HC Deb 07 June 1935 vol 302 cc2211-47

12.13 p.m.


I hope the House will permit me now to turn aside from Italy and Abyssinia and to draw attention to a domestic matter of interest to men and women in this country. For some time I think it may be said that men have been increasingly nervous of what they believe to be the unfair competition of women in our industries and offices. On the other hand, women have been exceedingly worried because they believe that owing to the lowness of their pay they are not getting fair treatment either in industry or in Government offices. Where they are doing the same work as men and giving the same output and the same results the women do not see why they should be penalised merely because they are women. The men do not see why they should be subject to competition at lower rates of pay of the other sex, who can give an equal output with themselves. It is worth our while therefore for a short time to discuss this matter in the House of Commons, and if a complete answer can be given to it it is just as well that we should have it in Debate rather than that this discontent and unrest should continue. That there is such a problem cannot be denied. When the Civil Lord of the Admiralty investigated the conditions on the North East Coast he reported that the time might come when the employment of women might have to be restricted there. If such a thing were true on the North East Coast where normally men are employed in industry how much greater must the problem be in the Midlands and the Southern counties where the lighter industries are employing such a large number of women to-day?

Let us turn our attention to Germany. There, we know, most drastic regulations have been enforced, and if they want to employ a woman even in a women's industry, she has to go to the labour exchange and get a certificate to say that she can be employed, and she has got to give proof that she is either supporting an aged mother or family, otherwise she is not allowed to work. There is a problem which exists in this country. If one takes the census figures of 1931, one finds that more than 500,000 women secured places in industry. During the period, as we know, from 1921 to 1931, unemployment as a whole had not been increasing, while women's employment increased steadily the whole time. If we take the monthly unemployment returns to-day, we find that the period for which women draw unemployment benefit is exactly half that for which men draw it. Therefore, the finding of work for women is twice as easy as finding work for men to-day, and really, when so many men are out of work, it seems an anomaly that unemployment among women should exist except in a few areas.

Let me mention some of the main avenues in which women get employment to-day. Roughly speaking, one-third of our women are employed in domestic service. There we find no change one way or the other. If anything, including hotel work, men are slightly improving their position. Coming to the next class, clerks and shopgirls, you find women steadily increasing their numbers over the last 20 years, and during the years from 1911 to 1921 women made enormous gains. In the ease of shop assistants alone, men went down by 100,000 and women went up by 300,000. Since that time all these gains have been held, and so much employment has been lost to men. Unquestionably there, you may say, there is a strong competitive factor between men and women. Coming to the third group—industry—you find that women are improving their position—I suggest at the cost of men—very rapidly. For the last 40 years women have doubled their proportion. In some industries, of course, they have gone up a little and in some down, but in certain industries quite definitely the number of men has decreased and that of women has increased. In the glass and chemical industries, the number of men has increased and that of women decreased, but in other industries where there has been a general expansion, women have increased at a far greater rate than men. In the electrical manufacturing industry—a new and expanding industry—men have increased their proportion by 43 per cent., whereas women have increased by 112 per cent. How much longer at that rate are we going on before women will be doing all the work in this country, and the men will be sitting at home looking after the babies? It is not a healthy situation. What happens is that under the system of mechanisation, new machines and processes come along, and women instead of men are put on to them.

Throughout the whole field the opportunities for the employment of men are getting less and less. Let us examine the causes of that a little further. I have only mentioned light industries. There is another large section of women in industry which, so far, I have not mentioned, and that is the textile and weaving industry, and here, curiously enough, the proportion of men to women has remained almost the same in the last four years. Women, of course, have always been a big factor in this industry, but if you take the last 40 years, the increase of women generally is just over 4 per cent. compared with 15 per cent. in light industries. There has been a decrease of 10 per cent. in the case of men and 7 per cent. in that of women in the woollen section of the industry, whereas in the cotton section men increased by one per cent. and women remained exactly the same. There has been practically no difference in the sex distribution in this industry for 40 years. What is the reason for that? One knows perfectly well that piece rates in the light industries are from one-half to four-fifths of the men's rates, whereas in the textile and woollen industries women's rates are far more equated with those of men. Therefore, there is a far more stable situation in regard to the sex proportion of the total number working in that industry.

I suggest seriously to the Government that, from the point of view of employment, this question of equal pay in industry is one which should be very carefully examined. There are so many things being said about equal pay, that I think one ought to answer one or two of them. People say that it is perfectly absurd; a girl goes into an office only for pin money, and why should she have better pay? As a matter of fact, there are very few who do that. If you consider the life of a girl who works in industry or in an office all day, she probably has had to cook breakfast before leaving for work, and probably has to work in the house after returning home. That is a life of some drudgery, and no one is going to do it for fun. It is really economic pressure that is driving these girls into industry.

Again, I am told that women do not know what is good for them, and that if they had anything like equal pay, not nearly so many would get employment. The answer is that the leaders of the women's societies say quite frankly that, whether it is going to be better or worse for them, this ought to be done, and if women did not want it they would not support the leaders of these women societies who advocate equal pay for equal work. I suggest that even if women did lose some employment—and I think they would—what they lost on the roundabouts they would probably gain on the swings, because I am certain that women go to work through economic pressure. What women really want is to have their own homes as early as they can. By remaining in industry, by taking the place of men, they are preventing men from marrying, and, therefore, they are preventing themselves from having their own homes and their own families, and doing exactly what their natural instincts tell them. Therefore, even if a few women were put out of industry, a great many more would be enabled to marry and have their own homes, so that what they lost in one direction they would gain in another, and I believe it would result in greater happiness.

I have tried to make a case, and I hope that I have made it moderately. Is there anything that the Government can do? We cannot do what Germany is doing, regulate the whole thing, we cannot prevent women going into industry; but is there no lead which the Government might give. They are large employers of labour. At the present time, if there is any suggestion of equal pay for women employers at once say what is the Government doing about it. I think that the Government should look at this matter not so much from the Treasury point of view but consider the whole field of industry and give a lead with regard to equal pay on their own staffs. It would have great reactions all round. I know it is said that it cannot be done in Government offices because it would have great reactions outside, but that is the very reason why I want to see the Government make a start; and it is also the reason why I have ventured to bring this subject before the House this afternoon. I hope that I have not put an exaggerated case or a case which will in any way embarrass the Government. These things cannot be done by a stroke of the pen in a moment. We have to have a gradual change and, therefore, I hope hon. Members will think that I have not wasted their time this afternoon.

12.27 p.m.


I do not propose to occupy the time of the House for more than a few minutes, but this is a subject in which I have been intensely interested during the whole of my political life. It is not a matter which can be settled very easily within our present competitive system. Neither shall I expect the hon. Member who may reply for the Government to drag in King Charles's Head as to what the Labour Government did or did not do. We as a party have pleged ourselves in conference resolutions to the principle of equal pay and—have tried to do it in some localities but have found ourselves up against the judgment of the auditor, who has not considered it the right policy to adopt. All the same, I want to support the proposition that this is a matter on which the Government should give a lead. The present competitive system is unfair to women because employers use the fact of sex to the disability of women and the danger of men, that is to say, they utilise the services of women at lower rates and displace men, they create a sort of sex discrimination in regard to employment. The kind of industries which have developed during the last 40 years have made it possible for women and children to be utilised on light machinery to the detriment of older people and men. I do not see myself any way out of that within the competitive struggle which goes on.

