§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Assheton)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
I thought it would be helpful to the House if, at the beginning of the Debate, I were to give hon. Members some information in regard to the registration of women for war service and the very important questions connected therewith. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service is unable to be in his place at the moment but I hope he will find it possible to be here later in the Debate. The House, I know, appreciates the great pressure under which my right hon. Friend is working at present. I will do my best to put his policy before the House although I know that hon. Members would rather have heard it from my right hon. Friend's own lips.
I believe that all hon. Members recognise the immense burden which must fall upon the shoulders of a Minister of Labour in war-time, when he is entrusted with the task of mobilising the whole resources in man-power and woman-power of a great nation with all the complexities of our civilisation. Only those who have worked closely at this problem, however, can appreciate to the full its magnitude. Not only does it encroach in some degree on the work of every Department of State, but it involves the most difficult of all problems, namely, problems of human relationships. The Minister has had, in this task, the assistance of a staff, of which I think one can rightly say that there is no better in the whole Government machine. It is a standing wonder to me how they have succeeded in putting into effect a whole series of new policies, as bold and as far-reaching as any civil servants have ever had to put into operation. Thanks to the highly efficient machine built up in past years 316 by the patient work of my right hon. Friend's predecessors, the Department's organisation has had enough resilience to enable it to respond to all the demands made upon it. I would take this opportunity of paying my tribute to a Civil Service which, however much we may criticise it with a view to making it even better, is already the finest in the world.
I am very glad that the opportunity has arisen of debating this vital question of woman-power, and I am sure that we are all grateful to the lady Members of of the House for having raised it. I assure them that the Government will listen with the greatest care to all that they have to say on the subject and will take advantage of the great experience which they possess in regard to these special problems. No doubt the Debate will range over a large number of the Departments of State, and if there are any special problems relating to Departments other than the Ministry of Labour I have no doubt that some of my hon. and right hon. Friends will be prepared at a later stage to answer for those Departments. As far as the Ministry of Labour is concerned, I assure the House that if there are any points in relation to our policy on which further information is required or on which criticism is offered, we shall do our best to deal with them. The House is probably aware that my right hon. Friend has appointed to help him in his work a committee of women. The duty of that committee is to advise the Minister regarding the registration of women and the best means of securing their services in the national war effort. It is a very strong committee and includes my hon. Friends the Members for West Fulham (Dr. Summer-skill) and Wallsend (Miss Ward). It is a businesslike committee and it has a businesslike job to do, and its appointment may well prove to be a landmark in the social history of the country. I am no feminist myself—
§ Mr. Assheton
I believe that the life of men and women is a companionship and not in any sense a rivalry. I have discovered that women are not only not inferior to men but are superior to them in many respects. They are much more 317 law-abiding than men, as our criminal statistics show, or at least they are not so often found out. They are more patient, more faithful and no less courageous than men, as many occasions in this war have shown. It is, however, clear that women are more individualistic and perhaps less easily used to discipline than men, and perhaps that is why the Minister said last week that it was a very difficult and delicate subject to handle. That is possibly why he has left it to me to-day. Secondly, in addition to being more individualistic, women are certainly very much attached to their homes—I will not say more than men, but very much attached to their homes—and the idea of going away from home, which in many cases will be necessary, is much more a revolution in the life of a woman than in the life of a man. We have clearly, therefore, to move very carefully, and no man with whom I have discussed the matter views with equanimity the possibility of having to use compulsory powers with regard to women. Rut I am glad to say that the women seem to accept this more philosophically, because I believe they feel that anything is worth while which will bring the war to a quicker close, and they want to share the burden with their men folk. I think it was Mr. Fox who said from the Front Opposition Bench these words:How vain, how idle, how presumptuous is the opinion that laws can do everything.These words apply very forcibly indeed to the present case, and we need, there-lore, the co-operation and the help of women. They have equal citizenship with men, and equal citizenship brings with it equal duties and equal responsibilities. If men have a fault, it is perhaps that they do not always give the impression of taking women as seriously as they really do or of giving due weight to their opinions and advice, and it was partly for this reason that my right hon. Friend decided to set up this committee. We are very grateful to them for their advice, and I think we can assure them that it will not be ignored. I know perfectly well that women are just crying out for the opportunity and the chance to do their share, and many of them are already doing splendid work in the women's Services, in industry, in Civil Defence, in the nursing services, in the Land Army, and in numerous classes of 318 voluntary work, and, therefore, if we have failed to attract as many of them to the work that wants to be done as we need, it can only be our fault in that we have somehow failed to approach them in the right way. Now we are making a bolder and, I think, a more businesslike approach, and this is, I fancy, what is really needed. I believe it will be successful, and, if we have to use compulsory powers at all, it will only be in an almost negligible number of cases. Much will depend on the method of administration.
What then is our plan? Many Members may have heard the Minister's broadcast on Sunday, and I propose to elaborate what he said in the very restricted time which he had at his disposal to deal with that part of the problem. As chairman of the Man-Power Committee, I suppose I have had as good an opportunity as anyone of realising the drain upon our resources which the war is making. The work in connection with revising the Schedule of Reserved Occupations has made it quite clear to me that before this year is out there will be a tremendous demand for women to take the places of men in every occupation where it is possible for them to do so. The problem is a much more difficult one than it was in the last war, because the needs of the Services and their equipment are far larger than they were, machines are far larger, the number and the size of them has greatly increased, there are already more workers in the war industries to-day than there were in July, 1918, and many of our greatest demands are still ahead of us. In addition to that there are, of course, the vast claims of Civil Defence, and these have to be met. What is more, there has been since the last war a great increase in our social services and in the standard of living, and we are anxious to maintain both our social services and our standards of living as far as is consistent with winning the war. There are at this moment many large unsatisfied demands for women, not only for the Services but also for industry. The three great women's Services, the A.T.S., the W.R.N.S. and the W.A.A.F.S., all need large numbers of recruits, running to tens of thousands. There are many jobs now being done in the Services which could be done by women if women were available to do 319 them. There are also demands in the public health and nursing services. We have in addition a great demand for women to go into our training centres. These must be filled if we are to turn out the requisite number of semi-skilled workers who are so badly needed in the engineering industries, and in order to help them it has been decided to abandon the old principle of paying allowances to men and women in training centres and to put them on a proper wage basis. This will come into effect from the end of this month, and it will, I hope, bring to an end the difficulties that we have had in filling the training centres.
These are the demands, and by hook or by crook we have to meet them; and it may well be asked, What are we doing about it? I suggest that the first thing is to make sure that the conditions under which these women have to work are reasonable. The outstanding difficulty in the case of women, especially married women, is the problem of mobility. Women who join the Services must, of course, be ready to leave home, and many workers in industry will have to face the same problem. This involves all sorts of arrangements in regard to housing, billeting and welfare. One of our biggest problems is finding women for the great shell-filling factories, which are coming into operation at an increasing pace. In the last war it was shell filling which occupied the greater number of women who went to work, and, until the factories were built, this has not arisen so far until comparatively recently in this war. As far as possible we want to make the fullest use of women in their own localities, and obviously this is particularly necessary in the case of married women. In some cases they cannot leave home. There are, none the less, some married women without responsibilities, and many single women, who must be prepared to leave home to go into these munition factories, and also to join the women's Services.
My right hon. Friend has done a great deal in building up a welfare service in the Ministry to deal with welfare, both inside and outside the factories. Continual contact is being made with the Minister of Health with regard to problems of billeting. I should like to pay a tribute to all those householders who are taking billetees and to assure them that 320 there is no more useful work which they can possibly do. They may be assured that when it comes to calling up the women they will be treated as doing their bit. Then there are great problems with regard to transport and to the reception of the women in the new factories. Nothing is more important than to give new workers a good start, and we are grateful to the various voluntary societies which have been helping in that direction. There has been a considerable wastage of women labour and we want to impress on all managements the necessity of making special arrangements and of taking special care in the handling of women. A great many firms have in the past been accustomed to the handling of women, but there are many firms which have had only men to deal with, and it is important that they should learn all they can in this way. Many of them are setting good examples and there is more to be done.
In order to meet the shortage of billets, hostels are being built, and I hope that more accommodation will become available shortly. Various financial arrangements have to be made to help workers who are being transferred. Not only does a woman receive a payment for the day of travel, butshe receives 24s. 6d. in the first week and a further 10s. in the second week to tide over the period until she is able to earn proper wages. The Minister has made special arrangements to deal with married women. Day nurseries and nursery schools are being developed with the help of the Ministry of Health and the Board of Education, and financial assistance is being given in Lancashire and elsewhere to mothers who are accustomed to leave their children in the care of minders or friends. When long distances have to be travelled the production Departments are able to help to reduce the burden of the worker by paying a part of the fare. It is the policy of the Ministry to see that women who go to a new job are correctly informed as to the wages which they will receive. This applies as much to the ordnance factories as to other employment.
Now we come to the important problem of supply. I want to say a few words about the new Registration Order, especially in its application to women, because there has already been a certain amount 321 of misapprehension and misunderstanding about it. On 19th April next all women born in 1920 will be registered. These will be followed shortly after by the next older age group. We have decided to begin at these ages after the most careful consideration and after seeking the advice of the Women's Consultative Committee. All women, married and single, will have to register unless they are already in the women's services or in the nursing services attached to the Armed Forces. That is in the Order. I wish to say something later as to the order in which these women will be called upon and the way in which they will be chosen. The object of the registration is to survey carefully the available supply of women and to find out how they are at present occupied and just what each of them can best do to help the country. Above all, what is wanted in dealing with women is selective treatment and not mass treatment.
Registration is to be followed by interviews. The women will be interviewed by women officers of the Department, who will obtain from them further details about their qualifications and domestic responsibilities. By these interviews it will be decided what best each woman can do and what form of national work will be most appropriate for her. I am sure that the House will desire that the greatest care should be taken to avoid calling upon women with young children and those with special domestic responsibilities. In any case, I should like to make it clear that no woman who is pregnant will be called up compulsorily in any event. Nothing is more important than the future of the race, and clearly there is no higher form of national service for any woman than the guidance of a home and the upbringing of young children. It is from the young age groups that we hope to obtain a considerable number of recruits for the women's services, but it must not be thought that all women of 20 and 21 will be expected to go into women's services or into munitions. Numbers of them are already doing useful work, and by far the most important object of this registration is to put to work those women who may be losing their work through the closing down of less essential industries and those who are at present unoccupied and are not yet taking their full share in the war effort. It 322 would be most foolish in the first instance to take women away from useful work, whether in the retail trades, in catering establishments, in offices, in useful domestic service or eleswhere, and to put them into national work until we had made sure that other sources of supply had been exhausted. Nor do we wish to move those who are doing full-time voluntary work of real national importance. There are many women who are fully occupied with domestic responsibilities, especially those with families to look after and those who are taking in a number of billetees.
Further registrations of women will follow as it will clearly be more profitable and wiser to obtain the services of some unoccupied women in the older age groups before we take away women of 20 and 21 who are now doing useful work, even though it may be work which in the last resort might be left undone for the time being. It is possible that a particular difficulty in a particular place might be met by an area registration of women in advance of the registration of women of the same age in other parts of the country. The advantage of such a registration would be that women listed by means of it would be on the spot. From some points of view that is a great advantage, particularly in view of the accommodation difficulties in congested areas. It avoids bringing women from other parts of the country into a thickly populated place to fill jobs for which older women may become available in a short time by the aid of the registration. On the other hand, there are great disadvantages in such an idea. It is clear that the possibility of inequality might arise, and it may be that the feeling will be that this is not a wise plan to pursue. In any case, I should welcome very much the views of hon. Members upon it.
After registration we shall not expect every woman to change her job. We shall not want any woman to do so until she has been interviewed. In the same way, while we want as many volunteers now as we can get from those who are not fully occupied, we do not want those who have full-time jobs to throw them up without consulting the Employment Exchanges to find out which job it is in which they can best serve their country. I hope that at the interviews an arrangement will be come to which will be agree- 323 able to the woman who is being interviewed, but if any woman is directed to work to which she takes objection she will be free to go before an appeal board with an independent chairman. These appeal boards are established also in connection with the registration of men, but when women's cases are being dealt with it will be necessary to have women sitting on the board.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Does the hon. Member mean that all the women in these age-groups who are to be registered are to be interviewed, or only those who would appear to be not usefully occupied, because it would be a very great labour to interview all of them?
§ Mr. Assheton
Perhaps I have not made it quite clear. The list will be examined and the women will be called for interviews in a certain order and those who are less usefully occupied at the present time will be called for interviews first. Another important consideration at the interview will be the question of the woman's health. It is not proposed that they should be examined by a medical board in the same way as men are examined when they go for registration, but it will be possible for the women to produce medical evidence of any infirmity or disability, though the Ministry will be entitled, of course, to obtain an independent medical opinion if they think it necessary. I have been asked on more than one occasion whether there will be any exceptions for women who have conscientious objections, and my answer is that I do not think the question is likely to arise. If any woman had a consicentious objection to making munitions there are plenty of other useful opportunities or serving, in the nursing services, the land army or elsewhere, to which no conscientious objection would be likely to be advanced.
The whole of this scheme will depend, of course, on fair and just administration, and the House must understand that under no circumstances will a woman be directed to a job out of "sheer cussedness," but that every effort will be made, consistent with the national interest, to meet her own wishes in the matter. But when a woman is in a job we want her to stick to it, because a turnover of personnel either in the women's services or in certain industries is wasteful, and we must 324 avoid unnecessary turnover. In so far as it is due to any faults in the services or in industry, the Government is determined to do everything in its power to remedy shortcomings. As an example, I might quote the step which the Ministry of Supply have recently taken in their ordnance factories of putting on three shifts, so that the hours of work will be shorter though the women employed will, none the less, get a proper wage.
We have, therefore, a very formidable task before us. I do not think any Government Department has ever taken on a more formidable task, but we are confident that we can carry it through, and we believe that only in a very small number of cases shall we have to use our compulsory powers. But we need the help and enthusiasm particularly of the women Members of Parliament, and I know that we can count upon it. We need that help because it is a vital task and a great task, and it is necessary, if we are to win the victory in which we all believe, to obtain the goodwill of all concerned. Women want to share in the work of winning the war, as so many of them have done so gallantly since the very beginning. More than 2,000 years ago these words were used by Plato when he was speaking of the women of Athens:Let them share in the toils of war and the defence o their country. In the distribution of the labour the lighter tasks are to be assigned to the women, but in other respects their duties are the same.The women of England have shown the most wonderful courage and endurance, and we are now calling on them for further help. Much of the work will be hard, much of it, like all work in wartime, will be full of drudgery and full of difficulty. There may be little glamour about it, except the knowledge that they are serving their country in her hour of need. I wonder, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you remember the story of the Phocian women. Their country was being assailed by a relentless and cruel foe, and word came that in the event of defeat all the men would be put to the sword and all the women and children taken into slavery. So a meeting of the Phocian parliament was called, and it was proposed that the men should go out to fight and that the women and children should be gathered together in one place, that a great pile of faggots should be built round them and that guards should be left to 325 set light to the faggots in case news came of defeat. Then somebody got up in the Phocian parliament and said, "Had we not better consult the women about this?" and so it was determined to leave the choice with the women. The women had a special meeting and they unanimously approved the proposal which had been made, and the children held a special meeting and they unanimously agreed with the proposal. So, inspired by the courage of their women and children, the men of Phocis went out and won a great and glorious victory; they saved their country from defeat and their women and children from slavery. Can we doubt that the courage and the devotion of our women and children will give the same inspiration to our men?
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
This Debate creates another milestone in British Parliamentary history. To-day, for the first time when we are officially discussing matters relating to women, we have got the women Members of Parliament of all parties united in a common policy. There may, of course, be variations of interpretation and differences of emphasis, but in the main we know what we want, and we are going to take this opportunity of making our suggestions and offering our observations. We should first like to thank the Government very warmly for agreeing to our suggestion, and also we should like to convey our thanks to the "usual channels" for making Parliamentary time available. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) regrets that she is unable to be present. I would like to welcome our new lady Member, the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mrs. Rathbone). During the development of my argument, when I use the pronoun "we," I am referring not only to my women colleagues in the House but I am speaking, I believe, for a vast body of public opinion outside.
