HL Deb 25 February 1976 vol 368 cc695-6

2.47 p.m.


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 it is proposed to change the title of the Manpower Services Commission.


My Lords, the Government do not propose to change the title of the Manpower Services Commission.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the human race consists of two sexes? —although with the passage of years some of us may have forgotten it. Why then is the female sex not included in the title of the Commission? Does not my noble friend think that the present title may lead women to believe that they are not entitled to the benefits of the Commission and that therefore they might be deterred from applying to it? Does not my noble friend think that this is contrary to the intention of the Sex Discrimination Act?


My Lords, I will treat that as two questions and answer them separately. First, when we address Members of this House as "My Lords ", we do not seek only the ear of the male Members of the House. The fact is that there are several words in our language which have a masculine connotation but embrace both sexes when they are used in an appropriate context. "Manpower "is one of those words. In answer to the second question, I would say that the Sex Discrimination Act does not outlaw the use of words: it outlaws discrimination. For example, if the word "waiter "were used in an advertisement, that would not be outside the law if the advertisement taken as a whole, did not have the intention to discriminate.


My Lords, from the answer which the noble Lord has just given, is one to understand that the Women's Institute will now be open to men?


My Lords, could we not follow the example of the French, who say, as I understand it, that " I' homme embrasse la femme"?


My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the fact that I saw an advertisement for the Commission on my way to the House this afternoon, and that although it gave details of many classes of people who may apply in order to avail themselves of the benefits of the Commission, the word "woman "did not appear anywhere in that advertisement? Would it not be better to refer to this body as "The Personnel Services Commission ", or "The Manpower and Womanpower Services Commission "?


My Lords, I think that the latter of those two examples represents just the kind of thing that we ought to avoid. The Act is about discrimination. We did not set out to put the dictionary right. Let us leave the dictionary and get rid of discrimination.


My Lords, is it not a source of satisfaction that the two Front Benches are manned by both sexes, and that all the Members on both Benches invariably acquit themselves manfully!