§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
I beg to move, in page 4, line 14, to leave out "twenty-six," and to insert "fifty-two."
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
On a point of Order. It occurs to me, as you 411 are calling this Amendment, Major Milner, that you might not be calling the next one in my name, in page 4, line 14, after "weeks," to insert:or in cases where the customary employment terms were on a monthly or longer basis, fifty-two weeks.If it had been called, I had intended altering the word "monthly" to "weekly." Can my Amendment be discussed with the Amendment you have called, and will you also safeguard it?
§ The Chairman
The two Amendments can be discussed together, and the second one will be safeguarded if necessary.
§ Mr. Smith
We are strongly in support of the Amendment I have moved and strongly opposed to the second one. Between the two wars there was a great improvement in the position of those engaged in administrative and managerial employment as against those engaged in manual employment. It is our desire that after this war that position should be changed. In no circumstances are we prepared to be parties to those engaged in administrative and managerial functions being put in a better position than the ordinary soldiers who return.
We believe that this Bill is a contribution to post-war stabilisation. We look upon it as a link between demobilisation and post-war employment, but it is our desire that this should be strengthened and that the promises made to our men and women serving in the Armed Forces should be implemented in full. Hon. Members who were in the House in May and June, 1939, will remember that, when the National Service Acts were passing through, the House was very strong about the promise that was being given to young men going into training. If I remember rightly the promise was based on the fact that the House was very concerned about the large number of very young men who were to be taken away from their daily occupation for six months' training. The House agreed to the National Service Acts only after a firm promise that when these men had passed through their training they should be restored to their pre-enlistment employment.
Since then the war has been brought about and many of the men then involved, together with millions of the 412 cream of our manhood, have now been away for five years, and, before the cessation of hostilities, may quite possibly have been away for six or seven years. Therefore we say that the very least these men who have been taken away are entitled to is to be re-engaged in their pre-enlistment employment for 52 weeks. Most of the men affected will be very young men, and those who know what it means to have been away from home for so long are bound to be very concerned about it. Many of them will have lost the whole of their skill for the time being, they will have lost valuable experience, and they will be unsettled. These men will want training and it will be some time before they can concentrate upon their pre-enlistment employment. We have already made provision for the injured to receive physical rehabilitation, and, surely, the next logical step we should take is to see that the young men who have been called to the colours and have served for five and six years should also be given an opportunity, for at least 52 weeks, to receive a course of occupational rehabilitation. We say that 26 weeks is not long enough and we are taking a very strong line on this point. We hope the Committee will support us in asking that the minimum time given to men, who have served this country so well, when they return to their pre-enlistment employment, should be 52 weeks.
Take my own trade, which is typical of many. No one, no matter how smart he was, could qualify to hold his own in that craft in six months. It would take some time to get down to the mathematical and geometrical knowledge required, and anyone called away from training of that kind knows how difficult it is to get down to it again. The very least that should be done for these men is that they should be given an opportunity of being in employment for 52 weeks to enable them to hold their own in the craft with those who have remained at home.
On several occasions I have listened with pleasure to the speeches of the Minister of Labour. He has paid many tributes during the past 12 months to the skill of the workpeople and he has said that we could never have got through all the necessary work that has been done if the workpeople of this country had not been trained in the way they were. He 413 went on to say that between the two wars we made the great mistake of allowing so many of our people to sign on at employment exchanges, during which time they were losing their skill. He mentioned Bolton, in particular, as having suffered to a great extent from this, and also pointed out that the skill of the workpeople represents a great capital asset. We say that this capital asset should be restored in full as soon as possible. From the national point of view, quite apart from the men's rights in the matter, those who have served in the Armed Forces should be given an opportunity of qualifying technically and of rehabilitating themselves in a skilled manner during at least 52 weeks of guaranteed employment. Therefore, we say, apart from the individual's point of view, that this proposal is a good business proposition and ought to be supported from a national point of view.
Even the provision for retention that is in the Bill is subject to the interpretation of what is "reasonable and practicable." We do not like that, because we know the interpretation that some employers will put upon those words. We have had experience of victimisation by employers; pages and pages of our industrial history are filled with what took place in the past and, therefore, we have no confidence in the words "reasonable and practicable" so far as 26 weeks are concerned. We say 52 weeks' reinstatement would be more reasonable and practicable than 26.