For many months now, the women Members of Parliament have had the value of the co-operation of independent women who have sat with us on what is known as the Woman-power Committee. We believe that their views and our views, the views that we shall represent in the Debate, have the support of public opinion among women of all kinds throughout the country. I would say how 326 much we all welcome the availability and accessibility of the Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour. I believe that that opinion is shared by women throughout the country. I understand that those Ministers have been available to discuss all kinds of problems and to consider all kinds of points that have been raised, and we pay that tribute to them. As my hon. Friend pointed out in his speech, we want to reaffirm—the women Members of Parliament and those associated with them—our determination to support the Government in whatever action they may think necessary in connection with the organisation of woman-power in their effort to achieve victory at the earliest possible moment. We are prepared to give our services to put across to the country any action which may be necessary. We shall not flinch from taking unpopular decisions, if they are necessary in the national interest.
We are anxious to raise one or two points, and there are one or two requests that we would very firmly make. We consider that the Government should give equal consideration to the question of wages and conditions in the employment of women as has been given in the case of the employment of men. We realise that the trade unions act effectively in negotiation with the federations of employers and with the Government in discussing conditions and wages in relation to women as well as to men, but we feel that a very great effort should be made to ensure that good wages are paid to women and that their conditions of work are satisfactory. When I make a statement of that kind I believe that I have the support of the Minister and of the Parliamenary Secretary, in a determination to see that there is no employment of women under unsatisfactory conditions. I would say at once how disappointing it is to find that in Government training centres there is such a wide differentiation between the wages paid to women and those paid to men. It is obvious that the negotiating power of men in industry is very much more powerful than that of women, and I put upon the Government the responsibility of protecting the women. I suggest to the Minister of Labour that he might very well ask the trade unions to examine the schedules which differentiate or categorise what is women's work and what is men's work.
327 I hope that some real attempt will be made to pay proper and good wages for women's skilled work.
I want to turn to another somewhat major issue. Women Members of Parliament have been asking the Government for many months to allow women to play their full part in the war effort. Women should be given a share in the planning of policy. We are on consultative and advisory committees, but we feel very strongly that right throughout the range of the war effort we have had no executive or administrative job of real responsibility. A distinguished friend of mine, talking to me in another connection, said that against mass official obstinancy you could oppose only mass importunity. I realise that in connection with this matter I should soften the phrase. I have no wish to destroy the very happy relationship that exists between the Front bench and the women Members of Parliament, but I think there is some degree of truth in the argument that had practical women of experience been asked for their advice in connection with the various decisions taken by the Government in the organisation of this country for total war, some of the blunders committed, some of the difficulties created and some of the heart burnings and bitterness caused in the country might have been avoided. We make a major suggestion in the policy which we are advocating that the Government, in addition to paying lip-service to the support that they obtain from women in the war effort, should transform the lip-service into reality.
I now wish to discuss the question of equal compensation for equal risk. This question will be touched on by all my women colleagues. We do not want people to be regarded in this war effort as men and women, but, as is our right, as citizens, proud to defend the liberties of this country and of the democracies of the world. That is the way we should like our service to be regarded. I want to emphasise to the Minister of Pensions this point of equal compensation for war injury. In the scheme which is operative at the present moment, the rates paid to men injured and out of hospital are as follow: Married men, 33s.; single men, 20s. The rate paid to women gainfully employed and out of hospital is 18s. Hon. Members will note that the difference in 328 the rate between women out of hospital and single men is only 2s., under the present rate. Under the revised rate, the married man's payment has been increased by only 2s. Married men are to be paid 35s. The single man's rate has been jumped from 20s. to 35s. Married men and single men are to be paid upon an equal basis. In regard to women, I give my right hon. Friend the credit for having included in this scheme those non-gainfully employed. Their rate has been increased from 18s. to 28s., so that the difference in the ratio between the single man and the woman has been increased by 7s.
I want to ask my right hon. Friend, who exercised the pressure on the Treasury to obtain an increase of 75 percent. in the rates paid to single men? He cannot argue with me—because I feel that I am now becoming quite an old Parliamentary hand—that the Treasury has made a gratuitous increase of 75 percent. on a specific compensation rate, and equally I do not think that my right hon. Friend himself would have chosen that one category in which to give that big concession. There must have been very big pressure from some source or other in the country to obtain that concession out of the Treasury, and all I can say is that if that pressure has been so successfully exercised on behalf of single men—I am not complaining, because I think that 35s. is little enough—and if it has had that satisfactory result with both the Treasury and my right hon. Friend, then it might very well be conceded to women who are bearing equal risks. I hope it will be borne in mind, because, as we are all very well aware, if sufficient pressure is exercised in any direction, the Treasury and the Government give way. So far as women's interests are concerned—and I, like my right hon. Friend, have never been known as a feminist—the difficulty is that there are very few of us to voice their interests in the country; there is a relatively small proportion of women in trade unions. Also, the trade union movement does not give the same strength and power to women's questions as it does to men's questions, and, incidentally, women in the country are not organised. Therefore, it behoves the Government to take the responsibility themselves and to consider whether they are doing a fair deal by women in regard to this unequal compensation for equal risk.
329 I now want to say a word or two about the nursing services. I am sure that my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that this country is very much indebted to its nursing services, and it is up to this House of Commons to see that they receive adequate treatment and that their services are properly acknowledged. I know that my right hon. Friend has been in the Department for only a very short time, but, in view of the request that he is making, the appeals that are being made for nurses, and the remarks that were made by the Parliamentary Secretary today, I would ask my right hon. Friend to examine the position with regard to nurses, to see whether he thinks that justice is being done and whether the organisation is all that it should be. I am neither qualified nor competent to speak for the nursing services, but I have gone into this subject very carefully, and I have had the advantage of seeing most of the papers and of talking with those professional bodies which represent the nursing services in this country. They ask—and I put this request quite specifically—for a division of nursing in the Ministry of Health. They go one step further, because if one looks back over the record of the organisation of the nursing services since the outbreak of the war, it is not found to be a very happy one. The position has not resulted in a very happy organisation of the nursing services. The professional organisations which speak for the nurses, in addition to asking for a division of nursing in the Ministry of Health, want people who are qualified and experienced in the nursing world to have charge of that Department.
I come now to another point, and here I would say that I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary stressed the question of welfare and the conditions in relation to women who are going to be called up to serve in the industrial army. What about the superannuation of the nurses? I have seen all the papers. The original negotiations with the Minister of Health opened in October, 1939, and it was finally decided that so far as the civil nursing reserve was concerned some action should be taken. I am not talking particularly about the nurses from the voluntary hospitals, because those in connection with the local authorities have, of course, been able to make some other 330 arrangements, but no voluntary hospital has been able to accept the responsibility of keeping up the superannuation payments for nurses, and I consider that what happened to the nurses after the last war must never happen again after this war. The Civil Nursing Reserve made some sort of provision, although not a very adequate one, in that an additional allowance was made to nurses with the idea that they would be able to keep up their payments for superannuation benefit, but that is not a very satisfactory method, because some people are improvident, and all people in times of stress and when the cost of living rises let something go to the wall. I know that it would be the wish of my right hon. Friend—because he has done it himself—to pay a tribute to the action taken by his predecessor who, perhaps not quite in accordance with the tradition of Ministers in charge of Departments, very kindly made representations on this matter of superannuation benefit for nurses serving in the Armed Forces of the Crown to the War Office as representing the three Service Departments.
Negotiations have been going on since October, 1939. I was approached in December, 1940, and was asked whether I could take any action because no decision could be obtained from the War Office, and the War Office in its turn said that no decision could be obtained from the Treasury. I do not think any Minister who sits on the Treasury Bench will accuse me of being backward in regard to pressure, but even I have tailed to make any impression upon the War Office or the Treasury—1 do not know which Department. The women Members of Parliament are asked to assist the Government in regard to the provision of nurses in the nursing services, and yet, after nearly two years of war, the War Office have not come to a decision with the Treasury to give proper treatment to nurses in the Armed Forces of the Crown in regard to their superannuation. I do not think that women Members of Parliament would be justified in letting it pass, and I hope that whoever is to answer for the Government will be in a position to say here and now that a decision has been come, to, and that in future when representations are made on behalf of the nursing services it will not 331 be only lip-service but that the lip-service will be translated into action.
I now want to say a word about the Auxiliary Territorial Service. I want to pay a real tribute to the women in that Service, and I am sure that the whole House will support me in extending that tribute to the women in the W.A.A.F. and the W.R.N.S. Those magnificent Services have offered a real chance to women to make their contribution in the war effort. Here again I regret to say that the War Office in particular is far behind public opinion in what it is able to do in regard to proper conditions in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. But the War Office does not welcome outside representations from Members of Parliament; I find it much easier to make representations either to the Air Ministry or the Admiralty. They are much easier Departments to deal with, and are not so "high falutin'." I realise that I may be unfair, because I do not know all the facts, but if the War Office was franker and would give the facts, one would not fall into the errors into which one sometimes does fall. Frankly, I cannot find out whether the fault lies with the War Office or whether it lies with the Treasury. I am told, and I will say at once that it was not by the Director of the Auxiliary Territorial Service—
§ Miss Ward
My Noble Friend will learn in time not to interfere in serious matters. I have never been able to find out whether or or not the difficulties connected with the organisation of the Auxiliary Territorial Service are due to parsimony on the part of the Treasury. As I was saying, I have not received this information 332 from the Director of the Service, nor from anybody else connected with it, but I am told that her field is limited because she has no power. If that is so, it is quite untrue for the War Office to suggest that the A.T.S. is controlled by women, because it is not. The organisation of the A.T.S. is, I believe, controlled by the Treasury. I will give just one example. During the more difficult period of the organisation of the A.T.S. it was felt that its administration in the War Office needed strengthening by the addition, to assist the Director, of experienced women, to deal with health, welfare and training. It was pointed out by some of us that to have junior officers however competent —and I am not for one moment suggesting that they were not most competent, because they were—dealing with matters affecting thousands of women was not the best way of organising the Service. The answer was that the Treasury would not give power to appoint senior officers. Only the other day I received a letter from the War Office pointing out that the Treasury had now refused to allow the creation of further senior officers in the A.T.S. I do not propose to go into the whole of the organisation, but I want to suggest that to have one major-general to be responsible for inspection and organisation, and to set her up against the whole of the generals of the War Office, does not necessarily make for a really efficient Service.
Why are generals in the Army created? They are chosen for their qualities of character, for their leadership, for their experience, and for their judgment, and if this country, which produces the best leaders in the world and the best generals, air marshals and admirals, can create high rank officers because of their qualities, surely the Treasury is wrong in saying that the organisation of the women's services should be placed in the hands, with very few exceptions, of relatively junior officers. My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that if you are only a lieutenant or a captain, you are limited under Army discipline, in the amount of representations and arguments you can set up against a colonel, a major-general or a full general. I therefore say that the Treasury has been parsimonious in relation to these services.
I would, however, like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the appointment of a new woman member 333 to the A.T.S. Council. But I would like to ask whether, when she makes recommendations to my right hon. Friend, the Treasury is going to grant him the money to carry out those recommendations, because for the A.T.S. we want increased numbers of welfare officers, increased health services, increased educational facilities; we want better inspectors and a whole variety of things. I feel quite certain that if these were available, there would be a much better hope of creating a service which could act effectively, and at the same time there would be less disillusionment and less public anxiety about the organisation of the A.T.S.
There are many of my colleagues who wish to speak; we are all working to a common plan, and we are all going to raise points which affect women's interests, and I therefore wish to conclude by saying this: We are standing on the threshold of a new era with regard to the use of women in the national war effort. The Government have open to them the choice of two paths: they can take the path of expediency or the path of vision. I hope, not only for the sake of the present but for the sake of the future, that they will choose the path of vision.
§ Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
I hope the hon. Lady who has just spoken will forgive me if I do not follow her over quite the same ground, and I also hope that I shall not interfere with her general plan for handling this Debate. I desire to speak on two points only, and they are points which affect the whole question of productive power and issues which will arise in connection with it rather than isolated questions concerning women. I make no apology for that, because I regard the question of woman-power as quite indistinguishable from the general question of the national effort.
The first point I wish to make is, in a way, of minor importance, but it has quite a considerable potential significance in regard to the amount of woman-power which will be available. It is that one hears on all sides that skilled married women, who are badly wanted back in certain occupations, find themselves unable to return to those occupations because of the shopping difficulties which at present exist. We all know from experience that in the case of non-rationed foods you cannot get a fair share unless you 334 are prepared to take your place in a queue and waste hours waiting for these necessary articles—for, indeed, many of the non-rationed foods are as necessary as the rationed foods. I have been going into this matter, partly because it concerns the business in which I am myself interested, and partly because of its effect in my own constituency. It affects not only numbers of women who cannot go back to the factories, but also the question of absenteeism. For example, in Darlaston, which is quite close to my constituency, they recently took a census, and they found that in factories employed directly on war work there was a loss in nine days of over 20,000 woman-hours, owing to people having to go away to do their shopping.
I want to make a practical suggestion on this matter. The three Government buying Departments might make a start on this question. They might intimate to certain firms doing Government work that their married women workers should be entitled to special privileges, in regard to both rationed and unrationed food. What I suggest is that in certain specified works, for a start—this might be extended afterwards—employers should be given authority to ask retailers to make the reasonable requirements of their registered women customers who are employed in those works a first charge upon their stocks, and to set parcels aside for them, which could be fetched, either by arrangement with the employers or by the women themselves after they have done their work. An experiment on those lines has been started in Darlaston, and I am told that it is working all right. I have been interested in this matter through my own particular business. I speak on behalf of a group of companies which is quite important, because in peace-time they have a turnover of about £40,000,000 in groceries and provisions. We are prepared to give that idea a trial. I suggest that the Minister of Labour should approach the Minister of Food about it. Local food officers vary very much in their approach to matters of this kind, and it appears that some central instructions are necessary.
I want now to turn to another point of much wider range, affecting the question of women-power generally. I want to appeal for clearer guidance from the Minister as to what women ought to do— 335 where they ought to stay, and where they ought to go. I think my hon. Friend has cleared the matter up very considerably to-day. I am very grateful far this classification, and I hope that some of the things he has said will be widely broadcast. This is necessary, because there is no doubt that the various statements made by the Minister of Labour, particularly in his broadcast on Sunday, have apparently been misunderstood and created certain impressions in the minds of many women who are actually employed. I have heard in my constituency for some time, as well as in my own business, and also from friends of mine in the House, who have heard it in their constituencies, that there is general tendency for women to say: "Sooner or later, we are going to be conscripted and put into munitions work. If we are to be sent there, it would be much better to go of our own accord, and choose our places while there is time." The result is a considerable drift away by women from their present employment. I want to ask, first, to what final plan are we leading up to in this matter of the control of industry and of manpower? I want to ask, secondly, for more guidance in the stages during which the final plan is being developed.
The Minister of Labour, on 21st January, made a very definite advance in the whole policy of controlling manpower. He said that in certain types of vital war work it is to be laid down that the right of dismissal will be taken out of the hands of the employer, and also that no employé will be permitted to leave such work without the permission of the National Service officer. He went on to say that he used the broad definition "war industries" because some non-essential industries will probably still remain or at least be allowed to go on partially. Since then we have had the Essential Work (General Provisions) Order, of March, 1941, which carries the position further, by laying down that if the Minister is satisfied on certain points about a particular undertaking he may enter its name on a special list of his own, and the powers of control over the movement of employés will apply to all concerns on his list. I want to know how far he has gone in compiling that list, and what he contemplates doing? Can he give us any more guidance now? Then 336 since this Order of 5th March, we have been taken forward another stage by the Concentration of Industry proposals. I want to know how they fit in with the Minister of Labour's general plan. Can we assume that a "nucleus" concern, when finally approved by the Board of Trade, will get on to the Minister of Labour's schedule, and get their certificate? Will a firm which, although doing work regarded as non-essential, is actually to be treated as essential, because it is a "nucleus" firm be able to hold its employés? But, more important than this, can we have some guidance in the interval, because the completion of this concentration will take a long time?
