HC Deb 05 September 1939 vol 351 cc455-65

Considered in Committee.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

CLAUSE 1—(Payments to make up civil remuneration.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

3.38 p.m.

Mr. Ammon

I wish to give the Minister of Health an opportunity of dealing with two questions which were raised yesterday, one by the hon. Member for North Kensington (Mr. Duncan) and the other by my hon. Friend the Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen). The first is in relation to the words: a sum which shall not exceed the remuneration which he would have received if he had continued to serve in his civil capacity. Does that cover any progressive increase of remuneration as a result of promotion coming in the ordinary course? The other point is whether mental hospital authorities, not being directly under the control of borough councils or of the London County Council, would be appropriate authorities under the Bill.

3.39 p.m.

Mr. Mander

Under Sub-section (2) of this Clause it is possible for the appropriate authority to make up the pay of a man who is engaged in war service. I do not know whether this would be the appropriate occasion for a statement from the Government on this question, but many people, both local authorities and private employers, are awaiting the action of the Government with regard to their own direct employés in this connection. There are many employers anxious to be as generous as they can, consistently with their finances, to those who have gone into the different services. Naturally and properly they will be guided, to a large extent, by the action of the Government. I am sure that the Government, as a model employer, would like to give the best lead possible, and perhaps it would be possible for the Minister, on this Clause, either to make some statement or to indicate that he will take an early opportunity of making such a statement which would be helpful to many people.

The Chairman

I do not think that is a question which would strictly be in order on this Clause, but if the right hon. Gentleman representing the Government is prepared to give a short reply to the hon. Member I shall raise no objection. It is not, however, a matter which I could allow to be debated at this stage.

3.40 p.m.

Mr. Dingle Foot

There is one further point that I should like to raise before we part with this Clause, which is the principal operative Clause of the Bill. As was pointed out by the Government spokesman in the Second Reading Debate yesterday, it is a purely optional Bill, and it will rest within the discretion of each local authority to decide whether or not it will make up the salaries of those of its employés who are serving with the Forces. It is clearly the intention of the Government that the machinery of this Bill should be used by the local authorities, but I have heard only this morning that one large municipal authority in the North of England has already passed a resolution stating that it proposes to take no steps at all to make up the salaries of those of its employés who are serving. That has happened in one case, and it may happen in other cases. I do not suppose that the vast majority of local authorities will behave in that way—I am sure most of them will take advantage of the provisions of the Bill—but I should like the Minister to tell us that this Bill is not necessarily the Government's last word on the subject, and that if we have a few local authorities declining to avail themselves of the provisions of the Measure while the great majority are doing so, he will at a later stage at any rate consider the advisability of making this a compulsory Measure.

3.42 p.m.

Mr. George Griffiths

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). I am thinking of a lot of little townships which are at present rated up to 22s., 23s. and even 30s. in the £ and some of whose employé's are going to be called up. They may be getting a miserable 17s. or 25s. or 30s. from the Government, but their salaries may have been £4 a week. They are to be called up, and the local authorities are expected to pay the difference. If people living next door to them are called up, are the employers going to make up the difference? Is the mining community going to make it up for some of the chaps who are called up at the pit? Not likely. They do not do anything of the kind, and they did not do it in the last War. They gave certain facilities. They may have granted coal, but they did not grant rents free, and at the pit where I worked while that War was on the men themselves gave over £50,000 to help their men who were away out of their wages, but the employers were not bound to, and they did not. Whilst they were fairly generous, they did not contribute any money towards the wages of those men, which are not salaries.

I could not sit still here to-day—I am speaking for myself only—and ask the Minister of Health to make it obligatory upon local authorities to make up the salaries of their employés who are called up. If, say, 75 per cent. of them are called up, and somebody else has to replace them, the local authorities will have to pay those who are replacing them and are they also to pay their staffs while they are away? I hope the Minister will not accede to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Dundee, because there will be far more people called up who are not employés of local authorities than who are employés of local authorities, and those persons will not get their wages made up as far as the recompense that is given to them as soldiers is concerned. I hope the Minister will hold out and not accept the suggestion of the hon. Member. I have been a member of a local authority for 33 years without a break, and I do not feel like going to my people and moving that they shall make up the salaries of their employés who are serving, while there is somebody else living next door, it may be, who may volunteer to go up and who will get only his Army allowance. I want the Minister to be very careful in this matter.

3.45 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)

The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) suggested that some indication might be given that this is not the last word of the Government, and the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), quite naturally, took very strong exception to any undertaking of that kind being given by the Government. I can reassure him. Obviously, I have no intention of giving an undertaking of that kind, that a Bill to make these provisions compulsory will be introduced in the future. Clearly it would be out of order to do so, on this occasion, at any rate. I merely say— and this deals also with the point made by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) —that these Bills that we are passing are not like the laws of the Medes and Persians and can never be altered or modified by one jot or little. These are provisions that we are bringing forward to deal with the present position, and naturally they will all, from time to time, have to be reconsidered in view of the development of the situation, but we must all recognise—the point of the hon. Member for Hemsworth is of very great importance—that to make this kind of thing compulsory might do more injustices than the injustices that it remedied.

