Clause 1 - Discrimination: private clubs

Sex Discrimination (Clubs and Other Private Associations) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 14th June 2004.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon and to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I have done so before and it has always been an enjoyable experience. I hope not to delay the Committee for too long. I thank hon. Members for supporting me this afternoon.

Clause 1 contains the essence of the Bill, which is about the right of women and men to be members, associates or guests of mixed-sex clubs without being subject to discrimination because of their sex. It also provides that, when men and women are invited as guests of a single-sex club, they must be accorded equal treatment. It might be worth my stating early in our proceedings what the Bill will not do. It will not require that single-sex clubs change their nature and admit members of the opposite sex. It will not force single-sex clubs to admit both men and women as guests. It will not require that women be admitted to mixed-sex clubs on preferential terms to men—indeed, it will outlaw that practice.

The Bill will end the old-fashioned, anomalous, insulting practice of some clubs of allowing women in, but treating them as second-class citizens. It will work by amending the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 from which private clubs are currently excluded. The measure is drafted in terms of discrimination against women because, in practice, it is intended to eliminate that problem. However, as I said on Second Reading, each reference to women applies equally to men. The Bill will protect men, too, from discrimination. Although I shall speak mainly about discrimination by clubs against women, my Bill will equally outlaw discrimination against men.

Clause 1 defines the organisations that the Bill will bring within the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act: associations with 25 or more members whose membership is regulated by a constitution, so that they are not simply providing services to the public. A club

whose constitution restricts membership to persons of one sex will not be required to change its nature, but when an organisation admits both sexes—even if it does so on unequal terms at present—the clause will make it unlawful for that organisation to discriminate against a woman by refusing her membership or benefits, facilities or services that it provides to members under its terms of membership. That does not mean that a mixed-sex club cannot refuse to admit a woman, but that the terms and conditions of its membership must not discriminate against women.

Guests of mixed-sex clubs must also be treated without discrimination on the grounds of sex. In respect of guests only, the Bill will cover single-sex clubs of 25 or more members. When both men and women are invited as guests, it will be unlawful to treat women less favourably than men. Thus, if a male guest is free to use the main staircase or to buy a drink at the bar in a club, it will be unacceptable to require a woman guest to use the back stairs or to rely on a man to purchase her drinks—a very good thing, too, as most members of the Committee would agree.

The clause is quite long, providing definitions of members, associates and guests. It makes it clear that, for example, trade unions and employers' associations already covered by the Sex Discrimination Act do not fall within the scope of the Bill. A single-sex club that provides honorary or ex officio membership to an exceptional member of the excluded sex does not thereby forfeit its single-sex status for the purposes of the Bill. There has been some debate about whether Mrs. Thatcher could be a member of the Carlton club. I assure members of the Committee that, under the Bill, Mrs. Thatcher could be a member of the Carlton club because the clause would apply in such circumstances. I have nothing further to say about Mrs. Thatcher's membership of the Carlton club, save that I hope that she enjoys it.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I am pleased to be a member of the Committee. I cannot remember how many Conservatives spoke on Second Reading, although I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). The Bill's scope is moderate, and its impact will be moderate and welcome. However, will the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright), either now or later during consideration of the Bill, reply to the argument advanced in a letter that I received and that he, too, may have received, from the Royal and Ancient golf club in Scotland?

The club argues that poorer clubs may suffer because of the Bill. I intend to respond by saying that, although it may cause some difficulties, they must be faced. There has been a history of people finding reasons why things cannot be done. When the Sex Discrimination Bill went through Parliament in 1975, which is roughly in line with my memory of events, our then colleague Ronald Bell made what appeared to be a totally innocuous remark—in fact, it was awful—about race discrimination in clubs. The day when the colour of one's skin is no more important than the colour of one's eyes or hair, and when one's sex is unimportant because places accept both sexes, will be

greatly welcomed. One should not have to say that, because of their sex, one's child or grandchild will be treated differently by private clubs in their teenage years or adult life.

