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One prominent female figure in public life told her diary, after hearing of Mrs. Thatcher's election as party leader:

"I have had a growing conviction that this would happen: she is so clearly the best man among them and she will, in my view, have an enormous advantage in being a woman too. I can't help feeling a thrill . . . I have been saying for a long time that this country is ready--even more than ready--for a woman Prime Minister."

Baroness Castle wrote that in her diary in 1975. She was objective in those comments. She was speaking as a woman, setting herself apart from her political views, which were obviously vastly different from those of Margaret Thatcher, but she felt that there was a lesson there for the Labour party.

Lady Olga Maitland: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a pity that the Labour party is unable to sustain, even remotely, the kind of progress that we have made? Is he aware that only three out of 73 trade union leaders are women, and they come from the Labour party?

Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend's extremely good intervention was very well anticipated. I was about to quote again from the noble Baroness Castle's diary. I invite the attention of the hon. Member for Ladywood, as she will remember the time, I am sure. Barbara Castle wrote:

"I think it will be a good thing for the Labour Party too. There's a male- dominated party for you--not least because the trade unions are male- dominated, even the ones that cater for women. I remember just before the February election last year pleading on the NEC for us not to have a completely producer-oriented policy, because women lose out in the producer -run society."

Ms Short rose --

Mr. Clappison: I will happily give way if the hon. Lady wants to tell us about a producer-run society.

Ms Short: I know that the hon. Gentleman apologised for not having been in the Chamber earlier, but that point was dealt with in an exchange between the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and myself.

Mr. Clappison: I did say at the beginning of my speech--I do not know whether the hon. Lady was here--that I was present for her speech. I heard that intervention and it made me think back to what I had read in the noble Baroness Castle's diary. I will share my thought with the hon. Lady. For all that the hon. Lady said to my right hon. Friend about what was taking place in trade unions, it struck me that there has not been a great deal of progress since 1975--20 years ago--when Barbara Castle wrote those words.

Today that lack of progress is indicated, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) made clear in her intervention, by the small number of women who are trade union leaders. The hon. Member for Ladywood will appreciate that there is a big difference between women being treated as some sort of sectional interest who can be accommodated--who can be made to make do with a gesture--and being given full equality of opportunity to rise to the top on the basis of their merits. There is a clear distinction between those two things. Clearly, an enormous amount of progress remains to be made in the trade union movement.

The hon. Lady will know that last year there was a leadership election in her party. I do not want to go into that, as that is a private matter for the Labour party, but

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she must concede that, from that election, it is clear that the Labour party is still a considerable distance from electing a female leader. I happened to read, because I am interested in these things, the election statement of the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who now leads the Labour party. It came as a surprise to me that not once in that statement did he mention the role of women or what he intended to do for women. I know that the hon. Lady will say that things have changed since then and that the right hon. Gentleman has set out his policies, but that seemed to me to be something of an omission and it says something about the subconscious attitude of the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): In my constituency the Labour party has decided to put up an all-woman list of candidates for selection. Is that not a disgrace? Does it not show a remarkable lack of confidence in the ability of women to rise to the top in the election process? If my hon. Friend looks around the Conservative Benches, he will see great examples of women rising to such positions.

Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he has caused great interest among the hon. Ladies who surround me. I do not want to go into private Labour party matters, but there seems to be a great deal of turmoil in that party--in its leadership elections, its candidate selections, and so on, in which women are fighting very hard to overcome what they see as prejudice. The difference between Labour Members and Conservative Members is that we do not have to fight against that sort of prejudice, because it does not exist here; it was expelled 20 years ago when we elected a female leader.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, in case I do not have an opportunity to get my fourpenny-worth in the debate. Leaving party politics aside, does he agree that the House is the jury of the nation? It is not an Olympic track, where the best person wins. It is not a company where the top talent rises. We are talking here about an institution which should represent the whole of our community --stupid, white, black, women, men, three-legged, two-legged, whatever. That is why getting into this place is different. It should be different from the race metaphor, which has been used time and again in the debate.

Mr. Clappison: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, which she made clearly. I would not want in any way to comment on or challenge the point that she made, save to say that she is living proof of the vibrancy of views within our party.

To return to party politics, since the Leader of the Opposition issued his personal statement, which omitted to mention women altogether, he has come to appreciate the importance of the women's vote. Speaking recently, he decided to announce an important policy initiative for his party, to She magazine, which is described as a magazine

"For women who juggle their lives".

