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Equal Opportunities For Men

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 31 January 1979

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4.28 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require employers to accord equal retirement rights to men and women; to provide for paternity leave; and to ban sundry other discriminatory employment practices,'
the Bill to be entitled "Equal Opportunities for Men Bill."

There are two main respects in which the rights of men in employment have been left far behind those of women. The first is that women, fairly and properly, are entitled to retire at the age of 60 on pension. Men, whose expectation of life is five years less than that of women, have to wait until 65.

There is no justice, no compassion, no rhyme and no reason in this arrangement. Since my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) and I started campaigning, with many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, to have this rule changed so that men and women would have the right to voluntary retirement at the age of 60, we have received many hundreds of letters from people all over the country asking that Parliament should put an end to the unnecessary hardship that is caused. Many of these letters were from women—wives, mothers and sisters—all of them complaining of the hardship caused to their menfolk, and asking only for equal rights.

There can be no logical reason for this distinction between the rights of men and women workers in a world in which women have equal pay and equal rights. The only answer that we receive when we ask why this reasonable reform should not be made is that it would be too expensive.

I submit to the House that the expense of the present arrangement, under which hundreds of thousands of men are forced to stay at work when they ought to be allowed a recent and dignified retirement, is great. And so is the expense of keeping out of their jobs hundreds of thousands of young people who are desperate for work. We must set off against the cost of the additional pensions the human as well as the financial cost of unemployment and social security benefits which are paid to younger people who should be doing jobs that the older people are forced to retain.

Our retirement system is ludicrous. Those who wish to retire have to stay at work and those who wish to work are unable to do so; those who are unemployed are left without jobs while those who are employed and who want to stay on beyond retirement age are forced into retirement which they do not want.

The entire system needs reconsideration. As a first step, we should fix the same retirement age for men and for women. If we cannot do that at once because of the cost, let the House at least commit itself in principle to moving in this direction. Perhaps we should start reducing men's retirement age by a year at a time. But let us at least begin changing a system that is so unfair and that causes so much unnecessary hardship to those who have to remain at work as well as to those forced to remain out of work.

The second reform that I propose is much less costly. It is minor, but it could bring much happiness to families. At present, if a woman has her baby and leaves her job she normally gets maternity pay for up to six weeks. She may also return to her job. So she is protected. But when she has her baby, should her husband wish to be with her or to look after the other children while she is in hospital, or to be at home when she returns with the baby, he normally loses his pay.

At a time when a young couple most need money, they are forced to make a choice either of being separated or of not having that money. It is a thoroughly unfair system, and the people who suffer from it most are the women, not the men. The inequality that this creates causes far more hardship for the wife than it does for the husband.

Paternity leave would cost an employer seven days' pay on perhaps two or three occasions in the working life of the average male employee. That is a small amount compared to the happiness that paid paternity leave would produce.

Some employers already have arrangements for paternity leave. Some employers—perhaps 3 per cent.—already allow fathers to be away without loss of pay while their children are being born. But they are a very small minority. This Bill would bring the rest up to the standards of the best. The cost would be small and the benefit great.

This Bill has the support of the Equal Opportunities Commission. I pay tribute to that much maligned body, to Lady Lockwood, to Lady Howe and to their staff. They recognise that those of us who have campaigned long and hard for equal rights for women have in the main succeeded, and that the time has come for us to acknowledge that equal rights for men, particularly in terms of retirement, present a need which must be met. They recognise that all persons in employment should have equal and fair treatment.

I therefore ask the House at least to give leave for the Bill to be introduced as a measure of our concern. I am happy to say that the Bill has support from hon. Members on both sides of the House—of hon. Gentlemen and of hon. Ladies.

4.36 p.m.

The House may find it a little strange that I should be seeking to oppose a Ten Minute Bill, but it is for that purpose that I rise. The Bill that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) seeks to introduce has three separate purposes: to reduce the retirement age for men to 60, to make the granting of paternity leave compulsory, and to make certain amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. I believe that all three purposes are unrealistic and profoundly objectionable.

