HL Deb 04 March 1987 vol 485 cc628-56

3 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

rose to call attention to the brain drain of qualified married women who require opportunities for part-time working while looking after their young children; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is the third time in some 12 years that I have introduced a Motion on these lines. The only difference today is that I want to stress the potential seriousness of the brain drain. But I am also concerned for women without formal qualifications.

With exceptions, I believe that many women are better wives and parents if they have an interest outside the home. Taking a minimal chauvinist view, most men, when they come back from work, do not solely want to be regaled with conversations about household trivialities. Not only this, but in the more difficult situation today of bringing up a family—with the dangers of drug-taking and much else—a sense of proportion is needed. This can be obtained only if the wife has other, wider interests. I am reminded of the modern German saying to the effect that if you educate a woman you educate a whole family. The educated woman needs mental stimulus as much as anyone else. A successful marriage must surely be a partnership preferably of equals.

We like to think that we have established by legislation equality between the sexes and that this is all we need to do. Some protagonists even seem to believe that the sexes are the same. What nonsense, my Lords! The average woman—and I use the word "average" advisedly—has strengths and potentialities which are not found in most men. They have, however, a rather different temperament, and if we have any relationship with the animal kingdom this should be blindingly obvious.

What is however beyond any dispute is that women who want to found a family, and most do, are put at a grave disadvantage. It is possible of course to have the child, put it into someone else's care and immediately return to work. Some career women do this, but it presupposes that their earnings are well above that of the baby minders they have to employ, and therefore applicable only to a few; but even these few, I think, are probably wrong in doing so in the interest of their children. Some people think that the husband could just as well sacrifice his career as the woman could, but this ignores the maternal instinct and the differences on the average—again I use this term—between the sexes.

On this analysis we have to face a situation where far too many of our highly qualified women never return to their profession. I understand that 50 per cent. of women physicists never return, and that the wastage of women maths and science teachers is twice that of men. The consequences at a time of acute shortage of such teachers is obvious. Not quite so obvious is the shortage of really able people going into industry and commerce. I suspect most noble Lords would agree that this is one important reason for our industrial decline. The other reasons, and there are several, are not appropriate to this Motion. Some industrialists realise, I have been told, that under the right circumstances, married women can bring to their job not only experience but also a maturity and dedication which can be a good example to others. This has been recognised also, I believe, in the field of nursing.

With the now limited number of university and technical college places, we simply cannot afford to lose those who receive this privileged education. But to reduce the number of places available to women, because many do not later contribute to the nation's needs, is unacceptable. Moreover, even if we did this, I fancy that obtaining a balanced input of representative women students would be prejudiced and the problem of the brain drain would still remain.

No, we must look further to see what can be done at least to ameliorate the situation. In the past I have always received the greatest support from noble Baronesses in this House, but not always from those in industry and commerce. For this debate I wrote to some 12 or so of those who might be able to influence the situation and I am really heartened by their responses. Although, in the main, they cannot take part in this debate, they have expressed the wish to read Hansard afterwards.

I have left until last part-time working. It is the essence of this Motion, and its importance is that women who want to look after their children can return as soon as their young children go to morning school. The inevitable time away from work means that they become out of touch with fast-changing technologies, so the shorter the gap the better if they can hope to get back to any responsible position. But even then, retraining courses can be of enormous help. To meet the need there now exist "distance learning" courses which can mainly be taken at home. Short courses too are available.

Professor Daphne Jackson of the University of Surrey, pioneering a scheme for part-time research fellowships in universities for just this purpose, has raised £400,000 from a variety of industrial and charitable sources. It is, I think, generally acknowledged that motivated part-time workers can achieve as much as most others do in a much longer period. It is often argued that part-time working is impossible for employers; this was the attitude held originally in respect of part-time teachers and hospital workers. When staff shortages made part-time recruitment necessary, it was found to work out very well. The same is often said about research, but university lecturers are most certainly ony part-time researchers.

It is at least arguable that many women who are working full time would prefer part-time working if the opportunities were available and the conditions fairer. I conclude for this reason that our massive unemployment need not be a bar to what I am proposing. Not only is it difficult to find worthwhile part-time jobs or to return to work in any position of responsibility, but the terms for part-time work are unsatisfactory and financially unrewarding. I cite three reasons. Travelling any distance to work is expensive and can take a major proportion of the salary; pension provisions are usually disavantageous and unfair; and national insurance and other benefits are reduced in an unacceptable manner.

On the secretary level, I am sure that many managers could reorganise their work so as to employ two part-time-secretaries; perhaps one of really high calibre and a junior as a copy typist. It would very seldom be that both were ill or away at the same time.

Finally, I would like to summarise what I think should be done. First, there should be, over the whole field of employment, more opportunities for part-time working which in some cases may in fact be job sharing. Secondly, the conditions for part-time working should be improved, in particular benefits in respect of pensions and national insurance. Thirdly, there should be even more opportunities for up-dating courses. It is noteworthy that the Westminster Bank has a scheme whereby some married women can return to work after a five-year break on excellent terms. If they can do it, surely others could follow.

3.10 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, we must all be very grateful to the noble Viscount for raising this subject. It is a subject which is rarely discussed in your Lordships' House yet it is one which is of deep significance in the country today. Therefore, it is with some slight regret that I have to say that, as the second speaker, I shall approach it from a completely different angle, leaving other speakers, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Nicol and Lady Seear, who know more about industry and commerce to comment on that aspect. I wish to approach the problem from the point of view of the care of children which enables married women to work.

I believe that the insinuation of the Motion is that the world of industry, commerce and the professions—indeed the whole world of work outside the home—is experiencing a brain drain because married women require opportunities for part-time work while looking after their children. I hope that the noble Viscount will forgive me if I say that I wish that the emphasis of the Motion, while perhaps having the same practical implications, could have underlined the need to prevent the brain drain away from the home, while at the same time emphasising the need to provide part-time work which enriches the mother and enables her to look after the children perhaps in a much more sensible way.

I believe that a balance needs to be struck among the needs of the children, the needs of the mother and the needs of commerce. Unless those three points are looked at together and in balance we shall not achieve the right policy. With regard to that, I wish to pay tribute to Her Majesty's Government, who have recognised the needs of married women going out to work part-time but knowing that there are adequate resources in the community to care for their children.

The Under Fives Unit is a national centre for advice, guidance and information on current practice, thinking and research into the under fives field. It was started in May 1986. It is based on the National Children's Bureau and it is funded by the Department of Health and Social Security. It is operating as a separate unit within the National Children's Bureau. Although it is funded by the Department of Health and Social Security, the Secretary of State for Education has visited the bureau within the last fortnight to see, among other things, its work.

If women are to go out to work, whatever else happens, their children's well-being must be safeguarded. Furthermore, if mothers go out to work and the children are not cared for adequately, I suggest that they will not be good workers. Therefore, one must strike the balance, particularly for a mother with very young children, between the children receiving physical care and the sensitive emotional care which requires unhurried time. That means that work and time at home must not be rushed at from one side to the other.

I regret to say that in many areas in this country there are parents who for financial reasons must go out to work full-time, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, will mention that fact. Therefore, it behoves us in this country to look to our children and their needs in this area.

I must say that the training of the people who look after young children leaves much to be desired. The pay of people looking after children in family centres is very poor, and the status of those who give loving care to children, thus enabling parents to go out to work, is valued very low in this country. The relationship between the staff, the child minders, the foster parents or the pre-school workers has not been sufficiently developed. If we are to press for women to have part-time jobs, and if we do not look after their children, it will rebound both on them and on us as a society.

