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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is merely congratulating the Government on fulfilling their election manifesto, which we have done not only in this case but in many other cases.

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As to the suggestion that the French, or any other European country, are seeking equal levels of taxation throughout Europe, I can say only that that position was not seriously put forward at Nice and was not a result of Nice.

Lord Peston: My Lords, is it not a commonplace of economics that if there is to be a single market--and, as I understand it, everyone agrees, whatever their other views of the European Union, that there should be a single market--it must be beneficial largely to harmonise taxes? Do the Government accept that, at least, as a minimal proposition of tax policy?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have never been opposed to tax harmonisation when it is in the interests of this country. There has never been a blanket opposition to any move towards tax harmonisation. What we have opposed is any suggestion that the European Commission or the European Union should have control over our tax policy in this country. That position was sustained and upheld at Nice.

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it will be widely welcomed that he has accepted that there is a distinction to be made between the existence of a veto, which is welcome, and its exercise, which is not always desirable? Does he further agree that the existence of the single market, and even more so the existence of the euro, makes diversity of taxes rather than harmonisation more desirable? Does he further agree that sometimes it may be desirable to join, or even help create, a consensus in favour of measures such as have been suggested for dealing on a European basis with tax avoidance or evasion, and even a common policy in regard to using fiscal measures to encourage the protection of the environment and public health?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think I can agree with the first and third of the propositions of the noble Lord, Lord Brittan. As to the question of whether the euro will increase the necessity for diversity in taxation levels or taxation policies--I am not quite sure which he is suggesting--that remains to be seen.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, is it not the case that the Government have, in the course of the Nice negotiations, surrendered the veto which we previously had over measures to secure so-called enhanced co-operation? Is it not further the case that, as a result, a vanguard group of European countries can now go ahead with tax harmonisation and other measures, whether or not we like it? Was it not

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foolish of us to have abandoned so important a bargaining power without having gained anything worth while in return?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am afraid the first premise on which my noble friend bases his argument is simply untrue. There was no surrender of tax powers of any kind at the Nice Summit.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I really must correct that. My noble friend has got it wrong.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, asked a hypothetical question of the Minister. Perhaps I may ask him a practical question concerning events this week in Strasbourg. Is he familiar with, and can he shed some light on, the so-called RETT Committee, which is the committee on regional policy, transport and tourism? That committee decided on 22nd November, under procedure A5-0345/2000, by a vote of 48 to eight, that member states should impose a new taxing and charging system for public transport, the result of which will be new taxes on the use of cars, motor insurance, parking, roads, railways, stations, air transport and airports, shipping and ferries, ports, bridges and so on? Will the Government veto this set of new taxes? If so, why did the Labour members of the committee vote for the new tax?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper refers to matters considered at the Nice European Council. I am not aware that the matter raised by the noble Lord was considered at that summit. I shall be happy to write to him on the subject and place a copy of my reply in the Library.

Clubs: Discriminatory Practices

2.59 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they plan to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 in the light of the recent continued refusal of the Carlton Club to admit women as full members.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, our expectation is that private clubs which allow access to membership to both men and women would want voluntarily to put a stop to any discriminatory practices they may have. We recognise that they may need time to do this.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does she not agree that if a West End club, a golf club or, indeed, a working

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man's club were to exclude people from membership or access to membership because they were black, Jewish or had some kind of disability, there would be a public outcry? It would, of course, be illegal. Is it not even more offensive that private clubs are able to discriminate against people solely because they are women? Is this not a matter of civilised behaviour rather than a matter of political correctness? Will my noble friend join me in commending those members of the Carlton Club who have resigned their membership in protest against this decision? Can she say whether the Leader of the Opposition has joined them, as he said he would?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I have no idea of the intentions of the Leader of the Opposition; nor do I know what standing Mr William Hague has in the Carlton Club or whether his threat to resign will lead those who want change to vote for it or to his persuading more people to do so. Members on the Opposition Benches may be able to answer that question. The Carlton Club was started in 1832 by those who were appalled at the Reform Act, which extended the franchise. So reactionaries started it, and reactionaries may win against progress today.

My noble friend referred to the difference between the Sex Discrimination Act and the Acts covering disability and race relations. Neither the SDA nor the DDA extend to private clubs, whereas the Race Relations Act extends to clubs with more than 25 members. These provisions reflect what Parliament thought appropriate at the time. Attitudes have since changed, and we believe that they will increasingly lead to change on a voluntary basis.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I am not a member of the Carlton Club and cannot vote on this issue--but why does not the noble Lord join, so that he can? Such a demonstration that he has learnt the error of his ways might go down very well.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I cannot answer for my noble friend.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, can the Minister report any progress within the Women's Institute, given that certain experiments in that regard have not been terribly successful?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it is my belief that most of the activities of women's institutes should be joined by men. I am sure that they would make excellent jam makers, and the more members they can recruit, the better.

Lord Peston: My Lords, would my noble friend care to reflect on the Marxian view on this matter?

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I refer, of course, to Groucho Marx, who said that he would never join a club that would have him as a member. Surely, any woman offered membership of the Carlton Club should simply view the offer with contempt and do something much more useful.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I do not expect to be offered membership of the Carlton Club, so I do not think that I shall be placed in that dilemma.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her original Answer, in which she indicated that the Government are--unusually--prepared to leave people alone for once to do what they want.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Earl's congratulations.

Earl Russell: My Lords, without prejudice to the issue of private clubs--which is a thorny one--does the Minister agree that if legislation were to be triggered by a political club, particularly one with a specific association with Her Majesty's Opposition, the impression given might be unfortunate? Is this a matter that can safely be left to the voters?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, in the light of the Minister's answers, what plans does she have for the "women only" room set aside in this House for women Peers? Secondly, will the Minister be pressing the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to relinquish his membership of the Garrick Club?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I do not have responsibility for decisions regarding rooms allocated in this House either for women or for men. So far as concerns my noble and learned friend's membership of the Garrick Club, I shall work on him!

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