It was a well thought out initiative and he was clear to whom he wanted to speak, as that magazine is produced by the same group which produces Country Living , The Antique Collector and House Beautiful . He was clearly making a bid for a different sort of readership for Labour party policy. He seems to have been conscious of that

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throughout his interview, in which he gave the lady interviewing him the impression that he was prepared to show, in her words "two fingers to the educational dinosaurs of the ultra-Left." I cannot imagine who he was thinking of at that point.

The right hon. Gentleman spelled out Labour party policy with his usual great clarity and restated much of what he said in his personal manifesto.When asked what he stood for, he said "social-ism", which he described as

"the belief that people do best in a strong society. Unless you are prepared to create the underpinnings of that strong society, the individual does not move as fast as he or she can. It is not about class, or trades unions, or capitalism versus socialism. It is about a belief in working together to get things done."

I hope that the readers of She magazine were illuminated by that and that Labour party policy was clarified for them. I hope that they had a nice cup of hot milk before bed as well.

Lady Olga Maitland: Is my hon. Friend aware that in the same article the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) pledged support for tax relief for nannies? Indeed, Labour Members have tabled a new clause to the Finance Bill advocating tax relief for nannies. The Labour party is putting up a nannies charter--a total U-turn after years of being utterly dismissive of professional women who choose to employ nannies.

Mr. Clappison: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has an uncanny knack of anticipating what I am about to say. She mentioned the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill. I hope I am not doing the Labour party an injustice, but it seems that its leader chose to reveal what would become party policy not to that Committee but to the readership of She . Although he said that he was cautious about committing his Government at this stage, he is quoted as also saying:

"Tax relief is one of the things we are looking at".

There we have it: the first step that the right hon. Gentleman has taken on his way to a caring, sharing society of social justice and co-operation is to consider tax relief for nannies.

I do not know whether that proposal will receive warmer applause from the working women of Sedgefield, who will presumably have to subsidise the tax relief with their income tax, or from high earners in Islington and elsewhere in the south of England, but I do not envisage Opposition Members such as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and his friends dancing with glee in the Lobby at the prospect of voting for tax relief for people wealthy enough to employ nannies.

Perhaps this will be the start of a new Labour campaign. Perhaps there will be a new slogan, and a new definition of the welfare state: "Full employment for all from the cradle to the nursery". The expression on the face of the hon. Member for Ladywood suggests that the policy has not been received with much enthusiasm by the Opposition and we would do well not to take it too seriously; it looks to me like another bit of window dressing from the right hon. Member for Sedgefield which will bite the dust before much longer. Women in this country today can place their trust in the substantial and fair progress that has been made. There has been a move towards equality of opportunity: that is clearly demonstrated by the increasing number of women in top jobs. Women are moving through the professions;

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they are better paid than ever before in real terms. The gender gap is closing. All of that is solid progress--for which I commend my right hon. and hon. Friends--as opposed to the pie in the sky offered by the Leader of the Opposition.

7.22 pm

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York): There is no better indicator of the health of a society than the health of its individual citizens; but to examine women's health in Britain is to see a divided nation. Many women, especially in the home counties and the south, enjoy the best of health, while many others in inner cities and the north bear an unnecessary burden of disease and premature death.

The 1991 census established the number of women with a "limiting long-term illness" in each health authority. According to that definition, the five healthiest health authorities are West Berkshire, North West Surrey, South West Surrey--that authority, of course, covers the constituency of the Secretary of State for

Health--Mid-Downs and Tunbridge Wells. The number of women with limiting long-term illnesses in each of those authorities is more than 20 per cent. lower than the national average. The five health authorities in which women suffer the greatest burden of ill health are Central Manchester, North Manchester, Barnsley, North Durham and Sunderland. The number of women with limiting long-term illnesses in those health authorities is more than 30 per cent. higher than the national average.

Mr. Gallie: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the same ratio would apply to men? He is centralising the statistics to apply them to women, but what he says is irrelevant to the debate.

Mr. Bayley: I do not think that it is irrelevant. The simple answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is no: these figures do not apply to men as well. As he would see if he referred to the Department of Health's public health common data set, there are wide variations between the health of men and that of women.

