HC Deb 08 May 1956 vol 552 cc987-8
8. Mr. Lee

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will reconsider his decision not to hold an inquiry into the rates of pay of women employed in the engineering industry.

11. Miss Lee

asked the Minister of Labour what progress has been made in meeting the trade union request for a court of inquiry regarding equal pay for women; and what steps he has taken to expedite this.

Mr. Iain Macleod

I informed the trade unions concerned on 26th April that I was unable to accede to their request for an independent inquiry into women's work in engineering. I can see no grounds for reconsidering this decision.

Mr. Lee

Is it not the fact that the Ministry of Labour is now looked upon by both sides of industry as a sort of neutral court to which both can go when they are in great difficulty? May not the result of this refusal of the Minister be that, when issues of very great importance arise and he wishes to set up a court of inquiry, the trade union may refuse to co-operate in consequence of his action now? Will he again consider this matter? This is indeed a very great national issue. The Government themselves have accepted the basis of equal pay. Does it not appear that they are now backing out when the union asks for the implementation in private industry of what the Government have done in the Civil Service?

Mr. Macleod

I shall be happy to accept that description which the hon. Gentleman has given of my Department. This, however, is a purely practical question, whether a court of inquiry set up by the Minister of Labour is the most appropriate body for what is, I recognise, an important and serious national issue. My answer to that would be that a court of inquiry is the last resort in the hands of the Minister of Labour, a resort which he uses extremely rarely, and it would seem to me, as I said in my letter to which I have referred, and which I am quite ready to make public, wholly inappropriate for the sort of detailed inquiry that this would have to be.

Miss Lee

Would the right hon. Gentleman prefer to have a strike in these industries if there is not equal pay? Is he aware that there is complete agreement between the men and women in industry on this point, and that there is a majority of Members of this House who support equal pay? Will he tell me what women can now do, and what others inside and outside the House can now do, who believe that this principle should be universally applied?

Mr. Macleod

Naturally I should deem it a disastrous thing if there were a major strike in the engineering industry of this country. That, of course, is common ground. As I said, this is purely a practical issue about what the best way of resolving this may be. I cannot see that a court of inquiry set up by the Minister is the appropriate body. Indeed, in response to that letter the union is now asking the Federation whether it will meet to discuss the possibility of setting up such an inquiry within the industry itself, which is what I suggested.

Miss Bacon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that equal pay is regarded by professional women not as the end but as the beginning? Will he therefore use his influence and do evertyhing he can to see that the example of the Government and of the local authorities is followed in industry?

Mr. Macleod

That is a very important question, but undoubtedly it goes wider than this Question.