§ 3.59 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
I beg to move,That this House will, To-morrow, resolve itself into the Committee of Supply.My Noble Friend has, as usual, put his finger on the point. Hon. Members will have noticed that among the Orders of the Day, most exceptionally, following the precedent of last Friday and Thursday, there is no Order for Supply Committee, without which the list of Orders seems to be incomplete. That incompleteness we have to remedy before the business of the House can be properly proceeded with. Events are fresh in Members' minds as to the cause that has led to this Motion, and they will remember that the Government suffered a defeat and are paying the usual consequences of that defeat. There is nothing novel in a Government being defeated. Hardly any Government in history has escaped that during the course of its life, some more and some less. I remember it happening even to Mr. Asquith's well-drilled myrmidons, and I remember it happening to Mr. Bonar Law and more than once to the serried hosts of the Lord President. The action to be taken in each case by the Government must depend on the circumstances of the defeat. Those circumstances, of course, vary. There is one thing, I think, on which this present House may congratulate itself. I remember very well more than one occcation when a similar event took place, and I remember that the House in trying to make out what had happened, 2445 broke up in disorder and had to be suspended by Mr. Speaker. I remember that occurring more than once. Let us congratulate ourselves that the other afternoon at all events we avoided that form of what I always regard as a most ignominious procedure on the part of this House.
There are cases, of course, in which a Government defeat is a clear indication that the Government has lost the confidence both of the House and of the country, and in that case there is but one course for it, that is either to resign or to dissolve. I do not take the view that last Wednesday's proceedings, important as they may have been, showed that the Government has lost the confidence either of the House or of the country. At the other end of the scale some defeats have been, as it were, accidental, such as snap divisions. I remember taking part in a great many in the time when my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Chancellor of the Exchequer. When that happens, whether it be on a matter of business or on some question which the Government does not regard as one of principle or one of great importance, it is sometimes possible for a Government, as Governments have done, to adopt the Resolution of the House. But in any case the question of resignation or dissolution is never present to their minds. Intermediate between these two extreme cases you have a case where a Government is defeated on a point of substance and yet believes itself to retain the confidence of the House and of the country. It is in accordance with the principles and the traditions of the House that in those cases the Government should allow the matter to be discussed in the House, to see whether, by taking the line that they do take, if it be against the line that was taken at the particular time in the House, they do or do not enjoy the confidence of the House.
It was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition that it is the duty of the Government to give effect forthwith to what he described as the will of the House as expressed in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson). If the purpose of the Amendment were carried out the result, of course, would be an increase in 2446 expenditure, and the House by its own Standing Orders has put it out of its own power to effect such an increase except on the recommendation of the Government in power at the time. I would begin by saying that the principle involved in the Amendment is one which the Government cannot accept. I propose to tell the House, as shortly as I can consistently with clarity, why the Government cannot accept the Amendment. We must ask for the support of the House as a matter of confidence. Those who no longer have, or perhaps those who never have had confidence in us, will of course register their votes against us, but I hope that those who still have confidence in the Government will take the opposite course and support the Government in the Lobby to-night.
I want to examine this question with great care, because it is one which appeals to a great many Members, and a very good case can be made out for it. It is a question with which I have been familiar ever since I have been in any Government. It is a question which comes up regularly from time to time. But there are still, I believe, overwhelming reasons why this step, so strongly advocated in some sections of the community, is not a progressive but a retrograde step; and in my view the time is not nearly ripe for it, and, I believe that putting it into effect now would be to throw back a great deal of the progress that has been made by women over recent years. The House may not agree with me; they will at least, I know, listen to my reasons, and I have no doubt that those who speak from the benches opposite will put their case as strongly as it can be put.
I suppose there is no more outstanding characteristic of these post-war years than the extent to which women of all classes have entered into the field of employment—into fields of employment that before the War were considered more or less peculiar to men. It is often said that some at least of the unemployment among men is due to the fact that in their view women have taken their places. I believe that the evidence on this point is inconclusive. It is very difficult to form a clear opinion on that. I think that women have tended very largely to come into occupations which are themselves characteristic of fresh 2447 social development. Distribution, for instance, in its modern forms has given vastly increased employment since the War. Then there are catering, entertainments and so on. The actual substitution of women for men has not been, perhaps, as great as some men would say it has been. However this may be, it is very significant; this feeling that numbers of men are unemployed because women have entered the employment field is very widespread, and my own view is that it would be most unwise to ignore it. The progress of women's employment, as I have said, has been remarkable. This has been the case in all branches or rather in many branches of industry, in the professions, and perhaps more than anywhere in the Civil Service. There are now many women doctors, barristers, architects; women are in all kinds of professions where it would have been impossible to have foreseen a generation ago that they would have entered.
It is quite impossible yet to try to form a judgment as to how far, in competition with men, women in professions have been successful from their point of view. I do not think that the evidence yet exists. It may well be that the admission of women into certain forms of employment has not been as fast as many of the advocates of what is called freedom for women would have liked to see, nor as fast, perhaps, as pioneers of the women's movement expected to see it when the emancipation of women had become an accomplished fact. It is true to say, and I think that every one of my own generation will agree with me in saying, that the progress they have made has been most remarkable. I think everyone will agree with that. It is uneven, of course. It is uneven in the representation of women in this House. Another department of life where it is very uneven—I would commend this to hon. Members opposite—is in the trade union movement. So far as I am aware scarcely any of the principal officials of that movement are women. Even in the textile trades, where a large proportion of the operatives are women, that is true. I am told that in the cotton weaving industry, where 70 per cent. of the operatives are women, there is not one woman on the central executive. I shall have something more to say later about this question of the progress of women 2448 in the field of employment, but I do want to say a word now about women in the Civil Service.
I said a few minutes ago that in the Civil Service their progress had been remarkable. The Civil Service has done a great deal to facilitate the employment of women under conditions that, judged by all accepted rules, are very favourable, and the figures, of which some hon. Members may be unaware, are very remarkable. In the common entry grades there are 55,000 men and 12,000 women, a very much larger proportion in that work than, I should imagine, exists in any branch of commerce or industry where the openings are equal in this country. There is complete equality in the examinations for these grades, and since the War women have been admitted in the open competitive examinations for she main classes of the Civil Service on the same terms as men. Those that are successful are given full opportunities. They are equally eligible for promotion with men, and their claims are considered in the same way as the claims of men. In these respects I submit that the Civil Service is already far ahead of most outside practice. I want to make that point clear, because I shall have something to say later of outside practice.
