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4 Feb 2003 : Column 148—continued

Mr. Speaker: I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman, who gave me prior notice of the matter. I have looked into it and can tell him that it was a printer's omission, which happens. Hansard will be reprinted with every word that he uttered. I am sure that his constituents will await that copy of Hansard with bated breath.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot tell you how reassuring that answer is. I understand from Sky News that the Prime Minister is now rushing hotfoot from Le Touquet, hopefully with a flea in his ear, to vote in the Divisions this evening. Is there any procedural means by which we could delay our votes, as it would be tragic if he did not arrive in time?

Mr. Speaker: All that I can say is that the Prime Minister is like any other hon. Member and has equal opportunities to vote. No special consideration is given to anyone.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), Mr. Speaker. Could Hansard make sure that all the interventions that put his contribution into its true perspective are included as well?

Mr. Speaker: I assure the hon. Gentleman that his words will be there also.

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Sex Discrimination in Private Clubs

12.38 pm

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester): I beg to move,

The Bill seeks to bring private clubs with 25 members or more within the coverage of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. The purpose of the Bill is to make unlawful the unequal treatment of male and female members, associates and guests of mixed-sex private clubs with 25 or more members. It mirrors a similar provision in the Race Relations Act 1976.

If it is already illegal to discriminate against people in private clubs on the grounds of race, should it not also be illegal to do so on the grounds of gender or disability? The Bill will not outlaw single-sex clubs. Provisions will be included that make the unequal treatment of male and female guests in single-sex clubs unlawful at functions to which both sexes are invited.

I am stepping on well-trodden ground. The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) has been here before me, as has Lord Faulkner of Worcester, whose Bill, which was given qualified support by the Government, made some progress in the other place in the last Session—some progress, but not enough, which is why the Bill is returning to the House under the ten-minute rule. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for North Dorset and his wife, and their tenacity on the issue. So appalled, I gather, was the hon. Gentleman at the treatment of his wife at the hands of the Carlton club that he gave the club six months to change its ways, or threatened to resign. True to his word, he did resign, I understand, and I congratulate him on taking that principled stance against the Carlton club.

In considering the scope of the Bill, I thought about covering both sex and disability discrimination in relation to the membership of private clubs. However, I was gazumped—in a positive way—on 22 January by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when he announced that the Government would publish a draft disability Bill this year. The Bill will cover membership of large clubs under the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The Government said that they would consult widely on how and when the practical changes involved would take effect. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will welcome the measure and the difference that it will make to people with disabilities.

I have met my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, and I am much encouraged that the draft disability Bill later this year will level the playing field for people with disabilities. Accordingly, I changed my own Bill to focus on improving the application of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to private clubs.

Many private clubs that have both men and women as members continue to restrict access to some or all facilities to one sex. The hon. Member for North Dorset was right to point out in his speech to the House that the biggest villains of the piece are usually golf clubs. Some golf clubs still restrict playing times for women members, making it difficult for women to play during

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peak hours at weekends. That is a result of the rather prehistoric attitude that women do not work, so they can play during the week, freeing up the course for male members at the weekends.

According to a survey conducted by Golf World in 2001, more than two thirds of the clubs surveyed were operating under rules that discriminate against the 140,000 regular women golfers. Half of the clubs that took part in the survey admitted that men and women are charged different fees for full membership, and that the hours that women can play golf in those clubs are restricted.

The Bill applies not just to sport and leisure clubs, but to all private clubs, including Conservative Associations, and to old-fashioned Labour clubs as well. The Club and Institute Union, which represents almost 2,700 working men's clubs in Britain, reports that some 60 per cent. of affiliated mixed-sex clubs still deny female members full rights. The CIU's constitution does not permit pass cards to be issued to women members. The cards are a means of identification, allowing a member of one CIU club to visit another club and enjoy, as a guest, almost the same level of membership as they hold in their own club. While the CIU has tried on five separate occasions to abolish that rule, it has yet to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to do so. I hope that the Bill will help it along the way. The concern is that such outdated attitudes are leading to members deserting many of those clubs.

On the voyage of discovery that is the research stage of a ten-minute Bill, I came across a wealth of evidence on the lack of support for women in clubs. One example came from a letter from Kelly Bussey, who wrote:

I am afraid that it is not breaking the law—not yet, anyway.

The petty restrictions placed on women can be degrading. Other examples include being forbidden to use a club's main staircase, enter through the main entrance or order a drink at the bar. Those are just some of the indignities that women face in clubs from day to day. Such treatment, whether of a member or a guest of a private club, sends out the message that discrimination is okay in 2003.

The outlook is not all doom and gloom. I am pleased that the Department for Work and Pensions appears to be listening to me and to other Back Benchers when we call for earlier legislation on behalf of people with disabilities, but more than 50 per cent. of our population are women.

I am aware of the argument that clubs' rights should be outside the law because they are private. However, those arguments hark back to a different era. They no longer reflect the views of most clubs, and they do not offer a legitimate excuse for continuing to permit the unequal and often demeaning treatment that women receive. The Bill would be a positive step towards offering women the respect and equality of opportunity that they should expect as a right in a modern Britain. To continue to deny women those rights is to agree that discrimination on grounds of sex is still legitimate.

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Given that in 1976, the House passed the Race Relations Act, which did not accept that discrimination on grounds of race was acceptable in private clubs, why are we still struggling almost 30 years later to achieve the same rights for women? It is time to put that right.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Parmjit Dhanda, Mr. Robert Walter, Jim Knight, John Robertson, Siobhain McDonagh, Mr. David Drew, Mr. Chris Mole, Ms Candy Atherton, Mr. Richard Allan, Mrs. Annette L. Brooke, Joan Ruddock and Mr. Simon Thomas.

Sex Discrimination in Private Clubs

Mr. Dhanda accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for the prevention of sex discrimination in relation to membership of, or the benefits, facilities and services afforded by, clubs and other private association: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 March, and to be printed [Bill 53].

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House of Lords Reform

Mr. Speaker: I have a statement relating to the main business. In the debate on House of Lords reform, I have selected the amendment to the motion for option No. 1, in the name of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth).

For the benefit of the House, I will now set out the procedure to be followed at the end of the debate this afternoon. Under the Order of the House of 30 January, at five o'clock, I shall first put the Question on the amendment to the motion for option No. 1, followed by the main Question. Thereafter, the Questions will be put successively on each of the remaining six options.

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