HL Deb 13 March 2002 vol 632 cc914-36

8.35 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I am grateful to those who have indicated that they intend to speak this evening and I look forward very much to what each of them has to say. I have received a kind letter from the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who apologises that he cannot be here this evening, but is happy for me to say that he supports the Bill. He reminds me that he resigned from the Garrick Club some years ago because he and others failed to persuade it to change the rules to admit women as members.

The Bill follows precisely the terms of a Private Member's Bill that has twice been introduced in another place by Robert Walter, the Conservative MP for North Dorset, with all-party support. I thank him for the guidance and support that he has given me, together with his wife, Barbara Gorna, and the Fawcett Society for the work that they have done in drafting the Bill. The Bill is also supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission, which proposed in November 1998 that there should be a new sex equality Act to update the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts. The EOC said then: The new statute should cover all private members' clubs which have admitted both sexes to a membership category, and where some club facilities and services have been open to both men and women". The EOC's report Equality in the 21st Century—A new sex equality law for Britain says: The evidence available to the EOC indicates very little voluntary change in the sector and complaints reinforce the views that the exclusion of such clubs results in a variety of discriminatory rules and arrangements which seek to perpetuate stereotypical images of men and women; and which limit women's participation in club activities in a number of ways". The Bill would amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to bring it broadly into line with the Race Relations Acts 1968 and 1976, which prohibit race discrimination in private clubs with 25 or more members. The Bill does not make single-sex clubs unlawful. Nor does it outlaw single-sex sporting events or single-sex changing rooms, saunas, gyms or lavatories. It applies equally to discrimination against men.

The Bill has nothing to do with political correctness. It is about decent, civilised behaviour. The aim is to say clearly and unambiguously to private member clubs that if they have membership categories for men and for women, those categories must be open equally to both sexes. If a golf club, for example, wished to offer a cheaper associate membership that restricted the hours of play or limited the rooms in the clubhouse to which that category of member had access, or perhaps did not grant full voting rights, that arrangement would be lawful as long as one category of membership were not restricted to men and another category to women.

The Bill also says that a single-sex club that admits male and female guests must do so on equal terms and provide them with equal access to club facilities. That would put an end to women guests being excluded from men-only bars or being prevented from walking up a club's main staircase.

The Bill is very simple, with only one substantive clause. That clause introduces new sections to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which would follow the existing Section 29 of that Act. New Section 29A makes it unlawful for a private member club to discriminate against a woman or man in its terms of membership. It provides also that facilities offered to male members must be offered on equal terms to female members. New Section 29B provides for single-sex clubs to remain so and new Section 29C allows clubs to continue offering sporting events and competitions on a single-sex basis but provides that where there is sufficient demand from female members for an equivalent competition, one must be provided. That new section also provides that if prize money of less than £1,000 is offered in such an event, equal prize money must be offered in the female competition.

When considering whether to introduce the Bill, I sought to establish the extent of the problem that women face in private member clubs. I was shocked by the number of reports that I received—particularly those relating to golf and working men's clubs. The highest-profile case in the gentlemen's club category is the Carlton, which was founded in 1832 by Tories opposed to the Reform Act. I can do no better than quote the words of Robert Walter, MP, speaking in another place on 11th December 2001: I had personal experience of the injustice of a club that offered membership to both men and women but which discriminated against women by offering them only inferior membership. They had second-class status with no access to the governance of that club … I had been part of a campaign to remedy that injustice. On two separate occasions, the club narrowly missed the opportunity to move itself into the modern world".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/2002; col. 736.] He resigned in November 1999. I understand that a number of other prominent Conservative supporters have also resigned.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith has, to his great credit, refused to join—becoming the first leader of his party since the mid-19th century not to do so. In an interview in the Spectator, Mr. Duncan Smith said: As the leader of a Conservative Party that believes that there should be no `no-go' areas for women, I will have to say that I can't do it while it is different for many of my colleagues here who would like to become members but cannot". Good for him—and well done those members of your Lordships' House who have resigned or declined to join the Carlton because of its policy towards women.

Mrs. Wendy Lea is the licensee of the Red Lion pub in Crown Passage, just across the road from the Carlton. She was quoted in the Daily Telegraph on 29th December as saying of Mr. Duncan Smith: He's just gone up in my estimation. Fair play to the man. He is standing up for women's rights". Mrs. Lea was asked whether she would like to be a member of the Carlton and replied: I am not necessarily saying that I'd like to be but I would like the chance to be. I just think women should have the right. I could understand if they was running around naked and they didn't want women in for that reason. But you would no longer be able to run a club that's whites only but you're still allowed to exclude women because of their sex. You're not allowed to be racist but you can still be sexist". The Carlton is clearly different from the Athenaeum, which admitted women as full members without restrictions from 2nd January. I offer my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, on being among the first distinguished women members.

In the interests of political balance, I will refer to the problems in working men's clubs. There are about 5,500 such clubs on the register of the Committee of Registered Clubs Association—known as CORCA. There are eight main groups, including political clubs and service clubs such as those of the Royal British Legion, RAF and Royal Navy. The principal group is the CIU—the working men's Club and Institute Union, which represents 2,700 of the total.

Of those clubs, 1,080 or 40 per cent grant women full membership rights. Of the remaining 1,620 clubs, eight are single sex. They will not be affected by my Bill unless they discriminate against women as visitors. That leaves 1,612 clubs—60 per cent of the total— where women join as a different class of member, generally at a lower subscription. They are likely to find some parts of the club barred to them and will be prevented from attending the AGM or standing for election.

