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Lord Tope moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 148, Amendment No. 148A:

Line 7, leave out from (“Mayor") to end of line and insert (“and Assembly shall agree").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the amendment in the name of my noble friend and myself. It is fairly self-explanatory. Clause 40 requires the mayor and the assembly to hold and attend the question time, by whatever name it is now to be known. The purpose of the amendment is to give the assembly the right to agree with the mayor--not simply to be consulted and perhaps ignored by him--the form and procedure of the People's Question Time,

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which the assembly members themselves are required to attend. I believe the amendment is reasonable, common sense, fairly small and one which I am confident the Minister is about to accept. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord's confidence in me. We have just talked about the matter being open-ended. We have said that the mayor should consult the assembly and, it is hoped, reach agreement with the assembly. However, on previous amendments we have indicated that that may be a situation where the mayor and the assembly are not in the same political arena and may not be agreed on everything. Certain procedures may favour the mayor more than the assembly and vice versa. In those circumstances, if the mayor has to agree with the assembly, the whole event may never happen. Therefore, unless one builds in an arbiter as to who decides, the noble Lord's amendment may lead to deadlock. One hopes that agreement would be reached but, if not, the mayor would decide the procedure after consulting fully and taking on board the views of the assembly.

Lord Tope: My Lords, the Minister has indeed disappointed me. I cannot share his deep pessimism that a reasonable mayor and a reasonable assembly cannot even agree the form and procedure of an event which will be of such public interest and such excitement as the People's Question Time. I recognise that I shall not convince the Minister; his pessimism will rule. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 148A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 148, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment No. 148 agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 149:

Page 23, line 25, leave out (“and") and insert (“, after consultation with").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 150 not moved.]

Clause 41 [The Deputy Mayor]:

[Amendments Nos. 151 and 152 not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 153:

Page 24, line 1, leave out (“Chair") and insert (“Chairman").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 153, I wish to speak to the series of identical amendments to Clauses 41, 42, 43 and 44. Those amendments all call for the deletion of the word “chair" and for its replacement by the word “chairman". I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who, on Tuesday, in answer to a question, spoke about the “chairman". I understand--I very much hope that my information on this is correct--that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is a great-nephew of that wonderful Tory lady, Emmeline Pankhurst. I

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hope that that information is correct because only this week she has been named as the “woman of the century".

After I spoke to this series of amendments in Committee, a number of people were kind enough to congratulate me on my speech which, they told me, they found humorous. Of course I was grateful for the compliments, but I fear I must have struck the wrong note. I believe that this is a serious subject. When I last spoke on the subject, I mentioned my personal credentials in supporting women seeking to participate in public and political affairs. Many other Peers on all sides of the House have done likewise. I should like to pay tribute to them all. Together, and in our separate ways, I believe that we have made a difference. The status of women in public and political life has increased. More women are being encouraged to take their place in public service, or perhaps I should say that less women are being discouraged from trying to make their contribution by the prejudice that formerly we had to face.

Speaking as sometimes I do to schools and audiences of young women, I find that nowadays they too are less worried about being sidelined on the grounds of their gender. However, the point is that it is hard enough to break down the rules of prejudice and deeply ingrained chauvinism without facing the additional hurdle of being dismissed as “just one of those feminists".

I have no objection to being described as a feminist. In fact, I am proud to be one. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as,

    “An advocate of women's rights on the basis of equality of the sexes".

I chose as one of the supporters on my coat of arms the representation of a suffragette. But the popular image of a feminist, the picture of all of us engaged in the advocacy of women's rights, is of some shrill bra burner who insists that all men are beasts and maybe even potential rapists. This image is caused partly by some of the extreme nonsense that some of our sisters indulge in, including the abuse of the English language.