Guidance is all the more necessary because of the wage disparities that exist. The Minister of Labour has told us that he is not going to introduce any comprehensive plan for the control of wages. No doubt, he knows best; and I do not wish to question that; but I am sure the Minister would agree that that makes the position more difficult. Only yesterday I was talking to a friend in this House who is engaged in an industry mainly concerned with making blankets for the Army. The wage rates in his industry are regulated by a Trade Board; he is paying trade board wages, and possibly rather over; but those wages are substantially less than the standard which girls can get in munition work. He is experiencing great uncertainty and the beginning of a substantial drift away of his girls into work which is more directly concerned with munitions manufacture. Do the Government want this kind of thing to happen, when girls are fully employed on important work?
Having raised that general point about industrial employment and organisation, I want to turn to the question of the distributive trades. I can well understand that the controllers of man-power in the Ministry of Labour may be sitting there and saying, "The distributive trades represent our great reservoir for manpower and woman-power. It is those trades which have shown by far the greatest increase in employment since the last war." They are quite right to look at those trades as a potential reservoir, but what plans have they in mind? There has been no suggestion yet that there is to be any scheme for the cencentration of the distributive trades, like the scheme 337 for the concentration of industries. I want to know whether the Government contemplate any plan for ordered concentration. In any case the position at present is in great doubt, and there is all the greater need for guidance. While I am talking about the distributive trades, I want to suggest to my hon. Friend— and I believe that he will agree—that there should be a distinction between food distribution and other forms of distribution. In fact, the distinction has been already drawn in the Schedule of Reserved Occupations. He rather suggested it himself in his speech to-day, when he proposed that women engaged in food distribution, anyhow, might be told to stay put until they can be put straight into other occupations where there is a more urgent need for them.
There is a second point too that I want to represent. I suggest that there is a strong case where men have already gone to the Services and have been replaced by women who have had to be trained, that these women should be asked to stay, again I say, unless there is a clearly realised need for them for more important work somewhere else. I always feel in some difficulty when speaking about matters which affect a business in which one has interests oneself. I never want to put such points from the point of view of the interests of the business for which I am responsible but sometimes if one happens to be directly connected with the business one knows and sees things which perhaps makes one's observations of some practical value. I am myself chairman of a group of companies which is now employing, in food distribution and warehousing alone, 11,500 men and 13,500 women. Since the war we have in round numbers lost 7,725 men of whom over 6,000 are now serving in the Forces. We have taken on 6,250 women, and that brought the total of women up to 13,500. Of them 10,500 are under 25 so the vast majority of these women, 6,250 of whom we have specially trained since the war, are expecting to be asked to go and register in the near future. I can tell my hon. Friend that the general feeling is, in spite of what he said to-day, that when you go to the register you go with your bag ready packed to be told to take on another job and the fact wants to be made clear that because they are being asked to register that does not mean that they 338 are to be put straight away into another job. They should be told that until they are wanted, if they are fully employed and particularly if they are employed in an important matter like food distribution, their best duty to the State is to stay put.
I want to relate one further personal experience, to illustrate the difficulty in which one is placed. Only last Friday at the request of the Ministry of Information, we allowed one of their speakers to come down and address first the whole of our head office staff and then some of our warehouse staff, and we also got some of our branch staffs together for a further meeting. The speaker gave a very inspiring talk and told them that they were doing a grand job of work, that they should stick to it and carry on as there was nothing more important than food distribution. On the strength of that, my people got out a letter which we intended to send to all our branch staffs all over the country who had not had a chance of hearing these talks. Then they came to me and said, "After the speech of the Minister of Labour on Sunday, what are we to do? Are we right? We do not want to do anything contrary to the national interest. Are we right to say to our women, Stay where you are; you are doing a good job of work, and the Government think you are doing a better job where you are than going to other jobs such as filling shells?". We have kept that letter in draft and have not had it sent out, and I hope to get light and leading from the Debate to-day as to what we ought to do. We do not want to send it out if the Government think that it is wrong, but I suggest to the Government that it is right to send it out, because nothing can be more contrary to the interests of the country than that there should be a general shifting tide of people moving about from one job to another. I suggest that we want to keep them where they are as long as possible until they are definitely wanted somewhere else. Then, let us be told exactly what is needed and let us have a chance of selecting the people and letting them go straight to where they are wanted.
On that question I would like to put this suggestion to my hon. Friend, though it may be that it is unnecessary. Could it not be arranged from now onwards that there could be no fresh person 339 engaged by any employer except through the Employment Exchanges? Could not that regulation be made absolutely universal and water-tight; and then could it not be arranged that very clear instructions should be given to the officers in charge of the Employment Exchanges as to the employment of women that would enable them to give clear guidance and tell them in what cases they ought to stay where they are and in what cases they should move and where to? In this connection I want to know what instructions have actually been given to the Employment Exchanges since the Minister made his last announcement. I can only say that from such inquiries as I have been able to make—I have not made them in my own constituency—my information is that no instructions have been given to officers in charge of Employment Exchanges. I suggest to my hon. Friend that this is the way in which one might get these instructions out, and provide the guidance for which I have pleaded.
In conclusion I wish to say this. I have, in the course of my remarks, mentioned my own business, but I should like to say that, from our own point of view and indeed of all other business men with whom I have come in contact, there is no desire to-day except to do what is in the national interest. When people hesitate it is because they think that perhaps the Government have not fully considered the position, and they want to be sure that what they are being asked to do is in the national interest. I can assure my hon. Friend that if he should come to a concern like ours—although we have taken on and trained 6,000 fresh women and although it might upset all our methods and impair our chances of being able to carry on—if he were to come to us and say, "We want 5,000 out of those 6,000; we have places vacant and waiting for them in shell-filling factories and elsewhere," we would without hesitation do our utmost to help a smooth transition; but we do feel strong objection to any pointless moving about because people are not clear about what they ought to do.
§ Miss Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I am sure that Members on all sides of the House welcome this opportunity of discussing a matter which is of the greatest 340 importance to the national war effort. They welcome the first statement that has been made upon this vital matter in the House of Commons since the war began, and the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary, and the elucidations he has been able to make in some though not in all cases. I am sure the House will also have gained much from and enjoyed the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) where she made a powerful appeal for the use of women-power and for improved conditions in those services in which women already serve.
I would like to raise one or two additional points. I think that no one will complain of the use of compulsory powers in these critical times. A great many people feel that the Minister of Labour is perhaps not making the fullest use that he could of compulsory powers which he has been given by this House. I think that there is a great deal in that. Certainly no one would object to the registration of young women. It might have been of the greatest possible advantage if that had been carried out at a much earlier stage, but women will welcome the registration. It will give them guidance. They will know exactly where they are—at least, I hope they will—if they get clearer instructions than they have had already. It will enable the Government also to know how many women are not employed at this moment in essential national work, which is a very important matter indeed. But there is one unfortunate impression which is gaining ground since the registration has been announced. There has been a tendency to assume that this measure has been proved necessary, and that possibly even sterner measure may become necessary, because women have not been ready to come forward and do war work. I do not say for a moment that the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary has been responsible for that, but I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will know what I mean when I say that there has been an impression created of that kind. Everyone realises that there is no justification whatever for an assumption of that kind, and that there is no truth in it. There may be a small section, but a very small section indeed, who are shirking their responsibilities, but that is not confined alone to our sex. But it is a gross slander 341 upon the women of this country to suggest that they are not every bit as eager and as ready to give their services and to carry their full share of the burden of work in this war as they were in the last.
If I may say so, it is not there the trouble lies. It is not that the Minister of Labour has had to drive and coerce a recalcitrant body of women who are not ready to face their responsibilities. It is much more that appeals have been made prematurely by Members of the Government, since the war began, and that when women have come forward there has been no machinery ready to absorb them into industries. The jobs have not been there, and that is where the great mistake has been made. Hon. Members have had brought to their notice on many occasions cases of women skilled in various kinds of work, who have applied to Employment Exchanges and have been registered for months past but are still without work. They finally lost heart because they felt that there was no part for them in the war machine. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary spoke of some of the virtues of women and mentioned patience as one of their predominant virtues, but I believe that Job himself would not have survived the test that many of these women have been put to by Employment Exchanges. There are instances of shorthand typists who have been registered for months but who have no job yet, at a time when we are told there is a shortage of shorthand typists. That is only one instance of many. I have here an instance of a woman who applied on 18th June last year. Her qualifications were English and German, shorthand, typing, bookkeeping, and driving. She had a secretarial post in the last war, which was a responsible position. She knows German fluently, having been at a German commercial school in Hamburg for two years. These are exceptional qualifications, and I doubt whether a great many people would have them. After she had registered she was finally told that she could have a junior position as a clerk at 50s. a week.
I do not know whether there are many people with these qualifications who are not being used, but if there are, there is a great wastage of useful and skilled material. We hope that these instances refer only to the bad old days and that under this new registration really adequate 342 machinery will be set up. I am afraid, however, that the evidence we have had it not very convincing. Only a fortnight ago the Minister of Labour issued an appeal for 100,000 women for filling factories. Here is a specific demand for a particular kind of labour, and one would have thought that if the Government were to make an appeal of that kind, they would have a scheme cut and dried down to the last detail. What do we find? In a report by a manager of an Employment Exchange in London, he said:We have never given potential volunteers detailed information about wages and conditions of work, and for that reason we have lost some of them.We hope that this is a thing of the past, but do not let us forget it is a thing of the very near past. We are told—and we welcome it—that women arc now to be interviewed and that there will be a panel of interviewers so that the right women shall be put into the right jobs. But if this is to be done at all, it is important that it should be done properly, as, I am sure, the Minister will agree. The Parliamentary Secretary did not give us much information as to what type of person was to be asked to do the interviewing. That is really important. I am sure that managers of Employment Exchanges will not be able to take on this new task as they are already overburdened with work, and I think we would like to have a little more information at some stage of the Debate as to the kind of persons who will do the interviewing. They will need to have special qualifications; they will have to be specialists in their own kind of job and have a wide knowledge of industry. Is the Ministry seeking the advice of the skilled women's organisations in this country? After all, these people have been tackling these problems for years, and it would be of great advantage to the Ministry if they could have this expert advice.
I would like to say a word or two with regard to training, not so much the training of Government settlers, but training in factories. I would like to know whether the Minister of Labour is satisfied with the facilities which are available for training in factories. Is he satisfied that they are sufficient? I am afraid employers still have a prejudice against the employment of women and seem to have forgotten the very highly skilled work which was carried out by women in the last war. I am not 343 at all sure, either, that the Ministry of Labour has not forgotten. I hope they have dossiers in the Ministry giving the very magnificent work that women did and that, if these dossiers do exist, the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will look at them in the next few days. It would be an advantage if they did. The trouble is that employers have no enthusiasm or belief in the work that women can do. In his speech the Parliamentary Secretary to-day referred to the wise words of one of the greatest men who ever lived—2,000 years ago. Well, I hope that he will take his cue from that wise man and not from some of the very prejudiced people who are at this moment standing between us and the proper equalisation of woman-power in this country.
It makes one despair a little to think that we have again to go through the dreary process of convincing employers and managers that women are capable of doing skilled jobs, that they are doing them at this moment and that they are intelligent human beings who can be trained to do new and unaccustomed work. If I may make a suggestion, one of the things that would contribute more than anything to a change of heart on the part of these people would be a vigorous and well directed publicity scheme which could be conducted through technical and other journals to remind managers and employers that here is a reserve of labour which can be utilised as substitute labour for the men who will be drawn into the Forces. I hope the Minister will consider this suggestion, because I think it would be of the utmost value.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend mentioned briefly the question of the rate for the job. We are told that the principle that you should have the same rate for the job has been established, but, unfortunately, it is one of those principles which has been so whittled down by qualifications that it has ceased to be a principle at all. It is true that there are women in industry to-day who are receiving equal pay for equal work, but the number of such cases is very limited. The hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend pointed out the rates at which trainees would be paid, and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary also referred to that matter. I cannot believe there is any justification for those 344 terms, and I should very much like to hear whether the Minister has anything to say on the matter. Here you have a man and a woman, both without any knowledge of engineering, starting off from scratch in a training centre. They may have been a waiter and a waitress. From the very first week they arrive at the training centre, the man receives 60s. and the woman 38s. I should be very glad if the hon. Gentleman would tell us what is the Ministry's justification for such unequal conditions.
I want now to refer to the conditions of employment. The Minister of Labour has made an appeal for 100,000 women for the filling factories. I understand that at the moment these women are being absorbed at a very rapid rate into these factories. I should like to know—the Parliamentary Secretary was not very clear about this matter—whether the hostels are already there waiting for the women, or whether in a great many cases the women are employed first without proper accommodation being provided for them. How many hostels are ready at this moment?
I should like to say a few words about women on the land. It is commonly acknowledged by everybody, and no one recognises it more than the Minister of Agriculture, that one of the main difficulties which the Ministry of Agriculture have to face is the question of labour on the land. The decline in the number of workers on the land has been tremendous. I think that between the two wars there has been a decline of one-third in the total number of persons engaged in agriculture. Since that decline, 10,000 men have been taken into the Forces, and 2,000,000 more acres have been ploughed, and the Minister intends to increase that programme of ploughing very considerably this year. 1 am told that 9,000 women have been incorporated already in the Land Army, and that about 30,000 more have been appealed for. I do not know how many of them have been secured so far. But the Minister of Agriculture said in his statement the other day that before the year was out the farmers would have to employ between 30,000 and 40,000 more women on the land, and he thought the demand for the Services would make it necessary for a great many more labourers to be called up. If that be the case, the situation will be very serious indeed.
345 I think it is not necessary to get all the women into the Land Army. As a matter of fact, the Land Army in the last war formed a relatively small part of the number of women employed in agriculture. In the main those women were recruited from the rural areas, some of them doing part-time work, but a great many of them doing whole-time jobs. The workers of the Land Army in the last war numbered about 13,000 by 1918, but the number of women working on the land increased from 70,000 before 1914 to something like 230,000 in 1918. The point I want to make is this: I feel sure that the main stumbling block is training, and I think that in this matter the farmer is the key to the whole success of the scheme. But I hope very much that the right hon. Gentleman will not leave the matter in the hands of the County War Agricultural Committees, but will have an organised scheme and will organise the training of women for work on the farms from the Ministry itself, or at any rate from a central body.
I have only one thing more to say. I believe that up to now—I hope there will be a change—the whole attitude towards women in industry in this war has been different from what it was in the last war. There was then no difficulty in getting recruits. All the women that were wanted in industry volunteered, and women of every class flocked to do what they could. The problem in those days was even more difficult than it is to-day, for, after all, it was then a very new thing to employ women in industry. Now they have a tradition of work in the factories behind them. But this is the real difference, that last time women were asked to come in to help. The leaders of women's movements throughout the country were asked to come in, they were asked to put the whole weight of their influence and experience in the scales, and very magnificently they did it. We are told to-day that the recruiting methods for women have broken down, but I never knew they really existed. The other day I was told that the voluntary system had broken down in one of the great cities, and I asked what the recruiting campaign had consisted of. I was told that there had been two meetings —I do not suppose they were very large ones—and there were a few posters on which was written, "Go to it." The 346 Parliamentary Secretary has reminded us that the Minister has appointed a Consultative Committee of representative women. That is true, and women in all parts of the country will welcome the formation of that committee. I am very glad to know that the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend and the: hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) are members of the committee. But the committee was set up only a fortnight ago, in the twentieth month of the war. I should have thought that by this time the Government ought to have been in a position to have their plans not only formulated, but more or less carried out.
May I, in all earnestness, make this suggestion? The Minister of Labour will not make this thing a success purely by registration or even by compulsion. Let him consult the women's societies in this country; let him ask them to come in and help the Ministry. Why not have representative conferences in areas of this country of skilled women's organisations? They have the experience, they have branches in every town and village in the country, and they can really help the Ministry; they can save time, energy, money, and paper—which to a salvage-minded person like myself is of the utmost importance. But, after all, as has been pointed out in the Debate, in this war women have given their services freely in the Auxiliary Fire Services, in Civil Defence and in the Auxiliary Fighting Services, and they have shown, and are proving week by week, that they are prepared to take the same risks as men, if they are called upon to do so, in the front line. Do now take this opportunity, when you are starting this registration, when you are starting a new campaign to mobilise the woman-power of the country, of asking them to come in and help you with their skill, their organising capacity, ability and experience, and you will find that they will not fail you, but will give you the same steadfast co-operation in this generation as they did in 1914–18.
