Women in the Community

– in the House of Commons at 6:56 pm on 17th February 1987.

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Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central 6:56 pm, 17th February 1987

Before I call the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson), I have to tell the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister and other Ministers.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking 7:15 pm, 17th February 1987

I beg to move, That this House condemns the Government's policies which have increased the disadvantages of women in the community and at work, particularly with regard to their health and well being, and have failed to recognise the justifiable care, security and opportunity needs of women.

I begin by reminding the House of an event that took place in July 1985 — the United Nations conference in Nairobi, which marked the end of the United Nations Decade for Women. At that conference, 157 nations, including the United Kingdom, were represented and they unanimously agreed a document known as the Nairobi forward-looking strategies for the advancement of women. That far-reaching and imaginative document sets out a detailed blueprint for action on equality, employment, health, education, peace and development. It cites the need for equal pay and for conditions for work of equal value and recommends the desegregation of jobs so that women are no longer consigned to occupations characterised by low pay, poor promotion prospects and job insecurity. It considers the need for better training opportunities for women and the provision of opportunities for retraining to reduce unemployment among women. It also recommends that the tax law be amended so that they are not a disincentive to married women seeking or undertaking paid employment.

Representatives of the British Government agreed the document and eventually, but only after a great deal of nagging, ratified the 1981 United Nations convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. The Government's support for it was, however, seriously reduced by no fewer than five pages of reservations attached to their ratification. Those reservations included the right to regard our existing Sex Discrimation Act 1975 and our Equal Pay Act 1970 as sufficient to meet the needs of women in Britain and the requirements of the United Nations convention. They also included the right to continue to apply discriminatory retirement pensions, social security and taxation laws, to retain discriminatory immigration and nationality laws and to reject all measures for positive action as practices which provide for women to be treated more favourably than men".

Despite the fact that the European courts have forced the Government grudgingly to give way on some of the more blatant aspects of their continuing discrimination against women, the Government have fought to hold on to as many of those reservations as possible, or to equalise down, as with immigration, the justifiable demands of women. Two years after the close of the United Nations Decade for Women, the ideals of Nairobi are still a long way from becoming a reality.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

Did the Government also go on record on that occasion as exempting themselves from the requirement to deal with the problem of low pay? When they introduced the Wages Bill to encourage low pay, which is overwhelmingly a problem for women, they had to resile from the International Labour Organisation convention. Did they confess to the world in Nairobi that they were encouraging low pay and thus reducing the living standards of working women?

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

I did not have the privilege and, frankly, could not afford to go to Nairobi, but I am certain from what I have heard that they would not have made any confessions about low pay, which they have allowed to continue and about which they have done nothing, although I am sure that it is among their reservations as they have done nothing whatever about it.

If the "forward strategies" had been implemented, women and men in paid employment would be entitled to three months' parental leave after the birth of a child. The Government have not only failed to implement that but have played the leading role in blocking the European Economic Community initiative on parental leave. In this context, I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) for introducing a 10-minute rule Bill on parental leave last week. The United Nations strategy if implemented, would provide all men and women with easy access to child care facilities. Despite consistent and overwhelming evidence that this is one of the most important considerations of parents in paid employment, state provision is virtually non-existent for children under the age of three and covers only a tiny minority of three to five-year-olds.

In 1985, the last year of the Decade for Women, the Government taxed the provision of work place nurseries, treating that essential service as a perk. This year by the withdrawal of Manpower Services Commission funding, they allowed the closure of the only skillcentre course with a Labour local authority funded creche, for women training in non-traditional skills—the very training and retraining required to break down job segregation in the work place—and moved the training places to a college which does not have the atmosphere in which women can learn about non-traditional skills and where no creche places are available.

In the work place, women continue to earn less than three quarters of a man's wage. The equal value amendment of 1984, which the Government deliberately made unnecessarily complex and weighted against women, has failed to provide a satisfactory outcome in the first case ever taken. Indeed, the tribunal rulings in this and other test cases have driven a coach and horses through both the letter and the spirit of the law.

The Government's dual attack through privatisation and deregulation in the work place has robbed women of health and safety protection and of protection against unfair dismissal and against exploitation and poverty wages. Privatisation and deregulation of public services such as transport have robbed women of affordable, safe public transport, on which women are much more reliant than men because fewer women have cars to take them through badly-lit, poorly patrolled streets which are fast becoming no-go areas for lone women walking at night. If we are to protect women against rape, which has been much in the news recently, it is crucial to provide safe, well-lit streets and estates. It is about time we woke up to the fact that much of our environment is daunting to women and old people and causes problems for them.

The caring and service sectors of employment, in which many work unsocial hours, have been further singled out by the Government. In those sectors women form the vast majority of a grossly undervalued, low-paid work force. Yet the Government's abolition of the fair wages resolution, coupled with, for example, contracting out hospital cleaning has led to massive cuts in pay and conditions of employment for women who are already among the lowest paid.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Crewe and Nantwich

Is my hon. Friend aware that she does not have to go further than the House to find difficulties that arise for women? Those who serve in the Refreshment Departments of both Houses of Parliament are offered transport home only after 11.30 pm. Those women who are kept here late and are low paid must hope to get public transport and I can assure her that many of them are frightened about that.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. Many have spoken to me about it. Obviously, they are grateful for the provision of taxis, but the service should start earlier. If we had decent late transport and, in some cases women-only transport, they could get home safely. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) laughs, but it is not a joke.

Photo of Mr Michael Brown Mr Michael Brown , Brigg and Cleethorpes

I am worried about the prospect of too much public transport use late at night because it frightens women. I am not sure that that is the solution because women are worried about safety late at night.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

In case the hon. Gentleman does not know, the Government's Sex Discrimination Act 1986 removed protective legislation so women can now work unsocial hours and undertake night shift work, but the Government refused to accept amendments to provide transport late at night. Women must work, and when they work late transport must be provided for them.

To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), there is a great deal of discrimination against women in this place, not just in the Chamber, but among the work force. For a start, we should have a creche here.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Is my hon. Friend aware that, because of the provisions of the London Regional Transport Act 1984 and the requirement on LRT to make operating profits, there has been an enormous cut in the number of bus conductors and conductresses in London, resulting in one-person operated buses which has meant an increase in attacks on women passengers on the buses? Is she aware that with the cut in station staff there has been an increase in attacks on women using tube trains late at night? One way to protect passengers is to provide more staff on the stations and the buses. That will help to diminish women's fear of travelling late at night.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The provision of machines is no substitute for people who can look after and look out for those who travel at night.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) referred to the wages councils and low pay. The removal of wages council protection from workers under the age of 21 — two thirds of those affected are women —and the restrictions on wages councils' powers coupled with the Government's denunciation of ILO convention No. 26 have opened up yet more opportunities for unscrupulous employers to cut wages in areas of employment already known as "sweated labour" which are heavily dominated by women workers.

The Government's attack on part-time workers — almost exclusively women — has been no less remorseless. Those workers' rights — not least, their maternity rights — have been systematically and cynically eroded by the Government. Maternity rights in this country are already among the worst in Europe and if the proposals in the White Paper "Building Businesses…Not Barriers" are ever implemented, the majority of working women will not even qualify for the right to return to work after childbirth.

Part-timers are at present entitled to claim maternity pay and unfair dismissal if they work at least 16 hours a week. Under the proposals, they will have to work 20 hours a week for two years for the same entitlements. Those working eight hours will have to work 12 hours for five years before qualifying. Firms with fewer than 10 employees will be fully entitled to refuse women the right to return to work and anyone wishing to fight for her rights at a tribunal may have to pay £25 for the privilege. Overall, the proposals in the White Paper would mean that 300,000 workers, almost entirely women, would lose existing employment rights. Furthermore, the proposals threaten the whole concept of job sharing. Job sharing has made an important contribution to women's employment, promotion and training opportunities, but the Government have failed to recognise and promote it.

The unprecedented attacks on maternity rights and on women's rights to social security were continued through the social security review and the consequent Act. The abolition of the universal maternity grant, which was discussed at great length only last week and the abolition of the "best 20 years rule" for SERPS, are two examples of how further spiteful reductions in women's economic social security and well-being have been made behind a smokescreen of reform.

On occasions during the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act 1986 the Government discussed equality, but they have not even begun to understand what that word means. Women's needs and aspirations have been further eroded by the introduction of the new availability-for-work test, which is heavily biased towards the removal of even more women from the unemployment register and, therefore, will deprive them of benefits. Not content with merely dismantling women's rights to social security, the Chancellor now intends to follow the trail blazed by the Fowler review with his Green Paper on the taxation of husbands and wives. The proposals for transferable tax allowances, which reject women's rights and their justifiable demand for independence and privacy in taxation matters, are based precisely on the principle that the United Nations declaration sought to eliminate—deliberately creating a disincentive for married women to seek or continue in paid employment.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh , Gainsborough and Horncastle

Is the hon. Lady aware that Denmark has a system of transferable allowances and also has the highest proportion of married women in work in Europe?

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

I believe that the Danish system is different from the one proposed by the Chancellor in the Green Paper. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that all organisations concerned with progress towards sex equality—from the Equal Opportunities Commission to the women's national commission and, incidentally, the European Parliament's committee on taxation, chaired by a distinguished British Conservative, Dame Shelagh Roberts — have said "No deal, Nigel." They have rejected the Chancellor's proposals for what they are— continued discrimination against women.

Of course, that is precisely what the Government will and must continue to do because their economic and social strategy depends on creating and maintaining a vast reserve of unwaged women, forced to remain at home to carry out, with the minimum of support, the caring and servicing tasks that are the responsibility of the entire community. That has been ably pointed out by the Audit Commission report on community care, which was critical of the way in which the concept of community care has been approached. The Government fail to acknowledge the value and burden of work that falls to lone women. Let no one forget that the Government fought every inch of the way against amendments that we tabled to the Social Security Bill—amendments that were designed to extend invalid care allowance to married and cohabiting women. The Government capitulated only in the face of another humiliating defeat in the European Court. Moreover, the Government also fail to acknowledge the consistent demands of the community to be allowed to share in the care of their communities.

The Labour-led Greenwich council recognises that 75 per cent, of women are carers and that 50 per cent, of married women between the ages of 36 and 64 can expect to be responsible for caring for an elderly or infirm person. If women have to give up paid work to look after such a person, they are consigning themselves to a lifetime of poverty and isolation. That may well lead to the breakdown of their health and will certainly prevent them from taking any employment opportunities that may be offered. If women cannot cope, they must turn to a Health Service that has reached breaking point.

In recognition of the problems faced by women, the women's equality unit in Greenwich has launched the women's health care project and the carers project, both of which identify and give community support to the economic, social and personal needs of the carers and the people they care for. Such support includes respite care for women who have not had a break or a holiday for a considerable time—in one case 23 years. It also includes day care centres, community transport, purpose-built and adapted housing and training for carers, especially women, who are assumed to be naturally resources.

One of the most amazing things that I learnt from Jackie Drake — who took the test case on invalid care allowance to the European Court — was that, prior to the case, married women who were carers were not allowed to receive or to be offered any training in how to care for an elderly person, but a man or a single woman was offered such training. The implication is that a married woman should know how to lift an elderly or heavy person from a chair into a bath. That shows just how ridiculous matters can be. The projects that I have described are typical of the policies that Greenwich has introduced for women. I wonder whether that is what the Prime Minister and her party mean by a "loony Left" waste of resources.

Greenwich has just announced that, from 1 April this year, there will be no charge for under-fives in its day nurseries. It also plans to devote 32 per cent, of its social services budget to make more nursery provision available. Women's unemployment in Greenwich went up by 18·2 per cent, in the period between July 1984 and July 1985. Therefore, one can imagine that policies such as those introduced by a good Labour local authority will do much to help women who are seeking work. Those policies have been introduced in spite of the onslaught of cuts that have been imposed by the most centralist and anti-democratic Government that we have ever seen. Very soon, the community in Greenwich will be able to make its voice heard again in the House, and it is fitting that it should be the voice of Diedre Woods, who has always listened to women and responded to their views.

The Government have done nothing for women except to hit them very hard. The Labour party will tackle the discrimination and deprivation that the majority of women suffer, and its decision to establish a ministry for women underlines that commitment. The views of 52 per cent, of the population cannot continue to be marginalised or ignored. All issues are women's issues. There is no such thing as a woman's issue. It is men who set the agenda for women and it is they who decide what are women's issues. I believe that women should have a voice in everything. The next Labour Government will, by their policies, open up decision making so that all women have a voice. That is not only just, but our country will be the better for it.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle 7:37 pm, 17th February 1987

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the contribution which Government policies have made in meeting the needs of women, particularly through the increased level and range of health service provision and the encouragement and help given to them to play a fuller role in the community and in employment.'

I find it somewhat ironic that the Opposition should have chosen such an obviously discriminatory title for today's debate, with the two principal Opposition speakers being female. No doubt they were selected from the range of the Opposition spokespeople on their ability and commitment rather than gender. However, one wonders whether the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) will be appealing to the Equal Opportunities Commission. I wonder what the reaction of Opposition Members would have been had the Government chosen as a subject for today's debate "Men in the community".

