HL Deb 12 June 1975 vol 361 cc576-604

7.29 p.m.

Lord HILL of LUTON rose to move, That this House takes note of the Twenty-first Report of the European Communities Committee on Equal Treatment for Men and Women Workers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will be brief in moving this Motion, not because of the unimportance of the matters raised but because I am to be followed by my colleague on Sub-Committee C, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and three other noble Baronesses, all of whom are far more deeply versed in the intricacies of this problem than I am. It stems from Draft Directive 451/75 which the Council of Ministers, we have been told, hopes to formulate in final form during the month of June. I do not believe it but, nevertheless, that is the hope that was conveyed to us. I have heard many such hopes in Brussels timetables and I have become cynical about them. The theme of the draft Directive is equality of treatment for men and women in employment and education, that equal treatment being defined as the elimination of all discrimination based on sex, marital status or family status, and on that subject the draft Directive is plain, clear, comprehensive and without any exceptions whatever.

It happens that there is before the other place the Sex Discrimination Bill, a vigorous and enlightened attack on the whole problem of sex discrimination. But there are exceptions in that Bill. We do not know in what form those exceptions will eventually reach this House or what this House will have to say about them, but as matters stand there are exceptions. In certain circumstances, discrimination will be permitted. For example, it will be permitted in private household employment, provided not more than five people are employed. It will be permitted, where authentic male characteristics are necessary for the job. I am not sure that I should like to define what that means, but I presume that it means physical strength. I go no further than that. There may be different interpretations.

Under the Factories Act—still continuing with the exceptions—there are clauses which control the employment of women, for instance, in coalmines. Again, another exception which will be allowed is where discrimination is necessary to preserve decency or privacy, in letting rooms in one's own house and in single-sex educational establishments. There are other exceptions, but these supply illustrations of the exceptions which are to be found in the Bill now before another place.

I am not concerned to argue whether the list is satisfactory or not. I have not the courage to do so in this short debate in which so many noble Baronesses are to speak. However, I risk the expression of the view that some exceptions are necessary, whatever they may be. This Directive provides for none. Here, the Community protesting that it does mean to permit exceptions, has said that Article 189 provides the machinery for exceptions. The Article is short and noble Lords will forgive me if I read it; it is very important in relation to many of the proposals which come from Brussels: In order to carry out their task and in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty, the Council and the Commission shall make regulations and issue directives, take decisions, make recommendations or give opinions. A regulation shall apply generally. It shall be binding in its entirety and take direct effect in each Member State. This is the relevant clause in this context. A directive shall be binding as to the result to be achieved, upon each Member State to which it is directed, but shall leave to national authorities the choice of form and methods. A decision shall be binding in its entirety upon those to whom it is directed. Recommendations and opinions shall have no binding force.

Your Lordships will appreciate that the paragraph on directives enables each Member State to go its own way to that objective: it does not, in my view, provide for exceptions to be made in the application of the principle. A directive shall be binding on each Member State as to the result to be achieved but shall leave to the national authorities the choice of former methods. To say that that permits a Member State to apply this principle with exceptions is, in my view, nonsense. That is the important principle that lies behind this Report.

I have no doubt that the position will be changed. It is extraordinary what a capacity for change there is in Brussels. Your Lordships may recall that I told the House on one occasion that to apply a language test to an incoming doctor would be contrary to the Treaty of Rome. Somehow or another, the Treaty has been re-interpreted and now such language tests are to be permitted. I have had an intimation today from the Department which, at the official level, has been stoutly fighting for the point that we need exceptions in the Directive and not by the use of an Article which does not permit such exceptions. I understand today that it is likely—and no doubt the Minister will tell us—that exceptions will be permitted. I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will feel able to tell us.

What is interesting in this matter—and members of the Select Committee under the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, have had a great deal of experience of this—is that the legislative approach to problems of very many other countries is so different. I suppose that we, in the absence of a written Constitution, tend to be careful, meticulous and precise in drafting our legislation. I understand that in some continental countries, they tend to be rather general, vague and imprecise, relying on the courts subsequently to interpret the legislation in the light of a written Constitution. Whatever it may be, the approach is rather different and methods are rather different, though we should not believe that they are necessarily worse. I feel that a foreigner, going to the gallery of the House of Commons and hearing one voice saying one word at 4 o'clock on Friday to destroy the chances of a Private Bill, or seeing the Adjournment Motion moved at half past 3 and a debate going on for six and a half hours without a mention of adjourning until the Whip gets up at 10 o'clock and withdraws the Motion, must at least be puzzled. So all I am saying is that the methods and the approach are different and that this episode illustrates the point.

However, there is another and perhaps more difficult point. As matters stand, this draft Directive would require the abolition of the difference in retirement ages for men and women. It does not say that one should be raised, but it requires the elimination of the difference. There is a Social Security Pensions Bill before the other place at present. That Bill does not remove that distinction in the age at which the pension becomes payable. I shall be very interested to hear from the noble Lord who is to reply what the Government intend to do about that. This is a more formidable problem, I suspect, but, whatever may be one's views on the subject of the differential age at which pensions are payable—and I should not dare to offer any views on the subject—the fact remains that the Directive would require the amendment of our own legislation in that respect. I just pose the problem in the hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the position as he now sees it. Above all, I hope he may be able to reassure us that there is not the slightest chance of the draft Directive reaching its final form in the month of June. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Twenty-first Report of the European Communities Committee on Equal Treatment for Men and Women Workers.—(Lord Hill of Luton.)