§ Miss Cazalet (Islington, East)
If we had 40or 50 women Members of Parliament instead of the present small number. I doubt whether this Debate would have been necessary, because many of the things which we are discussing to-day 347 would either never have occurred, or would have been automatically rectified at a much earlier date. Under present circumstances I am very glad indeed that the Government have thought fit to give time for this Debate. We know that full co-operation of women is essential for winning the war, just as it was in the last war, and there is no greater testimony of this to be found than among pages of the "Memoirs" of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). One passage is especially interesting and worthy of quotation on an occasion such as this. It is where Mr. Asquith, one of the greatest opponents of women's suffrage, changed his opinion completely in a speech in this House in 1917 on women's suffrage. The right hon. Gentleman describes it as one of the most dramatic events in the Debate. Mr. Asquith said:My opposition to woman suffrage has always been based, and based solely, on consideration of public expediency. I think that some years ago I ventured to use the expression, Let women work out their own salvation. Well, Sir, they have worked it out during this war. How could we have carried on the war without them? Short of actually bearing arms in the field there is hardly a service which has contributed, or is contributing, to the maintenance of our cause, in which women have not been at least as active and as efficient as men, and wherever we turn we see them doing, with zeal and success, and without any detriment to the prerogative of their sex, work which three years ago would have been regarded as falling exclusively within the province of men.If that was so in the last war, surely today, 24 years after, women must be still better equipped to take on a bigger share of responsible work. I think that this Debate shows the world in no uncertain way that under a truly democratic system women are treated as equal partners in Parliament, which certainly is not the case in Hitlerised countries, they are not allowed in Parliament at all. I am in fact quite sure that one of the tests of civilisation of a country and by civilisation I mean the democratic way of life—is the position and status given to women.
I do not need to dwell on many of the subjects with which others of my colleagues will deal to-day, but I wish to say one word on the question of compensation for civil injuries. I cannot 348 think of a single good reason for giving different rates to women and men. They are both performing the same duties, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wall-send (Miss Ward) has pointed out, they are running equal risks. Surely there is no tradition or precedent to follow here. What a splendid chance for the Government to take this opportunity of creating the precedent of equality. After all, bombs are no respecters of persons. They fall on the just, the unjust, on men and women alike, and in fact, judging by Hitler's well-known dislike for women, it is they who should perhaps receive the most compensation. I think it is true in many foreign countries, and I think it is true in Germany, that they do give equal compensation. Surely this is not a matter of the sex of the individual. One life is worth just as much as another, and therefore no difference in rates can be justified. I can assure the Government that I have discussed this matter with numerous men and women, and that they all agree with this point of view, and I hope it will not be long before they agree to follow public opinion.
My main plea on this occasion is to ask the Government to give more women responsible posts in the war effort. To-day there is a far wider choice than in the last war, and a far larger number of educated and fully-trained women available. I believe that there are 200,000 names on the Central Register alone. Perhaps when the Minister comes to reply he will tell us how many of those are women. The missing generation of men has deprived us of much needed leadership in many branches of public life; it is a sad truth which we are bound to acknowledge, but there is no missing generation of women. Every day we hear appeals on the wireless and in public speeches for women to join the ranks, and I am sure they will not be slow in their response, especially if the women have their welfare looked after and they are properly organised, as the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) mentioned in her speech. But generals are needed as well as Tommies, and not only cook-generals, useful as these are, who can give orders and not only take them. I should like to mention a few different spheres in our public life where many of us consider the interest of the country would be best served by the appointment of more 349 women to share in responsible work now being done exclusively by the male sex.
Let me say a few words about the Regional Commissioners. I realise that these are special war-time authorities which may at any moment be called upon to assume the powers of Government. In the meantime they seem fully occupied in dealing with the widest possible variety of problems. Their chief task is to coordinate and control the A.R.P. services. In many cases they are working more and more closely with local authorities, and they are taking on the whole, responsibility for certain branches of work, all of which affect men and women alike. As the war progresses it seems inevitable and natural that the work of the Commissioners will become more and more varied and comprehensive, and their authority will increase, because the functioning in an emergency of too many different bodies in an area, as we have learnt to our detriment on many occasions, does not make for speed or efficiency. What do we find? We find that the whole of the 28 jobs of Regional and Deputy-Regional Commissioners are held by men. In addition, as far as I can make out, all their chief officers and deputy-chief officers are also men. In fact, all the main jobs in connection with the 12 Regions are held exclusively by men.
Recently some of us approached the Minister of Home Security about the possibility of appointing women as additional Deputy-Commissioners in each area. We were told by him that he was against this proposal, not because they were women, but because, in his view, it was inadvisable to appoint any Commissioner to deal only with special subjects—they must all be prepared to take over the whole responsibility of the area. With that, I am in complete agreement, but what are the facts? Four additional Commissioners have already been appointed to deal with special problems. Three of them have been appointed in the London area. One has charge of the clearance of debris, another of the care and rehousing of bombed-out people, and another deals with shelter problems. As a London Member I welcome these appointments very heartily. All three Commissioners are doing most excellent work at the present time. But no one is going to say that women are not capable of doing these jobs as well as men. What we object to is 350 that apparently one set of rules seems to operate for men and another for women. I know that the Minister for Home Security is a keen feminist, and has proved it by the appointment of that very live wire, the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) as his right-hand man, or I suppose I should say right-hand woman. I would ask them together to consider the better distribution of the responsibility of the Regions as between men and women.
Now may I say a word about the B.B.C.? Last Friday I bought "Picture Post," and almost the entire copy was devoted to the wonders of the B.B.C. There was a large photograph entitled "A Picture which has never been taken before." It is a meeting of nine of the most important people connected with the B.B.C. —nine of the top people directing and controlling one of the most important pieces of work that are being performed to-day. In this picture we should at least expect to see one woman, if not two women, but no, all nine were men. In peace-time I believe it is true that two of the Governors were women, but in the war period their services seem to have been dispensed with. We should do well to remember, in speaking of broadcasting, that it was a woman, Miss Hilda Matheson, who was one of the most inspiring pioneers of broadcasting that the B.B.C. has ever had. At a time when propaganda is of such supreme importance here and abroad, and women to such a large extent form and influence public opinion, I ask the Government whether it would not be in the best public interest that responsibility for this all-important work should be shared between men and women.
I could mention other branches of important work where women are still conspicuous by their absence from the top of the ladder. In the Civil Service there is still only a handful of principals and assistant secretaries out of many hundreds of men. I have only seen the inside working of one Government Department, the Board of Education, for a few years. When the President or the Parliamentary Secretary wanted to call together a meeting of all his chief officers to discuss vital and important matters in connection with education, I cannot remember a single occasion when any woman was present. I only mention this to show 351 what a long way we still have to go before co-operative equality in high places has been established between men and women, an equality which is bound, in my view, not only to benefit the country as a whole but also to strengthen our whole democratic Constitution. I should like to say how delighted I am that the Minister of Labour has set up a Consultative Women's Committee. I wish he had done so long ago, and I am sure he will shortly wish he had done it, because of the immense benefit that it will be in helping him to launch his great schemes for organising and harnessing the woman-power of the country.
If the Government decide to give women a larger share of really responsible work, there is one aspect of the matter which should commend itself to the Government. To my mind, a great weakness of public life has been the great difficulty of getting rid of inefficient men. Unlike Italy, where they use castor oil, and Germany, where concentration camps operate, in this country an inefficient man is often disposed of by the conferment of some honour, or he gets cheered on his way to another place. As few women have so far held important jobs, no such precedent has yet been established for getting rid of them, nor need it be, but I am convinced that, as a rule, if given more responsibility women will not be found wanting and I ask very seriously that greater use should be made of the brains and the ability of women to serve the State in this, the world's most critical hour.
§ Mrs. Hardie (Glasgow, Springburn)
I want to say right away that I regret very much that the Minister of Labour has introduced conscription for women. Women thereby have been robbed of the only weapon they possess to obtain good conditions in the factories. We are told that men have got such and such conditions and women have not. The reason why men have them is that they have been able to say, "We are willing to do this work, and we will put all our effort into it, but we want reasonable conditions," and they have laid down the conditions under which they were prepared to do the work. By conscripting the women, you are taking away this weapon from them. We are forced again into the position in which 352 women always seem to find themselves, that they have to plead with someone to give them reasonable conditions of employment. I want to see that, since this registration has been started, we get the best possible conditions. I should have thought, before conscription was introduced, there was a large field of voluntary workers who would have been prepared to come forward and take up this work without being conscripted, and that the Minister would have been well-advised to go a little more slowly in applying conscription.
First of all, you have the women from trades which have been closed down. There must be an enormous number of them who will come on to the labour market. Why not see first of all how you can place them in the necessary work? Then you have a large field of what I might term part-time workers. I am informed that in some districts the Minister of Labour is finding this a very suitable way of filling up gaps—all the married women who have homes to look after, who are not able to give full-time service in industry, but who could give perhaps part of the day, or if that is not practicable, many could give two or three days a week, and then do the housework on the other days. I do not see why that should not be organised. You could get one set of women to take the first three days and others fill-in the rest of the week, and they would like it, because there is nothing that pleases a woman better than to earn a little money of her own. It helps to make life easier. You have a large reservoir of woman-power which could very well be tapped, women of 40 and over who have not young children to look after and who will be quite able to give this particular service.
Another point that I am very anxious about is that young working-class women shall not be pushed out of fairly good jobs which they have managed to get, to make way for perhaps older women who want them. I have heard it said that young women should be pushed into the Land Army and munitions factories and so on, because they are much abler to face the discomforts and the harder work. I think that is quite wrong. There are some women in the thirties and forties who are physically stronger than those in the twenties. I do not want these young women, who through ability have managed to get better posts, to be pushed out 353 to make way for women who, perhaps, come from better-off homes and who think they can do those jobs as well but are not prepared to face the discomforts of working on the land or in a shell-filling factory. That is another matter that I hope the Minister of Labour will watch.
Another point, which I need not labour very much, is that mothers with young children should not be conscripted. I cannot imagine the present Minister of Labour ever conscripting women who have young children to look after, but I go further and say that they should not be encouraged to leave their children in the care of minders in order to go into filling factories. A woman who is training and bringing up children is doing a far more important job for the future generations, for which we are supposed to be lighting, than filling shells with which to kill some other woman's son. We know how infection spreads among children and that mothers often dread sending their children to school because, as soon as they go into communities of that kind, all kinds of infectious disease are caught. There is the same danger if you get together a number of young children and put them into some unsuitable premises with some minder to look after them. I hate the word "minder." It seems to imply that the children are of no importance. Generally the minder is some old woman who takes a dozen children and keeps them sitting in a room with insufficient air when the children should be outside. I hope that, in spite of the difficulties, we shall not be driven to such extremities as to encourage women with young children to go into munition works and put their children into places of that kind.
With regard to the question of wages and conditions, I have been carefully reading what has been suggested. I am not going into the question of the rate for the job. We know that that is a fallacy. There is another side to it, because in many cases in engineering work the woman is not doing a man's job. There are, say, two skilled engineers doing a certain job; one is taken away and an untrained worker, either a man or woman, is put in his place. The result is that the skilled man does the difficult or tricky part of the job and the unskilled worker does the less skilled part. It is not possible, therefore, to say definitely that the woman or the unskilled worker is doing a skilled 354 man's job. I hope that, as far as possible, the jobs will be taken to the workers and not the workers to the jobs. Being a Scottish Member, I feel strongly about this, for there has been an attempt by employment exchanges to force young Scottish girls to leave their homes and go to English towns, such as Coventry and other places, that have been "blitzed." Scottish women are as brave as English women and they will stand up to whatever they are called upon to face, but it is a great hardship if a woman is sent away to a strange town where she knows nobody and has to live in strange lodgings in a place where bombing is taking place.
The women have a right to get work as far as possible in their own districts. In Scotland, Wales and other areas more factories ought to be put up so that the young people, instead of being dragged away from their own homes and districts, could have been provided with work in their own areas. Therefore, when factories are being closed down I hope that, if possible, they will be converted to munition factories so that the girls can be kept at home. If that were done the wages question would not be so urgent because if a girl is living at home she can live much more cheaply than if she is sent away from home and put in a billet. Here I want to say something about the conditions under which many girls have been billeted. Hostels have been mentioned, but we know that there are not sufficient hostels to house all the people if they are moved in big crowds to certain areas. Therefore, many of them have to be billeted. I have had complaints from Scotland about some girls who were billeted, and they found that they not only had to share rooms with girls they had never seen before, but had to share beds also. It is a common thing in working-class life for a girl to have to share a bed, but she usually does it with a sister. Girls should not be asked to share beds with strangers just because it is cheap. Many people have an idea that the working-class are used to rotten conditions, but with the new housing schemes many working-class girls are used to having their own rooms and other amenities, and we do not want to bring down, even in war time, their standards in that respect. I hope that something better will be provided to house these workers.
355 The Minister said that when a girl goes into a factory she will get an allowance of 20s. extra to the wages in the first week and an allowance of 10s. in the second week. It is assumed that after a fortnight she will be so efficient that she will be able to earn a proper living wage. Some of my hon. Friends who have more knowledge of factory life than I have know that it often happens that when a person gets a short-time training on a standard wage and then is put on piece rates the wage goes down. All women are not super-women any more than all men are super-men. Some may be smart and after a fortnight will be efficient, but a lot of girls will not be efficient in a new job after a fortnight's training and will not earn the wages that they earned on time rates during training. The Minister will have to revise the conditions of the allowance and say that until a girl is able to earn a living wage, she will be provided with a subsistence allowance. It is important in this scheme to carry the women with you. The Minister will not get so much opposition from the girls themselves against going away from home, but he will get a tremendous amount of opposition from the mothers. Already the mothers have allowed their sons to go away for Service. Often where there is a big family the older girl not only helps financially, but assists in the home; otherwise, working-class mothers could not carry on as they are doing. It will, therefore, be very hard for mothers who have had their sons taken away to have their daughters also taken away and sent to strange districts. I hope that the Minister will see that the women are given work in their own districts as far as possible and that some special effort will be made to develop the scheme in this direction.
I do not want to go over ground which has already been covered, because many other Members want to speak, but I wish to associate myself with what has been said on the question of compensation for injuries and on the low rates for women as compared with men. After all, if a woman is injured she is very often in a worse position than a man. She may be living in lodgings and have to maintain herself. I have not heard that anybody lets lodgings cheaper to a woman, or that 356 she pays less in a restaurant than a man, though often she gets smaller helpings on account of being a woman. If she is really seriously injured a woman is in a Far worse position than a man. One finds that women will marry a man who has lost a leg or an arm, but a woman who is injured in that way is not so likely to find a husband. Her whole life is spoiled if she is injured. I hope the Minister of Pensions will take that aspect of the matter into consideration, and see that proper compensation is given to women for injuries, whether temporary or permanent. I hope all the matters which I have mentioned will be taken into consideration, and that Ministers will do everything possible to make the conditions under which women have to work as good as they can be made.
§ Viscountess Davidson (Hemel Hempstead)
I am sure that a great many people will welcome this Debate, because there are numerous questions connected with woman-power which are worrying many of us. At the beginning of the war it was urged upon the authorities that proper machinery should be set in motion to deal with women who wanted work connected with the war effort. Like many other Members, I was inundated with requests from women who either wanted to change their work in order to get into war work or who had lost their jobs on account of the war and found themselves in a position to undertake war work. Many of them were trained women, efficient women with long experience behind them. They put down their names at the Central Register and the Supplementary Register, but again and again they found that they were rebuffed. They could get no work: many of those efficient and trained women have been lost because there was no proper machinery existing to deal with their cases and find them employment. We are told that there is now a great improvement in the position, but I should like to read a letter which came to me this morning from a constituent of mine. She writes:May I draw your attention to the atrophy that seems to have descended upon the people who run the Ministry of Labour Supplementary Register for the Employment of Women. When it was a new thing and was run by overworked people it did a certain amount of good. I saw —357 Here she mentions certain names—including a girl who was very bright. She knew that I knew Italian and got me a job to go to Italy.This is one of the exceptions, because I have never heard of any other case where an applicant who knew a foreign language who was actually sent to a country where she could make use of her knowledge.Since my return from Italy I have been countless times to the office of the Supplementary Register. They have blossomed into a big new place. There are now stores of files and whole handfuls of women Civil Servant clerks of the usual half-baked type.Those are not my words—I have never been interviewed by the same clerk twice, nor seen anyone of a calibre to assess my merits or demerits in the labour market. I have been discouraged by some, and even told by one clerk it was no use calling. Of jobs I have heard nothing.She goes on to give her qualifications, which are very good indeed, and continues—We are told on all sides that the Government want trained women. Do they? I wonder; or is it just the ineptitude of the Ministry of Labour in the way they run their Supplementary Register and Central Register.Then she finishes with a few more sentences which are unnecessary to read. That has been the experience of a great many people, and the serious thing is that we have lost many trained women who are vitally needed now to train other women. May I give as an example the case of women police? For many years all social workers have been urging that there should be more women police. The responsibility for the fact that there are not more rests on the shoulders of the Home Office, because they have never taken a really strong line. They should have enrolled women with special qualifications. Had they done so, it would have been found that many really efficient women would have taken up a career with the women police before the war, and would be available now. I believe that even now the appointment of a woman inspector of constabulary at the Home Office would help to encourage the right kind of women to join.