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

More seriously, women represent 52 per cent, of our country's population and 43 per cent, of its labour force. Those percentages represent 22·3 million women, of whom 9·5 million are in civilian employment. If one adds to those figures those in self-employment and the armed forces we have, for September 1986, a total of 10·1 million women in employment. However, we hardly need statistics to show that women's well-being and their contribution to the social fabric of the nation and its economic wealth are of crucial importance.

The hon. Member for Barking—I accept her deep and genuine commitment to women's rights—attacked this Government's record on matters affecting women and our attitude towards their wish to play a full part in all aspects of national life. She drew for us a picture of women's life in the United Kingdom in 1987 and of a Government indifferent or even downright hostile to the advancement of women that I do not recognise, and I am sure other hon. Members do not recognise, and which I am sure few women outside—other than, possibly, the most militant feminist groups—would recognise either.

In fact, for the vast majority of women in this country, life in very many ways has probably never been better. Today, women have far more opportunity to play a full part in society alongside, if they wish, their traditional roles of wife and mother. There are greater opportunities in education. Training and employment—including self-employment, which is proving to be one very effective way of enabling women to combine career and family responsibilities.

In education, it is no longer expected that girls should, in the main, study only a restricted range of subjects and go on to a similarly restricted range of often dead-end jobs, simply to bridge the gap between school and marriage. There were, of course, always exceptions to that general picture, but in today's more enlightened times all girls are encouraged to study the same range of subjects as boys and then go on to the same after-school training or further education. They are also encouraged to consider the whole range of job opportunities throughout industry and commerce.

Women today also have the benefit of labour-saving domestic equipment, and while that does not in itself change the traditional division of responsibility in the home, it has freed women from much of the drugery of earlier years. In health care, too, such strides have been made that the 1987 woman is far fitter than her predecessors.

I agree that there is a way to go before women achieve true equality, but let us not start this debate from a false position. Let us have due regard for the fact that life for the majority of women in unquestionably better. The task now is to see how we can build on that progress.

In employment, the Government are firmly committed to the principle of equal opportunities and to the legislation that gives effect to that principle. The legislation must take a large amount of credit for the improvements in practice and attitude that have taken place over the past 10 years.

Since 1979, we have extended both the Sex Discrimination and the Equal Pay Acts considerably. As hon. Members will know, the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act made unlawful sex discrimination, and discrimination against married people, in employment — including recruitment and promotion, and in training. It also made sex discrimination unlawful in education, the provision of goods, facilities and services and in the disposal and management of premises. The employment provision did not, however, cover firms with five or fewer employees, partnerships of five or fewer — in their treatment of partners—and private households.

The 1975 Act also established the Equal Opportunities Commission. We have, of course, since 1979 consistently supported the important work of that commission and its code of practice, which we were pleased to lay before Parliament in 1985. We have taken every opportunity to commend the code and the work of the commission to employers.

The 1970 Equal Pay Act provided that men and women must be paid equally when they were doing, for the same or associated employers, the same or broadly similar work or work judged equal by a job evaluation study.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1986, which I steered through its final stages in this House, brought the original 1975 Act more closely into line with European legislation. It made it unlawful as from 7 February 1987 for even the smallest firm or partnership to discriminate between men and women. From 7 November 1987, it will give women the right not to be compulsorily retired at a different age from comparable male colleagues and the right to complain of unfair dismissal up to age 65 — while not affecting women's right to draw state retirement pension at age 60, a right which, I know from my postbag, many men would like.

Hon. Members will know that in introducing these changes to the sex discrimination provisions on age of retirement, we were implementing, and very swiftly indeed, the decision of the European Court of Justice in the case of Miss Marshall v. South-West Hampshire area health authority. That decision, of course, also established that public sector employees already have a direct remedy under European law if their employer operates discriminatory retirement ages. I know that many employers in the private sector have already been able to introduce common retirement ages for men and women. I hope that more will be able to do so in advance of the legislative provisions.

The 1986 Act will also free adult women from outdated restrictions on the hours they may work. From 27 February 1987, restrictions in the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and the Factories Act 1961 will be lifted. Because of the United Kingdom's obligations under the European social charter, the prohibition on women working at night, contained in the Hours of Employment (Conventions) Act 1936, will be lifted on a date to be appointed after February 1988. The hon. Member for Barking has represented that as yet another attack on women's rights and of the Government's determination to oppress them. I tell her that that is not how it is regarded by the many women who, in the past, saw with frustration the men whom they worked alongside being able to earn more in overtime or to gain the valuable experience that was needed to obtain promotion. Such women said, and I agree with them, that they were as capable as men of running their own lives and they did not need the nannying of the restrictions that we swept away.

The 1986 Act also removed, from 7 November 1986, the need for ministerial designation before special training could be provided to help women move into occupations traditionally dominated by men or to return to work after time at home looking after their families—a small, but, I am sure, welcome lessening of bureaucracy.

Since 1 January 1984, women have been able to claim equal pay for work of equal value. The hon. Member for Barking has said that the new legislation on that is somehow preventing women from actually obtaining equal pay. We have never sought to deny that equal value legislation is complicated, bur. this is a complicated area. It is not easy to compare the value of two different jobs — jobs that can require different training and experience.

In framing the new legislation on equal pay, we had to ensure that differences in pay rates could be challenged when the differences aroséfrom sex discrimination, not when they were necessary for other reasons. The hon. Lady has said that the law is not effective and does not enable women to obtain equal pay. I do not accept that and nor, I am sure, do the 30 ladies at Berry Magicoal for whom, it was reported only last Wednesday, APEX had won a 22 per cent, pay rise through claims for equal pay for work of equal value.

However, I think that we must all recognise that there is a limit to what can be achieved by legislation alone. To change deep-rooted social attitudes needs action on a number of fronts. There has been progress, as the figures show, and the Government have taken many practical steps to promote equal opportunities in the priority areas of employment — and that includes self-employment — and training. I shall say a little about each of those in turn, taking employment first.

In Europe, the United Kingdom is second only to Denmark in women's participation in paid employment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said. We are the only European country where women's unemployment is less than men's, and between 1983 and 1984 we accounted for over half the Community's total growth in female employment.

In the three and half years from March 1983 to September 1986 alone the number of full-time female employees rose by 362,000 and the number of part-timers by 286,000. During the same period, the number of full-time male employees regrettably fell by 93,000.

Some 44 per cent, of women work part-time. I know some people dismiss part-time jobs as second-rate and unimportant, but I wonder whether they are really in touch with what people want. According to the 1984 labour force survey, over a third of unemployed women were looking for part-time work, and only 8 per cent, of part-time women workers said that they were working part-time because they could not find a full-time job.

The Government welcome the growth of women's employment and want it to continue.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

Does not the Minister recognise that it is not part-time employment that we are against? Women, and some men, would like part-time employment. It is a question of the pay and status of that employment. I repeat that, in particular, part-time women workers receive less then three quarters of the average wage of male workers. Is it not about time that the hon. Gentleman recognised that we are against not part-time working but low-paid working?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

I accept that many part-time pay rates are on the low side, but at the end of the day the rates of pay must depend on what the market can stand and on what individual firms can afford to pay. That is a fundamental economic fact of life.

As I told the hon. Member for Barking in reply to her written question on 12 December, all the enterprise and training schemes in the Government's Action for Jobs campaign are open to women. Women have therefore benefited with men from the £10 billion spent on those measures since 1979, and will continue to benefit from the further £3 billion to be spent this financial year.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I think he has just misled the House. For example, there was a deliberate move by this Government to exclude women from the community programme, which is one of the major parts of the Government's provision, firstly stopping women registering as unemployed unless they were in receipt of benefit, and then not allowing women onto the programme who were not in receipt of benefit. That was a deliberate exclusion of women. The hon. Gentleman should not stand there and say that women can benefit from all these programmes when his Department set out to exclude women from one of their biggest programmes.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

The vast majority of our Action for Jobs schemes are available to women, as indeed is the community programme, but the hon. Lady is quite right that the community programme is directed essentially to those whom we judge to be in most need of that help and training. The programme and commitment are not open-ended. One of the factors or strictures that we take into account is that those individuals who are eligible for the programme are in receipt of benefit. What the hon. Lady says is correct, but there is a reason for it.

Before I say more about these schemes, I draw the attention of the House to the dramatic and heartening increase in self-employment which we have seen in recent years and to the encouraging fact that women have been prominent in that increase. Between 1981 and 1984, there was a dramatic jump in the numbers of women setting up in business for themselves — some 42 per cent. Women make up about a quarter of all those who are self-employed. That is almost 700,000 women, around a third of whom were employing other people. The proportion of women on the enterprise allowance scheme has risen from a mere 10 per cent, in 1982 to 25 per cent, today.

In other words, women have taken advantage of the climate we have created for small businesses to thrive. Women who are prepared to take the risk of setting up on their own account clearly have the requisite courage. But the Government recognise that they are not yet getting all the encouragement they might, and often still face scepticism on the part of those with whom they deal. I therefore do urge women starting up or wanting to start up in business to use the help available from my Department's small firms services, local enterprise agencies and the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, COSIRA. Initiatives to encourage and advise women considering self-employment are also being taken by such organisations as Women in Enterprise, Aston university and the Scottish Enterprise Foundation. The Government fully support these initiatives.

Next I come to perhaps the most crucial areas where the Government can — and do — make an important contribution — namely, broadening girls' horizons and the training and retraining of girls and women, I am pleased to say that there are encouraging signs that job segregation is starting to break down. Between the census years 1971 and 1981—admittedly, going back a few years — the number of women managers and administrators increased by 139 per cent., engineers and scientists by 282 per cent, and construction craft workers by 134 per cent. The actual numbers involved are still regrettably small, but there has been a marked movement, and work-based education and training are essential factors in consolidating and improving upon this progress. The Government will continue to do all they can in these areas.

As I said earlier, attempts are being made to combat sex-stereotyping from an early age. Our policy statement "Science 5–16" proposes that science should have a place in the education of all pupils throughout the years of compulsory schooling. It also encourages positive action to interest girls in aspects of science which they have tended to find unappealing. On training, as I indicated, all Manpower Services Commission training schemes are open to women on an equal basis, and women are encouraged to consider the full range of options available, not just those traditional to their sex. Point taken on the community programme.

The YTS, increasingly recognised by national companies as the main accepted route of entry, is particularly significant for girls, who obtained historically only a tiny share of traditional apprenticeships. In the one-year scheme, for example, 80 per cent, of all young women on the scheme were in employer-led provision, gaining direct experience of industry and commerce. In two-year YTS, with its increased vocational focus, all young people will have the opportunity to acquire a vocational qualification or a credit towards one. This will revolutionise the opportunities which 16-year-old girls leaving school have until now had to obtain such qualifications. Scheme providers are also encouraged to take positive action, where appropriate, and a number of single-sex schemes and schemes with reserved places for girls are now being run.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

Will the hon. Gentleman not admit that YTS absolutely reflects the normal segregation of the labour market for 16 and 17-year-olds, that the overwhelming majority of girls in YTS are doing traditional girls' work, and that YTS has not broken through that barrier. YTS has been a devastating failure in that way, despite all the declarations of intent to use it as a means of breaking down that segregation. Will not the hon. Gentleman agree that that is the case?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

I cannot accept what the hon. Lady is saying. The figures show, on my understanding of them, that there has been a significant proportionate increase in the number of women in a whole range of training opportunities under YTS, as compared historically with a very small number of women who were involved in traditional apprenticeships in a very narrow range of industries.

To give another example, the MSC runs many "wider opportunities for women" courses, specifically aimed at women returning to the labour market after a period spent bringing up a family. These courses are designed to update skills and job-hunting techniques, to help rebuild lost confidence, and to encourage women to take up jobs in new areas such as the new technologies and management. Over 2,000 places are available every year.

The fact is that the MSC makes strenuous efforts to comabat sex stereotyping and promote equal opportunities in its training provision. It also funds a programme of development projects, designed to demonstrate to employers the benfits of developing women's skill and abilities across the full occupational spectrum. This is vital because, without the necessary training and qualifications, women will find it impossible to move into a broader range of occupations and attain the highest levels in their chosen careers.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

From what the Minister has been saying, am I right in assuming that the Government welcome the appointments of sex equality officers by local authorities to promote the sort of policies that he has been describing?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

The hon. Gentleman will not lead me into that rather difficult area of local government and local authority expenditure.

We have also supported and continue to support the EOC Women into Science and Engineering campaign and the Women's National Commission's programme of roadshows. These are important to help change attitudes and to widen women's and girls' employment horizons. We are also firm supporters of equal opportunities at the international level. In May 1986, the Government ratified the United Nation convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

We welcomed the two European Community directives accepted in 1986 — the occupational social security directive and the directive on the self-employed. We also welcomed the European Commission's action plan for women for the years 1986–90 and the forward-looking strategies which came out of the UN conference held in Nairobi in 1985 to mark the end of the United Nations Decade for Women to which the hon. Member for Barking referred. Last December I was pleased to host a joint United Kingdom-EC conference on women and training, which provided a forum for an exchange of practical experience. During the United Kingdom presidency, we also played a leading role in the adoption, last December, of the resolution for a community action programme on employment growth; this contains a number of proposals to bring about greater equality for women in the labour market.

