulations which, for example, the Community suggested we should scrap. There are two Labour Conventions prohibiting the employment of women at night, but for various reasons they have not been ratified by the United Kingdom.

It will, of course, be argued—I have heard this argument so often—that women are not compelled to undertake certain work and that the majority can look after themselves. There has been the argument advanced against introducing social services in many fields; undoubtedly, most social legislation is introduced to protect or help a minority, and this is no exception. A woman married to a drunkard or a bully or a spendthrift is not a free agent. My noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner has already rightly said that, with the exception of me, women are not aggressive. They are not so aggressive as men; they are passive. Women want to serve, especially their families, and if a woman is married to a bully, a drunkard or a spendthrift she will do things for the sake of her children which are harmful to her health and therefore against the interests of the State, and that is my case for continuing this protective legislation.

We can insist absolutely on equal obligations only as long as the conditions of work are equally just and women are not handicapped because of their sex. A woman should not be punished for being pregnant, for which she is not solely responsible, by being expected to undertake certain manual work for which she is totally unsuited. I assure noble Lords, who have listened to me so patiently, that if child-bearing were transferred to the male I would be quite prepared after such an event to defend the male worker with equal enthusiasm.

4.28 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

My Lords, my task in any case is not particularly easy today because, on the one hand, I wish to express my warmest welcome for this Bill, but at the same time to express gratitude for the excepting clause, Clause 19, which allows ministers of religion to be appointed without reference to the provisions of this Bill. It is a rather contradictory view to have to express, and I am reminded of the prayer of St. Augustine—of Hippo not Canterbury—during his licentious days, when he prayed, "Oh God, make me pure, but not yet." I am fortunate, on the other hand, in being allowed to speak following the noble Baroness, Lady Summer-skill, who I knew would have some plain words for the Church today; but I am comforted by the fact that on my left I have my right reverend brother, the Bishop of Ely, whom she may be interested to know is President of the Anglican Group for the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood, and I hope that perhaps he may be promoted to that noble army of men and boys who stand for the privileges of the matron and the maid.

One cannot avoid, if one has Bishops about the place, having a certain amount of very broad philosophy or theology thrown into the debate, and I begin by reminding your Lordships, if I may do so without impertinence, that the Creator did not create a unisex world and that at the back of all our thinking on this subject we have to bear that in mind. In this country we take it for granted that in marriages the husband is a man and the bride is a woman, although I have heard that in one of the Scandinavian countries Ministers have been asked to conduct marriages between persons of both sexes. It is as well to remember that, because it just shows that there are certain dangers if the whole approach to these questions ignores and forgets the basic differences and functions of the sexes. As women and girls have suffered so much from the denial of opportunities that men and boys have had, it is perfectly natural and almost inevitable that the first step that can be taken is to give them the privileges which men and boys have had, perhaps as a monopoly, for many years or centuries. These practices, rules and customs are a most curious blend of practical knowledge as to the physical possibilities of men and women, and also curious tribal customs which we have in this country, as everywhere else, which govern the pattern of society in such matters.

But customs change and laws can express those changes and can encourage further changes in what we believe to be the right direction. I would make this point: our ultimate aim should not necessarily be that women should be given the exact equivalent of possibilities which have been open to men, although they must start by having them, but that we should accept the fact that if there was a much more equal blending of the sexes in many different callings and professions, the task would undergo a change. We cannot ignore the fact that law and medicine—and the noble Baroness was very frank about the difficulties in removing prejudice in her own profession—which have been for so many centuries male preserves, have taken on a male colouring, and we ought to be prepared to see a variety of development in many walks of life as women begin to have opportunities to take their part within them. I see some limitations in this Bill, although I doubt whether they are the kind of limitations which we should wish to remove in Committee or at later stages.

As has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, there is nothing practical in the matters of retirement and pension. Those matters are accepted; although contrary to what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, I had been given to understand that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services was contemplating doing a good deal in a pensions Bill to cover these points. That would be very helpful, although it would still leave a good deal in the matters of promotion and retirement in the private sector that would not necessarily be covered.

Another necessary limitation is the fact that the fulfilment of the purposes of this Bill will depend very largely upon much more adequate provision for training and education of every kind if these plans are to be put into effect. We have heard many times in the past and again today from the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, of the shortage of places in medical schools. It is difficult to imagine the men being turned out and women being put in and therefore one would begin to think about more and more medical schools. But one knows how tremendously hard it is, particularly nowadays, to get a new medical school started. I have seen one growing up in the University of Leicester where I live, and I know this to be a very long battle and something that takes a very long time to bring to fruition.

I am not sure about the position of the ancient universities. I have studied the clause which governs them, or the age group which comes closest to their age group, and in theory it would seem that the Secretary of State could list the universities of Oxford and Cambridge as places where these conditions of equality should prevail. But how long would it take before all the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge could, in fact, be so remodelled as to receive an equal number of women and men?


My Lords, may I interrupt the right reverend Prelate? He has misunderstood. The whole purpose of the Bill and throughout the Bill, as has been said in debate, is that the individual man or woman should be accepted on merit. The right reverend Prelate has suggested that, if we have women, colleges would have to be doubled in size. But it is a question of merit. In Oxford and Cambridge if a girl is better than a boy, the girl will get the place, the same as in a medical school.

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

My Lords, I do not think I misunderstood it; I think I understood it very well. I do not think there is a clause which definitely compels single sex colleges to become, as it were, co-educational; but the purposes of the Bill could not be fulfilled unless they did. At least, that was my humble reading of this. I agree with those noble Lords who have commented on the extreme complexity of the Bill. By the time I finished it I thought that if I could understand that, I could understand anything. But at the same time as I was critical of its extreme complexity, I was not sure whether I wanted to see the word "job" promoted to the level of Parliamentary language. I should have said "post"; but I notice the word "job" is now an accepted Parliamentary word in a Bill. Perhaps that does no harm.

There are possibilities of going too far in a Bill of this kind. I have tried to follow without much success—and there again perhaps the noble Baroness will helpfully correct me—the position about midwives. I had understood that the Government were to introduce a clause at one stage in which the acceptance of men as midwives would be provided for. But the version of the Bill which I received today from our own Printed Paper Office seems to leave the clause in exactly the same form as it was when I saw it last in the House of Commons version. I am not one who holds particularly strong views about this, but I think it is an illuminating instance because it reveals something of the mixture of common sense and prejudice which governs our approach to these matters. No one thinks that there is anything strange about a male doctor—at least in our country—dealing with gynaecological cases, but we are not yet accustomed to male midwives doing the same thing. That is because, although we would not hold for a moment that a so-called midwife would be less capable of professional self-control than a doctor, we have not had experience of it, and so the idea is repugnant to many people. If we read in the evening paper that a policeman, fireman or ambulance man has delivered a woman in childbirth we think: "How clever! What a good thing he was able to do it." But we do not expect it in the ordinary way as part of normal life. I suggest that that matter is finally decided by a balance between fairness and the rejection of prejudice on the one hand, and a respect for susceptibilities and sensitivities on the other.

Perhaps I might now say a word on the difficult subject of ministers of religion. I have to say—and I say this more or less officially on behalf of the Church of England—that we are content with Clause 19, which exempts organised Churches from the rigours of this Bill if their application would offend either the doctrines of a Church or the religious susceptibilities of its members. As a matter of fact, as your Lordships will know, this matter is being very vigorously debated in the General Synod of the Church of England on Thursday of this week. Quite frankly, it is anybody's guess as to what the result of that debate will be. But no matter what may happen there, we know quite well that the Roman Catholic Church will not hastily change its practice. It may change it in due course, but is not likely to change it immediately; and certainly the Orthodox Churches of the East, with which we have many relations, will not change for a very long time.

All I would ask is that this clause should be allowed to stand. Various suggestions have been made in another place as to how it might be amended. One proposal was that it should be necessary for a Church to explain to the Equal Opportunities Commission the doctrinal grounds on which a decision was made, if the decision was apparently contrary to the provisions of this Bill. I do not think that would be very attractive to the Church, and I hardly think that after they had heard it once or twice it would be very attractive to members of the Equal Pay Commission. I do not think these matters are particularly susceptible to the pressures of political discussion in that sense. There was also a proposal that only the doctrinal part of the clause should stand, and that the susceptibilities of members should be omitted. We are glad that both proposals have been rejected by the other place, and that we have received the Bill in your Lordships' House in its original form, which is acceptable and welcome to us.

Ever since the Restoration in the seventeenth century, we have had to face the fact in this country that there are different religious views. The whole process of toleration began shortly after the Restoration and it has continued almost ever since. I hope your Lordships will think it suitable that toleration should be given to the corporate conscience and instincts of religious communities, as well as to individuals in their religious convictions which we all agree to be right. Therefore, we hope that this clause will stand and remain acceptable, although it is extremely probable that some Members of your Lordships' House may live to see a change in practice in this matter.

We wish the Bill every success and a speedy passage through this House. We hope that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made clear, the process of education—entrusted in part to the Equal Opportunities Commission—will go forward successfully. I have not too much faith—and I believe the noble Baroness shares my view—in industrial tribunals. Indeed, I have some reason to believe that Her Majesty's Government have a poor view of courts in relation to indus- trial matters. However, I am glad to see there is still a small part which they might play. We hope that they will be used as little as possible, and that this Bill will help our country to give far more opportunity than ever before to people of both sexes.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot match the expert knowledge and experience of the three noble Baronesses who have preceded me. I shall make only some brief, random and general remarks, rather like my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner, except that he has beaten me to it on this occasion. I thought I was the shortest speaker in this House, but today he has beaten any short speech which I have made.

Perhaps the value of International Women's Year is that it concentrates the mind on the position of women today; how far their lot has improved and how great a contribution they can make towards a better world. However, when we look at the changes and progress made over the years, and when we examine the statistics, it is a very sobering exercise. We find, as my noble friend Lady Summerskill said, that centuries of prejudice, taboos and superstitions about women have not yet faded away, and that too many discriminatory laws and practices still exist. It is true that wars and the industrial and technological society in which we live have produced employment outside the home for women who previously had always worked in the home or in the fields. I am always surprised by the number of women in employment. They represent one-third of the country's workforce, and their number is still growing fast.

The Home Secretary is to be congratulated on this Sex Discrimination Bill, which has been introduced not a moment too soon. It is a remarkable Bill, and a credit to International Women's Year. It is a Bill which goes as far as possible in combating discrimination by law alone, where sex is relevant. It is perhaps the most comprehensive Bill of its kind ever to be drafted—though to be effective, of course, it needs to be implemented by employers and trade unions. This Bill should stimulate voluntary initiatives on the part of the trade unions and the employers.

There is, however, a wide gap between law and practice in education, employment and training, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, so adequately pointed out. I suppose we should not be surprised that discrimination still persists after centuries of discrimination against women from the cradle to the grave. But it is always an affront to discover how much discrimination still exists in Britain today. Noble Baronesses have all done their homework and read the review of the two social surveys by two women experts which appeared in yesterday's Times newspaper, and which exposed a disturbing attitude by managers generally and by the Confederation of British Industry towards employment and promotion of women, except in humble capacities. This is hard to believe when we remind ourselves that equal pay is soon to become law. There is no cause for congratulation when very few policy-makers and implementers are in favour of equality at work, and equal pay and more access to training. Most people now accept that differences in capacity are as wide between individuals as between sexes. Yet prejudice against women is still rife among managers.

My Lords, this Bill is most opportune. Under it, the establishment of an Equal Opportunities Commission, supplementing the Equal Pay Act 1970, extends and deals with discrimination against both men and women. Here I should like to add a few general remarks about equal opportunity for women. Ways to achieve this are different in certain respects as between single women and married women with young children. For married women with young children, birth control and planning their families is essential, as well as a complaisant husband—and this is a really great help. The Government can help with the provision of play groups and all such things that we know about—créches and maternity pay. The trade unions can help with maternity leave. I hear that in Sweden a new law grants maternity leave to fathers as well about eight months after the birth of a child. This is apparently to educate the father in shared parenthood. Personally, I do not go along with this, because shared parenthood involves continuing attention to the children. Up till now, also, middle-class women, professional women, have relegated some of their domestic chores on to other women. When women break into that male stronghold and preserve and become active in the trade unions in policy-making they may begin to fight to be more equal with professional women. But the question of equal opportunity between women themselves will require some thought.

