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Orders of the Day — Sex Equality Bill

– in the House of Commons at 10:53 am on 9th December 1983.

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Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire 11:31 am, 9th December 1983

As I address the House for the first time, I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members who take a pride in identifying accents will quickly recognise that I have the honour to represent the new Mid-Worcestershire constituency.

I am delighted to be able to pay tribute to my predecessor in that constituency—Sir Herbert Whitely—who represented it from 1916. I suspect that even senior right hon. and hon. Members will not remember him. Although he is strictly my immediate predecessor it gives me greater pleasure to pay tribute to those from whom I have inherited my constituency. The first is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, who now represents the Worcester constituency, who is a distinguished member of the Cabinet and for some 22 years assiduously represented a part of what is now my constituency. The second is my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Miller) who is a distinguished Back Bencher of great integrity who has worked hard on behalf of the people of Redditch. I am aware that I shall find it difficult to follow my distinguished colleagues, but I shall do my best to try to maintain their standards of representation.

My constituency was originally to have been named Redditch and Droitwich as those towns comprise about 85 per cent. of the electorate in Mid-Worcestershire. Redditch is one of the best examples of a new town. It is well planned and well built and has moved away from its traditional industry of needle making. It has diversified into several light industries and is ideally poised in the midlands to take advantage of the economic recovery that we are now experiencing. Droitwich has Roman origins and is now working hard to develop its tourist industry on the basis of its spa and the brine baths which were the origin of the salt industry on which it lived for many centuries.

I cannot leave the subject of my constituency without mentioning some of the villages. Hartlebury, Ombersley, Himbleton, Fernhill Heath and many others make up the new constituency of Mid-Worcestershire in the heart of England.

It gives me great pleasure to address the House for the first time during this debate as the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) was my opponent in the two general elections of 1974. Although it has taken me nine years to catch up with her, I am delighted to participate in this debate. I must crave some indulgence of the House as it is remarkably difficult to be uncontroversial in a maiden on sex. I might try the patience of right hon. and hon. Members almost beyond endurance. If I stray across some of the conventions of the House I hope that I shall be forgiven, but that is almost inevitable when making a maiden speech on this subject.

In many ways, the Bill epitomises one of the regrettable tendancies of politics today — the increasing gulf between rhetoric and aspirations on the one hand and reality and practicality on the other. It is most unfortunate that politicians of all parties feel obliged or tempted increasingly to claim what they will or intend to do whereas in reality they are quite unable to live up to or deliver what they promise. The Bill is a perfect example of that. We are now in the difficult and delicate business of attempting to legislate for human behaviour. We are in danger of adding to the behavioural interference industry which is already established in Britain.

I refer, for example, to the Equal Opportunties Commission which already costs about £3 million a year to run and the Commission for Racial Equality which costs about £8 million. The Bill proposes to add to that cost although experience in many other parts of the world, such as Title 7 in California, has shown that such attempts fail. Such measures have disappeared in a welter of argument and counter-argument from which the only beneficiary is the legal profession. There is a serious risk that what the Bill proposes will end up in much the same way.

The Bill will also add serious additional burdens to those already faced by industry when we are worried about employment. We all want industry to be helped as much as possible to provide more jobs. Anything which prejudices that must be examined carefully and secptically. Many of the Bill's provisions would seriously prejudice industry's ability to be flexible, meet the needs of the future and provide employment. In that regard, I refer to one of the most difficult provisions in the Bill—the attempt to give home workers equal status with other employees. Such a provision would seriously prejudice the employment opportunities which are available to those who work at home. Moreover, it would create serious difficulties for employers who use home workers extensively. If such a provision were accepted, we should have to ensure that all of the health and safety at work provisions and the rest were implemented in every home where people work. If we impose one provision, we must impose them all. Following that line of argument, it is already obvious that we shall have great difficulty in implementing such a provision properly. There is also a danger of giving people false hopes that we shall improve something when we are patently unable to do so.

The provision of paternity leave would also put a heavy burden on industry. Annual reporting to the commission would create more bureaucracy when we are trying to reduce the burden of paperwork on industry. Providing that arrears should be paid as far back as 1976 could also be a heavy burden.

The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) mentioned sexist calendars. This is a serious question. Are we contemplating making illegal calendars that portray men, women or anything else, and preventing them from being shown in places of work? That is the implication of what the hon. Lady said, If we are to make words such as "waiter" and "stewardess" illegal or the basis of a case for discrimination, that is going much too far in the direction of trying to legislate for behaviour and the way in which people speak.

However well intentioned, the Bill is yet another step along the road to additional bureaucracy and burdens on industry. It will not achieve its aim, but will be counterproductive. Living as I do in a society in which the Queen, the Prime Minister, my wife, my daughters and my mother are all female, I still find it in my heart to oppose the Bill.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent 11:41 am, 9th December 1983

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) delivered his maiden speech with great facility and confidence I offer him the customary congratulations that we give to maiden speakers. I am sure that the way in which he spoke commended itself to the House and that he will speak frequently in future.

It is alleged that maiden speeches are never controversial, but I hardly remember a maiden speech that has not been controversial. I do not mean any discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that the best part of his speech was that it was controversial, although I disagree with some aspects of it. Those who look back at when I made my maiden speech a long time ago will see that it was also controversial. All maiden speakers should seek to emulate that feature.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) on the choice of her Bill, the form of it and the way in which she presented it. She knows as much about this subject as anybody in the country. She put her case with great skill and determination. Even if my hon. Friend does not succeed immediately, I believe that she will succeed in the end. I look forward to the time when she will sit in a Labour Cabinet and be able to carry through the parts of the Bill that were not previously put on the statute book.

The Minister's speech was shocking and disgraceful. It dealt inadequately with the subject. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts about the way in which they treat the Bill. Some parts of it can be altered in Committee. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be prepared to listen to any representations that are made in Committee. Many parts of the Bill should be placed speedily on the statute book. If the substance of the Bill were placed on the statute book in this Parliament, it would be far and away the major measure carried through during this period. Therefore, I hope that the Government will think again.

The more we listened today to the range of issues covered in the Bill, which need to be covered to establish the principle of sex equality in the law, our practice and our custom, the more we could understand why it is necessary to have a spokesman for women's rights and a Minister responsible for such problems. I am not in favour of having specific Ministers to deal with all the various problems, although in some cases the appointment of a Minister to consider such matters has been extremely effective. One case was the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) as Minister responsible for the disabled. I can say from experience as a member of the Government, and before, that if it had not been for his pressure and determination, the way in which he constantly brought the matter before his colleagues, both in opposition and in government, and the work that he did, there would not have been the improvements for the disabled that there have been in the past four or five years. That is one area in which legislation and the appointment of a Minister can help.

I should like to give a direct answer to what the Minister and the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire said about race discrimination. They should have been present, as some of us were, over many years when private Members introduced Bills on race discrimination. I remember how the present Lord Brockway introduced on 10 occasions in successive years a private Member's Bill to try to put on the statute book what was eventually put on it by the Government of the day. Now, no one in the House proposes to repeal the laws against race discrimination. I believe that the fate of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking will be the same as that of Lord Brockway's Bill. Just as in race discrimination it is necessary to have the assistance of the law to sustain decent behaviour, so that is also necessary with sexual equality. That applies to much of the Bill, particularly the part that deals with equal pay.

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

It is my good fortune and that of the House that the right hon. Gentleman should attend our Friday debate. I intervene only in case he cannot stay until the end of the debate, to remind him of one thing. Both the statutes that touch on this subject were passed by Labour Governments. I cannot remember which position the right hon. Gentleman occupied in 1970, but I do remember the position that he held in the Cabinet in 1975. Is he now telling us that the Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts are both unsatisfactory and grossly overdue for reform? I do not remember him making those points during the lifetime of the Government in which he served.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent

Of course, I shall seek to deal with both matters. I thought that the Minister would understand from what I have already said that I was intending to do so. I am not running away from my responsibilities. Indeed, I am proud of the legislation that we put on the statute book, but I want it to be carried forward on the basis of experience. It is my full intention to stay until the end of the debate, unlike Ministers who make their speeches and then go off.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has done so. Will the Secretary of State for Employment attend the whole debate? He was here at the beginning. I hope that he will be here all through the debate. I shall not be rebuked by the Minister over whether I shall listen to the wind-up speech. Of course I shall be here, and I shall deal with the subjects that he mentioned.

It is important that there should be a spokesman for women's rights in the Government. The best Cabinet position for such a spokesman is in the Department of Employment. The gravest injustices occur in employment. When there is a new Labour Government, we will have a spokesman for women's rights in the Cabinet to deal with the range of subjects in the Bill, but specifically and preeminently having control and influence on the subject of employment. Of course, I mean a reconstituted Department of Employment, not the present poor, pathetic thing.

I do not know who would be qualified to be a proper Secretary of State for Employment under the present Government. Perhaps only Pontius Pilate could do the job, especially now that King Herod has been moved to another Department. However, even he could not do the job properly because it is apparently the intention of the Department of Employment — we have seen it in a number of areas—to wash its hands of all these matters. The more those in the Department can shed their responsibilities in these fields, they believe, the better will be industrial relations and relations in matters such as we are discussing.

We in the Labour party take a different view. It is based on experience. I shall deal shortly with the experience we gained in 1970, and 1975 in putting the Equal Pay Act on to the statute book.

The Government have much more immediate responsibilities. What are they going to do? The way in which the Secretary of State shook his head during my hon. Friend's speech—that is the only contribution that he has so far made—suggests that he believes that the equal pay provisions and the regulations are quite satisfactory. I am sorry that the regulations were passed through this House, but they have been subject to detailed investigation in another place. The sign made by the Secretary of State seems to mean that the Government intend to take no notice of the speeches and the vote in the House of Lords and that they plan to go ahead on the basis that what they are doing is legal, even though many experts think that that is not true.

The debate in the House of Lords was remarkable. Everyone should obtain a copy because it will become a very valuable document. In the House of Lords, the Government's case was torn to tatters on every side. A Government who do not listen to such a debate are not fit to discharge their responsibilities. Lord McCarthy and Lord Wedderburn put the case in the House of Lords. They know much more about these matters than all the members of the Government rolled into one. They commanded the spport not only of the majority of the House but of Lord Denning. A Denning come to judgment—that is what the Government were faced with in the House of Lords.

Nevertheless, the Minister has apparently indicated to us that the Government plan to go ahead without taking any notice. Do they understand what that means? It is quite possible that they will be hauled up again before the European Court, but that may be the least of their difficulties. What about all the injustices that will be inflicted on women trying to fight for their rights in courts through the complexities and what Lord Denning called the tortuosities of the law — a law which cannot be understood even by the judges? [AN HON. MEMBER: "Ridiculous."] It is not ridiculous. No one who reads the House of Lords report can fail to share my judgment. People should read the summary made by Lord McCarthy at the end of the debate. He also cited Lord Denning. He went on: The objective of that view, if the House agrees with us, is, I suggest that the Government should take some notice of that view and that they should take the regulation away. Of course, there are a wide range of things that they can do with the regulation". I suppose that he was not entitled to say in the House of Lords what those things are. He added: It is not for me to say exactly what they should do at this time of night. There are parts of the regulation that they could just drop— the pre-hearing pre-hearing. There are parts of the regulation that they could rewrite".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 December 1983; Vol. 445, c. 929.] He then described the parts to which they could apply that treatment. After such a debate, such a vote, and such intellectual condemnation of what they are proposing, and after an indication of what will be involved in the courts if the Government go ahead, it will be a scandal for the House of Commons to tolerate it.

