HC Deb 22 April 1970 vol 800 cc505-12

(1) The Secretary of State or Defence Council shall not make, or recommend to Her Majesty the making of, any instrument relating to the terms and conditions of service of members of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown or of any women's service administered by the Defence Council, if the instrument has the effect of making a distinction, as regards pay, allowances or leave, between men and women who are members of those forces or of any such service, not being a distinction fairly attributable to differences between the obligations undertaken by men and those undertaken by women as such members as aforesaid.

(2) The Secretary of State or Defence Council may refer to the Industrial Court for their advice any question whether a provision made or proposed to be made by any such instrument as is referred to in subsection (1) above ought to be regarded for purposes of this section as making a distinction not permitted by that subsection.—[Mrs. Castle.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.23 p.m.

The First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (Mrs. Barbara Castle)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I am glad that we are starting this evening's proceedings on the same harmonious note on which we finished in Committee. I might almost say that this is where we went out, for the final business before the Standing Committee was a debate on a new Clause put down by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) and his hon. Friends in an effort to find a way to have the Bill applied in the Armed Forces. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was particularly enamoured of his Clause. Indeed, he said: We have been thrown back on to this form of words to try to find some way of ensuring that there is at least included in the Bill the provision that the Armed Forces shall have equal pay ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee H, 17th March, 1970; c. 347.] Although I opposed that Clause in Committee, I sympathised with the hon. Gentleman in both his purpose and his difficulty in finding an appropriate way of applying the Bill to the Armed Forces. I promised—he withdrew his Motion on my assurance—that we should continue to work hard to try to overcome the drafting difficulties and we should if at all possible, table our own new Clause at this stage. This we have done, and I hope that the House will think that we have made a good job of it.

There has not been any disagreement between the two sides of the House on what we are seeking to do here. We have all been anxious to ensure that the principles of the Bill are applied in the Armed Forces. I pointed out on Second Reading that in its Report on the Armed Forces in June, 1969, the Prices and Incomes Board had recommended the application of equal pay in the Armed Forces, and in its report of February this year the board spelled out how Government policy with regard to equal pay was being applied in the recommendations for a new military salary structure. We are all confident that the Government are determined to apply this principle in the Services.

We wanted to find a way to have the Armed Forces committed to equal pay under the Bill, but there have always been two difficulties in the way. The first lay in the constitutional position and the pay arrangements for the Services. As the House knows, Army and Air Force pay is fixed under the Royal Prerogative through the Royal Warrants, and there is no statutory backing for it except in the case of the Navy. Also, there is the difficulty regarding the method of enforcement. We all agreed, I think that it would not be appropriate for an individual woman member of the women's Services to be able to take the Secretary of State for Defence before an industrial tribunal to argue whether she had or had not received equal pay for broadly similar work or work rated as equivalent under a job evaluation scheme.

The Opposition had two goes in Committee at trying to solve the problem. They were not very happy about either. I hope that they will be happy with this Clause and that we shall be able to pass it without protracted discussion. The Clause would prohibit distinctions as regards pay, allowances or leave between men and women in the forces, providing that The Secretary of State or Defence Council shall not make, or recommend … the making of, any instrument which discriminates, which has the effect of making a distinction, as regards pay, allowances or leave, between men and women… members of those forces…not being a distinction fairly attributable to differences between the obligations undertaken by men and those undertaken by women as such members as aforesaid ". I should explain why the phrase " pay, allowances or leave " is used instead of the phrase " terms and conditions of employment ", which is used elsewhere in the Bill. A moment's thought will show why we have to do it in this way. Pay, allowances and leave are the equivalent in the Services of terms and conditions; they are the only matters referred to in the pay instruments, and Service conditions are laid down in the disciplinary code. This, therefore, is the parallel here.

However, we have to make a slight qualification at the end of subsection (I) of the Clause, for two reasons. There are clear-cut distinctions between men and women in the Services which it is impossible to ignore—for example, in their liability to bear arms, the terms of their contract of service, the codes of discipline to which they are subjected and their liability to serve overseas. The women's services are distinct from the men's services and there are separate instruments laying down their rates of pay. We have to allow for that.

7.30 p.m.

But I emphasise that that does not mean that equal pay is being only partially introduced in the forces. We are saying that in the forces equal pay will be introduced for work of equal value, which is fully in accord with the principle of the Bill. But service in the forces is clearly different in character from employment in industry, and we have to take that into account in the drafting of the Clause. That is one of the reasons why we made provision in subsection (2) for the Secretary of State or the Defence Council to consult the Industrial Court on any question which arises. That will give us the assurance that equal pay will be introduced fairly, in accordance with the obligations laid on the Secretary of State in subsection (1).

Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)

Could the right hon. Lady give me one example, for instance, of a " Wren " doing comparable work which would merit equal pay with that of a naval rating?

Mrs. Castle

I recommend the hon. Member to read the February report of the National Board for Prices and Incomes. It analyses in great detail the way in which these principles of equal pay for work of equal value can be and should be applied in the armed services. I am sure that that will give the hon. Member the answer which he seeks.

I hope that the House agrees that we have kept our promise and that all those concerned have shown some ingenuity in doing so. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in helping us to work out what I think is a satisfactory solution.

