HC Deb 27 January 1944 vol 396 cc1013-24

The Minister shall so exercise his discretion in selecting persons for vocational training and industrial rehabilitation courses and facilities under section fifteen of this Act at any time while it appears to him that they cannot for the time being be provided for all persons in need of them, and in selecting persons registered as handicapped by disablement with a view to submitting their names for engagements, as to secure that, so far as consistent with the efficient exercise of his powers, preference shall be given to persons of the following classes, that is to say:—

  1. (a) men who have served whole time in the armed forces of the Crown or in the merchant navy or the mercantile marine; and
  2. (b) women who have served whole time in any of the capacities mentioned in the Schedule (Women's Services) to this Act.—[Mr. Bevin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Bevin

I beg to 'move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This is an attempt to give effect to the undertaking which I gave to the Committee during the Debate last week. I think that it meets all the points that were raised and I hope it will be adopted.

Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)

I feel a certain amount of disappointment with this Clause. On the Second Reading Debate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that it was the expectation of the Government that all registered disabled persons would be absorbed into industry. If that were so there would be no need for a preference to be given to ex-Service disabled persons or to any other class of disabled person. But these expectations may not be realised; and the Parliamentary Secretary accordingly went on to say that if, in fact, they were not realised, there would be no hesitation in introduc- ing such measures as may be necessary to ensure that the needs of the ex-Service disabled are first met. So the position is that there was really no difference between the Government and those of us who desired that some preference should be given to ex-Service disabled persons, if it became necessary at a later stage. We were all agreed that so long as all registered disabled persons could be absorbed into the industry, we would be satisfied, but if it proved impossible for them to be absorbed, then preference was to be given to the ex-Servicemen.

So far, so good; but when one looked at the Bill one found that there was in the Bill as originally presented, no power to give any preference to ex-Service disabled persons at all. Accordingly, I and a large number of hon. Friends put down an Amendment which provided that the Minister should make regulations providing that a preference should be given in allocating vacancies. We wanted to be satisfied that the Minister would have power, if the necessity arose, to make provision for a preference to be given to ex-Service disabled persons. I had hoped that my right hon. Friend would have come to the House and expressed his gratitude to the hon. Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) and my hon. Friends for having directed his attention to this matter and for having proposed that something should go into the Bill which would enable him to carry into effect what he, and we, desired him to do. The Clause which my right hon. Friend has just moved seeks to give effect to the policy announced by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on Second Reading. I invite the attention of the Committee to the terms of the Clause. It is this Clause which is intended to fulfil the intention which the Parliamentary Secretary announced of providing everything that was necessary to enable a preference to be given to the Service disabled. This is how it is done: The Minister so shall exercise his discretion in selecting persons … registered as handicapped by disablement with a view to submitting their names for engagements, as to secure that, so far as consistent with the sufficient exercise of his powers, preference shall be given of the following classes.… Then follows the different classes to whom the preference is to be given. I hope the Minister can explain the significance of the words: … so far as consistent with the efficient exercise of his powers.… That is the most incomplete form of statutory power I have ever encountered. The importance of this business is that, if it is necessary to do so, there should be power to put pressure upon the employer to take a disabled ex-Service person in preference to a disabled person who is not an ex-Service man. That was the declared policy on the Second Reading Debate.

Mr. Tomlinson

No, not at any time. The suggestion was that preference could be given only in submission. Never under any circumstances could it be imposed.

Mr. Hutchinson

What the Parliamentary Secretary said was this: The special claims of the war disabled will be kept constantly in mind and there will be no hesitation in introducing such measures as may be necessary to ensure that their needs are first met."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1943; col. 1270, Vol. 395.] I should have thought that that meant that the Parliamentary Secretary was proposing to take powers to put pressure upon the employer to take an ex-Service disabled person in preference to any other.

Mr. Tomlinson


Mr. Hutchinson

If that is not what was meant and that is not the Government's policy then we are back again in the position we were in under the King's Roll, in which the employer who is not prepared to do the right thing cannot be compelled to do it. It is for that reason that this Clause appears to be unsatisfactory. It means that so far as securing a preference for the ex-Service disabled man there is no greater power to secure that preference than there is at the present time. So, as I have said, we are back again in precisely the same difficulty as was encountered in connection with the King's Roll. If we had been dealing in this Clause with a state of affairs that exists at present I should have hoped that we might have had an opportunity of negativing it. But, after all, we are not; we are dealing with a state of affairs which all of us hope will never come into existence. We are dealing with a purely hypothetical case. Therefore, I merely direct attention to the shortcomings of this Clause and leave it at that.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

