HC Deb 09 April 1919 vol 114 cc2131-5

(1) The Minister may appoint such secretaries, officers, and servants as the Minister may, subject to the consent of the Treasury as to number, determine: Provided that, in the making of any such appointments, no discrimination be made for reasons of sex between men and women.

Mr. BALDWIN (Joint Financial Secretary to the Treasury)

I beg to move to leave out the words Provided that, in the making of any such appointments, no discrimination be made for reasons of sex between men and women. These words were added to the first Subsection of Clause 6 in Committee upstairs by a majority of four. I should like to impress upon the House why I am moving their omission. It is not from any desire to emphasise any possible difference between men and women as such, but because I believe the words, as they stand now, can only cause confusion, and would not have the slightest effect in bringing about what I believe was in the mind of the Mover of this Amendment in Committee. May I call the attention of the House to the first sentence in the first Sub-section: (1) The Minister may appoint such secretaries, officers, and servants as the Minister may, subject to the consent of the Treasury, as to number, determine. Then follow the words which I propose to ask the House to omit. If my recollection serves me aright, the President of the Local Government Board many times in the course of the Debates showed his willingness, and more than willingness, to appoint to such new posts as were in his gift—and I wish to emphasise this point—the best person for that post, whether that person was a man or a woman. That is the first point I would make, though it is one I do not wish to labour, because it was developed very ably by my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in Committee. If the words I propose to omit remain it will take away from the President of the Local Government Board that option, and he will be bound to give the office to the person with the best qualifications. That is to say, the men and women applying for certain posts would be lumped together as though they were sexless and their qualifications alone would be looked at. The result of that might easily be that in some positions where the President of the Local Government Board was anxious to appoint a woman he would be unable to do so, and the reverse might happen.

The point I wish to bring before the House this evening is one which was not touched upon upstairs. I feel quite sure if it had been made quite plain those who voted for the Amendment might have modified their views. You will have the bulk of the officers and servants in the new Department. These will consist of the clerical staff, from the highest posts to the lowest, and the staff under them, the messengers, charwomen, and coal porters. We need not, I suppose, trouble about the lowest grades, because there is no doubt in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred a man will be chosen for the coal portership, a woman as a cleaner, and a man as messenger. Let us consider for a moment the position of the bulk of the officers, that is the clerical staff of all grades. I want to remind the House what is the position to-day. The Civil Service Commission, which conducts the examinations for entering the Civil Service, conducts them as they have been conducted for many years, with a discrimination in favour of men. The whole of the terms upon which they conduct their examinations, therefore, as between men and women, as regards age of entry, examination tests, terms of service in regard to marriage and emoluments, terms of pension, and sometimes of hours come in. I know quite well from having read the Debates which took place upstairs that it was in the minds of the Movers of the Amendment that if they got these words inserted it would lead to a substantial addition of the women to these places in the Ministry. The words would not have the slightest effect in that direction. For this reason: the Civil Service Commissioners supply the candidates for all these posts according to the demand of the Minister. He wants, say, half-a-dozen second division clerks. The Civil Service Commissioners will supply all they have in the grade, and they will be men.

We all know that during the War a large number of women have entered the Civil Service. The position of women in the Civil Service to-day, if I may use this expression, is de facto greater and stronger than it is de jure. This very point, however, is at this moment under examination by a very strong Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Gladstone. This Committee is investigating the whole question of the employment of women in the Civil Service. Before very long, I hope, they will be in a position to report. When that Report is made there is no doubt the Government will be guided by it, and if changes are found to be desirable those changes will be made throughout the whole of the Civil Service. Briefly, the reason why I ask the House to omit these words from the Bill is because you are prejudging the issue which is at this moment being debated and is to be reported upon. You are going to put into the Bill the words for one Ministry alone. The words do not apply to any Government Offices at all. They are words which will be completely nugatory so far as giving effect is concerned to what I believe to be the desire of the Mover of these words upstairs. In view of the time that may come when changes are made in the whole of the Civil Service, you will be actually prejudicing the case which you have at heart by tying the hands of the Minister in regard to these appointments. At present he has a free hand to make a choice from either men or women. For these reasons I ask the House to reject these words.


I have apparently some little interest in these words, because I moved them upstairs, and they were there carried by a majority. Under the circumstances, therefore, I very much regret it has been necessary to move their recision. I was strongly in favour of the Amendment which was before the House a short time ago; I supported it in Committee. It went to a Division, and we were beaten; consequently, on this Report stage, I urged my hon. Friend not to go to a Division again, simply because the matter had been carefully considered upstairs, and a decision had been come to adverse to our views. Now here we have just got the converse case. This matter was very carefully and fully considered upstairs. We went to a Division, which was in our favour; and it does seem to me a little bit unfair that at this juncture the Government should come and ask for the recision of these words. It is strange that this should not come from my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board. I should have thought, as this was his Bill, and as he is watching the interests of the Health Department, that if these words were unsatisfactory he himself would be the medium of the Government in moving their recision, instead of this coming from the Treasury.

The Committee upstairs, in the interests of health. and considering a Health Bill, having by a majority put these words in, it is only fair that they should be allowed to remain, and should not be excised by those who cannot give the same considera- tion to the question as was given to it by Members exclusively considering this subject upstairs. I have listened to what the hon. Gentleman has said in urging his Amendment. I am bound to own that I cannot understand why his objection has been raised. We only ask that there shall be no discrimination shown, that in the appointments there shall be equality between men and women; that no preference shall be given to the one sex over the other sex. As to what the effect may be on the numbers relatively appointed, of course I cannot for a moment say; but all those who have urged this, and urged it very strongly upon the Committee, have urged it with the view that no discrimination between the sexes should be shown. This comes at the strong instance of women's associations in the country. I have had opportunities of learning that they were exceedingly pleased that these words were put into the Bill. I am sure they will be very gravely disappointed if at this stage they are removed. I earnestly appeal to my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, who is in charge of the Bill, that, as he was present when the discussion took place upstairs, and heard the arguments of both sides, and in view of the fact that the Division was in our favour, that he will not press the Amendment, but will grant us down here what by the Division upstairs we carried.

Amendment agreed to.