Please note, this is for general guidance only and to:
• give an overview of the law in general;
• provide some pointers.
If you become involved in any legal action, or anything which could become legal action (for example, if you are spoken to by the police, you receive a letter of claim or court papers), you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible.
In this country, freedom of speech and expression is enshrined in law under the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, incorporated into UK law by the HRA 1998, covers the freedom to receive and impart information.
Hate speech is covered by different laws and the bar is set high. Only hate speech towards the categories of race and religion can be prosecuted as a crime in itself and that requires an incitement to hatred to be proven.
The police and Crown Prosecution Service, in general, record data on hate crimes for five characteristics, including transgender status. The list of 5 is:
• sexual orientation
• transgender status
The category of transgender status is only specifically included where hatred is deemed to be a motivation of a criminal offence. This results in an increased sentence (Criminal Justice Act 2003).
Intention and context (EHRC Guidance 2015) are important when assessing a hate incident, but caution should be applied.
Individual clashes, particularly ongoing ones, with a single person who has an opposing view on trans-issues and women’s rights may make a charge of harassment under the Harassment Act 1997 more likely.
Framing public comments objectively in a political discourse and referring to facts and arguments rather than personal critiques vastly increases the protection of freedom of speech under the Human Rights Act 1998.
‘No platforming’ can and should be reported to the University’s main board and they should be reminded of their duty under the Education Act 1986 section 43.
Holding a meeting anywhere to discuss the current trans debate is wholly lawful. There should be an emphasis on respect, avoidance of discussion of individuals, and no use of violent or threatening language (Communications Act 2003, Public Order Act 1986).
Knowing a little of these bits of law should be helpful if you find yourself being censored, refused a meeting or even cautioned.
The key protection is that of freedom of speech under the Human Rights Act 1998.
We have pulled together a second Twitter thread created by Lisa Mackenzie, a feminist and independent policy analyst. This thread summarises some of the press coverage surrounding the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
Last month, I spent a couple of hours in the Women’s Library at the London School of Economics, looking through their archival material on both the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
First up, a column from The Times on 4 November 1968. It anticipates a conference that was to take place the following week in Church House, Westminster. “Its most controversial and exciting feature will be a discussion panel of which the chief member will be Barbara Castle.”
1968 was “both Human Rights Year and the fiftieth anniversary of The Vote, as well as the year in which women came out on strike for better pay”.
The article notes one of the objectives for the year was “elimination in Great Britain of all forms of discrimination against women”.
It ends saying “It is perhaps too much to hope that it will be the conference to end all such conferences but it could be the first united step on the road towards the ending of hostilities that none of us want.”
Next a piece from The Guardian on 29 November 1973 framed around the Conservative Government’s consultative document containing proposals for ending discrimination against women (that would become the Sex Discrimination Act 1975).
Lindsay Mackie interviewed two women “about the way in which the liberation movement has affected their work and life style”.
She interviews 25 year old Linda from North London.
“I used to be full of middle class politeness, now I just say fuck it. I just won’t talk to men who are blatantly sexist, what’s the point?”
I like Linda.
A piece in The Financial Times on 3 November 1973 considers the Consumer Credit Bill under which “discrimination on grounds of sex or race in the granting of consumer credit will be forbidden”.
The article states that “Sir Geoffrey Howe, Minister for Consumer Affairs, particularly had in mind in drafting this clause a greater measure of justice for women. The Government feels that women are often unjustifiably refused loans merely because of their sex.”
A huge piece of idiocy?
Jumping back a couple of months, The Financial Times reports (on 26 September 1973) that Enoch Powell attacked the Anti Discrimination Bill (that would become the SDA 1975) describing plans to set up an equal opportunities commission as “a huge piece of idiocy”.
And now to a Guardian editorial on 18 September 1973 about the Conservative Government’s proposals to ban sex discrimination which they predicted that “the leaders of the Women’s Liberation movement will not like”.
The editorial notes that there were three Cabinet Ministers present at the press conference launching the green paper noting that “the Government’s popularity among women voters has slumped with the rise in the cost of living, particularly the jump in food prices”.
The Guardian sees that political reasoning aside, there is “an important social reason why a bill against sex discrimination is needed”.