What we have to consider to-day is whether or not this is the time to make another very considerable advance, placing the Civil Service still further ahead of the Current practice in the country as a whole. I want to utter one caution here. Probably every Member of the House, certainly anyone who knows anything about it, is justifiably proud of our Civil Service, but I do not feel that we should be acting wisely in the long run if we were to attempt to establish for the Service as a whole, or for any parts of it, whether divided by sex or otherwise, conditions much more favourable than those obtaining in the country as a whole, so as to call for criticism on the part of the general public. If I am net entirely wrong, there is already a very general feeling that civil servants occupy a privileged position, and there is very great competition to enter their ranks. The general public have to find the cost of that Service, and if you put the cost of that Service considerably higher than similar services elsewhere, I think you might 2449 easily get a feeling, I will not say of jealousy, but a feeling that the Civil Service, for whatever good reason it may be, was getting a very much better deal in regard to their conditions and wages than are obtainable by any other class. I do not think that that feeling exists to-day to any serious extent. I only say that, if you make the margin so great, I believe that to get a feeling like that would not be a good thing for the country.
There have been Debates in this House on the particular subject which formed the Amendment in question, and I think it was the last Labour Government—[Interruption.] There is nothing funny about this; I am not trying to score a point. I was not sure whether it was in 1931, but it was before the Labour Government went out of office that a Royal Commission was set up under the chairmanship of a dear old friend of mine, Lord Tomlin, one of the best and most fair-minded in our long list of judges in this country. That Commission consisted of 14 members, all persons of great experience, and five of them were women. They were of diverse political beliefs, and they had a wide and diversified experience. They devoted considerable time to what I have already admitted even now is not an easy question, and they were unable to come to any conclusion. They were hopelessly divided, like the earlier MacDonnell Commission, and in the words of their own report in paragraph 457, they say:We were divided almost equally into those who are not prepared to recommend the introduction of equal pay and those in favour of such a recommendation.So, unfortunately, we have no definite guidance from an authoritative Royal Commission, and we may fairly say, at any rate with regard to that Commission, that those witnesses who advocated the scheme failed to convince the Commission of the justice or the equity of it. I do not want this afternoon to take up any time in dealing with the financial aspect of the question, but I would like to point out—and here again I am coming to one of my objections as the head of the Government to bringing this reform, if you like, into force—that it would be quite wrong to assume that the extra cost would be measured by the figure that represents the immediate application of the increased wage to women. The figure of 2450 that was given, if I remember aright, by the Royal Commission at some 3,000,000 a year. But there is an historical fact—the differentiation of the rate of wages between men and women generally. Rightly or wrongly, it has persisted for a very long time, and I think that it would be difficult to imagine that the men in the Civil Service, or indeed in any other employment in which the principle of equal pay was applied, would remain content with equal pay. Sooner or later the demand would inevitably come for the restoration of the margin as between men and women, which, in their opinion, would be required for the responsibility of men as heads of households. Recognition of this fact is implied in some very interesting observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) when she pointed out only last, Wednesday thatthose who are putting forward a demand for equal pay for equal work without coupling it with a demand for family allowances are either walking into a morass or running their heads into a trap."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April, 1936; col. 2037, Vol. 310.]You get it at both ends, apparently. It seems to me that if we took this step all that we should do in the long run would be to put up the cost of the employment of women irrespective of the Fair Wages principle, and thereafter find ourselves involved in an additional cost for the men. We should then have back again unequal pay, which is the difficulty that you are up against to-day, and you would have unequal pay on a higher all-round level, and, in the meantime, in my view—and I am only submitting my view—you would merely have inverted the sex differentiation. I have already referred to the remarkable progress which the movement for the wider employment of women has attained in this country in a comparatively short space of time, and however logical it may appear to the leaders of the feminist movement to demand equal pay, I suggest to them that it would be wise not to be in too great a hurry, and not to try to go too fast.
I feel extremely doubtful, even if this were done in the Civil Service, if the example would be followed in outside employments. I think that the indications are to the contrary, and the greater probability to my mind is that the fear that the Government's example might be 2451 used to press them to adopt the principle would lead many employers who may now be disposed to offer employment to women, and even to go out of their way, as I hope they will, to offer employment to educated women, to refrain from doing so, and instead, to restrict employment as far as possible to men. I believe the direct and indeed, in my view, the fairly quick result of this step would be the lessening of the demand for women.
The hon. Member, whose speech I regret I did not hear, but I have read it, was good enough to quote some remarks which I made in aid of the Building Fund for Newnham College. I adhere to every word that I said, and she may remember—I do not wish to repeat myself, and I do not know how fully I was reported—that I did make an appeal to industry and commerce in this country to make room for educated women in the same way as the Civil Service has done. Many women who are interested in the higher education of women have, I know, some-times felt regret that the sphere of work for that kind of woman is not as wide as it might be, or as, I believe, it ought to be. The teaching profession, of course, will absorb as many of the educated women as it can, but there is much scope for them in this country in fields which so far have not been opened with the same liberality and the same willingness as the fields in the Civil Service. I have just interposed those few observations and would only repeat again, that I am firmly convinced that the result of putting into effect the Amendment of the hon. Member for Jarrow would be to circumscribe rather than to enlarge those very opportunities to give facilities for which I appealed as recently as one day last week.
Time will show how far circumstances may so change and how far public opinion may so assert itself as to render the adoption of this principle wise, but I am satisfied that public opinion is not ripe for the change, and that to force the issue now would be to retard further progress, even if it did not, in fact, mean going back. I should doubt—we may hear this afternoon—whether the Opposition would be prepared to put the terms of that Amendment into force if they were returned to office. They have not, 2452 as far as I know, made any attempt to do it, but they would say that probably they had never had an independent majority. Perhaps they will tell us this afternoon, if they do have an independent majority, whether they are going to follow this principle in the Civil Service.
We, for our part, believe that the right course, and the one most likely in the long run to be in the best interests of women, is not to depart now from the policy pursued by this Government and by previous Governments successively. We are satisfied that, as a result of adherence to this principle, we are able to secure an adequate supply of candidates and to provide for those who are successful conditions of work satisfactory to them and remuneration that is satisfactory and that compares favourably with those obtaining ire every part of the country. For those reasons, bearing in mind the grave responsibility of the Government in a matter of this kind, I feel unable to do other than I have stated in the House this afternoon, and I hope that the House will consider that the Government have taken the right course at this time, and will endorse it by their vote in the Lobby.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The Prime Minister has given us the reasons why the Government do not propose to act on the expressed will of the House. I listened to what he said, and it struck me that if that speech had to be made it should have been made last Wednesday. We are not here this afternoon to re-try that issue. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury stated the Government's point of view last Wednesday. I think he is as good a special pleader as the Prime Minister, and that he introduced as many irrelevant reasons and avoided the main issue quite as adroitly. What is the issue? The issue is not equal pay for equal work. The issue is that the Government have sustained a defeat, and we want to know what is their attitude to the House. No doubt the Government have their Members whipped up to-day, but we are concerned with those who attend the Debates, and not with those who do not attend them. This House is a debating Chamber—not a polling booth. The Government's business is to carry not merely a number of votes in the Lobby, but to carry the argument in the House 2453 and be able to commend their Measures and their actions to the House. When they fail to do that it is no good to obtain afterwards a whipped up majority to give them some sort of absolution. The fact is that they have lost the Debate.