Therefore I take a slightly different stance from the noble Viscount in saying that if we are to have women returning to industry part time, we must ensure that there is a wide range of facilities to meet the needs of the various individuals wanting to go out to work and the needs of the workplace so that it fits in with the children and the parents, ensuring that the children do not suffer and the parents are at ease.

I should like to make two final points. First, by some strange circumstance which I have never understood, in this country we must face the fact that we do not value our children in the way in which they are valued on the Continent. I give two examples. For instance, so valuable do the French consider the relationship between mother and the young child that, where the mother of a child up to the age of two cannot stay at home for financial reasons, she is given an allowance to stay at home to look after her children.

Secondly, there was an EC directive—I served on the Select Committee which considered the directive—which other countries in the EC accepted but this country did not. I say this almost to my shame because I was on the committee. The directive was designed to help both parents at the time children were ill or at the birth of a child. If women are happy to go out to work and if society is to be enriched, we must not sacrifice our children, and the services for the children must meet the needs of both children and parents.

3.18 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness and I concur with everything that she has said.

To prove how impartial I am, I shall repeat a story from a book which was written by one of America's most dynamic business women. I am sorry if noble Lords do not like this but it says: "God made the world and he looked down and he said, 'Good'. Then God made man and he looked down and said, 'That is pretty good, but I can do a little better than that'.", so he created woman.

In a week when some people have been discussing whether or not women should be Ministers in the Church, I believe it is appropriate that we should return to a debate in relation to women, for which we are very grateful to the noble Viscount.

I should like to refer to a study which has just been published—I could not get the whole study—by Professor Richard Scase of Kent University. He shows that women still believe that they must make a considered choice between a successful career outside the home and being in the home as a homemaker. For many years I have been in the forefront of the women's movement struggling to achieve equality, as indeed have many of my noble friends. Equality does not mean burning your bra or being called "Madam Chairperson". Equality is something much more definitive. It is the equality of the human being. So I ask myself why, after all these years, should we have to have a debate such as this this afternoon? I noted that the noble Viscount said that men and women are different. All noble Lords know the terrible old French joke—"Thank God for the little difference"! As a teacher, I should like to suggest that there is not the great definable difference between the two sexes that we infer. People divide on their personality and not on their sex and any teacher will tell you that. There are as many intellectual women as there are intellectual men, although you would not think so as the Labour Shadow Cabinet consists of 12 men.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Baroness expect anything intellectual from the Labour Shadow Cabinet?

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I will not answer that question. This is a non-party debate in that sense.

You will find as many intellectual men as intellectual women, and you will find as many stupid men as stupid women. This is a fact of life. The percentages are very interesting if noble Lords actually look at them. There is great play made of the physical difference. It is said that women are not as physically strong as men—what total nonsense! If there was a war tomorrow that would be forgotten because there would be a shortage of men, and women would drive the heavy lorries and lift the loads, and do all the things that men do. I would defy any man who has carried £20-worth of shopping, plus a baby on his back, to say that women are physically weaker than males. That is nonsense.

Of course, emotionally women are much stronger. It is the little boys who weep for their mothers when they go to school, it is not the little girls. It is probably the little boys who weep for their mothers when they get married, it is not the little girls who weep for their fathers. The only real difference (and there is nothing we can do about this, thank God!) is the biological difference. The female produces the children.

I have often stirred up an all-women audience. There are certain things which will stir an audience, and one is to say that the best person to bring up a child is not necessarily the natural mother. When I taught in an infants' school, I saw the real natural mothers, invariably they were single women, but they were loving, they loved children, they understood children. We do not ask mothers to have any training. This is one job where nobody asks if you have had any training. If you applied for a job as a typist and said, "I have never handled a typewriter", you would be told to go away and learn. But anyone can perform the most difficult job of bringing up another human being, which is why some people do it so badly. I expect noble Lords to pick up this point.

Children will continue to be born and they need their mother for a period of their lives in a way that cannot be substituted for, and that I accept. There are many important differences from even 50 years ago. As a female it is now possible to choose if you want children, when you want children and how many children you want. I am sure as a Catholic I should not say this, I shall probably have some kind of reprimand from the Pope. I shall always remember my mother, who was a very good Catholic, when I said, "You are not very good, you have only had two children". She said, "The Almighty did not mean me to bring children into the world that I could not support and give a good life". So I felt that she at least knew as much as. the Almighty.

There are some very curious statistics about the average number of children in a family, which is why I am sorry that I am not able to stay for the second debate. In looking up various figures, I learned that at the moment there is an average of 2.14 children to each family, or 1.72—personally, I have never seen 1.72 of a child, but for the purpose of statistics I will agree that they are there. I learned at one of these smart parties, that there is a new breed coming which is called "DINKS"—Double Income, No Kids. Now this breed will probably take the place of the Sloane Rangers. They live mainly in good property and have to have a heavy mortgage and have to live well, so they do not have children.

Quite seriously, we recognise that most families want children—thank Heavens! They want children to love, and to have another human life for which they have some responsibility. I also suspect that given a choice (and this is what it is all about) most women will always prefer to be full-time homemakers, which has to be the most skilful job of all. You have to be wife, mistress, companion, cook, dressmaker—you name it, you have to be everything. It is a very skilful job. But, there is still a large pool of ability and skills among women which is at present being wasted. In our society we waste appallingly, we waste materials, but by Heaven we waste people!

When I attend pre-retirement courses I see people at 60 bright-eyed and bushy tailed who are able to make a contribution to society. What do we do? We put them out to grass, give them a free bus pass and a pat on the head and we say "That's you". It is an appalling waste of talent and skills. This occurs particularly with married women. Let us suppose for argument's sake that a woman is trained to be a biochemist, at which she will be very good and probably gain a first degree. She marries and is then supposed to be a full-time homemaker. She may not be very good at being a homemaker, not every woman is instinctly good at all the skills needed to run a home. Personally, I am not a good cook. I was able to assure my daughter-in-law, who is a good cook, that if my son said to her "You do not cook like my mother", he was paying her a compliment. It is the assumption that every woman is good at this, and every man is good at that, which is not true and is not borne out at all.

Let us return to the girl who is a biochemist, this is only one example; there are hundreds. It would be much more sensible and more economic if we were to make it possible for her to return to work so that she could have proper support—and I return to the point made by the noble Baroness—so that she can return to her original career, possibly after an interval, or engage in another career.

During Industry Year there were several references to the brain drain, and it was pointed out that in many professions and in commerce we can no longer afford to waste skills. That is what is happening, skills are being wasted. It is a contradiction that there is unemployment, but there is still a shortage of people trained in certain skills. These are the people that can fill the jobs. Part-time work is probably the best way of re-introducing people into the world of industry and commerce and certainly into some professions. After a few years' absence from work and remaining in the home it is very curious that even brilliant women lose their confidence. I have seen this happen many times. You have to bring them back into the world and say, "Yes, you are as good as anybody else". What is needed? First of all, there is a need for employers to take the initiative. I was delighted to hear from the noble Viscount that he has received letters saying just that. Like the noble Viscount, I was going to quote the Nat-West Bank system which is the only one I have heard of. They have a marvellous scheme whereby a woman employee who leaves to have children can be absent for five years and she would be entitled to return—and this is the important point—at the level at which she left the job or rather, as if she had continued. This is one of the reasons why there are not more young men and women in Parliament. Are they going to opt out for two or three years, at the most five years, and then have to go back at a different level than they would have been at had they remained in that industry? This is particularly true of women. The part-timer would fit in well in this particular scheme, and I think Nat-West, with a little discussion, will probably give us the lead.

