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Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) : First, I congratulate my hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches on bringing the debate to the Floor of the House. I agree with them that it is long overdue and I am delighted that they managed to get the men in their party under control once and for all and got their own way by putting the debate forward. [Hon. Members : -- "Where are they ?"] I see that hon. Ladies have a sprinkling of the boys with them to support the motion. I found attractive the idea put forward by the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms Gordon) to recognise women's unpaid work. I have contributed to my household for many years without receiving a penny for it and the thought that I may get credit for my unpaid work warms my heart greatly. I am sure that it would also warm the heart of the Secretary of State who, sadly, has had to leave us, because it would, in one fell swoop, remove 644,000 people from the unemployment register as they would no longer be deemed unemployed.
Column 451I found it hard to recognise the terms of reference within which the hon. Lady made her speech. Had we read it between the wars, it might have been relevant, but we have made a great deal of progress since those days.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) was extremely selective in her opening speech between regulations that she wishes to see introduced from Europe and those that she wants kept out. I was watching the reactions on the Opposition Benches when the Secretary of State was discussing the provisions that allow women to work at night.
Several of our neighbours in the European Union may have proceedings started against them because they do not allow women to work at night. The hon. Lady appeared to agree with that ; she was nodding, as were several other Opposition Members. I cannot believe that she would seek to fetter the freedom of choice of women to work in the evening. I think particularly of the wonderful ladies who look after us in the Tea Room, restaurants and bars in this place, who want that freedom to work in the evening.
Lady Olga Maitland : My hon. Friend touched on a most important point about the right of women to choose to work in the evenings and during the night, particularly if they are nurses. Does she agree that one reason why women find that attractive and helpful is that it is much easier for them to get child care cover at home, particularly if their husbands can help out ?
Mrs. Gillan : That is an extremely helpful point. I have friends who positively want to work in the evening because they can leave their small children with their husbands whom they feel they can trust implicitly.
The whole framework of the debate shows that the Labour party has, once again, got the wrong end of the stick.
Ms Eagle rose
The way in which the motion is framed is extremely negative. It says :
"women . . . face discrimination in all aspects of their lives". That is not true. It fails to recognise the great progress that we have made in this century, particularly in the past decade. It rehearses tired, worn-out policies and attitudes that should have been consigned to the rubbish bin of history a long time ago. Nothing illustrates that better than a subject on which Opposition Members were strangely silent--the positive discrimination to get women into Parliament. Hon. Members may correct me if I am wrong, but resolution 417 reported in the Labour party's "Conference Arrangements Committee Report 1993"--only last year--said that in future there would be
"women only shortlists in 50 per cent. of the seats where a sitting Labour MP was not standing for re-election."
Column 452central office is imposing a requirement whereby 50 per cent. of Conservative candidates for the next election will be women ?
Mrs. Gillan : I thank the hon. Lady for that useful intervention, which enables me to point out to Opposition Members that in your case it is a quota and in ours a target, and that we expect our women to get there on merit. What an insult to force all-women lists on 50 per cent. of the Labour-held seats at the next election. What they are really saying is that women are not good enough to do it on their own, that the little women need a helping hand. It is a helping hand which I do not need. Neither do the lady Members who sit on the Opposition Benches.
Would you like to be regarded as the token women on your Benches because you are there as part of some quota ?
Do they want to be considered
Mrs. Gillan : I remember that very well. I think that it was called the "tea room rebellion" by the men. It strengthens my argument, and I thank my hon. Friend for that timely reminder of the goings-on in the Tea Room in the House.
Would Opposition Members like to be regarded as token women, because they are part of some quota ? I do not think so. Neither Madam Speaker nor you, Madam Deputy Speaker, is in her position because you are part of some positive discrimination quota. You are there because you are the best people for the job. I am forced to admit, with some reluctance as I do not agree with quotas, that had you been part of a quota, it would have been extremely successful in both cases, but I do not think that it would have done anything for your self-esteem or for this place, because it would have been reflected in the behaviour of hon. Members who are very tough judges of the Chair's performance.