When my hon. Friend behind me spoke he reminded the Parliamentary Secretary of his experience and I hope he will emphasise it again if necessary. He said it was the practice in a large number of industries for men to be engaged in short time work, and, therefore, in 26 weeks' work it was possible for a man to work only one week in every four. That would be quite wrong, and we ought to know the position with regard to that matter and say that if there is short time it should be spread over 52 weeks and not over 26 weeks.
Let me admit that the best employers will carry out their moral obligation to their employees who have joined the Armed Forces irrespective of this Bill, but we have to legislate for those who will not. Therefore we are supporting this Bill, believing that reinstatement should 414 be made a legal obligation upon that minority of employers who would not be prepared to carry out their moral obligation. We go further and say that this is a reasonable Bill, but that it should be strengthened and buttressed by changing 26 weeks to 52. I understand that the United States of America, Australia and other places have already stipulated 26 weeks. That may be the reply to our case, but that is no reason why we should stick to 26 weeks. It is time this nation took the lead in such matters.
Prior to the last war Britain led the world in much of the progress in social services and also led the world in much of its constitutional and central government, but since the last war Britain has lagged behind countries such as New Zealand, Australia and others, and, therefore, on this issue we ought to set an example to the whole world. Parliament ought to realise that for men who have served their country so well, reinstatement for 26 weeks is not long enough and that it should be increased to 52. In addition to that, our country stood alone for 12 months and fought the world battle for freedom. Our men are now getting ready to carry out the greatest military feat in history. In these circumstances, the Committee should make it clear that we are not prepared to accept these 26 weeks. The Minister of Labour is a big man. [Laughter.]
§ Mr. Smith
I agree. What I said about the Minister of Labour also applies to the Parliamentary Secretary. I wish there were more public men in this country with the big outlook they have. The country would not have got into its present position if there had been. I know that the Minister has been in consultation with people outside, and we recognise that he is bound to have regard to that consultation. I am pleading that we should have more democracy in this Committee, and I want the Government to take the Whips off and to leave us to a free vote. In this Committee are the elected representatives of the people, and I plead with the Minister that, in spite of the consultations which have taken place outside, he should agree to take off the Whips.
§ Sir I. Albery
I was glad to hear from the hon. Member that he is convinced that the majority of employers will endeavour 415 to work the Bill loyally. From some of his earlier remarks I thought he was not quite so definite. I asked your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Williams, whether the Amendment which stands in my name could be safeguarded, and I pointed out my desire to amend the Bill solely as regards one word, by substituting "weekly" for "monthly." The hon. Member has said that he is definitely opposed to my Amendment, yet I regard his Amendment with great sympathy. I am entirely in favour of doing what is possible to fortify the position of men who return from the Forces.
§ Sir I. Albery
That was the sense of it, but—and I will be quite frank with the Committee—the only reason I have for wanting to make the alteration is that it has since been pointed out to me that many contracts which I, in my ignorance, thought to be on a monthly basis are on a weekly basis. I desire to support the idea that men returning from service shall be given employment for a guaranteed minimum of 52 weeks. I have never heard what the objections are, but I imagine one is that a great many men are in more or less casual employment normally, and move frequently from one employer to another. The proposal, therefore, might not be considered practicable. My Amendment endeavours to help persons who are in more or less permanent employment. I am sure that many people will come back from war service into jobs which they will wish to keep for years, or spend their lives in, and it is only fair that such men should at least be guaranteed one year of that employment when they come back.
Unless the Minister or other Members of the Committee can put up some strong objection to the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend I shall support him in the Division Lobby. If his Amendment is not accepted I shall still hope to have the opportunity of moving my own. In any case—and I do not want to be discourteous, Mr. Williams—I shall take the Amendment to a Division unless some 416 adequate argument is put up against it, because I feel that the Amendment is doing only justice to the class I have endeavoured to describe.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
Most of us, I think, are forced to be a little sceptical about the Bill. When we first started this principle, in connection with the Militia Training Act, we were dealing with a simple problem, which was that of re-absorbing, after a short period of training, 250,000 people. We are now dealing with something which affects several millions of people. Naturally, the ordinary employer will want to get his people back. A factory is a team; to have your own people back is much better than getting strangers. I find no provision in the Bill for dealing with the state of affairs which might arise in the event of a trade dispute. As to whether it should be 26 weeks or 52, instinctively I would like to see 52, subject to the provision that there must be a little two-way traffic. A man is free to give notice, if he wishes to better himself. You may have—and again, I am not quite clear about it—a legitimate case of misconduct in which an employer would desire the right to dismiss a man. I am not sure that that point is properly covered.