The Committee will remember that last week, when this matter of preference was raised, an Amendment was moved which was much more limiting than the operation of the new Clause which has just been moved by the Minister. That Amendment limited preference to all men serving at the present time, who are disabled. As we pointed out then that would exclude the ex-soldiers of the last war who were injured in industry, soldiers who served in France and in North Africa, who had been disabled at their work, and it would also exclude serving men who returned after the war, fit, and who were then injured in industry and were, under that Amendment, excluded from benefits under the Bill. My right hon. Friend has now moved a new Clause which gives preference to the following classes of persons:

  1. "(a) men who have served whole time in the armed forces of the Crown or in the merchant navy or the mercantile marine; and
  2. (b) women who have served whole time in any of the capacities mentioned in the Schedule (Women's Services) to this Act."
That is a great extension and means that all men and women who have served at any time, even if they are injured in industry, will benefit by this Bill and will have preference. That meets some of the objections we raised on last week's Amendment. As I said on that occasion, speaking for my right hon. and hon. Friends, we would not base our opposition to the Amendment on the narrow ground that it had certain limitations. We objected to the principle of preference because it made a distinction between the ordinary citizens of this country and those who are serving. We all understand the great sympathy there is for serving men and women, who feel that the ex-Service men of the last war were neglected. So far as training and employment were concerned they were treated harshly. Now this Bill, comprehensive and with a great deal of good will behind it, for the first time makes preparation for the ex-Service men and women of this country as well as the ordinary citizens.

I object to this distinction. I think it is a bad social principle and I object to it for many reasons. In the first place, it is giving the serving man preference over a very deserving section of society which moves the country very much—the children, boys and girls, young men and women, who have been disabled from birth, who are blind, deaf, dumb and with all kinds of disabilities. I think there is no more pathetic figure in our national life than a child disabled from birth, except, perhaps, the woe of the parents before the child comes to understand its particular position. There are tens of thousands of them. This Clause gives the serving man preference for training—if there is a shortage of training and employment—over that section of society. I could not believe that the British soldier would want to claim preference over that section of society.

Mr. Hutchinson

Will the hon. Member excuse me? He said it gives the soldier preference in employment, or I understood him to say so. Surely that is precisely what this Clause does not do.

Mr. Lawson

Oh, yes, as long as there is a shortage of places for training and as long as there is a shortage of employment, it gives the serving man preference for training and for employment over all other sections. I do not understand my hon. and learned Friend, but the fact remains that the Minister has extended the operation of preference in a much more desirable way, but I say it gives the serving man preference over a very deserving section of the population of this country.

I do not believe that the soldier himself would want preference over children who have disabilities. Indeed, my hon. Friend reminds me that this limitation of the operation of this Bill will bring many unexpected results for the Minister and for those who have to operate it. The serving man will come home, as will some of those whose children are defective, and who cannot get training themselves, although they are serving men. A man may come home who has a brother who has been in the mines or other industry and has been refused the opportunity to serve in the Forces. A great part of the trouble at the present moment is because the miners were prevented from serving and are disgruntled about it. A soldier or a naval man may come home and find that a brother has been disabled in industry—a brother who wanted to serve and was refused the opportunity—and they will not have the same opportunity of training and employment. It divides a house against itself. When I think of what is visualised here—because the Minister has been compelled to accept this as a compromise—when I think of what is at the back of his mind—the fact that there is to be a shortage of training places and there will be unemployment—I wonder where the fine frenzy of 1940–41 has gone—the drastic re-organisation that is going to get everybody working and do wonderful things, for us. That, apparently, has gone. The dream and the vision have gone, and that is a fine message to send to the serving men. I am speaking for my hon. Friends behind me when I say this, and it is risky to say these things, because I know from experience. We are attacking this on principle. it is a bad social principle that hon. Members have forced upon the Minister, and I venture to say that the soldier himself will say so when he gets back and exercises his rights of citizenship.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

I must say that I think the new Clause goes very far to meet the pledge the Minister gave to the House the other day. He did not want to put anything into the Bill, but wanted the House to rely on the pledge he had given, but he was pressed very strongly by several Members on that side of the House, and, to a certain extent, on this side, to put something into the Bill and to undertake to give consideration to it before this stage was reached. I think he has really carried out that pledge and given the preference which the House wanted. I think it is perfectly right that such a preference should be given for two reasons. First of all, perhaps, the sentimental reason—the man in the Services who is cut off, away from home, uprooted and in constant danger in a strange land, while the worker at home in a factory is at any rate living in his own home. The second point is that the man who is serving overseas is not in many cases learning a trade or fitting himself for work in civil life. He is losing all that time. On the other hand, a man working at home—and whether the one is taken and the other left is a matter of luck and we must abide by it—the man at home is learning some trade and cultivating his skill, and, to that extent, has an advantage over his brother who may be serving overseas.

