HC Deb 06 April 1944 vol 398 cc2249-60
Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-East)

The usual reason for bringing up a subject on the Adjournment is an unsatisfactory reply at Question time. My particular point is no exception to that, but there is an additional one on this occasion in that there appears to have been a misundertaking between myself and the Home Secretary. It is difficult to see how it arose. The Question I asked the Home Secretary on 30th March was: If he has considered the representations from the Association of Chief Wardens, London Region, complaining of the inadequacy of war service injuries allowances for part-time as opposed to full-time, Civil Defence Workers; and whether he will now consider putting them on an equal footing. After the Home Secretary had given the answer, I asked in a supplementary why part-time workers should, after 13 weeks, suffer a reduction in injuries payment as opposed to full-time workers. To that he replied: I wish my hon. Friend had made that clear in his Question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3oth March, 1944; cols. 1529–30, vol. 398.] In point of fact, that was what the whole question was about, and I do not think that hon. Members who hear me repeat it to-day will be in any doubt that it was made amply clear in my original Question. This matter was brought to my notice originally by the borough council of the constituency which I represent, but it had been initiated by the Association of Chief Wardens, London Region, and strongly supported by the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee. The matter does not exclusively affect London, but it happens that London has mostly suffered from a recrudescence of enemy raids. That destruction might at any moment spread to other parts of the country. This is, therefore, by no means a London matter, and it will be of interest to other Members.

I should like to recite the facts. A civilian injured by enemy action is entitled to benefit under the Personal Injuries (Civilian) Scheme. That is an elaborate scheme which is based on a sliding scale, but it boils down to this, that approximately 35s. a week is payable to the individual when out of hospital, a lesser sum to a single person in hospital, and, for a married man, there are additional allowances when out of hospital.

Broadly speaking, these are the allowances which are paid to the great mass of the people throughout the country who suffer these injuries, whether at work, whether in the streets, or whether in their beds. Civil Defence workers are, very properly, in a better position, but there does arise an anomaly which is the subject of my remarks. A full-time Civil Defence worker, injured by enemy action while on duty, receives, as a matter of right, the small amount to which I have just referred under the personal injuries scheme for civilians, but the local authority may increase that allowance, in order to bring him up to the full basic pay of a Civil Defence worker appropriate to his rank. In the case of the ordinary ranker, the payment is £3 18s. 6d. a week for a man and £2 15s. for a woman. There are higher figures for higher ranks. This additional payment may be made by the local authority for 26 weeks.

This brings the full-time Civil Defence worker more or less into line with the Armed Forces. There is a very great difference in the case of the part-time worker. Here the local authority can increase the amount payable as a matter of right under the civilian scheme to an amount representing the normal earnings, or the Civil Defence basic pay, whichever is the lower, but for 13 weeks only. In other words, he is at a disadvantage compared with the full-time Civil Defence worker, by a matter of three months. If he is unable to return to his work after the 13 weeks, he reverts to the considerably lower rate of the Personal Injuries (Civilian) Scheme. It is in this discrimination that, in my opinion and in the opinion of the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee, the unfairness lies.

I do not think it is reasonable to answer that part-timers are on a basis of equality with other civilians, and that they enjoy for 13 weeks an additional advantage because of the fact that the local authority can make their pay up for 13 weeks. The cases are entirely different. I do not see how it is possible to compare the part-time Civil Defence worker and the ordinary civilian. The contention of the Metropolitan Boroughs is that part-time Civil Defence workers, and fire-guards—I must add that—should be on the same basis as regular Civil Defence personnel. In point of fact their risks when on duty are exactly the same, and they are very much in excess of the risks undergone by the ordinary civilian, who can go into a shelter, or into a tube, or, if he prefers it, can go underneath his own staircase. If the ordinary civilian is out in a raid he has only himself to blame. There is practically no place in which he cannot find some sort of shelter, but this does not apply to the Civil Defence worker.

I want to give a particular case which has been brought to my attention of how this discrepancy operates. It happens that, in the borough which I represent, though not absolutely in my part of it, we have had two cases which illustrate this point extremely clearly. Two men were both severely injured on duty during raids in February of this year. I will first take the case of the full-time Civil Defence worker. He is a head fireguard and he has a weekly wage of £4 18s. 6d. He has received severe stomach injuries, caused by the exploding of an anti-aircraft shell while he was on duty in the open. To him is made a payment which is made up between the Ministry of Pensions and the local authority to exactly the same amount as he earned when on duty, £4 18s. 6d. He is allowed that sum for 26 weeks and it will be increased by a further 8s. 9d. per week in respect of his wife and child, when he is discharged from hospital.