An example of the sort of problem that women face is that of Sunnybank Social Club in Silsden, near Skipton, where a group of young women were caught playing snooker and told they had no business there. Two men who came to their aid were charged with bringing the club into disrepute. One of the women members said about the men to the Independent: They have a Victorian attitude. They'd rather have women at the kitchen sink, on a ball and chain". The CIU, to its credit, is trying to do something. At its conference on 6th April, a motion to move the infamous rule 12(e) will be proposed. That rule states: Associate pass cards cannot be purchased by women". Those cards are a means of identification and allow a member of one CIU club to visit another and enjoy as a guest almost the same level of membership. If rule 12(e) were abolished, women who are full members of a non-discriminating club would be able to visit a club that does discriminate and insist on equal treatment. That would do nothing for women who are members of clubs that discriminate but would help. But your Lordships should not hold their breath. The CIU has tried three times previously to abolish rule 12(e) and failed each time to get the necessary two thirds majority. I suspect that it will be necessary for the Bill to be on the statute book before the CIU scraps rule 12(e), even though many members believe that clubs must change just to survive.

The Penlan Social Club in Swansea voted to give women full membership two years ago. Its general secretary, John Morgan, commented: It's simple: female unfriendly clubs will close. Giving women full membership has made a big difference in terms of the dynamism of our club. We have a lot more going on. We need to persuade that flat-cap element who don't like change". That is wholly in line with the official view of the CIU. Its general secretary, Kevin Smyth, is happy for me to quote him: The union's National Executive firmly believes that the future of clubs in our organisation is tied up with giving women full equality". Probably the thorniest problem of all is golf clubs. Just one year ago, Golf World published a survey of social attitudes. The findings, as reported in the Independent on Sunday, were that golf clubs were the final bastions of British snobbery, discrimination and prejudice". Nearly one quarter of British clubs were found to be preventing women becoming elected captains and more than two thirds operated under rules that discriminate against 140,000 regular women golfers. Half the clubs admitted that men and women were charged different fees for full membership and that there was a restriction on the hours that women can play.

A couple of years ago, a survey in Women in Golf magazine showed that only 56 per cent of women could stand for election to the main committee, 21 per cent had men-only access in parts of the clubs and 35 per cent did not provide women with full voting rights.

The descriptions of some of the practices followed and the attitudes displayed beggar belief. There are scores of examples of sexist, humiliating treatment. According to the Daily Telegraph, at Gay Hill Golf Club at Wythall in Worcestershire, a white line was painted across the floor of the bar to mark the territory that women could not enter. The Royal Liverpool Golf Club imposed a 30 per cent levy on subscriptions for men and women members alike but denied women any vote on whether the levy should be raised.

Progress is to be found here and there. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, informs me that Woking Golf Club granted full membership rights to women at its 2001 AGM and that other clubs have extended the hours that women may play. The most accurate comment on the state of women's golf generally is from Tim Howland, chief executive of the Ladies European tour. He is quoted in the March 2001 edition of Golf World as saying, It's mainly men who laugh about signs like 'No dogs, no women'. It's not something that women find funny. This sort of behaviour doesn't happen on the continent, only in Britain, and it's a sad indictment of how golf treats women and children". That comment applies with varying degrees of force across private clubs generally. I hope that the House agrees that it is time we did something and will give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Faulkner of Worcester.)

8.50 p.m.

Baroness Fookes

My Lords, may I be the first to congratulate the noble Lord on introducing a most sensible Bill and doing so with great élan and panache. He has both amused and horrified us with the various stories he has told.

I very much welcome this sensible approach which fills a gap left by the Anti-Discrimination Act 1975. I can remember being a young MP at that time and warmly welcoming and assisting in the passage of that Act. It was very much a landmark at the time. Although it could not deal with everything, one of its most sensible provisions was the setting up of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which provided a permanent watching brief; but it did leave that particular gap.

I was reminded by the noble Lord's reference to the staircase of an experience that I had in a gentlemen's club. I was astonished, astounded and infuriated at being hustled up a back staircase, as though I were being surreptitiously smuggled in as an illegal entrant. At that time I swore that I would never again enter that club until I could sweep up and down its main grand staircase. That was many years ago and still the position is not altogether satisfactory, as the noble Lord has clearly indicated.

That kind of example applies not only to grand gentlemen's clubs. It certainly applies to sporting clubs. My late mother would have been absolutely thrilled by this Bill. She was a keen sportswoman and also very keen on equality for men and women. I remember her being irritated intensely by the second-rate treatment of women in golf clubs and even, I am sorry to say, in the bowls world of that time. I remember one indoor bowls club that contained both men's and women's clubs. The men and women had to share the various indoor rinks, which had to be rationed because there were more people who wanted to play than rinks available. Surprise, surprise! Who got the lion's share of both the rinks and the time allocated? Always the men. To some extent, that also applied outdoors, where there were several clubs, some for men and some for women—none mixed at that time—which used the same outdoor greens. It was common practice that the women always made do with the poorer greens and the poorest times.

My mother was not one to take things lying down. She always fought a fierce battle on these matters. But there was no legislation to back it up and at that time too many were prepared to be submissive. So my mother's preaching rebellion did not always work, but she did her damnedest, and had she been alive today she would have been particularly pleased with the provisions of this Bill.

I have only one reservation—absolutely nothing to do with the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner—which is that the Bill amends the existing legislation. It seems to me a great pity that we cannot have one new Bill that would bring together the anti-discrimination legislation and the equal pay legislation, updated to fill the gaps, so that we could have one Act of Parliament to which we could all refer on this subject. One of my constant beefs is that nowadays one can never read a Bill without having to read another in order to make full sense of it, and that is a distressing trend.

However, having got that beef off my chest, I welcome this sensible Bill which takes a moderate but firm path. I wish it well; I hope that it has a speedy passage and quickly becomes law.

8.54 p.m.

Baroness Gale

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Faulkner for introducing this extremely important Bill, which I fully support. It represents yet another attempt to end discrimination and prejudice against women.

Only a short time ago we were debating the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002, which has now received Royal Assent. That Act allows political parties to have all-women shortlists when selecting candidates. It came about in recognition of the fact that women of all political parties experienced great difficulties in getting selected without special measures being in place.