What happens in the event of a trade dispute? The distinguished union to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) belongs, do not often have a big strike. They have one about every 17 years, I think. If they have a big strike and the men are called out, are they deemed still to be in employment? If so, you might have the extraordinary position of the employer being required to pay wages to men who were on strike. It would be a very strange situation. So far as I can make out there is nothing in the Bill to deal with that point, and the longer the period is made the more significant the point becomes. I have no hostility to the Amendment, and I am inclined to support in the Lobby the 52 weeks, but we ought to know what is the practical significance of it, in the event of a trade dispute.
§ Mr. Bevin
I welcome the sympathy that has been expressed for a longer period of reinstatement, with its longer period obligation. Perhaps I might deal with the last point which has been raised. The answer is that once a man is out, either because of short time or a strike or 417 anything else, then he will be subject to all the things which are customary in that firm.
§ Mr. Bevin
The smallest ball has not always got the biggest rebound. The difficulty we had to face here was what obligation we were to impose in respect of the person who was in a short employment, such as in the building trades and other trades. The difficulty was to find something which was a reasonable obligation to impose, apart from the cases of people who would go back anyway. Those people who, as the hon. Member said, would be reinstated by their employers, who would be glad to get them and keep them. Since this Amendment was put down we have given further consideration to it, and the sort of compromise which I think the Government would accept, if it would meet the feeling of the Committee, would be something like this—I should have to work it out between now and the Report stage—that where a person had been in the employment of the same employer for 52 weeks prior to being called up then we would accept a 52 weeks' obligation, and where he had been in employment for a less period than that we would accept 26 weeks. In that way we would divide the obligation and endeavour to meet the two sets of circumstances which Members desire to meet. I think that should meet the wishes of the Committee.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
It would obviously not be reasonable to ask an employer to run his works for one man when all the others were out in a trade dispute or on short time. Therefore, we would assume that such men would come under the prevailing conditions.
§ Sir H. Williams
That does not quite cover the point. There is sometimes a partial dispute in works affecting one department. That might have consequential effects on other parts of the works and 418 a certain number of people might have to be stood off, and there might have to be a choice between one man and another. Who is to be stood off? I think the position requires to be safeguarded by the inclusion of some words in the Bill.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I am afraid my hon. Friend is again wrong. If only some people had to be stood off it would obviously not be reasonable and practicable to stand off a man who came under the provisions of this Bill. Therefore he would not be stood off.
§ Mr. Lewis Jones
I was rather hoping that the Minister would reject this Amendment, and I will give my reason. References were made by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) to the consultations which took place between both sides of industry on this part of the Bill. The difficulty was realised. The Minister has already made a suggestion which I think is perhaps on the whole acceptable regarding cases where an employee has been with his employer for 52 weeks. In the earlier discussions we were up against the difficulty that under Clause 7 the right of reinstatement is given to an applicant for employment by the employer by whom he was employed within the period of four weeks immediately preceding the beginning of his war service. It seemed to us rather hard that in the case of an employee who had been with his previous employer, whether as an office boy or worker, for two weeks, the obligation should fall upon a small employer to find him employment even for 26 weeks. I think I can say that the view was taken that 26 weeks was generous as the period of reinstatement, taking into consideration those cases where people had been previously employed for one or two weeks only. In the case of the basic industries—take iron and steel for instance—when these men are reinstated they will be reinstated for the rest of their lives; they have always been associated with the industry and will continue to be. I wanted to make the point about the reasonableness of the arrangement for 26 weeks' reinstatement in relation to a short period of employment. The Minister has made a suggestion that he is prepared to consider an Amendment providing 52 weeks' reinstatement on the basis of 52 weeks' previous employment and I think I might be prepared to accept that.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Lewis Jones) regretted that the Minister had not seen his way to reject the Amendment. I personally, like, I think, most of those who sit on this side of the Committee, am deeply disappointed that he did not see his way to accept it. I suppose my right hon. Friend would say that in view of the conflict of regrets on both sides of the Committee there is some sort of case for the compromise he has proposed. I do not think he ought to go for compromises on the basis of how many spoke or were prepared to vote on either side but on the reasonableness of the thing. After all, what is it we are attempting to do in this Bill? It is to give to men to whom a pledge was given, a period of security in their employment after the war. That is a simple thing and the Government and the Measure treated it as a simple thing. When the Minister fixed the period of 26 weeks he did not consider, and he was right not to consider, how long the man had been employed. He fixed what seemed to him a reasonable period of suitable employment, quite irrespective of how long he had previously been in the employment of the particular employer, except as the Bill provides.
