HL Deb 01 May 1985 vol 463 cc240-77

2.57 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood rose to call attention to the position of women in economic and social affairs in public life; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it is now some 10 years since the Sex Discrimination Act was passed. In that time considerable progress has been made towards eliminating discrimination on grounds of sex and towards providing greater opportunities between the sexes, largely under the guidance of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I hope that later in the debate the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, will be able to tell us of some of the actions of the Equal Opportunities Commission. But today I want to draw attention to the implications of our legislation and administrative structures in looking at the position of women in economic and social affairs and in public life.

Although comprehensive in its scope, the Sex Discrimination Act was so framed as deliberately to exclude from its provisions certain areas of vital importance to the progress towards equality. I am not complaining about that. Obviously one single Act of Parliament could not sensibly amend a whole range of legislation containing important financial implications, such as social security and taxation laws. But those areas of legislation were an essential element in the social and economic infrastructure within which progress towards equality was to take place. They embodied many of the symptoms of society that were the major obstacles to equality: for example, the principle of married women's economic and social dependency on their husbands.

Of course there has been some progress in this respect, but there have also been some retrograde steps. The concept of dependency was apparent not only in legislation but also in other spheres, not least in the employment field, to which I should now like to turn. Despite the growing level of unemployment, the steady growth of women in employment has continued. Today, women represent 43 per cent. of the labour market. The growth in married women's economic activity has been particularly significant, rising from a rate of 20 per cent. in 1951 to 50 per cent. in 1981. However, there are enormous differences between women's position in employment and men's. This is illustrated by the average hourly earnings for women which are still only 74 per cent. of men's average hourly earnings, having risen from 63 per cent. in 1970.

Two factors contribute largely to this difference. The first is the segregation of the sexes in areas of employment. Women are to be found preponderantly among the low paid workers, both in low-paid industries and in low-paid occupations. The Low Pay Unit defines low pay as two-thirds of average earnings, and women make up 5.7 million of the 8.3 million low paid workers in the country—even in the professions. For example, we learn from a report published over the weekend that women teachers' average salary is £700 less than the average salary of their male counterparts. The 1980 Department of Employment/OPCS Women and Employment survey found that almost two-thirds of women were in jobs done only by women at their workplace, many of them being part-time workers.

The significance of this is that up to January of this year no comparison with a man could be made under the Equal Pay Act. However, since the amendment to the Equal Pay Act to include the definition of "work of equal value" it should be possible to test whether or not such women are being paid a fair return for their labour—as, for example, the women machinists at Fords in Dagenham. We had a report on that matter only last week.

The second and absolutely fundamental contributory factor to women's low earnings is the break they have in their working lives for child rearing and the fact that they usually re-enter the labour market on a part-time basis. This has an enormous effect not only on their immediate earnings but also on their long-term prospects.

Forty-three per cent of all women who work do so part time. Incidentally, 3.6 million of the part-time workers are included among the low paid. What are the implications of this? First, many women are employed in areas covered by the wages council; and, as many of the part-time workers are not unionised, they are among the most vulnerable workers in the country. Perhaps the Government will take note of this in their consideration of the future of the wages councils. Secondly, the pressure to bring down wages, particularly in the service sector, which is the area where most of the jobs are being created, largely on a part-time basis, is likely to affect women most.

I acknowledge the need for many women to work part time while their families are young and I encourage every facility for them to do so. However, I object to women who have to work part time being forced into low paid jobs and very often into jobs below their qualification level. There is a need for much more thought and managerial skill to be deployed into structuring part-time work for parents who need it, right across the whole range of occupations. That is so that they can continue in their normal occupations on a part-time basis but remain in line for training, promotion and pension contributions, as advocated by the EOC and as is being done by many of the enlightened employers, including the Civil Service.

However, I must say that I have some sympathy with those industrialists who have recently pointed out that we cannot sustain a prosperous economy based on a service sector unless there is an efficient and dynamic manufacturing industry on which to base it. Thus I support again the activities of the Equal Opportunities Commission and others in encouraging more women to train for the new technological areas and for a wider range of occupations.

A prosperous manufacturing industry should provide the base for a prosperous service sector, capable of paying reasonable wages for both women and men, with part-time workers enjoying the same opportunities as full-time workers. Again, this is something that they cannot do at the present time. It would seem that efforts to bring part-time workers into line with the rights of full-time workers through a European directive is being blocked by the United Kingdom.

While recording these facts, it is equally important to record that women's pay makes a very essential contribution to family budgets. The supplementary Benefits Commission, away back in 1974, calculated that three times as many families would be living below the poverty line were it not for the wives' earnings. In 1978 a DHSS publication indicated that working wives' contributions average 25 per cent. of family income. In the poorest families this rises to 30 per cent. The proportion of wives earning the same as or more than their husbands is steadily increasing. There are now also a substantial number of women who are heads of households, including 90 per cent of all single-parent families.

Thus women's economic contribution to both the family and the nation is very significant, but it is not yet fully recognised in either the infrastructure of the social security system or in the labour market. In the area of social security, there is direct discrimination against married women in the provision of invalid care allowance. Single women, single men and married men all qualify for this benefit if they are caring for an invalid. Married women do not, even if they give up a job in order to do so, the principle being the outdated assumption that a married woman is financially dependent on her husband.

This outmoded assumption of dependency is also still with us in taxation laws, because under the taxation laws a married woman's position is not recognised at all. Her income for income tax purposes is deemed to be her husband's. This is an anomaly in 1985. Similarly, by the nature of the work they do, fewer women than men are included in occupational pension schemes. Those who are included are far less likely than men to be able to provide a survivor's benefit. That could be regarded as discrimination against men, and it is; but again it contains the same dependency principle.

In provision for the unemployed, a new indirect discrimination against married women has been introduced through the community programme. This takes the form of excluding those who do not qualify for certain benefits from being eligible for a place on the community programme. According to official statistics, the women's unemployment rate is lower than men's, but there are a substantial number of women who do not qualify for a benefit and who are therefore not shown as registered unemployed. There are also a substantial number of women with children who would like to return to the labour market if jobs were available. Both these groups are ineligible for the community programme and officially they do not exist as unemployed. These are all examples of our failure to recognise in our laws and in our structures the hard fact of women's economic activity outside the home.

The failure to recognise this or the turning of a blind eye to it also leads us to ignore the needs of parents—and I mean both parents. When husband and wife are at work, both need facilities for the care of their children. We must be at the bottom of the European league in nursery and nursery school provision. As we heard in a recent debate in this House, the Government are dragging their feet on the proposed European directive on parental leave.

This is a far less favourable report than I would have hoped to have given 10 years after the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act. And the story does not end here; it extends into the field of women's participation in public life. Monitoring by the Government's Management and Personnel Office indicates that, of all appointments to public bodies, women represented 17.4 per cent. of the total in 1983. The Equal Opportunities Commission report Women and Public Appointments ascribes this largely to the "old boy" network. The report points to the sources of consultation and nomination for these appointments both within outside institutions and internally. By and large, those consulted are male-dominated bodies—the CBI, the TUC, professional institutions, the senior Civil Service and Ministers. Put another way, the appointments reflect women's low levels within industry and the professions and their invisibility in some of our governmental and state provisions.

In due time, as more women move up the scale through the assistance of the Sex Discrimination Act and the policies of the EOC, this could change. But we cannot afford to wait for that slow process. As in all other areas—new technology, management, etc.—we cannot afford to ignore half our human resources. So the network as well as the qualifications being sought must be widened. For instance, in this House I have heard it said that children are better cared for if their mother is at home. I am neither assenting to nor dissenting from that statement at the moment. I wonder, however, how many of those same people would think it appropriate to appoint to a public body a woman with little experience of being other than a housewife and mother. I know that when I have made nominations of such women I have been asked: "But what qualifications has she?" We cannot have it all ways. I would say that when similar women have become elected to local authorities (again, all too few of them) or when similar women have been appointed as magistrates, where there are some requirements to have women and where training is a condition of the appointment, these women have shown their capacity and ability to carry out the work as well as anyone.

We need a new perspective on the whole position of women in society, and in particular on their position in economic and social affairs and in public life. I beg to move for Papers.

3.15 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for bringing this debate to the House today. I have a particular interest in speaking on the subject as I am the United Kingdom representative to the United Nations Status of Women Commission. In that capacity, I see much of the situation, how things are for women in this country and how their position compares with that of women in the world in general. Whatever problems we have here, we have to realise that they are as nothing compared to the problems of many women in the developing countries.

This year marks the end of the Decade for Women. In 1975, International Women's Year was declared and a conference held in Mexico City. The World Plan of Action came out of that with, as its themes, equality, development and peace. In 1980, the mid-decade conference was held in Copenhagen and the sub-themes of employment, health and education added—issues that perhaps mean more to women in the Western countries. Then we had the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, signed by the United Kingdom in 1981. Many years have gone by. During that time the women of this country have written regularly to their representatives to ask when Britain expects to ratify. At the time of signing—we were rather slow to sign—we said that we only signed conventions when we were fairly confident that we would be able to ratify in due course. Of course, ratification takes a considerable time as we have to consult our islands and dependent territories—quite a lengthy process.

Since my appointment as United Kingdom representative some three to four years ago, I have had an almost non-stop flow of letters from individual women and from NGOs—non-governmental organisations—asking when they will see ratification by the United Kingdom. I hope that this will be declared by the Government before the world conference in Nairobi in July. If not, there will be a considerable degree of embarrassment for the United Kingdom in attending the conference.

I appreciate that there will have to be reservations in the ratification. Almost every country has expressed reservations. Some of the points within the convention actually contradict one another. One could not possibly ratify it in its present form without any comment unless one had no serious intention of doing anything about it afterwards. And we do have a reputation for keeping our word. The Government in the United Kingdom share the central objective of equality. We have recently had additional initiatives such as the programme of action on women within the Civil Service. We have been quite a leading country in having the right laws. No doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, knows these backwards from her experience on the Equal Opportunities Commission. We have the laws but we still need to see considerable changes in attitude. There is a vast difference in this country between the rights of women on paper and their rights and their position in reality.

