§ Sir A. Gridley
I beg to move, in page 15, line 23, at the end, to insert, "due to sickness or with the leave of his employer."
591 By Sub-section (3) of Clause 20, as it is now worded, whole-time service, apparently, can be deemed to have been rendered although the person on whom the obligation lies to perform it may absent himself from work for any reason. He may absent himself without proper reason. Therefore, to make it clear and workable I propose the words of this Amendment, to provide that if his absence is due to sickness or is with the leave of his employer he keeps himself perfectly in order under this Clause.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
This is a rather complicated point and the actual effect of my hon. Friend's Amendment would be, I think, different from what he supposes. The Sub-section relates back to Clause 12, which provides that if a person has been released from the Forces to do any specific work, or after his release has been directed by the Ministry of Labour to do any work, then his reinstatement rights are kept in cold storage and he is deemed not to have arrived at the position when he can exercise them until he has completed that work. The object of the Subsection in this Clause is to prevent this reinstatement being automatically provided in the middle of a spell of work for which he is released, owing to his being temporarily away. If a man absents himself without leave it is open to his employer to dismiss him or to ask the National Service officer for permission to dismiss him. If that happens, the man's reinstatement automatically expires, but if he has taken the day off, if he has absented himself for a day or two and goes back to work, it would be inappropriate that his reinstatement should automatically revive in the middle of his spell of duty. That is what would happen if the Amendment were accepted and that would be a very unsatisfactory position.
§ Major Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
I appreciate the purpose of these words in the Clause but they have a far wider application, particularly when compared with the succeeding words in Sub-section (4), which provides that if a soldier or sailor is absent without leave then his period of whole-time service will cease, whereas if someone directed by the Ministry of Labour to a particular job is guilty of temporary absence from work without leave then that shall not count against 592 him. I do not mind very much which way it is but no distinction should be drawn between the position of a soldier absent without leave and a civilian, directed by the Minister, absent without leave. As the words stand it seems that that distinction exists.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Surely the Solicitor-General can disabuse the hon. and gallant Member's mind of what he believes to be the interpretation of these words. I do not think the Committee would tolerate for one moment the situation such as he outlined. There should be no distinction between the two classes. I cannot imagine that the interpretation which the hon. and gallant Member put on these words is correct but the Solicitor-General can perhaps inform the Committee.
§ Sir A. Southby
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) that if the Committee were fully seized of the meaning of these words, they would not tolerate the position. I do not think the Committee are fully seized of the meaning of the words in the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary said that if a man in civil employ was absent for two or three days it would be unfair that he should be penalised, but if a man in the Services takes two or three days off there is no doubt about his being penalised. The Parliamentary Secretary is drawing a very strong distinction between a man in the service of His Majesty's Forces and the man in civilian work, who indulged in what we call absenteeism. Before we part with this Subsection the Committee must be fully assured that there is no unfair or undue distinction being drawn between the man in the Services and the man in civil employment.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I must apologise to the Committee if I have not made myself clear, but this is a complicated matter. Sub-section (3) of this Clause refers back to Clause 12 and is regarded as keeping reinstatement rights in cold storage. There is no question of penalising a man or rewarding him, but it would be most inconvenient to the Ministry of Labour, or anybody else, if in the middle of a spell of directed work a man could demand that his reinstatement rights could arise by absenting himself for one day. As regards the question raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Daventry (Major Manningham-Buller), Sub-section 593 (4) refers to the period of whole-time service such as is mentioned in Sub-section (1) of Clause 6 of the Bill. That applies to the persons to whom this Bill applies, members of the Armed Forces of the Crown. If a man absents himself on account of sickness he should not be regarded as being under the Crown and should not lose his reinstatement rights. This is protection for the man in the Armed Forces and not a penalisation.
§ Major Manningham-Buller
But Subsection (3) of Clause 20 does not refer at all to Clause 12. It has a perfectly general application. It states:A person who performs whole-time services in consequence of a direction or written request … shall not be treated for the purposes of this Act as having ceased to perform those whole-time services by reason of any temporary absence from work.It is clear that a man directed to any employment, and who is temporarily absent for a month, is still to be treated as the person engaged in whole-time employment. By Sub-section (4):A period of whole-time service such as is mentioned in Sub-section (1) of Section six of this Act shall not be treated for the purposes of this Act as having ceased by reason of any absence on sick leave or of any other absence on leave unless it is leave on or pending release or demobilisation or leave pending discharge.It seems clear that a soldier who is guilty of absence without leave in the Forces, will be treated as having ceased to be in the whole-time service of the Crown—that seems to me to follow from the Subsection—and a person who is directed into civil employment by the Ministry of Labour will not cease to be deemed to be in any whole-time employment if he is guilty of temporary absence without leave.
