HC Deb 25 January 1955 vol 536 cc31-4

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

72. Miss WARD

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he can yet make a report on the introduction of equal pay in the Civil Service.


To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will now state the intentions of Her Majesty's Government towards implementing the policy outlined on 16th May, 1952, in respect of equal pay for equal work for women employed, in both industrial and non-industrial grades in Government employ.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I informed the House on 25th May last that I had received a deputation from the Staff Side of the Civil Service National Whitley Council to discuss the question of introducing equal pay into the non-industrial Civil Service. I told the deputation that I thought it essential that the change from unequal pay should be made over a period of time. I therefore suggested that negotiations should take place through the Whitley machinery with the object of producing a scheme by which equal pay might be gradually introduced on an agreed basis. I added that, if such an agreement were reached, I hoped it would be possible to make a start within the present financial year.

The negotiating committee of the National Whitley Council have now produced a joint report and presented it to the Council. The Official Side have agreed to the scheme proposed in it and the Staff Side have recommended it to the executive committees of the several staff associations for their concurrence.

The report proposes a scheme under which the existing women's scales would be increased by seven equal annual instalments so that, on the payment of the seventh instalment, women's scales would become identical with men's scales. For certain special grades, such as typists, a compromise is proposed, by which the new scales eventually to be applied to both sexes would be higher than the present women's scales but somewhat lower than the scales at present in force for the relatively small number of men serving in these grades.

There are certain other grades in which women have different conditions of service from men, and here the treatment is reserved for further consideration. Grades in which no men are employed were outside the scope of the negotiations. Subject to the final acceptance of the proposals by the Staff Side, the Government propose to put them into operation as from 1st January, 1955. The process would then be completed on 1st January, 1961.

A Supplementary Estimate will be necessary in order to obtain Parliamentary authority for the scheme, and it will be presented very shortly.

These proposals apply to the non-industrial Civil Service only. For the industrial Civil Service, the Government consider it essential to follow the fair-wage principle, and to continue as at present to pay their women employees in accordance with the general practice in the trade concerned.

Miss Ward

Will my right hon. Friend accept the very grateful appreciation of a great many people who, for many years, have been asking for the introduction of equal pay? Will he also accept our grateful thanks that this progressive step forward has been made in implementation of a Tory pledge?

Mr. Lee

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the differentiation which he has made between industrial and non industrial civil servants certainly does not comply with what was expected by many powerful trade organisations which cater for women in the employ of the Government? Why will the Chancellor not at least say that in the negotiations covering industrial women civil servants, the Official Side will be guided by his declaration so far as non-industrial women civil servants are concerned?

Mr. Butler

I fear that I cannot alter the latter part of my statement, which I purposely included for the sake of absolute clarity. As far as I know, the Government are following the practice, adopted by previous Governments, of adhering to the fair-wage principle in the manner that I have described, and I do not see that the Government could do anything else in this sphere. I understand the anxieties, but I do net see that the Government could follow any other line.

Miss Herbison

While I welcome the improvement that has been announced, may I ask whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer is aware that there will be great dismay indeed among those women who have been singled out for what I can only term scurvy treatment by the Chancellor? Is he aware that the statement which he has made is only an excuse that, for many of the other women who will benefit, there are national agreements which apply also to women outside the Civil Service? Since these agreements could be overcome in the previous negotiations, is it not also possible that, although there are national agreements for industrial workers, they could have been overcome, and the lowest-paid women in the Civil Service have a rise?

Mr. Butler

I have on two occasions discussed all these matters, including every aspect of the national agreements involved, with the unions concerned. While I am certainly ready to go on discussing, I cannot alter the decision of the Government, which is not a scurvy one but is an adherence to a definite principle which has been hallowed in our negotiating machinery.

Dr. Summerskill

Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to apply this scheme to teachers?

Mr. Butler

That question should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education.

Mr. Pannell

Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer not realise that the principle of equal pay does not rest on whether a woman works in an office or in a factory? It is a certain ethical principle. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that equal pay in industrial establishments means that no woman should get less than an unskilled labourer? Cannot he appreciate as elementary a principle as that, even in view of his complete lack of knowledge of industrial conditions?

Mr. Butler

I try to understand things as best I can and on the whole I get on fairly well, but I should certainly be glad to have a word with the hon. Member about the complexities of this subject. What we have been able to do in the Civil Service as an employer is to give a lead which no other Government have done.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I press the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the matter of local government employees? Are we to understand that the principle announced by the Government applies to them? If so, have the Treasury nothing to say on this? Are they not involved? Has no Government decision been taken about teachers and other local government employees?

Mr. Butler

The teachers and other people have their own negotiating machinery and I can only give an answer in so far as the Government are an employer in the Civil Service. No doubt we shall see further waves of interest and repercussions in this matter but I can go no further than this at present.

Miss Ward

May I ask my right hon. Friend—and I am very interested in the attitude of hon. and right hon. Members opposite—whether he can say anything about the older women in the Civil Service and how they will fare under this new proposal?

Mr. Butler

While not wishing to class my hon. Friend in such a category I think that according to the rules of this statement they will do the same as anybody else.