The Government have now been offered a way out. Instead of denouncing the Bill as a whole, the Minister should have said that the Government are prepared to take account of the objections to the regulations and that they are trying to learn from what happened in the House of Lords and see whether the Bill can be of use.

If the Government proceed with the regulations after that condemnation, it will be an outrage to individuals and an insult to Parliament as a whole. The Minister intervened to suggest that in some way or another I was criticising clauses in the Equal Pay Act. That Bill was introduced by Barbara Castle in 1970 and was to be carried into effect in the 1970s. I carried it into effect. There is nothing to apologise for in details of the legislation. In 1974 and in 1975–76, when we were beginning to put the Bill into operation, greater progress was made in moving towards equal pay than at any previous or subsequent period.

The legislation was not a complete solution. There were many who said that it should go further. What has happened in the European Court proves that it was not a final way of dealing with the question. But my hon. Friend the Member for Barking is proposing ways in which we could go forward on this front. Far from opposing the Bill because it goes further than what we were able to attempt in 1975 I am very much in favour of going ahead.

The Minister talks as though some criticism could be made of what we did in that period. When we introduced the Bill in 1970 and carried it further in 1975, some people objected. They said that it would not make any difference. We have heard that argument today from the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire, and others. They say that the legislation does not matter and that what is important is the behaviour of employers. The same argument was used against the Equal Pay Act by Conservatives and others. Perhaps that was why it took us so long to put the measure on the statute book.

The Conservatives have all been converted now. I do not believe that any of them would be prepared to say that they are opposed to the Equal Pay Act. However, they seem to be opposed to its improvement. We do not believe that the regulations constitute an improvement in any sense. It is shameful for the Government to proceed in that way. They should proceed on the lines that my hon. Friend has proposed to the House today. When he winds up, the Minister should give a commitment that he will not proceed with the unworkable regulations but that he will go away, as the House of Lords advised, and produce new regulations. In doing so, I ask him to consider whether he could not welcome the clauses in my hon. Friend's Bill that deal with equal pay and which would take us a stage further.

The Bill contains many other matters of great importance.

Photo of Mr Ernest Roberts Mr Ernest Roberts , Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Would not my right hon. Friend agree with my experience, as a national trade union leader in engineering, that changes are needed in the Act to compel employers to do what the House intended the Act should do — give equal pay for work of equal value to the women of Britain?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent

Many features of the 1970 Act and the 1975 legislation could be improved. That is what I am trying to underline.

It has been suggested that in many respects we are far ahead of public opinion. Indeed, no doubt that claim will be made by the Conservative party. However, in many respects we are far behind opinion and practice in other countries. For example, we lag far behind the practice in many European countries, in seeking practical ways of providing real equality in Britain.

This morning I listened to a programme on the radio in which somebody described the provision of nursery education in Britain. Some Labour-controlled authorities have moved ahead, while some other parts of the country have lagged shamefully behind. In some areas there is no provision whatever for any type of nursery education. That means that standards of administration generally and of social service are deplorable. It also means that women are being denied the right to choose. They apparently have the right to choose whether they want to work, how to bring up their children, and how to secure the best benefits for them, but by being denied nursery education for those children, the mass of women are in reality denied such choices. As has been pointed out, most of the arguments are 10 or 20 years out of date. In the past 10 or 15 years, the way in which women work has been transformed. The only people who fail to understand the problem are the Government. The Bill represents one way of shaking even this Government.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake 12:01 pm, 9th December 1983

In approaching this Bill or any other legislation of a similar character, I start from one basic proposition: a woman should not suffer disadvantage in any area unless it can be shown that her sex is relevant. The classic example, of course, is that of a woman trying to play a man's role in a theatre or film part. However, I suspect that there are very few such examples. Therefore, we should keep that principle well and truly in the forefront of our minds. With that, I put the following proposition: that recruitment and promotion should proceed on the basis of merit alone.

I should have thought it hard for anyone to disagree with those two propositions. However, if any hon. Member disagrees, I should prefer it if he would intervene now. The real difference of opinion may lie in how those two propositions are interpreted and in how far the law is a suitable vehicle for them. Given the hazards of a private Member's Bill, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) should have sought to cover quite so much. I should have liked a simple marrying together of the Sex Discriminaton Act and the Equal Pay Act, with certain limited useful improvements attached to them, together with better and simpler drafting. Perhaps because I chair so many Committees, I am particularly sensitive about drafting and its clarity. It is true that it is possible to amend a Bill in Committee, but I suspect that this Bill's drafting is so defective that it would take more than a Committee to deal with it satisfactorily. However, I am more concerned with the substance of the Bill.

It would have been a service to the women of this country if there had been a real opportunity of putting a Bill on the statute book that brought those two Acts together, so that everybody knew exactly where they stood in those admittedly limited areas. As it is, I can see the Bill foundering, and so we shall not progress in the way that I should have liked.

One point is of particular concern to me, and I was glad to find it included in the Bill. I refer to equal pay for work of equal value. My Government's record on that is not particularly heroic. They should have taken the opportunity of seeking to comply with the European Court's judgment by introducing a proper Act themselves rather than seeking to rely on an order. I have made that point forcibly to the Government both formally and informally. I suppose that half a loaf is better than none, but I regret that the Government sought to take that course of action, as it represents an opportunity missed.

Photo of Mr James Craigen Mr James Craigen , Glasgow Maryhill

The hon. Lady has been very fair in making that admission. The Government told the Select Committee on Employment that they were taking the exceptional route of the equal pay order partly because of a lack of time in the previous Parliament. However, that need not apply to an incoming Parliament, as the Government have cleared much of their earlier legislation. Does the hon. Lady still think that Ministers might be open to persuasion and might agree with the TUC, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Institute of Personnel Management that this whole area of legislation should be properly reviewed?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

It is not for me, as a Back Bencher, to speak on behalf of the Government. I shall leave that to the Minister who has responsibility for replying to the debate. However, by the same token, it would have been difficult for the Government to refuse the Bill a passage if it had done what I suggested, and had limited its contents to the Acts that are already on the statute book, with such improvements as equal pay for work of equal value added. That gap must be closed rapidly.

I have considerable sympathy with the point that was made about homeworkers. I am not sure that the solution that the Bill offers is right. I think that it goes too far in the opposite direction. There are undoubtedly differences between employing people who work in their homes and employing people in a central place of work. Nevertheless, it is clear that some homeworkers are exploited. I should like to give one admittedly anecdotal example. I met a lady who went in for exquisite hand knitting. She worked at home for some organisation. I did not inquire about its name. However, the amount that the firm paid her was ludicrous. I worked out the hours that she spent on very elaborate patterns. Indeed, I was duly impressed, because I can scarcely knit a dishcloth—the simplest thing of all.

The work probably took that lady about 100 hours, for which she received the princely sum of about £20. It does not need any great mathematical ability to work out how little she received per hour. On my advice, the lady wrote to the firm saying that she was no longer prepared to work for it on that basis. I have tried to put work in her way that offers a more reasonable level of remuneration. I know personally of that example, but I believe that similar examples can be found time and again in all sorts of areas. In this era, that is not good enough. In the Bill's laudable ambition to put that right, I fear that it has gone so far the other way that it may, as hon. Members have said, put many people out of work. Therefore, the Bill requires a more balanced judgment in that respect.

I am distinctly unhappy about some aspects of the Bill. I refer to the introduction of the new concept of sexuality as opposed to the sex of the person. Of course I understand that homosexuals feel aggrieved when they suffer disadvantages despite the fact that their private sexual propensities have no bearing on the job. As the Bill is drafted, it must include posts where that is a matter of importance.

A proper intervention was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley), who referred to those with teaching responsibilities who have youngsters under their control. We must protect young people from unwelcome sexual advances, whether they come from lusty young men eyeing young girls or from those of another sexual persuasion. I understand that the Bill would make it impossible to deal with those approaches. Furthermore, I suspect that it would lead to real difficulties in the armed services. That is another reason why we should consider the issue closely.

I would not argue in favour of sexual harassment of women at work, but I suspect that it is extraordinarily difficult to frame legislation satisfactorily to deal with all the permutations. For example, what of those ladies—let us frankly admit that they exist—who spend their time running after men and sexually harassing them? In other words, this is an extraordinarily difficult area in which to work. I suspect that it would be better to make sexual harassment a ground for unfair dismissal where it exists and to leave it at that. I do not think that it is possible to outlaw it completely whatever the circumstances. It is a pity that reference has been made to sexual calendars. That is a frivolous point which has no bearing on the real and important issues before us.

I think that current legislation in the form of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 covers the main issues worrying the hon. Member for Barking. What we need above all else is a change in attitude. I believe that that is coming about, but I am not sure that there is anything further that can be done by means of legislation to give women greater opportunities in areas that are traditionally not occupied by them—for example, engineering and scientific subjects.

Why should there be rehearsed in so comprehensive a Bill a prohibition upon women working underground in coal mines? It is a piece of protectionism which was invaluable in its day but which in these days is unnecessary and incompatible with the general spirit and clauses of the Bill, particularly in the working of new coal mines and when women are hoping to act as engineers, for example. I find that an odd quirk in the Bill.

Photo of Mrs Anna McCurley Mrs Anna McCurley , Renfrew West and Inverclyde

Does my hon. Friend agree that the probable reason for discrimination in coalmines is that miners have a heavy political influence within the Labour party and are in themselves discriminatory?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

That is an excellent point and perhaps it can be dealt with by Labour Members.

I find myself in a real dilemma in considering how to vote on the Bill. I applaud, as I think my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State did, the spirit and intention behind the Bill, but I am concerned about the various practical aspects which have been dealt with in my speech and in the speeches of others. However, I am prepared to vote in its favour on the basis that the Government need a little whipping up to go further in promoting sex equality.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 12:16 pm, 9th December 1983

We have had a most refreshing admission from the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and we are grateful to her for that. Largely because of the Minister's earlier intervention, and though I understand he has had to leave the Chamber, I must place on record the fact that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends regard the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts as little more than a framework on which to build. That has always been the attitude of many of us to those measures.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) for providing the opportunity to debate these issues, for the sincerity of her speech and for her superb sense of humour in dealing with some of the more ludicrous attitudes to which we tend to cling. The way in which my hon. Friend steered us through a Bill which is undoubtedly complicated was admirable.

I want to turn first to the educational provisions. I believe that we are beginning to see some traces of segregation breaking down in our schools between "girls'": subjects and "boys"' subjects. This is to be advanced rapidly if we are to make any progress in breaking down job segregation. The period of school life is a major avenue through which girls develop their expectation of the future. It is in our own best interests to ensure that the facilities are available to provide girls with the skills to develop their awareness, and to stimulate ambition which is appropriate to meet the needs of Britain in the 1990s. There is evidence from some areas that where schemes to encourage girls in maths and sciences are implemented they result in increasing demand for further training in those disciplines.