Over the years many Acts of Parliament have been designed to break down barriers that prevent women from taking part in activities that they wish to pursue—the 1918 Act, which allowed women to vote and to be elected to the House of Commons, the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Commission—a raft of measures assisting women at work, women in politics, enabling women to play their part in the democracy of the country, as well as laws to protect women from domestic violence. In those heady days of the 1970s, many of us believed that the battle for women's rights had been won. Only later did we realise that still many battles lay ahead of us.

Today we have before us another Bill that will be of great assistance in eradicating discrimination against women. But why do we have such a Bill before us? Why, at the beginning of the 21st century, should it be necessary to have legislation to ensure that women will be treated as equal citizens? Surely, we should by now have a much more enlightened approach to the rights of women. There should not be a need for legislation. Unfortunately, however, there is.

I am sure that a number of noble Baronesses in your Lordships' House today could, like the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, could give examples of discrimination encountered when entering private clubs.

Perhaps I can give one experience that I had several years ago when I was working in a by-election in a constituency in Wales, which I shall not name. After canvassing one evening, the people I was with invited me to a club to take a drink with them. I happily went along. Approaching the club, the men walked ahead and I followed them. When I got to the door, the door steward stopped me. He said, "You can't go in this way". I asked, "Why not?", because my male colleagues had just gone through the door ahead of me. He said, "This is a male-only bar and you will have to walk down the back lane to get to the lounge bar". Instead of using the back stairs, I had to go down a back lane to reach the bar. As I did so, I had never felt such a sense of total humiliation. The only reason I could not go through the main door was that I was a woman. That is one example of discrimination that I have experienced. There are others, such as being refused a drink when I inadvertently entered a male-only bar. Unfortunately, still too many private clubs operate in that discriminatory way.

Based in the heart of Cardiff is the Cardiff and County Club. Several prominent women in Wales have tried to join that club. Glenys Kinnock and Eluned Morgan, Members of the European Parliament representing Wales, applied to join but were rejected. The Welsh electorate thought that they were good enough to serve Wales in the European Parliament but not good enough, because they were women, for the Cardiff and County Club. Apparently, there are no application forms in that club. One has to be invited to join. If one does not receive an invitation, one does not have an opportunity to join, and if one is a woman, one never gets an invitation.

In Cardiff, the capital city of Wales—one of the most exciting and innovative young capitals in Europe—we still find, in 2002, that women are rejected in this type of club. Carolyn Hitt, a journalist for the Western Mail, commented on Monday about this very club. She wrote: This exclusive clique is the last bastion of sexual inequality in Wales". But even with this club there are occasions when women can enter. They can go there for Saturday lunch, provided they are the guests of a member. However, male guests can attend any day of the week. Women can also go to the club if a member has hired a room for a private function such as a birthday party. Carolyn Hitt also said: An establishment that includes women may seem a straightforward case for the Equal Opportunities Commission, but there is nothing illegal about the Cardiff and County. The Sex Discrimination Act does not apply to private clubs". Can my noble friend Lord Faulkner say whether his Bill covers the actions of the Cardiff and County Club and other clubs that operate in a similar manner? Will this Bill make their actions illegal? I hope that that is the case. However, if it is not, perhaps we can amend the Bill to ensure that it is.

I am sorry to say that there are many clubs in Wales and in the rest of the country that operate men-only bars, as well as other forms of restrictive measures towards women. It is a grave insult to women that this type of gender apartheid should have any place in today's society. I believe that the Bill will be a great step forward. I very much look forward to the day when it becomes an Act of Parliament.

9.1 p.m.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, I should like, first, to add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on bringing forward this Bill to get rid of sex discrimination in clubs. When I was at the Equal Opportunities Commission, almost from day one we received complaints from those who felt that they had been discriminated against in all sorts of clubs. Those complaints ranged from ones where, quite literally, women were allowed in free—although, perhaps, for rather different purposes—and men had to pay a rather high subscription, to all the other sorts of clubs that have been so well outlined tonight.

It is a great pleasure to be participating in such a debate and to note that the recommendations are being accepted by the other side of your Lordships' House. I well remember the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who was so supportive when the Sex Discrimination Act was going through Parliament. We should never forget that that legislation was passed by a huge majority of both Houses. Indeed, only one or two people, who shall be nameless, took a different line. We must not overlook the fact that much has been achieved.

I have to confess to being, as it were, the "partner in crime" of the noble Lord, Lord Lester. After having had lunch with him one day at the Garrick Club, we walked up the stairs—contrary to what was allowed— as a form of protest. I have to say that they were rather clever about it: they took not the slightest bit of notice of us, which rather deflated the action that we had taken.

I find it rather depressing that this is the second time within two months that I find myself supporting a Bill that it really should not have been necessary to bring forward. The first, of course, was the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill. Frankly, determined and effective action by all political parties from 1975 onwards to ensure a balanced representation of both sexes in Parliament—based, of course, on merit—could easily have prevented the need for that legislation. More importantly, over the past 25 years it would have provided an enriched and far more representative Chamber against which the priorities for legislation of both sexes (both 50 per cents of the population) would have been debated and become law.

If that is so for parliamentary candidates, the case for clubs—which are not genuinely single-sex clubs—to have put their house voluntarily in order over the past 25 years is, frankly, even more glaring. As early as one year after the Sex Discrimination Act was passed, we know that the Race Relations Act actually included discrimination as regards clubs. Even as late as last year, a question on this very subject from the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, was put to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. She replied that she felt that clubs would really like to be given time—yet more time——-to do this voluntarily. I am a patient person. When I took over as deputy chairman of the EOC, I said that I thought it would be at least 20 years before we saw any real action in many areas. But 25 years on—indeed, nearly 26 years—from that Act, I believe that the time has come for this very clear and specific Bill. It certainly has my support.

