Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Labour, including sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Fund, Grants to Local Authorities, Associations and other bodies under the Unemployment Insurance, Labour Exchanges and other Acts; Grant in Aid of the National Council of Social Service; Expenses of Transfer and Resettlement; Expenses of Training of unemployed persons and, on behalf of the Army
Council and Air Council, of soldiers and airmen for employment; Contribution towards the Expenses of the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations); Expenses of the Industrial Court; and sundry services.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)
This Supplementary Estimate relates to one aspect of the work of the Ministry of Labour. I do not think that it raises any contentious issue or involves any sweeping change of policy. No money is being asked for from the Committee. The Vote takes the form of a token Vote, and it is put before the Committee only in order to give authority for certain experimental measures relating to training, which have, in fact, been taking place in the course of the last few months. As the Committee no doubt know, this Vote is for training soldiers for civil employment, and certain experimental measures have recently been tried out whereby the responsibility for this training is undertaken by the Ministry of Labour. The Committee and the House have already given their approval to that change, so that no question arises of discussing whether or not that change was desirable. The original intention both of the Ministry of Labour and of the War Office was that this training should take place after the discharge of the soldier from his Colour service, but a modified scheme has recently been introduced whereby this training is now given in Ministry centres during the last six months of the soldier's Colour service.
The one and only point of this Supplementary Estimate is to give authority to these experimental measures. As I have already said, no money is being asked for from the Committee. The provision in the original Estimate of the Ministry of Labour, 1937–38, is adequate to meet any cost that may fall on the Ministry, but it was thought desirable, in view of the nature of the new service, to secure Parliamentary approval for it. I will not go at this stage at great length into the scheme, but the Committee no doubt realise that in the past not only has the Ministry of Labour had training centres, but the Army has had also Army vocational centres. These latter conducted in a highly efficient way, cater for a smaller number of people, the maximum hitherto being envisaged at about 3,000 per year. When it became obvious that the stimu- 2024 lation of recruiting was desirable it was thought to be a good step, in order to secure that stimulation, to increase the facilities for civil employment of men when they leave the Army. It then had to be decided—and the Committee decided last year—whether it was better that this training should be given by two Departments—the Ministry of Labour and the War Office—or whether the training should be centralised under the Ministry of Labour alone. The Committee decided in favour of the latter solution, bearing in mind, no doubt, what seemed personally to me the obvious fact, that the Ministry of Labour is better qualified than any other Department to know the needs, desires and absorptive capacity of the industrial market.
As certain technical and administrative difficulties were bound to arise, it was decided to give this change a six months' experimental period. During this period of six months, which started last November, the Ministry has assumed responsibility. When this period comes to an end at no very far-distant date all the information available will be examined by the two Departments, and there will be opportunities for the House to raise the matter on different Votes, with a view to deciding whether or not the Ministry should continue as a permanency the work it is now doing as an experimental measure. The soldiers spend, if they apply for vocational training, the last six months of their Colour service either at an Army centre or at one of these four Ministry centres, that are reserved for soldiers. And, again, there are places reserved for soldiers at other centres run by the Ministry of Labour. If later, after the experiment has run its projected course, it is thought desirable to make permanent what has been a temporary arrangement, then the two Army vocational centres at Hounslow and Chisledon will be taken over by the Ministry, and with the places already existing at the Ministry's centres, it is anticipated that more than 10,000 soldiers can secure vocational training during the last six months of their Colour service.
I would point out that these new provisions apply also to soldiers who are serving overseas, for they are entitled to come home and spend the last six months of their service at these centres, and if they return from abroad at a date less than the six months' period they are entitled to continue their service to fulfil 2025 the whole period of the six months. Soldiers are taught engineering, building and a wide variety of miscellaneous trades. They are paid Army pay, and allowances. Judging by the figures it may be interesting to the Committee to hear that the soldier has not been slow to take advantage of these facilities. I should like to stress once more that the principle of training is not in question, nor really is the principle of the temporary Ministerial control by the Ministry of Labour of vocational training for soldiers. What is in question is whether or not this training should be given during the six months prior to discharge or, as was originally arranged, when a soldier has completed his service.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
The Parliamentary Secretary in his first speech has given a very simple explanation of the Vote, and he will not be surprised to find hon. Members on this side supporting the Army. But the position is not quite so simple as the hon. Member has described. It has been my lot to be familiar with training centres under the Ministry of Labour and training centres under the War Office. As a matter of fact, the training vocational centres under the War Office are the oldest in the country, and have done splendid work. The War Office some time ago came to a decision on this matter, but this is the first time the Ministry of Labour has brought this Vote before the House in this form. It involves a change which affects a great many men and, therefore, demands serious consideration. The soldier will get his last six months training in these centres just as he will get it in future under the Ministry of Labour, but if the War Office had wanted to extend this training to the last six months of the soldier's service all they had to do was to extend it to all soldiers within the ambit of the vocational training centre system of the Army.