Finally, I should like once again to congratulate the Home Secretary upon introducing this very important Bill. As it gives the Equal Opportunities Commission wider powers than ever before, allowing the individual to go straight to the courts from the tribunals, we shall know that if the spirit of this Bill is properly interpreted it is bound to become a great, progressive instrument for human rights, and an education for judges as well as the public.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I should like to congratulate the Government on having introduced this progressive Bill, although at the same time I ought also to say that I am not necessarily a "women's libber". One point I would make which may amuse your Lordships is that many years ago I twice fought a Parliamentary seat before I was even allowed to vote. I always thought that that was very amusing. It indicates how in the past little attention was paid to the part that women could and should play in our national life. In the course of my, I hope, relatively short speech, I want to make a specific point which does not seem to be dealt with in the Bill at all. But first I should like to say that in the main the Bill covers many things which women of all Parties, and many men, too, have fought for ever since the days when I entered the House of Commons about 38 years ago.

May I put on record two points which show how in those days equality for women seemed very far away. I remember that on one occasion an advertisement appeared in the Press for a librarian in the Library of the House of Commons. It said: "Opening for librarian—only males need apply." The Civil Service, which, I am glad to say, was progressive in its views concerning the position of women, came to me and said that this was quite intolerable. Therefore, I started a battle in the House of Commons for the employment of a woman librarian, which was hotly opposed by the Chief Librarian in the House at that time. I became so annoyed that, as a protest, I contemplated trying to carry the bust of Oliver Cromwell into the Chamber; but coming to the conclusion that I was only a woman, I knew that it would be too heavy. However, in the long run I triumphed and, as your Lordships know, we now have many women librarians. We have been very successful, I think, because the first was a competent and attractive young woman who made a first-class librarian. If women are competent they can do a great deal against men who do not want an extension of women in various services. Anybody who now goes into the Library in the House of Commons will see that there are almost as many women librarians as men.

During the war a widow of a naval officer was appointed a Hansard writer. I immediately applied for equal pay for her. That battle went on for months and months, but I am delighted to say that in due course, after a very hard-fought battle, we achieved equal pay for women Hansard writers. I hope that today women Hansard writers will remember that we had to fight for that right in the House of Commons. I try to be reasonably fair and I want to put it on the Record that sometimes I have been very grateful to men—to Secretaries of State and Ministers—who have supported some of the battles that I have won. I remember that when I won the battle over equal pay for the only woman Hansard reporter at that time, I had to give an undertaking that I would never use that victory in the battle that all women Members of Parliament were fighting at that time for equal pay for women in general. My noble friend who is sitting near to me says that she remembers that roost extraordinary occasion.

If I can, I try always to approach these matters from the point of view of common sense and to find out the facts. Therefore, I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, said about medical schools. The noble Baroness and I have agreed on many occasions, even though we have different views on politics, and I know her views. Also, I have heard the views of very many women who have been unable to get into medical schools and I should like to say that my object in intervening in this debate today is to get one or two things on the Record.

In general, the Bill is very complicated and it will take quite a great deal of effort to get it into shape. There are certain points which some noble Lords may not remember. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, who talked about the cost of establishing medical schools. May I digress for a moment to say that we have always been short of doctors, and I remember that when the war broke out those women doctors who joined the Services were immediately granted equal pay. I have always noticed that all Governments—whether they have been Governments of my own Party or of the Opposition—when pressed hard enough and long enough and with sound reason, very often concede the point, so I was interested to find that immediately it became known that the need for women doctors in the Services was acute and that there were many women doctors who wanted to join the Services, they were immediately granted equal pay.

However, to return to the question of medical schools, the object of medical schools is to train competent doctors who can serve not only our own country but also very often countries abroad. We have far too few medical schools. I understand the problem because, whatever we may feel about equality, men and women are, thank goodness! different. Think how boring life would be if men and women were all alike! I am glad that we have both women and men in our national life. Very often one found in medical schools that a very competent woman medical student would train for two years and then fall in love. When love takes over, it is no good trying to explain to most women that they ought to finish their training and then leave the medical schools as qualified doctors. Very often this did not happen in the medical schools and, having trained for two years, a young student would leave her medical school to get married—I hope happily. But then one must say to oneself that from the point of view of common sense the medical schools have been established and are being paid to create doctors. It has been this great difficulty which in the long run has led the medical schools to provide less places for women than for men. It may be that one of these days we may find the answer to the problem but I do not think we have found it yet. It is important to ask ourselves whether, if we accept that on the grounds of competency more women than men should go to medical schools, we may increase the shortage of doctors. It is not for me to assess this, but the facts ought to be known. That is all I can say about this problem which the noble Baroness was right to raise.

May I say one other thing about my days in the House of Commons during the war. In his greatness, Winston Churchill did not like women Members of Parliament. So far as he and his Government were concerned, it was very difficult to make progress towards the things that most women in the House of Commons really wanted. Therefore, I was very interested when, with great clarity and foresight, he decided to establish the Special Operations Executive. In his Cabinet Minute—I have seen this document and have put it in my book on the FANY—Winston Churchill said that when the Special Operations Executive was being set up it must be open to both men and women. All of us remember the bravery and the competence of the women who served our country in the action that we took with the Allies during the war to win victory for freedom. It interests me greatly, too, that the old theory of my young days that women could not keep a secret has now been exploded. We now know that those very brave women accepted torture and finally death and never gave a thing away. From time to time, therefore, we begin to build up our case for equality for women, as outlined in this very complicated Bill.

The point I wish to make about the Bill relates to Clause 50 on page 30 of the Bill—the establishment and duties of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I want to know from the Government whether they will bear in mind in the guidance, which I am sure they will circulate, how very few women are asked to serve on boards of directors. I am not talking about such things as nationalisation Commissions, but about ordinary boards of directors. I should like to compliment some of our banks who have made women bank managers on competence. I am sure they are giv- ing good service to the banks of which they are managers. At a time when men and women contribute so much to public life I think it is a pity that so few boards of directors ask a woman to serve as one of their members.

I have met many men whom I like and admire very much indeed. In considering the contribution which men make to this country in diplomacy, in defence, or in general export trade one sees that their experience far outweighs that of most women. Therefore, in that sphere it is true that men have more to offer. But in matters of detail I think that women are always very much better than men. In the House of Commons I remember so well the occasions when my friends would come up and say "Irene, here is something that we know will interest you. Will you help us?" Being a co-operative person, except when I am really cross, I would say at once, "Certainly, I would be delighted to help "—and off the man would go, very pleased indeed, but I would never hear from him again.

Perhaps due to their experience and knowledge of life women notice the details and they note the injustices. It worries me that there exist so many small injustices which we can never put right by legislation. I was delighted when the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, succeeded in getting on to the Statute Book a Bill remedying a small injustice. It is regrettable that men do not ask some women to be members of their boards of directors. It might improve their efficiency, their knowledge and their service to the country. Men are sometimes rather extravagant in expenditure whereas women, perhaps born out of their experience, are more inclined to be careful about spending. So I would ask the Minister who is to reply, through whatever channel he may use, to suggest that occasionally suitable women might be invited to serve on boards of directors. I am sure that the country would benefit as a result.

I shall follow this Bill with great interest. I am delighted to think that over the years a great many men and women have helped its progress. I hope this co-operation will continue. Might I stress once again that women should be invited to serve on boards of directors. I know that lunchtime is sometimes rather trying, because men love to lunch together and to tell their own bawdy stories without embarrassing women. But that is something that should be overcome. I hope that this subject will be raised in the Equal Opportunities Commission, and that as a result of the introduction of this Bill we shall have better co-operation in the use of all the qualities that both men and women have to offer.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, like many noble Lords today, I welcome the Bill and would like to express my appreciation to my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich for the way in which he presented it. There is one aspect about which I have some strong reservations. The White Paper Equality for Women, which was issued last September, and which has been presented to your Lordships this afternoon, outlined the Government's proposal for legislation. Although the Armed Forces and the Fleet were mentioned, that White Paper made no specific reference to the Fire Service. It seems apparent therefore that at that time the protection proposed for women should apply to the operational side, as well as to the control room and administrative staff of the Fire Service.

The Association of County Councils met officials at the Home Office to press that exceptions might be made for fire-fighting personnel, but so far as I can see no such exception has been included in the Bill. The employment of women on fire-fighting operational duties presents severe difficulties within the Fire Service. No doubt there are some Amazons who would reach the required standard of physical toughness, but there is considerable doubt among those personally involved with the Fire Service as to whether the acute distress of dealing with a fire would be good for the woman herself and whether the tests required by regulation on a recruit's emotional capacity for this specialised, and quite often harrowing, experience could be anything but subjective. I accept that this argument involves matters of opinion, but there arc other arguments which have the true basis of fact.

An operational fireman is required to remain on a fire station premises during the night when on the appropriate watch duty, and sleeping accommodation is therefore provided on those premises. If the fire authorities are required to recruit women as well as men for operational duties, women will also have to be provided with separate sleeping accommodation and sanitary facilities. Clearly one cannot predict how many women are likely to opt for operational fire-fighting duties and what additional facilities would have to be provided, but they would need to be of a size to accommodate the number who might want to take up this job.

I have no estimate of what would be required nationally to carry out the necessary building work, but, as your Lordships will know, local government is now under continual pressure from central Government to restrict both revenue and capital expenditure, and the funds for this work are therefore not available at present. The Home Secretary has not up to now incorporated in the Bill any provisions to remove this problem from fire authorities; neither has he given any indication that if women are to be accepted as operational members of a fire crew the necessary funds will be made available to local authorities.

When the Association of County Councils first examined the Bill they thought that Clause 7, which sets out the exceptions to the general provisions where sex is a genuine occupational qualification, contained a provision which would resolve the Fire Service difficulties. Subsection (2)(c) speaks of establishments where— the nature or location … makes it impracticable for the holder of the job to live elsewhere than in premises provided by the employer …". The Association of County Councils thought that they had found a loophole there, but in fact they are advised by the Home Office that it is not intended to apply to the operational fireman who, they advise, does not live on his station but only works there. No doubt that is the view which the courts would take and the interpretation that they would give to legislation as it stands at the moment.

During the war years I was a senior officer in the Fire Service and I was responsible for the training, the operational efficiency and the welfare of some 1,000 firewomen, whole-time and part-time. Even in those days of the war firewomen were trained only to use the stirrup pump and the standpipes and hoses for the protection of their own station when the operational firemen were out on the job. Even in wartime women did not man the pumps or the special fire-fighting appliances.

We have also to remember that a fire crew works as a team. Their job is fraught with hazards and dangers, and every member of that team must have utter and complete confidence in the ability of others to do any and every part of the job and to be able to meet, unhesitatingly and unflinchingly, any demand that is made. I believe that a woman member of a fire crew would always be suspect in extreme circumstances and would thus cause the confidence of a crew to be undermined; and it is their lives and the lives of others that are at risk. This we should not do. I have written to my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich, and I hope that he may be able to give me some assurances that he will consider the points that I have raised. I hope that I shall not need to table an Amendment and test, the feeling of your Lordships when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill. I look forward in due course to such assurances from my noble friend.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, it seems clear from the speeches so far today that I am very much in a minority in your Lordships' House. I believe that a public opinion poll would demonstrate that many of the British people as a whole, both men and women, would support many of my views. But even if that were not the case, I should still feel it my duty to oppose with all the vigour at my command this profoundly anti-libertarian Bill which I believe to be ridiculous in many of its provisions, unfair in some of them and unnecessary in others. As to the social engineering objectives of the Bill—and, by this, I mean the efforts to mould public opinion over a period of time—to the extent that they are successful they will, in my view, on balance ultimately diminish rather than increase the sum of human happiness. I shall explain later on why I believe this.

