HL Deb 08 May 2002 vol 634 cc1229-56

8.3 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Faulkner of Worcester.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Turner of Camden) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Amendment of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975]:

Lord Borrie moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, leave out "25" and insert "2000"

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and myself. It seeks to question how far my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester wants to go in bringing the law into the affairs of small and medium-sized private clubs and associations. As I did on Second Reading, perhaps I may declare an interest as a member of the Reform Club, which admits men and women members on equal terms, and as a member of the Garrick Club, whose members consist of men only.

The main purpose of the Bill is to ensure that where a club offers membership or associate membership to women, it must do so on equal terms with men. Women must not be excluded from certain parts of the club or any facilities that are available to men, or from taking part in the governance of the club. The same rules would apply to clubs that are basically or primarily women's clubs, but which offer some sort of membership to men.

In the debate on Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Faulkner made it clear that the Bill, through new Clause 29B, would allow for the continuance of single-sex clubs such as the Garrick Club or Women's Institutes. In the Second Reading debate, many noble Lords pointed out that where in golf clubs, working men's clubs and so forth, clubs admit women as members but do so only on unequal terms, there is often a strong feeling of resentment among the women members, a feeling of injustice and, sometimes, one of humiliation. Over recent years, just as there have been considerable changes in social behaviour in society generally, so there have been moves towards greater equality in the running and membership of private clubs and associations. However, the Bill's proponents say that those changes have not gone far enough and that a law is now necessary to give those changes a necessary further push.

I believe that there is a big question mark over how far the law should intervene to enforce equality of treatment between the sexes. Freedom of association is one of the great freedoms for which many have fought, both literally and metaphorically, over centuries. It is the freedom to associate for any legitimate purpose with like-minded people with whom one wishes to associate, to the exclusion of others. Clubs are private associations (with or without their own premises) which people establish, run, and then invite and elect others to join. Given that, I believe that a very strong case indeed has to be made before the law should intrude in order to enforce equal association between men and women.

The purpose of Amendment No. 1 is to tease out how far my noble friend Lord Faulkner will be prepared to go in pushing the law into the private domain. Let us contrast certain scenarios. In one particular geographical area, A, there is only one golf club. No publicly-owned golf club is available for miles around. If there was such a club, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 would already apply, requiring men and women to be treated at all limes on equal terms. But the golf club in area A is, in effect, a monopoly supplier of golfing services. Not surprisingly, it has several thousand members and a huge waiting list. I suggest that perhaps it ought to be treated like a public supplier of services to the public, or a section of the public; namely, people who want to play golf. Perhaps it ought to be bound by the Sex Discrimination Act.

But let me take another scenario. In town B, some 30 or 40 men comprise the local darts team. They meet regularly in various pubs and village halls to play against similar darts teams. Recently, a number of women have become interested in playing darts and now women have been elected as associate members. They are welcome to join in and to play on ladies' evenings. They are welcome only on those evenings, because on other evenings the men wish to have a bibulous evening playing darts with men only.

In town C there is a university wives club comprising several hundred members who are thinking of allowing into membership—but not with full rights—men who are spouses of local female university staff. Apparently the women like some of their social occasions to be women only nights out. Does my noble friend Lord Faulkner really think that there is an overriding justification for the law to intervene in these small or medium scale social activities in towns B and C?

Why should not people associate with others for social purposes in ways that they choose, mixing the sexes to the extent that they choose? As it stands, the Bill will make unlawful all of these kinds of restrictions on membership that attach to one sex only whenever the total numbers in the club are 25 or more. How can that be justified?

My noble friend Lord Faulkner may also wish to consider that if the Bill becomes law those male or female clubs that have begun to admit, or started out on the road of admitting, the opposite sex to some kind of membership might decide to go back to square one and revert to exclusive male or female membership so as to avoid the effect of new Section 29A. Would my noble friend Lord Faulkner regard that as progress? I beg to move.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Henley

I have added my name to the amendment. I should like to say a few words in support of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. In doing so, I offer my thanks to him. He spotted that the Bill may have slightly wider implications than its promoters and many noble Lords who spoke at Second Reading thought. I was somewhat remiss not to speak at Second Reading. I may have to say a few words at this stage, without making a Second Reading speech—I have no intention of making a Second Reading speech—to set out my position on the Bill.

Before I do so, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, who I presume will be speaking for the Government on the Bill—her noble friend Lady Farrington spoke on the previous occasion—whether she can help on this issue. On 13th March, the day of the Second Reading, my noble friend Lady Blatch put down a Question for Written Answer asking Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to bring in a Bill to ban all clubs from excluding female membership. That Question was put down on 13th March and I gather from the Companion that it is recommended that the Government normally answer Questions within a fortnight of them being put down. One would therefore have hoped that the Question would have been answered by 27th March. As far as I am aware, the Question has not yet been answered.

It seems to be a fairly straightforward Question. It was dealt with to some extent by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, at Second Reading when she said: The Government have made no criticism of genuine"— I stress the word "genuine"— single-sex clubs". She then went on to discuss what she thought were single-sex clubs, which seemed to include the Women's Institute, the Girl Guides or Business and Professional Women UK. She went on to state: Nor would one expect to hear complaints about support groups for male single parents or for men who are the primary carers of pre-school children within a family".—[Official Report, 13/3/02; col. 934.] She did not mention any other kinds of clubs. I would be interested to know what are "genuine single-sex clubs". Perhaps the noble Baroness will address that issue and tell the Committee when the Question put down on 13th March is likely to be answered.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, I declare an interest. I am a member of two clubs in St James's, one of which, I understand, possibly will be affected and the other possibly not. It depends very much on the interpretation of the Bill. That is a difficult matter which we will discuss when we get to later amendments or at a later stage of the Bill.

Interpretation is very important. I sat down with the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and another, equally eminent, QC. We discussed the Bill for an hour or more. As I understood it, the views of those two eminent lawyers seemed to change during the course of that hour, then changed back and then changed again. If eminent Silks such as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and his colleague could change their views, I suspect that the whole Bill will need to be looked at further.

As I said, I am currently a member of two clubs in St James's. I was also a member of the Carlton Club, which was mentioned on a number of occasions at Second Reading. I was an honorary member of the Carlton during my time as Chief Whip. I understand that as I am no longer Chief Whip I am no longer an honorary member of that club. But in my time as a member of the Carlton I took part in the vote as to whether or not women should become members. I can assist the Committee by saying that I voted for women to become members, as did the then Leader of the Conservative Party, Mr William Hague. Sadly, we were unsuccessful. But that is a matter for the Carlton Club and the Conservative Party. It is not a matter on which legislation should necessarily impinge.

I should make it clear that I have no terribly strong views about whether any club of which I am a member should or should not admit women, or whether it should discriminate on the grounds of what is now called "gender" but which the Bill still seems to refer to as "sex". However, I do have strong views about being told what to do by other people or by Parliament on matters that are not necessarily matters in which Parliament or the state should involve themselves.