Mr. Philip Holland (Carlton)

I express my warmest thanks to the right hon. Lady for keeping the promise she made in Committee to bring the Armed Forces within the scope of the Bill. I confess that last week I had some misgivings that she would find the task too difficult. I have some idea of the difficulties involved, and I was worried that she might not be able to overcome them all and that we might again have the rather difficult debate on this subject that we had in Committee. I much admire her ingenuity and that of her advisers.

I feel that the Clause covers all the requirements in this respect comprehensively and that there should be no argument in the future that the forces have not equality of treatment with people outside the forces. That is very desirable. I thank her again for producing the Clause.

Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

While I welcome the Clause, I wish to put one question arising from it. Some years ago the then Minister of Defence, questioned by me about equal pay in the forces, pointed out that while all other things might be equal, the men had different obligations from those of the women. He used the word " obligations ", and it is used in the Clause. He pointed out that in the event of war men might be obliged to bear arms and to risk their lives in battle, and that therefore he could not equate the obligations of the men with those of the women. In peace time they are obviously doing work of equal value—indeed, the same work. If there were to be a war, would the men and women be on different pay bases in war time?

Mr. Keith Speed (Meriden)

I, too, welcome the ingenious way in which the right hon. Lady and her Department have achieved what we all tried to achieve in Committee. I had the honour of moving the original Amendment, which I was the first to admit was far from satisfactory. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) tried to introduce a new Clause, which was also defective. With the expertise available to the Department, the right hon. Lady has gone a long way to overcoming the difficulties.

May I answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott). I can speak only of the Navy, but there are W.R.N.S. radar plotters working in shore establishments alongside male radar plotters and doing exactly the same work, and there are W.R.N.S. cooks, W.R.N.S. stewardesses, W.R.N.S. photographic experts and W.R.N.S. meteorological experts doing the same work as their male counterparts. The only difference is that, on the whole, the Wrens " serve only in shore establishments whereas their male counterparts may go to sea. If the result of the Clause were to send " Wrens " to sea, I would say, as an ex-member of the Naval Reserve, that we should be prepared to welcome it, although I do not know whether the " Wrens " would then be entitled to hard-lying allowance.

I am sure that there are many similar examples from the other Services. In war, members of the A.T.S. worked on antiaircraft guns. Women were doing exactly the same work and bearing exactly the same responsibility as their male counterparts.

Mr. Nott

I understand what my hon. Friend says about the activities of those involved, but the suggestion is not that " Wrens " and naval ratings should be paid according to the activities which they are performing. They will be paid according to their rank and seniority. Is not that normally the case?

Mr. Speed

Yes, but if an ordinary " Wren " is working alongside an ordinary seaman, doing the same job, in a shore establishment, I hope that they will get the same pay. Presumably a leading " Wren " or third officer " Wren " would get the appropriate pay, equal to that of a leading seaman or a sub-lieutenant.

Mr. Holland

The new Clause refers clearly to " obligations ". That is the criterion.

Mr. Speed

Exactly. I think that there is no difficulty, but I was trying to answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives. Those with recent Service experience will appreciate that there are many cases in which people are doing exactly the same work. I believe that, on the whole, women's pay has been about 75 per cent. of men's pay, although in certain trades and skills there has been an even bigger differentiation. I welcome the Clause, which is an auspicious start to the proceedings this evening.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

We all congratulate the right hon. Lady on the new Clause. I was not a member of the Committee, and a point which occurs to me concerns referring the question of Service pay to the industrial court. Surely in the Services it is easy to allocate pay on an equal basis, because military ranks are involved, and if a person is doing the same work as others in that rank, it should be possible for the Government to ensure that equal pay is paid. Why might it be necessary for the Secretary of State to refer somebody else in the Government to the industrial court for not doing what it is surely simple to do? Many of the titles in the Services are now the same. At one time women officers were called commanders, whereas the respective men officers were majors or colonels. But most of the ranks are now given the same name. If the women have the same titles, basically they should be drawing the same pay.

Mr. Robert Carr (Mitcham)

I would like to thank the right hon. Lady for bringing forward this new Clause and also to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) in congratulating her on overcoming what we know were the very real difficulties in meeting the point which we all wanted to meet.

I am equally glad that we have started these proceedings in such a harmonious way and trust that we shall continue in the same vein. It must seem strange to the right hon. Lady to hear us being so nice to her. This just shows how fair and objective we are. I am sure that she will realise that we are equally fair and objective when, as is often the case, we criticise her severely. We will always strive to be fair and objective and we hope that we can thank her even more in the future.

Mrs. Castle

May I reply briefly to the two points that have been raised. First, may I deal with that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). As I said in moving the Clause, there are different obligations in the Services and it is only right that they should be reflected in the remuneration. This was covered in the P.I.B. report by what it called the " X " factor, which is liability to service and so on, and this operates equally in war and peace. It covers the fact that if war comes men might have a liability that the woman would not.

With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), I want to put this quite straight. He asked why did I have to refer another colleague to the Industrial Court. I will not do anything of the kind. He has misunderstood subsection (2). It merely empowers the Secretary of State for Defence or the Defence Council to ask the advice of the Industrial Court in helping them to be sure that they have interpreted correctly the principles of the Bill and applied them aright to the Armed Forces.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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