I deal with the first proposal concerning retirement. The hon. and learned Member almost ignored—he passed over it very lightly—what would be the cost to public funds of his suggestion. That comes as no surprise to us on the Opposition Benches. Too often it is idealism, and I believe, in this case, mistaken idealism, which triumphs over realism. Almost a year ago the Minister for Social Security told the House the cost of reducing the retirement age for men from 65 to 60. He told my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Smith) that
"the additional long-term cost to public funds of reducing men's pension age to 60 is estimated to be of the order of £2,500 million a year."—[Official Report, 8 February 1978; Vol. 943, c. 574.]
Not only the Minister rightly drew attention to the enormous increase in public expenditure. The opponents of this Bill have another ally. I refer to the goodly doctor—not my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) or my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) but the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dr. Johannes Witteveen, one of whose principal proteges and most assiduous pupils is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That goodly doctor is on the side of the hon. Member for Eastbourne.

In a letter dated 15 December 1976 to Dr. Johannes Witteveen, the Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote:
"an essential element of the Government's strategy will be a continuing and substantial reduction over the next few years in the share of resources required for the public sector."
I commend that intention to hon. Members below the Gangway as well as my own Front Bench.

On 15 December 1977 the Chancellor whote a similar letter to Dr. Witteveen, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund at that time. With an air of triumph he wrote:
"The ratio of public expenditure to national income has been reduced."
He continued:
"The Government is determined to continue its firm control of public spending".
It is reasonable to assume that when this matter is decided in the Lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and the entire Cabinet will abstain.

I turn to the proposal on paternity leave. I believe it to be a grotesque proposal. If paternity leave is granted as a right to those of us who succeed in becoming fathers, it will result in a direct incitement to a population explosion. It would also remove from this House some of its most virile and splendid Members who might be away on several occasions for whatever period might be prescribed.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is the father of three children. So far I have only two. Think what a burden would be placed upon the House if my wife should have a third child—I might be absent for six weeks. There would be a queue of applicants at the birth of every child in order to assert paternity. Men would be saying "We are anxious to be fathers" so that they could have compulsory leave under the Bill.

There would also be a dramatic increase in moonlighting, because while those fathers were on leave they would earn large sums of tax-free money. I believe that the proposal is one which has only to be examined to see its absurdity.

I turn to the amendments that are proposed to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. The House will recall that the measure received its Second Reading on 26 March 1975. The voting was 104 in favour of the Second Reading and five against. I am glad to be able to recount to the House, and to remind my constitutents, that I was one of the five who voted against that Bill—a decision that I have not regretted in the least.

I feel that the proposal to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 could turn out to be a lawyers' paradise and a

Division No.56]

AYES

[4.45 p.m.

Archer, Rt Hon PeterGeorge, BruceMadden, Max
Ashley, JackGinsburg, DavidMagee Bryan
Ashton, JoeGolding, JohnMallalieu, J. P. W.
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Gould, BryanMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Graham, TedMellish, Rt Hon Robert
Bates, AlfGrant, George (Morpeth)Mikardo, Ian
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Grimond, Rt Hon J.Miller, Dr M. S.(E Kilbride)
Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurGrocott, BruceMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Bottomley, PeterHamilton, James (Bothwell)Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Boyden, James (Bish Auck)Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyMorris, Rt Hon Charles R.
Bradley, TomHayman, Mrs HeleneMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Heffer, Eric S.Morton, George
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Hicks, RobertMudd, David
Canavan, DennisHome Robertson, JohnMurray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Carter-Jones, LewisHooson, EmlynNewens, Stanley
Clemitson, IvorHowells, Geraint (Cardigan)Newton, Tony
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)Noble, Mike
Cohen, StanleyHuckfield, LesOakes, Gordon
Coleman, DonaldHughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Orbach, Maurice
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Ovenden, John
Cronin, JohnJanner, GrevillePalmer, Arthur
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)John, BrynmorPardoe, John
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Johnson, James (Hull West)Park, George
Davies, Rt Hon DenzilJohnson, Walter (Derby S)Parry, Robert
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Jones, Barry (East Flint)Pavitt, Laurie
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Kelley, RichardPendry, Tom
Dempsey, JamesKerr, RussellPenhaligon, David
Dewar, DonaldKilfedder, JamesPrice, C. (Lewisham W)
Doig, PeterKilroy-Silk, RobertRadice, Giles
Dormand, J. D.Knox, DavidRichardson, Miss Jo
Edge, GeoffLambie, DavidRoberts, Albert (Normanton)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Lamond, JamesRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
English, MichaelLangford-Holt, Sir JohnRobertson, George (Hamilton)
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)Litterick, TomRooker, J. W.
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Loyden, EddieSedgemore, Brian
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)Selby, Harry
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonSever, John
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McCartney, HughShaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Forrester, JohnMcDonald, Dr OonaghSilkin, Rt Hon S. C.(Dulwich)
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Skinner, Dennis
Garrett, John (Norwich S)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)

citizens' nightmare. I call in aid the hon. and learned Member himself. Inside the cover of one of his books, "The Employers' Guide to the Law on Health, Safety and Welfare at Work", the hon. and learned Gentleman is described in this way—these are not my words; they are the words of the publisher or perhaps of the hon. and learned Gentleman himself:

"He is not only an expert in the law as it affects the businessman but is also endowed with a special gift of explaining it, without drowning the reader in a sea of technicalities and legal jargon".