§ Mr. Bevin
I would like to correct my hon. Friend. The Act of 1939 only gave the man 12 weeks' compensation. There is now retention, and in discussions this period was increased to 26 weeks. It was not increased to a longer period than that because of the short-term employment problem. It was not because of any other consideration.
§ Mr. Silverman
I quite follow that. In fact the Measure of 1939 gave no security at all either for 12 weeks or 26 weeks, only the short period of notice to which the man's contract would have entitled him. I quite follow what my right hon. Friend says, that in fixing 26 weeks regard was had to giving real effect to what the 1939 Measure contemplated. My right hon. Friend is now going beyond 26 weeks and is doing it because he has been led to think he could reasonably do more. We say that he can do more than that. If to ask for a stable period of 52 weeks in the difficult conditions which may exist after the war is not to ask too much, I say with great respect to my right hon. Friend that there is not really very much to be said for giving less than that to others who had less security of 420 employment previously. There is no more to be said, I say again with great respect and with real earnestness, for giving a stable period of 52 weeks merely because a man had had continuous employment with the same employer for 52 weeks before being called up, than there is for the class distinction in the Amendment which the hon. Member put down. What he says in the Amendment is that if a man was never subject to a week's notice we should give him more than we would have given him if he had always been subject to a week's notice—a purely class distinction, giving more to the salaried class than to the weekly wage earner. Now the Minister himself says, "Give more to those who were less the flotsam and jetsam of labour conditions before the war than is given to the others." My right hon. Friend shakes his head. I accept his intention, but that is the result of his proposal.
§ Mr. Bevin
My hon. Friend is totally ignoring the nature of the employments for which I am imposing an obligation for only six months. Some employments are not continuous, and will not be continuous. Contracts for building and things like that do not run so long: therefore, the men have to go from employer to employer. That does not mean that they are out of work or are flotsam or jetsam, it is the nature of their employment; that is all.
§ Mr. Silverman
There is nothing in the Bill to compel anybody to employ a man, except where it is reasonable and practicable. The Minister said just now that he was prepared to accept a minimum period of 52 weeks in all those cases where before enlistment the man had, in fact, been employed by the same employer for 52 weeks. That includes that classification which he is now making, but goes far beyond it. It could apply to a clerk. If he had been employed by a solicitor for 12 months before he joined the Army, he would get 12 months' employment when he came back; but if he had been a shop assistant before that and had been employed for only three months, he will get a minimum period of only six months. That makes class distinction of the kind I am describing, the old principle of giving more to those who have, and taking away from those who have not. We appreciate the difficulties of operating this Measure. No one wants 421 to lay an obligation on anybody that it would not be reasonable and practicable to expect him to observe. But the Bill itself provides for that. We are now dealing with a minimum period in those cases where it is reasonable and practicable for the employer to employ a man for that period, and the suggestion is now made that, without distinction of what has happened before, without drawing dividing lines between the casuals and others with security of tenure, without drawing dividing lines between the salary-earner and the wage-earner, we should treat them all alike. When they come out, it has first to be decided whether it is reasonable and practicable for the employer to take them back, and if it is, the employers must take them back for a minimum period, so that there shall be a period of stability for these people to adapt themselves to the new conditions. We claim that there is a case for making that minimum period 52 weeks for all these men, instead of only for some.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
All who were present when the Minister spoke will appreciate the manner in which he dealt with the Amendment. We want more of that attitude shown by Ministers. On the assurance which was given, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir A. Gridley
I beg to move, in page 4, line 27, at the end, to add:Provided that, should the applicant be guilty of such misconduct as would entitle the employer summarily to dismiss him, the employer may do so within the period of twenty-six weeks aforesaid, but should the employer summarily dismiss him on that ground and subsequently be held not lawfully entitled to do so, the employer shall be liable to pay to the applicant as damages for wrongful dismissal such sum as is equivalent to the amount which the applicant would have earned in the said employment had his employment continued for the full period, less such sum as the applicant may have earned in the said period after his dismissal.I felt much more sympathetic towards the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) because I hoped that the Amendment which I am now moving would soften the effect of the offer which the Minister made, to lengthen the obligatory period of employment to which an applicant for employment shall be entitled. I doubt whether anyone could reasonably contest the claim that if an employer is under an 422 obligation to employ one of his former employees for a definite time, be it 26 weeks, 39 weeks, or a year, he should have the right to dismiss that employee if the employee has been guilty of wilful misconduct. My Amendment gives that right to the employer, but it protects the employee from any unreasonable dismissal. I have endeavoured to be perfectly fair to both the employer and the employee. I hope the Minister will see his way to accept what I think is a most reasonable and proper Amendment.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
