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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am tempted by what he has just said. I wonder whether he appreciates that any true Liberal understands that liberalism embraces also principles of equal treatment and fair dealing, as well as laissez-faire ideas from the 19th century.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I believe that I know as much about liberalism as the noble Lord. My father was a leading member of the Liberal Party, and I was a Liberal myself for a time—before I saw the light and joined another party. But let us leave that matter where it is.

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I wanted to pick up only one point from the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. He seemed to be accusing us of a degree of illogicality in that we had accepted the provision on race discrimination in relation to private member clubs, although at the time we had pointed out that the position was an infringement of people's liberty. Obviously, there was no need to change that later when we were in government. That would have sent out completely the wrong messages. The noble Lord said that the same should therefore apply in relation to sex discrimination. But at the same time, he is prepared—and I am grateful to him for doing so—to make an enormous exemption in relation to sex discrimination in terms of excluding single sex clubs.

I worry that this is merely a first step and that, later, the noble Lord, with his desire to push all forms of so-called anti-discrimination legislation as far as they can be pushed, will return with another Bill—it will no doubt be promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Lester—which will say that even single sex clubs are unlawful. I wait to see that in due course. It depends on what happens to this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has quite sensibly suggested a figure of 1,500. He suggested 2,000 at an earlier stage, but that did not meet with the Committee's approval. We have therefore come forward with the compromise of 1,500. If that does not find the approval of the House, perhaps we will come forward with another figure on Third Reading, when we can argue out the issue. I imagine that the noble Lord will not wish to press the amendment today.

All I should like to say now, as we are coming on to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is that we are very grateful for the fact that, despite his belief that sex discrimination legislation should ultimately be extended to all clubs, he has seen fit to table an amendment which I suspect the entire House can support as it addresses a great many of the problems that have been highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, by myself and by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for giving way. As he has put his name to Amendment No. 1, he obviously supports the status quo. It is generally agreed that the status quo entails second-class membership—or second-class association, for associate members—for women as opposed to men. Perhaps he will tell us how he can justify supporting an arrangement that makes women second class.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness—as I was to the noble Lord, Lord Lester—for promoting me from the rank of mere Baron to that of Viscount. I shall leave that with the Leader of the House, who no doubt can offer advice to the Government for my promotion in due course.

As the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said, I do not intend to try to justify this because it is a matter for the clubs themselves to decide. As he also said, it is not proportionate for Parliament itself to seek to tell clubs,

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"This is what you must do". Why cannot clubs decide these matters for themselves? He also very sensibly made the practical point that the provision would positively discourage some clubs from moving in the direction preferred by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley. I have no doubt that most clubs will eventually move that way. In one club of which I was a member—the Carlton Club; there is no reason why I should not mention it—I voted for women to come in. I may wish in due course to do the same in other clubs of which I am a member. The sheer economics of clubs pushes them in that way.

Baroness O'Cathain: Oh my!

Lord Henley: My Lords, this is a matter for clubs themselves to decide. It is not something that Parliament should seek to impose on clubs. As my noble friend Lady O'Cathain seemed to say from a sedentary position that this should not be a matter of economics, I shall merely make the point that there are single-sex clubs that are simply dying on their feet. That is why some wish to go along the road of partially extending membership, or possibly allowing women in on certain occasions. Again, however, it is a matter that should be left to the clubs to decide for themselves.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I apologise for making a sedentary comment. However, it is absolutely outrageous to suggest that a club which is on its uppers and has male members should bring in women to fund the men's fun. Really!

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am terribly sorry, but I feel that my noble friend has misunderstood my position. She only has to go into certain clubs to see that many clubs have insufficient membership. Social change has made people want to behave differently and many people do not want to stick with a club. That is why some clubs change. They do not change merely to bring women in to spend more money. They change in line with society. However, the clubs themselves must decide that and not busybodies in this House or in another place.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I should like to finish the point by reminding my noble friend, whom I greatly admire, of the old saying, "When you're in a hole, stop digging".

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships that I have not taken part in the various stages of this Bill so far, but I have read very carefully what has appeared in Hansard. I join my noble friend Lord Henley in being extremely shocked by the attempt of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to take this as a party matter. I remind him that when he—unsuccessfully, thank goodness—proposed in a London theatre that the Garrick Club should admit women, he and a large number of others were told by Mr Derek Nimmo that he had taken a considerable survey of women as to whether they wanted to join the

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Garrick Club and they universally said, "Over my dead body". These were the female members of the staff.

I also ask the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner and Lord Lester, to consider a certain problem. I am terribly sorry, but if their Bill were to be enacted they would get 400 extremely angry women loosed on them. I am a member of a club which I accept has a very expensive subscription. It has 400 wives and unmarried daughters of club members, commonly known as LAMs—lady associate members—who pay one tenth of the subscription paid by male members. Are the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner and Lord Lester, suggesting that they should pay the other nine tenths, or that they should be chucked out totally, or what? I consulted that club last weekend, and it believes that enactment of this Bill would be a very difficult problem.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, perhaps I should begin by saying that I have just been advised to be gentle. However, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, started by saying that this is a probing amendment. I very much hope that he will not press it. I also speak very confidently on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition in supporting entirely everything that the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has said. I shall therefore be brief.