Not one woman hon. Member was elected because of positive discrimination.
They got here on merit. I am sure, however, that hon. Members, certainly on the Conservative Benches and perhaps on the Opposition Benches, will have a very different view of the women who enter Parliament as Labour Members after the next election. They will have been selected by methods outlined by the Labour party, and they will be the token women, forced on constituencies by reason of their sex.
Column 453The Labour party is into tokenism. As I looked at the Order Paper today, to read the motion put down by the Opposition, I noticed that six hon. Members were supporting the motion. I glanced at the motions that had been prepared for the six Opposition days that we have so far had this year. The token woman, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), was one of the six hon. Members supporting the motion on each of the other Opposition days. On two days, there were women's issues, and the list of supporters included another woman, making four men and two women, the maximum number of women until today. Today, equality has come over the Labour party in a rush. We have three girls and three boys proposing the motion--even numbers ; extremely twee.
I just want to point out that there is no sex discrimination, positive or otherwise, on the Government side of the House. The Conservative party put down its amendment to the motion today under the names of its top people.
Mr. Heald : Will the hon. Gentleman--sorry, hon. Lady--give way ? [Interruption.] I apologise to my hon. Friend. I wonder if I really should speak in this debate, after that. We hear all this bluster from the Opposition, criticising the Tories. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that, while it is all very well to mention the suffragettes, the Pankhursts were Tories ?
Ms Eagle rose
Dr. Lynne Jones : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Lady says that there is no discrimination in the Conservative party, why has she allowed interventions from men on her own Benches, but only one intervention from women Members on the Opposition Benches ?
Mrs. Gillan : I gave way to one Opposition Member. Her intervention was totally inaccurate, so I felt that I would give way only to my hon. Friends who have proved very helpful to the speech that I am trying to make.
Let us look at the real, up-to-date picture of women. Discrimination in any area is intolerable, whether it is against men or women, or on grounds of colour, creed or disability. As we have grown in knowledge and broadened our education, we have come to realise that it has no place in a civilised society.
There are three keys to eradicating discrimination : education, example and effective legislation. The Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 provide the legislative framework. The Government watch
Column 454carefully for ways in which they can improve the legislation, and will continue to do so. However, we must guard against over-zealous interpretation of regulations and legislation that may eventually work against women, particularly in the workplace.
I read with some pleasure an article in The Times of 9 March entitled :
"285,000 women to gain from change in maternity pay".
Excellent news, I thought. But my heart fell as I read that a spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry had condemned the measure, saying :
"This is a social cost and should not be transferred solely to the employer."
He added that some employers might be discouraged from taking on female employees.
It reminded me of the days when I used to work outside this place and take on employees. It would be different today if I were considering a man and woman of equal qualifications and status, because I would have to think about the on-costs to my business. Those on-costs would sow a seed of doubt in my mind. That consideration may be sufficient to prejudice women against getting the jobs they deserve and for which they are qualified.
Over-protectionism can work against the very group in society for which we are seeking parity. I know that the Government will guard against that. Time has moved on, and in many ways the real enemy is prejudice ; that is what we need to fight.
In the past week, I have spoken to more than 100 women. Some are colleagues here, some are friends, some are officials and some are former workmates. In virtually every single case, they attested that, although 10, 15 or 20 years ago, there was discrimination against them in the workplace, they now feel that it is plain prejudice and preconceptions of which sex fits the job.
A private secretary in the civil service told me that some men still think that she is a shorthand typist. A woman doctor friend told me that she is often taken to be a nurse or a telephonist or receptionist in the casualty department. Strange though it may sound, I have suffered from prejudice and the preconceived idea that the role of a Member of Parliament has been traditionally male. Only the other day, a caller refused to talk to me and insisted on being put through to my boss, Mr. Gillan.
The difference between discrimination and prejudice is important and we already have good legislation to cover genuine cases of discrimination. We must remember, however, that discrimination can work both ways. In a recent case in the Northern Ireland High Court, McConomy v. Croft Inns Ltd., the plaintiff was made to leave a public house that stipulated smart and casual dress. The plaintiff was asked to leave because he was sporting a pair of earrings. The plaintiff was a man and the High Court found in his favour, and rightly so, because a woman wearing a pair of earrings would have been served. That was an example of discrimination working against men.