May I call attention to what may happen if this Amendment is carried? Let me point to what is happening now under the Essential Work Order in connection with the very principle of the Amendment. I have raised this matter once or twice before. Under the Essential Work Order several employers have dismissed employees for alleged misconduct. The National Service officer has decided against the employer, and has ordered the man to go back to the same employment; the employer has refused to obey the direction of the National Service officer, and has paid the man his wages while the man is out of work. I do not think the Government can possibly envisage that this Bill will enable employers to do that sort of thing, but that is exactly what the Amendment proposes. The vast majority of the working people of this country do not want to remain at home drawing wages, and to be under the cloud of misconduct at their work. They prefer to work for their wages. There is another flaw in the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman spoke of wilful misconduct, but in the Amendment he does not use the word "wilful." Let me, as a trade union official for many years, tell him that we are in for a first-class row if this is inserted as the law of the land. There will be strikes in some instances if this provision is applied to industry.
I would like the hon. Gentleman to think this matter over again. Who is going to decide what is misconduct? In the cases that have arisen recently, under the Essential Work Order, the National Service officer of the Ministry of Labour has decided against the employer's interpretation of misconduct. I am almost sure that the Minister of Labour, with his experience of present conditions in industry, will not accept the Amendment.
§ Major Manningham-Buller
If I may deal straightaway with one point raised by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies), who said that this was inserting something new in the law, I would say that this provision makes no alteration as to the rights of employer and employees with regard to dismissal for misconduct, save where those rights have been affected by the limited operation of the Essential Work Order. This Amendment merely provides that, if an employee under this Bill is guilty of misconduct which, in common law, would entitle the employer summarily to dismiss him, that right shall remain. So far as I can see, it would work in this way. Supposing that an employee in a privileged position under this Bill is convicted of stealing from a fellow employee, has the employer to keep him in employment for the balance of the 26 weeks, or can he exercise what, in common law, is the right of summary dismissal? It seems to me important, for the preservation of good relations in industry, that the common law rights should be preserved and that the employer should be able to dismiss summarily such an employee. The first part of this Amendment is designed to preserve that right, but with this additional sanction, that if an employer exercises that right but does so wrongly, the matter can be taken to the courts, and then, by the ordinary measures of breach of contract or wrongful dismissal, the employer should be under an obligation to pay the amount which the workman would have received if he had been kept on full employment.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
Will the hon. and gallant Member clear up one point that passes through my mind? When the employee is proved innocent, as he suggests, would the employer continue to pay for the rest of the period?
§ Major Manningham-Buller
This differs from the Essential Work Order in this sense, that, supposing there was a dismissal by the employer, there is no provision in this Amendment—and quite rightly—to force the employer to take back that employee. If he was held to have terminated the employment wrongly, in common law there is now no power to force an employer to take back an employee wrongfully dismissed, but he has to pay him proper compensation, and this Amendment would compel him to 424 pay the same compensation as he would have had under the existing law.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
I think this is a very dangerous Amendment. There is no occupation in this country more affected than the distributive trade. Take the position of the average shop manager. He may be charged with having short stock. He has no opportunity of checking that stock. It is checked by the headquarters of the firm and he may be dismissed. Worse still, after he is dismissed, there is no chance of his finding employment elsewhere. The probability is that the firm insured their stock through an insurance society, and that insurance company comes on to the man to make good the shortage. If he refuses, or is not in a position to do it, that insurance company prevents his getting a situation elsewhere, because they want to sue him. Take cases in which employers have been charged with infringements of the Shops Act or the Weights and Measure Act. What happens? There is a conviction, and, in order to hoodwink the public, very often an assistant is dismissed, so that the public may think the assistant was to blame and not the employer. When an individual is dismissed in these circumstances, what is his chance of getting a situation anywhere? If an employer wants to get rid of a man he does not want, he has a right of appeal to the tribunal, which would consider the case.
