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Equal Pay

Volume 524: debated on Tuesday 9 March 1954

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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.