7.40 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, has outlined most of the points that it is necessary to make in this connection, and I shall not keep your Lordships' House long. I understand that the purpose of this evening's debate is not to consider the merits or demerits of what is proposed, but to concentrate exclusively on where the proposals in the Directive differ from our practice and proposed practice in this country; whatever we may think about the content of our existing or our proposed legislation, or whatever we may think about the proposals in the Directive.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hill, has already made clear, there are a number of substantial differences between the proposed Directive and our own proposals in this country. It is very important that this matter should be dealt with before the Directive has the force of law. I wish to make four points. The first important difference has to do with the question of exceptions in relation to employment. Here perhaps the most important exclusion is the point which figures considerably in the Sex Discrimination Bill which is going through another place. Clause 7 of that Bill refers to genuine occupational qualifications, of which there is a list. I shall not weary your Lordships' House by detailing this list, but it permits discrimination in relation to men and women.

The second point is in some ways a more difficult matter, because at the moment it is under debate in another place. The draft Directive makes quite clear that legislation which has been passed for the protection of workers must be amended, except in so far as it continues to be justifiable. It can be argued that that gives a let-out for the continuation of what is generally called the "protective legislation", the legislation contained in the Factories Acts and elsewhere, which makes special provision for the protection of women workers. It is no secret that this is a controversial matter in this country between people who are enthusiastic in other respects in relation to the proposed sex discrimination legislation. The particular difficulty at the moment is that at the Committee stage in another place an Amendment was passed which would bring our proposed sex discrimination legislation into line with the proposals in the Directive. However, I understand that Amendments have been put down for Report stage in another place designed to restore the original clauses in the Sex Discrimination Bill, which would mean that our proposed legislation would not be in line with the proposed Directive. I recognise that this is a somewhat convoluted story, but that is the position as it stands.

The Sex Discrimination Bill, as presented by Her Majesty's Government, requires the retention of our protective legislation. At the moment it is amended, which would remove that protection. The Amendment is to be removed, and the Bill as originally drafted will stand if the Amendments put down in another place go through. In that case we shall not be in line with the Directive. My third point is perhaps not of such immediate and obvious significance. We refer to discrimination on grounds of sex or marriage. The draft Directive talks about discrimination on grounds of sex, marital status or family status. At first sight this may not seem to be of great importance. But the difference is that marital status includes such matters as could be used to say that it is against the law to exclude someone because he or she is divorced. In our proposed legislation, if a person were excluded from a job because he or she was divorced—and both men and women were excluded on the grounds that they were divorced—that would be covered. But we do not say, "marital status". In discussions which preceded the Sex Discrimination Bill, proposals were put forward that we should use the term, "marital status" and not, "marriage". That would have covered the point, but that suggestion was rejected.

The point of our proposed legislation is that a person should not be refused a job because he or she is married. The other aspects of marital status are not covered by our legislation. The term "marital status" which appears in the draft Directive would cover this type of case. Family status is of considerable importance, because it is not an uncommon matter for people to be denied the opportunity of employment because they have children. Presumably, the use of the phrase "family status" in the draft Directive is intended to cover that kind of discrimination against a woman because she has a child. Equally, we could argue that unless you refuse to take on a man who has children, and you refuse to take on a woman who has children, you are discriminating under our proposed legislation because you are applying a rule which is different for men and women.

Therefore the purpose of this particular proposal in the draft Directive would be covered by using a different clause in our Sex Discrimination Bill. But the wording is different; as it stands in the clause it is different. "Marital status" and "family status" appear in the draft Directive, whereas our proposed legislation refers only to grounds of marriage. As the noble Lord, Lord Hill, said, there is also the big and important issue relating to retirement and social security provision at pension age. In the draft Directive there is no discrimination in social security provision. As your Lordships will know, this is a matter over which there has been a great deal of discussion at every stage of social security legislation in both Houses of Parliament. But we have adhered to our differences in both retirement age and social security provision for people in retirement. If the Directive stands as at present drafted, we will be out of court under that heading as well.

I do not see anything in the draft Directive which would cover a particular point in the Sex Discrimination Bill. We are not commenting on its merits, but I cannot resist saying that there is an innovation in the Bill which I personally greatly welcome, which allows positive discrimination in regard to training. It allows discrimination under certain circumstances, with more favourable treatment in regard to training for women than for men, where very small numbers of women—and I think that the term used in the Bill is "comparatively few"—have filled certain occupations in the past. In terms of real change in the area of discrimination, this is undoubtedly a very important innovation. I do not see anything in the draft Directive which would permit that kind of discrimination in favour of women. That is another point which many of us would wish to see taken into account when considering how we stand in relation to the draft Directive. Those are the main differences between our proposed legislation and what is contained in the draft Directive. It is quite clear that the differences are sufficiently substantial for it to be urgent that action is taken to see that the draft as it stands does not become a Directive.

7.49 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, as a member of the European Parliament, and having been rapporteur for the draft Directive on behalf of the Social Affairs and Employment Committee of the European Parliament, I wish to say a few words on this matter. Experience from that Committee enables one to look at this matter in a slightly more European way than if one were only a Member of this House. I shall not go over all the ground that has been so ably covered by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, but I wish to make one or two general comments before going on to more detailed remarks.