We are told now, at this late hour, when it has become obvious to everybody that there is real need for experienced and trained police-women, that the right kind of women are not coming forward. I do not think it is quite the case that the 358 women do not exist, but that many of the right kinds of women have gone into other work. It is vital to get those women into the police services and if proper encouragement were given, if proper interviews could be arranged and it was known that there would be proper training and proper treatment, I believe many candidates would come forward. I am sure the time has come when it is necessary for the Home Office to make the employment of women police compulsory. I do urge that the Home Secretary should give this matter his very serious consideration.
During the last few days we have all been extremely anxious about the effect of the speech of the Minister of Labour upon the public. We realise how difficult his job is. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry emphasised that the situation was one which had had to be handled delicately. I sometimes think that perhaps the Minister of Labour has not realised the effect his words may have on the public, how sensitive the public are to any utterances of that kind. Women are very anxious to play their full part and to do the right thing, but the effect of the Minister's speech has been very disquieting. It has made many people believe that there will be compulsion immediately after the registration. In the speech at the opening of this Debate an explanation was given which will be helpful, but nevertheless there is no doubt that the ground had not been properly prepared before the Minister of Labour made his speech.
Let me give an instance of what has happened. It concerns a hospital in which I am particularly interested, a big civilian hospital which in a very short time will have something like 1,500 beds. It deals with old women who have been moved from the hospitals in the big towns, with soldiers, with every kind of case. It is situated in the middle of the country, where the domestic help problem is already really acute. Within 24 hours of the Minister's speech a very large percentage of the domestic servants on the staff, aged 20 or 21—and the majority are round about that age—had left the hospital in order to enlist in one or other of the three Forces, because they were quite convinced that compulsion would follow and they would be forced into some service which they did not wish 359 to enter. The same thing happened at a large school in the vicinity. The effect of the Minister's words has been most disquieting, and I beg that some definite instructions will be issued to the Employment Exchanges and to those who will interview the applicants that they be told not to leave their present jobs until they are needed. No greater national service can be done by women than to keep a great hospital or institution or school running. That work is vital to the national life. The Prime Minister himself has again and again urged the necessity for the ordinary life of the country to be carried on with as little interruption as possible.
Perhaps I may be allowed here to say a word upon a subject which has already been touched upon but about which I feel very strongly. It is the responsibility of mothers to young children. I know that the Minister had no intention of making it so, but his statement was misleading. The impression universally given was that young mothers should make arrangements as soon as possible for their small children to be looked after by helpers or minders, in order that they themselves could go into factories. It has come to my personal knowledge that young mothers with babies on their hands and entirely responsible for them, have rushed off to find how soon they could make arrangements to get the babies of their hands in order that they can take on national work. There is nothing worse than to take these mothers away from the responsibility of looking after their children, or to create the impression that they should do so. A mother's first job is to care for her babies and her small children. I have always held the strongest view that the babies must come first. My babies were my responsibility entirely, at the beginning of their lives. I deplore any statement that may be misunderstood and that may take young mothers into factories and leave this responsibility upon the shoulders of other people. Women have been doing and are doing most excellent work in many directions. I hope that what has been said in the last few days will not give any impression that there is a lack of appreciation by the Minister of the work that they are doing.
I would like to add a word about compensation for war injuries. Women do not want to exploit the present situation, 360 but equally a woman's patriotism should not be exploited because of the war. There is no question of any bargaining. The case for equal compensation is unanswerable. I have never understood how it came about that a differentiation was made as between men and women. The Minister and his advisers approached the matter in the wrong way. They based their decisions on Workmen's Compensation. This is a new position altogether, which has arisen only because of the war. We pray that once the war is over it will not arise again. Men and women are standing side by side in the front line at the present time. They are human beings and citizens, and if they are injured, they have the right to the same compensation. I hope before long that we shall have an announcement from the Government rescinding what has been put out and telling us that the Government realise that women should have the same treatment as men in regard to war compensation.
Women are ready to do any work as long as they are convinced that it is ready for them, and that they are really needed. Before they are asked to give up their present work the machinery must be ready so that their time and the money of the country may not be wasted. The arrangements for training must be ready. Above all, women must feel that they will be given fair and equal treatment with men. No effort will be spared and no sacrifice will be too great for them. They are ready to play their part, for the women of this country know that the war must be won if peace, happiness and freedom are to come back to a distracted world.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbrugh)
We have listened to various points raised and questions put during the speeches. It might be for the convenience of the House, if I answered at this moment the matters which refer particularly to work coming under the Ministry of Health. Points dealing with other Ministries will no doubt be replied to later by other Ministers. I would say straight away that there has been an idea in the minds of a great many people in this country, since it was stated that registration was to take place, that they could leave the work they were doing and register for something else. One of the great advantages of this Debate is that we can clear 361 up that point as to the intentions of the Minister of Labour in his scheme for organising the work of men and women in order to win the war.
The main object is to put the right persons into the right places. I will not go so far as to say that is always possible or that we shall reach perfection in which every man and woman in the country will use their skill in the war effort exactly as he or she would like, but we want to get as near to that as we can. We have to link up that policy with the needs of the nation. We have to see what work is required and to get the best organisation of the men and women of the country in order to do that work. The hon. Lady who referred to hospital services pointed out the difficulty of obtaining domestic work and said that some women already feel that they ought to leave that work and make munitions or something of that sort. I want to make a plea to those who are interested in organising the work of women to look at the work as a whole. Every hon. Member will agree with me that the work which takes second place to none in the country is that which is done in the hospitals, whether it is domestic work or the work of nurses, doctors or ambulance personnel. They are all dealing with hospital services. I cannot think that that call will not be answered.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson) referred to mothers who feel they may be able to do war work. There has been some misunderstanding. My hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie) also spoke as though the idea were that mothers should be asked to hand over their children to anybody to look after, so that they might go into something else. That is not the view of the Government. For some time past the Ministry of Health have been anxious on this subject. I would remind hon. Members that in peace-time a great many married women were working in factories. We have been putting up more day nurseries, but for certain reasons the day or night nursery docs not meet all the needs. Let me give the example of the woman who was going out to work before the war. She does not want to go out of the street in which she is; living and into another direction before she goes to the factory. It is the placing of the day nurseries that is one of our 362 difficulties. There has grown up in the country a scheme by which women who are working in the factories may leave their children with minders. The suggestion has now been put forward that there should be registered minders; that before those people who think that they can look after other people's children are allowed to do so, they should be interviewed by the public health visitors, who should find out the conditions of the home, and decide whether a person is suitable to look after children, and that without such examination no grant should be given to those people to enable them to look after other people's children. I agree with the hon. Lady when she said that those who have the care of young children—and I include those in the reception areas who are looking after other people's children—are doing a piece of war work which could not be bettered. In some cases it may be found that those who are looking after their own babies may be able to look after the babies of the women who have been working in factories and who may be wishing to continue.
Reference was made to the difficulties of billeting. The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) said that people should not be asked to leave their homes unless better billeting facilities were found for them. I think that hon. Members will agree that billeting arrangements have improved enormously. The hon. Lady said that if people have to move, we should first make arrangements to have accommodation for them and then arrange for the people to go.
§ Miss Lloyd George
I was discussing the case where there was a factory already established and where workers were asked to go in great numbers, as they are now doing. The factories were there first. That was my point.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The factories were there, and I agree that in some cases the hostels are not there. We know the reason—the difficulty of getting the building programme completed in time. Not only have we to try and carry out the original building programme, but we all know the enormous number of building operatives who at the moment are not being employed on constucting new buildings but who are doing first-aid repairs both to factories and houses. I hope we shall see more hostels. I would 363 far rather see as many women and men as possible engaged in industry where they live. It is only because we realise that we cannot take all the industries to the places where the people are living that we must ask the people in many cases to leave their homes and move to where they are wanted.
The hon. Lady the Member for Spring-burn said that we should have opposition not merely from the women who were asked to move but from their mothers. I would say this to hon. Members: It has been said over and over again that when the call comes to-day to a man or a woman in Great Britain to do a particular job of work which is necessary for the winning of the war, there is hardly one who will refuse to bear any form of sacrifice or discomfort if convinced that by so doing the war effort will be helped. I would ask hon. Members to do what they can to bring home to these girls, and if necessary to their mothers, the importance of his work. Let us explain how important it is that this work should be done. It is not always possible to set up these factories in a particular area. It is only necessary to look at the facts of air-raid conditions to-day to know that special places must be chosen for them. I believe that if we put it to the mothers, who, after all, were probably doing a job of work themselves in the last war, they will be ready to make the sacrifice and will put up with the discomforts of having to do a great deal more for themselves when their daughters have taken up war work, so that it will be made easier rather than more difficult for this change to take place. If this sacrifice is made, we shall, after the war has been won, have the greatest homecoming this country has ever seen.
I would particularly like to reply to two question puts by the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) on the subject of the nursing profession. In order to show the difficulties we are up against, and how we may hope to meet them, may I first very briefly give a picture of the present situation? As hon. Members know, an Emergency Medical Service was set up in which practically all the general hospitals were included. Also it is our responsibility to maintain the staffs of fever, tuberculosis and maternity hospitals. A much larger staff is required in 364 war-time for the maternity hospitals, which are now spread throughout the country in the safer areas. At the present moment the nursing staff in the hospitals included in the emergency scheme numbers 75,000, but we need more. Of that 75,000, 17,000 are in the civil nursing reserve, which was set up at the beginning of the war to give extra help to what might be called the permanent nursing staff of the country. We asked fully trained nurses who have married and given up work to come back and use their skill in our hospitals. We asked those who were without training to come forward and receive instruction to fit them to work in the hospitals as nurses.
One or two hon. Ladies to-day have suggested that there is a feeling in the country that perhaps the enormous amount of work being done by women is not fully appreciated, and that the Government consider that women have not come forward with sufficient readiness, with the result that conscription will have to be adopted. That is not so. If I give a few figures, it will show the work which we know is being done. The Civil Nursing Reserve has trained many thousands of women, but there has been some difficulty with women who do not wish to leave their homes. Greater mobility is necessary, for the fever hospitals and some of the special hospitals are not getting sufficient recruits. Even before the war it is known that we had some anxiety concerning the number of people who were entering the nursing profession. I would like to say, however, that there has been a steady increase in the numbers coming in, but because the demand is becoming greater and greater we want even larger numbers. We are going to appeal for more, but in doing so I do not wish there to be any misunderstanding. As yet, the appeals that have been made to people to take up nursing in our hospitals have not been made in vain, and all over the country in most difficult times these nurses have been doing most gallant work, carrying on through appalling conditions.
I will give you one case of a hospital nurse who, while her patients were all saved, fell right through two floors from the ward she was in as a result of a bombing incident. She picked herself up and went on with her work; she went 365 straight into the operating theatre; she carried on through that night; and not until the morning was it found out that she had been injured in the fall. The nursing profession is showing the spirit that it has always shown—"We will devote ourselves to the care of the sick and the injured, whatever the difficulties may be." That spirit has been shown also by those who are driving our ambulances, through all the difficulties of air-raids. There are 30,000 part-time women driving ambulances to-day. That spirit has been shown by the women working as nurses in our shelters. Then we have to supply nurses for the munitions factories, for the day and night nurseries for children, and for the residential nurseries for children who have been evacuated. Now we are appealing for more mobility. We want new recruits for the nursing profession, who will go anywhere and nurse anyone, and stay in one place until we find that their services are more urgently needed somewhere else. The hon. Lady asks whether arrangements had been made for a nursing division of the Ministry of Health. Those arrangements have been discussed for some time. My right hon Friend, when he took over the Ministry of Health, looked into the matter, and arrangements have now been actually made.
The question has been asked whether the conditions of the nurses are all right; whether their pay is what it ought to be? The hon. Lady spoke about superannuation. Hon. Members are aware that before the war a committee was set up, under the chairmanship of the Earl of Athlone, to look into the whole subject. Their report is well worth reading. The hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend will have studied their account of the difficulties associated with the subject of superannuation. Those difficulties, I believe could be overcome, but I think it is very difficult to overcome them in wartime. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady will read that report and study the points made by the Government actuary, she will see that to overcome those difficulties in war-time would be, as I think most people would say, almost entirely impossible. How can we, therefore, keep up the superannuation rights for nurses in war-time? The hon. Lady knows that those nurses employed by local authorities, when they go from one local authority hospital to another, keep their superannuation rights. Those in voluntary 366 hospitals or in the nursing profession outside have special arrangements made. In the Civil Nursing Reserve extra rates, of pay are given, so that the nurses may themselves pay the employer's sum. I quite agree that it is more satisfactory that the employer should pay than that the amount should be handed to the employé for her to pay. But for another scheme I fear that we shall have to wait until peace-time. We have done much to-day, however, in connection with the Civil Nursing Reserve. A further increase in pay is being made to members of the Civil Nursing Reserve. I hope that we shall be able to make the majority of nurses, if not all of them, realise that the increase is given in order that they may pay their share of superannuation. I ask the hon. Lady to read that report again, and to see whether she does not agree that the scheme set out is the best, but that it is a scheme which cannot be undertaken under the present difficulties.
In this time of reorganisation of women's work, when we are asking people to register, and to find the work that is most suitable for them, I hope that we shall keep in mind the work of the nursing services. We are determined now to make a further appeal, as I have said, to those who will go anywhere and nurse anybody. I suggest that those who are thinking of taking up this kind of work as their war work should consider whether it is not better to go in with the student or probationary nurses, so that at the time that a woman is doing her war-work she will also be getting the chance to train for a profession which she may well like to keep on after the war. The State registered nursing service of Britain holds a very high place in the social services and in the life of this country and overseas. The nurse who obtains that certificate has the chance to go all over the world and hold posts of great responsibility. Many of those who are coming in to help as nurses in our hospitals would, I think, be well advised to take up that form of nursing under the student or probationary service in order that their time may be used to get their certificate later should they be in time to do so. We suggest that there should be an appeal to these people to come in and train.
The hospitals in the majority of cases prefer not to take women over 30. What is to be done, I am asked over and over 367 again, for women over 30 who also come into our hospitals and who are not at present trained nurses? The Civil Nursing Reserve, I think, is the answer. As nursing auxiliaries, women can obtain a short instruction in hospitals, and arrangements are being made for nursing training from no won of a more comprehensive nature. We take them into hospitals for their training; they receive their food and lodging from the start. Under our new scheme we hope to form a Central Register for those who will come into the nursing profession merely for the duration of the war, or who are looking forward to work in the nursing profession later. We are told that if such a Central Register is formed the local authorities will be only too glad to avail themselves of it. We shall fix a minimum rate of salary during the war which the hospitals to which the probationers are sent from the Central Register will be required to pay.
I know that in connection with the scheme of dealing with the payment of nurses I may be told that it does not go as far as was suggested by the Athlone Committee. I agree, but it will be a step in the right direction. The Government have accepted the principle laid, down by the Athlone Committee of a national scheme of payment for the nursing profession. The scheme to be set up is similar to that which the Burn-ham Committee set up for education, but, unfortunately, we cannot do it at the moment. We suggest that there should be an increase in the salary of the Civil Nursing Reserve, both the trained and the casual, or, in other words, the nurses which the Government employ directly. We suggest also that for women coming in as probationers on the Central Register a definite standard of pay shall be laid down. We have not gone the whole way yet but we are taking an important step in the right direction.