Its view is that the aims of the Equal Pay Act 1970 cannot be achieved without tackling sex discrimination.
Single sex exceptions
The news story on the same day mentions planned single sex exceptions. “It gives as examples foster mothers, jobs which demand authenticity – such as acting – institutions of single sex such as convents and places where communal living might require a single sex, such as ships.”
An article in The Financial Times (18 September 1973) carries a photo of the three Cabinet Ministers who attended the press conference launching the green paper: Maurice Macmillan (Employment Secretary), Margaret Thatcher (Education Secretary) and Robert Carr (Home Secretary).
The FT also carries a piece on the same day entitled “What ‘women’s equality’ should mean”. Again, the writer expresses scepticism that “proponents of women’s liberation” will be happy with the proposals “for it is by no means a radical document”.
In a nod to what we may now call intersectional discrimination, the article quotes Ms Sonia Pressman Fuentes who says “minority group women may not know whether they are being discriminated against because of their race, national origin, sex or a combination of these reasons.”
(The FT feels the need to explain the use of ‘Ms’ here. “For the uninitiated. ‘Ms’ is the title adopted by ‘liberated’ women who will not accept ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’.”)
Another mention of the proposed single sex exceptions.
The writer also notes: “The trouble is that there is no serious provision for overcoming the notorious reluctance of many trade unions to end the sex discrimination within their ranks.”
The writer concludes stating his support for the Government’s willingness to retain single sex schools. To have sought to abolish single sex schools would have been “a statist, authoritarian approach”.
He ends the piece stating his concerns about the impact of both parents working full-time (“the next generation will show up badly for it…the literature on maternal deprivation is fairly conclusive”). He is worried women may have been “led by feminist propaganda”.
For anyone who is interested, these are the archives I viewed:
Maya Forstater is an independent researcher, writer and advisor working on the business of sustainable development. She has worked with a large number of organisations, including the New Economics Foundation, UNICEF and the Center for Global Development. This is the text of her speech for #WPUKLondon on 20th May 2019
Her Crowd Justice fundraiser can be found at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/lost-job-speaking-out/
My name is Maya Forstater. I lost my job working for an international development think tank for stating a gender critical viewpoint, and I am taking the organisation I worked for to employment tribunal.
A couple of Sundays ago I had the most momentous day, sitting on sofa in my pyjamas. I watched the crowdfunder that I had launched to support my legal case rise faster than I could have hoped. It raised over £60,000 in three days in mainly small donations including, I am sure, from many people in this room, as well as support from people such as Martina Navratilova, Sharron Davies and Tanni-Grey Thompson and people who know me in real life.
I am grateful for all of your support, which has allowed me to take the legal case forward, but I think, perhaps more importantly the strength of the response showed just how much support there is for making the law work for women on issue. The message that the success of the crowdfunder sent to me and to everyone watching it was “This matters”. “We are not going to shut up”. “And we are not alone.”
I am not going to talk about my case that tonight. What I am going to talk about is about how the issues about sex and gender relate to international development. This is based on a blogpost which I wrote (and drafts of which were part of what I was investigated for at work).
By International Development I mean government-to-government cooperation: aid, but also beyond aid: trade, diplomacy, human rights, advocacy for open government and democracy, migration and even international tax rules (which is what I worked on in my day job). It concerns the policies of the UK government and other rich countries, and also institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, and charities like Action Aid and Oxfam, and human rights orgs like Amnesty.
Increasingly all of these organisations are all thinking more and more about ‘gender’ in relation to international development. And by gender they mean sex
It is used as a polite synonym and also to encompass the expectations and constraints that societies impose on people because of their sex.
OXFAM just came out with a document calling for ‘feminist aid policies’ which highlights the reasons why ‘gender’ is recognised as such a critical issue in development:
At current rates of progress, it will take 202 years to close the ‘global economic gender gap’ (and by gender they mean sex).
More than half of the world’s women are legally restricted from working in certain sectors because of their gender (and by gender they mean sex).
It is estimated that 650 million women and girls worldwide were married before the age of 18, many of them facing violence and other severe violations of their rights.
At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.
