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I am grateful for the intervention. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that that would not happen under the remit of the Bill. In fact during debate on the Bill we have heard a lot about the Bill being
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couched in terms of she, rather than she or he; of course, under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 both apply, so the Bill would apply equally to men and to women. But as to whether a lavatory would have to be moved from a second floor to comply with the Bill, I do not think that that would be applicable here.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Is my hon. Friend not surprised that the detailed points that have been raised by Opposition Members flow against the central thrust of the Bill, which is the issues surrounding the Sex Discrimination Act 1975? No attempt is being made to cause clubs to incur any extra costs anywhere. Is not my hon. Friend surprised that Opposition Members are focusing on these minutiae instead of accepting the principle of what we are trying to achieve?
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman uses the expression, "clubs that purport to be open to all members", but what are the criteria? Most clubs have their origin in a group of people deciding to set up a club. If they decide that it is for male members or for female members, that is their decision. An outsider may well look at the club and say, "Given the activities that you are doing and the sort of people that you are attracting, you should have members of both sexes." In the case of the club to which I belong, I have voted consistently to admit womenunsuccessfully, and I regret very much that that should be the case, but the fact is that it was set up as a men's club and, in my view, it is only when the men decide to change their view about that that women should be admitted.
David Wright: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his stand in relation to the club of which he is a member. This legislation would relate to clubs that are open to both sexes already. We already know that many clubs, such as working men's clubs, discriminate against women. They do not allow them to use certain bar facilities. They do not allow them to take part in annual general meetings. They do not allow them to vote in proceedings in their club. About 50 per cent. of working men's clubs currently do not allow women to participate fully, even though they open their doors to them for membership. So the Bill is about giving people access.
The amendment talks about changes to buildings. What we are trying to do here is to allow women to use the snooker room, for example. There is no particular problem in allowing women to use the snooker room or to vote at the AGM of their club or to use the golf course on the same day as men. It seems to me ridiculous, in this day and age, that women should be excluded from using the snooker room in a club purely because they are women.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD):
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a danger that if the Bill were to become law it would encourage clubs to become
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single-sex clubs in order to avoid the law? The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) makes a very fair point about women-only clubs or predominantly female clubs. My brother belongs to a ladies' golf club. He chooses to do so because it is cheaper than joining a male golf club and he is perfectly happy with the arrangements that the ladies have made for him as an associate member, yet the Bill would prevent that arrangement from continuing. So the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) would be interfering with the workings of existing clubs and in danger of having the opposite effect to the one he wants, namely driving more clubs to become single sex rather than opening them up.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) is making a valiant effort to speak to the amendment, but I suspect that others are making observations that would have been better made on Second Reading.
David Wright: I value your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Having considered the issues pretty extensively in Committee and before that, I acknowledge the point made by the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce).
Throughout the Bill's progress, assurances have been givenby the Government, indeedabout the provision of a reasonable transition period for clubs that need to carry out works. I hope that, on that basis, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) will accept that the amendment is unnecessary.
Mr. Fallon: The hon. Gentleman now seems to be contradicting his earlier statement that not much work would be required, and the Minister's assertion that not much expense would be involved. He cannot have it both ways. If not much expense is involved and the transition period is relatively short, why will he not accept the amendment, with its test of reasonableness?
David Wright: I do not believe that there is a significant amount of work to be undertaken. Clubs have approached me and told me that they would like a transition period relating to the entire Bill. If that were to apply, they would want to consider the elements covered by the amendment in that context.
"design, layout and decoration so as to accommodate the different tastes of the male and female membership".
A court would find it very difficult to determine what type of wallpaper men or women would prefer in their club. Is that what is meant by a test of reasonableness? It would mean an incredible waste of court time for clubs and other organisations attempting to block the Bill.
The key question is not whether the decoration in a bar is appropriate to men or to women. In many mixed-sex clubs, women are not even allowed to go into the bar. I am all in favour of women being allowed to go into a bar and buy a drinkI am sure we all agree about thatbut I do not think that the decoration of a club bar is particularly important.
Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) for clarifying one or two points that I raised with him. I will confine my remarks to the amendment, although in doing so I may have to touch on some slightly wider issues.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's motivation in concentrating on clubs that admit members on a differential or two-tier basis, or prohibit members of one sex from using certain parts of the club. The Bill, however, constitutes a flagrant interference in private rightsthe right of people to form their own associations and their own rules for the purpose of sociability. If they want to establish a club for both men and women but to allow only men to use the bar, that is entirely a matter for them.
Moreover, the Bill's wordingthis is why the amendment is absolutely rightwill undoubtedly lead to knock-on financial consequences in terms of building work that will have to be carried out. I think it appalling that Parliament should legislate to dictate to people about the need to spend money. As a consequence, many of these clubs will revert to single sex male clubs, which I regard as socially undesirable. The mixing of the sexes, where people wish to do it, is a good thing. I support the amendment; it is sensible. It is wrong that if the Bill is to be enacted, which I hope it is not, the consequence will be to require clubs to carry out works or alterations at the cost of the membership.
Mr. Fallon: The amendment is not only sensible but necessary. Long-established clubs may well be in long-established buildings that are listed and therefore involve much more expense when alterations have to be made.
This piece of proposed legislation is the triumph, to an extent, of good intentions, or high moral intentions, over reality. At every level, it will penalise people in terms of their private associations. That is a deplorable state of affairs. If we cannot stop the passage of the Bill, which I hope we may be able to do, we should certainly regard the amendment as a step in the right direction.
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