We heard mention of Margaret Thatcher, and it is worth recalling what happened when she attended the by-election in what was then Woolwich, West with two other Conservatives in 1975. We knew that she was coming to the Eltham Conservative club, and someone asked, ''What happens about the men-only side of the club?'' I said, ''I am sure that the problem will not arise.'' When she was welcomed to the club, she was told, ''This is the way that ladies go in,'' but she went in the other way. She saw everyone in the men-only side of the bar, but no one thought that anything unusual had happened. If that was all right for Margaret Thatcher, it is all right for the rest of us—whether we are guests, associate members or whatever.

I welcome the progress marked by the Bill. The fact that there has not been a great deal of argument from those who think that they will be adversely affected leaves us with the view that very few people will be adversely affected. In a collection of essays called ''Unpopular Opinions'', which was published in about 1941, I think, Dorothy Sayers said that the difference between mainland Europe and these islands was that people in mainland Europe talk about equality while we talk about fairness. At their best, however, fairness and equality come together. As the hon. Gentleman said, he is trying not to make single-sex clubs into mixed-sex clubs but to put men and women in clubs on the same terms. That is fair, and that is why I welcome the clause.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight PPS (Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department of Health

I rise to make clear my wholehearted support for the Bill and for the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Telford has done on it. My interest in the subject goes back to when I was first elected. I was inspired by a constituent, Mr. Julian Oddy, who has written to me on many occasions about it and about the policy of the Working Men's Club and Institute Union. I am glad that the issue is being addressed and that I can report back to Mr. Oddy.

I have one question for my hon. Friend, although perhaps the Minister can give the Department's view when she responds. How will the Bill affect clubs involved in team sports? Weymouth Labour club in my constituency relies on sports teams to generate quite a lot of trade and membership. In sports such as football, adults are separated on the basis of gender. Will the Bill affect the ability of clubs to continue running teams on that basis?

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I shall probably match the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) for brevity. First, however, I apologise for being a little unprepared. I was notified of the Committee's proceedings only on Saturday, and I thought that Committees discussing private Member's Bills normally met on Wednesdays.

I have a couple of questions for either the promoter or the Minister. First, what is the reason for the specification in new section 29A(1)(a) that, to be covered, an association should have

''twenty-five or more members''?

Is the figure arbitrary, or is it already established in statute for private clubs? Secondly, what is the position regarding discriminatory subscriptions? I do not suggest that they are desirable.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Telford on having introduced the Bill. It has the full support of the Government and of other parties, although Labour Members are particularly well represented today. This overdue measure will extend to members and guests of private clubs the protection against discrimination on the grounds of sex that, 30 years after the Sex Discrimination Act, is expected in all areas of life.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) mentioned the letter from the Royal and Ancient. Among other things, it highlighted the cost implications of the necessary changes and the larger impact on smaller clubs. Assuming—and hoping—that the Bill will become legislation, we shall discuss with organisations such as the Royal and Ancient the introduction of reasonable transition arrangements, so that sufficient time is allowed for changes to be made to enable the Bill's sensible objective to be achieved.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset described the situation of Weymouth Labour club's no doubt successful football team. I can give him the reassurance that he seeks on sports. Section 44 of the Sex Discrimination Act provides a general exemption from the Act for any act relating to participation as a competitor in

''any sport, game or other activity of a competitive nature where the physical strength, stamina or physique of the average woman puts her at a disadvantage to the average man''.

That means that single-sex sporting competitions run by private clubs will not be affected by the legislation.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) asked why the threshold had been set at 25 members. That reflects similar provisions in the Race Relations Act 1976 and in the draft Disability Discrimination Bill. Under the Licensing Act 1964, a club must have a minimum of 25 members in order to get a liquor licence, indicating that such a club might have a bar that trades in order to encourage socialising.