I know that hon. Members opposite and some women's groups outside this House consider that the Government should be doing more to help women. The numerous meetings I have had with women's groups since taking over my present responsibilities some five months ago have shown me that in particular there is considerable concern about parental leave and the provisions affecting women in our White Paper "Building Business…Not Barriers". I know that child care is considered by many to be central to the whole issue of women and employment.

Parental leave, if fully agreed between employer and employee, can be valuable—it was for this reason that I was pleased to open the joint CBI-EOC conference on the subject of parental leave in November last year. It can, however, be only a temporary and partial solution. When parental leave ends, the needs of the child and the requirements of the job remain. Moreover, imposing one form of parental leave by law—as the EC draft directive required — would increase employers' costs and administrative burdens, damage competitiveness and reduce job prospects. It would ultimately be detrimental to the welfare of working parents and their children.

The right approach is surely the one suggested in the EOC's code of practice, which I highly commend. This code makes a number of specific recommendations to do with part-time work, flexitime, personal leave and child facilities. These recommendations give employers and their employees a range of options from which they can adopt those which suit the priorities of the employees and represent what an employer, in the particular circumstances, can afford.

We must strike a better balance between the rights of employees and the burdens on employers, in order to encourage rather than restrict employment opportunities —which will benefit women and men alike. It helps no one if more rights are given to the employed which damage competitiveness and therefore reduce the amount of employment available and the prosperity of us all.

I am sure that we are all concerned that women should be safe both in their homes and travelling to and from their work or indeed for any other purpose. A significant proportion of the hon. Lady's speech was devoted to this subject. We all recognise that women are, sadly, at risk from sexual assault and rape, which can have permanent physical and psychological effects on them. Sexual harassment is also distressing and we wholeheartedly condemn it as a particularly degrading and unacceptable form of sex discrimination.

Case law has shown that the Sex Discrimination Act can provide a remedy where sexual harassment at work lead to serious consequences, such as dismissal or forced resignation. Increasingly, employers and trade unions have been responding to growing awareness and concern by agreeing policies in this sensitive area. This is a welcome development and one, I might add, in which Government Departments are themselves giving a lead.

The Government have also taken action against kerb crawlers to enable women to be freed from oppressive behaviour. In rape cases, the Home Office has issued new guidance to the police on the sympathetic treatment of victims, aimed at protecting their privacy and providing them with the help and advice they need in coping with the trauma of an attack.

It is sometimes suggested, as it was by the hon. Lady, that there should be separate provision to enable women to travel safely. For example, she suggested women-only taxi services and special carriages on trains. The question of safe travel to and from work also came up in the debates on the removal of hours of work restrictions by the Sex Discrimination Act 1986. Special transport facilities for women would be a departure from the fundamental priniciple of the Sex Discrimination Act that men and women should be treated equally and have equal access to goods, facilities and services. However, in publicising the hours of work provisions of the new Sex Discrimination Act, we have reminded employers of the need to consider the availability of transport before introducing changes in women's hours, as well as of their general duties under health and safety legislation to safeguard the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees.

I know that Opposition Members espouse the idea of a Ministry for women. I must say I find this a curious notion. Why not a Ministry for youth, for the old, or perhaps ultimately even for men? There would be no end to the special groups spanning a large proportion of the population who might equally feel that they should have a Minister of their own if a Ministry for women were ever created.

The Prime Minister has always made it clear that she does not intend to appoint a Minister to co-ordinate initiatives on women's issues. While the Home Secretary has a general responsibility for equal opportunities, each Minister is responsible for developing the policy of his Department to take account of the Government's commitment to equality.

Women, therefore, need not fear that their interests are not adequately represented under the present Government. Moreover, the 1985 Nairobi conference, which I mentioned earlier, demonstrated to us that women's non-governmental organisations needed a channel through which they could obtain the Government's response to issues and in particular to the forward-looking strategies for the advancement of women.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington), the Minister of State, Home Office, was therefore asked to convene regular meetings of Ministers most directly concerned with such issues. The primary objective of the group is to identify those parts of the forward-looking strategy which are already being implemented and, of those remaining, to focus on those that can realistically be achieved. Two meetings of the group have taken place and I can assure the House that, through this forum, Departments will examine carefully policies which impinge on women's interests.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Crewe and Nantwich

I promise to make my intervention short. What is endearing about the Minister is that he is so embarrassed that he obviously wants to finish. How many people on the working party are women, or would that be too revolutionary?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

From memory, I believe a substantial proportion.

I would like to conclude by saying that I listened very carefully to the hon. Member for Barking's criticisms of the Government's record on the whole subject of equal opportunities and their attitudes to women. I do not, of course, agree with her and am grateful for the opportunity to show the House that the contrary is true. This Government, in fact, have a very good record in this area.

We have, as I have said, considerably widened the scope of sex discrimination and equal pay legislation. We have given women the right not to be compelled to retire before male colleagues. We have freed them from outdated restrictions on the hours they may work. We have given them the right to equal pay not only for the same work but also for the much wider concept of equal value.

We have also played our part gladly and proudly in both European and worldwide discussions of women's issues and how women's opportunities can be improved. I commend our achievements to the House.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire 8:03 pm, 17th February 1987

I listened with interest to the Minister's speech, which was well put together. Has that anything to do with the quality of the back-up departmental team that he has brought with him tonight? I shall make him an offer in public; I shall give him a Scottish £5 note every time the ministerial advisers' Bench is manned by women to the extent that it is this evening.

I pay tribute to the work done by the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) over many years on this issue. I want to look at the issue from a broader perspective. I read with interest some of the information that Professor Halsey collated and co-ordinated in a recent edition of "Social Trends". Over a 40-year period, embracing Governments of all political views, there has been clear evidence of a profound change in the division of labour. In the mid-1970s he found evidence of a distinct end to the post-war trend of increasing prosperity. Since then there has been increasing economic retrenchment and polarisation.

Statistics show that more women, particularly married women, are now working, more so in part-time work. There is less childbirth but more illegitimate childbirth, more divorce and conversely more remarriage. There are more single-person households of which a woman is the head. Incidentally, we must also remember that there are now more men inactive economically and spending more time at home.

All the evidence leads me to the conclusion that there have been profound changes since the war in the interrelationships between the family, the workplace and the functions of the state. The changes in society have been moving far ahead of changes in the attitude of people towards women. I regret that the Minister referred only casually and in passing to the fact that we were interested in trying to change people's attitudes. That is the right long-term approach. If I may mildly criticise the motion, it tends to deal only with symptoms. As the hon. Member for Barking rightly said, we will not get to the root cause of all the problems until we find a way of altering people's attitudes.

Obviously, the Government have a role to play. No Government since the war have tackled the problem properly. I accept that it may be fiendishly difficult. The two Ministers taking part in the debate have got different and widely varying responsibilities. The question I put squarely to the Government is: where is the co-ordination of all the useful small but significant improvements that the Minister has outlined in his speech? How can the House have confidence that the Government are tackling the wider issues in the difficult problem of trying to change social attitudes?

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) has taken part in the campaign to try to stop the publication of silly, sensuous photographs in the tabloid press. There are different ways of doing it. One way would be to ban them by Act of Parliament. The most effective way is to give women more economic clout so that women can become responsible for placing substantial advertising contracts with the tabloids, they could then say, "If you do not face facts and remove those offensive pictures our advertising will be removed." That would be the best way of solving that problem. We must tackle the fundamental problem, not the symptoms.

While we should discuss the need to increase economic and educational opportunities, until we manage to change the hierarchy, structure and fabric of society to give women more sway and influence directly in their own right, the problem will still be with us, and we will be having debates about it for the next 40 years.

We must of course in the meantime face the shorter-term issues. On security, women, particularly elderly women, are victims of vicious crimes because they are more vulnerable than men. Again, I use the crime of rape to illustrate my point. One can fulminate, quite rightly, about the inadequacy of some of the sentences that have been dished out. I agree with that and do not want to give any other impression. But we shall not begin to tackle the problem of rape until we start to look at the fundamental reasons why inadequate men seek to dominate and control women. In my view, it is a question not of sexual gratification, but of the inadequacy of the men concerned, who are driven by the uncontrollable urge to brutalise and dominate women. That is the principal motivating force behind rape, and unless we start to look at and understand the deeper psychological reasons and causal forces operating in society we shall never contain and diminish the incidence of rape.

We cannot simply deal with the symptoms and confine ourselves to ameliorating the maternity situation without also looking at the whole question of paternity leave. It is very important that we involve the father as much as the mother in the early days after childbirth. Neither do I see any reason at all why we should not accept anything less fundamental than a 50 per cent, representation for women appointed to public bodies such as quangos, some of which do very important and effective work. We should follow the example of other countries, such as the Scandinavian countries. They are showing a clear lead to the rest of the European nations in the fundamental approach they take. We in the United Kingdom are now lagging very seriously behind.

I want to say a word too, about the specific issue of employment. Nursery education, child minding and respite care are absolutely vital in a context, to which the Minister alluded, in which more and more women are entering the work force. According to my figures, 70 per cent, of women with children now work part time. Against that background the most immediate and effective thing that the Government can do is to look at nursery provision, provision of official child minding and respite care for these working mothers. Nothing would give them a better chance of flourishing in the workplace.

I am very disappointed that the Government have for the past two years set their face against the EC directive that would legally oblige employers to give part-time workers pro rata conditions. There is no justification at all for the Government's blocking that move. Part-time workers often have no annual leave entitlement—that is my experience locally in my own constituency—and are rarely considered for proper further training. That is regrettable. I hope that the Government will continue to scrutinise and review the position that they have to date adopted on that matter.

I am also very worried — this has been mentioned before — about the provisions contained in "Building Business … not Barriers". This also needs to be looked at again by the Government, and I hope that they will do so.

I served as a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Social Security Act 1986, and I confess that I am seriously concerned about some of the impact that Act will have particularly on maternity grants and allowances. Perhaps the Minister will say a word about that in winding up. I freely acknowledge the value of the work of the maternity emergency campaign launched by the maternity alliance in trying to make that issue a matter of public concern and debate.

The Government's record with regard to maternity and paternity rights is appalling, particularly when compared with the situation in Sweden where women can have up to one year of maternity leave, in Denmark where they have six months and in Italy where they have 11 months. Furthermore, two of those countries allow people to receive full-time pay during such leave.

With regard to employment, a lot more could be done by the Government in terms of encouraging career enhancement. I came across an instructive example of this quite recently in Bradford, where a training course was being run for cleaners to be upgraded to caretakers, and many of them have now been employed as caretakers. That may seem a very small step, but in terms of career enhancement for the people involved it was a significant one.

Provision by the Department of Health and Social Security for cervical cancer screening and some of the very important preventive measures that cannot at the moment be undertaken for lack of resources, such as the establishment of well-women clinics within the National Health Service, the provision of better care for women, support, counselling and health education, are long overdue. I have high hopes that the hon. Lady who will be winding up will, in her time in the Department, try to ensure that great priority is given to these matters.

I was pleased that the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) mentioned transport, which is a very important issue. Only 31 per cent, of women have a driving licence and only one third of those who have, have exclusive access to a car. I come from a rural constituency where there are special problems because of the longer distances that have to be travelled. In an urban context, however, there is now a real problem of security and giving people the right and the freedom to move about in the hours of darkness. I believe that in the fulness of time the privatisation of the bus services undertaken under the Transport Act 1985 and the withdrawal of subsidies will have a very adverse effect on that situation. The Government are failing to ensure freedom for women to lead their own lives and travel in security. The Transport Act will be responsible for much fear in that connection in the future.

I believe that the Government should consider the possibility of setting up specialist transport groups, even if they are voluntary groups. I know that in Stockwell, for example, a women's lift service has been started, which is an exclusively women's service. I can understand the problems with making public services available exclusively for women but I think it is quite right that in certain circumstances there should be support for groups which with their own cars provide a service which gives confidence to local people and enables them to travel about. That is a very important concept which the Government should consider.

At the end of the day we have to keep an awareness of the context of the argument in the long term. I fully accept that legislation can never be the whole answer. The insidious discrimination that will always apply on a personal level will be a constant problem, but the Government could do more than they are doing at present in terms of framing a broader strategy and trying, in the longer term, to co-ordinate activity in all these areas to try to get a better deal for women.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe , Broxbourne 8:18 pm, 17th February 1987

It is now more than 10 years since the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 passed into law. In that time the position of women in society has changed markedly in many respects and surprisingly little in others. The truth is that, as has already been said, legislation cannot change attitudes overnight. While it may sometimes come about because people's views demand it—witness council house sales—it is fair to say that a significant proportion of the population, both male and female, still have very fixed opinions about what they see as the proper role of men and women.

