Women (Status)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23 July 1974.

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Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford 12:00, 23 July 1974

I will, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement on the Government's proposals for securing equal status for women and give a brief outline of my proposals for a sex discrimination Bill. These will be set out at greater length in the White Paper which I intend to publish in a few weeks' time.

The Bill will apply to employment, education, housing, the provision of goods, facilities and services to the public, and to related advertising.

Discrimination on grounds of sex or marriage will be made unlawful in employment, training and related areas. The Bill will complement the Equal Pay Act. It will be comprehensive, subject to some limited exceptions—such as employment in private households, and, at least initially, small firms, as well as a few carefully defined instances where sex is a genuine occupational qualification for a particular job. The Bill will apply to employment agencies and training organisations, employers' organisations, trade unions, professional associations, and bodies issuing licences connected with employment. Existing protective legislation, contained mainly in the Factories Act 1961, will be retained for the time being but will be kept under review.

In education, the Bill will lay a duty on educational authorities in both the public and private sectors to provide facilities for eduction to either sex of the like quality, in the like manner and on the like terms in and on which they are provided for members of the other sex. There will, however, be a saving for single-sex educational institutions. Complaints relating to the maintained sector of education will be dealt with in the first instance by the education Ministers.

The Bill will also make it unlawful to discriminate in the provision to the public of goods, services and facilities, the main exception being where such services and facilities are clearly designed for one sex.

The Bill will not cover fields dealt with in separate legislation, such as social security and pensions.

Effective enforcement is essential. The Bill will provide individual civil remedies for victims of unlawful discrimination and will also make provision for dealing with general practices of discrimination. Employment complaints will be considered by industrial tribunals, which will also be dealing with related issues arising under the Equal Pay Act; other complaints will go to specially designated county courts in England and Wales and to the sheriff courts in Scotland. The number of women appointed to tribunals will be increased.

The Government propose to set up a powerful Equal Opportunities Commission with responsibility for enforcing the law in the public interest on behalf of the community as a whole. The commission will be able to represent individuals in suitable and significant cases but its main rôle will be strategic: to identify and deal with discriminatory practices by industries, firms or institutions. It will be empowered to issue non-discrimination notices, which could if breached be enforced through the civil courts, as well as to follow up court and tribunal proceedings. It will also be able to conduct general inquiries and research, to advise the Government, and to take action to educate and persuade public opinion. The commission will have adequate powers to require the production of relevant information.

Consultations will be undertaken with interested parties on the basis of this statement and of the White Paper.

These proposals go well beyond those put forward by the previous Government as regards both scope and enforcement. They are founded on the principles outlined in the Labour Party Green Paper. They take account of the findings of the two Select Committees which considered Private Members' Bills introduced into this House and another place, the practical experience of the operation of the race relations legislation, the recommendations of the Street Committee, and the views of many organisations and individuals.

I have tried to avoid a number of the weaknesses which have been revealed in the enforcement provisions of the race relations legislation. Sex and race discrimination will be dealt with separately at this stage, but my ultimate aim is to harmonise, and possibly to amalgamate, the powers and procedures for dealing with both forms of discrimination.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

The Opposition welcome the general purposes of the right hon. Gentleman's statement. Will he accept that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are concerned for the legitimate rights of women and had a substantial record of achievement in women's interests when we were in Government? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we also stand by every word in our proposals in our document "Equal Opportunities for Men and Women" and are particularly anxious to see equality of educational and professional opportunity and the ending of groundless and discriminating requirements in connection with credit and the like?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, further, that we note with some relish and amusement that, after all her fuss, the Secretary of State for Social Services is not even present on the Treasury Bench and that pensions and social security are specifically excluded from the Government's proposals?

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that, although the Opposition will study the Government's White Paper with care, we totally deny that the proposals which he has announced go any further than was contained in our document?

I have four questions to put to the right hon. Gentleman. Precisely where do his proposals go further than those of the previous administration? What size of firm does he have it in mind to exempt? Why have the Government dropped the tax credit proposals, which would have helped women, especially working women, far more than any of the proposals in his statement?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, finally, that we oppose absolutely any attempt to foist any further excessive pressure on business and employers, beleaguered already—crippled already—by the attack on confidence and liquidity by the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I note the right hon. Gentleman's very general welcome for the proposals which I intend to bring forward. I note also that he stands by every word of what he said in the White Paper that his Government published However, this goes a good deal further. I do not object to what the right hon. Gentleman said. I object to its inadequacy of scope.