Last night I received a deputation of teachers in the room behind the Chair and it was put up to me that there was a movement on foot which took the line that if this business could not be settled in any other way men's wages should be brought down; that is what the teachers are fearing. Any proposal of that kind would be sheer lunacy. We all want to level up the status of women rather than level it down, and I think that women would join with men in fighting any proposal to level down. I should not have dreamt of making this statement this morning if that proposition had not been put to me last night by intelligent men as a danger which they were fearing from the present situation. It seems to me that the Government ought to take a stand on this question and say that as soon as possible they will introduce the principle into the Government service. A Cabinet Minister who happens to be a woman is paid £5,000 or £2,000 a year, just the same as a man. There was no discrimination against Miss Bondfield either as a subordinate Minister or as a Cabinet Minister, and if it is good enough in that respect it is good enough for the girl clerk in the Civil Service or women workers anywhere else. Therefore, I hope the Government will be able to accept the principle and will apply it at the earliest possible moment.

Having sat on the Government bench for nearly 2½ years I know that this will not be done, as the hon. and gallant Member has said, by a stroke of the pen. I know the difficulties, or the alleged difficulties, which the Treasury can always set up. I am not asking that whoever answers for the Government shall say that in the next Budget provision will be made for this but I should like to have a statement that the Government accepts the principle and, if they last long enough, will endeavour to apply it as soon as possible. I do not think the question of the relationships of women and men in industry is likely to be settled in this way. I listened to the hon. and gallant Member when he was talking about there being more chances for women to marry and settle down and take care of a nice little home.

I have had sent to me this week a book written by someone whose name I forget. I think it is called "Martha, M.P." I commend it to everyone here, for it is an extraordinary book. It is written as if at a time some years ahead, and if you read what men have become, the spoiled darlings of the women, and the masculine position of the women, you have something to look forward to, those of you who are young men. It shows what is stirring in the minds of women. They propose to reverse the roles. When I heard the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Brown) speak of a man sitting at home to mind the babies, I recalled that that is exactly what women are proposing. As there are more women than men, and as women grow more intelligent, it is possible that they will give the future generation of men some of the kind of medicine that my generation of men has given the women.

12.37 p.m.


I welcome the fact that this subject of equal pay between the sexes has been raised by a man Member of the House, although I did not think that the hon. and gallant Member who introduced it did so altogether from a fair point of view, if he will allow me to say so. When we argue the question of equal pay the argument always used by the Government is one of expense, but that is not the point of view from which it should be regarded, if it is to be regarded in the light in which a very great problem has to be faced. The question that we are really discussing is the standard of life of the people of this country, because the inequality of payment between men and women will, as the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) pointed out, inevitably lower the standard of life of the people if allowed to continue.

The question really is one of principle. I believe that work should be done by the man or woman best qualified to do it, and that the pay should be commensurate with what the work is worth. But it is just as well to recognise, when we consider the question of women's work, that no one has ever objected to women working. They have always worked extremely hard. They not only ran their homes, but if we go back to the Middle Ages we find that they also spun their cloth, worked hard on the land, brought up their children, and in fact produced or helped to produce most of the consumable products in the country. It is only when women begin to work for gain that the question of her work ever arises. That is a thing which it is just as well to remember when we are talking of women taking men's work. If we look back we find it was when men began to bake bread and sell it for profit, when men began to manage the heavy laundry machinery, when men began to produce by industry the consumable products, that it was first recognised that women had no right to work for gain. Therefore, do not let us talk only of women taking men's work, because obviously not so long ago it was the men who took the women's work.

Women do not work for the sheer love of working when they go out to earn wages. What has driven them out has generally been the fact that they have had to increase the purchasing power of the home. As the work that they used to do without gain was gradually taken over by men for gain, they have had to increase the purchasing power of the home in order to be able to buy the products of industry. The thing that we have all to face to-day is that with the mechanisation of industry and the increasing simplification of machinery every firm is more liable to take on women for automatic jobs. I believe that that is a very great danger not only to women and to men, but particularly to the rising generation. As one sees the large factories where girls are taken on at perhaps 15 years of age and stand for three years doing nothing but sticking a label on a tin day after day, one cannot help wondering what exactly those women are being fitted for. That is a very serious matter. They are paid a little less than men would take at the same age, and a little snore than perhaps they would get in what would not be considered blind-alley occupations. They leave that work at 18 years of age, and they have been fitted neither for the home nor for any other form of industry. That is a thing we have all to face very seriously in future.

With regard to the Government's attitude, we can safely say that they have given perhaps the worst possible example, as regards equal pay. We know that with regard to the Civil service, the teaching profession and everywhere where they have employed women, they have systematically employed them at a lower rate of pay than men. In spite of resolutions that have been passed by this House the position is steadily getting worse, with the result that you will inevitably have an increase in the number of women employed and a decrease in the number of men. Every day we are faced with more complex problems in the world. Every day there is a greater need for those who are doing the work of the world to be the very best people for the job. Yet we have the fact that people are being chosen not by their ability to do the work, not even by their sex, but merely by the wages for which they can be obtained. Therefore, in continuing to pay women at lower rates than men all that we are doing is to sacrifice the gains of recent years in the standard of living by lowering the standard of wages, and the women of this country are the very last people who would wish to be a party to that.

The hon. and gallant Member for Hex-ham (Colonel Brown) said that women should be taken out of industry in order that men might go into it and earn money sufficient to support women, and to enable women to marry. Personally I do not believe that that is the way in which we should legislate. If we in this House do our duty we should work for a greater freedom for all sections of the community. Whether a women wishes to marry or to go on working is nobody's business. We should try to enable all people to have a greater and wider freedom, not necessarily to insist that women have to marry and go into homes and then to forbid them to continue working. I quite agree that probably the best profession for most women is marriage, but I do not believe that marriage should necessarily debar a woman from taking up any profession. In many professions I think a married woman is better qualified than an unmarried woman. I believe that to be true, for instance, of the teaching profession. A married woman ought to know more than an unmarried woman about the training of the young and about certain aspects of life even if she does not always do so.