That is a matter for their personal choice, but for the House it is important that we remove those remaining blocks to proper freedom of choice for women and at the same time ensure that opportunities for women are known and taken up. I do not believe that this can be done by coercion. To follow the route that has been advocated by some Labour councils—setting up women's committees on the model devised by the Greater London council— seems to me to be too adversarial.

Women have always played a substantial role within the life of local communities. Fundamentally that will not change, because the needs of children make particular demands upon mothers, but new technology in the home, new technology at work and the increasing involvement of men in child care present opportunities which we as a society certainly should not miss.

Britain needs to develop the full potential of its citizens, and in that respect education is vital. Real progress has been made, but we must face the fact that although girls tend to do better at school, they still gravitate away from the sciences. The technical and vocational education initiative and the youth training schemes are big steps forward, and so is the news that the number of women studying engineering and technology in higher education has doubled in the past 10 years. In employment terms that is important. For people to realise the full scope of their opportunities they need to perceive that no area of employment is barred to them. The figures suggest that changes are under way.

The professions — not long ago entirely male dominated — reflect the changes. A quarter of the number of general practitioners, and those training to be accountants, and 40 per cent, of those entering the legal profession, are women. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee) said, over 500,000 women found employment between March 1983 and December 1985. More than 60 per cent, of women are in employment.

International comparisons are perhaps complicated by other factors, but that is a high figure for Europe. The Department of Employment has certainly assisted in this regard. I refer to the extension of the Sex Discrimination Act 1986 to cover small firms in industries such as mining, and the small but influential "wider opportunities for women" courses run by the Manpower Services Commission. Yet, despite a wealth of flair and good ideas, only 2 per cent, of company directors are women.

Management is often criticised for its failings—less so now than in the past, I am glad to say — but it is indefensible that the talents of half the population should be under-utilised. It may be that the boardroom has resisted change for reasons of caution, or simply that few women have put themselves forward, but one cannot escape the strong feeling that the underlying cause is bias against women. In part, the answer is for women to demonstrate that they are equally capable in business. Entrepreneurial ideas are certainly not restricted to men. I am particularly encouraged by the drive led by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, to increase the number of women entrepreneurs.

There can be no doubt that the problems that women face in setting up small businesses are, more often than not, the same as those faced by men. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to see that, if old attitudes creep in, it could prove to be a big hurdle. For example, bank managers are reluctant to lend money because they perceive projects devised by women as inhererently larger risks. I welcome the Department's initiative in jointly funding a research study to examine the problems that women may face.

Two further economic statistics are important. First, over the past 10 years the percentage of women granted mortgages has doubled every year. They form half of our first-time buyers. Secondly, the stock exchange has published research showing that 42 per cent, of shareholders are women. It will be interesting to know the figures for British Telecom, TSB and British Gas. The conclusion must be that women have a substantial and increasing involvement in capital ownership. That is a welcome development.

The tax system still acts as a large disincentive. Married women have no privacy in tax matters and are still treated as their husbands' chattels by the Inland Revenue. Without entering into a discussion on the disincentive to marriage that this provides, with the Sex Discrimination Act over 10 years old, it is certainly high time that changes were made. The proposals outlined in the Government's Green Paper on the reform of personal taxation need to be implemented as soon as possible. They seek to place individuals on an equitable tax footing and to affirm within the tax regime the importance to society of marriage, without placing women in a second-class status.

The diverse activities of women in local communities —frequently in addition to their role in child care, and often doing voluntary unpaid work, such as looking after dependent relatives or neighbours, for example — leads me to believe that the transferable allowance system favoured by the Government is the right way forward rather than increasing the child benefit the application of which, in my view, is too narrow. The progress of the past 10 years has been particularly encouraging. Let us hope that in 10 years' time we shall be able to say the same.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 8:25 pm, 17th February 1987

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) has demonstrated just how much the quality of women's lives depends on a good and effective social system. She has shown how the Government's callous and careless neglect of the Health Service, and of other public services, too, and their mean and mediocre provision for social benefits have brought unnecessary strain and hardship to family life. I shall try to follow my hon. Friend's analysis in relation to the Health Service which, of course, is of special importance to women.

First, I shall reverse the argument. I remind the House of just how important women are to the National Health Service. It depends on women's work. The Employment Gazette, in the employment category headed, "Medical and Health Services" shows that late last year just over 1·25 million people were employed full time in those services. Of those 1·25 million, over 1 million are women. More than 80 per cent, of those employed in medical and health services are women. If we add part-time employees in the Health Service, the proportion is even more striking. There are 485,000 part-time employees in the health services, of whom 452,000 are women; that is over 93 per cent, of part-time employees are female. It is an enormous percentage.

The overall figures show that nearly 1·5 million women work in the medical and health services of this country. They form 84 per cent, of all employees and they do every kind of job, with one exception. The one job that women do not perform in the Health Service is that of management. Two weeks ago a comprehensive survey of women's careers was published in the Health Service Journal. It reported: Despite legal bars to discrimination on the grounds of sex, women in management in the health service still fare worst, they are held back by persistent myths about their abilities, potential and commitment. So women clean hospitals, cook food, prepare and store medical records, nurse patients, take X-rays and medical samples and analyse them. They work as physiotherapists chiropodists and speech therapists, and a few women diagnose illness and some perform operations, but they do not manage in the Health Service.

According to a Government document published by the Cabinet Office Management and Personnel Office, called "Public Bodies 1986", the DHSS appoints 123 public bodies to give it advice or to discharge executive functions. It seems that, in his wisdom, the Secretary of State for Health has appointed 115 men, but only eight women, to chair these bodies. The Department appoints tribunals to judge people's claims to health and social security benefits. It appointed 650 men, but only 80 women, to chair those tribunals. If, therefore, a women comes before a tribunal, she can expect her claim and needs to be judged predominantly, perhaps even exclusively, by men.

If we look further at the Government's appointments to regional and local health authorities, we find that they have appointed 228 men to chair them, but only 38 women, so the National Health Service, which recruits more than 80 per cent, of its labour from women, recruits its senior managers almost exclusively from men. That is quite ludicrous.

Apart from the work of women who are directly employed in the NHS, the nation's health depends upon the skills of women and upon the daily application of those skills in countless other ways that are of value to their families and to the community. Ante-natal and baby and child care takes place in the home, and care and attention are provided mainly by women to elderly members of the family. In many instances women give support to and help the elderly and the sick in the neighbourhood in which they live.

Women make daily choices about medicines and treatment for a huge range of personal and family illnesses. They determine the standards of hygiene for the family and the action to be taken over dental health and the prevention of disease. Furthermore, along with teachers, they are on the alert for signs of drug abuse among the young, and women typically have responsibility for the choice of children's shoes. Many hon. Members may think that it is ridiculous to cite children's shoes as an example, but shoe manufacturers and chiropodists do not think that it is ridiculous to do so. They readily acknowledge that this fact, more than any other, determines the foot health of the nation. Women are in the front line, too, when emergency treatment is needed by a member of the family or by a neighbour. More often than not, it falls to women to summon expert help when the situation gets beyond them.

Those are just some of the ways in which women contribute to health care, yet those factors are ignored in the Prime Minister's world of market economics. No account is taken of them.

Another public service sector that is sustained by the jobs of women is education. It is the largest single employer of women. Last September, 1,026,000 women were full-time employees in that service; that is, 68 per cent, of all full-time employees in education were women. In addition, the service employs 559,000 women part time. If we include the part-time employees, we see that women make up nearly three quarters of the labour force in education.

Besides the women directly employed in the service, women contribute an essential service to our nation's education every day of their lives. Outside school, they teach children good manners and self-discipline, they help with homework and projects, they sew costumes and make props for school plays, they find jumble for school sales and they find books for libraries. Education is clearly another vital public service that depends on the work of women both outside as well as inside the professional structure.

Despite education being the largest single employer of women, not one woman has been appointed by this Government to chair the 29 committees within the education sector. The chairs of all 29 of the public bodies that are listed in the Government's own publication have gone to men, and the membership of these advisory and executive committees consists of 507 men, but only 71 women.

Put together, women's daily contribution to health care, education and other areas of public policy represents a colossal economic and social asset, upon which the nation manages to place no value at all. Furthermore, no Government have attempted to elevate the status and role of women on a non-commercial basis. This has led to two major weaknesses in our national life, and it has helped to sustain taxation and social policies that are unfair discriminatory or downright stupid.

Other hon. Members have referred to the taxation system. I want to refer to it, too. First, our tax and social security system treats married women not as free individuals, with lives of their own, but as chattels of men. The system not only denies married women equality in taxation benefits, but denies them privacy in taxation. This Government have shown that they do not intend to reform the system. That is a great pity, because, both as a working married woman and as a tax barrister, the Prime Minister must be very familiar with these problems. I should have thought that a Government headed by a Prime Minister who has some expertise in these matters would introduce reforms.

Photo of Mrs Llin Golding Mrs Llin Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

That just shows what a nice person my hon. Friend is.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

How kind. I know that the incoming Labour Government are committed to the principle of independent personal taxation of men and women. We shall match that, over time, by the provision of social security benefits for women in their own right.

The second weakness in the system relates to our social policy. The nation expects women automatically to shoulder the burden of care for children or elderly relatives, yet it provides no financial help if they are forced to make alternative arrangements to cope with an emergency. If, therefore, a single parent—nearly always, though not always, a woman—becomes too ill to care for the children, she has to rely upon the good will of relatives or friends. No financial help is provided to pay for someone to care for those children in their own home. She is expected to put them into care. That solution is not only most upsetting for children and mothers alike but is also the most expensive solution for the nation to have to bear.

There is another more general loss to the country from the failure of successive Governments to place a value on women's work. It means that Governments have been working in the dark when they have tried to assess the cost and values of their policies. By placing no value on women's work, they have cut out of their analysis the essential economic and social activities of more than half the population.

The first task of an incoming Labour Government should be to prepare a proper national economic audit of the value of women's unpaid, everday work. That audit would give national recognition to the value of women's work in the community and it would also be of considerable assistance in the development of policies to support that work.

Finally, I turn once again to this enlightening and illuminating Government publication. I recommend it highly; it ought to be on the reading list of every hon. Member. It sets out those who are appointed to public bodies. Under the heading "Cabinet Office", which includes the Management and Personnel Office, six major commissions report to the Government. As many hon. Members would expect, the chairmen of five of those commissions are men. A women has been appointed as chairman of one commission, but there are no prizes for guessing which commission that is. It is the Women's National Commission. Even the Prime Minister does not have the gall to appoint a man to that position.

According to this publication, the Government have appointed 36,000 men to public bodies, but they have seen fit to appoint only 8,500 women to those same public bodies. I cannot but be reminded of the words of John Stuart Mill in "The Emancipation of Women". He said: There is not such an abundance of talent about in the world that we can afford to restrict our area of choice to one half of the available supply. Although he wrote those lines about 150 years ago, they still hold true today. This Government need to be reminded of them.

Photo of Mrs Anna McCurley Mrs Anna McCurley , Renfrew West and Inverclyde 8:39 pm, 17th February 1987

As the only Scottish woman in the House of Commons, I hope that the House will forgive me if I initially narrow my area of argument towards north of the border.

I am confident that the Government are making steady progress towards caring for the specific needs of women, particularly in the Health Service. As I am speaking about Scotland, probably one of the reasons for that progress is that we place more emphasis on that issue in Scotland because we have a relatively better and more efficient general practitioner service. There are more female GPs available for women in Scotland. Indeed, we are moving towards a 50:50 intake of female representation in Scottish universities medical faculties. There is no sign of any discrimination against women entering medicine in Scotland.

The important point is that the Government have increased spending on the National Health Service in Scotland by 20 per cent. in real terms since 1979. The Scottish health education group is working on health programmes specifically designed for women. Once again, that is probably because we have more efficient general practitioner services which are frequently based in modern health centres and provide information leaflets about the health risks that women face and how those problems can be tackled.

The Opposition frequently cite prevention as the Cinderella of the Health Service. There is considerable evidence that the Scottish Home and Health Department has been highly conscious of the economics of health and has directed resources towards that.

The Scottish cervical cancer counselling service has been reviewed by the Scientific Services Advisory Group and evidence in those matters is being updated. There is no doubt that cervical screening is an exceptionally useful and effective form of prevention. The figures speak for themselves. In Scotland in 1979, there were 252,000 smear tests. In 1985, there were 356,700.

Screening for breast cancer is a slightly more difficult issue. The trouble is that, unlike cervical screening, where the pre-cancerous cells can be more readily detected, some doubts have been cast on the efficacy of screening and self-examination. Therefore, in Edinburgh we have been involved in major trials along those lines and 30,000 women from GP practices are involved in one trial at an initial cost of about £300,000 which has been overseen by Professor Sir Patrick Forrest, who was the chief scientific adviser to the Scottish Home and Health Department.

I do not really want to concentrate on Scottish systems, but I believe that the Scottish education system, which has been maintained over the years principally by women, has produced some interesting statistics with regard to high and low grades. The findings clearly show that, the difference in ability of women over men is beginning to demonstrate itself clearly. The figures show that, although there may be more passes for boys in examination results, the better grades are established by girls. That is clearly shown when the top marks in the examination system are considered.