I know that I am not completely alone in these views. Apart from private conversations that I have had—and I have never yet met anybody who supported this Bill in private—a very widely read woman journalist wrote the other day: Most women would tell them"— the legislators— that a sex discrimination Bill is a crashing waste of time and will lose for women far more than it gains. … Along comes this damn silly Bill to bring discord and jealousy and snooping and another army of prying Government employees. … Will our lawmakers never learn that you cannot reverse the natural role of a man and a woman simply by making rules about it? When I read that the Home Secretary had gone over to America to study their anti-discrimination laws before this Bill was drafted my heart sank, and it was right to sink because the finished product has all the hallmarks—and I can say this being half American myself—of the earnest, well-meaning, humourless and puritanical side of the American character. But let us switch to a more relatively lighthearted note by examining some of the more preposterous features of the Bill. Even as recently as 10 years ago it is as certain as can be that the introduction of a Bill with some of these provisions would have been greeted with roars of laughter. Even in our brainwashed and equality-obsessed mid-1970s I defy anybody with a sense of humour to read out loud Clauses 34, 43 and 45 in all their solemnity and still keep a straight face. Indeed at first glance I thought these clauses might have been lifted straight from the pages of Private Eye. The same applies to Clause 7(2)(a) which says that, …the essential nature of the job calls for authentic male characteristics, so that it would be wholly different if carried out by a woman. Various Rabelaisian visions come to mind on reading that subsection. But the gem of them all, not so much in its wording as in its content, is Clause 37, which deals with advertisements. Again it is impossible to conceive that a few years ago this clause would have gone through Parliament almost unremarked and hardly remarked by the Press and public at large—a clause which compels British Rail, the Post Office and local authorities respectively to advertise for "signal-persons, post-persons and dust-persons"; which compels the landlords of public houses to advertise, perhaps, for "buxom bar-persons"; and as one astute journalist pointed out, in the event of the reintroduction of capital punishment in this country the Home Office would have to advertise for "hang-persons"!

Clause 77 elaborates somewhat on the question of advertising and I notice that it extends to discriminatory pictures and films. It would therefore appear that, in the sort of advertising film which shows scores of attractive young ladies queueing up outside an employment agency to be given highly-paid temporary secretarial jobs, it will be necessary in future that some of those depicted in the film shall be men. Similarly in the sort of advertisement put out by a construction firm which has a line drawing of a man in a safety helmet operating a bulldozer or a crane it will presumably be necessary for half the advertisements to show a woman in a safety helmet operating a bulldozer or a crane.

Is the Bill as a whole really necessary? If there had been no steady evolution of public opinion over the past 25 years, if public attitudes had remained static, if there had not been what one national newspaper called the "spontaneous modification of social conventions" one might regretfully conclude that some legislation might be necessary. But again quoting the lady journalist, so far as the present day goes, We were doing all right without any heavy-handed State intervention. Those of us who wanted to, and could, were pushing ahead, winning the respect, achieving the equal status and equal salaries, and doing it on merit—which is the only way we can hold on to what we have won. We were changing our lives—and doing it our way. Merely looking round your Lordships' House today, or, indeed, on any Sitting day, is proof enough of that, as is the result of the Conservative leadership election—and for what it is worth had I been a member of the Conservative Party and sitting in another place I would unhesitatingly have voted for the present leader of the Party. I think nearly all men welcome the admission of women to the Stock Exchange, as newscasters on television, as jockeys, and so on; but perhaps things are not moving as fast as some people would like. It may be some time yet before some trade unionists willingly relax their rather pigheaded opposition to women bus drivers—but it will come eventually and of its own accord. I fear that a Bill of this kind will tend to stiffen male opposition rather than having the effect intended.

I concede that there are still pinpricks, so far as things like credit facilities are concerned. It is quite wrong that a woman should have to get her husband's signature before opening a credit account, or taking out a hire purchase agreement, but rather than having a heavy-handed, bureaucratic and expensive operation to deal with these things—after all, we are talking about a figure of £2½ million per annum—we should try a little more to use public opinion. A sharply-worded letter to the chairman or managing director of the firm concerned, a few pointed words at the annual general meeting, the bringing-in of consumer organisations, if need be—these things should be enough to do the trick, and, failing that, we could spontaneously boycott such establishments. This would be the answer. I would myself join in such a boycott, and I daresay most men would; just as I refused to patronise hotels and restaurants which banned women wearing trouser suits in the days when certain establishments had this silly rule.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is his contention that as regards the position of the sexes in society, the law has no part to play? Would he argue that the position of women would be as relatively good as it is today if it had not been for the Married Women's Property Act for instance?


My Lords the answer is yes, the Married Women's Property Act is worth while, and so is most legislation dealing with purely family matters, matrimonial matters, and things of that sort.

To continue, there are certain occupations which men feel, and I think a great many women, perhaps rationally or irrationally, are unfeminine and unsuited for women. I was interested to see that last week, when talking about the ordination of women priests, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro said: "There are lots of theological objections. Besides, I know in my bones, and other people know in their bones, that it is wrong." I believe, with D. H. Lawrence, that one ought to trust one's instincts. What one feels in one's bones is often right. There is no logical reason why women should not dig ditches—

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is going to trust what he feels in his bones, how about what I feel in mine?


My Lords, there is no logical reason why women should not dig ditches or mend roads, as they do in Eastern Europe, or slave away in the fields using early 19th century agricultural implements, but in this country we feel that it just is not right. If we are to have an armed police force, as they have throughout most of Europe, and to some extent in this country, there is no logical reason why we should not have armed policewomen. There are armed policewomen in Sweden and in the United States of America, among other countries, but again we feel somehow that this is not right.

Turning from the employment of women to their general treatment and the regard in which they are held, there is no logical reason why women's prisons should be more comfortable and humane than men's prisons. However, most people feel that because of their character and nature, women should be more kindly looked after when in prison. In the days when capital punishment prevailed in this country, one felt that however wicked a woman had been, it was somehow not right to hang her; that it was in some way in far worse taste to hang a woman than a man. There is no logical reason for this, but it is something most people instinctively feel.

My Lords, coming to something less gruesome, there is no logical reason for abolishing ladies' waiting rooms in stations. In so far as I interpret the Bill, it will be discriminatory in this regard. The noble Lord shakes his head. I am glad to hear this. We cannot ignore the innate biological differences between men and women. It was not I, but a woman journalist who put the question to supporters of legislation of this kind, "Would you like to be in a Jumbo Jet in a thunderstorm when the pilot was suffering from pre-menstrual tension?"

Then there is the question of unfairness, and again this is a question of instinct. For a man to be unemployed is a threat to his masculinity, but for a woman to be unemployed is not a threat to her femininity. It will hit her purse but not her sex life. This is a fact that cannot be denied. Perhaps in a Utopian society things might be otherwise, but not in the real society in which we live. As to the question of equal pay, in theory nearly all of us, whether we support or oppose the Bill, support the principle of equal pay for equal work, or, as I like to define it, equal pay for equal productivity over the course of the year. The Bill makes it impossible for an employer to establish from his own experience that either male or female employees are more productive so that he can therefore concentrate on employing either one sex or the other. The same thing goes for married or single people. It is often the case that employers find women are better timekeepers and more conscientious. It seems not unreasonable that an employer should be allowed to select women in that case. Conversely, in jobs which require much foreign travel, it may be that women are less capable of standing up to the arduousness of this, and it would be not unreasonable for the employer to wish to employ men for these jobs.

With regard to equal pay, I thoroughly approve of any idea of paying maternity benefits to women before and after childbirth, but it seems to me wrong that the burden should fall on the employer. It should be borne by the State, the taxpayer, otherwise we get a situation where an employer who fortuitously employs only women, because all the men in the district are employed in milling or steel-making, will be at a disadvantage: because his competitor, making exactly the same product, may, fortuitously again, employ mainly men.

My Lords, so far as the specific provisions of this Bill are concerned, the single-sex school provision seems a little too finely drawn. It seems only to allow either almost totally single-sex schools, because only a small number of the other sex will be permitted, or totally mixed. There seems to be no logical reason why schools should not be allowed to have, say, 10 per cent. girls or 10 per cent. boys if they so wish. I do not see the logic behind Clause 26. Clause 13(2) dictates to professional authorities or bodies the grounds on which they are to attribute good character to an applicant. That seems to me to be interference with the decisions of professional bodies, and I am not happy about it.

Finally, my Lords, what about the social engineering or opinion-moulding objectives of the Bill? We are beginning to see the first fruits of this in the attempts of some busybodies to ban "sexist" books from public libraries. Equally, we see attempts to emulate the Americans by encouraging small boys to play with dolls and small girls to play with toy soldiers or carpentry sets. More serious is the pressure which will almost certainly be exerted on women to join the rat race and to fight their way to the top of the ladder, whether they feel so inclined or not.

In this connection Professor Ivor Mills, who is Professor of Medicine at Cambridge, writes that stress suffered by modern women is affecting their chemical make-up to such an extent that some of them are producing male hormones; women are becoming less fertile as a result of this. He believes that stress affects the relationship of women who are married and who also work. Increased irritability is one of the reasons for the rise in divorce.

The other worrying aspect is that schoolgirls are bound to be inculcated with the idea that to be domestically inclined, to seek motherhood and marriage, is essentially second-rate. Of course, this is not the object of the Bill at all, but this is, I feel, what is likely to happen in practice after a period of years. Then we read that, in the United States, bearded young radical lawyers—"radical" being the American euphemism for extreme Left Wing—are suing American corporations for millions of dollars unless they agree immediately to give 50 per cent. of all the senior executive posts to women and give women 50 per cent. representation in the boardroom. Again this is the kind of thing that, after a long period of years, one fears might gradually happen here.

My Lords, I conclude as I began on a relatively light-hearted, or at any rate ironic, note. The anti-discrimination fervour has at last reached what one used to think of as the sensible shores of the Antipodes. A Bill has been introduced in the Australian Parliament to make unlawful such insults as "dago", "chink" and so on. When the Commit- tee came to deliberate the question of that well-known phrase used by Australians to describe Englishmen, the Committee was thrown into a turmoil. After a great deal of solemn and intense deliberation the recommendation was that for a man to call another man a "Pommie bastard" should be a criminal offence if it was said with a scowl on his face but not if it was said with a smile. Such are the ludicrous extremes to which such legislation eventually leads.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question before he concludes? He made a remarkable statement; he mentioned pilots, who earn, I believe, a colossal salary, £20,000 or something like that, and he objected to women becoming pilots because he said they suffer from premenstrual tension. Does he also object to millions of women throughout the country working with machines at very poor wages? Does he say that they should not work because they have premenstrual tension?


Certainly not, my Lords. Actually, the quotation about women pilots was not my own. It came from someone else. But a pilot is, after all, in charge of a plane carrying between 100 and 450 people, and if anything goes wrong all their lives are at stake. I think the answer is self-evident.


My Lords, I just want to know whether the noble Lord objects equally to women earning very low wages when they are working on machines, because they are the same biological beings as women pilots?


My Lords, I am certainly not in favour of women earning low wages as such; far from it. If they are working on machines and have an "off" day presumably they can take the day off without too much trouble. For an airline pilot to do so would probably throw the schedules into great confusion. I do not know all the pros and cons of this, but I think it is a perfectly valid point to make.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know whether or not the noble Lord, Lord Monson, expected us to take him seriously. I wondered whether he was acting as the Devil's Advocate or a typical male chauvinist animal. I feel sure that the lady journalist he was talking about was not employed on either Cosmopolitan or Nova; that was quite obvious. On the question of nomenclature, he talked about "dust persons". There is no such thing. These are refuse collectors, as our working trade union members would have told him. We have rodent pest control officers. The nomenclature designates not whether it is a man or woman, but the job of work they do.

I was quite surprised when the noble Lord talked about the natural role of men and women. If he had kept to that line, we might have taken him a little more seriously. I can tell him a better story than the aircraft one. He could use the story about when the boat is going down. The call is now, "Women and children first", but advocates like the noble Lord are telling us that when the boat goes down in future the call will be, "Every man for himself and God help the women."

