HL Deb 07 March 1984 vol 449 cc274-308

3.10 p.m.

Baroness Burton of Coventry rose to call attention to the barriers on women's choices at work and at home; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper, may I say straight away how fortunate we are in the list of speakers and thank them in advance? Additionally, may I say how glad I am that we have a leavening of the sexes in our list.

Those of us taking part in today's debate have no desire to score party political points. We want to examine the barriers mentioned in the Motion and to suggest how these might be dealt with. To that end each of us is aiming at a segment of the whole, hoping that between us we can present a serious and genuine case for examination by all political parties and by the Government of the day.

My task is to set the background and to deal with my particular segment of the whole: women in public life. Before attempting to do so, I should like to say that I believe we have set ourselves a momentous task. I recognise that we have to change the attitudes of men, of women, of employers, and of Government.

Few people would deny that a huge proportion of the nation's human resources, more than half the population, remains untapped in most areas of economic and public life. Indeed, in October of last year Mrs. Finlay, the deputy chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, told a conference that fewer than one third post-graduate students were women and that in public life they had an even worse chance of being appointed to a public body, elected as a trade union official or selected as a Parliamentary candidate.

Taking the question of Parliamentary candidature, in June 1983 a total of 2,579 candidates stood for Parliament, of which 252 were women. Among these were 38 Conservative, 76 Labour and 73 Alliance candidates. I did realise in 1945, when I got my chance, that I owed much to the work done by the suffragettes. Women like myself owe them a debt of gratitude difficult to repay. I suggest that part of that repayment is the realisation that not only do we have to build on that foundation but to find a different approach. Chaining ourselves to railings is not the tactic for today. Could we make more progress by the power of example? In other words, some women have arrived in high—very high—places. If they obviously (and I am afraid I have to stress the word "obviously") are a success, will public opinion encourage, and even expect, more?

Well, we have a Queen and a woman Prime Minister. In the last Parliament we had a woman Leader of this House, and in the one before that we had a woman as Government Chief Whip. In the field of the law we have three women judges presiding over the High Court, six women circuit judges and 21 recorders. We have a woman as Lord Mayor of London. I do realise that public life of course is not made up of politics and the law, but time is limited tonight and these are relevant illustrations. Where has my suggestion of the power of example got us to date?

In the House of Commons we have 650 Members. On the Conservative Benches 13 out of 396 are women; and on the Labour Benches, 10 out of 209. In this House, we have 353 Life Peers of whom 46 are women. In the non-industrial Civil Service as at 1st January 1983 and using percentages, we find, taking the top three grades of permanent secretary, deputy secretary, under-secretary, the staff in post were respectively 37, 134 and 523. The percentage of women respectively in these grades was: nil, 1.4 per cent. and 5 per cent. In the two lowest grades (clerical officer and clerical assistant) women formed respectively 67.7 per cent. and 77.5 per cent. of the totals.

I have been trying to find out how many women have fared in the Honours Lists but without a great deal of success. Apparently nobody has noted such comparisons. But in June 1982 Mr. Anthony Lester, QC commented on current Birthday Honours in a letter to the Financial Times. He thought the contribution made by women was seriously undervalued. I never like inflicting numbers on the House but I have not got many and I hope they will be useful to have on the record. We really need not concern ourselves with the top (if that be the correct word) 10 awards on Mr. Lester's list because, in all 10 groups taken together, only one woman—a Life Peer—was included.

The Order of the British Empire group was composed of 83 CBEs, including eight women; 144 OBEs, including 30 women; and 212 MBEs, including 101 women. Taking the same group in the 1984 New Year Honours List, we have: 91 CBEs, including seven women; 148 OBEs, including 26 women; 273 MBEs, including 85 women. Obviously from our point of view the proportion has become worse.

It seems that the unequal treatment of women in Honours Lists reflects the attitude of those who make recommendations and certainly of those who approve them, plus the minority position of women in the higher Civil Service, in Parliament, and of course in industry and commerce. So really even the power of example makes headway very slowly indeed.

We in the SDP would set up a Human Rights Commission to incorporate the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission. We feel that more far-reaching powers and sharper teeth than either body has at present, plus law enforcement powers and the power to inquire into suspected discrimination, would contribute to the removal of barriers. In addition, we are committed to incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into United Kingdom law. This will bring to an end the laborious and unsatisfactory procedure of taking cases from the British courts to the European courts. It will ensure that Britain always complies with the best practice in Europe, instead of lagging behind our partners as we have on the question of equal pay for work of equal value.

The House will recall that in 1982 Britain was found in breach of European law on equal pay by the European Court of Justice. In December 1983 we had a debate in this House on the Equal Pay (Amendment) Regulations, and, if my memory be correct, no speaker supported the Government except the Minister. We all felt that what the Government proposed might well bring us into conflict once more with the European Court and consequent loss of face in the eyes of our European friends. We still think so.

Today women feel strongly that some of the disadvantages from which we suffer need to be legislated against, while others need firm leadership from a Government determined to set an example and show that women can and must be given a fair deal. Then more women will come forward; and they must be encouraged to do so.

A survey conducted by the trade union NALGO in 1982 stated that far from winning the battle for equality, women's position had deteriorated in the last six years. My Honours List selections (small though these be) would seem to indicate deterioration. Is this really true? Do we need a war to prove our case? I ask that because during the last war the New Statesman carried a verse by Sagittarius (Miss C. A. Lejeune) that I should like to read to the House. It is as follows: O woman in the days of peace, Mere toy of masculine caprice, A drug upon the labour mart, Not called upon to play thy part, In war, so far as men allow, A positive sheet-anchor thou! To-day, in Britain's finest hour, Thou art described as woman-power, Thou hast acquired mechanic skill The ranks of absent men to fill; But in the day of victory, when Thou art superfluous again, Thy wartime place thou must vacate, In the best interests of the State, Admitting with submissive grace That home is Woman's chosen place.

We have advanced from there; but how far? We have a job to do; and women have a great deal to offer. Together we have to change the outlook of everyone concerned. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.21 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, in my brief contribution to this debate on this important topic I should like to emphasise some of the positive aspects of the growth in opportunities for women which have occurred in recent decades. In so doing I do not wish to belittle the problems which many women encounter, both at work and in their domestic circumstances. There is still cause for concern in many areas, especially for those who are at, or near, the poverty line, and for single-parent families. However, others are speaking in this debate who have greater knowledge than I have, especially of crucial issues concerning equality of opportunity and equality of pay.

I therefore thought it appropriate to spend a few minutes considering some of the increases in opportunities available for women and the extent to which we in this country are in a relatively favourable situation compared to our counterparts in other European countries. In doing so I shall refer very briefly to four areas: economic, political, social and educational.

First, in the economic sphere, there can be no doubt that women have benefited greatly from changes in the occupational structure in the twentieth century, and especially in recent decades. The enormous expansion of what have been termed "white blouse" occupations has opened up employment opportunities outside the home for women on a scale unprecedented in human history. I refer, for example, to the vast expansion of secretarial, banking, retail and, more recently, computing jobs. Also, there has been an enormous increase in the personal services and in the service professions, with an expansion in employment opportunities in the predominantly female occupations, such as hairdressing, social work and nursing.

It is therefore not surprising that the numbers and the proportions of women, especially married women, in employment have increased dramatically, from less than 10 per cent. in 1921 to around 60 per cent. in the 1980s. So nowadays, with the exception of Denmark, Britain has the highest figure for women's participation in the workforce, with just over 10 million women in employment, of whom about 40 per cent. are in part-time jobs; and the number of women in the labour force is expected to grow by about half a million between 1981 and 1991.

Moreover, when we turn to consider unemployment among women, we find that women have generally suffered less than men from the effects of the recession while part-time work—which is particularly appealing to many women—has actually increased by 2 per cent. In addition, though it is not cheering to take comfort from other people's misfortune, we in this country can perhaps appreciate our relative good fortune in that our rate of female unemployment compares very favourably with those of other European countries, running at less than one-third compared with West Germany (where the rate is over 46 per cent.) or France, Italy, Belgium and Denmark (which all have rates in the region of 50 per cent.).

Furthermore, there are occupations where employment has recently increased substantially. I give as one example my own profession of nursing. Let me hastily say that I do not regard the increases which have occurred as in any way a justification for cutting present staffing levels, which in many places are still too low. But it is important to recognise progress as well as problems; and it is a fact that in England alone there are now in post 46,000 more nurses and midwives than there were in 1978.

There has also been an expansion of other jobs in the National Health Service. Between 1978 and 1982 the number of women employed in administrative and clerical posts increased from 79,000 to 89,000. So I reiterate that, although staffing levels are by no means adequate everywhere, the health service provides one example of an area where there has been a significant expansion of job opportunities in predominantly female occupations.

I now turn very briefly to developments in the political sphere. Legislation designed to ensure that women receive equal pay and equal opportunities is clearly of major importance. Here the Government's commitment to try to ensure, through regulations under the Equal Pay Act, that women with just claims to be doing work of equal value to that done by men shall receive equal pay, is an example of recent political initiatives designed to improve women's opportunities.