Thirty-five percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
Every day women do 16.4 billion hours of unpaid care work – at least twice as much, and in some settings ten times as much, as men.
Each year worldwide more than 200 million women want to avoid pregnancy but do not use modern contraception,
25 million unsafe abortions take place.
Globally more than 130 million school-aged girls do not attend primary or secondary school.
None of this is to do with gender identity. These are things that happen to women and girls because of the way that society treats people because of their sex.
Organisations concerned with international development and human rights would struggle to articulate their goals, policies and research without a word to denote female people.
But as we know it is increasingly argued across Europe and North America, and by global elites that gender identity should overwrite sex as a legal and practical category.
Oxfam’s feminist aid document barely mentions the word ‘sex’, and I do not think this is accidental. Organisations working on gender and development are becoming coy about saying that by ‘women’ they mean, and have always meant, the female sex. They know it is controversial and few are willing to stand up for the biological definition of women, or even to hold open a space for clear, calm discussion.
Many influential funders such as George Soros’s Open Society Foundation foundation and international civil society organisations such as Amnesty International are calling for governments to allow people to change their legal sex at will, and to allow people to access single sex spaces of the opposite sex based on their gender identity. But none have promoted analysis or debate about how this would impact women and girls.
Others are just staying quiet – continuing to work on issues that affect women and girls and continuing to say gender when they mean sex – and hoping that no one asks them to be clear.
When I raise this issue with colleagues in development, including those who work on gender issues, many say it isn’t a big deal. Debates on sex versus gender are toxic and controversial: what does it matter if they are not clear and explicit about the difference between ideas about gender identity and the reality of sex based oppression of women and girls? Where does it sit on the list of priorities of things that organisations should be concerned about, compared to big issues like climate change, humanitarian emergencies, corruption, economic development?
I think it matters.
Development at its heart is about organisations doing their job.
Countries become richer and people become better off when there are more organisations, doing more complex jobs, better. And where people can influence the decisions which affect their lives. In other words; where organisations are accountable:
Schools teaching kids.
Universities building higher knowledge
Doctors and medics treating people
Governments and the firms they contract build infrastructure
Businesses investing providing products that people want and need, following rules
It requires ordinary people being able to hold these institutions to account.
If we can’t name things, and categorise them, and collect data. And speak the truth we can’t do this. And being able to name the difference between men and women is pretty fundamental.
If we can’t name basic truths it corrupts the heart of our organisations.
There are also specific reasons for international development organisations to find the courage and integrity to be clear about the difference between sex and gender identity.
Thinking about gender identity in international development and human rights organisations is often tied in with sexuality.
This reflects the fact that abuse and discrimination relating to transgender identity can be, in practice, an expression of homophobia. International development organisations are working to address the oppression and vulnerability of people based on what they call “SOGI” (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).
Seventy-two states continue to criminalise same-sex sexual activity In some cultures gay men can be stereotyped as feminine, or as ‘failed men’; reduced to the status of women. In some cultures, men who have sex with men may get some acceptance if they adopt a feminine ‘third gender’ identity such as the hijras in South Asia.
But my understanding (and I’m not an expert) is that these identities are not akin to the idea coming out of elite Northern universities and debates in London and Washington which say that we must accept that “transwomen are women”.
When I talk to people working with these trans communities, in areas such as HIV and human rights, they say it makes sense to think about different groups, not to lump together the issues facing transsexual males with the issues facing women.
It is not at all clear that the way to address the very real problem of discrimination and violence against transgender people is to erasing the category of biological sex .
Human rights protections for people who are transgender do not depend on accepting the belief that men can become women. But rather to protect transgender status as a legal characteristic with its own protections from harassment and discrimination.
Secondly, this matters for international institutions in their work on gender (by which they mean sex), and in their own institutional cultures.
Development organisations are trying to shift from having headquarters in rich countries developing policy, and staff and partners in developing countries to implement it.
They are trying to turn that upside down – to support people to have power, control and agency.
These organisations already know they have hierarchy problems – white men at the top, diverse women at the bottom, and yet, in the name of equality and diversity, they are reinforcing this power dynamic by adopting the language and ideas of genderism.