This also illustrates the point of the 1974 government, who said that, any exception weakens the principle of non-discrimination". I am afraid that that has proved to be all too correct. It is interesting that a number of organisations have adjusted themselves as regards exceptions. I have in mind, for example, some aspects of retirement and the height of police officers. I used to tease the miners' union leaders about the fact that women were not allowed down the mines— indeed, it might be a rather better paid job these days than it was in the past—but we know that there were reasons for that exception. Many of those exceptions have been ironed out, but, although it is another matter, much remains to be done on pensions.

What should the rules be for clubs, given not only that the concept of sex discrimination in employment, in education and in the provision of goods, facilities and services is illegal but also that, over the past 25 years, non-discrimination has become the generally accepted standard of behaviour in all areas covered by the Act? Of course, that is not always followed, but it is the generally accepted standard of behaviour. I will refer back to the famous case of the well-known men-only Fleet Street pub, "E1 Vino's", at which journalists made contacts and swapped stories. Women journalists were relegated to a different bar and therefore missed out on important professional relationships. Admittedly, that was a pub, not a club, but the economic and social disadvantage of being unable to mix with one's professional peers was firmly established when the complainant in that case won.

Certain men-only clubs recruit from specific groups; for example, the Garrick Club, which admits clergymen, actors, politicians and lawyers, and the Carlton Club, which is for Conservative politicians. Not only do those clubs discriminate on the grounds of sex, they deny women the opportunity to mix with their colleagues and to advance professionally. It is not too early to make that final breakthrough. All clubs have membership rules. Most select new members on the agreement of existing members, and the most popular clubs have considerable waiting lists. The Bill does not affect those aspects; it deals solely with sex discrimination in the selection of members and the granting of second-class membership to females, without their being given the right to influence change.

I am especially irritated by sex discrimination in sports clubs, although I am glad that the population's enthusiasm for sport is growing. Membership should be granted on the basis of such criteria as the applicant's sporting ability, enthusiasm or knowledge, regardless of sex. Golf clubs and others have not woken up to the fact that huge numbers of women earn a good deal of money. In addition, many women have the financial and professional expertise to contribute a great deal to the running of the club and to take into account women's needs. Certain golf clubs have rules that women cannot play at weekends as if only men work during the week. A much fairer way to allocate weekend playing time would be to appeal to those who can play during the week to give way voluntarily at weekends.

Working men's clubs, which have huge numbers of members, are crucial. Many are located in remote areas, so it is important that the whole community, including both sexes, can meet there.

There have been heroic battles about the opening of club membership to women. In the case of the Oxford and Cambridge Club, it was the heads of colleges who won the battle. Rather like lain Duncan Smith, they said that they would resign unless changes were made. In addition, I congratulate the Reform Club, which was among the pioneers of those changes. However, I once attended that club for lunch, after which my host was embarrassed to be told that, because I was among his guests, we would have to have our coffee in a tiny hidden room. Thank goodness that has all gone and the Reform Club was ahead of the game. I am glad that the Atheneum—the natural haunt for top academics, scientists, medics and so forth—after many debates has finally made the change, although it took a little time. The change happened only this year

This Bill should not be necessary. However, given that legal requirement is now needed, I guess that within a very short time the fuss will die down. Given the rather different experience of life that women have, and what they can bring to the party as well as their economic input, power and influence which is growing everywhere, clubs will soon see that they are on to a good thing. The pity is that they were made to do it.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Borrie

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. In 1975 she and I were founder members of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I was an ordinary member and she was the deputy chairman.

I need to declare interests in that I am a member of both the Reform Club, to which reference has just been made and which has admitted women on equal terms for 20 years, and of the Garrick Club, which does not admit women at all.

In many ways I know the Reform Club better because I have been a member for nearly 30 years and was chairman for two years in the early 1990s. I checked with the current secretary and understand that at the monthly election of new members at the present time, women come in as a proportion of the total new membership at around 25 to 30 per cent, as against 65 to 70 per cent of men. They come in on equal terms though it will take some time before the total membership is anywhere near equal. In fact at the present time, even after 20 years of equality with women, 85 per cent of the membership are men.

I believe the club has benefited immensely from taking women members and in my experience women often play a bigger role in the governance of the club than their share of the membership would suggest. The club currently has its second woman chairman.

On the other hand, the Garrick Club voted some years ago to continue to exclude women totally from membership. One of the major reasons was that, unlike many clubs such as the Atheneum, the Oxford and Cambridge and the Reform, the Garrick was never a purpose-built club. I have never understood that women were excluded from the main staircase, but those who have been there will agree that it is a relatively small club. It has an enormous waiting list. I waited for around seven years to be a member and the waiting list at the moment is still seven or eight years. One of the problems would be that if women were admitted to the club, it could only be meaningful if there was a positive discrimination admissions policy over a number of years, with the result that the men still on the waiting list would have to wait much longer.

I enjoy both my clubs. One is mixed and one is not. I am glad—I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, will agree—that this Bill does not seek to legislate out of existence such few men-only clubs as still remain. I am of course sympathetic to the idea that where women are in membership of a club, be it gentlemen's clubs, golf clubs or working men's clubs, they should have equal rights to the facilities and to a proper share of the governance, membership of the committees and so forth. But unlike other Members who have spoken so far, including the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, I am not at all keen on using the law to achieve that end.

Some clubs in practice—examples have already been given—have moved from being exclusively male to the other end of the spectrum, completely unisex by way of women being admitted with certain restrictions. Indeed, I recall that the Reform Club, for a short period 20-odd years ago after it admitted women, kept its smoking room, one of the main public rooms, for the exclusive use of male members. As will be appreciated, that was a sop to the old guard. Possibly it was necessary in order to get the vote for women members. The policy did not last very long.

Women who are associate members of the Oxford and Cambridge Club enjoy restricted use of certain facilities and pay a lower subscription, and they do not necessarily wish to alter that situation. That club may therefore move to a different set-up where it is completely mixed—it may not—but if the Bill is passed, certain clubs may prefer to remain exclusively male if they are not permitted to admit women on a limited or restricted basis, at least for the time being. So, if the Bill is passed in its present form, the law may perhaps be counter-productive.

