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Mr. Greg Knight: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I certainly advised my right hon. and hon. Friends not to vote, but I have not been a Whip since 1996.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Many things happen at Friday sittings of this House that do not surprise me. Given the experience of the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), I would not imagine that he could ever be surprised by such things.

15 Oct 2004 : Column 586

Sex Discrimination (Clubs and Other Private Associations) Bill

Not amended in the Standing Committee, further considered.

Clause 1

Discrimination: Private Clubs

1.51 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 3, line 35 at end insert—

'29E Unreasonable works and alterations

Nothing in the provisions of sections 29Ato 29D requires unreasonable works or alterations to be carried out on existing buildings.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 43, in page 3, line 35, at end insert—

'29E Limit to expenditure on works and alterations
There shall be a limit on works and alterations to facilities and buildings required by sections 29A to 29D of five per cent of the assessed value of the premises occupied by the association.'.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On inquiry at the Vote Office, it appears that there are neither notes on clauses nor an impact assessment for this particular Bill. That is a particular problem as we debate amendment No. 3, because we will not be able to quantify what might be unreasonable or incurs extra expenditure without those documents, to which the House is normally entitled. Have you any information about whether those documents are available or will be made available during the debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have no such information, but those documents are not always available in the case of private Member's legislation.

Mr. Chope: The previous Bill was enthusiastically supported by the Government, and we saw where they got to with it. Let us see how they do with this one.

I hope that the promoter of the Bill will accept my amendments, although I have not received any indication from him that he intends to do so. The amendments would prevent the financial burden that would fall on the clubs that would be subject to this Bill being too great. Amendment No. 3 provides that nothing in the Bill would result in the clubs having to carry out unreasonable works or alterations to existing buildings. Amendment No. 43 provides for a limit on works or alterations to facilities and buildings of 5 per cent. of the assessed value of the premises occupied by the association, which is an ingenious way of putting a limit on such expenditure. In answer to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), it does not matter what the overall cost of the Bill would be, because the limit in amendment No. 43 would apply to protect private clubs and their members.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I refer to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests on this issue.
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My hon. Friend makes an interesting case for the inclusion of the amendments in the Bill, but is he aware that many clubs are in financial difficulty already? If they had to carry out substantial building works as a result of the Bill, it might prove fatal for some of them.

Mr. Chope: I agree. One of the reasons why some clubs face financial pressure is because their members want access to Sky Sports, but that company keeps putting up the cost of the service that it provides to clubs. It is now a significant burden for many clubs, although not as great as the potential burden under this Bill if it remains unamended.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): I hope to be able to respond to the hon. Gentleman's remarks in a few moments if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the point is that the Bill relates to mixed-sex clubs, which will already have facilities for both sexes because both women and men are members of them. Why would such clubs have to spend more cash making alterations?

Mr. Chope: In that case, I see no reason why the hon. Gentleman will not accept our amendments.

David Wright: I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who summarised the amendments well in the absence of his right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who, we have heard, is away performing other duties today. A phrase employed during the last quarter of American football matches is the "hurry-up", and every Friday I have presented the Bill to the House I have been on what the National Football League would call the hurry-up. I do not want to detain the House too long, but I want to talk about how clubs can adapt their premises and move forward effectively to provide equal access for men and women.

The amendment would require a reasonableness test, to be judged by the courts, to assess whether clubs carrying out works had complied with the Bill. It would be an incredibly complex process for the courts to assess whether changes were reasonable, and I think that the amendment is unnecessary. I remind hon. Members that, as I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for Christchurch, the Bill would provide that clubs that already admit both men and women should treat them without discrimination. It is not about clubs being required to make extensive changes—for example, for people with disabilities who cannot gain access to premises. Such matters are subject to other legislation that we have passed in recent years to tackle discrimination against particular groups of people.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I am a reasonable man, and so is my hon. Friend—but has he given any thought to the analysis of the word "reasonable" in this context? I am not paying tribute to the late Jacques Derrida and talking about semiotic deconstruction, but surely reasonableness could mean anything we want it to. I would be glad to be reassured
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by my hon. Friend that the amendment is not an example of that crude tactic known as the wrecking motion.

David Wright: I could not, of course, assess whether the amendment is a wrecking motion by the Opposition, although it may well be. Their tactics on the previous Bill showed that they are capable of such behaviour.

Clearly, the Bill is about ensuring that people have equal access to mixed-sex clubs. There are many clubs that offer different levels of membership for men and women. Golf clubs often give men full membership rights and women lesser rights in terms of course time, and using bars and facilities. The Bill would give men and women equal status in membership. For example, a man would be able to apply for reduced membership rights in a golf club, with reduced green time and reduced access to bars. That seems reasonable. Women could apply for full membership and have complete rights. That seems reasonable, too. This is about allowing both men and women access to the different levels of membership.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I did not participate in the earlier debates on the Bill, so will the hon. Gentleman clarify something for me? What about all-women clubs, of which there are a number? I am trying to understand what would happen to them under the Bill.

David Wright: The Bill would apply to clubs with 25 or more members, but not to single-sex clubs. A club established purely for men or purely for women would be excluded from its scope. It is about giving equal access and treatment to men and women in clubs that purport to be open to both. So for example, in relation to a club that was merely for men, where only men could secure membership, if women were invited to an event in that club one evening they would have to be afforded equal access and equal rights on that evening, but that club would not be required to admit women members.

2 pm

Mr. Greg Knight: The hon. Gentleman has been telling us about his Bill in the round. Will he now tell us about its minutiae? Proposed new section 29A(4) states:

Does not that mean that if a club has a ladies' lavatory on the first floor and a gentlemen's lavatory on the ground floor, if the Bill became law the club could be forced to install an extra ladies' lavatory on the ground floor, because otherwise it would be deemed to be discriminating against them? That was the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) was seeking to make when he spoke to his amendment.

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