In the 10 years of the decade we have had a remarkable number of "firsts"—the first woman Prime Minister, the first woman ambassador, the first woman head of the British Medical Association, the first woman general secretary of a major trade union, the first woman Law Commissioner and indeed the first woman Lord Mayor of London. So we have had clear examples of progress for women. However, the debate on women's affairs in this country is still very difficult. It is characterised either by over-aggressive attitudes which I think are totally counter-productive or by complacency of women who sit back and say that there is no need for change and everything is fine as it is.

Inevitably, life changes. We must, and gradually will, see changes in attitudes. However, in order to obtain any changes in attitude we must have the support of the men. The extremists in the women's movement who believe in a society without men, which is what I have had said to me regularly at County Hall where I served on a women's committee, are quite absurd and will never get anywhere.

I am a great supporter of family life. I was brought up in a family of five girls and three boys and I do not think that my parents ever differentiated; certainly it was never the case that the boys would be educated and the girls would not. Perhaps my mother considered that a battle in her day, because when she was at university there were only seven women there, so I suppose she was a pioneer. But in my time we all considered that we had the right to do whatever we wanted to do in life. Indeed, the young women of today are entering all sorts of fields which they had no opportunity to go in for previously.

This does give rise to some quite funny situations. For example, the women's committee at County Hall insists that there must never by any reference to "Madam Chairman"; it insists that we must call that person "Chair". To me a chair is something you sit on and also the chairman of a committee is someone who should not allow himself or herself to be sat upon. I believe that that is an important position and can do a great deal to help those on the committee to achieve some constructive results.

However, without doubt we have a situation where women in our country feel emotional guilt. Those who stay at home and look after their children—and quite often make a considerable sacrifice in doing so, because they need a second income and cannot get one by staying at home looking after their children—are accused of being Only housewives. I believe that that is wrong. I think that it is equally wrong for those women who choose careers and do the things they want to do to be accused by others of failing their families or letting them down. Women should have the right and the opportunity to make their own choices in life and they should be supported as much by other women as by anyone else. I am sorry to say that frequently it is our own sex who tend to turn round and be the ones to put the knife in. All the things that women have achieved in life, all the rights and responsibilities, they have achieved because men have supported them in this field. This is why I am pleased to see the number of men who are here today and interested in this debate.

The world conference in Nairobi will mark the end of the Decade for Women, but the work will go on after that. The United Nations set up a development fund for women in which our Government have been involved from the very beginning and they have contributed well to it. It is a fund to help the very poorest of the poor, and it has been a great success in helping over 400 projects, such as woodburning stoves for women in the Sahel desert. It comes as a shock to us to hear that these women have to spend perhaps two days of their whole week just collecting enough wood to be able to cook for their families. For us who are able to turn on a tap and switch on an electric light, I do not think we know the meaning of real hardship as we see it in these developing countries.

I am very pleased that we are in the process of forming a United Kingdom committee to help the United Nations Development Fund for Women, because at the last General Assembly it was decided that this fund was of such importance that it would continue after the decade has ended and carry on doing such good work. I know that the Government will support it, but I believe that the women of this country will also support it in a very big way, because we have seen their tremendous support for the Ethiopian situation, and this is a similar situation. The NGOs are anxious that the Government should be seen to support the United Nations Women's Commission, and it has already been announced that we shall be sending a very representative and excellent delegation to the women's conference in Nairobi.

However, the women in this country still need to know more about what is going on in other countries as well as in this country, so that we can help not only ourselves here but others who are less fortunate than ourselves.

3.25 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, on introducing this debate this afternoon and I should like to support many of her points, but particularly the one that she made about the absence of women on many important committees, even where women have a very considerable interest.

I am normally a very strong supporter of the work of the Manpower Services Commission, but, to put it mildly, I was rather disappointed to see that there is only one woman on the three new committees that they have set up to deal with the extension of the Youth Training Scheme, which after all, includes all the girls leaving school as well as the boys. That one woman happens to be a former student of mine, but that is only a personal consolation.

I should also like to echo the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, in her attitude towards the "no men" society. I may be rather muddled about this, but I should have thought that a "no men" society would last only one generation!

During the 10 years since the Sex Discrimination Act was passed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, has said, there has been considerable progress. However, a great deal still needs to be done, particularly in the field of training for women, where we still have not exploited the opportunities for single-sex training and where women are grossly underrepresented. There is provision regarding this in the legislation, but we have not used it anything like enough. There must also be an overall attack on indirect discrimination. Direct discrimination in this country today is relatively rare, but we are riddled with indirect discrimination. From discussing this matter in various groups my experience has been that only about one person in 10 in an audience even knows what indirect discrimination means. Most people think it means a particularly devious, underhand kind of discrimination, whereas in fact it is a sort of discrimination which people perform in their sleep, so to speak; they do not even know that they are discriminating because it is so much a part of the culture and the way in which we do things that it carries on without being questioned.

However, it is not on those subjects that I wish to speak in the remaining eight minutes allowed to me. I want to focus on what I think is a central disability from which women suffer at all levels of employment. The vast majority of women, particularly but not exclusively married women—after all, today the vast majority of women are married—suffer from interruptions and discontinuity in employment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, made some reference to this, but I believe that if we could take this as the theme, examine the various ways in which women's working careers are interrupted to their great disadvantage, and focus on either removing the causes of the interruption or alleviating the problem in all possible ways, we should make very considerable progress. They are interrupted on a daily and weekly basis because of the calls of family, of children, and also, we must not forget, because of the calls that are made largely, though not exclusively, on women when there are older people in the community—parents and aunts who need to be looked after. Therefore, someone has to be able to lend a hand and it is almost, though not entirely, invariably a female hand that is lent. That means breaks in employment on a short-term basis—perhaps only a day or two out when a child is ill. But it is still an interruption which handicaps a woman. Then there is the break with which we are all familiar—that which arises when a women has children and brings up her family.

What can be done to avoid these breaks, which are a very real handicap? Women are entering the professions in large numbers. The question is: how high will they go, how far up the ladder will they be able to progress? I believe that more than any other single thing, these interruptions will hold them back. A great many of the day-to-day, weekly, short-term interruptions will depend on the extent to which husbands are prepared to collaborate. A woman who wants to have a good career must either have no husband or choose him extremely carefully.

As the noble Lord, Lord Murray—who I am sorry is not here this afternoon, because I know that he would have been a strong supporter of opportunities for women—once remarked to his members in the trade union movement, "If occasionally a member would allow his wife to go to the meeting in the evening and stay at home and get the supper, it would make a remarkable difference". That runs through all society.

If men would share more in dealing with these family chores, it would help tremendously. This is why I hope the Government will not take too chauvinist a line about the question of parental leave. It may be that the exact terms which were proposed by the European Commission are not precisely right for this country, but that does not mean that the idea of parental leave is wrong; it is right. I know that with relative earnings as they are when there is a question as to who should be away, the man or the wife, it will normally be the person who earns least, and that will be the woman. But still the principle of parental leave is well worthwhile developing.

Secondly, there is the question of pressures, and perhaps even more than pressures, provision during school holiday periods. It is when you have growing, active youngsters around with nothing to do during the long school holidays that some of the worst family anxieties arise.

I want particularly to talk about another point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, but which I think needs developing fully, and that is a new approach to part-time employment—part-time employment for both men and women. In the past part-time employment has been largely ghetto employment in low-level jobs. It need not so be. The Phillips Company in Holland over the last 12 months has been developing extremely interesting examples of the way in which part-time work can be employment of good level for both men and women, worked into shift systems and on a voluntary basis, and can help a considerable number of people who wish to go on to five-hour working shifts on a part-time basis. This is the kind of thing which would enable many women to avoid the discontinuities of employment through which they suffer at the present time.

I ask the Government to look at positive ways of promoting this quite different kind of part-time work. One factor in particular that might be thought of relates to the taxation system. If only we had a lower band of tax to start off with so that people earning only up to a certain relatively low-level of pay paid tax at a lower rate, the actual hourly return to the person working part-time would be much less unfavourable in comparison with full-time work than it is at the present time.

When you move into the employee paying the full rate of tax of course the disadvantage is real. If we could have, as we once had—and I have never been able to understand why we still do not have it—a lower starting rate, people in part-time employment would pay very little indeed in tax and their hourly return on the work done would be relatively more worthwhile to them than in full-time employment. I urge the Government to explore ways in which a quite new approach to part-time employment could be encouraged.

Then of course there is the big, familiar problem of the break in employment for the women who marries, has children, and wishes to bring up a family. Again, may I urge a much more widespread use of retainer schemes by employers. These have been started in some of the banks, with considerable success. Women are guaranteed the opportunity to return at the same level of work and—and this is an extremely important part, for instance, of the Nat-West scheme—the women who are given a guarantee for a five-year period that they can return, do two weeks of work each year in the bank to keep their hand in, so that they never really drop out of the employment scene. This is important psychologically. It makes them feel that they can keep pace with what is going on in their chosen area of work, and makes it much easier to make the transition back into employment.

I know that the Government as an employer have been doing something along these lines, but it should be on a much wider scale than it is at present. It is a real way in which the disadvantages of the break in employment, the discontinuity in women's work, could be minimised.

Along with that I want again to stress the importance of retraining for women getting back into employment, and to echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said about the unfortunate change in the use of the community programme in relation to married women. In the past many married women have found their way back into employment through taking part in the community programme. This is now going to be barred to them since they do not rank as unemployed persons because they are not drawing unemployment pay.

In my view this is an absurd way of excluding women from extremely useful means of getting back into employment and overcoming the disadvantages of the breaks in employment. There are also other disadvantages. They are small in the sense that they are matters of detail, but important for the individual women concerned. For example, some women who go back on to training programmes—I had experience of this only a few weeks ago—are worse off on the training grant that they receive than they were on supplementary benefit because when they are on training allowances they cannot get the additional benefits which are available to people on supplementary benefit.