What else do we want? Sadly, there are not half enough of the facilities needed for the pre-school children. I have been saying this for something like 25 years. There are still some countries which have hardly any facilities at all—I shall not name them—for pre-school children. This is absolutely appalling. It is the children here one is thinking of. The children get the benefit. Even if the mother is a home maker they still get the benefit of the social contact and education.

We have to have a really mass movement of preschool—whatever you call it; good child-minding, if you like, for the smaller ones—care. We have also to look at the employment conditions if we are to have more part-timers with no bars to promotion because you have been a part-timer; no discrimination between full and part-time when you have redundancy. Certainly it is a little unfair that the employer has to pay so much for a part-time worker in comparison to a full-time worker. That deters many employers from using them. These are points that the Government ought to look at.

Basically, I would appeal to the Government to come up with something imaginative. I would only say to the Minister, just to cheer him up, that I have appealed to other governments—in fact I was a member of a government and tried to appeal to them—but we still have not taken the message that the colossal waste of talent and skills is there. I appeal to the community in general to see this, but particularly to your Lordships today.

3.32 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, all noble Baronesses speaking this afternoon must feel a distinct sense of déjà vu. As the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has said, we seem to have been saying these things for rather a long time. I shall try not to repeat myself or the remarks of those who have already spoken.

We have made progress in relation to women and the opportunities available to women, and in equality between men and women. A great deal has happened. Let us recognise that before we get too depressed. The one overwhelming problem that still remains which we have done little so far to solve is that upon which we focus today—the problem of the return to work of the woman who has had the break to have a family. It is there that we have made the least advance of all in otherwise not too discouraging progress.

I should like today, instead of indulging in exhortation, which is always a danger, to ask what the Government—the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will like this even less than exhortation—are doing as an employer out of all the various suggestions made. I have not given notice of this, so the noble Lord may wish to reply in writing and to put the answers in the Library.

There is no doubt that, in so far as employers up and down the country are concerned, it makes a great difference if they see the Government in their capacity as employer, in the vulgar phrase, putting their money where their mouth is. It is not impressive if the Government are exhorting other people to do things which they themselves are not, to any great extent, doing.

I know that the noble Lord will be able to say that in certain respects the Government are doing something. I hope I shall not be pushing the noble Lord on the defensive, but it would be much more useful—and we want this debate to be useful—if the noble Lord would say quite honestly, "We have attempted this; we have done that; we have not been able to approach other matters", and tell us what they have done, what they hope to do, what has been successful, and what they will experiment with in the future.

This is a serious matter. As other speakers have said, we are wasting a great deal of talent. Good education is expensive, as we all know. There is a great shortage of people in many of the highly-trained occupations, particularly of course in the sciences, maths, physics, and so on. If we were logical—which, of course, we are not—we would either say, "We are going to stop educating our women because we don't make good use of them when we have done it; it is a rotten investment to pour hundreds or thousands of pounds into the education of women and then not to use it", or "We are going to review the whole scene and make sure that we do in fact make the best possible use, taking into account all the facets of the problem"—as the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said—"from the point of view of the children, from the point of view of the women themselves and their families, and from the point of view of the employer and the economy as a whole".

It is a big question. It requires a penetrating and determined investigation to make sure that we can do better. At the moment we are putting money into education and not getting the return on it that we ought to be getting. Although it is true that you cannot educate a family unless you educate the mother (and that is very important) she does not really need to be a highly-trained physicist, doctor, or whatever may be the expensive profession that she has taken up, to make her a better mother as such. A good general education, yes; but you cannot really justify that expenditure in terms of what it is going to do to her efficiency in running a home and being a mother.

If the central problem today—and I believe it to be so—is the return of women into employment after having children, how can this be made much more effective than it is at present? The first point concerns women who want to come back soon after childbearing, whether this is a good idea or not. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has spoken about this. There are some who passionately feel that this is what they want to do, and there are others who have to do it for economic reasons.

Therefore, we have the whole question of adequate child care. We do not have adequate child care. It seems to me to follow from the investment that we have made in the education of these women that we should put some additional investment into the kind of child care that makes it practical, sensible, and right for them to use their faculties, and their training, without at the same time causing damage to their families.

Would the noble Lord tell us what has happened to the number of child-care places in nursery schools? What have the Government, as an employer, done in terms of the provision of nursery places for people they employ up and down the country and in the public sector generally. This applies to local authorities as well as to government service? I do not suppose for one moment that the noble Lord can give those figures now, but it would be useful to have them.

This is part and parcel of the total approach to getting the best out of our women while at the same time not damaging home or industry. It involves the whole range of child-care facilities, what we have done about them and what we are considering doing about them.

Then there is the question of part-time employment, which figures in the title of the debate. One of the great troubles about part-time employment is that it has been largely ghetto employment. It has been the lower end of employment; the jobs with no clear prospects; the low-paid dogsbody jobs. There are a few exceptions but, by and large, that has been the picture.

This is no good at all. It has always been said, with very few exceptions, that if you are in a position of responsibility, you have to be there full time. I accept that there are some jobs where this is true. I do not accept it as an overall generalisation which can be taken for granted without detailed investigation case by case.

I am sure that there are many jobs which, if you were really determined, could be done on a part-time basis or on a shared basis. Much more could be done in sharing jobs, having partnership jobs, and two women doing one job. There are instances where this has been done—and done successfully—in other countries—as well as here—over a long period. We must challenge the idea that responsible jobs can only be done on a full-time or nearly full-time basis. There are cases which could be made out, but the burden of proof should be on showing that it is essential that the job should be full-time and not the other way round. At present it is the other way round.

It would be very interesting to know how many part-time jobs are available to women, or rather are being handled by women at present in the Civil Service, shall we say, from assistant secretary level upwards; indeed, how many women there are from assistant secretary level upwards. I shall not pursue that point at the moment. How many are being done as a part-time job, and how can the Government show that it is not possible for those jobs to be done on a shared or part-time basis? That would be information we should very much like to have.

Will the Government set an example in recognising the value and importance of part-time work by giving, as other speakers have already said, the privileges, opportunities and rights to people in part-time employment that are given to those in full-time employment? The Government's record in reacting to European draft directives on part-time employment has not been encouraging. Will they look again at this and consider whether it is not time that they accepted that part-time employment properly developed should carry the same rights? There should be every encouragement for people to go into part-time employment. That means backing the European directives instead of criticising them at every level.

That also goes for the other directive which would help very much in the development of part-time work for the returning woman, and that is the question of parental leave. It would be for the family to decide whether the father or the mother would take time off. I imagine that normally it will be the person who is the bigger wage-earner who will stay at work while the person who is earning less stays at home. But an increasing number of wives are earning more than their husbands and in those cases particularly there is a great deal to be said for parental leave. Will the Government look again at their attitude towards parental leave, to which they have not given a very enthusiastic welcome?

There are a number of other ways in which assistance can be given to women who want to get back into employment. Reference has already been made to the Nat-West scheme. I was much involved in the scheme in the days when it was being introduced. It is sad that it has not been copied more widely, although there has been a certain amount of development as a result of it. I am wondering what the Government are doing on similar lines. The essence of the Nat-West scheme is that there is a five-year period during which a woman can be away from employment and then get hack at the same level. But a very important point is that during those five years it is part of the obligations of those women to do two weeks each year with the Nat-West. This keeps them in the banking world, they do not lose their contact and they do not feel that they have fallen away from the whole professional area in which they were employed. That has been shown to be a very important element.