I should particularly like to say a word to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, whose advocacy of the role of women is very well-known. We share her pride in the fact that her daughter has conducted this Bill through the other place. I feel she must feel proud of that fact, and we in this House share her pride.


My Lords, may I just say that I am very proud, because it was always said that if a woman worked outside the home she neglected her children and the children would inevitably be delinquent.


My Lords, I should like to touch upon two points in the Bill. I think that all women's organisations welcome it. The women's organisation with which I am concerned is the National Joint Council of Working Women's Associations, so my remarks will not be to do with airline pilots or doctors, but with capstan operators, women shop assistants, and the roles which a majority of working class women play in this country. While the Committee of the National Joint Council of Working Women's Associations welcome the proposals in the Bill, when the White Paper came out they underlined the importance that it attached to the burden of proof being on the respondent.

May I draw the attention of noble Lords to paragraph 86 in the White Paper, Equality for Women, which says that the complainant will have to show at the outset that the respondent has acted to the complainant's detriment in circumstances suggesting that such a detrimental action has been taken on the grounds of sex or marriage. It will then be for the respondent to prove that the complainant has not been treated less favourably than other persons on those grounds. The burden of proof which was proposed in the White Paper has not been followed in the Bill. As I read the Bill, it is now for the complainant to establish that discrimination was the reason for the act complained of; so the burden will be upon the woman to prove that there is a case to answer. I should like to ask my noble friend what made the Government change their attitude between the publication of the White Paper and the Bill now before us.

In my view, the result of this change is to introduce an inconsistency between the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Bill, on the one hand, and the provisions of the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 on the other. In the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974, Schedule 1, dealing with dismissals, provides that it is for the employer to show that a dismissal was not unfair. No doubt in that case the Government had men mainly in mind, but the Equal Pay Act 1970 echoes that wording in Section 2(6), dealing with material differences between a woman's case and that of a man, when it says, "then it shall be for the woman's employer to show". So I ask my noble friend why the Sex Discrimination Bill is being discriminated against in this way.

It will be very difficult to ensure consistency between these various pieces of legislation, because confusion will arise when the woman decides to take her case to the industrial tribunal. She will have difficulty, because there is a different burden of proof in two cases from that in the Sex Discrimination Bill. Her case might be heard by the one tribunal which could cover the three Acts of Parliament, and she would have to show one kind of proof in two cases and a different burden of proof under the Sex Discrimination Bill.

I should like to see the Government revert to the promise that they made in the White Paper, that it was for the respondent to show what were the reasons for the act of which the woman was complaining, and that the respondent would have to give a sufficient explanation in justification of it. I want to emphasise this point this afternoon, because a lot of the debate has been about those women who are fortunate (perhaps like ourselves in this House today) because they have had the benefits of better opportunities, better education, and a wider knowledge of things that go on outside the four walls of their own homes or the factory floor on which they operate.

For any woman to bring a case before a tribunal—especially a working class woman—will be a major personal achievement for her, anyway. I think that we shall be victimising the woman if she has to bear the old onus of proof. She will have not only the big battalions to contend with—that will be the State and the Act, as it will be, as it is now written—but the employer, or the distributor of goods and/or services, or—the educational establishment being what it is—those people who, in the main, will be able to afford the necessary research and to employ the right kind of people to put a case against her. I urge the Government to have another look at this part of the Bill, and to think about the difficulties that they may be putting in the way of what I would have called the working class woman, although it can be any woman who tries to get justice under this Bill.

I accept the good intentions of the Government, as other noble Lords have done in the debate this afternoon. The intentions of the Bill are good. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I accept that attitudes have to be changed. Other noble Baronesses have already quoted the survey. Management Attitudes and Practices towards Women at Work, but what I do not think has been said this afternoon is that the people who were interviewed and who were giving their opinions were mainly shown to be men, and they were usually older than the average working man and of a higher educational level. So it bodes ill for us that the more one educates the men the more discriminatory they will be against us. They showed certain preferences as to whom they would give jobs to. The only job category where preference would be given to a woman was that of catering and domestic work. So be it. Those were the opinions of older than average working men of a higher educational level.

This Report says in conclusion—and it is a Government investigation organised by the Department of Employment— Overall, the survey finds that the principle of equal opportunity is likely to meet with considerable opposition in practice. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, has shown us sonic of the ways in which he felt that this would operate. There is evidence of a fairly widespread traditionalist attitude which covers not only senior jobs but also extends to apprenticeships. So that, as far as possible, we have to overcome, with an Act of Parliament, some of the prejudices and attitudes which have been with us for a very long time. In my view, these attitudes will become more enlightened if we have a strong Equal Opportunities Commission. I feel sure that noble Baronesses and noble Lords on this side of the House will warmly welcome the strong personality of Miss Vicky Lockwood, who has been given the position of first chairman of the Commission. I have complete confidence that her strength of character will prevail in the judgments that she brings forward.

I should like to feel that her Commission would be strengthened in certain ways. My reading of the Bill might not be correct, and, if not, perhaps my noble friend will correct me in his reply. But my reading of it does not clearly establish the strategic role which I think the Commission ought to have. One of the strategic roles which the Commission will have is in bringing forth reports showing discrimination. It is also important that the Commission should be able to issue guidelines and a code of practice. Members speaking in the debate this afternoon have said how complicated the Bill is to understand. Can you picture any woman working a capstan lathe in Birmingham or Manchester, or wherever they do it, or a cotton textile operator, trying to understand this Bill and seeing whether she is being discriminated against? I should have said that it was an impossibility.

I do not know whether this is the fault of the draftsman, the legislators, or whose fault it is, but persons like ourselves should be able to put on the Statute Book legislation that people outside this building are able to understand. But no, my Lords, we create a profession that interprets legislation in the way they want it interpreted, and very often it is not the interpretation which the Government intended in the first place. Therefore, it is essential for people who are going to be concerned with the Bill—and, in the main, that will be women employees, employers, people providing goods or services, or persons responsible for educational establishments—to know what are the legal rights and wrongs. They should be guided on what might be considered an unlawful act. I feel that they will need help and guidance. I should like to feel that the Commission will be able to bring forth its own guidelines, its own code of practice. I should be grateful if my noble friend, when he answers the debate, can expand on this point, and consider whether the Bill should allow the Commission to bring forth its own guidelines and codes of practice, and allow the latter to be admissible in evidence.

My Lords, I shall soon be concluding because I know that the debate has been going on for a long time. I believe that attitudes are changing. Perhaps they are not changing in the older educated men who are in responsible positions in this country, but they are changing—and this is very apparent—among young married people. Anywhere one goes, one sees men going to the launderette and shoving the washing into the washing machines. They know full well—perhaps even better than some of the women there—how to operate them. One sees them pushing trolleys round supermarkets and doing a multiplicity of different things together with their wives. Also, of course, one sees young married women taking over the role of paperer and decorator, and I understand that the majority of lawns in this country are now mown by women. All these attitudes are changing.

What will not be changed by the Bill is the attitude of the old school tie. We had a discussion on education, but we must still remember that, though it is perhaps not as powerful as it was in the past, there is still the old school tie attitude and the old boy network which goes with our great public schools (those institutions which we all know are the most exclusive private schools) still exists. Nothing in the Bill will overcome that male attitude. In conclusion, I support the Government's measures not only because they will be of direct benefit to women but because they are another step towards social justice.

6.4 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate. Many people have spoken and I have agreed with almost every speech. However, I must say that I did not agree with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. I sat there and I heard him say that he felt in his bones that he was saying something vital. I feel in my bones very strongly indeed—and they are much the same sort of bones as those of the noble Lord—that it is very important to have now this piece of legislation. It has been a long time in coming since it was supported by the Conservative Party in the past and by the Liberals. There was the admirable Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, which was brought in last year and, far from being an inappropriate moment, I think that this is the right moment for this measure. Indeed, it is later than I should have liked, but better late than never. I cannot believe that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, really wanted us to take him seriously, though he had taken a great deal of trouble with his speech and quoted from a number of articles written by women journalists, none of which I had read, though I very often read articles by women journalists. Perhaps they were in papers which I do not have the opportunity to read. In any case it is clear that my bones and his are quite different, and I think it very important that we should have the Bill.

I should like to welcome—as has the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal—the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Commission and especially the inclusion of Clause 50, subsection (1)( c) of which makes it necessary to review the working of the Act. Clearly, it will be important to watch developments very carefully. Clause 53 calls for an annual I report to be issued. I very much hope that the Government will understand that this review is of the greatest importance and will ensure that the reports are made known not only in this country but abroad, because I believe that this kind of information will be of great help to women in other parts of the world who have even harder battles to fight than have women here. I therefore very much hope that information will be spread as to how the new legislation is working out.

The powers of the Commission are very wide. I hope that they are not to be both judge and jury. I trust that there will be other methods by which we shall be able to test any cases or matters which are brought to the Commission; I do not feel that that is quite clear in the Bill. It has been said—I think, quite rightly—that the Bill is complicated and difficult to understand. Reading the clauses which apply to the Commission, I was not quite sure what would be the powers of the Commission. Perhaps that could be discussed and I hope that something clearer will come out of it.

I so much agree with all those noble Baronesses who have talked about education and training for the professions, and so on. Clearly, there is much to be done, and I am sure the Bill will help a great deal to increase the opportunities for girls and boys. I am not the least opposed to mixed schools. That is a natural and excellent development, I believe, but I am also glad that those parents who want to send their children to single-sex schools will still be allowed to do so under the Bill. I know that some people may feel that that is a retrograde provision, but I feel that education is a very special subject. The adolescent period is very important and, though some boys and girls will benefit tremendously from going to mixed schools, there are others who will not. I believe that single-sex schools have their place in the education system.

Equally, I feel that the unions of headmasters and headmistresses and those of assistant masters and assistant mistresses should be allowed to continue. These organisations are not, I believe, affiliated to the TUC, but they have a long history and I feel that it is right for them to continue if they wish to do so. On the subject of the trade unions, the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, knows far more than I do, but I agree with her point about the onus of proof not being entirely upon the person who is appealing. I agree that it should be for the employer to prove the case against that person. I believe that that was changed from the original provision and I feel that the noble Baroness is right to ask for it to be put back into the Bill.

I so agree with those people who have talked about the many tribunals, commissions and committees which are being set up all over the country. I believe that they should have at least a fifty-fifty representation of men and women. Those of my generation—and there are several here today—will hope that gone forever is the "statutory woman"—that terrible role which was forced on many of us when we found ourselves the only woman on an important commission or committee. Today, that has gone and I hope that it will never come back.

I agree, too, with Questions which the noble Baronesses, Lady Birk and Lady Ward, have asked in the past about the representation of women on the air and railway boards. Many of those established organisations which have now been going for some years should be brought up to date in the sense of having fifty-fifty representation of women and I hope that that will emerge from the Bill. My experience when I was Chairman of the first Consumer Council when addressing chambers of commerce, large meetings of commercial firms or industrial undertakings was exactly like that which many speakers have described today. I even remember on one occasion addressing an enormous trade union gathering—I think, in Blackpool. I found myself the only woman making speeches on such occasions and, when I asked—as I often did—in the chambers of commerce and the industrial groups whether there were any women on the boards, there always came the answer, No. I do so agree that it is high time that the great boards of our industries should have women at the top level. They can make just as great a contribution to the running of business in the modern world. Indeed, I feel that they can make a better contribution than men, so I hope that the Bill will urge enlightened employers to enlarge their boards to allow scope for women.

I am, curiously enough, I think, the only woman in the world who is chairman of an agricultural auction market and the only woman on the board of that market. Someone said that you could not have women having lunch with the men with whom they served on a board because of certain activities or thoughts which might come with those men. All I can say is that I lunch every month of my life with a board and nobody says anything or tells bawdy stories which would in any way embarrass anybody. Therefore, I do not think that this particular point holds any water at all.