The Scottish Education Department has done much to avoid the gender stereotyping and there is a positive move to encourage girls to enter the engineering and scientific professions. More women are now engaged in legal training in Scotland than men.

I believe that no other constituency Member is better qualified to discuss women in work than I. In my constituency and particularly in Inverclyde, because of the high concentration of micro-electronics, women are very much in demand for work and particularly for part-time work. I have been astonished at the fact that, while there is a huge demand for nursery facilities in that area, there is complete inequality of provision in certain areas and especially in my constituency. That is probably because the Labour-controlled Strathclyde council makes it virtually impossible to establish nursery or playgroups other than those controlled by the council. Time after time, women have asked at my surgeries for increased nursery provision and have even offered to take on the role themselves. However, they find the local authority unsympathetic and thoroughly unhelpful. That is a strange attitude for Socialist authorities to take. They should welcome the support that these women would give to that vital service for women out at work.

Just before Christmas, I sponsored a seminar in the House for the British Federation of University Women. They discussed ways to expand women's horizons in work. We must never forget that most women have two full-time jobs. We must ensure that stress does not become a major health risk for women. It is unpleasant to consider that the life expectancy band is narrowing. Women used to have a far longer life expectancy than men. However, life expectancy for men is increasing, while the comparable rate for women is slowing clown. I believe that that is due to stress diseases.

More women are falling foul of coronary heart disease and alcoholism. One of the worrying statistics is that women, because they are under increased stress, are taking to the weed. An increased number of women are smoking. We must pay strict attention to that.

It appears that there are minuses in the equation of giving women equal opportunity. It appears that we are giving women the equal opportunity to die earlier. That is probably why I support the availability of part-time jobs for women. These jobs would ease the strain for the many women who want part-time jobs. Part-time jobs should not be condemned by the Opposition, as they are on many occasions. However, it is a fact that someone who is bored is open to more stress. Some jobs that women are required to do are the very soul of tedium. It is very important that education for women is stressed and encouraged at a high level than at present.

I want to refer to a point made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). I could not agree more that women have grave problems in maintaining their personal security these days. I know that it is a terrifying experience after leaving the House late at night to enter a sparsely populated area in poorly lit streets. I do not welcome that nightly event. We must not simply encourage better street lighting, although that is one answer. As the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire said, we must get at the root of the problem and discover why there are so many sexual attacks, why rape is on the increase and why women are the targets of that most disgusting form of aggression.

I do not want to assume the role of Anna Freud, but I believe that some attitudinal changes are highly necessary. The Scottish poet Burns was once quoted as saying: Then gently scan your brother man, Still gentler sister woman". Self-respect and mutual respect between men and women nowadays are sadly lacking. My next sentence will be heresy to the Opposition. Sometimes women's attitudes nowadays might just scare the pants off men. Basically, it comes down to the home, and irrespective of what the Opposition believe, the majority of women are still the home-makers. Women are still the stable, nurturing element in the life of children. If there are any financial inducements to enable women to remain at home, they should not be cast aside or dismissed as a cheap way of reducing the unemployment figures. In terms of employment, for women's health and for the benefit of women, we should offer them the choice of remaining at home or going out to work.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. The windup speeches are expected at about 9.30. Four hon. Members wish to speak. If they feel able to restrict themselves to 10 minutes each, it will be possible to call all of them.

Photo of Mrs Llin Golding Mrs Llin Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme 8:51 pm, 17th February 1987

My hon. Friends have said that women are the cornerstone of the nation. Who could disagree with that? Their influence is strong because of their role in the family and their contribution at work and in the community. It makes sense for Government to provide support for women, to allocate money for nursery care, nursery education and materity rights and to provide for care of the disabled, the mentally handicapped and the elderly. It makes sense to provide reasources for training and retraining for women.

The contribution that women make throughout their lives at home and at work should be recognised by all. The Government do not recognise it. After a battle, women are at last able to claim invalid care allowance—if the person for whom they care can pass the stringent test for attendance allowance.

I have a letter from a woman in my constituency whose father died after a long, painful illness. His wife was 83 years of age and felt his death very severely. Her caring daughter decided to give up her job and care for her mother. When she did so last July, she decided to apply for invalid care allowance. The application was turned down because her mother was not getting attendance allowance. It will come as no surprise to hon. Members to learn that she did not manage to obtain attendance allowance either at the beginning or on appeal.

The old lady is proud. She will not apply for constant attendance allowance again, because her pride will not let her. That is because she sees the allowance as charity. The pride of many women stands in the way of their entitlement to claim the £5 heating allowance. One elderly disabled woman said to me: "I need £536 in the bank for my funeral. That is what I have. I cannot manage on any less to bury me and I cannot allow anyone to pay for my burial." She could not get the heating allowance. How can the Government claim to be a caring Government? Do they not see, do they not listen or are they so concerned with those who have that they cannot give time to those who have not?

It is well known that women live longer than men. To reward them with the single rate of retirement pension provided by the Government shows a complete lack of appreciation of their true worth to society. How can women avoid the loneliness and fill the vacuum of widowhood when they constantly worry about keeping a roof over their heads? Surely they should have sufficient pension to avoid that feeling of insecurity. It is to the Government's shame that they will not even provide them with a free television licence.

The women in my constituency are proud and hardworking. They ask not for charity but for a fair share of the nation's wealth which they helped to create. Under this Government, they are not getting their fair share. The role of women is undervalued. They are used and often abused. No political grouping is better at that than the alliance, as I know to my cost from my experience in the Newcastle-under-Lyme by-election. What dirt could the alliance find to use against me—that I was too Left-wing, that I belonged to a loony Left council? No, it could not throw those things at me, nor could it throw at me that I had not already fought for the people of Newcastle-under-Lyme and understood their problems. Could the alliance throw at me that I did not know anything about what the job involved? No, it could not. It decided to attack me on the only thing that was so obvious that I could not deny it—that I was a woman and in their eyes could not become a candidate unless I had the help of a man.

The alliance did not care that from beginning to end its campaign was based on degrading women. Did it care that its campaign denied the entitlement of a woman to her own life, to be able to make her own contribution? No, it did not. The alliance did not care that its campaign was an insult to all women. All it cared about was winning the seat, and it did not care about what it did or how it insulted women so long as it enabled the alliance to get another man into Parliament.

The Government may not pay much attention to the needs of women, but at least they do not publicly insult them, like the alliance. Women need to get into public life and all politicians and political parties should support them. We should encourage and support women because we need them in public life. Women still have a long way to go to reach equality, and it is a long and lonely way.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh , Gainsborough and Horncastle 8:57 pm, 17th February 1987

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) launched a powerful attack on her alliance opponents. [Interruption.] I am not sure that the members of the alliance are friends. All of us who had to fight the alliance know the dirty tricks that it uses and that is regrettable. The hon. Lady spoke movingly about the role that women play in public life. We all echo that, but the Labour party will be in severe difficulties in the next election if it tries to approach these problems from the standpoint of positive discrimination. We do not believe in discrimination for or against women. We believe in equality of opportunity for all.

The tax treatment of women is monstrous, especially in the way the tax system discriminates against mothers who wish to stay at home. Motherhood at home is one of the most demanding and difficult of all professions. Women should be rewarded and not discriminated against, as under the present tax system.

It is interesting that our present tax system is based on an 1806 statute when married women were considered to be an appendage of their husbands in property terms. Few married women worked. The first world war saw a considerable increase in the number of married women working, although it is interesting that by 1921 only 10 per cent.—[Interruption.] I did not catch what the hon. Gentleman said. If he wishes to intervene, I shall be delighted to let him.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

T1 hon. Gentleman must mean that few upper-class women worked. Working-class women have always worked in the factores, on the lines, in services and elsewhere.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh , Gainsborough and Horncastle

I was talking about married women. I was not talking about either upper-class or working-class women. The statistics that I was just about to quote, which come from a Government paper, show that by 1921 only 10 per cent. of married women, whether working-class or not, were working. The number increased substantially to 44 per cent. in 1971 and to 52 per cent. in 1980. Many more married women are now working. but the tax system is still based on the work system that operated in 1806.

It is unfair that, if a married man and a married lady are working, they receive two and a half times the single person's allowance. If only one partner is working, they receive one and a half times that allowance. It is monstrously unfair that the tax threshold for a married man in work is ludicrously low, at only £3,655, whereas if both partners arc in work it is £5,900. He therefore pays a high marginal rate of income tax.

The burden of the present tax rate falls especially hard on the married working-class man, who may be on a relatively low income and whose wife is at home, perhaps looking after a large family. Under the present tax system, he is very much discriminated against. I know that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) believes in married life and in giving working-class wives real opportunities. It is unfair that the system discriminates against them in the way that it does.

Another interesting statistic is that as many as one in 20 of all families—750,000 people—would receive 80 per cent. of the income they currently receive if they did not work, bcause the marginal rate of tax and benefits is so high.

Everything that I have said points to the clear need for reform. I follow what my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) said, in that whatever Government are returned in the next election—of course, I hope that it will be a Conservative Government—they must look carefully at the proposals in the Green Paper which was published last year. Those proposals are interesting and, contrary to what the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) said, the variable allowance proposals have received considerable support. She misquoted Dame Shelagh Roberts. The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Community states: Others were in favour of transferable allowances. Dame Shelagh Roberts commented (Q 252) that transferable allowances would he consistent with the European Parliament's view that the system should be neutral as between one or both spouses working". Other witnesses who spoke in favour of the transferable allowances mentioned in the Green Paper, were the National Board of Catholic Women, the British Federation of University Women, the Institute of Taxation and the National Federation of Womens Institutes.

There is a considerable body of support in favour of transferable allowances. I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne in speaking very much in their favour. What needs to be done is simple. The single person's allowance has to be raised from £2,325—if we are talking about the present tax year—to £2,995. If only a married man is earning, his allowance has to be raised to £5,990 and if a married man's wife is working too, their allowances would be £5,990, so there is no discrimination against women under the variable allowances which are mentioned in the Green Paper, if they wished to stay at home. Why should women be forced to go out to work as they are under the present system? They should be given an absolute right either to stay at home or to go out to work. as they wish.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) was present during a debate that I initiated last year on the integration of taxation of benefits. He tells me it was a good debate. It is nice to be congratulated by the alliance spokesman. We agree that we must move much faster towards integration of the two systems if we are to iron out the sort of problems that I have mentioned. I should like to move faster than the Government, but proposals contained in the Green Paper are a step in the right direction. I commend them to the House.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood 9:04 pm, 17th February 1987

I suggest to the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) that there is another way of looking after the interests of married couples and couples with children—abolish the married man's tax allowance and tax men and women who are married or who are not married equally, but increase child benefit so that those who have children to care for have more financial support. That is Labour's policy and the desirable way forward in considering the interests of families with children who are one of the poorest groups in society. That is a better approach than considering the taxation interests of some extremely well-paid women. Those are the women about whom the hon. Gentleman is probably more concerned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) outlined the enormous damage that has been done to women's interests by the Government. That damage clearly shows that the token number of women in positions of power who do not represent the interests of all women is not an advance. The Prime Minister is devastating example of that. Everything for which she stands, everything that she advocates and the way in which she has changed our society have been damaging to the interests of women.

Polls on the issues that concern women reveal interesting points. Women are massively in favour of getting rid of nuclear weapons in Britain—much more so than men. Women are not as attached as men to the notion that, if someone else has a gun or a bomb, they have to get one, too. Women are concerned about the escalation of the arms race and the risk of nuclear war increasing. There is an enormous well of support among women for nuclear disarmament and Labour's policies on it.

Women are enormously concerned about the effects of and damage to health caused by nuclear power. That concern was heightened at the time of the Chernobyl disaster and, more recently, by the evidence that families living around nuclear power stations are likely to suffer illness in greater numbers than other families. Worrying figures suggest that leukaemia occurs more often in those areas. That issue concerns men and women, but disproportionately women. Women are interested in getting rid of nuclear power and finding safer forms of energy that are not damaging, to health.

Women have a major interest in preventive health care, to which a number of hon. Members have referred. We cannot move our Health Service on from its present position, with the battering that it has received lately, into prevention if it is chopped up and privatised. Preventive care cannot be organised in a system that relies on private medicine—BUPA and so on. We must group everyone together and start screening for all sorts of illnesses. That would prevent illnesses. For example, if we could improve the coverage of vaccination against rubella, the number of disabled children born in Britain who must be cared for would decrease.

Women are in favour of better care for children, partly to relieve themselves of the burden of having to care all the time for children, partly so that they can go out to work and increase the family income and partly because it is good for children. Evidence shows that good child care and pre-school care are good for the development of children. Providing such care on a universal basis throughout society can only be done through the public sector; yet the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security—the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)—are anxious at every turn to cut public services, and to privatise and go for individually bought services. This means that the quality of pre-school care for children, which is demanded by many women, cannot be improved.