First, on these Benches we welcome wholeheartedly a draft Directive which is geared not only to removing sex discrimination, which is the purport of the Bill at present in another place, but to establish the principle of equal treatment between men and women in employment. I am not going into a semantic and philosophical discussion on the difference. Nevertheless, there is quite a difference between removing discrimination and establishing a positive principle, which has to be establshed by national legislation in nine Member States; remembering always that this will affect about 37 million women who are involved in the field of employment. With regard to Article 2 which relates to access to jobs, I should say that I tried in my Committee to propose that genuine occupational qualifications and one or two other items should be made exceptions to the general principle. But I regret to tell your Lordships, being the only woman on the Com- mittee, that all the men voted against it. So, as rapporteur, for the Committee I had no option but to accept a democratic majority vote; so the opinion from the European Parliament contains no amendment to this particular Article. However, I need hardly say that I will welcome some common sense at higher levels stepping in and altering the present draft. The Commission emphasise that they are most keen and anxious to establish, first, the general principle of equal treatment; and from there they can then work on to exceptions. As I understand it, and as the noble Lord, Lord Hill, indicated, there will be a modification in Article 2 to the extent that some exceptions will be written into the draft Directive.

With regard to the question of legislation, such as the Factories Acts—and I must say that there are two ex-Ministers of Labour of two of the Member-States—we voted unanimously for the removal of any discriminatory legislation which would prevent women from playing a full role in the field of employment. I know that some people will not consider that this is reasonable; but I should first like to say that we are bound at the moment by the ILO Conventions Nos. 41 and 45 which relate to night work in particular, and to underground work. These will entail denunciation which can only be done every ten years; and in the first case will come round in 1976 and, in the second, 1977.

I should like to state to the House the ground on which we asked for the removal of this particular protective discrimination. In the European Committee there is a very active and dynamic policy for the protection, safety and health of all workers. Since the principle of equal treatment for men and women is the basis of this draft Directive, the principle of protection does not come into the Directive. But there is proposed legislation, draft legislation, and a very full programme which is being envisaged for the protection of all workers and for their safety and health. To my mind, I think it is more important to establish the principle of protection for all than to say that certain women cannot do certain night work in certain areas of the country, and so forbid them being able to earn their living in the way they choose. After all, we all know in this House that there are all forms of work, and not only nursing, where women are expected to work at night. There is no discrimination in that field. I do not see why it should be written into a draft Directive.

With regard to vocational training and general education, again equal treatment is to be given for admission to technical and medical schools and so on, which would be covered by this draft Directive. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, pointed out that it does not go as far as the Sex Discrimination Bill; but I think this must be taken into account in conjunction with the programme under Article 5 of the European Social Fund, where very large sums of money are being devoted directly to the training of women to come back into work, particularly over the age of thirty-five, and to all young unemployed. I think once one establishes the principle there are other means apart from the draft Directive which can be and are being used to enable women in particular to benefit from the proposed access to all kinds of jobs. I know that noble Lords and, particularly, noble Baronesses, who have spent many years trying to reach this principle of equal treatment, will know that legislation on its own is not sufficient. We have only to look at the Equal Pay Act of 1970 and in today's Gazette from the Department of Employment, where we see that for non-manual working men the average wage per hour is 138p and for the non-manual working women the average is 76p. We realise that legislation on its own is not enough. But we need backup provisions and measures, and in the field of vocational training the European Social Fund is certainly one.

Another measure envisaged by the draft Directive and which I welcome is the fact that anybody who does not fulfil the terms of the Directive (or, as it would be in each country, national legislation) could be penalised by law. This means access would be available to either tribunals or some competent authority where women or men could complain that they had been discriminated against. I think it would be up to the national legislation and that, since we are talking about the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom should first provide access for a woman to the Equal Opportunities Commission to have her case vetted. We all know that a woman working in a factory will have neither the time nor the money—and no woman is necessarily a coward, but she cannot be expected to have the courage—to take the case to a tribunal knowing that she might be condemned or suffer, not necessarily from the employer but from different grades among people with whom she works. I welcome the setting up of the Equal Opportunities Commission and hope they will have power to investigate cases before they go to the tribunals.

The second point that I think is very important is the necessity for information; information to employees to know what their rights are and to employers to know what their obligations are. We all know that the prejudices that exist with respect to the employment of women are things that must be removed. There is the turnover rate. We are always told women change jobs more frequently than men. But if you analyse the figures objectively you will see that anybody who is badly paid, in bad conditions and with no possible chance of promotion is going to change jobs more quickly and easily than somebody on a safe road to promotion. With regard to absenteeism, we are always told that women are absent far more than men. It is interesting to know that in 1972, which is the latest for which figures are obtainable, over a certain period the number of days away of men was 9.3 and of women, seven. Incidentally, I referred to this in the European Parliament and precisely the same story was told from Belgium, and an ex-Minister of Labour said that for the first time the figures of absenteeism had been published and men were away more frequently than women. There may have been reasons for this, but the results are the same.

It is the same with the question of married women and unemployability. Looking at the number of times that men change jobs throughout their lives it is at least three or four times. The fact that a woman goes and has a family should be regarded as part of her life and the general line throughout her life. I would challenge anybody to say that a man who goes off on some other job necessarily gains as much experience as a woman who is bringing up children and a family. What she loses in technical, specialised experience she gains overwhelmingly in the development of her character and her sense of responsibility, tolerance and patience. Any of us who are married know of the characteristics that we acquire during the process of raising a family. It does not mean we are no longer fit for jobs later on in life. These are things which should be taken as part of the general employment policy.

