HC Deb 17 February 1944 vol 397 cc404-10
The Chairman

I suggest that the Committee might consider together the first four Amendments in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Major Manningham-Buller)—in page 4, line 2, to leave out "is not," and insert "will not be"; in line 5, to leave out the third "the," and insert "such"; in line 7, after "given," to insert "for a date"; and in line 7, at end, to insert: Provided that such notice states the reason for giving it after the expiry of that period.

Major Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 4, line 2, to leave out "is not" and to insert "will not be."

I feel some doubt as to the meaning of the proviso at the top of page 4. The object of it seems to be quite clear, that a man shall be able to notify his employer of a date on which he can take employment which is beyond the stipulated four weeks' period, and one is fully in favour of that. The difficulty that I see is that it says: and accordingly the notification shall not be invalid by reason only that it is given after the expiration of the said four weeks. The employer, if he gets notice that the employee will be available after four weeks' time, and nothing more is said, will not know whether that is a bad notice, and so not binding upon him, or a good notice. The object of the Amendment is to provide that a notice given for a date after the four weeks shall specify the reason, so that the employer will know that the applicant is relying upon this proviso. It will avoid the possibility of confusion and will prevent the employer treating it as an invalid notice.

Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I quite see what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has in mind. He has made his point with great clarity and lucidity. The Bill provides for an extension of time in certain circumstances. What the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to do is to put an obligation on the man to insert in his notice the proviso which the Clause legislates for. I can see no useful purpose that would be served by it but I can see that if the man, who may not be able to get advice, may not be very skilled, and may not know the ways of lawyers and courts and tribunals, by some slip omits to put into his notice the proviso on which he relies, the hon. and gallant Gentleman would have him lose the benefit of the proviso altogether. The only effect of the Amendment would be to put an additional difficulty in the man's way—something else that he must bear in mind, some trap into which he may fall. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says it is only in order that the employer may know why the notice is late, but the employer can always ask why he has got the notice later than the time provided for in the Clause and he can say the notice is too late. He can go to the tribunal and the man can explain that it is not really out of time because he was sick, and the tribunal can go into the facts and decide whether the proviso covers him or not. If you insist that the notice is invalid unless it contains the reason why the application is late, you have merely added a difficulty in his way which he may not have perceived, and the case that the proviso was intended to cover may not be covered, merely because of some slip or lack of knowledge on the part of a man who is not skilled in these matters at all.

Sir A. Southby

The Amendment was not put down with any such intention. It was put down in order to protect the applicant and to see that he was not penalised for the reasons given by my hon. and gallant Friend.

Mr. McCorquodale

I appreciate the reason why my hon. and gallant Friend put down the Amendment but the effect of it would be as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) has said. The whole object of the Bill is to endeavour to help the ex-Serviceman coming back to civil life, and we do not want to do anything to hinder him in the exercise of his rights. It is true that, under the Amendment, if the applicant omitted to state the reason for the delay, he would incur a total loss of his rights under the Bill. We do not desire that. The words were very carefully drawn up to meet the case of a man who cannot fulfil his obligations immediately owing to sickness or any other reasonable cause, and I should not like to interfere with him in any way by putting him in any danger of losing his rights altogether owing to a small slip. I ask my hon. and gallant Friend not to press the Amendment.

Major Manningham-Buller

I have great pleasure in asking leave to withdraw the Amendment, but I should like to inform the hon. Member opposite that the Amendment was not put down with the desire of creating a trap.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 7, at the end, to insert new Sub-section: (2) The former employer shall within one week of the receipt by him of a notification that the applicant is available for employment, give notice to the applicant of the receipt thereof and shall as soon as practicable notify the applicant of the nature, terms and conditions of the employment available. As the Bill is now drafted, an applicant may give notification to his former employer that he desires to return to his previous job. He may get no reply for three months. He then has the right to give a further notification. Speaking as an employer, I do not want to see any employer wasting not only his own time but that of an applicant. I think it but right that there should be put upon a former employer an obligation, which is after all a very proper one on receiving an important letter, that it should be acknowledged within a day or two. I think a week is a reasonable period for the purpose. Then, when he has acknowledged the letter, it is his obligation and duty to consider where he can reinstate John Jones or Tom Smith as the case may be. Having discussed it with the foreman and works manager, he should be in a position to write without further delay and inform Tom Smith that within the next week or fortnight, or whatever the time may be, such and such a job will be available to him at such and such remuneration, and asking him if he is prepared to come back and accept the position on those terms. I can conceive of no one finding any fault with the underlying intention of the Amendment.