Women are concerned to improve care for elderly people. About 70 per cent. of care provided for elderly and disabled people is provided by women at home. We need to give more help and support. It is obviously a better form of care than building old people's homes where people will be lonely. If the burden is to be carried by the women in the family, let us employ more people to go into and out of households to give support and help. This would generate jobs and improve the quality of life of those women and the elderly people for whom they care.

Women are massively and overwhelmingly low paid. The Government have deliberately set out to increase inequality and to push down the wages of the low paid. They have taken a series of measures, which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking—most recently and most disgracefully, weakening the powers of the wages councils to protect the wage levels of some of the lowest paid people in society, who are overwhelmingly women.

The issues that concern women and the policies advocated by the Government—who are, ironically, headed by a woman—move in opposite directions. Women want less spending on nuclear weapons and nuclear power, better public services, better standards of employment for everybody, the elimination of low pay and decent, well-paid work options for everyone.

Women are on the move. They are grouping together throughout society. They are not just saying that they want things from Government; they are moving forward and organising things for themselves. On the matter of rape, the group that has moved forward to provide a service for women who have been subjected to rape—women locally—has had little support from the Government. It has had to fight for a few resources to provide a centre where women who have been raped can come together; a centre where women who have been battered can come together; and a crisis telephone line. Groups of women up and down the country are providing a service for women who have been raped.

I have been enraged by the comments of Tory Members and the Prime Minister following the Ealing rape case. The only suggestion that they had to make was that sentences should be increased for the tiny number of rapists who are caught. They outbid each other in the call for longer and longer sentences to give a pretence and a token of concern about rape.

What do we know? We know that the overwhelming majority of rapes are never reported to the police—rape crisis centres up and down the country tell us that. That is because of insensitive policing and humiliating treatment by the police of women who have been raped, which makes it too fearful a prospect.

We have seen the humiliation of rape victims in the courts. The enraging thing about the Ealing rape case was the comments of the judge—which are typical of the comments that are made over and over again by our judiciary—that rape is easily overcome, that the woman had done well to get over it so rapidly and that now the victim was OK. The suggestion was that aggravated burglary was a more serious crime than a vicious and vile rape. The Government and the Prime Minister cannot escape from that by calling for longer sentences. The guidelines in our system place more emphasis on aggravated burglary as a more serious crime than rape. That is the judgment of our system.

If we want to prevent rape, rather than to pretend to women that we are concerned about rape by calling for longer sentences for the few men who are caught, what sort of measures should we adopt? We should approach the rape crisis centres and ask the women who work with victims of rape what the answer is. They will tell us that a transformation is needed in police procedures. There have been some calls for that by the Government, but they could go further. Women should not be intimidated or humiliated by the police if they report a rape.

We need to re-educate the judiciary. The judiciary should undergo a compulsory course that includes a session with women working in rape crisis centres before being allowed to hear more rape cases. We need more women judges.

Conservative Members talk about the increasing numbers of women coming into the legal profession. There is an overwhelming majority of women teachers, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) said, but there are very few women head teachers. We cannot assume that just because many women are entering the legal profession as junior solicitors, there will be a lot of senior women judges in the future.

We should change the law. It is not an offence for a man to rape his wife; there is no such thing as rape in marriage. That is typical of how our system values rape. If a woman is married, she can be raped and the man will never be charged. That law should be changed to give equality.

We should get rid of porn in our daily press and the culture that that generates about women—that they are there to be lusted after, groped and taken by men.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) has talked about women who have been raped as being soiled for life. What an insult that is to the women who have survived rape and managed to be brave and strong enough to put their lives together. The hon. Gentleman appeared on page three of The Sun with his favourite page three girl, yet he tries to pretend that he is concerned about women's rights and the humiliation of rape.

We should get rid of porn in the daily press, provide more support for rape crisis centres throughout the country and establish a commission of women who are working in the area, particularly women working in rape crisis centres, to look at international experience and make all the necessary changes in terms of safety, public attitudes and the law so that rape can be prevented. It is not good enough to call for longer sentences in the minute number of cases where someone is convicted of a rape offence. That is to pretend to care, but not to demonstrate any real concern.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Crewe and Nantwich 9:15 pm, 17th February 1987

There are many ways in which women have to face intolerable burdens. One of the basic securities should be that of being safe in one's own home from crimes of violence.

About 14 months ago in the House I raised with the Home Secretary the then sentencing policy for rape, which was quite incredible and was leading to shorter and shorter sentences being imposed for the most heinous crimes. At that time a junior Minister at the Home Office told me that it was his intention to introduce guidelines. That he did, circulating them to the judges. Therefore, it was all the more devastating when recently there appeared to be a classic case of the judiciary deliberately ignoring or at least misunderstanding, the straight instructions that it was getting from the House of Commons and the Home Secretary as to the way in which the offence of rape should be dealt with.

I am afraid that I learnt long ago that the House of Commons becomes indignant in great bursts and then forgets any of the basic problems that should concern it. Some time ago, before the recent appalling case in Ealing, I tabled a series of questions yet again on the same basis to the same Department. The answers that I received were revealing. I asked what had happened since the last time I questioned the Home Office about setting up rape crisis centres. I asked how much money and support were provided for them. There is no point in hon. Members saying that they are concerned about those social problems if they are not prepared to put their money where their mouth is.

In reply to my questions I was told that the training of police officers, which is fundamental, is a matter for chief constables. That is so worrying that a young copper had enough common sense to write in to his own police newspaper this week saying that when faced with a rape victim on his own in a station he felt totally inadequate and unable to cope. That boy had enough common sense and intelligence to realise the gap in his training and to make it specific. That was the response of the Home Secretary and the Government, who care so much about the role of women. That was the answer that I received nearly 14 months ago.

Following that answer, I wrote to nearly every chief constable in Britain asking what their response was going to be. I asked about their training programmes, how many of them had victim examination suites and how many were prepared to back up the sort of problems that they envisaged with some sort of specific working party to ensure that they were doing something about the problem. The answers were revealing. Some chief constables could hardly bother to answer, some sent back highly intelligent and sensible letters, putting the matter into context in their own counties, and some pointed out to me that the Women's National Commission had already done a considerable amount of work in looking at the question of rape.

I looked again today at what the Women's National Commission has had to do. I asked whether it had received any request from the Government to follow up or do any additional investigating on the subject of violence against women. I was told that the Metropolitan police are trying to follow up the report and that some members from the WNC are planning to meet with the chief soon to discuss any findings

Even though the Home Office has produced a new set of guidelines for the police, as far as I can see it has not set up a working party within the Government or talked to the other relevant Departments. The Department of Health and Social Security, which has responsibility for counselling and research projects on rape, said: The London Rape Counselling and Research Project…the only centre financial supported by this Department, is in receipt of a 3-year grant of £22,000 per annum payable with effect from 1 April 1984. It also said that it has some other grants. In effect, because of inflation, that represents a cut every year in it existing moneys. The Department says that that is meant to help only with national publicity and promotion work. No funding has been given for the training of counsellors, for the setting up of the proper professional rape crisis centre help, or for the proper training processes for those who have to deal with rape victims.

The Metropolitan police proposed eight examination suites for London. I went to see one when I originally started this investigation. Three have now been opened. They are in Brent, Hendon and Barkingside. The next one to be constructed will be located in south London, and the building on that should begin later this year. Others are planned, but they will not be in operation until 1988. Other police forces have made specific efforts to see the work that is being done by the Metropolitan police and are overhauling their own training methods, but those measures are not enough.

The House must learn that it cannot just talk about rape when there is one specific nasty case that upsets the sensibilities of some Conservative Members. The House must be concerned about rape every day. Hon. Members must be concerned about what happens to women when they leave this building and have to travel home on public transport late at night with drunks and the people who may attack them, and without adequate support staff on the stations. Hon. Members must also be concerned about those who have responsibility for training police officers, and they must find the money to create proper support systems. Above all, the House must stop talking about the problems of women as if we are pets to be thrown a little bone.

We have been given one debate, which has been introduced by the shadow Cabinet, which, if I may say so, has nothing to be proud of, because it does not contain any women. When one considers what there is on the Government side of the House, one can understand the problems it faces in including women politicians.

We should not discuss this matter other than in a serious manner. Women are grossly under-represented in the House and throughout our public life. Women are still treated by the House of Commons as if they are creatures who can be trotted in for the odd debate that is held in some spare parliamentary time when they will not cause too much trouble, and when only women Members will be allowed to take part. That is a disgrace and the Minister made his embarrassment about that clear. I sympathise with him on that. However, these matters will come up again and again. Women will be content only when they have equality of treatment and, above all, the equality of real respect.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security) 9:23 pm, 17th February 1987

This has been an extremely interesting debate and one of the most interesting that we have had in the House for some time. It was the intention and the wish of my hon. Friends to explore as wide a range as possible of the matters that affect women and are affected by women, and that has happened in the debate. Every speech has been different and has dealt with a different area, and each speech has been well-informed, cogent and has made points of considerable importance to women and, thereby, to our position in the country.

As many of my hon. Friends have said, it is unfortunate that we have seen the independence and freedom of most women steadily eroded under a Government who are led by our first woman Prime Minister. Sadly, the Prime Minister is typical of a certain type of woman. This type of woman —and there are many men like this too, especially in the House—thinks that having climbed the ladder she should pull it up after her. That philosophy is consistent with the entire outlook of the Prime Minister and, indeed, with that of many, if not all, of the members of her party.

When hardship and discrimination are experienced, as they are to a greater or lesser degree by all women, there are two alternative reactions. The first is to say, "That is not going to happen to me again." The second is to say, "That should not happen to anyone. What can I do, or what can we do together, to see, not just that I avoid a repetition of that hurt, but that it is not inflicted on others?" Those different reactions are fundamental and form the basis of the opposing philosophies and policies that we see reflected in the House. Conservative Members, especially the Prime Minister, appear to suggest that as long as he or she makes it, it does not matter whether anybody else is given the same opportunities. The Opposition's reaction is that there is a need to help others to be as fortunate as oneself, and particularly to help others who are not as fortunate.

When we examine the lives of most women compared with those of men, we observe that they have greater family responsibilities, greater difficulty gaining promotion on equal terms, lower pay and, sadly, all too often, an assumption of male superiority, for which the evidence is all too clearly lacking. Those disadvantages which women have long faced have all been exacerbated under the Government. Low pay is not low enough for them—they press for it to be reduced. Part-time work is not incurred under sufficient handicaps—they must be increased and rights weakened. Single parents on supplementary benefit struggling to get training or to keep jobs will see their last chance removed when the Government stop them offsetting expenses, such as child care costs, against income for the purposes of supplementary benefit. Carers have seen the demand and need for community care increase, while the support services that may help people to cope are cut and cut again. The DHSS may press for more spending, but the Department of the Environment demands less and blames councils which try to maintain their services for increasing rates when in reality reduced Government support is the biggest single cause of that increase.

Nursery schools and places are cut and in some places day nursery places close and disappear all together. Free school meals are cut, and will be even less widely available. Under the Social Security Act 1986 many low-income families will face substantial costs because of the removal of even those free school meal facilities which now exist and there will be greater pressure, again principally on women, to provide from an already inadequate income.

Even the taxation changes that the Government are considering will, it is widely believed, most benefit women who unlike any of us who are fortunate enough to be in this place, choose or are pressured to stay out of the labour market. Those changes are likely thereby to increase that pressure on women. If women leave the labour market, the Department of Employment will harass them with demands for assurances that they can instantaneously arrange child care, irrespective of whether jobs are available, in an attempt to make quite sure that even if they want or need work they do not show up on the register of the unemployed.

Several references have been made to the recent rape case, and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) has highlighted clearly the great disparity in this place between words of horror and actions which may help to alleviate some of the problems. One of the most appalling things about this case—I do not apologise for returning to it briefly—was that the horrendous personal violence against the woman was regarded less severely than the offence against property. We have come a long way since women were automatically regarded as property, but it is a sad commentary on how far we still must go that there are men in high positions whose respect for women ranks below their respect for property.

Sadly, continued pressure from the Government for cuts in public transport has increased the danger for women who need to work, large numbers of whom must travel on public transport, often at hours when there are few other travellers and little protection. Several hon. Members referred to the changes likely to come on London Transport. I recall my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) some time ago asking how that would affect women.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

We have all slipped into the danger of talking about rape as if it always happens in dark streets by inadequate, funny men—[Interruption.] I am not trying to suggest that the Minister is inadequate. He talked about inadequate men committing rape, but in reality a woman is more likely to be raped by someone in her family or a man with whom she has had a relationship. Rape occurs in all classes and backgrounds and we must not talk as though it is committed on the streets only by inadequate men. Society is riddled with it. All sorts of well-placed men indulge in rape.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security)

My hon. Friend is right. Rape and other crimes of violence do occur, and I am surprised that Conservative Members, and especially a woman, find that amusing. My hon. Friend is correct. Violence often occurs within a family. These acts are exacerbated by the lack of any support services to which women in such difficult circumstances can turn.