This is not coming from the grassroots. It comes elite Northern Universities and it is being promoted as something which ordinary women must accept with “no debate”. I don’t think this is compatible with the idea of listening to women and respecting their agency. And I think it prevents us talking about and understanding structures of power.
It is polite to refer to people by the name and pronouns they request, and to treat everyone with dignity and respect. But inclusion does not demand that we forget about the power dynamics between men and women in society, or fail to notice when women are being told to be quiet and to be kind to protect the feelings, desires and status of male people.
Organisations, which say they are for participation and for giving power to ordinary citizens should pay attention to the upswell of grassroots, ordinary women standing up for the idea that sex matters, in the UK and around the world.
Human beings are a single species, and women and men exist around the world. The answer to these questions can not be the pragmatic one that some women are women because of their sex, and some are not. Development organisations think about women in developing countries are really talking about sex; defined by biology, but at headquarters they define women as an identity based on womanly feelings.
Amnesty International for example recognise and promote the importance of single sex toilets in refugee camps. Yet at the same time it argues that allowing male people to self-identify into women’s spaces would pose no problem for women and girls in the UK.
So I argued in my blog post: Human rights protections and public policies are needed both for women and girls, and for transgender people, whatever their sex. In order to do this we need to be able to talk clearly and openly.
I set out five principles to hold open a space for dialogue, debate and evidence on this in international development (adapting and borrowing from Women’s Place UK:
Sex and gender identity are not the same. Be clear about what we mean.
There should be open and evidence-based discussionon how potential policy changes will affect women’s rights, single-sex spaces, and safeguarding.
Women and women’s organisations should be involved in policy debates. The human rights of transgender males should be protected, but it should not be assumed that the best or only way to do this is by undermining women’s privacy, dignity and safety.
Data matters. Statistics on crime, employment, pay and health should continue to be categorised by sex. Information on gender identity may also be collected, but they shouldn’t be confused.
People who express concern about impacts on women’s rights and women’s spaces should not be dismissed as hateful or bigots.
One of the things I said in the article was that you shouldn’t have to be brave to talk about this.
The more people who stand up and talk about it, the easier it is for the next people.
I only began to tweet and talk about it after reading and listening to so many people here.
And I thought because I worked at a think tank that does not take institutional positions and that supports academic freedom of speech I could talk about it.
But it turned out I was wrong. I don’t want this to be a cautionary tale, and I hope that what I am doing in taking the organisation I worked for to tribunal it will help to enable a whole lot of people to be a bit braver.
If I win my case will give some legal protection. But if more people speak up it becomes easier for others to speak up. If each of us speak up within our organisations, our professions and our communities we can turn this around.
Post script: in the Q&A portion of the event a question was raised “Should women work ever work with the right?” This is the gist of what I said, and what I think (taking the liberty to polish it into what I wish I had said better).
The idea that sex exists is like the idea that gravity exists. It will be shared by people across the political spectrum. Women are adult human females, they exist across the political spectrum, and as feminists I think we should be concerned for all women. I try to follow the Mumsnet motto that we don’t throw any woman under the bus.
Women should talk to and work with whoever they feel like! I think that people need to make their own decisions about who they will work with and how. We all have different tactics and beliefs, and we don’t need to agree on everything to work together on some things.
This fight is going to take allsorts; we need to engage with people across the political spectrum, and with people who are not engaged in party politics. Many women feel politically homeless right now. We need the academics and the activists, we need the t-shirts, and the billboards. We need the carefully argued articles, we need the legal cases. We need people who can be talk seriously and carefully and we need the stunts and laughter. We need the women talking this through on Mumsnet, and in local groups, who are getting brave enough to speak up.
I think we can be clear about the difference between defending the definition of women based on sex, while rejecting the idea that gendered stereotypes are an inherent part of womanhood, and those conservative groups for whom ‘men are men’ and ‘women are women’ means upholding patriarchal ideals of masculinity and femininity. We can draw a bright line between wanting to give women more control and wanting to control women.
The principle that I am standing up for is the need for respectful, serious evidence-based democratic debate and disagreement on difficult issues– we need to hold open a middle ground for that.
Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010, is the founder and editor Feminist Current, Canada’s leading feminist website and has published work in numerous national and international publications.
This is the text of the speech she gave at the 22nd meeting of Woman’s Place UK.
