HC Deb 21 July 1931 vol 255 cc1359-65

I beg to move in page 3, line 12, to leave out the words "one shall be a woman" and to insert instead thereof the words "two shall be women."

I think that the discussions during the proceedings on this Bill upon the question of married women show the great need that the case for the married women should be adequately put in the Advisory Committee and I think that in a committee of nine persons a guarantee of one member is quite insufficient. All who have listened to these discussions, must have realised the danger that married women just because they are so much less organised and because their case is so much less advocated by the great trade unions than the cases that of many other persons covered by these Acts, are more likely to be harshly dealt with. I wonder whether the House realises the great potentialities there are in the treatment of women by the committee under the special provisions of this Bill which refer to them. When one considers that it is left entirely open to the Minister, aided by the Advisory Committee, to prescribe the period of contributions which a married woman shall have to pay subsequent to marriage in order to entitle her to ordinary benefit, to say nothing of transitional benefit, one can see that the Clause might be operated by a committee which might be harshly inclined towards women so as to deprive married women of all their pre-marriage contributions.

I pressed the Minister on the Committee stage to tell us whether the period of post-marriage contributions which a married woman might require to put in was to be a period once for all, or whether it might be a recurrent period. She did not give me an answer, but I understand from questions which I put to her privately that it might be interpreted in either way. I suggest that it might likely be interpreted in this way. Suppose it is re- quired that a married woman shall have to pay 30 contributions in two years subsequent to marriage, or that she is required to pay 30 contributions in any period subsequent to marriage, or pay eight, 16 or 32 contributions in the two years preceding an application far benefit, provided they were years subsequent to marriage—


I think that the hon. Lady is on the wrong Amendment. The Amendment I called is in page 3, line 12, to leave out the words, "one shall be a woman," and to insert instead thereof the words, "two shall be women."


That is the Amendment that I am moving, and I was merely giving an illustration to show the great power which is put in the hands of the Advisory Committee to differentiate against married women, and to show how they might by a simple adjustment of the post-marriage period of contributions really deprive a married woman of all her contractual rights. I want to remind the House that if we have an Advisory Committee which is hostile and biased against women, or even if we have an Advisory Committee which has no such conscious bias, but is little in touch and little in sympathy with married women, these regulations may be made a very potent instrument for differentiating against married women and treating them in such a way as to discredit the work of married women.

Married women, whose interests are so vitally affected by this Bill, are really entitled to a guaranteed representation of more than one woman. I am not proposing to increase the number of the committee and therefore it will mean that one of the other representatives, either that of the Treasury or one of the Trades Union Congress representatives, will have to be a woman. It would be desirable if the Trades Union Congress, which has by no means shown itself always the faithful custodian of the interests of women, especially the married women, should be asked to make one of their representatives a woman. If the Minister appointed another woman, we should have a guaranteed representation of two women. When the Minister appoints a woman representative, I beg her not to appoint a "nice" woman—a tame lapdog who will feed out of the hands of the Minister or the Advisory Committee of the type which we are so often apt to see when one woman representative is appointed on a great committee. The right hon. Lady knows as well as I do that women did not gain their votes and their admission into the professions or the universities or any of the other privileges that they have won by being "nice" women. They gained them by following most assiduously the scriptural precedent of the importunate widow.


I beg to Second the Motion.

I realise the courage of the hon. Lady in referring to the mysterious lady who in some way gets on these committees and is supposed to represent all women by her own bright self. No one ever suggests that one man shall represent all men. We realise that there are tremendous divergencies of interest. For example, it would be impossible to imagine that the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), or the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), or the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. P. Snowden), merely because they are men, represent the same point of view. In asking for two women on this committee, we realise that we could leave the appointment of one very confidently in the hands of the present Minister, who realises the position, but we have to look to the future, and therefore we feel it necessary that it shall not be left to one woman to attempt to do the impossible and represent all women, but that the different points of view of women should be represented.

There is an obvious distinction between women who represent the employing interests and women who represent trade union interests. The employing man and the trade union man are provided for on this committee with separate representation. It is only this mythical lady who represents everybody who is provided for in the case of women. There is a more serious difference in the ranks of women. There is the quite logical point of view of the unmarried trade unionist who does not see why married women should want to work at all. There are a large number of unmarried trade union women, especially in the Civil Service and Post Office, who are strongly of the opinion that women should resign on marriage. If you appoint, as the Trades Union Congress might logically do, an official of a trade union which strongly takes that point of view, that woman will naturally and rightly put the point of view of the single women, but she could not be said to represent the large number of married women who have to go out to work. Therefore we suggest that these two women should be appointed.