Of course I recognise that women's average aims remain below those of men. However, it is interesting to pause for a moment and to put the present situation into a historical context. We then see that the problems of unequal pay seem to be as old as recorded history. In the Old Testament, in the Book of Leviticus, we are told that women were valued at two-thirds the worth of men; and as recently as 1970 women's value, as measured by average hourly earnings, was still running at that rate, or slightly lower perhaps—63.1 per cent. to be precise. But by 1983 the figure had risen to 74.2 per cent. So although thousands of years after the Book of Leviticus women's economic value compared with that of men's had not improved, the last 13 years have seen a dramatic change. If that rate of progress can be maintained, the residual problem might disappear very soon.

But changes in pay will not remove other intransigent and endemic factors. That leads me to speak very briefly on the third of my topics: the social factors affecting women's choice. Many sociological studies have shown that in most parts of the country the widely prevailing attitudes of previous years, which disapproved of married women working outside the home, have generally been replaced by tolerance or approval. Moreover, the many married women who now take part-time employment often do so not for reasons of sheer economic necessity, but for social reasons—to relieve the tedium of daily housework, or to develop new social relationships. So the increasing opportunity for employment has been appreciated by many women who have benefited financially and socially.

That brings me to my final theme: education. One of the problems of bringing about equality of opportunity has been the difference in interest, motivation and educational qualifications between girls and boys. Herein lies the importance of the Government's attempts to reduce these differences in both school and various training schemes. For example, the HMI report on, Girls in Science, in 1980, emphasised the need to encourage girls to take more interest in science. Furthermore, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Engineering Council have together sponsored a recent initiative, Women into Science and Engineering, intended to encourage more girls and women to take up careers in these fields. Similarly, the Manpower Services Commission has initiated a number of courses particularly for women, including the Wide Opportunities for Women courses, designed for women who wish to return to work after a long absence.

So, in conclusion, may I point out that I believe that we who live in this country in the present time probably enjoy opportunities that would have been inconceivable even two generations ago. Never before have economic, social, political and educational circumstances been so favourably disposed to enable women to have such freedom of choice at home and at work. I do not underestimate the problems that remain, but I think that we should take heart from what has been achieved and intensify our efforts to extend these freedoms and opportunities to those who still do not benefit from them. Let us, in the meantime, be thankful that so many women can now enjoy both the joys and the responsibility of family life and the satisfaction of work outside the home if they so wish, to an extent unparalleled in human history.

3.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for introducing this important topic. I am sure that after her historical survey—

Noble Lords

Baroness Burton!

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I should have said the noble Baroness, Lady Burton. I beg the pardon of both noble Baronesses. The noble Baroness, Lady Burton, will be the first to agree that the biggest danger in tackling this issue is the well-meaning platitude. It is not enough for us—any of us of whichever gender—to express hopes about the future. Something positive has to be done about the under-utilisation, as she so graphically described it, of at least half the ability of this country.

I happen to have undertaken a considerable amount of research on this subject. I was responsible for a publication issued by the Equal Opportunities Commission in 1979. Without boring your Lordships with detail, I believe that the document still has some relevance and leads me to a conclusion which I feel sure will make this the most unpopular speech in the debate. The research referred to the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act and considered the extent to which the Acts had been literally complied with. I think that, as a starting point, there would be common agreement that, formally, the provisions of the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act have been largely complied with. Equal pay for equal work—not similar work, or equivalent work, but equal work—has been generally achieved. The provisions to outlaw discriminatory advertising for jobs have generally been obeyed.

There have been no problems on those limited scores. When it comes to the more positive recommendations and provisions of the Acts, the position is perhaps less clear. Our research showed that the requirement for job evaluation was only being complied with in 33 per cent. of the establishments where we carried out interviews. Even there, only 34 per cent. of the establishments had job evaluation for jobs that were done both by men and by women.

When it comes to equal opportunities policy, which, as your Lordships will remember, was a requirement of the Sex Discrimination Act, only 60 per cent. of establishments at that time claimed to have such an equal opportunities policy, and only 14 per cent. of those could claim their policy was real in the sense that it was written down and available to the employees affected. The conclusion I draw is that such legislation is nowhere near enough to deal with the vast differences that exist in the employment opportunities of men and women.

We need to look much more closely at the causes of inequality. Let us put on one side the possibility that this is an issue of conscious prejudice. Let us look instead at why it is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has made clear, that there has not been a significant increase in the average earnings of women compared with the average earnings of men; why job segregation continues and actually increases in some cases; why, with due deference to the noble Baroness's experience in nursing, when men come into nursing they seem to get the top jobs, the chief nursing officer jobs; and why the breaking down of job segregation does not improve the employment opportunities of women.

Let us look at the other practical causes and conditions of work that affect women's opportunities at work. First, there is the question of recruitment. The Acts refer to formal methods of recruitment; advertising and so on. But all the evidence that we possess shows that informal methods of recruitment by workmates, by friends and by word of mouth actually apply to the more senior and better paid jobs. They are not affected by the Acts, and men benefit by the differences. When you look at pay, it is, of course, true that there is equal pay literally for equal work. But that is not the same as earnings. A significant part of pay in a large number of jobs relates to shift premia, payment by results, productivity payments, overtime payments and so on. All of these are more common for men than for women. All contrive to increase the difference in average earnings.

When one talks about formal qualifications, educational qualifications and so on. they are probably reasonably equal. But apprenticeships are still largely a male preserve. They are the secret of advancement in skilled manual work and many other better-paid occupations. If you look at training, in-service training is heavily biased towards men. Only 22 per cent. of off-the-job, in-service training is available to women. The remainder is hogged by men.

The whole principle of our pensions policy is to reward continuous service—the one thing, by definition almost, that is not available to women who have to break their careers in the service of their families. Sick pay is formally equal but there is discrimination against those who have to be absent from work because of the sickness of others. As we know, it is largely women who take on those responsibilities. Above all, I would mention part-time work. This is largely available to women and taken up by women. It deprives those women of all the other fringe benefits that I have talked about and helps to keep women away from better paid and more responsible jobs.

The conclusion that I draw and the reason why I said that this would he unpopular is that the kind of legislation we have had in the past is simply not adequate in these circumstances. If we are to make any real improvements in using the abilities of women in our workforce, we have to go for positive discrimination. I have seen this in practice. It is a terrible thing to start out by saying that there are 5 per cent. of women deputy secretaries in the Civil Service, that next year, there must be 10 per cent. and the following year, 15 per cent. I believe, however, that it is necessary to go into that tunnel and to accept the fact that, in the short and the medium term, there will he injustice towards men. We have to look at the results after a period of 10 years or so to see what improvement has been achieved.

Anyone who has observed business and government in the United States over the past 15 years as I have will agree that there was a great deal of heart-searching and injustice when equal opportunities policies were undertaken which went much further than anything in this country. When it was said that there would be quotas for women in responsible jobs in business, government and academic life, a large number of people felt that this was unjust to men with equal qualifications and equal experience.

I believe, however, that those who have been in contact in the past few years with the senior ranks of government and business in the United States will agree that it is a remarkable and welcome development that there are now far more women taking responsibility and contributing to the welfare and wealth of that nation in a way that is totally unknown in this country. It is a hard pill to swallow. It is, however, a pill that we must swallow if we are to make significant progress towards the best utilisation of the manpower and skilled resources of our country, which I, as much as the noble Baroness, wish to see.

3.40 p.m.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry for raising such an important matter this afternoon, and I should like briefly to support the general trend of her remarks. Choices at home are limited by inadequate community provision to free women from the sole responsibility of caring for small children, the frail and the elderly, while choices at work are adversely affected by education—as we have already heard—careers advice, heavy domestic responsibilities, employers' concentration upon senior staff for training and development resources, and a general under-evaluation of women's work.

The two of them—choices at home and choices at work—are clearly interrelated, but I want to say a word about the first of them: the inadequate community provision to free women from the sole responsibility—and I underline the word "sole"—of caring for small children, the frail and the elderly. Naturally, the squeeze on local authorities has reduced the social service staff available for visiting and for home-help work. The percentage of under-fives for whom nursery and infant class places are available has been dropping since 1981, and in 1984 it is expected to drop to 32 per cent.—rather below the provision of 1978. That percentage would be much lower if executive class families are excluded. By contrast, in Yugoslavia 60 per cent. of under-fives have places in creches which are open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In this country only 6 per cent. of old people are in institutions; the great majority are cared for at home. This, of course, is what we want: we want to see people living in the community for as long as possible. But it places a burden on women, because the majority of carers are women, and the majority of them are married women. We have discussed in this House before the need for a proper carer's allowance, and I refer to that again today. I will not elaborate on it, but I certainly emphasise the need for it—a proper carer's allowance.

Returning to the care of children, in Sweden either parent can take six months off at 90 per cent. of pay in the first year of a child's life, or this can be shared between the parents. In addition, either parent has the right to a further 12 months' unpaid leave and to a six-hour day until the child is eight. If employers are aware that men as well as women must be given time off to look after young families and that it must be available for them, a major objection to the employment of women is removed. Of course, this does not help one-parent families, and there are about one million such families in the country today, overwhelmingly headed by women. But they would be helped by the extension of creche, nursery and infant class places; and those unable to earn would be helped, of course, by the carer's allowance.

Today, spouses are discouraged from distributing family care and breadwinning between them by the discrepancy, to which reference has already been made, between men's and women's pay and work opportunities. Women's pay now averages 73 per cent. of men's, and their chances of promotion to well-paid levels in an organisation are slight. A study by Dr. Mervyn Murch of Bristol University has shown that employment during marriage has a significant bearing on post-divorce employment. We do not want divorce, but we know it is there; we know that we have to accept that there are a great many divorces today, so this is an important point. In the sample which was looked at, 60 per cent. of lone mothers who had worked during marriage were working after separation, compared with only 31 per cent. of those who had not worked.