I am asked sometimes whether, with all the calls that come to women now to work in munition factories and to do all sorts and kinds of work which, I believe, they can and will do, the call of the nurses will not be answered. I do not believe that. But as long as people realise that there are sick and injured in our country and in our hospitals, where we are looking after air-raid casualties, civilian and 368 Service, the sick and the old people who are chronically ill, whatever else women do in this war, they will not neglect these things. I believe that we can do it, but it must be put right in the forefront of women's work. Some time ago Florence Nightingale gave very careful instructions to people training for nursing work. I will not quote them now, but listening to the Debate to-day I could not help thinking how far we had improved on those days of the "Lady with the Lamp." I thought also of the blackout and of modern warfare, which has put out so many lamps, but I am quite certain that the men and women of this country will never see their courage, endurance or patience dimmed in any way, whatever may be the horrors of destruction, the discomforts and the tedious.boredom of their work. The light will never be dimmed until victory has been won and the overthrow of the aggressors has been completely achieved.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
The hon. Lady who has just spoken will forgive me if I do not comment on all the points that she has made, although I very much welcome some of her assurances with regard to nurses. They do not all entirely meet my doubts, but I will not enlarge upon them at present. I, like every other speaker, warmly welcome the registration scheme and only regret that it was not introduced long ago. The two main features of the scheme are the element of compulsion and the element of guidance, of which the latter is by far the more important. It has been introduced not mainly because women need be compelled to "Go to it," but because it is recognised at last, although too late, how much more guidance is required than they have been getting as to how to "Go to it."
I do not often find myself making excuses for Ministers and Under-Secretaries. They are exceedingly good at doing that sort of thing for themselves, but when I was told how much the Minister's statement had been misunderstood in many quarters I found myself wondering what I would do if I had to make a broadcast or prepare a brochure explaining this complicated scheme if I knew that two-thirds of my hearers or readers might misunderstand me. Is the British public incapable of listening or reading anything closely enough to carry away an 369 accurate idea of what is in it? It seems to me that they are, and so I think there is some excuse for the Minister if he did not put across his scheme at his first try. I think the apprehension that existed among mothers, fathers and daughters, that young women would be rushed off to munition factories whatever their situation, can be left to correct itself, and will be corrected, by this Debate.
On the question of compulsion, most Members who have spoken to-day have begun by complaining that they were not feminists. I am a feminist, a 100 per cent. feminist, who has been working for the large part of my life in trying to secure equality of citizenship between men and women. It is because I care so much for the women's cause, and recognise that, although women have in theory attained equality of citizenship already, they have not quite attained it in practice, that I am extremely critical when women seem to give excuses for any misunderstanding. I believe that probably there are rather more slackers and shirkers among women than most hon. Members who have spoken in the Debate have been willing to acknowledge. After all, until quite recently, particularly among the well-to-do classes, it was the deliberate habit of parents to encourage their daughters to become slackers, to be content with "cushy" jobs, or no jobs. One cannot expect this not to have had some effect, and the tendency still exists. I hope that in the new scheme there will be a very drastic rounding-up of the women who are slacking and the much larger group of women who, through no fault of their own, are at present engaged in unnecessary services or in producing things in the luxury trades.
I beg the Minister particularly to direct his attention to some of the unnecessarily large staffs in domestic service. The Parliamentary Secretary said very wisely that there was no intention of calling up women who are doing useful domestic service, but there are still a good many households who try too much to keep up to the standards of pre-war times and have not sufficiently simplified their lives so as to be able to manage with fewer servants. No sensible person wants an intelligent woman who is capable of doing something better to have to do her own housework because she cannot get a domestic servant, but it is not necessary 370 to have large staffs of servants in the conditions of living which prevail, or ought to prevail, in war time.
Further, there are the women who are engaged in producing commodities which, though harmless enough, are not really necessary in war time. I welcome the calling-up of women into war work not least because it will do a good deal to discourage the employment of women and men in those industries which put a strain upon our shipping resources. We all know the old fishermen's song about herring, "Call them lives of men," but the humble herring, though it imperils the lives of men, also helps to build up life. The same thing cannot be said of a great many things that are being consumed today which have to be brought from abroad and which cost the lives of men. I am thinking of luxury articles of clothing, cosmetics, perfumes, wines, tobacco—all things of that sort which have to be brought in ships. We ought to discipline ourselves not to consume these things unnecessarily. In this matter, there is always the feeling that if one does not consume them oneself, some other greedy person will get more. It is for that reason that we need a great deal more compulsion in preventing the unnecessary production and distribution of luxury articles, and I hope that will be one of the incidental consequences of this scheme.
No doubt the main function of the scheme, however, is not the element of compulsion, but the element of guidance. Much has been said on this matter in the course of the Debate, and I do not want to spend a great deal of time on it, but the Minister—and this applies also to the representatives of other Government Departments—must realise that very little guidance has so far been given to women. Employment exchanges have been able to tell applicants whether there is a job available for them in their own localities of the type they have been used to. They have been far less efficient, however, in guiding women who for necessity or for patriotism, are willing to take a job to which they are not accustomed, which does not necessarily require that they should remain in the locality. They have failed most conspicuously with the type of woman who is unattractive to the ordinary Employment Exchange clerk, such as the women of professional status, 371 the retired woman, or the elderly woman, with whom they are not accustomed to deal. If such a woman presents herself at the exchange, she often finds that the clerk looks her up and down, and then tells her contemptuously that there is nothing for her. I know of a case of a woman who had a very important managerial post in a Government munition factory. She was so dissatisfied with the lack of suitable applicants she was getting from the Employment Exchange that she went down to the Exchange herself and stayed there for two hours. During those two hours she managed to pick out 20 or 30 women from those who ordinarily came to the Exchange, but whom the clerk had not the intelligence to select as suitable for that kind of work.
When we criticise the ordinary Employment Exchanges and their inefficiency in dealing with unusual workers, we are, of course, reminded of the provision of the Central and Supplementary Registers. The Central Register is intended only for the elite and those with high experience and qualifications. Has anything been done by the Ministry to call the attention of Government Departments and private employers to the fact that really good women are enrolled on the Register, and has anything been done to disabuse the old prejudice which makes employers prefer a second or third-class man to a first-class woman? Then there is the Supplementary Register, which has been equally disappointing. That Register deals with women who come between the Central Register and the ordinary Employment Exchanges. In the first place so little publicity has been given to that Register that most employers do not know it exists. Another fault is that applicants are dealt with by post, and there is seldom an interview, with the result that the necessary guidance is not given. I noticed with great satisfaction that the Minister's proposals include greater use of interviews. I hope that these interviews will be conducted not only by people expert in the industry concerned, but by people who can size-up women and know what they can do. The fear which haunts most of us is that employers shall make the same mistake as in the last war in underrating what women are capable of doing. Reference has been made to the experience of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 372 Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) as to the potential value of women doing work which no one ever dreamt they could do. I remember one oft-quoted phrase of the right hon. Gentleman to the effect that women had it in them to perform every process required in the production of a battleship. At that time we became almost weary of hearing the surprised ejaculations of old foremen, employers and officials who gradually discovered that women were really not the sort of fools they had always supposed them to be and could perform highly skilled forms of work.
There is one point with regard to exemptions which is so obvious that I cannot think it is likely to have been overlooked. I hope regard will be had to women in the later stages of their training at universities and elsewhere. If they have reached a stage which would have exempted male students from armed service, it would be a very great mistake to call them out. But there is some anxiety among university students on the point, so I hope we may have an assurance that women students at universities and training colleges will not be called out if they are at an essential stage of their training, as women of that age normally will be.
As to rates of pay, I too am perturbed over the rates of pay promised during training and the extremely wide differentiation as between men and women, when both are ex hypothesi starting at the bottom of the ladder in the kind of work in which they are being trained. I notice too with regret that the new plan is to drop the payment of dependants' allowances. I strongly suspect that that is a concession made to the pressure exercised by the men's trade unions. The Minister should have faced up long ago to the necessity for the adoption of a full-blooded scheme of family allowances. The more you try to encourage substitute women labour on a large scale, the more you are going to have the difficult question put by employers, "Are you really asking us to pay rates for women fantastically in excess of what they have been accustomed to get normally for women's jobs?" Yet you will have to do that if you are really going to substitute women's labour for men's where there is no woman's rate because no woman has so far been employed. The Minister has hitherto resolutely turned a blind eye on this question 373 of family allowances. I believe the time will come when the whole country will see how wrong he has been, and that we are being led gradually into a position which is dangerous to the financial future of the country because he will not realise that, if you are not to have under-nutrition of the rising generation, you have to make direct provision for the maintenance of that generation, and that the pay for the job will never fit the case as long as wages are being asked to fulfil two separate and distinct functions—as a recompense to the worker for the value of his work and as a means of providing for future generations. You cannot provide successfully and at the same time reasonably and economically for future generations on the hypothesis that every man has a family and that all families are of the same size, and you will increase that difficulty if you have to extend the same hypothesis to women, which is what you have to do on the principle of equal pay for equal work and the rate for the job.
Lastly, I note that for the present this scheme is confined to British citizens. I should like to see it extended to aliens of all nationalities for the sake of the war effort, for the sake of national security, and not least for the sake of the aliens themselves. We have in our midst a great many aliens of a great many different nationalities. Those aliens are either friends or enemies to our cause. If they are enemies to our case—and relatively few are—their proper place is the internment camp where they will be able to claim the protection of the Prisoners of War Convention, which includes a provision that no prisoner shall be asked to work in any way connected with the war effort. If they are friends to our cause, they should be asked to take their full part in the national effort as though they were British. I know that that was exactly what the great majority of them would like to do. Last week I visited the Isle of Man and talked to the elected representatives of the women. When I represented to them how much safer and more comfortable they were—interned in a lovely spot, free from bombing, in a healthy climate, and living in comfortable boarding houses—than they would have if set free to struggle in the labour market and face the terrors of the air, they said, "We know all that, but we do not want to be safe and comfortable. We want to help you to fight Hitler."
374 I believe that they spoke sincerely and I believe that that represents the feeling of the majority of aliens in this country. They regard our national cause as their cause. They have a great deal of firsthand knowledge of the horrors of Nazism, while we have only read and heard of it. They have suffered it in their very flesh and hearts and they ought to be given the opportunity which they desire to take their full part in the national effort. If they were enabled to do this it would be a certain security against the danger that some of them may not be entirely reliable, because there is a lot of truth in the old saying that:Satan finds some mischief stillFor idle hands to do.If any aliens are a danger to this country, they are those who are eating their hearts out in idleness and are inclined to say, "The British do not want us, they treat us as outsiders, they think that this is their war and not ours, so they cannot blame us if we behave as if that were true." I hope, therefore, that this scheme is only a beginning. I should like to see it extended to higher age groups and extended to women of all nationalities who are living in this country.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
This is not only an unusual Debate, it is one such as has never taken place here before. To-day we are creating precedent in a place where procedure is based upon precedent, and perhaps it is unprecedented for me to say that, having listened to all my women colleagues, I find myself—strangely—entirely in agreement with all of them. I think it is very regrettable that the only male Member who has so far taken part in this Debate knew very little of the subject, knew so little about woman-power that in his speech he often called it manpower, and said, in fact, that he could not distinguish between woman-power and man-power. I am talking of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) and I do hope, in view of the fact that he is an employer—I think he said indirectly—of something like 13,000 women he will, in the near future, study his subject much more carefully and come to a Debate of this kind much more carefully briefed. I was impressed by what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said in his opening speech. Perhaps what appealed to me 375 most was his careful analysis of the psychology of women. He said that he had devoted some time to it, but I am afraid he has failed, and perhaps the Minister has failed; and may I say that I am very pleased to see the Minister himself here when we are discussing what he has described as a delicate subject.
The Minister has failed in one respect: he has failed to realise that the modern woman is an entirely different person from the 1914 woman. The women who have spoken here to-day just could not have existed here in 1914. Since the Act of 1919—the Sex Disqualification Removal Act—we have found that the women of this country, and also of the world where they are allowed to think at all, have changed considerably. I suggest that during the last 18 months of the war the mistake that successive Ministers of Labour have made is to have been, in some respects, too gallant to women and in other respects not sufficiently chivalrous. The Government Measure which has caused the most discussion during the last few months has been this registration of women. It must have caused a tremendous amount of talk, and many people wonder just what the future has in store for them. I think that if the Ministry of Labour had adopted entirely different methods towards women this registration scheme would have been unnecessary.
We have heard to-day of the very feeble methods of propaganda. We have been told that in one place women were given posters with the words "Go to it." The mistake that has been made is that the radio has not been used in such a way that every family in the country with an idle woman sitting in their midst would look at her and experience the same sense of shame that they might feel if they had a deserter from the Army in their midst. We even find young men with childless wives feeling that it is a reflection on their manhood for their wives to work. Where is our propaganda? It is not a reflection on their manhood that their wives should work, but a reflection on their patriotism that their wives should not work. If that kind of propaganda had been employed consistently and persistently it would have resulted in so many women coming forward that this rather complicated registration 376 would have been unnecessary. I still believe that there is time for the Ministry of Labour to adopt some method of that kind.
We have to face the question of registration. I want to discuss what the conditions of employment are to be. Many people have mentioned the Minister's broadcast last Sunday week. I made a particular point of being in as perfect a position as possible to hear every word of that broadcast. I want to tell my right hon. Friend, as an admirer of his, that I thought it one of the finest broadcasts I had ever heard. It was very understandable and it came over excellently. When I heard it I was sitting in a room where there were six women. When the right hon. Gentleman announced those rates of 38s. for a woman trainee and 60s. 6d. for a man trainee I must tell him that I blushed. To say that I was shocked is mild. [Interruption] An hon. Member suggests that I was not surprised, but I was surprised. During the last six months of the ''blitz'' I have read in the papers that the men of the country are amazed to find that all their preconceived conceptions of women are wrong, and that the woman who is afraid of a mouse and who is frightened by loud noises just does not exist. They say that the war has shown that women are resourceful and courageous and can stand up to heavy gunfire. I read somewhere that the colonel of a unit said that he thought the A.T.S. attached to his unit seemed even more brave than the men. That is nothing new to women; women knew that kind of thing along time ago. I thought perhaps, as a result of all this, the Minister of Labour might say: ''Let us show that this new conception of women, this 1941 conception, has brought about a change in the Government's attitude towards them."Instead of that, I found the Government once more saying to the country,"We are going to use women in the war, but we must regard them as cheap labour."
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
In regard to this broadcast I appreciate the fact that my hon. Friend must have been in a perfect position to hear—so perfect that she must have imagined that I gave the figures to which she referred. Those figures did not appear in the broadcast.
§ Dr. Summerskill
My right hon. Friend cannot deny that he has given those figures on many occasions, and that he has perhaps given them in my hearing. I thought for the moment that he was going to deny the accuracy of my statement of the facts. I do not want to deal with the matter as though a situation did not exist in which women are regarded as cheap labour. Will my right hon. Friend not agree with me that, in the engineering industry, in spite of the fact that women are being given bonus upon bonus, the basic rate of payment to women is £1 per week—just the same as in 1914?
§ Dr. Summerskill
It is good of the Minister to say that, because it only bears out my statement. Is it not an amazing state of affairs to find that the basic rate of pay for women in 1941 is £1 per week, the same as it was in 1914? Therefore, I hope that the country will not merely indulge in all this flattery that we have had in the last six months, but, if they really believe that women are playing their part in the war effort, will treat the min an equitable manner.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health spoke before I had an opportunity of putting one or two points, because I want to make certain constructive suggestions which concern the Ministry of Health, and I am very glad to see the Minister here to-day. If we are to have this registration, it will create in the country a tremendous change in the homes of the women. I agree with the Noble Lady who said that children should be regarded as of paramount importance to the State. I am sorry that the Minister of Labour is not here at the moment, but I believe he said on Sunday that minders were to be provided for children—by the way, the word "minders" appals me; in the South of England we do not use the word—the mother to pay 6d. a day and the State to pay 6d. per day. I would 378 remind the Minister that the women's attitude towards the care of children has changed since 1918. We have done a tremendous amount of propaganda in order to teach women that the most important thing is to feed their children properly. Now the Government say to the mother, "We have found an old woman round the corner who will look after your child." The woman may be old Because I take it that the Government will not exempt anybody. I anticipate that this scheme will fail because a good mother will not leave her child with a minder who does not in her belief make a perfect foster-mother, and it will be found, therefore, that after a time a bad minder will make a bad worker in the factory, because a woman will not concentrate on her work, if she finds that her children are not being looked after properly. I say to the Government: This whole scheme of yours is wrong.
