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Commons Chamber

Volume 524: debated on Tuesday 9 March 1954

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House Of Commons

Tuesday, 9th March, 1954

The House met at Half past Two o'Clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Towcester Rural District Council (Abthorpe Rating) Bill

As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.

Petitions (Equal Pay)

I beg to present a petition signed by some 80,000 citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They wish to protest against the continuing injustice of unequal pay for equal work, and in pursuance of this they

"humbly pray that your honourable House will be pleased to introduce legislation to establish equal pay for equal work as between men and women in the public services, and thus implement the principle which has been accepted by your honourable House in 1920, 1936, 1944 and 1952.
And your Petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, etc."
To lie upon the Table.

My petition is somewhat larger than that of the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward). It is a petition on behalf of 1,282,000 signatories and represents a petition from the Staff Side of the Civil Service National Whitley Council, the National Union of Teachers, the National and Local Government Officers' Association and the National Federation of Professional Women Workers. This Petition is supported by the Trades Union Congress, which is on record as saying:

"That this Congress is of the opinion that the General Council should now make the strongest representations to Her Majesty's Government and acquaint them with the strong demand of the whole trade union movement for tangible progress to be made without delay."
I believe the Chancellor is aware of that recent resolution.

If it were in order to do so—which it would not be—I should refer to the fact that the Petition is headed by 12 signatories of members of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, but I am in order in referring to the fact that a Motion on this subject was passed in this House in 1920 and was accepted without a Division. The Anderson Committee on the Pay of State Servants in 1923 emphasised the justice of the principle, and in 1936 a Motion was passed by this House. In 1944 this House carried by a majority of one—afterwards reversed, the principle of equal pay for women teachers. A Royal Commission has reported in favour of it since the war, and it will be remembered that I moved, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) seconded, a Motion on 16th May, 1952.

I have armed myself with the Standing Order. With great respect, I trust that I am within its terms, because it says that I can refer to the number of signatures attached to the Petition and the material allegations contained in it, as well as reading the Prayer of such a Petition. If I am out of order, perhaps you will tell me.

That is the reason why I asked whether it was in the Petition. It is in order if it is in the Petition.

That is so. I will read the Petition. It says:

"To the honourable Commons of the United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, the humble Petition of citizens of the United Kingdom…"
It says that,
"Her Majesty's Government has accepted the principle of equal pay for men and women in all public services, that the House of Commons on 16th May, 1952, called upon Her Majesty's Government to announce an early and definite date by which the application of equal pay for equal work for men and women in the Civil Service, the teaching profession, local government and other public services will begin."
It concludes:
"Wherefore your Petitioners pray that steps be now taken to meet the wishes of the House expressed on 16th May, 1952, by implementing the principal of Equal Pay in the Civil Service, the Teaching Profession, Local Government and all other Public Services without fail during the year 1954.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.…"
To lie upon the Table.

Oral Answers To Questions

National Finance

Equal Pay

1.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that the civil servants' claim for equal pay for women is the only wage dispute between trade unions and employers which cannot be dealt with through the established machinery of negotiation and arbitration; and whether he will remove this hindrance to a settlement f this long-standing dispute.

3 and 6.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) whether he will now authorise effective negotiations to begin on the Civil Service National Whitley Council with a view to the introduction of equal pay in the national Government service this year;

(2) how far his recent renewal of the offer to the Civil Service Staff Side to engage in informal talks with the Treasury on a possible scheme for the introduction of equal pay into the public service is intended to commit Her Majesty's Government to implement any agreement reached.

14.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer under what authority he refuses to allow the claim for equal pay for women in the Civil Service to be referred to the Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal.

I will, with permission, answer this Question with Questions Nos. 3, 6 and 14.

On a point of order. At the beginning of February I submitted a Question to the Table which I was told was in order but would probably not be accepted. The Question was as follows:

"To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he is aware of the shortage of women teachers, that one of the causes is the disparity in pay between men and women teachers and that the Burnham Committee "—

It is a rule of the House that an hon. Member whose Question has been disallowed cannot read it on a point of order. I think I can shorten this matter because I remember that when my attention was drawn to the state of the Order Paper for today and I found that there were 25 Questions down on this subject, I ruled that no more should be accepted. In that, I was following a precedent. One of my predecessors would not allow three Questions which were the same on one day. I should not like to be bound by so narrow a limit, but it is quite clear that if hon. Members were to exercise, as it were, a pre-emption on the Question Paper, it would be unfair to hon. Members with other subjects to raise. Probably that answers the point of order which the hon. Lady has in mind.

I was reading the Question to show that it was quite different from any of the other Questions. Perhaps you would inform the House, Mr. Speaker, for the guidance of hon. Members, at what stage Questions become a campaign. There are many Questions on the Order Paper today. It would be for our guidance to know at what stage no more Questions would be accepted.

The determination of that question—when it becomes a campaign—is left to the discretion of the Chair and is therefore wrapped in a certain amount of impenetrable mystery.

The reply to these Questions is as follows: I have offered to authorise exploratory discussions on the Whitley Council on possible methods of implementing equal pay gradually. The offer was declined by the staff representatives, but is still open. Arbitration on a question of high policy would, as Governments of both parties have recognised, be undesirable.

Does not the Chancellor appreciate that it would put the Civil Service trade unions in a very weak position if they were to negotiate on something which may or may not happen at some hypothetical date in the dim and distant future before the implementation of the principle itself is resolved? It could mean a simple decision now and possible implementation later. I think we are still waiting for the Chancellor to name the day for that step to be taken.

I am sorry that the offer was not accepted, but I have never questioned the good faith of the unions concerned or their motives in declining. I am only sorry that we could not make more progress in that way in seeing what gradual schemes there might be.

In view of the fact that the Institution of Civil Servants has been given an arbitration award for an increase in pay and that the question of women's salaries has been left for further negotiation, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether there is any significance in that fact and whether it means that the Institution will now be able to discuss equal pay in the Civil Service before the Arbitration Court?

No. There has been upheld by successive Governments a right to refuse arbitration on certain high policy grounds. This has been reasserted at intervals since 1926. I can give, for example, two occasions: in 1941 arbitration was refused on the war bonus and in 1949 the then Labour Government refused arbitration on the question of the balance of civil pay. Questions of the type on which arbitration is not usually permitted are those of equal pay and such as I have already mentioned. There is nothing novel in the procedure which is being evolved and which has been upheld by previous Governments.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the so-called negotiations which he offered to the Staff Side of the Civil Service National Whitley Council were a mere theoretical exercise, because he said that a condition of these negotiations would be that the Government could not commit themselves either as to the form or as to the date when a beginning could be made with the introduction of the principle of equal pay? Is he further aware that when these circumstances were reported to the General Council of the Trades Union Congress they completely defended the attitude of the Staff Side in refusing to enter into so-called negotiations without a beginning and without an end?

I do not know why either the hon. Member or the Staff Side should be on the defensive about this. My motive was perfectly honourable and quite understandable. I was unable to make a better offer at the time. They did not accept it. I do not hold it against them, and there is no reason for them to defend themselves. I am only sorry that we have not been able to make a little more progress.

Is the Chancellor aware that his answer will be viewed by those concerned with deep dissatisfaction?

2.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what answer he has returned to the resolution of the Trades Union Congress last September asking that early progress with the introduction of equal pay in the public services should be made.

Representatives of the T.U.C. discussed this matter with me on 4th March. I promised to give consideration to their representations.

Does the Chancellor appreciate that this is not a matter which depends on the Budget? He can make this declaration at any time he likes, or set some sort of date now or in the future. What is holding him up? When he was on this side of the House he was on record as being very much in favour of it.

