Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1970 Feb 9 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

HC S 2R [Equal Pay (No.2) Bill]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [795/1019-27]
Editorial comments: 2106-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2973
Themes: Employment, Pay, Taxation, Science & technology, Women
[column 1019]

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)

When I was a pupil at the Bar, my first master at law gave me a very sound piece of advice which I tried to follow. He said, “Always express your conclusion first, so that people do not have to wait for it” . I therefore gladly express my conclusion first on the Bill. I welcome it, and join my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Miss Pike) and others in congratulating the right hon. Lady on having introduced it.

The task of winding up from this side will require rather more diplomatic and economic skills than I had imagined a subject of this kind would require. There has been a number of speeches, some about the subject from the viewpoint of women and some about it from the viewpoint of economics, as well as a number of critical views and a number of views of welcome. I share the view of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), that not nearly enough hon. [column 1020]Members have attended the debate. Although the sun was shining out of the eyes of those on the Front Bench opposite, there were only 25 people behind the right hon. Lady, a number which at its maximum rose to 29—and these benches were not much fuller.

Barbara CastleThe Secretary of State's speech was punctuated with many cheers, except when she said—I hope that I wrote it down correctly—that pay increases for women would have to exceed those for men over the next five years. This is what we are committing ourselves to. Of course it is. Unless this happens, the Bill's objective will not be fulfilled.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell)—I almost said “my right hon. Friend” —has always been a great friend of women hon. Members. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will not take that wrongly. He has always championed our cause. He championed it in that early debate, as he reminded us, way back in 1952. But I should like to mention first the debate of 11th June, 1947. This was the first debate on the Report of the Royal Commission, which reported in 1946.

When hon. Members opposite criticised the slow way in which we introduced equal pay for the public services, I would remind them that in that debate in 1947 the then Labour Front Bench refused to take the administrative action which could have introduced equal pay in the public service, in spite of being bombarded from the back benches by very effective speeches. So they had the Report of the Royal Commission for four years and took no administrative action to further these proposals for the public service.

Certainly, we then had it for another four years before Lord Butler introduced equal pay for teachers, for the local government service and for women in the Civil Service, except in the industrial sector. True, he did not require legislation. But it is interesting that, with both sides of the House pressing the Front Bench to introduce equal pay, and with no legislation required for that part of the service, no action was taken for a long time. We should be entitled to credit for what we did in 1955, and hon. Members who are just will not begrudge us that credit. [column 1021]

The right hon. Member for Leeds, West mentioned one or two other factors which I think are worth noting. He pointed out that he was very glad that his own wife had achieved her ambitions through him, and, of course, he is a dab hand at choosing wives—or at least one wife—if I may say so.

The right hon. Lady referred to the document we have produced, “Fair Share for the Fair Sex” . We have always been concerned—and that document showed it—that those of us who pioneer for equality for women should not in any way damage the position of women who choose to fulfil their lives in the home through the ambitions of their husbands and by bringing up their own children. After all, about half the married women choose, with their families, to live their lives that way, and they are every bit as important as the other half of married women who go out to work.

I have noticed recently that in other legislation which comes before the House their rights in some ways are being diminished, and that is why we were so anxious to have that other document “Fair Share for the Fair Sex” first before the later one “Opportunity for Women” . As the right hon. Lady probably realises, there is another Bill before the House which is abolishing the age-old common law rule that the wife shall be entitled to pledge her husband's credit for necessaries. I am very sorry so see that go, and I am sure that those of us who are all for equality must watch that we do not diminish the right of the wife to maintenance from her husband. The same Bill is also putting extra responsibilities on the wife which she has never had before.

A number of these points were brought to the fore in that document. We then went on to the other document—to which the right hon. Lady did not, I think, refer, but of which I am certain she has a copy—called “Opportunity for Women” .

Incidentally, in the first document we also dealt with some of the points about taxation which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with. One point which was put to the right hon. Lady concerned selective employment tax. I seem to remember that the right hon. Gentleman Roy Jenkinsthe Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time specifically pitched the levels of selective [column 1022]employment tax by reference to the average wages for women compared with those for men. That was how he explained that one level was approximately twice the other—because the average earnings of men are about twice the average earnings of women. I hope that equality in that sense will mean that the rate of selective employment tax for men will be brought down to that of women until such time as it can be abolished. What will happen about the regional employment premium is a matter for the present Government in deciding which way they would operate the equality.