The purpose of today's debate is not merely to highlight differences and inequalities between men and women. It is a debate about the lives of women in Britain today, and the inequalities in life opportunities and health between certain groups of women also matter greatly. Barnsley is one of the five health authorities with an exceptionally large burden of ill health. The census revealed that 20,809 women in the area had a limiting long-term sickness--36 per cent. above the national average. If the national average figure applied in Barnsley, there would be 5,508 fewer women with limiting long-term illnesses.

The national health service has simply failed to meet the health needs of women in Barnsley. Their needs have been ignored by a Government who are obsessed with the efficiency of the service, which they measure in terms of numbers of completed episodes--numbers of patients treated--rather than in terms of the underlying principle of the NHS, which is to provide health care on the basis of equity; in other words, on the basis of health need.

When people talk of women's health--this is also an answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie)--they often refer to diseases such as cervical cancer and breast cancer, from which only women suffer.

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In fact, the big killer diseases for women are strokes, heart disease and respiratory disease. Perhaps, on National No -smoking Day, I should also mention lung cancer, which is fast catching up with breast cancer in terms of the number of women's lives that it claims each year; indeed, it may have just overtaken it.

Smoking may cause those illnesses, but overwhelmingly they are caused by poverty. As others have pointed out--in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise)--poverty is more usually a woman's rather than a man's problem, and that mars the position of women in Britain.

According to the Department of Health's public health common data set, the death rate among women of all ages is lowest in South West Surrey--the area represented by the Secretary of State for Health. According to the census, two thirds of its population are members of non-manual social classes. The death rate is highest in Central Manchester, where fewer than a third are members of social classes I, II and IIIN--the non-manual classes. In other words, death rates are higher among women in lower socio-economic groups. If I may put it crudely, poor women die younger.

The death rate among women aged between 15 and 64 is lowest in Huntingdon health authority--in the Prime Minister's area--at 25 per cent. below the national average. Four other health authorities tie in second place: Tunbridge Wells, North West Surrey, Winchester and Norwich. There the death rate is 21 per cent. below the national average. It is highest in Salford, Central Manchester and North Manchester health authorities, where the figure is more than 40 per cent. higher than the national average.

The premature death rate among women in the poorest parts of the country is not only high but increasing. In the past five years, the Salford rate has increased from 42 per cent. above the national average to 53 per cent. above it; the Central Manchester rate from 58 per cent. above the national average to 69 per cent. above it; and the North Manchester rate from 68 per cent. above the national average to 80 per cent. above it.

The Secretary of State for Health says that the Labour party should not concern itself with health inequalities because the health of all groups of the population is improving and it is just that the health of the healthiest is improving fastest. That simply is not true. The health of the poorest and the most disadvantaged groups of women is declining in real and absolute terms.

It is not just inequality in terms of death rates. The same pattern of inequality between north and south and between inner cities and shires exists at birth. The percentage of low birth weight babies--babies weighing under 2,500 g--is lowest in a similar collection of health authorities, including Tunbridge Wells, Halton, Worthing, East Sussex and Salisbury, and highest in Nottingham, Central Manchester, Rochdale, North Manchester and West Birmingham. The NHS provision for women is marred by women's health inequalities from the cradle to the grave.

There are two ways in which to look at the problem. In the White Paper "The Health of the Nation", the Government tend to shrug off the problem. The White Paper says:

"The reasons for these variations are by no means fully understood."

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The Australian Labor Government in their equivalent to "The Health of the Nation", a very hard-hitting report entitled "Enough to make you sick: how income and environment affect health", conclude: "Ill-health can lead to worsening social and economic circumstances, which in turn adversely affect health. So health care should be distributed according to physical and social need, not just physical need."

The report identifies the social and economic circumstances that particularly affect women. It says that certain groups of women, especially sole parents, are likely to "have very poor health." The British Government need to take a leaf out of the Australian Government's book. First, they need to acknowledge that there is a problem--a widening problem--of women's health inequalities. Secondly, they need to agree that the health inequalities are not inevitable. Thirdly, they need to agree that there is a need to seek solutions.

Lady Olga Maitland: Although I do not dispute the general picture of ill health or poor health among less economically viable women which the hon. Gentleman gives, does he agree that that is why it is so important that we have a health service that delivers excellent health care at the point of delivery, always free of charge? More than that, we have a health service which, by ensuring that we eliminate waste, puts more money into patient care to look after the very women about whom, rightly, the hon. Gentleman and I are concerned.