There are also disadvantages which arise from time lags in the payments of training allowances. These may seem small things, but they are important when people have practically no money and are making the brave effort to get back, via training, which is what we want these women to do, and therefore be able to be self-supporting and take part in the economy as a whole.

I see that I have overshot my time, my Lords. I shall say merely that if the Government want to promote these schemes, I ask them to look at the whole problem of discontinuity. I ask them also as employers to set an example far more than they have done in the past. I would just add as a throw-away line, though I realise that it is a highly controversial matter, that if the Government really want equal opportunities, I know of no better way of getting them than through contract compliance combined with good professional advisory services; but perhaps that is a matter for debate on another day.

3.38 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I must ask the indulgence of the House for intervening in a debate rightly regarded as ladies' day. However, I know how indulgent the ladies are. I know that the noble Lord beside me will feel the same diffidence. We are the only two out of the first nine speakers who belong to the weaker sex, or whatever they call it nowadays.

Of course I endorse the fine stand taken on behalf of women by my noble friend Lady Lockwood and sustained by the noble Baroness opposite and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I shall confine myself to one aspect of the problem which has been set up most authoritatively by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, but I want to deal with just one aspect of it. I am going to deal with the difficulty of married women with children making a success of a professional career. It can be done, but it is not done anything like as often as it ought to be done. For instance, take this House. For 40 years after women were able to sit in the House of Commons the idea of women coming here was strongly resisted. Eventually, four women were allowed to come here, two of whom I am glad to think are among the most distinguished Members, including the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, who is sitting opposite me now.

However, even that was not the end of the story at all. The enemies of women were fighting very hard. I remember one gentleman who played a leading part in resisting the coming in of women explaining to me that he could not bear the thought of them coming into the Library so that he would have to get up, or perhaps be woken from his slumber. And then there is the old question of the lavatories, which was regarded by a lot of people as an almost insuperable objection. At any rate, it prevented women en bloc coming here for 45 years. I remember this same gentleman—a very eminent man in his way—saying when referring to a lady colleague, one of the new Baronesses (but not the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot) that he hated to look at the back of her neck. He said, "When I see that long neck bending over I say to myself: 'I wish I had my chopper and I would go chop, chop, chop' ". I did not make that up. I am just trying to show you what problems women have been confronted with in making their way here.

Today there are 64 women in this House—I have just looked up the figures—but in the House of Commons there are only 25, which is no large number. It is almost the same number as there were, say, in 1945, though in the intervening years there has been a higher number several times; so there they are stuck. No one would question that the women in this House have a far bigger influence than the women in the House of Commons, where, apart from Mrs. Thatcher, they do not count all that much, so it seems. I must be careful here because I have a niece who is making a lot of headway there, but by and large what I have said is a true generalisation. In fact, here today you might say the women have almost taken over, but there in the House of Commons they are still second-class people, and possibly a diminishing band. That makes one think a little.

We all know the reason for that. The reason was supplied by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, also. It is what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, called "the discontinuity of employment". Sociologically speaking, what is the special aspect of the women Peers? Personally speaking, of course, the noble Baroness Lady Cox—whom I congratulate on joining the Front Bench—would exemplify so well their abnormal charm, but sociologically speaking what is the factor? The factor is that, generally speaking, they have been able to rear families, to go in for local government, in many cases—I am not aiming this at anyone in particular—paid for by their husbands en route. They come here in middle life and make a great success, every now and then leading the House or acting as Chief Whip or acting in some other capacity. That is the position of women in the House of Lords, and I venture to say there is no side of British life where women are quite so prominent and influential as in the House of Lords. Possibly you might find it in the arts, but I doubt if you would find that even there.

What is the explanation? It has been touched on. They have been able to rear their families and acquire some eminent status, and then in middle life to come here. That is not true of the other professions, and in the House of Commons it is very much not so. That is the problem which has been dealt with very thoroughly by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

To take other occupations, I do not know how matters stand now in the City. For eight years I was chairman of a bank, and I used to lunch in the City every day. I never met a woman at lunch. As chairman of a bank I went to quite good lunches, and there were no women about. I do not know whether they are there now. Somebody said you might meet a financial analyst, some female journalist or something. You might, but by and large I suspect, from what I have been told, that it is still as it was then—that women just do not exist in the City compared with the men, or compared with their role here. So we have to think about that very carefully.

I have been in publishing, either as chairman or as peripheral director, for 15 years, and I have dealt with a great many young, talented and efficient women. In all those 15 years I know of only one who married and continued in the profession. Now that she has had two children she has retired to work at home. That is just one small example. That is the situation in that profession. I have mentioned the City and public life. My own wife, as some people know, had a lot of children—eight, if I remember rightly—and my three surviving daughters have had 12 children between them, and they have all been successful writers in their way, but working at home. That was the essence of it.

My dear friend Lady Warnock, whom I had the honour of helping to introduce the other day, has had five children. She has come here and no one could say that she has not succeeded in public life, but she has been based at home, at Girton, where she has now become the Mistress. Whether that counts as "home" I do not know, but at any rate she was able to succeed based at home. So I am talking of a pretty wide category. It is not the whole area of women, but it is a pretty large category. I am talking of the women who want to go out to work and want to succeed in their professions. I will not try to improve on the way it has been analysed and discussed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I am sure that the solution does lie primarily along the lines suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear; that is, finding some way of giving these people part-time work.

I am well within my time, but what has been said by other speakers is really what I should like to say, so I will endorse what they have said and now draw to a close.

Lord Annan

My Lords, would the noble Earl—is there any time to ask the noble Earl a question?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I will answer as far as I can at this stage, but if the noble Lord does so he would cut into other people's time; and it is a fairly strict time limit, anyway.

3.47 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, this is by no means a new problem. Sixty years ago my mother used to lecture to women's co-operative guilds on a subject then called, "Married Women in Paid Professions". That was in the days when most men believed that a woman's place was in the home. There was one problem, however, which the professional woman then did not have but which afflicts the professional woman today. Sixty years ago there was an ample supply of what was brutally called "cheap domestic labour". The professional woman did not have to neglect her home or do an exhausting double job. But that was her only advantage. She had to surmount a wall of masculine prejudice in her chosen profession and among her prospective clients, even among her own family.

That prejudice applied also to women going into public life. When my mother first contested a council election it was put about by the wicked Conservatives on the doorsteps that she was neglecting her children. There was only one answer: my sister and I were well scrubbed, pushed into our Sunday clothes and paraded on the political platforms. It was only natural that with such an upbringing I should do something to extend the opportunities for women in my own profession of journalism. I enabled Mary Waddington, who has become a great fighter for women's causes, to become one of the first women sub-editors on a daily newspaper, and I appointed a woman news editor. I had to withdraw the first woman municipal reporter because the committee chairmen were chaffed by their colleagues if they were seen having the necessary private conversations with her in the Gothic alcoves of Manchester Town Hall.

The war years got rid of such foolishness, which was never very strong in the metropolis anyway, and my noble friend Lady White, when she became one of the first women political correspondents at Westminster 40 years ago on the paper I was then editing, did not have that kind of problem. Today, I believe there are five women in the Lobby and 15 in the Public Gallery at Westminster.

As I say all this it sounds like pride, but it is pride that goeth before a fall. In 1971 there was the great women's liberation procession in London, and I went to the start to size it up and advise the newspaper group I then served. I was first invited and then challenged to join the procession, and this I did. It was the first demonstration I had taken part in since the protests against the Munich agreement.

Behind me there was a cohort of women singing that men could wash their own dirty underwear when the day of liberation came. In front of me was the Gay Liberation Front. In line with me were three young women: the first had a poster claiming abortion on demand, the second was claiming free contraception, and the third was dealing with the inability of women to get into high professional jobs. She claimed that one of the jobs that women could not get was that of an airline pilot. The first of these aims has been achieved. We do not have abortion on demand, but there is a liberal attitude on abortion. The second aim of free contraception has been with us for years with not even a prescription charge. The demand for women to become airline pilots took longer. However, I understand now that Dan Air have two female captains. That is not all that surprising: it is 50 years since Amy Johnson made her great pioneer flight.

Professional freedom has been harder for women to attain than the sexual freedoms which they had to have to hold certain jobs. We have recently had an example in reverse of the kind of prejudice that women had to suffer when there were objections to male midwives in spite of the fact that most gynaecologists are men.

I thought that by walking in this procession I had behaved in a gallant and progressive way. This was not how it was judged when I got home. I met derision. I was called the biggest hypocrite since Moliere's Tartuffe. Was not the great liberator—me—dependent on three female slaves; that is, a dedicated secretary, a devoted wife and a dutiful daughter? When had I ever looked up a telephone number, wiped a dish or changed a napkin? The charges were true. But they illustrate the difficulty that the male well-wishers of women's liberation have had in these past few years in bringing their conduct into line with their beliefs. I may add that in my experience some liberated women have had similar difficulties, claiming freedom while demanding the privileges of dependence. Individuals are not wholly to blame. We are all the victims of habit, the prisoners of inherited prejudice and convention. The younger generation is less entrapped by the past.

In recent years there has been a vast increase in the number of women in journalism. But we have not had a woman editor of a national daily or Sunday paper. Why not? It was not for any lack of talent. Two reasons spring immediatly to mind. If I was cosseted as an editor in office and in home it was a necessity because an editor works morning, noon and night and has heavy continuous responsibilty. How many ambitious women journalists can hope to get the good and complete answer to their domestic problems that I enjoyed? Indeed, I have known a number of masculine journalists who have sacrificed their careers by taking on domestic responsibilites which left them without the freedom they needed to go anywhere at any time and to stay there for as long as was needed. This domestic problem is one that has held back women from the highest jobs in a variety of professions.