Cases of discrimination should not be trivial. In a recent case--Automotive Products v. Peake--an employer operated a rule that female employees could leave five minutes before the men and was taken to court by the men who said that it was not fair and discriminatory that they should be asked to work five minutes longer than the women. The employer said that it was a matter of stopping overcrowding when the workers were leaving the workplace. In the judgment, the Court of Appeal judge said :
Column 455"It was not discrimination for mankind to treat womankind with the courtesy and chivalry that we have been taught are right in society."
The law recognises the fundamental difference between discrimination and prejudice and, in this day and age, we must guard more against prejudice.
As a woman Member of Parliament, I am naturally concerned with women's issues, but not to the exclusion of all other issues. I find it strange that so far we have heard very little reference to, for example, the exploitation and degradation of women in pornography, for example, or to such issues as access to education and training, domestic violence, wrongful working practices, access to child care, women's choice over their own bodies and the safety of women. Many of those issues are of paramount importance, but in a motion that celebrates International Women's Day, the Opposition have chosen to highlight political differences and political issues without addressing some of the real issues that affect women in the United Kingdom today.
I certainly want to increase the number of women who move into the highest echelons of politics, business, industry science, sport--virtually every aspect of life--and, as I said, we need examples and role models. I see no reason why any of my women colleagues in the House cannot act as a role model for women who wish to become politicians. Nothing in this society impedes our progress. We have many role models.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) was interested only in singling out lawyers and medics as a touchstone for how successful women can be. That is a crying shame because it ignores many successful women in many walks of life. What about our British astronaut, Helen Sharman ? What about our Queen--Elizabeth ? What about Stella Rimington who runs MI5 ? What about Val Strachan, the chairman of the board of Customs and Excises ? What about Barbara Mills, our Director of Public Prosecutions ?
Let me name a few women who are successful despite the terrible picture painted by the Opposition. What about Anita Roddick of the Body Shop or Kathleen O'Donovan, who at 35 became financial director of BTR ? What about Prue Leith, Mary Archer, and our hotelier Anouska Hempel ? What about our television journalists ? We should look at what Kate Adie has achieved. What about our pop singers such as Annie Lennox, our designers, such as Zandra Rhodes, our sportswomen--Sally Gunnell, Sharron Davies and the golfer Laura Davies ? What about our lawyers, Rose Heilbron to name but one ; our writers--Iris Murdoch, Ruth Rendell and Jilly Cooper--I could continue.
I recommend that Labour hon. Ladies look at the 1993 edition of "The Best of British Women". I do not recognise some of the archaic pictures that are being painted by the Opposition.
Several hon. Members rose
All those women demonstrate, as do tens of thousands of others in all walks of life, that what women require--and what the Government give them--is equal opportunity.
Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that long list of distinguished women. I wonder whether perhaps she had forgotten probably the most successful female in this century in Britain, our noble Friend Baroness Thatcher.
Mrs. Gillan : How could anyone forget Baroness Thatcher ? We may be dealing with a whole generation of voters who have never lived under the misery of a Labour Government, but a colleague of mine told me of his wife's visit to a local school. When the young children asked her who was Prime Minister and she replied, "John Major", they did not believe her because they did not realise that a man could be Prime Minister.
We must remember that positive discrimination in favour of women can also be discrimination against men. Women will and do compete on equal terms. We shall win on equal terms, and victory will be all the sweeter.
Ms Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen) : Somewhere in that rather patronising speech, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) denigrated the Labour party for positive policies to get more women selected. Is she aware that her right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) is not with us this evening, presumably because she is, at this moment, scurrying around the country to try to persuade Conservative associations to select women ?
I now turn to what the Prime Minister said
At the launch of Opportunity 2000, the Prime Minister said : "At present, there is a social revolution going on in the role of women in our society . . . Not only is this revolution right socially, it is right economically . . . Yet even apart from the economics there is a yet stronger argument for accepting that the change in the role of women is fundamentally right."