I entirely disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, when he says that this Bill goes too far. Indeed, from a personal standpoint, I do not think it goes far enough. This is not a numbers game; surely the numbers are irrelevant. It is a small point, and the Bill affects only a small category of clubs, but it is symbolic. As a matter of principle, I believe that the Bill ought to apply to any club that has a membership of more than one and admits both men and women.

I am nevertheless glad that the remaining amendments clarify an insecure and uncertain situation which was quite rightly debated at length in Committee. This Bill does not apply to single-sex clubs, and nor does it apply to the guests and the well-being of the guests of single-sex clubs. I say to my noble friend Lord Henley that, in the event that a Bill were introduced to outlaw—if I may put it that way—single-sex clubs, I would be most hesitant to support it. There are ladies-only clubs, and long may they live.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I have been exhorted to be very short and I shall try to do so. I am in total sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester. Not surprisingly, but with great regret, I am totally out of sympathy with my noble friend Lord Borrie. Notwithstanding the very kind comments that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has made about my swift answering of his Question, I also find myself out of sympathy with him. I must say, however, that the past few moments have given me great enjoyment.

I think that we have heard today echoes of old debates—debates in this House on the freedom of slaves, on women's suffrage and on racial

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discrimination—and on each of those occasions I think it was said that matters should be allowed to evolve. I should confess an interest, both as a woman and a person of colour, that in relation to suffrage and discrimination matters were not allowed to evolve—hence I give thanks, because otherwise I doubtless would not stand in your Lordships' House.

In the area of discrimination, which still continues, in relation to women's equal rights in clubs, matters were left to evolve. That has lasted a long time. Notwithstanding my intention to be brief, perhaps I may remind your Lordships of something that was said in 1958, since when there have been changes. The Dowager Marchioness of Reading, Baroness Swanborough, said about the House:

    "I have not been to such an interesting school in my life. The House of Lords is a delicious place to be in. People move so slowly, nobody runs down passages, nobody uses used envelopes, nobody does anything for himself if he can ask a gentleman with a gold chain to do it for him".

The Baroness Wootton of Abinger said in 1958:

    "There are strongholds that have not yet been breached. We look forward to a far greater distinction than entry into the House of Lords, and that is entry for women into the Athenaeum Club".

Historic matters. We cannot wait for very much longer. This is a small, modest Bill. It does not right all the wrongs that need to be righted, but it goes some way towards doing so.

Twenty five is not a number taken at random. It is the number used in the 1964 Licensing Act. In England and Wales in 2001, there were 3,748 commercial private clubs, proprietary clubs, owned by an individual or company, and 22,037 non-profit-making registered clubs, political clubs, working men's clubs, Royal British Legion clubs, sports clubs, and so on. All those have bars. In Scotland, there were 2,556 registered clubs with liquor licences. The figure for licensing is taken at 25. So there is a well-trammelled distinction that 25 is the cut-off point at which private endeavour moves into the public arena. We have heard nothing today to cause us to believe that 25 is not the correct figure.

Notwithstanding the huge joy that I have had listening to this debate, I believe that the fun should stop here. I therefore ask the noble Lords not to press the amendment.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Borrie will not be surprised that I cannot invite the House to accept his amendment. The consequences of doing so would be similar to those described by many of your Lordships in Committee when we considered the amendment, also moved by my noble friend Lord Borrie, to make the threshold 2,000.

In practical terms, the amendment would remove the overwhelming majority of private members' clubs from the scope of the Bill. To be fair to my noble friend, I believe that that is exactly what he wants to do. For example, in the case of working men's clubs affiliated to the Club and Institute Union, it would

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take 2,539 clubs, with between 25 and 1,500 members, out of the scope of the Bill and leave only 163, with over 1,500 members, within it.

To allow a significant proportion of those clubs—almost 60 per cent—to continue to practise sex discrimination would not only be wrong, but, as the CIU national executive knows only too well and has said on a number of occasions, would also be much against their commercial interests.

The effect of the noble Lord's amendment on golf clubs would be even more drastic. The Royal and Ancient Golfer's handbook for 2001 shows that there are 1,764 clubs, of which only six had more than 1,500 members. Thus, virtually every golf club would be removed from the scope of the Bill.

Support for the Bill comes very strongly from the Ladies' Golf Union, which says:

    "The vast network of volunteers and staff promotes, maintains and regulates amateur ladies' golf at all levels throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland and, as such, welcomes any positive steps to improve the level of services and facilities offered to its members and prospective members".

I have received a similar letter of support from the chief executive of the Central Council for Physical Recreation in which, answering the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, she comments:

    "Of course, the current situation prevents many men from enjoying the benefits of associate membership (i.e. reduced fees for playing at less popular times), so there are potential benefits for both sexes. There is no sensible reason for different baselines on gender and race".

I have received a number of endorsements from other organisations, particularly the Equal Opportunities Commission, that want to see the Bill go through.

However, in view of the lateness of the hour—I know that noble Lords want to progress to other subjects—I shall finish with the question: why 25? My noble friend the Minister referred to the Licensing Act. The much missed and much loved Lord Harris of Greenwich, the senior Home Office Minister who, on behalf of the government, piloted the Race Relations Bill through this House, offered the following definition of why 25 was the right number:

    "I acknowledge at once that it is a somewhat arbitrary dividing line, and I would not suggest otherwise. The reason is that 25 is the minimum number of members a club must have in order to qualify for registration under the Licensing Acts".

It was the right number for the Race Relations Bill, and it is the right number for the Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Bill. I hope that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.

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