With regard to the bringing-up of the young we must admit that nowadays we especially want the very best people and those who have the most experience to undertake this work. The problems facing us to-day are so great and so complex in every department of life that it is essential that the people who are best fitted for a particular work should be doing that job. They can only be achieved if men and women are employed on absolutely equal terms—which involves the payment of equal wages. I believe what the hon. and gallant Member said is true and that equality of pay as between men and women would result in the employment of fewer women and I would far rather see fewer women employed on fair terms than a large number of women employed on unfair terms. Further what is unfair to women must, of necessity, be unfair to men, because none of these problems affect men or women solely. What is good for women in this country is good for men and what is good for men is good for women because their problems are not divisible. I hope the Government will indicate to-day that they are going to take some steps to have this matter put right. Not long ago we had a lamentable example of the Government's attitude towards the payment of women when the Unemployment Assistance Regulations were submitted to this House. I am thankful that those regulations have been withdrawn, and I hope that if the Government come forward again with scales of unemployment assistance which are as unequal between men and women as those which they proposed on the last occasion, not one woman Member of this House will vote for them. But I hope to find from the reply to-day that the Government have had a change of heart on this subject and that they intend not only to make the unemployment pay for men and women equal but also the pay in employment.

12.48 p.m.


I was much interested in the well-informed and well-reasoned statement of the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Clifton Brown). I would like to quote some figures in support of one of his economic arguments. He said that the number of women in industry was increasing, at the same time as the number of men in industry was decreasing. I find that in the engineering trade in the last 10 years the number of men employed has declined by 60,000, whereas the number of women employed has increased by over 15,000. In the textile trade the number of men employed has decreased by 20,000, while the number of women employed has increased by nearly 10,000. In the boot and shoe trade there are 2,000 more women employed and 10,000 fewer men and, altogether, since 1913 I find that there are over 800,000 more women employed in industry. That is very significant and while it may be partially due to new industries, more simplified methods and improved machinery, which can be looked after by women, I believe the chief cause of this replacement of men by women is the fact that women can be employed more cheaply than men.

The employer who tries to maintain as many adult males as possible in his factory finds it very difficult to compete against the employer who substitutes women for men at perhaps half or two-thirds of the men's wages. Thus, it is difficult for one employer to refrain from following the example of another employer in taking on women wherever possible in preference to men. When we discuss the danger of Japanese competition in this House, hon. Members often point out how low-wage products come into this country and swamp the products of certain home trades, and, rightly or wrongly, they claim that a tariff against the low-wage products is the remedy for that trouble. But the same principle applies in this case. The employer who tries to retain male labour might well ask for a tariff against goods produced by cheap women's labour. At any rate it is the same kind of argument. It is just as difficult for the employer who is paying good wages to men, to compete against the employer who is paying low wages to women, as it is for a London employer to compete against an employer in Yokohama or any part of the East, who is paying a very low general standard of wages. There is no doubt that the increased employment of women at low wages tends to depress wage standards and purchasing power in this country. Some people argue that women should be paid lower wages because women are inferior but I have never been able to convince myself that women are, generally speaking, inferior to men. I know some respects in which they are certainly superior.

Viscountess ASTOR

Hear, hear.


I am not saying that that applies in the field of politics.

Viscountess ASTOR

They have not had the experience of men in that field.


I think it may be argued that in politics men are, generally speaking, superior to women, though I admit the possibility of exceptions. There may be some—from Plymouth for example—who are better. But the argument that women have only been in politics for a short time, whereas men have monopolised the field for a very long time, seems perfectly sound and I accept it. I would say that wherever women have been given a fair and equal opportunity to compete with men they have shown no inferiority. In the case of the teaching profession, I willingly confess that found women at least as good as men and in some cases better. I have worked in schools staffed by men teachers only, and I thought the men in those schools were very good indeed, but when I went into schools in which there were women teachers I would have been blind had I not recognised that most of the women were better than I was at teaching. Therefore I think we must recognise that women generally are as efficient as men.

It is then argued sometimes that women have not the physical strength of men and that is probably true, generally, but year by year strength is becoming a less important factor in industry. Indeed today mechanisation has rendered strength a very minor factor in industry. Training too is not so important a factor as it once was. With new machinery women can be trained in a very short time to work as efficiently as men. To put women to do equal work with men in the same industry at lower wages is wrong both from the ethical and the economic standpoints. Some people argue that women have not to maintain dependants, while men have to do so, but, generally speaking, that is not the case. The last census returns show that 30 per cent. of men in this country are unmarried, and 60 per cent. of those who are married have no children. On the other hand, it is true to say that probably 50 per cent. of women also have dependants. Very many women keep mothers, sometimes fathers, and relations of all kinds. So that on this argument of dependants we have not very firm ground on which to stand. In any case, in time children sometimes become an asset for the man.

Equal pay is now given to certain sections of society. We give equal pay to doctors, lawyers and Members of Parliament. If we gave payment in this House on grounds of ability I often think that mine would be very low indeed. On grounds of strength some would be getting a thousand year and some £10 a year, while on the grounds of ability I should see some of my hon. Friends getting very high rates and some of my opponents getting very low rates. But we do not do that; we have a good principle of saying equal work for equal pay. All of us get the same pay whatever our virtues or vices may be. It is a good principle which might be extended. The State is a great employer and ought to be a model employer. We ought to point the way, and in respect of Civil servants, teachers and other employés where they are doing equal work we ought to put into operation the principle of equal pay. I do not suppose that there is a great deal of hope that this principle will be put into operation in the near future. But I believe that next week we are going to have a reconstructed Cabinet, and that there will be a more Socialist Prime Minister. A diehard reactionary Tory will be replaced by a more moderate and liberal Prime Minister, one who will have much more go in him, much more vigour and much more humanitarianism than the old Prime Minister had. I hope that he will begin his term of office by looking into this question. I hope also that the Parliamentary Secretary, who also has humane ideas, will support him, so that the last act of the National Government before it is defeated in a few weeks' time will be to bring into operation this great principle of equal pay for equal work.

12.58 p.m.


I understand, Mr. Speaker, that several other hon. Members wish to catch your eye in this Debate, but that they want to speak about this particular subject with special reference to equal pay in the Civil service, to which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will reply. Perhaps therefore it would be convenient to the House if I spoke now on the broader aspects in relation to women in industry and left the narrower question to my hon. Friend. I noticed that none of the speakers to-day was unwise enough to commit himself to the question of what equal work was. Hon. Members equally refrained from endeavouring to suggest how you could get equal pay for equal work, and what steps the Government could or should take to secure that particular end. In this subject people are very apt to draw general conclusions from particular instances, And I think the first thing that one wants to ask oneself is whether in fact people do not get equal pay for equal work in industry at the moment. What is equal work? A Committee of the Government which examined the matter in 1919 asked the very pertinent question of how on earth you could measure the work of a coal miner and the work of a nursery maid.

Let us look at what is actually happening in industry. We have at the moment in industry a large number of trade boards which fix minimum rates of pay. If you look at these minimum rates of pay, you will find in the case of the hourly time rate that in the majority of cases the hourly time rates for women are lower than the hourly time rates for men, but in the majority of cases you find that the processes that are the subject of these time rates are not the same, and so there is no question there of unequal pay for equal work. If you take the question of piece work, again you will find that for women and men the processes are not the same, and therefore you cannot argue from that that women are not getting equal pay for equal work. But where you find that the processes are the same you will find in the majority of cases that the piece rates are the same.