I understand that next year is to be recognised as Women in Science and Engineering Year. Sympathetic teachers in schools which do not regard girls as strange if they pursue non-traditional courses can make an enormous difference. But I should like to hear about the Government's plans for the Women in Science and Engineering Year. It is for the Government positively to respond in the coming year to ensure that curricula and facilities are available for pupils and teachers to enable them to respond to the opportunity. A positive start could lead to more young women being encouraged to take up training and to enter the related industries at all levels.

Many of us are likeminded in that we recognise that laws by themselves do not provide a sufficient mechanism to end discrimination in any area, and certainly that of education. However, the backing of the law is important in bringing more action from Government — for example, from Government inspectors — and from teaching organisations and in teacher training.

But crucial to progress in this area is a change in attitudes. Some parents do not rate their daughters' personal achievements as high as they rate their personal relationships. Too often girls are reminded—sometimes through the home and sometimes by means of outside pressures and influence—that the way to a boy's heart is not to beat him in the chemistry examination.

Several hon. Members have mentioned homeworkers. Only last week a young woman told me about a small knitwear company that owns two boutiques in the Knightsbridge area. It employs homeworkers to knit picture sweaters—the beautiful, colourful sweaters that need a great deal of work. They are given the materials to make the sweaters, but they must make up their own patterns. The firm has a policy of not using women who live in London, because they would be able to see those sweaters in the shops in the West End. The firm employs only women who live in the provinces, because it pays them only £12 for each sweater, but I saw them priced in a Knightsbridge shop yesterday at £205 each. That is indeed exploitation.

I turn to those employment provisions in more general terms. I was brought up in a textile town, and both my parents worked in that industry. When I was young my father was out of work for long periods. He did not have a bike, but he walked many miles in search of a job. My mother always had a job in the mill, and I have early memories of her telling me that she was employed not for her sex appeal but because her pay was lower than my father's would have been. She worked for a pittance, but she was the breadwinner of our family. Sadly, we have now come full circle, and in many families the wife and mother brings home the only pay packet, although that is well below equivalent male earnings. Any move towards equality in earnings has come to a halt.

Many hon. Members have talked about the convoluted progress of equal pay arrangements through Parliament. Perhaps the Government will accept that what we now need is not a field day for Philadelphia lawyers but, as Lord Denning said, some clear and intelligible legislation which ordinary people and tribunals can understand and implement. At present the legislation is an obstacle course, with the hurdles stacked so high against a claimant in an equal pay case that there must be serious doubt about the Government's determination not to deprive women workers of their rights. The debate in the House of Lords and the action taken there only this week cannot be ignored by the Government and should not be glossed over by the Minister who replies to the debate. I hope that he or she will give the House a clear statement.

Clause 7 deals with marital status, and separates it into the conditions of being married, not married, separated, divorced or in widowhood. In this matter I take the devil's advocate approach and give as examples discrimination as it affects many hon. Members. All hon. Members, irrespective of sex, make the same basic contribution to the occupational pension scheme. On retirement, the pension is available to all hon. Members, irrespective of status. On death, it is inherited by the spouse, but an hon. Member of a different marital status can nominate no one to inherit the pension in the event of death, so no one can benefit even for a short period from the substantial contributions that have been made during his working life. I do not quarrel with the concept of inheritance by the spouse, but the system discriminates against those hon. Members who do not fall into the category of "married marital status". We should also find a means to recompense them in the years of early retirement in such cases.

here is a further point of annoyance. Parliament will soon have provisions enabling a married Member with two children to receive 45 free travel warrants each year for the family to journey to and from Westminster. I do not deny the need for such benefits, but why should not all hon. Members have them? Would it not be closer to natural justice, and in the interests of equity of status, that those benefits should be shared with unmarried Members? Is it not time that we treated people as human beings in their own right and not as appendages to each other?

I hope that the Bill will reach Committee and that we can iron out many of the discriminatory practices that are widespread in society and which I can describe only as sheer humbug.

Although the Bill has many imperfections, I accept the principle that lies behind it. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking admitted at the outset of her speech that the Bill is imperfect; but what private Member's Bill is not?We cannot accept indefinitely a system that denies to more than half of the population natural justice and equality of opportunity. My main concern is to ensure that the women whom I represent, and their daughters and granddaughters, are assured of a just future in which they can develop their talents, in a society where the hurdles that they must surmount are of equal height. To aim for anything else would impoverish our national life.

John Stuart Mill put it more precisely than I could when he wrote: There is not such an abundance of talent in the world that we can afford to restrict our area of choice to one half of the available supply. The law has a part to play, but it could fairly be said that the answer often lies with women themselves. After all, every male chauvinist is some woman's son, and if he has grown up in the belief that her place is at the kitchen sink she has largely herself to blame.

I welcome the Bill, and I hope that many Conservative Members will support it.

Photo of Mrs Elizabeth Peacock Mrs Elizabeth Peacock , Batley and Spen 12:27 pm, 9th December 1983

With my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), I too am in a dilemma about the Bill. I have always been a firm advocate of women's rights, and I have been a member of the Business and Professional Women's Organisation for the past 20 years. I have campaigned and spoken on the subject in many forums. I would even go so far as to say that, had women not already got the vote, I would have been a keen supporter of the suffragette movement, and a militant supporter at that.

However, I have the greatest doubts about the success of legislation to promote, support and implement women's rights and equality opportunities, and to prevent sex discrimination. If the Bill is given a Second Reading today, do we imagine that our male colleagues will give up their seats so that about 325 women can enter the Chamber? I should welcome comments on that.

I have never been asked to provide a male guarantor for any financial transaction, but the record is not good. Whether that is the fault of legislation or the fault of enforcement methods, I am not sure. I agree that in many areas women are sometimes to blame. I suspect that industry has paid lip service to the concept of equal pay for equal work. That must be put right. I am firmly of the opinion that the Equal Opportunities Commission is a disappointment to many. It has become the source of absurd cases of discrimination which cause public annoyance and amusement.

My dilemma is that the Bill is too wide-ranging with its 97 clauses. I support many of the changes proposed, as they are warranted, but they require further consideration. I support many of the proposals on employment, especially as they affect pensions. I certainly support the concept of equal pay for equal work and I agree that the pay of homeworkers must be considered carefully.

I believe that a statutory two-week paid paternity leave is nonsense. I go further— I have the gravest doubts about the working of the present maternity scheme. It is not always as helpful to women as it should be. Industry does not welcome such statutory provision, nor do many of our education services. The scheme is disruptive and inflationary.

I have had two children. On both occasions my husband managed to bring me home from hospital, put me through the front door and then returned to his job, leaving me to get on with the children. If a husband wants to be with his family at such a time—we believe in freedom of choice and opportunity — most women would make the necessary arrangements. There is no reason why a man should not take some of his annual leave at that time. That has happened over many years and is not a new concept. Many men are happy to do that. Legislation will not help.

I recognise our obligations to Europe and there could, therefore, be reason to support the Bill, but it is much too all-embracing. For instance, why must it cover homosexuality? That problem stands on its own and may or may not warrant further investigation. If it does, it should be discussed separately and separate legislation, if necessary should be introduced. That matter should not be included in the Bill.

The Government are firmly committed to a policy of equal opportunities for women. I recognise, as do the Government, the important contribution that women make to the economy. The Equal Pay regulations, recently considered in the other place, appear to meet our European obligations and make some of the Bill unnecessary. Because of that, and because the Bill is too wide-ranging, I cannot give it my support in its present form, which I sincerely regret.

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South 12:35 pm, 9th December 1983

The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) said that she might have been a suffragette. She would not have been a very good one because the suffragettes were nothing if they were not all-embracing, and she objected to the Bill because, she said, it was all-embracing. The suffragettes did not play about with ifs and buts. They fought for what they believed in, and therefore while I welcome the hon. Lady's support for some parts of the Bill, I regret that she was not prepared, as my hon. Friends are, to go all the way in placing, or trying to place, on the statute book a measure that is valuable, worthwhile and all-embracing.

I offer my warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) on the selection of the Bill and her presentation of it, which was supberb. Her attitude was in striking contrast to that of the Prime Minister, who said on 26 July last year that the battle for women's rights "has been largely won". How absurd, especially coming from a woman Prime Minister.

The regrettable fact is that many women and men agree with that statement. Indeed, some people think that the fight for women's rights has gone too far. That is the measure of how far some people have been brainwashed. I believe that the war for women's rights has not yet got beyond the phoney stage and that the position of women in Britain, even after the passage of two major Acts, is inferior.

That position reflects most men's view of women and, I am afraid, most women's acceptance of that view and the acceptance and holding of that view brings discredit on both men and women. There are, however, exceptions, and I see many of them on the Opposition Benches. I am delighted with the efforts that my hon. Friends are making. But the fact is that the vast majority of women have limited and often minimal freedom to explore their working potential and use their talents properly.

Women are affected by social pressures, education attitudes, having children, and of course by appalling prejudice at their workplace. There has been some progress and, as my hon. Friends have said, the two Acts are a beginning, a basic framework. However, they are wholly inadequate and full of loopholes. Anybody, especially a determined employer, can avoid the provisions and take advantage of the inadequacies.

The Equal Pay Act is a thicket for women and any obdurate employer can easily make it impenetrable. All that he need do is keep men out of women's work and make sure that there is no job evaluation.

The Bill is a refreshing change because it is designed to achieve equality rather than a patchwork, and of all its provisions perhaps the most important is the amalgamation of the two Acts. That is vital because it will enable claims to be made in respect of indirect discrimination and will introduce the hypothetical man into equal pay cases.

Pay is the crux of discrimination against women. In our society, pay is not just the reward for value given. It is a measure of assumed worth, a symbol of value, a status rating in society, and women in Britain will never make the breakthrough, will never feel like equals and will never be treated as equals until they get genuine equal pay. That is the basic issue that we face today.

Mention has been made of vulnerable groups such as part-time workers and homeworkers. I welcome that, because they are the most exploited groups. The General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union, by which I am sponsored, has been actively campaigning on behalf of homeworkers. It has found great difficulty in dealing with their problems because of the lack of legal protection for them. I am glad that provision has been made for those people. I welcome also the provisions to impose obligations on the Government and local authorities to review legislation.

I came across an example of discrimination in north Staffordshire just outside Stoke-on-Trent in the Wedgwood pottery factory. A while ago, some workers found pinned on the notice board of the Wedgwood pottery factory a notice which stated: Under no circumstances must any female operative be allowed to commence work before 7 am. Neither must female operatives be allowed to work on Sundays. Asking these employees to start work at 6 am contravenes the Factories Acts. The women at the Wedgwood factory are confined to certain working hours and are not allowed to work weekends, because the Factories Acts are being used against them.

