I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
I beg to move,
We are debating today the impact of the economic recession, particularly on women. This debate is long overdue. It is being listened to by women throughout the country. Many women representing organisations have written to me on particular aspects of the recession and its impact on women. If we cast our minds back to the general election, we recall that many women voted for the Prime Minister. They voted for the Prime Minister not because she was a monetarist, not because she was a militarist, not because she was a reactionary and not because she was a Tory. They voted for her not because they wanted at least 3· million unemployed, and not because they wanted cuts in the National Health Service nor in State education. They voted for the right hon. Lady because she, too, was a woman. They believed that because of her sex she would advance the cause of women's equality. How wrong they were. It was the biggest political error since Neville Chamberlain—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are the Tories?"]That this House condemns the disastrous effects on employment of Her Majesty's Government's economic policies and their particularly damaging impact on the social and economic position of women.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not disgraceful that there are very few Conservative Members in the Chamber? Is not that an indication of the Government's attitude to women in society?
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that attendance in the Chamber is not compulsory.
On a point of order—
Order. This is not a point of order. I can understand the hon. Gentleman's feeling, but it is not a point of order to me even if the Benches are empty—as long as there are two hon. Members present we keep going.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be in order to suspend the sitting?
Order. I have already said that this is not a point of order. Suspend the sitting indeed!
The women who voted for the Prime Minister because she was a woman made the biggest political error since Neville Chamberlain was heard to say that Hitler had missed the bus. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has already pointed out that there are only six or seven Conservative Members in the Chamber at the moment. That fact will go out to the public who are watching the debate with great interest, and who will see it as a demonstration of how little concern the Government have for the position of women.The right hon. Lady has a commendable public stance on the treatment of women and on the Equal Pay Act. On the Second Reading of the Equal Pay Bill in 1970, she said:
We all know that that is true. However, that was the right hon. Lady's public stance. The private stance of the right hon. Lady and her Government is different, as the recent submission to the European Commission of Human Rights in defence of their sexist and racist immigration rules shows. That submission says:"One of the reasons why … women go out to work is the quite ordinary one that the wife needs to work to keep up a good standard of living for the family."—[Official Report, 9 February 1970; Vol. 795, c. 1024.]
Unemployment among women is escalating at a great rate. It is difficult to obtain precise figures of this. However, we know that the estimated figures given by the Government are in error, and the true figure is possibly double the Government's figure, just as the official unemployment figures are much less than the figures of which we have evidence. The Department of Employment figures show that 71,000 women have been dropped from the unemployment register because of the new way of compiling the unemployment figures. That is a fact that cannot be disputed. In addition, the work availability tests just introduced are likely to make it more difficult for women to work, assuming that a job is available. The Government justify this test on the ground that women with children were signing on and claiming benefits because it was easy money. Thus, according to many people who are not concerned with the advancement of women in our society—most Members of the Government and the Conservative Party are in that position—women in work earn pin money. This same attitude carries over when women are out of work as well. It is not that women are not available for work; it is that the jobs are not available for them. The failure of this Government to expand the economy and to ensure investment has had a disproportionate effect upon women. That has to be taken in conjunction with the failure to expand day nurseries and nursery schools to meet women's requirements, and the limiting of local authority provisions for the elderly and handicapped. It is a well known fact that at any time in our history women in the 35 to 54 years age group are those most likely to be called upon to give up their jobs and stay at home to look after elderly and handicapped relatives and dependants. That has been compounded by the present Government because local authority facilities have been squeezed. These women give up their jobs and are judged not to be available for work because they have to care for elderly and dependent relatives. In addition, if they are married, they are denied the invalidity care allowance because it is judged that married women should be at home to fulfil those tasks. Their invalidity care allowance would cost the Government £40 million. The poor position created for women under this Government is further compounded by low pay. Attention to the needs of the low paid is something that has received little notice from the Government. There are 7 million low-paid workers in this country, three-quarters of whom are women. National insurance contributions for employees have increased from 6·3 per cent. to 9 per cent. of wages since 1979. As it is a regressive wage tax, it hits low incomes most, which is bound to hit women most. For example, women earning half of the average male wage will pay 9 per cent. of their earnings on national insurance next year. Someone earning five times the average male wage will pay only 2·4 per cent. of their income on national insurance. How many women earn five times the average male wage? Very few of them do. The impact of that alone on the low-paid has been to reduce their standard of living. Next April, a woman earning £32·50 a week will pay £2·90 on national insurance. Worse still, many women employed on a seasonal or a piece-rate basis will make contributions that will not entitle them to benefits. The Government are abolishing the fair wages resolution in Government contracts. In 1980 the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service showed that, for example, two-fifths of all cleaners earned less than £1·10 an hour. ACAS recommended the formation of a wages council as a way of dealing with that. Instead of listening, the Government are abolishing the fair wages resolution and are putting nothing in its place. I am not arguing that the resolution provided adequate protection, because it did not, but it offered a basis of protection. The abolition of the resolution opens the floodgates of competition based on under-cutting those already on low wages to provide the cheapest possible tender. There was an example of this on 23 December 1980, when a Government cleaning firm was indicted for using illegal child labour and fiddling national insurance contributions to put forward the lowest possible tender and gain the job. Perhaps the Minister would like me to remind her of the words of Mr. Harold Macmillan in the debate in the House on the fair wages resolution, which have now become prophetic. He said:"Women are not necessarily bound to compete for employment and are unlikely to be breadwinners. Women as breadwinners are unusual, … Society still expects the man to work and the woman to stay at home. This is a fact of life, a common pattern. The majority of women do not threaten the labour market."
The resolution made some contribution to protection, but now it has been removed and nothing has been put in its place. As a result of the Employment Act 1980, protection must now be earned through length of service. It has been traditional in the United Kingdom—this is now being challenged, and I am glad that it is—that a woman's main occupation is in the home. Therefore, if women are part-time workers, they cannot compete for earned rights and lose out on basic employment protection either as part-time workers or as short-time workers. Two out of five women are part-time workers compared with one out of 20 men. Those working less than 16 hours a week and who have not been with the same firm for more than two years are for the most part excluded from protective legislation. Because of that, unfair dismissal is not applicable unless the provisions to which I referred, such as the two-year length of service, have been fulfilled. Part-time women workers are most vulnerable to redundancy and poor employment conditions. Without fulfilling the requirements that I have mentioned, they are not entitled to job reinstatement or antenatal and postnatal leave. No other European Community country imposes on maternity rights a period of qualifying service. In 1981, the Department of Employment Gazette said that 1 million women had lost protection as a result of the employment legislation."For the moment, therefore, this clause is not very important, but the time may come when the bubble is broken, when we shall have some new economy drive … with the Treasury trying to cut down the expenditure of Departments by forcing them to take contracts brought down somehow or another to the lowest possible figure. When that happens this Motion … will … be … once again the great protection of the standard of life of the mass of the wage earning classes".—[Official Report, 14 October 1946; Vol. 427, c. 633.]
Is my hon. Friend aware of the discussions that will take place tomorrow at the national joint industrial council for local authority manual workers about the removal of the retainer for part-time school-meals staff? Is it not disgraceful that local authorities such as the Tory-controlled Kent county council should seek to remove payment to those part-time workers so that they do not have to pay wages during the summer when the schools are on holiday? Is not that another example of the nasty, mean, vicious attack on women that the Tory party is perpetuating?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. What is now happening generally to part-time workers demonstrates a lack of concern for women in particular and a lack of protection for part-time workers in general.There have been various moves to make it more difficult for women to obtain maternity rights. Firms employing fewer than six people are exempt from the duty to reinstate or to offer suitable alternative work to people on maternity leave. There can be no justification for making women's rights dependent on the size of the employed force. A Department of Employment survey of small firms recently showed that there was no great problem for women seeking maternity leave, but no other Community country imposes such restrictions. The Government are proud of the fact that the Act gives women the right to take time to visit ante-natal clinics and so on, but there are now complicated procedures for maternity leave. Under the Labour Government, women simply had to inform the employer that they were leaving and would be returning at the proper time after they had had their children. Under the Tories, they must state in writing when they intend to leave, give the assumed date of confinement and state when they will return to work. A woman must also give 21 days notice of return instead of the seven days that applied under the Labour Government. All employers need offer only suitable alternative work whereas before that happened only in cases of redundancy. Therefore, a woman offered reinstatement on worse terms, which she could refuse, would also forfeit her right to redundancy pay. The Government have moved to make the maternity grant non-contributory and I welcome that, but they ignore many things, such as the needs of the low-income woman. The £25 grant is well below the needs of the overwhelming majority of women who are eligible for it. It is well below the 1969 figure, and the Equal Opportunities Commission has recommended that it should be raised to £114, inflation-proofed, to bring it more or less in line with its 1969 value. It is far below the value of grants in other European Community countries. For example, it is £445 in Luxembourg and £281 in Belgium. Britain is almost alone in continuing to regard maternity rights as a matter of debate. The choices available to parents in the United Kingdom are severely limited in relation to work and a host of other things. As a result, many women on a small maternity grant must give up work when their child is born, while others are forced to struggle to combine work with motherhood, with very little support from Government agencies. Job segregation is one of the worst areas that affect women. The Department of Employment Gazette says that job segregation is on the increase, despite legislation which the Labour Government tried to introduce to alleviate the problem. This system of industrial apartheid sentences women to a ghetto existence of unskilled, low status, low pay, dead-end jobs and is the greatest impediment to women's advancement. The Government have done nothing to halt the trend towards the greater development of job segregation. In fact, the tendency now is that it is growing, and by their legislation and actions the Government are making things worse. They have contributed towards a perpetuation of low wages by reducing the size of the inspectorates of the wages councils industries by a third. Those industries represent 70 per cent. of women employees. Underpayment is colossal, yet the size of the inspectorate which tries to enforce correct payment has been drastically reduced. In 1970, the Prime Minister supported the Equal Pay Act as another step in the equal pay story. Equal pay under this Government is indeed a story. It is a complete fabrication. Nurses, cleaners and home helps have lost ground since tht Act was implemented, and cleaners and home helps in particular have yet to earn even 50 per cent. of average male earnings. The Act has become increasingly inappropriate to the 1980s. Labour's commitment fundamentally to update the Act is strong and is written into our policy. For example, in 1981, there were only 54 applications under the Act compared with 1,742 in 1976. Experience has shown that the Act is not strong enough, and ways and means have been found of getting around it. The Government have been compelled by the European Court to update the Act. The Equal Opportunities Commission forecast that that would happen and some time ago urged the Government to act now and not be forced to do so by the court. So did the TUC, the National Labour Women's Advisory Commission, private industry, women's organisations and many other groups that were concerned at Britain's shame if the court ruled against the Government. The Government did not listen, and they are now being forced to amend the Act. From the inquiries I have made, the Government intend to introduce legislation to scrape together what they regard as the bare minimum to comply with the court's judgments. We now learn that that essential amendment is to be relegated to a one-and-a-half hour, take-it-or-leave-it debate. That is not good enough. We want the opportunity to debate that matter thoroughly and a chance to amend it and to deal with the many recommendations and arguments that have been put forward about the Equal Pay Act and suggestions for its amendment. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to assure us that it will not be relegated to the debate that my inquiries reveal is proposed.
My hon. Friend has asked the Minister for advice about a certain measure, but it appears that the Government are under the impression that this is a debate about agriculture, fisheries and food because the only Ministers on the Front Bench are agriculture Ministers. This debate is about the unemployment of women which is one of the gravest social problems that we face. There is not one employment Minister on the Front Bench. Every point made by my hon. Friend relates to unemployment or the economy and we are faced with experts on animals, fish and food. That is a gross discourtesy to the House and I hope that we shall have an explanation.
I hesitated to return to my feet because I had hoped that there would be a response from the Government Front Bench so that we could learn why nobody is here to listen to a debate, on women's unemployment and on their deteriorating circumstances and explain the legislation originating recently from the Department of Employment. I find it extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the debate for the Government is not here. I feel sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will refer the points on unemployment to her right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Employment. I find it amazing that he is not here. The House should protest about that and I hope that the message goes out to the country.
Do we assume from the presence of agriculture Ministers only that the Conservative Government believe that women are animals or that they should go back to the land? Which of the two are we to assume?
I am desperately sorry and somewhat ashamed for the House that no answers are forthcoming. Where is the Minister of State who will reply? If he is not here to listen to the debate will the Parliamentary Secretary, who will respond to me in her normal courteous way, guarantee that she will deal with the points that I raise about unemployment? It is vital to the rest of the debate. I give way to the hon. Lady.
I assure the hon. Lady that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Employment will be here shortly and he will be made aware of the points that the hon. Lady has made.
He ought to be here.
It is not the hon. Lady's fault, but I find it extraordinary that someone can deal with points that have been raised without hearing them.
I should like to help my hon. Friend. Does she think it possible that the Government have the debates mixed and think that this is about swine vesicular disease, which comes later?
I think my hon. Friend is right. They are mixed up.
Maybe we are getting nearer the truth and the fact is that they are waiting for the next debate as Ministers do when they come to the Chamber early. If that is the case, it is even more disgraceful.
I do not want to pursue this. The country will have the message that even the Minister who is winding up the debate for the Government and the overwhelming majority of Conservative Members are not in the Chamber.
The Ministers are not.
There are only 16 Labour Back Benchers.
There are more than 16.I have mentioned a number of areas involving women including employment, maternity leave, part-time workers and the lack of women's progress in the wages battle and equal pay. I have dealt with sex discrimination but not as widely as I should like. Will the Minister answer a few questions. How many unemployed women are there in this country? May we have the official figures plus the 71,000 unemployed women that the Department of Employment agrees have been removed from the unemployment register? What do the Government intend to do about low pay and women's position in relation to low pay, which is becoming worse? What do the Government intend to do about women's training, bearing in mind the impact of new technology on women's employment and the fact that TOPS provision for women has been slashed by the Government? There are 493 places on wider opportunity-for-women courses this year. There are well over 1 million unemployed women. The Government say that there will be a modest expansion of that scheme. How modest will that expansion be when we are dealing with a figure of 493? Will the Government find £40 million for married women for invalidity care allowances? Will they do something now about abolishing the household duties test, which was recommended in July 1980 and upon which they have been silent? Will the Government give a positive response to the Equal Opportunities Commission draft code of practice for employers to ensure equal opportunities for women? What do the Government intend to do about updating the Sex Discrimination Act 1975? There was a great deal of confusion on Monday about the abolition of the married man's tax allowance. It makes sense only if it is transferred to child benefits and invalid care as proposed in Labour's programme. Transferable tax will not help the low paid. Will the Minister explain those points? From experience I know what the Minister's response will be. I hear her saying that all those matters must wait until the economy is healthy and competitive. It will mean that under this Government there is no hope for women because there is no hope for the economy. Nothing has been done for women, only to women since the Government came to power—[Interruption.] I had forgotten about the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Dickens), who has just come into the Chamber. Women are not asking for more than their due. We do not ask to be pampered or protected, but opportunities should be afforded to women so that they have a fair chance economically and socially. In the past two decades the women's movement has highlighted the overwhelming economic and social disadvantages of women, particularly working-class women. The Labour Government recognised the disadvantages and introduced the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act and many other changes such as the transfer of child benefit. They were modest measures and we are committed to doing much more. In contrast, the Conservative Government have undermined the progress made and turned their back on 50 per cent. of the population who had high hopes that they would do better.
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
Let me begin by affirming that the Government believe that in a free society responsibilities and burdens should be shared and opportunities made available on equal terms to everyone. Those are the keynotes of our policy towards women and their place in the economy. It is absurd to suggest that our policies take no account of women or work to their detriment. As the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) pointed out, women form half of the electorate; we are as conscious as the Labour Party that half our mandate reposes in them. We welcome the opportunity to state our position. The hon. Lady speculated on why women voted for the woman leader of my party. She went on to say that my right hon. Friend had not served women. Why then do women still support her? The motion begs a number of questions. It presupposes that economic policy must be fragmented and that women are a distinct and fragile group requiring fundamentally different economic treatment if their aspirations are to be met. There are dangers in that approach; it can lead to a view that women's interests in the community's economic life are special, that women are delicate flowers who require protection and are capable of surviving and contributing only in certain circumstances. I resent the implication that women are a drag on society and require to be appeased through soft options and nurtured in an artificial economic reservation. The Government believe that women want to bear their share of the country's economic and social fortunes and that, no less than or in any way distinct from men, they have a vital interest in economic health and competitiveness. The success of our policies to combat inflation and create opportunities for growth will do more than any special approach to improve the circumstances of women. Only thus will women enjoy wider opportunities. I shall not dwell in detail on our general economic policies—'this House recognises that the economic policies of Her Majesty's Government offer the only means of securing long-term improvements in the employment prospects and in the social and economic wellbeing of women.'
Because they are a disaster.
Our policies have been ably expounded recently from the Dispatch Box, for example, in connection with the Chancellor's autumn statement.It is worth emphasising some major points in our economic policy. We believe that wider choice for the individual depends crucially on an expanding base of national wealth. Since the end of 1980 our manufacturing productivity has increased, with output per head rising 13 per cent. The Opposition joked about the fact that I speak from this Dispatch Box about animal welfare; I also speak about food and food prices. They are out of touch if they believe that prices have nothing to do with women. [Interruption.] I hope that the Opposition will let me develop my argument. I listened carefully to the hon. Lady, who was impressive, as usual. Over the 12 months to October the retail price index increased by 6·8 per cent., which is a major step forward and of direct benefit to the consumer. Despite social changes and changes in buying patterns with the growth of supermarkets and hypermarkets, women still do the bulk of the household shopping. An average family now spends about £23 a week on food. Food expenditure is about one-sixth of the total consumer expenditure and food accounts for nearly two-fifths of retail sales to consumers.
I am confused about the hon. Lady's philosophical approach. She does not want us to regard women as a distinct economic group of fragile flowers but she seems to think that the retail price index and inflation are of specific concern to women.
Curbing inflation has a great deal to do with competitiveness, which in turn is related to jobs. The price of food is a significant item in every household budget and is important to women.The diligence of women and their keen interest in prices stimulate competition in food retailing and help to restrain food prices. Under this Government the price of food has increased much less rapidly than other retail prices. Since May 1979 the price of food has risen by 32 per cent. compared with 50 per cent. for all other prices. This year the retail food price index has shown no increase compared with January. That is good news. Food price inflation is being brought under control. The amount that each household needs to spend on food is barely changing. That is the first time that that has happened for a decade or more. I have often spoken from the Dispatch Box when food prices have not been so stable; I am delighted to be here on this occasion.
The hon. Lady claims credit for the Government for lowering the rise in the price of food and lowering inflation. In Halifax we have 6,700 people unemployed. The number has risen rapidly recently under her Government. Can she explain to the women of Halifax, particularly those who are unemployed, why unemployment is going up while inflation is coming down?