For some reason I have never had the opportunity of having this period at home, but I did a study many years ago for the OECD on this very question in 11 countries. I found that in every single country I was told—it cannot have been a conspiracy between them all—that when women stay at home they lose their nerve; they believe they can never again compete with the glossy girls coming up behind them. I do not know what men do to their wives when they keep them at home, but they have this disastrous effect on them, or perhaps it is the uninterrupted conversation of two year-olds which I can imagine is a little daunting after a while. Be that as it may, this is the effect apparently.

The two weeks back each year means that women can keep their contacts and their confidence. Are the Government doing this in the Civil Service? If not, will they please consider doing it? While we are on that point, I have for long thought that we made a mistake in this country in having the period for maternity absence with rights for reinstatement at only six months. Six months is the worst period possible not only for the woman but also for the employer. No employer can make a satisfactory arrangement to cover six months; nobody from outside wants to take on a job for six months. The French have already been referred to. They have a period of two years which enables the woman at home to establish how she will cope. It is also possible for the employer to put someone in for a period of two years and to move them in the ordinary process of moving people from one job to another. Six months is an impossible time.

I think it would be well worth while. Although at first sight it may seem as if two years is less convenient for the employer than six months, it might well be found on inquiry that a great many would prefer two years rather than six months, which is neither one thing nor the other. It is a period neither short enough to manage without anybody nor long enough to put in a proper substitute. It is well worth looking at that again.

There are other ways in which we can make use of the talent of women who have been trained and who are taking seriously their responsibilities as parents, and we all want them to do that. There is the whole area of working from home. I know there are many women who do not like the idea of working from home. Part of the charm of the job is getting away from home, but that does not apply to all of them. It so happens that only yesterday evening I had a long communication from that very remarkable organisation, F International, about which many noble Lords will probably know, run by Mrs. Steve Shirley. It has developed to a very wide extent the idea of people with computers in their homes making good incomes working from home, able to control their hours, taking on more or less work according to what suits them. This needs encouragement, resources and support.

For those women for whom such a skill is appropriate, it can be an excellent solution to the problem of combining earning and working with being in their homes and looking after them. Is there no work in the government sector which could be done on this basis, as the Government use more and more statistical procedures for one thing or another? Is there not a possibility of a government version of F International?

I have probably given the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, enough to answer this afternoon and I hope he will be able to do so.

3.49 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has been able to initiate this important debate to highlight the wastage of qualified women through the lack of good, well remunerated arrangements for part-time work. If a qualified woman gives up work altogether for any protracted length of time after the birth of her children, she will lose touch with her expertise in whatever her specialist field of work. In 1984-85 women formed over 40 per cent. of the full-time undergraduate population in our universities, which has risen from about 28 per cent. 20 years ago, and the numbers will continue to rise in the future. Already in 1986 women formed 46 per cent. of the Institute of Personnel Management, about 25 per cent. of the membership of the British Medical Association and 15 per cent. of the Law Society.

Already women form nearly half the entrants to medical school. Even the percentage of women first year undergraduates in my profession of engineering has risen due to the Women Into Science and Engineering Campaign, we think, from 9 per cent. in 1983 to 11 per cent. in 1985.

All the pressures the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, mentioned as being a matter of concern now will become more serious and indeed lead to a crisis in terms of the shortage skills by the end of the century if nothing is done. Employers need to make well-publicised arrangements to enable women to keep in touch with their professions as soon as possible after childbirth to avoid this crisis. Time is running out. In 1981 there were 900,000 18 year-olds; in 1995 there will be 600,000 a dramatic drop of one-third. Already there are serious skill shortages in information technology, electrical and electronic engineering, maths and physics teaching and in many other fields. The WISE Campaign in 1984, initiated by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Engineering Council, is gradually changing the picture, but it is a slow process.

I was making a film with Central Television to attract 12 to 13 year-old girls into these fields of work. A young woman engineer with an ONC, working for an HNC and intending to go on for a degree—all part-time study outside working hours showing the high level of motivation that all employers seek—asked, "What happens to all my qualifications if I marry and have a baby?".

The Engineering Council, of which I am a member, set up a working party under the chairmanship of a senior industrialist to gather together a wide variety of good practice to enable young women engineers and technicians to bridge the career break successfully and to continue up the career ladder. Apart from the sheer waste of talent if this is not done—it costs between £14.000 and £20,000 to educate and train a woman engineer—no one can afford to lose that investment either publicly or privately. As Sir Francis Tombs, our chairman, said: The aim of the engineering Council is to encourage pace-setters in our manufacturing, process and construction industries to give a lead which others will follow. Those employers who have developed successful career break schemes have found it has given them a competitive cutting edge in the attraction and retention of the most able staff in a highly competitive market place". The report is not prescriptive but it gives a wide variety of ideas on how to bridge the career break successfully to the mutual convenience of the employer and employee. The sort of schemes that have proved successful include the availability of part-time work in a variety of ways—flexitime, jobsharing, re-entry and reservist schemes—which allow much longer breaks of up to five years when the employer arranges to supply the women with up-to-date information regularly and she works part-time for a minimum of a fortnight a year with the mutual intention that she should return to her previous status or its equivalent on a full-time basis at the end of that time.

As has been mentioned before this afternoon, these latest schemes have been pioneered by the high street banks and have now clearly proved their practicality. Other commercial firms are following that lead, notably Boots the Chemist, which is experiencing a shortage of pharmacists. Nationally women on average need a career break of under four years for each child and under seven years overall. Clearly there will be a need to consider after that school holidays and after-school arrangements, but those can often be overcome either privately or through local authority play schemes.

The Engineering Council has now prepared a video based on our report which will be available in April to our 170 industrial affiliates. We hope that many will initiate schemes as a result. Already Marconi has a scheme and great interest is being shown by Ove Arup, British Gas, Plessey and the Electricity Council with a view to formulating schemes of their own. I recommend anyone interested to obtain a copy of the report and later the video from the Engineering Council. It is packed full of valuable ideas relevant to other professions.

The Institute of Housing has also published an informative booklet on the subject and allows temporary retired membership to its members during a career break, a great boon to professional women who may not be earning and who may find it difficult to keep up their professional subscriptions against the competing demands of children's food and clothing.

With the onset of new technology, offsite working becomes more and more feasible. Mrs. Steve Shirley, managing director of F International, gave a lecture at the Royal Society of Arts only a few weeks ago which will soon be published in our journal, showing how she has built up her highly successful computer software company on the basis of a mainly part-time home- based workforce of several hundred women. ICL too has a well-established career break scheme for its workforce including offsite working. Rank Xerox has set up a network scheme of offsite workers designed to dissolve the boundaries between full-time, part-time and women's work.

We are only at the beginning of this new forward looking type of development which will benefit both employers and employees alike. In setting them up it is important never to regard part-time or offsite workers as second class, but to see them as the valuable resource that they are and accord them similar benefits, conditions of service, availability of promotion and training, and holiday entitlements and pension arrangements on a proportional basis with full-time workers, so that they can foresee their smooth return to full-time work later on. That will do a great deal to boost company loyalty and good longterm employer/employee relationships for the future.