If you pursue your investigations out of the range of industries where trade boards apply and take the industries which are subject to voluntary collective agreements, there again you will find that where the rates which are the subject of agreements are for particular processes, in the overwhelming majority of cases the processes are performed either by men or women where the rates agreed on are different. You will find in the vast majority of cases where the process is the subject of an agreed piece rate, it is the same for men and women. There is no difference between the rates of wages for men and women. In other words, where the output is the same the rate of wages is the same. That is particularly the case in the weaving industry, where you have a common rate for men and women. In certain cases women actually earn more than men, but in the majority of cases where the rate is the same, men earn more than women because they attend to more looms and require less ancillary help than women. Therefore, you can say that taking industry as a whole there is not this disparity which is commonly alleged to exist.

Let me turn to the other argument, that women are displacing men. There again people are very apt to argue from one or two instances, and the conclusions that they draw are, I hope to show the House, wrong. I do not think that it can be said with any truth to-day that, taking the last 10 years, women have materially displaced men in industry. The hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. West) quoted some figures showing the change between 1913 and 1934. But the interesting thing if you go back as far as 1911 is that 1911 was the end of a period of 20 years in which men in industry had been increasing faster than women. The percentage of men occupied in industry for the period 1881–1911 rose as compared with that of women, and the fact that since 1911 there has been a tiny increase in the proportion of women, as compared with men, a difference of one per cent.—as between an increase of 15½ per cent. for women and 14½ per cent. for men—really is not a material factor to-day, when you take account of the enormous changes that are going on in industry generally. Some hon. Member suggested that women were displacing men because they did repetitive work more cheaply than men. I do not know that, taking industry as a whole, there is any real justification for that statement. Our information is rather that where women have displaced men in purely repetitive work, the reason is more that they do it more efficiently and that they are better adapted for purely repetitive work than are men, and that that is one of the main reasons for their engagement.


Lower wages.


I have no doubt lower wages have something to do with it, but they are by no means so important a factor as is commonly supposed. The fact remains that women do repetitive work in many instances better than the men.

Viscountess ASTOR

What about telephones?


They would still do the work in many cases even if they got the same or higher wages, because they are more efficient at that particular kind of work. I would like to return to the question whether or not, if we take industry as a whole, women have displaced men. Some very striking figures were quoted three or four years ago showing that the number of women at work in this country had increased over the previous ten years and that the increase was much greater than the increased number of men. I think the inference drawn was that women were displacing men, but that was not due to women displacing men; it was due to the fact that the industries in which men were predominantly at work, namely, the heavy industries, were those which were suffering most from the narrowing down of international trade, and that the industries which employed most women were industries which had developed especially since the war and which were still developing.

But if you take the figures for any considerable period, which is the least you can do to get a real picture of what is happening in industry, you will find that the proportion of men employed has not increased now compared with what it used to be. Furthermore, what is more striking still, if you take the big industry which has resulted in an increase of women, namely, the distributive trade, you will find that the number of males engaged in the distributive trade has increased by 73 per cent. in the past 11 years, and the number of females by only 48 per cent.; in other words, in that one trade, which is always quoted as the trade in which women are displacing men, the fact of the matter is that the number of men employed has increased proportionately much more than the number of women. If you take the list of trades in this country in which the number of women employed has increased, you will find that in every one of them, with the exceptions of electric lamps and accessories, professional workers, and tailors, all three of which are comparatively small groups, the proportion of men engaged in those trades has not fallen in the last ten years. I hope that will show the House that the idea which is commonly held about the displacement of men by women is not borne out when you take the real facts of the case over any period of years, and although I should like to have developed the case at considerably greater length, I hope I have said enough to show that there is not the same cause for apprehension as some hon. Members seem to think.

1.11 p.m.


I want to deal with the Civil Service, but first I want to say a word with regard to the speech to which we have just listened. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary asked what was equal work. In the Civil Service men and women enter by the same examinations, do the same work, and do not get the same pay. Then he made an admission which to me destroyed a large part of the case which he built up. He told the House that in certain cases of repetition work women are more efficient than men. Then why, may I ask him, do they receive lower pay? That is our case. Nobody asks that women doing less efficient work than men should receive the same pay.


I did specifically say that in those agreements the details of which we knew in the vast majority of cases where the work is similar the piece rates are the same.


Certainly they are. But the case we make is one of unequal pay for equal work. To some back to the Civil Service, I will deal very shortly with the history of this question. In 1920 and 1921 the House passed two Resolutions in favour of equal pay. I may add in passing that the 1920 Resolution was supported by the present Minister of Health, and the 1921 Resolution was seconded by the Secretary of State for India, so that we ought to have two very good friends within the Cabinet on this question. The second Resolution, the 1921 Resolution, put off the consideration of equal pay in the Civil Service for three years. It stated that the remuneration of women compared with men was to be reviewed within a period not exceeding three years. That promise of review was given and was not fulfilled for eight years, though many Members of the House, including myself, pressed the Government very hard on the point, and the only review that was given was the appointment of the Royal Commission in 1929, the Tomlin Commission, which stated that they were divided about equally on the question of equal pay, and so they left that question exactly where it was when they were appointed and exactly where it was in 1920. The 15 years that have gone by since 1920 have seen on the whole a worsening of the women's position compared with that of the men.

I want to make an apeal to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. I shall not make that appeal on the grounds on which such appeals are sometimes made, namely, that his heart and intention is with us but that his official position prevents him carrying out what he would like to do. I think that that is rather an undignified appeal to make. I appeal to him as one who is sincerely of the modern mind, who sees these questions with the present outlook, and I am certain that, as far as the responsibilities of his great office allow him, he will help to bring about equality in pay between men and women. The 1918 Parliament passed those two Resolutions calling on the Government to pay men and women equally. That Parliament was a much criticised body, and I have heard it described as composed of hard-faced men who had done well out of the War, but it did something for women that other Parliaments had not done. It passed the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act and two declarations in favour of equal pay.

I will not go through the usual reasons that are given for refusing equal pay. I do not believe that the family argument, the argument that a man's responsibilities are more than a woman's, carries much weight nowadays. It is al/ very well on the surface, but if you follow those women who are paid less than men into their homes, and see what they have to pay to their families, you will find that their responsibilities are as much in many cases as those of a married man. Nor will I deal with the argument that women are an inferior class, always inefficient compared with men, and always lucky even to get lower pay for the same work. All the women's organisations have spoken with one voice in this matter. They want the best person to get a job, whether a man or a woman, and I believe that the effect of equal pay will be to differentiate trades as between men and women. There are certain trades which will remain or become predominantly men's trades, and certain trades which will be largely staffed by women. Nobody asks for equal pay for unequal work. I said a moment ago that the last 15 years had seen a worsening of the woman's position in the Civil Service, and I asked the sympathetic attention of my hon. Friend to this. I do not believe that it is intentional, but it is real. A series of discriminations have taken place against women. These are small in themselves, but their cumulative effect is great. Still more, the moral effect is not to be disregarded.