It is a sad commentary on our society—although I welcome the initiative, despite the problems that may occur—that it falls to a television journalist to highlight the problems that children face. They are also subject to the kinds of attacks to which my hon. Friend referred. I accept my hon. Friend's point. It is also right to stress the dangers that are likely to follow because of the pressure that Government cuts are causing in public transport.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred to the cut in the numbers of conductors and conductresses. I am not suggesting that the presence of a conductor is always sufficient to deal with problems that may arise—we all recognise that that is not so—but support is derived from the presence of another human being, rather than that human being watching a remote-controlled camera and who may notice something happening in enough time to say—"Look, Fred, someone is being attacked on platform 4." That is not very reassuring for either men or women who will be faced with the increasing frequency of cuts in public transport provision in the way that is intended.

The Government have claimed, and will no doubt continue to claim, that they do not have a bad record on the range of policies that have been covered by this debate. That claim does not stand up to examination and I should like to give some evidence to prove that. Yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, who will reply to this debate, was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking to list the actions that the Government have taken in the past seven years, through the Department of Health and Social Security, that have been of benefit to women. The answer was a list of half truths. I use that description, not just in the pejorative sense—although it is justified—but because it is a literally accurate description. It was a list of half truths and it enables one to understand the value of the maxim that, in court, one should give the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, rather than merely edited items that may be convenient.

The answer that my hon. Friend received suggested that there are more doctors and nurses in hospitals and the community. However, I would have thought that the Minister was aware that those statistics are highly dubious and reflect a reduction in the hours normally worked rather than an increase in the numbers employed. The answer suggested that hospitals are dealing with more cases, but there is growing anxiety about the speed of discharge from hospitals to enable them to cope with more cases. Hospitals are under pressure to increase their efficiency and to cut overheads, and that results, far too often, in an increase in hardship and pain to many patients. In some cases it means an increase in costs for further medical treatment for those who must return to hospital because they were discharged too early because of the pressure for beds.

The answer referred to the work of the Maternity Services Advisory Committee and the fact that it has produced three reports on aspects of maternity care. I do not recall that that committee advised the Government when they decided to change the pattern of maternity grants and maternity pay which resulted in 93,000 women losing their right to maternity grant.

The answer referred to the Asian mother and baby project. As far as I can recall, that project operates in only two or three areas on a pilot basis, and I believe that I am right in saying that the cost of this project falls on the district health authorities rather than on the Government.

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. May I gently correct her regarding the Asian mother and baby link project? It is not operating in two or three areas, but covers a substantial number of areas, and I believe that 13 different projects are under way.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security)

I think I am right in saying that it covers only two or three health authority areas. I shall refresh my memory later with the information sent to me from both the hon. Lady's and my health authority. Wherever else the scheme may operate, it is not in our health authorities. Indeed, I understand that my health authority is eagerly awaiting a reply from the hon. Lady on how speedily we can expect the scheme.

The hon. Lady said in her answer that health authorities have been required to install computerised call and recall schemes for cervical smear tests. Indeed, that has been required, but health authorities have not been given the money to do it. They have not, in fact, received any assistance other than exhortation from the Government. I think that we can suspend judgment on the Forrest report, although we are still awaiting it, until we know the Government's reaction to it.

The hon. Lady was reduced to listing the health education booklet that has been published during the past few years, ending—more or less—by taking credit for the fact that there has been greater equality of treatment in benefit claims between men and women. However, once again she failed to mention—I do not know why—that mostly that has involved a levelling down of entitlement rather than a levelling up. Therefore, whichever sex was receiving the worst treatment, that became the norm, or, at best, some intermediate point between the two. I can certainly say with confidence that on no occasion was there a levelling up so that everybody gained the same improvement in benefit.

The hon. Lady, like all her hon. Friends, makes much of the fact that under compulsion from the EEC there were improvements such as the award of invalid care allowance to married women. She passes over, without any mention, the fact that the losses of benefit to women as widows, mothers and retirement pensioners—all of which have taken place during the past few years, and are particularly evident in the Social Security Act 1986—have passed by the hon. Lady and those who drafted her reply.

The truth is that many of the problems that face our society are harder to resolve because of lack of experience of the voice and of the contribution of women when decisions are being made. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) superbly highlighted, in the many areas that she quoted, the way in which women are not represented in the seats of power, even where those women are the backbone and the cornerstone of the industries or the services that are being controlled. I stress the plural. It is the contribution of women that is lacking, not just the one token woman, who is expected to express the full range and views of all of her sex, although I hasten to add that even one token woman is better than none.

The fact is that women continue to suffer disadvantage, and under this Government their position has become significantly worse. The need is for a Labour Government to reduce and to remove the extra disadvantages that are in place, and that becomes daily more urgent.

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire 9:37 pm, 17th February 1987

I agree with the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) that this has been a most interesting short debate, which has covered a wide range of topics. It is a pity, therefore, that so few Opposition gentlemen have bothered to come to support their ladies in the excellent job that they have done. I counted four hon. Gentlemen at the start of the debate, there were none in the Chamber by 8.10 pm and there have been only two for the majority of the time since then—one of whom was the Opposition Whip, who has just returned to his place.

I was pleased to hear the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe), many of whose points are being taken into account. I was also pleased to hear the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley), who was right to suggest that, in many ways, Scotland was giving the lead in health care. I have an invitation to visit Edinburgh to see what is being done—

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire

Yes, I intend to take up that invitation soon.

The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde mentioned the high intake of medical students in Scotland. I wish to put her right by pointing out that in Great Britain as a whole, the intake of medical students is now 46 per cent. women, and some 1,800 women a year are now entering medical school. The percentage of doctors who are women has risen steadily year by year, both in and out of hospitals. We look towards good service from those very capable people.

I wish briefly to respond to some of the comments made. I am not sure that I quite understand the point made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) so, if I may, I wish to write to him on the issues that he raised about maternity provision.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) was very concerned about rape, and that requires an immediate response. We all share her concern about rape, and many of the comments that she made about it not always happening in dark corners and not always being carried out by strangers were absolutely right.

I think that many of the hon. Lady's critical remarks about the police are very out of date. It is worth pointing out, for example, that the victim in the Ealing vicarage case particularly praised the care and consideration that she received from the police. My Department funds a number of voluntary rape crisis centres and other organisations in this field, including the Women's Aid Federation, which is a national umbrella organisation that helps and supports refuges for battered women and their children in England—and I am due to meet that federation next week. We also fund the rape counselling and research project. So we are trying to do our bit in that area.

As to the remarks of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) on appointments, I say to her, please watch and see how we make progress on that, but I am not prepared to recommend in my Department the appointment of women for the sake of having more women—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am only prepared to recommend that we have women who can do a proper job in exactly the same way as anybody else.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

What makes the hon. Lady think that most women in this country cannot do a job?

Hon. Members:

She did not say that.

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire

I share the feelings of hon. Ladies opposite who do not like token women. I am not going to appoint them.

Could I go on to the remarks of the hon. Lady for West Bromwich, West on the alleged lack of equality for women in claiming social security benefits? The only significant areas of social security where differences now remain are beneficial to women. We have a lower pension age, but we get the same pension on our own contributions. We receive widows' benefits although there are no widowers' benefits. The married women's pension is paid to a woman in her own right on her husband's contributions even if she has never paid a penny of contributions.

If the hon. Lady wishes to abolish benefits based on deprived rights—which I think is what she is saying—then she would be disadvantaging millions of women both above and below pension age. As for the various things that we have managed to do in terms of social security, I listened with amazement to the criticisms being made about the introduction of invalid care allowance for married women. What we did was abolish a particularly nasty little piece of discriminatory legislation which was left over from the last Labour Government. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says that that happened because the EEC told us to. It is nice to see her conversion to supporting our membership of Europe. I wish we heard it more often.

We have received in response to our introduction of the invalid care allowance for married women more than 100,000 claims. We have also gone further and abolished residual effects of the married women's half test for pensions. More than 35,000 women have benefited directly from that. Another 42,000 women have a new tax advantage. That was something else that was left over and it was a pure piece of discriminatory legislation against women brought in by the last Labour Government. Some of the smaller changes in the Social Security Act and previous legislation, such as removing discrimination and allowing either partner to claim—when before it was men only—will benefit many women and their families.

Let me pick up one of the points made about violence to staff. We all share and deplore the anger of women and indeed of men against violence towards all staff, male and female, in the Health Service, the social services departments, social workers, home helps, meals on wheels workers, nurses—everybody. Last December my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State convened a conference of representatives of management, staff and the professions in the NHS, social security and the social services. Following this conference, the DHSS committee on violence was established under the chairmanship of my noble friend, the Baroness Trumpington.

The aim of the committee, which had its first meeting on 6 February, is to pool the knowledge and experience of all three services to ensure that effective preventive measures are taken. We will do all we can to put matters right. We look to the support of the Opposition in all the legislation that we are trying to bring in against violence and criminal acts, so as to put peoples' minds at rest and at peace.

Let me take on the main theme of this debate on health and well-being. It is a matter not of half truth but of fact, that this Government have spent record amounts on health and welfare, that this Government have employed and are employing record numbers of people in the Health Service, and that this Government are looking after record numbers of patients.

Women, who are the main consumers of health care since we live longer than men, have been substantial beneficiaries all round. When we took over in 1979, we found that in Great Britain the Labour Government, for all their talk, had been spending less than £8 billion a year on the Health Service. This year, we are spending nearly £19 billion. We have just been allocated another £1 billion. Next year it will be £20 billion. [Interruption.] In real terms, that is a jump of a quarter. If I may put it in more simple language for some Opposition members, for every £4-worth of service, for every £4-worth of drugs and for every £4-worth of treatment that the Labour Government bought, we are buying £5-worth. We are making every pound work much harder, and that is right.

Employment in the Health Service has also leaped. We have some 60,000 more nurses and midwives in the Health Service. Less than half that increase is due to the changes in hours. It is to the credit of the Government that we were prepared to fund the changes in hours that are to the benefit of the staff concerned. We have some 5,500 more doctors and dentists, and that number is not affected by the changes in hours. We have more physiotherapists, more occupational therapists, more speech therapists, more community nurses and more community psychiatric nurses; we have more of just about everything.

Opposition Members should acknowledge all that. Most of all, we have more patients. In 1978 in England alone we looked after 5 million patients. Last year there were 6 million in-patients; we must add to that another 1 million day patients and 37 million out-patients. That is what we have been doing.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

Everyone in the country knows that the Government are very good at fiddling figures. Surely the Minister agrees that the quality of our health care has to compare with the demand for care. If we have an aging population, we have to provide more care. All over the country there are longer and longer waiting lists for hip operations and wards are being closed for periods of time. She knows the children's hospital in Birmingham; we recently had that problem there. She cannot pretend to the nation that there have not been cuts in the quality of the Health Service in proportion to the need and the demand.

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire

The hon. Lady clearly has not heard the announcement that was made today about waiting list moneys, some of which will affect her constituency.

Let me give the hon. Lady some figures that we did not draw up. These are the results of a joint survey by Marplan for the National Association of Health Authorities and the Health Services Journal which was done last year about attitudes towards the Health Service. Of those questioned, 75 per cent. said that they felt that the Health Service in their area was good, very good or extremely good; 87 per cent. said that they were satisfied with the service that they were getting from hospital, and 88 per cent. said that they were satisfied with the service that they were getting from their general practitioner. That means that we have 6 million satisfied customers in the Health Service, and 6 million satisfied customers cannot all be wrong.

It all has to he paid for. One danger that the country would run if the Opposition got in and had the opportunity to try to run the Health Service, is that they would immediately lose £500 million from a reduction in charges. Of course, they would then have to try to explain that away, as they brought in cuts such as I saw as a health authority member back in the 1970s—the last time Labour was in control.

In October last year I was asked to take responsibility for women's health. The House might like to know what we have been doing since. This was the first time ever that a United Kingdom Government had decided that women's health needed special attention. I have set up a group of senior officials within the DHSS to pool the whole range of issues covered by the Department which affect women's health, and to advise Ministers. The core of the group, which includes two deputy secretaries, is a small team of medical, nursing and administrative staff, but it also draws on others throughout the system when necessary to provide expertise on a whole range of matters. They have done an enormous amount of fact finding and I am most grateful to them. We do let the men in. I do not believe in discrimination.

The group's role is, first, to identify health matters which affect women and to develop an awareness of those health needs which are specific to women; secondly, to explore gaps in provision and, I hope, to promote good practice; thirdly, to develop links between individual projects and services to ensure that they are seen as part of a whole, not just a series of pigeonholes—as we have heard in the debate tonight—and not just in a reactive way, responding simply to the demands of pressure groups because I think that we can do it a lot better than that; and, fourthly, to encourage women to take a more positive approach to their own health, for example in taking up screening programmes, and thereby to encourage them also to realise their role in the promotion of the health of their families.

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Brent South

Will the hon. Lady now say exactly what further she is going to do on exfoliative cytology for carcinoma of the womb and also what extra steps are being taken to avoid mastectomies? Is there going to be some further screening for other age groups than those at the moment?

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will come to some of those in a moment. Let me touch briefly on one or two health issues which I think are of importance to women.