The DHSS has become extremely concerned about its staff wastage. The nursing service has, I understand. a complete turnover every 10 years. Nurses cost in the region of £ 10,000 to train. Three quarters of a million women work in the NHS, so Tony Newton, the Minister of State, has set up a working party in cooperation with the Equal Opportunities Commission to consider personnel policies and practices needed in the NHS to provide equality of opportunity in employment and in particular to make recommendations of the management of the career break. As he says: The DHSS needs to retain their staff and encourage those well trained women who have left the service to come back". The Board of Inland Revenue in its annual report said: The cartoonist still tends to show the Inland Revenue official as a middle aged man in a pin-striped suit. In reality she is more likely to be a woman in her twenties". Increasingly it recruits graduates. The training of higher grade tax officers costs £7,500 and inspectors between £20,000 and £40,000. As a result the Inland Revenue has become sensitive to higher rates of wastage.

The department has given a good deal of thought to means of widening the employment and career opportunities for women so they can combine a career with domestic responsibilities. It has developed schemes allowing flexible working hours and now a comprehensive one allowing staff at all levels to work part-time, including job sharing, with the minimum of restrictions. No one could describe the Inland Revenue as a soft organisation. Financial considerations are strong, but nevertheless, as it says in the conclusion to its annual report, the success of the department depends to a large measure on its staff of 70,000 individuals and fostering their diverse talents. irrespective of age, sex and educational qualifications.

That is what the Inland Revenue seeks to do for good sound commercial reasons, and many others need to copy it. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned the Civil Service. I had the privilege last night of speaking at Sunningdale to newly appointed equal opportunities policies officers. I am glad to say that other departments are following this sort of lead and developing job sharing and career break schemes of their own. The Government as an employer are moving in the right direction, but like the good headmistress on the report, I am bound to say, "Could do better".

As far as job sharing is concerned, that again is a new idea and one that has taken off in a big way. I am glad to say that the Equal Opportunities Commission has 9 per cent. of its staff job sharing. The head of personnel in the Stock Exchange has said that job sharing has enabled it to attract into the job two people of high professional calibre who appear to find their roles stimulating and worthwhile. It cannot be said to be more expensive for the organisation and there are real benefits, not least in terms of the creative energy that has made available to it. That is a very good recommendation for job sharing and it certainly needs to expand.

In the Government's consultative document on the shortage of maths and physics teachers, it is clear from the tables that the wastage of women over the last few years is approximately double that of men—again, people who must cost well over £10,000 to educate and train. I have heard headmasters say, that they would prefer full-timers. If part-timers are tolerated they are probably on scale I. If women return after a break, they will probably be expected to start again at scale I. Is it any wonder that with their scarce skills and talents they go off to use them where they can attract proper remuneration?

Nearly 20 years after the Dainton report on this subject, it is time that the DES and all local education authorities set up working parties, as has the DHSS, to plan proper ways of avoiding this scandalous waste of talent. I understand that the local authorities are investigating what is being done at present with a view to future action, and some, I am pleased to say have already taken action. I heard the other day of ILEA sharing a physics teacher and a music teacher job, which I thought was a very imaginative idea. Such imaginative ideas need universal imitation. We need strong and immediate action by the DES and LEAs to stop this unaffordable loss of qualified women in such a vital field of work, crucial to the future prosperity of our country.

Like the noble Baronesses, Lady Faithfull and Lady Seear, the commission hopes that the draft European directive for parental leave will soon be adopted with the support of the Government. That would again be a great step forward for the benefit of children and parents.

Let me express my gratitude again to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. I hope that many employers will read of this debate and make arrangements to suit themselves and their employees to see that this wicked waste of money and talent does not continue and that women can combine a career with responsible family life to their benefit, to the benefit of their families and their employers and for the prosperity of country.

4.2 p.m.

Lord McGregor of Durris

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Viscount for this Motion, which focuses attention upon the occupational situation of qualified women. They constitute a minority of women workers, some two-thirds of whom are unskilled and earn very low wages. Nevertheless, some social factors have influenced all women, skilled and unskilled, and have created a framework within which the problems presented by the Motion may usefully be considered.

Since the early days of industrialism, women have been an indispensable element in the labour force. From 1851 to 1951 they contributed a steady 30 to 32 per cent. of the country's labour force. This proportion, as the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, pointed out, has since risen to 40 per cent. However, within this total, the age and status of the female labour force have changed radically. Up to 1939, some 90 per cent. of women workers were single and working between leaving school and getting married. They withdrew from the labour market upon marriage or during their first pregnancy. Today a sex ratio near unity, more and earlier marriage, small families of consciously conceived children formed in the early years of marriage and a longer expectation of life have fundamentally altered the course and shape of women's lives.

In all ages past, most women married. Many had the maximum number of children that they were physically capable of bearing, given the age at which they married. They reared their children and straightway died. Even as late as 1900, the average English mother had only 10 years to live after her youngest child had reached school-leaving age. Now she looks forward to more than half her active adult life when her family have reached that stage. In all advanced societies, women now enjoy two lives. During the first, the shorter phase, they mainly discharge their maternal role. During the second and longer, they have no direct care for their children, and most are at work outside the home.

Thus demographic and social changes compel most women to adjust to two different periods in one lifetime. It is indeed much harder to be a woman than to he a man in society nowadays.

Highly skilled women engaged in professional occupations face problems that do not afflict their unskilled sisters. Even a relatively short absence from their occupations may result in a catastrophic loss of professional knowledge and skills, as several speakers have already pointed out. Paradoxically, this is a greater danger for the present than it was for past generations. Up to the Second World War, cheap and plentiful domestic service enabled the professional woman to combine her familial and occupational roles. The present pattern of family building reflects both the disappearance of that world and the emergence of a new.

A recent and striking analysis, Fertility Trends in Different Social Classes, by Mr. Barry Werner of the population statistics division of OPCS, shows that great differences in fertility trends between the upper and lower classes have developed in the last 12 years during which—and here I quote one of Mr. Werner's conclusions, The fertility rate for women aged 30 and over in social classes 1 and II (that is. among those engaged in professional and administrative occupations) rose by 12% … in contrast for women… in social classes IV and V (that is, those containing the partly skilled and unskilled workers) [the rate] fell by 30%.". That was the difference in 1983, when more professional women were having their babies at the age of 30 or over, while the rate at that age among women in unskilled jobs has fallen. By contrast, in 1970 the lowest and highest rates were within 4 per cent. of the average for all classes.

I think it can be argued that we are seeing here a demographic response in the age and timing of family building among professional qualified women which is markedly different from that among other social groups. Thus qualified women are delaying having their babies until the age at which they are professionally qualified and already standing on the lower rungs of the career ladder.

The significance of this change may be illustrated from medicine. In the early 1960s, Professor Margot Jefferys conducted an inquiry into the experience of women in medicine for the Todd Commission on Medical Education. She showed that the general effect of motherhood was to lead inter alia to a substantial initial withdrawal from employment and a desire for part-time work which could not easily be made available because of the inflexible working conditions and inherited attitudes. The survey concluded that: much of the work undertaken by junior and middle grade hospital staff [could] be done on a part-time basis … by scheduling … the staffing requirements for out-patients, in-patients, laboratory and casualty services in such a way as to offer regular, part-time work to married women which recognises their child-rearing and domestic responsibilities. If this were done, women would be able to keep abreast of current developments in medicine and would not need the intensive retraining which total withdrawal for a prolonged period inevitably: involves. I understand that it has been done and that the situation in medicine has been transformed in the last 30 years, and especially since the mid-1970s, because methods of working have been adapted to meet the needs of the dual role performed by women doctors. Such a transformation will be inevitable in a profession in which women now constitute around half of all entrants. But even in this instance empirical information is scanty and statistical data are often non-existent.