I regret what the right hon. Gentleman said about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. The Opposition Front Bench is not so notably full this afternoon. I thought that it was unreasonable of the right hon. Gentleman to have made any such comment.

He asked me where our proposals went further than those of the previous administration. I begin by giving one specific example to which, curiously enough, he referred as being of great importance but which was hardly dealt with in his proposals. I refer, of course, to education. Our proposals go significantly further in education. They go significantly further in dealing with a whole range of credit and financial facilities. The powers of enforcement are much greater and therefore will produce an effective scheme.

As for the size of firm which will be exempted, I do not wish to be tied to specific figures, but I have in mind in the first instance the small firm with about 10 employees, or something of that sort.

As for the tax credit proposals, I said in my statement that anything to do with taxation matters dealt with by separate legislation would be so dealt with and that I did not intend to cover them.

In the right hon. Gentleman's final question, he tried to link this with some general, wide-ranging economic theory. I hope and believe that there is no connection between confidence in business and industry and the desire in certain limited numbers of businesses, if it exists, to prevent women from having adequate facilities for promotion and for playing a worthwhile rôle in industry.

Photo of Dr Michael Winstanley Dr Michael Winstanley , Hazel Grove

Is the Home Secretary aware that he could not have found a more appropriate place in which to appeal for the equal status of women than this House, in which the secretaries of hon. Members have no status and in which many are employed as labour-only subcontractors? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, further, that the disproportionately small number of women Members is eloquent testimony to the degree to which women are discriminated against? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that what is needed is not so much changes in the law as changes in the minds and hearts of men?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. None the less, I think that the proposed Equal Opportunities Commission will not devote too much of its time to investigating the processes of selection committees in the Liberal Party.

I agree with the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question. To end discrimination of any sort requires, to an even greater extent than changes in the law, changes in the hearts and minds of men and no doubt of women, too. But I believe that in this and in other respects the law can play an important part, the though by no means the only part, and the also can help to build up a climate of opinion which can create changes of the kind to which the hon. Gentleman rightly referred.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Central Fife

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my guess is that every women's organisation in the country will welcome his statement, it being far more ambitious than the wishy-washy announcements that we had from the Tory Party after thwarting successive Bills in this House? Can my right hon. Friend say whether the proposed Equal Opportunities Commission will have regional offices? It is very important for the aggrieved person or persons to have access to the commission and, accordingly, to have regional offices in Scotland, Wales and elsewhere. Will my right hon. Friend also say whether the aggrieved individual will have access to considerable damages if his grievance is not satisfied?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I take note of what my hon. Friend said. I believe that these proposals go much further along the lines of the representations which were made, among others, by women's organisations when the rather pale proposals of the previous Government were published.

Regarding regional offices, I ask my hon. Friend to wait for the White Paper and perhaps the Bill. I have not reached a decision on that matter yet. However, I should stress, to avoid any misunderstanding on the point, that it will not be necessary for a woman, or for that matter a man who thinks that he may have been discriminated against on sex grounds, to go to the Equal Opportunities Commission to secure redress. There will be a right of individual access to the tribunals and to the courts, though the Commission may, if it thinks it right, take up and support individual cases. My desire is that its main rôle should be strategic rather than dealing with a large mass of individual cases.

On the last point, damages will be possible. The amount will not be for me to assess, but damages certainly will be possible. In some ways I think that redress is even more important than damages.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing , Moray and Nairn

May I add my voice to those who have welcomed the statement and the Bill, particularly the fact that it involves housing? Will the Home Secretary consider including in his legislation a provision requiring local authorities to transfer the tenancy of a local authority house to whichever spouse is awarded custody in cases of either separation or divorce?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I will certainly consider that suggestion.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Does the Home Secretary intend to include within the scope of the Bill the question of women's ordination within certain denominations of the Church and their selection, or rather non-selection, by parliamentary parties?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I think that I have already dealt with the second point in reply to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Dr. Winstanley).

On the first point, I think that the intention will be to exclude the clergy, but I suggest that the hon. Lady should await the White Paper and then put forward any representations on this or any other point which she feels appropriate.