Having said that that should apply to clubs of which I am a member, it should also apply to golf clubs, with the possible distinction of the kind of golf club referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, which is the only club in an isolated area and the only way that one could play golf is by being a member of that club. But I do not have strong views about golf clubs, working men's clubs and so on. I believe it is a matter for private associations to decide what their membership should be—and only for those private associations.

Perhaps I may give a small analogy. I seem to remember being told years ago that one should try absolutely everything except incest and morris dancing. Quite rightly, we have laws against incest, but we can leave people to decide for themselves what they wish to do about morris dancing. I have not yet taken up morris dancing—I have no intention of doing so—hut it is not a matter on which we need to legislate.

For those reasons the Bill is a deeply illiberal measure. I hope that its creators will think again, very carefully, before taking it any further.

As to the amendment itself, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has set out very clearly what we wish to know from the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. Exactly what kind of club is he trying to get at? He has arbitrarily chosen a limit of 25; the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has, quite rightly, suggested another figure. After discussions, we chose our figure—again quite arbitrarily—of 2,000. Where does one draw the line? At what stage does a genuinely private club become so large that it becomes something public in which the state or Parliament ought to intervene? For myself, even 2,000 may not be the right figure and we may need to come back to it at a later stage.

But, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said, this is a probing amendment. I hope that when he comes to respond to it the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, will let us know why he proposes a limit of 25. If, in the light of the submissions made by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, he considers that the figure of 25 is too small, will he consider raising that limit to make the Bill marginally less pernicious than it is at the moment?

Lord Monson

I support the amendment, moved most effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. First, I declare a non-interest. As it happens, I do not belong to any of the kinds of clubs against which the Bill is aimed. I am a member of a couple of small dining clubs which meet once a year and whose dinners I attend perhaps two years out three at most. But these clubs are not the subject of the Bill.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I believe that the Bill is illiberal in the true sense of the word, and that it is a threat to freedom of choice, freedom of contract and freedom of association. I would have said as much at Second Reading, but there is a limit to the number of evenings one is prepared to sacrifice in discussion of Private Members' Bills.

A club is not a public place; it is a private place. Existing members should, therefore, have the right to be as perverse and eccentric as they like in the rules that they apply. If people do not like those rules—and I fully understand why quite a few do not; although, equally, quite a few women members, I understand, are happy with the status quo, especially if it means substantially reduced subscriptions—they have a simple remedy: to resign forthwith and go elsewhere, or possibly start up a club more to their liking. This amendment would at least reduce the scope and impact of the Bill, and I support it for that reason.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

I was unable to be present at the Second Reading of this moderate Bill, but I am delighted now to be able to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, on having introduced it and to add my support to the great support given by the many noble Lords who have spoken in its favour. I shall make only one speech: I shall speak to the first three amendments, all standing in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Borrie and Lord Henley, so that Members of the Committee do not have to hear me again and again.

I begin by declaring my interest. I am a member of the RAC, which admits members of both sexes, but some of whose activities may be affected by the Bill if it becomes law. I refer, for example, to the exclusion of women members from using overnight accommodation or providing equal access to the Turkish baths in the club. Men and women are members of the RAC but there are still those elements of the past.

I have other antecedents which I shall declare presently, including the fact that I was an architect of the Sex Discrimination Act and of the Race Relations Act, both of which—if the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, will forgive my saying so—were greeted with similar arguments: in respect, for example, of the small employers' exemption and of the fact that we outlawed colour bars in clubs of more than 25 members. I have heard those arguments for 30 years and I am slightly surprised to be hearing them from the noble Lord. I remember, when I was younger, reading some of the great works that he wrote, including .The Consumer, Society and the Law, which we regarded as a most progressive and reforming work. However, I fully respect the view that he and others have expressed.

Since the beginning of the year, the Equal Opportunities Commission has received some 70 complaints about sex discrimination in private clubs, many of them relating to the practices of golf clubs. I should also mention that l am a member of a golf club in Ireland which cannot any longer, I am glad to say, discriminate against women because the Irish Government would cut off funds. That has had a tonic effect on the other side of the Irish Sea.

The EOC's consultation found overwhelming support among the public for a measure on the lines of this Bill. One of those who responded to the consultation commented that she had entered a business golf day to discover that the organisers had planned for registration to take place in the men-only lounge. She was not allowed to register, but had to shout her details from the doorway.

Like many Members of this House, for many years I was also a member of an all-male London social club, which I greatly enjoyed; namely, the Garrick Club, which excludes women from its membership, although not as guests of members. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, revealed at Second Reading, one day when she and I lunched together at the Garrick we naughtily protested against the archaic rule that forbade women from walking up the main staircase by climbing the stairs together without requiring the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, to use the back stairs and to meet me on the landing above. Together with others, I tried to change the club's rules by opening membership to both sexes.

The Garrick Club is not only a private social club; it is a social club for members of the literary, theatrical and legal professions: writers, actors, judges and lawyers—distinguished lawyers such as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. It seemed to the minority of reformers to be unfair and absurd to bar from membership the likes of Dame Antonia Byatt, Dame Judi Dench, and Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss solely because of their gender.

Among the judges and lawyers belonging to the Garrick Club there was overwhelming support for the removal of the gender bar. Only one disagreed. But our attempt to change the rule was rejected by the great majority of the membership as a whole, by no means all of whom were misogynists or male chauvinists. I resigned, not because of some grand principle but simply because I no longer felt comfortable in a club whose membership had voted in that way. I should not dream of criticising those who feel happy to remain as members, enjoying their freedom of association, and to exclude the other sex from membership.

When he spoke in general opposition to the Bill at Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, suggested that legislation was unnecessary because so-called gentlemen's clubs had a "come a long way over the past 20 or 30 years". That is true of some of them, but I am not aware that many, including the Garrick, have modified their rules or practices since I resigned more than a decade ago, although I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, if invited by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, could now walk up the main staircase.

The Equal Opportunities Commission found, on the basis of the evidence obtained in the consultation, that there had been "very little voluntary change" and that there are 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 is much less far-reaching than, for example, the Hong Kong Sex Discrimination Ordinance, which for several years has forbidden sex discrimination against non-members as well as members of almost all clubs—there is not even a 25 member cut-off. The Bill is also much less far-reaching than New York City's human rights law, which, since 1984, has forbidden sex discrimination in any club with more than 400 members that provides regular meal service and regularly receives payment, directly or indirectly, from or on behalf of non-members for the furtherance of trade or business—rather as the Garrick Club used to take money, for example, from my chambers through me to organise a Christmas party for chambers as part of its important revenue.

For those who say that the New York measure is a violation of fundamental rights, I point out that, in the land of liberty itself, the United States, it was unanimously upheld by the American Supreme Court in 1988 as being entirely proper under the constitution of the United States. Interestingly, the preamble to that New York law explains that, one barrier to the advancement of women and minorities in the business and professional life of the city of New York is the discriminatory practices of certain membership organisations where business deals are often made and personal contacts valuable for business purposes, employment and professional advancement are formed". The Bill before the Committee is not intended to forbid single-sex clubs, but to provide that clubs whose membership is open to both sexes must treat applicants and members equally without sex discrimination; and that clubs that admit women as well as men as guests must again treat them equally without sex discrimination.