I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will feel able to urge upon his friends and colleagues the importance for public awareness and public policy of following up the admirable general study of women and employment which Jean Martin and Ceridwen Roberts undertook for OPCS and the Department of Employment. We need studies of particular occupations—of the law, architecture, commerce, accountancy and the like. Indeed, by the time the noble Lord's department has completed those we may be able to turn to look at the Anglican clergy.

Part-time working is now an indispensable element in the sexual division of labour. Most part-time workers are women and, as a committee of your Lordships' House pointed out in 1982 in its report on voluntary part-time work, many women part-time workers suffer a range of discriminations when their conditions of work and remuneration are compared with those of full-time workers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, dealt with the case of children with working mothers. I agree wholeheartedly with what she said and would add only that our social arrangements do result in a situation where some mothers—the lone mothers, the one- parent families—with very young children are compelled to work when their children are very young if they wish to be independent (as they are urged to be) of the Supplementary Benefit Commission, whereas those mothers with young children who have husbands can have a genuine choice. All the statistical data I know of suggest that, where choice exists, it is responsibly exercised in the sense that the great majority of mothers do themselves take care of their children in the age group mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull.

The noble Baroness was right in emphasising how important it is in this transitional period of the development of the family to meet the requirements of children. If society wishes women to perform two roles, it must meet the consequences. We cannot go on behaving as though women are in the labour market only between leaving school and getting married. The formation of the necessary new attitudes is not, moreover, assisted by the denigration of mothers who choose to look after their children at home. These mothers are sometimes denounced and described as stereotypes which must be got rid of. The balance about which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. spoke, has to be reached not only in matters of policy but in matters of ideology.

I believe that the labour market is at the core of the discontent felt by many women. Their experience in trying to reconcile the claims of marriage, motherhood and work demonstrates a firmly-rooted double standard of occupational morality. Some qualified women enjoy full equality but for most women workers the formal equality of the sexes is mocked in the labour market. That is why we have passed in the last 30 years from emancipation to liberation.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, this debate gives me the opportunity to say a few words about the need to encourage the development of a form of part-time working which can not only provide job opportunities for qualified married women looking after young children but also alleviate unemployment generally. I am referring to the practice known as job sharing, which the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, in particular touched on and on which I should like to speak at rather greater length.

Nearly five years ago your Lordships' Select Committee on Unemployment, of which I was privileged to a be a member, recommended job sharing—or job pairing, as we called it then—for a number of purposes. One was as a relatively inexpensive inducement to people aged over 60 to retire early. But the committee also saw that pairing could be extended to other age groups and could include the sharing of a single job between an experienced person and a trainee or between two half-time workers. Provided that a pairing proposal involved taking on additional labour or was an alternative to redundancy, we recommended that incentives should be given to employers—for example, through adjustments to national insurance contributions—to encourage this form of work.

The Government have since acted on that recommendation in devising a job-splitting scheme as a means of creating more employment opportunities and helping businesses to become more flexible. Financial incentives are now provided for employers who create part-time jobs in a number of ways. They can take on in new part-time jobs two people from YTS, from the community programme or indeed from the job training scheme. They can also split an existing full-time job or vacancy into two part-time jobs, on or both of which goes to someone who is unemployed. In such cases employers are eligible for a grant to help meet the costs of administration and training.

I should like to see this form of work encouraged further to benefit not only the qualified married women referred to in the Motion but also men. Among other things, men who are fathers could then, under conditions of high unemployment, and in keeping with current social trends, increasingly take a share in looking after children who are sick. Although there are already opportunities for women to work part time in certain professions—for example, in teaching and in social work—they are often paid on the lowest scale and there is unsufficient scope for their career development and promotion. The potential of able women is therefore not being realised.

At present many mothers are faced with the stark choice of either having to return to full-time work as soon as the statutory period of their maternity leave expires or accepting only part-time employment if they can get it, and that in the knowledge that they are unlikely ever again to be able to resume a full career. Job sharing, not only in the basic grades of a profession but at every stage of a career, provides a way through.

I suggest that it is of potential benefit to both employers and employees in a number of ways. First, the two people who together undertake a single job work co-operatively as a team. Indeed, if as a team they prove to be effective, I see no reason why they should not be considered for promotion on equal terms with one able person working alone. Moreover, people working as a pair are likely to be a strong unit, because mutual support, encouragement and satisfaction are built into their job. Employers stand to gain from the wider and more diverse training, experience and personal skills which they obtain by employing two people rather than one. They benefit also from the additional creativity which comes from two heads being better than one.

Furthermore, because co-operation is clearly essential if job sharing is to be effective, the atmosphere in the work place as a whole is likely to improve under the unifying influence which springs from people working together rather than in competition with one another. Finally of course it goes almost without saying that at a time like the present when job opportunities are scarce, work sharing provides a way of distributing such jobs as are available among more people.

I agree entirely with what the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said in introducing this debate. that it is deplorable that half the women who graduate in physics are lost to industry and research after starting up a family, and other noble Lords and Baronesses have said much the same. But I hope your Lordships will understand why I have sought to widen the debate by suggesting how both men and women who wish to take part-time work could benefit from the additional employment openings which more job sharing would provide.

Accordingly, I should be grateful if the Minister when he comes to reply to the debate would undertake to consider with his advisers in the Manpower Services Commission whether further inducements could be given to employers not so much to offer more part-time employment as to create more jobs which could be shared between two people.

4.25 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I welcome the Motion put down by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. It affords an opportunity to talk about a problem that is of increasing concern to women, whether married or unmarried, who need to take time out from full time employment in order to care for a family.

There is no doubt that more flexible working practices would assist women's continuity of employment, reduce the wastage of training, education and skills, and facilitate the more effective use of the talents that women have. There are now almost 5 million part-time workers in the UK. Some of them would choose full time employment if it was available; if working time was reduced, perhaps, and if there were better child care facilities. However, for many women, part-time employment is the preferred option, particularly when their children are young.

But, as an International Labour Office report on white collar workers revealed in 1985, part-time jobs are generally low level jobs—jobs with low status, low pay and not much in the way of prospects. A number of noble Lords have made that point in the debate. There is resistance by employers to providing occupational pension arrangements for part-time employees. There is also resistance sometimes to job sharing schemes even though, in some cases, it would mean getting two highly skilled, experienced people to share the work between them, to their mutual advantage and to the firm's benefit. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, dealt with that in detail and I do not want to add to what he said.

However, when we look at part-time workers, four out of five are women. And two out of every five women who work are part-timers. More than 50 per cent. of working married women are in part-time employment. The growth in part-time employment, temporary work and fixed term contracts, although it can be cited as evidence of greater flexibility in the labour market, nevertheless expands new forms of insecure employment. Under current employment legislation, employees working less than a 16-hour week have fewer rights regarding dismissal and redendancy. Salaries of part-timers are frequently unrelated to full time salaries, and it is by no means general that they are paid pro rata to the rates of those in full-time employment.

Another area of exploitation is home working to which the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made some reference. Clearly, in certain areas where technological skills are involved, it can be of great assistance. But there are problems. Obviously, it is a difficult area to unionise. The women—this work is done mainly by women—are often grossly exploited.

Often, however, home working is the only choice available to many women who cannot leave their homes while their children are young and who must endeavour to earn some money somehow. They are among the most vulnerable members of our workforce, the least regarded and the hardest to protect. Reliable statistics as to the number of home workers arc hard to come by. But, according to a survey conducted by the TUC a couple of years ago, there were about a quarter of a million home workers in the United Kingdom at that time.

