HC Deb 09 February 1945 vol 407 cc2377-94

Order for Second Reading read.

11.8 a.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill is, I hope, a non-controversial Measure, as I am sure it is a useful and necessary Measure, but I am afraid it is not of a particularly exhilarating character. It is submitted in fulfilment of a promise, and I believe it does fulfil that promise. Indeed, it goes beyond the promise, and covers more than the particular circumstances which have attracted the attention of certain hon. Members—my hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson). When we were considering the scope of the Bill, other possibilities came to light which may already have arisen, and may well arise in the future, and these, I hope and believe, have also been dealt with satisfactorily. The nature of the Bill and, indeed, its substance are somewhat dry and technical, but I think I shall be able to describe it in quite a short space of time and to describe, also quite shortly, the background of this Bill and the special circumstances in which it is presented to the House in its present form.

It is, I think, well known that in modern legislation we find that when there is provision for a change in the functions of local authorities, either because an authority is being abolished or because its functions are being transferred to another authority, there is usually provision for the compensation of employees of that local authority who may suffer direct pecuniary loss by reason of the change of functions. In recent years, a code has been gradually evolved for dealing with that situation. One finds it in the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, and then in the Local Government Act, 1929. Now the standard provisions are to be found in the Local Government Act, 1933, the consolidating Act—Section 150 and the fourth Schedule. What was in the mind of Parliament when these provisions were approved was the position of an officer who was holding office immediately before the change of functions, a change brought about either on the coming into operation of the relevant Act or on an appointed day at some future time. The existing code, with or without modifications, was applied by three Acts of Parliament of last Session, the Education Act, the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, and the Food and Drugs (Milk and Dairies) Act.

Very naturally and properly, when these Measures were before this House, questions were raised as to the position of those who in the ordinary way would be or would have been—but for the fact that they were on war service—officers of the local authorities whose functions were being changed, or were to be changed. The difficulty was that these officers would not be employed by, even if they were in the service of, the authority at the time when the functions were changed. It was asked whether the position of such officers would be safeguarded. The matter was considered carefully, and it might have been thought that it would have been quite easy to put into each Act which was operating or which might operate, in this way provisions to deal with this particular circumstance. When, however, the matter was looked into more fully, it was considered, and I think rightly considered, that it would be simpler and better to deal with the whole problem in one comprehensive Act, because the more one looks into it the greater one finds the variety of circumstances. It is not only officers of local authorities who are concerned—it is officers of other bodies, statutory undertakers and so forth, for whom provision for similar compensation has been made. In the Education Act itself the provision goes beyond teachers employed by local education authorities to teachers of other schools, and there were certain other factors to be taken into account.

Both in another place and here, promises were given that this matter would be dealt with. If I may remind the House, I was asked to reply to a Question asked of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, by my hon. and learned Friend the member for Ilford on 1st August last, My hon. and learned Friend asked whether, in view of the doubts which have arisen with regard to the right of local government officers who have left the service of local authorities in order to serve in the Armed Forces or otherwise undertake war service to the benefit of the compensation clauses in certain recent legislation, it is the intention of the Government to take steps to ensure that all former local government officers now on war service will be entitled to the benefit of these clauses"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1944; Vol. 402, c. 1194.] I replied that it was the intention of the Government to introduce legislation dealing with this matter. That is the genesis of this Bill, and it is to fulfil that promise and to deal with future enactments which provide for compensation on this basis, that the Bill has been framed.

As I have said, the opportunity has been taken to deal with certain other comparable situations at the same time, but the main purpose of the Bill remains—to put employees of local authorities who are on war service on the day when the Act effecting the change in functions comes into operation, and also those who go on war service after that date, in the same position, with regard to compensation, as employees of local authorities who remain in that service continuously. I call attention to the words "who go on war service after that date," because it may be that the circumstances which give ground for a claim to compensation will not arise at once, but may arise later. The situation may arise in respect of a local government officer—and I include in that phrase the other officers covered by the Bill, such as teachers in special schools, servants of water undertakings and electricity undertakings and so forth—who has gone on war service only after the functions of the local authority have changed. That is a point which has had to be watched.

