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Mrs. Gorman : I shall describe my Bill and then I shall give way. The Bill deals with aspects of the Representation of the People Act that could be modified to make the processes easier. It would enable people to understand that, when they enter a voting booth, a woman's name will be on the ballot paper and if they want to be represented by a woman, of whatever party, they will at least have the opportunity to put their cross by her name. The gender of the candidate should be shown. Names such as Hilary and Robin could be male or female, so it would be rather nice if Mr., Miss, or Mrs. were on the ballot paper--or Ms, if one happens to prefer it.
When people are nominated for Parliament, there should be a requirement that an equal number of women and men sign the nomination paper. There have to be 10 such people--a proposer, a seconder and eight others--as a minimum and we should require that at least half of those are women so that we can be sure that women have been brought in at some point of the selection process.
I considered the deposit that must be paid before we can stand as candidates for Parliament, which was recently raised from £150 to £500. Given the difficulty that many women have in being selected, why not ask women candidates to pay £150 and therefore allow more to stand as independents ? It is a well-known and well-acknowledged fact that it is often difficult for women to raise funds to campaign to get themselves considered as parliamentary candidates. Although some people may say that that is a form of reverse discrimination, we should at least consider it.
The final change that I should like is that, when there is a tie at a count between a man and woman, the casting vote should be for the woman. That would automatically bring another woman into the House, which, as we know, sadly lacks strong representation by women at the moment.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire) : I agree with the general thrust of the Bill and understand that my hon. Friend would like to see more lady Members of Parliament. I believe that I am right in saying that there are only 59 female Members at present out of 651, which virtually all of us would agree is a disgrace. Is that not because of the ridiculous hours of work in this place, the fact that there are no cre che facilities and that constituencies are prejudiced in the way in which they select candidates ? Those issues are not addressed in the Bill.
Mrs. Gorman : Those issues have been discussed on many occasions and I have lots of sympathy for those views, but today I am talking of how we may change existing legislation to make it easier for women to get into Parliament. The issues that my hon. Friend has raised are valid, but should be debated at another time.
Mrs. Ray Michie : Before the hon. Lady leaves the subject of changing boundaries and the electoral system, may I ask whether she agrees that it would be better to introduce a fair electoral system, such as proportional representation, for electing people to the House ? I think that the hon. Lady will acknowledge that all the countries that use proportional representation have far more women in their legislatures than we have in ours.
Mrs. Gorman : The hon. Lady is, of course, quite right. On the other hand, every party has its own way of trying to increase the number of women in Parliament, and the party that the hon. Lady represents has chosen that route. Other parties have different methods.
Getting into Parliament is sometimes seen as a kind of competition, a race, as if we are all engaged in some kind of rugby match where men, usually because of their strength and their ability to use their elbows more fiercely, will win. If those who watch the proceedings of Parliament on television have nothing else to go by, they probably think that that is precisely what it is--two sides battling across the space in the centre of the Chamber for the domination of the debate. However, Parliament is not supposed to be that : it is supposed to be the jury of the nation, a mixture of people representing all sections of our society who are here to debate issues in our democracy. It is not just Labour versus Conservative : it should be men accompanied by women. If it were, we would get all the perspectives on the issues that we debate. At the moment, by definition, the predominance of men in the House means that our debates are skewed to the masculine point of view.
Juries used to be dominated by men because of the property qualification, and the rules had to be changed to get more women jurors. In the same way, we have to change the rules to get more women into the House. That will enable us to get more women on this jury of the nation which keeps an eye on the Executive, of whatever party, to see that they do not get too big for their boots and overstep their powers.
That is why we are here and why we do not just want women with outstanding talents or great women, although we are delighted when we get them. We want ordinary women who will have opportunities similar to those enjoyed by the average, ordinary male Back Bencher who does not have much to contribute and is not a great orator, or perhaps even a great clown, but is nevertheless imbued with the sort of common sense that goes with living an ordinary, everyday life. We want women with those qualities in the House so that we have the voting power to ensure that our debates are at least shifted towards a feminine perspective.
The Bill is not just about baby care and rape sentencing, although those issues are extremely important. It is about democracy and human rights. I do not believe in women's issues, which are a myth. There are only human rights, human issues, and a society that gives equal balance to the views of women and men is a more humane society. The more that we enhance the status of women in our society,
Column 1240the more the lives of men will be enhanced. Their natural instincts and their tendency to a more aggressive way of life are tempered by women's compassionate nature, wisdom and general care for others. That is an important aspect of our society which we should seek to enhance.