§ The Solicitor-General
I hope the Committee will bear with me if I try my hand at explaining the difference between the two points. If we take Sub-section (3), it only becomes relevant in the case of a person who comes within the Bill. A person does not come within the Bill by reason of performing whole-time service in consequence of a direction or a written request made by or on behalf of the Ministry of Labour. He has to comply with the conditions laid down in Clause 6. Having qualified as being within the Bill by coming within Clause 6, the situation may arise that, after leaving the Army or 594 other specified service, he may be directed by the Minister to do certain work. The rights that he has acquired through being in the Army must be maintained, and they are maintained by Clause 12. The position arises that, in the employment to which my right hon. Friend has directed him, he is temporarily absent from work. It is not a question of the complete abnegation of his rights. During his temporary absence from work you do not want him in the position of exercising his rights because it is temporary absence due to direction. When we come to the second question, of getting inside the Act altogether, you have to refer back to Clause 6. The first way in which you get inside the Act is:Male persons who after the twenty-fifth day of May, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, enter upon a period of whole time service in the Armed Forces of the Crown.Sub-section (4) provides that that period shall not be treated for the purposes of the Act as having ceased by reason of any absence on sick leave. In the earlier period of the war I was absent on sick leave for a considerable period on account of injuries received, and in that situation I might suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should put in a Clause protecting people who were absent on sick leave, or having ceased by reason of any other absence with leave that is permitted absence, or absence on duty when prevented from doing certain war work. But no one knows better than my hon. and gallant Friend that there are a number of cases—I should think he has dealt with many dozens—of persons who have left the Army on absence without leave and during that period did other work, sometimes from admirable motives and sometimes from motives less admirable, but it is a common thing. They are not protected and I do not see why that is an unfair line to draw. The line that we are drawing is at proper absence. If you are away on proper absence you are still within Clause 6. If it is not proper absence you are not.
§ Sir A. Southby
It seems to me to boil down, in layman's language, to this, that my hon. and learned Friend has been making my hon. and gallant Friend's case. A civil employee stays in in sprite of his inexcusable absence from work. If a man in the Forces is absent without leave he cannot get into the Bill.
§ The Solicitor-General
My hon. and gallant Friend has not quite appreciated the position. He is dealing with some one about whom there is no question. He is within the Bill. Then, having qualified as a member of the Forces within the Bill, he is directed to do civilian work. He is absent for a day or two from his civilian work. He does not get anything further but he is under the disability that, if he is absent for a period, his rights do not revive and he is not allowed to make an application for employment. One is a matter of enforcing a disability which we think is a proper one during the period of direction, the other is a matter of keeping within the Bill a soldier who is on permitted leave.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman sees the point that has been put. As we understand it, a man in civil employment who is absent without leave for a temporary reason is protected.
§ Mr. Bevin
May I try to make it clear? After hearing my hon. and learned Friends explaining it I can understand why costs run up. A man cannot revive his claim during that period, and this is vital to the Ministry. People are coming out of the Services and they cannot now exercise their rights because I direct them, but they come under this Clause. I do not want to play down to the man who stays away from a private employer to whom I have directed him and to give him the right at that moment to revive his claim. Unless I have this Clause in that is what he could do.
§ Major Manningham-Buller
I fully understand what the Minister and the Solicitor-General have said, but they do not appear to have quite met my point. Sub-sections (3) and (4) do not deal with who comes within the Bill so much as when the period of whole-time service shall count as ceasing because it is from that date under Clause 2 the time is counted within which an application under the Bill from a previous employee must be made. Sub-sections (3) and (4) deal with the date when the period of whole-time employment under the Crown consequent upon the Minister's direction shall cease, As I see it, it ceases under these two Subsections when the man is directed after being discharged from the Army into a particular employment, and his rights 596 under this Bill are kept on ice under Subsection (3). I do not object to that: it must be provided for. Let us take the case of the man who, having gone into employment under the Minister's direction, then absents himself from that employment without leave and without sickness: he will still have his rights preserved. Let us take the case of the soldier who is still serving. His whole-time service will cease on the date of his discharge, but suppose that, two days before his discharge, he is absent without leave, then, although he may have the most urgent grounds for going home, his period of whole-time service will not be deemed to have ceased and the period in which he can exercise his rights is either forfeited or cut short.
§ Sir A. Southby
Can we have an answer, as this is an important matter which is in the interests of serving men? Perhaps the Minister will look into the matter so that any thing that needs to be put right can be put right on the Report Stage.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I take it that the Minister does not want the situation to arise in which the Bill may be interpreted as he said it might be, and that that is what he will put right on the Report stage?
§ Amendment by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause ordered to Stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 21 to 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.