This is where the Minister of Health comes in. Minders should only supplement and not be a substitute for day nurseries. To-day I put a Question to the Minister of Health on the subject. In a number of towns in England we are spreading propaganda to get women to come forward to work. They offer their services and then they go round looking for a day nursery. Often they find it to be non-existent. I am told that the Minister of Health is sending out circulars to local authorities asking them to provide day nurseries, and that many local authorities are failing to provide them. The Minister's answer to my Question was a request for me to tell him where this is happening. I have just had a telegram from Birmingham, one of our centres. Are there enough day nurseries in Birmingham? I suggest that there are not. I suggest that the Minister of Health is dealing with the local authorities so gently, and is so afraid of applying compulsory powers, that he is allowing them to sabotage our war effort.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Ernest Brown)
The hon. Lady is greatly simplifying the problem. The fact is that day nurseries are very difficult organisations to start and to run; there have been cases in which local authorities have set them up and labour people and organisations in the areas have preferred to have the minders, so that the day nurseries have been closed down.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I admit the Minister knows about a lot of things, and much more about many things than I do, but I suggest, in all humility, that I know infinitely more about day nurseries than he does. I was on a local authority 10 years ago, and I was pressing for a day nursery. They produced the plans after five years, and to-day, 10 years later, they have still not built the day nursery. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health has been analysing the psychology of women. I suggest that the Minister of Health should attend to the psychology of some of the councillors. Is he aware that many councillors are prejudiced against day nurseries? Is he aware that it is extremely difficult for many councils to get a day nursery because the councillors themselves say that the provision of a day nursery will make the women of the locality idle? You must not believe what the local authorities tell you about the difficulties. We are talking about providing accommodation for healthy children. You take over a house and use the rooms, and I suggest that the Minister of Labour is being "led up the garden" when he tells us about the difficulties of providing day nurseries. It is because the individual councillors on local authorities are backward, prejudiced and will not move with the times that it is not done. I ask him to take compulsory power, because if he does not do this, the whole scheme for registering women and organising the woman-power of the country may fail.
The other suggestion I have to make to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is about expectant mothers. She said there was no question of calling up expectant mothers. Of course, that is taken for granted, but there will be expectant mothers in the factories. Is the hon. Lady aware of the present position? It is that an employer is committing an offence if he knowingly engages a woman during the four weeks after childbirth. But the same employer can employ the woman right up to the date of childbirth. One of the things the Midwives Institute and many other organisations in the country are pressing for is that the Minister will issue an order making it an offence for a woman to be employed during the four weeks preceding her confinement. I think four weeks is much 380 too short, I should prefer to say six or eight weeks, but they would be quite happy to have four. It is no use saying that the woman should leave her job and get her National Health Insurance benefit. The National Health Insurance regulations do not provide for a woman who is an expectant mother. They assume that she is fit to work in spite of her pregnancy. If this scheme is to work well and smoothly, therefore, I suggest that the Minister should introduce a regulation right away, dealing with this matter.
Will the Minister consider this other point? I am a little afraid that this scheme will result in the present generation of babies being bottle babies. He may reply that that already applies to a large extent, but I want him to consider allowing a nursing mother to have time to feed her baby at work. This is done in many countries; it was done in Germany before Hitler came to power, in Switzerland, and I believe in many of the Scandinavian countries. From what the Minister of Labour said, on the radio, it seemed that he was favourably inclined to the proposal of giving the housewife extra time off to see to her home.
My final point is about compensation. I am glad that the Minister of Pensions is here. He must be sick and tired of hearing about this question. To my knowledge, he has had deputations from women: he has been inundated with irate women asking for a square deal. I believe that he intends to speak to-day, and I hope he will concede this point to the women. Another Member is to deal with the whole point, but I want to mention the question of the gainfully-employed woman. Such a woman may be 40, she may be living with her aged parents: if permanently incapacitated she is to get only 28s.; whereas a youth of 18, who may be living with his parents, will get 35s. It is difficult to justify this appalling differentiation. The cost of living is exactly the same for both: they both pay the same taxation. The only thing which applies to a woman, and does not apply to a man, is that in such a case she may never marry. Losing a limb will not make her more desirable in the eyes of a man; and that may be a serious matter for her. In these times, putting a woman into a factory, in 381 a vulnerable position, is giving her infinitely more dangerous work than she would have in a factory in peace-time. I ask the Minister, at least, to give women some hope that he is seriously considering a change in these provisions.
I hope I have been able to put forward four or five constructive points, and that the Minister of Pensions, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will do something to meet me on these points. I want to thank the Government—because I was partly instrumental in obtaining this Debate—for sending such a representative body to grace the Front Bench to-day. As I gaze at the back benches, I am shocked to see how little interest is displayed in this question; but when I see the galaxy on the Front Bench I am encouraged to think that, at long last, the Government realise that women are no longer to be treated with levity, but should be regarded seriously, and their contribution to the war effort given its proper place.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
I was rather shocked when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said that he was not a feminist because he believed in companionship between men and women. I am a feminist, just because I also believe in companionship between men and women. You cannot have companionship, you cannot have partnership, unless you have equality of opportunity to develop the individual to the maximum of that individual's capacity. Therefore, when the hon. Gentleman says that he is not a feminist because he believes in companionship, he entirely fails to understand what feminism means. I wish, in the short time at my disposal, to make one last plea to the Minister of Pensions not to let us go out of this House to-day with conditions for men and women under the Civilian War Injuries Scheme unequal and unjust as they are at present.
Other Members have touched upon the question of the gainfully employed women. I want to make a point on that in a minute, but before I come to that, I want to say something about the housewife who is considered to be a non-gainfully employed woman. If she is injured in this war, as she very well may be, she will receive compensation, when 382 she is out of hospital, at the rate of 14s. a week in respect of her injuries. She may have a young son in employment also injured. For his injuries he will receive 35s. a week. There is not a man or woman in this House who does not know that if the young son is injured and comes home, he will be nursed with tender care by his mother, the housewife. There is also not a man or woman who will not admit that, if the housewife herself is injured, she will be obliged to have another woman in the house to do the work she has normally done, for which she will be obliged to pay. Therefore, it does not need many words of mine to prove that she has greater need of financial assistance than the son, whether he is gainfully employed or not. These are wholly unjust provisions.
The Minister of Pensions, who is in his place, received a deputation from the Woman Power Committee on these scales of compensation, and he was asked whether he would put this matter before the War Cabinet. I would very much like to know whether he has done that. I know that he himself is not comfortable over these scales because I noticed when on that deputation that he was seldom able to look us in the face—not at all his usual habit. With regard to the gainfully employed man and woman, the justification of the Minister of Pensions for the inequality of these scales was that they were based upon the Workmen's Compensation Act. Under the Workmen's Compensation Act a man or a woman received the half of their weekly wage up to 30s. If they were earning a very high wage they could not get more than 30s., but they also, of course, in war-time get the extra 5s. a week supplemental allowance. Women who are in aircraft factories or armament factories at the present time are earning anything from 38s. to 46s. for a 47-hour-week, and overtime is worked regularly, and the total wages, therefore, are from £2 14s. to £3 9s. for a 56-hour week.
It is obvious that, if you take the average of that wage, a woman would be getting under the Workmen's Compensation Act 30s. plus the 5s. supplemental allowance. Therefore, she would be drawing benefit at the rate of 35s. a week. You are asking her to go into these factories in a time of war, when there is infinitely greater danger of injury than there ever 383 was before, and you are offering her, if she is injured, 7s. less than the man who is doing identical work and in similar circumstances. In fact, by bringing forward the Civilians War Injuries Scheme in place of the Workmen's Compensation Act you are, as far as women are concerned, replacing equality by inequality at the present time.
I have heard almost every speaker to-day say he or she welcomed this registration of women. I should have welcomed it whole-heartedly had it come at the beginning of the war. I do not welcome it now, because I think it has given the country the impression that women did not want to come forward. That is wholly untrue; women have longed to play their part and be allowed to do things which they have not been allowed to do. Almost a year ago the women Members of Parliament went to see the Minister of Labour, told him that women would be needed, and implored him to be prepared for their reception in factories and to see that adequate welfare workers, hostels and machinery were set up for them. The Minister told us that this war was quite different from the last war and that machinery was so much larger that women would not be needed in factories in the same way in this war as in the last. Well, the Minister is a man and made a mistake.
§ Mrs. Tate
The hon. Member need have no fear. I should be the last woman in the world to say that women never make mistakes, especially when I look round and see some of the men they have brought into the world. There is no shame in acknowledging that you made a mistake in the past. It only means that you are wiser to-day than yesterday, and surely that is a position very much to be desired. The Parliamentary Secretary, when he opened the Debate to-day, said that the Ministry had failed to attract women, that women might be called upon to do work that was dull, dreary and difficult, but that he was sure they were so anxious to take their part in this war that they would never shirk that. Does he not know that women's work in the past has very often been dull, dreary and difficult? A woman who works in the home and brings up a large family of children 384 has the tremendous joy of the love of her husband and children, in the vast majority of cases, and it is that that makes interesting the work which in itself is always dull, dreary and difficult. Perhaps hon. Members have heard of the epitaph of a woman, which read:Here lies a poor woman who always was tired.She lived in a house where help was not hired.Her last words on earth were: Dear friends, I am goingWhere washing ain't done, nor sweeping, nor sewing;But everything there is exact to my wishes;For where they don't eat, there's no washing of dishes.I'll be where loud anthems will always be ringing,But, having no voice, I'll be clear of the singing.Don't mourn for me now; don't mourn for me never—I'm going to do nothing for ever and ever.We are asking women to make the greatest possible contribution we can to the war effort, but we do ask that before women are called up the conditions under which they are to work should be suitable. The young women to be called up to-day are the mothers of the future generation, and if you care as much about motherhood in actual fact as you do in words, you will not fail to see that their health and welfare in every direction are safeguarded as much as possible.
I want now to say a word or two about women on the land. The Women's Land Army is now receiving a very much larger number of recruits, but here again, there will be a little of the difficulty that was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson) when she referred to the present difficulty in hospitals of keeping young people performing domestic tasks. The same thing will apply at the farms. It will be necessary to ask the farmer's wife to take a large number of these girls to live in the farm, because otherwise there will not be accommodation for them. One cannot call up women to work on the land and expect them also to do domestic work in the houses and farms. I suggest it is very hard on girls who, for patriotic reasons, remain in domestic service, when they see their companions going and feel that they are not playing their proper part in the war effort. I believe that if these girls could be given some form of badge or armlet 385 with "War Work" on it, to show the whole country that they are recognised as contributing their part to the war effort, it would very greatly do away with such feelings. Domestic servants are needed in hospitals, mental hospitals, farms, houses where billetees have been taken in, and houses where all the other members of the household are out doing different forms of war work. These domestic servants are performing really valuable work, and the country ought to recognise it. They ought not to be considered as shirkers.
The difficulty about the women in the Land Army is that, as far as women are concerned, those who work on the land have not been reserved for that occupation. I believe that is because there has never been a national minimum wage for women, but only for men. This has largely been due to the fact that so much of the women's work on the land has been of a part-time nature. Owing to there having been no national minimum wage, and owing to the occupation not being one which a person could not leave, a large number of the women who were trained in colleges at the Government's expense have been lost to agriculture. There is not a single hon. Member who will not deplore that women who were trained at the Government's expense in colleges such as Swanley College should have left their employment on the land and taken up work in transport, on 'buses, and so on. It was not for this purpose that they were trained in agricultural colleges Therefore, I ask the Government to make, not merely a county rate, but a national minimum wage for women, and not allow them, when they have taken up work on the land, to leave it for other work.
I am sorry I have taken up so much of the time of the House, because I realise that both the Minister of Pensions and the Lord Privy Seal wish to speak. There is one last word that I want to say to the Minister of Pensions. There is a large number of Ministers on the Front Bench. Ministers have promised us a better world after the war, and, as I said to the Minister of Pensions when I went in a deputation of women to him, "You do not build to-morrow to-morrow; you build to-morrow to-day." There will not be a better world unless you build it on fair foundations. We are fighting for 386 democracy. My definition of democracy is that it means justice and equal opportunity for all. I pray that that equal opportunity will be given to women as well as to men. At the end of the 17th Century, Milton wrote,Let not England forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live.Surely, those words are more important to-day than they were at the end of the 17th Century.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I should like to compress my remarks into a very short space of time, because I believe yet another hon. Lady wishes to speak, and then my right hon. Friend the Lord President will have to wind up this Debate. 1 have thoroughly enjoyed listening to the speeches to-day, and I must compliment the ladies on the manner in which they have put forward their claims, criticisms and suggestions for improvement. In fact, I think it will surprise many people to know how moderate they have been in their demands, and for that I am very grateful. I should like to say to the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) that it was a little difficult to look these ladies in the face, because in addition to the lady Members of Parliament they brought with them 41 other representatives. Anyhow, I listened to all they had to say, and I thought of the essay a little girl wrote at a school in Grimsby, the subject of which was "Men." This little girl wrote:Men are the things that women marry. They drink and smoke and swear and do not go to church—perhaps if they wore nicer hats they would go to church. Men are more logical than women, and also more zoological. Both men and women sprang from monkeys, but women sprang the furthest.I agree with that. But here we are dealing with a very serious question, and after these few preliminary remarks I will get down to the subject of compensation. It is, as I said, a serious matter, and it has given me a great deal of cause for consideration. This is the position. When I had to deal with this question of compensation for injury for those employed in industry, I had to take into account that in the first place we were going to take away from the workpeople their rights under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. Secondly, I also had to take into account that we were going 387 to relieve the employer of his liability under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. Therefore, while not altogether basing our scheme on workmen's compensation, we had to bear that in mind very clearly in fixing our rate. The rates which have been fixed are, as has already been stated, 35s. as a maximum for men, but in the case of those earning less than £3 10s. a week, there is the question of half wages as compensation. The same applies to women.
Here I wish to correct one statement of the hon. Lady the Member for Wall-send (Miss Ward) that married men and single men are receiving the same rate. It is true that the basic rate is the same, but in the case of married men there are allowances for children, which makes a considerable difference. However, I agree that that is only a small point. In dealing with my scheme, I had to determine whether I should follow the lines of workmen's compensation, take 35s. as a maximum, and then go into the question of half wages. But with claims coming in in great numbers it would be foolish to attempt to do anything of the kind. The only thing we could do was to take the average payment, and make that a standard rate, and while in the case of men that works out at 35s., in the case of women it works out at a much lower figure. So, to be quite fair and, as far as the average is concerned, to give equal to workmen's compensation rates, we fixed it at 28s., which is rather above the average. That was a sounder way of dealing with it than attempting to work out what a person has earned in the past 12 months and giving half compensation. There are many women who will be gaining 10s. or more a week by this scheme than if we took it on absolutely workmen's compensation rates, and, though it may mean that one or two women will suffer a little, I am satisfied that they will be quite willing to suffer that little disability for the sake of their poorer sisters who will get this extra allowance.
Now we come to the non-gainfully employed. There we must consider the history of the case. I am in a position to say what the Government have decided on this particular compensation scheme. We have had a little experience of this 388 since it was brought into operation on 24th December. The old scheme provided that we should compensate the housewife provided someone was employed in the household to do her work while she was ill. The merit of that was that we guaranteed that someone was brought into the household to do the work, and this gave the injured woman the proper rest and care that she required to recover. In dealing with this problem you get, among others, people with private means who in the ordinary way, provided they got free hospital treament, would be in a position to pay for anything they require themselves. The plea was put to me, when I received deputation after deputation representing women's organisations, that we ought to treat the housewife differently. They pleaded that it should be a direct payment to the woman and not a question whether she got anyone in the house or not. Among other arguments put forward was that there were many working-class households where the woman did not desire to have someone to come in as a whole-time employéto carry on the work of the house, and that she could carry on very well if she could send her washing out, or have a woman in for a day or two, and would it not be better to make the compensation payable to the woman and allow her to do what she thought fit with it without consulting her husband? I came to the conclusion that there was some justice in the plea that we should treat the woman rather differently from the method employed in compensation claims in other matters, and that she should be allowed to have a reasonable sum and do what she liked with it. I introduced that in the scheme introduced in December, that the woman should receive 14s., that it should be paid to her, and that there should be no question of what she did with it, but we hoped she would use it for providing that assistance which most people think is necessary for a woman who is unwell.