When the Minister replied to my protests, he said that he had asked the Health and Safety Commission to look into the matter. In March 1979 the report of the Equal Opportunities Commission recommended legislation and the repealing of the Factories Acts. Nothing has been done since. There were four years of recommendations, but no action was taken. That type of delay would not be tolerated if men were involved, but because the recommendations were about discrimination against women action could be taken at a leisurely pace.

Some discrimination against women is due merely to indifference or incompetence. But we must recognise that some discrimination is due to a deliberate determination by men to discriminate. It is a matter of power, and far too many men enjoy exercising that power. Some of them relish discrimination. Some revel in it, some boast about it and some joke about it. Those men are little boys wearing long trousers. They are prisoners of their history. They are victims of their chauvinistic upbringing. They are psychologically incapable of treating women as their equals and are pathetic hangovers from a bigoted age. We are seeking to deal with those types of people. The fight against that type of evil and stupid discrimination must be fought. With those people in mind, and employers who are determined to use every device to avoid equality for women, the Bill is clearly necessary. It will not solve all the problems overnight, but it will lay a firm and fine foundation for the future.

The young women of today — and, happily, many older ones—are no longer prepared to accept a lifetime of discrimination based on flimsy pretexts, ministerial excuses and the outdated prejudices of some men. They want, and are entitled to have, a better and fairer future. It is time to set aside the excuses, the cant and the hypocrisy and to give them the new opportunities that the Bill goes a long way to provide.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton 12:45 pm, 9th December 1983

Having heard the Opposition's strictures about cant and hypocrisy, one must ask why, if legislation on this is so urgent and important, it was not introduced by the Labour Government.

As an exercise in highlighting the disadvantages suffered by women in our society, especially at work, giving those disadvantages an airing in the House and concentrating our minds on what still needs to be done to remedy them, today's debate is an excellent opportunity and I congratulate the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) on taking it and I agree with much of what has been said by hon. Members on both sides. But as a serious attempt to process appropriate legislation on a Friday the Bill is a non-starter. Three major points must be made.

First, the Bill is very long. It has 67 pages of legislation containing 97 clauses and a 16-paragraph schedule, before any amendments or new clauses are added.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

Perhaps the hon. Lady will forbear. My speech will be shorter if I am not interrupted and she will no doubt have an opportunity to comment further later. Secondly, the Bill is highly controversial. It not only introduces new ideas with far-reaching and expensive implications in many areas but develops existing attitudes beyond the stage hitherto considered acceptable. It will therefore be challenged. It will be challenged by employers whose limited freedom to run their businesses as they wish will be further restricted and who will have to spend more money to fulfil new statutory obligations. It will be challenged by those upon whom it loads further administrative burdens—in the private sector, in local government, in national Government and in nationalised industries—at a time when the Government are doing their utmost to contain public expenditure. The maternity provisions alone will cost about £22 million. The Bill will also be challenged by those who see it as a further limiting of private behaviour and the exposure of such behaviour to court actions from which only lawyers emerge with smiles on their faces.

In case anyone thinks that this is a Bill sponsored by Labour Members and opposed only by Conservatives I assure them that the opposition will not come only from Conservatives. The great Labour movement has achieved very little recently to give women an equal status in Labour society. Perhaps the hon. Member for Barking will answer these questions in due course.

At the Labour party conference in September 1982, did even one motion aiming to give women greater responsibility at all levels in the Labour party meet with success? What happened to the motion requiring constituency parties to shortlist at least one woman when choosing a parliamentary candidate? It was defeated by 4,625,000 votes. The motion to give women more representation at all levels of the party was lost by 3,978,000 votes. The motion to give the women's conference the right to table and move annual conference motions was rejected by 5,795,000. The motion providing for the women's section of the national executive council to be elected by the women's conference was thrown out by 4,670,000 votes.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

That has nothing to do with the Bill.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I am on the subject of cant and hypocrisy.

That was last year's annual conference. What did this year's annual conference do to give women equal rights? The delegates were made up of 91 per cent. male trade unionists and 74 per cent. males from the constituency Labour and Socialist societies. Even in the House, only 10 out of 208 Labour Members are women. The motion for the women's section of the national executive council to be elected by women's organisation was rejected. The motion to instruct the NEC to convene a rules conference to draw up a constitution and rules for the women's organisation was thrown out. The motion giving the women's organisation the right to table five resolutions at the party conference was hammered into the ground. One delegate captured the television screens with a heartrending complaint that the Labour party was so sexist that whenever a woman went to speak on the rostrum she was called "Dear", and "Darling", and requests were made for her telephone number.

The pious words that we have heard from right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches appear to be somewhat tainted with cant and hypocrisy. Perhaps the best indication of all is given in clause 24 of the Bill, which might be called the "Miners Clause". The miners are the last people who want to abolish discrimination and to have equality down their pits. A large proportion of miners, although fewer than before, are supporters of the Labour party.

So the Bill will be controversial. If it receives a Second Reading today, hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies on the Labour Benches might spend many a day and night in Committee. The avalanche of letters that will flood in to hon. Members will make the trauma we went through the last time the hon. Member for Barking had anything to do with a serious Friday measure seem like Nirvana and Valhalla rolled into one.

The third thing about the Bill is that it is certainly not one of those measures brought innocently before the House on a Friday with a reasonable chance of being passed as an ordinary, uncomplicated, uncontentious and utterly desirable piece of private Member's legislation. It has, on the contrary, been brought before the House by its sponsors, as a complicated measure, a measure which is the subject of much controversy on both sides of the House, with the sole intention of making mischief to embarrass the Government. One has only to look down the list of the Bill's sponsors to realise that it is mischevious. Apart from the hon. Member for Barking, there is the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett)— not here; the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman); the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart), who is no longer in the Chamber; the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) — not here; the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) — not here; the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short)—not here; the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard)— not here; and the doyen of them all, the great showman himself who was here but has now gone, the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). I make my apologies to other hon. Members, who are sponsors and are all members of the Left-wing Friday club outing which we see in this place from time to time.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

None of them are innocent about Friday's business.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman , Peckham

Is it not the case that, by treating this Bill with contempt, the hon. and learned Gentleman is treating with contempt the plight of thousands and thousands of women who are appallingly badly paid whom the Bill might help, and the thousands and thousands of women who are forced to work in their homes whom the Bill might help? Is it not a disgrace that the hon. and learned Gentleman is treating not only the sponsors of the Bill in this way but all those women who would benefit if the Bill were passed?

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

If one small part of what the hon. Lady has said were true, no doubt the Labour Government would have introduced the measures in the Bill. The hon. Lady would not have been speaking to me here if the women in my constituency opposed me as strongly as she does. Much of what has been said in this debate has been important and valuable, but the subject is not appropriate to be dealt with by private Member's legislation on a Friday.

I shall not go through all 97 clauses and the 16 paragraphs of the schedule, but I shall draw attention to one or two of the absurd provisions.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) who said that merit should be the main test of whether women are employed. But clause 2(5) states: For the foregoing purposes … a woman who is pregnant may be compared with a man". Which man? Which of us is like a pregnant woman?

Paragraph (c) of the subsection states: a person does not discriminate against a man if he treats a woman more favourably in connection with pregnancy and childbirth. Does that mean that an employer cannot say no to employing a pregnant woman in any situation in which it would be appropriate to employ a man? What sense does that make if we want a society in which work is efficient and the best person is chosen for the job?

One can surely be forgiven for thinking that clause 2(4) is a wide definition of sexual harassment. What are "sexual advances"? We can understand the meaning of "requests for sexual favours'`, but what is other conduct of a sexual nature"?+ If an hon. Member thinks that his secretary is not up to her job and, because he wants to be nice, he smiles at her, could she go running off to complain that that was other conduct of a sexual nature"? If so, who of us would be safe? Attempts just as bizarre as that have been made before industrial tribunals and we seem to have learnt nothing from the experience.

If we ever wanted an utterly impracticable and ridiculous clause we have it in clause 8. Subsection (6) states: For the purposes of subsection (2)(c) a woman is to be regarded as employed on work rated as equivalent with that of any men if, but only if, her job and their job have been giver an equal value, in terms of the demand made on the worker under various headings (for instance effort, skill, decision making), on a study undertaken with a view to evaluating in those terms the jobs to be done by all or any of the employees in an undertaking or group of undertakings, or would have been given an equal value but for the evaluation being made on a system setting different values for men and women on the same demand under any heading. That is nonsense. Apart from being practically incomprehensible it involves inventing a hypothetical man in a factory that employs only women, fixing a notional wage for that hypothetical man and basing a woman's pay on it.

If the aim of the Bill is to eliminate disadvantage based on sex, clause 9 dealing with homeworkers is a funny way to achieve it. Its effect would be to reduce the number of homeworkers and take jobs from women who are happy doing them.

Clause 13, on paid paternity leave, will be expensive for small businesses. Such a provision will interrupt production and discriminate unfairly against employees who are not fathers. Is that to be dealt with in Committee? If so, where are we to draw the line on the endless kinds of discrimination?

Clauses 3 and 92 on homosexuality will incur the fury of many of our constituents who do not want their children to be taught by people who parade their homosexuality and think that it is a matter for exhibition and pride. How many Members want their children to be taught by a member of the Paedophile Information Exchange?

Clause 32 prohibits the refusal of membership to clubs. The hon. Member for Barking recognised the absurdity of that when she said that it would not apply to organisations that want their members to be only women or only men. She should make up her mind what she wants and not waste the House's time while she tries to sort herself out.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

It is perfectly clear.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I have touched on only a few of the absurdities. The principal one would be the effect that the Bill might have on the existing interests of women. If, as a result of the Bill, women in work lost their jobs, as they would; if employers got fed up with harassment through the law and the expense of lawyers and decided not to bother and slowed down or closed their businesses and deprived people of jobs, as they might; and if there were constant rows and ill-feeling because of private clubs, homosexuality and many other things with which the Bill deals, how will women be benefited?

The trouble with legislation such as this is that it ignores the necessarily slow but steady progress that the Government are making to remove unjust discrimination between the sexes. My hon. Friend the Minister has already outlined some of those provisions. The Bill will also tend to make people ridicule this serious subject and put back instead of advance the cause that the sponsors and many others hold dear.

Those of us who do not support the Bill will of course be attacked. Our time will be taken up answering countless unnecessary letters from people who have not read the Bill, on the quite ridiculous basis that we Conservatives oppose women's rights. We do not. None of us would dare to do that. Most of us have wives—indeed, many are working wives. We also have mothers, daughters and mothers-in-law. Moreover, Conservative Members have something that few Labour Members have—chairmen of women's divisional associations in our constituency parties. Those constituency women's organisations are in many cases entirely the reason why organisations of Conservatives are so efficient and effective that we win elections.

We have even elected a woman Leader and we have worked hard to make her Prime Minister twice. Perhaps she is the best Prime Minister Britain has ever had. It is even rumoured that when she was once asked how she managed to become Prime Minister of one of the great male-orientated societies on earth she said, "I prayed nightly to the Almighty and she answered my prayers."