This is beginning to bring me close to choices at work, whereas I did say I would concentrate on choices at home. Let me sum up by saying this. Nobody wishes to force mothers of young children out to work, or to dictate to parents or carers how they should allocate their parental or caring duties. The object should be to allow them the maximum degree of choice, and that choice should not be restricted or eliminated by economic circumstance, lack of community provision or old-fashioned prejudice.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, today's younger women have freedoms their mothers did not have: better education, greater choice of jobs, effective contraception, and freedom to live where and how they please and to choose their own friends. If the new freedoms are over-emphasised they seem to become the norm at the expense of the worthwhile traditional values: home, marriage, satisfying work which is not necessarily a "career". If the pressures are for combining marriage with a career, the choice is less open. True choice would mean equal status between those who decide to manage the home and children, and those who decide to use their talents outside the home. Men do not feel the same pressures to marry as women—they never have—or to establish themselves quickly in work with a lasting and enjoyable future. Their careers can develop uninterrupted over a longer period. This is a fundamental difference between the natures of men and women.

For both men and women a range of models, currently in short supply, showing the available options is necessary because people are different in their capabilities, personalities, and satisfactions, and also because they still have different individual roles. A man may be father, breadwinner, partner, house-helper, and so on. A woman may have a job, or a career; manage a home with, or without, children; have an active social life; do voluntary work, and have a host of interests and activities. Provided she has made a conscious choice of the factors which are under her own control, that decision should be respected. If that decision is to concentrate on managing a house and bringing up children, it should be respected. No man, or woman, is an island, and individual decisions have to take the needs of others into account.

Some time ago the pressures on women to work outside the home reached the point where the decision to work at home did not command the respect it should, and those who made it were constantly stigmatised as "just housewives" rather contemptuously and made to feel lazy, inadequate, and a disgrace to womankind. Having been "just a housewife" myself, I know about this. Incidentally, there is still a regrettable tendency to equate one woman with "womankind". In the business world one woman turns down a top job, so this may prevent others being offered the opportunity in the future. The woman who succeeds is talented—people are amazed—but the woman who fails is just a woman.

Like anyone else, women respond to the level of expectation. Label them "associate" or "deputy", and that is what they will be. Thank heaven we are full Members of this House! May I add to the figures of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, on the subject of Life Baronesses that we have some 800 hereditary Peers, of whom 20 are women.

Those who work outside the home should have the freedom to choose between aiming for a job or aiming for a career. It is probably easier for the latter in some ways because education and training are often clearer, although careers information in schools is often blinkered and ignores new technologies and gives limited information on further education.

Most of the women who have got to the top have done so by a combination of unusual ability and hard work. But it is not improbable that fewer women than men are prepared to make the (to them) sometimes very much greater sacrifices that that may involve. So the quality of the women in business and public life may be higher than that of the men. But Heaven forbid! that we should have to have a set number of women in any particular class of job, because that is how to get second-rate people and it negates true equality.

Finally, equality of opportunity does not mean sameness. Nor does it mean changing old stereotypes for new ones. The aim should be for a continuing growth in opportunities for individuals to find the right mixture of work, home, social and voluntary commitments, to give them interest and true satisfaction.

3.51 p.m.

Lord McGregor of Durris

My Lords, I wish to look very briefly at marriage breakdown as one of the "segments" affecting choice, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, referred. Most women, and most men too for that matter, marry and therefore choice within and in respect of marriage is crucially important to the subject that we are now discussing. That choice has widened enormously during this century. At its beginning the bonds of marriage were bonds indeed—legal, theological, social and economic. When a parent said to a daughter who was about to marry, "You are making your bed and you must lie on it," that was a statement of fact. Once married, only the rarest of women could escape. Today the bonds of marriage have dissolved into the ties of choice and the basis of choice is nothing stronger nor weaker than loyalty. External compulsions no longer have the power to compel.

I am considering only the factual situation; I am not commenting on the issues of public morality involved. But one consequence of this situation has been a huge increase in the number of divorces in the last generation. Indeed, 30 years ago 10 per cent. of all marriages broke down by their 20th anniversary; 20 years ago it was about 18 per cent.; 10 years ago it was between 26 and 28 per cent. In fact, 60 per cent. of these divorcing couples have dependent children; 14 per cent. of all families are currently one-parent families headed by mothers responsible, as the noble Lord, Lord Banks, pointed out, for something of the order of 1½ million children under the age of 16 years. Those children exercised no choice. The choice of their parents imposed upon half of them a life of poverty at a level of half that of the average two-parent family. With the poverty went all the disadvantages and difficulties, plus the emotional deprivation of living in a one-parent family with a mother constantly under strain. Therefore, there is nothing new about one-parent families. But throughout this century there has been a lively discussion about the financial circumstances of such unsupported mothers, and it is to that matter that I wish to draw your Lordships' attention.

Before the First World War there was a great campaign for the endowment of motherhood. As a result of the war and the number of widows, the issue of unsupported mothers became a lively political issue and it led to campaigns for a mother's allowance to be paid as of right out of social security. The Anderson Committee was set up in 1925 and it recommended widows' pensions, but it rejected an allowance for all other unsupported mothers on the grounds that they already had a claim against the fathers of their children and it would be inequitable, therefore, to give such women two claims—one against social security, and the other against the fathers of their children. Therefore, they continued—as they had for the previous 100 years—to be dependent upon the Poor Law. When Beveridge came to devise his scheme, he attempted to work unsupported mothers into his scheme of social insurance. He failed; when his scheme came to be implemented the suggestions that he made about unsupported mothers were cut out.

When the National Assistance Act was passed in 1948, unsupported mothers continued to have to draw national assistance; they received no special allowance. The committee on one-parent families recommended in 1974 a general maintenance allowance for all unsupported mothers as of right. The recommendation of that committee has been ignored or rejected by every Government of the last 10 years. What we have at present is the feeble compromise which we must welcome—but it is a feeble, little compromise—of the one-parent family benefit now payable as part of family benefit. But we are still facing the muddle which arises between the right to maintenance from fathers or husbands who, as we know, rarely pay it, and the right to social security.

Sooner or later we shall have to assimilate the private law of family maintenance and the public law of social security. It is within the essential area of choice to which the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, has drawn our attention, that we should now investigate in detail how these two areas can be brought together. The weight of divorce and the very large numbers of dependent children now affected, and assuredly to be affected for the rest of this century, demand better action than we have yet been prepared, as a society, to take.

4 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, and her colleagues for instigating this debate on a very important and very interesting subject. I should like to confine my remarks to one aspect because I believe that it is the aspect which is uppermost in the minds of most women at the present time. It is this. How much truth is there in the sneaking feeling which many women have—often unspoken—that if there are not to be enough jobs to go round it is women, especially married women, who will, who even should, lose out?

What are the facts? Many have already been given. It is true to say that during the last 20 years women, including married women, have probably led the changes which have taken place in the labour market in Britain. Between 1921 and 1981 one million more women joined the labour force; 44 per cent. of our labour force is now female; 61 per cent. of married women work; 70 per cent. of non-married women work, and 50 per cent. of women with dependent children work. Granted that many people are not working at the level they would like; many are earning a lot less than they feel they should; and only 20 per cent. of women are in managerial and professional jobs.

As has been said, women are still partly their own worst enemies. Yet despite all this we have come a long way. But what of the future? Will that steady though slow improvement continue and accelerate, or is it now coming to an end? Let us take a glance at the broad trends that can now be seen in the labour market and at what they imply from a woman's point of view.

There has been a shift from the old heavy manufacturing industry to the new light industries—to electronics, information technology, and the like. The implications for women here are exemplified by yesterday's announcement in Scotland by National Semiconductors that they expect to create 1,000 jobs by 1987 with the largest single electronic investment ever to come to Scotland. National Semi conductors have been at Greenock since 1970, and have now announced a £100 million project for the production of semiconductor wafers. As the largely male-dominated shipbuilding industry in Greenock runs down, this announcement of jobs emphasises a new employment pattern. About 60 per cent. of the new jobs will he for females. Of those jobs, nearly all will require manual dexterity and an understanding of an environment which is much cleaner than a hospital. Another 20 per cent. of those jobs will be for technicians capable of understanding the function of micro-processors and of analysing faults. These things are what women are good at. These jobs are expected to be for women, and they are in a sunrise industry. This pattern will be reflected right across the country, and women should take heart from it.

The continuing growth in the service sector is bound to be helpful to women's employment. Seventy-seven per cent, of women now work in the service sector, and the scope can only increase as banking, insurance and financial services, leisure, travel and broadcasting develop.

Probably most important of all, the changes in work patterns will affect women deeply. Because of the need for quick response and flexibility to changes in the market, employers and unions now realise that there is a need for more part-time jobs, more work sharing and more fixed-term jobs. It has been discovered that workers doing shorter hours often have the best productivity of all, a fact observed some time ago during the three-day week emergency.

It is not passing unnoticed that if we want it to be possible for all who want a job to have one, then many of us will need to work shorter hours. The classic struggle to maintain full-time jobs plus overtime is not necessarily the best way forward. Flexible and part-time working hours certainly suit women. Of the women who now work, 50 per cent. do part-time work. As has been said, these changes are being matched by the changing emphasis we observe in the Manpower Services Commission and in schools. The technical and vocational education initiative in schools is giving girls and boys equal opportunities to learn how computers work, to learn maths in relation to the practical needs of micro technology, to learn physics and to learn science, all linked with jobs today.