I want to compare that case with the other case, which is of a part-time Civil Defence worker, and here the man is a senior fire guard. His ordinary occupation is that of a baker's salesman, and his weekly wage is£5. He suffered from a broken ankle while on duty during the raid, and he is at present in receipt of £4 3s. 6d. a week, which is the rate of a full-time senior fire guard. We have no complaints about the amount, but it lasts for only 13 weeks. After the 13 weeks, if he is unable to return to work—and I should have thought there was some doubt about it, in the case of a fractured ankle—what is he to rely on? He has only got his civilian injuries payment of 35s. a week for his wife and two children as well as himself, and that is a very severe reduction from £4 3s. 6d. which he is getting now. His counterpart full-time worker will continue to enjoy benefit for a further 13 weeks.

I am informed by the Standing Joint Committee that the arguments put forward by the Ministry of Home Security against any equalisation of treatment in those two cases are four in number. The first is that the principles underlying the conditions for whole-time personnel are distinct from those which apply to part-time personnel. They go on to the second, which is that the whole-time Civil Defence worker's position is equated as closely as possible to that of the Armed Services. Thirdly, the Minister apparently states that, in the case of part-time workers, they are gainfully employed, earning their living in some other way, and that their service in Civil Defence represents a contribution to national service which, in the present time, is an obligation resting upon all citizens. That, I gather, is the reason why the Minister thinks it is fair to differentiate between them. I rather suspect that the fourth argument is the most powerful weapon in the hon. Lady's armoury, and that is that, in point of fact, part-time Civil Defence workers do not suffer the same risk as full-time workers, in view of the fact that they are not on duty every night. I suppose there is something in that argument, but it is precious little consolation to the man who happens to get struck by a shell on the night when he is on duty. I think there is a case to be made out that these people are really in the same category and that they are entirely separate in the matter of risks from the ordinary civilians, who are placed in rather more comfortable circumstances than are the A.R.P. personnel.

The hon. Lady may tell us that her right hon. Friend differentiates between those people, but I am afraid that I cannot do so. The fact that the part-timers are gainfully employed means absolutely nothing if they are unable to go back to their work after the 13 weeks. In many cases, particularly in the one that I cited, there is no evidence of being able to go back after incapacitation. The duties are hazardous, and are shared equally on the nights on duty by full-time and part-time personnel. I hope that the hon. Lady will tell us that she is prepared to remove this anomally.

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)

I intervene as a London Member to support the hon. Member in bringing this burning issue to the forefront. We owe a special obligation—I insist upon this—to the part-time workers. I am sure that the hon. Lady will recognise that the men and women—we have to remember that women are included in this work—who, after a long day's work, do part-time Civil Defence work undergo an exceptional nervous strain. They work perhaps for long hours in an office or some other job and then go out during the noise and risk of an air raid. Their contribution may almost be greater than that of men and women who make it their profession or occupation during the war. I maintain that, by doing this work, the part-time workers are making a very considerable contribution to the war effort. If, when they go down the streets when bombs and bits of shell are falling, they have in their minds the idea that, in addition to the risk, if they are injured they will not be so well off as the full-time professional Civil Defence workers, it may add considerably to the nervous strain. Obviously, employers cannot be expected to make themselves responsible for compensation in cases when injury is caused by an occupation that is not within the employer's control. I therefore think that a case has been made out that those who do part-time work are entitled to equally generous treatment with those who make this work their full-time occupation.

Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)

I do not desire to detain the House or to recapitulate arguments which have already been used, but I certainly think there is a case here for consideration by the Government. It is true that one may argue that a man who is employed part-time should not be given the same cover as a man who is employed full-time, but we are covering a risk which is incurred during a particular point in time. A man who is on duty on a Wednesday evening and happens to be injured suffers in precisely the same way as a man who is on duty for six other nights and happens to be injured only on the seventh. The argument might possibly be advanced that the first man is covered in his civilian occupation while the full-time worker is not, but we ask these two men to undertake certain public duties, and if, in the course of those duties, they are injured, we should compensate them equally for the injuries suffered, irrespective of whether they are part-time or full-time workers. There is no doubt that there is a serious grievance in this matter, and I hope that the hon. Lady, if she cannot give a definite answer now, will ask her right hon. Friend to consider the matter further in order to see whether something better can be done for these people than is done at present.

Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)

I want it to be known that this problem is not in any way restricted to the Metropolitan area. I am not in the Metropolitan area, and, for that reason, I feel it is just as well that I should have something to say, because it is of general application. My Civil Defence Committee has written to me on the subject. I wrote to the Minister of Home Security a month or five weeks ago raising the same point. The Civil Defence Committee in my area felt that the present procedure was indefensible. If it is allowed to persist as regards the employment of part-time Civil Defence employees, there is every possibility that the same principle might be extended, with considerable danger, to those who might be engaged on part-time work in ordinary industrial pursuits, not only men, but women as well. There is a very important principle involved. The full-time A.R.P. workers, as we know them, receive this full-time compensation. Part-time workers, after having done their full ordinary day's work, were sufficiently patriotic to volunteer to do this work in their spare time. When they are overtaken with adversity, they are penalised as a result of their patriotism. That is the point of view taken by my local committee. When I was approached on the subject, I felt that this must have been an oversight when the regulations were drawn up. I did not think a parsimonious point of view had been taken deliberately, but that it was an oversight. I am hoping that we shall have something in the nature of a sympathetic reply and a reply that will enable us to feel that something tangible will be done in regard to this injustice.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security (Miss Ellen Wilkinson)

The various speakers who have raised this matter have all asked for a sympathetic consideration and I can assure all hon. Members that there is no lack of sympathy in the Ministry of Home Security on this matter. I would further assure the hon. Member for South East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit) that we should never dream of suggesting that our part-time workers in Civil Defence were not during their time of duty exposed to precisely the same danger as their full-time colleagues. But the essence of any problem really is how it is stated, and this problem has to be looked at in its complete setting. We have to realise that in all these questions of pay and allowances it is not possible to pick out sections and certain services and treat them differently from others. The various questions of pay and allowances, as far as the Government are concerned, must hang together as a considered whole. Therefore, I hope the Committee will bear with me for a moment while I put this picture in its setting as we have to look at it from the Government point of view.

The present position is that under the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme, both whole-time and part-time Civil Defence workers receive the same scale of injury allowance. The difference exists only in the arrangements that are made for supplementing these allowances. As the hon. Member for South-East St. Pancras pointed out, the period of supplementation in the case of whole-timers is up to 26 weeks but, with part-timers, the maximum is 13 weeks. In the case of whole timers, the amount may be made up to Civil Defence pay and, in the case of part timers, either to Civil Defence pay or to their wages, whichever is the less—but, nowadays, it pretty well amounts to the same thing. I would like hon. Members to consider how this present position has arisen. At the beginning of the war, the period of supplementation for both whole-time and part-time Civil Defence workers was only two weeks. In 1940 this period was extended for both of them to 13 weeks. The existing provision of 26 weeks for the whole-timer as against 13 for the part-timer was only introduced in February, 1942. Why was that? The extra 13 weeks were added to the period for the whole-time workers because a number of men had been compulsorily enrolled under the National Service Act and had been directed to Civil Defence rather than to the Armed Forces. As far as they were concerned, they were just obeying the Government's order.

Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but is not everybody now compulsorily enrolled in Civil Defence.

Miss Wilkinson

Not everybody. The point is that not everybody is serving in the Armed Forces and not everybody is doing compulsory full-time work. In this particular case, the Government and not the man decided whether he went into Civil Defence or into the Armed Forces. Therefore, it was felt that no distinction could be made between the two Services in this matter. Even the whole time volunteers were frozen in Civil Defence, so they could not leave even if they wanted to. They were as much conscripts as if they had been in any of the Armed Forces. Therefore, it was clearly necessary and just to extend for the whole-timers the 13 weeks to 26 weeks to bring them into line with the Aimed Forces. Quite clearly, these considerations did not apply to the part-timers and, therefore, their period was not extended.

As I have said, nobody could be more conscious than we, who are working so closely with them, of the devoted service that is given by the part-timers, but that, really, is not the point at issue, because devoted service is being given by a large number of people as well who are not in anything like the same position, as regards pay and allowances. The full time Civil Defence member looks to his ser- vice for full-time employment, and in sickness, as in injury, he expects maintenance from his Civil Defence Service. The part-timers, on the other hand, give service only intermittently and the rest of their time they are working as ordinary workers, subject to the same conditions and to the same privileges as any other citizen. When you compare it with other forms of national service, for which no arrangement for supplementation is made at all, the provision of 13 weeks' supplementary allowance for the part-timers can be considered generous, because the ordinary worker injured at work by enemy action does not have his, injury allowance supplemented at all, and, of course, if he is injured at work under other circumstances he loses his pay. The supplements that are paid to the, part-time Civil Defence, N.F.S. workers and fire guards may be said, therefore, to create an anomaly which would be increased if the period of supplements were extended. No concession could be confined to the part-time Civil Defence Service. To extend it to the fire guards alone would mean an extension to practically the whole of the able-bodied citizens of the country; there are at least 5,500,000 now enrolled in the Fire Guard. I am not saying that that is necessarily an argument as to why it should not be so extended, but I think we must realise that a line has to be drawn somewhere in all these questions of pay and allowances.