I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity lately. We’re currently living in a culture wherein authenticity has been traded in for fakery. We support and reward virtue signalling and punish those who are real, those who tell the truth, those with integrity, those who insist on making political arguments based on critical thinking and what is right, rational, and ethical, instead of based on what is politically correct or popular.
I have a rather overzealous commitment to authenticity, which I think has played a sizable role in my insistence on pushing back against gender identity ideology and legislation. I know I have friends, or acquaintances, or friends of friends, or random internet followers with self righteous opinions who think maybe I should just back off of this. Or who claim I’m being ‘mean’ or unempathetic, because I continue to operate in reality rather than the fantasy land we’re told is the new normal, wherein black is white, up is down, and men are women.
But I see no empathy for women and girls on the part of trans activists, that is to say, those pushing gender identity ideology and legislation. What I see is bullying, threats, ostracization, and a misogynist backlash against the feminist movement and much of the work it’s accomplished over years.
I see no empathy for women who are now being forced to compete against male athletes in sport, essentially rendering women’s sport nonexistant, as they can no longer compete on fair ground, if forced to compete against men. I see no empathy for the female athletes speaking out against this reprehensible trend — instead they’re being smeared and threatened. I see no empathy for the lesbians being bullied right out of their own events and communities, as the LGBTQxyz+++ whatever movement does nothing to support them, and in fact seems instead to support the men pushing them around and hurling verbal abuse at them, simply for asserting that lesbians are females who are attracted to other females, not heterosexual men interested in playing around with lipstick.
We held an event in Vancouver earlier this month, addressing the issue of gender identity and kids, and our venue — the Croatian Cultural Centre — received so many threats they had to file a police report, hire their own security, and bring in the Vancouver Police Department to keep protesters off the property. They, for once, didn’t blame us — women, feminists — for the threats of violence sent their way, and rather asked, with disbelief, how it was us the trans activists were accusing of being ‘hateful’, while simultaneously verbally abusing and threatening violence against the venue’s staff.
Somewhere between 150 and 200 protesters showed up, and stood outside with signs saying things like, “Support trans youth”, “Love and Solidarity”, “Love trans kids”, “be careful who you hate, it might be someone you love” and “love wins.”
All this branding around “love” has been incredibly successful, of course. We — women fighting for women’s rights, people fighting for the truth, those of us who insist on acknowledging that biology is real, that females and males are real things, and that, no, there is no such thing as a “female penis” —have been painted as hateful, intolerant, and bigoted, despite the fact that we are the only ones engaging (or trying to engage in) respectful, civil, rational debate and discussion, and being shut down over and over again.
Despite the fact that WE are the ones concerned about male violence against women and how gender identity ideology and legislation will hurt women, as well as kids, who are now being sent down a path towards hormones and surgery that will destroy their bodies permanently, simply because they don’t conform to sexist gender stereotypes, it is trans activists who have positioned themselves as caring and politically correct, and us as cruel and intolerant.
As I was leaving the venue after that event, the stragglers screamed at me that I had blood on my hands. Which of course I do not, and which, of course, is incredibly ironic considering how many times I’ve been told I should be murdered on account of my belief that you can’t change sex, and that it is not possible to be ‘born in the wrong body.’
I see no empathy in trans activism for the girls who will lose scholarships and opportunities to boys who can easily beat them in athletic competitions.
I see no empathy for women and girls who don’t feel comfortable with naked men in their change rooms at the pool. I see no empathy for youth being put on hormones that will have a lasting impact on them, including permanent sterilization, all to accommodate adults who don’t want to see trans ideology questioned under any circumstances.
I see no empathy for the women and their children who will have nowhere to turn if their local transition house is defunded on account of a women-only policy.
I see no empathy for Kristi Hanna, a Toronto woman and survivor of sexual assault, who had leave her room at Palmerston house, a shelter for recovering addicts, because she was made to share a room with a man, and did not feel safe.
I see no empathy for the 14 female estheticians who were asked to give a male a brazilian bikini wax, then dragged to court when they declined, saying they only offered the service to women.