I will take one or two cases. In the present year new scales were put in force for employment clerks in employment exchanges. The pay was increased and both women and men benefited. The women, however, lost equality with men at the age of 19 instead of at the age of 22. In most of the classes where men and women work together their pay runs level from starting until the age of 22, and then the women begin to fall slowly behind and they get further behind as they get older. In the case to which I am referring, the equality used to prevail until 22, and it was now fixed at 19. Two years ago a very glaring case took place. Sir Alfred Yarrow made a gift of an experimental tank to the National Physical Laboratory. Sir Alfred Yarrow was a great shipbuilder, and the tank was for the purpose of experimenting with model ships. He made it a condition that the staff should receive equal pay. At that time there was a very distinguished woman who was, I think, in charge; at any rate, she was high up in the staff. In many cases before he had made his gift the pay of women was equal to that of men, but since 1st April, 1933, in spite of that promise, new scales have been introduced which involve for every grade but one a heavy reduction of the salaries payable to women before 1933.

A common thing is for scales' of pay of both sexes to be increased together—women like increases as men do—but alongside the increases we find an increased differentiation between men and women. My hon. Friend will remember that a short time ago he answered a question whether women who were in charge of a department employing men were receiving a smaller rate of remuneration than the men whom they controlled, and the answer was that it only happened rarely. It ought not to happen at all. It is entirely wrong. It puts a woman in a wrong position because it puts her in the position of being a sort of inferior man, of being there by grace and favour, of being permitted to be there so long as she will accept smaller pay instead of having all the equality which she requires. I am sure that my hon. Friend will admit that a woman in charge of a department containing men has, in any case, a very difficult position to fill, and her position ought not to be made more difficult by smaller pay.

I come now to one reason why equal pay is refused. The Treasury told the Tomlin Commission that the cost of treating men and women equally would be between £2,500,000 and £3,500,000 a year. The figures for the Ministry of Labour which employs about one-tenth of the women in the Civil Service have been got out for me. If these women were paid equally, and the extra cost was multiplied by 10, the cost, if the pay is confined to what are known as the Treasury grades, comes to only £440,000 a year. The Treasury grades are the administrative, executive and clerical grades. If equal pay is extended to all grades common to men and women, I am told that the cost is under £1,000,000 a year. Where does the difference lie between the £1,000,000 and the £2,500,000 to £3,500,0001 I think it lies in the fact that the Treasury include women who do work that is not accepted as common work, the women employed, for instance, in the manipulative grades in the Post Office. I should like to see them get more money, of course, but I, do not ask, on the question of equal pay, for more than equality in grades common to men and women, where the men and women do the same work.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hexham (Colonel Brown), who made such an able and brilliant speech a short time ago, showed very clearly, in spite of what my hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench said, that women are replacing men in industry. If any Member of this House likes to go round to some of the nursery clinics in London he will find that it is common for the father to bring the baby to be weighed because the mother is at work. The same thing is happening to a smaller degree in the Civil Service. I do not want to exaggerate this case, because it has been exaggerated. A large number of civil servants enter the service by way of competitive examinations for men and women equally, and in all those cases women get an equal chance with men, according to their brains and ability they get a higher or lower place in the examination. There you are not decreasing the women by paying them less, except that you can possibly say the attractions are smaller for women, but in the lower classes of the Civil Service a movement is taking place which will lead to the replacement of men by women. The lowest class of all is the writing assistant class, confined to women. There are no men in that. The next above that is the clerical class, in which men also are employed. I am told that it is the intention of the Treasury to grade down certain clerical work formerly done by clerical members, comprising men as well as women, to the writing assistant class. The effect of that would be that work that was before regarded as common to the two sexes is to be done by women alone. Further, I am told, though I hope it is not true, that the Government mean to start a sub-writing assistance class in which they will take girls of 14½ or 15½. I hope that is not the real intention of the Government. Those children ought to be at school, and we hope they will be soon. The Government ought not to employ either boys or girls at 14½. I do not want the Civil Service to be confined entirely to women. I have pleaded for the women for a great many years, but the last thing I want to see is a Civil Service entirely composed of women. I want it to be a service for men and women, each giving their best to the State.

A very significant resolution was passed on the 4th June by the Association of First Division Civil Servants in favour of equal pay. It was carried by an overwhelming majority. They represent the higher officials in all Departments and they are very largely men. A few women are included among the high officials, but very few. They passed that resolution, no doubt, partly because they felt their own position was being imperilled. But it is not only a question of pay. There are bigger things than pay. I assure my hon. Friend that this is a great movement, which was started a long time ago and was helped on by the Sex Disqualification Removal Act, and further helped, I freely admit, by the Treasury admitting men and women on equal terms, but which will not be satisfied until women are paid equally. It is not only a question of pay, as I have said, but a question of self-respect and of their position in the modern world. They regard, and I regard too, unequal pay as archaic, something that ought not to exist in this country.

By the action of the Government women have been admitted, on the same examinations, to work alongside men and to do the same work as men. If you do not want them to do the same work turn them out, confine the service to men, but do not at the same time say, "You are welcome to come in, the door is open to you, but as soon as the door is open you step down into a lower storey than the men." Do not do that. I do not think you can maintain that position, whatever the extra cost will be. May I say, in passing, that when I said a moment ago that £1,000,000 was the final cost of assimilating common grades that £1,000,000 would be reached only in the eighth year; the cost in the first two or three years would be very small. Again I appeal to my hon. Friend. Let him help as far as he can. I am not expecting everything in a day, I do not look for miracles. What I ask for is careful consideration and sympathetic re-examination of the whole question, and then I believe he will come to the conclusion that no modern and self-respecting Government can continue to pay women unequally with men.

1.33 p.m.


I do not intend to detain the House very long, especially as my noble Friend the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor), who is far better qualified to speak on this subject, is anxious to give her views; but I do want to endorse what has been said by that great champion of women's rights my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills). Women could not have found anybody better to put their case. In fact, it is always a surprise to me that such a sound and experienced Parliamentarian is not included in either a National Government or a Conservative Government. He would be an acquisition to any Cabinet and keep it sound on many progressive problems. It is a good thing to have this very live issue ventilated in the House of Commons, but I think it is a pity that this should be the only occasion. Not only is it the occasion of the Adjournment of the House for the Whitsun holidays, when many Members are away whom we might have converted to our point of view, but it is the dying day of a Government. I will not say that many Ministers will disappear from the Treasury Bench, but they will perhaps be promoted to higher posts or transferred to different spheres. At any rate, most Ministers are in a state of transition, and even if my hon. Friend who so ably represents the Treasury were sympathetic he could not commit the new Government. I hope that he will be in the new Government and will be able to exert some influence.