My Lords, I welcome those clauses which make it illegal to discriminate in regard to leasing or owning of houses or land by women, or the giving of credit to women. I have known of local authorities which would not lease houses to women. In cases where, for instance, a family had broken up and the husband had left the wife, it was very difficult—often impossible—to get a local authority to allow the woman with the children to remain in the house when the man had gone off with another woman. That is most unfair, and I very much hope that this legislation will prevent such situations arising.

We are all united in support of the principles of the Bill. I agree with those who say that it is a complicated Bill; but most Government legislation, when put into the form of an Act of Parliament, is complicated. I greatly hope that the Government will issue a simpler account of the powers of the Bill, and one which can be understood by everybody. This could be useful in the future. Clearly, nobody will read the whole of the Bill. Perhaps information on the Bill could be given in a small pamphlet which people could understand. This is an important occasion and it is an important Bill. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I feel in my bones that it will be a great success, and it has my wholehearted support.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, first, I must apologise for being absent during the early part of the debate. I was giving evidence before an inter-Departmental Committee and was not able to be here before four o'clock. The speeches on this Bill have given such a chorus of welcome to its proposals that the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, struck a very discordant note. It does not surprise me that he made good his escape at the earliest possible moment after sitting down. Of course any Bill about women can be made fun of. I had a lot of fun with Clause 7 at the annual dinner of the National Association of Schoolmasters. When one is trying to define conditions in a Bill, clearly some of its language can be met with a little ridicule. But I think all your Lordships will congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on the trouble to which he went to prepare himself for the role of King Canute. We must not write him off completely. He is nearest in your Lordships' House to Mr. Ronald Bell in the House of Commons, who blocked the antecedents of this Bill on at least two occasions there.

One of the remarkable aspects of the debate is that more than half the contributions to it have come from women. This is not only appropriate but unusual. I shall strike a different note, which in some respects and to some extent may be contentious. But I begin by saying that today, 1st July 1975, 10 million young women in Britain will, if they wish, be able to register with family doctors for free birth control. In my opinion that represents the most significant act of liberation for women in Britain for a very long time. Unless women can control their own fertility, this Bill will make little difference for those young wives and mothers who want satisfying opportunities for public service or employment outside the home. I firmly believe that non-discrimination and birth control go together. They cannot be separated; and within the term "birth control" I include abortion.

This is the new and central aspect of the approach to equality. The demand for the woman's right to choose is part of the demand for equality. I make no apology for the fact that I was the only Member of your Lordships' House who marched in procession from Charing Cross to Hyde Park the other Saturday afternoon behind the slogan of the woman's right to choose. Without this, the Equal Opportunities Commission will be a paper tiger body; it will not be able to provide equality of opportunity for women.

My Lords, all of this I stress because today equality of opportunity for women is equality of opportunity for married women. It used not to be so. We all know that the history of women's progress towards equality was that of a spinsters' movement. In pre-1914 Britain, although the women's suffrage campaign was not wholly a spinsters' movement, the demand for equal pay, equal opportunity, and non-discrimination in employment certainly was. The grievous casualties of the 1914–18 War increased the number of single women, and they were in search of careers in a world of careers for men only. Moreover, it was a middle-class movement at the time. It was no accident that equal pay for women first came in clerical, executive and administrative occupations in the Civil Service. It was followed by other branches of the public services, but industry and commerce lagged far behind. In my personal experience the Trades Union Congress for years paid only lip-service to the principle of equal pay and non-discrimination. While women in the public services were fighting the advance guard actions, working-class men and women were the most conservative elements in the struggle.

We must acknowledge this. But today the women's liberation movement and the drive for equality has no separate inspiration from single, as distinct from married, women; nor has it any class basis. There is no longer a surplus of women. The proportion of married women is higher than ever before, and the pattern of life for women is no longer one of choice between work or career and marriage, but a combination of the two. So married women are prominent in this debate. More women are marrying, and are marrying younger; and most married women today are completing their families not later than the age of 30. One-third of the total workforce are women; one-half of the women at work are married, and many are mothers of young children. This is the new pattern of life, and this Bill must be related to it.

It would be a mistake to expect too much of the Bill, welcome though it is. To be candid, it can make little or no difference to large numbers of women in industry, in the distributive trades, in the catering services, in public and private enterprise, and in the domestic side of hospitals, hotels and the like. Equal pay will mean much more to them than theoretical equality of opportunity. Some of the preserves of men in the past will be opened up by this Bill—not all of them, of course, attractive to women. Although Clause 21 limits the right of a woman to become a mineworker below ground, it appears not to do so for a woman who would become a worker in London's sewers. So far as I can see, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a woman becoming a slaughter person, but I do not suppose that this will be a field in which women will aggressively demand equality of opportunity, and I would not blame them.

I think we have yet to see the first woman train driver on British Rail and I understand that we have on London Transport three women bus drivers, but no more. I am not sure whether there is a woman taxi driver in London, and I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Briginshaw is not in his place because should like to ask him whether there is yet a woman compositor on any national newspaper in Britain. I should also like to know whether British Airways have any women pilots. I am not unduly disturbed by these rather provocative challenges, because we must pay regard to the differences in strength and ability between the sexes or as between men and men and women and women, and not all are physically capable of doing the same sort of job.

This Bill breaks new ground, and very important ground indeed, in that it opens up opportunities for appointment and promotion to positions of responsibility, and this is where most of the difficulty lies at present. It is not entirely a matter of prejudice, in my view, that women are not selected for some of these positions as freely as we would wish. Some of them require skills which take time to acquire; some positions require continuous practical training over a considerable period; others require continuous experience in a job to qualify, and some women are at an obvious disadvantage in fulfilling the requirements of some of these positions. Some women doctors in the National Health Service had their frustrations publicised in the Observer last Sunday. They say that their path to consultancy appointments is blocked by the manner in which part-time service is counted for what is called "accreditation" for a higher post, and it is obvious that some adjustment of conditions, hours of work and training opportunities will be necessary to establish the full realisation of equality. I read in the Guardian last Thursday about the problems of a woman plumber. They were not without interest and were rather amusing, but one can see that women in unusual occupations will not have an easy run; they will have to fight quite hard against the conservatism of the men with whom they work.

Under this Bill marital status as well as sex has to be disregarded and this, to be frank, will be a heavy strain on the sense of equality of many employers. Where specialist training is involved and a reasonable period of continuity of service is a strong consideration, it is almost unrealistic to expect an appointing body to equate a married woman or even a single woman with a man. There is no doubt that this aspect of the employment of women has troubled a great many fair-minded employers. This brings me back to the point I made at the outset, that they want to be sure that a woman is sufficiently in control of her own fertility to be able to give reasonable assurance of continuity of service, and whether a woman chooses to remain in a job or leave it will be her choice. It is in the institution of marriage where a woman loses her equality, security and independence and it is difficult to know how women can emerge from a subservient position in the home into a world of equality in employment and public life for only a few hours of the day. This is the point which my noble friend Lady Summerskill mentioned when she said that equality must begin in the home.

Equality should in my view be seen in politics, too. Will your Lordships kindly show me any wife of a Member of Parliament who has stood politically in the opposite camp from her husband? We all know that women are expected to have the same political views as their husbands. This should be resented more deeply than it appears to be by the wives of MPs. Indeed, I understand that in the Conservative Party the selection committee wants to see the wife as well as the candidate and wants to grill her on her political views before it will select the husband. I heard some time ago of a Labour MP who contemplated marrying, if he were allowed to do so, a Conservative MP, and he was very quickly told by his local Party that that was something up with which they would not put! Where are the liberated wives of politicians? When is their voice going to be heard? When are political wives going to cease to be sort of semi-detached MPs?

I come to industry, where all conditions of work have been designed for men by men, and in neither the hours nor conditions of work, nor in provision for the care of children of working mothers, has any attempt been made to meet the needs of the millions of wives and mothers in employment. There is a sad neglect in this sphere, and I believe that to achieve more than theoretical equality and nondiscrimination it will be necessary to lift the sights of women's ambitions in the economic life of the country and give the support necessary to enable women to fulfil them; otherwise women will continue to be employed in the less skilled work and as short-term employees. In both commercial and public employment a great deal more provision for day nurseries and approved child minders is needed. We have to alter our mode of working life to accommodate the position of women and enable them to play their full part in industry and higher appointments.

Up to now little more has been done than provide paid maternity leave and facilities of that kind and possible reinstatement after leaving to take care of a young family. But in my experience if a woman leaves a job to take care of her family for a few years she is readmitted only at the point in the salary scale at which she went out; no credit is given for the intervening period and she finds herself behind lots of younger and even less experienced people. Therefore I feel that much of our approach to equality and non-discrimination is based on the conventional role of women in the home and in society which is incompatible with the attainment of either freedom or real opportunity.

On a somewhat different matter, women and especially young women have never before in this country been under such pressure to express their sexuality as they are today. While the Bill is aiming at regarding women in employment as persons on equal terms with other persons, the beauty and glamour industry is busy weaving romantic love into every situation, including smoking cigarettes and painting the toenails.

A criticism of this Bill which has been made outside this House, and probably inside as well, is that it is not fully comprehensive. The tax position of married women remains untouched. When will this be dealt with? How much longer will a husband be required by law to make a declaration of his wife's income and suffer penalties if he fails to do so, and suffer penalties if it happens to be wrong? We know that the incidence of taxation weighs heavily on the family where the mother stays at home to look after the children. There can be two families on the same gross income with very different levels of taxation according to whether husband and wife are working, or whether the husband is the sole breadwinner.

Social security will be better; that is proposed in the Social Security Pensions Bill. But it has not come yet. I recall that it is 10 years since I briefed the officials of the then Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance on what should be contained in the major review of the social security scheme. I said that the position of women must come first. That is coming in 1975, 10 years later, as a postscript to the major Bill. It is true that under this new Bill married women will shortly become insured persons in their own right; but when will the obvious hazards of a woman's life be provided for in our social security scheme? How many times do I have to go on saying that social security is mostly about women? How much longer do I have to say that we have not yet provided—nor are we in sight of providing—adequately for the unmarried mother, and the deserted, separated or divorced wife?

Equality does not come from treating women literally as if they were men. A woman needs full support throughout the social, fiscal and family law of the country. The fact that women bear the children makes the difference which must be provided for, and this is the point my noble friend Lady Summerskill made. I am sure my noble friend must feel proud that she is able to speak today on a Bill introduced by her daughter, as a Minister of the Crown in another place. This is a great family triumph which must give my noble friend great satisfaction.

This is a good Bill. I call it a victory without results. It is a Bill of women's rights. It paves the way, I hope, firmly and smoothly. But as one who advocated equal pay and equal opportunity, and the removal of the marriage bar in the public service, in evidence to the Tomlin Commission on the Civil Service in 1930, I can modestly claim the role of pioneer. I say also—and it applies to many of my noble friends who have spoken today—that you have to start young to see reforms accomplished when the attitudes of centuries stand like mountains in the way.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, may I as a lifelong feminist welcome this Bill? I regret that I cannot take up the points made by my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby and talk about erotic toenails, but I express my admiration for all he has done through the years for marriage, for decency for women, for social insurance and the like. This is the end of a long battle and it might be worth remembering for one minute that it was a battle, and that there was a woman 200 years ago called Mary Wollstonecraft whose name, if it had been mentioned in your Lordships' House when she was alive, would have been greeted with derision. There was a woman called Caroline Norton, who fought for the right of a married woman to have any property at all; and, as a result of her fight, came the Married Women's Property Acts which established with difficulty the right of a married woman to own what she had and what she lost when she married.


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend to remind him that that movement was also fathered by no less a person that John Stuart Mill, whose On the Subjection of Women is surely one of the classic documents of this cause.


