HC Deb 17 February 1944 vol 397 cc429-32
The Deputy-Chairman

I think we might discuss together the first four Amendments to this Clause, in the name of the hon. Member for Harrow (Mr. N. Bower).

Mr. Norman Bower (Harrow)

I beg to move, in page 5, line 8, to leave out "otherwise than."

The object of this Amendment, and of the three other Amendments in my name, is to try to simplify what appears to me to be one of the most complicated and unsatisfactory features of this Bill, namely, the system of priorities which it establishes. I hope the Minister will be able to give them serious consideration. I hope, also, that those who supported the last Amendment but one in the interests of greater stability will feel able to support this Amendment. Under this Clause, as at present drawn, it will be possible for a man to come back and apply to be reinstated, to be so reinstated, and then, after an interval of time, when he has begun to settle down in the job, for another man to come back—with a prior claim and the employer will be compelled to discharge the first man in order to reinstate the second. As I understand it, that is a sequence of events which can happen more than once. That process is calculated to cause a tremendous amount of heartburn and ill-feeling and unnecessary dislocation. We know how people build their whole lives round their jobs. A man comes back and gets reinstated into a job which he has every reason to suppose will prove to be more or less permanent. He perhaps starts to buy a house, he sends his children to a certain school, he enters into various commitments in the locality. Under those circumstances it seems unreasonable—assuming that there are going to be enough jobs for everyone; I quite agree that it very largely hinges on that—that another man should be able to insist on being taken back for 26 or 52 weeks—because he has no right to insist on anything more than that—however great the hardship inflicted on the man previously reinstated, who now has to be discharged to make room for him. It would be far more reasonable that the second man should be asked to take another job. As I see it, there is nothing to prevent the employer from discharging the first man voluntarily after he has employed him for 26 weeks and taking the second man back. If it appears that less hardship would be caused by discharging the first man than by refusing to take the second man, then I submit he should not be under any compulsion to do that. It would be far better, once a man has been reinstated in any particular job under this Bill, that he should be allowed to stay there than that the employer should be placed in this unhappy and invidious position.

Mr. McCorquodale

If these Amendments were accepted, the effect would be that where there have been successive holders of a job, the man who gets back first seizes the job regardless of whether he ought to have it or not. I cannot imagine a more unfortunate Amendment. The man who stays out fighting while the junior employee remains in the firm would get home to find his original place taken, and would have no right to it if this Amendment were accepted. There is one further point I would make. Under our proposal, the man who arrives back first does establish his rights, but if the senior man arrives back later on, he supersedes him, but the first man does not therefore get dismissed. His rights under this Bill are to be employed in any other job in which it is reasonable and practicable to employ him. He does not get dismissed unless there is no other job in the factory which the employer can offer him. If the Amendments were accepted, that right goes altogether.

Mr. Bower

Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that if six separate men have all passed through the same job and they come back one after the other, the employer has an obligation, if possible, to employ all of them although they have all worked on the same job?

Mr. McCorquodale

If reasonable and practicable, certainly. But if it is not reasonable and practicable, then there is no obligation on the employer. I would ask the hon. Member not to press this Amendment. We are endeavouring to safeguard the claims of those who are fighting our battles for us. The fundamental point of this question of reinstatement is that the junior man would never have got the job if the senior man had not been called up and gone to the Forces. Therefore, the senior man must have the prior claim.

Major Manningham-Buller

There is one point I would like the Minister to make clear. As I read the Bill the employer can refuse to take an applicant into his employment if that can only be done by discharging some other person. At line 41, on page 4, the Bill reads: … by refusing to take into employment, in accordance with section one of this Act, some such other person as aforesaid who is a person to whom this Act applies and has duly made an application under that section which is still in force. If A applies for employment he might be refused because B has put in his application. B would be in a better position in not having had his application granted because if he had a shorter previous service than A and his application had been granted A would turn B out.

Mr. McCorquodale

We will look into that point. The intention of the Clause, I think, is appreciated by my hon. and gallant Friend

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.