I recognise that there is something to be said for bringing soldiers into touch with civilian life during the last six months of their service, but I impress upon the Committee that the vocational training centres of the Army have an advantage which the Ministry of Labour's training centres do not have, in that very often the soldier is able to bring his wife to the training centre and to live in home conditions during his period of training. 2026 I have seen the working of both these systems, and although I am not a critic, except when it is necessary, of the Ministry of Labour's training centres, I like the family spirit of the vocational training centres of the Army much more than I like the Ministry of Labour's training system. I would also draw attention to the fact that the vocational training centres of the Army, which have been in operation practically since the War, have built up a great technique, not only of understanding soldiers, but of getting posts and contracts, which I am afraid will be lost to the soldiers, because of their having been isolated for some years from ordinary civilian life. I do not intend to press my Amendment to a Division, or to delay the Committee at any length on this matter, but I do not think a decision such as this should have been taken on a Supplementary Estimate at this time of night. It ought to have been more fully considered in proper circumstances, and I think it is worth while considering it more seriously than apparently has been the case. I take it that there will be three vocational training centres less, since the object is to wind up these three training centres.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Lawson
I am glad that is not the case, but we have not had that assurance before. I thought that was the object, because, with all due respect to the War Office and the Army authorities, they have not cared too much for this system. If they had, they would have developed the whole system long ago, but instead there have been several attacks on the vocational training system in the Army. I had hoped that I should have had an opportunity of saying something about training centres generally, but I gather that we cannot raise the question of the ordinary Ministry of Labour system.
§ Mr. Lawson
All I will say, then, is that by this Vote we are asked practically to abolish the vocational training centre system of the Army. I think that is a mistake and I think the matter ought to be considered again; but while holding that opinion, I and my hon. Friends are not prepared to press the matter to a Division.
§ 10.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I think we may congratulate ourselves that for once in a while we are discussing some other subject than foreign affairs, even though it is half-past 10. As far as I understand the matter, it is intended that the centres which are now being run by the Army shall be transferred to the Ministry of Labour. The soldier will continue to be trained in these centres, although he will be allowed to go, if necessary, to a Ministry of Labour training centre which is already established, and instead of finishing his time with the colours as formerly he will be allowed to utilise the last six months of his service.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I was only following what the hon. Gentleman said. Hitherto the soldier has been trained by the Army and the Army has been entirely responsible for him during his training. He is trained by the military authorities while still a serving soldier. What is proposed now is that in the last six months of his service he shall be transferred to the Ministry of Labour for training purposes. But he does not cease to be a soldier and you will have serving soldiers being trained along with civilians. Is the soldier, during that six months, while he is undergoing training under the Ministry of Labour, to be subject to military law or to civil law? If he committed any offence he would as a soldier in the ordinary course come within the military system. When he has been transferred to a civil authority to be trained with civilians, is he still within the military system?
Suppose that the trainees at a centre are discontented with their conditions. The civilian can walk out of the training centre. He may be liable to certain penalties afterwards in connection with his benefit but he is subject to no other penalty. Can the soldier act in the same way or is he still to be treated as a soldier? Once he has been transferred he ought to be treated as a civilian, in no way connected with Army discipline. I say to hon. Members above the Gangway that it is a serious matter if you are to have serving soldiers trained alongside civilians and if the soldier is to be subject to the threat that if he does anything wrong he will be returned to his 2028 regiment and dealt with as having acted contrary to military law. I trust that after the soldier's transference to the civil system the threat will not be used against him that for any alleged misdemeanour he may be transferred back to the Army for punishment. It may be that the Ministry of Labour has a wider range as regards placing men in jobs, and that may be an attraction, but the position ought to be made clear. If it is the case that a man is to be treated as a soldier while serving in a civilian training centre, then I am inclined to carry this matter to a Division. I do not think that it would be fair either to the soldiers or to the civilians to have a man serving in this dual role, and I trust that the Under-Secretary will be able to clear up the position of the serving soldier in relation to civilian rights.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Sir Joseph Nall
The hon. Gentleman has raised an issue which possibly cannot be settled on this Vote, but his remarks have a bearing on what was said by my hon. Friend in moving the Vote. The question is whether a soldier has to undergo this training six months before he leaves the Army or after he leaves the Army. If he is to be treated as a civilian subject to civil law, obviously he can be discharged from the Army and do his training after he ceases to be a soldier. On the other hand, if he has to do his training while he is still a soldier, that is to say during the months prior to his discharge, he must remain subject to military law unless we amend the Army Act, and no expression of opinion in this House can alter the Army Act. For what the hon. Gentleman has said raises a point which would require an amendment of the Army Act.