One could also say that as a result of the present Bill wages will not be equalised and there are bound to be some differences between the take-home pay of men and women because of differences which arise from reasons other than basic pay.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) made what I am sure we all found was an interesting speech and a carefully argued one. My hon. and learned Friend referred to the Report of the Royal Commission. Our own report “Opportunity for Women” put the Royal Commission Report in perspective in relation to present-day circumstances. It said:

“Twenty-three years have now elapsed since the whole question of equal pay was examined by the Royal Commission. … The Commission's report, which was enthusiastic about the adoption of an equal pay policy, reads today as though it was written for a different world—as indeed it was.”

The evidence adduced before that Commission came from a different world—the world of the 'thirties. It also came from a world in which a number of women had to go very quickly into occupations in wartime to which they were not accustomed and for which they were untrained, and they did absolutely magnificently.

In reply to my hon. and learned Friend, I take one or two quotations from the minority report, so that at least he will know that I have read the report, and read it as closely as he has. The minority report, or memorandum of dissent, as it is properly called, was written largely by the Principal of Somerville College, at which, I think, the right hon. Lady was a student at one time. So was I—so, with the three of [column 1023]us, it must have been right. I do not think that anyone could resist the three of us all together. I sense even that my right hon. Friend Edward Heaththe Leader of the Opposition almost agrees to that. [Laughter.] I find that one always needs eyes behind one as well as in front in this job.

In paragraph 5 of the minority report it was said:

“No quantitative analysis of jobs has been made, but we find it hard to believe that at the present time more than three-quarters of all industrial jobs require physical strength beyond the capacity of women.”

In other words, the report came to its conclusions on the basis that three-quarters of industrial jobs required physical strength beyond the capacity of women.

Another observation to which I turn somes in paragraph 11:

“Our reading of the evidence is different from that of the majority” .

That meant that, according to the minority, the evidence would not support the conclusions. Again, in paragraph 14:

“The majority do not base their case mainly upon the evidence. They appear to rely chiefly upon an a priori argument …” .

The conclusion in paragraph 19 of the minority report was:

“To sum up: the theoretical argument advanced by the majority to account for the lower wages of women in terms of lower efficiency, used in its widest sense, seems to us unconvincing and on the evidence their case is not proven.”

My hon. and learned Friend used a phrase from the report, “The market mirrors the truth” . Perhaps the best argument which I can put about the market in relation to certain jobs is this. Let us suppose that the question of application to be a candidate for Member of Parliament were judged entirely on market forces. I think that there would probably still be candidates to be Members of Parliament even though there were no pay at all, for Members would be sponsored or would have enough money to do it, or some would come who had other means of support. But, in that case, I think that we should probably find ourselves without a number of very valuable Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. [column 1024] Powell), who I know devotes nearly all his time to work in the House.

Mr. Powell

What leads my hon. Friend to suppose that I would not be a Member of the House if there were no pay for hon. Members?

Mrs. Thatcher

My right hon. Friend might, but I do not think that he would be able to devote as much time to it as he does now. I am sorry if I have misjudged him.

I turn now to one or two other aspects of the Bill to which hon. Members referred, and I take, first, the income tax consequences. There will be several repercussions in income tax. One of the reasons why so many women go out to work is the quite ordinary one that the wife needs to work to keep up a good standard of living for the family. But the income tax consequences for the man who has a dependent wife do not allow really sufficient differences between the single allowance and the married allowance. I was surprised today to see that the difference between the single allowance and the married allowance is still only £120. Obviously, at some time, now that the right hon. Lady's Roy Jenkinsright hon. Friend has gone into his confinement—non-productive confinement—for his Budget, he may wish to have a look at some of the income tax consequences which will occur when we see women's rates of pay rising.

Incidentally, there will be other consequences. For example, if a docker earns £40 a week, which is £2,080 a year, and his wife now earns £500 a year, their interest on Post Office Savings of, say, £15 a year and any building society interest will be liable to surtax because it is savings income; and that situation will be worsened—to put it that way—once women's pay rises, so that a good many people who have a small amount of savings income will find themselves surtax payers.

A number of hon. Members have pointed out that equal pay does not bring with it equal or enlarged opportunities. In the public service it certainly has not. For example, teachers have had equal pay since 1961, but it is comparatively rare for the head teacher of a mixed school to be a woman. The top job tends to be given to a man and the No. 2 job to a woman. There has been equal pay [column 1025]in the Civil Service and a number of professions, but promotion prospects for women have still been comparatively poor.