I see no empathy for the girls allegedly predated on by this man, who is being protected by our very liberal, very progressive society that’s choosing to put male feelings and desires above all else, under the guise of ‘inclusion’, and thanks to trans activism.
Women and girls are being told they may not have boundaries. That they may not say ‘no’ to men. And this is what we are told it means to ‘choose love’. This is what we are being told is ‘feminism’.
Trans activism says women may not define their own bodies as female. That we may not have our own rights, services, and spaces, that ‘exclude’ men. It says gender stereotypes are real and innate, but the female body is a social construction. It says that ‘woman’ is based only on adherence to or an affinity towards femininity, something feminism has fought against for years.
So much of what women fought for over the past century is being rolled back, and progressives are insisting we all shut up and take it, because it’s ‘nice’, and of course, women must always be ‘nice’, even if it means putting our lives, autonomy, safety, opinions, and rights aside.
NOTHING about the trans movement is progressive and nothing about it is feminist.
I brought up authenticity earlier on, partly because I am sick to death of this social media based culture wherein we put forth personas we believe our audience will like, modeling perfect faces, lives, and thoughts, which I find incredibly boring and depressing, but also because I see this devaluing of authenticity as having an incredibly destructive impact on political discourse, and certainly it’s manifested itself powerfully in the trans movement.
I don’t believe that, aside from a few exceptionally delusional or troubled people, a majority of the population believes it’s possible to change sex. I don’t believe that all these so called progressives look at a man we call him ‘she’, and believe he is literally a woman. I don’t believe all these people claiming ‘love wins’ and insisting women be more ‘empathetic’ as they give up all their rights and spaces, while these activists spout vile, hateful insults and threats at us, are really very loving at all.
I think people are not telling the truth. I think they are repeating mantras and going along with ideas and policies in order to appease their Facebook friends. I think they value social status a lot, and are willing to give up ethics and truth in order to be liked. And I think it’s pathetic. I think that these people are throwing women under the bus and even selling themselves out in the process, knowing that they’re spouting lies for virtual cookies and using us all to fake politics.
And I refuse to be used as some kind of stepping stool for empty headed, cowardly hipsters — these extremely privileged people who have fetishized oppression, but have no idea what marginalized groups actually face and deal with on a daily basis, because certainly it’s not ‘misgendering’ that is keeping people poor and vulnerable — who can’t be bothered to read, listen, or think before announcing, boldly, that women with actual politics, who actually understand history, and who are bold enough to take a stand against actual bigotry and oppression should be silenced, punched, or even killed.
The wrong side of history is an embarrassing place to be.
But unfortunately I worry that, by the time these people realize how much damage they’ve caused by going along with such a destructive trend, it will be too late. What does give me hope is all of you. This massive and growing movement of people standing up and saying ‘no’, we won’t take this silently and sitting down. This groundswell of people insisting on telling the truth, despite the fact that we lose friends, jobs, social status, and sometimes safety, for doing so.
And the more we keep doing it, the more will join us.
We have pulled together a Twitter thread created by Lisa Mc Kenzie, a feminist and independent policy analyst.
Not everyone’s insomnia cure is to pore over Hansard archives but here follows a thread (which I might continue to add to, depending on future incidences of insomnia) about the origins of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
It received Royal Assent on 12 November 1975 and is regarded as landmark legislation for women’s rights in the UK. Many of the principles contained within the Act have been carried over into later legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010.
The UN had designated 1975 International Women’s Year and there appears to have been a raft of work in the run-up to explore discrimination against women, as this excerpt from ‘The Official History of the British Civil Service’ (by Rodney Lowe) indicates.
Margherita Rendel states in 1978 (‘Legislating for Equal Pay and Opportunity for Women in Britain’) that there was an unsuccessful attempt to amend the Race Relations Bill (which would become an Act in 1965) so that it covered discrimination against women.
Rendel goes on to note that in each subsequent parliamentary session, attempts were made to introduce a private member’s bill on discrimination against women. They received increasing support in the House of Commons but were defeated.
Eventually the Anti-Discrimination Bill, defeated in the House of Commons, was introduced in the House of Lords in 1971 by Baroness Seear, a member of the Liberal Party. At this point, Seear was also President of the Fawcett Society.