However, I believe that the House has been submerged in a sea of technicalities and legal jargon and I hope that leave will not be granted to introduce so mischievous and regressive a Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13, (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):

The House divided: Ayes 150, Noes 115.

Smith, Dudley (Warwick)Torney, TomWilley, Rt Hon Fredrick
Spriggs, LeslieWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Stallard, A. W.Walker, Terry (Kingswood)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Steel, Rt Hon DavidWard, MichaelWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)Welsh, AndrewWoodall, Alec
Stoddart, DavidWhite, Frank R. (Bury)
Stott, RogerWhitehead, PhillipTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)Whitlock, WilliamMiss Janet Fookes and
Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)Wigley, DafyddMrs. Margaret Bain.
Tierney, Sydney

NOES

Aitken, JonathanHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Nelson, Anthony
Baker, KennethHarrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)Neubert, Michael
Beith, A. J.Hastings, StephenNott, John
Bell, RonaldHayhoe, BarneyOppenheim, Mrs Sally
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)Heseltine, MichaelPage, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Benyon, W.Holland, PhilipPage, Richard (Workington)
Berry, Hon AnthonyHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Parkinson, Cecil
Biffen, JohnHunt, David (Wirral)Pattie, Geoffrey
Body, RichardHutchison, Michael ClarkPeyton, Rt Hon John
Boscawen, Hon RobertJames, DavidPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Bradford, Rev RobertJenkin, Rt Hon P.(Wants'd&W'df'd)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Brooke, Hon PeterJopling, MichaelPrice, David (Eastleigh)
Brotherton, MichaelKimball, MarcusRathbone, Tim
Buck, AntonyKitson, Sir TimothyRees-Davies, W. R.
Budgen, NickLawrence, IvanRenton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Burden, F. A.Lawson, NigelRhodes James, R.
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Le Marchant, SpencerRidley, Hon Nicholas
Cockcroft, JohnLoveridge, JohnRifkind, Malcolm
Colquhoun, Ms MaureenMcCrindle, RobertRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Cope, JohnMcCusker, H.Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Cormack, PatrickMacfarlane, NeilRoyle, Sir Anthony
Costain, A. P.MacGregor, JohnShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Crouch, DavidMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)Spence, John
Dodsworth, GeoffreyMarten, NeilSteen, Anthony (Wavertree)
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardMates, MichaelStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Dykes, HughMather, CarolStokes, John
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnMeyer, Sir AnthonyStradling Thomas, J.
Fairbairn, NicholasMills, PeterTebbit, Norman
Fairgrieve, RussellMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Farr, JohnMoate, RogerViggers, Peter
Fell, AnthonyMolyneaux, JamesWells, John
Finsberg, GeoffreyMonro, HectorWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Fisher, Sir NigelMontgomery, FergusWiggin, Jerry
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Moore, John (Croydon C)Young, Sir G.(Ealing, Acton)
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Glyn, Dr AlanMorgan, GeraintTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Goodhew, VictorMorgan-Giles, Rear-AdmiralMr. Ian Gow and
Goodlad, AlastairMorris, Michael (Northampton S)Mr. Michael Spicer.
Gorst, JohnMorrison, Hon Peter (Chester)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. Ronald Atkins, Mrs. Margaret Bain, Miss Janet Fookes, Mrs. Helene Hayman, Mr. Eric S. Heffer, Mr. David Knox, Mr. Norman Miscampbell, Mr. David Mudd, Miss Jo Richardson, Mr. John Sever and Mr. Michael Stewart.

Equal Opportunities For Men

Mr. Greville Janner accordingly presented a Bill to require employers to accord equal retirement rights to men and women; to provide for paternity leave; and to ban sundry other discriminatory employment practices; And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 4 May and to be printed. [Bill 67.]