Mr. Bayley: The first point on which I take issue with the hon. Lady is her description of "less economically viable" women. It is not that the women are inadequate but that the society that the Government create does not provide economic opportunities for those women. Secondly, the hon. Lady suggests that the national health service simply has to run itself in a way that maximises the number of treatments given.

Lady Olga Maitland indicated dissent .

Mr. Bayley: That is what I understood the hon. Lady to have said. She said that the health service should be efficient and should maximise the number of treatments that could be given. What is important is to target treatment on those who most need it--those who will benefit most from health intervention. That patently is not happening.

Lady Olga Maitland rose --

Mr. Bayley: I shall give way to the hon. Lady in a moment. I hope that she will listen to what I am saying.

Such targeting patently is not happening at the moment. The health inequalities are widening in the area of what the Government themselves describe as "avoidable diseases". If the burden of avoidable disease is increasing among the poor, why is the national health service not targeting those avoidable diseases? Why does the NHS not target strokes and hypertensive diseases, to reduce their incidence among the social groups that are most seriously affected? That is not happening as a result of the NHS reforms.

Lady Olga Maitland: On the broader picture, is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are deprivation payments to GPs in inner-city areas so that they can deliver the service that these women need? He is skating over the

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problem and trying to create alarm when help is available. I am sure that he agrees that we must help women to take advantage of the available assistance.

Mr. Bayley: The test of whether the policy is working is whether the health of the poor is improving. The Government's own figures show that the health of the poor is not improving as fast as the health of the better-off because resources are being targeted in favour of health interventions for the better-off. In the worst possible cases--I cited three earlier--the mortality rate of poor women in poor health authorities is deteriorating. The death rate for women between 16 and 64 in those northern health authorities increased in absolute terms between 1987 and 1992. That shows that the interventions made under Government policy are not matching the growing burden of ill health which environmental and social conditions are creating.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: I do not want to get involved in the detailed points that the hon. Gentleman has exchanged with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). I ask him, because he is knowledgeable in these matters, how much of the change in some of the women's killer diseases, which have been growing, is the predictable outcome of smoking and how much is linked to what people eat? Obviously, there are environmental issues as well, which I do not dispute. Could we predict what the change over the next 10 years in the death rate among women who smoke will be, as a result of the increased number of women who smoke? I agree that we need to have fewer women smoking in areas where women still smoke too much. We should talk about those issues as much as we talk about deprivation payments and the concentration on inner-city health areas. We should try to get the improvements in other areas of women's health that we have achieved in maternal mortality and infant mortality, which are the two crucial points that the Black report, of which I have an original copy, said were the test of whether Government policy was right.

Mr. Bayley: The hon. Gentleman has an original copy of the Black report; he has a very rare volume indeed.

It is, of course, important to focus on the causes of ill health. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am concerned that, because of promotion by tobacco companies, the incidence of smoking among young women, especially, is increasing. The hon. Gentleman asked what effect that would have on mortality rates from lung cancer among women. I suspect that we shall see the result in the long term because lung cancer is a long-term disease. There is a typical pattern of 30 or 40 years of smoking before the penalty of lung cancer develops. Of course we must address those issues, as we must address the issue of diet. The Government, however, make a mistake when they suggest that women's health inequalities are caused by genetic, cultural and behavioural factors. They are to some extent, but they are also caused by poverty, poor housing, a lack of community care and a mistargeting of NHS resources on those women whose health needs are not the greatest. Those issues must be addressed if women's health inequalities are to be reduced. There is a maldistribution of resources for community care and health. Resources are not targeted on those women whose health needs are greatest. The time has come for the Government to concentrate on putting those problems right.

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7.39 pm

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye): I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House for not having been in the Chamber for a couple of hours, while I had to attend other committee meetings. I very much hope that I shall not repeat any of the arguments, although I shall doubtless be advised if I begin to do so.

Unusually for a politician, I wish to raise questions to which I have no glib answers. I would not expect my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to provide any answers, but if she will consider the issues I raise, it would go some way towards reassuring me that we are moving towards a considered reaction to some of the complex issues that concern me.

Hon. Members have referred to economic changes in the past 20 to 30 years, and I have no intention of repeating those references. I was very active in campaigning for equal rights for women in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, which is why I shall not go into the matter in great depth.