The only way out that I can see is to professionalise housekeeping as we have professionalised the children's nurse. I hope we shall never return to the days of an ample supply of cheap domestic labour, but we might get an adequate supply of well-paid domestic skills to be available perhaps on a contract basis. If that housekeeping profession is to be highly paid then the people who will pay the high wage, the working husbands and wives, should have it chargeable against their taxes. I am speaking only of the highest jobs from which women are debarred by domestic circumstances.

What of the rest? I suppose that the new concepts of flexible hours will be a help, or we might get Government departments to provide more part-time jobs. I think the essence is that the jobs should be part-time, permanent and pensionable. This is perhaps the best way we can overcome the problems.

The problems at this level were well dealt with in today's Daily Mirror by its very down-to-earth, common-sense columnist Anne Robinson. She said: it's when a woman becomes a mother she realises that equality and independence through earning power has almost certainly taken a final and irrevocable leap out of the window … Once they (children) are born employers don't consider them and husbands rarely assume them to be a truly joint responsibility". She pleads, as so many have pleaded, for creches, etc. She concludes: In 1985 what we need is not so much rights for women but mothers' liberation". The other problem of the executive woman is masculine prejudice against being directed or supervised by a woman. When once I proposed a woman of brilliant flair as the editor of a Sunday paper, I was told, "The chaps would never stand for it!"

We have known some other chaps in another profession who seem to have overcome this problem. They include some noble Lords. We might ask them, not in this Chamber but perhaps in the privacy of the Bishops' Bar, how this miracle has been achieved.

3.56 p.m.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, I also add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for having introduced this debate today. I should also say how much I join the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, in welcoming so many men in our Chamber today. Particularly I should like to tell the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that not by any means was he intervening. I am delighted that six men are taking part in our debate on the status of women today, and everybody is most welcome.

The noble Earl told some amusing stories about the first entry of women life Peers to this House and the problems that it created in the Library and in the lavatories. I agree with him that the women I have met in this House have been outstanding women and we can now say perhaps that we have truly arrived when that little room next to the Printed Paper Office belongs to the Peeresses.

We have had outstanding speeches from all Members of this House on the position of women in employment The Motion also mentions women in public life. I should like to concentrate purely on the problem which women find in taking part in public life. We have moved a long way since I came to live in this country. I remember, when I first arrived here just after the war, taking my passport to the passport office to have my son's name put on it, so that I could go to see my parents. I was told I could not do that without my husband's permission. I asked, "If he wants it put on his passport, do I have to give my permission?" I was told, "No".

We must as women admit that in law we have achieved virtual equality. We have moved a long way in public life from the principle that for a long time prevailed of the "statutory woman" on almost every authority. In some cases we have lost the statutory woman and in others we have improved our position.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, referred to the report issued jointly by the Equal Opportunities Commission, the three main political parties and the Women's National Commission on the position of women in public life. This report is very revealing and has produced some interesting results which are worthy of note. It was always my understanding that the Public Appointments Unit was of great importance when Ministers or administrators had to select people suitable for public committees or authorities. I find in this report that the Public Appointments Unit has only 4,500 names on its list and of those only 16 per cent. are women. But if I read a little further, I also find that 28,000 appointments of one kind or another are made in a year; yet there are only 4,500 names on the list. Obviously, those appointments are made on another basis. They are made, as has been mentioned, very often, through the old boy network, and this is where I think perhaps women ought to learn a lesson from men. I have not really heard of the old girl network; but the old boy network certainly functions very strongly and maybe we, as women, should learn something from it.

Because the Public Appointments Unit cannot supply enough names of people suitable for appointment, use is made of such nominating bodies as the TUC and the CBI, and they are almost totally male orientated. This equally applies to such nominating bodies as the professional organisations and associations. One of the few I can think of which is not male orientated is that for the nurses and midwives. In my eight years as a health authority chairman, I have had quite a lot of personal experience of nominations, particularly from the TUC. As the House is aware, every health authority has a member nominated by the TUC member; nominations are submitted by the TUC. In my region there were a regional health authority, five area health authorities and later 14 or 13 (I cannot quite remember now) district health authorities. Not a single nominee of the TUC was other than male. We never once had the opportunity of appointing a woman as a TUC representative to the health authorities—and one would have thought that this was particularly the kind of authority where even the TUC might have thought that a woman would be useful.

There is another sad thing. In the Health Service today not a single chairman of a regional health authority is a woman. In 1974 there were two—myself and Dame Betty Paterson. But as soon as we retired we were replaced by men. I feel that this is a great sadness. I really admired Sir Keith Joseph when he made his original appointments because he appointed two women as chairmen of regional health authorities. This practice has now fallen by the wayside. We must therefore ask ourselves what possible remedies we can look for to break into the old boy network and the mainly male-orientated nominating bodies. I believe that we could base our experience on what took place in Wales where, for appointment to health authorities, for instance, general advertisements were placed in the press and the uptake by women in response to the advertisements was most heartening.

I think that this could be used to much greater effect but it is administratively rather cumbersome. Be that as it may, if it resulted in a greater number of women being appointed to public bodies, I believe it would be worthwhile. I also believe that there should be much more clearly defined criteria for appointments. It is too often the habit when somebody retires to look for an appointee who is just like the person who is being replaced. Nobody has ever really worked out proper criteria that should apply to the various appointments to the different types of organisations, bodies and committees.

As has already been mentioned what also militates against women being appointed to public bodies is the fact that their representation in political life is nothing like it should be. It is often true that you are appointed to a committee because you are a political representative or because in public life you have made your name in politics; therefore you are appointed to most interesting and absorbing committees. Only 4 per cent. of the Members of the House of Commons are women; we all know that. But I was absolutely staggered to read that only 18 per cent. of the members of metropolitan and county councils are women. I had thought that the proportion was much higher. In Sweden, where I was born, the proportion of women in the equivalent to the House of Commons is 28 per cent; which to me represents a much more satisfactory number.

We may ask ourselves what is the reason for this situation. I think that we must look at the social conditions which have been referred to under which women in this country labour. In order to take even a part-time interest in public life they need social support. As a country we have one of the lowest percentage of nursery places for the under-fives in Europe. Additionally, in our new desire to move people from the big institutions—something which I thoroughly support—back into the community we have placed an additional burden on the women of this country. My noble friend Lady Seear referred to this. I believe that now about 13 per cent. of the women of this country have caring responsibilities which prevent them from taking part in public life unless they are given the support which the community services really should provide. I believe, too, that a change in recruitment and a change in support services could immeasurably improve women's opportunities to take part in public life.

4.8 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, my noble friend has chosen for her Motion a subject which can always do with an airing. For that reason, we are extremely grateful to her. Indeed, the very fact that we are having this debate is ample proof that the circumstances surrounding a woman's place in society are infinitely less firmly structured than those for a man. Moreover, those circumstances are more vulnerable to the economic pendulum of the times. So, all in all, I think there would be general agreement that it is much harder to be a woman than a man; and while that situation remains unchanged there will always be a need for the whole subject to be discussed: although I cannot help feeling that if the situation had been reversed and this debate had been concerned with men's position in society, then not very much levity would have been allowed to creep into this debate.

However, I should like to focus on the central theme of this Motion; namely, the position of women who are left or are impelled to fill the two major roles of being a mother and a worker. I believe it to be true that we live in a society which accepts that this should be so but which has done very little, and that in a very half-hearted way, to adapt to the changes which have flowed from the increased share of work now carried out by married women outside the home. Based on the fact that, out of the 43 per cent. who represent the number of women in the workforce, over two-thirds of that percentage are married, we can only ask ourselves what has been done to help those women carry out this very heavy burden.

The key questions would seem to me to be the following: first, the question as to whether the attitudes towards the working mother have changed. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, brought out this point and I think it is a very important one. Secondly, there is the question as to whether sufficient adjustment has been made in the whole network of benefits and taxation arrangements to accommodate the situation. After all, it must be remembered that only 5 per cent. of parents now conform to the old style of the bread-winning husband and the entirely domesticated wife with two dependent children.

Thirdly, have fathers accepted that it is really their combined role, with their wives, to bring up their children? Has any legislation been devised to support this dual role? Next, has the provision of child care facilities grown or receded? Are women suffering discrimination where training opportunities are concerned? While more and more emphasis is being put on policies for care in the community, are women taking on the major burden as carers? I feel these are the leading questions, and there are indeed many others which need to be answered so that we can decide whether women are achieving a more equal place with men in the labour market.

First, however, what are the answers? The answer as to whether attitudes are changing I think must be, "Yes, but slowly". It has already been explained by my noble friend that Britain took the lead in introducing the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts, followed by the setting up of the Equal Opportunities Commission. Now European legislation has forced us to strengthen equal pay legislation and to strengthen women's rights a little further. Such Government measures must do a great deal to dislodge old, entrenched views as to the place of women; but that is not really everything. Indeed, the danger then is that many people will sit back and say, "We have done our best, we have created a framework in which women will have equal rights and we can now sit back".

The important part, as has already been said, is to turn the principle into reality so far as women are concerned. Also, there is no doubt that part of our tax and social security system discriminates against the working mother. That has already been made clear. If she is part of a two-parent family she would undoubtedly benefit from the abolition of the married man's allowance and the introduction of a system of mandatory independent taxation for herself. If she is a single parent-working mother, then the system does not make any suitable accommodation for her. The recommendation that, in line with widowed mothers, she should receive a non-means-tested and noncontributory one-parent family benefit has been consistently rejected ever since it was made.

My third point relates to the attitude of a father regarding the sharing of responsibility with his wife in bringing up their children. I have no doubt, from the young couples I know, that among them the father fully welcomes and accepts his joint involvement. Indeed, he probably deplores the fact that in bygone days the father's choice—his own choice—was limited so that he spent all his time out of the house, returning in the evening so tired that he could not enjoy his home, family or children. The woman's choice, meanwhile, was limited to working in the house and she was deprived of the wider experience which a growing number of women both wanted and needed to achieve.