The TOPS training and the emerging adult training strategy are putting great emphasis on getting the skills for women which people who are to work in places like Greenock will need. The back-up is coming. There is still a long way to go. For example, I gather that at the present time women are not being welcomed too readily as helicopter pilots in the armed forces. There are many barriers to come down; but as a result of this debate and all the skilled contributions that are being made, it is important that the women of this country should realise that things are going their way, that the jobs will be much easier for them to fill rather than more difficult, and that the education and training will be provided. Women simply must have the confidence to go in and get those jobs, and to play their full part as 50 per cent. of the nation's manpower.

4.8 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords. I have always thought of myself as a feminist, by which I mean simply one who believes that to deny choices or opportunities to half the human race must be not only very unjust but idiotically wasteful. I probably owe this very sensible attitude, as it seems to me. not to any innate wisdom, which I lack, but to my upbringing.

About 60 years ago, which is almost as far back as I can remember, my mother won a seat on the Cambridge Borough Council, as it was then called, so I grew up accustomed to the idea that one's mother, no less than one's father, might have to go out to do important things outside the home—as well as inside. It was a discovery which my mother made as a borough councillor which has prompted the first topic I want to touch on this afternoon.

She was put on what was then called the Watch Committee, and she gradually discovered that, whether this committee had a Conservative majority or a Labour majority—and it changed from time to time—it invariably had a majority of freemasons. One result of this, for example, was that the chief constable of Cambridge was himself invariably a freemason. He had to be, in order to win the necessary approval of the Watch Committee. This struck my mother and I as somewhat odd and not altogether democratic, as the voters who elected the councillors knew nothing about it. They were voting in the dark unless, of course, they happened to be freemasons themselves, which, as I understand this strange business, would eliminate the female half of the electorate completely. That is, of course, what makes this relevant to today's debate.

I do not want to make too much of it. I shall certainly not make any sensational accusations. I think there are two possibilities. One is that these worthy gentlemen, beavering away in their lodges, are doing nothing more sinister than indulging a penchant for wearing fancy dress, exchanging secret signs and funny handshakes, and taking part in curious initiation ceremonies; for all the world like so many cubs and brownies—they would have to be male brownies, of course—but all totally, utterly harmless. If that is the true picture, then I do not imagine that women will mind too much at not being allowed to join in.

The other possibility is that they do still exercise a certain crypto-influence. We are all used to lobbies and pressure groups which operate openly and which are identifiable from the outside. But if the freemasons, as I have to admit I suspect they may, make up a kind of secret constituency, then it is certainly one from which women are excluded. This may be an area worthy of investigation by equal opportunities buffs, like all the speakers in today's debate.

My second topic is more obviously political. Why are there so few women in the House of Commons? People talk about the unsocial hours which they work in that other place, and this no doubt is a deterrent to some women. But the overwhelmingly preponderant barrier to women who wish to get into politics is our tragic addiction to the single-member constituency. In every one of our 650 constituencies the three or four party organisations have to select just one candidate each. It is an indisputable and painful fact that they are far more likely, especially if the seat is thought to be winnable, to choose a man than a woman. In the last general election there were 252 women candidates out of 2,579 or just under 10 per cent. Among the winners there were 23 out of 650; 3½ per cent.

Any fair electoral system could do better than that. The system which we advocate, the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies, would work in the following way. May I take the City of Bristol as a microcosmic example? Bristol is now represented by four Members of Parliament—three Conservative, one Labour, all male. In the last Parliament it elected five Members—three Labour, two Conservative, all male. We have seen a big change in the political complexion of Bristol from 3 to 2 in favour of Labour to 3 to 1 in favour of the Conservatives, but neither way do the women of Bristol have a single Member of Parliament of their own sex.

If the activists or members of the parties, instead of being arbitrarily segregated into Bristol West, Bristol South, et cetera, had been choosing a slate of candidates for Bristol as a whole, as a city with three, four, or five candidates, is it conceivable that they would fail to include on that slate a reasonable proportion of women? Then the choice would lie where it should lie: with the voters able to arrange the candidates in their order of preference, either within their party or across party lines. The voters, I feel sure, would deal summarily and effectively with the near-monopoly of seats in the House of Commons which men at present enjoy.

Finally, by a bit of timing both fortunate and fortuitous, may I give your Lordships an item of news which neatly illustrates the point that I have been making? Using, of course, the appropriate form of proportional representation, my noble friends and I have today elected as our new leader my noble friend Lady Seear.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord McNair

My Lords, how very lucky I am to be able to be the first to congratulate her here in this House and to pledge to her my wholehearted support!

4.15 p.m.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, before I start my speech may I offer my congratulations to Baroness Seear. We are delighted.

In many ways I am saddened that it should be necessary for us to be debating such a subject as the harriers on women's choices at work and in the home. I am saddened because today, more than at any time, the field of choice is so wide. I think that it is now very necessary for us to pause, to take stock of exactly what we have and seriously to consider what we, as women, want for the future.

There is no need for me to tell your Lordships that women are different from men. There has been a great deal of research which shows that we think and behave differently from them in given situations. As with every rule there are exceptions, and I think that there is a very small, but quite vociferous, minority of women who seem to be of the opinion that both sexes are the same. Unfortunately, they have tended to sow the seeds of confusion in the minds of a great many women and not a few men.

I was brought up to believe that if you want something strongly enough you will eventually get it. I was also taught to temper my desires with reason. Admittedly, I had to work hard to achieve what little I did during my working life and I certainly had to prove that I was prepared to put considerably more into my job than my male colleagues, who frequently had fewer paper qualifications than I had. This sometimes made me a little cross, but when I reflected I found that it was perfectly reasonable, not just for me but for the majority of women. My job was important to me, but in my heart of hearts my family and domestic responsibilities carried the greater weight. This did not mean that I spent more time at home than I did at work, but in retrospect I am sure that I suffered more from stress, and stress-related illnesses, than the majority of men with whom I worked. I think this is so with a good many women.

If a man's home is not spotlessly clean it does not really matter. If a woman's home shows signs of a little bit of neglect it is a reflection upon the woman. One cannot escape from this basic fact. No matter how much some females may object, it is a woman's natural function to bear children and to raise them to adulthood. There are those who cannot or do not wish to fulfil this function. To them I would say: "I have a great deal of sympathy with you, but please do not, by your constant wittering, make those of us who are content with our lot, feel guilty".

I would contend that women erect for themselves some of the barriers we are discussing. So many of them do not put themselves forward for promotion or are not prepared to put themselves out sufficiently to gain the extra qualifications necessary for promotion. They may want the prestige and the higher salary associated with a more responsible job, but will be unwilling to work the extra hours demanded or be prepared to travel away from home.

Few women are active in the trade union organisation. We cannot and must not expect something for nothing. If one examines those men and women whom we label as successful—and we have many fine examples in your Lordships' House—we will find that they have all demonstrated one thing above all others: singlemindedness. They have set their sights upon a target and have worked steadily towards its achievement. What so many fail to appreciate is that by pursuing this course they have had to forgo most of the simple pleasures of life. We must remember that there are vast numbers of men as well as of women doing mundane clerical, physical or mechanical tasks which provide little in the way of job satisfaction. Their choice is not limited by their gender but by their lack of ability or qualification for other jobs.

I find it very hard to understand why so many women are dissatisfied with a domestic life. Properly organised, women could make it far more rewarding than a career in big business. The boredom of routine and lack of mental stimulus are two of the major complaints; but here more than in any other situation women have enormous freedom. They do not have to do the washing on Monday, clean the windows on a Tuesday and so on through the week. Most household duties can be set aside for a short while or even done in advance with a little planning. There are numerous organisations for women spanning a wide range of interests. However, women must be prepared to go out and find them. Even if money is short and transport difficult there are means by which women can get together, share experiences and broaden their minds. Children can be a tie but for only a relatively short period in the course of a lifetime. They can also be tremendously rewarding and a source of new contacts and ideas as they grow up. A properly trained husband can also be a tremendous asset. A couple which is mutually supportive can overcome most of the barriers that life presents.

My Lords, there have been Acts of Parliament to prevent discrimination against women in their working lives. These have gone some way to dismantling the barriers. However, no Act of Parliament or Government action can achieve what women themselves achieve by far more subtle means. Prejudices built up over the centuries cannot be eradicated overnight but they can be worn away. Men need to see tangible proof that women can contribute to the wellbeing of their business, social and intellectual lives without challenging their masculinity. We have great reserves of patience, adaptability and persistence. Let us exploit them in a gentle, feminine manner and we will remove the barriers far more rapidly than if we try to emulate men.

4.22 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord McNair, has already said, this is a particularly appropriate debate in which to be able to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, on her election as Leader of the Liberal Party in your Lordships' House. I wish to convey to her our warm and fraternal congratulations. The Motion speaks of women's choices at work and at home; but these are narrowed even further if a woman is suffering from ill health, and they are eliminated altogether if she is quite simply dead. Women are the major consumers of health care resources. This is partly because they live longer and the elderly account for 65 per cent. of all health care.