I am giving consideration to the latest representations which I have received from the T.U.C, and I should have thought that they require a certain degree of consideration.

Will the Chancellor confirm that in his talks with the T.U.C. he intends that manual and domestic female workers will also be included in the claim for equal pay?

All I can say at this stage is that in their deputation to me, which was of a very weighty and solemn character, the T.U.C. made an allusion to industrial civil servants and said that they should be included within any consideration which I gave.

4.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what conditions must be satisfied before the economic position of the country will permit him to introduce equal pay for women in the public services.

5.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will take fresh note of the Motion of this House, agreed to without a Division on 16th May, 1952, in the light of the termination of hostilities in Korea and the consequent tapering off of arms expenditure.

8.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if, in view of the cessation of hostilities in Korea and the prospect of a lessening of international tension, with a consequent reduction in armament expenditure, he will now state what measures he proposes to take to implement the principle of equal pay for men and women in the Government service.

9.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer in view of the reduction in defence expenditure consequent upon the cessation of hostilities in Korea, if he will now give the date when he will introduce equal pay for equal work in the Government service.

10, 11 and 21.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) whether, in view of the Government's claim that the country's economic and financial situation has improved, he will announce the date on which he will apply the principle of equal pay for equal work in the Civil Service;

(2) what are the circumstances that prevent him from putting into operation the principle of equal pay for equal work as decided unanimously in this House on 16th May, 1952;

(3) whether he will apply the principle of equal pay for equal work in the Civil Service, as from 5th April, 1954, due to the Government's claim that the country's economic situation has improved.

12.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the improvement in the terms of trade and its effect on Britain's financial position, he will now implement the promise on equal pay given to the House by his Financial Secretary on 16th May, 1952.

19 and 20.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) whether he is aware that male employees in Government service, with no dependants, receive higher pay than women in a similar position; that women employees with dependants receive less than men without any; and if he will, therefore, consider such anomalies when preparing his Budget statement, in view of the improved financial situation which will arise as the result of the cessation of hostilities in Korea;

(2) whether he is aware of public disquiet at the refusal to consider the wage claim of equal pay in the public service together with other wage claims since this Government took office; what is the reason for the continuing discrimination against women workers; and if, in view of his claim that the financial position of the country has now improved, he will take steps to remove such discrimination.

24.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will apply the principle of equality that governs payment of women and men Members of Parliament to present employees in the Civil Service, in view of the Government's claim of an improvement in the national finances.

On a point of order. I am not prepared to have my Question No. 12 answered with the others, because in my view it raises a separate point.

Further to that point of order. In connection with Question No. 19, as that also raises a separate point, I should prefer to have it answered separately.

I think that it would be better if the hon. Members heard the answer because they would then know whether it replied to their Questions.

I shall be glad to answer the points raised by the hon. Ladies in supplementary questions. If I may now give the general answer, I think it will be found that it covers all those points.

As has been repeatedly stated, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to make a start on the introduction of equal pay in the Civil Service as soon as the financial and economic situation of the country permits. The question raised by hon. Members is whether that condition has yet come about. There is no precise criterion by which to judge whether the financial and economic situation of the country is such as to justify the step desired. This must be a matter of judgment and is one not easy to deal with by way of question and answer. I have no further statement to make about it today.

Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer aware that the whole of the propaganda of the Government since they took office has been that the financial position of the country has been steadily improving? If that is still true, why has not he begun to implement the principle of equal pay?

The answer is that it is true, and the better it gets the nearer the time will come for the introduction of equal pay.

If the Chancellor still claims that Britain is too poor to pay its women civil servants equal pay, can he explain why it is that countries far poorer than Britain do not exploit their women civil servants as cheap labour?

I would not have thought that the women who do such splendid work in the Civil Service would regard themselves as being exploited as cheap labour. That is a personal opinion. I have certainly not found it so in my experience. I have studied the foreign experiments to which the right hon. Lady draws attention, and there are a variety of degrees of difference between the various countries. For example, I think that there is no country in the world carrying so comparatively high a burden of defence expenditure and so magnificent a social service programme, with its consequent expense, as this country is carrying at the present time.

With regard to Question No. 19, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that women with dependants are very much worse off than married people who have younger ones to support them when they reach retiring age? May I ask him, therefore, if he believes that dependants should be recognised, why spinsters and bachelors should not receive the same pay. With regard to Question No. 20, may I ask him why it is, in spite of the continued improvement of the financial position of this country, according to hon. Members opposite, the claim of women for equal pay is always at the back of any queue at any time?

The answer to Question No. 20 is that I do not think that equal pay is at the back of the queue. It carries with it very considerable repercussions throughout our economic life, and any Government, as has been proved by the experience of the last Government, has to adopt a very responsible attitude in approaching this question.

In regard to Question No. 19, to which the hon. Lady referred, I would not like to get into details about the rival burdens to be carried by men or women with regard to dependants who depend upon them. I would rather, if this question were tackled, simply make a fair approach to the problem of equal pay generally and not link it up with anything else.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I think that we are getting on rather nicely, and can I help him along at all?

That is a most unexpected appropriation-in-aid on a subject on which I did not expect it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a recent speech he made in the country he claimed that there had been a big increase in consumption in the last year owing to the improvement of the terms of trade, and as women workers have always suffered from his pessimism in the past, will he now take immediate steps to give them a share of his mood of economic optimism?

Is it not extremely difficult for this Government to implement equal pay for equal work for the very obvious reason that the previous Government drove this country to the verge of bankruptcy?

It is precisely because Her Majesty's Government have saved this country from disaster that we are getting towards the solution of our problems.

Is it not about time that the right hon. Gentleman stopped talking a lot of nonsense about this matter. If he does make the claim that there has been a substantial improvement in the financial position, Why does he hesitate about implementing the principle which he supported on frequent occasions and, indeed, opposed the Labour Government because they did not go as far as he wished at the time; and is not it true that all his answers and all his qualifications and equivocations mean that he does not intend to do anything at all? Answer that.

Does the right hon. Gentleman's first answer to these Questions mean that he is to be the judge of when the economic conditions are right for the granting of equal pay, and is that not merely a subjective judgment; and can he state in concrete terms when he thinks the economic conditions will be right for the granting of equal pay?

As I said in my original answer, that must be a matter of judgment, and I am afraid that the House must leave to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day and the Government of the day the decision on an important matter like this.

May I refer to the right hon. Gentleman's intervention and simply say that I was trying to give precedence to the number of Questions which I took together. I knew that the hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) was one of those whose questions had not yet been put, and therefore I was endeavouring to answer those questions before answering him.

Can the Chancellor explain why, quite rightly, hon. Ladies who are Ministers and back benchers in this House receive equal pay, which we all agree to, and why the civil servants who come and sit in the official Gallery here do not get equal pay for equal work? Can he give any explanation?

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that we have it on the very highest authority that women were put in the world to make it a much more beautiful place and to perform their very gracious duties, and not to compete physically or economically with men? Will he, therefore, not consider whether he should begin to resist in principle this effort by the ladies to achieve an artificial equality?

Is not the attitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon thoroughly dishonest?

That is not a proper expression to use in asking a supplementary question.

In view of your intervention, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw "thoroughly dishonest," but I am grateful that you are not a thought-reader. In view of the fact that the Conservative Party in 1950, when the economics of the country were difficult, gave an undertaking in "The Right Road for Britain" that

"we shall encourage equal pay for men and women doing equivalent work,"
can we not expect a better performance today from the Chancellor of the Exchequer than the one he has given?