The second main point of the Bill is to ensure, as the law already ensures with regard to the war of 1914–18, that the period of war service in this war shall in all cases count in the calculation of compensation. The third point is that there may well be further Statutes that give rise to this situation. There is, obviously, a possibility, if not more than a possibility, that under our proposed water legislation and our proposed health legislation there will be changes in function—it is not only the three Bills which attracted the attention of hon. Members in the course of the last Session.

With that preliminary introduction, I can, I believe, properly go straight to the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 defines the scope of the main body of the Bill. It sets out the class of case with which the Bill deals. Two conditions must be fulfilled: there must be a change of function under an enactment or statutory order—because a change of functions may occur under a statutory order. Any such enactment or statutory order is referred to throughout the Bill as "the special Act"—and the enactment or statutory order in question must apply the standard code for compensation in the Fourth Schedule to the Local Government Act, 1933, with or without modifications or adaptations. The Bill not only covers employees of the authority from which functions are transferred, but also employees of the authority to which functions are transferred, because it is quite clear, for example—I think this is a proper example—that the position of existing officers of a county council may be affected by the transfer to the county council of certain functions previously belonging to a county district, a Part III education authority for example. The proviso to Clause 1 does not limit the scope of the Bill in any way—all it does is to safeguard the full operation of Clauses 5 and 6, which deal with certain other matters.

Passing to Clause 2, which is the principal operative Clause, one finds set out the circumstances in which compensation would be payable to employees of a local authority on war service, if I may use that comprehensive phrase. The provisions are similar to those of the Local Government Act, with the necessary modifications to meet the war service situation, and one finds that the circumstances to be taken into account are four-fold. They are that the officer, on ceasing to be engaged on war service, either was not re-employed in his former office, or was so re-employed with reduced emoluments, or, after being so re-employed, found that his office was determined or his emoluments reduced. There are those four sets of circumstances. The proviso to Clause 2, Sub-section (1), merely provides that if he is entitled to be compensated under some other Statute, he is not to recover twice; but the provisions of the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act are exempted from that proviso. There is much of detail in Clause 2 that I do not think I need refer to further.

Clause 3 is a special Clause, which relates to special provisions in the Education Act—to be precise, in Section 98, Sub-section (2), of that Act. That provides for compensation, similar to that normally obtained by local government officers, for certain teachers who are not employees of a local authority. Clearly, in this Bill, which provides for local government officers on war service, a similar and analogous provision should be made for other officers who, apart from the war service situation, are treated in the same way. That is the explanation of Clause 3.

Clause 4 deals with another point which I do not think had occurred to anyone, until this comprehensive little Bill was being thought out. This is the case where a man returns from war service and, within a fortnight or a month, before he has really had an opportunity of getting back to his employment, the special Act comes into operation. The Bill provides that in those circumstances, although the officer does not come within the compulsorily operative Clauses of the Bill, there is, none the less, a discretion for the authority, if it considers it just, to pay compensation as if his war service had continued until the date in question. There is provision for an appeal, with regard to the exercise of that discretion, to the appropriate Minister. In the case of the teachers, that will be the Minister of Education; in many other cases it will be myself; while other Ministers also may be concerned.

I now come to Clause 5, which goes outside the sphere of local authority officers and teachers, to whom I have already referred, and deals, in a slightly different way, with officers of other public authorities and public utility undertakers on war service. It has not been possible—it would, I think, make it a very long Bill—to set out in full what should happen in all those cases. There are many cases in which there is provision for compensation in respect of service with such authorities or statutory undertakers. A typical example is a water undertaking. The existing provisions are contained in a variety of local Acts, and it would be very difficult to set out all those in detail.

Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)

Would it apply to authorities like the Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board?