I think, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in putting in a preference of this kind and I believe that it will be approved by the workers in the factories who fully appreciate the difference in the circumstances. I am anxious to make an appeal to him on one point. I think one particular class of men and women have been left out of this classification and that is the pilots serving in the Air Transport Auxiliary. There are hundreds of men and women who since the beginning of the war have been flying single-, twin- and four-engined machines day after day all over the country to different aerodromes very often each time. It requires the greatest skill and experience. If they are disabled in the course of their duties I think they have quite as strong a case as some of those in the definition here. Perhaps the reason why they have been accidentally left out is that they happen to come under the Ministry of Aircraft Production but they ought to be included. The hon. Gentleman cannot give me an answer to-night but I am sure he will give me an assurance that he will carefully consider it.

Major Manningham-Buller

I will not try to deal with the many points raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). They bore a remarkable similarity to the points that were raised and disposed of last week. The Minister said he would put words into the Bill. I should like to put it on record that, in my view, he has carried out his pledge fully and I could not criticise one word of the proposed Amendment. In my view, it carries out the declared object behind the Amendment which I moved, to far better effect. It has left the Minister with the discretion that I should like him to have. I intervene only to put that on record.

Mr. Bellenger

I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is a little too optimistic if he thinks that the point of view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) was disposed of finally last week. I think I know at any rate as well as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the feeling of the troops on this and other matters. [Interruption.] It is purely a matter of opinion whether I am as well able to express an opinion as the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I like to think I am.

Major Manningham-Buller

When I said "disposed of," I meant so far as the issue in the House was concerned in Committee on this Bill.

Mr. Bellenger

That may be so, but what is disposed of in Committee in this House is not necessarily disposed of in the country and I think when the troops come home and realise the full implication of the limiting effect of this new Clause, which as my hon. Friend said has been forced on the Minister probably against his better judgment, I think they will demand much more comprehensive measures to deal with their kith and kin who are expressly excluded from all advantages under the Bill by the new Clause. Many of their wives, sisters and sweethearts have been serving in civil defence who have done a good job of work under conditions almost as arduous as the Services, and they are excluded from the benefits to be obtained under the Clause.

Mr. Hutchinson

The hon. Member says the Clause was forced upon the Minister. Surely, as far as preference for employment is concerned, it was always his declared policy that if all the disabled persons could not be absorbed, a preference should be given to the Services.

Mr. Bellenger

I think what the Minister said was that they had been observing conditions something like that in their administration of the interim measures adopted by the Minister of Labour. But as far as training facilities are concerned, I think the House has done wrong in forcing the Minister to give preference to ex-Service men, because the training facilities are there, both in industry and in the Ministry of Labour training centres, at any rate for disabled people and we have done wrong in limiting them to one class alone. I admitted on the Second Reading that, if there is to be a scramble for jobs, I think those who have been face to face with the enemy—not all of them have—should have preferential treatment if they have suffered disability in that task. But I think hon. Members should be more concerned with seeing that full employment is available not only for the disabled but for the fit ex-Service man when he comes back than with concentrating on one very narrow class and so creating, I am afraid, bitterness between those who have been conscripted or directed into industry and those who have gone into the Services. I think that is a very serious situation for the British Legion and they had better be careful that they do not foster a spirit which sets class against class—the class of the disabled ex-Service man and the class of the disabled civilian. I do not propose to carry my opposition to the new Clause further to-night but I shall do my best to urge upon the Minister and upon returning ex-Service men that what they should concentrate on is full employment both for the disabled and for the fully able.

Sir I. Fraser

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) expressed his disappointment. I understand that, having regard to the wording of the Amendment that he himself put down. But I would like to persuade him and any of my hon. Friends who are in doubt about the matter of my view, with regard to the effect of this new Clause, to give a preference for training cases and a preference in the submission of names for vacancies. In my view that is an effective preference both in the training sphere and in the employment sphere. It does not, admittedly, go so far as to force employers to take particular people but that would be an undesirable thing to do in any case. It would be unworkable and not likely to lead to congenial employment or to good relations betwen the two parties.

