HC Deb 23 June 1937 vol 325 cc1207-10
Mr. Lathan

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the payment of compensation for the loss of employment. In the brief time at my disposal I hope to be able to justify the request which I make for leave to introduce this Bill and for the House to give it a First Reading. The Bill is designed to secure a measure of provision for what many thousands of citizens believe to be an urgent social need. Its purpose is the establishment of a legal minimum of compensation for non-manual workers deprived of their employment through no fault of their own as the result of action by their employers. There will be no need for me here and now to urge the seriousness of the loss of employment and the consequent unemployment to workers of all classes, whether they be manual or non-manual. The extent to which responsibility is accepted by the State, by workers and by employers alike, to ensure a measure of provision in these unfortunate circumstances, is a sufficient indication of the recognition of our social responsibility in that direction.

Unfortunately, for many thousands of those for whom this Bill is designed beneficially to provide there is no provision whatever now in respect of unemployment benefit or payment. I regret to add that neither the repeated pleadings of the national organisation representing the non-manual workers, nor the favourable recommendation of the statutory committee set up by The Government has had the effect so far of inducing the Government to give the justifiable claims of this important section of workers the measure of consideration to which they are entitled. I am not, however, seeking by this Bill to impose any additional responsibility upon the State, but only to ensure that employers who for reasons of their own and in their own interest terminate the employment of their staff workers after years of faithful service, shall be required to accompany that act by some measure of compensation, and not be allowed, as they are unfortunately to-day, to cast those employés on the industrial scrap-heap, a contingent liability for the community.

Although these displacements are not entirely limited to such conditions, many of them, particularly in recent times, arise from business and commercial reorganisation, from amalgamations, from rationalisation and such like conditions which have been prevalent in industry and commerce in recent years. The tendency towards large-scale amalgamations, fusions and absorptions, has in recent years introduced a much greater degree of precariousness in so far as the employment of staff workers is concerned, and their lives to-day are literally haunted by the fear attendant upon the insecurity of their position. Office work has been co-ordinated, machines have been introduced. Even in the banks work which was at one time done by the clerical staff is to-day performed by machines. Clerks and supervisory officials are displaced by the concentration and reorganisation which have gone on. The business undertaking in most cases benefits by this rearrangement and in some cases the community also shares in the benefit, but the employe unfortunately suffers. Such is the nature of their employment that it is no exaggeration to say that, when displaced, especially at late ages, as frequently is the case, re-employment has too frequently become a condition very remote from immediate practical possibility.

It is in this respect that one is justified, as I hope the Minister of Labour will be prepared to agree, in drawing a distinction between the position of the manual and the non-manual workers, and that is one of the reasons which justifies me in introducing this Bill. In some quarters of the House Members may say that there is a measure of exaggeration in my statements, but I assure them that that is not the case. If time permitted I could with unhappy completeness justify all that I have claimed in respect of the precariousness of the position of many non-manual workers and the unfortunate experience which has been theirs, especially in recent times. I recall that some six or seven years ago I introduced to the notice of the House a Bill designed to provide for similar contingencies. The correspondence and information which then reached me revealed a condition of things, so far as the great body of non-manual workers were concerned, which justifies me in using the term that conditions are simply appalling. A few days after I introduced that Bill, in consequence of information that was brought to me I walked down Oxford Street, and between Tottenham Court Road corner and the Marble Arch I found four or five non-manual workers, some of them men who had occupied positions of considerable responsibility, endeavouring to earn a livelihood by selling matches, laces and that kind of thing. In some cases to which my attention was drawn men and women of 30 years' service had been dispensed with and given only a few week's notice and the pay attached to that notice.

This Bill will provide that in such circumstances as those the employé would be entitled to one month's pay for each year of service when his or her service is terminated in the way I have indicated. I suggest that the proposal is modest enough to ensure support from Members in every quarter of the House, whether they be associated with the employing side of industry and commerce, or those associated with men and women who are employed. This compensation would not be payable, of course, in cases where serious and wilful misconduct has brought about displacement, or where the employé has attained an age entitling him to benefit from superannuation, or where compensation is payable under previous statutory enactments.

I need scarcely say that the principle of compensation for loss of office is not a new one. It has been recognised in Acts of Parliament from 1859 onwards for particular classes, for those displaced who were in Government employ, in local government employ, on the railways arising from amalgamation, and so on. It is embodied in legislation which set up the great public utility boards and corporations, the Central Electricity Board, the Port of London Authority, and so on. It is recognisable in private business when directors are displaced. It has been recognised recently in the case of shopkeepers affected by slum clearance schemes and deprived of employment. We pride ourselves sometimes on our position in regard to social legislation, but in this respect we lag behind. In France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium and Poland some provision has been made for cases such as these. The purpose of the Bill has been approved by practically every organisation in this country representing the non-manual workers. It has the support of the Trades Union Congress, the National Federation of Professional Yorkers, and recently the International Labour Office has promoted a sympathetic inquiry into the proposals of the Bill, which seeks to provide a minimum of simple justice for an important section of the community. I hope and trust that the appeal I have made will be responded to in the right spirit by the House.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Lathan.