He continued :
as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) reminded us--
"half our population go through life like a hobbled horse in a steeplechase ? The answer is of course they shouldn't, and increasingly they won't . . . I want to see all women having the same opportunities as men."
What has happened to the Prime Minister's Opportunity 2000 initiative ? He seems to have been strangely silent on the issue ever since. Could it be that the Prime Minister and Conservative Members are singularly embarrassed by their failure to make progress ? After all, if we look at the Conservative Benches we see only 20 women out of a total of 330, while on the Labour Benches we are proud to have 36 women out of a total of 266. Surely if the Conservative party were serious about establishing equality of opportunity for women, it would have done more before now to get women into this place. We need no clearer illustration of the difficulties that it has faced than the fact that it has chosen a man to be its Minister for women. As has already been mentioned, Parliament has placed a duty on the Equal Opportunities Commission to keep the law on sex discrimination under review and to propose amendments where needed. In 1988 and 1990, the commission published sets of proposals in respect of the sex discrimination and equal pay legislation, which sought,
Column 457in the light of experience of the workings of the legislation, to improve the framework, clarify rights and obligations, including those conferred by European law, and ensure proper and affordable access to justice for every individual in Britain.
The commission has said that it deeply regrets that the Government have, so far, rejected most of those proposals, and is pressing them to think again. It has challenged the legality of the present situation on equal pay for work of equal value, which is patently denying justice to individuals whose only means of challenging inequities is through legal processes, described by Lord Denning as being of a
"tortuosity and complexity beyond compare."
The commission also proposed to the Government a range of other measures, particularly in education and training, low pay, part-time work, maternity rights and pay, and pensions. The commission believes that without such measures, it will be impossible for the Government to achieve the aims set out by the Prime Minister at the launch of Opportunity 2000. But the Government have consistently and steadfastly refused to act on the commission's recommendations. The Government pay lip service to equality for women, but do nothing to attempt to change the male-dominated culture that still pervades our society.
It is often said that an Englishman's home is his castle. But it is nearly always a woman who maintains it. Increasingly frequently, women run homes without the support of a man. Women customarily make major decisions for the household and family, often managing the household budget. However, it is more commonly the man who decides which areas of decision making he will leave to the woman and, furthermore, he may deny her knowledge of what he earns and owns. In addition, too many women remain restricted in what they may do outside the home by their partner's wishes.
A woman is expected to smooth family relationships, provide social and emotional support as well as running the home. That role in the household can leave her with little or no time for herself. Fewer than eight households in 100 at any one time are made up of a breadwinner husband with a wife or partner who is at home full time looking after children. Yet women still take responsibility for, and carry out, the majority of household tasks. That is so whether or not they work outside the home. If other members of the household share the work, they tend to be seen as "helping".
In UK households in 1987, 93 per cent. of the cleaning, 90 per cent. of the child care and 77 per cent. of the preparation of evening meals was done by women. No study since has found a significant change in that situation. In 1988, The Daily Telegraph reported a Gallup survey which found that three out of five women with families craved more time for themselves. It is estimated that, on average, basic child care tasks take around 50 hours a week. Even when the mother had no other job, basic tasks occupied more hours than most men worked in their job.
Long working hours among men are a significant barrier for many to the more equal sharing of domestic responsibilities. Working hours in Britain are among the highest in Europe. Surveys consistently find more than 25 per cent. of men working more than 50 hours a week. It is not a surprise if they cannot do their fair share of the work at home.
Column 458It has been calculated that the average woman who takes time off work or works part time to care for her family, loses £224,000 in earnings over a lifetime. Women are financially penalised for taking primary responsibility for the care of families. Women in full-time paid work are more likely to describe themselves as tired or exhausted than the men who were mostly working longer hours but doing less domestic labour than the women. Where the wife does not have a job, husbands are more likely to dominate in decision making inside the home. Conversely, wives who are dominant in decision making are usually in paid employment.