Sometimes, trying to get more women into Parliament is perceived by men as a threat. I hope that none of my male colleagues who have chosen to be here for the debate see me or any of our women colleagues in that light. A society in which the rights and potential of women are constrained is not one in which anyone, including men, are truly free. We must emphasise that.
If we had more women in the House, how would things change ; how would priorities be altered ? What is it about a woman's perspective on life that makes me think that politics here would be different if there were more women Members ? Women's status is much influenced by the House, in its education policies. As many young women as young men now go to university, and they train for the professions in increasingly large numbers. All that is to be welcomed. However, we need to raise the sights of young women of ordinary ability who will not be lawyers or doctors but who may become mothers, and perhaps do fairly menial jobs that involve simple and repetitive work. Nevertheless, they have an expectation of achievement within those parameters.
Our teaching of history is all about wars and battles, men fighting each other, rape and pillage--at least, that was the content of my history lessons. I was never taught about the history of women or how much they contributed. I was never taught about women's suffrage, which was a marvellous and often extremely violent battle. I am not sure that the children of today are taught about it. Nor are they taught about abuses of women around the world. They learn about the needs of other countries, but not about how badly and cruelly women are treated. If they were, perhaps our approach to overseas aid would radically change. We might make very different demands on those societies from those that we sometimes make.
The way in which we teach our young men and women could be radically altered if women Members of Parliament were more conscious of that failing. It would be helpful also if there were not necessarily more women Education Ministers but more women civil servants to exert influence education and say, "What about this curriculum ? How does it relate to women ? I don't see anything in it to interest me." I am sure that the men involved would be agreeably startled to know that there was another way of looking at life. Of course, there are women role models, such as Catherine Thornton, who recently went into space as a member of the team that repaired the Hubble telescope. It is nice to remind ourselves of that. We sometimes think that inside those appalling space suits, there always dwells a masculine heart. In that case, it was a woman. There is also our own Speaker, and Mary Robinson, President of Eire. They have both made remarkable strides for women in a male-dominated society and contributed enormously to the way that it behaves towards women. More women Members of Parliament could alter our status.
A major priority for women is violence. They are terribly concerned about not only the apparent rise in street crime but the way in which the law treats women who experience violence--nearly always at the hands of men-- and dismisses that violence as something that the woman brought on herself. This country's legal system is
Column 1241also almost totally male dominated. It must be one of the most patriarchal elements in the establishment. There are hardly any women High Court or other judges. Of the 1,000 judges in this country, only 61 are women.
Many magistrates are women, and they dispense excellent judgments in respect of small claims and other litigation heard in magistrates courts. However, at the level at which law is interpreted, there is a total absence of women. I have raised that issue with my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. He said, "Teresa, you must serve 10 years as a stipendiary magistrate, then 10 years in a higher office. It takes 30 years to be a senior judge." How can a woman meet those criteria when she often has to fit in a marriage, children and all the rest ?
Why do we have to play the game by men's rules ? Are not some of those splendid women magistrates, who have given their time freely for many years, experienced enough to make the sort of character judgments that a judge's work is largely about ? Of course they are. We must change the rules, but who will change the rules in this place ? Will it be all the lawyers and barristers, with their vested interests, who line the Benches around me ? Of course not. Who do we need ? We need more women in this place, who will insist that we debate the matter. We also need the influence of the Lord Chancellor--heavens, perhaps even of the Lord Chancellor, herself, which would make an enormous difference to the way in which the law administers justice to women. It matters.
I am sorry to have to say that the judgments of male judges are peppered with prejudices against women of the "Well, she asked for it" variety-- shocking judges and shocking judgments. Yet I do not think for one minute that the poor old things understand how shocked women are by soft sentences for violence against, and the abuse of, women and children. That is another good reason for having more women in this place to change the law. The law underlines so much of a woman's sense of worth and security and her feeling that society understands her needs. That change would be an enormous improvement. Affordable child care has to be a priority. It is not a sexist issue, but a taxation issue. It is profoundly important because, if we changed our legislation to make child care more affordable for women, we could get two women working for the price of one. We could mop up unemployment for many unskilled women, who could happily and successfully contribute to child care. One does not need a tremendous amount of training ; one needs loving care and sympathy towards children, which are natural parts of a woman's make-up. We could also employ many women who need jobs and release women with professional and other qualifications, who have been trained and want to get out to work to earn some money, but cannot afford to do so. That would be a marvellous improvement in our society.