Photo of Mrs Renée Short Mrs Renée Short , Wolverhampton North East

I thank my right hon. Friend for the statement that he has made today. All those women's organisations, including the Labour women's organisations, which have done so much work on this matter will be gratified that this statement has been made.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the discrimination and prejudice are so deep-seated that they are passed on from one generation to another? If he is to eliminate discrimination in education and training he must tackle the discrimination in publishing, because it is there that it begins at a very early age. I mean discrimination against girls, of course. Will he also confirm that the legislation will deal with the problem of discrimination in universities, particularly in university medical schools, against women students?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

Yes. All educational institutions will be, or are intended to be, included within the provisions of the Bill. The distinction between the maintained and the non-maintained sectors—the universities are in the non-maintained sector for this purpose—will be that in the maintained sector complaints will first fall to be dealt with by education ministers whereas in the non-maintained sector complaints will fall to be dealt with under the general provisions of the Bill. In other words, they can be taken by the Equal Opportunities Commission or individual actions can lie before a county court.

Photo of Sir John Hall Sir John Hall , Wycombe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there will be considerable disappointment that he has decided to exclude pensions and social service benefits, especially by those men who had hoped to retire at 60 in common with women? In actuarial terms, as women live much longer than men, is this not a considerable discrimination against the male sex?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

It is a matter to be taken into account. I am sure that it is sensible to exclude matters specifically dealt with by separate legislation. Pensions are not unique in this respect. Taxation and matters relating to nationality and immigration laws are exempt. This is sensible where there is specific legislation on the statute book and when the House is habitually considering possible amendments to such legislation. I do not think it reasonable for the hon. Gentleman to complain about exclusions from the Bill. I assure him that they are immensely fewer than the vast army of exclusions in the previous Government's proposals.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Hammersmith Fulham

Will provision be made to secure that hereditary titles and offices should in future descend to the eldest child irrespective of sex?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

Great though the attention has been that I have given to the details of this important measure over the last few months, I must tell my right hon. Friend that I have not so far considered methods of recruitment to the other place. Indeed, I think that possibly the composition of the other place may fall within the sphere of separate legislation.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his decision to retain the Factories Act legislation is a retrograde step? If there are to be full employment opportunities between men and women he must think again on this issue. Secondly, will he confirm that he sees the Equal Opportunities Commission as an initiating body regarding equal employment rights for women?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, at least to the extent that it is a matter for debate and consideration whether the protective legislation—the Factories Act 1961—should be retained. I think that on balance it is right to do this, for the time being at any rate, though, as I indicated, it will be kept under review. I think that we should keep it under close and fairly urgent review as what I hope will be the success of the legislation unfolds itself. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on his second point.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Coventry South West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision to retain the protective legislation in the Factories Act will be widely welcomed by women trade unionists and that it will prevent unscrupulous employers continuing to take their customary advantage of women workers? Is he further aware that women will support any endeavours made by men to improve the provisions in the Factories Act relating to male workers? Will he take careful note of the reference by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) to the danger of applying pressure to business and industry and take that as a clear indication that the Opposition think that pressure on business and industry is necessary if we are to get equal opportunities for and no discrimination against women? Why would he bother to raise that point otherwise?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

I think that my hon. Friend has clearly put the other side of the argument for the retention of protective legislation. While so many women are employed in underpaid, low-grade work with inadequate facilities for promotion and training, there is a reasonable argument for balancing that with protective legislation. If the Bill enabled us to move fairly quickly into a position where that was no longer the situation, accompanied by the Equal Pay Act, a new position would arise and the ideal would be to have no differential in this respect. But, for the time being, without question the protective legislation will be retained.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that I welcome many aspects of his statement, which are similar to the proposals which we ourselves put forward and would have acted on? But would he also accept that what most women, young or old, want is an independent income and fairness in the tax system? Most right hon. and hon. Members will know that those are the points on which they are approached by most of their women constituents. Will he also accept that by excluding social security, pensions and alterations in the tax system, he is cutting the ground from under a great deal of his Bill? Will he accept, further, that the tax credit system which we intended to introduce would have meant a larger step forward for widows, married women and mothers in the scope of an independent income than any of his proposals? Would he therefore use his considerable influence to see that a tax credit system is brought in, to the great benefit of the women of this country?

Photo of Mr Roy Jenkins Mr Roy Jenkins , Birmingham Stechford

No, I do not accept all the hon. Lady's propositions. Indeed, it would be difficult to do so, because two of them were self-contradictory. She was kind enough to say that she welcomed many of my proposals, but went on to say that in her view they were virtually the same as the previous proposals. If she thinks that, she does not understand these proposals and her welcome may become modified as time goes on. I assure her that these proposals are very different and go a great deal further. While I accept that tax measures are important to women, I do not accept that the whole question of equal opportunity in industry, the professions and a wide range of other occupations is not also of the greatest possible importance to women.