HL Deb 17 June 1975 vol 361 cc764-5

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are of the opinion that there is no woman of appropriate qualities and experience who would be eligible for appointment to the British Railways Board.

Baroness BIRK

No, my Lords; my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is not of that opinion.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she would agree that if a competent and suitable woman were appointed to the British Railways Board more attention would be paid to cleaning up the stations—which is very necessary; that porters would be available to help mothers with children and luggage, and that they would also be available to help the elderly and those who are not too well? Would the noble Baroness agree with me that, if a woman were appointed to the British Railways Board, there is a great deal of good work she could do to make the railways more efficient and more attractive to the community?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, without answering the specific points raised by the noble Baroness, I would certainly agree that it is desirable to have a woman on the British Railways Board. Unfortunately, there has been a great gap between the intentions stated by many Ministers and their actions. I only hope that this gap will close, and I will undertake to speak to my right honourable friend and also to the new Minister of Transport to see whether something can be done in this direction.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Baroness very much indeed for the best and most satisfactory reply that I have had on this point.


My Lords, as one of the few surviving people who was once a director of a railway company, may I ask the noble Baroness whether the members of the present Railways Board themselves travel?

Baroness BIRK

I do not know, my Lords. I shall be speaking to them later; but I can only say that recently I have done something which is rather unusual for me, in that I have travelled many times on the railways and have been very pleasantly surprised at the service and punctuality.


My Lords, as we seem to be speaking about sex discrimination on the railways, may I ask my noble friend whether it is true that there are still railway carriages labelled "Ladies only"?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I am not sure whether that is so. My noble friend here murmurs, "Yes", but I will check on that point and let my noble friend know the answer.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she is aware that I recently met a Member of your Lordships' House who is a member of the British Railways Board, and I met him travelling by air?


Seriously, my Lords, as men have a monopoly on most public boards, can the noble Baroness explain how it is that the senior civil servants who advise Ministers on these matters appear to forget that there are two sexes?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, in answer to that, all I can say, from my limited experience, is that I am always reminding them that there are two sexes.