Sex Discrimination (Clubs and Other Private Associations) Bill

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David Wright: I take the hon. Gentleman's comments on board. That provision may be something that the Lords will wish to consider as they examine the Bill. I thank him for his broad support for the proposal.

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Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Consequential amendment

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

David Wright: After two long and fairly complex clauses, I am happy to turn to clause 3, which is short and simple. I am sure that you will be delighted with that, Mr. Gale.

The clause is a consequential amendment to schedule 7 of the Licensing Act 1964, which relates to requirements for the issue or renewal of registration certificates under that Act. If club rules conform to the model rules set out in that schedule, there is a presumption that certain requirements for registration are satisfied. One of the rules is that members must have equal voting rights at a general meeting, subject to some exceptions, one of which permits such rights to be restricted to men if the club is primarily a men's club or to women if it is primarily a women's club. Such rules would be prohibited under new section 29A of the Sex Discrimination Act. The exception is therefore no longer appropriate, and clause 3 removes it.

Peter Bottomley: This is a welcome consequential amendment. It may be worth saying in passing, if I can do it in one sentence, that golf clubs were hit by the unintended consequence of changes to the alcohol licensing regime, and non-members and others found themselves in trouble; I do not anticipate it, but I hope that no such problem will be tied to this consequential amendment. When the hon. Gentleman next meets the golf club representatives, he might ask how their conversation is going with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport over that problem.

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Member for Worthing, West raised that point also on Second Reading, and I understand that the difficulty outlined in the letter he mentioned, a copy of which he was kind enough to pass me, is linked to misunderstandings about how the Licensing Act 2003 will affect clubs. I understand that that has now been cleared up. Following a meeting between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the English Golf Union, golf clubs will still be able to treat visitors as guests and allow them use of the bar and other facilities. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that those issues are being taken up. However, Mr. Gale—I thank you for your forbearance—it is not a matter for the Bill, which is concerned only with the equal treatment of men and women as members or guests of clubs.

I would make one further but important point on the question of voting. I believe that only one speaker, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, opposed the Bill—at least, he seemed very sceptical about it—on Second Reading. His argument was that those who did not like the rules of a club could vote to change them. The point is that in private clubs, woman

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are often restricted from voting. It is that sort of unfortunate discrimination that the Bill aims to overcome, which, of course, links to clause 3.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Short title, extent, commencement and transitional provisions

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

David Wright: The final clause is mostly technical. It sets out the short title and scope of the Bill; it provides for the Act to come into effect on a day to be appointed by the Secretary of State; and it allows for necessary transitional provisions to be made by order.

We have discussed in some detail this afternoon the fact that we would need to ensure an ongoing debate with clubs and associations about transitional arrangements. The R and A and other golf clubs have spoken of their need for a long transitional period. Five years has been suggested, but I hope that it will not take that long for organisations and clubs to take on the simple provisions of the Bill, particularly in relation to the use of bars and facilities. I do not see why clubs cannot open bars and facilities immediately to both men and women members. Some investment may required to ensure that the facilities are of a good quality, but I hope that it could be done fairly rapidly.

Peter Bottomley: The hon. Gentleman has put the case for clause 4 very adequately. He may want to check that the wording is as it should be, and whether the Secretary of State should be able to make transitional provisions rather than provision. I realise that if ''provision'' is plural, it will not be necessary. However, the point may be worth checking with the parliamentary draftsman, because the Secretary of State may want to make more than one such provision to allow for various time scales. I suspect that the wording is fine, but it is worth raising the issue for consideration.

The key point is that giving people rights and making some things into wrongs does not necessarily change things instantly. We would not have more than 2,000 people a week committing first-time serious criminal offences if making something unlawful stopped it from happening. It does not do that, but, rather, provides penalties, although I am glad that we

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are not troubled too much by penalties in this amending Bill. The Bill will give a clear signal to clubs that those that have made changes have done the right thing, that those making such changes are doing the right thing, and that those that have not considered it should get on and make those changes.

5.15 pm

I have been involved with a City livery company, which has tried, over the decades, to move on to what some call equality, which I call fairness. We did that by discussing whether we could treat people on merit and realising that sex is not merit. That message needs to go out to clubs, some of which do not need this legislation because they have already made or are making those changes, but some of which probably need it in order to catch up with the clubs that have got rid of unnecessary discrimination and are the better for it. It is fairness that matters most. People should not face unfair discrimination. Much discrimination that people thought justified has turned out not to be, and the sooner it dies the better.

Rob Marris: I understand that the Bill will not cover Northern Ireland because the 1975 Act does not, and that there are different anti-discrimination statute revisions for Northern Ireland. I seek the Minister's assurance that the Government will shortly introduce parallel anti-discrimination legislation in Northern Ireland if it does not already exist.

David Wright: I am sure that the Minister will be keen to drop my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West a line about the Government's view on that point. It is rare for me to be in a position to say something like that in Standing Committee—I hope that the Minister does not mind.

I thank those who have taken the time to come along this afternoon and those who have supported and assisted me with the construction of the Bill and its passage so far.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: On behalf of the Committee, I thank the Officers of the House, without whose assistance our work would be much harder. I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford on the smooth passage of his Bill through Committee.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

        Committee rose at seventeen minutes past Five o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Gale, Mr. Roger (Chairman)
Baird, Vera
Bottomley, Peter
Knight, Jim
Love, Mr.
Lucas, Ian
McKechin, Ann
Marris, Rob
Mole, Chris
Randall, Mr.
Smith, Jacqui
Tami, Mark
Wright, David

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