Mr. Willink

Yes. Perhaps I might refer my hon. Friend to the definition in line 3 of page 7 of the Bill, which says: 'Public utility undertakers' means any persons authorised by any enactment or order to carry on any railway, canal, inland navigation, dock, harbour, gas, electricity or water undertaking. With regard to one particular class of statutory undertaking, electricity undertakings, the compensation clauses are to be found not in a variety of local Acts but in a public general statute, or a series of such Statutes, the Electricity Supply Acts, where there are substantial variations from the local government code. The Bill is therefore drafted on the basis that the provisions relating to payment of compensation when there is a change of functions are to be made applicable, in the case of officers of public authorities and public utility undertakings on war service, by Order in Council. Clause 6 makes the same provision in regard to this war as already exists in regard to war service in the last war. It secures that the period of war service shall count as service in office in calculating compensation, whenever that has to be assessed. Clause 7 is necessary so that the expenditure of local authorities in paying such compensation may rank for grant.

On the definition Clause I do not think I need say anything, except that it would, perhaps, be useful to remind the House of what is really covered by the phrase "war service." It is provided that war service shall have the same meaning as in the Local Government Staffs (War Service) Act, 1939. By that definition, not only service in His Majesty's Forces is covered, but service in the Civil Defence Services during the period of emergency, and also any employment which the Minister of Health considers may properly be treated in the same manner as service in the Forces. An example of service which it has been decided should be so treated is service to which employees of local authorities have been directed by the Minister of Labour and National Service. Clause 8 (2) merely deals with the definition of emoluments and the position of a man who is on an incremental scale.

The Scottish application Clause has this special feature. In Scotland, the code for local government officers' compensation is not consolidated to the same extent as in our Local Government Act, 1933. In substance it is similar; and it has been found possible to apply to Scotland, though they were not applicable before, the provisions of the Fourth Schedule to the Act of 1933, with a number of small and consequential alterations which are set out in the Schedule to this Bill. I think that very great care has been taken to cover the varying circumstances that may arise in the field covered by the Bill and I hope that our object has been achieved.

11.31 a.m.

Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)

I wish very warmly to thank the Minister for the Bill, and also for his very lucid explanation of its somewhat technical terms. I agree that the matter has widened and become more complicated since my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson) and I called attention to the omissions from previous enactments. I feel that the Minister and the Government have attempted, in this Measure, fairly and squarely to deal with the problem and to put the matter right. Nothing could be more disturbing to the men and women in the Forces, than if they felt that legislation, or Orders in Council, passed by this House were adversely affecting their position whilst they were on war service and that that position was not going to be put right. I believe that this is a genuine attempt on the part of the Minister to rectify the position.

I have, however, had my attention drawn to the fact that there is still some slight doubt, in connection with one or two aspects of the Bill, in the minds of people likely to be affected. I believe, as I say, that the Minister desires, in this Bill, to clean up all the difficulties, and as I think that is evident from the wide terms of the Bill and from the care which the Minister has taken to cover all those likely to be affected, I think it will be possible to deal with those matters during the Committee stage—

Mr. Willink

indicated assent.

Mr. Burden

I am sure we shall get from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that unfailing courtesy which he has always extended to us in dealing with problems of this kind. I would say, in conclusion, that this Bill is, in no small measure, due to the unremitting care and attention which the National Association of Local Government Officers has paid, and continues to pay, to the interests of its members now on war service. I am glad to hear the Minister say that the terms of the Bill will cover public utility companies such as water boards, or the Port of London Authority, and bodies of that kind. I thank the Minister and the Government for the Bill, and I would express the hope that we shall get a final solution of the problems involved when we reach the Committee stage.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division (Mr. Burden) in expressing thanks to the Minister not only for the widespread provision he has made in the Bill, but also for the lucidity with which he has introduced it. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, it is not one of the most exhilarating and exciting Bills that we are likely to have; it is, however, a small but useful step in completing the arrangements which this House is making to ensure that men serving in the Forces will be at no disadvantage on their return to civil life. The Minister has done very well indeed in making this Bill so widespread and there are only two points to which I would ask him to give his attention between now and the Committee stage. The first is on the definition Clause. I would invite him to tell us whether those who are employed by drainage boards and catchment authorities could or should be properly included there. The only other point I wish to make is on the Schedule. In paragraph (7) are the words: If an officer was temporarily absent from his office during the late war … either compulsorily or with the sanction or permission of the authority in whose employment he was. I wonder whether, at this stage, in view of the very small number of cases in which people likely to be covered by this Bill have left their employment without consent and permission, it would be possible to do the generous thing and include every man who, subject to the definition, has fulfilled war service, whether he took the trouble or not to secure the assent of his authority. The authorities who are likely to be extinguished are not the more progressive ones, and it may be that the man was right in leaving them without permission. The cases are very small indeed in number, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to cover everybody, whether they left with or without permission at the time. I commend the Bill to the House.

