HC Deb 06 April 1927 vol 204 cc2080-2

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make the employment of ex-service men disabled by wounds in the service of their King and country compulsory. In asking leave to introduce this Bill I realise the difficulty of compressing into the limited time allotted sufficient matter calculated to help the House to form a judgment. The Bill is to make compulsory the employment of a small quota of disabled ex-service men by public bodies, manufacturers and others, who employ over 10 men. At best, it can only be a temporary Measure, because as time goes on the number will be gradually diminishing. The effect of the Bill will not be the discharge of men now employed to make room for the disabled; it only ensures that, as vacancies occur, disabled men up to the quota shall be employed. The good work of the King's Roll Council, under the Chairmanship of the hon and gallant Member for Farcham (Sir J. Davidson), is appreciated by all ex-service men, and by the British Legion, and while every credit should be given to the energy and devotion displayed by the King's Roll Council it has to be admitted that they have been unable, so far, to rope in those unpatriotic firms who place purely business considerations before the true sense of patriotism.

This Bill is the one which was introduced in the House by our late colleague who was the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Pielou), himself a disabled ex-service man, which was given a Second Beading without a Division in May, 1924, and while I realise that in framing our laws one cannot count too much on sentiment it should not be forgotten that the object of the Bill is to help the class of men of which our late colleague was such a fine example, and also that he contracted the illness while serving these ex-service men, which was the immediate cause of the early death. Many local authorities are not playing the game with regard to employing a small quota of disabled men, and even some Government Departments are not setting a good example. I have here the latest figures which can be obtained with regard to local authorities and the King's Roll. There are 3,808 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, and of this number as many as 2,297 are not on the King's Roll.

The present voluntary system acts unfairly on the firms who now live up to the letter and spirit of this Bill, as they are placed at a disadvantage with their competitors who evade their duty. Most of the countries who were involved in the Great War have adopted compulsory methods, having found that the voluntary system was ineffective. Italy, for instance, eight months after a compulsory service had been in operation, reduced the number of unemployed from a quarter of a million to 500. It is estimated that if this Bill becomes operative it would not be necessary for any firm to employ more than 4 per cent. of the total number employed to absorb all the disabled unemployed. It is realised in the Bill that all industries cannot absorb the same quota, neither is it expected that firms who employ less than 10 men will come under its provisions.

Field-Marshal Earl Haig has been, and is, persistent in advocating the cause of the disabled men. Although they may be in receipt of a disability pension, and although the country responds so well to the appeal on each Poppy Day, we all know what a tremendous difference it makes to a man's life if he is occupied. There is nothing like work to bring happiness. Time hangs heavily on those who have nothing to do. Safeguards are included in the Bill to satisfy all reasonable demands that the men are suitable for the particular work, and I am confident that they would readily adapt themselves to circumstances, and, if given the opportunity, would show their appreciation that the country had not forgotten them by doing their best to give satisfaction. No patriotic employer has anything to fear in the Bill. He has everything to gain, for if, instead of the patriotic employer shouldering too large a quota of the disabled ex-service men, they were equally distributed over the. whole of industry it is obvious that the good employer would gain and not lose thereby. I am pleased to be able to say that hon. Members of all parties in the House have agreed to back the Bill, and I trust the House will allow me to bring in this Measure, and thus show that we, at any rate, arc prepared to redeem the pledges made when these men left all to fight for the country in its hour of need.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Smedley Crooke, Lieut.-Colonel Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan, Mr. Ernest Brown, Major Cohen, Mr. Dixey, Colonel England, Mr. Womersley, Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy and Lieut.-Colonel Gadie.

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