Inflation is going down gradually and our lack of competitiveness has prevailed under several Governments. Keeping down public expenditure will make us competitive and help to provide jobs.The hon. Lady knows the women of Halifax, but the opinion polls suggest that they understand that they cannot be especially protected in the deepest world recession for half a century. Lower inflation helps to reduce industry's costs, which allows greater economic activity and increased competitiveness. Lowering inflation is an important component of our strategy. The falling rate is one factor in the general downward trend in interest rates. It is a welcome development in an economy hard pressed by the world recession and by past failures to compete. Another factor, to which I have just referred, is our success in bringing Government borrowing under better control. That has necessitated a hard look at Government spending. I noticed the recklessness with which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough was handing out promises on behalf of her party to spend on this and to spend on that. If ever that occurred, we would see recourse to the IMF in the same circumstances as before.
I shall not give way. I have given way a number of times.Our critics have charged that, in pursuing a policy of greater prudence in public expenditure, we have acted with unwarranted harshness towards women because of the impact on services and facilities of particular benefit to them. That is a cavalier over-simplification. First, it is not the case that expenditure has been cut across the board without regard to effects or priorities. For example, expenditure in the National Health Service has increased by 16 per cent. in real terms since the Government came to office. We are particularly concerned to improve the quality of maternity services in the National Health Service. Following the 1980 report of the Select Committee on Social Services on perinatal and neonatal mortality, we set up the maternity services advisory committee. The committee has recently produced its first report—on antenatal care—and is at present considering care in labour and childbirth. The committee's reports are intended as guidelines to good practice for health authorities and the professions. Secondly, we have not restrained spending without regard to the level of services offered. Our approach has been to examine the possibilities for better management and for getting a better return for public money invested. Thus, it is misleading to equate levels of expenditure with levels of performance. Increasing the efficiency with which public funds are used is very much part of our economic strategy, and is reflected in a number of wide-ranging services of Government programmes as well as the emphasis that we are now placing on better financial management systems.
Improving effectiveness can go beyond increasing the efficiency of existing services. In some areas, radically new approaches may lead to better solutions. For example, by encouraging the growth of community care facilities, including arrangements for looking after the elderly in their own homes and voluntary schemes to help mothers with pre-school children, we meet important social needs by involving others in the community and avoiding costly and sometimes dehumanised institutional responses.It has been alleged that both with regard to our policy on public expenditure and our wider efforts to achieve stable monetary growth we have damaged not only the interests of women as users but harmed their job prospects. There is no clear evidence that women have had to bear an unfair share of the burden of unemployment.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment, who is to reply, will take up this point.My contention that Government policies work genuinely to the benefit of women may not impress those who are looking for gimmicky or flashy solutions and are not prepared to accept the painstaking and sometimes unpalatable pursuit of a sound economy and effective public services on the ground, but they are not entitled to call into question the Government's commitment to equal opportunities for women. We believe that discrimination on the ground of sex not only exposes individuals to injustice but can lead to a great waste of talent and potential. Hence we continue to support the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the basic legal framework to combat discrimination and unequal treatment. In declaring against discrimination, the Government do not want to prescribe what women should or should not do. We believe that it is right to respect individual choice, either for a woman to work at home, bringing up a family, or to work in paid employment. Hence we have taken a number of steps in pursuit of equal opportunities consistent with that philosophy. The Government have maintained the financial support for the Equal Opportunities Commission, which works towards the elimination of discrimination between men and women and promotes equality of opportunity between men and women generally. The Equal Opportunities Commission continues to provide advice to individuals, employers and unions on the Sex Discrimination Act and related matters. The Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act have approximate equivalents in the European Council directives on equal pay and equal treatment. In addition, in 1978, a third European directive was agreed on the progressive implementation of equal treatment in matters of social security. The United Kingdom is on course to implement it by 1984, which is in the prescribed timetable. The Government have recognised that historically the rules on social security benefits have not reflected the social changes in women's status that have occurred in recent years. We acknowledge that changes relating to equal treatment for men and women should be made. We paved the way for that in the Social Security Act 1980. The Government made it clear during the passage of that Act that they intended to amend the rules of the supplementary benefit and the family incomes supplement schemes from November 1983. Women will be able to claim those benefits for their families on the same terms as men. Provision was also made in the Act for the introduction of similar treatment for men and women claiming contributory benefits. We stated our intention to give effect to the necessary amendments in November 1983 and November 1984. These changes should together yield a significant improvement in the rights of women recognising, among other things, the fact that wives already provide the main source of income in more than one in seven families. The new rules will allow families to respond more effectively, taking account of their own circumstances, talents and aspirations. The Government also recognise the importance of the availability of satisfactory day care and family support services for the young children—
The Government cut them.
If the hon. Gentleman waits, he will hear—both for those mothers who want and need to work for whatever reason and for those mothers who stay at home to look after their children. Those needs cannot, however, be met only by the statutory agencies. They also depend on the facilities provided by voluntary agencies and from within the community itself. We attach great importance to their contribution.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced in the House on Monday 6 December that an extra £2 million would be available in 1983–84 towards support for work with pre-school children. That will help voluntary organisations which work with under-fives and which support families with very young children.
Will the hon. Lady now give the House far more information on that scheme? If she does not intend to do so, will she say when we shall be given that more detailed information?
I shall arrange for my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to give such details as were outlined in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on Monday.
We have in mind schemes which help to make childminding more effective by providing support, training and equipment; home visiting schemes whereby volunteers assist mothers who find life with small children difficult; and community self-help schemes which seek to provide day care for under-fives and support for mothers. We are particularly anxious to encourage schemes which benefit disadvantaged families—for example, one-parent families, those on low incomes where both parents need to work and families with very young children where the parents need help in coping.
Officials are already discussing ideas—
Order. The hon. Lady has made it plain that she is not giving way.
Not to me, anyway.
Officials are already discussing ideas with voluntary bodies to identify ways of achieving these objectives. In 1980 we published a Green Paper which set out a number of options for taxation changes. They were concerned principally with recognising the position of wives as partners in the family unit. We are considering the wide range of comments that have been received on this complex issue.Notwithstanding our belief that the interests of women are best served by our moves to strengthen the economy, we have taken a number of measures in employment and training to overcome the effects of past discrimination to encourage women to enter areas of employment where few have worked hitherto. These measures are the province of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment, and I know that he will have more to say about them. Our support for measures of this sort is not rooted in some sterile ideology which substitutes for the restrictions of the past a rigidly prescribed role for the modern woman. Our approach is to tackle constraints sensibly and pragmatically, to encourage women to exercise choice and responsibility and, rather than to adopt a strident and divisive policy for women, which I find as unappealing as extremes of male chauvinism, to relate our approach to other economic and social policies, including our concern to preserve the integrity of the family. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that we are the party of the family.
The right hon. Lady was wrong.
The Government believe that the family is of fundamental importance to British life. Like every other facet of our society, the family is subject to change. Only one-third of family households correspond to the conventional model of married couples with dependent children. Our aim is to accommodate changes while preserving as much as we can of the traditional strength and virtue of the family.In an ideal world there would undoubtedly be no widows or widowers, no divorces, no isolated and unsupported parents, no orphans or children in care and no old people in institutions. Ours is a caring Government and we believe in giving the greatest help to those in the greatest need.
Does my hon. Friend agree that as the Conservative Party is the party of the family this debate is providing an ideal opportunity to praise the many women who are members of voluntary organisations, which do such a great deal to help the sort of families to which my hon. Friend has referred?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is clear from the jeers that are coming from the Labour Benches that Labour Members are pursuing their usual policy of not believing in voluntary anything. There are no easy answers and we must strike a balance between the minimum of interference with the freedom of families to bring up their children and to care for their elderly people, and responding to the needs of families which need help, such as the long-term unemployed or single parents. This balance has to take account of the fact that the resources available to us are not without limit.
What about the unemployed?
The hon. Gentleman has shouted from a sedentary position several times "What about the unemployed?" We share with the rest of the Western industrialised world levels of unemployment to which we have not been used for a number of years. We must do the best that we can to help those, especially women, who are affected by unemployment within their families. As I have said, the resources available to us are not without limit. Despite this, we have acted to help single parents on supplementary benefit by extending to them long-term scale rates. We have introduced a specially tapered disregard for working single parents.By making the interface between supplementary benefit and family income supplement more flexible, we have given single parents the chance to work a few hours per week and remain on supplementary benefit; later to increase the number of working hours without being penalised for doing so; and still later to work nearly full-time hours and get the benefit of family income supplement. This arrangement offers possibilities for single parents to keep their independence when job opportunities and child-care facilities are available. Such policies reconcile our concern for the family and the individual with the need to respond to those with pressing needs.
The hon. Lady will remember that I put one or two specific questions to her. Her right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment has been kind enough to explain why he was not in the Chamber earlier, and I accept his explanation. Will the hon. Lady respond to what has been said about increasing poverty and difficulty among women who are part-time workers and the effect of recent legislation on them? Secondly, will she take up the increasing job segregation that is taking place and its impact upon women?
I shall leave the questions which the hon. Lady has so carefully enumerated to my right hon. Friend so that she may receive the most comprehensive answers. I return to the theme of the debate.
Get back to your reading.
We do not pretend that the current harsh economic climate does not have an effect upon women. We are not indifferent to the hardship that many of them suffer. We would betray women if we pretended that there were easy options or sought to beguile them with ringing but hollow initiatives and promises, on which the Opposition Front Bench has been fairly strong today. We must adhere to an honest approach and, above all, to our economic strategy, which represents the only durable solution to their problems.
I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has done her best to deal with a situation that she should never have been called upon to tackle. The subject before the House concerns the Government's economic policy and the employment policy of the Department of Employment. It is a contempt of the House and a contempt of the female sex, which is currently the majority of the population, that the Government find it possible only to field the Parliamentary Secretary to speak in a major debate of this sort.
My hon. Friend is a jolly good Minister.
This is no reflection on the personality of the Parliamentary Secretary, but it is a profound reflection on the Government's system of priorities, and every hon. Member knows it. We have been treated to the Parliamentary Secretary in a major debate—I congratulate the Opposition on calling for it—and we have been treated to a late arrival by the Minister of State, Department of Employment, who is responsible for women's employment. There are three other Ministers in the right hon. Gentleman's Department. There are more than four Ministers in the Treasury, and the motion turns on the Government's economic policies. It is nothing but a contempt of the House that we should be treated in this way. I hope that the Government will rue the day on which they dealt with the remarks of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) in this way.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not think the phrase "contempt of the House" should be bandied about. If the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) is serious about the charge, she should pursue it in a proper manner.
The right hon. Lady is making the charge while on her feet.
The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) must make her own speech. I did not hear the phrase, of which complaint has been made.
The hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) knows that my remarks were in order. I say again that it is a contempt of the half of the population who are women that the Government should choose to field a Parliamentary Secretary from an inappropriate Department to respond to a motion that is concerned with employment and the Government's economic policy.The Minister understands—
I wish to pursue this line.The Parliamentary Secretary understandably stuck to her last. She talked about food prices, the retail price index and so on. She addressed herself almost not at all to unemployment among women or to the cuts that have been made in public expenditure in service after service that affect the lives of women. Although the Minister of State is to reply to the debate, I still find it extraordinary that not one Treasury Minister or Employment Minister was present at the beginning of the debate. I can recollect no other debate on any other subject on which a major Division was called for where that type of treatment was handed out by Ministers.
I am obliged to the right hon. Lady for giving way. I in no way attempt to undermine her tone of indignation about me. I have sent a letter of apology to the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) and I repeat my profound apologies to the right hon. Lady. It was entirely due to an unwitting misunderstanding that I was not present when the hon. Member for Eton and Slough opened the debate. I shall do my best in my winding-up speech to make some recompense for my absence.
Of course I accept the right hon. Gentleman's apology. As the House knows, he is a man of great courtesy. Nevertheless, I still feel that if this had been a debate on any major economic subject it is probable that a senior Treasury or Employment Minister would have been present throughout. Perhaps even the Prime Minister might have been present. It is striking that we shall explore the Government's record on the employment and treatment of women and that this is the first Government in this country ever to have been led by a woman. What is more, she is a working, married woman. At no point does the Government's record display any sympathy for the Prime Minister's peers and contemporaries who also happen to be working, family women.We should consider what the hon. Member for Eton and Slough said about the employment figures. On the new method of counting employment statistics, 122,000 women have been left off those statistics in November as compared with October. The number of unemployed women has fallen from 946,000 to 834,000 during one month. One hundred and twelve thousand women have disappeared from the employment statistics. All Opposition Members know why. They have disappeared from statistics because they are not entitled to benefit. No married woman whose husband earns more than the basic limit for supplementary benefit is entitled to draw either supplementary benefit or unemployment benefit if she has paid the married woman's stamp. The great majority of married women are in those circumstances. Not only are they unable to draw benefit; they no longer count as unemployed. The Government have lost interest in them. They have vanished from the statistics. The 946,000—the number of women who would have been registered as not having jobs on the old basis—excludes about 400,000 women who have ceased to bother to register because they cannot get benefit and they are not being put in jobs. The figure that I could give to the House is 1·3 million unemployed women. The Equal Opportunities Commission would give a much higher one. It would say that there are between 1·5 million and 1·8 million unemployed women. That is only the beginning of the story. In the process of pursuing women out of the job market and the unemployment statistics, the Government are making the lives of working women increasingly difficult through successive policies. The Government have cut back public expenditure most on nursery schools, home helps, community personal social service workers and those whose work is caring for the elderly. They are the very people who care for dependent children and elderly relatives and, if there is no care from a public source, it is women who, once again, will bear the burden of caring for them. The House will appreciate that, like the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, some of us speak with real feeling on the subject because we know what our constituents are going through. As we witness the steady cutbacks in school meals and the suggestion by some local authorities that they will turn over to what is called the "Continental day"—the school day ending at two o'clock—in a desperate attempt to save on heating, teaching and maintenance costs, we witness the steady erosion of the rights that women have won with such effort in the past 40 or 50 years. As the hon. Member for Eton and Slough implied, the extent of equal pay in Britain is appalling. It is proportionately lower here than in France, Germany and Holland, yet the Parliamentary Secretary seems to take pride in what has happened with regard to equal pay. The record is appalling. After 12 years, far from improving our position, we are steadily falling back. What do we find when we examine conditions of work for women? The Government's job-splitting scheme does not apply to married women who are not registered for benefit, yet job-splitting and job-sharing schemes are the almost perfect answer to the needs of many married women who have the responsibility to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred. How are such women supposed to be able to contribute towards the care of their families and at the same time carry responsibility for their children and elderly relatives if the Government's schemes exclude them from the part-time work that would answer their problems? Why have the Government failed to give any support to the EEC directive on part-time workers? Moreover, the Labour Party has not followed up the EC directives on women as it should have done. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough referred to some of them, but what about equal pay, the common action programme on women's conditions, the status of part-time workers, individual rights under social security and the treatment of women as having equal occupational pension rights? Whatever my old party may think of the EC, those are the issues that it should be fighting through. It will get more justice in Brussels than it will ever get in Westminster under the present Government. The proof is all around us. As the Government steadily erode protection for women, including the protection afforded by the fair employment provision, the fair wages resolution and the International Labour Organisation requirements out of which we have now pulled, so they head on into new technologies that are likely to affect women's employment most. I refer to distribution, office work, banking and finance. Those are the sectors where new technologies are likely to have the greatest impact in the next few years. It is terribly dangerous when women's jobs are most likely to be affected. The hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor), who is shaking his head, does not know what he is talking about. The most recent estimate of the effect of new technology on office jobs is that there will be a loss of 170,000 jobs in the next few years.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. I was shaking my head because it seems inconceivable that anyone should consider that it is right for Britain to turn its back on new technology. Is the right hon. Lady seriously suggesting that we should advance the cause of women's employment, or, indeed, any other employment, by failing to match our overseas competitors by using such methods?
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Nantwich was absorbed in other thoughts, but he was certainly not listening to what I said. I made no suggestion that there should be resistance to the coming of new technology.I said—the hon. Gentleman can read it tomorrow—that we are removing protection when new technologies will particularly affect women's jobs. We must embrace the new technologies. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that, too. But to remove from women workers protection without which they will be compelled desperately to resist new technologies is an act of lunacy that will lead to exactly the type of Luddism that the hon. Member for Nantwich says he opposes. Fourthly, we must protect the working conditions of women. As new technologies come in—visual display units, computerised records, and so on—jobs are being degraded when their status should be enhanced in terms of skill and responsibility. We shall not achieve that by resisting measures to protect part-time workers and the many other proposals that the Government have constantly opposed at the Council of Employment Ministers in Brussels. The Parliamentary Secretary referred, quite properly, to the way in which the social services structure has become increasingly out of touch with the need for flexible working patterns. At present, neither State nor occupational pensions allow people to work or to retire part-time. Our present social security arrangements exclude those who work a limited number of hours from both family income supplement and supplementary benefit, and there is no adequate provision for family leave, recognising that men as well as women should share parental responsibilities. It is shameful that, although proposals were put forward in the French Assembly last week for parental leave on 80 per cent. pay to be provided for fathers and mothers, depending which had the parental responsibilities, such proposals are still light years away from the thinking of the British Government. In conclusion, on employment, job schemes, the exclusion of married women from the new statistics, conditions of work, protection for part-time workers, EEC directives, and on the nature of the Government's cuts in social services and their failure to reform the social service system to meet the needs of individual women, although the Government are led by a woman they stand arraigned because they have failed to do what they should have done for the great majority of women who do not draw Prime Ministers' salaries but are still struggling to earn three-quarters of the average male wage even in the year of grace 1982.
Listening to the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) and the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams), and having had the good fortune to hear the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) before, I thank God for one thing—that I did not live in the days when the Amazons were at large. Listening to the screeching, squawking attack upon the male sex that they have seen fit to launch in the House and elsewhere, I am ashamed that this Chamber should be used for such purposes. This is a cheap, sexist motion designed purely to attract votes from women who are, unfortunately, at present unemployed. In the light of what is happening in this country, that attack is unparalleled nonsense.
Someone should put a bag over the hon. Gentleman's head.
The motion refers to the slump in the economy as it affects women. What an outcry there would have been from the hon. Member for Eton and Slough and her colleagues if we had put down a motion deploring the effect of the slump on men.
Do it, then.
It is no use the hon. Gentleman shouting from a sedentary position. We have debated the effect of unemployment and the slump in the economy on many occasions, but we have not seen fit to do so on a sexist basis, referring to only one section of the community.When the right hon. Member for Crosby was answering my question—I invite her to read her speech tomorrow, as my point was perfectly valid—she attempted to justify what she had said on the ground that there was some kind of protection for female-held jobs which would be uniquely threatened by the new technology. She claimed that the Government intended to remove the protections and to leave women in employment in a more vulnerable position than they are at present. That is very far from the truth.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I shall not interrupt him again. I said no such thing. I made it quite clear that I was not against the new technologies. Does the hon. Gentleman share the view expressed in a markedly sexist speech by the Secretary of State for Industry, who said:
"Quite frankly I don't think mothers have the same right to work as fathers. If the good Lord had intended us to have equal rights to go out and work, he wouldn't have created men and women."