Mr. Bevin

I have a good deal of sympathy with the intention of this Amendment. One of the difficulties, however, is the sanction if the man does not do it and how I am to enforce it. We gave a lot of thought to the employer's obligation in acknowledging applications, so as not to leave applicants high and dry and wondering what was going to happen to them. It is in a good many minds, and it ran through my hon. Friend's speech, that this applies only to wage workers, but this Bill applies to all salaried people. If the Amendment had not been put down I was going to indicate that it was my intention, in the leaflet of advice sent to applicants, to say that if they do not get a reply they should report either to the employment exchange or to the Reinstatement Committee forthwith, and we would refer the matter to that committee. I did not put it in the Bill because I did not see how I could enforce it. If the Amendment is not pressed I am willing to discuss whether there shall be some obligation on us to refer to the Reinstatement Committee within a certain time. I am willing to meet my hon. Friend between now and the Report stage to see whether we can meet the point in that way. I do not see how I can take a man to court for not replying to a letter. It would be a difficult thing to enforce, and I do not want this thing to look farcical in the eyes of the court.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

I am surprised at the Minister, and I do not think he understands the Amendment.

Mr. Bevin

Perhaps my hon. Friend will make it clear to me.

Mr. Griffiths

I will put my point of view. The sting in the Amendment is in the last words— notify the applicant of the nature, terms and conditions of the employment available. I thought that the Government were very desirous that when men came back they were to be re-employed in the same jobs they had previously or on not less favourable terms. An employer will be able to say to a man who has come back, "I have a job for you, but it is not the job you had before; somebody else is in that job; but I will give you a job and these are the terms." The terms may be 50s. a week less than the job he had before which was being filled by another man. I hope I have awakened the Minister to see that the sting is in the tail of the Amendment, and I am sorry that he has promised to consider it. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will now say that the Minister sees that and that he is not prepared to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Bevin

I was not concerned about the tail or the body. What I am concerned about is that the man shall know whether his application has been received and whether his case is being dealt with by the firm and not allowed to hang about. I understood that that was my hon. Friend's desire in moving the Amendment. Suppose the employer did notify the conditions, the applicant would still have the right to go to the Reinstatement Committee for a decision whether they were reasonable. I cannot accept the Amendment in its present form, and after I have discussed it with my hon. Friend he may be content, having heard my speech and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), with the matter being dealt with in the way I have suggested.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

We are grateful to the Minister for the promise he has made to examine this point. The Amendment might very well end with the words "receipt thereof." Many of these notifications which go to employers will be settled by an invitation to the applicants to go along and talk the matter over. The Minister has done right to take the line he has, and I hope he will agree that one week, when employers are receiving several notifications, is not too much.

Lieut.-Commander Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)

The British Legion in Scotland is concerned about the question of notifying the employer and the applicant not receiving a reply. The suggestion of the Minister that this matter should be dealt with by administrative action by sending out a leaflet, which I hope will be in plain simple English, will meet the situation better than trying to incorporate it in the Bill.

Major Manningham-Buller

The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) has imagined a non-existent sting, because the whole object of the notification to the employee at an early stage is that he should not be kept hanging about for 12 or 13 weeks before knowing what job is offered to him and without having an opportunity of deciding whether it was a proper job for him to accept. If the hon. Member will read Clause I, Subsections (1, a) and (1, b) he will see that there is a considerable variety of jobs that might be offered by an employer. The employee has an opportunity of refusing them, and it is with the object of letting him know what will be offered that the latter part of the Amendment was put down.

Mr. Silverman

I can see a considerable advantage, if it is practicable, in having in the Bill an obligation on the employer to acknowledge receipt of an application. So far I am with the mover of the Amendment, but I appreciate the Minister's difficulty in putting a form of words in the Bill for which there might not be any sanction commensurate with the importance of the obligation. He has done the right thing in not accepting the Amendment and in offering to look at the point. At the same time, I do not think the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) ought to be so lightly brushed aside. I think there is something in it. It is all very well to ask Members to look at Clause 1, but it is another thing to ask applicants to read it with a legal critical eye and see whether the terms and conditions offered really are a compliance with the Act or not. If there were an obligation on the employer, not merely to acknowledge receipt within a week, but also within a week—

Major Manningham-Buller

As soon as practicable.

Mr. Silverman

—to offer to the applicant details of work available, he might be tempted to offer him something that was not a full compliance with the man's rights, and the man might very well fall into it and take it. The Act might very well be defeated in consequence. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman, in looking at this matter, will confine his attention to the simple point of the obligation of the employer to acknowledge receipt of the notice and ignore the rest of the Amendment.

Sir A. Gridley

I am sorry that the motives which have been alleged to be behind the Amendment should enter into the minds of hon. Members opposite. I can assure them that no such idea as has been put forward ever entered our heads, and I doubt whether it would enter into the heads of any employers. I refute the suggestion absolutely and utterly. With regard to the suggestion made by the Minister, I am prepared to withdraw the Amendment on the understanding that this point is further considered. I hope, however, that, as far as is practicable, the question of reinstatement will be left for arrangement and discussion between the applicant and the employer. We shall make it a much happier reunion between the men who come back to their former jobs and employers if we leave them to settle these questions between themselves than if, by some arbitrary action on the part of the Minister or an official, the question is referred too hastily to a Reinstatement Committee.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.