But it is also because they bear children, have special obstetric and gynaecological needs. Women also predominate in the use of psychiatric services. They take more psychotropic drugs than men and they occupy more psychiatric beds. This may not be entirely unrelated to the kinds of stress and disadvantage they suffer in life, which is what this debate is about. One particularly worrying aspect of women's health is our had record in perinatal mortality. The poorest mothers and the single parents are those least likely to seek ante-natal care: often getting to an antenatal clinic can involve a long and expensive journey on several buses.

We propose an extension of what are known as the "Well-women clinics" to all areas. These are low-cost clinics offering ante-natal care, contraceptive advice, infertility treatment, counselling, cervical smear testing and breast-cancer screening facilities. They were initially regarded, I think I am right in saying, with some suspicion by the medical establishment: but I think it is also right to say they are becoming increasingly accepted. Sometimes one is set up by health authorities, sometimes by hospitals and sometimes by an innovative health centre. But wherever the initiative comes from, the service is of outstandingly good value. The cervical cancer smear is particularly effective. In the Tayside and Grampian district, one energetic doctor is reported to have halved the cervical cancer death rate. Yet this service and the other services associated with "Well-women clinics" is patchily distributed over the country and the overall coverage is alarmingly small. Out of 21 million women of the age to benefit from them only 3 million get cervical smears in any one year, which means, on average, one test per woman every 7 years. Doctors, I believe, want one every three years, and there is a case for one every 18 months.

On these grounds alone—and there are many others—I want to ask the Government, through the noble Baroness tonight, whether they will make a positive commitment to stimulate the development of "Well-women clinics" across the country. They may find the name tiresome or trendy or feminist, but this is an important development in preventive and community medicine. In some cases—and Bristol and Watford are two—a little help has been given by the Health Education Unit, and in others, like the Manchester Town District Health Authority, only the building has been provided and qualified volunteers and professional NHS staff make time for it.

But although these are low cost clinics they cannot exist on nothing, and I want to ask the noble Baroness what further help, if any, the Government have in mind for this valuable development in the field of community health.

I turn briefly to breast cancer. I understand that there are only four centres for breast cancer screening, all of them. I understand, under one research project. Early findings show that screening is likely to prove as successful as cervical smears in catching early cancers. Rather than await the full report, will the noble Baroness not agree that a rapid expansion of these centres is justified by the early results, and will the Government take steps to see that this is put in hand?

There is one other area of deep concern which has already been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and that is the increasing pressure on "carers"—those who care for their relatives at home, most of whom are women. There is a crisis in home care because, for one reason, of the cuts in geriatric beds. The welfare state is simply being thrust hack into the hands of women without adequate back-up. The personal social services have been forced to economise on their non-statutory obligations, with the result that some services vital to home caring have been reduced or stopped altogether: Meals on Wheels, day care centres and incontinence services are all going to the wall. Ambulance centres are becoming more and more erratic. The carer many not know whether Grannie is going to be collected at 8 a.m. or at noon, making sensible planning for the day or part-time work impossible. GP hospitals and wards where old people can he looked after for a fortnight or so, while the daughter or the niece gets a break, are being savagely cut; 31 are currently under threat. All these centres are vital if those who voluntarily or otherwise care for the elderly or infirm are to lead tolerable lives of their own.

There is also the question of financial support. The benefits system is full of anomalies. Married men or single women get certain vital benefits, but not married women. This is the case with invalid care allowance. It is bristling with caveats and exclusions, while attendance allowance goes to the person being cared for who frequently refuses to pass it on to the caring daughter or relative. Yet many of these women are saving the state at least £80 a week for a rest home, of £120 or more for a bed in a geriatric hospital. This is not good enough. We believe that the needs of the carers should he catered for by a carer's benefit—I believe the noble Lord, Lord Banks, used the term "allowances"; we mean the same thing—which would replace invalid care allowance and be available to married women as well.

The Government have got to face up to the fact that if they want to shift people out of bleak and forbidding Victorian institutions, they cannot do it merely by thrusting people back into inadequately supported families. "Care in the community" originally meant the creation of small homes in the neighbourhood, close to family and friends; but it is rapidly becoming a code word for dumping the elderly and the derelicts of society on to women, mainly married and often without adequate financial support. This is one of the great social problems of our time; but are the Government even seized of it? Have they any plans for its solution?—because it will not go away.

4.29 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, may I take this opportunity of congratulating two women: first, the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, for having introduced the debate today; and, secondly, the noble Baroness. Lady Seear, for having been elected Leader of her party in this House. I seek today to speak on the conflicting and competing needs of women, men and children within the orbit of the family and society. Up until the First World War, the role of women was to care for the children, run the home and cherish the husband who, in turn, was the breadwinner, the head of the household and the figure of authority. In many instances, his attitude was—and I quote Muriel Spark—"Do you think it pleases a man when he looks into the eyes of a woman and sees the British Museum?". The position has changed. Men and women look at one another, I suspect, in most cases now in marriage as partners.

In 1921, 3.8 per cent. of married women worked. By 1981 the figure had risen to 35.9 per cent. Thirty per cent. had children aged nought to four; 62 per cent. had children from five to nine years and 71 per cent. had children over seven years. A proportion of women are likely to be out of employment for a total of seven years while they are bringing up their children and giving their entire time to that. I submit—here I am in complete agreement with the noble Countess, Lady Mar—that the administration of a satisfying and happy home requires intelligence, a capacity for organisation, the qualities of sensitivity and understanding and also an ability to give unhurried time. Achieving a satisfying marriage, bringing up children who are emotionally secure and physically and educationally mature is a career in itself, with rich dividends in long-term happiness.

But women have conflicting desires and needs; and one of them is to achieve individuality in their own right. I believe that in order to do this during the time they are bringing up their children—and I do believe that when children are very young they should have a constant, continuing and secure relationship, which is so important, with their mother or substitute mother such as a foster mother or, in some cases, a nanny.

I would suggest that during the years that women are tied to the home with their children they should have a link with the outside world and that such a link is going to enhance the children and to contribute to the happiness of the relationship between husband and wife. May I give your Lordships a few examples? There is, for instance, an experimental scheme run by the National Westminster Bank which is called the reentry and reservist scheme. This enables men and women to take a break in their career to care for young children. The bank guarantees employment at the same grade of pay at which the participant left, and will provide re-training on their return. While at home, a participant in this scheme can work for two weeks consecutively or on odd days—or more if they wish. Contact is maintained through information packs and invitations are issued to local social events. Participants are also encouraged to study for membership of the Institute of Bankers while at home. Thus a link is maintained between home and the bank which ensures personal care for the children and interest for the parent (usually the mother) in the knowledge that the career outside the home can later be pursued.

This pattern could well be pursued in other spheres. For instance, I am told that if a woman trains as a doctor and wants to go hack when she is perhaps 35 years of age, after caring for her children in earlier years, there are difficulties in her not having studied or not having taken responsibilities in the medical field for so many years. An experiment has now been tried that during the years when her children are small she should run one clinic a week, a fortnight or a month to keep her in touch with the medical field.

This linking of a women while she is confined to the home to an outside job to which she will later return should be pursued in all other realms and at all levels. It could well be pursued in teaching, in the Civil Service, in banking and in all other spheres. I believe that this would not only enhance the women but it would enhance the children and the relationship between husband and wife. Also it would be good for industry and for the world of work. There are other methods, one of which is job sharing. I think this can well be done because there is flexi-time. It is difficult to organise but, once organised, is of inestimable value both to the place of work and to the individual concerned.

My great contention is that in the struggle for equality of opportunity—this is surely taking place, and not only in this country but in the whole of the Western world—whatever happens, the children must not lose out in this battle. I do not believe that they need lose out if the world of work sees to it that women, while at home, have a bridge which they may cross when their children are older, without loss of opportunity in the career structure.

4.36 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I should like first to thank all those who have so graciously congratulated me on my election to the leadership of the party in this House. May I urge, because time is short, that those speakers who follow would take as said what they were going to say on that? It does waste time if everybody feels that they have to follow the example that has been set and add to the kind comments that have been made.

Dealing with the subject of today's debate briefly, there are two points that I particularly want to make. I have never been one to argue that women should be given preferential treatment. I believe that it is in fact damaging to women in the long run; it is extremely patronising and it is really not what women who have thought seriously about the question of equal opportunities want to see.

However, that does not mean that there are not particular problems which affect women that should he given special attention. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to two of these. On the whole, girls leaving school do not get trained for the jobs which provide progressive careers. When you examine the position of women in employment, they are found at the bottom of the pile, and not only at the bottom of the pile but in jobs from which there is no career progression worth having. That is because initially they get neither the right advice nor the right training; and there is no way in which women, without unjustified favouritism, are going to get advancement unless they get the right training.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 made special provision for this, recognising the need to supplement the training that women are given because so few of them get the right training. Sections 47 and 48 of the Act permit "women only" training—and indeed "men only" training so far as that goes—in relation to jobs in which either sex is substantially under-represented. These are extremely important sections to which insufficient attention has been paid. Where they have been taken up and used they have been very successful indeed. The Engineering Industry Training Board, when it was led by a very far-sighted man, Mr. Frank Medcraft, realising the shortage of technicians in this country and also that there were very few women technicians, organised "women only" training schemes for technicians—two year courses—in Birmingham and subsequently in Croydon. These have been outstandingly successful.