I have introduced several ten-minute Bills to call for tax relief on the cost of child care and home help. Women who are at home, looking after elderly relatives and saving the country an absolute fortune in social care costs, are sometimes desperate to get away from that very intense relationship, perhaps to work in a shop one day a week. However, they cannot afford to do so because they cannot
Column 1242afford to pay for the type of person whom they need to leave to keep an eye on the relative. We should seriously reconsider giving such tax relief.
Before the second world war, 20 per cent. of jobs were in what we would now call domestic work--I call them home jobs. From a tax point of view, they should be treated like any other job. For those people who can afford it, the family income should be treated as income against which costs could be offset, and those who cannot should be given other forms of care. That would enhance the lives of women and of their partners and husbands and encourage them to have a broader perspective on life.
The need to encourage older women to go back to work is even more important. If one divorces oneself from the work force for 20-odd years, it is difficult to get back into it. The Government have many excellent schemes for retraining women. I asked the Library to produce a list and I was astonished that there were five closely typed pages of facts. There are many avenues back, but there is no substitute for having kept one's foot in the door throughout the years when one is raising children. I am not saying that every woman wants to do that--each to her own choice.
Mr. Fabricant rose
It is terribly important that those older women can make a contribution for the second half of their working life when they have finished raising their children. A woman at 45 to 50 has as many potential years ahead of her in work, which is an enhancing part of her life, as she did in her earlier working years. I am sure that if we consider it that way we shall, as a society, press for a more liberal attitude to what I would briefly call affordable child care. Let me mention the social issues that we discuss so often in the House and which occupy so much of our time. They are quintessentially in areas in which women have an enormous contribution to make. Who else has the hands-on experience of caring ? It is the primary role assigned by society to women and we should use that experience in the House to influence legislation, to make it possible for women to contribute more, in the form of jobs and work
opportunities--developing nurseries, or whatever it is. We should also make it possible for women's views to influence the way in which legislation is structured, to make it more practical and sensible. I do not attribute all virtues to women or all vices to men, but I think that women have the balance on common sense. I think that they see life in terms of their practical experiences and they build their legislation from there. Men tend, because of their nature, to see broad perspectives and perhaps international horizons, and they tend to go in for grandiose views of things which sometimes turn out to be not very practical. As we know in the operation of legislation, all parties at all times often screw it up. If more women contributed, we might get better legislation.
I am really speaking about the way in which we achieve an equality of men and women in this Parliament. That would mean that our discussions would come from the two perspectives of society, which is the real world outside. Half of humanity is female. No beings coming from outer space would notice that, if they happened to land on this
Column 1243building and to peep down into the Chambers to see the type of people who are guiding the way in which our country is run. There are two perspectives--not necessarily adversarial--between the different political parties. Perhaps the co-operation of men with women in making decisions would enhance our political system. The quality of our democracy would be improved. If half of our population continues to be denied a voice in the Chamber, how can it be said to be representative ?
With the best will in the world, how can a man be like a woman ? How can a man really know the way in which women balance their priorities ? We all know, in the domestic situation, that men often say, "I cannot understand the way you think", and women say, "I really do not know how the devil you can think the way that you do." That balance of viewpoints produces an harmonious outcome--not always, but often--and I beg my colleagues not to regard this attempt to bring legislation around to a more female-friendly perspective as a threat to their own advancement. It certainly is not meant that way, and I hope very much that it will not be interpreted that way.
Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) : I applaud the commitment of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) to the advancement of the rights of women. I am amazed by the views that she holds of the way in which we ought to organise our economic and social policy, because I think that they constrict the needs of women, but in the other aspects of her work, I applaud all that she says and does. I agree with her profoundly, as does the Labour party, that the quality of our democracy and the quality of this institution, which is currently held in little respect up and down the land, would be massively enhanced if we had more women Members of Parliament. Men and women should work in Parliament in equal numbers and as equals, just as they should work as equals in the workplace and in caring for children in the family.
If we can introduce those changes, we shall have a more just society that will use people's talents better. It will then be a happier society for men and women, because the role that confines men to appearing as powerful strangers who never come home and have no part in parenting their children is not good for children and does not make men happy. The Bill does not seek to advance the position of women at the price of the position of men, but to build a far more civilised society and more civilised politics.