Surveys of people caring for disabled or frail elderly people have found that, for every male carer, three women are doing a similar job. A study on Tyneside found that 25 per cent. of women over 25 years old have such caring responsibilities. One woman carer cited in a 1988 study got up at 5 am and did not finish her housework until 10 pm in an attempt to resolve the conflicting demands on her time. The Secretary of State--I am sorry that he is not still with us--seemed to imply that, in terms of wages, women were doing rather well. I hope that his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will convey this message to him. Only the other week, a woman constituent of mine came to see me to inform me that she had been offered a job at £1 an hour.
Twenty years after the Equal Pay Act 1970 was passed, women still earn only 79 per cent. of men's full-time hourly earnings. They cluster in "women's jobs", often undervalued and underpaid. Women are also the bulk of part- time workers, with low pay and few opportunities for overtime or bonus earnings. Fragmentation of pay bargaining is likely to widen the gap, as the abolition of the remaining wages councils already has. Performance pay systems contain bias and leave a clouded picture that affects not only pay, but training and promotion chances.
Britain introduced regulations in 1984 to provide for equal pay for work of equal value. But their complexity and limitations, and the legal marathons that they have launched, have meant that they have had little or no effect on the inequality gap. The equal pay laws and administrative provisions are failing to provide justice and ensure the principle of equal pay.
I am sure that all my hon. Friends will agree with me that sex discrimination is neither lawful nor acceptable. It wastes talents and resources and denies human rights. Yet it persists in widely differing pay for women and men ; fixed notions about male and female roles and capabilities ; and the financial vulnerability and impoverished old age of millions of women forced to juggle paid work and family care. To close that inequality gap, we need a robust and sensible framework of law, a well- resourced Equal Opportunities Commission, to which the Government will listen, and a programme of Government-backed action to change attitudes and behaviour. Perhaps as a start, the Under-Secretary will take away with her a request that I have received from the United Kingdom Federation of Business and Professional Women, which has two active clubs in any constituency. That organisation has asked me to convey its opinions to the Minister. It believes that the publication of gender-based statistics would be of real help in highlighting problems and raising awareness generally. Such statistics would show that typical state pensions, SERPS values and personal pensions are usually based on men's earnings, resulting in misleading figures. They
Column 459would bring the difference to the attention of both men and women, and I hope that the Minister will seriously consider their publication.
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen) : We have not had a debate of this kind for some time. I must be truthful, and say that I would not always wish to participate in such debates. Much of the ground has already been traversed, and I shall not go over it again ; I will say, however, that I wholeheartedly support equal opportunities, as I would expect all hon. Members to do. We may, however, differ on what we consider to be equal opportunities, and on how they can be provided in future.
I see much more equal opportunity now than I did many years ago, when I was starting my career. There have been changes. That does not mean that we should not seek further changes, but the Government are clearly helping. Later in my speech, I shall issue one or two challenges myself.
According to the motion,
"women in Britain face discrimination in all aspects of their lives."
We could probably spend not part of a day but a whole week debating that, and still have a fair amount to say ; we might not all agree at the end, but I am sure that we would have a very good discussion. I remember discussing equal opportunities with Dr. Sally Kosgei, then high commissioner for Kenya. Many of us got to know her quite well : she was a wonderful black woman from one of the villages in north Kenya. She thought that equal opportunities were fine ; she said that they had equal opportunities in her country, for she had risen from a poor farming family to become a high commissioner. She had been educated in Africa and America. One day she said to me, with a large grin on her face, "If you want equal opportunities, you will have to decide that men will have the babies. As long as women have to have the babies--if they want them--there will never be equal opportunities in all aspects of our lives."
That woman was right, in that women often wish to take time off to have children. It is a choice that we can all make--and do make, at some point in our lives. I sometimes find it difficult to understand why many members of our younger generation want everything at once, which is not always as easy as it may seem. I do not think that any amount of legislation could ensure that younger women, coming along in their professions, can have the top job as well as a family--and perhaps even give time to a husband.
I acknowledge that some women choose not to do all that at the same time, but to concentrate solely on their careers ; it is sometimes felt that they have an unfair advantage over those who give up work to have a family.