I want to raise one or two issues. I do not intend to discuss the matter, which was fully debated last Wednesday, but there is a serious constitutional issue raised. The power of the House of Commons has been built up on the control of the purse and on the principle that redress of grievances should precede Supply. The right hon. Gentleman skated rather lightly over the kind of defeat that he sustained. It is not very often that the Government are beaten on Supply. I believe it is without precedent for the Government to be beaten on Supply, without going some way to meet the views of the House. The Government have entirely declined to meet the views of the House. A definite grievance was brought forward in a constitutional way. Let us remember whose grievance it is. It is the grievance of the civil servant. It is all very well to say that the civil servant is in a privileged position, but he is in an unprivileged position as a citizen. It is not open to him to take political action. He is not entitled to stump the country to raise this issue. He must work in the ordinary constitutional way. The civil servant has done so. This is not the first time that this question has been raised, and it is not the first time that the House has decided the principle. What we did on Wednesday, despite the second vote, was to decide in favour of the principle.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
With all due respect to the right hon. and Noble Lord the Member for the University of Oxford (Lord H. Cecil) I accept what Mr. Speaker told us.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The vote that was given on Wednesday, as I explained over and over again, was preliminary to the other vote.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The Motion was that certain words should stand part, but an Amendment had been moved, and I understood you to say that a vote against the words standing part might be taken as approval of the principle of the Amendment.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That may be a matter of opinion, but the vote taken was really a preliminary, and was not a vote on the Amendment itself.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I was telling the Noble Lord that I preferred your opinion to his. In 1920 and again last week this principle has been decided by the House. It was remitted to the Tomlin Commission. They disagreed. The civil servants then brought the matter before the Whitley Council. They were told by the official side: "This is not a matter for the Whitley Council. It is a matter of policy. It must be decided by the Government. It must go to the House of Commons." The civil servants cannot call a strike. They come to the House. When the proposal is brought before the House and the House votes on it, the Prime Minister says: "No. We are not going to take the views of the House." Because, I suppose, the Government did not happen to have all their Members here. That is an extraordinary position to take up.
The Prime Minister has hardly tried to deal with the position. It was no snap Division. It was a. Division on going into Committee of Supply, and the Motion that was moved had been put down weeks before. Everyone knew that it was coming on, but somehow or other the Government had not their Members present. Therefore, apparently, the vote is not to count. If the Government win in a small House it is all right, but if they lose in a small House the vote does not count. I should like a. little guidance. I do not know whether it will be my duty 'as Leader of the Opposition in future to ask, in regard to the business of the day, whether the Government consider that they will have enough Members on the Floor of the House to make an effective decision. I do not know where the Members will be, whether they will have to be present in the Chamber, or somewhere within the precincts of the House, or whether they will have to give proxies to the Prime Minister.
I do not say that the right hon. Gentleman is not entitled on behalf of the Government to say that they do not accept the will of the House. The only thing to do is to challenge the position of the Government. The issue to-day, as the Prime Minister has said, is not the 2455 specific Motion that we discussed last Wednesday, but the question of confidence in the Government. It is, therefore, worth while to look at the vote on which the Government were defeated. It was not an isolated vote. It was not an occasion on which it could be suggested that most of the Conservative Members thought that it was a private Members' day and that they did not need to turn up. The fact is that the Government majorities have been steadily falling for weeks. They have a majority nominally of between 240 And 250, but during the last two months their majorities have been two-figure majorities. Instance after instance could be given. I will not trouble the House with a long list, but I will give a few. On the Cotton Spinning Bill the majority was 23. On the Bill giving maintenance grants for school children the majority was 59; on the British Shipping Subsidy Bill, 71; on the Milk Subsidy Bill, 73; on the Civil Estimates Department Vote, 92; and on the Air Navigation Bill, 55.
It is the business of the Government to have their Members here. This is the place where issues are debated, and it was obvious that sooner or later the Government were bound to go down and suffer a defeat. All these circumstances are symptomatic of the lack of grip of the Government. Only a few months ago we had a General Election and the Government came back with a big majority, a much bigger majority than they were entitled to on their strength in the country. One would have expected the Government to be full of life and vigour, but they show all the symptoms of senile decay. Looking back on the past five months one would compare it not with beginning of a, new Government but with the last five months of the Balfour Administration. I remember reading then of the difficulty of the Government getting their Members to vote. There was a cartoon in "Punch" in which the Conservative party was represented as a horse, and there was a caption that they could not get it along because it was dinner-hour. There was the same general feeling throughout the country that the Government had lost credit. That is the issue to-day. Have the Government the confidence of the House? Have they the confidence in the country? Have they any confidence in themselves? Have 2456 their Members any confidence in each other? It looks to me as though the osseous deficiency which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) attributed to the Lord President of the Council was infectious. It seems to have spread throughout the whole Administration.
The thing about last Wednesday's Debate was that except for the Financial Secretary to the Treasury only one hon. Member took the Government's point of view, the Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl). That is not an isolated instance of lack of support. It has been common in the last few months for no voice to be raised in support of a proposition save from the Treasury Bench. Let me recall a few instances. When the Government introduced their great social programme, the only item in their social programme, their great Education Bill, a post-dated cheque, the only hon. Member who gave approval was the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville). When they introduced their Palestine police the Secretary of State for the Colonies stated the Government's point of view, but there was a chorus of dissent from all quarters of the House. The only supporter was the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Clifton Brown). I do not know whether it is a case of Government economy in speakers and that they are to have only one hon. Member speaking in support of each Motion. At any rate, that is becoming the rule rather than the exception.
Minister after Minister comes along and fails dismally. There is a. general impression that the Government have no policy Everyone remembers the last Debate on the distressed areas. The Lord President of the Council was put up to state the Government's views. It was unkindly and caustically said in the Press that the right hon. Gentleman was put up because he was a good man to make a speech when there was nothing to say. There was no support from any side for the Government's point of view, and the right hon. Gentleman has been withdrawn from the firing line ever since. Then there was the other day the resignation of the Minister for Thought, the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord Eustace Percy). We do not know what he really thought, but we do know that apparently he thinks the same as the Government on foreign affairs. That 2457 assurance was given specifically. Are we, therefore, to assume that he differs from them on home affairs. Presumably he left because there was no policy. There is no policy.