My Lords, I am so glad that my noble friend has mentioned John Stuart Mills, who fought the same battle and perhaps was the first man to fight the battle for women having the vote. His essay On the Subjection of Women is one of the great contributions to the literature about which we are speaking. The first fight was for the vote. When I was Speaker in another place, I had the privilege of unveiling a statue outside Caxton Hall to honour the Suffragettes of Britain who fought when they had no vote, with whatever weapons they could find to obtain what we now take for granted. On the one hand Emmeline Pankhurst, fighting militantly; on the other hand, Dame Millicent Fawcett, fighting constitutionally for something which we now take for granted. I remember the Pethick Lawrences, perhaps the noblest couple in the whole story, and Keir Hardie, an early Labour man who won part of the Labour Party to the conception that women and men are equal. Although I have admiration this side of idolatory for the great Winston Churchill, he was not in the fight for the equality of the sexes.

The second battle was for equal opportunity. I think tonight of a dear woman friend of mine who took a degree at Cambridge University in 1919, but was not allowed to have it because women could not have degrees at Cambridge. She came to London to college where my noble friend Lady Summerskill went and took her degree there, because London University had respected the equality of women and men as early as 1879, and women and men passing the same examination could take their degrees. It is ironic to think that if my noble friend Lady Summerskill had gone to Oxford or Cambridge, she would not have had the doctor's degree which she obtained at King's College, London. The friend of whom I spoke became a teacher, and the moment she married she had to give up her career. Until 1944, it was illegal for a woman to be a teacher if she was married.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, I must put on record the fact that I voted against my Party in 1926 or 1927 on the LCC, because they would not employ married women teachers.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. The battle was for equal opportunity and equal pay. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is right to remind us that it was won first by the medical profession. Then there was equal opportunity in the nursing profession, because the pay of the nurses was so low that nobody wanted to be one. There was also equal pay for teachers. I can remember the noble Lords, Lord Houghton of Sowerby and the Lord Pannell, with the late Ted Redhead, MP, fighting as men the battle for equal pay for women, and the celebration that was held when we achieved not equal pay, but equal pay by stages over the next seven years. Incidentally, it is a matter of historical record that we might have won equal pay for teachers in the Education Act of 1944. It was carried in Committee upstairs and was then destroyed by Winston Churchill on the Floor of the House later.

I am pleased to have been associated in so many campaigns with my noble friend Lady Summerskill. I can remember her battling in the Labour Party Conferences, battling with the trade unions—not with the women of the Labour Party, though, because the Cooperative Women's Movement and the Labour Women's Movement were great campaigners for equal pay for women. I can remember the noble Baroness fighting in another place, as she now sometimes fights in the House of Lords, but I hope we shall not have to fight any more except about the details of this Bill. The theoretical battle for equality between the sexes was won long ago, apart from an odd misogynist or two in another place and, judging by certain things one has heard this afternoon, one or two in your Lordships' House.

But if, in so many ways, the theoretical battle has been won the practical battle has not been won, especially for the housewife who is not a wage-earner, and who often does not share the wages that her husband earns. My late friend, Jean Mann, MP, who was a great woman campaigner, once told the story of the widow of a company director whose husband allowed her £5 a week for 20 years, and on that she kept two children and paid the rent and household bills, and so on. When her husband died, she learned that he had earned £2,000 a year all his life. I believe that this Bill is a landmark. It consolidates what has already been done, and marks so many detailed areas where discrimination can and does exist, and where it must be removed.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise because, due to a long-standing engagement, I could not be here for the whole of the debate; but I have been able to listen to seven of your Lordships' speeches on the subject. I am not quite sure, under the qualification put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, whether I qualify as "a semidetached political spinster", but at any rate I am sure that this Bill is going to mark an enormous advance for women, not only in the professions but throughout all forms of employment. However, it has been clear from many of the speeches made today that a good many speakers seem to be treating the Bill as if it affected only women. This is not a "Female Discrimination Bill" but a Sex Discrimination Bill, and we must not be surprised sometimes if men complain that they are being discriminated against. Indeed, under this Bill they can claim the same rights and privileges as women, because this Bill brings rights and equality to both sexes.

Our part of the Bill will come into operation very speedily. I particularly welcome Clause 29 and that part of it which deals with the credit-worthiness and the right of a woman, whether married or single, to receive the same treatment as men and not necessarily to need the overriding signature and agreement of her husband. It has always seemed to me absolutely ludicrous that contemporaries of mine, as long as they were single, could be regarded as credit worthy, but the moment they signed the marriage register they immediately had to acquire their husband's signature for certain things.

The depths of lunacy in this regard were reached in the case of a highly successful young dentist friend of mine. She married, and after a few years with a very satisfactory income, she and her husband decided that he should take the opportunity of going back to university to get his doctorate in a particularly specialised profession. At the same time, she was offered by a retiring dentist exactly what she wanted in consulting rooms. Her own income was fully adequate to pay the mortgage, but nothing would persuade the building society that it was possible, despite all the evidence they had of her earnings in the Health Service, for her to sign for the mortgage without a countersignature by her husband. He at that moment was receiving a subsistence grant of £1,000 to do his university course and flatly refused to sign the documents on the ground that he would be perpetuating a fraud because he would be quite incapable of keeping up the mortgage payments on that income. It was with great relish that I fought out that battle with the building society on behalf of my young friend.

I think there is a little euphoria around today—perhaps not unnaturally, since this is International Women's Year—that this will come about overnight. I hope we shall take a practical and realistic view about it, because my view of the art of politics is doing the practically possible when we might wish to be doing the idealistically desirable. All through the Bill there is a firm "must", or "the mployer shall". There is hardly a mention in the Bill of the trade unions. It is the hard-faced employer all the time who apparently has restricted the employment of women. I believe this Bill is to call on the statesmanship and co-operation of the great trade unions, who for generations have maintained a closed shop in hundreds of specialities within their unions. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that there are many spheres where women would not wish to apply for certain jobs, but there are many other spheres which, by deliberate trade union action, have been kept as all male preserves. I well remember my utter amazement when I was told, 10 years ago, at a hosiery factory, that to match socks was exclusively done by one male union and that women were not employed to do it.

Obviously, such examples are being rapidly eliminated, but it will require a lot of give and take, not just by employers but by many of the unions who throughout the years have never had or thought to allow women as apprentices into training in electrical or engineering processes, or in draughtsmanship, and so on. I have another friend who was good enough to be a draughtsman during the war in an aircraft factory making planes for the Battle of Britain; but after the War when she applied for a job, the union said, "No, men only", and she could not be employed as a draughtsman in that type of company.

I think we have to look to the longer term for some parts of this Bill, because you cannot just legislate for people's feelings. If a spinster applies for a job, and beats for promotion a married man with a wife and three children, nothing is going to stop the aggrieved wife saying, "My man has a wife and family to look after. Who's she got to look after but herself?" I think we must look at the Bill practically, and in one aspect only I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monson. I think that some of the implications of this Bill regarding advertising are really unnecessary irritants. I hope we shall be able to be truly practical about some of the items when we reach the final stage of the Bill. I welcome the Bill, my Lords. There are one or two items I hope we shall be able to improve in what I believe are practical ways, which will, perhaps, make it a little speedier and more realistic. But, my Lords, let us get the legislation through and, with tact and patience, see how quickly we can implement it.

6.51 p.m.


My Lords, the first thing I must do is to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for having missed his speech, and indeed to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for having missed part of hers. I am afraid that your Lordships did not take so long over Starred Questions today as has sometimes been your wont and therefore I misjudged the occasion. I wish I had heard the noble Lord opposite. It might well have been I myself moving a similar Bill, and it would have been delightful for me to hear how much better he dealt with the situation than I should have, perhaps, in similar circumstances. It only shows—does it not?—that this is the end of a fairly long Parliamentary process.

For some time a tide has been flowing in favour of legislation on this subject. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, can probably justifiably say that she started this with her Private Member's Bill. Then, of course, we as a Conservative Party took it up when we were in Government. Indeed, we did much the same as this Government are doing, because we tried to attack the matter on the basis that there was a general area for legislation of this kind and also room for other individual pieces of legislation of a different kind and coming under the aegis of different Departments. That is precisely the same approach as this Government are using, for instance, in relation to pensions and questions of that kind. So I think our approach to this issue is the same. Just as the Party opposite have their triumphs to record, so we when we were in Government had a large number of individual reforms we put through about which I remember telling this House when I was speaking from the Dispatch Box opposite. But of course the culmination of the legislative impetus has, I suppose, come with the recent Directive from the European Community which we had discussed the other day, which would I think in any case have required us to introduce this kind of legislation. Therefore, we are in the forefront and I hope we have as enlightened a response to that call from Europe as any other country.

All the same, all these attempts have been experiments. I think I heard the noble Baroness saying that she recognised improvements in this Bill over what she herself drafted, and I know she said that the Bill had been improved since it was introduced into the other place. I expect we shall continue the process here. I fear I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, when he says that this is the end of a battle. I believe it is only the beginning of another one—but one where we are now equipping women with a rather better armoury of weapons with which to undertake the battle which now lies ahead. I believe that was the message of my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith who spoke just now.

There has been such a degree of acceptance of so many of these subjects that on Second Reading I need hardly mention a number of them so far as principle is concerned. I do not want to say anything about the definition of "discrimination". It has been much mulled over and greatly improved, with a lot of thought put into it. The exceptions and the employment provisions are, with respect to the noble Lord, probably very similar to those we should have brought forward had it been our Bill, particularly as I suspect the noble Lord will give us credit for the response to our consultative Green Paper which I feel certain produced a number of constructive suggestions; indeed, it was beginning to do so while we were still in Government. I imagine he will have found it very useful to have had response from that, as well as, of course, to the Labour Party's own White Paper on this subject. I do not think we shall have many quarrels as to the principle of that.

We have had forewarning of a few points. The noble Baroness's Fire Service will I think raise its head again at Committee stage. I wonder whether we shall perhaps have to turn for a moment to the question of the protective provisions of the Factories Act. For myself, I thought that the reasoning which was displayed, particularly on two occasions, in the Standing Committee in another place—where the Government's present attitude was explained in some detail—had a good deal of force in it. I hope that in due course we may be told that the Equal Opportunities Commission will give some priority to looking at these protective provisions to see whether they all need to be retained. I believe it is the point of Clause 52 of this Bill that they should do so.

If I understood this point aright, it is not quite the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, put it. It is not a matter only of protecting women when they are pregnant or because they have to run their families as well. These factors may be part of the matters concerned. Nobody wishes to take away protection, for instance, relating to pregnancy. But the protections relating to moving machinery and to hours of work are admitted by the Government to be likely causes of positive discrimination against women in applying for jobs. It is for that reason that I should like to sec them examined again. If they are going to be used, as they are entitled to be used under the drafting of the Bill, as a reason for not employing women, then that is a good reason why they should be examined, and examined urgently, by the Equal Opportunities Commission, to find out whether there is still justification for them.

Apart from some problems of this kind, it seems to me that the lack of controversy in the debate today for the most part shows that we have now solved, or at any rate have gone a long way towards solving, a great number of problems. I wished to speak at the end of this debate rather than at the beginning because I wanted to hear what all your Lordships had to say—and particularly the exactly equal number of noble Baronesses who have spoken to that of noble Lords—to see whether a great area of dispute remained. I do not believe there is now anything very much between any of us, with the possible exception of the noble "caveman" upon the Cross Benches.

One thing that has happened in the course of this process is that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and his Department have gone a good deal further (they take pride in it and I understand the reason why they do so) than we originally intended when we were in Government. They have taken on a large number of new spheres of activity which now fall within the Bill, and have decided to give the Equal Opportunities Commission a dual function, not only of investigation, which is what we proposed, but also of enforcement as well. The result of this, alas! has been a great degree of complication in the legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said in her speech that the lawyers should now take a back seat. I am afraid that I do not think there is very much prospect of that because, while I fully admire the draftsmanship of this Bill, I entirely agree with others who have pointed out that it is far from easy to follow.

There are, for instance, the various different remedies. And one will have to get the right one if one is going to complain about a particular piece of discrimination. If it is about your job, you go under Clause 60 to the Industrial Tribunal, and before that you have a chance to have the conciliation machinery applied to your case to see whether the matter can be solved in that way. If it is another form of discrimination under a later Part of the Bill, one goes to the county court or, in Scotland, to the sheriff court. There is no formal conciliation machinery there, but as I understand it from reading the proceedings in another place, the lawyers are supposed to tell you what are the chances of success, and in that way try to get rid of the really bad cases before they are ever heard.