Unusually, the Bill was referred to a Select Committee, which then took two years gathering evidence on the discrimination faced by women. It concluded unanimously that there was a need for legislation.
Rendel states that Conservative members of the Select Committee “angrily defended their report on the floor of the House of Lords against the attempts of their party leaders to denigrate their recommendations”. We now dive into a House of Lords debate on 14 May 1973… You can read the Hansard transcript here.
Baroness Seear kicks off the debate, first thanking the Chair of the Select Committee, Lord Royle. (You’ll note that what was the Anti Discrimination Bill has been renamed the Sex Discrimination Bill. I’ve not been able to establish the exact point at which this happened.)
Lord Royle starts by noting how procedurally unusual it is for a Bill to be referred to a Select Committee. (A similar process had taken place in the House of Commons. Hence his reference to “parallel activity in another place”).
Some frustration voiced by Lord Royle, who has read in the press suggesting that the Government did not intend to proceed with the legislation but instead introduce legislation of its own in the next parliamentary session.
The Minister, Viscount Colville of Culross responds indicating that whilst the Government is “fully in sympathy with the underlying purposes of the Bill”, they have various reservations.
Interesting to note this comment from Viscount Colville: “the nature of discrimination on grounds of sex is different from discrimination on grounds of race. That is so both in scale and in history, though it may be that both have similar roots in prejudice.”
We can see origins of the single-sex exceptions and General Occupational Requirement (both features of EA 2010): “There are also likely to be many jobs where public taste or decency establishes at any rate a strong presumption in favour of the employment of one sex or the other.”
Next the Minister moved on to talk about education. Even four and a half decades later, still shocking to see these figures on the numbers of girls in education. But a reminder of what progress there has been too.
The Select Committee appears to have recommended that there should be a move towards the discontinuation of single sex schools. The Minister objects, saying: “The Government think it right that as much freedom of parental choice as possible should be maintained.”
The Minister expresses a hope that there will be a change in the “social climate” that enables girls and boys to study any subject they choose. (“In principle, I think it is a good idea that boys should cook and that girls should know how to mend fuses.”)
Ending his speech, the Minister then spends some time speaking about how to configure an enforcement body. Interesting to note that he also laments “the lack of guidance about the exceptions of which I spoke earlier”.
Lord Maybray-King (Labour) then asks why the Government has not sought to amend the Bill and the Minister replies confirming press reports that they intend instead to bring forward their own legislation, for which they will produce a consultative document “as soon as possible”.
Next up is Baroness Summerskill (Labour). She is evidently unhappy (angry?) to learn that the the work of the Select Committee is to be abandoned in favour of a Government bill down the line.
Interesting aside: Edith Summerskill was the grandmother of Ben Summerskill, who was the CEO of Stonewall from 2003-2014.
Back to the debate. Intervention from Lord Shackleton (Labour) who is unhappy with the Government position. He also says: “I find it quite extraordinary to use the fact that there are now more highly educated women than ever before as an argument that everything is all right.”
Lord Shackleton is adamant that a legislative approach is required to tackle discrimination against women.
Lord Reigate (Conservative), another member of the Select Committee, also expresses his exasperation at the Government’s plans, saying: “I hesitate to accuse my own Government of discourtesy, but I think that in fact we have been rather discourteously treated.”
He goes on to emphasise that he was not an enthusiast for a legislative approach, but that he changed his mind as he was “amazed by the degree and the wide field of prejudice which exists, and which exists most importantly of all to the damage of our economy”.
Baroness Wooton: “The principal difference is that in the case of race it is a discrimination of the majority against the minority, and in the case of sex it is a case of discrimination of the minority against the majority of the population of this country.”
Side note: Baroness Wooton studied Classics and Economics at Girton College, Cambridge from 1915 to 1919, winning the Agnata Butler Prize in 1917. She gained a first class in her final exams, but as a woman she was prevented from appending BA to her name.
Anger from Baroness Summerskill and Lord De Clifford that the Minister (Viscount Colville) did not intend to engage in the debate further. The Minister responds saying they are wrong to presume that the work of the Select Committee was in vain.
Baroness Seear re-enters the debate, emphasising that the Committee was of the wrong view that it had accumulated sufficient evidence that the legislation was required. She again advances the idea that single sex schools should be phased out in order to tackle sex discrimination.