Many hon. Members will not remember the days when there were no women news readers on the television. One of the achievements of myself and my friends in the organisation Women in Media was to change that in television and radio. Now, of course, there is more than equality among news readers.

That is a minor illustration of the major economic changes to the position of women in the past 30 years. Those changes, however, have brought with them some of the problems that we are discussing today. We have seen and gone through the increase in the number of women in the professions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) gave a very good exposition of it.

Those of us who have been involved in women's issues for a long time will know the phrase "the glass ceiling" very well. That glass ceiling has risen substantially, but we have still not got it up to the top, as witnessed by the debate about trade union leadership, the number of women directors and the number of women in significant posts.

I have some sympathy with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) about the difficulty of more women coming into the House of Commons, but that is a different issue, because one takes a most unusual career path to get here. I shall therefore take the number of women in the House of Commons out of the debate.

When I go around schools, as I am sure many of us do, to speak to girls and mixed classes in the sixth form, I still find the age-old problems that we all identified all those years ago: peer pressure, parental pressure and-- the key problem among women--lack of confidence and belief in their own abilities. Women need a degree of encouragement that we do not necessarily find among their male colleagues. It is being overcome in education, but socially it is still a problem, and needs to be dealt with. Sixth-form girls need that extra bit of confidence to put their foot on that ladder and know that they can get to the top and through the glass ceiling. Not only is it true that, over the past 20 to 30 years, women have made tremendous strides in their economic position, but the technology of work is changing towards favouring women. Heavy, unskilled work is being taken

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out of daily life and being replaced with the use of technology, dexterity and brains. Those are women's abilities and their principal contribution to the work force. We can most crudely describe that change as brawn now being cheap and brain being dear.

That brings us to a conflict. There is no reason why women who wish to progress cannot do so as far as they want, but--I hope not to be making either a party political or a moral judgment--there are also women who opt out. We need to consider very carefully the latter category of women. We need to find out why they opt out. Why do they become the single mums who are causing such problems and angst in our society? Many hon. Members have referred to the issue.

There are various categories of single mums. I am a product of a single mother who took over the family firm. I am therefore in one very privileged category. It is not new or unique. There are divorced mothers--left, perhaps, with a reasonable maintenance settlement. There are widows with children. Then there are those who are unmarried.

In my constituency, it is reckoned that more than 50 per cent. of all live births are to single mothers who are not in a stable relationship. That is a most horrendous statistic with which to deal. We all know that the children of those mothers, who--broadly--are condemned to a life of poverty, face a life of deprivation and find it difficult in school and in later life to become the social and economic animals that we all need to be to succeed.

Ms Short: I do not want to interrupt the hon. Lady's general point, as I want to see where she is going, but is she aware of statistics that show that many of those young women go on to form a partnership and a stable relationship? We often talk as though it is a condition for life. From the figures, it is not. Those women frequently form partnerships.

Mrs. Lait: I completely accept the hon. Lady's point, but, if I were to describe every category, I would not get through to the question that I am trying to pose. I hope that the hon. Lady bears with me and agrees that there is a category of women about whom most of us are concerned.

The group includes young girls, who--with the benefit, one would have thought, of sex education in school--are pregnant when they leave school. Alarming statistics show the number of girls leaving council care at the age of 16 who are either pregnant or with a child, and one has to ask, why are they in that position? What drives them to create a set of circumstances that they will find very difficult to get out of?

We may all offer simple explanations. The problem is that every explanation is different. There are about 20 or 30 explanations and I shall not go through them, but they include getting away from mum, having a baby that is one's own and is a toy rather than a reality, and getting a house and benefits. I am not making any moral statement, but those explanations are given time and time again.

I am sure that it goes much deeper than that. Until we find out why this coterie of women are condemning themselves to a life out of the mainstream of society, we cannot fix the problem.

Mrs. Gorman: Before my hon. Friend leaves an extremely important and very interesting subject, I hope that she will turn her thoughts to the role of single young fathers. Young men, of course, get these young women

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pregnant and walk away from their responsibility. Does she not think that we should do more to educate our young boys in what used to be called good behaviour and honour towards women?