The question raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) is not in dispute; that is already settled. These soldiers are going over to the Ministry of Labour. I think it is very pertinent to know whether these centres, which have been so well established and recognised in the Army, are going to be continued more or less as they are. It is very much to be hoped that the Ministry of Labour will not alter the existing system and close down the existing centres and transfer the whole business to some new place, with some new civilian personnel, who might quite well fail to under- 2029 stand the psychology of soldiers, and not inspire the confidence which the soldier has at the present time. But with regard to what I understood to be the main question raised by my hon. Friend, I very much hope that the soldier will begin his training before he leaves the Army, and his period of military service could be extended if necessary owing to a late return from foreign service—which is a thing, it seems to me, that the soldier would approve. But I hope it will be made clear that so long as the soldier is undergoing training he must, unless we amend the Army Act, be subject to military law, although the conditions may be relaxed in some respects appropriate to a civilian occupation.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Annesley Somerville
I would like to ask a question of my hon. Friend. I am very much interested in the Army centre at Chisledon, where the training was extremely good and the results obtained were very satisfactory. Is that training centre to remain intact, or is it to be taken over by the Ministry of Labour? I do not remember the House having an opportunity of discussing this principle of handing over the military training centres to the Ministry of Labour. There was a very efficient labour school at Brandon. I do not know in what condition that is now. At one time it was on a basis of care and maintenance. I wonder whether that is still the case. I should be much obliged if the Under-Secretary can tell us what is the position of that centre. The point which has been raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) seems to me to be worthy of attention and to require explanation. If such an efficient centre as Chisledon is to go out of action, I should regret it very much. I think the Committee would be interested to know the relative position of centres like Chisledon and Brandon.
§ 10.56 p.m.
Mr. J. J. Davidson
I would like to stress the point already raised and to say that I would prefer these soldiers to be under the Ministry of Labour, with the provision, suggested by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), that they should be there on the same terms as any other trainee. It has been suggested that an amendment of the Army Act would be necessary.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I have not had the advantage of consultation with the Minister of Labour on this point, but if an amendment of the Army Act is required, that point cannot be raised now.
My point is that such an important matter should be attended to immediately. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member who spoke from the Government Front Bench on this question. I do so because I consider that he spoke like a true Parliamentarian, and it is very pleasing for my friends and myself to see the easy assimilation of democratic principles that is taking place on the Treasury Bench. It has been stated that the Committee are being asked for no more money in regard to these soldiers, but I think we are entitled to have some idea as to how this scheme is working. It is all very well to make a general statement that the Minister requires no more money, but we desire to have some idea of what is taking place in these training centres, whether the money has been used to expand them in order to cope with this new number of trainees coming in, whether new methods of instruction are being used, and whether it is considered that this six months period is sufficient, or whether it will be extended in order to give these ex-soldiers and other trainees a more efficient service.
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I take it that the young soldier coming out of the Army will be trained at the same centre as the civilian, and if that is so, I would like to point out that the young soldier will be getting his dinner at the same table as the civilian and that the Minister of Labour is going to ask him to pay for his midday meal. There is £4,000 mentioned here. I think that it would be wiser if the soldier was not asked to pay for his dinner, and you would then get £4,000 worth of satisfaction. I would like the Minister to answer whether they will have to pay for their own meals or whether he will take into consideration the advisability of giving them their meals the same as the civilians who sit at the same table.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not think either my right hon. Friend or I have any cause to complain of the nature of the criticisms levelled at this proposal. It is the desire of the Government, as of hon. Members opposite, to do what is possible to give 2031 the maximum amount of help to the soldier in order to fit him for civilian employment. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) asked what would be the position of the training centres in the Army vocational training scheme. If the result of this experiment which is now being conducted is to transfer the control permanently to the Ministry of Labour of all vocational training for soldiers, it is the intention to close down the vocational centre at Aldershot and to transfer the control of the Ministry of Labour to the Army vocational centres at Chisledon and Hounslow; and also, if possible, to transfer the staffs which may be affected at Aldershot and try to find work for them. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street asked whether there would not be some loss of the efficient contact which had been built up between employers and the Army vocational centres over many years. I do not anticipate any such danger; nor do I think that the soldiers who are affected have that fear. The figures show that on 3rd March no fewer than 999 home service soldiers and 1,015 overseas soldiers now in England have been accepted at Ministry of Labour centres, making a total of 2,014. In addition, there are some 560 other applicants whom it is hoped to absorb by the end of this month. When it is considered how meagre was the response to the original scheme, I think that that excellent response might do something to reassure hon. Gentlemen on that point.
