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Trade Unions Etc: Elective Bodies

Volume 897: debated on Saturday 16 August 1975

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Lords amendment: No. 31, after Clause 46, in page 29, line 27, at end insert the following Clause C:

'C.—(1) If an organisation to which section 12 applies comprises a body the membership of which is wholly or mainly elected, nothing in section 12 shall render unlawful provision which ensures that a minimum number of persons of one sex are members of the body—
  • (a) by reserving seats on the body for persons of that sex; or
  • (b) by making extra seats on the body available (by election or co-option or otherwise) for persons of that sex on occasions when the number of persons of that sex in the other seats is below the minimum,
  • where in the opinion of the organisation the provision is in the circumstances needed to secure a reasonable lower limit to the number of members of that sex serving on the body, and nothing in Parts II to IV shall render unlawful any act done in order to give effect to such a provision.
    (2) This section shall not be taken as making lawful—
  • (a) discrimination in the arrangements for determining the persons entitled to vote in an election of members of the body, or otherwise to choose the persons to serve on the body, or
  • (b) discrimination in any arrangements concerning membership of the organisation itself."
  • I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

    The clause provides that trade unions and other bodies to which Clause 12 applies may take special steps to encourage persons of one sex to become members or to train persons of one sex for posts of any kind within the organisation and encourage them to take advantage of opportunities for holding such posts, where that sex has in the past been under-represented among the members or officials of the organisation. In effect, this takes account of the fact that in many unions women may need some special encouragement if they are to overcome any diffidence and any assumption that union affairs are more naturally the preserve of men, and come to play a full and equal part within the bodies that represent them.

    New Clause C seeks to take this principle one step further by allowing the reservation or creation of places for persons of a particular sex on committees, delegate conferences and other elected bodies within the organisation. I think we have to accept that, for a multitude of reasons, those women who participate actively at all levels within their unions together with men are the exception rather than the rule. A number of unions have attempted to alter this pattern by steps designed both to encourage women to participate fully in union affairs and to ensure that women are seen to be working alongside men on the decision-making bodies of the organisation. The Government feel that for the Bill to force those unions which have chosen this means of encouraging women's participation to abolish those arrangements at once would be a retrograde step of no benefit to either sex. Should other unions choose to follow the example of the few who have made such arrangements, we feel they should be allowed to do so.

    Over time, we hope that it will generally cease to be necessary to take any special steps to ensure the representation of women, and a further amendment, which was agreed in another place and which we shall be considering shortly, will enable this new clause to be amended or repealed entirely when no longer needed. More and more a person's sex should become an irrelevance in the selection of representatives—men and women alike will put themselves forward and be chosen on merit. Until that day comes, and in the interests of speeding its arrival, I hope hon. Members will agree to the new clause contained in the Lords amendment.

    Question put and agreed to.