Then we have the Minister of Labour. He sits there and he tells us that spring has come. No new regulations come from him. It is a most remarkable thing. On the 5th February last year the unemployment regulations were withdrawn. The Lord President of the Council was then Prime Minister and, always optimistic, he told us in May of last year that they were making good progress with the new regulations. They have been going on ever since then, but nothing has resulted. The Minister of Labour is hopeful because spring has come. He is thankful for a late spring. He is hopeful for a late summer. Still nothing comes. A lurid light is thrown on the real condition of the unemployed in Sir John Orr's Report. I quote from the "News Letter," a journal which is devoted to the interests of the Government and supposed to reflect the views of the Lord President of the Council. It talks of the economic paradox that has long stared us in the face:On the one hand, farmers unable to sell what they produce and, on the other hand people lacking the means and often the judgment to buy the food required for good health. It is clear that public opinion will not acquiesce for long in the wait-and-see attitude, which was all the Government was able to adopt.What is the Government's attitude on the condition of the people? Have they anything to offer people who, according to Sir John Orr's Report, want food? Have they anything to offer except bombs and guns? Meanwhile the Government continue to flout this House. There are constant complaints that we cannot get replies from the Government. Very often the Government Bench is left untenanted except for a row of Under-Secretaries and Whips who are not entitled to speak on policy. The House is asked night after night to sit after 11 o'clock and to very late hours because Ministers cannot explain business. On the Air Navigation Bill the other night the complaints did not come from this side of the House only hut from all over the House. Where are Cabinet Ministers? They are outside squabbling about foreign affairs.
2458 Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Government still have the confidence of the country? The "Daily Mail" does not think so. I do not know how far these articles are inspired, but that is one line of attack, not one with which I agree. There are so many lines of attack on the Government that almost every one can line up with one of them. This is only natural, because the Government move in so many different directions on such a wobbly course that they are bound to bump into someone at every turn. Perhaps criticism is most vocal in the sphere of foreign affairs. Ever since the Hoare-Laval disclosures the Government has been under a cloud. It has shown an utter lack of confidence in itself. There is an utter lack of policy. We all recall the occasion when we discussed that matter. There was a great lack of confidence in this House and the Government supporters were only rallied by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) waving the old school tie. What was the issue there? The Government were returned on a definite policy, on a strong League policy, but they turned round and proposed to make an agreement which was destructive of collective security. The country revolted, and the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) was thrown overboard. The Government on that occasion accepted the verdict of public opinion. What we want to know is what they have done since? It is five months since the League of Nations decided on oil sanctions. The Abyssinians are still suffering the most intense cruelties and barbarities at the hands of an aggressor, declared so by the League of Nations. What are the Government doing about it? They must take their share of responsibility for what is happening to the Abyssinians.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
An early strong line of action would have prevented the war; that is the verdict of every qualified observer. Had the Government done their duty and carried out the policy which was laid down by the right hon. Member for Chelsea, the war would have been stopped now. It is not a question of whether Signor Mussolini will beat the Negus of Abyssinia but whether an 2459 aggressor will beat the League of Nations. That is the serious issue. The issue is big enough if it be only the Abyssinian people and their suffering, but behind that lies the whole question whether we can build up a system of collective security. The Government's action in dealing only with France and not with the League made the very worst of the situation. They allowed Signor Mussolini to represent it as a quarrel between Great Britain and Italy. I ask the Government to say this evening what they intend to do at the next meeting which is to take place with regard to Abyssinia? All the time oil is still flowing to Italy, some of it perhaps from British companies, some from American companies and some from Allied countries and that oil is being used to kill women and children in Abyssinia. We cannot escape responsibility.
The Government may say that they are much taken up with what Herr Hitler is doing, a much more difficult task. But Herr Hitler's action is the result of the failure of the League in the Italo-Abyssinia affair. Here was a clear chance there for the Government to have united public opinion and have given a lead which would have built up collective security and shown that any aggressor would have to face a united League. They threw the chance away. There is the greatest danger from the Government's policy. They have chosen to stand mainly on Locarno. You cannot call in Germany which has taken action in breach of Locarno, or Italy, an impossible preserver of law and order, and the result of what the Government are doing is to bring this country, with France and Belgium, face to face with Germany. That is exactly a position in which we demand that this country should not be placed. Locarno is far too narrow a basis. We ask that this country should bring in the whole strength of the League for the preservation of law and order. The Government are proposing to take some action in the event of aggression. We say that this should not be the concern of Great Britain alone, but of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and they can only be brought in through the League because they are outside Locarno. We say that it ought not to be the action of the British 2460 Commonwealth of Nations alone, but should be the concern of the whole League; not of Western Europe alone or of Eastern Europe, or of Southern Europe, but of the whole League.
The menace of war has grown throughout the last four years owing to neglect of leadership on the part of the Government. They have allowed the initiative to pass out of the hands of the great Western democracies into the hands of dictators. It is such an incredibly stupid policy, even from the point of view of one section. If you take it on the most narrow national and imperial lines, the sure shield of peace is the League of Nations, not alliances. From all kinds of persons one gets complaints of the Government's policy. I got the complaint to-day from a man who told me that he had voted regularly for the Conservative Government and at the last election did so because he had every faith in the Prime Minister. He could not make out what was happening. Today the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) could not make up his mind as to what was the Government's policy.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent me. I said that while hon. Members in all parties in the House were aware of the Government's policy, there were very grave misrepresentations of it in the country, largely owing to the misrepresentations on the part of certain Members of the Opposition.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
If the hon. Member will look up his question he will find that he has taken the first prize for embroidery. The Government rests for its popularity on the belief in the good intentions of the Foreign Secretary. Whatever mechanical vote we may have this evening it will not express a great sense of confidence in the Government on the part of hon. Members, and I am sure it will not express a great feeling of confidence in the country. The fact is the Government are suffering from the effects of their own manoeuvres. They played a confidence trick on the country at the last General Election and it has been found out. They are in just the same state of decay as the Conservative Government was at the beginning of the century after the Khaki election. These elections always fall back on their authors. The 2461 Government is also suffering from another very serious defect. It is a coalition, which involves bringing in all kinds of persons to represent particular sections and the need for retaining them in positions of importance. In such circumstances it is impossible to get any clear-cut decisions on policy, you get a balancing this way and that. In these difficult times it is a danger to the country and to the world to have a British Government which pursues a policy of drift.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition in the concluding passages of his speech referred to the terrible situation with which this country and the League of Nations are confronted in regard to the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia. In the first speech I made in this Parliament I drew attention to the fact that Italy was even then successfully defying 50 nations. It is true that we were able to congratulate ourselves that to some extent the League of Nations was working with a coherence and efficiency which it had not previously displayed, but as I pointed out then—and it is still true—it was an even more significant fact that one resolute country was proving itself capable of defying 50 irresolute countries.