I am very well aware of that sentence as, I think, I drafted it myself. It has always been a wish of mine that, when the circumstances made it possible, this very desirable reform should be introduced.

7.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, pending the introduction of equal pay to women in the public services, he will raise the women's scales by a further 19 per cent, of the men's scales.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that this is the best thing short of equal pay itself? Can he not go quite as far as this?

13.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what tests of quality and output have been applied to the work of women in the public service; and how far they support the claim of equal pay for equal work.

In their evidence to the Royal Commission on Equal Pay, the Treasury in general agreed that in the main classes, and subject to certain reservations about sickness and wastage rates, the work and the output of women were not inferior to those of men. There is, I believe, no dispute about the desirability in principle of equal pay for equal work.

In view of that answer, surely the Chancellor should give effect to the spirit of the series of Questions supporting equal pay for equivalent work.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his promises of jam tomorrow makes a depressing diet and that the women of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are becoming disillusioned by the delay of the Government in meeting this just claim?

As my hon. Friend refers to jam, she will reflect that the women of Britain must be very relieved to have sugar off the ration.

15.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer at what age the scales of pay of young women in the Civil Service falls behind the scales of young men in the same grade; and for what reason.

In the main common established grades the scales provide for a common minimum on recruitment and diverge in the early 20s. In effect, differentiation is waived below these ages.

16.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer in what cases increments awarded to State employees, since the passing by this House of a Resolution on the subject on 16th May, 1952, have contained differentiations according to sex.

There are many hundreds of different grades in the Civil Service, and I regret that I cannot give a comprehensive answer to the Question except by saying that there has been no change of practice since 16th May, 1952.

Would not the Chancellor agree that it is a serious matter to flout a Resolution of the House of Commons, and that even if he could not make up equal pay for previous discrepancies, all increases that have taken place since that Resolution ought to have conformed to the spirit of that Resolution and to have been equal as between men and women?

That would lead to a complicated situation. It does not mean that we do not give full weight to Resolutions of the House of Commons.

17.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the cost to the Treasury of implementing equal pay throughout the Civil Service; and the cost to the Treasury of implementing equal pay in the teaching profession.

The immediate cost in the non-industrial Civil Service is estimated at £13.4 million, and in the teaching profession at £17.2 million, of which £10.7 million would fall on the Exchequer and £6.5 million on local rates.

Is the right hon. Gentleman, then, of opinion that the economic and financial position of the country has not improved during the last two years to the extent of our being able to carry £30 million a year?

As I said, that is a matter of judgment. Unfortunately, our burdens, including defence and other matters, and including the education Vote, have also increased.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the amount that he has mentioned is in all equal to the amount which was underspent in relation to the Estimates for defence this year?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that responsible Members on both sides of this House would not press him in this way unless they had the utmost confidence that the financial position of the country was really improving and was far better than it was when the Labour Government were unable to implement this principle?

Yes, Sir. I regard the whole of this campaign and pressure today as a great compliment to the Government.

Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer aware that if he adds together the two sums given in his previous answer for teachers and civil servants, the total is much less than half the amount we should save once we come to our senses and withdraw from the Suez Canal? If he further aware that he could meet both this demand and the demand of the ex-Service men and also satisfy public opinion by spending our money much more sensibly?

The validity of the hon. Lady's question depends on what happens to the troops after they leave the Suez Canal. If they remain a charge on public funds, the only difference would be between overseas and internal payments.

18.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that the continued refusal to grant women teachers equal pay is having an adverse effect upon suitable would-be entrants to the profession; and if he will, therefore, reconsider his previous decision.

As regards the first part of the Question, I would refer the hon. Member to the Minister of Education and the Secretary of State for Scotland. As regards the second part, I would refer her to the reply I have given today to her other Question.

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that his first suggestion would get him exactly nowhere? If he proposes to approach this matter with a sense of real responsibility, does he not think that that responsibility might be directed at removing these injustices? Does he not realise that education is suffering because of this treatment of women teachers and would-be teachers?

I cannot intervene in the administration of other Departments, otherwise I should have to take on Departments for which I should be very incompetent.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all parties have for a long time promised an acceptance of this principle and that the question now is, when is the principle to be put into practice and the promise into pay?

The general interest in this subject which has been evinced in the House today and the sincerity of the questions cannot but have their influence upon anybody in a position like myself.

As the chief architect of the Education Act, 1944, does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Act is in jeopardy largely because of the large classes resulting from the shortage of teachers?

I do not think it is entirely due to this subject because, I am glad to say, some of the young women recruits to the teaching profession are of the very highest quality, and we must not think that it is this subject alone which is making things difficult.

22.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will reduce the hours of work of women employed in the public services pending the introduction of equal pay.

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman and the party opposite do not seem to be prepared to raise women workers in the Civil Service to equal pay with men because the country cannot afford it, would he not consider, as he accepts the principle of equal pay, reducing their hours of work, thereby enabling the principle to be applied?

23.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will implement the principle of equal pay, irrespective of sex, for all employed in the Government service in all future appointments, in view of the Government's claim of an improvement in the national finances.

No, Sir. It would be undesirable for new recruits to be paid on a more favourable basis than their seniors.

Would not that be a way of implementing the principle gradually by starting with new entrants?

25.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will apply the principle of equal pay, irrespective of sex, to all increments awarded to civil servants since the passing of the resolution by this House on 16th May, 1952.

I would refer the hon. Member to the answer given to the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward) on 4th February, 1954.

Surely the Chancellor does not mean to apply the same answer to Question No. 25 as he did to Question No. 23, because the payment in that case is already in operation and only increments would be affected. Surely this is at least a way of carrying out the right hon. Gentleman's pledge this afternoon to implement the principle gradually.

The difficulty there, as my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth, is that it would be a pity to deal with details which might not prove satisfactory before dealing with the main question of principle. I think his judgment is right.

Overseas Transactions (Applications)

26.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many applications for Treasury consent under Section 468 of the Income Tax Act, 1952, or the Section which it replaced, were made during 1952 and 1953, respectively; and in how many of such applications was consent refused.

Three hundred and forty-seven applications for Treasury consent were made in 1952 and 223 in 1953. Consent was refused in seven cases in 1952 and in one case in 1953.

In consideration of the fact that I am providing my right hon. Friend with this welcome change of subject, will he state whether he does not consider that this action in trying to stop up some small leaks of tax evasion is preventing the flow of investment in the Commonwealth?

I have not found that to be the case, but in view of what my hon. Friend says, I will certainly look at it.

United States Economy

27.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he has taken to ensure that the present 10 per cent, slump in the United States of America will not affect the United Kingdom economy in the same way as did the similar slump in 1949 when the £ sterling was devalued; and whether he will make a statement.

I cannot improve on the answer given in the speech made by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury in the debate on the industrial situation on 3rd March.

Can the Chancellor say why he has been able to succeed in protecting this country from the worst effects of the American slump and why his Socialist predecessor failed so miserably before?

It is the case that although the American slump—that is, the decline in production—has, in fact, been in existence for some months, we are still maintaining our reserves position. I would say in all sincerity to the House, owing to the great difficulties, that it would be a great mistake in a matter like this to generalise any further, as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Can the Chancellor say to what extent the 10 per cent, slump in America is accentuated by the adoption or non-adoption of the principle of equal pay in the United States?

Government Services (Sick Leave)

28.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the total annual time lost through sick leave in the Government services during the last available year, expressing this as days per year in respect of men and women, respectively.

In view of the effect that this may have on the actual claim for equal pay, could my right hon. Friend see that the figures are obtained in the future?

If, in fact, I get any nearer than I have been able to do in the time available, I certainly will do so and will inform the hon. Gentleman.

