HC Deb 02 April 1941 vol 370 cc1114-8
Mr. Assheton

I beg to move, in page 9, line 28, to leave out from "absent" to "the", in line 30, and to insert: then, with the consent in writing of the person to whose application the appeal relates. This Clause gives the umpire power to determine an appeal in the absence of one or both of the assessors if, in his view, that absence is due to circumstances arising out of the war. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) has an Amendment down and the Government propose to accept the sense of it. As he has put it, the umpire would be allowed to sit without the assessors provided the appellant is agreeable to this course. This Amendment strikes out the words: and it appears to the umpire that the absence is due to circumstances arising out of the war. The Clause will now read: Where, on any appeal to the umpire under Sub-section (3) of Section six of the principal Act (which relates to postponement certificates) one or both of the assessors appointed to sit with the umpire is or are absent, then, with the consent in writing of the person to whose application the appeal relates, the umpire may, notwithstanding, etc. It is quite clear that if the person concerned is willing that the case should be heard in the absence of the assessors, there is no need for the words previously inserted with regard to circumstances arising out of the war, and I think it meets the general convenience that the Amendment should be accepted in this form.

Mr. Gordon Macdonald (Ince)

I would like to express my appreciation of the acceptance of my Amendment in principle and to say that I agree with the extension proposed by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Silkin

I beg to move, in page 9, line 39, at the end, to add: (4) The proviso to subsection (3) of section six of the principal Act shall cease to have effect. The purpose of the Amendment is to secure for persons who claim postponement on the ground of hardship the same rights of appeal as the conscientious objector has. A person claiming postponement on the grounds of hardship goes to a hardship tribunal, but if he is not satisfied with the decision he has no right of appeal. He can only appeal if the decision is not unanimous or if he gets the leave of the tribunal. The proviso in the principal Act which I seek to omit limits the right of appeal in the way I have described. I want to put the ordinary person who claims postponement from military service on the ground of hardship in the same position as the conscientious objector who, if he is not satisfied with the decision of the tribunal, can go to an appellate tribunal as a matter of course without anybody's leave.

Mr. McEntee

Most of us have had cases of people who feel that an appeal against a tribunal's decision is desirable. One case came to my notice in the last few weeks of a father dying and leaving a widow who knew nothing about his business. There were five sons and four were called up to join the Army. When the last one was called up I made an appeal that he should be allowed to remain. He had had two extensions, and I merely asked that he should have a further extension and should be allowed to remain out of the Army for 12 months. The Minister was unable to accede to that request. The man went into the Army and left the business in a bad position because he was unable to find a competent manager for five butchers' shops. One would have thought that in present circumstances the need for carrying on the business would have appealed to the Minister and that postponement for the full time would have been granted. I felt rather bitter about that case. It seemed to me that it was a case where there ought to have been a right of appeal. I hope the Minister will give to the man who is willing to go into the Army but finds himself in difficult circumstances, rights not less than those given to conscientious objectors.

Mr. McGovern

I also support the Amendment. I have come across a large number of cases of the kind which have been mentioned, and I feel that it is a great pity that the Military Service Act did not give an applicant a right of appeal to an appeal tribunal. I remember one case which went to a hardship tribunal. It was the case of a commercial traveller who lived alone with his invalid mother. He was prepared to serve, but asked for six months' delay in order to be able to make some provision for the care of his mother. The chairman said "Just put your mother in a home and sell up your own home." He was given one week in which to do that. If that man had had an opportunity to appeal I think he would have got more consideration, because I do not deny that many cases have received consideration. If he had had the right to go to an appeal tribunal he could have summoned further impressive evidence which might have given him a period of relief.

I feel that men who are to be called up for Civil Defence work should be given the opportunity of going to an appeal tribunal. Under legislation at present in force the Minister retains the power of appealing to the umpire, and he has exercised that power in two or three cases to which I have myself drawn his attention. In the case of one family the father and mother were dead and the breadwinner was a young man of 20. He was keeping the home going for the three other children, aged 7, 9 and 11, respectively. The tribunal refused to give him any extension, but the umpire, in contrast with that decision of the local hardship tribunal, has allowed three periods of extension, and the man still remains out of the Army.

I do not think these matters should remain entirely within the jurisdiction of the Minister, because it may be that neither he nor the Parliamentary Secretary can give personal attention to them. If the applicant cannot apply political pressure through a Member of Parliament his case will probably come before an official, who will just send word back that there is no right of appeal to the umpire, and so injustice will be done. Some provision should be made for these men in the Civil Defence Services. I do not differentiate between a conscientious objector and a man who feels that it is his duty to serve his country. If he believes that to be his duty I honour the man, and will do nothing to thwart his desires, though my own view is diametrically opposed to his. Therefore, I am prepared to support even the cases of men who are prepared to do their duty according to their lights, and ask the Minister that some consideration should be shown to them.

Mr. Assheton

I am sure the Committee will appreciate that there is nothing in the administrative work of the Ministry of Labour which causes more anxiety than these questions of hardship in individual cases. I think, too, the Committee will appreciate that the administration of these matters has been extraordinarily fair and has met with little criticism. In something like two-thirds of the cases which have arisen tribunals have granted deferment on account of hardship. If the Amendment were to be accepted it would give an unrestricted right of appeal in all these cases. At the present time the right of appeal exists if the hardship committee is not unanimous or gives leave to appeal. In addition to that, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Minister has the right to appeal, which he exercises when he thinks necessary in order to secure that justice is done. Therefore, there is plenty of opportunity of appeal to the umpire in any case of doubt.

I do not think there is any analogy between these cases and those of conscientious objection. Local tribunals for conscientious objectors cover a considerable area and have nothing like the local knowledge enjoyed by the 400 hardship tribunals. We can fairly trust the hardship committees who have that local knowledge to give the right decisions in these cases. If a hardship committee is not unanimous, there is leave to appeal. In the circumstances I think the Committee will agree that it is reasonable to allow matters to stay where they are and to resist the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

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

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.