My hon. Friend reminded the House that the remarkable thing about the 1918 Parliament, the reputation of which is much criticised and which has never been lauded as a great and progressive Parliament, was that it nevertheless gave a very clear lead on this issue. It passed resolutions which are in the archives of Parliament for all time in favour of equality between the sexes. The reason is very simple; that Parliament was very much nearer to the war than we are, and the memory of it was fresher to them. Sex disqualification had almost disappeared in many spheres of industrial and social life. Women were able to discharge men's duties efficiently. The younger members of the House of Commons to-day have forgotten the women omnibus conductors and the women workers in munition factories. Such facts inspired the resolutions between 1918 and 1920. I am glad the Secretary for Mines is here, because in a short time he may be interested in this problem.

It is a mistake to think that the problem is becoming less urgent than it was 15 years ago. On the contrary, the issue is disturbing the working and middle classes and other sections of the community. I remember when, not so very long ago, you never saw a woman in the City of London. A skirt was very conspicuous on the underground railway.

Viscountess ASTOR

It will be again.


In the streets of the City of London to-day you can see almost as many women as men, and their number is growing. Before 1914, employment of women in the banks of the City of London was almost unknown, but to-day women are rapidly displacing men in the banks. That is not because of any question of pay, but because of a change in the methods of performing clerical work. This is an issue which sooner or later the Ministry of Labour and the Government will have to face, because it is introducing new problems and causing conflict, irritation and bad feeling even among families and in the homes of the people as well as in our industrial life. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour quoted a great number of statistics, but I often think that statistics are used to confuse issues rather than to clarify them. It is fair to say that women are equally employed between what I think is technically called personal labour or more rightly domestic service and clerical labour.

It is a very significant and curious thing that domestic service is the one occupation in which men are displacing women. The reason is that there has been so much unemployment in the heavy industries, such as mining and shipbuilding, that working men had to master their prejudices and go into domestic service or into service in hotels and restaurants. The serious problem arises in the clerical occupations, where the inrush of women is causing great dissatisfaction among a large body of men, many of whom have been thrown out of employment. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury may rightly say that that is not his business, that he cannot alter that situation and that an alteration would need a revolution in our industrial system. The Government can, however, do something among their own employés.

We want the Government to give a lead by making it clear to the country that if they employ women to do men's work it is not on account of cheapness. That is practically all that we ask. If there be a sphere of work in the Civil Service for which women are most qualified, and which is almost entirely done by women, nobody could take objection to the payment of the correct pay for women, but where women are doing men's work and doing it efficiently, they should not be required to take lower pay on account of their sex. It is not merely the women in the Civil Service who make this demand but also the men who say that the Government's desire for economy may give rise to a preference for women in order that the Government may save money. We ask the Government to face that issue. Perhaps the most serious aspect of it is in some of the higher administrative posts. It is a degradation for a woman who is in charge of a. big department and holds a responsible post if she is paid less because she is a woman than some of the men under her and whom she has to supervise. I ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to advise the new Government of the feeling in the House of Commons among all sections that the Government should face up to this question.

1.43 p.m.

Viscountess ASTOR

The case for equal pay for equal work has been put so extraordinarily well by the men that it seems as though the women do not need to speak. The men have spoken for the women. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hexham (Colonel Brown), who made a most interesting speech, was followed by that well-known champion of women the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills). I do not suppose that any man in the whole of England has been a more consistent supporter of the rights of women or has had more political vision both where women are concerned and where the Government is concerned, than he. Perhaps he has too much vision to be put in the Government. Perhaps he sees things too clearly, and would be uncomfortable. I sometimes think that Prime Ministers, when choosing their Cabinets, select people who will be comfortable followers and not people who would set up a light that might make it uncomfortable for some men who still want to sit in darkness. There are plenty of such men in this House and a good many of them in the Government, some of them fairly young. At one time I used to talk a good deal about the young men, but I have come to the conclusion that I would rather have an old man with the courage of his convictions than a young man without convictions. I do not want to be personal—and I am not personal. We were horrified by the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. One woman in the gallery has sent me a note in which she says: As far as I could hear the Parliamentary Secretary's speech, every word he said was false and every figure he gave was wrong. That is from a woman who knows a good deal about this question. The statistics that he gave were entirely off the point.as far as we are concerned, and to deal with what he said would take us still more off the point. All that we are asking is that the Government, in their employment, should give a lead which we hope industry would follow. The Parliamentary Secretary, in speaking of the question of equal pay for equal work, talked about coal-miners and nursery-maids. It is hardly worthy of a young man with a future to make so misleading and futile and ridiculous a speech. All that we say is that, if you are employing a coal-miner or a nursery-maid, they should be paid equally whether they are men or women. If you want a man nursery-maid, pay him as much as a woman nursery-maid; or if you want a woman coal-miner, pay her as much as a man coal-miner.

The hon. Gentleman talked a great deal about women in industry, but many women in industry are unorganised, and it is those unorganised women who are getting such low pay. In the textile industry, naturally women are doing well, because they have always been organised with the men; but what about the catering trades? What about domestic service What about agriculture, which is a large employer of women—the third largest industry in the country in which women are employed? I do not think you will find women getting equal pay with men in agriculture. I am very disappointed at the hon. Gentleman's speech, and am sorry he is not here, because I had a few more things that I should have liked to say to him, but I would never hit a man when he is at luncheon.

The case which has been made out is almost a fool-proof case, and I wish more members had been here to hear it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon spoke about the position of women in the House of Commons of 1919, and how even that House of Commons, which we all know was pretty reactionary, passed a resolution on the subject of equal pay for equal work. Indeed, some of us found it easier in that House even than this to put forward our views on this matter. It is true that it was just after the War, and men had seen that women were not to be treated as futile, half-witted creatures from the point of view of citizenship. Men had come to realise that we had some rights and were of some use to the country. What strikes me as strange is that, after all these years, we are still having to press this question of equal pay for equal work.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon has said that no Government wants equal pay for unequal work, but that is not the case; that is exactly what this Government wants, and what all Governments want—unequal pay for equal work. We know that equal pay for equal work has got to come. When we are told about the cost, we say that any Government that can give £7,000,000 a year for a Beet Sugar Subsidy can afford to give to its own employes equal pay for equal work. As long as the Government have that amount of money in the Treasury we are never going to be put off with a million here and a million there. The Government have to clear up their own House as far as these subsidies are concerned before they tell us that they have not the money for what everyone must admit is simple justice.

I myself am rather alarmed at the way in which women are crowding out men in certain industries. We do not want to see men having to go into domestic service, or bringing babies into welfare clinics. We do not like it any more than you do. We want women to be women, and men to be manly. It is because of the unmanly attitude of men in the past that they are now finding themselves in domestic work. If men had fought from the beginning for equal pay for equal work, that would never have been necessary. Even the men school teachers are now getting worried, because they see that they themselves are being brought down by the depression of women's wages. We aught not to move from the point of view of fear, but from the point of view of justice. After all, women are not asking for mercy—we give mercy—but they are asking for justice. Hon. Members talk about women in politics, and say that perhaps they have not done so well, but really, in view of the short time that we have been in politics, I think we have done remarkably well, and I warn the House that it is nothing to what we are going to do. Although women may not have had the training that men have had, and perhaps have not the same ability for collecting facts and in other ways, we are getting that training, and what we have, which is far more important sometimes than facts, is moral courage which, surely, in politics, is more needed than facts.