§ The Attorney-General
I think it may be convenient if I say a few words at this stage; they may or may not satisfy the Committee on this point. I am not sure that the position under the Bill is quite clear to every hon. Member. We do not advise the Committee to accept the Amendment, because, in our view, the point—and there is a point here of course—is adequately and better covered by the words in the Bill. The obligation to continue to employ for the 26 weeks, or, in certain cases, 52 weeks, is contingent on its being reasonable so to do. To take back an employee guilty of theft from a fellow worker or his employer would not be reasonable.
§ Major Manningham-Buller
When the case is going to the Reinstatement Committee, from whom it may go to the courts, has this convicted person to be kept in employment until the matter is decided?
§ The Attorney-General
My hon. and gallant Friend has a little faith in virtue which, I agree, I do not always share myself, but he will remember what I said about that. The position is this. Suppose a man suspects his comrade. There probably will not be much doubt about it, and the employer decided that it is not reasonable to keep this man on. The man has been guilty of an act which makes it unreasonable that the employer should continue to employ him. If the man accepts it, that is an end of it. If he does not accept it, he can challenge it as a default by the employer under an obligation imposed by the Act to employ him for 26 weeks. He can then go to the Reinstatement Committee, which can make an order for compensation—the provisions laid down for compensation are not quite the same as in the Amendment, though I think they are substantially the same—and say that the amount of compensation must be the loss suffered or likely to be suffered, with the total amount of the earnings as the maximum. Therefore, it seems to us that the point raised by the Amendment is covered by the Bill, and it is much better to have one code rather than introduce a different code for this particular problem. There is the further objection that acceptance of this Amendment might suggest that misconduct would be the only ground on which engagements might be terminated. If a man's whole factory was burnt down, it would make it equally reasonable to say that he could not employ the man.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I wish to draw attention to the fact that, when discussing another Bill, hon. Members on the other side were trying to make a demonstration of the fact that we were wanting to look after the lads returning from the Forces and were giving a privilege to the cripples from the Forces as against other cripples. When it comes to this question, they are trying to get privileges for the employer against the men returning from the Forces. There is not one hon. Member there who is prepared to get up and make a statement such as was made in connection with the cripples and say "We want privilege for the soldiers, as against the employers." Here we have a provision which will entitle employers to dismiss men. But should the employee be able to prove his innocence, the employer still throws him out, and then who is respon- 426 sible after he is thrown out—this man who may have been serving his country faithfully and well? Why do not we get some of the Tories taking up this attitude of privilege for the soldier? There is privilege for cripples against other cripples but no privilege for soldiers against employers, bankers or others. It is a shame and a disgrace that a man should get up with such a rotten mind and move such a rotten Amendment.
§ Sir I. Albery
May I ask whether the hon. Member was present in this Chamber during the Second Reading or whether he read the Debate on the Bill?
§ Captain Prescott (Darwen)
I am prepared to assure the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that I desire privileges for soldiers who will return home from overseas and I hope that this Bill will give them some at least of those privileges. I must confess that I see some considerable substance in the Amendment now proposed, but I did not then appreciate that the words "reasonable and practicable" would cover the illustration given by the learned Attorney-General. In the compensation provisions set out in the Amendment it is stated that, if an employee is wrongfully dismissed,the employer shall be liable to pay to the applicant as damages for wrongful dismissal—such sum as is equivalent to the amount which the applicant would have earned in the said employment had his employment continued for the full period, less such sum as the applicant may have earned in the said period after his dismissal.
§ Captain Prescott
The point with which I wish to deal is that made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Daventry (Major Manningham-Buller), who said that under this compensation provision the dismissed employee will get compensation apart from compensation he would get as a result of any action for wrongful dismissal.
