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Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I feel slightly irresponsible in that what I am about to say is purely a jeu d'esprit. I declare an interest as a member of both the Beefsteak Club and Brooks's Club, which admit ladies as guests but not to membership.
In the 1930s, in the latter of those two clubs, Brooks's, a noble Dukepresumably, at that stage, a Member of this Housewas dozing in an armchair when he became conscious that a man and a woman had entered the room. He waited for them to leave the room. When they did so, he pressed a button and a club servant arrived. The Duke said, "What was that?" The club servant said, "That, your Grace, was the club secretary and Her Majesty the Queen". "The thin end of the wedge", said the Duke, and shut his eyes.
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I cannot accept these amendments. It is not the business of the Bill to make judgments on the composition of clubs. I am probably old fashioned, but in general terms I believe that the purpose of clubs is to bring together like-minded souls. It is for the club to decide its own rules.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I should not be surprised if the focus is mostly on clubs in London. However, I got the impression that the clubs mainly affected by the proposal will be golf clubs. I abhor the game of golfI find it boring and cannot play it. However, the amendment may be able to remove a perennial problem that arises in many golf clubs around the country, which I find anachronistic; namely, women not being allowed full voting rights. This issue should be moved forward and the Bill should address it. Many golf clubs rely heavily for their continuance on the income from bars. I raise the matter partly because I had a long and detailed argument with my brother-in-law about voting rights in golf clubs.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, when, a few moments ago, I raised the matter of paragraph 10 of the draft guidance, the noble Baroness the Minister slapped me down, very nicely but very firmly, by pointing out that the conditions refer to licensing objectives. Surely, if that is the case as regards premises, it ought to apply to clubs. There is nothing in the objectives, so far as I can see, which covers the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.
Noble Lords have talked about being old-fashioned. They might feel differently were they to be put in the invidious position of being allowed only into certain parts of a premises. At a reception I attended recently I met a wonderful lady who explained to me how one day, as the first woman member of the board of British Rail, she was put in a very difficult position. A luncheon was held in a club that shall remain nameless, a club that invited women in as guests. The luncheon was held on the first floor. The other members of the board of British Rail walked up the stairs and she was in the awful position of having to go up the back stairs. The other members of the board were rightly embarrassed by the situation. It had not even occurred to them how she might feel having to use the back stairs as though she were a second-class member. Having met her, I suspect that she was indeed first-class and ahead of her colleagues.
I need add little to what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. This is an extremely important area. I am sorry that I was unable to attend the meeting on 11th February when this matter was discussed fully and sensibly. I feel that I have been "meeting-ed out" lately and for some reason I could not be present. I regret that, because I may have been tempted to see whether I could put my name to, for example, Amendment No. 127. I want to show great sympathy for this important amendment. As explained to us by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, it represents a powerful faction against racial discrimination. In that regard, I have a great deal of sympathy for the proposal, as I hope the Government will.
I hear what my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale says about whether such a proposal is apparent in the licensing objectives. But I believe that in this House we are in a privileged position. When scrutinising legislation, we can look for any opportunity to try to put right matters which we passionately believein different ways; we have the wonderful right to differto be discriminatory and unfair and which compromise the quality of people's lives for no good reason. I have great sympathy in relation to Amendments Nos. 127 and 128. It is an extraordinary situation when a woman has the right to vote for a committee but no right to have membership of the committee. That happens in many cases still, and it cannot be right. I appeal to all noble Lords who have never been in the position of being discriminated against to imagine what it feels like to be compromised in that way.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, was present at the meeting to which noble Lords referred when we discussed these issues and after which he tabled the amendments. He has a great reputation for the work he has done in this area. I regret that he is not with us today, but the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, did more than an ample job of stepping in for him, as noble Lords would expect. He presented the amendments with customary force.
I make the obvious point that the Government support the broad concept behind the amendments. We recognise exactly what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, spoke aboutthe adverse effects of discrimination. She is not the only contributor to this debate who could have made that point with force. Only temporary ill health may have restrained the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, from speaking about the issues with force.
Discrimination on sexual grounds is not acceptable in our society, and we want it to be removed. There is another amendment dealing with the equally important issue of racial discrimination. The Government recognise that substantial work is being done in this Session of Parliament to address those issues. A Private Member's Bill is passing through the Commons with government support. My noble friend Lord Faulkner referred to the fact that tomorrow we will discuss another Private Member's Bill on equality. There is activity in Parliament to promote the principles of equality.