11.38 a.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford)

I shall detain the House for only a few moments. As my right hon. and learned Friend has said, it became evident during the consideration of the Bills to which he has referred that the compensation Clause which this House normally inserts when it makes alterations in the functions of local authorities or of public utility authorities, did not apply to those officers who had temporarily left the service of these authorities and undertaken war service. It would have been indefensible if those officers who had undertaken service in the Armed Forces had been placed in a less favourable position with regard to their rights to compensation, if changes were made in the conditions of their former office, than those officers who continue in the service of the local authorities or public utility authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division (Mr. Burden) and I drew attention to this matter from time to time during the consideration of those Bills, and we received assurances that the matter would be dealt with by legislation. Later, as my right hon. and learned Friend has already said, a further assurance was given to us in reply to a Parliamentary Question. This Bill is intended to make good those assurances, and it is really sufficient for me to say that I am satisfied that, with one exception, it fulfils that purpose.

There are certain officers whose position will be affected by the Education Act of last year whose rights to compensation will call for further consideration on the Committee stage of the Bill. I do not propose at this stage to enter into the details of that matter, but from the manner in which my right hon. and learned Friend has already met us, I am confident that, when we come to deal with the matter on the Committee stage, we shall find him ready to meet us in the same generous fashion. It is really only necessary for me to join with my hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division in thanking the Minister for the comprehensive and practical manner in which he has dealt with this complex situation. I should like to join, too, in thanking him for his very lucid presentation of the Bill to the House this morning. Having said that, perhaps I might add that those of us who have taken an interest in this matter are very grateful to the National Association of Local Government Officers for the way in which they have watched the interests not only of their members now serving local authorities, but of those members who have left temporarily the service of the local authorities in order to undertake service under the Crown during this war.

11.41 a.m.

Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)

I would like to join in the expressions of appreciation of this Bill which we have heard. Parliament may feel happy and comfortable in having made adequate provision for absent workers, and for all the numerous essential people belonging to the public service who are concerned in this Measure. They have not been forgotten and are, as far as possible, fairly provided for in this Bill. I would, however, ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consider the plea put forward by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher), that the man who dashed off, without the approval or consent of the authority—the enormously patriotic young man who felt that the country was in danger and wanted to help in achieving victory—shall be covered. Perhaps as he had not permission such a man may wonder whether or not he will be at a disadvantage. I am sure that the legal profession can find the necessary words to provide that he shall not be debarred from the benefits of this Measure. I speak from some experience in the railway service. Many of our brightest, bravest and best young men went off in 1914 without asking whether they might go or not. They thought that their employers would be glad that they rushed to the Colours, but the most austere view was taken of the action of these young men in going without authority and permission. We had some difficulty in getting fair play for them. I hope that sort of thing will not happen in connection with any of the public authorities now. Some of them at any rate have a better sense of public responsibility than some of the railway companies used to have. I hope that the position will be satisfactorily adjusted.