That does not apply to everything in that Part of the Bill, because there are special provisions for the matters in Clauses 22 and 23 which deal with education; you cannot go straight to the county court because first you must do something which is dealt with under Clause 63(5). And even if you thought that that was the end of the trouble in the realm of education it is not, because the general provisions in Clause 25 about education cannot be enforced in any court but only by going to one or other of the Secretaries of State. So there are four different methods of dealing with it. That is not the finish of it, either, because if you receive a discrimination notice from the Equal Opportunities Commission there is a separate method of appeal against that notice under Clauses 64 and 65. Finally, Clauses 37 to 39, which include the advertisements, are only enforceable by the Equal Opportunities Commission itself.

The result of this extension of the scope of the Bill has therefore led to an immense range of different types of enforcement machinery, all of which, except for the last one, will apply to individuals. There is even a case where you may have to go to two different tribunals about one single complaint. Supposing that there is a discriminatory condition in your contract of employment, first you have to complain to the Industrial Tribunal and get them to establish that it is indeed discriminatory. If you want the contract to be re-written, afterwards you have to go to the county court—or to the sheriff court in Scotland —to get them to modify it.

At the end of all that, I am greatly in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, that there will be a large number of people who are perhaps not so sophisticated as I am, being a lawyer, in reading the Bill who may have a certain amount of difficulty in working out where it is that they are to go and what it is that they are to do when they get there, let alone how to appeal from it if they do not like the result. I am not sure that I have seen—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, will tell us about this, although I am sure he will want to talk a great deal about education and he will be forgiven for doing so—the guidance that is to be given to the public that a number of noble Lords have raised in the course of this debate.

There is one other trouble. With this range of different tribunals to which to go to resolve your difficulties, sometimes you get legal aid but I understand that in the case of the Industrial Tribunals you cannot. In that case, all you can do is to go to the Equal Opportunities Commission and try to persuade them that your case is either one which involves principle or else is so complex and difficult that they can use their powers under one of the clauses of the Bill—I think it is Clause 72—to help you in the conduct of your case. So there is going to be a whole range of ordinary employment problems where there will be no legal aid for the individual woman who wants to test the discrimination. They will have to do it either through some body which will help them if they cannot afford it themselves or by persuading the Equal Opportunities Commission that theirs is a special case. That is quite apart from the difficulties of the onus of proof to which I am sure we shall return at Committee stage, because here there is a fruitful area of discussion in which I shall be very interested to join. Therefore, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, mentioned the complexity of the Bill, as did my noble friend Lady Vickers, I had some sympathy with them—and that, too, was a point upon which I could agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monson.

I should like somebody to write in English Clause 66 so that one has some faint idea of what it means, but I suppose that the prize in the whole of the drafting of this Bill must go to the provision in Clause 73(6) which tells one when a deliberate omission shall be treated as having occurred: … in the absence of evidence establishing the contrary a person shall be taken for the purposes of this section to decide upon an omission when he does an act inconsistent with doing the omitted act or, if he has done no such inconsistent act, when the period expires within which he might reasonably have been expected to do the omitted act if it was to be done". That, my Lords, is a matter which occurs, and it is not just a matter of complete obscurity because it occurs in relation, I believe, to people like hairdressers and those who make clothes who have special protection under Clause 29(3). There is, therefore, still a good deal of trouble about the wording of the Bill even if it has been clarified to some extent in another place.

I should like to draw one other point to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt; namely, the novel provision in Clause 71 about the questions that can be asked of a person who thinks that he has cause for complaint under the Bill. It is a legal point because the results of these questions will be admissible in evidence. What worries me a little is not the novelty of this idea, which I welcome—I see no reason why one should not have novel ideas if they help to speed up and simplify the procedure—but that the Bill specifically provides that although there shall be Rules of Court laying down what shall be the form of the question and the answer, you do not have to pay the blindest bit of attention to them, and the Statute so provides. If so, I can see no point in Rules of Court.

We are getting to the next area I should like to touch on briefly, where people may be rather suspicious about how the Bill will work and whether their rights will be infringed if they have anything whatever to do with it. This is the last main criticism that I have to make. When we have the new role of the Equal Opportunities Commission, whereby they are also going to enforce these laws as well as investigate them, if we are not careful we shall have the opportunity for intrusions into privacy which are not warranted. No doubt a number of intrusions into privacy will be warranted, but there are going to be areas where suspicion can be aroused.

I hope that the Commission will indeed use the strength of character for which its chairwoman is so well known. I hope that it will use persuasion, initiative and persistence, but above all I hope that it will use tact. We on this side of the House have been worried since we started to consider the matter about the possibility of an alienation of opinion if the Commission goes too far and too fast. It will have to act with a very fine degree of judgment if all the good we have been talking about—the chance to educate and to bring up to date people's ideas and eradicate prejudice—is not to be undone by some hasty and ill-advised act.

I believe that if the Government have decided and think that it is an improvement that the Commission should have these extra powers and what have been described as its teeth, they should also be extremely careful. It depends to some extent on personalities but also on the general guidance that they are able to give through the three Departments which are involved in how it acts, because one only has to look at some of the provisions of the Bill and the things that the Commission can do. One looks at Clause 36—the investigation of hidden discriminatory practices. We have already had the advertisements mentioned. Then I find that the "instructions to discriminate" and "pressure to discriminate" which are dealt with in Clauses 38 and 39 get very close to the heart almost of some people's subconscious approach, and intrusions into this area could undo a great deal of good which might otherwise come out of this Bill. It would vitiate a great many of the hopes of those who are in charge of it and who support it, as I do.

This legislation has been impending for a long time. It is the good fortune of the present Government to be able to introduce it, and I hasten to join in congratulating them and the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary for doing so. It looks, however, as though it was necessary. We thought so when we were in Government. We thought that without legislation we should not get the progress in this field that was required because the necessary changes were not occurring without some stimulus from the centre that this sort of Act will be able to give.

We, too, of course were in favour of an Equal Opportunities Commission. When I came to study this subject I was astonished at the real waste of talent that was occurring, the real failure of women to get to the positions they deserved. I was equally astonished, if not more so, at finding out the underlying attitude of discrimination which was so widely felt. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, that this equality of opportunity should start in the home, and in a very large number of homes it does not. This goes all through the country.

I am delighted to hear that the ladies now mow the lawn and the gentlemen feed the babies; but in a large number of homes nothing of that sort occurs, and it is from those homes that discrimination goes through the whole of society. We need a Bill of this sort to try to give us a shove in the direction of getting rid of that, although it will take a long time. In the process we have produced a large Bill. I wonder whether, if we are not careful, it may not be a slightly alarming legislative juggernaut. I hope that it will be propelled along by those in charge of it with gentleness and discernment, and—if I may turn the phrase the other way round—with a good deal of discrimination.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to see that there has been such a general welcome for the Government's Sex Discrimination Bill. I was particularly grateful for the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who rightly spoke with such authority in giving her welcome to what the Government are doing. I was grateful, too, to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for emphasising all-Party support for this measure. It is the culmination of a great deal of work which has gone on for a number of years on both sides of this House. The sole exception to the praise that has been given to the Bill came from the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and, if I may, I will return to him later.

In considering this legislation, the need for it and its likely effect, we of course accept that there have been many improvements in recent years in the status of women in this country, and that many archaic laws and procedures putting women at a disadvantage have been done away with. But although it is now fifty-seven years since the first British women won the right to vote, and despite the major changes that have taken place, the position of women still remains unequal in many respects and in important aspects of our daily lives. I welcome the remark of the noble Viscount Lord Colville of Culross, in this respect regarding the enormous waste of talent in this community that flows from discrimination of the kind we are talking about. The combination of longer lives, younger marriages and smaller families has resulted in revolutionary changes in the lives of many women, whether as wives, mothers or workers.

Today, nearly half of all British women are in paid employment; they not only make a major contribution to our wellbeing as a nation, but they contribute substantially to the standard of living of their own families. But the hard facts are that many women do lower grade jobs, generally for lower rates of pay than men, are less likely to be promoted than men, and are rarely found in charge of business or industry. Our educational system, our preparation for working life and our practices in recruitment, have not caught up with what has been happening elsewhere in the social advancement of women. We, as a Government, are convinced that legislation is essential if an effective policy of equal opportunity is to be achieved, and if sex discrimination based on mere prejudice is to become a thing of the past.

We do not pretend that legislation in itself is a complete remedy. One cannot remove deep-rooted prejudices and changed attitudes entrenched in custom and practice simply by bringing in a new law—a point well emphasised by my noble friend Lady Summerskill. But our experience with the Race Relations Act has shown that the law helps to change people's attitudes as well as to regulate their behaviour. It creates the right sort of climate for progress and change, the climate which we need to achieve our aims.

The Bill before your Lordships' House represents a most comprehensive and determined attack on the evil of discrimination. It covers a very wide range of activities, and not only employment but education and the broad range of goods, services and facilities provided to the public. It brings in specifically, for the first time in anti-discrimination legislation, the professions and partnerships—two areas which have proved a fruitful source of grievance in the past. The Bill covers not only direct but indirect discrimination and we have made provision, through various kinds of positive action designed to help women train themselves, for opportunities which they have not hitherto enjoyed. Altogether it is a most ambitious and imaginative attempt. We have also made appropriate exceptions in the Bill for situations and activities where these are justified; for instance, where considerations of propriety and privacy apply. But the exceptions are carefully limited to what is necessary and they will not detract from the main impetus of the legislation.

But it is no use making a new law unless there are means to enforce it. We have adopted a new approach which will combine a right of an individual's access to legal remedies, either in courts or tribunals, with the setting up of a powerful Equal Opportunities Commission responsible for enforcing the law in the public interest on behalf of the community as a whole. All this explains why the Bill is long and complicated, as noble Lords and noble Baronesses—or should it be noble Baronesses and Lords, though it is difficult to put everything in the right order—have pointed out. In this connection, we are giving serious consideration to the publication of a document which will explain the rights that go with the Bill, because it is complicated and not always easy to understand, particularly when it is expressed in legal terms.

I turn now to some of the individual points that have been made in the debate and I will do my best to answer them. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned, as a small note of complaint in her speech, the enforcement procedure on education questions. She thought they were unduly lengthy and complicated and would not produce the right sort of answer in the lifetime of an aggrieved person. The noble Baroness chose an example which illustrates the desirability of complaints going first to the Education Ministers. If a girl refused entry to a course had to approach a tribunal or a county court, the criticism she made might well be justified. But in the example she illustrated the Secretary of State can direct the local education authority to admit the girl if he is satisfied that there has been discrimination. He can do so in time for the girl to be admitted during the term; hence the reason for the complaints procedure in that respect. I think that is a justifiable one. The noble Baroness also raised a point, as did others of your Lordships on both sides of the House, about there not being equality so far as pensions and social security are concerned. As we have indicated, the status of women in relation to taxation, social security, pensions, nationality and matrimonial and family law is governed and will continue to be dealt with, by separate legislation.

These matters are far too large and complex to be dealt with within the compass of the Sex Discrimination Bill, which has already been criticised for being too ambitious and going too far. But my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has introduced a Social Security Pensions Bill which provides, among other things, for men and women to have equal access to membership of occupational schemes in respect of age of entry, qualifying service and a basis of option or obligation. She has also asked the Occupational Pensions Board to consider what further steps are necessary to implement the principle of equality for men and women in pensions schemes. Perhaps we ought to leave it at that point so far as the pensions and social security side of this matter is concerned.


My Lords, if my noble friend will permit me to interrupt him, I am very grateful to him, but he has left social security there for the time being: where has he left taxation?