Is it not a fact that there is plenty of evidence about this matter in the Royal Commission's Report on Equal Pay? Of course, nobody on this side of the House thinks that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) reads anything like that.

Galleries And Museums (Assistance)

29.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what financial assistance has been given by the Arts Council to prevent the closure of private art galleries and museums owing to lack of funds.

The Council has made no grant specifically to prevent such institutions from closing.

Is the Chancellor aware that some of the galleries are threatened with closure, including the Whitechapel Gallery and the one at Barnard Castle, and even if the Arts Council were to find some money they have not got sufficient to spare for this purpose? Will the Chancellor give further consideration to the giving of Government assistance to prevent this important part of our civilised society from being destroyed?

I have given the answer to the best of my ability. I do not like to interfere with the discretion of the Arts Council, but it was in their last Report that they referred to the difficulties of private museums. It was because of that that questions have been raised, and I do not doubt but that they will pay attention to the questions that have been put.

Civil Service (Pay)

30.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if his attention has been drawn to the present financial position of senior civil servants, as shown in an article in the "Financial Times," 2nd February, 1954, a copy of which has been sent to him; and if he will, therefore, pending the findings of the recently- appointed Royal Commission on the Civil Service, extend to the higher administrative grades salary concessions similar to those already granted to principals.

I have received representations to this effect from the staff associations concerned, and I hope to reply to them very shortly.

Cinemas (Tax)

31.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer his estimate of the annual loss of revenue which would result from granting entertainments tax rebates on the exhibition of British films, as proposed in a memorandum to his Department from the Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association.

About £4½ million a year at the present time; but I understand that the Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association no longer support this proposal.

Income Tax (Child Allowance)

32.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in considering his forthcoming Budget, he will give a high priority to a substantial increase in the Income Tax child allowance.

I will consider the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, along with other suggestions which have been made to me in connection with my forthcoming Budget.

Would the Chancellor agree that this would be a desirable concession to make simultaneously with the introduction of equal pay?

British Investments (Canada)

33.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state, correct to the nearest £1 million, the amount of British investments in Canada during 1953 and comparative figures for 1951 and 1948; and what steps he is taking to stimulate further the subscription of British capital to new Canadian enterprise and development.

Figures of the actual amounts invested are not available. The amounts authorised were £38 million in 1953 and £23 million in 1951; we have not figures for 1948. I shall continue to do my best to provide dollars for such investment.

Do not the figures show a 60 per cent, increase in Canadian investment since 1951, reflecting the growing economic strength of this country, and will my right hon. Friend do all in his power urgently to stimulate further United Kingdom investment in Canada in view of the enormous capital demand for industrial and mining development?

Of course, it is a matter of the utmost importance to our strength overseas that we should invest in Canada, and I have been very glad to note the increase.

34.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to what extent British investors will be permitted to participate financially in the Canadian project for the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes waterways project; and what steps he is taking to stimulate this valuable form of Canadian dollar investment.

I am anxious to facilitate direct U.K. participation in the construction of this project and have already approved a number of applications. I could not, however, allow British investors to subscribe to the capital since this would be portfolio investment which we cannot afford at present.

Does my right hon. Friend's reply mean that investments that have taken place so far are Government investments from the United Kingdom and institutional investments are at all events precluded today?

I think the answer says what it means, namely, that I could not allow British investors to take up ordinary portfolio investment, but a certain number of applications of a more general type have been allowed.

Can the Chancellor say if such investments, which apparently would be on behalf of the Government, would be in addition to any investment made by the United States Government or in place of it if they did not come in?

Tax Allowances (School Fees)

36 and 37. Mr.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) if, when framing his Budget, he will consider the possibility of giving taxation relief to parents who pay fees for the education of their children;

(2) what are the technical difficulties which prevent any Income Tax allowances being granted to parents who relieve the State of burdens by paying for the education of their own children.

As my hon. Friend is aware, I have promised to consider his suggestion, in common with other taxation suggestions, when I am framing my Budget proposals, but I cannot discuss the problems involved in a reply to a Question.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him to bear in mind that the State system of education will probably break down if large numbers of parents do not continue to send their children to private schools, and will he bear in mind that the expense is very great and that if there is no tax concession the cost may become prohibitive?

I am aware of the considerations which the hon. Member has brought to my attention.

Is the Minister aware that if he introduces this principle of inequality of treatment between parents who send their children to State schools and those who, for personal reasons, elect to send them to private schools, he will be causing great offence to a large section of the public?

Social Services (Finance)

40.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if, in considering his Budget proposals, he will review the financial stability of all the social services and take appropriate action.

Has the Chancellor studied the three articles by Loud Beveridge recently published in the "Sunday Times" which show that the Welfare State is now "in the red"? Does he not realise that the Socialist policy of a comprehensive Welfare State kills initiative, ruins character and is the fundamental cause of our difficulties today because we have to import half our food and raw materials, that the cost of the Welfare State must be added to the cost of production, and that this prevents us1 from exporting our goods at world competitive prices which we must do, or starve?

I should not like to associate the existence of the Welfare State with imminent starvation. I should like to say that I have read the series of articles, by Lord Beveridge, and I have naturally studied them in company with the other expert opinion I get on this subject.

Tobacco Duty

41.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will take steps to reduce the delay between the payment of duty on tobacco withdrawn from bond for export, and the repayment of the drawback, in view of the difficulties this places on small firms.

The need to keep the delay in the payment of drawback on exported tobacco to a minimum is fully recognised, but if my hon. Friend will send me details of any individual case of difficulty he may have in mind, I will see if anything further can be done.

Government Departments (Differentia Practices)

42.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give details of differential practices in recruitment grades in all Government Departments and the dates of their introduction.

If my hon. Friend will give me further particulars, I will do my best to give her an answer.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Minister of Labour told me last week that the fact that Grade II Factory Inspectors get equal pay, although neither Grade I nor Grade III get it, was due to some recruitment arrangement? If it is possible under one recruitment arrangement to give equal pay, would it not be possible under other recruitment arrangements to give equal pay, because what is the difference?

It was precisely to elicit such clarification as this that I gave my answer, and I will now study the submission made by the hon. Lady.

Tobacco Tokens

43.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the number of old-age pensioners at the latest convenient date who were taking advantage of the tobacco concessions introduced in the Finance Act, 1947.

About 2,300,000 old-age pensioners at present receive tobacco tokens.

Could my right hon. Friend say what proportion of the total that represents, and what he is doing for the ones who do not draw their, tobacco ration at the lower rate?

This represents about one-half of the old-age pensioners in the categories covered by the tobacco token scheme.

Record Office (Scottish Records)

44.

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury if he is aware that the Record Office in Chancery Lane, London, is overcrowded with valuable records; that many are Scottish records which, by reason of the overcrowding, are not easily accessible to Scottish scholars; that a new Scottish National Library and Record Office is now being built in Edinburgh; and if he will take step to transfer to Scottish custody in Edinburgh the Scottish records now housed in Chancery Lane, London.

The Public Record Office is not now overcrowded. In strict law records held there are not Scottish records unless and until a direction is made by the Master of the Rolls under the Public Records (Scotland) Act, 1937. Under this procedure a number were transferred to the Scottish Record Office in 1948. Some records held at Chancery Lane are, of course, of interest to both countries.

Is the Minister aware that there are still in Chancery Lane a number of records which are euphemistically called reports by the people known as "intelligencers," that those reports are urgently required by Scottish historians and scholars, and will he take steps to have them sent to Edinburgh where they can be used for the public good?