It is not, in my submission, the policy of sanctions that has failed. When the Leader of the Opposition was speaking, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) interrupted him, and said that the Leader of the Opposition was as much responsible as the Government for the failure of the efforts of the League and for the continuance of the war in Abyssinia. I believe that to be profoundly untrue. It is not the policy of sanctions which has failed; it is the resolution of the Government which has failed. It was that fatal error of the Hoare-Laval conversations, which I ventured to think at the time might well prove, and which I am still afraid may prove, irreparable. It is impossible to blame the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He succeeded to a situation which had already been compromised. Perhaps it may prove to have been hopelessly compromised. But the situation was that the momentum of the sanctions policy had been slowed down, and his efforts have never yet sufficed to restore its momentum. In November the Committee of 2462 Eighteen of the League agreed unanimously in principle to the oil, iron and steel and coal sanctions. The report of the Experts Committee a few weeks ago showed that if those sanctions had been imposed in November the war would have ended by now, and it would have ended with the defeat of the Italian aggression.
§ Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON
On a point of Order. Is this furious attack upon the League of Nations which we are hearing now from the right hon. Baronet, and which we have already heard from the Leader of the Opposition, in order?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
It is not the League of Nations I am attacking, but those Governments which have failed to uphold the League. It is shameful that the Government should stand idly by while Italy machine-guns Red Cross workers, bombs open towns, kills and maims the Abyssinian peasants with yperite, a deadly and torturing gas. Italy piles lawless outrage upon ruthless aggressions and for four months the Government have allowed themselves to be fobbed off with one excuse after another for not taking those sanctions which alone can be effective in stopping this aggression. I refer, of course, to the oil sanction, to the iron and steel and coal sanctions, to the embargo upon shipping, to the direct assistance which ought to have been given to the gallant Abyssinian army fighting for its freedom—
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I mean direct helps I do not mean war. I mean exactly what I say. I will tell the hon. Member plainly and frankly that I mean giving assistance to the victim of aggression and if, while we are giving that assistance to the victim, the aggressor attacks us, certainly we must firmly resist.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I say that in the face of these horrible outrages in Abyssinia, committed by a so-called civilised Power in the name of a so-called mission of civilisation, the inactivity of the Government is shameful. I was a 2463 Member of the Government—in what I am going to say I will be frank, although a great many, particularly hon. Members above the Gangway, will not agree with me in this—when there was a Japanese aggression in China. I thought this was a lawless and terrible aggression. It is not true that the Government or that the League did nothing at that time. They sent the Lytton Commission to Manchuria and they refused to recognise the results of the Japanese action. I believed then and I believe now that there was nothing more that we could have done. The arm of the law was not strong enough to enforce the law on the other side of the globe. I believed that then and I still believe it now, but I do believe that the arm of the League of Nations is strong enough to enforce the law of nations against Italy in her aggression upon Abyssinia. That is why I say it is shameful for the Government to allow these things to go on in Abyssinia without insisting upon the Committee of 18 being summoned and giving in that Committee a strong and firm lead for the imposition of those sanctions which alone can be effective in restraining aggression.
I want now to return to the main subject of this Debate. Many questions of high policy have been raised in the adroit, skilful and strong speech of the leader of the Opposition, but the main issue which we are debating to-day concerns the authority of this House and the responsibility of each one of us as Members of Parliament and as representatives of the people. It has been said that there was a good deal of confusion about the Debate on Wednesday of last week. I have studied most carefully everything which was said during and which has been said since that Debate, and I can find no confusion. The hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) moved an Amendment demanding the same scales of pay for women as for men in the Civil Service. It has been laid down by the Secretary of the Treasury, Sir Warren Fisher, that pay in the Civil Service is related not to individuals but to ranks, and the hon. Member's Amendment called upon the Government to apply that principle equally to women and to men.
After the Debate on the Motion "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the 2464 Chair," a Division was taken and the Motion was defeated, and as you, Sir, pointed out just now, in confirming what the Leader of the Opposition had said, it is laid down in Erskine May that the defeat of that Motion is to be construed as a vote in favour of the Amendment. Therefore, it is quite clear that the opinion of the House was expressed in that Division in favour of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Jarrow. Another vote was then taken on the hon. Member's Amendment as a substantive Motion. But the issue was no longer the plain clear issue of principle which I have just described and on which the former vote had been taken. Strong pressure was brought to hear upon the supporters of the Government by the Patronage Secretary to support the Government in the Lobby as a question of confidence.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Does the right hon. Baronet infer that those who did not vote or voted differently in the second Division were deliberately doing so in spite of being in favour of the Amendment? I think he ought to know that many people informed the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) that they could, not vote for the Amendment.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am always ready to give way, but I desire rather to make my own speech. I was coming to the very point which the hon. Lady raised, and if she had waited for a moment I would have dealt with it. A private Member elected as a supporter of the Government could be put in no more difficult and embarrassing, and even distressing, situation than that in which he was put in the second Division. An honest man, who believed in the principle of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Jarrow, but who was elected to support the Government, was torn between two equally honourable motives, his desire to vote on the merits of the issue as he saw it, and his desire to fulfil the pledges he had given to his constituents to give general support to the Government with whose general policy he was in agreement. I am not scorning or deriding Inv hon. Member; let none of us do that. I hope that the hon. Lady who interrupted me did not think I was doing it. Any one of us may find himself in that very difficult and 2465 distressing position, and the last thing I wish to do is to deride hon. Members who found themselves in difficulty in the second Division. I have no doubt that that accounts for the fact that a number of hon. Members transferred their support from the hon. Member for Jarrow to the Government in the second Division.
There were indeed two circumstances which heightened the difficulty of Members on Wednesday of last week. There was on the one hand the gravity of the international situation, which may certainly have led a great many to suppose that in all the circumstances they ought to give the strongest possible support to the Government, and that, if the Government insisted very strongly on getting support in that Division, they ought, although in agreement with the hon. Member for Jarrow on the merits of the question at issue, to support the Government. On the other hand, all the precedents, and certainly the most recent precedent, that of 1923, indicate that when the House of Commons expresses an opinion deliberately and on a point of substance—as was said by the Prime Minister in opening the Debate this afternoon—and especially on a matter affecting the grievances of His Majesty's subjects, it is the duty of the Government to respect it.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
No, I did not, I was not here, because I had a very important engagement elsewhere. But I see no relevance in that observation, because I have never claimed that the fact that I am not present invalidates a vote of the House of Commons. If the Prime Minister and the Government did not want to respect the opinion of the House of Commons, there were two other alternatives open to them. One was to give the House of Commons a free vote on the issue, to allow it to be argued out, for the Prime Minister to make a powerful speech such as he made to-day, for other hon. Members who hold different opinions to make other speeches, and for the House to decide the question by a free vote. That would have been one way of ascertaining beyond a peradventure the opinion of the House. But to mix up this question with the question of confidence in the Government is not to respect the opinion of the House but to dodge it.