She concludes: “I do not think there is any necessity to wait for a new vehicle to be brought forward by the Government. I maintain that the Bill now before the House, suitably amended, if you like, can adequately do this overdue task.”
Baroness Gaitskell (on Bill wording): “The word ‘suitable’ could be interpreted by women discriminating against men for a job, and vice versa; but I have a notion that it could more frequently be grasped by those men still hesitating to afford women equal opportunities with men.”
And then a very entertaining side swipe from Baroness Gaitskell regarding the attitude of Church of England Bishops to the campaign for women as priests (as reported in The Times that morning).
Viscount Hanworth says he agrees with the principles behind the Bill, but is not convinced of the need for legislation: “I do not believe one can change things very greatly just by setting up a Board and making penalties. What we are trying to do is to change people’s attitudes.”
His concluding remarks spark this very entertaining (!) exchange between him and Baroness Phillips (Labour). Side note: Baroness Phillips’ daughter Gwyneth Dunwoody would later become a Labour MP.
More discussion about language in the Bill and the way in which ‘suitability’ might be interpreted. Lord Gardiner shares an anecdote about a female candidate for Queen’s Counsel and the lack of toilet facilities for women. (Plus ca change…)
Baroness Summerskill dryly remarks: “…the stock answer of the Government is, ‘We always choose those whom we consider the most suitable’. Curiously enough, women are generally excluded.”
As they grapple with language, Lord Shackleton wonders whether there is a better way to phrase the relevant clause: “always provided that individuals shall be treated on their individual merits and not with regard to the generalised or assumed characteristics of their sex”.
Baroness Spear laments Lord Hanworth’s references in the debate to the “average woman”.
More discussion about the idea of a General Occupational Requirement and whether the Bill should contain an exhaustive list of occupations or whether it should evolve in line with developing case law.
Lord Conesford voices his concerns about the threat to single sex schools, whilst declaring his position as Vice President of the Girls’ Public Day-School Trust. He feels that outlawing single sex schools would be “a most illiberal, tyrannical and arrogant act”.
Concern from Lord Hanworth that the single sex school issue might be divisive on party lines is dismissed by Baroness Phillips (Labour), who explains that she had attended a single sex school and says that Lord Conesford “has argued this matter in his usual persuasive way”.
Baroness Seear (apologies for earlier misspelling – Hansard is wrong!) doubles down on her view about single sex schools: those currently in existence would continue but the Bill would prevent the creation of any new single sex schools.
“…there is the other very real point, that discrimination is rooted in education; it is the customs and attitudes and points of view put over during early life in school which so largely determine whether boys and girls will grow up as unconscious discriminators.”
“It is the unconscious discriminator, the discriminator who discriminates as a matter of course, with whom we have the greatest difficulty, not the person who is the all-out declared champion of the rights of his own sex.”
Lord Conesford presses on, refusing to withdraw his Amendment on schools.
Lord Platt: “I hope it is not too late to see whether I can stir up one or two people from various parts of the Committee, including perhaps the Bishop’s Bench, in order to elucidate a little more clearly the arguments for putting in this clause.”
This provokes Baroness Summerskill to (once more) take aim at the Church of England and its attitude to women: “Use women by all means, exploit their services, and far from giving them equal pay give them nothing.”
Lords Belhaven and Donaldson take issue with Baroness Summerskill’s tirade. Lord Gardiner disagrees, saying the Church, as an employer, should be in the scope of the Bill: “there is no reason why they should not conform to the ordinary law, as it will be, on sex discrimination”
At this point, the Bishop of Rochester chips in, albeit claiming he had not been prepared to participate in this debate. (It would be another two decades before women were ordained as Church of England priests.)
Lord Derwent (Conservative) states his objection to giving a Sex Discrimination Board powers of investigation because “The people of this country are getting fed up with the multitude of people who can interfere with them”.
Response from Baroness Seear (Hansard spelling gone AWOL again!).
Brief discussion about how a Sex Discrimination Board would be constituted before the debate closed. I hope to resume this thread at a later date once I’ve read later Hansard transcripts on the passage of the SDA.