It is to some extent a matter of opinion whether certain of these documents are Scottish or English records. As I understand it, they were intelligence reports sent by the English Ambassador in the 16th Century to the Secretary of State in London. They give interesting information about Scotland but, of course, they were paid for, in accordance with the custom of those days and no doubt at a considerable rate, by the English taxpayer.

May I ask my hon. Friend where he would keep records concerning an hon. Member born in Ireland with a Welsh name who sits for a Scottish seat?

Housing

Types

45.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many four- and five-bedroomed houses were built in 1953; and how this compares with 1951.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government
(Mr. Ernest Marples)

In 1953, 4,211 dwellings with four bedrooms and 36 dwellings with five or more bedrooms were completed. The figures for 1951 were 4,295 and 69, respectively. These figures apply only to houses built by local authorities and new town corporations.

But how does the hon. Gentleman explain that there were less in 1953 than in 1951 when "The Right Road for Britain" specified that his party would build more four- and five-bedroomed houses for large families? They have not been built through the local councils or in the new towns.

There is hardly any difference in the figures as between 1951 and 1953. All the evidence now shows that the size of the family is decreasing, and surely it is the correct policy to see that the number of rooms in a house corresponds with the number of people in the family?

Could the hon. Gentleman explain if that document "The Right Road for Britain" has been paid for by the same British intelligencers?

House Purchase (Deposits)

46.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what progress has been made in his talks with building societies to secure a reduction in the deposit which a house purchaser has to find.

Two complementary schemes of guarantee under Section 5 (2) of the Housing Act, 1949, have been worked out. These schemes are now being considered by the associations of local authorities concerned. My right hon. Friend hopes to have their comments shortly.

In view of the immense interest in this subject, can the hon. Gentleman explain what "shortly" means, because we have had a big disparity in the use of that word?

I think it would be prudent to wait until the local authority associations make their comments. The schemes were sent to them on 25th February last, and as soon as1 they have made their reply my right hon. Friend will be in a position to make a statement.

Newcastle-Under-Lyme (Sites)

49 and 50.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government (1) if he is aware of the continuing shortage of housing sites in Newcastle-under-Lyme; and if he will make a statement on the release of further land to the south of Seabridge Lane;

(2) if he is in a position to make a statement on the joint survey of land for housing in Newcastle-under-Lyme undertaken by the land commissioner, the county planning officer and the borough surveyor; and how soon he will be able to grant planning permission for additional sites.

Yes, Sir. As the result of the survey certain proposals are at present being considered in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, but my right hon. Friend is not yet in a position to make a statement.

Whilst thanking the hon. Gentleman for the assistance being given to Newcastle-under-Lyme by the officers of his Department, will he appreciate that the Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council is unable to accede to the request of his right hon. Friend for a three-year housing plan because of their inability to forecast the housing sites? Therefore, will he maintain continuous touch with the Ministry of Agriculture in order to give the council the assurance that their housing programme can go ahead?

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend is aware that Newcastle has sufficient land for housing until, I think, the end of 1955, but he also appreciates that they want a speedy decision so that they can get ahead with the essential services on further sites, and he will certainly bear that in mind.

Building Costs

54.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government the average costs of building per house in 1948 and 1953; what were the costs of materials per house in 1948 and 1953; what were the costs of labour per house in 1948 and 1953; and what proportions of the total cost per house were materials and labour, respectively, in 1948 and 1953.

The relevant figures for a three-bedroom local authority house begun in 1948 are given in the Second Report of the Girdwood Committee. I estimate the cost of the average three-bedroom house built in 1953 at £1,385, of which £457 (33 per cent.) represents labour and £790 (57 per cent.) materials.

Local Government

Domestic Water Supplies (Expenditure)

47.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is satisfied that the figure of £20 specified as the maximum recoverable by a local authority in respect of expenses incurred in the provision of a supply of water to a house under Section 138 (3) of the Public Health Act, 1936, is sufficient having regard to corn-temporary costs; and what action he proposes to take.

My right hon. Friend has heard of very few difficulties because of the £20 limit, but he will watch this point.

My hon. Friend appreciates, does he not, that if £20 was the right figure in 1936, it can hardly be the right figure today if this matter were to be reviewed?

Planning Appeals (Procedure)

48.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he has had regard to recent representations made to him as to possible improvements in the procedure relating to the adjudication of planning appeals; and whether he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend has considered these representations, but he thinks that the present procedure for dealing with planning appeals is appropriate. He is concerned, however, about the time taken for decisions; this has lengthened because of the increase in the number of appeals, he is taking measures to shorten it.

Does not my hon. Friend think that, in addition to expediting the giving of the decision, there is room for improvement in the procedure, particularly in the direction of making the report of the person holding the inquiry available to the parties?

My right hon. Friend has gone into that many times and has decided that it would not be advisable to publish the report. If, however, my hon. Friend has any further representations to make, perhaps he will do so and I will ask my right hon. Friend to consider them.

Rating Assessments (New Shop-Fronts)

51.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will take steps to prevent the disincentive to desirable development resulting from the policy of increased assessments for rates when a shopkeeper improves his shop-front.

Under rating law, if an improvement to a shop or other property appreciably increases its rental value, then its assessment has to be increased.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the concern expressed by a number of chambers of trade at the abandonment by shopkeepers of development of this kind for fear of bringing increased rate liability upon their heads, and does he not think that there is cause here for treating this type of development as exceptional to the general rating rule?

I should think that if it applied to shops it would have to apply to almost everything else as well.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the entire basis of assessment is fundamentally wrong, and that it is most unfortunate that where a shopkeeper or any other owner of property improves his property the consequence is that the rates go up?

Derating

53.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what representations he has received from the Metropolitan Boroughs' Standing Joint Committee urging the abolition of derating; and what reply he has made.

My right hon. Friend received representations in connection with the review of the Exchequer equalisation grant urging the abolition of the derating provision of the Local Government Act 1929 and replied that he could not regard such a change as a necessary preliminary to further consideration of the review.

That may be so, but is the Minister aware that there is a widespread demand for the abolition of derating, and when can we know the proposals of the Government with regard to it?

55.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government when he will take measures to put an end to the derating of agricultural and industrial properties.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) on 6th November last.

Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that nearly all local authorities in this country have to raise their rates during the forthcoming year, and if he is not willing to consider the abolition of derating, what additional source of revenue does he propose to place at their disposal?

I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman says because the issues are continually under consideration. That was the gist of the reply of my right hon. Friend to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) in November, and my right hon. Friend did not want to make a statement on the subject.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the effect of derating land will be to increase the cost of producing food?

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the county borough of Newcastle-upon-Tyne loses the equivalent of a 1s. 6d. rate through derating, and that we receive nothing at all by way of compensation from the rate equalisation grant?

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this single proposal would bring the greatest possible relief to ratepayers throughout the country and that it would mean a reduction of 3s. in the rates in the City of Cardiff? Will he hurry up his consideration of the matter?

In view of the Minister's most unsatisfactory reply, I beg to give notice that I shall take the earliest opportunity of raising this matter on the Adjournment.

Letters To Members (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

I wish to give a Ruling about a question raised on 23rd February by the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths).

The facts of this case appear to be as follows: In the debate on the Christmas Adjournment in 1952 the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Manchester drew attention to the activities of the Hollins Permanent Building Society of Manchester whose chairman at that time was a Mr. Murray. In replying, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government suggested that the details be sent to the Registrar of Friendly Societies. The correspondence, including letters from constituents, was sent to the Registrar, who last July took successful proceedings against the Building Society and Mr. Murray for failure to keep certain records as required by statute. From questions addressed by the hon. Member to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 23rd February, it appeared that, in the course of the investigation which this communication had led the Registrar to make, a constituent's letter was seen by Mr. Murray who now threatens the constituent with a libel action.