I may have read the Amendment wrongly, but I cannot see that that would be so. It is specifically stated that compensation, as damages for wrongful dismissal, shall be a certain sum, less a 427 certain sum earned by other means. I cannot think that compensation provisions of that kind would be right, and I hope that, whatever may come out of the Amendment, the Committee will certainly not allow a provision for compensation of that kind to be inserted in the Bill.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I think that the Attorney-General has answered the case. Although in a hypothetical case the employer has the right to dismiss an employee if he has committed theft, cases do not work out at all in that way in real industry. The great mass of these cases generally consist of a row between a man and his manager or foreman, and it is impossible to say who started or finished it. There is no contract of service here, as the great mass of working people have no contract of service at all and they can be dismissed at a moment's notice. The great engineering trades have no contract of service. [Interruption.] I am talking about the workman's ordinary common law right His wages are paid by the hour and therefore there is no contract. It is said that a person dismissed in this way can be paid in advance, but that is not always fair. To pay an apprentice his wages in advance is nothing like as important to him as securing his reinstatement into employment. It is often vital that an apprentice should be reinstated, and I hope that a monetary payment in the case of apprentices will not be adopted as a substitute for not allowing a boy or girl to finish apprenticeship. Pride of craft and apprenticeship are not bad things even in these days, and it is really no compensation whatever to give a money payment in cases of this character.
§ Mr. Lewis Jones
I was hoping earlier in the Debate to catch your eye, Major Milner, because I was going to appeal to the hon. Member who moved the Amendment not to press it upon the Committee. I was satisfied that the conditions in the Bill were so definite that a man could only be re-employed and retained in employment if that was reasonable and practicable. Obviously in the case of a man guilty of misconduct it would be considered unreasonable and impracticable to continue him in his employment. I think it was unnecessary to move the 428 Amendment. The Bill is definite on the method of calculation for compensation, and, therefore, I am satisfied that all these questions can be dealt with within the present scope of the Bill and I hope that the Amendment will be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Naylor
I want to ask the Attorney-General whether a man who is summarily dismissed and decides to go to a court of law will go to the hardship committee? Assuming that he obtains a decision in his favour, does he then have to go to the hardship committee, or would the order of the court establish his right to reinstatement? If he goes to the hardship committee first and they decide against him, has he still the right to go to a court of law for the determination of his claim?
§ The Attorney-General
If a man is reinstated and as a result is being employed by his former employer under the Act, it superimposes a legal contract of service. But if it was merely a weekly contract it seems very unlikely that he would even dream of going to the law courts, because it would mean getting a week's damages, whereas, in appearing before the hardship committee, it is possible to get damages for a longer period, or a reinstatement order. It is theoretically possible for a man, having been reinstated, to have a contract for six months. The Bill covers people in all walks of life, where long-term contracts are sometimes quite dominant.
If that six months' contract is broken, nothing in this Bill deprives him of his legal rights to go to the court and claim damages. As at present advised—I think really it is unlikely to arise—I cannot see anything in the Bill to prevent his doing both, that is, if he has a legal contract, suing at law, and at the same time invoking any rights he has under the Bill. It is not like the Workmen's Compensation Act, where you have to elect. I do not think he will do both, so I do not think it is likely to arise.
§ Sir I. Albery
Did I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say that if an employee is dismissed for dishonest conduct and it is afterwards found that he has not been dishonest, he can get only a week's wages?
§ The Attorney-General
No. All I said was that if all I have is a contract with somebody—I was not talking about the 429 Bill but about ordinary common law—to be employed for a week and I am dismissed for no good reason, the only damages I can get are a week's wages. The employer may have libelled and slandered and said I stole when I did not, but the only damages I can get for breach of contract of service, broadly speaking, are a week's wages. I was not talking about the Bill.
§ Sir A. Gridley
I think we have made some progress as the result of the first contribution by the Attorney-General. What lay behind this Amendment being put on the Order Paper was a doubt whether the words "reasonable and practicable" provided a definite and binding obligation upon an employer to employ a person for a fixed period, or whether that would give the employer the right to determine that contract. I think the explanation given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made it quite clear that if an employee is guilty of gross misconduct the employer will have the right to dismiss him. It would not be reasonable and practicable to put an obligation upon the employer to employ such a person. That having been made clear, with the permission of the Committee I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.