Previously, the hon. Member for Billericay introduced a Bill suggesting that there should be one man and one woman Member for each constituency. I first heard such a proposal put by women in the Labour movement in Scotland, who were thinking about a new Scottish Parliament. It is easy when creating a new institution to ensure from the beginning that half the Members are women. I believe that that proposal is still being considered for the Scottish Parliament. In practice, however, it is unlikely that we shall achieve that. The monumental troubles brought about by the small changes introduced by the Boundary Commission show that Members of this House will not easily pass a Bill that transforms all the boundaries and gets rid of nearly half the membership. So in practice, the hon. Lady's proposals are unlikely to become real.
Column 1244The Labour party is committed and determined, through its party's structures, massively to increase the number of women represented on this side of the House. We have already voted to change the party constitution to say that, in half the winnable seats, all the candidates short listed will be women. Next time round, therefore, half our candidates in all winnable seats will be women. In the next Parliament, we shall have some 80 women Labour Members and in the subsequent Parliament there will be another big increase. Eventually, we shall no longer have just a few women who form the exception but a critical mass of women. Whether old, young, small, large, grey-haired or fair, women will be a normal part of the political culture of our society. That will be an enormous breakthrough.
I agree with the hon. Member for Billericay that it will improve the culture and practice of this institution, which will be a more civilised and more comfortable place. According to the experience of other countries, changes in hours and the provision of nurseries are required once there are more women. We should change the hours and create the nurseries now, but, in an institution dominated by men, those matters are not looked after. Once the rules are changed and more women are brought in, many more civilised practices will follow. I agree with what the hon. Member for Mid- Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) suggested, but, in practice, by having more women we shall progress towards more civilised hours.
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) : I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) and bring her greetings from some of my hon. Friends who, regrettably, cannot be here. If we simply take the example of this House to endorse my hon. Friend's point, it is perceived that the only women who work here are the handful--as we are often deemed--of women Members. Ever since I came through the doors, I have intended to do a trawl to see the breakdown of genders working in the Palace of Westminster. I believe that the majority of people who work in this place are women if we include office, domestic, security and ancillary staff, but the facilities for women workers in this place are atrocious. Is it not a disgrace that we cannot provide a creche but that there is a shooting gallery ?
Ms Short : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a great insult to the thousands of people who work in this institution--feeding us, cleaning, doing secretarial or research work, or running the superb Library --most of whom are women. When men say that there are not enough women with dependent children to open a creche, does it mean that all those women are invisible to them ? Many of those women must work the funny hours that we work. The cafeterias are open because we are here. What about their children and their need for nursery provision ? My hon. Friend is right to say that the Palace of Westminster has a rifle range but no nursery facility. It says a lot about the values of this place, historically and now, and those who run it.
So the hon. Lady and I agree on the matter, and the Labour party will make progress. We will produce 80 women next time. I should say to the hon. Member for Billericay that I believe that her party will make progress because we do. It will become an embarrassment to other
Column 1245political parties as Labour moves forward and has more women Members of Parliament. Other parties will then take measures to increase the number of women.
Mrs. Gorman : I deliberately tried not to make the debate too party political. I assure the hon. Lady that the Conservative party is equally dedicated to getting more women in. We have almost as many women as men offering themselves as splendid candidates. I am sure that the selection procedure will ensure that our numbers are also advanced.
Ms Short : I am delighted to hear that from the hon. Lady. We shall observe with great interest as the two parties select. If progress is made at equal speed in all parties, that will be good, too. I do not want to take much longer because I want to give the Minister an opportunity to make his speech. I am proud that the British Labour party and our sister parties throughout the world have said to themselves, "Enough of these promises that there should be more women, enough of calling for more women's representation but failure to make progress or making slow progress." Progress is being made so slowly in the United Kingdom that on current trends it would take 200 years to have equal numbers of men and women in the House of Commons.
All over the world, our sister parties are taking the type of measures that the British Labour party is taking to increase the representation of women. I am proud to say that there will be 80 Labour women Members in the next Parliament and that in 10 years or so the Labour party will have 50 per cent. representation. I hope that the hon. Member for Billericay is right in saying that her party will achieve the same.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : As usual, I listened with pleasure and admiration to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). I am glad that her Bill has had a useful airing and, much more important, provided her with an opportunity to give her views and aspirations a vigorous run. I wanted to make several points. As the hour is late and several colleagues wish to speak, I shall endeavour to make them rapidly. Like my hon. Friend--as I understood her really to say-- I do not believe that the Bill would do much to resolve the problems that women face in getting elected. However, I realise that its long title probably prevented her from putting in the more full-blooded measures that she might have preferred to present to the House. Therefore, I hope that she will not be surprised or particularly put out if I say that the Government cannot advise the House to support her interesting measure.
