HC Deb 10 May 1934 vol 289 cc1334-6

7.33 p.m.

Viscountess ASTOR

I beg to move, in page 73, line 30, at the end, to insert : At least one member of the board shall be a woman. As the Minister was so very far-seeing and gracious in accepting the Amendment in regard to the Statutory Committee, I am certain that he will show sweet reasonableness and wisdom in accepting this Amendment, which stands in my name. I have spent many years in this House and have made many completely unnecessary speeches, and I will not weary the House with one now. I will simply say how very grateful people are, both in the House and outside, for the spirit that he has shown in dealing with this Bill, and particularly for the way in which he has given women complete equality with men. He has done a very great deal to make up the disadvantages which women suffered in having once had a woman Minister of Labour. I feel that he has reconciled many women to having a man as Minister of Labour. I hope that he will accept this Amendment, and also the thanks of thousands of women throughout the country who have watched this matter with gratefulness.


I beg to second the Amendment.


My name appears on the Paper against this Amendment, and I shall undoubtedly accept it. The board will be essentially a body on which there should be a woman representative, because many of the matters with which they will deal are those in which a woman's opinion will be necessary.

7.35 p.m.


I rise for the double purpose of thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the concession that he has made, and of replying to the little gibe made by the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) who attributed all the evils of the Anomalies Act to a woman Minister of Labour, by reminding her that if a woman Minister placed the Anomalies Act upon the Statute Book, it is the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister who has kept it there and has operated it as it has been operated during the last two years.

7.36 p.m.


The House will agree that it is a very wise decision of the Minister to put a woman upon the board. I am sure he must be satisfied with the things that have been said, and that he must be rather embarrassed at the good things that have been said about him.


I protested against a similar Amendment in Committee, and I desire to protest also against this Amendment being accepted. If women be the best people to put on the board I cannot see why the whole board should not consist of women, but I am not at all certain that they would get on very well together. The best people should be on the board, irrespective of sex. It is a great pity that an Amendment should be accepted which may be regarded as a maximum, since minima are usually taken as maxima.

7.37 p.m.


I agree with this Amendment, and I hope that the Minister will see that care is taken in regard to the type of woman put on the board. Frankly, the example that we get occasionally from the Noble Lady who moved the Amendment does something to guide us as to the dangers in that selection. It requires the very greatest care, not only of the Minister but of his very able Parliamentary Secretary. The very unkind and untrue reference made by the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) to the Minister's predecessor shows the danger of having a woman on the board.

I remember when women had very little opportunity of speaking for themselves, and in those days I was one of those who used to speak for them. Now, not only are they capable of speaking for themselves, but, when they do speak, some of them have not the grace to remember those days, and to give credit to some of the very earliest advocates, which would include the lady who occupied the position of Minister of Labour. I am sure that the Noble Lady is old enough herself to remember—it may be that the days before the War are a little too far back for her to remember, but I am not quite sure about that. As she is a lady, I should say that she cannot remember quite so long. At any rate, she has had a good education and good opportunities, and I am sure that she knows of the things that happened in her young days, prior to the War.

I hope the Minister will accept this Amendment. I should like to see women on important bodies or executives, or whatever it may be, in the country. The Noble Lady, and others who have spoken after her, forget that what they stand for is equality with men, but that what they have now is a privilege for women. I hope that the Noble Lady, in her future references, will be a little more generous to her own sex.

Viscountess ASTOR

May I say that I have had to defend the late Minister of Labour against her own party in this House. The hon. Member knows that as well as I do.

Amendment agreed to.