I should like to say a word about social security. We recommended in our Committee that maternity benefits should be excluded from the general provisions of social security. We believe it is an essential part of the obligations of the State to look after the health and welfare of mothers and children, and this care should not be included in the overall contributory social security schemes. Nevertheless, we were unanimously of the opinion that there should be an equalisation of the retirement age; it would be voluntary; there were all sorts of ways of doing it without putting great pressure on public expenditure. We are all told it is going to cost too much.

If you look at the unemployment figures, you will see a considerable amount has been paid in unemployment benefit to people who have reached retirement age. It would have been much simpler to have reduced the retirement age for men on a voluntary basis so that they could retire earlier and draw an old age pension. There are several other elements in social security which would need equalising for various reasons: widows' benefits, and concerning children and so on. There are various elements some of which are paid to women and not to men, and so on. In this day and age when we realise that there are over 1 million children being brought up by one parent, male or female, there is an urgent need to look again at the social security schemes.

I would also draw attention to the fact that we have to look at this matter from a European aspect. Many of the pensions in the other Community States are based on a percentage of earnings. It is therefore vitally important to women that they should have a full percentage of their earnings on the same basis as the man, but whereas here it is on a contributory basis, and there is a fixed sum at the end of the day, you can imagine that a woman who has been paid much less during her working life—so far the Equal Pay Act does not seem to have been working very well—is going to draw a much lower pension than the man. Therefore, certainly on our Committee in the European Parliament, we are anxious to see a more equal and higher treatment in pensions within the provisions of social security. Here again, we were unanimous on this particular aspect.

My Lords, I think that I have covered the main points which we discussed in our Committee. We recommended the draft Directive to the Commission with the amendments to which I have referred, with one exception: we asked that there should be a control system to see that the draft Directive, once it became a Directive, should not only be implemented by national legislation but also carried forward by administrative provision. I cannot make the point too often that legislation on its own is not enough. The draft Directive is only a basis; Article 189 works for all Directives. I think this question of whether Article 189 is brought into it or not is, with respect, not entirely relevant to the result we wish to see in this country. On a European basis it will be of great benefit to the 37 million women who so far have been so badly discriminated against.

8.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, for drawing the attention of the House to this draft Directive. I have listened very carefully to the noble Baronesses who have spoken—they have not given me much comfort. It indicates to me that insufficient attention has been given to this matter, and a comprehensive study of it has not been made. I recall that this House considered this matter of such importance that they convened a Select Committee, of which I had the honour to be a member, and we found one year was scarcely enough to examine this matter and to interview all individuals whom we deemed it proper to interview, and who could make a most important contribution to the whole question. I should first like to know whether the examination by the Council has been equally thorough. I should like to know the details of this examination.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, if I may intervene, the Council has not yet inspected this draft Directive; it is coming up next week. It has been discussed by the Commission and has been put to Members from all Member-States.


Yes, my Lords, but before a draft Directive of this kind is made, surely in Europe there has been a careful examination of the whole question. I should like to know what form that took. Did they do as this House did, sitting for one year and examining the whole question? We found a year was necessary before we could finalise the whole matter. This Directive indicates to me—and I do not want to use words which are very hurtful—that the approach has been rather slipshod. That is how it seems to me, unless I am told otherwise.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness again, but since she raised this point I ought in fairness to say that I was a member of an ad hoc Committee in Brussels which was also attended by a member of the Department of Employment, nominated through the Department of Employment and the Women's National Commission. It considered this matter. There were representatives from all of the European countries in the Community. I did not mention earlier that a Report was put in to the Commission and, so far as I can see, very little notice seems to have been taken of the content of that Report. Information is there, but I do not think it has been used in the preparation of the Directive.


My Lords, I take it from what the noble Baroness says that she is supporting my contention but there has been insufficient examination. This is a most important point, if we have elicited this, because we are dealing with a matter which concerns women. Those who work in factories and industry are inarticulate.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords—


My Lords, I cannot be interrupted three times in the first two minutes of my speech! The noble Baroness made a long speech; she should have put her case. If she feels now that she has put a case which is rather weak, then I ask her to wait until I have finished. It is difficult for me to pursue my theme if I am interrupted three times in two minutes. I must speak strongly.

I believe that the Sex Discrimination Bill, which is now being debated in another place, can provide a legislative guide to the rest of the world. It illustrates how a difficult social problem which confronts the civilised world today can be resolved provided common sense guides the legislators—I repeat, common sense. The draft Directive seems to be devoid of common sense and devoid of humanity. It would indicate also that it is the product of a Committee composed of a majority of men whose hearts and minds are not involved in the decision. The attendance in this House tonight illustrates that very few men are interested in it. Apart from the men on the Front Bench who—poor things!—have to be here, and the noble Lord who introduced this Motion, we do not have a man among us other than the present occupant of the Woolsack. He, as we know, is mute. This proves my point.


And he also has to be here!


Therefore, my Lords, when I dare to say, without having seen the Committee that decided this, that it is decided by a majority of men who have little interest in the matter, from the evidence tonight probably I am speaking the truth. I can understand why the Sub-Committee considered that it is inconceivable that the draft Directive should be adopted "in its present form". That was the phrase they used.