I did not hear that speech, so I shall refrain from commenting on what my right hon. Friend may have said, except to say that I believe that women with young children have a primary duty to be at home to look after their children. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about fathers?"] A large number of Opposition Members—mainly hon. Ladies—are screaming "What about fathers?".
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I want to answer this.It is my view—male chauvinist, sexist or whatever else it will no doubt be alleged to be—and it is the view of most of the ladies with whom I talk, who do not share the militant extremist view of some present today, that women have a primary duty to look after their children and to be at home to do so.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Of course, there are exceptions. There are times when it is right for both parents to go out, but there are also times when that primary duty should be fulfilled.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I give way to my hon. Friend.
Yesterday, with the Select Committee on Social Services, I had the privilege to meet many foster parents in Worcestershire and Staffordshire. They said that the foster children always talked about their mothers, that they seemed to miss and to want to see their mothers, but that, strangely enough, they rarely referred to their fathers. Therefore, I think that mothers are of prime importance when their children are young.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) wishes to intervene, I shall be delighted to give way.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the prime responsibility of mothers with children to stay at home. He must realise that many women, especially in working class communities such as mine, have to go out to work to supplement the family income because their husbands do not earn a reasonable wage. It is extremely unfair to suggest that the motion is sexist when we are dealing with a serious subject that should be debated in a proper manner.
I entirely agree that it should be debated in a proper manner. I am in the process of doing so. If the hon. Gentleman has any more sensible interventions to make, I shall be delighted to give way again.On the question whether there are any differences between the sexes that are relevant to the jobs that they do, I should be grateful if the Opposition would not make cheap jibes as I wish to make a serious point. There are distinctions between the sexes which render some men and some women more or less capable of doing some jobs than the opposite sex would be. Clearly the heaviest manual labouring jobs are far better done by men than by women. The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) roars with laughter—
The hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir Nicholas Bonsor) has never done any manual work in his life.
Perhaps I may turn to something of which I have more direct experience.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No.Some of the more lively sports, such as boxing, are better indulged in by men than by women. I certainly have some experience of that, although I do not know whether the hon. Member for Springburn has. There are many such sports and occupations in which it is clearly wrong for men and women to be considered equal in performance. In Standing Committee, when discussing the treatment of young offenders, I remember the hon. Member for Halifax suggesting that boys and girls in the borstals should be treated identically. I put the point to the hon. Lady then—she could not take it on that occasion and I am not surprised that her colleagues cannot take it now—that it is nonsense to say that boys and girls should be treated equally in all respects, in teaching, in sport or in the way in which they are generally kept under control in penal institutions. The cause of equality in the true sense is done no justice by those who seek to infer that equality necessarily means similarity. I am horrified by the Left-wing nonsense that I read in Inner London Education Authority productions and papers to the effect that boys and girls should be taught in precisely the same manner, that there is no difference between them and that the boys should be taught needlework and the girls taught all the subjects that the boys are taught. There is undoubtedly a big overlap where boys and girls can be taught the same things. To suggest that there is no difference is rubbish. The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), who may already have children but who, if not, will certainly soon be a mother, will know what I am talking about when I say that boys and girls play with quite different types a toys. Anyone suggesting to my six-year-old son that he should play with his sister's toys would get very short shrift. None the less, this is seriously advocated by many on the Left wing, particularly in the teaching profession.
What the hon. Gentleman says has nothing to do with the motion and the debate. I should, however, like to put one point to him that he seems to have missed. The moment that a toy called "Action Man"—a male dressed doll—came on the market, it gave every little boy in the country an excuse to play with a doll. The hon. Gentleman's theme that the biological difference between boys and girls determines their intellectual accomplishment was exploded over 50 years ago. The hon. Gentleman should move with the times.
The hon. Lady is correct in saying that "Action Man" is a favourite toy of boys. It is not, on the other hand, a favourite toy of girls. I can speak only from my experience. My daughter has absolutely no interest in playing with the "Action Man" that my son has. Likewise, my son has no interest in playing with her more feminine dolls. This illustrates my point. There appears to be a nonsensical view prevalent on the Opposition Benches that a sexual similarity exists in areas where there is, in fact, a difference between the sexes. I have never mentioned intellectual attainment. That is a subject raised entirely by the hon. Lady.
I could not possibly resist such a charming young lady.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that women are so different from men, does he think it right that women in the population, where they form a majority, should be so overwhelmingly represented by men who are so different from them?
It is entirely for the ladies to decide for whom they vote. It appears to me that many more ladies vote for men than vote for their fellow ladies. That is a matter for the electorate, not for me.Another great fallacy about the Opposition motion is the claim that the present unemployment figures discriminate against women. In fact, the unemployment figures, disastrous though they are for the country and for the entire Western world, are getting markedly worse for men than for women.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No. I shall, however, give the figures upon which I rely.Male unemployment from June 1979 to June 1982 rose by 137 per cent. while unemployment among women over the same period rose by 114 per cent. The employment percentages as they relate to women are better than they are for men. Despite the comparatively short time in which women have been able to compete, as they should be able to do, for jobs with men, they have attained a percentage of roughly 42 per cent. of the working employees of the country. When that is taken into account over the period about which we are talking—probably not more than 25 years—it is a remarkable achievement. I look forward with some confidence to that statistic improving over coming years. To try to make it an immediate issue in the light of the terrible economic crisis that exists and to overlook many other relevant factors seems wholly unconstructive. In many areas, women are given special treatment. Special funds are set aside to try to assist them with their particular problems. There is one obvious example of privilege for women over their male counterparts. If they leave their job to have a child, the job has to be held open for them for a considerable time by the employer at considerable cost to British industry.
The hon. Member says "A privilege" in a tone of astonishment. Of course, it is a privilege. It is not one with which I quibble. It is, however, a great handicap to an employer, particularly in a small company, to have to hold open a job for an employee who has gone off to produce a family. I am not saying it is wrong; I am saying that it is a privilege. The Manpower Services Commission programme shows that a substantial amount of money has been set aside to enable 600 women to enjoy retraining, having been out of work for quite a long time. There is no parallel exclusively for men. As the Minister has stated, we are moving, along the lines of the European Community resolution, towards social security parity. I welcome that, as, indeed, I welcome all sensible discussion of ways of helping women who wish to be employed.Justice has not been done to the family. The centre and core of the country is the family. The family unit has formed the foundations of our society for many centuries. If we are lightly to cast it aside, in the interests of men and women going out to work, we shall undermine the fibre of this nation's whole being. We shall have to find something very good to replace it if we are to move easily along that course. It has already been mentioned that only one-third of families consist of a man, woman and children at home. That is a tragedy. I hope that we shall move as a people towards encouraging growth in the family system and a resurgence of the family morality that should form the base of our community.
I am not quite sure how to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor). I am not sure whether the phrase "male chauvinist pig" is firmly impermissible language in the House. I have no doubt, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will tell me if it is. If not, I shall simply say that the hon. Gentleman clearly falls into that category. It was amusing to listen to his remarks as a relic of the past.I hope that I shall not be accused of screeching or screaming. It is one of the problems of women Members that if we say anything in the least controversial we are told that our voices have risen by three octaves and that we are screaming. I do not propose seriously to follow the most extraordinary remarks of the hon. Gentleman except to say that I have no doubt that they will be noted with great interest by his women constituents. Nor do I propose to follow the remarks of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams). However, I shall devote most of what I wish to say to a point upon which she touched, that is, the impact of new technology on women workers in particular. I should like to say one or two things to the right hon. Lady, if she will allow me. It is my impression that a Labour Government introduced proposals for equal pay before the EEC told countries that it should be implemented. I was under the impression that it was the right hon. Lady who, as Secretary of State for Education, cut expenditure on nursery schools.
The right hon. Lady is quite wrong. I put forward a programme for a substantial expansion of the budget for nursery schools. We had to go back a second time to local authorities to get them to take it up. Very few Conservative-controlled authorities would agree to take it up. Those are the facts, and if the right hon. Lady wishes to refresh her memory she should read Hansard for 1978. On the first matter, I pointed out that the EEC countries had carried out equal pay legislation to a far greater extent than us, particularly in the past few years.
I think that the right hon. Lady will agree that she gave a slightly distorted picture of what Labour Governments had done. Given her castigations of the Labour Party and of Labour Governments, one is bound to ask why, as the only woman member of a Labour Cabinet, the right hon. Lady was not more successful in pushing forward matters such as part-time workers. The right hon. Lady cannot have it both ways. She cannot, as an SDP Member, say that the previous Labour Government failed to do certain things when she was the only female member of the Cabinet. I do not recall her speeches at the national executive of the Labour Party, in Government or in opposition, on those matters—[Interruption]. I do not want to spend my time having a dreadful argument with the right hon. Lady.
Does my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) recall the figures in the public expenditure White Paper that was published by the Labour Government, over which the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) presided when she was Secretary of State? The capital building programme for nursery schools was cut from an annual total of £25 million per year to £5 million per year. Is it not a disgrace that the right hon. Member for Crosby should criticise the Labour Party when she did not resign when the Labour Cabinet forced that on her?
I hope that the right hon. Lady will forgive me, but my hon. Friend interrupted my speech, not hers.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that if a direct personal attack is made on an hon. Member it is reasonable for that Member to try to deal with it, especially if the remarks were inaccurate. I have no other way of dealing with the matter. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart), but it is in her hands to prevent me from doing so.
Order. I understand the point made by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams), but it is up to the right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) to decide whether she wishes to give way.
I am perfectly happy to allow the right hon. Lady to defend her position.
I have already pointed out to the right hon. Member for Lanark and to the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) that both she and I were members of the Government for a considerable time, including the period to which the hon. Gentleman refered. I put forward a proposal for an additional budget of capital expenditure on nursery schools and it was only with great difficutly that we finally persuaded local authorities to take up that sum of £3 million. The hon. Gentleman had better give me the details behind his point, because I do not accept that his statements are true.
It is in the White Paper, and the right hon. Lady knows it.
I do not know it.
Yes, she does.
I think that I have given enough time to that point.I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) on her wide-ranging coverage of the issue before us. I have been rather critical of the right hon. Member for Crosby, but I agree that it is disgraceful that this subject has been dealt with by a Minister from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That is fantastic. The Parliamentary Secretary did her best, but of course her Ministry could not supply her with a brief that went much beyond retail prices. I am surprised that she did not talk about the quality of our food stuffs and about the new regulations to protect them. I am surprised that she did not make a whole speech about the agricultural content of her departmental responsibilities. However, the Parliamentary Secretary made quite a strong point, along with the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor), about the Government's attitude towards the family. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the most recent information shows that the family structure is changing rapidly, that we are living in a fast-moving society and that there are far fewer nuclear families than there used to be. It also shows that there is now a high proportion of single parents and of women who are single parents. I cannot see how that can be reconciled with the campaign—not too strong a word—of harassment of single women with children that is being carried out by the DHSS. Given the Parliamentary Secretary's concern for the changing nature of the family, that is most puzzling. However, it would be a great mistake for the Government to pursue that campaign. Sexual mores are changing. The way in which men and women live together and family relationships are altering. To say that the family is changing and that single women with children are a new and important element in the family structure is incompatible with harassment on the part of the DHSS. The Government should make up their mind about where they stand. The Parliamentary Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough both mentioned low pay. I shall touch briefly on the degree of responsibility that any Government carry for low-paid female workers. Low pay, particularly among women workers, probably predominates within the public sector, by which I mean the nationalised industries, the NHS, the Civil Service and so on. Every element within the Labour Party, from the TUC, to the Labour Party conference and to the Shadow Cabinet, accepts that a future Labour Government will take positive steps to ameliorate low pay in the public sector. That is not to say that we shall necessarily adopt a minimum wage. There is much discussion in the trade union movement about whether there should be a statutory minimum wage. There are arguments for and against. Some say that a statutory minimum wage becomes a statutory maximum wage. However, there is agreement that a key element in improving the lot of low-paid women, and in the reflation that the Labour Party will carry out immediately on its return to office, will be an increase in the pay of low-paid workers in the public sector. The Minister of State, Department of Employment may suggest that that will mean more public expenditure. That is right. However, an increase in public expenditure is one of the ways in which a future Labour Government will increase employment and diminish unemployment. The Parliamentary Secretary said that one in seven principal wage earners was a woman. Conservative Members tend not to realise the social distress caused by unemployment because most of them—although not necessarily the hon. Lady—and particularly those in the Cabinet, represent constituencies in which unemployment still stands at 5 to 6 per cent. I doubt whether they have the perception of those of us who represent constituencies with unemployment of up to 23 or 25 per cent. In some families the woman is the main wage earner. If she becomes unemployed, she will have to tell her family "We are now on supplementary benefit; I cannot cope." Unemployment affects a large proportion of the one-seventh of women in Britain who are the main wage earners and whose families depend upon them. We cannot ignore the effects of unemployment on women. The right hon. Member for Crosby mentioned the effect of the new technology on women. I was disturbed, as many of us were, at the results of The Economist survey last weekend which revealed the sense of despair felt by so many people at the inevitability of unemployment. The Socialist alternative has received little coverage in the popular press. Contentious issues are given full treatment by the media, but an agreed policy is not contentious enough for journalists to bother to explain. It is sad that some people genuinely believe that unemployment has to be endured without reacting to it in a way that would lead to higher poll percentage in by-elections than the recent 47 per cent. to 49 per cent. It is clear from the survey that there is a sense of fatalism, depression and despair. Unemployment is not only an economic issue but a moral issue. If youngsters leaving school believe that society does not want them, it ceases to be a matter for the Treasury, M3 or the monetarists. It becomes a moral issue because unemployment destroys the fabric of society. Some people believe that the advent of the new technology is bound to cause massive unemployment. When the right hon. Member for Crosby was a member of the Labour Party's national executive, it produced a policy statement on microtechnology. One adjusts to the new economic scene which microelectronics and the new technology create not by patching up and making allowances, important though that may be. Work sharing and facilitating part-time work through new types of benefit are important, but the crucial aspect is whether we determine that the benefits of the new technology are shared equally and not allowed to increase the wealth of a comparatively small proportion of our people. The Labour Party document states:
In the last week or two, comments have appeared in The Times about what King Canute was all about. A similar misunderstanding surrounds the Luddites. They destroyed machinery, not because they hated the machinery, but as a protest against a social system which used machinery to diminish their standards of living. The Luddites were calling for a new social order which would adapt the new technology of their day to increase the wealth of the people, not the wealth of the entrepreneurs. The position is much the same today. We must ensure that the increased wealth produced by the chip goes to the people by retaining high wages in a high wage society, by agreeing to a shorter working week and day and by allowing six-month sabbaticals. We must ensure that the new technology rests in the hands of those who are prepared to make the changes that society demands. The effect on women is profound. Our document explains that Britain had a higher proportion of women in employment than any other Western European country. Today we probably have a higher proportion of unemployed women. More than half of employed women work in three sectors, each of which can be affected by the chip. I refer to professional and scientific services, the distributive trades, and miscellaneous services including catering and manufacturing. Many of the jobs which can be replaced by computers, word processors, minicomputers or point of sale terminals tend traditionally to be held by women. That is not right, but it is a fact. What happens is critical to women and their employment. We need agreed development plans with the relevant sectors of industry and with key firms. With the trade union movement, we have to ensure that the benefits of the new technology go, not to the multinational corporations, whether Japanese, American or British-based, but to the men and women of Britain. We must have the Socialist economic planning that forms part of our policy. More and more women in Britain have a respect for their rights and equality of opportunity. Increasingly women will understand that the equality of opportunity and the other equalities that they pursue are incompatible with Conservative or SDP free market economy techniques and that they are compatible only with the philosophy of the Labour Party."If microelectronics is let loose in a free market economy, the consequences will be disastrous."
My contribution to the debate is on behalf of women homeworkers. Hon. Members will recall that twice I presented a Private Member's Bill, the Homeworkers (Protection) Bill, but Conservatives succeeded in blocking its progress on Second Reading on both occasions.Without doubt, women employed as homeworkers form a significant number of oppressed work people who feel, in a most personal way, all the effects of the economic slump. It seems to many of them that the Government have declared economic war upon them. There are approximately 250,000 homeworkers in the United Kingdom and some estimates put the number slightly higher. The vast majority of them share the great common denominator that they are women who have no choice but to work at home. There are mothers with young children who have no access to child care or nursery facilities. Despite what the Parliamentary Secretary said, this group sees little likelihood of any improvment in Government policies as education cuts make adequate nursery education more and more remote. Another group of women homeworkers are those who are chronically sick and disabled or who care for the chronically sick and disabled. The Government's attitude to employers' obligations to take up their quota of registered disabled employees displays social ignorance and complete lack of interest. In these days of institutionalised and policy-led unemployment, the sick and disabled face overwhelming difficulties in securing jobs. Women face added difficulties. However, despite such a gloomy picture, I make an obvious exception of the Remploy organisation. Despite the slump and Government cuts and pressures, Remploy has fought valiantly to fulfil its founding charter. I give full recognition to the work that Remploy provides and seeks to maintain for disabled men and women. For those who care for the disabled and the sick, the Government's cuts in public expenditure have meant fewer attendances at day-care centres and fewer visits from the home help. In my constituency the cuts have led to increased charges for meals-on-wheels and even charges for necessary equipment such as night commodes and walking frames. People ask "Who cares?" Usually the women in the families and in the area respond to those needs. They make what living they can by working at home and after that they care for those who cannot care for themselves. Women in ethnic minority groups face language and cultural barriers when working outside the home. Those who manage to break down those barriers still face a silent form of discrimination when seeking jobs. Their plight is bad enough, but I believe that they can overcome their difficulties with the help of community relations councils, community workers and voluntary English classes that are often staffed by white women volunteers. However, women from the ethnic groups are worried about the manner in which the Government have treated their religion and their colour in relation to fiancés and marriage to men from abroad. The way in which their feelings and emotions have been treated by the Government borders on the obscene. It was degrading to the traditions of this House and this country to see the Home Secretary re-enact scenes of appeasement to the wild men of his party on the issue of male fiancés. One of my constituents—a white woman, born in Bury—lives in Pakistan with her husband, who is a Pakistani national. She is a leading campaigner in Pakistan for the right of English-born wives to bring their husbands to Britain. That right is denied to her and she is forced to live in Pakistan. The Home Secretary should let his natural instincts for fairness and justice come through on this issue and refuse to retreat to the nationalistic attitudes that last marched through the East End of London in the 1930s. Women homeworkers have received nothing but indifference from the Government. Despite delegations to Ministers, questions and a Select Committee inquiry and report, nothing constructive has come forward. The Homeworking Advisory Council established by the Labour Government has not met once in the lifetime of this Government. The Secretary of State for Employment is oblivious to the needs of homeworkers and even refuses to accept that there is a problem. But by his actions, his attitude to the wages councils, the cutting of the wages inspectorate and his moves against the fair wages resolution, he will undermine the position of homeworkers even further. That means the green light front the Department of Employment to the spiv and the con man to carry on exploiting homeworkers, especially women homeworkers who are so vulnerable. In reply, the Minister may quote recent Department of Employment studies. I would be the first to admit that Dr. Hakin's report on homeworkers in wages council industries provides some useful evidence and I must also accept that not all of it is helpful to my cause and to the points that I have made. However, it was a report on homeworkers in wages council industries that covered only approximately 30,000 homeworkers. Surely I could be forgiven for expecting that where there is full statutory obligation and an inspectorate to enforce the regulations, one would not find the most severe conditions of abuse. But there is certainly abuse. Recently I received a letter from a homeworker that brings together all the emotions and frustrations that are felt by that group. As is common, the writer is a woman. She says:
I can say nothing more about the lady, although she lives in Oxshott in Surrey, because she says at the end of her letter:"I have just completed an intricate patterned cotton long-sleeved sweater for which I am paid £10. This garment took me a fortnight to do working approximately from 2 pm to 6 pm and 7.30 pm to 11 pm, and the payment works out at about 10p per hour (between 98-100 hours). I have arthritis in my feet and legs and cannot go out to work."