Indeed, it may be counter-productive in another respect. If a club that already allows women members on an associated or restricted basis does not wish to be forced by the new law to give women completely equal rights, it might instead decide to revert to being exclusively male, which, as I understand it, the new Bill will permit. Many noble Lords who have spoken would not think that that was a positive and useful step forward but rather a step backwards.

Without law, clubs—and I am talking about the types of clubs that I know best; the gentlemen's clubs, so-called—have come a long way over the past 20 or 30 years. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, referred to some of the changes that have come about through social and other pressures, where perhaps a modest cluster of women eager to become members of clubs have managed to secure admission to and policy changes in the clubs concerned.

I doubt the value of a new law to cover what, after all, in 1975 was carefully determined as a distinction between private facilities, which are extensions of one's home and so on, and the provision of facilities and services which are publicly and/or commercially available. As I suggested, the law may be counter-productive and invite antagonisms that are otherwise gradually—it may appear only gradually—in the process of being reduced.

9.22 p.m.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Faulkner for introducing the Bill. It is clearly a very important contribution to an on-going debate about the various ways in which women continue to be excluded from certain networks. I do not wish to make a long contribution because a great deal of what I wished to say has already been said.

Many people would feel that we in this Chamber are members of one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, with recruitment processes and membership rules as arcane as anything the Bill is designed to address. Some might say that the Palace as a whole still retains at least some of the physical characteristics of the gentlemen's home from home that once it was. A brief glance into the Library after lunch will often bear that out.

However, that would be a superficial assessment, as we all know, because slowly but inexorably the building and its customs have changed, bowing to the recognition that men and women work and rest here together on equal terms and that the wishes of one group cannot be assumed to take precedence over the needs of another. If the House of Lords has been able to meet this challenge, surely it cannot be too much for others to contemplate.

Occasionally I visit the Garrick Club, which has been very much mentioned in the debate. I suspect in fact I believe I know for sure—that the Garrick Club will not be caught by the terms of the Bill. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Bonne that this is a good thing—it is not. In common with my noble friend Lady Gale, I wish that clubs such as the Garrick were caught under this legislation. I hope that influence will be brought to bear on such clubs—ultimately through the application of this legislation, but by other forms of pressure—and will result in their no longer being able to act as they do.

I want to explain why I feel that way. It is germane to the debate. I am not a member of the Garrick Club because I cannot be a member—which is odd. It has a very fine collection of paintings, as Members of this House who have attended the club—and I am sure there are many—will know. They are mostly paintings of people, several of whom are women who have been prominent in one of the professions with which this club has been especially associated—the theatre—which is also my profession. The club is named after an actor.

Women have had the freedom to be actors (if freedom it be—only on the "equal misery for all" principle perhaps) since the end of the 17th century. That was long before they were allowed to be doctors, lawyers or Members of either House of Parliament. Of course, being an actor was for centuries regarded as only one step up from vagrancy or prostitution—indeed, in some minds it still is—but the theatre has always been an inclusive community, and women have long been honoured in it, as often as they have been reviled. How curious then that none of the string of eminent actresses from Sarah Siddons and Dora Jordan in the 18th century to Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith in our own time could have been, or can now be, members of a club that bears the name of one of their own kind.

A couple of years ago, one of my dearest friends had her birthday party at this same club. It was a lovely occasion, of course—but my friend was in effect a guest at her own table. The fact that she was, and is, a senior member of the Government makes no difference—she cannot be any kind of member of this club. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say.

The Bill does not, as I understand it, seek to prevent clubs or associations from choosing to recruit members exclusively from one gender group, provided that the benefits of membership are, to be enjoyed wholly by men or wholly by women". But that condition is clearly not met in the case of clubs such as the one I have mentioned, where the benefits are frequently enjoyed by both men and women, often together. Women are welcome guests, at least in my experience. They are treated with courtesy, sometimes even deference, by staff and members alike.

I have heard no complaints about this establishment, or about any of the several other clubs applying similar rules, from those fortunate enough to enjoy their hospitality from time to time. But being a guest, however hospitable the host, is very different from being at home. Apart from the necessity to be on one's best behaviour and not put elbows (or feet) on the table or fall asleep in front of the television and so on, as one might if one were at home, there is the constant awareness of being on the outside, excluded from the codes and discourses that come with belonging, whether to a club, a family or a profession, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, eloquently pointed out in respect of El Vino's. The way in which women were treated in that particular establishment was an issue of professional exclusion.

Knowing that one cannot aspire to anything other than guest status simply because one is a women is a singular and piquant kind of humiliation. I should be misleading your Lordships were I to suggest that it is at the top of the list of things that keep me awake at night; but periodically I wonder what it is that makes me a fit person, allegedly, to be a Member of this House but unfit for membership of the Garrick Club.

The Bill seeks to prevent the kind of discrimination which, however subtly or elegantly it manifests itself, perpetuates the notion that women can legitimately be sidelined or excluded from positions of influence. I am sure that many members of organisations applying such restrictions would regard these words as at best silly and at worst offensive. They would say that they have no such intentions—that they are merely continuing in time-honoured fashion to do what has always been done. Along with my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester and many other speakers, I believe that this will no longer do. It is, as they say, the principle of the thing.

Although I recognise that what most irritates me about the way in which such clubs operate is not caught by the Bill, I none the less support it in the hope and belief that, if it is passed, it will begin to exert the kind of influence that will eventually mean that clubs such as the ones we have been discussing no longer operate the policies that they currently operate.

9.29 p.m.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I, too, should like to give a round of applause to my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester for introducing this most welcome and long overdue amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. In doing so, I acknowledge the excellent work of Robert Walter MP on this issue.

As chair of the Women's National Commission, I am only too aware of the frustration, bewilderment and downright astonishment that many of our partner organisations feel at the current situation of women's second-class membership and third-rate treatment in a significant number of Britain's private clubs. They are clubs that allow women through the door, but do so with such grudging acceptance that an open-door policy actually means restricted membership—restricted club times, restricted voting rights, restricted use of facilities, and more restrictions if one is a female guest.