In so far as any question of Privilege arises, it is probably unnecessary to remind the House of the different senses in which that word may be used. Privilege has a special meaning in the law courts where the confidential character of a communication or the special relationship between sender and recipient may prove a successful answer to an action for defamation. "Privilege" in that forensic sense is a matter for the courts; it certainly does not fall to me to expound it, though I recall that the decision in the case of Rex v. Rule favours the proposition that such a special relationship does exist between a constituent and the Member who represents him.

There is a different use of the word "privilege" more familiar in our proceedings here, namely, Privilege in the Parliamentary sense. I could not hold that Parliamentary Privilege could apply to this threatened litigation between parties who are not Members of Parliament. This House long ago agreed that no new Privileges are to be created.

Hon. Members are naturally and properly concerned to protect the communications which pass between them and those whom they represent. Be that as it may, a complaint of the use made by officials of a constituent's letter sent them by a Member is not a matter either of order or of Parliamentary Privilege. It must be settled in the same way as any other complaint against the conduct of an officer for whom a Minister is responsible.

I thank you for your statement, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that my Question on 23rd February was addressed, as you say, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and from his replies on that day and from the statement which you have been good enough to make to the House today it seems to me that two facts are made clear. First, the inquiries carried out by the Registrar of Friendly Societies into the affairs of the Hollins Permanent Building Society have re- vealed breaches of the law sufficient for the Registrar successfully to prosecute the Society and Mr. Murray, its former chairman. Second, the correspondence received by me and sent by me to the Registrar on the advice of a Minister was passed on to the Society without my permission and is now quoted against my correspondent and accompanied by threats.

It seems to me obvious that there was some justification for my correspondent's action in writing to me, and it is also obvious that the Minister's advice was well founded in so far as successful legal proceedings were carried through against the Society and its chairman. But due to the indiscretion, as it appears, of someone in the Registrar's Office, unpleasant threats, however impossible they may be of being carried into effect, are made against some correspondents, whose action was in the public interest. Therefore, I hope that what is said today about this matter will not frighten people from writing to their Members of Parliament and will not shake their confidence in the discretion generally exercised by Government Departments. If that should happen, all Members would be seriously concerned. I think that the public should be reassured. It may be that the House might wish, at an early date, to consider its position in this important matter.

If you will allow me, Mr. Speaker, I should like to quote, as summarising my view, a view expressed on 21st March, 1951, by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) when a previous complaint of breach of Privilege was before the House. My right hon. Friend was then Leader of the House and he was anticipating this kind of situation arising. He said:
"There is no doubt that the great growth of the electorate, and the much wider range of intimate concerns which the electorate find themselves compelled to ask Members of Parliament to deal with, have created a situation which really ought to be investigated. As I said earlier, we all get letters, some written by very illiterate people who are trying to do their utmost, and who are often under great physical and mental strain in putting their ideas on paper … I think it would be a good thing if we could consider the modern relationship of a Member of Parliament with his constituents so that we could have some guidance on this matter, and I should have thought myself that the Committee of Privileges was probably the best body to give such advice."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 2525–6.]
I rest myself on that.

As you suggested that I might do, Mr. Speaker, I shall pursue the matter of the disclosure of the letters to Mr. Murray by taking such Parliamentary action as is open to me. I feel that throughout this matter I have tried to act in a manner proper for a Member in seeking to protect his constituents from what he regards as dubious practices.

On one point of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask for further guidance. You said, and of course we all accept it, that this House cannot add to its Privilege. But one of our most ancient Privileges is the right of the representative to communicate with his selectors, and I take it that any interference with that right would be a contempt of Parliament. Whether the issue of a writ in any particular case might be an interference with that right is a matter one would have to consider when it arose, but it could be.

I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member. I purposely confined my Ruling to the facts of this particular case and I would not desire to say anything that might prejudice any action which the House, in a future case on different facts, might wish to take.

No one would ask you, Mr. Speaker, for one moment to rule on questions of legal or forensic privilege. Equally no one would wish to deprive some fortunate member of my profession of the chance of a fruitful cross-examination of Mr. Murray, but it is the case, is it not, that the Ruling that you have just given leaves the question of legal privilege entirely open, subject, of course, to the case you yourself mentioned and to the general rules of law on the matter and, therefore, the letters in question may well be privileged from a forensic point of view? I am, of course, not asking you to rule on that whether or not there is any question of Parliamentary Privilege.

The hon. and learned Member is quite right. I referred to the common law privilege in actions for defamation because I thought it was relevant, although it is not for me or this House to pronounce on those matters.

Although you said that it had been decided a long time ago that this House cannot add to its Privileges, Mr. Speaker, you will appreciate that there are a large number of hon. Members who do not accept that as binding on the present House of Commons, or a future House of Commons. With the alteration in responsibility of hon. Members as disclosed by this case and part of your Ruling, I should like to ask whether you agree that what you said is not binding on a future House of Commons. It might be necessary for this House some time to assert a Parliamentary Privilege in a matter like this, and I should like to know whether you agree to keep that part of the matter open.

I was merely pronouncing on the facts presented to me, and my Ruling is carefully limited to those facts. I will not attempt to prognosticate the future or to pronounce on any hypothetical case.

I should like you to amplify the reference in your statement to the question I submitted to you on the previous occasion, Mr. Speaker. On that occasion I asked whether, in giving consideration to this matter, you would determine the actual relationship between the Minister concerned and the hon. Member who wrote to him. I suggested on that occasion that correspondence between an individual and an hon. Member might not be confidential, but when that correspondence was sent by the hon. Member to the Minister my submission was that it was entirely confidential. The point I am putting is that every hon. Member in sending correspondence to the Minister of a Department definitely confines that matter to the named Minister. I want to know whether you gave consideration to how far that Minister named is responsible for that communication sent to him even though it goes into the hands of people in his Department for the purpose of eliciting an answer.

Certainly the Minister is responsible for all actions in his Department. I thought I had covered the point by saying that it was not a point of order or of Parliamentary Privilege. I think it is a matter of ordinary administration and conduct.

I understood you to say and to mean, Mr. Speaker, that the field of Privilege is now a closed field. I am not sufficiently a forensic expert to say whether that is correct, but I am not the only one who should confess that he is not a forensic expert in this field. Can you assert the definite authority on which you have come to the conclusion that the field of Privilege is now definitely closed? If at any time in the future this House feels that the rights and Privileges of hon. Members of this House are being invaded, as in this case, and it is felt that the Privilege should be reasserted, or a new Privilege asserted, what action, if any, can the House take in asserting its position?

I was only dealing with the present situation. At present we are governed by a Resolution passed by this House—I will find the date of if and give it to the hon. Member later—saying that this House will not add to its privileges. That was the authority for what I said, and if the House cares to take another view in the future, that is a matter for the House and not for me.

Business Of The House (Supply)

Ordered,

That this day the Business of Supply may be taken after Ten o'clock and shall be exempted from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[Mr. Crookshank.]

Equal Pay

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish the principle of equal pay.
This seems to be the natural sequence to the proceedings in the House earlier this afternoon and is, in fact, exactly what the Petition presented by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward) asked to be done. The House will expect me briefly to explain what the Bill proposes to do, how it proposes to do it, and when. The principle of equal pay has been accepted as a principle by all parties in this House and by the House itself, but the principle has so far not been generally established— accepted, yes, but not established—not even in the public services where the writ of this House runs today. Yet it is 34 years since this House went on record as saying:
"That it is expedient that women should have equal opportunity of employment with men in all branches of the Civil Service within the United Kingdom and under all local authorities and should also receive equal pay."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1920; Vol. 129, c. 1539.]
We have already heard this afternoon from my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) how, in 1944, the principle of equal pay for women teachers came near to being established by law at the time of consideration of the Education Bill. Then it was a question of "so near and yet so far" because the Prime Minister—the same Prime Minister as we have today—prevailed upon the House to take it out of the Bill. Two years ago, the House will remember, we reaffirmed acceptance of the principle of equal pay in a Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West and asked for early action to be taken to implement the principle in a wide range of public services.