Eric HefferThe hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton seemed to be arguing that women now had more promotion prospects. I thought he was arguing against the contention from this side of the House that promotion prospects for women had been comparatively limited. The image of him as a shop steward working under the authority of a woman foreman is not one that readily springs to mind.

Mr. Heffer

The hon. Lady does not know my wife.

Mrs. Thatcher

I shall be glad to learn that the hon. Gentleman would be happy to work under the authority of a woman foreman, and I should very much like to see it in operation.

There have been a number of reports about the limited opportunities available to women, and the right hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee) spoke of how few women went on to be qualified in science. This was a subject mentioned in the Dainton Report. One of the reasons why few women go on to a science course at a university, or another form of science course, according to paragraph 41 of that Report, is the apparently limited career prospects lying beyond qualification. We should not delude ourselves by thinking that equal pay for women, or even increasing pay for women if it does not come to equal take-home pay, necessarily means equal opportunities. There is still a great deal of work to be done in that respect to enable women to have the jobs which their qualifications would warrant.

It is important that more and more women become qualified and trained. A large proportion of the women in jobs—and there are 9 million of them—are in the comparatively unskilled sector. These are the very jobs which will go with automation, the very jobs which computers can do, the very jobs which machines will eventually be able to do better. It will be progressively more important that women take all the training opportunities available and that more opportunities are made available to them.

I have never seen any valid argument against the rate for the job. I like our [column 1026]own definition in the “Industrial Charter” —one rate for the job provided that the services rendered and the results achieved by men and women are the same. One of my hon. Friends has made some play with the fact that the Bill has no provision for results achieved and says only that terms and conditions must be equal. Most women would be very happy to be adjudged by the results achieved. We should not in any way be fearful about results achieved as one of the conditions for equal pay.

I note that there are several different components of pay. The Industrial Education and Research Foundation showed that basic pay accounted for 67 per cent. of total weekly earnings of male employees and 78 per cent. of those of women employees.

The proportion taken up by payment by results is interesting. Payment by results formed 8.9 per cent. as a component of men's pay, and 12 per cent. as a component of women's pay. So we are used to having payment by results as quite a large component of our net take-home pay. If payment by results were used in this House, on that alone we should most certainly be entitled to full equality.

Coming to the alternative definition of equal pay—equal pay for jobs of equal value—looking at American, European, Common Market and Swedish experience, it is doubtful whether this definition could ever be properly implemented, and the right hon. Lady pointed out some of the difficulties. It just is not possible to have a total job evaluation of all jobs done in this country or in any other. One therefore has to attempt to find some compromise solution, and the right hon. Lady has put forward one. If it is not quite right, doubtless it can be amended in Committee.

The problems of job evaluation have been brought up by many hon. Members. Of course, the same evaluation done by different people can produce different results; job evaluation is subjective, and this will produce problems. Even so, the existence of the Bill will mean that a large number of women will get higher pay because those responsible for paying them will be prepared to give them higher pay. [column 1027]

As the right hon. Lady said, there are many cases where equal pay has been implemented in the industrial sector, and she referred to Vauxhalls. On opening the newspaper on 26th January, I was amused to see a headline:

“Equal pay for equal nights.”

This was not the Sun, or the Mirror, but The Guardian. The article said that women workers at Vauxhalls might become the first female employees of a major engineering firm to work night shifts in order to get equal pay. The point is that they are prepared to work night shifts, and, if the right hon. Lady gives her consent, they will get equal pay with men workers. This is a case of equal pay where women are prepared to work under exactly the same conditions and do the same work, whether during the day time or on night shift.

There is also a factory making television equipment where nine women and about 40 men are receiving equal pay of about £27 a week. The reason why equal pay was introduced is interesting. The factory needed more flexibility, and to be able to switch workers about to meet rush orders. So the shop stewards and the union officials negotiated an equal pay deal. They did not quite know how it would work, and they had some misgivings. The works manager said:

“It was part of a package deal for three years, so I thought let's find out how it works for these three years.”

That is what the Bill will do. When we try to work it we shall not find anything like the number of difficulties which we anticipate because many of the problems will be ironed out, not by going to a tribunal but by negotiation.

I agree with many hon. Members that we do not know what the cost will be because we do not know the repercussions on women in jobs which are not affected by job evaluation, or the repercussions on the lower rates of pay of some men. Nevertheless, we shall have to try to work the Bill. So many people have supported the idea of equal pay for so long that one wonders at the continuing inequality of payment between men and women. I believe that the Bill will lead to better pay for many jobs, and I support it as another step in the equal pay story.