I would like to confirm what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Daventry (Major Manningham-Buller) said. My view is that these words carry out, faithfully and fully, the promises made by the right hon. Gentleman in the earlier part of the Committee stage, and I would like to offer him sincere thanks for having gone so far to meet the points that were put forward. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) spoke of the limitation put upon the Bill by this new Clause. I think there is a confusion of thought here. There is no limitation that I can see. The main thing that the Bill does—and this is the main thing for which I praise the Minister of Labour—is to give a priority in the matter of employment to disabled persons as a whole by a quota system. It must not be forgotten that that is the main virtue of the Bill. A subsidiary virtue now proposed to be incorporated, as I see it, is that within this quota there is to be a preference for men who have served. That is gratifying and, I think, of wide and important national significance. This is the first big Reconstruction Measure, as has been said.

It is important and, I think, significant that in it the Committee should register its view that Ministers henceforth would have to take note of the fact that ex-Servicemen and women are, where there is a limitation of facilities, to have a preference. That is an important recognition by Parliament and the nation of their obligations to those particular men and I am peculiarly glad that it should be written into this first reconstruction Measure. Finally, I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having made this concession and to express my belief that it will afford him all the powers that are necessary to carry out the intentions he has expressed. I am sure that those who fear that ex-Servicemen will come back from the wars and be inclined to criticise him, or us, in the matter will find they the mistaken. I am sure that the ex-Service community, and the serving soldiers who are potential ex-Service men, will find that Parliament has done right by them in giving them this measure of attention in the Bill.

Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)

I only want to intervene very briefly on the question of what the Services and particularly those overseas desire, because it has been my privilege during the last 3½ years to have been working actively amongst those men. I can assure the Committee, that there is no desire among the men in the British Army for preferential treatment for themselves, over other members of the community. The idea behind this business of providing special facilities for ex-Servicemen is a confession of failure, a confession that we in this House do not really believe that there is going to be full employment. What the Services desire and demand as a right, is that there should be full employment and full rehabilitation and training for everybody. It is unfortunate that the Minister has been pressed to move this Clause, because it will give the people in the Services, particularly those abroad, the idea that we are not really tackling this problem with vision and that things will be after this war as they were after the last. That is the sort of thing that will cause dismay and despondency among the troops.

Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)

I cannot help feeling that the case for the ex- Serviceman as put by the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) and others is really in the highest realms of our national thought. We have through the centuries given nothing like the attention and regard that we should have done to ex-Servicemen. I am distressed when I hear the sort of sentiments which we have heard once or twice in this Debate from admirable and hon. Members of Parliament which, I suggest, are the echoes of those sentiments which down the centuries have caused this country to discard and to disregard those who have served it in the Armed Forces of the Crown. If we read the history of the West Indies and of the Napoleonic Wars, we see what the men went through in those times and the way in which regiments were decimated and reduced by 80 per cent. of their strength; and how commanding officers wrote home after 10 years abroad and said, "I think you have forgotten us." We still keep regiments abroad in tropical countries for eight years and think nothing of it. I say it is a tragedy. No one wants to say that there is not something glorious, magnificent and courageous in the life of the coalminer, the quarryman and many others, but I say that we owe the greatness of this country almost entirely to those men whom some of us to-day would relegate to the old position of discard and disregard in which they had to suffer for so many centuries. I welcome this slight measure of preference which the Minister has moved, and I am confident that it is supported in the hearts of every man, woman and thinking child in the country. This is the first time in any legislation of importance such as this Bill that we have arrived at such a fine conclusion.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

I agree that if there is a shortage of labour, ex-Servicemen should have the first chance, but this new Clause conveys the impression that there is in our minds going to be unemployment after the war. I am looking forward to a future in which there will be no unemployment for anyone. That is the vision we have, but this Clause seems to convey that there will be a large volume of unemployment after the war. We do not want to get that idea into our minds. I do not see how anybody can speak against the new Clause, but I want the Minister to tell us that it is the intention of the Government to see that in future we do not lapse into the position into which we lapsed after the last war, a position of desolation, unemployment and want.

Mr. Tomlinson

May I reply to the point that was put by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander)? It is true that that section of the community to which he refers would be regarded by most people as coming within the same category as those provided for in the Bill. While he was speaking I could think of another half-dozen civil employments which would come into the same category. I think that this new Clause does what the Minister suggested he would do. I would like to emphasise that we shall strive to prevent the Clause becoming necessary. We have believed from the beginning that provision should be made for all, but if there is to be a queue, the men who have served are entitled to be at the head of it. This is an admission that there may be a danger of that, and hon. Members wanted it to go into the Bill. The proposed new Clause puts it into the Bill, but the success of the undertaking will be if we render it unnecessary.

Mr. Mander

I did ask my hon. Friend to give serious consideration to a suggestion which I made.

Mr. Tomlinson

I am sorry. I intended to say that.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.