In regard to the comments of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), I am afraid I did not perhaps make myself clear as to the six months period. Under the old system, if a soldier went to an Army vocational centre, he went for the last six months of his Colour service, and if he went to a Ministry centre he could go only after discharge. Under the new proposals, all will be treated alike and will go either to the two Army vocational centres that will be taken over or to a Ministry centre for the last six months of their Colour service. The hon. Gentleman asked whether they would be trained along with civilians, and a similar point was raised by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths). They will be for a time. At the present moment four centres are being reserved at Slough, Waddon, Handsworth, and Southampton. In time they will not be trained along 2032 with civilians. It is only a temporary arrangement. The hon. Member for Gorbals also said he would prefer that soldiers were treated according to civilian law and not subject any more to military discipline. Under the original proposals, which received no support from the soldiers, they would have been subject to no military discipline, but only to civilian regulations; but under these new proposals whereby they remain serving soldiers during their training, they will, of course, be subject to military discipline for certain things.
The response shown by the soldiers leads me to think that they are not seriously alarmed at that prospect. They will remain for all purposes, until discharge, under military law. Subject to that legal position, the intention is that the discipline in these centres shall be on civilian lines rather than on military lines. The men will wear civilian clothes and not uniform. There will be no military penalties, and the only way of dealing with a serious case of offence would be to return the soldier to his unit. I hope that what I have said in regard to the Army vocational training centres has reassured my hon. Friend the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall). He was right when he suggested that if soldiers prefer to be treated as civilians they have only to wait until their discharge and then, in competition with other people, secure a place at a Ministry centre. In regard to the point of the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville) that there would be no opportunity for the House to consider the new principle of ministerial control involved, I would remind him that my right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State for War, now the First Lord of the Admiralty, made a very full statement on the subject on the Army Estimates last year.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) asked why, if the soldiers were having their midday meal in conjunction with the civilians, they should be obliged to pay. As I have said, this mixing of soldiers and civilians is only a temporary arrangement, but if he will look at the Estimates he will see another reason. When civilians are trained at these centres because they are unemployed some part of the cost of their maintenance is met by a grant from the Unemployment Fund, and the total is £27,000. The soldiers who are in train- 2033 ing there during their service are not unemployed, and there is no such payment from the Unemployment Fund, and the response to the scheme shows that the soldiers are not disturbed at some contribution being collected from them.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
They have really no grievance. They are joining in welcome numbers, showing that they have no grievance. They will be receiving their full Army pay and allowances, and I think it is not unreasonable to ask a contribution from them in return for the many benefits which they will receive.
§ 11.7 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
I gathered from the statement of the hon. Member that it is intended to reserve four centres for the training of soldiers for the time being, and further that there may be instances in which soldiers will go to other centres for training. Is the reservation of four centres for soldiers to be a permanent arrangement, or is it intended later that the training of soldiers shall be mixed up, as it were, with the training of unemployed persons?
§ Mr. Buchanan
Will the last six months of a soldier's service, in which he is doing this work, count in connection with standard unemployment benefit in the ordinary way on his discharge?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The answer to that question is "Yes." In regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Jenkins) the four centres for soldiers will be permanent and not temporary. They will be at Slough, Waddon, Southampton and Handsworth. During the period of transition there must be soldiers and civilians training together, but that is temporary. The maintenance of these four centres for soldiers will be permanent.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd indicated assent.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I assume that the real position is that the Ministry of Labour will be taking over the training of soldiers for this purpose?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd indicated assent.2034
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Labour, including sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Fund, Grants to Local Authorities, Associations and other bodies under the Unemployment Insurance, Labour Exchanges and other Acts; Grant in Aid of the National Council of Social Service; Expenses of Transfer and Resettlement; Expenses of Training of unemployed persons and, on behalf of the Army Council and Air Council, of soldiers and airmen for employment; Contribution towards the Expenses of the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations); Expenses of the Industrial Court; and sundry services.