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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 15:56 GMT
FHM: For Him Minister?
Members of the pressure group Fathers 4 Justice on the Clifton Suspension Bridge
Fathers 4 Justice campaigned for the right of access to children
Men: it's time to burn your y-fronts and break free from the shackles. Rights for men have found a voice in arguably the oldest boys' clubs in the land, the House of Lords.

Lord Northbourne, a cross bench peer, has called for a minister for men.

In the run up to the UN's International Women's Day on 8 March, Lord Northbourne has quizzed the government over how they can sustain an equal opportunities policy that doesn't treat men the same as women.

The Cabinet has a minister for women in Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt. And she even has a deputy in Jacqui Smith MP.

"We have a minister for women, a minister for children, but there's an assumption that men don't have problems, but there are significant groups of men that also suffer disadvantage," Lord Northbourne told BBC Parliament.

Government minister Lord Davies of Oldham told their Lordships there were no plans to create a new ministry.

Serious Issues

But the hereditary peer stresses there are serious issues affecting men.

75 per cent of trainee doctors are women, GCSE results have consistently shown girls with a pass rate of 55 per cent, outperforming the boys¿ 44 per cent.

Mortality rates still see women outliving men and getting better access to health care.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, there is still a worrying upward trend in suicide rates among young men.

"If the government feels they need a minister to address womens' issues, it should be the same for men," Lord Northbourne said.

Men 'most discriminated against'

Fathers 4 Justice high profile protests called for government action on men's issues. They were campaigning for divorced fathers to have greater access to their children.

They received support from the UK Men's Movement (UKMM), who say they undoubtedly support what they see as "male discrimination" at the top of the government.

The UKMM's George McAulay said: "There's one class of humanity which doesn't have a minister. And it is men which are most discriminated against."

Mr McAulay says the government still spends more on women's health than on men's health. And took a broadside attack on the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) saying it was, "institutionally feminist and sexist."

UK Men's Movement was set up to highlight the extent of male discrimination. HE believes neither the Government nor the EOC will address the problem.

Different needs

The EOC said it was up to the government to decide ministerial responsibilities. But the Commission does want an "essential legal change" to place a duty on public bodies to address the different needs men have in public services.

"In health policy different approaches to diagnosis and treatment of men and women are required to tackle their different experiences of cancer and the risks of heart disease," says Julie Mellor, EOC Chair.

A minister for men is a proposal which has been put to the government before.

Conservative MP David Amess tabled a written question to the prime minister last year. "But Pinocchio didn't like that suggestion," Mr Amess said, referring to Mr Blair.

"If we're going to differentiate between the sexes, as the government has decided we should, why have they decided we should not have an opportunity to discuss matters relating to men?" he told BBC Parliament.

Patricia Hewitt takes questions from members as minister for women for ten minutes every three weeks in the Commons.

Mr Amess believes the government shouldn't differentiate between sexes at all. "We should have a minister for eunuchs, then?"

Lord Northbourne asked his question to Trade and Industry Minister, Lord Sainsbury on Wednesday. You can see the reply from 6am on Thursday 4 March on BBC Parliament.

On Thursday, MPs hold the annual debate on women, equality and human rights. You can watch it LIVE from approximately 1330 GMT on BBC Parliament.

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