Clause 1 — Discrimination: Private Clubs

– in the House of Commons at 1:51 pm on 15th October 2004.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:51 pm, 15th October 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 3, line 35 at end insert—

'29E Unreasonable works and alterations

Nothing in the provisions of sections 29Ato 29D requires unreasonable works or alterations to be carried out on existing buildings.'.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 43, in page 3, line 35, at end insert—

'29E Limit to expenditure on works and alterations

There shall be a limit on works and alterations to facilities and buildings required by sections 29A to 29D of five per cent of the assessed value of the premises occupied by the association.'.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On inquiry at the Vote Office, it appears that there are neither notes on clauses nor an impact assessment for this particular Bill. That is a particular problem as we debate amendment No. 3, because we will not be able to quantify what might be unreasonable or incurs extra expenditure without those documents, to which the House is normally entitled. Have you any information about whether those documents are available or will be made available during the debate?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chairman of Ways and Means

I have no such information, but those documents are not always available in the case of private Member's legislation.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The previous Bill was enthusiastically supported by the Government, and we saw where they got to with it. Let us see how they do with this one.

I hope that the promoter of the Bill will accept my amendments, although I have not received any indication from him that he intends to do so. The amendments would prevent the financial burden that would fall on the clubs that would be subject to this Bill being too great. Amendment No. 3 provides that nothing in the Bill would result in the clubs having to carry out unreasonable works or alterations to existing buildings. Amendment No. 43 provides for a limit on works or alterations to facilities and buildings of 5 per cent. of the assessed value of the premises occupied by the association, which is an ingenious way of putting a limit on such expenditure. In answer to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend Mr. Fallon, it does not matter what the overall cost of the Bill would be, because the limit in amendment No. 43 would apply to protect private clubs and their members.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests on this issue. My hon. Friend makes an interesting case for the inclusion of the amendments in the Bill, but is he aware that many clubs are in financial difficulty already? If they had to carry out substantial building works as a result of the Bill, it might prove fatal for some of them.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I agree. One of the reasons why some clubs face financial pressure is because their members want access to Sky Sports, but that company keeps putting up the cost of the service that it provides to clubs. It is now a significant burden for many clubs, although not as great as the potential burden under this Bill if it remains unamended.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

I hope to be able to respond to the hon. Gentleman's remarks in a few moments if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the point is that the Bill relates to mixed-sex clubs, which will already have facilities for both sexes because both women and men are members of them. Why would such clubs have to spend more cash making alterations?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

In that case, I see no reason why the hon. Gentleman will not accept our amendments.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

I am pleased to follow Mr. Chope, who summarised the amendments well in the absence of his right hon. Friend Mr. Forth, who, we have heard, is away performing other duties today. A phrase employed during the last quarter of American football matches is the "hurry-up", and every Friday I have presented the Bill to the House I have been on what the National Football League would call the hurry-up. I do not want to detain the House too long, but I want to talk about how clubs can adapt their premises and move forward effectively to provide equal access for men and women.

The amendment would require a reasonableness test, to be judged by the courts, to assess whether clubs carrying out works had complied with the Bill. It would be an incredibly complex process for the courts to assess whether changes were reasonable, and I think that the amendment is unnecessary. I remind hon. Members that, as I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for Christchurch, the Bill would provide that clubs that already admit both men and women should treat them without discrimination. It is not about clubs being required to make extensive changes—for example, for people with disabilities who cannot gain access to premises. Such matters are subject to other legislation that we have passed in recent years to tackle discrimination against particular groups of people.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

I am a reasonable man, and so is my hon. Friend—but has he given any thought to the analysis of the word "reasonable" in this context? I am not paying tribute to the late Jacques Derrida and talking about semiotic deconstruction, but surely reasonableness could mean anything we want it to. I would be glad to be reassured by my hon. Friend that the amendment is not an example of that crude tactic known as the wrecking motion.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

I could not, of course, assess whether the amendment is a wrecking motion by the Opposition, although it may well be. Their tactics on the previous Bill showed that they are capable of such behaviour.

Clearly, the Bill is about ensuring that people have equal access to mixed-sex clubs. There are many clubs that offer different levels of membership for men and women. Golf clubs often give men full membership rights and women lesser rights in terms of course time, and using bars and facilities. The Bill would give men and women equal status in membership. For example, a man would be able to apply for reduced membership rights in a golf club, with reduced green time and reduced access to bars. That seems reasonable. Women could apply for full membership and have complete rights. That seems reasonable, too. This is about allowing both men and women access to the different levels of membership.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I did not participate in the earlier debates on the Bill, so will the hon. Gentleman clarify something for me? What about all-women clubs, of which there are a number? I am trying to understand what would happen to them under the Bill.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

The Bill would apply to clubs with 25 or more members, but not to single-sex clubs. A club established purely for men or purely for women would be excluded from its scope. It is about giving equal access and treatment to men and women in clubs that purport to be open to both. So for example, in relation to a club that was merely for men, where only men could secure membership, if women were invited to an event in that club one evening they would have to be afforded equal access and equal rights on that evening, but that club would not be required to admit women members.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:00 pm, 15th October 2004

The hon. Gentleman has been telling us about his Bill in the round. Will he now tell us about its minutiae? Proposed new section 29A(4) states:

"It is unlawful for an association to which this section applies, in the case of a woman who is a member or associate of the association, to discriminate against her—

(a) in the way it affords her access to any benefits, facilities or services".