2466 It is clear that whereas the merits of the Motion of the hon. Member for Jarrow were uppermost in the minds of hon. Members when they voted in the first Division on Wednesday, the fate of the Government and other questions of high policy were uppermost in the minds of those hon. Members who withdrew their support from the hon. Member for Jarrow on the second Division. As I say, I was absent owing to an important engagement. Other Members were absent too and something has been made of that fact. But if the Government had won the Division, the Patronage Secretary would not have said, "Oh, there were so few Members present that we cannot accept that as a decision." It is a different matter from his point of view, of course, when the Opposition wins on a Division, and in this case it was not only the Opposition, but a large number of Members drawn from all parties who defeated the Government and they are just as much entitled to have their opinion respected, as the Government are to have their opinion respected when they are victorious. If it is true, as no doubt it is, that not many Members voted in that Division, let us remember that a large number deliberately abstained because they were in sympathy with the Motion of the hon. Member for Jarrow but did not wish to embarrass the Government.
Accordingly, it is clear that the action of the House on Wednesday amounted to a declaration in favour of the principle of equal pay for men and women in the Civil Service, and we call upon the Government to show some measure of respect for that Resolution just as the Government of 1923, when the present Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer, showed respect to a Resolution moved by a Member of the Liberal party in similar circumstances. If they refuse, the Government will strike a blow at the authority of Parliament and at the working of our Parliamentary institutions, which would indeed justify hon. Members in all parts of the House in voting against them on this occasion. If the present determination of the Government to ignore and flout the opinion of the House is maintained, it will require the most consistent, determined and effective protest to restore the position of this House in the estimation of the public and its authority in the Government of the country.
2467 I referred just now to the responsibility of individual members. The Government have ruthlessly and unnecessarily placed their supporters in a cruelly difficult position. Nothing would more quickly undermine the regard in which this House is held by the public than if it became the practice for private Members to vote for a Resolution in one Division, because it happened to be popular with a large section of their constituents, and then to vote with the Government in the next Division and support them in refusing to give effect to the Resolution for which they had voted at first. The only assumption on which such conduct would be unobjectionable would be that the Government intended, in their own way and in their own time to give effect to the opinion of the House.
On Wednesday, the House of Commons by refusing to pass the Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," was exercising its historic right to insist upon the redress of grievances before granting Supply. It was a substantial grievance to which the hon. Member for Jarrow drew attention, and a grievance for the redress of which we in this House have a special responsibility because these men and women are servants of the public of whom we are the representatives, with plenary powers. The grievance of the women is that the principle that pay in the Civil Service relates to rank is applied in their case with a difference, because the pay of women is less than the pay of men in the same ranks. They claim that if they are doing the same work as men they ought to be paid at the same rates. This principle is recognised in many other walks of life. It is recognised in Ministerial appointments and it struck me as curious that the one speaker for the Government in that Debate was the Noble Lady the Member for West Perth (Duchess of Atholl) who has benefited from the application of that principle herself when she held a Government appointment.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That is a question into which I do not propose to enter at the moment, but this principle is also applied in the universities, in the higher grade appointments of the London County Council and in the Civil Services of the 2468 United States, Canada and Australia. The men too have a grievance in connection with this matter. Their grievance is that women should be allowed to under-cut, by accepting jobs in the Service at lower rates of pay. This House decided last week that the principle which I have described should be adopted here. The question to-day however is more serious. It is a question of whether the authority of the House is to be respected by the Government. Erskine May says this:The most important power vested in any branch of the Legislature is the right of imposing taxes upon the people and of voting money for the exigencies of the public service. The exercise of this right by the Commons is practically a law for the annual meeting of Parliament"—For what purpose? For cross-examining Ministers, for legislation, for supervising the administration of Government? No,—for redress of grievances; and it may also be said to give to the Commons the chief authority in the State.Our forebears have bequeathed to us the chief authority in the State. The question to be decided to day is whether or not we still possess it.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. MICHAEL BEAUMONT
I intervene for the purpose of putting to the House a slightly different construction of the issue which is before us than those which have been put forward, either by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken or by the Leader of the Opposition. I was here throughout the principal events of Wednesday, and I submit that what the Government now ask is neither so unreasonable nor so contrary to precedent and to the rights of Members as the Opposition would have us believe. I yield to no one in my respect for and my desire to maintain the rights of the House as against the Government. I believe that Parliamentary Government would soon fall away if the executive became dictators over the legislature, and I would oppose any proposal of that kind. In fact I have opposed and voted against my own party on alterations in procedure which, in my view, tended in that direction. But I do not think that on this occasion the Government are doing anything unreasonable.
I was in support of the Government on Wednesday. I do not believe in the principle of equal pay for the sexes in the Civil Service, but I do not propose to deal 2469 with that question now. I think it has been decided. Much can be said on both sides and I think has been said many times too often. I only mention the fact because some have taunted the Government adherents with the fact that only one of their number spoke in support of the Government on Wednesday. But the Members who make those gibes are well aware of the common practice of the House. When it is known what attitude the Government are taking on a certain proposal and when many Members who are opposed to the Government wish to speak, and when the House is anxious to come to a decision, it is the common practice of those who know they are getting what they want, to repay the House by remaining silent. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned this as if it were a symptom of lack of faith in the Government on the part of their own supporters. I made similar charges when I was sitting in Opposition, because exactly the same symptom, if it is a symptom, was prevalent among the supporters of the Socialist Government.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
Of course I meant it and the hon. Member who was also in that Parliament knows full well that I meant it. I was new to the House in those days and I did not realise its customs then as I have realised them since. These gibes to which I have referred may be justified coming from new Members, but, when they come from old Members, I venture to say they are humbug.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
If I thought they had had any effect on the hon. Member, I would do so. I now turn to the constitutional question, and the only thing in which I agree with the previous speakers is their statement that it is of considerable importance. The House, first, defeated a Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," and they then defeated an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) on the principle of equal pay 2470 for equal work. I would not have the presumption to challenge the opinion of Erskine May on that subject, but I will return to it in a moment. What I wish to point out is that in the old days when this procedure of setting up the Committee of Supply and hearing grievances was introduced, it was a common practice to refuse to allow Mr. Speaker to leave the Chair, then to defeat the Amendment which was brought forward and to proceed to the next business. The point of that procedure was that the House took the view that there were grievances but that the Amendment immediately before the House did not deal with any grievance in which the House was interested. They therefore adopted that method of getting on to other grievances which did interest them. I am not minimising the effect of what has happened. All I am saying is that the ancient practice of this House was, in effect, to say by the first vote, "We are not satisfied that no grievances exist," and then by the second vote to say, "The grievance raised in this question is not the grievance in which we are interested." That is the constitutional effect of the votes which the House took, and, strictly constitutionally, therefore, that is no reason why the Government should take note of the question of equal pay.
The hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow laughs, but I am not ignoring Erskine May and what has come since the days to which I referred. Erskine May has laid down that nowadays a defeat on a Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," has come to mean approval of the sentiment of the Amendment which has been moved. I am not questioning that at all, and I do not question the fact, which everybody knows, that a small House—the right hon. Gentleman said it was not the less valid for that—came, after hearing what the Government had to say, to the conclusion that they desired to establish the principle of equal pay.
When a Government is defeated like that, I submit that it has three alternatives. It can resign. That is, of course, the obvious course which would commend itself to Members of the official Opposition, but I do not think that even the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), who demanded it last Wednesday with such eloquence and vigour, seriously regarded it as a solution which 2471 would commend itself either to the Government or, in fact, to the country at the present time.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
Because, luckily, I think, the practice of dissolving this House, or of the Government resigning on being defeated on a comparatively minor matter, has long since passed into desuetude. There have been innumerable precedents, both in and out of the Labour Government, going back over the last few years. I do not think anybody would seriously recommend that course. The second course is to give effect to the wishes of the House. The Government have considered most carefully, I have no doubt, whether or not they can do that and have come to the conclusion that they cannot. Personally, I am delighted that they have come to that conclusion, though I am rather surprised. I wish they would come to that sort of conclusion with a similar firmness rather oftener. But that being so, there is a third course, I submit, and that is the course which they are taking. They say, "We do not believe that you fully realise the full force of what you are asking us to do; if you really mean this thing, you must get another Government to carry it out, because we will not." Having come to that decision, they come and ask the House what the House wishes to do in that connection, and the question before the House to-night is really whether we want another Government and the principle of equal pay, or whether we want this Government to continue and not to carry out the decision of the House on that question. That issue is perfectly plain, and I think it is one which the Government are absolutely entitled to put to the House.
I do not see how on earth anybody would benefit by the free vote suggested by the Leader of the Liberal party. On what issue would it be? Nobody seriously objects to setting up Committee of Supply. The question of equal pay has already been talked about and voted on, and the only issue that we are deciding to-night is whether we want the Government to continue on condition that they reverse that decision, or whether we want them to go out and act on the decision.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The hon. Member must know that I am not in favour of having a new Debate and a. free vote. I consider that the decision was finally given last Wednesday and ought to be respected by the Government. I was only saying that if the Government did not take that view, there were two other courses, both of them in my judgment bad—one was to give the House a free vote, and then they really would come to a decision, and the other was to mix it with the question of confidence.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
The decision is with this House. No House can compel any given Government to carry out any given policy, and no Government can compel any given House to renounce any given policy. What the Government are doing is to put the choice before the House as to whether they want the policy or the Government. That is the course which the Government are taking, and which I think they were right to take, and when we go into the Lobby to-night, I believe that we shall see that we have chosen the Government by an overwhelming majority.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Miss WILKINSON
If we analyse the speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), we find that he said that previous elected Houses did their plain duty with regard to the redress of grievances before granting Supply. If he implies that the present House is not doing its duty, I agree with him, and I say that it is the result of the laxity due to there having been such an overwhelming majority on the Government side. The hon. Member said it was a small House that took the decision last Wednesday, but what were the numbers? Those who voted in that Division were 304, plus four tellers. If the hon. Member will look back at some of the most important decisions that have been taken in this House, he will find that lesser numbers than 304 have actually voted. But I want to raise again this point of the number of people who voted.
§ Mr. M. BEAUMONT
I never suggested that the Division was invalid or its importance lessened because there were only a few people taking part in it.
§ Miss WILKINSON
No, it was not a few. I maintain that 304 is not a few, 2473 or, if it is, then some of the most important decisions of this Government have been taken on votes of a similar amount or less, so that I think we can rule out the idea that 304 is such a few as to be nearly negligible. The Prime Minister never claimed that this was a snap vote, and, of course, it was not possible for him to do so, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the knowledge that this vote was to be taken had been before the country and those who were specially interested in it for several weeks, ever since the actual ballot which I was fortunate enough to win was taken. During that time the Civil Service Association, which consists of men as well as women, and a very large number of other organisations had been lobbying the Members of this House, and I would like to inform the right hon. Gentleman—I could bring him proof if he needed it—that a very large number of Members of his own party had pledged themselves one way and another in support of this principle of equal pay. There was a number of them who felt that they did not want to vote against the Government and who absented themselves, and there were others who came, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would suggest—I am sure he could not—that if in fact this had been given a free vote of the House, it would not have been carried by an overwhelming majority. If he does think that, I can produce to him the pledges that his own supporters have given.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
On the question of proof, an archangel himself could not say what this House would do on a free vote on any question.
§ Miss WILKINSON
Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor myself as yet belongs to the order of archangels.
§ Miss WILKINSON
If the Premier admits, even by implication, that on a free vote of this House this principle would have been carried, whereas in fact it was being argued on Supply and not on a mere private Member's Motion, on which anybody can give a fairly irresponsible vote, it was not an irresponsible vote. The Members of this House knew what they were doing. If they did not 2474 know they were voting against the Government on a question of Supply, they are not fit to be Members of this House, because this is one of the most responsible duties that Members of Parliament have to perform. Therefore, I suggest that the Prime Minister, whom a very large number of people who are not of his party have respected as being a great stickler for democratic rights, is in fact taking a very serious step in not admitting the democratic principle on this occasion because it is connected with women.
Now I want to raise a point which I think the senior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) is about to raise, because she has mentioned it to me, and that is the question of whether she would vote for my Amendment because it bronght in the question of the 1920 vote. The hon. Member voted for the first part of the Amendment, but as a result of a conversation that she had with me and of conversations that we had with other Members of the House, including the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Clifton Brown), I made it clear in the course of my speech that we were taking this vote purely on the question of equal pay for equal work, and the Minister himself, when be replied, very kindly took that view of it and said, of the Amendment:It has been put down and has been discussed throughout on the basis that it seeks an equalisation of pay for men and women."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April, 1936; col. 2067, Vol. 310.]Therefore what the 1920 Resolution was or was not was not before the House. The whole Debate had narrowed it down to the question, Are you going to pay equal pay for equal work?
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Why were the words of the 1920 Resolution put in the hon. Lady's Amendment if she did not mean it?