On perinatal mortality, for example, we have seen an astonishing achievement. In 1979, 10,000 babies a year were dying at or near their birth time. Now, it is just over 6,000 and the percentage of live births of babies that die within the first week of birth is now dropping. That is a major achievement. Among the poorest groups in our society, the perinatal mortality rate now is better than it was on the average of the last Government. So there is a tremendous success there.

The position is similar regarding immunisation and vaccination, which have been briefly mentioned. We seem, thank goodness, to have avoided a whooping cough epidemic this winter because a substantial number of babies and children are now protected. In 1978 the take-up of that vaccination was 31 per cent. Now it is 65 per cent. and we see the results in the children who do not get sick.

The rates of acceptance for some vaccination programmes are as high as 85 per cent. and I am delighted to say that the highest rate of all the acceptance rates is 86 per cent. for rubella vaccination among teenage girls. That will avoid them having to suffer the misery of that infection and will help to protect their babies as yet unborn.

We have mentioned briefly the main issues of breast and cervical cancer. My group has established that in preventive terms we need to look at three cancers—breast, lung and cervical. We have received the report of the Professor Forrest group. It is undergoing detailed consideration and we hope to make some announcements soon.

On lung cancer, I hope that we can raise women's awareness, for we are extremely concerned. The number of women dying from lung cancer is up 20 per cent. since 1979. It is now killing 10,000 women a year in England and Wales. The risk of heart disease and strokes among women who are both on the pill and smoking is ten times the risk when those factors are absent. [Interruption.] We therefore look forward to the active support of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who is shouting out, in all our campaigns to get women—Labour, Conservative and everybody else—to give up smoking as their menfolk have.

On cervical cancer, I have heard a load of sanctimonious rubbish from the Opposition. If they believe all that, why did they not do something about it when they were in power? Cervical cytology has been available in this country for more than 20 years. It took a Conservative Government in 1971 to decide to introduce a national call-recall system in Southport and it took another Conservative Government in 1981 to decide that we could do better and that local schemes were the way to do it.

I have some successes to report. Barnsley family practitioner committee, which introduced its scheme in January 1985, tells us that it has a 75 per cent. response rate. Gloucester FPC, whose schemes have been in for nearly two years, has an 84 per cent. response rate. Devon FPC, whose schemes have been in for two years, has a 78 per cent. response rate. There are now 49 schemes up and running—that is more than half—covering 106 district health authorities. We have a tremendous amount of progress to report.

I shall refer to one of the most telling comments that have been made. The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) said that Labour would have a Ministry for women because "women should have a voice in everything". That is absolutely right. That is just the point. That is why women should not be shunted off into a separate Ministry. It is all a load of humbug. The Labour party does not really believe it. The leader of the Labour party is a man. The whole of the shadow Cabinet, as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich knows, are men. Not one women was elected by the PLP. There are two hon. Ladies present who—[Interruption.] Out of a total of 24 principal spokesmen in the Labour party, 24 are men, and the only one who is on the list is the hon. Member for Barking, and she is stuck with women's issues.

It goes right through the Labour party. I have the Labour party's glossy new booklet, entitled "Investing in People", that came out in September. It says wonderful things such as: We'll support the wider provision of Well-Women clinics and greater access by women to female doctors. Hon. Members should look at the picture of the doctor they show he is a man.

I have made one small mistake. I said that the leader of the Labour party is a man. I wonder whether that is true. A woman with strong views has been going around the country making speeches about what the Labour party will do if the nation ever re-elects it. She has been in my constituency, too. She is a passionate supporter of the CND and a committed opponent of the country's defence strategy. But she is not a Member of the House or of the shadow Cabinet, and she has never stood for election as anything such as a councillor or a trade union representative.

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire

I do not mean the hon. Lady. The Labour party is being led by a woman, but she has not been elected to anything. She is the lady who makes the breakfast in the Kinnock household. That is who is leading the Labour party, and she is leading it by the nose.

Our view about the role of women is different from the Opposition's view. It is closer to that of the bulk of our people. Women are citizens, first and foremost. We have the same interests and the same needs as everybody else. We are just as interested in tax cuts, controlling expenditure, getting interest rates down, the cost of fuel—we help to pay the bills—the building programme for roads, the standards in our schools, and what Mr. Gorbachev is getting up to. We are not a different species and we are not a problem. We have rights, but we have obligations as well. We have heard precious little tonight about the obligations of women as citizens and their responsibility to make a contribution to society.

Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire

If the hon. Lady, who is shouting at me, is an example of what the Labour party thinks about the higher standards of womanhood, I am not surprised that she got the sack from the Labour Front Bench.

It is wrong to split society in the way that the Opposition would. It simply ossifies distinctions, creates differences, and makes more of a gap and not links. The Opposition's policy is a load of innacurate nonesense.

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

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House proceeded to a Division:—

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Crewe and Nantwich

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I shall take it when the noise dies down.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Crewe and Nantwich

I understand that I must remain seated, Mr. Speaker, to raise a point of order at this time. Is it in order for a Minister to make a totally unacceptable attack upon someone who is not present in the House, who is not a Member of it and who has no way of repudiating very personal attacks from that Dispatch Box?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I repeat what I said this afternoon, that I am not responsible for what is said in the House, as long as it is in order. The Minister was in order. Clear the Lobbies.

The House having divided: Ayes 185, Noes 240.

Division No. 94][10 pm
AYES
Abse, LeoGarrett, W. E.
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Godman, Dr Norman
Alton, DavidGolding, Mrs Llin
Anderson, DonaldGould, Bryan
Archer, Rt Hon PeterGourlay, Harry
Ashley, Rt Hon JackHamilton, James (M'well N)
Ashton, JoeHamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Hardy, Peter
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Barron, KevinHart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Beckett, Mrs MargaretHaynes, Frank
Beith, A. J.Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Bell, StuartHeffer, Eric S.
Benn, Rt Hon TonyHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Bermingham, GeraldHome Robertson, John
Bidwell, SydneyHowarth, George (Knowsley, N)
Blair, AnthonyHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Boothroyd, Miss BettyHowells, Geraint
Boyes, RolandHoyle, Douglas
Bray, Dr JeremyHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)Janner, Hon Greville
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)John, Brynmor
Bruce, MalcolmJohnston, Sir Russell
Buchan, NormanJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Kennedy, Charles
Campbell, IanKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Campbell-Savours, DaleKirkwood, Archy
Canavan, DennisLambie, David
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Lamond, James
Carter-Jones, LewisLeadbitter, Ted
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Leighton, Ronald
Clarke, ThomasLewis, Terence (Worsley)
Clay, RobertLitherland, Robert
Clelland, David GordonLivsey, Richard
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cohen, HarryLoyden, Edward
Coleman, DonaldMcCartney, Hugh
Conlan, BernardMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Corbett, RobinMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Corbyn, JeremyMacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Maclennan, Robert
Craigen, J. M.McNamara, Kevin
Crowther, StanMadden, Max
Cunliffe, LawrenceMarek, Dr John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Martin, Michael
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Maxton, John
Deakins, EricMaynard, Miss Joan
Dewar, DonaldMeacher, Michael
Dixon, DonaldMeadowcroft, Michael
Dormand, JackMichie, William
Dubs, AlfredMikardo, Ian
Duffy, A. E. P.Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Eadie, AlexMitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Eastham, KenMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fatchett, DerekMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Faulds, AndrewNellist, David
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Fisher, MarkO'Neill, Martin
Flannery, MartinOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Forrester, JohnPark, George
Foster, DerekPatchett, Terry
Foulkes, GeorgePavitt, Laurie
Fraser, J. (Norwood)Pendry, Tom
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldPike, Peter
Freud, ClementPrescott, John
Radice, GilesSteel, Rt Hon David
Randall, StuartStewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Redmond, MartinStott, Roger
Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)Strang, Gavin
Richardson, Ms JoThomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Robertson, GeorgeThorne, Stan (Preston)
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)Tinn, James
Rogers, AllanWallace, James
Rooker, J. W.Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)Wareing, Robert
Rowlands, TedWeetch, Ken
Sedgemore, BrianWelsh, Michael
Sheerman, BarryWhite, James
Sheldon, Rt Hon R.Wigley, Dafydd
Shore, Rt Hon PeterWilliams, Rt Hon A.
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)Wilson, Gordon
Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)Winnick, David
Skinner, DennisYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Smith, C.(lsl'ton S & F'bury)
Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)Tellers for the Ayes:
Snape, PeterMr. Ray Powell and
Soley, CliveMr. John McWilliam.
Spearing, Nigel
NOES
Alexander, RichardConway, Derek
Amess, DavidCoombs, Simon
Ancram, MichaelCope, John
Arnold, TomCormack, Patrick
Ashby, DavidCorrie, John
Aspinwall, JackCouchman, James
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Cranborne, Viscount
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Critchley, Julian
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Crouch, David
Batiste, SpencerCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyDickens, Geoffrey
Bellingham, HenryDorrell, Stephen
Bendall, VivianDouglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Benyon, WilliamDover, Den
Best, Keithdu Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnDurant, Tony
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnEdwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Blackburn, JohnEmery, Sir Peter
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterEvennett, David
Body, Sir RichardEyre, Sir Reginald
Bonsor, Sir NicholasFallon, Michael
Boscawen, Hon RobertFavell, Anthony
Bottomley, PeterForman, Nigel
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Fox, Sir Marcus
Boyson, Dr RhodesGardiner, George (Reigate)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinGardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Bright, GrahamGilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Brinton, TimGower, Sir Raymond
Brittan, Rt Hon LeonGrant, Sir Anthony
Brooke, Hon PeterGreenway, Harry
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Griffiths, Sir Eldon
Browne, JohnGrist, Ian
Bruinvels, PeterHayes, J.
Bryan, Sir PaulHenderson, Barry
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.Hickmet, Richard
Bulmer, EsmondHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Burt, AlistairHirst, Michael
Butcher, JohnHolland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Butler, Rt Hon Sir AdamHordern, Sir Peter
Butterfill, JohnHowell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Carlisle, John (Luton N)Irving, Charles
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Knox, David
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Carttiss, MichaelLang, Ian
Cash, WilliamLatham, Michael
Channon, Rt Hon PaulLawler, Geoffrey
Chapman, SydneyLawrence, Ivan
Chope, ChristopherLee, John (Pendle)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Cockeram, EricLester, Jim
Colvin, MichaelLewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Lilley, PeterPatten, Christopher (Bath)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Pattie, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Lord, MichaelPawsey, James
Lyell, NicholasPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
McCrindle, RobertPollock, Alexander
McCurley, Mrs AnnaPorter, Barry
Macfarlane, NeilPortillo, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Powell, William (Corby)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Powley, John
Maclean, David JohnPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
McLoughlin, PatrickPrice, Sir David
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)Proctor, K. Harvey
McQuarrie, AlbertRaffan, Keith
Major, JohnRathbone, Tim
Malins, HumfreyRees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Maples, JohnRenton, Tim
Marland, PaulRhodes James, Robert
Mather, Sir CarolRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Maude, Hon FrancisRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Mayhew, Sir PatrickRidsdale, Sir Julian
Mellor, DavidRifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Merchant, PiersRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Meyer, Sir AnthonyRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Roe, Mrs Marion
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)Rossi, Sir Hugh
Miscampbell, NormanRowe, Andrew
Monro, Sir HectorRumbold, Mrs Angela
Montgomery, Sir FergusRyder, Richard
Moore, Rt Hon JohnSackville, Hon Thomas
Morris, M. (N'hampton S)Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Murphy, ChristopherSayeed, Jonathan
Neale, GerrardScott, Nicholas
Nelson, AnthonyShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Neubert, MichaelShelton, William (Streatham)
Newton, TonyShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Nicholls, PatrickShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Norris, StevenShersby, Michael
Onslow, CranleySilvester, Fred
Osborn, Sir JohnSkeet, Sir Trevor
Ottaway, RichardSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Page, Sir John (Harrow W)Spencer, Derek
Page, Richard (Herts SW)Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Squire, RobinWalden, George
Stanbrook, IvorWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Stanley, Rt Hon JohnWall, Sir Patrick
Steen, AnthonyWaller, Gary
Stern, MichaelWard, John
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Warren, Kenneth
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Watson, John
Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)Watts, John
Stokes, JohnWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Sumberg, DavidWells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Taylor, John (Solihull)Wheeler, John
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Whitfield, John
Temple-Morris, PeterWhitney, Raymond
Terlezki, StefanWiggin, Jerry
Thomas, Rt Hon PeterWilkinson, John
Thompson, Donald (Calder V)Winterton, Mrs Ann
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)Winterton, Nicholas
Thurnham, PeterWoodcock, Michael
Townend, John (Bridlington)Yeo, Tim
Trotter, NevilleYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir GerardTellers for the Noes:
Waddington, Rt Hon DavidMr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Wakeham, Rt Hon JohnMr. David Lightbown.
Waldegrave, Hon William

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,That this House welcomes the contribution which Government policies have made in meeting the needs of women, particularly through the increased level and range of health service provision and the encouragement and help given to them to play a fuller role in the community and in employment.