Mr. Foot

But surely the injustice, if it be one, to which the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) referred is an injustice which will arise whenever the conditions of this Bill are adopted by any local authority, and the argument brought forward by the hon. Member was really an argument against the whole Bill.

Mr. Elliot

I do not wish to be led away. I think the very fact that the Bill is not compulsory makes it possible for local authorities to meet some cases, where obviously there is some injustice, and in turn to refrain from applying the Measure where it might produce considerable injustice. This is much more flexible than a compulsory Bill, and it must be regarded in the nature of an attempt to arrive at a gentlemen's agreement in hard cases, as I said yesterday. Its provisions, as I say, might very well be applicable in certain cases and not in other cases. I do not wish to go further than that, because we agreed that there should be a certain latitude, and if local authorities do not operate it, they must be left to the judgment of their electors. In answer to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), it is certainly not our intention in the Government to leave this Measure a dead letter. It is our intention to deal with cases in a fair and reasonable manner as far as the employés of the Government are concerned, leaving it to others to treat their employés as they wish to do. We, as a great employer of labour, intend to avail ourselves of like provisions, and of course, I hope that other employers also will agree to do that. I think we are indebted to the Chair for having allowed us so far to transgress the Rules of Order on this occasion.

In answer to the other points raised by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), whether certain quasi local authorities were in fact included— he mentioned in particular mental hospital committees—the answer is "Yes." The hon. Member also put up the point of the Metropolitan Water Board. I undertook to look into that matter, and I have done so, and the answer is "Yes, that body also is included." In fact, everything included in the very wide definition of local authorities is included, and the only things that are not included are bodies that are not local authorities. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) raised the question of a body on Tyne-side. It is not a local authority within the terms of that very wide definition, so that it does not come under the Bill. It would be impossible in this Measure to legislate for all the innumerable bodies which are of a quasi statutory character, some of which are not bound by compulsory provisions of the kind which this Bill is intended to remedy. Therefore, I hope the hon. Member will take it from me that we have stretched the bounds of the term "local authorities" to the widest possible extent here, and that we must refrain from doing it further, because we might find ourselves legislating in a manner that would create other difficulties instead of clearing them away.

Mr. David Adams

Is it intended to introduce legislation to bring the bodies which I have mentioned, who are large employers of labour and non-profit statutory authorities, within the purview of similar legislation?

Mr. Elliot

There is an infinite variety of such bodies covered by an infinite variety of provisions, and any body which is already entitled to the superannuation benefit of the Act of 1937 is already brought within the provisions of the Bill by Clause 7. We shall need to examine one by one the bodies that are outside, and if injustices arise we shall do our best to see that they are remedied.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 4. — (Payment of Contributions.)

3.51 p.m.

Mr. Foot

I beg to move, in page 5, line 11, to leave out ''may,'' and to insert ''shall.''

This deals with the question of the superannuation contributions of local government employés who are called up to serve in the Forces. It is provided in the earlier part of the Clause that where a local authority adopts the provisions of Clause 1 and makes up the salary of its employé to what it would be in time of peace if he were back in his job, the employé pays his own superannuation contribution. The Sub-section with which we are now concerned deals with the case where the local authority does not avail itself of Clause 1 and does not make up the salary. In that case the Clause provides that the local authority may pay the man's contributions for him. It is not going very far to ask that in such cases the local authority should be bound to pay the superannuation contributions. If they decide in their wisdom that they will not make up a person's pay, at any rate let them pay these comparatively small sums in order to save his superannuation rights. We can easily envisage the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) on Clause 1, where a man receiving £4 a week or more suddenly has to go down in the scale and receive private soldier's pay. It would be difficult for him to keep up his superannuation contributions. If, therefore, the local authority elects not to use the power given by the Bill, it is not unreasonable to ask that it should pay the man's contributions while he is away. There is one apparent anomaly in this Clause to which I drew attention on Second Reading. I pointed out that in Sub-section (4) —

The Chairman

Is the hon. Member going to talk on his Amendment, or is this a question that should come up on the Motion "That the Clause stand part "?

Mr. Foot

I am talking of my Amendment and am about to illustrate the contrast between Sub-sections (3) and (4). The object of my Amendment is to bring Sub-section (3) into line with Subsection (4). In the case of probation officers it is made compulsory on the probation authorities to pay the superannuation contributions of an officer who is serving in the Forces. It seems rather strange that it should be compulsory in one case and not in the other.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

I think that, perhaps owing to the rapidity with which these Bills, which are of a highly technical nature, are brought forward, a certain misconception has arisen over this point. There is no question of the discretion of a local authority whether it pays or does not pay. This is a question of machinery whether it pays annually or pays an aggregate amount into the fund. The only point about the proviso for probation officers is that the machinery for their superannuation lays down that it must be paid annually. Therefore, the discretion which local authorities enjoy as to whether they should pay annually or make up the fund in a quinquennial period is not appropriate in the case of the probation officers. In both cases the rights of the individual are fully secured, and there is no injustice to a person who is not a probation officer.