It is the custom in this House to limit speeches on an Unstarred Question, and, therefore, knowing there will be ample opportunity to raise this matter again, I propose to devote my remarks to the proposal of the Directive repealing, all the discriminatory statutory provisions and, in particular, the restrictions on the employment of women under the Factories Act 1961. With greater opportunities available to women in educational work, it is gradually being accepted that the differences between the sexes are less remarkable than the similarities. If jobs and training opportunities were available on an equal basis, there would be no reason why women should not aspire to any job which does not demand brute strength. Nevertheless, there is one important function—the function of child bearing—which men cannot emulate and which the State very wisely recognises as a service of inestimable value to the community, and indeed to posterity. For this reason, through the Factories Acts, women have been afforded some protection. There are general restrictions on the hours of women manual workers who comprise about one quarter of the women in employment in the country. These restrictions include a limit of 48 hours work per week, which must not start before 7 a.m. or end after 8 p.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays; a rest interval of at least half an hour after four and a half hours continuous work—manual work I should remind the House—and overtime is limited to 25 weeks in any year.

Employers may apply for special exemption from these provisions, but if the application is not made jointly with the workers' organisations concerned, the Employment Secretary must formally consult with the appropriate workers' organisations. There are two Labour Conventions prohibiting the employment of women at night, but for various reasons these have not been ratified by the United Kingdom. There are further restrictions on the kind of work women may do, the intention of which is to protect the health, particularly during pregnancy. I cannot agree with the noble Baroness who has just spoken when she speaks about protecting the health of workers—men to be protected as well as women. Men cannot get pregnant, so I say this is a special case, and the European Community cannot ignore the fact that among the millions of women of whom the noble Baroness has spoken there are these unfortunate, poor, inarticulate women who cannot raise the matter on their own behalf.

Surely restrictions on the ground of pregnancy is not discriminating for women or against women. A restriction on the grounds of pregnancy is something which the whole country should urge because the country needs fine children. It is in the interests of the country to introduce protective legislation for women. This question has been examined by a group in the Labour Party who found no reason to recommend change. When the Labour Party, and indeed this House, examine questions of this kind, they examine them thoroughly and if they thought that a strong case had not been made out they would not be so frivolous as to make a recommendation that there should be no change.

The TUC General Council have expressed the view that any change in working conditions in individual establishments must not be made without consultation with the agreement of women workers and their unions. It seems incredible that the draft Directive should insist on the necessity for the repeal of this legislation. One hundred years ago women were in the mines, and we had pictures in the corridor here showing women giving birth to babies in the mines. The poor women in some mines became demoralised and were unable to protect themselves against the men miners. Because most legislative chambers contain a majority of men, it has taken 100 years to get this legislation through.

In my opinion a lack of common sense is revealed in the apparent ignorance of the fact—and I am shocked that the noble Baroness has mentioned it—that the woman in the factory does two jobs, one outside the home and one inside the home. Surely the Parliaments of the world must recognise that. I represented a Lancashire constituency for years and all the men and women worked. Every man worker expected to go home and find a meal for himself although his wife had worked an equal time in a factory. No legislation can change this kind of custom. No legislation can change the approach of a selfish man. Therefore in framing legislation we have to have in mind the way of life of these women. The domestic commitments of the woman worker make it difficult for her to work irregular hours or overtime.

The noble Baroness quoted the fact that women had more. time off than men. My Lords, who has to stay away from work when a child gets measles? Who has to leave work when a child gets measles or when there is any domestic problem? Not the man, but the woman. She does not complain; I am not complaining on her behalf. It is natural. When I had children I used to phone up from the House of Commons and ask how they were and talk about their measles rash. I know precisely what the pressure is on a woman who tries to do a job and have a family as well. But the Parliaments of the world must recognise this as well.

Do the men responsible for this draft Directive believe that if protective legislation is repealed where the woman works outside the home the relationship between husband and wife will change simultaneously and the husband undertake half the domestic chores; that he will stay at home some evenings and care for the children; that he will help to clean the house and do the washing at the weekend instead of going to football? Is it thought that if the law is changed so that these two people are made completely equal, and all protective legislation removed from the women, the men in Europe who are being given equal rights with the women will change in their habits? Of course not.

It is of little value to argue that a woman is not compelled to do night work or overtime. Let us face up to that—she is not compelled. We are not talking about women like us who I think can protect themselves and can object forcefully if they are exploited. As I say, we are talking about the poor, mute, inarticulate woman who may be married to a drinker, a bully or a very selfish man—and I have an idea that in Europe there are plenty of those. A woman married to a man of this kind will sacrifice, without thought of self, for the sake of her family and to maintain harmony in the home. People wonder why she submits. She submits to maintain harmony in the home because she knows that disharmony is hurtful to the children. Therefore, if she is called upon to do work which calls for that protection, she must be protected by legislation.

I have only to say that it is very disappointing to find that one has to explain the way of life of a working family to the highly intelligent men responsible for the draft Directive. It makes one a little pessimistic about the implementation of a Sex Discrimination Bill. However, my Parliamentary experience has taught me that in the matter of sex relationships emotion is always stronger than reason. Perhaps I may tell your Lordships the little story which helped to teach me this many years ago. When I was a member of the Attlee Government, at a meeting concerned with the granting of independence to a small African country I said to the African representative—a highly intelligent man—"I hope that in framing your new Constitution you will give women the vote." He replied: "Oh no. You don't understand: in our country the women work in the fields producing the food. The men sit outside their huts discussing the problems of the village. Surely you would agree that only the men, who are thinking out these difficult matters, deserve a vote."