However, hon. Members may read the letter. That is the unacceptable face of Britain. The lady is crippled with arthritis, cannot secure a job and is working at home for 10p an hour. It is frightening. The factor of homeworkers refusing to be identified works against the Department's surveys. Recently I took part in a Radio Bristol phone-in. Half a dozen homeworkers telephoned who earned between 40p and 75p an hour for knitting Fair Isle pullovers and making gymkhana rosettes, medical supplies and soft furnishings for the retail industry. But all of them said "Please do not mention my name. If you identify me, the work will stop." The worst case on that phone-in programme was of a lady who hand-knitted a sports design sweater. It took her six weeks to make it, she was paid £16 for the article and one can buy it in Oxford Street for more than £100. That case was highlighted in the Esther Rantzen programme "That's Life". Those are the problems faced by homeworkers."Please do not mention my name at any time."
Was that case reported to the Ministry? If so, were there any repercussions?
The people in those cases work in industries that are not covered by the wages councils and, therefore, little or nothing can be done. However, because of that need, I presented the Homeworkers (Protection) Bill to the House. If the Conservative Party had accepted it two years ago, homeworkers would now be protected and would not face such problems.
I do not wish to be ungenerous, but is it possible that many homeworkers, if their names were revealed, would lose certain benefits?
Indeed. A toy wages council report carried out by ACAS showed that many homeworkers are unsure about their employed status. They believe that the employer is paying tax for them and that they are entitled to benefit, but they then find that they are supposed to be self-employed and to declare that. However, that puts them not only at risk of losing more work, but at risk with the Inland Revenue and other Government agencies. It is a delicate area, where there are genuine fears, and because of those fears there is terrible exploitation.Not all homeworkers are exploited. I accept that there are good employers and that there are good conditions of homeworking. The reasonable conditions often occur when a trade union organisation is involved or where there is a close-knit community. However, the protection afforded by this Government to British homeworkers does not match the protection given to these workers in other member States in the European Community. If the Government are serious about obtaining fairness and justice for women, they should now bring forward legislation to put the British homeworker on an equal basis with her European counterpart. That is even more necessary when one considers the effects of the new technologies, the micro-technologies, that are being introduced in homeworking. I ask the Minister to look again at the amendment proposed by the Government to our motion, and ask "Is it really true that there is no other way? Must I tell the women in my constituency that the Government's answer to all their problems is that there is no other way?" I have news for the Government: those women do not believe that. Do the Government realise what they are asking me and my constituents to accept? In the North-West of England there is a long tradition of women working in industry, and in the past the country has been more than grateful for it. No doubt in wartime those women would have received the accolade of the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor), who says that women's position is in the home. When a mill or a factory closes in my area, it does not mean one wage loss to the family; to many, it is father, mother, and working children. The whole family wage is decimated, and it is not because of bad work, bad products, greedy wage demands, or bad technology. Far from it. Mather and Platts, Bradley Fold in Radcliffe—a company which used to boast of having the most expert and finest women welders in Lancashire, girls who went into the industry during the 1939–45 war and stayed there until they were 65—recently tendered for an order in Taiwan, amounting to £650,000. The steel costs alone for the contract came to £215,000. A Japanese company got the order for a contract price of £250,000. Clearly it was a highly subsidised contract, which was supported by the Japanese Government and banks. As a result, 450 of my people at Mather and Platts will now lose their jobs. Moreover, many other factories and jobs in my constituency will go because of lost contracts like that. It is the result of this Government's policy not to fight this trade piracy. It is not a policy to create industrial leanness, slimming down to create industrial efficiency. It is industrial anorexia. We have a disease in industry, and we are being force-fed by this Government. Who suffers? It is the wife, who sees her husband devastated by the loss of his job, and the mother who sees her son and daughter denied job opportunities and losing faith and confidence in the society in which they live. The woman herself has to eke out the weekly budget to make ends meet. Then, the greatest indignity of all in my area, the dole runs out, and the social security office refuses benefit because of an endowment policy of which the surrender value is more than £2,500. The social security officer says "Cash it in". The Government say "Cash it in. Never mind your pride. The parish will bury you." This Government have a poor law guardians' burial club mentality, and it is the women who suffer the anguish. In the North-West this Government have turned the clock back in social terms beyond the 1930s. The television, the car and the house hide anger, resentment and frustration which I believe are beyond the understanding of this Government and the Prime Minister. I accuse this Government of destroying the self-confidence and pride of thousands of families in the North-West. The Government have hit the family on so many fronts that it is now incapable of fighting back. In short, the Government have demoralised those who are out of work and struck fear into those who are clinging on to their jobs. In the North-West and the Northern regions of this country, we have a Government who are at war with their own people. I apologise to the House and to the Minister for the fact that I shall not be present to hear the winding-up speeches. However, I shall read the Minister's comments on my contribution with interest. As group chairman, I shall be leading a delegation of North-West Labour Members of Parliament to see the Secretary of State for Education and Science and discuss with him the teacher training college closures in the North-West, and, in particular, the de la Salle training college closure. The Government's attitude to that college encompasses all that I have said. In an arbitrary and offhand manner, and without proper consultation, the Government have deprived the North-West of 377 teacher training places. They were cut out at a stroke, thus denying career opportunities to many young women in our area who wish to take up a life's work in education. The Government's overbearing attitude, that somehow there is a God-given right of Conservative Ministers to pronounce, and that it is our God-given duty to accept those slabs of stone as immortal, is most offensive, particularly to the Catholic community of the North-West, which is incensed about the de la Salle college closure. It is incensed because, like us, it sees it as a shabby party political manoeuvre to protect Tory marginal seats in the Midlands.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, while it is necessary to continue teacher training, it is also necessary to have regard to the falling number of children attending our schools, and to have regard to the fact that if we continue to train teachers there may not be sufficient jobs for them to teach in the future? That would affect both men and women.
I would be putting my head in the sand if I did not accept that there was a problem with falling rolls, but surely that then places a responsibility on the Government to come to the organisations concerned, such as NATFHE—the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education—and the Catholic education authority, and talk to them in a meaningful way, instead of deciding what is to be closed, and attending meetings with preconceived ideas and forcing them through. Indeed, 200 Roman Catholic bishops in this country have signed a condemnation of the Government's attitude to the de la Salle college. There has been no consultation with the Minister. It was a forced decision and one that breaks all conventions. It was a manoeuvre, although such manoeuvres have been characteristic of this Government during their whole term of office. It began when the Prime Minister intoned the words of St. Francis and then promptly ignored them. Never did a prayer for so many last so short a time.It has been said that mainly women's votes put the Prime Minister in office. I doubt it. If that were so, the manner in which the Government have treated women will ensure that the Government receive their just reply in 1983. The patient has had enough. The manoeuvring is over. Next year there will be an opportunity to change the treatment. We in the Labour Party will prove to our people, particularly women, that there is another way.
I agree with the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) on one point. Women elected our Prime Minister. They are delighted that they did so.I congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who spoke on behalf of the Government, on speaking so ably. I know that all the Conservative Members who were in the Chamber appreciated her excellent speech. We are all concerned about unemployment, whether it is among women or men. We all know that unemployment was precipitated by the rise in oil prices in 1973 and 1979 and has been worse in this country because we did not adjust quickly enough to technological change. That was probably the fault of the male dominated trade unions as much as anyone else. It is sexist to have a debate that centres on female unemployment. We feel for everyone who is unemployed. Like the right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart), I shall comment on the Economist Intelligence Unit report. It says that the main problem for unemployed people is boredom. I do not believe that women, particularly those who have families, are bored when they are unemployed. There is a saying that a woman's work is never done. I do not think that any woman who has a family would ever say that she was bored. A higher proportion of women in this country work than in any other country in Europe.
I am sorry to intervene so early in the hon. Lady's speech. Often boredom or the absence of boredom is unrelated to whether a woman goes to work. She might go to work because of the economics of the home. Surely that has occurred to the hon. Lady.
I accept that, but I still say that I would prefer women with young children to stay at home.There has been much discussion about the abolition of the married man's tax allowance. On Monday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services said that 12 million families would suffer if it were abolished. However, the future of this allowance is under discussion. If money is available, I should like to see it go to mothers with young children to encourage them to stay at home to look after their children. I welcome the fact that in 1980–81 4 per cent. fewer women who had children under five went out to work. The majority of young women with young families want to stay at home to look after their children. That does not mean that I am against equal opportunities for women. I know that women have appreciated the opportunity to demonstrate their ability, skill and independence. They have had a setback, as have men, during this time of economic recession. I welcome the equal opportunities legislation and also the fact that the Government are amending the legislation to give better job evaluation. At the moment able women usually go into professions. Over 50 per cent. of people starting in law and medicine are women. We must encourage more of our able people to go into industry. Therefore, I very much welcome the Government's new pilot scheme, which the Manpower Services Commission is starting up with education authorities and industries, to give youngsters of all abilities between the ages of 14 and 18 more training in industry and technology. I welcome the fact that economics will be given greater prominence in our schools. I hope that many more girls will look towards mathematics and science subjects as well as economics instead of sticking to the more traditional women's subjects. I also welcome the fact that £695,000 is being spent by the engineering industrial training board to increase the number of women in the engineering industry. Some 332 women have already taken advantage of it. The Economist Intelligence Unit stated that 85 per cent. of the unemployed have no qualifications when they leave school. Many people voted Conservative at the last general election because they were worried about the Labour Government's education policies. When women come to see me at my advice bureau they say how pleased they are to have more choice of and information about schools. They are encouraging their daughters to gain qualifications so that they are better placed when they leave school. They also welcome the Government's new £1 billion training scheme, which is a good start towards giving our youngsters real skills. All unemployed youngsters, whether boys or girls, will have an opportunity to participate in the scheme. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit report, a high proportion of unemployed people do not blame the Government for the fact that they are unemployed. I believe that that applies particularly to women. They understand that we are going through a great industrial revolution. After all, nine out of 10 women have fridges and washing machines and know the difference that technology has made to their lives. People who work in offices know that computers will make a great difference to their lives in future. Women in my constituency are amazed when they hear the Labour Party's easy answers. The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) talks about spending large amounts of money to create jobs. People know that that would be inflationary. He talks about controlled devaluation of the pound. We saw what happened when there was a small devaluation a short time ago. It is already working its way through to industry costs. Such devaluation would bring about more inflation. Women know, as men do, that only the Conservative Government's policies will bring about real jobs. They realise that between 1970 and 1980 wage increases were huge and out of all proportion to the increases in productivity, which were small. That was the way to economic ruin. Since then there has been a more realistic attitude and our competitiveness has improved. Unfortunately, that has had to mean some redundancies and unemployment but, fortunately, there is greater realism and there have been smaller wage increases. We all welcome that. Women have a more realistic approach to those matters. We are not despondent about the future employment of women. The service industries are expanding. Women know that jobs are being created in catering and entertainment industries and in nursing. Even at this time of economic recession 34,000 more nurses are employed in the National Health Service. As that side of the economy is expanding, there will be more jobs for women. Manufacturing industry is another story. Some industries have been affected by developments in the newly developed countries. Some of my constituents rely on textiles for employment. I have visited the factories and discussed the problems with the women who are employed there. Recently I visited a factory in my constituency that manufactures more than half the tights worn by ladies in this country. The women there were particularly worried because of cheap Italian imports. They did not say to me "Let us follow the Labour Party's policy and withdraw from the Common Market" or "Let us put up import controls against further textile imports from Taiwan, Korea or Hong Kong." They knew that their husbands' jobs depended on there being opportunities from the European Community and on free trade. They did not want extra import restrictions. These women were willing to make real sacrifices to retain the competitiveness of their factories. The SDP-Liberal alliance is still hankering after an incomes policy, which we all know would be impossible. The Labour Party talks about a "national economic assessment". Most women know that this is not on because it relates closely to the social contract that was such a failure under the Labour Government in 1974–75. Although the leader of the Labour Party refers to those years as successful years, everybody knows that what they amounted to was trade union rule. The women to whom I speak do not again want such Government. There is now a great opportunity to share responsibility because next year there will be low inflation. We hope that there will continue to be a fall in interest rates. If this is the case, mortgages will fall and there will be more money for people to spend. It is possible, too, that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will find it possible to make tax cuts. He will not do that if it is not responsible to do so, but it may be that spending will fall within the limits of the borrowing requirement. This may mean that he can make tax cuts, possibly by raising the tax threshold to reduce the effect of the poverty trap. Therefore, there is every possibility that we shall be able to achieve real wage realism and real wage control next year. Some political commentators are even saying that we should take note of the ideas being mooted in Germany and Australia and have a wage freeze.
I hope that the hon. Lady will use the few seconds of my intervention to collect her thoughts about what she is saying. Is she advocating that her Government introduce not only wage controls but a wage freeze? I presume that she is leading up to this point, but will she tell us, with all these things that she is expecting to happen in 1983, whether there will be any more jobs in that year than there have been in 1982?
We are in a serious economic recession and we have to take serious measures. A wage freeze would be a serious step to take and it would only be a once-and-for-all action. It would not relate to any sort of incomes policy. If there were no wage freeze, at least it would be possible to witness realistically low wage settlements, and most women understand the need for this.If we have realistically low wage settlements, firms will be able to make better profits and will therefore be able to create jobs. We have to get over the point that if people take huge wage settlements they are destroying jobs, but if they take low wage settlements there will be more jobs. This point has been made by the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar, and is common ground. Most women see this point and are prepared to take realistic wage settlements to retain the profitability of their industry at this difficult time. Women admire the fact that the Prime Minister has given such great leadership, and that other countries follow her policies and are profiting because they are doing so. My point is that women understand our economic problems, and why there is unemployment. Many women are unemployed, which is as sad as the fact that many men are unemployed. However, if everyone had the realism of the women in this country, we would soon have it back on its feet—
If they are given the chance.
Professor Higgins asked "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" If men were more like women, our economy would soon be right again because women know how important it is that we should sustain the economic prosperity of this country so that we can offer hope for the future for our children and grandchildren.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) on her first official speech from the Dispatch Box as women's rights spokesperson. It is an excellent idea of our Shadow Cabinet to have chosen this subject. The dearth of hon. Gentlemans and hon. Ladies on the Conservative Benches shows how little value the Government place on the position of women in our society.I should also like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on having created this post, because it is time that we had—the Labour Party has demonstrated this—a person to watch over the difficulties that face women, and to ensure that women proceed towards equality. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough is in the Cabinet with the same responsibilities she will be able to delve into every Department, and that no doors will be closed to her. Our debate today is really about women's rights and equality. It is about women's right to work. I was a little puzzled by the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) who seemed to suggest that all women are quiescent and able and willing to sit back and accept low wage increases. There are a number of women who have become inured to feeling that that is their role in life. However, there is a large and growing number of women who are now demanding a right to work, and demanding that that right should be properly paid and not in the low pay category.
Was it not the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) who pointed out the necessity for low wage settlements if we are to keep inflation down and have a return to jobs and prosperity?