Mrs. Lait: I have tremendous sympathy with my hon. Friend's point. I, too, would like it if everybody who had a right also had a responsibility. By making it easier for boys to walk away, we are placing the responsibility for contraception and for the child on women. But I want to deal with the reality. It is the woman who is left with the child. One of the most recent sociological explanations is that, because unskilled young men can no longer maintain a family, women are rejecting them. They are positively deciding to reject them.

Ms Short: Because they have no income.

Mrs. Lait: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. That is yet another explanation of the phenomenon. We have not yet got to the bottom of the problem. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is now aware that there is no easy answer to it. I would be more than grateful if someone could come up with an easy answer, but I am sure that there is no such easy answer.

Dr. Lynne Jones: There is no easy answer. The hon. Lady has raised a very important issue. A large group of people in our society are alienated to such an extent that they have no hope for the future. They therefore have no aspirations beyond having a baby and obtaining the minimal levels of benefit. That is not a good life; it is a life of poverty. Why have those women lost that aspiration? Why has the situation become worse during the period of this Government, under whom inequality has risen? We should be concerned about that group in society which is alienated from the rest of us.

Mrs. Lait: I am afraid that the hon. Lady has added yet another explanation as to why the phenomenon has arisen without, other than in a very glib party political way, trying to solve the problem. This is the third time that I have made my point, and I apologise if I am being repetitive. However, we must be clearer in our minds what is genuinely causing the problem, so that we can begin to address the solution more effectively than the remedies that have been tried so far.

Several hon. Members rose --

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. I assumed that the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) was giving way. Is that correct?

Mrs. Lait: Yes. I was giving way to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland).

Lady Olga Maitland: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, in what has been the most thoughtful and most useful contribution in the entire debate. I totally accept that there is no easy answer. However, will my hon. Friend ponder for a moment or two why marriage has now slipped from the agenda as the normal way of family life? It is now accepted that people will have partners and transitory relationships. Does my hon. Friend agree that we cannot put the blame entirely on schools or

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the media? Society as a whole is to blame. Does she not agree that we must reinvigorate the concepts of the family and of marriage?

Mrs. Lait: My hon. Friend has added yet another strand to the conundrum we face. I have tremendous sympathy with my hon. Friend's point. We must get to grips with the problem, because society cannot afford those young women opting out and not making the best of their lives, quite apart from the lives of the children whom they are raising.

I have a further, possibly more radical, thought, on a different area. I said earlier that I campaigned very vigorously in the early 1970s for equal rights for women. One of the things I campaigned for was the Equal Opportunities Commission. It is now 20 years since the EOC was founded. It has funded and achieved some very distinguished legal victories. While many of us may find them difficult to live with, we probably agree in our heart of hearts with what has been achieved.

However, it is now about time that we reviewed whether the EOC meets today's needs. I have a brief resume of what the commission did in 1993. It produced 13 publications, including the annual report. Grants were given to 27 voluntary sector projects. Twelve research projects were commissioned, on topics such as women and low pay, and black women in the labour market. In 1993, the commission assisted 195 cases in industrial tribunals and the European Court of Justice.

Does the Equal Opportunities Commission need to perform those tasks? Are there sufficient research institutes, grant-giving bodies and legal help organisations to perform that function instead? If the EOC did not exist, would those bodies have performed that function? Those are very difficult questions to be posed by a great supporter of the commission when it first started and to those who have become used to the commission. However, after 20 years, it is perhaps time to consider whether the commission is required, whether its composition needs to be changed and whether its aims and objectives need to reflect more closely the changes that have been achieved in the past 20 years.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth): Does the hon. Lady agree that, under article 119 of the treaty of Rome, the Equal Opportunities Commission, from its very inception, has been the most effective body by a long way throughout Europe--and I do not normally say this kind of thing--in pursuing cases in respect of which women have been badly treated? It would be a tragedy to get rid of its expertise in that area.

Mrs. Lait: I acknowledged the commission's work, however inconvenient some of us may have found the results. I am not suggesting that that body of knowledge should necessarily dissipate simply because we change the aims and objectives of the commission, or review them in such a way that we decide that we do not need the EOC as such and move its responsibilities to some other policy institute. I am simply opening up the question for debate because, after 20 years, we need to do that. If we do not do that, such things ossify and become part of the system, which does not deliver what is required given the changes that have occurred.

I apologise if my next issue was raised earlier, but I became aware of its complications very recently. That issue is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has been

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