HL Deb 04 August 1919 vol 36 cc264-9

Amendments reported (according to Order).

Clause 1:

Removal of disqualification on grounds of sex.

1. A person shall not be disqualified by sex from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to any civil or judicial office or post, or from entering or assuming any civil profession or vocation, or for admission to any incorporated society (whether incorporated by Royal Charter or otherwise), and a person shall not be exempted by sex from the liability to serve as a juror.

Provided that—

  1. (a) notwithstanding anything in this section, His Majesty may by Order in Council authorise regulations to be made prescribing the mode of admission of women to the civil service of His Majesty, and the conditions on which women admitted to that service may be appointed to posts therein, and providing for the exclusion of women from admission to any branch of the civil service in any of His Majesty's possessions, or in any foreign country; and
  2. (b) any judge, chairman of quarter sessions, recorder or other person before whom the case is heard may, in his discretion, on an application made by or on behalf of the parties (including in criminal cases the prosecution and the accused) or any of them, or at his own instance, make an order that having regard to the nature of the case and the evidence to be given, the jury shall be composed of men only or of women only as the case may require, or may on an application made by a woman to be exempted from service on a jury in respect of that case by reason of the nature of the evidence to be given or of the issues to be tried, grant such exemption.

VISCOUNT HALDANE moved to leave out proviso (a). The noble and learned Viscount said: I have put down an Amendment on Clause 1, which I should have moved in Committee, but unfortunately and unexpectedly your Lordships sat during the time that some of us, including myself, were engaged on the business of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. My purpose was to draw attention to the first proviso of Clause 1, by which the authorities are now empowered to make Orders in Council which cut into the very principle of the Bill. As matters stand now, the Civil Service Commissioners have a system under which they exercise certain discretion, which I should have thought was sufficient for the purpose and really all that was legitimate. As things stand to-day there are, of course, many appointments into which nobody wishes to put women. For instance, there are appointments in India, and others of a special kind, for which women ought not to be eligible merely because they have passed an examination. But the general principle is that they are admissible to all these appointments subject to this—that the Commissioners, in the exercise of the discretion they now possess, can deal with individual cases and say that it is not suitable for a woman to fill this, that or the other post.

The Bill goes unpleasantly further, and I cannot help feeling that it embodies the views, which undoubtedly commended themselves to the Treasury, taken by the Gladstone Committee, as distinct from the other Committees which reported on the subject and which, by a large majority, endorsed the views previously taken by the Royal Commission on the Civil Service. Administratively it may be perfectly right that there should be power to say, "Such and such a position is not one which ought to be filled by a woman," but I own I dislike this proviso (a) which stands there, giving in effect statutory power to cut down the principle which the Act of Parliament asserts. No doubt the noble and learned Lord has considered this question. I cannot help feeling that proviso (a) goes back really on the principle of the Bill. Therefore I move that this proviso should be omitted.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, lines 13 to 22, leave out proviso(a).—(Viscount Haldane.)


The noble and learned Viscount, I believe, is not really in disagreement with the object of the Government in attempting to provide some method by which discrimination, which I think is admittedly necessary, should be applied; but I gather that he thinks the proviso goes too far. I should like to say how very much I regret that the noble and learned Viscount was not here during the Committee stage and I regret also that he should not have been informed of the fact that your Lordships were sitting at three o'clock. I assumed that the usual notice had been given and I was unaware that the noble and learned Viscount got here too late.

I think every one will agree that, in dealing with a Civil Service which is an instrument for the purposes of this country all over the Empire, which deals with populations so diverse in their habits, their religions, their codes of morality and their social standards, you cannot simply leave yourself with Clause 1 of the Bill, unmodified by any subsequent pro- vision. Let me refresh your Lordships' memory— A person shall not be disqualified by sex from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to any civil or judicial office or post, or from entering or assuming any civil profession or vocation, or for admission to any incorporated society— and so forth. That language has been deliberately chosen. It is very wide language. It is necessary, I think, that it should be as wide as that to assert the principle which most people to-day adopt, and it would be quite wide enough to base the implication that there should be differentiation of no kind between men and women to appointments in the Civil Service.