When he went to the schools he was told that there were no applicants; but when he got on to local radio and blasted into the homes of people, past the obstacles which apparently had been erected in the communications system, he was overwhelmed with applications for training. I have asked again and again—and I have never had an answer—as to why that message never got through in the first place. If we knew why that was, we might know quite a bit as to why girls make so little progress. However, that has been a very successful scheme.

There are similar schemes for accountants. Hatfield Polytechnic has introduced a specially designed scheme for training women as accountants after they have been at home for a period bringing up their families. The hours have been adjusted to suit their particular needs. They have even obtained a good deal of the money for this scheme out of the European Social Fund. Therefore the scheme scores all the way round. If Hatfield Polytechnic can do it, why cannot every polytechnic in the country do it? Why cannot employers do it? Why cannot the Civil Service do it? Why has so little use been made of Section 47 and Section 48?

I know that belatedly the Civil Service has woken up to the fact that in the past it has not been a good employer of women. It needed a woman in charge of the department, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to get something moving in relation to women in the Civil Service. Some 15 years ago a progressive report relating to the Civil Service was prepared. It looked as though the Civil Service had woken up to their responsibilities as an employer—a very preferentially placed employer and an employer to whom other employers looked for an example. But very little happened. However, when the noble Baroness, Lady Young, occupied a position in which she could influence matters, things began to change. Women-only courses for management were started. They are highly to be welcomed. I have been active in connection with other women-only courses—for women managers.

Not all women want women-only courses. For some women they are not necessary. Some of us have had the good luck to be brought up in a more male atmosphere than others, or perhaps we take to it more easily. However, for some women—I have visited these women-only managerial training courses and have taken part in them—they undoubtedly provide an opportunity to realise possibilities which previously they did not know existed. I urge all training institutions and all employers to look again at Sections 47 and 48 to see what use they can make of them. I am delighted that belatedly the Civil Service is setting something of an example.

Secondly, may I follow up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, concerning re-entry into employment. One basic difference between the sexes which no feminist can deny is that women have children and men do not and that that will continue. A great many women, I believe—though I speak as a single woman—like to bring up their own children. This seems to be very understandable, and in the early years probably very wise. The problem has been that career women have believed that if they did so they would never get back into employment. They have been right, on the evidence, to believe this.

It goes further than that. Women have been bedevilled by the belief on the part of employers that they will not remain very long in employment; they will have children and will not return; therefore it is not worth providing them with the kind of experience that they need in order to qualify for senior positions. This is a very out-of-date point of view. The average woman takes only seven years out of her working life to bring up her family. For the highly qualified woman it is a shorter period still. But the myth lingers that women are only short-term employees. In those crucial early years, therefore, when they should be building up experience and given a variety of different kinds of responsibility they do not get it.

We must meet this problem by means of the kind of re-entry programmes about which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has spoken. They are not easy, but they are not overwhelmingly difficult to organise. I had the privilege of being involved in the development of the Westminster Bank scheme. I know that it can be done. It can be done on a small scale, to start off with, and then expanded. There is no reason why employers up and down the country should not be considering what, in terms of their own conditions and requirements, can be done. If a woman knows that she has a secure opportunity to return to work, she can enjoy those years at home in the way that she ought to be able to enjoy them. I cannot believe that the time spent at home with children, if you wish you were not there, is good for either the mother or the children. If, however, she can he confident that it is just a period at home and that she will be able to pick up her career again, this is surely the optimum solution.

Finally, this is not only a question for employers. It is a question also for the professional organisations. The professional organisations should review their requirements and see how they can adjust them, taking it as the norm that women will he away for a short period of time and then will return. They should remove all unnecessary obstacles in the way of the smooth movement of a career through the early days of training and initial experience, through the period at home bringing up a family and then back into the career, probably for 20 or 25 years. If we provide these two opportunities, enormous progress for women will be made.

4.46 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, the subject of this debate is a very wide one. When one realises that, today, one-third of marriages founder, the plight of broken families is very important indeed. But what I have to say today is limited to a narrower field; namely, the provision of better working opportunities for married women.

I first raised this subject in a debate 16 years ago, but little progress has been made since then, although, partly thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, conditions in the Civil Service have been made much easier for a married woman with a family. Although my Motion received the greatest support from noble Baronesses, I was never able to arouse much interest from industrialists. Roughly 40 per cent. of our workforce are women. And quite apart from those pursuing a career, there are many who take employment after marriage simply to increase the family income; but others are as much concerned with having an interest outside the home.

I am convinced that a good proportion would much prefer to work part-time if such jobs existed and if the conditions of employment made such work attractive. A move to part-time working should have a worthwhile effect on the unemployment situation, and it would also reduce the brain drain of those who receive a university or specialist education and then give up their careers altogether when they have children. Not only this, but for those who choose marriage as their career, many women feel they are better wives and mothers if they have interests outside the home.

Full-time working, when the family are young, is very often impossible, and many would think undesirable in the children's interests. Part-time working can greatly shorten the period which a mother takes away from work. This is of great importance to anyone interested in a career, because often, after a few years, so much has changed—for example, in a technical or medical field—that it is almost impossible to get back into the stream.

Objections are sometimes raised that part-time working does not suit a particular field of work. This was said about teachers and nurses, but when, some years ago, there was a shortage it was found quite possible to use part-time workers. I believe that there are very few fields of work where it is difficult or impossible. Research has been said to be one of these, but if this is really so, those who combine university lecturing with research are doing unsatisfactory research work.

I believe it is now accepted that somebody working, say, four and a half hours a day, if motivated, can achieve as much as a full-time worker can achieve in six hours. In considering the employment of married women it must be realised that as mothers they are to some extent handicapped—even with children of school age. There is, for example, the difficulty of school holidays and if the children are ill. We should therefore do everything we can to mitigate the handicap.

A European draft directive on part-time work—COM/81/775—emphasises the importance of improving the rewards, conditions and status of such work. We need to consider how far benefits to the worker and incentives to the employer in using part-time workers could be improved. For example, for those commuting some distance the cost of transport can represent a high proportion of the money earned. The present position of the National Insurance Scheme and the denial of unemployment benefit are two of the matters which need rethinking.

There are many other things which could be done-such as more firms providing day nurseries where the number of part-time workers make that worthwhile. Refresher courses—particularly for women working in the professions and coming back to work after launching a family—are very necessary and, I should have thought, desirable for others; particularly medical general practitioners.

As matters stand at present, women tend to work in the lower paid jobs, have no career prospects, and are under-represented in public life or in positions of influence and authority. That is a waste of manpower and I believe we should not be wrong to give positive discrimination in favour of women with families who wish to avail themselves of part-time employment.

4.52 p.m.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, this debate has really been about the hopes, aspirations and job opportunities—or, possibly, lack of opportunities—of some 52 per cent. of the population. Fifty-two per cent. of the population are women; that is a fact which political parties seem to forget far too easily and they relegate women's needs to just a brief paragraph, as a sort of afterthought, at the end of their election manifestos. No party as yet has tried to have a policy for women and for really helping them.

Speaking towards the end of a long and interesting debate such as this, so ably initiated by my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry, it is difficult to raise even more problems and challenges. I therefore want to underline one or two of the matters to which reference has already been made.

Women are being pressured by reductions in the provisions of the welfare state. It has been suggested that some 7 million old, sick and handicapped persons are virtually dependent on their families. They cannot be left even for one day unless someone is there to take over. Yet community services are being cut, with loss of day centres, ambulance transport, meals on wheels, home helps, community nurses and social workers. As my noble friends Lord Kilmarnock and Lord Banks have said, it is the women at home who are now caring for others who are making up the real welfare state.

Only 5 per cent. of parents conform to the concept of Mr. and Mrs. Average with their two dependent children. As the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has said, women take something like seven years, on average, of their working lives out of the labour market. With a decreasing birth rate, that time is likely to be even shorter in future. Yet their careers suffer. There is still not enough emphasis given in our schools to encouraging girls to think about their future beyond marriage and children. They are still likely to have to work full-time or part-time for some 30 or more years. The present divorce rate means that one in three of them will find themselves unsupported by a husband. Schools and colleges should do more to prepare a girl to face up to the possibility that she may have to be the main breadwinner. We need more courses for women who want to go to work when their families are grown up. The labour market also has to be prepared to be flexible and to respond to that need.

Over the past 15 years, governments have begun to recognise the problems which women face—but this Government, with a so-called family policy, have sought to drive women back into community care as they cut old people's homes, geriatric beds, children's day care services and so on. One cannot help feeling slightly cynical and wondering whether the Government, through their pressures and harping on the sanctity of family life, are not seeking to ease the unemployment figures by taking women out of the labour market.

Caring for others should not mean giving up everything else or losing out on the job market. We need to examine our career opportunities and job structures. We should aim not only to share more fairly among rich and poor but also to share resources and responsibilities between men and women. All of us want to see our children cared for and well brought up. We all want to cherish the elderly. But society must also show its gratitude to those who carry out those essential tasks and thus contribute so much to the well-being of the whole community. This means ensuring that women get the support they need, that services are generously provided, and that they are used very flexibly. It really means showing that we value the work these women do. That is not done by cutting services, by empty phrases, and by sometimes even emptier purses—as this Government have done—but by providing women with hard cash and services.