I do not want to detain the Committee for long; there is a helpful measure of consensus—

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:45 pm, 14th June 2004

The Minister might have the answer to my question about subscriptions. Will the Bill outlaw differences between the subscriptions paid to private clubs by men and those paid by women?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry

My understanding is that the Bill would make it illegal for a club to have two different subscription levels and to differentiate solely on the basis of gender. It would, however, be quite reasonable

and legitimate for, say, a golf club to have two different forms of membership such as off-peak membership and full membership. Indeed, it would be quite legitimate for a club to continue to have a whole range of different subscription levels provided that none of them discriminated on the basis of gender—for example, the club not offer one type of membership that was open only to women and another that was open only to men. The Bill will enable clubs to continue to be fairly flexible and offer different types of subscription.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

The Minister is leading us to an example of fairness benefiting men who are members of a club. A club may fear that it will lose money if it offers restricted membership to men who want only partial benefits, but the other side of the coin is that the those men will get what they pay for, as will the women who choose restricted membership, and women who opt for full membership will receive the full benefit. Clubs face that problem, but that should not be affected by the fairness of legislation.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. One of the aims of a transition period is to enable clubs to plan their forms of subscription so that they can earn the necessary income. It is arguable that men are currently discriminated against in some clubs because they do not have access to some of the off-peak or lower priced memberships.

As I said, there is useful consensus on the Bill. Sex discrimination in the workplace, in education and in the provision of goods and services was outlawed nearly 30 years ago by the Sex Discrimination Act. As we heard today, no one would defend some of the behaviour that was commonplace before 1975. A whole generation of young women and young men have grown up expecting, rightly, to be treated as equals and to be judged on merit, not according to gender. However, some private clubs do not take that approach. Time seems to have stood still for them and, unfortunately, not enough clubs have taken the opportunity to make the sort of progress that the Government hoped that they would make voluntarily. That means that women in some clubs are still stereotyped, marginalised and treated as second-class citizens.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

I ask my right hon. Friend for reassurance. A club in my constituency does not allow women to play snooker, although there is nothing about that in the rules. When ask why, the answer—which was far too complicated to detail in an intervention—was backed up by the phrase, ''It's just customary in here that women can't play snooker.'' May I take it as read that new section 29A(4)(a) will outlaw any such unofficial rules, as well as the official ones?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry

Yes, my hon. and learned Friend can take it as read that the Bill will outlaw such discrimination. It is precisely that archaic approach to

the participation of men and women in our private clubs that the Bill is designed to outlaw. Such behaviour is simply unacceptable in the 21st century.

In conclusion, I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Telford on promoting this excellent Bill and on the assured way in which he has piloted it thus far. I am sure that he will continue to steer its progress in the same assured manner. I very much hope that it will shortly complete its progress in the House and that it will reach the statute book by the end of the Session. He will deserve great congratulation when that happens.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

I thank my right hon. Friend for those remarks. She has covered most of the points that were raised by hon. and right hon. Members during the debate. I thank the hon. Member for Worthing, West in particular for his support, both in formal proceedings on the Bill and in our conversations outside the House's official proceedings. He mentioned the letter from the Royal and Ancient. I am due to meet representatives from the golf unions on Thursday to discuss the Bill's general impact, and last week, I spoke on the telephone to Peter Dawson, who is the secretary of the R and A—in fact, we are in constant dialogue.

If the Bill is successful, there will be issues about transitional arrangements. I welcome what the Minister said about those potential arrangements. One of the problems relates to the different types of membership offered by golf clubs. Men might not be allowed to benefit from reduced membership fees—they might have to apply for full membership, even though there are other membership criteria and other forms of membership available. Some men might like to pay a reduced fee and therefore have limited access to the course. The Bill would allow men and women to apply for and receive the same types of membership, whether full, associate or restricted, in terms of playing times. That would be acceptable, but such choices would have to be open to men and women.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

In the same way, in some golf clubs I might be able to enjoy full rights playing off 24, yet Babe Zaharias, playing off scratch, would not. It would be perfectly legal for a club to say that to play during peak time, one must have a certain handicap. That could apply equally to men and women, which keeps things fair, but keeps the bad players such as myself out of the way when it matters.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I would be sitting in the bar with him, because my golf is appalling. One of my friends told me that I spend more time digging additional bunkers on courses than completing rounds of golf. The hon. Gentleman and I would be sharing a dram in the club house, while those who could play, be they men or women, progressed round the course.

The CIU has written to me and we have met to discuss the Bill. The CIU supports the Bill wholeheartedly and I welcome the progress that the union has made. I look forward to seeing the Bill come forward, if we continue to pilot it through the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.