In my view the drafting of proposed new Section 29B is imperfect. It is rather ambiguous, and I am sure that that is what has led to some agitation in this Chamber. It may well call for clarification at a later stage to make it absolutely clear that a club like the Garrick is not caught in terms of membership by this Bill.

If the probing amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has fairly put forward for debate were to be pressed and accepted, women would continue to face sex discrimination as guests—and not only as guests—in medium-sized and small clubs, whether a club had male and female members or only members of one sex. I find it difficult to understand the justification for perpetuating sex discrimination against, for example, a woman who comes to the Garrick with the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, but who cannot go up the same staircase, if that was the rule, or cannot have a drink with him at the bar at the top of the stairs. The same applies to a woman golfer who is a guest at a golf club, but cannot enjoy the club's facilities together with her host.

I greatly cherish personal privacy. Objections on those grounds can be dealt with by amending the Bill along the lines of the exemption already in the Sex Discrimination Act for other bodies. I have tried to do that in amendments that we shall come to later. They are not ideal amendments, but they are an attempt to deal with personal privacy.

I very much hope that noble Lords will not divide the Committee and will not press the amendments in the light of the debate.

I shall say a word or two about some of the arguments that we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Borrie and Lord Henley. Equality has to be balanced with liberty. That is not an issue. It has to respect freedom of association and personal privacy. That is not an issue. The question is where the line should be drawn. What exceptions are needed to respect those other important rights and interests? The Bill does not interfere unduly with freedom of association. If it is amended, it will not interfere unduly with personal privacy.

The members of single-sex clubs can enjoy their freedom of association if they wish by maintaining them as exclusive clubs. However, if they choose—and this is their choice as members—to admit members or guests of both sexes, the Bill says that, having made that choice, they should do so on equal terms. If, on the other hand, they choose to revert to being exclusive all-male preserves, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, indicated, that is their right.

However, I do not understand how it can be right to distinguish between working men's clubs, which have more than 1 million members throughout the country, and clubs such as Brooks's, the Garrick or any other social club, which in form are exactly the same and are regulated as private clubs. I can see no argument, except a class-based one, for the view that it is impermissible for working men's clubs or golf clubs to discriminate against women or black people, but it is permissible for Pall Mall social clubs to do so. I see no practical distinction between the two. The only justification is that Members of this House do not belong to working men's clubs, but they belong to Pall Mall social clubs. To that extent, we are self-interested. That is not a justification for the distinction.

As long as we do not legislate to prohibit virtually all single-sex clubs, as happened in Hong Kong, we are respecting the other fundamental rights that need to be respected and maintaining a fair balance. In doing so, we are advancing the position of women as well as men. As someone who joined an all-male set of chambers, I reassure those who belong to all-male clubs that it is ever so much more enjoyable when both sexes are members on equal terms than when we go on as our fathers and grandfathers did.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Monson

Does the noble Lord accept that the Irish Government's withdrawal of financial support to golf clubs that discriminate against women, to which he referred, is not unreasonable? It is no doubt reasonable to exert financial pressure on people who discriminate, but the Bill is much more draconian than that, by imposing an outright ban.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

I have tried to explain that the Bill does not impose an outright ban. Properly drafted, it will leave untouched the right of private member's clubs to be all male or all female. The only way in which it intrudes is by saying that if a club chooses to admit members of the other sex, as the RAC does, for example, or to admit guests of the other sex, they must be treated equally, subject to safeguards for matters such as personal privacy.

Lord Moynihan

In speaking to the amendment. I wish to put down a marker that I intend to ensure that a potential flaw in the Bill is addressed on Report. I participated in this afternoon's debate on sport, but I regret that I cannot be with your Lordships throughout this Committee stage, for which I have already apologised to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and for which I sincerely apologise to the Committee.

The amendment covers the point that I wish to make only for clubs with a membership of fewer than 2,000. That depends on the success of my noble friend Lord Henley and the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. As I read it, many sports clubs, such as the London Rowing Club, of which I am a member, effectively face the prospect of closure if the legislation as drafted is enacted in the near future. That is not because the club currently objects or has in the past objected to women's membership—on the contrary, at a previous AGM the membership passed a resolution to move that successful, outstanding historic club in the desired direction on women's membership. However, voluntary clubs committed to building necessary and new state of the art facilities, many of which already have a class of women's membership but wish to move to the ideal and clearly defined principles set out in the Bill, face the problem of having to raise substantial funds, agree designs within budgets and implement the necessary development plan. All that takes time, which is not permitted on the face of the Bill. If the Bill is to be enacted, I simply ask noble Lords to recognise the importance of the issue when it is raised on Report. The issue will be all the more serious if the amendment is not carried. We need delays in implementation built into the Bill if it is to proceed further.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

Is the noble Lord aware that Section 44 of the Sex Discrimination Act contains an exception in relation to sport, which would cover the London Rowing Club in any event? I used to row from the London Rowing Club at school, so I know it well. Nothing in the Bill will compel the London Rowing Club to admit women members.

Lord Moynihan

I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing my attention to Section 44 of that Act, which I have yet to read and consider. The noble Lord has clearly benefited from his many years of rowing from that great club on the Thames. If he is right, the provision overcomes the concern held by many clubs in the circumstances that the London Rowing Club currently faces. I shall study that section carefully. If I agree with the noble Lord on the issue, it will not be necessary to raise it in further proceedlings on the Bill. I hope that he will allow me to reserve judgment on the issue until I have clarified it further, but I hope that he is right.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

I regard this as a very mild and encouraging Bill. The amendment would exclude almost all the clubs at which the Bill is aimed. I am reliably informed that it will encourage clubs such as the Garrick to move rather quickly to a more liberal approach. Having said that, as long as they allowed the same facilities to men and women guests, there would be no problem.

What I like about the Bill is that it makes specific provision for those clubs that have two levels of membership. That is the aspect that needs attention. We have heard that the Equal Opportunities Commission has regularly received—and I know continues to receive—complaints from women with regard to the discrimination they experience at the hands of golf clubs and others.

All that is being asked in the Bill is that both sexes should be treated the same so that if you are willing to be an associate member and be prevented playing golf on a Saturday because it is assumed that you are at home doing nothing all week and able to be on the golf course then, whether male or female, you may opt to apply for the same associate membership. It is up to you, whether male or female, to apply for that associate membership. That is one aspect of what in today's world continues to be a completely unjustifiable use of the exemption that some people believe exists for club activities.

It is particularly sad that having successfully passed the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 which allows political parties to use their discretion to take whatever form of positive action they feel is appropriate to encourage more women to be adopted as parliamentary candidates, nevertheless the Conservative Carlton Club—I argue that this is where the private and the public aspects cross over—is still very much living in the Dark Ages; and it cannot be the only one. That is despite the valiant efforts of the leader of that party and his principled personal refusal to become a club member until it changes its rules to allow equal membership for men and women.