That may be so. My right hon. Friend may have talked about the necessity for low wage settlements. However, I am saying that women are demanding that if there are wage settlements, their already low pay should be brought up to the level of men's pay. That is the way that we should approach this subject.I am sure that the House realises that the traditional pattern of the family has changed over the past decade or so. I was astonished to find that only 5 per cent. of families fit into that traditional pattern of a working man with a dependent, stay-at-home, unpaid wife and two and a half children—I never could understand where the half child came from. The new pattern shows a working man with a working wife and two and a half children, although sadly that new pattern still expects that women will undertake the full and prime responsibility of the home. They are responsible not only for the bearing of the children, which is obvious, but for the rearing of the children. The hon. Member for Belper mentioned in an intervention that fostered children talk about the need to have their mothers at home. I should like to see children talk about the need to have their fathers and mothers at home so that they can see both their parents, if they have two. Family life should not be classified and categorised in the role of a father always away at work and doing overtime and a mother always at home. That is bad for family life, and I only wish that Conservative Members would have a proper think about the subject. Women account for 40 per cent. of the work force, but the idea is still prevalant that women have less right to work. That is highlighted by the lack of provision in child care and education and training opportunities. The hon. Member for Belper said that more and more women were working in the professions and added that there would be more opportunities for women in the service industries. All I can say is "Thank you for nothing", because most of the women whom I know have been "ghetto-ised", in jobs such as hairdressing, catering and school cleaning. They would like the educational opportunity to get out of those jobs and do something else. The Government have failed to make the necessary radical reforms to ensure that women have an opportunity and a right to work. It has been said that many women must work because of economic necessity. That is true of a large number of families. However, other women want a job outside the home not because they are bored but because they want to do something with their intelligence and talents. They also feel that they have a right to financial independence from their husbands. That is why we must end discrimination in taxation, training and job opportunities and social security. The Labour Government recognised that by introducing the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts. I served on the Committee that considered the Sex Discrimination Act, and I am the first to admit that it is far front perfect. We must do a lot more to ensure that it outlaws sex discrimination. In addition, and for the first time, the Labour Government provided limited maternity rights. Had we now a Labour Government instead of a Conservative Government, I would like to think that they would have improved and extended both Acts as well as other rights such as maternity. We have heard a lot about the Government's intention to do something about the Equal Pay Act. The Government have a golden opportunity to set the record straight, but they will do the absolute minimum necessary to comply with the ruling of the European Court and in such a complicated way that it will be almost impossible for women to get equal pay under the equal pay directive. The Government have circulated a draft specification which none of us has really had a chance to look at properly, but many of the organisations that ought to be consulted about the terms of the new legislation have not seen it at all. The Government should show their proposals on equal pay to the voluntary organisations, such as the National Council for Civil Liberties, if only to ensure that they are doing the right thing. From what they have heard, those organisations do not believe that the Government are doing the right thing, and many of them expressed that view only last week when they attended a meeting of the all-party equal opportunities group which was jointly chaired by myself and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). Many of the organisations represented at that meeting felt that the proposed legislation would not be worth having. They felt that they should stick with what they now have and get something proper when the Labour Government come to power. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough said, this legislation will be introduced by order, which means that no hon. Member will have an opportunity to amend it. All we shall be able to do is say "Yes" or "No", and we shall do so in the usual backstairs manner of a one and a half hour debate. That is not the right way to ensure that women receive equal pay for work of equal value. The Government must think about this again. I do not particularly press them to amend the Equal Pay Act. It would be something if they got the order right. As it stands, we have nothing at all. Several hon. Members have referred to the Ray net test of availability to work, which was implemented recently. The test includes questions about mobility for job seeking and what child-care arrangements have been made by the person seeking the job. Those questions are supposed to be asked of both men and women, but in practice they reflect the view that many women, particularly married women, are not available for work as they have made no provision for looking after their children. Many women cannot answer those questions precisely until they know whether they will be able to get a job, where they will work, what they will work at, what hours they will work and what money they will earn. What is more, in the context of the Rayner test, availability for work means availability for full-time work. The House is aware that 85 per cent. of part-time workers are women, but part-time availability in many cases is not enough to give them entitlement to benefit. This is just another way of slyly and wrongly rigging the unemployment figures. The extension of the availability test is merely a spin-off from the other administrative and cost-cutting changes and the tighter policing of benefits about which we have heard in recent weeks. That diverts attention from the real issue—the lack of jobs. It is not that people are unavailable; rather it is that jobs are not available. The Government have got the argument upside down. One of the main problems faced by women who wish to exercise their right to work is the lack of child-care facilities. Society still views women as having the major responsibility for children, as if having children was nothing at all to do with men. A lack of child-care facilities can have a serious effect on a woman's right to work. The chronic shortage of nursery facilities imposes a heavy burden on women. They have no particular right to place their children in local authority nurseries. Many of them must prove that they are inadequate as mothers before they are offered places in a nursery. As a result, women must rely on the support of friends, mothers-in-law and paid child-minders, sometimes at high cost and inconvenience. It is hard on single parents—one in eight of all families in the United Kingdom—because they face the most difficult problems of low pay and lack of child-care facilities. The quality and variety of child-care facilities differ throughout the country. Some local authorities provide them and some have withdrawn them. Cuts in local authority spending have affected women badly during the past three years. The cuts have led many authorities to reduce their nursery and child-care provisions. It prevents many parents from working and feeling confident that their children are looked after properly. During the 1950s and early 1960s nursery provision stagnated. We did not start thinking again about provision of nursery facilities until the end of the 1960s, when there was a shortage of teachers and nurses. When there is an economic crisis women are turned to, jobs are made available, they are encouraged to work, and there is help with the provision of nursery facilities. The minute another crisis occurs all those facilities are withdrawn because women do not have the right to work.
Does my hon. Friend agree that for a time from 1940 there was a desperate need for women to work?
That is absolutely right. During the war women were encouraged to work in munitions factories and the auxiliary forces. Child-care facilities sprang up overnight. There was nothing shameful about women working then and there was no talk of latchkey kids. Many people who lived through that period said that children benefited from associating with other children in nurseries. I believe that is right.Unlike the provision of creche facilities by local authorities, there has been a growth in child minding. In 1978 there were 28,000 children in local authority nurseries but there were 100,000 children being looked after by child minders. I am not knocking child minders. Some of them do an excellent social job, but I believe that the emphasis should be on the provision of nursery facilities. Although employers should be encouraged to provide nursery facilities, it should be done mainly by local authorities so that women are not necessarily tied to a job that they may want to leave because it provides nursery facilities. The House could and should set an example by providing nursery facilities for the children of hon. Members and staff. At present they have to spend excessive time and money having their young children looked after during their irregular working hours. I am referring not only to female Members but also to male Members and to the 3,000 people who work in the building, half of whom are women. They are as entitled as anyone to have an opportunity to have their children here if they wish. The House should go ahead as fast as possible with finding space for creche and nursery facilities in the House and ensure that it is subsidised. The country argues about what to do with the House of Lords. If I had my way, I would get rid of it and offer its facilities for a large creche. If Governments really mean what they say about wishing women to have the right to work they should bring in radical reforms to ensure that women have the proper opportunities to do just that. Women are not prepared to wait over-long. I believe that Labour's programme is now right. We have ensured that it includes a proper reflection of women's demands and perspective of themselves. We want to see women's perspective of themselves go beyond the sexist symbolism that seems to permeate our society. While it is important that we should have child-care facilities and training opportunities, it is equally important that we should try to change the attitude of society, which sees women as objects of violence or sex symbols, as on page 3 of The Sun or in calendars that appear on the shop floor. We have to tackle those matters vigorously. Women do not want only those facilities that I and my hon. Friends have been describing. Women do not just want to be freed to work. They want to be free to have a say in the shaping of society. We should look at the three main areas of decision-making in our society. One is the House. There are now 23 women out of 635 Members. It is a monstrously low proportion. We make laws here. We shape society. The second is the law. There are too few women High Court judges. There are 72 High Court judges, who have a great impact on the running of our lives, but only three of those are women. The third main area is the Civil Service. Members of Parliament, Ministers and Ministers-to-be may say that Ministers always have their way, but most of us know that senior civil servants often have their way in the decision-making. The majority of the work force in the lower ranks of the Civil Service is women. At clerical assistant level there are more women than men. There are fewer women higher up the scale. As far as I know, there are no women permanent secretaries. I believe that there has only ever been one. Women are suffering more than they should from the impact of the Government's economic policies. All Governments should forge ahead with radical steps towards women's equality to enable them to exercise their right to work, to have a voice in how the country is run and the policies that shape our lives. I know that this Government cannot do that.
I am delighted to contribute to the debate. I was amused when the right hon. Members for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) and for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) crossed swords. Both have been Ministers and members of Labour's NEC. In the past 20 years the Socialists have had the lion's share of time in Government. Many of the changes that the Opposition campaigned for they had the opportunity to implement when in office; many of the situations for which the Government are criticised existed under a Labour Government; many of the aspects that they say are unpraiseworthy they had responsibility for. At times they may have tried to make changes.
Would the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to specify what aspects he is talking about? Under the Labour Government there was a substantial increase in the proportion of women in higher education, a doubling of the number of children aged between three and four in nursery schools and a marked improvement towards achieving equal pay.
I was thinking of such things as the taxation of widows. I wrote to the Minister only this week to suggest that we should be more generous in that respect.I wish to deal with the evolution of man. With a bow and arrow, a club or a rifle man once provided the food. It can now be purchased from the supermarket in a package. The relationship between male and female has dramatically changed. Food is now gathered and packed by women, the packets are printed by women and the end product sold and purchased by women. Both men and women pay for it. In my constituency in the textile mills the yarn is spun, woven and inspected by women. It may be invisibly repaired by women, although in Huddersfield that is seldom necessary. Women make it up into clothes. There are great job opportunities. In a slump the textile industry is one of the first to suffer. Many of the jobs in the mills are semi-skilled or unskilled. The developing nations, to which we give aid, can now produce cloth and are going after our markets. We must recognise the changes. But we still have many job opportunities for women and we must not criticise the Government too much for not providing opportunities. The Clothing and Allied Products Industry Training Board, with the help of the Department of Employment, has provided:
The Hotel and Catering Industry Training Board provides:"A series of development grants to employers in the Clothing industry to take on women as Management trainees…Grants for women to train as Clothing Machinery mechanics…Scholarships for women to take their BSc course in clothing design at Bradford and Brunel universities."
There are also wider opportunities courses"Sponsorship grants for women graduates to train for management in the Hotel and Catering industry."
The right hon. Member for Crosby is a little sensitive about new technology, so this may interest her. There are new technology wider opportunities for women courses"For women who have decided to return to work after a considerable break, but who do not know what work they can do or how to adjust to the working environment. This programme has been running for several years, and courses are available in a number of centres."
That is important. There is a much longer list of what is available, but the House will forgive me for not going through it. I believe that I have forcefully made the point that there are many opportunities for women and many are aimed at their taking more responsibility. When a woman becomes a Member of Parliament, she takes on serious responsibilities for a great number of people. Lady Members are a shining example of women being willing and eager to take on more responsibility. The right hon. Member for Lanark mentioned the Luddites in the textile industry. In bygone years some grasping owners wished to install machinery to make vast fortunes for themselves. There is nothing wrong with making a profit, however. The King's Army had to supervise the installation of the machines. There may have been cause to grumble in those days. Today it is a different ball game. We need the new machines to compete. Our labour costs must be competitive. Unless we are competitive, we shall have shrinking order books and eventually no work. We must not be narrow minded and protest about new technology. When the railways were introduced, it was feared that thousands of jobs would be lost in producing horse-drawn carriages and saddlery and among the furriers and the livery stables. It was argued that the change was outrageous, but, even though certain jobs were lost, many more were gained. The growth of the newspaper industry was one side effect—which people in the Press Gallery are more than delighted about. Newspapers could be distributed easily because of the railway network. A cable may soon read gas or electricity meters, detect a burglary or introduce more television channels than we can bear to think about. New industries will be opened up and jobs created. That may not happen fast enough, but no one can reasonably and honestly suggest how 3 million jobs can be created in the short term."Aimed at women wishing to return to work in new technology related occupations at scientific or technical level."—[Official Report, 21 October 1982; Vol. 29, c. 181.]
The hon. Gentleman is taking a superficial view of unemployment. I have been unemployed. Will the hon. Gentleman say that he, too, has had experience of unemployment? I shall give the House an example from my personal experience of how to combat unemployment. For years Hong Kong has been a textile area. It is now suffering severely from the recession. [Interruption.] What is wrong with saying that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Carry on, Dan".] I intend to carry on.
Order. The hon. Gentleman must make a short intervention, not a speech.
I will, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I have the right to ask why responsible Members are laughing. I have experience of this. I am interested in Hong Kong. The country was producing textiles at the beginning of the century. Now it is producing steel manufactures and is maintaining its affluent society. Hong Kong is able to do it because it does not spend on armaments.
Absolutely spot on.
Conservative Members may laugh as much as they like.
Seldom does the House find me speechless, but I must confess that that was some intervention.
It was indeed.
The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones) asked me about my background. I have not experienced unemployment, but both my sons have. As the hon. Gentleman is so interested in my background, I can tell him that I come from humble beginnings. I started on the shop floor. I began life in a small two-up, two-down, back-to-back dwelling backing on to a railway embankment—very humble beginnings. That is why I am proud to be a Conservative. I am sure that the House will excuse me if I do not go into detail about Hong Kong.I was asked about unemployment. It was suggested that Conservative Members, and me in particular, were being glib about unemployment. We think deeply about unemployment. Two of my sons have been unemployed; one is still unemployed. Unemployment has hit my family just as it has hit about every family in the United Kingdom. I am taking my share of the horrors of unemployment. It is equally sinister for a man to be unemployed as for a woman to be unemployed. I agree that it is helpful to the House to have a debate and to remind ourselves that women are being disadvantaged in many ways—in benefits and so on—and are sometimes more vulnerable than men. However, it is sad that the Opposition have tabled a motion that criticises the Government on this issue. If we had had a debate today in which no Whip was applied and no Division was called, we could have explored certain areas in which our debate might have been more helpful. The Opposition had many years in Government to improve matters. We have been in Government for only a short time, but we shall be returned to office and may be able to finish the job. It is good that we should hear what hon. Members have to say on this subject. The Prime Minister was criticised by two hon. Members. Because she is a woman, she was more criticised than she would have been had she been a man. It was suggested that the Prime Minister had not done very much for the ladies. Every mother with children and perhaps grandchildren will be able to thank the Prime Minister, because, by sticking to sensible policies, by not going for short-term popularity by giving sweets away to win by-elections in Crosby and other places, and by keeping to firm principles, a woman is showing the nation more leadership than any man could or ever has done.
While I was listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Dickens), I thought to myself "I wonder which one of my hon. Friends will have to follow this."The hon. Gentleman said that for the. past 20 years the Labour Party had had the lion's share of power. It is true that in the past 20 years Labour has been in Government for about 11 years. There have been majority Labour Governments able to carry through their legislation for seven of the past 20 years. I claim that in those seven years our record was nothing to be ashamed of. It was illuminated well by my hon. Friends the Members for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) and Barking (Miss Richardson). We have nothing to be ashamed of or defensive about in our record in Government. The fact that we could never go far enough or fast enough is a charge to which we shall plead guilty.
I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. I wish to make two points preliminary to my main point. I do not intend to detain the House for too long. The speech of the hon. Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith), who has now left the Chamber, was remarkable in two ways. She clearly advocated as a Conservative Member of Parliament that there should be a wage freeze next year. She also made great play of the point that if only we could have women in charge we could get the country back on its feet. She ignored the fact—the point was made eloquently by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West—that the country has a woman in charge.Anyone would believe that the Prime Minister had no power. In some ways, the Prime Minister is the only man in the Cabinet. That is a charge to which she can plead guilty because she has never taken any interest during her time in the House—it spans many years now—in either advancing or protecting the interests and the cause of women. Women's rights and issues are of concern not only to female Members. They are a matter of civil liberties for one half of our population. Today, the Chamber has been filled with male Members putting the case of one half of their constituents. The issue should not be left only to women—that is not the point. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West will have to square what he said with what his hon. Friend the Member for Belper said, because the two speeches do not match. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner), referred in her speech to the social security changes, in terms of equality in supplementary benefit, which will be introduced in 1983–84 as a result of our membership of the EEC. She referred, rightly so, to the Social Security Act 1980, which gave the necessary legislative effect for those changes next year. She gave the impression that the Government had come along with a great offer for women. She neglected to remind the House—she may have forgotten but I have not—that in 1980 two social security Acts passed through the House. The hon. Lady was a Member of the Standing Committee on the Social Security (No. 2) Bill which abolished the earnings-related supplement to the widow's allowance and maternity allowance. Those benefits are not drawn by men. Yet, she sat in that Committee, through guillotined debates, mute—like other Tory Members—not defending those benefits that were being taken away only from the female part of our population. We heard hardly a whimper from Conservative Members of that Committee. The hon. Lady knows that she was one of them.
Does my hon. Friend remember that the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner), when she was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Social Security (No. 2) Bill and a Back Bencher, made public play of her opposition to some of the proposals contained in the Bill, yet when a vote was taken in Committee she was not present to register her opposition to the Government's policy?
Yes, the hon. Lady said many things inside and outside that Committee Room. She is now a Minister and I suppose that that speaks for itself.
Does my hon. Friend mean that one becomes a Minister by mistake, as it were?
One may become a Minister by keeping quiet or by making a fuss. The hon. Lady knows best herself how she came to be where she is now. She did not defend women's interests in the 1980 Committee, especially on the night to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) has referred. That is a matter of record and cannot be denied. I remind the House of it because the hon. Lady reminded me of it by mentioning the Social Security Act 1980.
When I spoke about unemployment I said that I had been unemployed for five years. The response from Tory Party Members was nothing but unconcealed merriment. We know that unemployment is becoming even worse. I was angered by the reaction of Tory Members to my unemployment and I ask my hon. Friend to comment on their attitude.
Like my hon. Friend, I know what it is like to stand in a dole queue. I have shared the problems of unemployment. I did so when unemployment was nowhere near as bad as it is now. My experience of unemployment has probably been shared by the majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends. We know how people really live and the problems that they suffer when there are massive downturns in the economy.I wish to direct my remarks to the disastrous effect on employment of the Government's policies, especially effect on women. When there is a downturn in the economy and the creation of mass unemployment on its present scale, the effect on part-time workers is proportionately much greater than on full-time workers. That is because our employment structure is vastly different from that of the other member States of the European Community. I understand that one in five of the United Kingdom's work force is a part-time worker. In 1981 and early 1982 there were about 4·3 million part-time workers, and 3·6 million workers were women. Women represent 83 or 84 per cent. of part-time workers. I understand that Britain has 41 per cent. of all the part-time workers in the European Community. There are more part-time workers in Britain than in France and Germany put together. These workers have been extremely badly hit during the downturn of the past three years. I can identify one woman in particular who has done more for part-time workers than all the actions for which the Government wish to claim credit. That woman is one of my constituents, Mrs. Brenda Clarke, who was on the receiving end of a redundancy notice in 1981 along with many of her workmates. She was working at a subsidiary of IMI called Eley Kynock, which makes sporting ammunition. Many of the part-time women workers had lengths of service between 14 and 20 years. The problem was that the redundancy agreement discriminated grossly between part-time and full-time workers. It was a normal redundancy agreement that had the effect of "last in, first out". However, before that happened the part-time workers would be out. That meant that part-time workers with 10, 15 or 20 years' service would be up the road before the last-in-first-out full-timer was out. No one wants to get into an argument about who should lose jobs first. I have never been involved in arguments in the House about unemployment in the regions and I do not wish to enter into arguments that involve the sexes or part-time and full-time workers. However, we must all take an equal share of the burden. The thrust of the Opposition's motion is that women are shouldering an unfair share of the burden. Part-time women workers have an especially unfair share. My constituent, Mrs. Clarke, was the subject of an agreement that was reached between the unions and the company. The company is a well respected multinational concern. Large unions were involved, including the Transport and General Workers Union. I suspect that they were quite embarrassed by Mrs. Clarke's action. She decided to challenge the agreement. She had the gumption to get advice. At the end of the day she ended up with my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) as her solicitor. That was before my hon. Friend became a Member of this place. She was funded by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the National Council for Civil Liberties handled the legal side. Mrs. Clarke challenged the agreement at an industrial tribunal, where she lost. However, she took her action to an employment appeal tribunal, which found in September that a redundancy agreement which means that part-timers go before full-timers is discriminatory under the sex discrimination legislation of a previous Labour Government. That is a plus for that Labour Government during the years when the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West said that they did nothing. It was a big plus also for my constituent, Mrs. Clarke. She and a few dozen other women decided to challenge an agreement that was reached between a multinational company and a majority of its work force. The part-timers were in the minority. They could not win any votes at mass meetings by arguing that the agreement should be changed. When the Minister for State replies, he should explain what action the Government are taking to draw to the attention of employers and trade unions, which are signatories to redundancy agreements, that agreements that mean that part-timers are up the road before the last-in-first-out-full-timers are against the law. This needs to be made abundantly clear because it is not yet sufficiently recognised. Many long-service part-time women workers are breadwinners. The concept of the male breadwinner has gone for ever. My constituent's husband was unemployed, and during the battle that she fought over 12 months both her sons became unemployed. She was the breadwinner, but according to the agreement that was entered into freely between her employer and the unions she was classed as someone who should not have the chance of a job. I cannot praise Mrs. Clarke enough for having the gumption to decide to challenge the agreement Because she considered it to be unfair. She did not understand the legal ramifications but she knew enough to obtain legal advice. The Equal Opportunities Commission and the National Council for Civil Liberties deserve tribute for what they did in supporting Mrs. Clarke. Mass unemployment is here on a scale that my generation has never experienced. It may surprise Conservative Members to learn that women can get depressed if they have to listen to "Woman's Hour". If they are at home listening to "Woman's Hour," they feel that they have failed. I am not knocking the programme—it is damned good. They see themselves as having lost their job and being locked, as the Secretary of State for Industry wants them to be, in the four walls of their home. Some women are on record as saying that it can be depressing because they feel they have failed to contribute to the wealth creation of the country and their families. Massive unemployment is breaking up families. It is stopping youngsters in their early twenties—not in their teens—from getting married when they want to do so. It especially affects girls in their early twenties because they may never have had a job and they cannot envisage ever getting one. The whole thrust of society, as they now see it, is against their entering the labour force. Mass unemployment is affecting the way in which women plan for the future. They cannot now plan on making the contribution that they expect to make to the family income. They are able to control their fertility as they could not before but, because of mass unemployment, they are not able to take advantage of equal pay and sex discrimination legislation. Mass unemployment also affects what women will tolerate. It affects what they will complain about. Mass unemployment now has a function in the economic system. It maintains industrial discipline. That is why we have achieved the wage settlements that the hon. Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) mentioned. If the Government want a wage freeze next year, they may well get away with it because of the fear of unemployment that they have deliberately nurtured and which they are using as a weapon of economic policy. That is a tragedy. I shall finish my speech soon as I do not want to abuse my Front Bench privilege speaking from the Back Benches. There is gross discrimination against women in the social security system because most women are part-time workers. There are women who, for part of the year, pay national insurance contributions because their earnings are above the lower earnings limit for the national insurance fund. Because of changes in the limits of the fund and wages, they do not pay national insurance contributions for the rest of the year. Part-time working women may make hefty contributions—say £3 or £4 a week-for 20 weeks of the year but they receive no benefits. If they lose their job they receive no unemployment benefit because their hours of work do not fit in under the rules and because they are not accruing contributions. They do not receive benefit, nor do they receive a refund of the contributions that they make in the 20 weeks that they are trapped in the national insurance system. That is grossly unfair. It has always existed. I am not making a narrow party point, but it is a problem that has been made far worse in the past three years because of the return of mass unemployment that has been directly brought about by the Government's economic policies.