A characteristic of this type of work is its isolation. Home workers do not usually receive sick pay or holiday pay. Most home workers are paid by the piece which can mean extreme intensity of work in order to earn even a modest hourly sum. Sometimes the work is carried out in cramped conditions. The University of Bradford home working research project said that 70 per cent. of those involved in its sample worked in a room—a kitchen or living room—used by other members of the family. Many home working tasks involved dust and dirt, glue and sticky tape, bulky materials, sharp instruments and so on, all of which took labour to clear away. There were, it was reported, inadequate health and safety provisions.

There is a case here for the introduction of effective legislation and enforcement arangements to protect homeworkers. This is long overdue. There should be a general duty on those giving out home work to make regular returns to the authorities, giving details of those whom they employ together with information about the work undertaken and the materials and equipment involved. There ought to be adequate inspection and enforcement in order to check on conditions.

There is need for basic rates of pay below which people should not be expected to work. The Wages Act has not helped in this area. As a supporter of minimum wage provision, I believe that this would go some way towards protecting home workers from the grossest kind of exploitation.

When it comes to career breaks, some employers, as already mentioned, have begun to realise that it is in their interests to do something about the waste of talent and training that is involved. There has been reference to the NatWest scheme. I am glad to say that there are other schemes as well. The Midland Bank has a scheme, as does the Royal Insurance group.

These schemes are open to both sexes. In some instances, they provide for breaks of up to five years. During this time, employees keep in touch, undertake refresher courses and are able to re-enter employment at the end of the career break. The idea is that employees with skills should not be lost to the enterprise. Continuity of skills and employment is thus maintained. Women who might otherwise have lost out irreparably on the career ladder are able to resume their careers. The schemes are imaginative and should be applauded. However, they are still very much in the minority.

As several noble Lords have said, it is hardly possible to talk about this subject without referring to child care. The absence of such care in this country is one of the reasons why so many women interrupt careers which might otherwise have been rewarding both to the women themselves and to society generally. The 1981 census revealed that the skills of a significant number of highly qualified women were not being used. A 10 per cent. sample showed 5,770 economically inactive females with higher university degrees under retirement age (other than students or sick persons), compared with only 360 men in that category.

Your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology urged that more use should be made of women's technological skills to meet a growing shortfall. However, not only do we have inadequate arrangements for child care but also, even when such arrangements are provided by employers, we sometimes find that they are taxed as a fringe benefit. Objections have been raised before in your Lordships' House, and I do not think it would be appropriate to raise the matter again.

As has already been mentioned, the Government continue, for reasons which escape me, to block the EC directive on parental leave. The amended proposal for an EC Council directive contains very minimal provisions for all wage earners, including staff working in the public sector, to be entitled to parental leave and leave for family reasons. Of the EC member states, seven already make such provisions.

A recent study by the Equal Opportunities Commission demonstrated that the cost of putting the directive into practice in the UK would not be very great. Yet the Government continue to maintain that such matters as these are best determined voluntarily between employers and employees attending to their own priorities, needs and circumstances, rather than by legislation. However, it is clear that most employers will not take steps of this kind until there is a legislative requirement. From their point of view, they believe that they have to be competitive. If there is any cost involved, no matter how small, they prefer to wait until everyone else is bound by legislation before they themselves will put it into operation.

I speak as a union official who has spent a great deal of time arguing with employers on matters of this kind. We have, in some instances, succeeded in getting part-time employees accepted into pension schemes. Recently, in one of the last cases under the sex discrimination legislation heard by the Central Arbitration Committee, we succeeded in winning the argument that a collective agreement was discriminatory because part-time employees, mostly women, were debarred from benefiting in the same way as full-time employees under an assisted mortgage scheme. However, it is not easy to do that. In that particular instance, the employer has already announced his intention to challenge the CAC decision in the courts. It is a continuous battle to improve the lot of part-time workers in this country.

Unless there is a more satisfactory statutory framework for part-time workers, for career breaks and for parental leave arrangements, then those matters will continue to militate against women who wish to maintain their skills and plan their careers to cover both the necessary requirements of maternity and child care and who also wish to make the hest use of their capacities and training.

I again thank the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for giving us the opportunity to have this important debate.

4.35 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Lucas of Chilworth)

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, started by saying that she had a feeling that this was more a matter of déjà vu than anything else because so much has changed since the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, last brought this matter to our attention.

Perhaps I may just quarrel with the noble Viscount on his use of the words "brain drain". I think that my noble friend Lady Faithfull made the same point. I do not think for one moment that he is attempting to suggest that the work of a mother in bringing up children is somehow inferior to paid employment outside the home. However, I fear that his use of the words "brain drain" could be misconstrued in that way. Certainly we on this side of your Lordships' House would deplore such misconstruction.

We consider that the woman who chooses—and I emphasise the word "chooses"—to stay at home to bring up her children is in no way part of a brain drain. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, when she said (although perhaps in a different way) that there can be no more important and demanding work than that of bringing up children to be responsible caring adults. For many, that in itself is sufficient stimulus.

I do not in ally way wish to deny the force of the many points which have been put forward in support of the Motion during our debate. The House appears to be united in recognising the importance of insuring that talent and investment in training do not go to waste. As a country, we simply cannot afford to let that happen.

The figures tell their own story. My noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle mentioned some of the figures. It is true that women how make a crucial contribution to the nations' economic wealth. They represent 43 per cent. of the civilian labour force. Between March 1983 and June 1986, the number of women in full-time employment rose by 320,000 and the number in part-time work rose by 299,000. Sixty per cent. of married women work outside their homes. One of the most impressive statistics is that one in four of the self-employed are now women. Most importantly, more and more women are obtaining professional qualifications.

In welcoming that, and in agreeing with so much of what has been said this afternoon, I urge the House to also look at the wider picture. I again agree with my noble friend Lady Faithfull when she reminded us that we have to get a balance in these matters. When we talk about qualified women today we are discussing only a small part of the employment market; women who are at the upper end, if you like. We must take care that in singling out that one group for special attention, we do not neglect the interests of the far larger numbers of women and indeed men who do not have qualifications and who are perhaps also unemployed.

At the same time, the Government are concerned about the effect of skill shortages on the competitiveness of industry. I am sure that we are all aware of the difficulties faced by companies seeking qualified people in many spheres of science, engineering and the new technologies. I agree that we must make full use of the talents and skills available, whether possessed by young or old, men or women, married or single.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said about the splitting scheme, work-sharing, and so on. I shall read carefully what he said about extending the scheme. I certainly give him an assurance now that we will consider all he said in regard to that extension. We certainly recognise the importance of the re-employment of qualified married women, either full or part time. How then can we best ensure that we tap this valuable resource? The debate this afternoon has produced a number of suggestions and highlighted some of the disadvantages which many women undoubtedly suffer in trying to combine career and family responsibilities.

My noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle spoke of the Engineering Council's training course and video. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and many others, spoke of part-time work, job sharing, flexible working hours, temporary work, working from home and other such matters. At this stage I take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, who said that home workers worked under poor conditions. She referred to the sparseness of information about home workers. I can tell the noble Baroness this afternoon that a major research study of home workers is to be published shortly. An article about that appeared in the most recent Department of Employment Gazette. That study shows that there are many myths about home workers. Overall, home workers are better educated, more likely to be home owners and healthier than average workers. Perhaps at another time we can come back to that issue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, reminded us that on a strictly practical level only employers can really provide employment opportunities and only women themselves can take advantage of them. However, certainly the Government have a responsibility. That responsibility is to set the parameters by inducing a change in attitudes and fostering the flexible working patterns needed today. We do this directly, and of course we do it largely through the great efforts of the Equal Opportunities Commission. Our aim is to encourage women who want a career—I emphasise, who "want" a career.