Having conceded that, let us look at what legislation has been brought in to support young parents who wish to take an equal position in the bringing up of their children. As has been said already, the very disappointing reply to this is revealed in part through the Government's reaction to the recent debate in your Lordships' House on the European Community's committee report on parental leave. The Government rejected the recommendation of the committee that there should be a minimum period of one month's leave for each parent while the child is under two years of age. From the number of your Lordships who have mentioned this aspect, it would seem important for the Government to think again and see whether they could in some way bring themselves into line with many of our European neighbours, who have a very much better record over parental leave.

Indeed, in Sweden, which usually seems to head the league, either parent can take six months off with 90 per cent. of pay in the first year of the child's life, or that can be shared between them. Norway has a similar scheme but it allows for a shorter period. France also has a scheme whereby either the mother or the father can take periods adding up to two years of unpaid leave to care for their children, and they can decide which one will take it. Not only do these methods draw the parents together in their joint responsibility of caring for their children but the major obstacle to employers taking on women must thereby be removed.

Turning to child care facilities, without which working-class mothers at any rate face a hopeless obstacle to employment, the picture here in Britain does not look very good. Our state nursery schools absorb only 1 per cent. of the country's 3 million under-fives; another 22 per cent. of our under-fives have private nursery education and 18 per cent. are admitted to primary schools. The French, who I think are really at the top as regards giving priority to child care provision, absorb all their four-to-five-year-olds in nursery schools, together with 88 per cent. of their three-year-olds and 33 per cent. of their two-year-olds. There is no doubt that our low rate of child care provision will be further aggravated by the rate capping and by the abolition of the GLC, because so many of the projects concerned with child care facilities are at the moment funded by the GLC and the boroughs.

With regard to the training opportunities for women, I should merely like to reiterate how the lack of child care facilities often prevents young mothers availing themselves of training opportunities. I should like to mention, as my one example, a particular instance, whereby one-parent mothers can be denied training facilities. That occurs in the case of two Government-sponsored national training schemes: the YTC and the Training Opportunities Programme. In neither case do the MSC or the DHSS take responsibility for the payment of child care costs for women while training. The result is that either a young woman will suffer terrible impoverishment by putting her child into nursery care at her own expense or she will have to deny herself the opportunity of bettering herself and remain on supplementary benefit. That indeed does seem an ironic discrimination when one recalls that these schemes were specially devised to help young unskilled women to become more self-reliant.

Finally, who are the carers who look after not only small children but the disabled, the frail and the elderly? I think there can be no doubt that the majority of those carers are certainly women. It really does seem wrong that there should not be a fairer division of labour in this regard and also that those who are unable to earn as a result of these responsibilities should not be helped by means of a proper carer's allowance. That, again, is a point which has been brought up in your Lordships' House on many an occasion.

This is not the first time that some of these points have been raised; but while the anomalies, injustices and obstacles continue to affect the position of women in economic and social affairs—which is the subject of my noble friend's debate—it seems right to bring them up again and again. Indeed, would it not seem a strange paradox when in years to come we look back at the present coincidence of the first-ever Government led by a woman, combined with a continued undermining of working women's opportunities? It must be recognised that at no point does the Government's record display enough sympathy for the Prime Minister's peers and contemporaries who, like her, also happen to be working family women.

4.19 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I must first apologise to your Lordships for my lateness and, therefore, for having, to my regret, missed the noble Baroness's introductory speech and other early speeches. I shall read them with great interest in Hansard tomorrow. Unfortunately, I became aware of this debate only late last week and, although fortunately I was able to put forward an important engagement, I was unable to cancel it.

Following as I do the noble Baroness's distinguished chairmanship of the Equal Opportunities Commission, to which I take great pleasure in paying sincere tribute, this subject is naturally very close to my heart, as it is to hers.

We are now coming to the end of our first decade. The Sex Discrimination Act was passed in late 1975 with, I am glad to say, all-party support, and the commission was set up. In its early years, the commission was dealing with complex and novel legislation and in that position you always have to learn some things the hard way. The commission was fortunate in the experience built up by professional staff and commissioners, so that it has established a sensible and respected reputation.

The position of women is changing fast. Now the majority of married women work full or part-time. In 1921, married women formed 3.8 per cent. of the workforce, rising to 11.8 per cent. in 1951, and to 25.9 per cent. in 1981. Women as a whole now form approximately 40 per cent. of the total labour force. Only 5 per cent. of households today are made up of working husband, economically inactive wife and two dependent children. On average, a women is likely to be out of employment for less than four years after the birth of a child. Later, as their families grow older and more independent, they are likely still to have 20 years' full-time work ahead of them.

Often they work as a matter of necessity. There are 1.6 million families, of whom 1.2 million are dependent on women as the breadwinner. Three times as many families would be on supplementary benefit if the wife were not earning, too. Sadly, the divorce rate is increasing, which is likely to make the situation worse. Women, from both choice and necessity, are part of the workforce. Their skills and talents, like those of men, are available to make their contribution to their own prosperity and that of industry and commerce in this country. Still, however, women are concentrated in a narrow range of low-paid, unskilled areas of work. About two-thirds of women, according to last year's Department of Employment survey, are working only with women. Unfortunately, that might be described as women's work.

Women's hourly earnings, in comparison with men's, have risen only from 63 per cent. at the time of the passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1970 to a plateau of about 74 per cent. over the past few years. In January 1984, the equal pay for work of equal value amendment was passed—too complex, in our view, for all concerned. Nevertheless, it provides an opportunity for obtaining a further rise in that proportion, so that women may be more fairly rewarded for their work.

Yesterday was a milestone in the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission at the end of its first decade. We launched our new code of practice, and many influential people, including my honourable friend Mr. Tom King, Secretary of State for Employment, Sir Terence Beckett, Director-General of the CBI, and Mr. Norman Willis, General Secretary of the TUC, came to speak in favour of it. We were very fortunate that all those influential people were prepared to give their time to back our code. That will be of great help in the future in giving the code the necessary impetus.

As many people have said today, we still have a long way to go. We are pleased that the code is being published by the Stationery Office and we already have thousands of requests for it. This final version represents the cumulative experience of the Equal Opportunities Commission during years of continuous dialogue with employers, trade unions, Government departments and national organisations such as the Institute of Personnel Management and groupings of small employers. We have been most grateful for their positive and constructive help.

I pay tribute with pleasure to the long, patient and careful work of our own staff and commissioners in bringing together all the different points of view. That ensures that the final version incorporates a wealth of combined wisdom, experience and expertise. We believe that the code of practice is practical and refers to life in industry and commerce as it is really lived today and that no employer can afford to be without it.

In preparing it, the EOC had in mind employment opportunities and people—those who provide employment and those who seek it. It is about fairness for women and men in line with the spirit of the legislation, the legislation itself and its ensuing case law, the practical experience of the people we consulted and our own, and the need to maximise the use of the most important resources in any organisation—the human resources.

As your Lordships know, the code of practice is all one, in that any part is admissible in evidence before a tribunal. It is, at the same time, in three parts—you might say a veritable trinity. The first part shows how to act as the law requires now. It sets out the role of good employment practices in eliminating sex and marriage discrimination. The legislation is complex and difficult to understand. Most people in this country actively wish to obey the law, and we hope that our recommendations, which are short and to the point, will help everybody to understand the law better.

It is clearly laid out under headings, such as Recruitment and its Sources, Selection, Promotion Transfer and Training, Terms of Employment, Grievances, Disciplinary Procedures, Dismissals and Redundancies. We hope it will show all those involved—employers, employees and trade unions—where justice lies and how to act according to the law. We believe it will help to avoid costly and damaging litigation and assist in the management of change for the better for women in the economic field.

The second part shows how to give effect to the spirit of the legislation and the role of good employment practices in promoting equality of opportunity between women and men. Here there is likely to be some cost, but we believe that this is investment in developing the talents of people; the sort of investment which results in future profit to companies—the best sort of management of resources.

Part III is a legal annex describing the relationship between the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act and it quotes relevant sections from the legislation. It sets out the legal background on a simple basis. Many people have backed us, as well as our speakers yesterday. My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment, Peter Bottomley, said last autumn: Where people are not given an equal opportunity to contribute their skills, employers will suffer … Discrimination is bad business.". John Cassels, Director General of NEDO at the WISE Conference last autumn said: At a time when the demand for skills and competence is rising fast, what could be more ludicrous than to overlook the contribution which half the population can offer? If social justice fails to carry the day, economics will. There are many distinguished people speaking for us.

We feel it is very important, as the CBI stated at their conference last autumn, to have a clear and consistent strategy known to everyone. A written equal opportunities policy promotes a sense of security and trust between employer and employee, particularly if it is seen to have the backing and active support of management at the highest level. That gives it proper and sensible authority, and both men and women at all levels of the company can feel on firm ground in carrying it out.

At our launching of the code yesterday, the CBI issued at the same time their equal opportunities guide and statement, and we were very glad that they did this in parallel with our code. They did it to encourage employers to develop their own clear equal opportunities policy. As they said, Many companies who operate a formal policy of equal opportunities in employment believe that it makes sound business sense in terms of developing the full potential of employees. We are very encouraged that more and more companies are paying serious attention to equal opportunity policies and that a number have put such policies into effect already—before the code was issued. Their successful experience will be of great help for succeeding companies who follow them and we hope that there will be many more.

The Engineering Council, of which I am a member, recently quoted statistics. In 1981 there were 900,000 18 year-olds. In 1995 there will be only 600,000 18 year-olds. That is a dramatic drop in available human talent at a time when our population is ageing fast; I expect that I shall be nearly in my grave.

I was asked by the CBI to chair a syndicate in response to the Butcher Committee on the shortage of IT skills. It is clear that there will be an increasing shortage of skilled talent in these fields for the remainder of the century. With the advent of the cashless society, the installation of computer-aided design and manufacturing, robotics and the automation of all booking systems, that shortage can only get worse. As the chairman of a chain store said that day, we are all the customers now.

There will be intense competition for the more able amongst those 18 year-olds in all fields, whatever their specialism and level. I am not talking just about technicians and technologists but also about the ever-increasing knowledge-based workforce. To paraphrase Sir Kenneth Corfield, chairman of STC, they will need to be able to see, understand and control the application of the new technologies in their own fields.