Does not that mean that if a club has a ladies' lavatory on the first floor and a gentlemen's lavatory on the ground floor, if the Bill became law the club could be forced to install an extra ladies' lavatory on the ground floor, because otherwise it would be deemed to be discriminating against them? That was the point that my hon. Friend Mr. Chope was seeking to make when he spoke to his amendment.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

I am grateful for the intervention. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that that would not happen under the remit of the Bill. In fact during debate on the Bill we have heard a lot about the Bill being couched in terms of she, rather than she or he; of course, under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 both apply, so the Bill would apply equally to men and to women. But as to whether a lavatory would have to be moved from a second floor to comply with the Bill, I do not think that that would be applicable here.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs)

Is my hon. Friend not surprised that the detailed points that have been raised by Opposition Members flow against the central thrust of the Bill, which is the issues surrounding the Sex Discrimination Act 1975? No attempt is being made to cause clubs to incur any extra costs anywhere. Is not my hon. Friend surprised that Opposition Members are focusing on these minutiae instead of accepting the principle of what we are trying to achieve?

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The Bill is about giving people who have been excluded from clubs that purport to be open to all members access to those clubs.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

The hon. Gentleman uses the expression, "clubs that purport to be open to all members", but what are the criteria? Most clubs have their origin in a group of people deciding to set up a club. If they decide that it is for male members or for female members, that is their decision. An outsider may well look at the club and say, "Given the activities that you are doing and the sort of people that you are attracting, you should have members of both sexes." In the case of the club to which I belong, I have voted consistently to admit women—unsuccessfully, and I regret very much that that should be the case, but the fact is that it was set up as a men's club and, in my view, it is only when the men decide to change their view about that that women should be admitted.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his stand in relation to the club of which he is a member. This legislation would relate to clubs that are open to both sexes already. We already know that many clubs, such as working men's clubs, discriminate against women. They do not allow them to use certain bar facilities. They do not allow them to take part in annual general meetings. They do not allow them to vote in proceedings in their club. About 50 per cent. of working men's clubs currently do not allow women to participate fully, even though they open their doors to them for membership. So the Bill is about giving people access.

The amendment talks about changes to buildings. What we are trying to do here is to allow women to use the snooker room, for example. There is no particular problem in allowing women to use the snooker room or to vote at the AGM of their club or to use the golf course on the same day as men. It seems to me ridiculous, in this day and age, that women should be excluded from using the snooker room in a club purely because they are women.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a danger that if the Bill were to become law it would encourage clubs to become single-sex clubs in order to avoid the law? Mr. Grieve makes a very fair point about women-only clubs or predominantly female clubs. My brother belongs to a ladies' golf club. He chooses to do so because it is cheaper than joining a male golf club and he is perfectly happy with the arrangements that the ladies have made for him as an associate member, yet the Bill would prevent that arrangement from continuing. So David Wright would be interfering with the workings of existing clubs and in danger of having the opposite effect to the one he wants, namely driving more clubs to become single sex rather than opening them up.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. David Wright is making a valiant effort to speak to the amendment, but I suspect that others are making observations that would have been better made on Second Reading.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

I value your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Having considered the issues pretty extensively in Committee and before that, I acknowledge the point made by Malcolm Bruce.

Throughout the Bill's progress, assurances have been given—by the Government, indeed—about the provision of a reasonable transition period for clubs that need to carry out works. I hope that, on that basis, Mr. Chope will accept that the amendment is unnecessary.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee

The hon. Gentleman now seems to be contradicting his earlier statement that not much work would be required, and the Minister's assertion that not much expense would be involved. He cannot have it both ways. If not much expense is involved and the transition period is relatively short, why will he not accept the amendment, with its test of reasonableness?

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

I do not believe that there is a significant amount of work to be undertaken. Clubs have approached me and told me that they would like a transition period relating to the entire Bill. If that were to apply, they would want to consider the elements covered by the amendment in that context.

The Royal & Ancient golf club at St. Andrews has covered much of the ground in lobbying over the Bill. It has come up with the notion that clubs would have to address issues of

"design, layout and decoration so as to accommodate the different tastes of the male and female membership".

A court would find it very difficult to determine what type of wallpaper men or women would prefer in their club. Is that what is meant by a test of reasonableness? It would mean an incredible waste of court time for clubs and other organisations attempting to block the Bill.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

I was trying to stick to the amendment, as you insisted I should, Mr. Deputy Speaker; but clause 4 does indeed cover the point.