The plea made to me by the deputation was that we should pay the men and the women in the non-gainfully-employed class exactly the same rates. I do not know whether they thought I ought to bring the men's payment down to the women's or just bring it up, but it must be borne in mind that this is a State grant 389 paid without any premiums. It is a free gift. No country in the world has done anything like it and it is likely to be a costly affair to the State. I wished to gain experience in this matter before I came to any final decision, and in the light of our experience we found that of those who have claimed since December 90 per cent. are housewives.
It is not true to say, therefore, that they are just left with this small sum and nothing else to depend upon. After all, if a man marries a woman he takes her "in sickness and health" and is supposed to provide for her. We say that we pay this money to the housewife, that it is her own money, and that we expect the husband to do his duty by her. Of the rest, some are only pensioners. Their pensions will go on just the same and they get hospital treatment. A small number of the others are widows, mostly with pensions, who have children to look after. I am deeply concerned about these, because the arguments that have been put forward are hardly in favour of the woman who has children to support. Realising the strength of the arguments put forward by some hon. Ladies, I have seen that even if women cannot have the same rate as that paid to the men, at any rate the difference between the gainfully-employed and the non-gainfully-employed was really too wide, and that the difference between the payments to non-gainfully-employed men and women is bigger than that between the payments to men and women gainfully employed.
I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have the consent of the Government to put forward a revised scale. I am suggesting that we should increase the payment to the non-gainfully employed woman to 16s. 4d. a week when not in hospital and 9s. 4d. when she is in hospital. She will get her hospital treatment and her keep, and this 9s. 4d. will be paid to her instead of the smaller sum paid under the first scheme. I think that will bring the matter, as far as the single woman who has obligations or the housewife is concerned, on to a fair and square footing. As regards the widow who has children to support, I agree that there is a good case to be made out that something should be done. I have the consent of the Chancellor and 390 the Government to include in my scheme provisions whereby I can deal with these cases on the same lines as those which apply to the gainfully employed man. I can take into account the liabilities that are to be met and deal with her case in the way that will cause the least hardship. Once that woman is in hospital nothing will be deducted for hospital treatment, and the whole of her allowance will go towards the household, plus whatever income she may have from other sources.
I am sorry that I cannot say more now, because of the agreement about the Debate, but I have tried to do my level best in what is a very difficult job indeed. It is all very well for hon. Members to say that the only right thing to do is what they suggest. I have a tremendous problem to face. I have had and am likely to have an enormous number of cases to deal with, and there will be an enormous cost to the State. I do not think that those outside my Department, except the Chancellor of the Exchequer, quite realise what we are facing. I do not want to see this wonderful system of pensions and compensation for every class in the community break down, but if I do not administer it with care, while trying to be very fair indeed, there is a danger of that happening, and I wonder what people would say if we were not able to fulfil all the obligations we have entered into.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I certainly have not, because, as I told the hon. Member, the average is more than is being paid now.
§ Mrs. Adamson (Dartford)
I am glad to have an opportunity of adding my contribution to this Debate on woman-power, as I have the honour to represent the largest industrial constituency in Great Britain, where there are thousands 391 of women engaged on the production of munitions. It is opportune to have this discussion immediately after the speeches made by the Minister of Labour in this House and over the wireless. I was under no illusions as to what the right hon. Gentleman meant when he spoke of the necessity for calling upon women to come forward in larger numbers to play their part in war-work, because those of us who at the start of the war visualised the trend of events, how more and more men would be called in, have realised that, sooner or later, a great appeal would have to be made to women to come forward and do their bit. I am glad the Minister of Labour has made it clear that the mothers of young children will be the last section of women to be called upon to go into factories, because I am deeply concerned about the effects of factory life on the mothers of this country and on the children of those mothers. There has been a large increase in juvenile delinquency since the war began, and I put that down to the fact that the father of the family may be in one of the Services or working long hours and often at week ends, and that the mother too may be in a factory, so that there is no guiding hand over the children. The result is that they get into mischief and come before the court, and unconsciously those young people are being turned into criminals.
I hope the Government will pursue a policy by which all the uselessly employed women, and all those with no occupation at all, will be called upon to do their bit before we even make a suggestion that mothers with young children should respond to the call. The influx of women into industry brings up many social problems for consideration—the wages question, conditions of employment, welfare work, and the personal injuries scheme, on which the Minister of Pensions has just spoken. I know it is a tradition in some parts of the country, particularly in Lancashire, that women with young children go to the factories and workshops and hand the children over to minders. I am not enamoured of that system. If we have to call up mothers with children, perhaps of school age, I hope that the Ministry of Health, the Board of Education, and the Ministry of Labour will cooperate to see that proper day nurseries are established. I go so far as to say 392 that we should establish residential nurseries so as to wipe out altogether the minder system.
I lived in Lancashire for many years and I always felt revulsion when I saw young mothers take their babies out of warm beds early in the morning, carry them out into the cold and take them to minders. I, therefore, hold very strong views about it. I hope that when the Government comes to deal with this question there will be no semblance of a approach to the suggestion that was made in responsible quarters early in the war that baby nurseries or creches should be established in the grounds of industrial organisations, under the control of employers of labour, where well-intentioned and well-meaning people, with no qualifications or efficiency, would look after the children. When I was canvassed about that idea, which emanated from a titled lady in this country and was supported, unfortunately, by people in public life who ought to have known better, my retort was that to start a baby creche in Woolwich Arsenal was an intolerable idea. If we intend to do the job let us do it properly.
I want to say something now about welfare. I have been appalled at the lack of provision in some factories for proper welfare work. We must provide proper sanitation, supervision and canteens—not just a canteen where you get a cup of tea and a biscuit, because the workers deserve something better than that. The Government should see that every factory has a proper canteen. The Minister emphasised the importance of proper lodgings for women who are compelled to leave their homes. I hope that the Department responsible for welfare will see that there is proper supervision. When complaints are made in the proper quarter by workers or by their organisations, cognisance should be taken of those complaints, and the factory inspector should see to it that the recommendations made are carried out so as to make for the well-being of the workers.
I have heard a great deal about wages and remuneration and I am deeply concerned about the matter. Perhaps I am one of the few working women in this House. I have had to keep my nose to the grindstone and work for my living. I know what it is to work in a factory for long hours and for very inadequate 393 wages. There is a great deal of loose talk about equal pay for equal work and a great deal of contusion about the position of women in engineering work. There are two types of work in engineering, that which is recognised purely as women's work and that as men's work. The women in my constituency who are experts on the job have acquainted me with all the up-to-date facts in relation to this question.
During the last two or three weeks there has appeared in the Press an announcement that we had obtained a rate of 38s. after negotiations. There was no agreement between the employers and the trade unions, but they had to go to arbitration. We have a rate of 38s. at the age of 21 and over made up of £1 time rate, 18s. bonus (and that until a few weeks ago was 15s.) plus piece rates. Women are expected to make 25 per cent, of the time rate, but they usually make between 40 and 50 per cent., so that it works out to about £2 7s. 6d. a week and not the high rates which have been quoted in this House to-day. Women employed on work hitherto performed by men receive higher wages after eight weeks, rising to men's wages after 32 weeks, provided that they are able to replace men without additional supervision or assistance. Therefore, it is quite true that they are paid the rate for the job, but if they require additional supervision or assistance, the cost of such is deducted from their wages. I have been amazed at the evidence that has come to me of sweated wages which have been paid, and which are a complete violation of these agreements. We have had cases of women doing important aircraft work in a large industrial centre and receiving the sweated rate of 6d. an hour. I can give other illustrations to bear out these contentions.
The other day in this House I asked a Question of the Postmaster-General, who admitted that women now employed on Post Office engineering work received 80 per cent, of the basic pay for men employed on identical duties. What is the solution? I say that women Members in this House do a great dis-service to the women workers of the country if they try to make the women workers believe that the politicians are going to give them equal pay for equal work. The men workers in this country have learned by painful experience the necessity for trade- 394 union organisation, and the best advice that we can give to the women workers is that they should get inside their trade unions, build up a powerful organisation, and have collective action and collective agreements. They say that God helps those who help themselves, and we who are workers know that there is a great deal of truth in that statement. It is through the power of our organisations that we can compel the employers to give justice and fair play to our women as well as to our men.
I cannot sit down without saying something about the Personal Injuries Scheme. I hope that no one will hold the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions responsible for everything I say. I have been deeply interested in this question right from the beginning of the war. When the emergency legislation was rushed through at the start of the war I scanned the Regulations which were laid on the Table on 24th October, 1939, and I moved a Prayer, because I was dissatisfied with the Regulations under that Scheme. They excluded the whole of the non-gainfully employed sections of the community, which, in effect, meant that the whole of the housewives in this country were excluded from the operations of that Scheme and would receive no compensation. I considered that the scales which were given to the gainfully employed men and women were not adequate and I, as a Socialist, demanded equality for the women as well as for the men.
We had a very fine Debate. We were supported by men from all sides of the House, and what a great day it would have been if every woman Member of Parliament had voted against the Government's Regulations because they did not concede equality. But why should the women Members of this House think that the Government believe they are in favour of equality when, in the Division which took place on that occasion, there were only six women in the Division Lobbies, four of whom voted against the Regulations because they did not give equality, whilst two Conservative women voted with the Government. Six of the women Members of Parliament did not turn up at all to record their votes. Some of us tried to get the Regulations amended, and played our part in rousing public opinion all over the country. Our women's organisations engaged in lobbying and also sent deputations to the responsible 395 Ministers, and the result of the evidence laid before the Government and the Minister of Pensions, particularly after the "blitz" started, was that we were able to obtain amended Regulations which have substantially increased the allowances to men and particularly to women. They also included the whole of the non-gainfully employed section of the community—a very great triumph indeed.
I would say, that while we are grateful for the concessions which have been made, we in the Labour movement, representative of the working-class women of the country, do not adopt the stupid attitude of some of the women who have made their voices heard outside this House and who have told the Minister of Pensions that if women could not be brought in on equal terms with men, they would rather they were kept out altogether. I do not take that view. If I can get 14s. or 16s. a week for the housewives of this country, even if I think they should have equal rights with the men, I am going to take as much as I can get on their behalf, and go on agitating until we can obtain the full measure of compensation.
In conclusion, I hope the Government will go into the whole question of woman-power and will see that all these uselessly employed women are brought into industry. I am quite certain that the women of this country will respond to the call and put their backs into the effort to play their part in helping to bring about a defeat for Hitler and a victory for democracy.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Sir John Anderson)
A few moments ago my, right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions approached this Box proclaiming loudly his sense of enjoyment. I confess that I, on the contrary, come forward with a certain feeling of perturbation, partly because I am far from clear as to what may fairly be expected of me in winding up a Debate of this kind, and partly because I have in mind the old adage, which I may perhaps be permitted to adapt to this occasion, that fools rush in where angels have ceased to tread.
Many points raised in this Debate have been dealt with already by my hon. and right hon. Friends on this bench, and I rise solely in order that, on behalf of the War Cabinet, I may acknowledge the 396 importance of this occasion. Having listened not to the whole of the Debate but to the greater part of it, I feel that we must all recognise that a day devoted once in a while to questions of special interest to women in general and to women's part in the war effort in particular is a day well spent. The very thoughtful speech to which we have just listened, by the hon. Lady the Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson), shows quite clearly, although I disagree with a considerable part of it, how important it is that knowledge of the very practical problems of the home and the family should be brought to bear in the course of our Debates when we are arranging over such a field as we have sought to cover to-day. I was sorry that I was not able to hear the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George). She raised a number of questions, after my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour had spoken, which I know were of an eminently practical and constructive character. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour wishes me to say that he hopes to have an opportunity before long of dealing with a number of the points she raised.
I do not know whether my Noble Friend the Member for Hemel Hemp-stead (Viscountess Davidson) is anywhere in the House. One of my difficulties is that a defensive principle for which I have argued on many occasions, the principle of dispersal, has been put into practice to-day, so that it is a little difficult to know where anyone is, and certainly impossible to look anyone in the face. My Noble Friend raised some points in connection with Home Office administration which, had there been time, I should have wished to deal with at some length, because I think they have a general bearing on the question of equality between men and women in the public service. As regards women police, it is a great fallacy to think that you can deal with them on the same looting as men police. Both are called police, they may have the same powers, but their functions are entirely different. When it is suggested that the Home Office has been backward, and might have been more vigorous in dealing with local authorities—I noticed that the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) upbraided the Government 397 for not dealing more vigorously with local authorities whom she considered backward, with whose opinions she was not in agreement—I would point out that you can carry that argument too far. I would way, without wishing to be too reproachful, that women have not sometimes played the part that they could play in these matters. If our local authorities are backward, whose fault is it? Women have been free for years to take their part in local government. I myself at the Home Office have seen the efforts made by that Department, which I can assure the House is far from unsympathetic towards this problem. The history of the Factory Department shows that the Home Office has not been backward, has indeed been a pioneer in these matters.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Is the right hon Gentleman aware that in every local authority in the country there has been a majority of men?
§ Sir J. Anderson
Why? Women are free to vote in elections. I have frequently thought that women were in some degree themselves responsible for this state of things; but I never thought that the remedy was to attempt to impose compulsion on the local authorities. No greater disservice could be rendered to the cause of women than to attempt to force women police upon reluctant local authorities. It is so easy to make a failure of the whole thing, but in point of fact very considerable progress has been made. My hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Miss Cazalet) raised a question with regard to regional commissioners. She suggested that in the organisation of the regional commissioners we ought to have provided a responsible place, for women in order that problems of special interest to women and children—I hope I am not misrepresenting what she said—might have adequate attention.
§ Miss Cazalet
That was not what I said I said that the right hon. Gentleman who is Home Secretary now, to whom we suggested that there should be women assistant or deputy-commissioners, wrote to say that he disagreed because he thought that no special assistant-commissioner should be appointed for a special purpose, and that assistant-commissioners should be able to deal with the whole. With that I absolutely agree, but on top 398 of that, I said that the facts were that he himself had appointed four men as deputy-regional commissioners to deal with special problems.
§ Sir J. Anderson
That may be. Men may be chosen to deal with special problems because they have special technical qualifications, but it would not follow from that that you ought to employ regional commissioners who were women in order to ensure that proper attention was given in the region to problems affecting women and children, and I think it would be a great mistake to do anything of the kind.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am very glad indeed that my hon. Friend agrees with me. I thought she had taken a different view. I do not hesitate to say that I know a number of women, who, I think, would have made admirable deputy-regional commissioners or even regional commissioners, but if so appointed they certainly ought not to be confined to dealing with problems specially affecting women. At the moment there are not too many of them available and they would, I think, be better employed upon the tasks upon which they are at present engaged and which call for experience of rather a special character.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I daresay that that would be a very admirable arrangement, but there are not nearly enough qualified women to go round. I must bring my remarks to a close. No one who has occupied, as I have, the position of Minister of Home Security during a very critical period can fail to be fully conscious of the magnificent and of the quite indispensable part which women have played in the organisation of our Civil Defence. No words could be too strong to express the value of what women have done and are doing in various Civil Defence services, many of them doing work exactly comparable to that which is being done by men, and some of them doing work of inestimable value which only women could do. Whatever may be the force of the theoretical argument that can be brought forward in favour of identity of treatment of men and women in the 399 public service or elsewhere, there are in fact reasons, partly historical and partly bound up with fundamental features of our economic and social system, which make differences inevitable. Progress towards equality in these matters must inevitably be a question of time. There must be a gradual process of education. What I do hope is that the women Members of this House will realise—and what I hope this Debate will help to secure—that such case as can be put forward by way of criticism of the existing arrangements in favour of a greater approach to equality will be 400 listened to and considered with understanding and sympathy. If that result is secured, everyone in this House will agree that the Debate to-day has served a very useful purpose. I hope the occasion is one that after a proper and decent interval may be repeated.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.