I refer to a female associate member who clearly gave valuable service on that club's political committee and was its deputy chairman. By virtue of her office she was also a member of the Carlton Club's general committee. I believe that she had greater political ambitions, perhaps to become a Member of Parliament. She attended five monthly meetings of the general committee without challenge. Apparently, the general committee is rather grander than the political committee. However, some three weeks ago she was challenged because, apparently, no woman, however capable—and she clearly was capable—is allowed to sit on that all-powerful committee. She was unanimously voted off the committee. What kind of message does that send out to aspiring young women and, indeed, men who want to be part of our democratic process in the modern world in which we live?

I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, for whom I have, and always have had, enormous respect, will not press his amendment. As I said earlier, it would exempt practically all the clubs that we are considering. The Bill is moderate to a degree and I hope that it will persuade some clubs to move rather more quickly to adopt a more liberal and modern attitude towards the lives that men and women live.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Dahrendorf

It is rare for me to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, and it gives me no pleasure at all to do so. However, I rise to support the amendment which the noble Lords, Lord Borrie and Lord Henley, have tabled. I suppose that we should all declare the interest of membership; but perhaps the fact of leaving membership is at least as much of an interest as being a member. I have the same club membership as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and therefore noble Lords will not be surprised at my view. That view is a simple one and I shall not require more than two or three sentences to explain it. It is important that we draw a line up to which we legislate and beyond which we do not legislate. It is crucial that we do not appear to the public to spend our time legislating on matters which are essentially private.

I do not want to drag in a totally different subject at any length, but I voted as I did on the hunting Bill not because I like hunting—I detest it—but because I believed that it was not a proper subject for legislation as it interfered with areas in which people should be free to pursue their own objectives. In my view, this is a fortiori the case for the Bill which is now before us. It is for that reason that I believe that we should not follow the route recommended to us by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, but should follow that recommended by the noble Lords, Lord Borrie and Lord Henley.

Baroness Lockwood

Like the noble Lord, Lord Lester, I did not participate in the Second Reading debate for the simple reason that I could not be in London that evening. However, I greatly welcome the Bill. I did not expect to speak to the Bill at either Committee or Report stages as it seems to me that it is simple and straightforward. It attempts to take one more logical step towards providing equal facilities for men and women. That is the basic provision of the Sex Discrimination Act; namely, that where goods and facilities are available, they should be available on equal terms to both sexes.

As has been said, there is an exception to that; that is, that private clubs can provide facilities for one sex only. That was accepted perhaps as a compromise when the Sex Discrimination Act was passed. Nevertheless, it still provides for single-sex organisations if members of those private organisations so wish. But once they admit both sexes to the club, the underlying principle of the Sex Discrimination Act should apply; namely, that the facilities are available to both sexes.

I was surprised to read the amendments tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Borrie. I am sure that he will recall that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was deputy chairman of the commission and I was chairman when we set it up in 1975 and welcomed my noble friend as a member of it. He made a valuable contribution for about a year before he had to move on to another public appointment. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Borrie will recall the many complaints we received about facilities not being available to both sexes. Sometimes those complaints involved private clubs but very often they involved facilities that were in the public domain which the Bill had stipulated must be made available to both sexes. There was a parallel, which my noble friend Lord Borrie will recall, in the El Vino case. That involved a public house that was covered by the legislation. The rules of that public house were that men could sit down or stand at the bar to enjoy their drink but that women could only sit at the back of the room. They were not able to participate in the full discussions that took place. Those full discussions largely involved a journalist and therefore had some kind of professional importance. The principle was the same as that in this case—that women were not able to enjoy the same facilities.

I am surprised by some of the comments that have been made this evening—they were also being made way back in 1975. I thought that we had made tremendous progress since then. In many ways we have done, even with regard to private clubs. I refer to the number of private clubs that are now admitting women to full membership or partial membership. Full membership certainly represents a move forward. If only partial membership is involved, that is not a move forward because it does not provide the same facilities. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, mentioned, if one wants two classes of membership in an organisation, one can have that, but they must be open to both men and women. We must remember the principle that lies behind the Sex Discrimination Act and apply it to the Bill.

I turn to the figures of 25 as opposed to 2,000 members. Using the figure of 25 is logical because it is also used in other parts of the Act in relation to exceptions. That figure involves consistency. I ask the Committee to reject the amendment and ultimately to pass the Bill.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, say that his was a probing amendment. I hope that he has heard, from wiser heads and tongues than mine, a good many arguments that he finds very reassuring. His three amendments, if taken together, would drive a coach and horses through the Bill. He will be aware that I support the Bill. I am sure that he will not be surprised to hear that I oppose his amendments. I hope that they will not be agreed to and that he will be reassured by this debate and that which will follow it.

I am desolated to find myself in disagreement with my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf. For the whole time that I have been in politics, he has been a shining light of rationality and liberalism for myself and many others. However, I disagree with him in this regard. I concur entirely in his attitude to hunting and I have voted consistently in that regard. However, we are talking not about hunting but about the treatment of different sexes within the same establishment. I am fairly certain that the Act covers private schools, for example, which can be single sex. However, if they are not single sex, they must treat boys and girls equally. That is all that the Bill will do. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said, the Bill applies the principles of the Act to a new area—that in which goods and services are provided. That extension is logical within the terms of the Act.

It has been suggested that the voluntary system is working. I shall give one example of where it does not work. When the EOC did a consultation a couple of years ago on equal membership—on what that meant and on women's rights as members—one person wrote saying that she bitterly resented the fact that, being a fully paid up, voting member of a golf club, she still was not allowed to use the same dining room, bar or lounge as the men. That is a perfect example of the sort of discrimination that this little and useful Bill is designed to eliminate.

Baroness Buscombe

I shall he extremely brief. I follow in the footsteps of the noble Lord. Lord Lester of Herne Hill, in speaking, in effect, to the first three amendments, which stand in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and my noble friend Lord Henley.

The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said that there is a strong case to be made before the law intervenes in the private domain. I entirely agree. Indeed, I said on Second Reading that there is a limit to how much we should interfere with the rights of individuals who are acting in a private capacity. However, I also agree that there is a very strong case for equal treatment between the sexes when both sexes are invited or are able to join a club.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that the Bill was somewhat illiberal. As a woman, I find it liberating. That said, my noble friend Lord Henley referred to difficulties of interpretation. That is important, particularly with regard to Amendment No. 3 and the proposed Section 29B. There is a need for further clarity in order to give the objectives of the Bill legal certainty.

In contrast, Amendment No. 1 is clear—it is a wrecking amendment. On that basis, we oppose it. I, too, am pleased to learn that the amendments are probing amendments. We are therefore confident that the noble Lord will not pursue them. I hope that he will give the Committee the time to amend somewhat the way in which some of the clauses are interpreted. There is still a certain amount of disquiet outside your Lordships' House because there is a sarong belief that the Bill will affect single-sex clubs. That is not the case.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

I find myself in agreement with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe, Lady Buscombe and Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and my noble friend Lady Lockwood. Perhaps it is not entirely surprising that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, finds himself in such good female company.