A glance back at the past 24 months' of press coverage and surveys conducted on discrimination against women in private clubs reveals even to me a surprisingly strong and persistent set of prejudices against women in modern Britain. In April 2001, in the Daily Telegraph, Liz Khan stated: At Royal Troon Golf Club women visitors can only play with a member of the club and women may not normally enter the clubhouse". She went on to say: The Royal and Ancient club house, home of golf, is barred to women and a few years ago, the Royal and Ancient, who offer all former male presidents of the United States Golf Association, honorary Royal and Ancient membership, gave Judy Bell, the first woman president of the United States Golf Association, not honorary membership, but a diamond brooch instead". In that instance, diamonds rather than men seemed to be a girl's best friend.

In March 2000, in the Daily Telegraph, Maurice Weaver reminded us that, Recently during refurbishment at a golf club in Worcestershire women were temporarily admitted to the men's bar and snooker room on condition that they did not cross a white line specially drawn on the floor. Men drank on one side of the white line/women on the other". In normal times women would not have been allowed into the men's bar even to sell charity tickets. As other speakers have said, women are also barred from playing the course before noon on Sundays, 3 p.m. on summer Saturdays and 1 p.m. on winter Saturdays. As one woman said in the article, It takes 3½ hours to get round the 18 holes, so on dark winter weekends it is practically impossible for women to get in a full round. The rule is so strictly enforced that women players are kept waiting for their start time, even though the tees are totally empty". As we have heard, however, not all clubs are as stone age in their thinking, and some have heeded the call by the Government and—in earlier days—by the EOC to reform their practices voluntarily. We welcome those more enlightened boards and echo John Morgan, General Secretary of the Penlan Social Club, in Swansea, whose 3,000 members—as my noble friend Lord Faulkner reminds us—voted two years ago to give women full membership. John Morgan said: Giving women full membership has made a big difference in terms of the dynamism of our club, we have a lot more going on now". Yet too few clubs have taken the voluntary route to equality. In 1999, about three quarters of all private golf clubs retained extra privileges for male members, such as men's bars and banning women from playing the course at certain times. That is why the Bill is so timely in forcing through change and why we need the Government's support.

We live in times when diversity and equality should add up to a modern, forward-looking society. It is a great insult to today's modern women that so many private clubs operate on rules that are based on totally outmoded views of men's and women's lives, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, has said. There is the idea that women do not go out to work and, therefore, can use the golf course when men are out earning bread; that only men need the business, social and political networks that form the culture of many clubhouses; and that women must be kept away from the voting and decision-making machinery of a club at all costs—perhaps in case they run them better.

A successful passage of this Bill will mean that if a club chooses to admit women it must admit them as equal members. That does not go far enough for my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, whose concerns I understand, but it is a terrific start and one that I believe we must support. The Bill does not say that a club or an organisation cannot remain a single sex club. We do not expect to see, in the near future, muscle-bound men muscling in on the WI's next calendar.

The Bill applies to private member clubs of 25 or more members and it applies equally to discrimination against men. Like several noble Baronesses, I recently spoke on a Bill dealing with the need for political parties positively to encourage women to become members. In preparing for our debate I read that a pre-selection meeting was held at the Carlton Club for the 2001 general election. As we have heard, that club does not admit women as full members. The messages that many such clubs send out about their strong belief in women's inequality, not only damages the leisure and the sporting lives of many women, but also their working and political lives and ambitions. I wish my noble friend Lord Faulkner every success in his endeavours.

9.37 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, like other speakers, I welcome the appearance of this excellent little Bill. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, on the extremely thorough way in which he introduced it.

I have never sympathised with the determination of some women, including noble Baronesses who have spoken in the debate, to close down all single-sex clubs. I have a sneaking suspicion that one day I may want to belong to a club that admits only women. From time to time there is a certain comfort in not having to get oneself dolled up because one is public, of being with other women and not having to make allowances for anyone else. I know that different views have been expressed.

If both men and women are members of a club I support the idea that they should both have equal rights. That is the thesis at the heart of the Bill. I want to quote from a letter sent to my noble friend Lady Williams. The writer says: Many of the reasons for offering women different membership conditions are based on outdated views of men and women's lives such as assuming that women may be able to use club facilities during the day as they do not work, or that women will not want to use a club bar. At present the second class membership which women are offered excludes them from the business, political and social networks that the clubs offer. Women are also often prevented from being able to take part in the running of the clubs, meaning that they are not able to effect change from within". That final point is particularly effective. Other noble Lords have mentioned one or other of those points.

The key to this situation is that if one is to have associate members of a club with lesser access to the facilities, then those members should do a deal. They will presumably get fewer facilities for less money. But that should apply equally to men and women. The discrimination results from the fact that in general because full memberships are for the men and associate memberships are offered to women.

I have not been as hardworking as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. However, following a random sample of London's glamorous club land, I can now exclusively reveal that the Bill is causing different reactions in different clubs depending on their current position with respect to women members. We have already heard that for a long time clubs such as the Reform Club and the Liberal Club have had men and women on equal status. They are unconcerned because they are unaffected. One of the people with whom we spoke wondered whether in fact the equal status membership might have the effect—this point was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie—of forcing some clubs back into not offering any type of women's membership at all. Someone wondered whether men would dare to put women forward as full members of a man's club. It is a curious assumption that men are more lacking in courage than women.

This club—the House of Lords—let me in, but only because at the time when Paddy Ashdown was offered two peerages, after a very long period when he had not been offered any, he decided that he would choose one woman and one man. That is what he did. I hope that does not put me into a situation of not wanting to be a member of a club that would allow me to join.

Clubs that do not accept women as members differed in their approach when we talked to them. One interesting comment that we received was that it was, not right to prevent men or women from enjoying the full benefits of club membership, but equally not right to prevent men or women from enjoying the company of their own sex". That is the view I expressed at the beginning of my speech.