I am unhappy that we are debating this subject. A motion that distinguishes men from women denigrates many of the advances that women have made in the past 30 or 40 years. It is wrong to suggest that women today are not entitled to work in their own right. That is precisely the right that we do have.Many of us have had opportunities of learning and training that we have taken because we have wanted to do so. I consider myself to be an older woman now. Many of my generation set the tone and the pace for younger women to take up careers in professions which, when I started, many women were not encouraged to enter. I began my career as a lawyer. I was one of four women in a class of 35 students in my year at college. I am now one of a small minority in the House but I do not doubt that in 30 years that will have been rectified. However, it will not be rectified by Opposition Members continually publicising and going on about the inequalities and difficulties that face women today. I do not expect for a moment that when we read about the debate tomorrow in the newspapers many women will applaud the debate and say that it was a wonderful thing to do in the House of Commons. On the contrary, I suspect that many women who read about this debate will say "Good heavens, do they not have better things to do with their time than talk about women, most of whom can get on with their own jobs in society quite easily?" Why and how have women developed the right to work? We have done so for social reasons, because we have wanted to do so and because we knew that there was a place for us in each and every one of the professions. We have also done so for economic reasons. There is nothing wrong with women going to work or returning to work for economic reasons. No woman that I know has complained about going to work to support her family. Many women support their families happily and feel proud that they are able to do so. Women also go back to work for psychological reasons as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) suggested. I have not listened to "Woman's Hour" for many years but it may occasionally depress women. Although the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) is no longer here, I should like to discuss child minding, to which she referred. Other hon. Members referred to hairdressing and service industries. Opposition Members should get their act together. If we are to encourage child minding so that women can go out to work, who will do the child minding? Irrespective of whether the nurseries are run privately or by local authorities, who will staff them? Will they be men?
They should be.
If we are not to have female hairdressers, are they to be men? I go to a male hairdresser. I am amazed that hon. Ladies opposite do not go to male hairdressers—they are much better than women.Even if there were full employment, massive job opportunities and every woman in the country went out to work, who would look after the women's children? Will it be other women? If so, will they not be denigrated because they are in a service industry? We should consider that point carefully before we carry the logic too far. The whole idea has an air of illogicality about it. It is important to remember that the Government are providing many job opportunities with the training schemes. Moreover, there is equal opportunity for both men and women. We should be proud of that. I have no regrets when I say that those opportunities are not confined to catering, hairdressing and secretarial courses. They are being advanced for young women to go into training for computing, the mechanical sciences and all the technologies. If we wish to change society in such a way as to allow women to compete in areas such as mining, computing and the various types of engineering, we must start a great deal earlier than coming to the House as middle-aged women and carrying on about it. We must begin in the primary schools. We must encourage those who teach there to treat boys and girls equally and to suggest to the girls that they are just as able as men to do those jobs. Recently, I visited several primary schools and sat not with the head or with any of the teachers but with the children. When asked what was their best subject, all the girls said that it was writing, while many boys said that they were better at sums. If we are to make an impact and achieve total interchangeability of women and men, that must be changed. The opportunities are there and I have seen nothing to suggest that individual women cannot achieve just as much as men in all those careers. The assumption that unemployment particularly disadvantages women must also be challenged. It must be viewed in the context of a world recession that affects not just this country but many others, including the United States. Unemployment is a problem for both men and women, but I maintain that it is not so great a problem for women as the Opposition try to make out. The figures for unemployment in Europe certainly do not support the Opposition's view. The proportion of women unemployed is 45 per cent. in Germany and 50 per cent. in France, compared with 29·7 per cent. in this country. As a percentage of the total unemployed, therefore, women in this country do relatively well and it is a fallacy to suggest that simply because unemployment in this country is high the disadvantage to women is greater.
Labour Members have clearly described the ways in which the current recession penalises women. The figures for the South-East show that the rate of increase in unemployment is nearly twice as high for women as for men and the effect of cuts in public services on women is also greater. Not only is a disproportionately large number of women employed in the public services, so that cuts in public services mean more job losses for women, but they are also especially dependent on public services such as transport and child care to get to work in the first place.As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said, women also suffer greatly through unemployment because women at work are often the first to lose their jobs. My hon. Friend's example of discriminatory redundancy agreements—the rule is "last-in, first-out" but "part-time workers out first no matter what their length of service"—is a classic example. Women also suffer more in a recession because they are low paid. When pay is kept down, women suffer particularly. It is far harder to struggle for equal opportunities at a time when the work force is being cut to pieces and when the Labour movement is put very much on the defensive, but that does not mean that the struggle should be shelved. Therefore, I very much welcome today's debate and the way in which it was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor). It is vital that we should be aware of the double problem that women face in a recession. We must also, however, frame alternatives that will not only regenerate the economy but will rebuild it in such a way as to attack the deep inequality between men and women in our society. To frame such a strategy, we must analyse the root causes of that inequality. We have measured comparative job losses among men and among women, although the Government's method of collecting figures makes this more difficult. We have also measured the extent to which the work force of this country is deeply segregated. We have measured the pay differentials and the growing gap between men's and women's wages. We can also see the relative lack of power of women within the trade union movement, the organisation that represents working people. It is also all too easy to measure, simply with one's eyes, the lack of representation of women in the House of Commons. Taken together, those comparisons tell a story of inequality and political powerlessness. A crucial factor underlying those indicators of inequality, however, has received insufficient attention. I refer to the unequal division of labour at home, which applies not only in the minority of families in which the man goes out to work and the woman stays at home to look after the children, but in almost every home, even when both parents are working or neither parent is working. By and large, women are responsible for bringing up the nation's children and bear the main responsibility for running the home. The normal pattern of working hours for people fortunate enough to have jobs is between 40 and 50 hours per week. That pattern can be sustained only because the men working those hours have women taking the main responsibility for looking after and bringing, up the children and keeping the home organised. Equality in the work force and political equality will not be achieved while there is such inequality at home. As a result of that inequality at home, women's lives are different from those of men. Their concerns and interests are different, not for any innate reason but because of their different experience of life in having the main responsibility for bringing up children and looking after the home. To achieve equality, we must attack the chronic male absenteeism from the home and from child care. One of the most important components of our alternative strategy to regenerate the economy must be proper public provision of comprehensive child care and a reduction in the hours of work. In this, the public sector must take a lead. It is also important to attack low pay. Many people work long hours not because they enjoy doing so but because they have to do so to bring home a living wage. A 30-hour week would be a realistic aim. This would not only share out scarce jobs—we have heard much about new technology which will inevitably make jobs scarcer—but enable men to share in child rearing. Although the majority of the population is female, issues concerning women are persistently treated by the House of Commons as minority issues. Women are not a minority. We are the majority. The overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament, however, are male. As a result, women's interests are largely unrepresented in Parliament. Thus, in general, a group of men make decisions affecting women's lives—lives which, as I have said, are different from men's lives. Most Members of Parliament are able to be here because their homes and children are being cared for by their wives. That situation, I am afraid, is reflected in the decisions taken and in the lack of priority given to issues such as child care and low pay. We should be under no illusion about the punitive impact of the recession on women. We cannot leave the issue of women's inequality until after the recession. Nor can we assume that simply by ending the recession we shall end inequality. We need to regenerate the economy and, at the same time, to attack the root causes of women's inequality. That is what Labour's programme is working towards.
The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) commented on the fact that there are few women Members. That is not because of a male chauvinistic desire to keep them out of the House of Commons. It is because constituencies do not choose women candidates in large enough numbers. I am sure that those constituencies which have the wisdom to choose women candidates realise that they get an extremely good bargain. Much education is, however, needed. I suggest to the hon. Lady that such education is needed among her own sex. Often, selection committees contain a preponderance of women and it is the women who choose men rather than women.I feel proud and pleased to be a member of the first political party in this country to have a woman as its leader and Prime Minister. I do not believe that anyone in this country or, I dare say, around the world has anything but considerable respect for my right hon. Friend. She has shown that if we had had a woman Prime Minister many years ago our nation could well have occupied a much stronger and more influential position than has been the case at least during the last decade. The Opposition have decided to concentrate on two topics in this debate. The first is to condemn
and the second to tag on condemnation of"the disastrous effects on employment of Her Majesty's Government's economic policies";
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), who like me is a Berkshire Member, will be aware that the county has an unemployment figure of 7·2 per cent, about half the national figure. If the hon. Lady knows anything about the western part of the county that I represent, she will also be aware that we are blessed with a wide spectrum of what are called sunrise industries, the new technological industries that are bringing to my constituents new jobs in new industries. Those jobs have an expanding future as our nation's prosperity grows. I suggest to the hon. Lady that the motion is widely drawn and grossly misleading. It appears to imply that the whole of our nation is in a state of economic slump. I can assure her that certain parts of our nation are moving into a new prosperity."their particularly damaging impact on the social and economic position of women".
How does the hon. Gentleman square his remarks about unemployment in Berkshire, and especially my area, being lower than the national average with the fact that unemployment in my area is now well over two-and-a-half times greater than it was when his Government came to power?
To reply to the hon. Lady, I would need her to tell me what industries exist in Eton and Slough and whether those industries are the sunrise industries with which my constituency is blessed or ones with perhaps an older technology that is being superseded. If the industries are of the older type, change is inevitable. Those industries will die and will be replaced by new industries. It is inevitable that there will be a transition period. No hon. Member would try to pretend that transition is anything but painful. But transition is the lifeblood of our country. If we cannot change our methods and renew our technology, there is no future for us as a nation.The Opposition motion
I wonder whether it is true to say that inflation in single figures is harmful to employment. How can it be harmful to employment that our prices should become more competitive, as they surely will, and if inflation stays in single figures and continues to drop? How can it be harmful that our prices in the shops should be stabilised? How can that harm the social life of women? How can the fall in mortgage rates hurt young married couples wishing to buy their first home and set up families? The motion is curiously drawn and something of a dog's breakfast. It seems to be trying to cash in on two possible targets without being sure which of them it wishes to make its prime objective. For that reason, most of the debate has been taken up with discussion of women and the problems of women. I shall follow that line. It seems to me that it is probably the one single strand that hon. Members should take out of this otherwise loosely drawn motion which, in my opinion, is not particularly effective. When I conduct parties of schoolchildren through the Palace of Westminster, I always take them, towards the end of the visit, to St Stephen's Hall and show them the statue of Lord Falkland. I explain to them that the statue is the Newbury factor. The statue is of the Lord Falkland who died in the battle of Newbury. I tell any girls in the party to examine carefully the spur on Lord Falkland's boot. It is broken. At the beginning of this century, when women were fighting for the right to vote and also to be Members of Parliament, a suffragette chained herself to the spur. Hard as they tried, the police were unable to prise the chain off the spur. So they broke it. The spur remains broken to this day as a shining example to all women of the struggles of their sisters to gain for them the sort of equal rights that have been discussed today. I salute those women who fought so hard for their rights, just as I salute their sisters for continuing to fight to ensure that women are treated entirely as equals in our society. I would, however, remind every hon. Member that the woman who chained herself to the spur on that statue started the process by which the Conservative Party and our nation now has a woman Prime Minister. I hope that I have made clear that I believe both in emancipation and in equality. I believe in intellectual excellence in whichever sex it is found. I hope that both my daughter and my stepdaughter will make of their lives what they wish. If they wish to pursue intellectual careers, I shall give them all the encouragement that I can. However, if they choose to be wives and mothers, I shall not consider that they have opted for a second-class status."condemns the disastrous effects on employment of Her Majesty's Government's economic policies".
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
May I just finish this purple passage? I shall not consider that they have lessened their status as human beings. Instead, I shall respect them for having made a choice that is open to most women and which deserves greater respect than is often given to it in debates on feminist subjects.
Why does the hon. Gentleman assume that his daughter and stepdaughter can either pursue intellectual careers or bring up families? Cannot they do both, just like men?
I am glad that the hon. Lady has corrected me. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has done just that. She has been a mother and is now a most capable Minister, assisting with the government of our country. The hon. Lady was right to bring that to my attention. That is the third option that deserves to be studied. A woman has the enviable opportunity of following a career and of being a wife and mother.I should like to stress the concept of wife and mother. Sometimes we imply that work is something that must be paid for. One is apt to think that a housewife and mother is not a worker. However, she probably works from dawn to dusk looking after her family and may work much harder than many of her sisters who have what we describe as jobs. Let us not imagine for a moment that the wife and mother is not an enormously influential figure in our society. We all know the old saying that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. None of us would suggest that it is out of date. Like it or not—I speak as a father—the mother is the key figure to a young child. The hon. Member for Peckham pointed out that a parent who is also a Member of Parliament will not see his children as much as he would like. However, when something happens it is, sadly, not to me that my daughter turns, but to my wife. That may cause me some heartache, but it is a reality. Having seen other children grow up, I know that the mother is the key figure during the early years. The father needs to be around—a shadow figure, a presence—but the mother is the crucial element in the home. Because I hold that view so strongly, I also believe that if the mother can stay in the home and bring up the children their future will be more assured. We have all heard of the problem of the latchkey child who when he leaves school has a key to go into his house or who perhaps wanders the streets and gets into trouble. Even in Berkshire, the figures for juvenile crime are high enough to make us all ask whether the family unit is disintegrating around us and whether we could make it stronger. In 1981, 28·74 per cent. of all crimes in the Thames Valley area were committed by young people between the ages of 10 and 17. In his report, the chief constable added these remarks about young people. They
Hon. Members should bear in mind that those children are aged 10 to 17. I have not had a chance to break down their social backgrounds, but I would not mind betting that many of them come from broken homes or from homes in which the children see their parents—if at all—in the evening. I imagine that they are not receiving the upbringing that most of us would want for our children. When juvenile crime is such an important and worrying aspect of the crime figures, we must ask ourselves whether family life is as good as it should be, or whether more could be done to encourage women to recognise that being wives and mothers is in every way on a par with any other job. Therefore, when I hear the criticisms of women who do part-time jobs, I ask why such work should be condemned. On a visit to a British Telecom accounts office in Newbury, I was interested to find that one whole room contained women who had opted for part-time work. One of the joys of that was that they could get home soon after lunch and be there when their children came home from school and their husbands came home from work."featured significantly in thefts of pedal cycles, theft or taking of mail, shoplifting, handling stolen goods and theft from the person".
Many of us recognise the importance of part-time jobs for women with older children who do not require full-time attention. Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Government's job-splitting scheme specifically excludes married women who are not registered for benefit?
The right hon. Lady asks a specific question for which I do not have a specific answer. We have to consider the whole question of men and women in employment with eyes different from those that have so far been used in the debate. Christopher Johnson, in an article in Lloyds Bank Economic Bulletin for June 1982, states:
A job-splitting scheme which includes married women might produce an ineffective solution. I shall be honest and say that I am sceptical of job splitting. I am not convinced that married women fit naturally into that concept of employment measures. I have not given the matter as much consideration as I might have and the right hon. Lady's intervention catches me on the wrong foot. I want to remind the House about the employment, rather than the unemployment, position today compared with 1931. Often when we discuss today's economic situation we compare it with the 1931 position as if we are comparing like with like. The total in work in 1931 and in June 1982 is quite close, but the occupied population in 1931—that was the definition—was 21 million and in June 1982 it was 23 million. It is interesting to note that 14,790,000 men were employed in 1931, and only 6,265,000 women. That includes women employed in domestic service. For 1982 the figures are: men, 13·8 million; women, 9·2 million. Domestic service is a thing of the past. In real terms, therefore, never have more women been employed in our country than at present. That must be borne in mind. It is true that about 10 per cent. of women who could be employed are out of work compared with only 8 per cent. of men, but it is important to recognise by how much female employment has increased. We must also remember the disappearance of all the domestic service jobs that women used to do. I have already said that women are less likely, not more likely, to go out to work when their husbands are unemployed. When a woman goes out to work and her husband is out of work site becomes a breadwinner wife and the tax system works enormously in her favour. For instance, the breadwinner wife whose husband does not work can earn £4,000 a year tax free and receive both the married man's allowance and the wife's earned income allowance. Obviously they are not available to a man. We could pursue that point and ask whether it is reasonable and fair and whether a woman who goes out to work should get more tax benefits than a man who goes out to work. If the benefits were equalised, as Christopher Johnson said, many women who go out to work as breadwinner wives would not do so. He estimates that about 1 million women might give up employment. One million women giving up employment would make a considerable difference to the unemployment figures with which the motion is concerned. When so much is said about the inequalities placed on women, something should also be said about the unequal tax benefits given to breadwinner wives. One could argue that, if 1 million women left employment, by making that tax change and it was coupled with earlier retirement, for men the employment difference could be 1·8 million. I wonder how soon one or other of the political parties will recognise that those changes could make an appreciable difference to the unemployment figures. The Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts are generally considered to have lost their impetus between 1977 and 1979. It is therefore unfair for the Opposition to suggest that all that has gone wrong in the social and economic lives of women dates from 1979. The fact is that after an initial impetus following that legislation something went wrong in our economic community. Lastly, are we convinced that, if equal pay became an absolute necessity, as many women would be employed? It is conceivable that, if we press the equal pay argument too far, some women may find that they no longer have a job. Are we right, as we think we are, to talk about pushing forward equal pay legislation rather than educating industry and commerce and other sectors of our society that the woman's contribution is, has and always will be as good as a man's and that on those terms and no others they should receive equal pay?"Women are less likely, not more, to go out to work when their husbands are unemployed."