The English language enjoys an advantage not shared by any of the Latin or Germanic languages by not having male and female nouns. The invention of alien words like “chair" instead of the word “chairman" introduces connotations of strife where there is none. A number of female Peers--for that is what we are, not Peeresses--who spoke in the previous debate recounted how, like myself, they had been perfectly happy to be the chairmen of the various organisations that they had “chaired", to use the noun that seems to have become the shorthand for “presided over". Now we find in use tortured expressions like “humanity" being used, instead of the perfectly innocuous “mankind".

I am sure that some noble Lords will remember discussions that took place after the first woman High Court judge was appointed. Was she to be addressed as “My Lord" or “My Lady"? Was she to be “Mrs

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Justice So-and-so"? Thank goodness that the barbaric “Ms" had not then crossed the Atlantic, so that we do not attach that title to unmarried lady judges.

However, what has crossed the Atlantic is the concept of political correctness. That is an attempt to impose an ideology by the distortion of everyday language. If you say this thing, you are a racist; if you say that thing, you are a xenophobe; if you say the other thing, you are a chauvinist. I believe that political correctness is a kind of verbal fascism which regards saying the right thing as being much more important than doing the right thing.

When Judge Henry Pownall, QC, retired from the Old Bailey as recently as 30th September, he said to his legal colleagues--his wise words are worth quoting--

    “I find it sad, even disturbing that political correctness in all its horrid forms is creeping into our everyday lives. There are those who will find prejudice around every corner. They find it where none exists, and they find it where none is intended. It is time that somebody said there is none of it here in this building, in any of us".

The building he was referring to was of course the Old Bailey, but I would like to echo his eminently sensible remarks in relation to the Palace of Westminster, and I invite your Lordships to do the same.

This House is having to participate in an upheaval of the British constitution. Let us not at the same time, for no reason whatsoever, aid and abet the unnecessary desecration of the English language. I agree that language is a living and changing thing.

    “The tongue that Shakespeare spake",

would be totally incomprehensible to any of us who were somehow transported back in time. But we do not have to import into what is still called “the mother tongue" transatlantic horrors like my own particular bugbear, the phrase “at this moment in time", instead of just saying “now".

Far from advancing the cause of the status of women, calling people “chair" instead of “chairman" provides ammunition to those who still try to hold back the tide: ammunition in the form of the weapon of ridicule.

Parliament, wisely, in 1889 passed the Interpretation Act which said in Section 1(1) that in,

    “this Act, unless the contrary intention appears,--

    (a) words importing the masculine gender shall include females".

It was not until 1978, almost 90 years later, that in the interests of sexual equality Parliament enacted the reverse, that,

    “words importing the feminine gender include the masculine",

although Section 61 of the Law of Property Act 1925 had made a similar provision in respect of legal documents. There is a story, no doubt apocryphal, that a trainee lawyer once included a phrase in a document he was drafting, “In this deed, male embraces female".

Even if any noble Lords actually believe that the word “chairman" may have some gender connotation, Parliament in its wisdom 110 years ago ensured that “male" automatically embraces “female". There is therefore no need to inflict this verbal monstrosity onto the statute book.

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If noble Lords believe that I am genuinely not making any political point here except to try to ensure that the cause of the advancement of the status of women is not impeded by giving our opponents an opportunity to belittle that cause, then I urge your Lordships to support this series of amendments and to remove this nonsensical expression from such an important Bill. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Stewartby: My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of my noble friend. I am very glad that she has moved the amendment. It is absurd to use the word “chair" for a person. I do not like being called a chair. It is something for other people to sit on.

I should be very surprised if lady chairmen like being called “chairs", especially since they often have four straight and rather ugly legs. More seriously, for those who feel squeamish about such matters, why cannot we use the term “chairperson" rather than “chair"? “Chair" is a nonsense because it means something else. The word refers to the seat being occupied by a chairman or a chairperson. I wish we could move away from the ridiculous use of the word “chair" for people instead of things.

I hope, if not for this legislation then in the future, that we can consider whether “chairperson" might not be quite so bad. I cannot say that I welcome it because I prefer the old term “chairman". However, at least “chairperson" makes sense, whereas “chair" does not.

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