Before the noble Baroness sits down, I have read the Directive only once and cannot keep the details in my head completely, but I think the noble Baroness is a little unfair when she refers to the arrangements set out in one particular paragraph which deals with the situation when children are ill. I believe they do consider the situation and suggest provisions to help a woman when her children are ill.


As I read the Directive—and I understand that there is support from noble Baronesses opposite on this—it says that all this protective legislation should be repealed.

8.21 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I am in a rather difficult position in speaking in this debate, because I have not been to any of these committees which have been mentioned, so I am more or less speaking for myself. I am very sorry to have to disagree with some things the noble Baroness has said because, as she knows, I was chairman of the Status of Women Committee when she very kindly came and spoke at one of our conferences, and we greatly appreciated her presence. But there are a number of points on which I fear I cannot agree with her. Also of course I have had no children, so the noble Baroness has yet another advantage over me in that respect.

I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, for introducing this Twenty-first Report in such an interesting manner and for being so explicit over it, even though I do not agree with everything he said. At the most recent conference we had—the noble Baroness came to an earlier one—there were women members attending from all nine EEC countries, and we found we had a great deal in common. Denmark was the most advanced in their legisation and attitudes to women, and Southern Ireland or Eire was the least. It seemed fair to agree (quoting from Kipling) that: The Colonel's lady and Judy O'Grady Are sisters under the skin. I think that saying holds good today.

I was pleased to note that the Sex Discrimination Bill of the United Kingdom is praised in this Report, but I hope that when it comes to this House we may get one or two enlightened Amendments, because I think the Bill needs improving. I personally would like to see the repeal of the Factories Act. I remember from the war years how women worked in the Royal Ordnance factories: in fact for several years I did welfare work for them on behalf of the Ministry of Supply. On page 22(8), in the section concerning the protection of women at work, it says: The area of work outside the home in which it is thought necessary to maintain protective provisions expressly for women has contracted in recent years. Beyond the recognised need for protection during pregnancy"— and I think that covers the point— women at work now seek little, if any differential protection from that regarded as appropriate for men. So, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said, it actually mentions this in the Directive. It also goes on to say: Protection for expressive physical exertion (as in heavy engineering) is no longer needed because of the automation of the production process. Although many dangerous jobs (such as mining) remain, some women now regard such jobs as well within their range of interest and would resent the attempt to protect them …". We did, of course, discuss this when I was a member of the Status of Women Commission at the United Nations. That was the general feeling there at that time, some years ago now. The section ends by saying: Equality between men and women means that in most Member States women are expected to take night-shifts in the same way as men when the circumstances of the industry demand this. I should have thought that the noble Baroness might be satisfied with that part of the Directive. What I felt was a pity about the Committee which was mentioned by the noble Lord, was that they said the draft Directive should be amended so as to include a clause which allows "sensible exceptions". I should like to know who is going to decide what are "sensible exceptions". It also goes on to say: Where sex is a genuine occupational qualification"— I think that is going to be very difficult to judge, too.

From listening to the various speeches during this debates it appears we all have different opinions. Recently when I was concerned with the adoption inquiry we had before us some judges, three of whom gave completely different opinions. I should like to know from the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, how he thinks these "sensible exceptions" will be managed. I think this will play into the hands of certain professions and also the trade unions, because they would find these exceptions on both grounds, and this would be most unfortunate.

I am entirely in favour of the same retirement age for men and women, which I gather already obtains in France and Southern Ireland. At present, as we all know, men retire at 65 and women at 60 but, on the other hand, women have a longer span of life. But many men have to retire from their jobs at about 55 or 60—for example, a bank manager has to retire at 60—and I think it would be very much less expensive gradually to bring the men's age down until it is the same as for women—perhaps first to 63 years and later down to 60. It would be less expensive for the State, because a man with only his pension could then do any work he wished and earn any amount of money he might be permitted to earn. It would also help women, because very often their earlier retirement age works against them when applying for a job. Also, in times of difficult employment opportunities this would help young people to get jobs.

At the conference I mentioned previously, a representative of the Commission stated some of the difficulties. He said: In dealing with specific needs of women, officialdom tends to put them with minority o[...] handicapped groups. I think this is very often the attitude of many people, especially those who have read this Directive. He also added: In enlarging the freedom of women at one point one is in danger of constricting it at another. For example, the freedom to engage in a profession or trade must not oust the freedom to stay at home and bring up a family. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, would agree with me, and perhaps she might be interested in some figures I have from the Dutch Family Ministry. They made a survey and concluded that the work of a woman in terms of professional rates, of washing, cleaning, child care, and so on, was worth £20 a week. That was without children. If a woman had a child the figure was £35, and if she had several children it was £60 a week. I have always made it quite clear that I believe that the career of a woman inside the home is equal to one outside it. I think the Dutch authorities have rather confirmed this in their survey.

I should like to make a further point, that the attitudes of men and women are changing. A little while ago I was judging a beauty competition. It was in a factory and it was not just concerned with beauty but also with deportment, and in addition we asked questions. I noticed that one woman was rather older than the others and that she wore a wedding ring. I ask her where she lived, and it was rather a long way away. I asked her: "Have you any children?" She said she had three. So I said: "What happens to them while you are away in the factory?" "Oh," she said, "My husband worked for the first 15 years of our married life. He decided he would like to stay at home. He looks after the children and does the cooking, and I have come out to work." She then added: "What is more, I earn more than he did." I very much doubt that, knowing the job she had; but she knew what she earned, whereas her husband probably did not tell her what he earned. Therefore, the Directive is very interesting when it says: To strive to reconcile family responsibilities with the professional aspirations of the people". It is not just professional aspirations.