It would surely not be right to require a lower deposit from women than from men in parliamentary elections, as the Bill seeks to do. That would be a blatant discrimination and it would not even help more women to be elected. A woman who does not have enough support to raise £500 is not likely to come top of the poll anyway. I suppose that to change the law to oblige the returning officer in the extremely rare circumstances of a tied vote between a male and a female candidate to declare the woman elected might
Column 1246one day produce an extra woman Member of Parliament, but it would be considerably less fair than a toss of the coin.
I am not against the Bill's requirement for the gender of candidates to be shown on the ballot paper, but I would expect a successful candidate to be well enough known for his or her sex to be apparent to the electorate. If it were not, I would regret it if the gender of the candidate shown on the ballot paper became the single deciding factor in the choice that an elector made for or against. I know that I am in danger of taking the particular parts of my hon. Friend's Bill more seriously than I suspect she does. Her laudable aim is not to put the Bill on the statute book, but to use the occasion to draw attention to the paucity of women in the House. She was right to remark that since women obtained the vote in 1918 and Lady Astor took her seat in 1919, not many women have sat in the House compared with men. Few have become Ministers. If my memory serves me correctly, only nine have reached the Cabinet. The good news is, as both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) remarked, that the number of women in the Commons rose sharply after the last general election from 41 to 60. We have a woman Speaker and two women Cabinet Ministers.
It is plain that Parliament is still grossly undersupplied with the talents, experiences and insights available from the female half of the population. How far that is due to women's preferences, the demands in terms of time and the unsocial hours that the House imposes on its Members or the reluctance of selection committees to adopt women candidates is not known. Where there is no reluctance in principle to adopting women, too few women applicants with family commitments in their early adult life have been able to build up the career record that many selection committees want, and that the Lord Chancellor may want for the appointment of judges.
How far all those factors are responsible for the dearth of women Members is a subject of debate which requires more time than I can reasonably claim now. It is clear that few of those factors are amenable to legislation, and most depend on attitudes, especially on selection committees, unless the law is to be used to ride rough shod over democratic process and oblige local parties, in which, ironically, women play a powerful role, to select candidates whom they would not have chosen freely.
I understand my hon. Friend's impatience, but I am against such compulsion as is contained in her dual-seat proposal. I do not believe that it does the cause of women much good to operate rules and systems that enable men and other women to say of the women elected at the end of it that they were chosen only because they were women. Nor do I go all the way with the belief set out in my hon. Friend's speech that more women would transform this place and bring a whole new approach to a range of policies and procedures. I believe that women have a special experience and perspective that should be represented here, but I have not noticed women Members or women Ministers take a collective or individual view that I regard as distinctively feminine. I look, for example, at Barbara Castle, Margaret Thatcher, my two female Cabinet colleagues and, of course, the hon. Member for Ladywood on the Opposition Front Bench, and many other women on both sides of the House. I see strong women who know their own minds and
Column 1247whose minds and characters are very different, and whose opinions, I suspect, on most policy issues, would be similar if they were men. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay who is, alas, not yet a Minister, has original and provocative views on a range of subjects, which she puts trenchantly. I believe that those views owe more to her intelligence, imagination and business experience than they do to her sex. Indeed, what most strikingly distinguishes women from men in the House is not the cast of their intellects, the range and diversity of their views or their capacity to be effective, but, as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay--in vivid lime green--will agree, the brightness and variety of their dress, which I think all women and most men would argue is totally irrelevant to their role here.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Ladywood on the unfairness to women, in that for so long, for a variety of reasons, it has been harder for women to become elected. That means that Parliament, Government and the country are denied the full benefit of the talent and ability that women can and do bring when they get here. I hope that my hon. Friend's Bill, while not making progress today, nevertheless gives a further fillip to the cause of women in Parliament, which the results of the recent general election suggest is now at last beginning to make some progress. 2.23 pm
Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East) : I shall be brief, as other hon. Members wish to speak. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) on being able to secure the debate today. I had fears at one point that we would not be able to raise the matter in the House. It is a matter which is increasingly important. I speak as one of those women who came in to the House in 1992 and helped to raise the number of women in Parliament quite considerably. My hon. Friends and fellow sisters have been most supportive to us as new Members by helping us to find our feet, discussing issues with us and so on. I believe that if we had more women Members on both sides of the House, one would see much more such support and
I do not support the hon. Lady's view about having one male and one female candidate in each constituency. I say that as someone who perhaps more closely represents that arrangement, given that my partner is also a Member of Parliament. Unfortunately, our constituencies are 200 miles apart, so it is not quite what the hon. Lady had envisaged. Nevertheless, I do not think that that is necessarily the way to go to increase women's representation here. In endorsing the Labour party's proposals, I tell the Minister and Tory Members generally that the women in marginal seats had the biggest swing in their favour at the last general election. That shows that there is a sea change among the electorate. People do not say that they will not vote for women. If they have the opportunity to vote for women, they will do so. Therefore, it is the role of the political parties to take that on board and do something about it. That is why I totally endorse my party's policy on this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) was modest in saying that we will
Column 1248have more than 80 women not on this side but on the other side of the House after the next election. There will be more than 80 of us sitting on the other side of the House, who will then be able to make the many changes that are necessary within this building to ensure that women's views are expressed emphatically in the House in a way that perhaps they have not been expressed before.