The difference between most Conservative Members and Opposition Members is not that one group favours women's rights and the other does not. It is that we believe that those rights will not be won lastingly or gained genuinely if they are forced on a society that cannot afford to bear them and does not think that they are sensible. This Bill is, in a sense, an abuse of the private Member's Bill procedure. Because I believe that the Bill is nonsense and that it will set back rather than advance the cause of women's rights, I cannot and will not support it.

Several Hon. Members:

rose——

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. Hon. Members will be aware that fewer than 90 minutes of debating time remains and that many hon. Members wish to catch my eye. A lengthy speech is theft of another hon. Member's time.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland 1:03 pm, 9th December 1983

The trouble with the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is that, despite his protestations about favouring equal rights for women, the substance of his speech was directed towards demolishing a Bill which intends to extend those rights. The hon. and learned Gentleman's speech called into question his motivation and the belief and experience through existing legislation that it is possible to extend the protection of women's rights.

The hon. and learned Gentleman's lawyer-like attempts at demolition followed the lead given by the Minister. The Minister and the hon. and learned Gentleman would have been more candid if they had admitted that they are satisfied with the status quo and are not looking for amendment to the law. Such a stance is not defensible. In the light of our experience of the operation of the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 it is clear that extensive amendments are needed. People who are involved in the subject want them.

Therefore, I and my hon. Friends in the Social Democratic party and the Liberal party regard the proposal by the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) as a bold attempt to do something that the Government should have done. It is a bold attempt to consolidate the Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts and to introduce further amendments in the light of experience of the working of those two Acts.

I compliment the hon. Lady on her Bill, but I regret that she has proceeded on such a narrow basis of party support. It was not necessary for her to choose only her colleagues from a narrow section of the Labour party to sponsor such an attempt to reform the law. The excellent speech by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) made it plain that the hon. Lady would have found support for her attempt from the Government Benches. She would certainly have found support from the Social Democratic party and the Liberal party if she had approached us.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman , Peckham

Is not that a petty point? It was clear from the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) that a wide range of organisations in all parts of the spectrum, such as the Women's Institute, were involved in consultation and in the process of drawing up the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to make a minor party political point. It is also a cheap point.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

With respect, the hon. Lady has not had as long experience as I have on private Members' Bills. I have successfully enacted two private Members' Bills, with all-party support. It is more important to legislate than to attitudinise about these matters. The hon. Member for Barking spoke about wide and extensive consultation during the drafting and preparation of the Bill. I think that her consultation was inadequate. That is reflected not only in the bad drafting of the Bill but in the fact that the consultation with the Equal Opportunities Commission was scant, to say the least. I understand that a letter was written to the chairman of the EOC in August saying that consultation would be welcome. The Bill was published only about a week ago, and I have been unable to discover that there was any consultation with the EOC, which has the most detailed knowledge of how the law operates in that area.

Therefore it is not surprising that the Bill, far from being a comprehensive measure as the hon. Lady described it, is by no means comprehensive in that it leaves out of consideration at least half the major points of reform to which the EOC attaches importance. Far be it for me to suggest that a private Member should tackle all those points in a private Member's Bill, but that lack of consultation and the open reliance upon a particular pressure group, the National Council for Civil Liberties, was a mistake. No doubt it has much that is useful to say, but it does not have the last word on these matters. However, I acknowledge and welcome its help. Much that it says is important and should be taken into account.

I speak with feeling on the question of partisanship in bringing forward these matters. From their birth—in the statement of principles in the Limehouse declaration, and in their party's constitution—the Social Democrats have given voice and support to the need to protect against discrimination not only women but minorities as well. I am strongly in favour of giving the Bill a Second Reading, but it suffers from major omissions. It may be that some of the omissions are more important than what is included. There is nothing on the need for the reform of tax or social security provisions, which clearly should be tackled very soon.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

I explained the reason for that.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman , Peckham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way? He has made a mistake.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

I have explained why I do not wish to give way again.

I recognise the value of the provisions on private clubs, for example, and I will support them. No doubt the restrictions can be very irritating. However, they bear no comparison in magnitude or importance to the appalling situation of women caring for elderly or disabled relatives. The Bill does not mention the problem of lack of control by women of their own money.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman , Peckham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way? He is misleading the House.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

There is nothing in the Bill about joint taxation of spouses' incomes.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

Will the hon. Gentleman give way to my hon. Friend?

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

No reference is made to the EEC proposals in the directive on sex equality and taxation. That is a pity. These sedentary interventions may be referring to parts of the Bill——

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is misleading the House. Clearly he did not hear me say that private Members' legislation cannot spend massive amounts of public money. That is why I said that Government Departments have a duty to look at their legislation. I cannot do it; they must do it themselves.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

That is not a point of order.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

The hon. Lady's intervention was unnecessary. I was about to address that point. There is a money resolution to the Bill, and a public expenditure implication. Secondly, there is the question of where the hon. Lady draws the line about what is included. She will agree that the Bill is extensive. It has over 90 clauses. However, the hon. Lady has been extremely arbitrary in her selection of which clauses are important.

The hon. Lady drew particular attention to some of the clauses, including clause 56(2), which imposes on Government Departments a duty to review their legislation. That is a useful exhortation but is scarcely capable, as it stands, of being translated into a legal obligation. It goes no way towards tackling the problems of tax discrimination, which must be tackled in a specific manner.

There are some other important omissions and mistakes of emphasis in the Bill. The Bill seeks to redefine the status of women in marriage. That is in itself an important change, and I welcome it, but it does not go nearly far enough. In seeking to outlaw discrimination, emphasis should be placed on the important role that women have as carers, in particular, for children. It is unfortunate that in its attempt to redefine marital status, the Bill does not emphasise that point.

The enforcement provisions are weak and inadequate. I very much hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading, and if it is, we shall have to return to that in Committee. The Social Democrats have proposed a much strengthened human rights commission, which would have the power to take up cases on behalf of individuals and to fight them through the courts. It is only by such powers that we can ensure that the Bill's aspiration to give greater equality to women can be realised.

The provision of equal pay for work of equal value is undoubtedly necessary. The Government failed to tackle the problem adequately in this House and in the other place. It is a great pity that they have not yet recognised the weight of legal opinion that holds that the order that they introduced does not satisfy the requirements of European law. The Government's obstinacy in persisting with an order that has been extensively criticised for the tortuosity not only of its language but of the procedures that will give effect to its provisions, means that a woman who claims that she has been discriminated against under the law on equal pay for work of equal value would have to take as many as 10 different steps in order to gain redress. That is a patent denial of justice, and I believe that it will be tested again soon, and that the issue will become a live one. That is one of the disadvantages of proceeding by way of secondary legislation. This House and the other place might have been able to improve a Bill to remove any ambiguities or doubts about its operation.

This Bill represents a bold and brave attempt to tackle our experience of the way in which the two Acts have worked. For that reason, it should be given our support. It is right to focus on discrimination in employment. It is discrimination in pay that probably cuts the deepest. In his initial remarks, the Minister explained the Government's hostility to the Bill. He did not take refuge in a principled opposition to its purpose, although he voiced one principle that had some force on the surface. He said that employment rights were no good without jobs. Of course I accept that such rights do not assist those not in employment. However, if that is invoked by any Government as a general principle, it is bound to act as an obstacle to the extension of equality through the law. That principle could have been invoked against the alteration of working conditions at any time in our history, as well as against the early Factory Acts and other legislation covering the employment of children, particularly forcing children to climb chimneys. It may not have been the Minister's intention to give that impression, but that classic argument is often adduced to oppose the development of the law.

The law is important not only for the protection of individual rights but for its educational value. That is one reason why Parliament must legislate somewhat in advance of public opinion. I disagree with Conservative Members who say that we must not follow opinion and must not legislate in advance of opinion. We were legislating in advance of opinion when we introduced the two Acts that the Bill seeks to consolidate. Let there be no doubt about that. When those measures were introduced the same arguments were advanced as those that we have heard today. However, they reached the statute book and they have enjoyed widespread support.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard , Folkestone and Hythe

The hon. Gentleman has importantly committed both his party and the Liberal party to support this measure. Will he specifically and expressly confirm that that support extends to the elimination of the exemption of small businesses from the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975?

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

No, I will not. To follow that sort of invitation is, in effect, to state precisely where one stands on each clause. To do so at this stage would be foolish. I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's question in Committee.

One of the clauses deals with discrimination on the ground of sexual preference. I am sure that there is a need for legislation in that area. However, I do not believe that this is the appropriate Bill in which to introduce it. If we start by incorporating into our domestic law the provisions of the European convention on human rights, a proposal which a number of Members on both sides of the House would support, we would take a massive step forward in protecting individuals and minorities who are being discriminated against on the ground of sexual preference. It is a mistake not to recognise that the categories against which discrimination continues are never closed. It is only by the incorporation of a Bill of Rights into our domestic law that we shall tackle that problem.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Barking on her assiduity and her objectivities in bringing forward the Bill, and I shall enjoy the opportunity, if it goes to Committee, of making it even more effective than it promises to be.

Photo of Mrs Anna McCurley Mrs Anna McCurley , Renfrew West and Inverclyde 1:23 pm, 9th December 1983

The Bill that the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) has presented to the House is prodigious in its aims and I congratulate her on the effort which she has made. It is a pity that I, who have no wish to arrest the effort that is being made to remedy some of the appalling discriminations against my sex, feel unable to support it. There are many nuggets of good sense in the Bill but they are buried in an overwhelming mass of dross, mostly of an ill-conceived and illogical nature, which is heavy with feminist overtones.

I believe that the hon. Lady is doing the members of her sex a disservice by mixing sense with nonsense and bringing the case for the advancement of women's rights into general disrepute. To place the banalities of sexual harassment, which from time to time is only a matter of stimulus and response, in the same context as occupational rights and regulations, and placing the trivia of regulations to force privately run clubs to admit women in the same context as discussing the merits of complex pension and taxation rights, shows an over-inclusiveness that is unworthy of the hon. Lady.

I agree that there is a possible reason for the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends, especially her female colleagues, introducing the Bill. The hon. Lady is attempting to legislate for her own party's attitudes to women, which have been less than generous despite the banning of discrimination in the circumstances that have already been mentioned.

Unlike the Conservative party, which is dominated by women—some might say that it is manipulated by them —the Labour party keeps women under its thumb, to the extent that the majority of its regional officers are men. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said, the equal representation legislation met with hostility from the Labour party. Discourtesies such as those endured by women attending the Labour party conference would not occur at a Conservative party conference, where equal respect is shown to the contributions of both sexes. I urge the public to consider that fact carefully when they decide which party will give them a better deal on female rights.

The Conservative party's legislative record is good; and if the legislation is sometimes cautious it at least avoids the trap of hasty, ill-conceived legislation and expensive wrangling in courts and tribunals, which has ruinous financial implications, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) said in his excellent maiden speech. Much of the legislation about which the hon. Lady is worried is already under review. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, much of it is being dealt with in response to EC directives. My hon. and noble Friend the Earl of Gowrie reaffirmed recently in another place the Government's commitment to equality.