On the Order Paper today there are nearly 200 signatures of hon. Members on both sides of the House in support of Motions asking for action to be taken without further delay. Some hon. Members have preferred one Motion and some another. I notice that the Liberal Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), has signed both, thereby combining his further support of equal pay with some form of political neutrality. Huge petitions have been presented to the House this afternoon from hundreds of thousands of men and women in all walks of life, inside and outside the public services, humbly praying—ever praying—the House to take steps without fail this year to turn an accepted principle into an established fact.

The Bill which I ask leave to introduce does what I feel sure the House will wish to see done. It will end the uncertainty and even doubt lasting so many years about the sincerity of the House on this important matter. How will the Bill propose to do it? Quite simply, by making any contract of service void as regards the rate of pay if it contains any differentiation between the pay of a woman and a man based solely upon sex. In other words, it seeks to give statutory support to the principle so clearly defined in a booklet bearing the somewhat misleading title, "The Right Road for Britain," in which it was said:
"We consider that there should be one rate for the job, provided that the services rendered and the results achieved by men and women are the same."
I propose, in this Bill, to cover the public services as well as employment outside. I think this Bill is a natural though belated postscript to the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919. Bui no sanctions were written into that Act, and I do not propose penalties in this Bill; but I think it would be reasonable to provide for the right of recovery in a civil court of any underpayment made in contravention of the established principle of equal pay for men and women for services of equal value. That is what the Bill which I ask leave to introduce proposes to do, and how it proposes to do it.

But when? Will it name equal pay date? Yes. Here surely is a case for retrospective legislation if ever there was one. Women workers have been underpaid by millions of pounds during the last 34 years owing to the delay in establishing the principle of equal pay, and some restitution would surely be justified. This, however, is not an occasion for vindictive legislation. Women will forgive the past, they usually do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I therefore rule out any retroactive Clause from the Bill.

I do not even put in a current day. This may disappoint my hon. Friends. I propose a forward date—the day following the dissolution of the present Parliament—as the appointed day. That may not be unduly delayed. We read that small bets are already being made on an autumn Election. My intention is to give the party opposite the utmost latitude in fulfilling the hopes expressed in their Election Manifesto published under the flamboyant title, "Britain Strong and Free" in October, 1951, when they said:
"We hope that during the life of the next Parliament the country's financial position will improve sufficiently to enable us to proceed at an early date with the application in the Government service of the principle of equal pay for men and women for services of equal value."
The House may insist on a more positive date, an earlier date, and, if so, I shall be glad to fall in with the wishes of the House. It may, however, be prudent to underwrite the risk of neglect or default on the part of Her Majesty's Government.

The time for Motions of reaffirmation of the principle of equal pay is past. The House will now, I feel sure, resolve to embody its will in an Act of Parliament. This Bill will do that without recriminations or reproach to this Government or to the last. It is a Bill to set women free. [Interruption.] I repeat, it is a Bill to set women free, and if Her Majesty's Government do not like it they have until they leave office this year, next year or the year after, to come forward with a better one. Even by all the tokens of indifference and failure by Governments in the past, that should be long enough.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Houghton, Miss Bacon, Mr. Wedgwood Benn, Miss Burton, Mrs. Castle, Mr. Morley and Mr. Pannell.

Equal Pay Bill

"to establish the principle of equal pay," presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 9th April. [Bill 77.]

Orders Of The Day

Supply

[8TH ALLOTTED DAY]

Navy Estimates, 1954–55

Order for Committee read.

Mr J P L Thomas's Statement

3.56 p.m.

I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

As I have said in my Explanatory Statement, where I have given all the details, I am asking the House this year for £353 million. This is the net figure at which we arrive, taking into account appropriations in aid, including the naval share of mutual defence assistance so generously granted to us by the United States of America in the year 1954–55.

The Navy has had a difficult period in the last few years. In the first place, after the war we had to reduce and then, as the need for increased preparedness arose, we had to build up once more. Distribution of manpower became extremely difficult; men could not serve long in a particular ship, and ships had many movements as we played our part in carrying out our world wide tasks. We should not have been able to fulfil our various obligations, particularly in Korea, if we had not recalled hundreds of reservists and retained in service many men whose engagements had already expired.

I am glad to be able to tell the House that by the end of this month all of the recalled and retained men will be back in civilian life and I am sure that it is the wish of the House that we should let them know how grateful we are to them for their invaluable services.

This means that we can now look at certain problems afresh. I am also sure that the House will appreciate that so long as we had men in the Royal Navy who had been retained beyond their engagements, or who had been recalled from the reserves, it would not have been fair for men on normal engagements to be able to buy themselves out of the Navy. From time to time I have been asked in the House, and in many letters from all sides, to reintroduce discharge by purchase. I have been only too well aware that the sailor does not, at the moment, enjoy a privilege which is available in some measure to the soldier and to the airman.

I am glad to say that, following the release of the last of these retained men and recalled reservists, I shall be able to reopen discharge by purchase. The scheme will necessarily be on a limited basis as it is in the other two Services and full details will announced to the Fleet this week. With the reintroduction of discharge by purchase we are also able to approve that officers who have not reached the age for compulsory retirement may, at Admiralty discretion, be allowed to retire voluntarily or to resign. That puts us on a similar basis to the other two Services. We have long wished to achieve it, but have been prevented for the reasons I have given.

A sailor's life has always been a hard one. The nature of the Service and the element in which he serves makes that inevitable. But the changing and unpredictable demands upon the Navy since the end of the war, aggravated as they have been by serious shortages in certain branches, have made orderly drafting impossible and have bedevilled all attempts to introduce a reasonable measure of stability into the sailor's life.

This is unsettling obviously both for officers and for men. They have not time to get to know each other; they have not had time to develop a real pride in their ship or in themselves, and their plans for joining their families during spells at home between foreign commissions are far too frequently upset. Briefly, they get heartily sick of being pushed around— although they themselves would perhaps put it more crudely than that.

For 50 years or more ships on overseas stations have served on the basis of a two-and-a-half year commission. Nowadays the call for foreign service is high, and I am only too well aware, as my predecessors have been, that two-and-a-half years' continuous absence abroad, usually involving separation from families for this period, causes hardship to the officers, to the men and, of course, to the families. Successive Governments, as I have said, have all felt that this period is too long, but the strain on naval resources since the war has made a change difficult.

Now that the war in Korea is over, I can tell the House—with considerable relief, I may add—that we are introducing two measures to improve the situation. The first is a scheme of general service commissions for those afloat. The main feature of the scheme is that the maximum period of continued absence from the United Kingdom will not be more than one year. It will also mean that captains, officers and men will remain together as far as possible for 18 months in most ships and for two years in aircraft carriers, because of the special training arrangements in the latter.

Part of the commission will be in the Home Fleet and part on foreign stations, but I repeat that the period away from the United Kingdom will not normally exceed 12 months. The scheme will apply initially to aircraft carriers, cruisers, "Daring" class ships, destroyers and frigates of the Home fleet, the Mediterranean Fleet, the South Atlantic station, the America and West Indies station and the East Indies station, except for the Persian Gulf. For the Persian Gulf there are specialised ships and, alas, they are too few in number for constant changes.