The key question is not whether the decoration in a bar is appropriate to men or to women. In many mixed-sex clubs, women are not even allowed to go into the bar. I am all in favour of women being allowed to go into a bar and buy a drink—I am sure we all agree about that—but I do not think that the decoration of a club bar is particularly important.

I do not accept that the transition period would involve significant costs. I think that the amendment is entirely unnecessary, and I hope it will be resisted.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I am grateful to David Wright for clarifying one or two points that I raised with him. I will confine my remarks to the amendment, although in doing so I may have to touch on some slightly wider issues.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's motivation in concentrating on clubs that admit members on a differential or two-tier basis, or prohibit members of one sex from using certain parts of the club. The Bill, however, constitutes a flagrant interference in private rights—the right of people to form their own associations and their own rules for the purpose of sociability. If they want to establish a club for both men and women but to allow only men to use the bar, that is entirely a matter for them.

Moreover, the Bill's wording—this is why the amendment is absolutely right—will undoubtedly lead to knock-on financial consequences in terms of building work that will have to be carried out. I think it appalling that Parliament should legislate to dictate to people about the need to spend money. As a consequence, many of these clubs will revert to single sex male clubs, which I regard as socially undesirable. The mixing of the sexes, where people wish to do it, is a good thing. I support the amendment; it is sensible. It is wrong that if the Bill is to be enacted, which I hope it is not, the consequence will be to require clubs to carry out works or alterations at the cost of the membership.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee

The amendment is not only sensible but necessary. Long-established clubs may well be in long-established buildings that are listed and therefore involve much more expense when alterations have to be made.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

My hon. Friend makes a good point.

This piece of proposed legislation is the triumph, to an extent, of good intentions, or high moral intentions, over reality. At every level, it will penalise people in terms of their private associations. That is a deplorable state of affairs. If we cannot stop the passage of the Bill, which I hope we may be able to do, we should certainly regard the amendment as a step in the right direction.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

I concur with Mr. Grieve. I, too, was not present when the Bill was considered on Second Reading. I shall try to confine myself to the amendment, and my intervention was relevant to it.

I shall take my example of an all-women's club. If that club felt that it had to conform with the proposed legislation, and there were costs associated with that, the consequence would be increased subscriptions, and male members' subscriptions would increase by more than the subscriptions of female members. Therefore, a satisfactory arrangement, which both sexes find to their mutual agreement, would be prejudiced. That is a specific example.

I am much in sympathy with the thrust of the Bill. I would like clubs generally to be more relaxed and to be more mixed sex. These are genuine points of issue that a piece of legislation may eventually have to address. In principle, we have always accepted that clubs are entitled to define, within the broader law rather than sex discrimination legislation, their own parameters. It would be a big step if we were to tear that up.

I guess that the Bill's passage has probably shed some light on the difficulties of applying this sort of legislation. However, that is not a case for abandoning it. It may well be a case for accepting that the Bill is not quite the right vehicle.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs)

First, I apologise to the House for not being present at the start of the debate. I was stuck in a lift at the Department of Trade and Industry.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

Was the lift open to men and to women to be stuck in?

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs)

Well, the lift was never open at all in terms of getting into the House.

I shall return to the amendment. I agree with my hon. Friend David Wright that there is no need for the amendment. Such a provision was not seen as necessary when the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was enacted. That legislation imposed more sweeping demands on employers and providers of goods and services, and very little by way of physical alteration to premises that is likely to be needed in the great majority of these cases. If a compelling need can be demonstrated, provision can be made under the transitional arrangements that are provided for in clause 4.

The Bill relates to clubs that already admit both men and women who are members. The men should not be the subject of discrimination. The Bill is not about making clubs undertake extensive changes to provide for people with disabilities to enable them to access premises. Disability discrimination in relation to private clubs will be dealt with by other means. Through disability legislation, the test of reasonableness already exists.

The purpose behind the Bill is to let women who are already members of clubs use, for example, the snooker room or to vote at the annual general meeting, or to have access to the golf course on different days. There is no change in the way in which single sex clubs are organised.

Members quite rightly like to consider private Member's Bill line by line, but my hon. Friend, whom I congratulate on developing the Bill through much consultation, has tried to deliver that. However, clause 4 provides the opportunity to deal with any transitional costs, and we are not attacking the principle of association. We are saying that when people are legitimate members, they should be given the opportunity to participate fully.

I hope that Mr. Chope will withdraw the amendment and support the thrust of my hon. Friend's Bill. The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was introduced nearly 30 years ago, but we still face a ridiculous situation. Mr. Grieve described what he had tried to do in the clubs that he was a member of, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. I am a member of the CIU and hon. Members will be aware of the great debate in which women have been trying to obtain full rights in the CIU. The executive supports that aim, but cannot get the two-thirds majority to have the change accepted at the annual conference.

As my hon. Friend has said, I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch will see the issue in the round and withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 7, Noes 20.

Division number 264

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

It appearing on the Report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House.