There is another problem which I do not think hon. Members can dismiss quite lightly, that is, that such a wide extension of these supplementary allowances would tend to undermine the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme and the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act. As things are I do not think the hon. Member for South East St. Pancras has quite done justice to what a part-time Civil Defence worker would get under the Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme as compared with what he would get as a normal citizen receiving ordinary Workmen's Compensation. Let me give the figures. For the first 13 weeks he would get his £3 18s. 6d. a week, whereas under the Workmen's Compensation—I am talking about a married man without children—he would get £2. For the next 13 weeks the Civil Defence worker would get £2 3s. 9d., whereas under Workmen's Compensation the figure would be £2 10s. Therefore for 26 weeks, which is the only time for which supplements are paid at all either to the part-timer or the whole-timer, they would get, under the Personal Injuries Scheme, £79 9s. 3d., as against £58 10s. under Workmen's Compensation. I merely quote the figures, not as ideal, but to point out that as against the man on ordinary workmen's compensation, the disabled part-time Civil Defence worker has not very much to grumble about. The children's allowances are the same in both schemes.

Sir A. Beit

I appreciate those figures, but I hope the hon. Lady will agree that the type and nature of the case is entirely different as between the industrial worker and the Civil Defence worker, as regards the risks they run.

Miss Wilkinson

What about the munitions worker in an explosives factory? He is working, maybe, for 50 or 60 hours a week with explosives, and therefore, during all that time is in grave danger of his life, whereas a part-time Civil Defence worker is for 48 hours per month subject to these extra risks. I am not defending the particular amounts, but I am saying that there is not really the injustice that would seem to be suggested by the speech of the hon. Member. Therefore, I want to make clear as far as I can what is the present practice and why it is not practicable to extend it to everybody. You must draw the line somewhere and there are always borderline cases. I can give the hon. Member one. A man who is a part-time Civil Defence worker puts out an incendiary bomb and is helped by another man who is not a Civil Defence worker. The bomb explodes and both are injured. One gets the benefit of the ordinary civilian scheme without supplementary allowance, while the man who is an enrolled Civil Defence worker has a supplementary allowance. So one can go on. If you take enough cases you can always find a very hard one. The vast majority of the people who are injured as part-time Civil Defence workers are disabled for a period of under 13 weeks. It is a well known fact that only comparatively few are disabled for more than 13 weeks.

Mr. Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Does that apply only to the part-time worker.

Miss Wilkinson

I am speaking now of the whole field of Civil Defence but the same applies to industrial injuries. The number of industrial accidents which cause disablement for 13 weeks is a much smaller percentage than those where a man is not able to resume work within 13 weeks. We are not claiming that this arrangement I am dealing with is ideal. All that we are claiming is that the part-time Civil Defence worker is treated more generously than a civilian who may be injured in exactly the same kind of work while doing his duty as an ordinary citizen. As the arrangements are made now over the whole field of compensation allowances and injury allowances, it is not possible to take out this class of worker and treat them differently from the arrangements made over the whole field.

Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)

Is not the difference very largely that the normal citizen goes into shelter when a raid is on, whereas the Civil Defence worker has to go out and does his job in the street? Therefore, he is entitled to special protection, shall we say, from the State. If it is justifiable to give them this pay for 13 weeks, surely it is justifiable to give it for 26 weeks.

Miss Wilkinson

I thought I had made that clear that the Civil Defence worker is exposed to a greater risk, and that is recognised by a supplementary allowance. But it just is not true, and thank goodness it is not, that the whole of the ordinary population go into shelter when there is a raid on. Very large numbers of them give help, and put out incendiary bombs which fall on their homes or on their neighbours' houses. It might be argued why is this supplementary allowance not given to them? The only argument I am putting forward is that a line has to be drawn somewhere, and that is the line which, up to date, after discussions with all the interests concerned, the Government have thought to be the fairest possible in the circumstances.

Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)

The hon. Lady pointed out the difficulty there would be in extending this to the Fire Guard, as it would mean an extension to 5,500,000 people. I hope that 5,500,000 people will not be injured. Surely the part-time worker while on duty is taking exactly the same risks as the whole-timer, and therefore the same consideration should be given to him if he is disabled. He may be worse off, in many respects, if disabled than a whole-timer, because he may be in an occupation where he earns a big wage, but if he is injured and loses that wage his disablement allowance is the same as that of the whole-timer. There is a world of difference between the workmen's compensation allowances and what a part-timer would receive if injured. The hon. Lady might have mentioned that the great difference would have been that if the part-time worker had been able to fight the case under Common Law the figure would probably be three times as much as under workmen's compensation. Therefore, I think that in common equity the part-time worker ought to be placed at no disadvantage to the whole-time worker.