More of our old and disabled are cared for at home by their families than at the turn of the century. A higher proportion of old people went into the workhouse then than go into old people's homes, sheltered accommodation or geriatric homes today. Yet 10.000 geriatric beds have been cut in the past five years although the number of the elderly grows by 2 per cent. a year. This burden usually falls on the daughter. However much daughters may love their parents and cherish them, and however much they want to look after them, they can find that burden crushing without money, support and services. Society should be able to care for its old and sick without making intolerable demands on women. Those who save the state many thousands of pounds a year in institutional care must be fairly compensated, properly helped, and supported.

Women as carers of the family receive less and less support. They have little chance of a career now—and no chance at all in later life, when their domestic responsibilities may have lessened or gone altogether. The time has come to stop hoarding Victorian values of old to the detriment of the women who carry the burden. The time has come for the state to recognise that these carers in our society not only deserve our appreciation and kind words but some real, tangible compensation for the role they take on at home.

What we need from this Government and from successive governments is a true understanding of the problems faced by women in a modern world and a very firm commitment to redressing the imbalances between men and women in all walks of life. Women enjoy holding the baby if it is their baby; but they do not like to be left holding the baby for an inconsiderate and seemingly uncaring Government who do naught but cut, cut, cut the services which ought to help them.

5 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, for having presented us with a subject this afternoon which has clearly drawn so much informed comment from all sides of the House. However, I think the noble Baroness in presenting her statistics should have included the statistics of the number of Baronesses holding a position in this debate; with my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe on the Woolsack at that time, the noble Baroness opposite answering for the Government and—dare I mention it—I am speaking for this side. I would find it quite impossible not to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, on her new position, in spite of her injunction.

This has been a debate during which we have heard of the many obstacles facing women in their pursuit of a career or in their attempt to combine outside paid work with traditional family responsibilities. We have also heard of the many advances which women have made, and which have been made for them, over the years. From all that has been said I think it is evident that many of the barriers to women's choices at home and at work probably come under the following headings. First, through education and training opportunities for women being such as to give them an inadequate preparation for so many parts of today's labour market. Secondly, through a discriminatory tax and social system. Thirdly, through the failure of Government to adapt the structure of society to relate to the place women are both able and willing to fill within the community. Fourthly, through outdated attitudes and assumptions as to what that place should be.

Previous speakers have covered many of the technicalities regarding the injustices and obstacles for women in the fields of employment, earnings disparity, pension schemes, taxation, part-time work, mortgages and cuts in the welfare state; including the lack of day-care facilities for children, and so on. There is nothing that I can add to what they have said. Indeed, I noted that my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey went so far as to say that our structure is so unfair to women that the only way for them to achieve their rightful place in society is through positive discrimination. Although I am inclined to agree with him, I wonder whether he would carry many women with him in that view. Indeed, I have noticed that he has not, I fear, carried any noble Baroness who has spoken.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, for putting the case for the single parent mother. I agree with him that our system has not yet made fair and appropriate arrangements. This is very much to the cost of those innumerable children in single parent families. I quite understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord McNair, that the women of Bristol have no female Member of Parliament to represent them. If I may say so, it may be even worse luck for the men of Bristol who are so deprived through not having a woman Member of Parliament.

For my part I should like to make a general comment and put forward one or two suggestions. To begin with, when considering the choices facing women, it is essential at the same time to look at the choices confronting men and women together. I feel in a way that the Motion of the noble Baroness should concern a readjustment of laws, institutions and attitudes embracing both men and women. After all, each should have a real choice about how they spend their time at home and at work; for has it not become ludicrous to think that in byegone years some men have been expected and impelled to spend all their time out of the home, returning in the evening too tired to enjoy their home, their children or their family? On the other hand, women have been constrained to working in the house, deprived of the wider experiences that have been described by many speakers today and which so many women now realise they wish to achieve.

I know that it is not the job of governments to force people to change their attitudes; but I think that it is the responsibility of governments to make adjustments to bring their laws into line with social trends which, in turn, will make it easier for people to arrive at new attitudes. It should be possible to make changes which would reverse the present situation whereby it is the family who make the adjustment to the functioning of the work and instead gear the pattern of work to serve the family. Likewise, using the family as a focus, it should be possible to develop a greater flexibility in the terms and conditions of employment to this end. I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, who made points in that regard.

Again, with the family unit in mind it has to be admitted that governments of other Western European countries have found it possible to introduce certain measures which have brought about a greater equality between fathers and mothers in their role as parents, while benefiting the children and the family generally. It has also removed discrimination against the mother in the employment field. I intended to give the example of parental leave as in Sweden but the noble Lord, Lord Banks, got in before me. However, there are instances of other Western European countries which have schemes. Norway has a similar scheme to that of Sweden but for a shorter time of parental leave. I understand that in France it is possible for either parent to take periods adding up to two years of unpaid leave to care for children and it is open to both mothers and fathers. Although the level of maternity benefit is higher in the United Kingdom, it is paid over a shorter period and if averaged out over the longer period covered by other European countries it is the lowest of the EC countries except for Ireland. I should like to ask the noble Baroness who is to reply whether there is any serious research and serious thinking being carried out by the Government regarding the possibility of introducing schemes based on parental leave; in which case the mother would not be discriminated against by employers.

It is important to move away from the assumption that while the man's position and role in society is inflexible the woman's role can be adjusted according to what society requires from her. In Victorian times, for example, she was needed exclusively in the home. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, has already said, in wartime women were needed in the munitions factories, when it became miraculously possible to lay on sufficient child-care arrangements which were even described as being to the advantage of those children. That was a completely new concept and was arrived at simply through necessity. Now, with the recession, women are being urged again to return to the home. Child care facilities are being curtailed, and in some cases women are even made to feel that it is to the disadvantage of their children if they absent themselves to go out to work. Therefore, it is quite clear that attitudes and actions change merely to fit in with the changing role that society needs its women to fill. I believe that has been proved time and again over the centuries. I very much hope that in the years to come it will not be the 1980s which will stand out as the time when the options open to Britain's women were seriously undermined. Indeed, it would be a strange irony that this should have taken place at a time of the first Government to be led by a woman.

My final point is that although it has been evident from this debate that there are still many obstacles in the way of women, we should recognise how extremely fortunate we are in this country to have legislation which not only outlaws discrimination on the ground of sex but also establishes an Equal Opportunities Commission which has the dual responsibility, as has been mentioned many times in this debate, of working towards the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of equal opportunities between men and women generally.

It is an important advantage that we have over other Western European countries. I would even go so far as to suggest that many of the obstacles which have been mentioned today will probably have already been identified by the Equal Opportunities Commission. But one statutory commission alone cannot remove all the harriers. It needs backing and continual support. I sometimes think that we in this country, the two Houses of Parliament and the public alike, tend to think that having passed this legislation no more need be done. In this case that is not so. We all have a responsibility not only to support the commission but continually to oppose outdated attitudes and assumptions about the place of women in our society. There can be little doubt that these attitudes pervade many of our institutions and dominate many of our systems. We need to identify them and bring them out into the open. This is really what this debate is all about.

Perhaps I may just take up one point that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, made when mentioning the suffragettes. It is worthy of note that at the start suffragettes were chaining themselves to the railings to impose their will; and today women of courage and determination—whether one considers their views to be right or wrong—are taking an equally unequivocal stand at Greenham Common to halt a development that they find a threat to survival. There has been no change in this. There will always be women with the courage and conviction necessary to reject all those barriers, which will, nevertheless, always be in their way.

5.11 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, who has raised an important subject which has attracted a distinguished group of speakers on both sides of the House—I am tempted to talk of "noble persons"—and has resulted in a wide-ranging debate. Flattery gets one nowhere with the noble Baroness, but I got to know and admire her during the six years that she and I served together as original members of the Air Transport Users Committee. If I thought that I should have such a lucid mind as I entered my eighty-first year, I would be more than pleased. I congratulate the noble Baroness on her recent eightieth birthday and belatedly wish her many happy returns. I cannot resist also saying, "Hooray", to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

Let me now begin by stressing this Government's commitment to equal rights and equality of opportunity for women. Since 1975 women in this country have had a firm basis for pursuing their rights, in the form of the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts. It has been a primary concern of this Government to uphold, and where necessary to build on, this legislation, which is of particular interest to working women. We are concerned with developments in the fields of education, training and employment which seek to widen the options open to women not only in theory but also in practice. But we must also keep in mind the theme of the Motion, "choice", since in a free society our aim must be to ensure not that women are forced into particular roles but that they have the choice of whether to go out to work or to make an equally important contribution, vital to the health of our society, by staying at home and bringing up children. It is simply not true, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, implied, that the Government are driving women out of the labour market. There are now as many women active within the labour market, full-time and part-time, as ever there were.

The first crucial steps towards widening choices available to women must be taken in the field of education. This is why the Government have been active in promoting curricular changes so that all young people at school follow a broad and balanced programme up to the age of 16—a curriculum which can ensure for girls and boys alike that no important area of educational experience is neglected and the subsequent choices are not restricted. It is particularly important in a period of change, with the rapid introduction of new technologies—which has been mentioned—that girls have the educational grounding to take up opportunities in all sectors of employment. The choices girls make in education, and subsequently in training and jobs, must reflect the knowledge that most women will be working for much of their lives and an increasing number may be the sole or principal breadwinner for a family for at least part of that time—a point most ably made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman.

We are now beginning to see results from the changes of emphasis within education. The proportion of women on science and engineering courses has been increasing—slowly may be, but every step forward is worth noting. In 1977–78, 26 per cent. of women entrants to higher education were studying science, and by the last academic year this had risen to 30 per cent. The Government remain committed to getting the message across to girls that there are likely to be better opportunities for employment in science and engineering, and for this reason we very much welcome the "Women into Science and Engineering", or 'WISE', initiative by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Engineering Council. I am pleased to say that Government departments have been able to offer the initiative both financial and promotional support.

