HC Deb 09 July 1936 vol 314 cc1537-42

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Sir G. Penny.]

11.13 p.m.


Two weeks ago I raised the question of Mr. Salisbury, who had been employed in the Devonport Dockyard. He had worked there for a considerable number of years, but two years ago was dismissed on the ground that they were reducing the staff. His conduct and his workmanship had been very good, and he was given a gratuity of £34. Two weeks later he was re-started. He was advised, when he handed over the £34, that his employment would be considered continuous and that when he was next dismissed there would be a continual period of gratuity. At the beginning of this year he was again dismissed, but this time not on grounds of reduction of staff, but without reason of any kind. It may be as well to say that he was a shop steward. He was one of several who were very active in the Labour movement—in different branches of the Labour movement. I can lay my hand on my heart and say that I do not know to which particular branch of the movement he belonged, whether he was one of the Reddest of the Red or of a paler colour.

Several of them were dismissed who had been very active. How was it possible to dismiss them? A very peculiar atmosphere had been created as a result of the acts of sabotage that had occurred, and that coincided with the movement of the Fleet towards the Mediterranean, while the serious situation existed with Italy and when very sinister moves were being made in London, and other parts of the country, by agents of Italy. The opportunity was taken for dismissing these shop stewards, and no reason was given. No complaint of any kind was made against any of them in respect of workmanship or conduct. There was no possibility of any of them being associated in any way with such an unpermissible and intolerable action as the sabotage that had taken place. This man was dismissed. Two years ago he had earned a gratuity of £34; he worked for a further two years; but he gets no gratuity, and repayment of his £34 is refused him. I understand the regulation to be that, where anyone is dismissed from his employment for any reason other than reduction of staff or ill health, he is not entitled to superannuation, but is given a compassionate gratuity, and so, on this formal regulation, they have refused to give him his £34, not to mention the extra two years' gratuity that he had earned.

One of the most dangerous things for anyone to come up against is a bureau- cracy of this character. I cannot help recalling the case of ex-Inspector John Syme, who for 20 years fought against injustice, who was in prison and out of prison, until the situation became worse and worse and his health was undermined, simply because the bureaucrats insisted on the regulations. In 1929 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), who was then Home Secretary, managed to get an accommodation after very great difficulty, and John Syme signed an accommodation agreement. But now, after the matter had been settled, it is all unsettled again, because the bureaucrats have got to work again, and John Syme understands that the pension he has been given is illegal. He is now writing to the Home Secretary, to the Commissioner of Police, and to the King.

How is it possible that we can allow anything so inhuman as a bureaucracy working according to rules and regulations when we are dealing with human flesh and blood—with questions that demand ordinary human consideration? Let any Member try to place himself in the position of this man. He works well and hard for many years; his good conduct and workmanship are recognised; and when he leaves there is no hesitation about giving him a gratuity. As it happens, he becomes active in the Labour movement, or as a shop steward in connection with various activities that are going on; but he commits no offence of any kind. Surely he is entitled, even though he is working in a dockyard, to have political opinions, and to express political opinions. There has been a lot of talk this afternoon about restrictions placed on people in the Colonies, but here we are not dealing with a Colony, but with an engineering factory, and surely this man is entitled to have political opinions and to express them. I challenge the representative of the Admiralty to mention one thing against this man, either in connection with his workmanship or with his general conduct.

We shall probably be told that there is no political discrimination, because, no matter what his political views were, he would not get the gratuity because he was dismissed on other grounds than reduction of staff or ill health; that if it were a Tory who was dismissed on other grounds than ill health or reduction of staff he would not get a gratuity. But the political discrimination is in the dismissal without any reason, and then the holding off of the gratuity that he paid in to the cashier a couple of years ago. I want to appeal to the Minister to avoid any possibility of a repetition of what has happened in the case of ex-Inspector Syme. The regulation can quite easily be overcome; it is only a formal reading and a formal consideration of the regulation that allows of this money being withheld. I appeal to the Minister to see that this matter is taken up with the responsible officer, and instead of a formal rule it is dealt with in a human and understanding way, and if they are not prepared to give him a gratuity embracing the extra two years work at any rate to give him back the £34 that he paid him two years ago in order that he would be considered for extra gratuity when the time came to leave the employment.