I shall conclude on this note. The hon. Member for Billericay talked about the effect of this measure on employment. As a London Member, I have a great deal of sympathy for that objective, because the level of unemployment in London is one of the highest in the country ; it is particularly high among women. If we can discuss such matters in the House, and if we can make changes to women's lives both in the House, in London and in the country generally, we will be doing no bad thing. I welcome the opportunity to have this debate today. I support the hon. Lady's endeavours in principle, although perhaps not in detail.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) : I also welcome the opportunity briefly to take part in this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) on the Bill and on the way in which she introduced it. If I may say so, she introduced it in a most attractive way and one which certainly did justice to the cause that she represents. I have considerable sympathy for the general propositions that she advanced and, certainly, the spirit that animates the Bill.
Like my right hon. Friend the Minister, I cannot agree with the methods with which my hon. Friend seeks to achieve her objectives in the Bill, because they are wrong and would impose unnecessary discrimination. On the spirit of her proposals, I have much sympathy for her.
I welcome the opportunity for more women to enter the House and make their distinctive contributions. I sympathise with what my hon. Friend said about the plight of women in other countries and the general cause of women throughout the world. We would do well to keep all those matters in mind.
During my hon. Friend's speech, I felt a little under threat at times because I must confess that I am one of those male barristers who were referred to as sitting all around her and who often figure in the demonology of the political correctness brigade on the Opposition Benches.
I listened with great interest to what my hon. Friend said about the Bar and the justice system in this country. She may be surprised, but I agree with what she said about the need for more women to become judges and to take part in the legal profession. She may not agree with me quite so much when I tell her that the explanation that she was given by the Lord Chancellor's Department, about which she told the House, is correct. The reason why there are relatively few women judges--there are a few and, fortunately, the number is increasing--is the attitudes in the legal system in the past. There are few woman judges today because there were few lady barristers 20 or so years ago who would have fulfilled the necessary qualifications and experience to be judges now. That was a bad reflection on the attitudes throughout the legal system 20 or so years ago. At that time, in some quarters there was prejudice against women. I hasten to add that there was prejudice not only in the legal profession but among those whom the legal profession
Column 1249serves. I welcome my hon. Friend's call for more women judges, but there must be women judges of the right calibre with the right experience, as there are now, and I welcome the fact that an increasing number of women judges are being appointed.
Turning from the legal profession to politics and Parliament, we do not want any lectures from Labour Members about how to get women into Parliament or, indeed, into public life. A large number of women play an active part in the Conservative party throughout the country on councils and at the grass roots. We take great credit for the fact that we were the first major party in this country to select a female party leader-- something for which we get precious little credit from Labour Members, who have probably forgotten about her.
Mr. Clappison : The hon. Lady says "What a mess she made". I must point out that she won three consecutive elections. She made more of a contribution to this country's public life than many other party leaders ; but I would go still further. When she was elected as party leader in 1975, it would not have been possible--indeed, it would not be possible even now- -for the Labour party to choose as its leader a member of the female sex. The reason we were able to have a woman as leader of our party was our commitment to opportunity, freedom and choice. They have traditionally been part of the Conservative party's philosophy, but were absent from Labour party culture
It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed on Friday 11 March.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 24 June.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 11 March .
Order for Second Reading read .
Order for Second Reading read .
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Second Reading [ 25 February ].
Debate to be resumed on Friday 11 March.
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Second Reading [ 4 February ].
Debate to be resumed Friday 11 March.