I venture to say boldly that no one would contend that such a differentiation is not vitally necessary, and it is necessary, I venture to think, in the interests of women as in the interests of men, but it is very necessary in the interests of the Empire as a whole. For instance, the noble and learned Viscount said plainly and candidly, if I understood him rightly, that he agreed that in dealing with the population of India it would be disastrous to suggest that, merely as a result of examination of proficiency, the Civil Service in India, in existing circumstances, should be largely, or considerably, committed to the hands of women. Every one, therefore, must agree that, both from the point of view of India and that of our Dependencies which are in a similar position, some modification must be introduced.

I need hardly remind the House of another important respect in which the power to make Regulations which are insisted upon under the proviso, must be preserved. It is merely elementary, and it is one of those discrepancies—fundamental sex discrepancies—which legislation cannot correct, and which must be observed in legislation. I am dealing, of course, with the effect which marriage, and all that marriage involves, must make in a natural differentiation between the two sexes. Your Lordships know, I think, well that the present practice of the Civil Service is to retire in the ordinary course any woman employee who marries, and the reasons for this are apparent and need not be elaborated. The practice, I think, of the Post Office is to retire with a gratuity every woman civil servant on marriage. No one of course would seriously argue that it is in the interests of the State or in the interests of the women themselves, and still less in the interests of their families, that they should be continued in the Civil Service on marriage.

You can only deal with this and many other matters of the same kind by Regulation, and what I ventured to say when a similar proposal, moved by Lord Muir Mackenzie, was discussed in Committee, was this—that a deputation of a combination of women's societies have asked the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Mr. Bonar Law, and myself to receive them in order that they may put before us their arguments and their point of view upon the proposal now made by the noble and learned Viscount. I should suggest as the most convenient course, having had the advantage of a full debate in the Committee stage and of hearing the noble and learned Viscount put forward his own point of view that, so far as your Lordships are concerned, it would be a reasonable course to adopt to leave the Bill with the proviso still in it, and to let it go to the House of Commons for consideration, after Mr. Bonar Law and myself have received the deputation. I can assure the noble Viscount that the views he has pressed will receive careful consideration, side by side with the other considerations I have mentioned.


I admit the impossibility of there being no discrimination in regard to appointments in the Civil Service as between men and women. There must be, I think, some power of at least administrative discrimination, as is suggested by Viscount Haldane, but the words of this paragraph are very wide, and I hope, when the deputation to which the Lord Chancellor has referred has met Mr. Bonar Law and himself, there will be a modification of the wording. On the question of married women in the Civil Service, which the Lord Chancellor takes as a matter of course, I much doubt whether the opinion of the public in years to come will be that married women must necessarily retire from the Civil Service. I do not think that will be the rule. A good deal can be said for it, and a good deal against it. There might be women whose qualities are of such value in the Civil Service that even if some irregularity of attendance is necessary it is still desirable to maintain them in those posts. If this matter is to be left entirely to Orders in Council, which might conceivably (I do not say they would) be dictated by rather retrograde officials, I think the Orders ought to be subject to some sort of check, either have to be laid on the Table and subject to a Resolution, or at any rate subject to some kind of check. However, as the deputation is to meet the Lord Chancellor and Mr. Bonar Law, I hope that some better and more satisfactory agreed arrangement may be found.


After what has been said by the noble and learned Lord, I will not press the Amendment. I am glad to hear that the matter is still what I may call sub judice, and I hope that in its consideration the question will be borne in mind, why women should be legislatively excluded from posts in the Civil Service and not excluded from administrative posts. As I read the Bill it is open for a woman to be appointed to the Woolsack or to occupy the position which the most rev. Primate occupies. It is only administratively that she is excluded.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.