However, the Bill is not all bad. I, too, hope that the humiliation of the household duties test on severely disabled women will be abolished as soon as possible. I understand that the financial implications of doing so would be high, and that the net benefit cost to the taxpayer of reducing the housewife's non-contributory invalidity pension with a universal non-contributory invalidity pension would be £275 million. However, I urge the Government to find a less distasteful method of assessment.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

My recollection may be wrong, but I understood that the Government abolished the household duties test and introduced, only 10 days ago, a new benefit, to cover disablement for men and women, although not universally.

Photo of Mrs Anna McCurley Mrs Anna McCurley , Renfrew West and Inverclyde

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for partially correcting me. As I understood the legislation, the test has not been completely abolished.

I have already outlined my feelings about the homosexual legislation enshrined in the Bill, and I repeat that there are some jobs—especially in education and residential establishments—where it would be better to know the sexual proclivities of those who apply for posts. We must protect the innocent. They have not been so protected in the past, which has caused serious cases in my region.

Another problem with the Bill is that it seeks to end the exemption of small businesses from sexual discrimination legislation. If such businesses had to bear the additional burden of paternity leave, it could be highly destructive to jobs, especially in businesses that have not been going for long. Young businesses could be severely damaged by such legislation.

Maternity pay is 90 per cent. of a woman's salary and under the proposals a business would also bear the brunt of a man's two weeks' paid paternity leave. In addition there would be an extra demand for maternity leave since the qualifying period would drop from two years to six months.

Problems are already inherent in maternity leave. It may be unpopular for me to say this, but my former profession, teaching, is particularly bedevilled by the problem. Because of the high percentage of women of child-bearing age in that profession, it is impossible to calculate from year to year how many teachers will be available. The continuous disruption and dislocation of classes has caused considerable problems for schools. If that were compounded by paternity leave and young male teachers were able to take two weeks' leave with pay the problem and disruption would increase.

Coal mines are regarded as a special case in the Bill. Why should not agriculture be regarded in the same light? Why confine the exemption to coal miners? There are political implications in that. I have been down a coal mine to a 26 in seam. I understand a little about the workings of a coal mine. I would rather work down a coal mine than be up to my neck in slush and mud in winter delivering cattle and sheep on the open hills.

The hon. Member for Barking also equivocates in her Bill on religious matters. She appears to be very careful not to offend the Church of England. Society's problem is that the traditional role of a woman as the nurturer of the family and the stable focal point in the home is under continuous threat. Part of the reason for the increased aggression in society today has to do with female emancipation and, indeed, additional female aggression. There appears to a correlation between sexual harassment and cases of rape and an increase in female emancipation, sexual liberation, call it what one will.

We must treat biology with kid gloves. I remind feminists that historically we cossetted men because from conception the female is stronger than the male. It is still a biological fact that more females than males are born and that there are fewer baby boys than baby girls. Only modern medicine helps them to survive.

The Bill is a legislative nightmare which attempts crudely to adust inequalities in existing legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) has proved that anti-discrimination legislation is working. The new Bill is too cumbersome and has to many clauses. Therefore I must oppose it.

Photo of Mr Tom Pendry Mr Tom Pendry , Stalybridge and Hyde 1:35 pm, 9th December 1983

I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) on the way in which she presented the Bill. She covered many aspect of it in depth, as have others, but I shall concentrate on the problem of low pay for women, especially in the public sector.

I am the chairman of the NUPE-sponsored group in this House. My union has more than 470,000 women members, and therefore I can claim to know something of their problems. Although women represent about 41 per cent. of the British work force, they are largely concentrated in low-paid, unskilled areas of employment.

In 1981 the average wage for the working woman was 72 per cent. of the male rate. In 1983 her average earnings are still less than 74 per cent. of those of her male counterpart. Low pay is probably the greatest problem facing most working women in Britain, a problem that the exisiting legislation has failed to eradicate, and I doubt whether any hon. Member would deny that.

My union carried out a survey of the average earnings of men and women between April and November of this year. It found that the average man's wage went up from £167·50 to £174·40 and that the women's rate rose from £108·80 to £113·30. The discrepancies are blatant and shocking.

Further, there is a wide range of obstacles with which working women must contend. Women members of my union, for example, are employed mainly in the National Health Service, local authorities and universities. Indeed, 60 per cent. of local government manual workers are part-time women workers, and part-time women workers have particular problems, as the House knows, perhaps nowhere more so than in the NHS. About 50 per cent of ancillary workers in the service are women part-time workers and nearly 90 per cent. of all nurses are women workers, although, strangely, men are over-represented in the higher grades of the nursing structure.

In the NHS, women are concentrated in the three ancillary grades, and that shows that job segregation exists, despite the legislation. This state of affairs should not be tolerated, and that is why we need the Bill. We need tighter legislation if we are to break the trap of job segregation and the unequal and low pay that characterise women's work.

The Equal Opportunities Commission and the TUC have seen a number of loopholes and practical problems that could be overcome by making the Sex Discrimination Act and Equal Opportunities Act work together, and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) that a great virtue of the Bill is that it would amalgamate the existing sex equality legislation, with the additional improvements proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking. The simplification and clarification that her Bill represents would go a long way to improve matters.

The Bill stresses the concept of equal pay for equal value, and we have heard much today about the recent judgment of the European Court on the issue. It is strange that, although we hear so much from Conservative Members about the need to be good Europeans, we hear little from them about that ruling. The other place has demolished the arguments that the Minister made so limply today. Not only Lord Denning but, I believe, most lawyers realise that the legal procedures are so lengthy and complex that even they cannot understand them.

By contrast, the Opposition welcome the Bill's provisions as reflecting the spirit of the court ruling. By introducing the concept of the typical man, women can look at the pay that they would earn if a man did the same job. For the first time, the women in my union can look at what their jobs are really worth and what they would earn if those jobs were evaluated in the same way as men's jobs. If the Bill is passed, employers during negotiations will have to examine where women's jobs are undervalued and rectify the position.

The Opposition are in no doubt that it is unfair and wrong that jobs in which women predominate are undervalued in our society. Certain skills will always be more highly regarded than others, and that is obvious. However, there can be no justification for women's caring skills being less highly valued than the physical skills required in men's jobs.

With hindsight, most of us, including Conservative Members, would realise that it was criminal that Health Service members had to take industrial action last year for eight months to make the point that they, in that vital section of our work force, were underpaid. Why should a nurse earn less than half the wage earned by, for example, a computer engineer when a nurse must undergo the same length of training? Why should a cook or cleaner earn less than £70 a week? It is because over the years they have learnt their skills in the home. I should have thought that that would count for as much as if those skills had been learnt anywhere else.

Recently, the Legal and General Assurance Society Limited, in a survey, calculated, by using employment agencies' average fees for given jobs, that the commercial rate for housewives' work is £279 a week, or £14,531 per annum. That is similar to the pay that Members of Parliament receive, and—I am generous to Opposition Members — perhaps their hours are similar, but housewives certainly do not receive that pay.

The Bill would not resolve overnight the discrimination built up by our job structure over the years. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking would be the first to realise that. My hon. Friend has detailed many clauses that provide a sensible framework with which we can go on the offensive. The Bill places a duty on Government Departments, local authorities and all employers of 20 or more employees to operate an equal opportunities policy, to review it and to check its effectiveness. Clause 71 institutes the machinery for assessing equal value. The Equal Opportunities Commission would be empowered to take proceedings against the recalcitrant. The burden of proof would be placed on the employer, which is right, rather than on the employee. Those are all sensible proposals.

Although, because of the time factor, I have concentrated especially on a narrow aspect of the Bill, I urge hon. Members on both sides to support it. We have heard only one Conservative Member say that she would do so. That is to the shame of Conservative Members. I hope that there are some Conservative Members lurking in the Corridors of the House who will support us in the Lobby. For the first time, we have a thorough review of the equal opportunities legislation, instead of the piecemeal tinkering that has had no radical effect on the status quo.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking has presented a single, comprehensive and legally precise Bill, which, of course, must be amended in Committee, and she would be the first to accept that. The Bill provides an excellent opportunity to make the necessary amendments and is an important step in the fight against continued discrimination and obstacles to equality faced by women and men. It will redress and eliminate much of the disadvantage faced by so many members of our society based on sex, marital status and sexuality. The time has come for hon. Members to dispel the myth—although we have seen some evidence of that not working today—that men believe that they have something to lose by the liberation of women.

We pride ourselves on being a civilised and tolerant society but deny half its members the opportunity to enjoy the basic equality that we take for granted. Legislation is needed now more than ever when unemployment and cuts in welfare services are hitting women hardest. They work for the same reasons as men—because they and their families need the income to make ends meet. Many women need and want to work and they have the right to do so. They look to the House for consideration and protection. It is up to both sides not to fail them.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe , Broxbourne 1:45 pm, 9th December 1983

Having stood against the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) in the 1979 general election, I know that she is an experienced and sincere champion of women's rights and I have a deep respect for the conviction and purpose in her campaign to secure greater commitment to equality of opportunity in social, economic and political life. I say that despite the fact that she denied me the opportunity to represent her constituents.

The hon. Member for Barking also understands that equality begins at home. She has fought vigorously to lead her own party out of the wilderness towards the recognition of women in policy making. I have no doubt that the formidable talent that she now brings to the Opposition Front Bench has been honed and polished by debate within her party.

I am surprised, therefore, that the hon. Member, as a seasoned campaigner on women's rights, seeks to introduce a measure which, despite the undoubted sincerity of its sentiments, is so badly flawed in its practical application. There is one fundamental misconception. The hon. Member seeks to legislate for a change of attitude of mind, thus promoting equality at the expense of opportunity. In seeking to impose equality between the sexes she will succeed merely in restricting it to a tiny minority of women.

Long gone are the days when women were constitutionally confined to the Strangers Gallery while a few brave men struggled timorously to argue on their behalf. Today we are not debating just the principle of equality of opportunity between the sexes. We are trying to find a practical solution to attitudes which lag so far behind the economic and social reality of women in the 1980s. In so doing, we must confront not just the attitudes of men but even more, the attitudes of women about themselves.

Enlightened attitudes can follow only from an understanding that men and women are equal but not the same. The human difficulties of attitudes and prejudices are not confined to individuals. They are pervasive in professional associations, trade unions, clubs and societies. In this context, I should add, however, that I am privileged to be an honorary life member of a working men's club. As reflected by the number of hon. Members qualified by their sex to speak today, the highest learning curve perhaps lies in our political parties, in which women remain the exception rather than the norm.

The route to changed attitudes is not through legislation imposed from above. That is a singularly naive and undemocratic path, the end result of which is likely to be greater but more hidden discrimination, to the detriment of all women.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

The logic of the hon. Member's argument is that the existing Sex Discrimination Act and Race Relations Act should be repealed. Is that her view?

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe , Broxbourne

It is not.

I doubt that there is a woman Member of this House who has not felt some degree of discrimination. I am sure that every woman here can recall her feeling during the candidate's selection procedures when it becomes evident that some people have great difficulty in envisaging a woman assuming what is traditionally a man's job. But we cannot then proceed to insist that there should be a legally fixed quota of women selected and even elected for every party. Those of us who have broken the barrier must persuade and enable greater numbers of women to put themselves forward for elected office at all levels of Government. The route to reforming attitudes is not through coercion, but through education, persuasion and example.