The effect of the amendment would be to limit considerably the impact of the Bill by reducing the number of clubs to which it would apply. As my noble friend Lady Lockwood rightly said, a threshold of 25 members reflects a similar provision in other legislation. Members of the Committee will recognise that figure from the Race Relations Act. They will also recognise the need to draw a line at the level of very small private groups. We would be reluctant to depart from that figure without further reasons for doing so and without further consideration. It would be even more artificial to choose a number that was different from that used in the Race Relations Act.

Moreover, while no one knows the typical size of clubs, a figure of 2,000 seems to be so high as to reduce significantly the effect of the legislation. All those Members of the Committee who made that point did so wisely. While some clubs may be above that figure—for example, some golf clubs—many other clubs will fall far below it. It might also encourage the introduction of arbitrary limits on membership. We see no reason to depart from the current figure.

I shall answer the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I apologise for the fact that the Question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has not been answered.

Lord Henley

I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. The Question was put in the name of my noble friend Lady Blatch and not in that of my noble friend Lady Miller.

9 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I apologise for the failure to answer that Question. I shall certainly make inquiries and ensure that it is answered speedily. However, I can reassure the noble Lord that the Sex Discrimination Act defines "sex clubs" as those which can show their main object and essential character to be for the benefit of one sex only. The Government have no intention of removing the exemption in the Sex Discrimination Act which permits single sex clubs. I endorse all that has been said by Members of the Committee in this debate with regard to the fact that single sex clubs need not be imperilled by the proposed Act.

Lord Henley

I wonder whether the noble Baroness can again address the first part of her answer. She said that she would hope to produce an Answer to my noble friend's Question speedily. I remember on many occasions when speaking from that Dispatch Box using words such as "soon" or "speedily" or some other adverb. Often "soon" or "speedily" could be stretched quite some way.

I believe it is important that we all know exactly what the Government's intentions are, particularly in relation to this Bill. Therefore, I consider it important that we have an Answer to that Question before we reach the next stage of the Bill. Perhaps I may have an assurance from the noble Baroness that we shall have an Answer to that Question before the Bill reaches its Report stage.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I am very happy to give that assurance. But I should have thought that the comment that I just made was the answer that the noble Lord required. I am quite clear that a Written Answer to the Question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, needs to be given and then recorded.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I find myself in the position of replying to a debate in which many of the questions raised by Members of the Committee at the beginning have been answered by subsequent speakers. I am conscious that I am in the presence of some extraordinary experts in the fields of both race relations legislation and sex discrimination legislation, together with former commissioners and chairs of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I hope that my noble friends and other noble Lords who have raised questions will feel that many of them have already been answered.

I believe that the question raised by my noble friend Lord Borrie in relation to the figure of 25 has been answered on a number of occasions. That figure has been proposed because the purpose of this Bill, which I am also pleased to regard as a modest little Bill which is a tidying-up operation rather than a massive piece of social legislation, is to bring the law as it relates to sex discrimination into line with that of race relations legislation. The figure of 25 as a threshold appears in Section 25(1) of the Race Relations Act 1976.

I turn to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who referred to single sex clubs and the drafting of Section 29B. I am happy to give an assurance that we shall look at the drafting of that, and if I have the help of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in doing so, that will be of immense assistance. I am willing to accept that the drafting may not be perfect and can certainly be improved at a later stage to make the intentions of the Bill absolutely clear.

The main question asked by my noble friend Lord Borrie, which he also asked at Second Reading, was: is it really necessary to have the Bill at all? I believe that one needs to go no further than to look at the report of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Equality in the 21st Century—A new sex equality law for Britain. In that report the commission says that the evidence available to the EOC indicates very little voluntary change in the sector. It also states that complaints reinforce the view 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. A number of speakers—in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood—referred to the evidence that the EOC has gathered in relation to golf clubs. There is much more that can be said about that along much the same lines.

The one area of private clubs which has not been addressed in the debate but where the need for change is probably greater than in any other is working men's clubs. I suppose that that is the third leg of the Bill. It is here that the proposal to raise the threshold from 25 to 2,000 would have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said, a completely wrecking effect. More than 99 per cent of the 2,700 CIU clubs have fewer than 2,000 members. Only 15 to 20 in the country have more than 2,000. The average membership of CIU clubs is approximately 900. Therefore, my noble friend's amendment would exempt virtually all the working men's clubs from the provisions of the Bill.

The lack of voluntary reform has been illustrated by the failure of working men's clubs to implement the internal reforms which the people who run the CIU—the executive and the full-time officers—have been desperately trying to push through at successive annual general meetings. They tried most recently on 6th April at their last annual general meeting. A motion to delete the infamous Rule 12(e) was tabled for the fifth time. That rule states that: Associate and Pass Cards may not be issued to lady members". If that had been passed, it would have allowed the female members to enjoy the same use of facilities as guests in other clubs. For the fifth time it failed even to get a simple majority, let alone the two-thirds majority which it needed to pass under the rules of the CIU.

Another motion was put to amend Rule 12(e) to read: Associate and Pass Cards may only be issued to members who have full and equal rights". Thus, women who already enjoyed full and equal rights in their own clubs would be able to obtain an associate pass card allowing them to use the facilities in other clubs which gave women full membership rights. But that motion also failed to get a majority. They even failed to pass a motion which would have changed the name of the CIU from the "Working Mens Club and Institute Union" to the "Club and Institute Union Limited".

Therefore, I believe that we have waited long enough. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, talked at Second Reading and again tonight about her frustration when she was chair of the EOC and about how she expected change to take place. She was amazed that neither the law nor the clubs had changed. The truth is that they have not. Indeed, if some people have their way, some of the changes which have taken place may be reversed. A piece in the Daily Telegraph today, for example, says: A group of renegade traditionalists"— I quote from the Diary piece— is attempting to regain control of the Oxford and Cambridge Club, with the specific aim of reversing recent 'improvements'. To this end, eight senior members are standing for election to the club's ruling committee next month". In the article the traditionalists are quoted as saying: 'Women were allowed in here five years ago and standards have been slipping ever since', chunters one moustache. 'Not only do these new female members wander round the place in trouser suits, chatting on mobile telephones, but the committee has also seen fit to revamp the club with non-gender-specific furniture. As a result, the bar looks like a Holiday Inn"', and so forth.

It is time that the law was changed. I shall happily listen to suggestions for change at later stages, but in the mean time I hope that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Henley

Before the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, responds to the noble Lord. Lord Faulkner, perhaps I may make a point in response to that made by the noble Lord. Lord Lester. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, implied that I— and, for that matter the noble Lord. Lord Borrie—was interested only in the clubs in St James's and was not interested in working men's clubs. I was pleased to hear from the noble Lord that the amendment, should it be passed, will also assist all working men's clubs.