We are giving this encouragement in a number of ways, beginning with education and following through into training and retraining. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, will, as a teacher, agree with me that one of the problems is to overcome stereotyped attitudes which have limited girls' career horizons. Nowadays in education girls and boys are encouraged to study the same range of subjects, and they have the same opportunities to go on to further education and training. For example, the Government's policy statement Science 5-16 proposes that science should have a place in the education of all pupils throughout the years of compulsory schooling. It also encourages positive action to excite the interest of girls in aspects of science which in the past they have perhaps tended to find unappealing.

We are doing a great deal in helping women in training and retraining for employment. At the school level we have supported the Women into Science and Engineering Year and have helped to fund the WISE bus. We have provided 5,000 additional places in higher education for those taking science and engineering subjects. In my department, the Department of Trade and Industry, we have done much to encourage women to acquire skills—systems design skills, and others. The IT Skills Agency, set up by industry as a result of our initiative, is working with others to look at ways in which more women can be encouraged to train and work in IT. We hope to be able to support a study to look into the feasibility of such a campaign. We really hope that many women will take advantage of the opportunities offered by government schemes in training and skills development to obtain those skills that will be useful to industry and which will encourage companies to provide part-time opportunities where needed.

The Manpower Services Commission training is of course available to women, and the MSC actually funds a number of schemes specifically to widen women's opportunities. The MSCs "Wider Opportunities for Women" courses are specially designed for "returners" and include a number of courses for qualified women in new technology and management subjects. The MSC also funds through the Open University the "Women in Technology" scheme. That helps women to update technological skills through home study. All these measures should help women to take even greater advantage of new employment opportunities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, spoke about a return on the investment in education and training of women. I should like to say that, while agreeing with her, even if we perhaps do not show what some people might call a full commercial return I hope the noble Baroness will agree with me that that is no reason for refusing such education and training for women.

We have this afternoon spoken about what employers—the National Westminster Bank, and many others including Boots, Marks and Spencer, ICL—have done in the career break schemes. I am glad to say—and I say this directly to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear—that we in government are doing exactly this for our own staff. A number of departments—and this idea is growing—have a "keeping in touch" scheme which gives people who are temporarily away from their jobs the chance to keep up to date with changes and developments in the department. The scheme runs for five years. In addition, opportunities for part-time work in government departments have also grown. They are continuing to grow, including those at quite senior levels.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, will the noble Lord give an example of that? In the past there was a singular absence of such schemes.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I will certainly be happy to provide the noble Baroness with examples in detail and set out a schedule, but on a debate of this kind one is mindful of the clock and I have a number of points that have been raised which I must answer. Perhaps I will be able to come back to that point.

I particularly wanted to say this afternoon that I am delighted to be able to announce that we are able to support a specific initiative that will help the return to work of qualified women. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, referred to the work of Professor Daphne Jackson of Surrey University. She is of course well known for her work with women returners and has sought our help in mounting a study. This will look at the feasibility of establishing a register of people with qualifications in mathematics, science and engineering who wish to work part-time or short term. The register would then be made available to employers.

We are able to agree to Professor Daphne Jackson's request for assistance and a study will now go ahead. I know that my noble friend Lady Platt will be pleased because that answers the question she posed on what happens to her qualifications when she marries, has children and departs from industry. We are able to agree to that request and I believe that industry, research establishments and the teaching profession will now have opportunities available to them. The real trick of course is to bring together the job vacancies and those seeking the part-time, short-time or shared jobs. The study will look at ways of doing that.

I want to turn quickly to some of the points that were made in the debate. I thank my noble friend Lady Faithfull for the compliment that she paid to the Government in the first part of her speech. My noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, spoke about child care. We aim to have a range of day-care services bringing children full- or part-time day care, child minding, nursery or play groups so that parents can choose the type of day care which meets their own and indeed their children's needs.

There has been a significant increase in England in day care facilities for children under five, since the present Government took office. There are now 54,500 day nursery places compared with 50,000 in 1979, which is a 7 per cent. increase. There are 409,000 places in play groups, which represents an increase of 10 per cent. There has been a 29 per cent. increase in the number of child minding places, and an increase in child minders from 44,000 to 57,000 or nearly 58,000. The proportion of three- and four-year olds who are receiving some form of nursery education is now 22 per cent. compared with 18 per cent. in 1979, while a further 21 per cent., made up mostly of four-year olds, attend infant classes in primary schools. The development of a wide range of choice across the country as a whole has occurred at different rates in different areas, which was one important reason for the under-fives initiative to which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, drew attention.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and my noble friend Lady Platt spoke about parental leave. I know that parental leave has often been suggested as a means of special help to working mothers. We fully accept that parental leave, if agreed between employer and employee, can be valuable. However, it can only be a temporary solution because, however long it may be, when parental leave ends the needs of the child and the requirements of the job still remain. To impose one form of leave, as the draft European Community directive would have done, would increase employers' costs and administrative burdens and we believe that it would be detrimental to the welfare of working parents and their children.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, spoke about the numbers of women who are part-time employees and asked me for some figures. Currently there are nearly 5 million part-time jobs. That is the highest number in the Community. The rise has been from 15.4 per cent. to 22.9 per cent. of total employment. The shift can be attributed mainly to the increased availability of part-time employment in the expanding service industries and to the propensity of industry generally toward the engagement of more part-time staff.

I appreciate the points that have been made on a number of occasions during the debate which set out some of the disadvantages of part-time work. There is a substantial minority of women who leave employment in order to have a child and who find on their return to work that they have to take a part-time job at a lower level if they are to combine paid work with their family commitments. Some women who take up a lower level post may never reach the career level that they first sought nor therefore the salary level of their male counterparts or of women without family responsibilities. However, there is another side to this situation. The need to accept less demanding work is not seen as a disadvantage by all those who are affected. The survey Women in Employment conducted by the Department of Employment showed that many women consciously traded off pay and position against a post with convenient hours and location because in that way they could devote more time to their families.

Interestingly, that same survey showed that women working part-time were more likely to be satisfied with their jobs than women in full-time employment. That brings me to the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, when he talked about the disadvantage of women having a dual role. The survey pointed out that many married women still have the choice of whether to work full-time, part-time or stay at home looking after their families. The point I wish to make is that of course men do not have that choice.

I should like to conclude by paying a tribute to those employees and other organisations that are participating in the field of work-sharing and part-time work and in developing the combination of work and family. However, I do not think we ought to assume that only married women with children need help of the type discussed this afternoon. Part-time work and other flexible working arrangements can also be helpful to some men and for that matter to single women. It is important to recognise that in recent years the world of work has changed considerably for everyone. Many people now spend their working lives in occupations and under circumstances that were unimaginable a relatively short time ago. Technological advances, world economic pressures and social change have all played their part in challenging traditional views of work and working patterns.

A flexible labour market which accommodates the present-day needs of employers and all their employees is a vital part of the changing scene. I am sure that the position of women in particular can be helped by the kind of stimulating and interesting discussion that we have had today and I thank the noble Viscount for initiating this debate.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, we have had a most useful debate. Every speaker has had something valuable to contribute and most of them spoke from a detailed knowledge which I myself do not possess. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part and particularly I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, because I know that she was on a very well earned holday and came to the House specially to speak in this debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.