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) made a much more sensible speech than most of his hon. Friends today. Some of the speeches that we have heard from Conservative Members have been sexist, reactionary and patronising. I exempt the hon. Gentleman from those criticisms, but the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) and some of his hon. Friends made statements that many women will find deeply offensive.I must point out the hypocrisy in some speeches. It has been said that women should be wives and mothers and should stay at home. Of course, that proposition does not extend to members of the upper class. The British upper class and many Conservative Members of Parliament send their children to public school. Therefore, those who constitute the ruling class do not believe that their wives should look after the children because they pack them off to public schools at the earliest opportunity to get them out of the way.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I wish to continue for a little while, but I shall gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman later.The Government's policy towards women can be summed up by the phrase "nappies, nosh and knitting". They believe that women are ripe for washing nappies, that they should cook food for their men and that they should look after the family and do the knitting. To suggest that women are fit only for that role is outmoded and foolish and it ill behoves the Prime Minister or the hon. Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) to suggest that women should play that role. Today we have heard speeches from anti-women women in the Conservative Party who believe that women must stay at home and look after the children. If generalisations are not enough, I draw the House's attention to the remarks of the hon. Member for Belper during our previous debate on women's rights. She said:
That unconscious own goal from a Conservative Member of Parliament sums up the position. I am sorry that the hon. Lady is not here to answer the point, but it is an astonishing admission from a Conservative Member of Parliament. We must consider the facts of the position of women in Britain in 1982. Yesterday the Government published an important document called "Social Trends", which contains information that gives the lie to some arguments that have been put forward today. This morning The Times carried on page 4 a brief summary of part of the document. Pat Healy, the social services correspondent, said:"If we must look to the Government in these matters, the Act which did most to liberate women was the Clean Air Act 1956. That resulted in a high proportion of 'black areas' being converted by smoke control orders. Therefore, there was far less dirt and dust for women to clear up."—[Official Report, 11 June 1981, Vol. 6, c. 601.]
One slogan that has been used by the women's movement to describe the Government's actions is that the Prime Minister is driving women back into the home. Those figures prove the fact beyond peradventure. No one can disprove what the Government are saying to us in their important and responsibly produced document "Social Trends". However, there are contradictions in the Government's policy. If one reduces wages to restore competitiveness, which has fallen in real terms by 36 per cent. during their term of office, that necessitates more women seeking work, if they can find it, because cuts in real wages for men in employment increase the pressure on women to participate in the labour market. They wish to maintain a family income and to keep the family in the lifestyle to which it has become accustomed. The policies that are being pursued by the Secretary of State for Employment, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are completely counter-productive in the long run in terms of forcing women to play the traditionalist, flowery-hat role that they think women should play. However, we must look at the problem more deeply than through the policies of the present Government. We must look at women's position in society in relation to men, and the economic power that men have over women in the family. The economic power of men over women in the family is similar in some respects to the power of capitalism over the working class. Many men-not all—believe that they should not show their wives, or the women they live with, their wage slips. They believe that it is for them to decide how much they will have for spending money. They gratuitously give a small amount to the women in the family for housekeeping. Their economic power over women is enormous. Women therefore feel that they cannot be economically independent. The present slump makes the likelihood of poor conditions in the home where men and women live together much greater. It is more likely in a slump that women will be battered at home, that they will be raped in the street and at home, and will suffer from the increased poverty and deprivation that this Government are causing. One of the steps that the Government are taking to "improve" women's lot at present is to cut public spending, spending which liberates women from their oppression. I was interested to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner), say earlier how important she thought it was to spend money on voluntary schemes to assist the under-fives and their parents. That is all very fine and dandy, but what about her county council? Kent county council, with a massive Tory majority, has one day nursery in the whole of its area. What is her Tory-controlled county council doing? It is shutting that day nursery. So the hon. Lady's speech from the Dispatch Box this evening was hypocritical. The Government say one thing and do another. Indeed, the figures that have been given to me in parliamentary answers which have been printed in Hansard for the local authorities which provide services for the under-fives show that overwhelmingly Tory-controlled local authorities make abjectly poor provision for the under-fives. I shall not list them all, because it would be tedious to do so, but that is a fact. The Government have cut spending on the National Health Service. The hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham made great play of the fact that the Government are increasing real spending on the NHS. I am sure that no Opposition Member believes that. Indeed, I am sure that no one believes it. In fact, the Government are shutting hospitals. They shut one hospital in my constituency during the past three weeks. Last Wednesday, they decided to shut another 250-bed acute hospital which takes patients from my constituency. So it goes on, throughout the country. It goes on not only for the sick, but for the elderly. Tory-controlled local authorities cut the home helps who assist elderly people in their homes. If home helps are not available, the relatives—usually the women relatives—have to help out. The Government think this issue is so important that they have stopped collecting the statistics which would show us which local authorities are providing which services through home helps. They have done it to cut their expenditure. We need a different policy from the one that is pursued by the Government. We need more public services, such as under-fives provision free at the point of use for any parent who wishes to use it. We need an improved National Health Service and better provisions for the elderly. All those measures would provide jobs in traditional areas of women's employment, not that I suggest for one moment that there should not be male nursery school teachers. However, there should be a major expansion of the public services, not only to create jobs for women but to make it easier for them to get away from oppression in the home. I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) when she said that it was important that we took deep-seated measures to deal with the problems for women in our society. We need to restructure employment and liberate women from the traditional role that they have been forced to play. We need a shorter working week. There should be a 35-hour week. We need time off for paternity leave as well as maternity leave. If we are going to persuade men to take on their full responsibilities properly, we must ensure that they take these problems on board. We must ensure that there are vast changes in training and career structures to enable women to get into higher paid employment and to filter up through the occupational ladder into jobs where they will be well paid and have a secure future. We need a positive action programme because the existing legislation, excellent though it is in many respects, is not enough to do the job required. We need to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Pay Act 1970 to provide for equal pay for work of equal value. We do not have that now because employers segregate women workers into low-paid ghettos where there are no male workers. Because there are no male workers, one cannot compare the jobs of men and women, so equal pay does not operate. The point has been made—it is right—that after the initial advance in women's wages compared to men's following the passage of the Equal Pay Act 1970 women's wages have fallen behind. That is a disgrace. We must do something radical about it. We must also change the Sex Discrimination Act to allow positive discrimination at the point of selection of employees. We must allow positive discrimination to employers because it is precluded by the Sex Discrimination Act. If we are to have a system of positive discrimination, we must deal with that point. There must also be Government contracts with positive action clauses written into them. Part-time workers should have equal rights with full-time workers for job security and pay. One of the most crucial things that should happen in our society is that we should deal with women's pay and the low pay of most women workers. I do not believe that either free collective bargaining or an incomes policy is appropriate to deal with the problem. We have had 100 years of collective bargaining. Compared with 1886, when the figures were first collected, the pay of the lowest decile of male manual workers has deteriorated. In 1886 male manual workers at the bottom of the ladder received a higher proportion of the average male wage than they were receiving in 1982. Therefore, after 100 years of collective bargaining and, dare I say, seven Labour Governments, there has not been much shift in the distribution of incomes. That is certainly true for women as well. There is a need for a statutory minimum wage. The only way that we shall raise the low pay of the millions of women workers in our economy is to place a statutory obligation on employers to pay not less than a certain sum, above which there would be collective bargaining to deal with the questions of differentials, working conditions and the rest. That is important not only for women and men who work in the wages councils sector, and those in occupations with no trade unions, but for the women and men who work in the public services for Government and for local authorities. There we find some of the most disgraceful examples of low pay anywhere. But we shall not have radical changes in the way that women are treated in our society until we change the socialisation of women and the attitudes of men. One of the means of doing that is through the political system. It is a scandal that there are only 23 women Members of Parliament out of 635. It is about time that the political parties, including the Labour Party, stopped discriminating against women. It is disgraceful that there has been a history of discrimination against women in the political system and political parties."The contribution to family incomes by married women is falling. The proportion of working wives increased by 77 per cent. between 1961 and 1977, but has since halted. Fewer married women with children under five are working outside the home, falling by 4 per cent. between 1980 and 1981".
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the single most effective practical way to do something about the imbalance would be to introduce a proper system of proportional representation?
That would not deal with the question of discrimination in political parties. It might make for a different party balance in the House, but it would not eliminate discrimination at selection meetings. That is not an answer to the problem.Many organisations, including the National Union of Public Employees, which I am sponsored by, have positive action programmes that have increased the proportion of women in jobs where they are elected by the members to do a job of work for those members on executive councils or as union stewards. It is important that positive action programmes such as that are followed through in the political parties as well as in the trade union movement. Before I rose to speak, I sent a note to the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) about my next point. I know that she received it because she told me so. During the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) there was a discussion about the position of the under-fives during the Government of which the right hon. Member for Crosby was a member. I intervened and said that there had been a substantial cut in the nursery school capital provision during that period when the right hon. Lady was Secretary of State. I quoted the figure of £25 million at the beginning of that period, and a reduced figure of £5 million at the end of that period. I regret to have to tell the House that I was wrong because the cut was bigger. In the financial year 1975–76 the provision for capital spending was £39 million. By 1980–81, the provision had been reduced to £5 million, which was a substantial cut. If I am right in remembering it, it was the biggest single percentage cut in any programme. People cannot have it both ways. If one is in favour of spending on the under-fives one has to take the bit between one's teeth and take it as a matter of principle. If that is so important for the position of women in our society, it is crucial that Ministers in Government Departments with the responsibility for doing something about it should resign or make their position absolutely clear. I cannot comment on the proposals of the right hon. Member for Crosby to increase provision for the under-fives because I have no knowledge of the internal Government documents. However, capital spending on the under-fives was reduced substantially between 1975–76 and 1980–81.
Perhaps I can now explain why the hon. Gentleman and I are at odds. He is referring to the White Paper of February 1976. That was the White Paper over which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) resigned because of the cutback in nursery education. The figure that the hon. Gentleman has given is correct. In fact, the White Paper of February 1976 shows a fall to £6 million rather than £5 million.However, I was not Secretary of State for Education and Science at that time. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) was, but I fully accept that I was a member of the Cabinet, as was the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and others including the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme).
The right hon. Lady is wrong, because I am not quoting the 1976 White Paper. I am quoting from the February 1977 White Paper, Cmnd. 6721-II.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that what is contained in the February 1976 White Paper is repeated with virtually unchanged figures in the subsequent White Paper, which flowed on from the 1976 White Paper. Subsequently, I was able to get a £3 million increase on the basis of those two White Papers over and above what what had been agreed in February 1976. The hon. Gentleman must have the grace to withdraw his remarks.
I shall not withdraw because the right hon. Lady was Secretary of State for Education and Science and presided over the implementation of the policies agreed in 1976 and 1977. My memory is long enough to tell me that the education programme was cut, not only in the 1976 White Paper but in 1977 as well. I shall certainly not withdraw my remarks.
I want to continue my argument—
This is a personal attack.
I shall allow the right hon. Lady to intervene in a moment. It is important that people who have been in Government should feel responsible for the actions that they have taken. I opposed the policies of the Labour Government at that time because they cut spending on the under-fives. It is important for the right hon. Lady not to pretend that she did not approve of those policies, because she accepted the post of Secretary of State for Education and Science and implemented the reductions in capital spending that are outlined in this White Paper.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for again giving way. On 16 June 1976, The Times reported:
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough repeatedly drew attention to the fact that in 1976–77 local authorities were not even taking up the limited expenditure over which she resigned."To save the cost of running nursery schools, 37 local authorities have refused part or all of the government funds allotted to them to build such schools, Miss Joan Lestor, M.P., said yesterday."
That is quite right, and one of the reasons was that the Government of which the right hon. Lady was a member would not fund the revenue consequences of the capital programme. The right hon. Lady is wrong on that score as well. We cannot allow the SDP to pretend that it is the friend of women. Its record on women is not good. The Conservative Government's record is an absolute disgrace. I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark, who said that only in a thoroughly transformed society will women be absolutely equal with men.
The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) has had a field day spreading around his attacks. He attacked my colleagues in general terms and said that practically all of us send our children to public schools which allows our wives to opt out of the normal position in which women find themselves. His remarks were untrue and unfair, and he should withdraw them.The hon. Gentleman said also that hospitals were being shut and implied that huge spending reductions are being made in the National Health Service. There has been a number of exchanges in the House about the National Health Service recently, and he must know that spending on it is higher in real terms than it has ever been. There are 47,000 more people employed in the National Health Service than in 1979. That figure includes 34,000 nurses. He should square the record, and be as fair as he normally is when he refers to other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) mentioned the suffragettes. One of my earliest memories is of hearing from an honorary great aunt of her days as a suffragette smashing windows, and how on one great day the Albert Hall was packed with women when Mrs. Pankhurst came in after one of her hunger strikes, and they all rose and sang:
to the tune of Handel's Judas Maccabeus. That story has always stirred me. My feeling then, as now, was that women are well able to put their point of view. If women are not being selected by constituency associations to stand for Parliament, they are not being selected by members of their sex, because in both the Labour and Conservative parties in almost all cases women are in the majority on selection committees and they do not choose women. It was said earlier that many women like to have male hairdressers and find them more efficient. A good many men like to have a female hairdresser and find them more efficient. Roles have changed in many ways, some for the better. The hon. Members for Peckham (Ms. Harman) and Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) referred to the last-in, first-out rule contained in many redundancy agreements. He pointed out that part-time workers are forced out of jobs first and that that means that women are affected more than men. That is true, but unions lead the way in making such agreements. Opposition Members who made that point so eloquently and truly need to educate union leaders and make them aware that the responsibility rests with the unions. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) spoke about primary schools. She said that during many recent visits to primary schools girls have said that they are good at writing and boys have said that they are good at sums. The fact that struck me after a long experience of the teaching profession is that the overwhelming majority of teachers at primary schools are women. In many primary schools all the members of the teaching staff, including the head, are women. What my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden said is true, but it should not happen. The other side of the argument is that many boys in primary schools do not get their fair share of sport. There are no male teachers for games periods. That should be changed. There is inequality between the sexes. Much of it starts at home. From the age of five a little girl may be kept at home from school if her mother is ill or there is another crisis to do the shopping and help generally. That happens even when there is an older brother. The education of girls is considered to be not so important. We should educate people. Teachers should stand square with parents and tell them that they have no business keeping a daughter at home. Parents should be told to put a girl's education on the same level as a boy's. Women live longer than men, in spite of all that we have said. Of the seven centenarians in my constituency, six are women. One lady who is hale and hearty will be 106 in a few days. She tells me that she attributes her longevity to the fact that she has had nothing to do with men. I might ask the man the same question. Our efforts towards equality are seen in the Equal Opportunities Commission. But Lord Scarman has said that to advantage one section of the community against another produces inequality. The House set up the commission with excellent intentions and the commission itself is well-intentioned, but men may feel that it advantages women to their disadvantage. We should find a better way to achieve equality. The school curriculum is changing tremendously. In secondary schools home economics is available to boys. Boys like to eat what they cook and are not too interested in diet and nutrition. Girls do engineering and woodwork. The changes are having a mixed impact, and I doubt whether they are the best approach. I believe that roles will change subtly, and artificially to force changes through the curriculum is not necessarily right, but I do not decry the efforts. The teaching profession has experienced equality for over 26 years. R. A. Butler, a Conservative Minster of great distinction, first introduced equal pay; he introduced it in the teaching profession in 1956. The Conservative Party should take great credit for the enlightened attitude and great work of that Minister. In the early days of equal pay and work, some women teachers sought to avoid the roughest work. However, for at least 15 years, they have taken their full share of responsibility, the rough with the smooth. That is a sign of genuine equality and is more than worth while. The failure of many women to apply for posts which are open equally to men and women has never ceased to surprise me. It is a self-imposed reason for inequality. A few days ago, I heard of a school deputy headship, worth £15,000 a year, that was open to men and women. It attracted 89 applicants of whom only seven were women. Only one woman applicant was worth interviewing. She did not do all that well and did not get the post. That is a staggering and sad reflection on the aspirations of women which must be seen to be as great as those of men if we are to have equality in the way sought by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor). We have to be realistic. In my constituency, many an employer finds that women who have brought up their families make excellent employees. They are gaining good opportunities. They are always punctual and have the qualities of a good employee. It is not true to say that women are not receiving the same opportunities as men in many areas of employment. They have equality and, in some cases, they have better opportunities. Reference has been made to work sharing. I count myself a strong supporter of work sharing. Very often work sharing makes jobs available to more women because, by the nature of their responsibilities in the home, they are often, although not always, happy and anxious to have part-time work. In many homes, husbands and wives interchange roles. Husbands change the nappies and feed the children. Men take an equal part and sometimes a larger part in bringing up the children. Men do housework and have done so for generations. Many men know all about washing up, often to their displeasure, but as a sex they do it. It is equally unpleasant for women, so why should not men do it? Most reasonable men would accept that. The influence of women and wives in the home cannot be overestimated. Where there is true equality in a happy marriage, the wife has a strong influence—at least a half say and often more—in what the child does and how its habits are formed. That has been valuable and it continues. We have equality in sport. The Leader of the House of Lords played rugger at school with the boys with whom she was being educated. Sport in schools has changed completely. We now have mixed volleyball, mixed hockey and mixed everything in schools today. In that sense, there is equality, and I welcome it. More women than men are now studying at the Open University. They are taking advantage of higher and better education. Girls and women are serving at church altars and singing in church choirs, often for the first time. Women are riding racehorses. They are working computers at least equally with men. They are doing important programming for firms. The great women of our time—the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House of Lords and many others—set an example and a standard for what women can do and achieve which we as men respect, admire and do not begin to question in terms of its quality."See, the conquering hero comes!"