I entirely agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Seear and Lady Ewart-Biggs, in their remarks concerning quotas, and I profoundly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who advocates positive discrimination in filling jobs. This is not the solution. Not only is it unjust; it is inefficient both from the point of view of the enterprise and as a means of achieving equality, since few women will feel able, or be sufficiently qualified, to come forward for the jobs. We must change the attitude of girls early if they are to make the right choices at school and later true equality is to be achieved. This is bound to be a slow process. But the Equal Opportunities Commission with, for example, its WISE initiative, is engaged day by day on precisely this task.

The Government agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. It is vitally important that women take full advantage of their equal access to the full range of training opportunities offered by the Manpower Services Commission. The commission does much to ensure that women have full information about all the options, and has taken particular steps to ensure that young women entering the youth training scheme who wish to go into non-traditional areas are readily able to do so.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, explained, in the training field there is one exception to the general rule of equal access which is designed specifically to help women make up for past inequalities. Section 47 of the Sex Discrimination Act allows training bodies under certain circumstances to run courses exclusively for women in occupations where they are underrepresented or to meet the special needs of women returning to the labour market after a period of absence for domestic reasons. The MSC's "Wider Opportunities for Women" courses are a good example and now cover a range of skills, including those in new technology. Ministers have responded readily to applications from other training bodies to use the Section 47 provision. An encouraging number have brought forward proposals for training women for self-employment and to run small businesses, which can offer important new employment opportunities for women. The Civil Service also has a scheme to train its women managers.

I have indicated the importance of training in helping to bring about equality of opportunity for women seeking to enter the labour force. I now turn to the position of women once they are in work. At present about 10 million women are economically active—about 40 per cent. of the total labour force. Some 40 per cent. of these women are in part-time work, which is particularly prevalent among married women, some 61 per cent. of whom work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burton, asked whether we needed another war for the contribution of women to the economy to be valued. I think that these figures show that we do not. In recent years women have been less hard hit by unemployment than men. Their employment has actually fallen less than that of men since 1979. The number of women in part-time work has actually risen. As my noble friend Lady Cox said, in the United Kingdom alone among our Community partners the unemployed rate for women is substantially below that for men.

The high participation rate for women in the United Kingdom is largely attributable to the numbers in part-time employment, and I should like to dwell for a moment on the more positive aspects of part-time work for women. Far from being the barrier to women's advancement that it is frequently alleged to be, part-time work is, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said, often the means favoured by women who wish to keep a foothold in the labour market while also, for example, devoting some time to their families. This is reflected in the fact that some two-thirds of part-time women workers have dependent children.

Not only do many women actively want to work part-time but it also has positive attractions to employers, who appreciate the flexibility it offers in meeting peaks in business and demands for labour outside normal working hours. Were it not for the conjunction of demand for part-time work on the part of both employers and women, particularly where there is already another breadwinner in the family, many women would be unable to work at all. Reference has been made to the National Westminster scheme. BUPA also, for instance, use a nurse bank where part-time nurses can be brought in to fill a gap.

The state of affairs to which I was just referring may of course reflect the unequal distribution of domestic responsibilities in the home, but I cannot believe that many noble Lords would suggest that this sphere is one in which decisions are properly made other than by the family concerned. The most crucial of domestic responsibilities is of course the care of the children, which was very much the theme of my noble friend Lady Faithfull's speech. The Government recognise the needs of working mothers and attach great importance to the continued development and improvement of day care services for children. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, that we do not, however, accept that it is primarily the role of the statutory services to make this provision.

However, local authorities do provide certain day care facilities for children with special health or social problems and they are also encouraged, so far as resources allow, to provide advice and support for all those in the community who provide child care services. Voluntary and community resources make very important contributions in this field, and the Government have been eager to promote activity in this area. We provide over half a million pounds per year in grant aid to the major voluntary organisations working with children under five and their families. In October last year we launched a central initiative, through which £2 million per year for three years is available to fund specific projects managed by the voluntary sector. This initiative is designed to help disadvantaged families in particular: one-parent families and low income families where both parents need to work; families with isolated parents needing help in coping with small children at home; and families from ethnic minority groups who may fall into the first two categories but who may have additional needs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, talked about the Civil Service equal opportunities policy. Looking to the future, one of the most promising developments for women at work is the increased interest in the practical application of equal opportunities policies by individual employers who go beyond simply ensuring compliance with anti-discrimination legislation. As a rule, it makes good business sense for employers to develop their workforces' potential, and increasing numbers of employers can be expected to adopt such policies with this in mind.

I am pleased to say that the Government, as an employer, are giving a lead here with a programme of action within the Civil Service, which was announced in February by my noble friend Lord Gowrie. It arose out of the joint review group involving Civil Service management and trade unions; and, among other things, the programme sets out practical steps which can be taken to help women, such as expanding part-time working opportunities where that is feasible and ensuring that the provisions for maternity leave, part-time work and special leave are brought to the attention of staff as necessary.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burton, drew attention to the small proportion of women who reach high levels in public life and the need for the Government to set an example. Research has recently been commissioned into the promotion procedures and systems within the Civil Service, to see if reasons can be isolated as to why women generally seem to fare less well than men in this important respect. I was most interested in the excellent remarks of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and the original thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the noble Lord, Lord McNair—I am so glad that his mother and I have so much in common.

Let me now attempt to pick up one or two points raised in debate, and I will of course write to any noble Lord or noble Baroness with which whose questions I may not have time to deal. The noble Baronesses, Lady Cox and Lady Burton, and other noble Lords and noble Baronesses raised the question of equal pay. The Equal Pay (Amendment) Regulations, which came into force on 1st January, for the first time allow a woman to claim equal pay with a man, even though he is doing quite different work from hers and they are not covered by the same job evaluation scheme. This will help women in jobs where there are no men alongside them doing similar work. The Government noted carefully the views expressed in this House on 5th December. However, we remain firmly convinced that the regulations bring our equal pay legislation fully into compliance with European law. We now want to see how the new provisions work out in practice.

I heard with interest the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, about a new Human Rights Commission. The existing Equal Opportunities Commission carries out a great deal of sound and practical work in investigation, research and advocacy in support of wider opportunities in employment, work for which the Commission is widely respected. I wonder whether it would be wise to risk diluting this expertise by setting up a body with a wider remit.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, asked me to give various commitments. I am afraid I cannot give those commitments today, but I will naturally see that my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Social Services, hears what he has said and I am sure he will take note of the noble Lord's remarks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked me about parental leave and leave for family reasons. The Government's policy is to support and strengthen the role of the family as a basic unit of our society, but the imposition of general statutory obligations such as those proposed in the draft directive would increase the administrative burden on employers and tend to impair the competitiveness which is essential for the maintenance of economic recovery. In doing so, it would tend to damage rather than improve the employment prospects of those whom it seeks to assist.

I began by saying I would explore the field of choice. I have indicated what has been done by the Government in the fields of education and training and as an employer itself. This country, after all, has a proud record where women are concerned. We were pioneers with the Equal Pay Act in 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975 and, in the following year, the birth of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I feel I must also include our unique Open University, which, curiously enough, nobody has mentioned but which has so successfully given women a chance, many of whom never before thought it possible, to take a degree which in its turn has enabled them to aim for better jobs.

Let me now finish by mentioning the word "barriers". This is one area where progress is still much needed but it is not one which can be tackled by Government alone—it is of course the deeply entrenched attitudes to women's role at work and at home which still hinders progress towards greater equality in practice. Such changes of course take time. When I represented the United Kingdom as United Kingdom delegate to the United Nations Status of Women's Commission—a post several others of your Lordships have held—I soon learned that this problem is worldwide and that we in the West talk in a very different way from those in the Third World. The impetus must come from men and women themselves.

I would finish, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burton began, by saying that it is really not just the employer but the husband, the father, the teacher, and, indeed, changes in the attitudes of our young people that are needed. In the field of equal opportunities, legislation has helped to lead public opinion. I very much hope that our debate today will draw attention to individual responsibilities. We all have an interest in this, because the sooner women are brought to develop the full potential of their talents and abilities, the more will society and the nation be enriched.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, we have had a most excellent debate, which has ranged very far and very wide. At the beginning I said I hoped that our individual contributions would make up a whole. I think that we have done our job. I feel that in this particular House of Parliament we have some very good debates, and I would venture to suggest that today's has been one of them. I would very much hope, particularly with our interest, that all the political parties will perhaps have a look at what we have said today. I think that we all need improvement.

I cannot let that point go without doing what other speakers have done: that is, to offer congratulations to the noble Baroness. Lady Seear. It is not only the Liberal Members who will be pleased to have her as their leader. We (I had better not say "as part of the Liberal Party") the Alliance Members are delighted to welcome her, and I am quite sure that every section of this House will be glad that she has been appointed to such a position.

I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for her winding up speech. It was her first major speech, and when I saw her deluged with paper I was sorry for her and was glad that it was her job and not mine. I think that we should all like to thank her for what she has said. We are all after the same thing. I believe it is the Government of the day who have been so much at fault in the past, not a particular Government. So I wish to thank everyone who has taken part in the debate, and I now beg leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Back to