I made clear in my remarks that I was speaking not just for the clubs of which I am a member but for golf clubs, working men's clubs and all clubs. It is a point of principle that those clubs must decide what they should do and how they should govern their business and not be told to do so by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner or, for that matter, the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

Before the noble Lord, Lord Henley, sits down, I wonder whether he is aware that the CIU, the union of working men's clubs throughout the country, was, in the end, made to abolish the outright colour bar that it had only because of the Race Relations Act 1976. Does he not agree that that indicates how hopeless it is to think of voluntarism in that area?

Lord Henley

I believe that race and sex are completely different matters. As regards the voluntary approach, I also believe that this is something that is likely to happen both to working men's clubs and to St James's clubs in due course. I made clear that when I was a member of the Carlton Club I voted for women members. I believe that it is likely that that will happen in due course to a great many other clubs. The noble Lord has only to go into some of them—I could take him—to see how dead some of them are in the evening; whereas the club of which I am a member, which allows women in the evening, is busy and full. The economic forces are beginning to have an effect.

My understanding is that much the same is happening with a great many working men's clubs. This is a matter which is far better left to gradual processes, rather than to interfering busy-bodies in Parliament or wherever else, trying to promote their own views about what is right or wrong.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I must come back on the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. The official view of the CIU is that it wants this legislation to pass. The general secretary was happy for me to quote at Second Reading: The union's National Executive firmly believes that the future of clubs in our organisation is tied up with giving women full equality".—[Official Report, 13/3/02; col.917.] It has tried five times to get it through at annual general meetings and has failed hopelessly each time. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said, the same sort of resistance to removing race discrimination in those clubs had to be removed by legislation after 1976.

Lord Henley

That might be the official view of the governing body of the CIU. I am talking about the individual clubs. I believe that it is a matter for the clubs to decide on their own future and on how they should operate. It will happen in due course, but let them do it without the noble Lord forcing them to do it.

Lord Monson

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has prayed in aid the Race Relations Act 1976, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lester. I wonder whether he is aware that the Conservative Party totally opposed the inclusion of clubs in the scope of the 1976 legislation. Indeed, Clause 25 was thrown out by this House—I have the Division List in front of me—as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, would be able to testify if he were still in his place, as he was a teller in that Division. It was reinstated in the House of Commons, but once again against the wishes of the entire Conservative Party. I thought that I should mention that as a matter of historical record.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

It is also a matter of historical record that the Conservative Party was in power for 18 years after 1979 when presumably it had endless opportunities to take the provision of the private clubs out of the Act and did not do so.

Lord Borrie

I express my thanks to all those who have taken part in a debate which has lasted several times as long as I thought it would or perhaps should. Perhaps I may be forgiven for saying that some noble Lords were making Second Reading speeches. However, that was justified by their not having been present at Second Reading.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Dahrendorf, for addressing points which others did not concerning the key concept of freedom of association and how far down the line to the very small and medium-sized clubs a new law of this kind should intervene. My noble friend Lord Faulkner has given no indication of an answer to filling the gap between the number 25 and the number 2,000 beyond telling me what I naturally knew; that is, where the number 25 emanated from in the legislation. He has not given any indication that the number 25 could be 250, 500 or whatever. I found that to be an unsatisfactory aspect of the answer given by my noble friend and the Minister. If the Government and the proposer of the Bill intend rigidly to insist that every private association of 24 or more members is to be told how to deal with different classes of membership and so on, then I feel that I must take the matter further at a later stage of the Bill. Clearly, I shall not do that today as no one has been pre-warned. I am happy now to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Borrie moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, leave out lines 15 to 26.

The noble Lord said: The amendment seeks to delete what I may call the "guest" provision of the Bill. As it stands, the Bill provides in subsection (4) that men and women guests must be treated equally. There must be no question of women guests being allowed in one bar of a club only and not in the other bar where male guests are permitted. I have already spoken in favour, as have other noble Lords, of the key freedom of association which is so disregarded by the proposer of the Bill. Private clubs should be entitled to determine their own rules as to how their guests should be treated in the same way that Members of the Committee determine how guests are treated in their houses.

If the assumption is that no man and no woman would ever want or be allowed to associate only with others of the same sex, let me at least appeal to the Liberal Democrats. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, who was a little hard-line half an hour ago, at Second Reading said that one day she may want to belong to a club that admits only women and that it is not right, to prevent men or women from enjoying the company of their own sex".—[Official Report, 13/3/02: col. 930.] Subsection (4) relating to guests goes to the extreme in doing just that.

There is then the question of guests in single sex clubs. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, can help us further on this matter. He said at Second Reading 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. He repeated the point when he wound up the debate. If that is the effect of the Bill, that is a gross interference with single sex clubs which he says are otherwise outside the Bill. But is he right?

New Section 29B(2) states that, in the case of an association within new Section 29B—that is a single sex club— nothing in section 29A shall render unlawful any act or omission of the association". The guest element is new Section 29A(4), and it is an integral part of it. Surely, new Section 29B renders that inapplicable to single sex clubs. Whether or not I am right, or the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, in what he said at Second Reading, is right, I feel that subsection (4) should be deleted. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, to which I have put my name. As I said earlier, I am a member of two clubs. One of those clubs is for men only. Women never come in at all. It would not be affected by this legislation. The other club—Brooks's—is also a men only club but lets in guests on different bases according to gender, as we now must put it. In other words, I can bring in a male guest for luncheon, but in the evening I can bring in men and women. Men and women are therefore treated differently.

Under subsection (4) that would become illegal unless the exceptions in new Section 29B exclude Brooks's. I am unsure as to whether that is the case or whether it excludes working men's clubs, golf clubs and so on. Perhaps the promoter of the Bill can advise me on that in due course.

I make a simple practical point. Earlier I said that I thought that it was likely that a great many clubs—working men's clubs and so on—over the years would gradually move and become mixed in all senses. I think that at Second Reading someone gave the example of the Reform Club. That is now totally mixed. But for a time after it went mixed it reserved one small room for the old reactionaries who had given away much in allowing women in, just so that they could feel at home for a while. After a while it was discovered that that was no longer necessary. If this measure is introduced it would be much harder for any club to take that gradualist approach. Certainly, a club such as Brooks's would have to consider very long and hard as to what it should do. It might be that it and, for that matter, any golf club or working men's club, might want to go in a backward direction, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, would put it, and exclude women as guests entirely. For that reason I suspect that subsection (4) would do absolutely nothing to promote the purposes of this Bill.