My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) said that the women of Britain put the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister into Downing Street. In many ways that is probably correct. In some ways, discounting the political undertones, it is understandable. Over the years there has been a general lack of sensitivity to women's matters. Perhaps this is best illustrated by the refusal of the Government—I am informed that it has been the refusal of successive Governments—to remove VAT on sanitary towels. What a simple but important matter for women. Repeated protests have been made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about this VAT payment. However, there has been no movement by the Government to remove the payment of VAT on a vital commodity for women.If it was the women of Britain who elected the right hon. Lady to the position of Prime Minister, it was not for the same reason that the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams), the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) and my hon. Friends the Members for Peckham (Ms. Harman), and Glasgow, Central (Mrs. McElhone) were elected Members of this place. In those instances it was clear that the electorates voted to express a political view. Women have learnt an electoral lesson. I wish to refer to an issue that has not yet been mentioned in the debate and which is of great importance—the rough and raw deal that women get from their husbands in the privacy of the four walls of their homes, apart from the deals that they receive in respect of benefit payments, equal pay and Inland Revenue treatment. This rough deal is perhaps adequately illustrated by Mr. Malcolm Collins, the gentleman to whom I referred earlier this week. In writing in "Unemployment and Health in Families", a pamphlet on the link between ill health and mortality, he stated:
It is stress within the family home, which is derived from Government policy, which in many ways has led to the violence that takes place in perhaps millions of homes. This is not only a working-class phenomenon, if that be the term to use. Violence in the home arises in all social classes and social conditions. The feature that is most curious about violence in the home is that many people will not talk about it. The debate further signals the reluctance that is felt to go in depth into violence in the home. Public indifference is well illustrated by a piece of graffiti that is chalked on a wall in Kent in an area not far from the constituency of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It reads:"Stress may be related not only to what is lost, for instance, the financial and psychosocial rewards of work, but also to the difficulties subsequently imposed on the family by unemployment such as poverty, worrying about making ends meet, changes of roles and conflict within the family".
Many men believe that it is their right to beat their wives. This is a problem of immeasurable national proportions. Those who dismiss my arguments have not chosen to intervene during the debate to advance a counter argument. In my constituency I am periodically confronted by families who report violence in their homes. Many hon. Members must receive such reports. Some years ago, a Select Committee recommended that the DHSS investigate the matter in depth. In October 1981, 150 researchers were invited to a DHSS seminar in Kent to discuss the products of their research. That seminar revealed that whereas assaults on children represented 4 per cent. of all violent crime, and assaults on the police represented 10 per cent., assaults against wives represented 25 per cent. of all violent crime. That is why it is important to raise the subject today. At the last count, 11,000 women were desperate enough to take their 21,000 children to the 200 National Women's Aid Federation sponsored refuges throughout the United Kingdom. The NWAF showed in a recent survey that the law was quite inadequate to deal with the level of violence in the marital home and that exclusion orders were not working as they should. It showed that women were often unprotected when they left the refuges and that the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 that was introduced by the previous Labour Government was being ducked by local authorities in so far as they have a responsibility to provide homes for single parents and especially women who have been subject to marital violence. The survey also found that of the 80 per cent. of women in refuges who applied for accommodation under the terms of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, only 44 per cent. were successful. Many of those women remain in the refuges. The message of all researchers who contributed to the survey was that the helping professionals just did not know how to help. It was not that they did not have the will but that they were unable to deal with the problem within the resources available to them. They found that, on average, women approached five official sources for help before finding a suitable refuge. Some years ago, a Select Committee recommended that one place at a refuge be made available for every 10,000 of population. The actual level of provision, both in the private and public sectors, is only one place for every 66,000 of population. That means that provision is only one-sixth of what it should be. Indeed, some local authorities provide only 6 per cent. of what the Select Committee recommended. In many ways, the attitude of the State is to keep out of marital affairs. Social workers are loath to intervene, as are the police and often the law. Women who have been subjected to marital violence and seek advice from their doctors are often given Valium to calm their nerves. That is often the reverse of what they need. Most alarming of all, Mr. Mervyn Murch of Bristol university shows that for many women a broken nose or wounding with a knife represents no more than the normal rough and tumble of married life. That is a disgrace. The Government have a duty to instigate the fullest inquiries, perhaps even by a Royal Commission, into marital violence with a view to making firm recommendations so that greater resources are drawn from the Government to resolve the problem. The head office of the Portia Trust is in my constituency. It is a charity that has been set up to help women who have been subjected to marital violence. The Government should sponsor and help such organisations. They play an increasingly important role in a society that has refused to manage or confront the problem of marital violence which is the responsibility of Parliament today."Which is the odd one out; a mate, an egg, a wife and sex? Answer—sex. You can beat all the others but you can't beat sex."
I cannot say that this has been an entirely satisfactory debate, at least in terms of the contributions from Conservative Members. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food did not begin to answer the extremely powerful and eloquent case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor). Indeed, the Minister's speech was almost as platitudinous as the Prime Minister's amendment. She scarcely mentioned the plight of unemployed women or the difficulties of women at work. I do not blame the hon. Lady for that. The fault lies with the Government, for sending a junior Minister from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to answer a debate as important as this. I am amazed that the Secretary of State for Employment—I timed his arrival—did not appear until 7.35 pm.With the exception of the hon. Members for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), most Tory Members who spoke treated the debate in an extremely lighthearted, not to say sexist, fashion. I hope that the women who voted for them at the last election will take note of that. A number of impressive and serious speeches were made by Opposition Members. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) dealt with low pay and the impact of technology on women. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White)—a fellow member of the General and Municipal and Boilermakers Union, the new union formed by the amalgamation of the General and Municipal Workers Union and the boilermakers' union— spoke of the cause of homeworkers, for whom he has done a great deal, and stressed the need for a new deal for them. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) rightly reminded us of the dual role of women and the ghetto jobs that too many of them have. She also reminded us that there are only 23 women Members of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) spoke of the impact of the recession on part-time workers and reminded the House that one in five of all workers is a part-timer. He also reminded us of the judgment in the Clarke case, that it is illegal to sack part-timers before full-time workers. I hope the Government have taken note of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) said that we must tackle the unequal division of labour in the home, a view that is certaily shared by my wife. My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) drew attention to the fall in the number of working women. He said that Government policy was driving women back to the home and stressed the need for a positive programme of action by the next Labour Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was absolutely right to point out that too many wives receive a literally rough deal from their husbands in the home. Finally, although I have approved of very little that the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) has done in the past two years, I must say that she made a good speech today. I hope that her new party will live up to her words on this issue rather more than it has on others. Part of the background to the debate is a revolution in attitudes towards work. Women, including the majority of married women, play an increasingly important and decisive role in the labour force. This was one of the main reasons for the Labour Government's Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts. If women were to spend a large part of their lives at work, the case for action against the various forms of discrimination, the appalling inequalities of income and job and the disparities in promotion opportunities that they had suffered was overwhelming. I am the first to admit that the Labour Government's legislation was only a first step. It needs to be accompanied by political will and by action from employers and trade unions, particularly in training and promotion. The fact remains that progress was made. Between 1970 and 1977, hourly earnings of women compared with those of men improved from 63·1 per cent. to 75·7 per cent. Some of the more grotesque and glaring forms of discrimination were no longer practised. However, by the end of the 1970s, women were still concentrated in low paid and unskilled employment. Too few of them—very few indeed—were in the best paid and most influential jobs. That is shown by the membership of this House. I do not say that we are the best paid people but we have some influence. The fact that there are only 23 women Members shows that there is a long way to go. I would have thought that any Government concerned to improve the position and status of women, particularly a Government headed by a woman Prime Minister, would have built on and expanded the scope of Labour's legislation. That has not happened. The Government are being forced to amend the Equal Pay Act. However, under this Government, the position of women, in a number of important ways, has actually worsened. This is the other part of the background to the debate. One of the first actions of the Government—I recall that I served on the relevant Bill—was to weaken maternity rights by removing the guarantee of reinstatement in small firms and to complicate greatly the maternity leave procedure. I wish now to deal with low pay. The attacks made by the Government on the wages councils, particularly the weakening caused by a reduction in the number of inspectors, and the decision that has been announced and now appears on the Order Paper to end the fair wages resolution, affects women disproportionately, as the majority of women are low paid. There is evidence that the gap between male and female hourly earnings is beginning to widen once again. The cuts in training throughout the economy have hit women particularly hard. They have weakened the chances of better job opportunities when these are desperately needed, particularly for women. The cuts in the public services, particularly the nursery closures which are taking place, and the reduction in home helps—this has happened in my own county of Durham—throw new burdens on women, particularly those at work. The reduction in employment opportunities and the rise in the numbers of unemployed under this Government have affected women most severely. According to the latest unemployment figures, issued on the so-called new basis, there are 834,000 unemployed women. By any standards, this is a gross underestimate. I should like the Minister to listen carefully to what I have to say. I do not believe that my figures agree with the Department's figures. I should like the Minister to check them and to inform the House what are the real figures. I estimate that 130,000 extra were registered as unemployed on the old basis. There are also about 300,000 who, according to the 1981 labour force survey published yesterday, are either not eligible to benefit or are seeking part-time employment and not claiming benefit. That is a further 300,000. Then there are probably between 250,000 and 300,000 women who would seek work if they could. I draw those figures from the general household survey. If I am right, the unemployment figure for women is nearly double the Government's figure. I have checked my figures carefully with the Library, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the TUC. They think that I am basically on the right lines. Therefore, I should like the Government to consider those figures, to check the work of their advisers and to give the House a proper total. It would be useful if the Minister listened, because I should like to make another important comment. However, I shall not mind if he sends me a letter on that point. There is another important statistic that the Minister must consider. Despite the growth in the labour force, at least 750,000 fewer women are employed now than in May 1979. That is the real comparison, not 1931 as I believe the hon. Member for Newbury suggested. During a recession, women are in a particularly vulnerable position. They tend to be first in line for redundancy. It is true that some of the jobs lost were in manufacturing where proportionately fewer women are employed, but women still lost their jobs quicker than men. Now that the service industries and the public sector are being badly hit women are also being hit, because they hold a large proportion of the jobs. There are three basic reasons why women are first in line for redundancy. First, they are caught in the trap of "last-in first-out rules", because they have breaks in service as a result of child bearing. Secondly, part-timers were made redundant before full-timers before that was outlawed by a recent case. I hope that the Government will issue some guidelines on that. Finally, there is sheer prejudice. Too many people still believe that women's wages are less important than men's. Indeed, we have heard that tonight from many hon. Members. That is the assumption that they make. However, for many women, work is a necessity for their families. The 1981 DHSS estimate showed that there were 900,000 single parent families and that the vast majority of them were headed by women. The latest figures show that women are the sole breadwinners in one in seven of working households. In many households the woman's earnings are crucial, even if there is a second wage earner. Without women's earnings, the number of households living in poverty would be three or four times greater than it is today. Men often forget that as things stand the women have to bear the brunt of unemployment in a household. It is they, not the men, who have to manage their families on unemployment benefit and who have to make ends meet. When there is a policy to drive women back to their homes, that point should not be forgotten. If we are to improve, rather than weaken, the position of women a different approach is needed. We have already outlined how a Labour Government would build on and expand the existing policy framework to increase women's rights and prospects. However, I shall deal with the Government's employment policies. As the Equal Opportunities Commission has acknowledged, we shall not be able to make sufficient progress on women's rights without a better economic and employment climate. The tragedy is that the Government appear to be unmoved by the appalling unemployment, whether for men or women, young or old. The Government make no secret of the fact that their strategy is to appeal directly to those in work. They hope that everyone forgets about the unemployed. They bank on engineering a window—a period during next year when inflation and interest rates are at their lowest and when the voters have not forgotten the impact of a tax-cutting Budget. The Government will try to fudge the unemployment figures for men and women. We in the Labour Party will issue the real unemployment figures every month so that the Government cannot get away with it. If they cannot they will try to lay a smokescreen over the unemployment level. Their other tactic will be to blame everybody and everything except themselves. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Employment has entered the Chamber because I am about to mention him. He is brilliant at blaming others. "It is the fault of the last Labour Government", he says, despite it taking over three years for the Government to get back to the level of inflation that they inherited. It is unique for a Government to be blaming their predecessors in their fourth year of office. The Secretary of State says that the unions are to blame. In the same breath he boasts that the level of settlements in the last two years has come down. He is pleased about that. He tells everyone how pleased he is that productivity is increasing. That does not tie in with his argument that the unions are at fault. The Secretary of State's other argument is that the world recession is to blame. He has a point. The world recession is a factor, but how do the Government account for the fact that since May 1979 our output has dropped more sharply and our unemployment has risen faster than in any competitor countries? In addition, we have North Sea oil and our competitors do not. In the last year unemployment increased in other countries, but we should have more sympathy with the Government if they played a more constructive role in getting the world economy going. I am amazed at the Prime Minister's gall. She tries to persuade others, particularly the United States, to follow her disastrous policies. The truth is that, as the National Institute of Social and Economic Research has shown, the Government, by their strategy of cuts and squeeze and by their perverse and damaging exchange rate policies, are directly responsible for much of our drop in output and our rise in unemployment. The Government claim that there is no alternative to their policies. I admit that they have had some success in persuading people of the truth of that proposition. The Government are wrong. Of course there are alternatives. It is not that in Sweden, Spain, Austria and France Governments pursue different policies. It is not just that the Labour Party and the TUC have alternative policies, because the CBI and even the soggier sections of the Tory Party would like different policies. Two weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), who I hope will be Chancellor of the Exchequer soon, outlined Labour's strategy based on a substantial devaluation, a big increase in public investment and public spending and on an agreement with the trade unions about the direction of economic policy, including the components of national income. Some have criticised the plan as too ambitious. It will certainly need a consensus behind it, as well as the adoption of expansionary strategies by other countries, but, whatever the difficulties, the plan has the overwhelming and decisive merit of at least offering British men and women a future. The Government say that there is no alternative. What they really mean is that they have no alternative to reduced output, declining living standards, ruined social services, record levels of unemployment and the production of greater inequalities in our society. If they have no alternative, let them make way for a Labour Government who have a different approach, based on economic expansion, full employment and social justice both for men and women.
The right hon. Gentleman is too nice a chap to do this job.
That is a nice remark. I am obliged to the Opposition Chief Whip. I shall bear in mind what he says as interruptions flow across the House.The Opposition motion pinpoints the present "economic slump" as the specific time by reference to which they seek to condemn the Government, especially for the impact that the slump is having on women. However, it is reasonable to place the employment fortunes or misfortunes of women in the context of employment in a slightly longer perspective. After all, the Opposition are making a relative point in their motion. Viewed in a longer perspective, but not neglecting to include the present, the Opposition's emphasis on the alleged relative disadvantage suffered by women, in work or out of work, is mistaken and misleading. The facts are precisely the reverse of what the Opposition motion alleges. In taking a brief backward glance, it is helpful to start with the useful time reference point made by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) when he opened last Friday's debate on unemployment on behalf of the Opposition. He spoke of
Of course, he was right. The increase in registered unemployed of 800,000 during the period of the Labour Government, which increased the total into the millions, was enormous. The reason that I refer back to the Labour Government—indeed I go further back—is that I wish to use as a proper time perspective the period from the outset of which the huge post-war surge in women's employment, especially married women's employment, started. That takes us back to the early and mid-1960s. In 1961, for example, less than 30 per cent. of married women in Britain were economically active. By 1977, the rate had risen to 50 per cent. The activity rates of all women aged 15 to 64 between 1969 and 1978 rose from 49 per cent. to 57 per cent. If we take the crude figures, at present 10 million women are economically active, which represents 40 per cent. of the total labour force. However, at the start of the period to which I am drawing attention—the early 1960s—only about 7 per cent. of women were economically active, which represented about one-third of the total labour force. I hope that it will now be apparent to the House how misguided it is for the Opposition to single out the misfortunes of women for examination and criticism, because the start of the period in which so many more women came forward for and obtained work on an unprecedented scale was also the starting point for the great post-war upsurge in unemployment. I mentioned earlier the somewhat rueful reference by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West to the Labour Government's comparative failure to deal with unemployment successfully. No doubt he used the word "comparative" with a forward rather than a retrospective emphasis, relating it to the increase in unemployment. not of 800,000 under the Labour Government but of 1,700,000 since 1979. However, from the point of view of the fortunes of women in work, the backward as well as the forward look is essential. I remember clearly the unemployment level in 1964 because it was my first general election. In October 1964, 390,000 people were unemployed. That is the base date and the base figure that I shall use to demonstrate that, roughly from then on, unemployment soared. Yet it was precisely from that time that women began successfully to move into the labour force, and into work, on an unprecedented scale. By the next general election in 1970, United Kingdom unemployment under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) had roughly doubled. That was the first Labour "double" in unemployment. The House will recall that unemployment was much the same at the end as at the beginning of the period in office of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). The Labour Administration who came into office in 1974 caused unemployment to double again. Labour was the only post-war Government to have pulled off the double "double"—only under Labour have we had two successive Governments where unemployment doubled. It was only in 1977, when unemployment under that Government reached its peak, that the rate of activity by women in employment levelled off to its present rate of about 49 or 50 per cent. In the period that we are discussing and up to the present, there has been a strikingly inverse relationship in the ascending fortunes of women in work and the growing misfortunes of employment generally. During this time women have made huge advances in employment and have held on to the territory that they conquered. The latest position is that in November 1982 the number of unemployed women claiming benefit at unemployment benefit offices was 834,619, representing an unemployment rate of 8·8 per cent. The figure for men was 2,228,407, almost double the rate for women at 16·1 per cent. The figures on the new basis have been estimated for the past and they show that between November 1981 and November 1982 female unemployment rose more slowly than male unemployment. The female figure rose by 0·9 per cent., while the male rate rose by 1·8 per cent. Since October 1980, the rate of female unemployment has been lower than the rate for males aged under 25. Women in employment do not appear to have suffered disproportionately between 1979 and 1982. The number of men working in June 1982 was 88 per cent. of the figure for 1979 compared with 91 per cent. for women working full time and 93 per cent. for women in part-time work. Of course, women are concentrated in the service industries, where fewer jobs have been lost overall than in manufacturing industries. Incidentally, I do not suggest that the entry of more married women into the labour market is any way responsible for unemployment among men, which is due to the world recession and the uncompetitive prices of Britis"our comparative failure as a Labour Government to deal with unemployment successfully, during the period 1974–79".— [Official Report, 3 December 1982; Vol. 33, c. 504.]