I should now like to deal with my second concern about the measure before the House. By addressing itself to the symptoms of discrimination the Sex Equality Bill delivers an own goal. In fact, it defeats its very purpose. I refer specifically to those aspects of clauses 6 to 9 that are relevant to the proposed obligation of employers. The hon. Member for Barking will know that three quarters of women at work are still concentrated in the clerical, older service and retailing operations, sectors of employment where wages are traditionally lower. In those female-dominated occupations the idea of the hypothetical man for pay comparisons will be extremely difficult to realise and will not help those industries to overcome the problems of recession.

Clause 6, which withdraws exemptions from small businesses, is another aspect of the same problem. Women working in small businesses, where profit margins are tight, could quickly be priced out of their jobs. If a small firm has an all-female staff the consequences would certainly be rapid and fatal. The women of this country will not thank the hon. Member for Barking if the price of her statutory equality for the few is a loss of jobs for many.

It is with some considerable regret that I must make these serious criticisms because the Bill raises a number of issues where, in a different form, I could sympathise with its objectives.

The hon. Member knows that in its present form her measure cannot succeed, so she has thrown the baby out with the bath water. With great respect, I would caution her that the sheer breadth of her measure means that many vital issues confronting women today will not be properly examined by the House. We can only respond to the generality of the Bill or pick up one or two specific points.

I urge the lion. Member to think again before she risks undermining the credibility of informed and intelligent debate on effective measures to promote equality of opportunity between the sexes.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Meirionnydd Nant Conwy 1:52 pm, 9th December 1983

I should like to thank the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) for giving us the opportunity to debate the continuing extent of institutional sexism in our society. The hon. Lady said in her opening remarks that she could spend her whole speech talking about the educational aspect. I shall try to do that as briefly as I can.

The cultural sexism, which is endemic in our society, appears to be produced and is also reproduced within our education system itself. How can we through better educational practice change that position? Indeed, the Secretary of State for Education and Science addressed himself to this subject recently. I hope that Conservative local education authorities will heed his speech on that subject.

While most educational research at primary level shows that girls exhibit what the educational psychologists would describe as "learning-appropriate behaviour" to an extent equal or better than that of boys, by the time they reach the end of the education system the position is reversed. I should like to spend my time concentrating on this disparity in education. The change seems to be most noticeable when subject options are taken in the fourth year.

If one examines how girls progress through the education system, one sees that they have less A-level provision and a lack of access to higher education and careers in education. The participation rate of women in higher education is reducing.

We have to contrast that end of the system with what appears to be the position at primary school and pinpoint the factors in school that create and aggravate discrimination. We cannot separate provision within schools from what occurs in the wider society and we have to look at the influences in school and society that reproduce sexism in schools. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Education and Science has joined us.

A report was produced recently by the Equal Opportunities Commission in Wales and the Clwyd education authority entitled "Equal Opportunities and the Secondary School Curriculum". That report provides the opportunity for LEAs throughout Britain to look in detail at their provision in schools and at ways of making adjustments.

The figures for Clwyd reflect the overall position in Britain. They show a 50 per cent. male option and a 19 per cent. female option for physics, a 50 per cent. female option and a 24 per cent. male option for biology, a 28 per cent. female option and a 14 per cent. male option for Welsh, and a 47 per cent. female option and a 5·2 per cent. male option for home economics. The distinction between options, which some hon. Members seem to imply has been reduced, still appears to be fairly clear.

There does not seem to be much to choose between the attainments of girls and boys at primary school and in the early years of secondary education, but the position changes from the third and fourth years of secondary education.

Photo of Mrs Angela Rumbold Mrs Angela Rumbold , Mitcham and Morden

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that recent research on the subject shows that, despite all the efforts made in education to iron out differences of treatment between girls and boys, the girls still revert to the subjects to which the hon. Gentleman referred and the boys take on physics and other subjects? There seems to be little that we can do to encourage girls to take different subjects.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Meirionnydd Nant Conwy

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I know of her experience of education policy matters outside the House. However, I must quarrel with her, because we must ask why, despite recent attempts by LEAs to develop an anti-sexist policy in schools, that approach has not yet worked through the school system. There seems to be a socialisation within schools, that tends to perpetuate discrimination.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman , Peckham

Her Majesty's Inspectorate stated recently that schools channel girls into subjects regarded as appropriate for them and channel boys into subjects regarded as appropriate for them. The HMI suggested that that should be corrected. The education cuts that the Government are imposing will make it more difficult to make changes to allow girls and boys to do the subjects that they are best at and in which they are most interested.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Meirionnydd Nant Conwy

I am grateful for that intervention. The inspectorate and the report to which I have referred say that the school system, whether it be in the classroom, career guidance or in the organisation of the school, tends strongly to result in discrimination and to make girls revert to traditional subjects. The effect of unemployment on school leavers makes that much worse.

We must encourage local education authorities to examine their practice with regard to policy and individual schools. The report to which I have referred found that girls were not able to opt for mathematics. One school in Clwyd put on extra classes at lunch time for girls and the class was filled to capacity. It is possible to be progressive in regard to single-sex classes for subjects that girls have not traditionally pursued.

One of the problems is that the eternal classroom practice of many teachers appears to be sexist. I ask my hon. Friends in the teaching profession to consider that. The report shows that, although a teacher attempted to involve the entire class in practical science demonstrations, only the boys ended up being involved. The report also shows that teachers asked boys to respond in class 23 times whereas girls were asked to respond only six times. Such instances might appear trivial, but when such actions are normal practice they amount to institutional sexism of the most discriminatory type.

At A level there is an imbalance with regard to mathematics, physics, biology and languages. The reproduction of sexist stereotypes persists in careers advice. We tend to see only male characters in the brochures and men are always depicted in positions of authority. Such criticisms are familiar with regard to primary school books. The rampant sexism which used to be common in children's books has now been partly corrected as new texts have been produced. Such changes still remain to be made in careers texts and many of the prospectuses which are made available to parents.

I also ask my colleagues in the teaching profession to consider the often sexist role of the head teacher who dominates a school. The male image associated with mathematics and science contributes to the option which is made by boys and not made by girls.

The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) attacked the possibility of paternity leave on the principle that women are always away having babies. The Clwyd study found that, in 1981–82, only 3 per cent. of full-time teachers took maternity leave. The same figure was true for the second year. At the same time, 1·5 per cent. of men were absent from work for between one month and 12 months. The same was true for women. Therefore, only a fraction of full-time women teachers are on maternity leave at a given time.

There should be positive discrimination to ensure that the gross imbalance between male and female teachers is corrected. That is especially true for the crucial posts of deputy head and head. That requires a non-sexist and non-racist policy.

We must consider the full range of sexism in education. The Department of Education and Science has started to do that on a national level. The Department should clearly state an anti-sexist policy. We are still waiting for a commitment to anti-racist policies at national level. Local education authorities have a right to expect a policy lead from the Department of Education and Science. We also have a right to expect local education authorities and each school to examine their practice to ensure that they are not reproducing inequalities which are inherent in society. Sheila Browne, a former chief inspector of schools, suggested that to a Select Committee of this House in the previous Session.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard , Folkestone and Hythe 2:04 pm, 9th December 1983

In deference to your request to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall confine my remarks to one point and one question that I should like to address to Opposition Members.

The point is about the elimination provided by the measure of exemption for small businesses from the employment provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act that it presently contained in the statute. That matter was touched on by my hon. Friends the Members for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) and for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe). Its importance cannot be overemphasised.

One of the greatest deterrents to small businesses is the extent to which legislation heaps increasing burdens upon them. The measure would impose upon them a burden that many of them would be unable to sustain. It combines with the elimination of the exemption the imposition of an unequivocal burden of proof upon the employer. Employers could be taken to an industrial tribunal by employees, often on specious complaints of sex discrimination. A small employer could spend days, indeed weeks, at an industrial tribunal. He could win his case and find that there was no business to return to. It is to small businesses that we must look increasingly for future employment prospects, not least for women. Undoubtedly women would lose and their interest would be damaged if the measure were to be passed and the exemption were to be removed.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman , Peckham

Are not the Government obliged to change the law on that point anyway, because the European Court ruled that our equality laws fall foul of European-wide standards in that respect? Is it not true that on the continent, when there is no exemption, small businesses have found no difficulty with the provision? Is it not the Government's economic policies that are causing so much difficulty for small businesses and driving nearly all of them out of business?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard , Folkestone and Hythe

None of the points made by the hon. Lady is true. Anyone who has contact with those who run small businesses and who knows of the problems that they encounter, will know that such a legislative burden is a great deterrent to employment prospects, not least for women.

Photo of Mr John Powley Mr John Powley , Norwich South

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree with the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, which was appalled, when industry and commerce is only just beginning to recover from the worst recession in 50 years, that proposals should be made to impose further costly and time-consuming burdens on businesses? —[AN HON. MEMBER: "What do that lot know?"] That lot are likely to know more about the problems encountered in small businesses than the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman).

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard , Folkestone and Hythe

I am surrounded by hon. Members who wish to intervene. I said that I would be brief, so I shall not give way.

The question that I should like to ask Opposition Members is as follows. They have said much in the debate about the need to change attitudes and to persuade. The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson), in an article in Labour Weekly on 25 November, said a great deal about the need for patient explanations and challenging people's assumptions. I agree with that.

Conscious as they are of the need to change attitudes and to give patient explanations, no doubt Opposition Members will have read in The Guardian of 28 November a report of how SOGAT 82 was given three months by the Glasgow industrial tribunal in which to reorganise its methods of operation after being held guilty of deliberate sex discrimination and after one of its employees was awarded nearly £4,000 in compensation. How many Opposition Members have tried to explain to SOGAT 82 that its attitudes need to be changed? How many of them have made representations to SOGAT 82? Would they not do far better to spend their time persuading their allies and paymasters to comply with the existing law rather than bringing forward misconceived measures for extending it?

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich 2:12 pm, 9th December 1983

I am grateful to have this opportunity, late in the debate, to offer my wholehearted support to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) in bringing forward this interesting and important Bill. She herself admitted, and many hon. Members on both sides of the House have agreed, that it is by no means perfect. There are clearly areas that would benefit from detailed debate. I do not believe, however, that anyone who believes in sex equality could vote against the Bill before the House has had an opportunity to debate the many details that will require attention. On the understanding that a Second Reading debate should be about the general principle of the Bill, almost everyone who has spoken, including the Minister, should have given a general welcome to the Bill and expressed a readiness to discuss its details in Committee so that it becomes a piece of legislation that will really advance the cause of sex equality.

My hon. Friend has given the Government a magnificent opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. They will have an opportunity to raise their objections in Committee — together, no doubt, with many hon. Members who have made important points this morning—and so to improve my hon. Friend's Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friend, as well as many of us on this side of the House, would welcome constructive suggestions. I propose now to make one myself.