Therefore, it is really in a spirit of being helpful, I suspect, that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and myself are promoting this amendment. We shall certainly be very interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has to say about it.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I had not intended to take part in this part of the debate having spoken earlier. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has quoted what I said at Second Reading, I should like to take a moment of the Committee's time. The noble Lord is quite right in that I did say that I could have an affection for or an interest in being a member of a club which admitted women only. There is nothing in the Bill which prevents such a club existing. However, if guests are brought into the club, they should be treated the same whether they are men or women. That is all that is provided for in the clause which the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, is attempting to change. It does not provide that they have necessarily to use the same bar as the members, but if they use a different bar, then they should all do so. It should not be divided by the sex of the guest as it can be at the present time.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

I had not intended to speak to this amendment until I heard the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Borrie and Lord Henley. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that there is a problem in the drafting of new Section 29B. I have already said that as has the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. The problem is that it does not clearly state that Brooks's, the Garrick or another single-sex club is outside of the scope of new Section 29A as regards discrimination against applicants for membership or existing members. It needs to do that; otherwise the Bill will not achieve its objective properly.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, made the perfectly fair point that if we are right in saying that new Section 29B is intended to leave out Brooks's then on its face it seems illogical that Brooks's is caught by new Section 29A(4) in relation to guests. The promoters of the Bill need to make it quite clear, as I believe is the intention, that it does cover guests but it does not cover applicants for membership or existing members if it is an exclusive single-sex club.

I do not say this with any irony or sarcasm at all— I am speaking perfectly straight—as regards the argument as to how to encourage the members of Brooks's to move forward to admit women as members. The old members of my chambers gradually got used to the idea of women being members on equal terms. We now have a woman as head of chambers and the practice manager is a woman. The majority of the outstanding members of my chambers are probably women. It took time, but we found that the presence of able women transformed the attitude even of the older generation. So it may be that when women are admitted to Brooks's as guests on equal terms with men in a club which I much enjoy visiting, it will convince the old and young codgers of the club that it is less terrifying to their traditional practices to admit them as members. That is not what this Bill is designed to do. It is not designed to be coercive in that respect. Therefore, while agreeing that we shall have to look at the drafting at Report stage, we would be opposed to the amendment as it stands.

Lord Henley

Following the remarks just made by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, I am now even more confused. Is the noble Lord saying that a club such as Brooks's would be bound by subsection (4) of new Section 29A, and that we would have to treat our guests in the same way? That is what I object to doing. Is it possible that Brooks's would then have to think about giving up lady guests altogether. I do not believe that that would be a step forward.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

I am saying that that is what the Bill should do; but, at present, it does not do so because it has not been aptly drafted in that respect.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

I hope that I shall be able to make a short comment on the amendment. I endorse what has been said about the drafting. Indeed, I associated myself with the comments made in relation to the previous amendment, and I do so again. The drafting is not entirely fortuitous. I hope that we shall be able to cure those difficulties by the time that we return to the matter on Report.

If such legislation is to cover the treatment of members and associate members of mixed sex clubs, the Government see no reason why guests should not also be covered by the Bill. Therefore, we do not support the amendment proposed in the name of my noble friend Lord Borrie, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Henley. However, we are of the view that this amendment will need some very careful crafting.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I believe that I can give my noble friend Lord Borrie some comfort in relation to the drafting of the amendment. However, I do not think that I can give much comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Henley. If the noble Lord is saying that he objects to any club being told that it has to treat guests alike, I am afraid that he and I will have to differ on that issue. Part of the aim of the legislation is to encourage clubs to behave in a civilised way towards everyone. It does not make any difference whether it is men or women, or, indeed, to which race people belong.

The Bill is a civilising measure designed to ensure that clubs should not discriminate against people simply because of their gender. It is certainly my intention that the legislation should clearly state that if people are guests in a single sex club they should be treated similarly. As I said in response to the earlier amendment, I shall be very happy to take away the drafting of new Section 29B in order to make that absolutely clear.

The difficulty with my noble friend Lord Borrie is that we are both at odds on whether or not the legislation is either necessary or desirable. I have no doubt that it is. I am pleased to have received support from my noble friend the Minister, who clearly also wants to see this Bill pass through the House. None the less, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw the amendment, because we shall return to the matter on Report.

Lord Borrie

Despite the helpful remarks of my noble friend the Minister, I fear that the remarks of my noble friend Lord Faulkner may result in the Bill being more restrictive when redrafted than it is now. Indeed, it may get at single sex clubs at least as regards the way in which they treat their guests. If that is so, it will be an inhibiting factor that may lead one to be more concerned about the Bill on Report than is the case at present. However, for the time being, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Borrie moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 49, leave out from beginning to second "the" in line 5 on page 3.

The noble Lord said: My noble friend Lord Faulkner indicated on Second Reading that new Section 29B to the 1975 Act provides for single sex clubs to remain single sex clubs. I find new Section 29B(1) somewhat opaque as it stands, especially where it refers to, the main object of the association [being] to enable the benefits of membership … to be enjoyed wholly by men or wholly by women (as the case may be)". Usually when one considers the main object of a club, a company, or whatever, there is a document, which probably says something about the nature of the objects in specific terms.

However, the main objects of the Garrick Club, which were set out in 1831, say: The Garrick Club is instituted for the general patronage of the Drama; for the purpose of combining the use of a club on economical principles, with the advantages of a Literary Society, for bringing together the supporters of the Drama and for the foundation of a Theatrical Society". I have not read it all out but my point, in part, is that those are its objectives and nothing is said about benefits of membership being for men only—no doubt that was taken for granted in 1831 and all the people who produced the money by providing their fivers, or whatever, to set up the club were in fact men. As is well known, the only candidates for membership elected from that day to this have been men.

I therefore found the "main objects" part of the drafting unhelpful to my noble friend Lord Faulkner if he wants to exclude single-sex clubs. On the other hand, Clause 29B then states that in determining whether it is the main object of a club to enable membership benefits to be enjoyed only by men, regard is to be had to the essential character of the association and … in particular", how the affairs of the association are conducted.

On that basis—especially the last point—the Garrick is clearly a single-sex club because no one else has a hand in determining how the affairs of the association are conducted.

The purpose of my amendment, which would delete the phrase about the "main objects", and so on, is to help to clarify Clause 29B. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, that the drafting is defective. I think that the draftsman has borrowed from a provision in the Race Relations Act 1976 that was designed to allow clubs that did not practise a colour bar but promoted, for example, the interests of Bangladeshi elderly people—an old people's home, or something of that kind, a proper and benign ethnic purpose connected with social, welfare or educational purposes—not to be made unlawful. Unfortunately, using such a definition in the clause will expose the Garrick Club to the risk of litigation on precisely the basis that the noble Lord set out.

Indeed, when I was a member of the Garrick Club, it occurred to me when reading the Act that one could have brought a court case to say that, under the rules—the contract of membership—women should be admitted because the rules are not phrased in a way that states that it is an exclusive male club. That is perfectly right.