I also had a weekly wage-earning area in Devonport when I was Member of Parliament there. I found, particularly on the housing estates which had modern gadgets, that the women there wanted to have a job. I never tried to persuade them to take a job until their children were old enough to go to school. I set up quite a number of play groups where children could go. This subject also is mentioned in the Directive, although it refers only to the official créches and so on and not to play groups. So I think there are two sides to this question.

One of the other points mentioned is the difficulty about education. From the births of the girl child and the boy child they are pushed along a certain stream. Girls are brought up with certain books that they are going to read, with the idea that eventually they are going to be married. The boys are concerned with engneering work, for example, and play with mechanical toys. This point has been brought out both in the Directive and in the discussions we have had. Denmark is, I think, the only State trying to get equal training facilities in the schools and in the play groups and créches for children over 18 months.

The Directive definitely states: Many women are ill prepared by their education and training for the exercise of a trade or profession. For many young girls their future role as wives and mothers tends to overshadow the role they could play in the Western world". I think that a great many would like to have a share in both worlds, especially the younger generation. I was slightly surprised when the noble Baroness did not think of "women's lib", which has been very active among young people. For example, I think they are sharing work in the house far more than they did.

I should like to end with just one more quotation. On page 4 of the Directive, paragraph 10, it is said: The rate of progress is, however, inadequate. Women's expectations and their individual and collective wish for equality have grown faster than the improvement of their position in the labour market. In the face of this disparity, those who have the power to make changes would lay themselves open to reproach"— this is the part I want to emphasise— if they were to use the present economic difficulties as a reason for postponing the measures needed to achieve full equality. My Lords, I support this Directive. I am rather sorry that the Report ably put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, gives rise to the points I mentioned earlier. I hope that we shall progress more quickly in the future than we have done in the past.

8.34 p.m.


My Lords, from this Bench I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and his Committee for the work they have done on this Directive. I would go further and say that we welcome their initiative in bringing the Directive to the notice of the House and giving us an opportunity of debating it. I would also thank all the noble Baronesses who have taken part in the debate. Each in his or her own sphere has done a great deal of hard work on the question which we are now considering. I would remind the House that the Treaty of Rome itself in 1957, in Article 119, provided for equal pay for equal work. I emphasise that that was way back as early as the original Treaty of 1957. In effect, the Article indicated that equality was the policy of the Community; it would expect individual States to work towards it in the early years, so that at the end of stage one it would be an accomplished fact.

We also know that as recently as 17th December 1974 the Council of Ministers found it necessary to send out a Directive on equal pay, presumably because the Treaty itself had not been carried into effect as quickly and as effectively as it felt was necessary, and it was now important to spell out what each State had to do. On 21st January, 1974, the Council of Ministers resolved that in its Social Action Programme it would give priority to equality of men and women in, first, access to employment; secondly, vocational training; thirdly, promotion; and, fourthly, working conditions. After consultation with the Assembly and the Economic and Social Committee, the Commission has prepared a draft Directive for consideration by the Council of Ministers, and it is this draft Directive which the Committee have scrutinised and which we are considering tonight. In broad outline the draft conforms to the principles underlying our own Sex Discrimination Bill. Therefore, in principle it is wholly acceptable to the Government.

The question of exceptions I would deal with in two ways; first in general, and secondly in particular. I believe—and here I am stating a personal view—that the Commission of the Community is a much maligned body, probably the most maligned body in the Western world. I believe that when we get experience of working with the Commission we shall find that it is not half so bad and not half so bureaucratic as we imagined it to he. In this respect, the Commission has probably acted in the wisest possible manner. In the first place, it has a Directive from the Council of Ministers that it has to give priority to the four matters which I have mentioned. It has prepared a draft Directive on those lines without exceptions, because it knows from past experience that there are now nine States which will each want exceptions of all kinds. Because it is not a bureaucratic body, it wants to listen to what they have to say before it starts prescribing exceptions. I believe that the Commission comes out of this matter with considerable credit, and that in the future we shall find it comes out with considerable credit and is not half as bureaucratic or half as bad as we think.

I should like now to deal with exceptions in particular. Article I provides for equal treatment as regards access to employment. The Government's acceptance of this principle is embodied both in the White Paper and in the Bill on sex discrimination. In the White Paper we made it plain that the Bill would avoid manifest anomalies and absurdities, and we have attempted to do that in the Bill which is before the other place and which, according to present plans, will come to this House for a Second Reading about 1st July. One of the exceptions that will be made in the Bill is where sex is a genuine occupational qualification. The question was raised in this debate: Who would decide that? My answer is that Parliament will decide that so far as this country is concerned. Clause 7 of the Bill, as it now stands and as it was submitted to the other place, lays down the precise cases where sex is a genuine qualification. It says that no other cases shall be regarded as genuine qualification—only those which are prescribed by the clause. Both Houses of Parliament will be considering this clause, and it will be Parliament which says what is a genuine sex qualification for a certain occupation.