Mr. Foot

That may deal with the difference between the probation officer and the local government officer, but I do not think it meets the principal point which I made. This Sub-section says: For any other part of the period of his war service "— that is, the part in respect of which the local authority is not making up his salary— the appropriate authority, if the superannuation allowance to which any such person might become entitled would be payable out of a superannuation fund, may pay in respect of him to that fund the aggregate amount which he would have been liable to contribute to that fund had he continued to serve in his civil capacity. It is left in the discretion of the local authority whether they will or will not pay contributions which the man himself would have been liable to pay.

Mr. Elliot

The hon. Member must read this in connection with Clause 3. It is no question of the man himself having to pay under either alternative. The person who is serving will have his contributions paid by his former employer. Therefore, his rights are not prejudiced. The only point here is a machinery point whether the payments are made in respect of annual periods or whether they are aggregated.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 9. —(Superannuation of persons employed in civil defence service.)

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Foot

I beg to move, in page 8, line 31, to leave out from "service," to "or," in line 34. This Clause begins by saying: Subject to the foregoing provisions of this Act, the employment of any person by a local authority in civil defence service shall not, for superannuation purposes, be deemed to be employment by that authority, unless that person—' Then follow a number of conditions which have to be satisfied if the service is to rank for superannuation. I am concerned with paragraph (b),in which the conditions are twofold. The first is that the man must be transferred during the said period to civil defence service from some other service under the same authority which was pensionable service. The second condition is that in his new employment he must receive remuneration not less than that of the post from which he was transferred. In each case he is employed by the local authority, as I understand it, because he has been transferred to some form of civil defence work which is under the control of the local authority. If I read the Clause correctly it means this: Suppose that a man is transferred to a civil defence job and receives a lesser salary, then his service in civil defence is not to rank for superannuation. I may be wrong, but I think I am right. It is difficult to see why this should be so. Suppose you have a man who has been earning £3 5s. a week, and he is transferred, say, from the town clerk's department to some job in connection with A.R.P. still under the council. Suppose that his salary in the new post is only £3 a week. Under the Clause as it stands, because he is receiving £3 instead of £3 5s. the period during which he serves in his new job will not rank for superannuation. If I am wrong in my interpretation perhaps the Minister will tell me, but if I am not wrong it does seem to me to be a remarkable anomaly.

4.2 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

Again I say that because these matters are extremely technical it is not to be wondered at that hon. Members, and indeed Ministers, sometimes have great difficulty in reaching an exact interpretation of some of the Clauses. The hon. Member was good enough to discuss with me yesterday privately this particular paragraph (b) of Sub-section (1), and that gave me an opportunity of going into it with my advisers. I am advised, after having given the matter some study, that the interpretation which the hon. Member fears is not in fact the interpretation which the Clause bears. The Clause is to the advantage of the man and not to his disadvantage. It arises from the fact that the position of a man taking up one of these services is treated as though he had joined the Army, and that is not employment in the ordinary sense. Take an example. A clerk drawing £4 a week is appointed by his authority, let us say, to be a full-time air-raid warden at £3 a week. He would, under Clause 3 of the Bill and under the definition of war service, be able to reckon the £4 a week as his salary for superannuation purposes. A man drawing £4 a week in his ordinary occupation who is appointed to hold an A.R.P. position at £5 a week would, of course, by virtue of Sub-section (1, b)of Clause 9 be able to reckon the £5 as his wages for superannuation purposes. The point about which there was some dubiety in the hon. Member's mind related to the case of a man transferred to work at a lower rate of pay, say from £4 to £3 a week. The effect of this Clause is to make it possible for him to reckon the 4 a week of his original employment for superannuation purposes. Therefore a man's position is completely safeguarded in both cases. With that assurance I hope the hon. Member will feel satisfied and that he will not press the Amendment.

4.6 p.m.

Mr. Foot

I am very grateful to the Minister for that explanation, which amounts to this, that Clause 9 actually means the precise opposite of what it says. These words are perfectly clear. The Clause says that the period of employment shall not, for superannuation purposes, be deemed to be employment by that authority unless that person receives in respect of his employment in Civil Defence services remuneration not less than that which he would have received if he had not been so transferred. If that stands, the Clause would appear to be capable of only one meaning. Although, of course, I am prepared to accept the Minister's explanation that a different interpretation would be put upon it if it be read with Clause 3, it does seem to me that the drafting is open to a good deal of criticism, and I respectfully suggest that it might very well be reconsidered before the Bill reaches another place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 10 to 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 15. —(Application to Scotland.)


The Lord Advocate (Mr. T. M. Cooper)

I beg to move, in page 13, line 26, to leave out "Scottish Education Department," and to insert ''Secretary of State."

The reason for this Amendment is that the Scottish Education Department ceased to exist yesterday under the Reorganisation of Offices Act, the functions of the Department being transferred to the Secretary of State.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 16 and 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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