I suggest that the way to deal with the matter is to clarify on Report exactly what should be the definition—for example, considering Section 34 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which exempts voluntary bodies in a much clearer way—and then to deal separately with the vexed question of guests. In other words, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, that the Garrick and Brooks's need to be absolutely clear that as regards applicants for members and members they are outside the scope of the Bill. We can then have a no doubt lively debate about guests, but if I may say so, I do not think that it would be right to press the amendment today, as it will not clarify in the way that is needed the right test to be used.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, is right when he says that the language has been borrowed from the Race Relations Act 1976. One can see the attraction of doing so to the extent that that uses tried and tested wording that is generally understood. But we would certainly interpret the Bill to include the "essential character" element. That would accurately provide a rubric into which single-sex clubs would fall. We consider that that matter could be clarified in the drafting. However, there is some attraction in retaining the phrases "main object" and "essential character" because of the way in which they have been identified in the past 30-plus years. They are terms of art that are well understood, in a legal framework.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I need not detain the Committee long. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that the matter can be best sorted out with some skilful drafting before Report. In the circumstances, I hope that my noble friend will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Borrie

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill moved Amendment No. 3A:

Page 3, line 9, at end insert—


Nothing in section 29A shall render unlawful the provision of facilities or services restricted to men if the facilities or services are provided for, or are likely to be used by, two or more persons at the same time, and—

  1. (i) the facilities or services are such, or those persons are such, that male users are likely to suffer serious embarrassment at the presence of a woman,
  2. (ii) the facilities or services are such that a user is likely to be in a state of undress and a male user might reasonably object to the presence of a female user, or
  3. (iii) the facilities or services are such that physical contact between the user and any other person is likely, and that other person might reasonably object if the user were a woman."

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 3A, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 5. The object of the amendments is to respect personal privacy and to extend to private clubs the privacy safeguards in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 that relate to bodies that provide services and facilities to the public.

I have in mind, as a good example, the Turkish baths in the RAC in Pall Mall. We do not live in Hungary or the Soviet Union where they were accustomed to males and females undressing in Turkish baths rather more freely than inhibited northern Europeans are used to. In the RAC, there are separate Turkish bath facilities for men and women but on unequal terms. My amendments would ensure that a club providing such personal, private services and facilities in which serious embarrassment might be caused if there were mingling of both sexes would not be guilty of any unlawful conduct.

Members of this House always particularly enjoy it when lawyers make mistakes. I must now say that I have made mistakes in my amendments that need to be rectified by Report. Amendment No. 3A says: Nothing in Section 29A shall render unlawful the provision of facilities or services restricted to men if"— and the rest is set out. The problem is that I have gone too far. I have wholly exempted Turkish baths from the scope of the Bill, whereas I had intended the amendment to say: render unlawful the provision of separate facilities or services for men and women". In other words, I intended to say that someone providing Turkish baths must do so on equal terms, but can do so separately. I failed to do that. For good measure, I must confess that, in my haste to get the amendments in, I referred in Amendment No. 5 to Section 34(3), when it should have been Section 35(3).

I beg to move the amendment, so as to enable debate, but both amendments, I am afraid, are congenitally deformed.

Baroness Buscombe

We support Amendments Nos. 3A and 5 in principle and look forward to the amendment of the noble Lord's amendments.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

We too support the amendments in principle but look forward to the perfected versions that will, in due course, be submitted.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I am also happy to accept in principle what the noble Lord seeks to achieve through the amendments. I can reassure him that my faith in his infallibility has not been shaken by the minor drafting errors. The amendments are helpful, and they will improve the Bill. We look forward to considering them properly on Report.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

I thank noble Lords for not making me blush more than I am. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, that the definition of a liberal is someone who recognises human fallibility. Therefore, he is always aware that the spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure that it is right. I am not at all sure that I am right and, therefore, I shall try and do better the second time. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 3, leave out lines 10 to 32.

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 4 seeks to delete all of new Section 29C from the Bill. As currently drafted new Section 29C contains somewhat complex and, if I may say with respect, unclear and unhelpful provisions governing when a club may and may not hold single-sex sporting events. Those provisions are inconsistent with Section 44 of the Sex Discrimination Act, both in prohibiting single-sex events in some cases which Section 44 would allow, and allowing them in other cases which it would prohibit.

I believe that it would be helpful to Members of the Committee if I read out Section 44 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. It states: Nothing in Parts II to IV"— which relate to discrimination in the employment field and other unlawful acts— shall, in relation to any sport, game or other activity of a competitive nature where the physical strength, stamina or physique of the average woman puts her at a disadvantage to the average man, render unlawful any act related to the participation of a person as a competitor in events involving that activity which are confined to competitors of one sex".

As the Sex Discrimination Act's general provision on single-sex events in Section 44 would apply in any case, we believe that there is no reason to depart from its tested and tried approach of permitting such events—only where there is an inherent advantage to men in consequence of their strength, stamina or, perhaps I should add, physique.

I hope that Members of the Committee will support the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. I agree with her amendment entirely, but I would like to take the opportunity, since she has read out Section 44, to say how unfair I find it as an extremely had golfer. The average male golfer is meant to be able to drive a golf ball further than the average female golfer. Unfortunately, I find myself playing with extremely able female golfers who seem to be teeing off 100 yards nearer the hole than I am able to. I find it very hard even to reach the female tee, still less to get beyond it.

I remember that when Chief Justice Taft who, while President of the United States, made the mistake himself of being about to tee off from the ladies' tee, the captain of the club came up to him and said, "Mr President, you realise that you are not allowed to play off that tee?". The President turned and said, "It is my second shot". I find it a great handicap and I wish that equality would enable me to beat women golfers. However, I am afraid that on any terms I am unable to. I fully support the amendment.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

The Government, too, would support the amendment. This is an area in which the Sex Discrimination Act has always recognised that the differences of treatment may be justified. The existing Section 44 of the Act therefore permits single-sex competitions in circumstances where men would enjoy an advantage as a result of their physical strength, stamina or physique. I say that irrespective of the beguiling statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. I am sure that with greater application he, too, will reach the goal to which he strives.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

This is the last amendment that we shall debate today and I want to take the opportunity of thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for the support she has given to the Bill not only today but on Second Reading. It cannot have been easy for her given the views which may exist behind her on her Benches, but her support is very much appreciated by me and by other supporters of the Bill.

The provision which she seeks to delete was originally included in order to meet the objections of the promoters of larger sporting events while at the same time securing some elements of equality in smaller club competitions, which were defined as those with prize money below £1,000. In view of the fact that it is a complicated area and, is perhaps outside the mainstream of what we seek to do in the rest of the Bill. I am happy to accept the amendment that the noble Baroness has moved.

Lord Henley

Before my noble friend responds, and as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, made reference to what I take it was a reactionary element behind my noble friend, perhaps I may make one or two comments. I am completely and utterly confused about the purpose of new Section 29C. Furthermore, as the noble Lord, the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, so glibly accept its removal, I fail to understand why the noble Lord included it at all.

However, having listened to the wise words of all Members who said that it obviously must be removed, I would like to read carefully what has been said by my noble friend and by the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Faulkner. I may return to the matter at a later stage. I accept that the noble Lord will allow the provision to be removed at this stage, but if I find further problems I reserve the right to table an amendment at a later stage should that be necessary.

Baroness Buscombe

I hear what my noble friend Lord Henley says. That said, I have heard the opinions of other Members of the Committee. Given the overwhelming support for the amendment I have decided to move quickly and test the opinion of the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with an amendment.

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