HL Deb 22 June 1998 vol 591 cc4-6

2.46 p.m.

Lord Razzall asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will seek to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to extend protection to visitors to events organised by trade unions and professional organisations.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, Section 29 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 already provides protection to visitors on access to all public events, whether organised by trade unions or professional associations, as with other public events. However, that Act does not extend to private events. It is for the organisations concerned to decide their policy regarding visitors. At present the Government have no plans to extend the scope of the Act in this way.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, but does he accept that the Equal Opportunities Commission is calling for an overall review of the operation of the sex discrimination legislation? Does he also accept that the Answer he has given does not go far enough? Surely, a registered trade union has responsibilities that go further than those of a members' club? He will accept that members' clubs are entitled to discriminate on sexual grounds against any of their members or members' guests. Bearing in mind the publicity being generated by the World Cup, will the Minister address the particular issue of whether it was right for the Professional Footballers Association to discriminate on grounds of sex against a guest who happened to be the only woman who was a registered FIFA football agent? Does the Minister agree that the Minister should provide legislative protection for her?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord eventually got round to explaining to other noble Lords what his Question was really about. The Government's view of this event is quite clear. My honourable friend the Minister for Sport refused to attend this event in view of the attitude adopted by the Professional Footballers Association. The noble Lord is correct that the EOC is looking at the operation of the Sex Discrimination Act, and the Government will take seriously any recommendations in this as in other areas. But trade unions and professional associations are required in relation to membership, access to benefits etc. to operate on an equal access basis. However, dealing with private events is a complex matter and one in which the sex discrimination legislation has so far not intruded. Serious issues would have to be dealt with before legislation could be drafted to attack that.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, can my noble friend go a little further? Surely, the Government support the EOC in its desire to have a simple statement of the limits of sex discrimination legislation. The Government are committed under the fairness at work proposals to do something about maternity benefits, parental leave and so on. Does my noble friend agree that this is a unique opportunity for the Government in the coming legislation to do what the EOC asks for and set out in clear terms the overall limits of sex equality legislation in this country? Can my noble friend go a little further in that regard?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am sure that we all want simplicity in this area. As I have said, we shall take seriously the EOC's proposals on the working of the Sex Discrimination Act. Clarity in drafting legislation in relation to private events is not easily achievable. That is what is raised by this issue. The Government's general attitude is clear: we deplore any such discrimination.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of any man or woman who, because they were a man or a woman, has been excluded from an event organised by a trade union or a professional organisation? If not, what on earth is this all about?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, made clear the occasion. It is the only one in recent years to my knowledge, and relates to the Professional Footballers Association and the exclusion of this lady.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, does the Minister agree that as it is now 23 years since the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced, it is about time that it was reviewed? It is important that the Government take action in this matter rather than wait for the EOC. In the meantime, will he actively discourage Members of your Lordships' House from attending functions at which women are actively discriminated against?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am prepared to discourage any noble Lord or noble Baroness from attending any function at which members of either sex are excluded merely on the grounds of their sex. Noble Lords may have other events in mind, but I shall not go too far down that road. I am sure that the noble Lord will accept that it is sensible to consider the EOC's recommendations in the round before we start legislating. It is time that we reviewed the workings of the Act, and we should do so in this respect and others.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, with regard to the EOC, which deals with matters relating to equality between the sexes, will my noble friend tell us how many men and how many women constitute the EOC itself? If there is not now equality will he ensure that there is?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am not sure that I am up to date with the exact numbers. The EOC consists of men and women in roughly equal proportions. That will continue to be the case.