§ Miss WILKINSON
I did not say I did not mean it. The hon. Lady knows very well that this Amendment was drawn up by the Civil Service Association, and, as very often happens in these conferences, a great deal of negotiation had taken place beforehand. It was agreed, and the hon. Lady really cannot ride off on this question, because it had been discussed and agreed beforehand. If she says, "I will not vote against my 2475 Government on a question of confidence," I respect that attitude, but she must not try to get out of her plain vote by that door, because that just is not done.
I do not really want to go into the whole question of equal pay again, I do not think it is desirable, and a good many Members want to speak, but I do want to answer two points which were put forward by the Prime Minister. He said, and I think rightly, that if conditions in the Civil Service were improved, there might be jealousy. I would remind him that there is always jealousy on the part of those who have to work in private competitive enterprise about those who enjoy the protection of the socialised services. It is one of the strongest points of hon. Members of my party in arguing the whole question of socialised services before the country. The same thing could be said of the police and of any others who have the protection of socialised services. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke about outside employment, it was a little difficult to find out to whom he was referring and with whom he was comparing the women of the Civil Service. This does not affect the ordinary clerical classes, who do similar work to the work of a routine character in other instances.
Women in these capacities pass by competitive examination and are recognised as belonging to a profession. In the professions the idea of equal pay for equal work has so gained ground that the British Medical Association, for example, insists that where advertisements are inserted for medical officers there should not be different scales for men and women. I have consulted my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), who is a King's Counsel, and he tells me that it would be a breach of legal etiquette to offer a woman barrister, even a junior, anything less than the stereotyped fee. The Prime Minister spoke about trade unions, but I can only say that I am a national official of a trade union that pays everybody from the office girl to myself equal pay with men and has done so ever since it had women on the staff. I suggest to the Prime Minister that he really has a bad conscience on this matter. This is a question of payment for the job, payment—as the Prime 2476 Minister said in words nobody could better—for the work of women who are giving comparable service with men. The hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) has tried to drag in the question of family allowances. I am surprised at that from an avowed champion of equality. It is rather like the old idea that women should not be allowed to vote unless they could prove they were good mothers.
This is a principle that women who have proved themselves fitted for the job should be paid for the job, and it is a principle which men are more and more demanding. Every hon. Member has received telegrams of one kind and another on this subject. I have received sheaves and I propose to refer to only one. It came from 2,347 members of the staff of the Ministry of Health organised in the Civil Service Association, and they demanded equality of pay. Both the Prime Minister and the Minister who was in charge of the Debate on Wednesday have tried to suggest that the men would not agree. Believe me, this is one of those matters that are becoming vital to men. The Prime Minister has said that women are pushing men out. Is it good for the nation that women should get jobs because they are cheaper? The Prime Minister's speech seemed to say to the women, "Do not ask for this; it may militate against your being employed. Why not come in at a cheaper rate? Then you will get the job." The women of this country do not want to be blacklegs. They want to come in on a basis of equality. They claim that they have proved that they can do the job. They have had some handicaps to face, and I wonder whether men realise what those handicaps were when women were trying to get on an equal basis with men. The Prime Minister has taunted us on the number of women there are in the House. Has he any idea how difficult it is for women to get into the House, not merely because of the electors, but because of the terrific prejudice against women? Are we to get here by offering to do the job cheaper?
Women have recollections of the fine speeches made by the Prime Minister on the subject of women. This is an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to go beyond making speeches. It is true that he gave us the vote. I pay the Prime Minister that compliment, but we had 2477 to work for that right. Women are now equal before the law, and is it not time, when they have passed examinations and when the Principal Secretary to the Treasury, Sir Warren Fisher, and all those who have experience of women's work, including the Postmaster-General, have said definitely that there is no difficulty, that there should be equal payment? The Prime Minister says that this would not meet with favour in the country. I think that he is out of touch with feeling in the country if he thinks that that feeling holds good now. There was a time when it did. I doubt very much whether it does now. I think that not only men, but those who are most concerned, namely, married women, the wives of men who have to meet the competition of women, would give their vote for this principle. It is completely out-of-date to say that a woman should be paid less because she is a woman. I ask the Prime Minister not to fall behind 1936 and to imagine that we are still in the days of the nineteenth century.
§ 5.52 p.m.
I feel that I cannot record my vote without making my position clear in regard to the main issue that has occasioned the Debate to-day, namely, equal pay for equal work. I voted against the Government twice last Wednesday, and I did so because I believed in the principle and justice of the Amendment which was so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson). The Prime Minister has made a very disarming and sweetly reasonable speech this afternoon, but I much regret that, in spite of it, I find it impossible to alter my opinion on this subject. I am sorry that it has been thought necessary to make the vote tonight a Vote of Confidence in the Government, but since it has been thought necessary, I shall certainly vote for the Government because, no matter what my views may be in regard to equal pay, I think it, is of vital importance that the National Government should be in power during this serious period of our history. I hope, however, that the Government will consider again seriously the whole question which occasioned their defeat last Wednesday, because I am convinced that it was a real manifestation of the way in which public opinion is moving in this country on the question of equal pay for equal work.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The two appeals which have just been addressed to my right hon. Friend from opposite sides of the House must, I am sure, have rent his bosom, because no one has been more sympathetic to every cause in which the interests of women are involved, and, as the hon. Lady very frankly recognised, he played a great part, though not the whole part, in bearing the responsibility for the great measure of enfranchisement which marks his tenure of power. I do not think that the supporters of the principle of equal pay for equal work have any reason to be at all down-hearted at what has occurred. As a matter of fact, they have done very well. They have had a marked success, and I have little doubt that their essay on the next occasion will be advanced with every favourable prospect. Whether in the end the adoption of that principle would be for the benefit of women as a whole in their employment, is a, questionable matter. I know that there are a certain number of Members of the opposite sex who are in favour of this principle for the reason that they think it will rid the labour market of a serious element of competition. However, I do not rise for the purpose of dealing further with that topic.
I have listened to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, and I quite understand his jubilation. One of the attractive features of British Parliamentary life is that every dog has his day. You sustain a grievous defeat at a General Election and are swept away and crushed at the polls, but in a very few months some Parliamentary score cheers all hearts. It is one of the processes by which the population of these islands is increasingly rallied to our ancient and gradually developing constitution. Like the Prime Minister, I remember several instances of this kind under various Governments. I remember only a few years ago commenting on such an episode when it occurred under the Labour Government of the Lord President of the Council. I was reminded that I was so indiscreet on that occasion as to refer to the right hon. Gentleman as "the boneless wonder." I must say that I am rather doubtful whether my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is quite as adept in dealing with these situations as his predecessor in the office which he holds. A complete mastery of these 2479 acrobatic feats requires one to be broken into them very early and to have continued practice. No one, therefore, need at all grudge the Leader of the Opposition if he sings peans of triumph and utters all the war-whoops that are appropriate to such a festive occasion.