There was an interesting arrangement at the Army and Navy Club which responds very much to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall. That club was originally all male. Men and women now have equal access to membership if they have been officers in the armed services. Many women are now officers in the armed services. Even more interestingly, their spouses, whatever their sex, have equal rights to associate membership. As a result of taking a practical view of life, as the armed services so often do, the club has come up with precisely the result that the Bill seeks to achieve.

Several noble Lords referred to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. This is the second small Bill that we have considered in this Session to modify that original and very breakthrough Act. It is a pity that we must go about it in this kind of "take a clause here and take a clause there" way, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe.

I do not know how many noble Lords share my view that if there is no rational explanation of why women are not paid enough or do not have the same access to employment or any kind of right, the explanation is prejudice. It is as simple as that. I have fought that prejudice in my party—someone spoke about party selection processes. The Act did not assist us in that, as we discovered when the Labour Party decided to go for all-women shortlists and was prosecuted under the Act. The most recent Act that we passed was directed precisely towards removing that danger. It does not remove all the dangers of positive action to promote women candidates, but it gets rid of that one. One could be prosecuted in a different way, if one were unlucky.

We cannot solve all of the world's problems or all women's problems with the Bill. It is to be hoped that we can make a good stab at solving the particular problems that the Bill addresses. I wish it well and hope that we will shortly hear from the Government Front Bench that they support it.

9.46 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe

My Lords, it is late, so I will be brief. I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, for introducing the Bill, which gives us the opportunity to debate sex discrimination in private members' clubs. Let me also congratulate him on an excellent speech that illustrated by poignant examples the almost irresistible arguments in favour of the Bill. Let me also say that we are reticent about succumbing to legislation on the issue—not because we do not believe in its aims but because the law can be a blunt instrument when used in such a way. We are therefore somewhat sceptical about inflicting legislation on how people choose to behave in private.

That said, we recognise that there is a serious need for a cultural change within some of our private institutions: a cultural change that is essentially about confronting closed minds. We recognise that the Bill is intended to meet that objective.

It is important, albeit at the risk of repetition, to make clear to all those beyond your Lordships' House who may not have read the Bill, what measures it would introduce. First and foremost, if a club chooses to admit women, it must admit them as equal members. Further, a single-sex club does not lose its status as a single-sex club if women are admitted to club functions on an occasional basis. Indeed, only if all the circumstances are such that the club cannot be genuinely described as single-sex does the Bill apply. Further, any club can choose to be or remain a single-sex club and the Bill applies only to private clubs with 25 or more members.

The Bill would outlaw, for example, single-sex bars where women were admitted to other bars in the club, golf clubs allowing women only at certain times and men-only enclosures. It would not outlaw, for example, single-sex changing rooms, gyms and lavatories. It would not outlaw single-sex sporting events—thank goodness for that. Importantly, the Bill applies equally to discrimination against men.

In truth, I am not entirely convinced that the Bill as drafted will achieve those objectives in practice. Further consideration of its clauses in Committee will be essential before we decide whether it should reach the statute book. I agree with my noble friend Lady Fookes that the Bill is sensible in its approach and deserves serious consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, referred to the public stance taken by some of us in the Conservative Party, including me, who decided with a heavy heart to resign from the Carlton Club because it continues to exclude women members from full membership simply on grounds of sex. While it is a private club, the Carlton Club holds itself out to be a leading club of the Conservative Party—a very public institution.

I was interested to learn that the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, resigned from the Garrick Club some years ago because he and others failed to persuade it to change the rules to admit women as members. I am somewhat surprised that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has failed to do likewise. I was also interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, seeking perhaps to defend the Garrick on the grounds of physical capacity. It reminded me of a biography of the Mitford girls that I read recently. The first Baron Redesdale, their father, argued in your Lordships' House that women should not be admitted as Members as there was no ladies' water closet close to the Chamber, in which case they would be inconvenienced. They are matters of principle.

I recall how in a debate in your Lordships' House last year on the lamentable lack of elected women Members of Parliament I felt that it was depressing that in the 21st century we should even be discussing the need to address issues concerning irrefutable discriminatory behaviour on grounds of sex. This evening, like the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, I feel equally depressed, although this Bill may at least cause some to re-think their attitudes. That said, we must tread carefully, as there is surely a limit to how much we should interfere with the rights of individuals acting in a private capacity.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say this evening. In particular, I would like to know whether the Bill will, as some newspaper reports have suggested, become a government Bill when it reaches another place. In that case, will it be taken out of Private Member's Bill procedures and given proper government time or will it have to take its chances like any other Private Member's Bill? That is an important question.

9.52 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to respond to this Second Reading debate and to join noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester for introducing the Bill and helping us to have this important debate.

During the debate I was particularly reminded of the sad case of private clubs covered by the Race Relations Act 1976. One of my former constituents in Preston was banned from entering the dockers' club on grounds of race. Occasionally, I thought, on the one hand, "Why are we debating this? Why don't we give up? It's all taking so long", but I do not think that a case of the kind that I have mentioned could occur now. Perhaps change will happen to the benefit of women.

The Government are firmly committed to equality of opportunity. Not only is it inherently right, but it is essential to Britain's future economic and social success. My honourable friend Barbara Roche, the Minister for Women, also welcomes the Bill in principle. Although the Government support the principles of the Bill, we must also consider the impact that it will have, as we do with all legislation.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, I believe that the background to what has happened is extremely important. I was very taken by the thought of any conspiracy to cause mayhem and overthrow the rules that could bind together the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I would have thought that they could privately conduct a conspiracy to deal with some of the issues that would not be covered by the Bill, were it to become law.