The second measure is to reduce practically all other forms of foreign service not covered by the general service commission scheme. Here officers and men who are either unmarried or who, being married, cannot be accompanied by their families, will have their foreign service reduced to 18 months. Married officers and men who are able to take their families abroad with them will be entitled to family passages and other family benefits, and will serve overseas for up to 30 months if they are needed.

As the House probably knows, ships on the Far East station and in the Persian Gulf, and surveying ships too, move so frequently that there are very few chances of family life, and for that reason, even today, their officers and men do not qualify for family passages. The new scheme does not in any way alter that position, but, as I have said, their time away from the United Kingdom will be reduced from two-and-a-half years to 18 months.

Officers and men on general service commission, whose period of service abroad is not expected to exceed 12 months, will not qualify for family passages or other family benefits abroad. This may sound like a snag in the scheme, but the officers and men in the ships now changing over to general service commissions who have their families abroad with them today represent only 2 per cent, of the officers and 1 per cent, of the men out of the total numbers in the Navy. Therefore, if we weigh those small figures against the improvement for the vast numbers of officers and men which the new scheme will bring, the House will realise why I commend it with confidence to them and to the Royal Navy.

I must warn the House, and, through it, the Navy, that some inconvenience is obviously inevitable during the period of one-and-a-half years or so while the new arrangements are coming into force. We shall begin the plan this June by reducing progressively the period of foreign service and by gradually adjusting the ship commissioning programme to the new form. Many officers and men will be moved from their present billets at home and abroad sooner than they are now expecting to move, but the important point is that once an officer or a man joins a ship newly commissioning under the general service scheme or on the revised foreign service basis, he will be assured of the shorter period of separation from home or family and of the longer periods of living in the same ship and with the same messmates which is a feature of the fixed commission system.

The Admiralty, under successive Governments, as I know well—-the previous Administration did their best, and we have continued to do our best, too—has tried to improve the living conditions on board ship. After all, the fighting efficiency of a warship, as the House knows, depends upon the efficiency of her crew, and that, in turn, depends largely upon the conditions under which they have to live. Living conditions rank equally in importance with armaments, speed, endurance, protection and other fighting characteristics of the warship.

The aim is, and always has been, certainly in later times, to get the best balance between these various and, I am sorry to say, generally conflicting calls upon weight and space. In other words, even in a new design there is a limit to the extent to which living conditions can be improved without deterioration of the fighting efficiency of the ship.

The principal difficulty facing us today is that, since the majority of our bigger ships were designed, they have had up-to-date armaments and equipments fitted into them, and in all too many cases this has taken up the space available for accommodation, and in practically all cases they have required an increase in complement.

In spite of those difficulties—anyone connected with the Navy will know that they are very great—a good deal has been done both by the last Administration and by the present one to improve those conditions. In the case of ships which have been fully modernised, living standards have in general been maintained in spite of the additional equipment which has been put into the ships. In the case of the conversions of the anti-submarine frigates "Rocket" and "Relentless" and their successors, it has, I am glad to say, actually been possible to improve the previous standards.

I should not, however, like to convey to the House that the future ships of Her Majesty's Fleet will have luxury accommodation. Sailors do not expect it; but, at the same time, they do expect us to do all that is possible in every way to minimise their discomforts.

If the right hon. Gentleman is finishing with that point, I should like to ask him a question. We realise that there is a limit to the amount of living accommodation which there can be in any ship, but within that amount of living accommodation there is a certain proportion allocated to officers and a certain proportion allocated to ratings. During the time that the Labour Government were in power the percentage allocated to ratings was increased. Does that percentage now remain the same?

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow that question to be answered at the end of the debate. I think that the percentage has increased. At all events, I am sure that it has not grown less. A more detailed reply will be given to the right hon. Gentleman at the end of the debate.

As well as the measures for the welfare of officers and men afloat, we are, of course, continuing the essential work of providing and modernising barracks for accommodation of the Navy ashore. We have extended our plans for married quarters so as to include the building of married quarters at the three manning ports—Portsmouth, Devonport, and Chatham.

I must now say something about general manpower problems. I want to be frank with the House about the particularly difficult situation that we are facing at the moment. I do not suppose that the House or the country realise that nearly one-third of our Regular ratings, excluding National Service men, are under 21 and that another one-third are under 25. So the House will see that we have a great shortage of men with eight years' service and upwards and that their places have to be filled today by abnormally large numbers with below seven years' service.

That situation is obviously extremely serious. The seven-year men are now beginning to come to the end of their engagements in large numbers. We want them to stay in the Navy for at least another five years. If sufficient numbers of the seven-year men stay, we shall then be confident of building up an efficient manpower force and of keeping our recruiting requirements within reasonable limits. I cannot pretend that present indications are encouraging, and unless there is an improvement we shall be faced with a serious loss of experienced men and with a recruiting requirement which we shall find hard to meet.

I very much hope that the recent pay improvements will result in many more men deciding to make the Navy their permanent career and giving to the Service their experience and usefulness. The new pay arrangements are, of course, specially designed to reward those who want and accept the responsibility of a higher rating or rank. The new length of service pay is designed among other things to provide special encouragement to the seven-year men to extend their engagements for another five years and later to re-engage for pension.

We are doing all we can to encourage men now completing 12 years service to re-engage and have extended the re-engagement bounty of £100 until further notice. A number of branches are still short of petty officers and leading ratings. How soon the shortages can be overcome will depend very much on the numbers of seven-year men who decide to stay in the Navy.

Regular recruiting is on the decline and in 1953 we were 15 per cent, short of our target. When we consider the counter attractions of civil life today, with full employment and the opportunity of getting home every night, the House will understand how much we depend on young men who are prepared to take the rough with the smooth and come into the Service. Unless we can arrest and reverse this trend we may find ourselves short of juniors in the short-term, and our bearing of senior ratings in the more distant future will once again be unsatisfactory.

I can, however, give the House a more cheerful picture of the naval reserves. They are in a healthy state and recruiting is satisfactory. The R.N.V.R. reached its golden jubilee last year—and so did I— but, unlike me, they had to postpone it a year owing to the Coronation festivities, and they will celebrate it belatedly on 12th June this year with a review by Her Majesty the Queen on the Horse Guards Parade.

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to bring his own horse to the parade, I will certainly make arrangements for him.

Recruitment to the W.R.N.S. is satisfactory and their efficiency remains exceptionally high.

I need hardly tell the House that the Royal Marines have played their full part in the activities of the Fleet all over the world. We have an honourable and gallant addition to the Royal Marines in this House with the entry of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall), and I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member is as pleased as anyone at this fact.

As regards officers, hon. Members will be aware that cadet entry is now in a transitional stage. The last competition for the entry of cadets at the age of 16 will be held in June of this year. We shall then set about increasing the 18-year-old entry to about double its present number. The preparations of regulations governing this new "all-18" entry is well in hand and they will be made widely known in plenty of time for the first competition to be held in October this year.

These regulations will include provision for candidates to be exempted from the written examination conducted by the Civil Service Commission if they have obtained certain passes at ordinary and advanced level in the examinations for the General Certificate of Education and equivalent certificates in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I said last November that I would consider the possibility of introducing a scheme like that of the Royal Air Force to enable boys who show promise to stay on at school after 16 and prepare themselves for entry into the Royal Navy at 18. The House will be glad to learn that I have now decided to introduce a Royal Navy scholarship scheme to take effect next year after the entry at 16 into Dartmouth has come to an end. The details of this scheme will be announced in plenty of time.

Brigadier Ralph Rayner