Some areas covered in the Bill need urgent attention. They include homeworking. In many constituencies, homeworking is nothing short of a scandal. Attention must be given to equality between the sexes in all areas of work. My hon. Friend has also included reference to pension rights—another area where greater equality is needed. Those provisions alone should entitle the Bill to go forward. I cannot understand the mentality of hon. Members who, because they have detailed objections of one kind or another to one part or another of a very comprehensive Bill—and they are perfectly entitled to them—would deny it any further progress.

I should like to answer the point about small businesses. When I was a junior member of the previous Labour Government I had much to do with the encouragement of small businesses. Indeed, the previous Labour Government did much to help them. It is disgraceful that Conservative Members should suggest that small businesses should be given some special dispensation to allow them to become bad employers.

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich

I do not see why any self-respecting small business man should want to obtain such privileges. I believe that small business men have more self-respect than that, and would want to be regarded as good employers.

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich

There are very good reasons for taking seriously the arguments put forward about the need for extending maternity leave and for introducing a right to paternity leave. As the father of two children, I believe that the father's role can be very important at the time of childbirth, particularly if there are one or more children in the family. The father can be of particular importance then. The demands of employment are not so important that they should deny the importance of family life. During the period surrounding childbirth, the role of both parents can be crucial to the development of the family as a whole.

One issue has commanded attention but demands more. However, my comments may involve criticism of the Bill. In November 1979, the Manpower Services Commission brought out a report, which said: For most girls and women equality of opportunity is not yet a reality although promoted and protected by legislation. There are skill shortages in areas of employment to which women at present do not normally gain access. The Manpower Services Commission's surveys have identified shortages in skilled, manual and craft jobs. Schemes should be encouraged, particularly in the manual field to provide basic training which will enable women to tackle unfamiliar tasks. I welcome clause 56 in particular, which proposes to lay upon every Department, local authority and employer a duty to conduct their work or business so as to promote equality of opportunity in conformity with this Act". I am delighted with that. However, I should like to know whether it includes such bodies as the MSC. Of course, it is not a Government Department or a local authority, and I should like to be sure that it, as well as the Training Services Agency, will have that duty laid upon it. That is very important, for the reasons set out in the 1979 MSC report. The figures for training in skillcentres in the greater London area demonstrate the importance of that. Recently, I tabled some questions to the Department of Employment and received the following disturbing information. In the greater London area, 921 men but only 63 women are undergoing courses at skillcentres. Therefore, we must take the training of women seriously.

I shall give the House several reasons that cause me to believe that this is important. First, new technology is resulting, and in future is bound to result, in the disappearance of areas of traditional women's employment. That means that there must be a widening of opportunities for women in skillcentres and other forms of training and the maximum measure of encouragement of women who wish to take them up.

I heard a story recently which disturbed me considerably. One of my constituents, a young woman, went to a jobcentre and asked whether she could be trained as a plumber.

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman says, "What?" It seems that that is the most extraordinary thing that he has ever heard. The young woman wished to be trained as a plumber. The person behind the desk said, "You know, it is a very dirty job." She replied, "That doesn't worry me." He added, "You know that you will have to wear an apron and boots." Again she replied, "That doesn't worry me." He added, "You may get your fingernails torn as a consequence of doing a job like that." She replied, "That does not worry me either." In trying further to put her off he said, "You will have to work among men." "That is fine," she said. He went on, "Some of them will use foul language."

Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich

No, I shall not give way. In response to that, my constituent, I am sorry to say, used an unparliamentary four letter word, the repetition of which in this place would incur your displeasure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and no doubt the displeasure of this male-dominated Chamber. There was a fat lot of encouragement for my constituent who wanted to enter a non-traditional area of employment. She wished to put her name forward as a possible trainee for a job in an area in which there is a need for many qualified people.

I asked the Secretary of State for Employment what I believed to be an important question—to what degree local authorities are funding creche facilities in skillcentres. The response that I received from the Under-Secretary of State on 30 November was as follows: There are no nursery or creche facilities in skillcentres." —[Official Report, 30 November 1983, Vol. 49, c. 530.] I shall add to that answer by saying that when the London boroughs of Greenwich, Southwark and Lewisham offered to fund such facilities to enable women with small babies to undertake courses of training, they were refused the possibility of doing so by the MSC.

It seems that girls are actively discouraged from entering non-traditional areas of employment and that the MSC has set its face against nursery and creche facilities, even to the extent of denying to local authorities the offer that they make to provide them. That suggests that an enormous amount more needs to be done to encourage the development of training and employment of women in non-traditional areas. For the reasons that I have given, I believe that a great deal more needs to be done. I hope that one of the consequences of the Bill will be to extend the possibilities for women to enter those areas of employment.

The Bill is vital. It covers a variety of areas in which there is a need for progress. It would be a tremendous shame if the House, or some Members, attempted to vote it down and to deny the opportunity, perhaps for years to come, to extend legislation to promote sex equality in Britain.

I deny completely, on the basis of experience, the suggestion that legislation has nothing to do with the social progress described in the Bill. The record of race relations legislation is clear on this, and significant advances have been made as a consequence of that legislation. After the Race Relations Act was passed, everyone knew that the general attitude in Britain, apart from what the law may say, denied that there was a place for racial discrimination in Britain. The passage of this Bill, together with the two Acts that have been mentioned, would have an enormously important effect on public opinion, on the behaviour of Government Departments, upon local authorities and on large and small employers. As the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) said, it will have an effect where legislation does not operate as a sanction, for example, in the classroom and in a variety of other areas.

I have no hesitation in voting for the Second Reading of the Bill, and I hope that it will be passed so that its details can be discussed in full in Committee.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

rose in her place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 118, Noes 198.

Division No. 93][2.25 pm
AYES
Anderson, DonaldHolland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Ashley, Rt Hon JackHoyle, Douglas
Ashton, JoeHughes, Roy (Newport East)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Janner, Hon Greville
Barnett, GuyKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Barron, KevinKilroy-Silk, Robert
Beckett, Mrs MargaretKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Bell, StuartLamond, James
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Leighton, Ronald
Bidwell, SydneyLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Blair, AnthonyMcCartney, Hugh
Boyes, RolandMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Maclennan, Robert
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)McNamara, Kevin
Caborn, RichardMcWilliam, John
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Madden, Max
Canavan, DennisMarek, Dr John
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Maynard, Miss Joan
Cartwright, JohnMeacher, Michael
Clay, RobertMeadowcroft, Michael
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)Michie, William
Cohen, HarryMikardo, Ian
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Corbett, RobinMitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Corbyn, JeremyMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Nellist, David
Craigen, J. M.O'Brien, William
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Park, George
Deakins, EricPavitt, Laurie
Dobson, FrankPendry, Tom
Dormand, JackPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dubs, AlfredRadice, Giles
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Randall, Stuart
Eastham, KenRichardson, Ms Jo
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n SE)Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Fatchett, DerekRogers, Allan
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Rooker, J. W.
Flannery, MartinRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
Fookes, Miss JanetRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelRyman, John
Fraser, J. (Norwood)Sedgemore, Brian
George, BruceSheerman, Barry
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnShore, Rt Hon Peter
Gould, BryanShort, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Skinner, Dennis
Harman, Ms HarrietSmith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithSmith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoySoley, Clive
Haynes, FrankSpearing, Nigel
Healey, Rt Hon DenisStrang, Gavin
Heffer, Eric S.Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Wareing, Robert
Weetch, Ken
Welsh, MichaelTellers for the Ayes:
Winnick, DavidMs. Clare Short and Miss Betty Boothroyd.
Young, David (Bolton SE)
NOES
Aitken, JonathanFenner, Mrs Peggy
Alexander, RichardFinsberg, Geoffrey
Amery, Rt Hon JulianFletcher, Alexander
Ancram, MichaelForth, Eric
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Fox, Marcus
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Freeman, Roger
Baldry, AnthonyGale, Roger
Bellingham, HenryGarel-Jones, Tristan
Berry, Sir AnthonyGlyn, Dr Alan
Best, KeithGoodlad, Alastair
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnGow, Ian
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterGround, Patrick
Body, RichardGrylls, Michael
Bonsor, Sir NicholasHamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Boscawen, Hon RobertHampson, Dr Keith
Bottomley, PeterHanley, Jeremy
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Harvey, Robert
Boyson, Dr RhodesHayes, J.
Braine, Sir BernardHayhoe, Barney
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonHayward, Robert
Brooke, Hon PeterHeathcoat-Amory, David
Browne, JohnHenderson, Barry
Bruinvels, PeterHickmet, Richard
Butcher, JohnHind, Kenneth
Butterfill, JohnHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Carttiss, MichaelHolt, Richard
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHooson, Tom
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHordern, Peter
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Colvin, MichaelHunt, David (Wirral)
Coombs, SimonHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cope, JohnHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Couchman, JamesJessel, Toby
Critchley, JulianJoseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Currie, Mrs EdwinaKershaw, Sir Anthony
Dorrell, StephenKing, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.King, Rt Hon Tom
Dunn, RobertKnowles, Michael
Durant, TonyLamont, Norman
Eggar, TimLang, Ian
Emery, Sir PeterLawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Eyre, ReginaldLee, John (Pendle)
Fallon, MichaelLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Farr, JohnLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Favell, AnthonyLewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Lilley, PeterSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)Scott, Nicholas
Luce, RichardShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lyell, NicholasShelton, William (Streatham)
McCurley, Mrs AnnaSilvester, Fred
Macfarlane, NeilSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
MacGregor, JohnSoames, Hon Nicholas
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Speed, Keith
Macmillan, Rt Hon M.Spence, John
McQuarrie, AlbertSpencer, D.
Major, JohnSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Malins, HumfreySpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Maples, JohnSquire, Robin
Marland, PaulStanbrook, Ivor
Marlow, AntonyStanley, John
Mather, CarolStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Mawhinney, Dr BrianStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mayhew, Sir PatrickStewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Mellor, DavidStradling Thomas, J.
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Taylor, John (Solihull)
Mitchell, David (NW Hants)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Montgomery, FergusTemple-Morris, Peter
Moore, JohnThomas, Rt Hon Peter
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Moynihan, Hon C.Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Murphy, ChristopherThorne, Neil (Ilford S;
Needham, RichardThornton, Malcolm
Neubert, MichaelThurnham, Peter
Newton, TonyTracey, Richard
Nicholls, PatrickTrippier, David
Onslow, CranleyTwinn, Dr Ian
Page, John (Harrow W)Viggers, Peter
Page, Richard (Herts SW)Waddington, David
Patten, Christopher (Bath)Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Patten, John (Oxford)Waldegrave, Hon William
Pattie, GeoffreyWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Percival, Rt Hon Sir IanWall, Sir Patrick
Pollock, AlexanderWard, John
Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Powell, William (Corby)Watson, John
Powley, JohnWatts, John
Prentice, Rt Hon RegWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Proctor, K. HarveyWells, John (Maidstone)
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyWheeler, John
Rathbone, TimWhitney, Raymond
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)Wolfson, Mark
Renton, TimWood, Timothy
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Roe, Mrs MarionTellers for the Noes:
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaMr. Ivan Lawrence and Mr. Michael Howard.
Sackville, Hon Thomas

Question accordingly negatived.