Our contention is that the Bill is not a suitable vehicle for advancing these issues, which need to be addressed more comprehensively. When they are addressed, the subsequent provisions will be valid for all institutions in the land. This Bill is concerned only with licensing; it has a restricted objective.
I was concerned in Committee by the contention that the Government, by repealing the Licensing Act 1964, were weakening the defences against discrimination. I am happy to take this occasion to reinforce what I conveyed in my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to which noble Lords who attended the meeting have also had access. It is important that the whole House should be aware of the fact that we are not reducing the protection against sex discrimination in clubs by repealing Schedule 7 to the Licensing Act 1964. This important issue was raised in Committee when I expressed my concern about the need to address it. I am now able to assert that the Bill marginally strengthens the position rather than, as some who spoke in Committee feared, weakens it.
As we know, sex discrimination in club membership is currently not unlawful. In determining whether a club may be registered for the purposes of the 1964 Act, the magistrates, in cases where a club does not conform to the provisions in Schedule 7 to that Act, have a discretion to consider whether it is established and conducted in good faith. Schedule 7, as a consequence, gives no absolute protection with regard to the mandatory application of its provisions.
There is only one area in which magistrates have to apply the provisions of Schedule 7 and have no discretion, and that is in the area of elective committees of clubs. Even here, however, the provisions of Schedule 7 provided a derogation. Although Schedule 7 applies certain voting requirements for elective committees, to the effect that all members entitled to use the club must be entitled to vote for the committee, there is an important exception. Where the club is primarily a men's club, women may be excluded from voting. Where the club is primarily a women's club, men may be excluded from voting. That obviously undermines any value which Schedule 7 has in reducing sex discrimination. The Bill removes that anomaly in the mandatory area and therefore improves the position.
Clauses 61, 62 and 63 clearly improve the position. Under the Bill, where a club supplies alcohol, the committee which purchases the alcohol must be elected by the members of the club. The effect of the formulation in Clause 63(2)(c) is that all members of the club of any class of membership must vote for the committee. For these purposes, the reference to "member" would not include "associate members" as defined in Clause 66. They are members of another recognised club or a guest of such a person. Unlike Schedule 7 to the 1964 Act, this provision does not have any exceptions and can therefore truly be seen as a strengthening of the voting rights from the standpoint of the prevention of sex discrimination. I therefore feel that we have taken on board the representations made in Committee and have ensured that the Bill marginally improves the position.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, also emphasised the significance of Amendment No. 127 on the issue of race discrimination. I believe that that stems from a concern that the Bill, when enacted, would override the provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976. However, it is already unlawful for an association, which would include a qualifying club, to discriminate on the grounds of race under Section 25 of the Race Relations Act 1976. That is a specific provision in law, and the rules of statutory interpretation mean that the provisions in the 1976 Act will not be overridden by the provisions of Part 4 of the Licensing Bill. Therefore, although I have listened to the noble Lord's comments on Amendment No. 127, I believe that the amendment is unnecessary.
Amendment No. 127 also has the disadvantage of being somewhat disproportionate as it would impose the further condition, for a club to be a qualifying club, that it had not committed an unlawful act under Section 25 of the Race Relations Act in the three years prior to the application for a club premises certificate. I realise that the noble Lord regards that as a powerful sanction. However, the Government maintain that the provisions of the 1976 Act will apply in relevant cases to counter any abuse.
I have made it clear that the Government have every sympathy with the intention behind these amendments, but this issue is best tackled by means of sex discrimination legislation. As I have indicated, the race relations issue is covered by existing legislation.
The Bill improves on the current situation and will not remove any protection against discrimination on the basis of either sex or race afforded by existing legislation. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, said. He will recognise that on this occasion, his was a minority voice. It is a voice that we hear on many occasions, the last time being in Committee. However, the Government stand four square with the principle that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, identified in her concluding speech.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, referred to the provisions that would be affected by Amendment No. 128. If all the members of the club have voted for the committee, it would surely seem odd to then place a form of control on the way in which members of private members' clubs elected members of the committee. Surely there should be freedom of choice for the club, as long as we guarantee that all members have the right to elect the committee. Under this licensing measure, they have the right to apply for a licence.
I understand that there is no way in which I can satisfy all the representations made on these amendments. They stem from a position of real principle deeply felt by Members on both sides of the House, and I am dealing with a measure that is on the margins of these issues. I hope that I have given the assurance necessary that the Bill makes a marginal step in the right direction. In addition, we have other legislation on the stocks to which noble Lords will address themselves in due course.
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