The SDA does not currently cover private clubs because it does not extend to the provision of goods, facilities and services that are private and of a personal nature. Private clubs fall within that category. The law was framed that way in the 1970s because it was felt that genuinely private members' clubs should be able to reflect their members' requirements and preferences and because of concerns about the impact that it might have on freedom of association. Over 25 years later, many private clubs now have both men and women as members but can lawfully restrict access to some or all facilities in that club to members of one sex. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, raised that point with reference to golf clubs. Other noble Lords referred to the assumption that women could play only during the week and the difficulty that that presented for working women who could play only during peak hours at weekends.

Many working men's and constitutional clubs deny full membership benefits or refuse access by making the position impossible, uncomfortable or unpleasant, as my noble friend Lady Gale described. This kind of sex discrimination by private clubs is not acceptable. If clubs allow both sexes access to membership and some facilities and benefits, there can be no justification for them doing so in a discriminatory way.

My noble friends Lord Faulkner and Lady Crawley referred to the previous calls for the Government to change sex discrimination legislation. Many women have also written in individually. As my noble friend said, in 1998 the EOC proposed that the SDA should be extended to apply to clubs which have men and women members. The Government responded then by indicating a preference for voluntary action to be taken by clubs to eliminate discriminatory practices before imposing a legislative duty.

Several years later, very little has been done to rectify this inequality. Our expectation that clubs with both male and female members would want voluntarily to make sure that their arrangements were not discriminatory was, sadly, not borne out. I understood some reservations put forward by my noble friend Lord Borrie, but how long do we have to wait for voluntary action to provide that equality within the membership of clubs?

My noble friend Lady Crawley referred to the fact that many clubs have less equal memberships available—usually offered solely to women. Noble Lords have questioned whether there is any possibility of such clubs changing their minds. I suspect that in some cases the decision to allow women to become associate members may be associated with the fact that associate membership often involves a payment of money to help to support the club. I suspect that a club's finances might be quite severely affected were it suddenly to try—even if legally it could—to revert back to being male only. I know that that would be the case with some of the clubs in the CIU. I say to my noble friend Lady Gale that there may be hope of change.

I join my noble friend Lady Crawley in paying tribute to the work done in the past by Robert Walter and his attempt to amend the Sex Discrimination Act. There was a spate of misleading articles which said that the Government wanted to ban men-only clubs. I can give an assurance that my noble friend does not have this intention. The Government have made no criticism of genuine single-sex clubs.

As my noble friend Lady Gale said, we do not hear complaints about single-sex clubs such as the Women's Institute, the Girl Guides or Business and Professional Women UK. Nor would one expect to hear complaints about support groups for male single parents or for men who are the primary carers of preschool children within a family. We know that the general public would not want such groups banned, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, recognised.

To respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, we are focusing on new legislation to combat discrimination in employment on the grounds of age, sexual orientation and religion. We do not believe that the important issue is the introduction of a single equality Bill. We are committed to eradicating discrimination and to providing clarity and coherence. We do not believe that this is the time for a fundamental review of the legislation.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh spoke of hope and belief. We hope that the Bill, with some amendments, would in principle lead to an improvement in the situation. As virtually all those who have spoken have recognised, it would require members' rights to be equal if men and women were both in membership of the same club.

There is no question that the inequalities that persist among mixed-sex clubs are out of date and contrary to the Government's principles of equal opportunity for all. My noble friend Lady Gale and the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Buscombe, know that we were all delighted by the passing of the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002. Virtually all those who have taken part tonight recognise that that is the beginning of securing equality for women in consideration for candidature. It is enabling legislation that does not impose anything on the political parties. We all need to go away and start undermining the system again. Perhaps we could get advice from the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and be prevented from being taken to court by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, working with her.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that we support the principles that the Bill embodies. There is some important work to be done to ensure that it does what it is intended to do—and only what it is intended to do. As the noble Baroness said, addressing discrimination by private clubs raises some sensitive issues and requires a delicate balance between the rights and wishes of one group against those of another. The Government will welcome the views of noble Lords at later stages.

Finally, I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, about government time for the Bill. There are established procedures and time available for Private Members' Bills to progress. I have set out that the Government's support for the Bill is qualified and some changes will need to be made to allow the Government to give their full support. That said, we shall of course listen to representations at the appropriate time, should the Bill pass this House and be picked up in another place. However, we have a packed legislative programme, so I cannot give assurances. Perhaps I should conclude by quoting again my noble friend Lady McIntosh—we must all have hope.

10.4 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I am most appreciative of every contribution, I hoped that my Bill would receive some support but the overwhelming support in all parts of the House is most touching and I appreciate it.

As the hour is late, I will not pick up every point. If the Bill receives a Second Reading, we will have the opportunity to consider such matters in Committee.

My noble friend Lady Gale told the horror story of the Welsh club in the by-election, then referred to the Cardiff and County Club and asked whether the Bill would cover the way that guests are treated there. The answer is yes. Clause 1(4), (5) and (6) deal with exactly that situation. If guests are admitted to a single-sex club, they are to be treated on an equal basis.

My noble friend Lady Farrington, in a contribution that I particularly appreciated, picked up my point about how long we should wait. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, made the same point and was modest enough not to refer to a quote of her own in the Daily Telegraph piece on 2nd April 2001 to which my noble friend Lady Crawley referred: In 1978, Lady Howe, —as she then was— deputy chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said that golf clubs restricting women at the weekends should change their rules". That was 24 years ago and is the answer to my noble friend Lord Borrie. Perhaps the time for waiting is over and the time for legislating is here. I appreciated my noble friend's contribution. His was the odd one out and I hope that he will argue his points in Committee. I am afraid that I disagreed with much of what he said—and believe that many of your Lordships did as well.

We had a good tour of most London clubs and visited some golf clubs and working men's clubs. The general picture that emerged was that it is time for the law to be changed. I am happy to listen to my noble friend Lady Farrington, as I always am, when she suggests change and amendment. I hope that we will be able to agree on a raft of amendments that will make the Bill entirely acceptable to the Government and to the Opposition. I appreciated also the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and was pleased that she referred to her own brave experience with the Carlton Club—which I am sure was appreciated in all parts of the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at eight minutes past ten o'clock.