I have left taxation, my Lords, in the same place. Surely the noble Lord is not really suggesting that it should be introduced into the already complex nature and length of this Bill. I was about to come to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, in regard to free legal aid. Here I have to say that the recent report of the Legal Aid Advisory Committee recommended that legal aid should be extended to all statutory tribunals at present within the supervision of the Council on Tribunals. As my right honourable friend the Attorney-General has indicated, while my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has considerable sympathy with the Advisory Committee's recommendation and supports in principle the extension of legal aid to these tribunals, priority cannot be given to this in view of the urgent need to improve legal services generally. My noble and learned friend commissioned an urgent study last autumn into the problem of the unmet need for legal services; this is making good progress and he will review the position when the report is available to him.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, also raised the question of the possibility of a code of practice being produced. The suggestion, in effect, was that the Bill should include specific power for the Commission to issue codes of practice or guidelines carrying statutory backing. Let me make it quite clear that we think there will be a useful role for the Commission to play in publicising good practices and, in certain instances, in drawing up codes of guidance for people concerned with various aspects of the Bill. For instance, in paragraph 73 of the White Paper we envisaged that there might well be a case for the Commission to draw up guidelines for the use of advertisers.

The Commission can draw up and publish such guidance and encouragement to operate on a voluntary basis under the Bill as it stands. It does not need special powers to do so and I suggest that we should leave the Commission to decide, in the light of experience in the field, what might be the most relevant areas in this connection. We see difficulty in providing that any such guidance or code should have the force of law. The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, also asked about the headquarters of the Equal Opportunities Commission. The Home Secretary has said that he expects the headquarters to be in Manchester. That is the plan and it is in line with the Government's dispersal policies, but I have taken note of the point made by the noble Baroness in this connection.

I come now to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, and I was glad to note that he welcomed both the principles of the Bill and the possible exception of the Church in Clause 19. I noted that he welcomed the fact that that clause covered both the adoption of the religious doctrine and the susceptibilities of their followers, and I was glad that he welcomed it in that context. I also agreed very much with the emphasis he placed on the need for more education and training of all kinds, if what is proposed here is to come fully to fruition. The right reverend Prelate also asked about the ancient universities and their position so far as single sex colleges are concerned. Single sex colleges are protected under the Bill, but there are moves towards co-education and these are moves which will be facilitated by the Bill in the transitional procedures which can take place under Clause 27 of the Bill.

I was grateful for the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Gaitskell, and I am sure my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be delighted that she congratulated him on the Bill, which she called a remarkable Bill, a credit to International Women's Year and introduced not a moment too soon. I was delighted to hear her say that; I am sure we all take immense heart from it. I come now to the point made by the the noble Baroness, Lady Ward, when she expressed the hope that the Equal Opportunities Commission would bear in mind that very few women had been invited to serve on boards of directors. No doubt the Equal Opportunities Commission will take note of that point, as indeed do we all.

I turn now to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, in regard to the fire service. She was good enough to indicate to my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich that she intended to raise this matter today, and I am grateful to her for doing so because it is an important issue. I should like to preface my reply by explaining that there is nothing in the employment provisions of the Bill which prevents an employer from stipulating certain conditions or requirements which applicants for particular jobs must satisfy, provided that if those conditions are discriminatory in effect—as they would be if they were, for example, height, strength and stamina requirements—then they have to be justifiable in all the circumstances.

In this context, let us look at the fire service. There are some very tough physical tests which applicants naturally have to satisfy, and I am in no doubt that it is absolutely essential for a fireman—or perhaps we ought to say a firefighter—to be able to pass these tests if he or she is up to the job. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, I doubt whether the fire service will receive a flood of applications from aspiring women fire fighters, or whether there would be any but a handful of women who could pass the stringent physical tests. However, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, practical problems arise for a woman so qualified as an operational fire fighter, because an essential part of the work consists of being on call to attend an incident, and being in such a state of preparedness as to reduce to the minimum the period between the alarm being given and the arrival at the incident. This means that the accommodation for use while on duty must be designed with a view to keeping that period to the minimum, and this means that there must be shared sleeping accommodation. This raises questions of propriety and privacy which need to be considered in the context of Clause 7.

As my noble friend Lord Harris indicated in his opening speech, the Government have not sought to exclude the Home Office services from this legislation. They will be subjected to the same tests as any other employer. Therefore, we should see how the criteria in Clause 7 are likely to apply to the fire service. I believe that the legitimate needs of the fire service in this regard should be covered. It would seem to me from the Bill, and from the way it is likely to work and operate, that this will in fact be so. I hope that what I have said will reassure the noble Baroness that the position of the fire service under the Bill has been safeguarded to the extent to which it is justifiable so to do. In drafting Clause 7 we have sought to identify those criteria which distinguish jobs to which the principle of non-discrimination ought to apply and those to which it ought not. I am not saying that we have Clause 7 100 per cent. right—hence, of course, Clause 75 which gives the power to amend—but I believe that it will produce the right result, certainly in the case of the fire service to which my noble friend referred.

I come now—perhaps appropriately after fire—to the noble Lord, Lord Monson. He called the Bill anti-libertarian, ridiculous and unfair, and he said that one cannot reverse human nature. I am sorry that the noble Lord thought it necessary to ridicule various clauses of the Bill. What he said was clearly contrary to the spirit of this House and to the climate of opinion in this country, and certainly to the view of Her Majesty's Government. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in his intervention indicated the fundamental weakness in the case presented by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and when the noble Lord, Lord Monson, got it down to bones—and his bones against everybody else's bones—I think the bones on the other side clearly had it!


My Lords, I think it might be helpful to the House if I were to put the record straight, as to exactly what I do feel in my bones. There were four specific points. I said that I felt in my bones that it was wrong for women to be hanged; that it was wrong for women to dig ditches or mend roads, as they do behind the Iron Curtain; that it was on the whole wrong, or at any rate distasteful, for a policewoman to be armed, but that it was right that women's prisons should be more comfortable than men's. I do not think any of these four points are particularly controversial.


What about the pilots?


My Lords, I was quoting someone else.


My Lords, it is a little late in the evening to start disinterring the noble Lord's bones! I should like to come to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, about the burden of proof, which was also made by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. Of course, the point that has been made is that it should be for the complainant to show that the respondent committed the alleged act of unlawful discrimination, but for the respondent to prove the contrary; in other words, the complainant should make a complaint, and the complaint should be upheld unless the respondent can show it to be without foundation.

I am afraid that the Government find that unacceptable as a general proposition. The House will appreciate that it cuts right across the principle of our law, both civil and criminal, that a person is innocent until he is proven guilty. To prove the negative is a very onerous burden, and it would not be reasonable, as a general proposition, to require the respondent to do so. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, drew the attention of the House to the evidential burden placed on the respondent by the unfair dismissals provision of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974. The noble Baroness pointed out that under that Act the complainant has only to show that he was dismissed, and it then falls to the respondent to show that the reason for dismissal was a legitimate one.

I should point out that to begin with, with few exceptions, where a woman is unfairly dismissed because of her sex, she will have a case both under the Sex Discrimination Bill and under unfair dismissals legislation, and so will be able to benefit from the somewhat easier evidential burden provided by the latter. I should make it clear that there is no question of double compensation in such cases. It is perfectly fair and defensible that, when an employer dismisses an employee, he should be obliged to see that he had proper reason for doing so. That is why in dismissal cases the main evidential burden is on the respondent. In this situation, it should be noted that the respondent is not asked to prove a negative. He has to show that dismissal was for a reason which the Act says is a legitimate one. But no doubt this is something which will be argued about and discussed further when we get to the Committee stage.

My Lords, I now come to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, who spoke about the role of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and stressed its crucial importance. I should like to say more about this Commission in a moment or two. The noble Baroness also raised the question of a simple account of what the Bill contains and what it is about. I have already referred to that. It is the intention of the Government to do something along those lines. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, stressed that the Bill by itself will not achieve all that women would hope. This is very true. This is a point that has been raised by other speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, spoke many wise words, as he frequently does. I have had the privilege of serving with him on at least one committee, and I have heard his wise words almost every week. I always find myself in agreement with so much of what he says.

If I may turn to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, who does not seem to be here to turn to, I am grateful to him for putting into proper historical perspective what the Bill now before your Lordships is seeking to achieve. The noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, said that the Bill imposes requirements on employers, but that trade unions also will need to cease any discriminatory practices. I accept the point made by the noble Baroness. Clause 12 of the Bill makes unlawful discrimination by trade unions against members or potential members. Clause 39 also makes it unlawful to exert pressure on someone so as to make him discriminate. This applies to trade unions as to anyone else.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, pointed out that this is not the end of the battle, but very much a beginning. He pointed out a number of different methods available under the Bill for dealing with discrimination. The noble Viscount was putting, that in a sense of criticism, partly because of the extended powers of the Equal Opportunities Commission. The Government believe it right that the Commission should have the extended powers we have put there. I have no doubt that a number of the points the noble Viscount made with regard to the different methods of dealing with discrimination will come up during Committee stage.

My Lords, the extended role of the Equal Opportunities Commission has been mentioned on a number of occasions. I should like to go into this in a little more detail. In all our deliberations on the Bill, we have been conscious of the vital importance of the Equal Opportunities Commission, both in its role of enforcing the legislation and in its role as pathfinder and educator. As my right honourable friend announced, Miss Betty Lockwood has agreed to serve as chairman designate and Lady Howe as deputy chairman designate of the Commission. I am sure that the House welcomes both these appointments and will wish to join with me in offering Miss Lockwood and Lady Howe our good wishes for the task ahead of them. I am glad there has been association with that from all sides of the House.

The Bill has imposed a very wide range of tasks on the Commission. It will keep under review the working of the Bill and of the Equal Pay Act and has duties of enforcement relating to both. It will have the vital function of identifying, and of seeking to eliminate, unlawful discriminatory practices. To this end it will carry out formal investigations for which it will have powers to require the production of information, which may be followed either by recommendations for changes in practices or, if there has been unlawful discrimination, by the issue of non-discrimination notices and, if necessary, legal proceedings. It has powers to require information about the action taken after a notice has been issued, and to deal with persistent discrimination. It will be able to assist individuals in the preparation and presentation of their cases where special circumstances justify this. In addition, the Commission will have the sole right to institute proceedings in respect of those contraventions of the Bill which do not directly produce victims. Here I am referring to the new clause on discriminatory practices, and to the provisions dealing with pressure to discriminate, instructions to discriminate and discriminatory advertising.

The Commission will be an important source of information about the legislation and the remedies available to individuals who have suffered discrimination. It will be able to conduct and support research into any field relating to discrimination. The Commission will be able to conduct wide-ranging inquiries into the positions and opportunities of men and women, and not only in those areas covered by the Bill. It will normally publish its findings and it will be able to recommend such action, whether legislative or otherwise, as it considers necessary. The Commission will be able to publish guidelines or codes of good practice in the light of its investigations and research, and we hope that it will consider doing this in appropriate places.

The role of the Commission in the enforcement of the legislation is very important. We have always pressed the need for strong and effective powers, and the Commission is essential to the strategic approach which has been put forward in the Bill. But in the longer term I think that the Commission's role in education and persuading public opinion may be at least as important. There are inevitable restraints on what can be achieved by legislation, and if the Bill is to achieve its maximum effect it must be supported and complemented by effective equal opportunity policies, not only by Government but by those concerned with education and training, by employers and trade unions, in the professions, in the media and elsewhere.

There is a need to encourage girls and women not to undervalue themselves and their potential and to make the fullest use of the opportunities which the Bill will open to them. There is need to question outmoded assumptions about the roles which are appropriate to girls and women in our society now and as we expect it to develop in the future. But this is a task which has to be handled with some sensitivity, as the noble Viscount recognised, since it needs to be recognised, too, that the creation of a happy home and family life is itself a contribution to society, and that many women now and in the future will find their greatest satisfaction in their homes and in their families. There is need for sensitivity and balance, but the Government are confident that the Commission will play a leading part in this necessary work of education and persuasion which will ensure that the aims of justice and equality which underlie the Bill will become part of our accepted way of life and of thinking. My Lords, I hope I have answered most of the points that have been raised. I commend this Bill to your Lordships for a Second Reading.

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