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I know, at heart used to be with us, but the Front Bench has the most devastating effect on hearts—I ask him and the young men in the Government to press on the Government this question of justice for women. That is what we expect them to do; and I would also ask some of the middle-aged men who are going to be in the new Government to do the same. All of them sooner or later will go back to their constituencies. They may come back here again, and, if they do, they will come back pledged to give equal pay for equal work. But what is the good of anybody pledging themselves to it unless they are going to fight for it in the House of Commons? If hon. Members in this Chamber this afternoon would speak if they have convictions in this matter—I do not want them to speak unless they have convictions—they would have an effect on the Government. That is what we are here for—to change the minds of the Government when the minds of the Government are wrong; and the minds of the Government are certainly wrong when it comes to this question of unequal pay for equal work as far as women are concerned.

When I look back on the kind of women that have fought for equality, and see what vision they had, I am sometimes depressed by the kind of men that women have put in the House of Commons. Women like Florence Nightingale, Josephine Butler, and Octavia Hill fought for equality of opportunity because they knew that women had something to give to the country. No country in the world has profited more by the work of women than England. I believe that the fact that England stands where she does in the world is largely due to women's work since the War. It is important to notice, in connection with this question of the status of women throughout Europe, the way in which women are being pushed down. It is very alarming. In all autocratic countries we find that they are doing their best to get women out of all the higher occupations and push them down to domestic service and childbearing. We know that that would never be the policy of any Government in this country, but, if our Government at this moment would once more reaffirm its belief in the necessity for equality, they would not only be helping women here, but would be helping women throughout the world, and we who are interested in this women's movement throughout the world want to help those other women, because ultimately we believe that if ever we are going to get peace it is coming through the political activities of the women of other countries as well as our own.

I beg of the Government to be bold now that they are making changes and to risk taking this step, even though it may cost a million pounds. It will not hurt them in the end; it will do far more good than a lot of their subsidies, and it will show us and the nation that the women were right in backing the National Government. I hope that we shall have the chance of doing it again, and by adopting the right attitude to-day you will be a tremendous help to us women who go about the country saying that the National Government have done wonderful things, and are going to do even more wonderful things in the future. I appeal to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to ask the members of the Cabinet to read the speeches that have been made in the House to-day, and to divorce from their minds the prejudice which seems to cling not only in the mind of some of the males, but also in the minds of females. I do not say that the prejudice against women is felt only by men. We have some hon. Members in this House who take an anti-woman's view. I ask all to put away prejudice and to face the facts. Until we succeed in getting equal pay for the sexes, the tendency will be to pull down the wages of the men, which is the last thing in the world we ought to do.

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred to a book which I have not read, and which must have been written by an extreme woman, who said that she hoped the time was coming when women would do all the work of the world and the men would stay at home nursing babies. But until the men have the babies we had better face the facts. They may not be mothers in this world, but they are certainly going to be mothers in the next. That has always been one of my hopes, and when that happy time comes perhaps they will take a more reasonable view. We who are feminists and have fought for women do not believe in the extremist view. We want women to go on playing a womanly part. We want them to marry when they desire to marry, and to have children when they want to have children. That is a matter for them to settle and no one else. We think that that is not a question upon which you can legislate. We are up against a very dangerous movement in the younger generation of both men and women, and we ask the Government to take the middle-aged sailor point of view and not to play into the hands of the extremist by being unfair and unjust. To be unjust is to play into the hands of the extremist. Give women justice and judge us by our abilities. Pay us according to our abilities, and, above all, stick to your promises and to the pledges which were made by every Member, I think, who has ever come into this House. We are all pledged in favour of equal pay for equal work, and we can force the Government to give it. I appeal not to the Government, but to Members of the House of Commons, stand by your pledges, and stand by the strongest section of your supporters, the women workers.

1.59 p.m.


After listening to the Noble Lady, I should like to bring the House back to a few jog-trot facts. It has been one of the satisfactory features of the Debate that this claim has been put forward quite as much in the interests of men as of women. It is the claim of all those who strive to bring about equal pay for equal work, in the Civil Service and in industry, that the object is to safeguard the rights of men as well as to secure equal opportunities for women. We find that where equal opportunities are secured, as they are in the Civil Service through the sex disqualification removal, invariably the equality is falsified so long as it is accompanied by unequal rates of pay for equal work. There is always that undercurrent of motive in the minds of those who have appointments to make, on the one hand, to economise by appointing women, or, on the other hand, that men have a kind of natural right to the better jobs because of their greater responsibilities. The first defence, the economic argument, and the second, the danger of unfair competition between the sexes, would be swept away if the Government would set an example to other employers and grant equality of pay.

I want to draw attention to the other side of the picture. I do not think that anything is gained by refusing to face the facts. There is no doubt that at the bottom of the minds of many men the one argument that applies strongly against both equal opportunity and equal pay is the feeling that men's family responsibilities entitle them to a higher scale of remuneration. That was dealt with rather lightly by one or two of the previous speakers. It is obvious that it is not universally true that the burden of families only rests upon men. A very large proportion of men have no families to keep, and quite a considerable proportion of the women have some burden of dependency. Let us frankly face the fact that men do bear the much greater burden of dependency because the greater part of the cost of rearing the future generation falls upon them. The suggestion which I want to put forward and to ask the Financial Secretary to consider very seriously is whether, when the subject is gone into—I cannot think that there is very much hope that we shall get an immediately favourable reply; and all that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) asked was for a thorough consideration—the path we have prepared might not be smoothed, and the greatest difficulty which stands in the way met if the Treasury would consider, in connection with equal pay, some system of family allowances for children where men or women of the Civil Service have children to keep.

Proverbially a little experience is often worth a pound of theory, and is it not worth while at least looking at the experience of other countries who have adopted the principle of equal pay? A few years ago we discovered, at any rate, that there was equal pay for women and men in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Yugoslavia, Norway and Sweden, and in all those countries it was accompanied either by marriage or children's allowances. A circular was sent out to all confederations of civil servants in a number of these countries, and from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France And the Netherlands, in every case, except in the case of the Netherlands, where there happened to be two associations, the reply was that the system of family allowances, coupled with equal pay, was acceptable to confederations of Civil servants and worked well and smoothly. One of the Dutch organisations took that view, and the other took the contrary view. It is obvious that you would clear away 'a good deal of the difficulties in the shape of equal pay if some system of that kind could be adopted, so that we do not only secure equal pay for them but equal standards of life for all people who are doing the same kind of job. You do not always secure an equal standard of life even if you secure equal monetary remuneration, if it just happens that one person getting, say, £500 a year has only himself or herself to keep and the other has a wife and several young children to keep. Knowing that the House is anxious to pass to another subject, I will not detain it much longer, but I would beg the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to go very carefully into this question. One word as to the cost. Many people who discuss this subject for the first time are apt to entertain very exaggerated ideas of the extra burden that would be imposed if the present rates of pay were accompanied by family allowances.