This underlines the importance of the continuation of the WISE campaign in schools, colleges and universities to see that girls play their full part in meeting the need for those technical skills and talents in the future—but that is a long-term measure.

I am sorry, my Lords, but it appears that I have overrun my time. I did not realise that one should speak for only 10 minutes. I did have more to say.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, one speaker has withdrawn from the list and so perhaps the House will agree that my noble friend may continue.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

I am most grateful, my Lords. It was endlessly repeated at the CBI meeting which I chaired that the short-term answer to the problem must lie in maximising the talents of the existing workforce. Helping women to bridge the career break, to combine responsible family life and a career, makes good commercial sense, and to see to it that expensive investment in education, training and in-house expertise is not lost either to the employer or the employee should be the order of the day.

I will omit the quotation I had intended to give from your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology, but there again the importance of women and girls in these fields was particularly emphasised—especially that of mature woman. There are many mature women within the workforce today who are not fulfilling their capabilities, who are willing to retrain to attain promotion and responsibility and who did not have that opportunity when they were young. Enlightened employers will seek them out and will enable such women, equally with men, to use their skills and talents.

Recently, I visited Japan with the Select Committee. The Japanese find themselves in the same situation of having an ageing but developing nation. They are realising, at last, that they too must use the talents of women, taking on women software engineers, with equality legislation now going through their Parliament. We have a head start; let us not lose it as we have done in so many fields.

I hope that the code of practice will become a modern manager's manual. I hope it will mean that more women will go into management, as indeed they are doing, and that more women will be appointed to boards of directors. I can never understand how a company can decide to sell its products throughout the world without having half its customers represented on its board.

Perhaps I may conclude by referring to the subject of parental leave. We support the European directive which your Lordships recently debated and hope that the Government will, as they promised, enter consultations and find some way through so that that proposal can be supported in Europe.

We feel very strongly that women are the carers in society. We want to see voluntary work continue but we need statutory support to ensure that women are not left on their own without backing. Both central and local government need to see to that. We need also to equalise the pension age. We are delighted that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is considering individualising tax.

I shall now end my remarks. I will finish by welcoming this debate. As your Lordships can tell from the way I have been turning over the pages of my speech, I have omitted much of what I had intended to say. Still, I hope that as a result of drawing attention to this vital subject we shall see an improvement in the economic and social position of women and in the position of women in public life, bringing true equality of opportunity for women in their train.

4.36 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, unlike the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I feel no necessity to apologise for participating in this debate. I believe that I am qualified to do so, if only as the sole male member of my party's women's committee. I was also privileged to spend some years as the chairman of the board of governors of a girls' school having some 1,350 pupils in London. I may say that I was successor to and succeeded by a lady chairperson.

Moreover, it has always seemed to me, having been brought up in a feminist household, that it is we males who stand to gain most from women's equality. I was pleased to note that the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, mentioned equalisation of the state retirement pension. That is one material way in which we might stand to gain from women's equality.

There is a much more serious and less material aspect which I believe in and with which, I imagine, many other men would agree. It is that true, lasting and deep relationships between men and women are possible only when women are given equality or when women take equality; when men and women are equal.

I want to address myself this afternoon to one point alone. It is one to which I hope the noble Lord who is to speak for the Government will spend a moment or two addressing himself. I speak in particular of the discrimination in the immigration rules. It is of course racial discrimination, but I am not going to speak about that aspect of it this afternoon. I am concerned here with sex discrimination in the immigration rules.

Let me simply state the situation; a situation that has led since February 1983 to the imposition of deliberate sex discrimination in our immigration practices in this country. It is discrimination so gross that it is now being tested before the European Court of Justice. It is a matter of shame that a British practice should have to be taken to the European Court of Justice in respect of any matter concerning human rights and particularly on the issue of sex discrimination.

The rules as they stand at present mean that a wife who is a British citizen has no right to have her husband join her in this country. It means that a fiancée who is a British citizen has no right to have her fiancé from abroad join her in this country. Neither wives nor fiancées, if they are British citizens, have as a right the power to be joined in this country by their foreign husbands or fiancés. What can be more sexually discriminatory than the fact that if the case involves a man, if it is a husband or a fiancé, he has an absolute right to be joined either by his wife or by his fiancée from abroad? This is an absolute right.

Secondly, if the woman is not a British citizen—and remember, my Lords, it takes both time and money to gain British citizenship; I believe it costs roughly 160 and takes about two-and-a-half years—whether she is a wife or a fiancée, there is very little chance at all that she will be joined by either her husband or fiancé. That is not the case for men. Men are entitled, whether husbands or fiancés, even if they are not British citizens, to be joined by their wives or fiancées in this country. Can the Minister say that that is not deliberate sex discrimination?

What does this arise from? Surely it arises only from the concept mentioned by my noble friend Lady Lockwood, that there is still an attitude that the male is the head of the household. But as my noble friend pointed out, a very large percentage of women are now working. According to Department of Employment figures, 63 per cent. of women in this country are economically active. I know that it is said that these rules are specifically designed to keep out Asian men, but over 40 per cent. of Asian adult women in this country are working and that number is rising; so that excuse is disappearing. In any case, do this Government accept that the male is to be considered as head of the household? Is that excuse to be used to separate husbands and wives, to keep families apart and to keep children out of the country?

We have heard much talk about Victorian values. Which Victorian value does this rule observe? Was it not one of the Victorian values to keep families together and to create situations in which they could live together? Is that the Victorian value that is being observed by the application of these grossly discriminatory immigration rules? I suggest that the Government have a case to answer and that by their immigration rules they are quite deliberately keeping families apart, keeping children from their parents, keeping wives from their husbands, and husbands from their wives, and preventing fiancés from getting married in this country.

This is not a minor issue. It is estimated that since these rules began to be applied in February 1983, 60 per cent. of the applications by husbands to enter this country in order to be with their wives have been refused. They have been refused on all sorts of grounds. As I said, even if the wife is a British citizen, she has no absolute right for her husband to join her. The way in which the immigration rules are applied means that the immigration officers have a great deal of subjective attitudes towards the applications for entry certificates. Moreover, perhaps even worse, is it realised that if a husband is deported from this country, the wife is automatically deported too; but if a wife is deported, it does not apply to the husband? I suggest that this is a case which the Minister should answer. I suggest that perhaps it is those Victorian values in which the women was considered to be inferior, in which the man was considered to be the head and the ruler of the household that are being applied in this case.

I remind noble Lords that this same principle was adopted by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party when he talked about kinder, kirche and kiiche—children, church and kitchen—as the right place for women. I suggest that there is no such philosophy acceptable to the people of this country and that it is high time we did not have to rely on the European Court of Justice to apply the ordinary, universally accepted, concepts of justice so far as our community is concerned.

4.47 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, it is interesting (is it not?) fellow nobles, that we have all addressed ourselves this afternoon as, "My Lords". We all do that, of course, because we know that it includes everybody in the Chamber. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, made a point about chairpersons, and I must say that I agree that that is trivialising an important problem by people who insist on worrying about the symbols and not the problem behind them. I agree strongly with the noble Baroness on that point.

The position was reduced to total absurdity some time ago when a young Liberal of my acquaintance named Guy Chapman was always referred to as, "Person Personperson". But this is a serious matter and we were right to be rebuked by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for perhaps indulging in a little too much hilarity; but generally we have dealt with it as a serious matter. We have had many serious contributions to the debate and we are extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for introducing it.

Noble Lords in this House, and men everywhere, need to listen to debates of this sort, because I believe we can always learn an enormous amount—even those of us who believe we are reasonably liberated. Even those of us who believe we are on the side of the angels nevertheless from time to time receive a nasty shock when we realise that we are perhaps being patronising or not able to understand the full depths of the problem as it is seen by the women around us, even if we communicate with them particularly well.

One of the comments that I wish to make today to all noble Baronesses who have taken part—all of whom have taken their seats in this House because they are outstanding people—is that we may not have emphasised enough today that some of the major problems in our society in relation to women taking their proper place in society have nothing at all to do with women of first-class ability because, on the whole, they do eventually get there. It is the second-class women who find it difficult to compete for places with second-class men. That is an area we ought perhaps to explore in more detail at a later stage.

I have two particular subjects on which I should like to dwell for a minute or two. First, I have a tremendous bee in my bonnet—and this matter has been touched on very well by the noble Baroness, Lady Platt—about the dreadful lack of women in engineering and science in this country. As she rightly said, we are coming to a time when we shall be extremely short of talent. We are already short of talent in engineering. It is absolutely criminal that our education system is in a state where it recycles a lack of expertise in engineering. We have the awful problem of there not being enough women physics graduates to restock our educational system to bring on more women graduates. Although co-education may be making some impact on that, it is worrying that some of the statistics indicate that no real breakthrough is taking place. I welcome very much what the noble Baroness said about the industrial end of breaking that cycle.

The other subject on which I wish to touch is the question of parliamentary candidates. It is a matter of which I have had experience and I thought perhaps it was worth while putting that experience into this debate, not on behalf of a particular party but on behalf of all political parties. I was for three years the chairman of my party. On two occasions at general elections I was responsible for fielding candidates on behalf of the Liberal Party up and down the country. I spent quite a lot of time trying to encourage women to stand as parliamentary candidates—trying to get them to go on the list of prospective candidates.

It is my belief that apart from certain pockets—this may be more or less so in various parties—there is not now a lot of overt discrimination against women becoming parliamentary candidates. The problem is finding the women who are prepared and able and have the experience to go on those lists. As we have heard so often this afternoon in relation to careers in industry, it is the discontinuity and breaks in the experience pattern at crucial times which affect women. That is true not only of women in industry, trade and commerce but also in politics.