So far as the draft is concerned, we do not want to spell out in detail the kind of exceptions that are spelled out in our Bill; that is not suitable for a Directive of this kind. However, we want it to include provision for exceptions by the individual States, and I can say that the final draft will provide exceptions—in particular where sex is a genuine occupational qualification.

Article 2 provides that the individual State shall abolish or amend provisions contrary to equality of treatment. There are no safeguards for existing protection, such as we have in our Factories Acts. It is apparent from the debate that there are differences of opinion as to whether our present legislation is right or wrong. I can say only that it is the Government's view that at the moment we need the protective legislation. We would go further and say that even if there is a case for amending our present protective legislation or for abolishing some of our protective legislation, it is not something which should be done hastily; it is something which has to be done after a great deal of research and consideration. Therefore, it is the intention of the Government to retain our protective legislation.


My Lords, I am very glad to hear it.


My Lords, I can add that it is now recognised by the Commission that there is a need for such safeguards, and this will be reflected in the text which emerges from the Council of Ministers.

I come now to the third point which was raised by the noble Lord on behalf of his Committee. It arises out of Article 5 which says that there shall be equal treatment as regards working conditions, including social security provisions. So far as this country is concerned, obviously this raises delicate questions in two fields. First, we have different minimum ages for the retirement of men and women on National Insurance pensions. The plain fact is that it would not be wise or politically possible to increase the retirement age for women. Secondly, so far as men are concerned, it would not be practical from a financial point of view to reduce the retirement age in the immediate future. Therefore, whether we like it or not, we are likely to have different retirement ages for some time to come.

Also, we have a problem in the other field of dependency, which is best illustrated by the example of a pension being provided for the widow but not for the widower. Surely a right of this kind should depend not upon sex but upon need. In most cases, the need of the widow is different from the need of the widower. Therefore, we feel that our social security differences will, to some extent, have to survive—perhaps not merely in the short run but also in the long run. Consequently, it will be the Government's aim to reach a satisfactory settlement so that no immediate obligation is imposed upon the United Kingdom to amend our social security provisions in the areas to which I have referred. We believe that we shall succeed in doing that.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, under the social security arrangements as they exist now, I know of a number of cases where widowers can stay at home and look after their children, so they need not be at a disadvantage if they really need help.


Yes, my Lords, but there are still differences.

Baroness VICKERS

I agree about that.


My Lords, it is not automatic. It is like the difference between one kind of benefit and another. There are different conditions and there would still be theoretical differences.

One or two other points were raised with which I ought to deal, particularly the question of discrimination on grounds of marital and family status. The Commission have explained and put it on record that they had in mind discrimination between men and women—for example, requiring a woman to resign on marriage in circumstances in which a man would not be required to resign on marriage. This kind of situation is regarded by the United Kingdom Government as sex discrimination and is covered by the Bill which is before the other place. So far as we can ascertain, there are no differences on this particular point between the attitude of the United Kingdom Government and the Commission.

On the question of training, I understood the noble Baroness to say that there are cases where formerly women have not had access to the professions, or have had access only with difficulty, and we may have to give some priority to the training of women. First of all, I have assumed that that priority would be short term, because of the reasons which were given for justifying it. If that were so, I would venture to say that no tribunal would condemn a Government who were doing that.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but I was referring to the fact that in the Sex Discrimination Bill which is being discussed in another place, there is a clause positively laying down that there can be discrimination to favour the training of women in certain circumstances. This is discrimination in favour of women, and this positive discrimination is a very important element. It is in the Government's own Bill.


Yes, my Lords, but I was going on to say—


My Lords, this is all to the good!


My Lords, no tribunal would condemn a Member-State which was so much in sympathy with the policy of the Community. It would be so outrageous that I do not think it would be tenable. Certainly it is a risk that I would take.

In general, the Government wholly accept the principles which underlie the Directive, and I can assure the House that it is the Government's aim to secure a final draft which takes fully into account the issues which have been raised by the Committee. Once again, I thank the Committee for having raised them.

8.50 p.m.


My Lords, may I express appreciation to the Minister for his characteristically clear and helpful reply, in particular for the news that it is hopeful that exceptions will be introduced into the draft Directive itself. My simple and single task in moving this Motion was to draw atten- tion to what is happening and at the same time to point out that in the form in which it came to us this Directive ignored the facts of life—or it was pretended that it could be adapted to the facts of life by an Article which has no relevance to the question of exceptions.

I deliberately sought to avoid the crossfire, but the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, sought to involve me by a rhetorical question—who could devise the safeguards? As has been pointed out, Parliament has been devising such safeguards for very many years. One cannot wipe away the need for certain safeguards and exceptions by asking the rhetorical question, Who would devise them? We would all have a go at them, if necessary.

I am not so starry-eyed as is the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, about the Commission. They are human—watch 'em! We need to watch them more and more because of the different methods that are followed in the different member countries which find their way to the Commission. Watch them—and I suspect the officials of the Department of Employment have been watching them pretty carefully in recent weeks. On behalf of my Sub-Committee I want to say how immensely helpful they are to us. A great deal is done by the Department. This is a very heavy additional burden on the Department, but they do a great deal to help the Select Committee and its Sub-Committees—I am sure I can speak for them all—in bringing us to the nub of the various issues that find their way from Brussels.

I thank the Minister most warmly; I thank the noble Baronesses who took part. I will resist owning up to being an "old square" and still believing that women need a good deal of protection and, without further ado, I will say no more.

On Question, Motion agreed to.