The Amendment would strengthen the hands of the Minister. There is no doubt that she is anxious to appoint one woman on the Advisory Committee among those members the appointment of whom is in her hands. The appointment of the Trades Union Congress and the employers' representatives are not in her hands. Obviously, she has to take them for a panel. I therefore suggest that it would strengthen her hands if she accepted the Amendment, for then, according to the type of woman she appointed, she could make representation to other bodies that at least one of the members they appointed should be a woman of the other type. We are very modest in asking for only two women, seeing that married women are so largely concerned in this matter. I do not see why we should not have at least four out of the nine, but as we are so modest in asking for only two, I urge the Minister, as she has gone so far in meeting us on the previous Amendment, to accept this Amendment, which I am sure is in accord with her own real wishes.


I am bound to say that the two speeches to which we have just listened have made me doubt the wisdom of my first concession. The first speech was alien in spirit to the whole idea of the Labour movement. The first intention was that we should have this Committee equally balanced, quite irrespective of sex considerations, consisting of representatives of employed contributors, employer contributors and State contributors—that is, the taxpayers generally; but owing to the special representations made that it was possible that neither of those representatives would be a woman I yielded to a desire which was expressed and put an extra member on the Committee. If the sentiment of the Committee is going to be as described by the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) one woman, or even two women, will be ruthlessly outvoted by these brutal men who, it appears, will have no consideration for women at all; and in that case what are the insured women going to do? I beg both those hon. Ladies to remember that if there is one voceriferous section of the movement when they come up against something which they regard as not right it is the women of the movement, and I have not the faintest shadow of doubt that if we put out any regulations which are liable to create an injustice to women as women that we shall hear of it in loud, large tones. The position has been to some extent overstrained by those who—though I do not wish to say anything offensive—have this obsession about women.

What are the Committee going to do? If there is a danger of a trade in which large numbers of women are employed being caught by any new regulations, the first duty of the Advisory Committee will be to call into consultation representatives of that particular trade, and I should expect the Committee to inquire of the women themselves as to whether the regulations were suitable for their case or not. Large areas of women's labour are represented by men; the women themselves have elected them. I cannot dictate to the textile women and say, "You must send me a woman," if the textile unions decide they are going to send men. I really will not agree that that is the best way to assist the expression of women's views. But I have very readily given the concession of adding one woman, and I hope there will be more than one woman among those who are nominated as members, and with that I must ask the House to be content. Under the circumstances I cannot accept the Amendment.

10.0 p.m.


I am very glad the Minister has stood firm on this matter. As one who represents a much larger number of women than men I cannot see why we should be perpetually insulting the women of the country by providing specially for the inclusion of "one woman" on the different committees which are set up. Directly we provide that there must be one woman on a committee one tends to become the maximum. We handicap women by the absurd action of laying it down that a committee or other body must include one woman, or two. The one woman—or two—is appointed, and then the rest of the committee is automatically filled up with men. I really regret that the hon. Ladies who have moved and seconded this Amendment seem to share the idea of an inferiority complex directly they come to deal with their own sex. There is no reason to suppose that women are an inferior sex in every way. In some ways women are inferior and in some ways we are; but is there anyone who has listened to our Debates who would dispute that the hon. Lady on the benches opposite who has taken such a prominent part in these Debates would not be most excellently qualified to serve on one of these committees as a Trades Union Congress representative, if she were qualified technically? As for the Minister herself, anyone who saw her endurance the other night would realise that she would be eminently qualified to serve on such a committee, and I am perfectly certain that where the Trades Union Congress or any other body think women ought to be on a committee they will keep these bygone notions of a bygone age out of their minds.

One could find examples, also, of efficient, capable and able women from the employers' point of view. Would not a lady like Lady Rhondda be an excellent representative? I see one Welsh Member nodding assent. He realises her capacity, which is a tribute to the whole of her people. There was one expression used by the hon. Member representing the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) which I could not quite make out. She said that she did not want a "nice" woman on the committee. I do not feel that I am qualified to say what a nice woman is, though I realise that all in my constituency are nice women. But why put forward the idea that because a woman has a good manner, because she is agreeable, because she adds to her capacity by being able to get round us poor unfortunate men, therefore we ought to exclude her? After all, niceness, if it means anything, means a capacity to get round people in a reasonable way, and I should have thought one of the first things needed in a woman was that she should have charm, capacity, and ability to get her own way. People do not always get their own way by scolding, but by the use of very different tactics I am glad that the Minister has refused to accept this really absurd Amendment, and I hope that it may yet be possible to cut out the absurd words providing that one member must be a woman. I dislike those directions, because I think they are derogatory to the whole of the sex.

Amendment negatived.