11.21 p.m.

The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Kenneth Lindsay)

I am sure the House will agree that it is only right that cases of this kind should be carefully considered, and I raise no objection to the hon. Member's general statement. I had better divide the matter into two parts. This is very largely a Treasury matter. The whole problem of pensions and superannuation of Government employés is governed by a series of Acts. I am extremely interested in the whole problem of pensions, but we are not dealing with that to-day: it is a separate class of established persons who get pensions. When this question was first asked, some sympathy was shown in the House, very largely due to a misunderstanding. I want to clear that matter up first. If a person is employed and has had not less than seven years' continuous employment, he is eligible—there is no right, but he is eligible—to a gratuity of a certain amount. That gratuity is given as a concession. When a man is discharged on grounds of reduction and goes back into employment some time later, he has the option of refunding the gratuity, because in a great many cases it is to his advantage. If a man has had seven years previously and then goes on serving, he may become established and it may make all the difference later on. I could quote cases where it would make a difference of £10 or £20 in his pension. It would make a difference in the gratuity that he would finally get as an established servant. This has been put in for the benefit of the man. But there are certain cases where it would work against him. That happens in all cases of insurance, that you take a certain chance, but it is for the man's benefit.

The cases where it would work against him are these, where, for instance, the man has refunded the gratuity and then comes back into employment for less than 15 years. He would then lose the refund if he became infirm, or his dependants would not get anything if he died. I have looked the matter up carefully. The number of times where this has occurred is very small. In fact, in some of the dockyards it has never occurred at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "Because they usually get it?"] No, they cannot get a pension according to the Act. What you may get—and that is what the hon. Member suggested—is an ex gratia payment. That has nothing to do with any Superannuation Act or the statute under which we work. It is possible to relieve such a case out of a small compassionate fund which we have at the Admiralty. A case occurred some years ago when a man made his refund. He died and there were some dependants to be looked after, and an ex gratia payment was made to them. That is the only case I have come across when such a payment was made. It is impossible under the existing Act to do anything in the case of a man who has been discharged on other grounds than reduction of staff. The hon. Member said that this was bureaucracy. There is no bureaucracy about it. Any case of discharge of a man from work, at any rate, as long as I am in charge of this particular section of the Admiralty, will be looked into with the greatest possible care. It is a serious thing to discharge a man.

In the case of this man Salisbury there are one or two facts which have not yet been made known. First of all it was suggested by an hon. Member on this side of the House when the question was asked that possibly the man had not been told, that he did not know the law. I made an inquiry into the matter and it is perfectly clear that Salisbury knew. It is clear in these rather rare cases that when a refund takes place the man is made completely aware of the whole circumstances, but they are a little complicated. I should say that in nine cases out of 10 it is to the man's advantage to refund, because the chances are that he will get a much better gratuity and very likely a pension if he lumps his whole service together. A man may have served seven years and he goes out on a reduction of staff. He comes back again after two years; he may say, "£34 is all very well, but if I stay on for another few years, I shall have a sporting chance of a pension by being established." This means certain employment until 60 and a pension on a higher basis, adding on all those previous years, and I think that is perfectly clear. There is no question of persecuting for holding a political opinion. There is no question of a person being penalised for being active in politics. Dockyard workmen can stand for Parliament. Dockyard workmen have ably filled municipal offices and do so up to this present moment—they have risen to the height of Lord Mayor—and are still dockyard workmen. Therefore, there is no question of persecution for political opinion.


Will the hon. Member tell us how many have been dismissed for it?


Any trade unionist knows about what I am saying. I meet them every month or so and we discuss every possible question on the Industrial Council, but there are cases, and there will be cases, where a Man has been discharged and where you have to take the Minister's word that it is in the public interest. In such cases it is impossible to go into details in this House. There may be cases of insubordination, or cases of "service no longer required," where there is no ground for reconsidering this question of refund especially when there are real cases of sickness and infirmity. I am sure that every dockyard worker and every Member of this House irrespective of party would believe me when I say—


Why was he sacked?


—that we must preserve the security of the Royal dockyards.

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.