I was taken to pieces by the 300 Group on one occasion a couple of years ago. I really must pay tribute to the group for the work that it is doing in trying to encourage women to come forward into public life and particularly to become candidates for Parliament. What I had not realised and what it told me very firmly was the psychological barriers to women coming back into politics after they have spent time at home rearing their families. There is a sense that somehow they are not capable of standing up and making speeches and simply cannot pit themselves against men. It is a purely psychological barrier but it is something through which they need to be helped. I believe that the 300 Group is going a long way towards helping them. Long may it continue.

As my noble friend said, the true discrimination is that intangible discrimination. It goes deep into our society. It starts in our homes and with our parents. Male chauvinist pigs are created by mothers who say, "Leave that. I'll do it". Conversely, the lack of girls' knowledge of the physical sciences and, say, do-it-yourself, is created by fathers. They refuse to accept that girls are as capable of doing jobs about the home as boys. It is at that level that so many discriminatory effects start.

We need to get to the stage where children at an early age take it as normal, whatever sex they are, that they will share the work in the home. Only when we get that psychological change in our society will married couples begin to share the work properly and recognise that, although women have a particular role in bringing up children, the chores about the house ought to be shared equally. The man should not come home, do a bit of washing up and feel that he has done something remarkably good. To an extent I think that all the men in this place have probably done that from time to time.

We need education for household chores. I commend to your Lordships a splendid article by Katherine Whitehorn in the Observer on Sunday, which said that if only we had education for households as we have education for sex, life would be a lot better for all concerned.

I do not propose to make a conventional winding-up speech. We have heard an awful lot of extremely interesting and important speeches this afternoon. I hope that we can all learn from them, and I hope that this is a subject that we shall come back to over and over again. As has been said, it is important for all of us.

4.56 p.m.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, I shall do my best from these Benches briefly to respond to a most important debate and not trespass on the time of the noble Lord the Minister. First, I join in the thanks offered to my noble friend Lady Lockwood for introducing this Motion for short debate, especially with her wide and profound experience of the problems. Indeed, we have heard also from her successor in the chair at the Equal Opportunities Commission, the noble Baroness, Lady Platt.

One of the last acts of my noble friend Lady Lockwood as she left the chair at the commission was, I believe, to bring into being the reformed publication which is now called Equality Now rather than the more mundane News of the Commission, as I think it was. From what has been said today, why should we not have equality now? In the circumstances of the points made by speakers in the debate, the burden of proof has surely moved on to those who resist equality at any point of the social, economic or political compass. Even The Times last year, speaking about the famous Martin Roberts survey on the 1980 position of women in employment, said that there had been advances but that the advance was too gradual to give any room for complacency. If The Times is of that view, we should stir everyone, including ourselves, into greater action.

May I touch upon points looking outward and then two points looking more domestically inwards? Of the points looking outward, my noble friend and other speakers have touched upon our position in the European Community, and especially of course the Government's apparent dragging of their feet on the issue of parental leave where we seem to be a long way behind our partners in the Community. I put that in the context today of asking the Minister what the Government's programme is for the positive action policy to which they committed us as one of the member states which signed the recommendation of the Council of Ministers on 31st December 1984.

As I understand it, we have agreed to adopt a positive action policy on equality for women—positive action on awareness of the opportunities and need for greater equality, on the dignity of women at the workplace, on diversification of vocational choice, on guidance and counselling services, on promotion of women in professions and sectors, and so on. All that must be new because the preamble to the recommendation states that it is agreed because existing legal and social provisions are inadequate.

The Government should be telling us today not merely about parental leave but about a wide variety of matters. I hope that on that aspect, too, although it is not quite in the same frame, that the noble Lord the Minister will respond to my noble friend Lord Hatch. My noble friend Lord Hatch brought before your Lordships a situation which, in terms of civil liberties, seems to me little less than scandalous. Is it really true that there is automatic deportation of wives? Will the Government continue with such a practice?

Perhaps I may look around domestically as it were. Although, in the light of the many points that have been made, it is difficult to raise any new matters, perhaps I may touch upon some points relating to employment and some relating to education. In the debate last week, which covered a similar area, my noble friend Lord Monkswell said that, speaking as a manager, he certainly saw the need to promote the training and education of young women as well as of men in the field of technology and the like. However, he also said that those in charge of such programmes must make sure that this will not be used as a source of cheap labour, driving down the wages and salaries of those currently working in the industry.

I think we had better face the fact that male prejudice certainly exists and it is not justified by the second belief, whether it be a prejudice or a fact, that working women are sometimes used as cheap labour. For a programme of advance, it is very important to face the fact that there is that belief and, to answer it, if it be not true, by showing it to be not true, or, if it be true, by removing that obstacle to equality.

In the employment field there is great need for further movement. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act leave out very many subjects. This is not in any way a party point. I am very proud of my party for being in Government for most of the time when those Acts were passed. Nevertheless, they leave much to be desired and we must move on and not merely let the forces of the market cope with women workers. That is especially important because, as noble Lords and noble Baronesses have pointed out, 40 per cent. or more—possibly even by this year 45 per cent.—of the workforce are now working women. Two-thirds of them are married.

Let us take the, new jobs that have been created. I pause to say that any new job is good rather than bad. Nevertheless, let us look at the Government figures. If we take 1984, we realise that 187,000 of the new jobs created were part-time jobs, mainly with women workers and, to a very great degree, jobs with depressed pay.

I do not wish in any way to criticise my noble friends and the noble Lords and Baronesses who have spoken about professional careers. That is a very important matter. However, I wish to concentrate upon what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, called the ghetto of under-paid women workers. For them, too, there are no nurseries for the under-fives as there are in some countries across the Channel. The breaks and the discontinuity in working life for them are perhaps more difficult than ever.

This area of partly, but not solely, part-time women workers, many of whom are married and who have downward mobility in the labour market when they come back after rearing children, constitutes, at a conservative estimate, at least 3 million: 2.2 million in the wages council areas and many of the others in sectors such as contract cleaning.

The ACAS report of 1981 on contract cleaning found 200,000 women working less than 29 hours at very low rates indeed, both in terms of rates of wages and in terms of earnings. Some of them were supported to some extent by the fair wages resolution, which insisted on minimum conditions. Others had Whitley Council rates that were observed by slightly different routes. Of course the 2.2 million workers in wages council industries have at least the minimum rates of the wages councils.

I know of many faults and criticisms—indeed, justified criticisms—of some wages councils. Nevertheless the fact remains that those minima are there. What the Government are doing across the board is to take those minima away. The fair wages resolution has been rescinded. Wages councils will be either abolished or kneecapped in the coming consideration of Government policy which has been announced. The Central Policy Review staff suggested that they should not be abolished but only reformed by being severely restricted, and look what happened to the CPRS. We fear the worst.

Women who are weak, who are vulnerable and who are under-unionised are the first victims of this insatiable drive for lower wages. My noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs commented on the link between the lack of nursery places and the Government's policies in relation to local authorities, including rate-capping and the like. Across the entire area of Government policies in regard to employment, the drive for lower wages in some areas of employment is leading to the removal of the statutory props that kept up certain minima—one might even say certain minima of decency.

It seems to me that that is something to which, in this context, this Government have to give a special answer: not their general answer about market forces but an answer as to what is to happen to those women workers in wages council industries and in contract cleaning who have taken a more than 20 per cent. wage cut in the last year or so.

Let me say one word about education and then make one final comment, otherwise I shall trespass on the Minister's time. First, the educational system that we have is very unfair. I do not believe it to be a true record of the talent of the girls who leave school at 16 and do not go into Youth Training Scheme (which is the only statistic we have since the Government here, as in so many places, have changed the survey basis) that those girls include 58 per cent. who have not one O level pass at C grade or above. I do not believe that to be a true record of the talent of the nation.

From a Written Answer which my honourable friends in another place obtained last week, it is now possible to calculate that the percentage of sixth form school leavers from maintained schools who go to universities and polytechnics is the same today and the percentage of sixth formers who go from independent public schools is also more or less the same, from now back to 1974–75. In other words, the class structure of our educational system remains, and that hits working class girls more than anyone, in the spread of talent, in the student force.

Finally there was one point which my noble friend Lord Hatch made with which I should like to conclude. It is this. We are not discussing a matter of sectoral or special interest. Women's rights are a matter for men as well as women. Women's equality is a matter for the nation. Unless we face the issue and promote equality now, we shall be doing damage not only to men and to women but to our children and to the nation's future.

5.8 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, conscious that this has been a wide debate and time is not exactly on my side, I nevertheless join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for giving us the opportunity to consider today the important questions of the role of women in economic and social affairs and in public life. As she said, women make up slightly more than half our population; the contribution they do, and could, make to the life of the country is rightly a matter of the greatest importance to us all. And it is perhaps particularly timely that your Lordships should have an opportunity to consider these matters in 1985, the year which marks the end of the United Nations Decade for Women and the tenth anniversary of the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, mentioned.

I should like to begin my remarks by reaffirming the Government's belief in a policy of equal opportunity for all and their commitment to the creation of a society in which every individual is able to play a full part.

The role of the law in the creation of such a society is an important one. Anti-discrimination legislation underpins the right to equal treatment. Without statutory backing the assertion of rights provides no guarantee of progress. The law must declare and establish the minimum requirements of behaviour needed to ensure that all our people have equal scope to participate in every important aspect of life. It must provide protection against discrimination. In 1985 this statement of the role of the law is, I believe, very widely accepted; but it was not always so. Ten years ago enactment of the Sex Discrimination Act and the implementation of the Equal Pay Act 1970 represented the culmination of a long campaign to secure effective laws against sex discrimination in this country. That campaign is one in which the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, played a leading role and I think she will agree that the wide acceptance of the legislation, and of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which was established by the Act, and of which she was the first distinguished chairman, and my noble friend Lady Platt her distinguished successor, is a measure of the extent to which attitudes have changed over the last 10 years.

The Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act provided for the first time legal protection and a legal remedy against the kind of discriminatory behaviour which previously had all too often frustrated the ambitions of women to play a full and active part in public life. For the first time women had the right to challenge in our courts actions which denied them an equal chance at work, equal treatment in education, equal access to credit facilities and equality in the provision of other goods and services. Much has changed in 10 years. Who now finds it easy to remember that in 1974 employers could advertise a job and say, "Only men need apply"? However, as has been demonstrated this afternoon, there is still a long way to go before women are equally represented in public life and in our economic and social institutions. The Sex Discrimination Act has effectively increased women's freedom to take their full part in public life and has provided protection against actions which, consciously or unconsciously prevented them from doing so.

It is encouraging that women are increasingly making use of their freedom. We must surely welcome that and hope that this process will continue, not just because it is self-evidently right that women should have equal access to any of the benefits which our society can provide, but also because they also have the right to contribute equally to society. Women have been, and, to too great an extent still are, an under-used source of talent and potential. The full use of their potential will benefit not only women as individuals but also society as a whole.

Already, of course, women play a vital role in the economic life of the country. Let me illustrate this. Women now comprise some 40 per cent. of the civilian labour force. Twice as many married women were in, or seeking, jobs in 1981 as in 1951. The United Kingdom has 60 per cent. of women aged up to 59 in the labour force—the second highest female participation rate in the European Community. Between December 1983 and December 1984 the number of women in full-time jobs increased by 14,000 and the number of women in part-time jobs by 187,000.

But while these overall figures are encouraging, and attitudes are changing, as the noble Baroness Lady Ewart-Biggs suggested, it is disappointing, for example, that women are still concentrated in the less well paid and less responsible jobs. Only 16 per cent. of our nation's managers are women. Further progress depends upon the actions of not only the Government, who can only build the foundations for progress, but also employers, trade unionists, educationists, parents and individual girls and women. For their part the Government have provided quite a lot including a sound legislative framework. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment has designated training bodies to run special courses for women wishing to return to the labour market or enter non-traditional occupations where a need for such training is established. There are now over 100 designated bodies.

We have supported the current Women into Science and Engineering campaign by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Engineering Council. We are improving the training of all our young people to give them a better start in working life. We have introduced a package of training and employment measures to help both men and women find work, and some of these—open tech, part-time job release, part-time job splitting—are of special significance to people with family commitments. That was a point raised admirably by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. In addition, the Manpower Services Commission has a small but valuable programme of special training for women.

But a major part in promoting equality of opportunity in economic affairs has to be played by employers and trade unions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Robson indicated. It is no coincidence that some of our most successful companies have taken equal opportunity initiatives. British employers have one of the most committed female workforces in the world, but there has been a tendency to under-use this asset. As in other areas of economic life, our attitudes are holding us back. It is time more employers and trade unions recognised that there is virtually no job which a woman cannot do. If they can do almost any job, I recognise the force of the argument put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, about taxation and the tax treatment of married women. I recognise that in a number of respects the present system does not give equality of treatment between married women and married men. In this year's Budget my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that he would be publishing a Green Paper on the reform of personal taxation. That will set out proposals for a new system under which everyone, male or female, married or single, will have the same standard tax allowance. Married people without enough income to use up their allowance will be able to transfer the balance to their partner. Rather than say more now, it would perhaps be best to await the Green Paper.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment has approved the Equal Opportunities Commission's code of practice on employment, devised under the auspicies of my noble friend Lady Platt, which came into operation yesterday and which she described so fully. The code does not extend or add to the law, though it is admissible in proceedings under the Sex Discrimination Act before an industrial tribunal. My noble friend described the code. The second part looks at the role of good employment practices in promoting equality of opportunity. It encourages employers, as the law permits, to train their female employees for positions which are at present predominantly held by men and to consider the advantages of flexible working patterns such as part-time work, adequate personal leave arrangements, child care facilities and job sharing as a means of providing continuity of employment. It also covers non-discriminatory recruitment—another point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

The new code has the full backing of the Government and we believe that it can make a real contribution to improving the position of women in economic life. I should add that the Government recognise the value of example and have themselves taken initiatives in their role as an employer. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced at the beginning of last year a programme of action on women in the Civil Service—described by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, as an enlightened employer—consisting of 70 items covering the whole spectrum of equal opportunities issues; for example, expanding part-time working and job sharing, giving publicity to departmental child care schemes and increasing flexibility in working hours. The Government hope that employers generally will follow this good advice and, we believe, good example.

The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, talked about education. If opportunities at work are to be fully taken up and we are to gain the full benefits of women's participation in the life of our country, we must have women educated, trained and willing to enter fields of activity where traditionally they have been under-represented or not represented at all. It is important, therefore, that women take full advantage of the educational opportunities available to them. I am happy to say that increasingly women are seeing the value of gaining educational qualifications and are closing the gap with their male contemporaries; indeed, in some cases they have overtaken them.

One area where women continue to be poorly represented is in the field of science and technology. This is detrimental both to women, who are closing off many possible careers, and to the nation as a whole. We recognise that we are losing a considerable amount of potential in these fields, a loss which frankly we can ill afford. We should like to see many more girls studying physical sciences and technology in school, and continuing these studies in further and higher education. We would like to see all pupils, including all girls, receive a broad and balanced science education and an introduction to technology in the compulsory years of secondary education. This can lead to the sort of advances that my noble friend Lady Platt and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, would like to see involving women in the engineering field.

Turning now to public life more generally, the Government are eager to increase the representation of women on public bodies. These were points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. Every effort is made to ensure that a good field of candidates, regardless of sex, is considered by Ministers for appointment on the basis of their qualities, abilities or experience. Where people are in a position to make known to the Government suitable candidates, I hope that they will do so. We need to know those who are willing to accept appointment. I can assure them that nominations of women are particularly welcomed and carefully considered.

My noble friend Lady Gardner mentioned the conference in Nairobi. As for the previous conferences in Mexico and Copenhagen, voluntary organisations will not be represented on the United Kingdom delegation to the Nairobi conference, but the Government have had the opportunity to take into account the views of those organisations which were brought together by my noble friend Lady Gardner into working groups to look at various subjects. In addition, the non-governmental organisations will be meeting in Nairobi a week before the conference and during its first week, and will have the opportunity to discuss matters as they arise with members of the delegation, who will themselves be familiar with the views of voluntary organisations.

As regards ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, about which my noble friend particularly asked, in due course the Government hope to be able to announce their conclusions on whether the United Kingdom should ratify the convention; and I note the points that my noble friend made.

I turn to some specific points on employment. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, asked why women are still being paid lower rates than men in some cases. Improvement depends largely on women moving into higher-level occupations, and this in turn depends on changes in the attitudes of women themselves, their employers, and their families. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, expressed concern about the proposed abolition or reform of wages councils; in fact, the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, used the rather emotive term "kneecapping" of wages councils, saying that that would hit women particularly hard. There is a difference between equal pay and minimum pay. The Government are fully committed to equal pay and have recently amended the legislation so that women with just claims to be doing work of equal value to men can receive equal pay, but it is not in the interests of either sex if employers cannot afford to take them on.

So far as equal pay for work of equal value is concerned, the new regulations came into operation on 1st January 1984. So far only one case has been decided following an investigation by an independent expert. The tribunal found that a cook was entitled to pay equal to that of a male craftsman also employed by Cammell Laird. Following this case there have been press reports of employers conceding equal pay for work of equal value without claims being taken to industrial tribunals; and the number of such cases is growing.

As regards parental leave—and naturally I am having to constrain my remarks in the interests if time—I note the points that were made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, by my noble friend Lady Platt, and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn. However, as the Government announced in the debate on 25th March, a consultation exercise seeking the views of interested parties in the United Kingdom is currently in progress and comments have been requested by the end of May 1985.

So far as nursery places are concerned, participation in nursery education is at its highest-ever level of 42 per cent. of three and four-year-olds. Government expenditure plans allow for a slight increase in that rate over the next three years. The number of day nursery places provided by local authorities increased from 24,552 in 1974 to 28,630 in 1983, which is quite an encouraging improvement. I do not have time to go into many of the points raised on social security. I note the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, made about the invalid care allowance. My noble friend Lady Platt made a point about pension age. That is subject to one of the reviews being undertaken at the moment by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

This afternoon we have discussed the role of women in economic and social affairs. I do not want to leave this topic without giving explicit recognition to the importance of the role of those women who choose to play their part at home and among their families. Their role is naturally a demanding one, and I need not elaborate on it; but it is right that they, too, should be afforded the very real recognition that they deserve.

Returning now to my main theme, I have reaffirmed and illustrated in practice the Government's continuing commitment to equality; and I have recognised that there has been substantial progress, both in the acceptance of the justice of women's claim to equal rights as well as in moving towards attaining them. But the Government also recognise that there is still a long way to go. Further progress will depend on an increasingly wide recognition by those outside Government that they cannot afford, and society cannot afford, to neglect the potential of women. We look, therefore, to teachers and parents, to employers and trade unionists to work together in examining their preconceptions about the role of women and in dismantling unnecessary obstacles to real equality. The Government accept their responsibility here and will continue to play their part.

5.25 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Baronesses and noble Lords who have taken part in the debate this afternoon on such a wide range of issues, all of which were very pertinent to the Motion which we were considering. I welcome the equal participation of men and women in the debate because we were talking about equality between the sexes. Therefore, it is very important that if we are successfully to deal with the problem, both men and women should apply themselves to the problems of this subject and work together in a partnership, understanding each other's problems.

Some very positive remarks have been made in the course of this afternoon's debate, and I hope that they will be noted not only by Government departments but also by all those who are responsible for policy-making, because it is a matter that goes across the whole range of policy-making. I understand the time constraints on the Minister and I welcome his reaffirmation of the commitment to equality. However, may I say that a reaffirmation of commitment to the principle is not enough. As has been shown this afternoon, there are all sorts of detailed aspects which still need a very positive response. No reference was made to the question of the position of women bringing husbands and fiancés into the country.

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe)

My Lords, the time allowed for this debate has now elapsed. Does the noble Baroness wish to withdraw her Motion?

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, yes. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.