Can the hon. lady say whether in the countries she has mentioned where they have family allowances the tendency has been or has not been to reduce the general standard of the rates of pay?


I can answer that question, but I cannot pretend that my information is completely up-to-date. Obviously, conditions have changed, particularly in countries like Austria and Germany. We tried honestly to get the facts and we have nowhere been able to find evidence that where family allowances were introduced they have either led to a lowering of the general rate of pay or are alleged to have led to such a lowering, by the trade unions or other federations in the countries concerned. Family allowances for public servants exist in every European country except Russia, Turkey and this country. There is one organisation which has adopted the system of family allowances, and it is the only organisation entirely devoted to the study of economics. I refer to the London School of Economics, the largest constituent college of the London University. Ten years ago they adopted a system of allowances for children on the basis of £30 a year from the child's birth to the age of 13, and £60 a year from the age of 13 till the child has left the university, if it was at a university. The total cost of that system works out at about three per cent. of the salaries bill. We estimated what it would cost for secondary and technical school teachers and we worked it out that it would amount to very much the same sum, namely about three per cent. on the salaries. I do not know anything about the incidence in the Civil Service, but it is obvious that the birth-rate has been falling rapidly in both classes and more so as you go up in the social scale. I do not put this forward as an obstacle to equal pay, which demand is based on justice, but I believe that the actual application of the principle of equal pay and its smooth working would be greatly facilitated if the Financial Secretary would go very carefully into the question of accompanying equal pay with family allowances for people in the Civil Service, whether men or women.

2.10 p.m.


One of the greatest disadvantages of the office that I hold is the frequency with which my answers are necessarily in the negative. We have had a Debate to-day in which nearly every hon. Member who has spoken has taken the same view. We had the clearly reasoned logic of the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) and the impassioned and moving oratory of the noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), and we have just had very interesting suggestions from the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), which I can assure her will receive every consideration. I can assure the House that the Government will necessarily pay attention to the views expressed by so many hon. Members with such force, but that is all that I can undertake to-day. As my right hon. Friend anticipated, the first ground for refusal to take action on the lines suggested at the present time is a financial one. He very ingeniously showed that the figure which should be accepted as the additional cost of such a change of policy has been much exaggerated. I am not in a position to say whether or not his figures are correct or whether we should abide by the old figures, but the argument against spending £3,000,000 applies with equal force against spending £1,000,000. The argument applies with equal force against spending money unnecessarily whether the sum be large or small.

Other governments have said that they were not in a position owing to their finances to indulge in such expenditure. We are now in a better financial position than those previous governments, and one of the reasons why we are in a better position is because we have continued to say "no" to a demand such as that which has been made to-day, and we have by sound finance enabled the financial situation of the country to recover. I do not want hon. Members to think that I am making the proposition that if it were not for the extra cost we should accept their suggestion, and that we are in any way pledged to the principle underlying it. The demand has been summed up in the cry: "Equal pay for equal work." Very often a slogan is extremely misleading, and the words "Equal pay for equal work" are misleading, because they imply what appears to be an obvious justice, namely, that two people doing exactly the same work should receive exactly the same remuneration whatever their sex. I would suggest that we should get nearer to the truth and we should be able to form a juster conception of the whole problem, because it is a. problem, if instead of saying "Equal pay for equal work" we said, "Equal pay for equal value."

I am not going to enter into the thorny topic whether some women in some cases are less valuable or whether in some cases they are more valuable than men. The right hon. Gentleman has said that I have a modern mind. I have never taken the view that women are in any way inferior to men, but I have been old-fashioned enough to stick to the opinion that they are entirely different from men, and the evidence of my eyes any my ears continues to confirm that opinion. I am rash enough to believe that there are some tasks for which women are better fitted than men just as there are some tasks for which men are better fitted than women. The hon. and gallant Member who opened the debate gave instances, supported by figures in many industries, which go to prove that where women's pay approximate most closely to men's pay there were fewer women employed than men. As women's pay rises the demand for their labour decreases. I do not think that anyone has denied or can deny the fact that if we had complete equality of payment the number of women employed would be lowered. That can point to only one ultimate conclusion and that is that in the majority of cases employers would prefer if they could have it for the same money the work of a man to the work of a woman. Have employers a very good reason for this preference; or is it just an old-fashioned and narrow minded reason? We all know that old-fashioned narrow-minded views do not prevail for long in a commercial community which is out for profit. If there is a way of increasing their profits the commercial community will be quick to notice it.

We have found from our experience in the Civil Service that the same value is not obtained from female work, in the long run, as from male work. That is due to several causes. There is, first, the cause of health. Our figures show that the number of absentees on sick leave among women is 50 per cent. higher than among the males. We also know, as everybody must necessarily know, that for certain kinds of work where great endurance is needed, women are not as efficient as male workers. Figures also show that the number of those who leave under what is called marriage wastage is very much higher among women than among men, for the reason that more women decide to retire from business when they get married than do men. All these are definite reasons why the State, as well as other employers, get less value in the long run from female employment than from male employment.

Viscountess ASTOR

Will the hon. Member tell me whether there is a higher percentage of ill health in the higher grades of the Civil Service among women than there is among men?


I have not the figures by me at the moment, but I feel very confident in saying I shall find in the higher grades as among the lower grades, that there are more absences owing to ill health among women than there are among men. We have been urged to set an example in this matter—to take the lead. The policy of the Government in this matter of fair wages has never been that we should go ahead of all employers. That is not the principle that any Government would accept. The principle is that we should be in the front rank, if not better than the best employers in the country, but not that we should be a long way ahead, because that would be unfair to industry by putting a strain upon industry. It is the duty of the Government to keep abreast, and when we are charged with any breach of the fair wages clause all our inquiries are directed to ascertain whether in any part of the country we are in the least behind the best employers. In this particular matter we have been ahead of rather than behind industry in admitting people first of all into the Service on entirely equal terms by examination and other ways. My hon. Friend mentioned one or two special cases which I have not had time to look into, but I will do so. He should bear in mind that in the Civil Service where there is any sign of a decision being taken which is unfair to the employés, there is already the remedy to their hands of the Whitley Council, which works admirably inside the Service, and which settles disputes almost every month of the year, a great many of which are entirely satisfactory to all parties.

I will not be so rash as to look into the future. We know that the position of women has changed in every way enormously in the last half century. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition told us of a book recently published in which it was said that women in the years to come were to rule the country, and in which a diminishing number of men would have become merely the spoilt darlings of women. Heaven forbid that I should do anything to prevent the advent of that happy time. I shall endeavour to play my part in it with resignation. Meanwhile, all that we can say is that the Government will continue to keep abreast of the times, will inquire into every complaint about any injustice to women Civil servants in their employment, and will certainly pay attention, as any Government must do, to the speeches which have been made by so many Members of the House. But they are not at present able to incur the expenditure, or to pledge themselves to a principle which is represented in this House and the country by a slogan which we do not believe truly represents the facts.

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