There is one futher point I wish to raise, as a result of my experience. I cannot see at present that there are any words in the Bill which clearly cover the case of the young fellow who went off to help in war service, and who, had there been no war and had he stayed at home, would have had certain promotion just in front of him. He should not have his prospects jeopardised by having gone into the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. He should not come back to find that his prospective position has been filled up. As far as the railway companies are concerned—and there are thousands of people involved—we have temporary appointments of men whose seniors have left on superannuation, or have died. A man in that case is given credit for the higher grade duty temporarily for the war period, and when the man who is away, and who, normally and properly, would have received promotion returns, he will get it. The man who has done the work in the meantime will not have suffered, and will have had the credit and have been paid for the higher grade duties. The man entitled to promotion will receive it in due course. But that cannot always be arranged. There have been changes in the work and organisation and all sorts of things may have happened, and it may be difficult to decide whether a man has actually been "done out of" promotion or not. The circumstances are often rather arbitrary. I hope it will be possible to make provision in the Bill for the loss of promotion. We can perhaps discuss that further on the Committee stage. I also hope that the Minister will provide compensation if promotion is lost. With those comments, I have great pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.

11.45 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Chapman)

On behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend I thank the House and particularly hon. Members who have spoken, for their generous welcome to this Bill. If all my winding-up speeches are made in such a happy atmosphere my tasks in future will, indeed, be simple. Certainly, this Bill will hearten those who have left local authorities to serve their country in the field, and those who may be called upon to do so in the future. That is indeed very desirable. While it is comparatively easy to express a just, good and necessary idea, when it comes to turning it into practical legislation the problem is not so simple. When we analyse this Bill, and its relation to the multiplicity of Acts and codes to which it refers, we have evidence of that fact. It is clearly the opinion of the House that those hardworked and learned gentlemen, the Parliamentary draftsmen, have done an extremely good job. This is a complicated problem, and the more I have studied the Bill, the more I have admired their achievement.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division (Mr. Burden), and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson), who have a special knowledge of the subject, were very welcoming in their attitude to this Measure. That is satisfactory, because they have been very active in making representations for the purpose of this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division had a slight doubt about one or two aspects, with which he proposed to deal on the Committee stage. In the same way my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford had some doubts about a certain class of teachers. I think he may have had in mind Clause 3 (1), and will, doubtless, in due course, be making representations on that point on the Committee stage. The House has clearly realised already, that, in view of the purposes of this Bill, they will not find my right hon. and learned Friend or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland unsympathetic at any stage. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) raised a point about the Definition Clause regarding drainage boards and catchment authorities, which, I can assure him, will be considered between now and the Committee stage. As to the provision for persons absent compulsorily, or when promotion is based on existing provisions under the 1933 Act, in relation to the last war, we will also consider that as well. I would now like to refer to the relation which this Bill has to Scotland—

Mr. A. Walkden

Is the hon. Gentleman going to say anything about the points which I raised?

Mr. Chapman

I have not forgotten them; I was saving them until the last. I am coming back from Scotland almost immediately. The House will have observed that there are certain Statutes referred to which will be covered by the term "special Acts." They include English Acts which were passed last year and which of course do not apply to Scotland. We may have legislation in Scotland in future, and there are other circumstances, which require us to have these powers. There are other Statutes under which cases within the scope of the Bill could arise in Scotland, although so far as is known no case has yet arisen, and there may be similar cases under legislation yet to be introduced. Accordingly, it is necessary to apply the Bill to Scotland, so that local government employees on war service may be placed in the same position as regards compensation as those who have remained at their local authority posts under any transfer of functions which has taken place.

With that journey to Scotland, I return rapidly to South Bristol though travel recently has not been quite so simple. My hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) raised the question of those who went off to serve their country without the approval of the authority concerned. We would like to look into that point. The problem is not quite so simple as it appears on the surface. My hon. Friend knows how much we have the main object of this Bill in mind, and we shall look as sympathetically as circumstances permit at the point he has put forward. My hon. Friend also raised the question of promotion. This Bill, although it covers a great variety of cases, is limited to changes of functions in local authorities. Where a change in the function of a local authority would affect a local authority employee I think that the general cover of the Bill may meet some of the points which my hon. Friend has in mind—I would not say all or commit myself at all. But that, I think, is a matter which can best be dealt with on the Committee stage. His Majesty's Government, with Members in all quarters of the House, are determined, above all, to see that justice shall be done as far as practicable to those who have gone off to serve their country. Therefore, this Bill, being a contribution to that end, needs no further words of commendation from me especially after what has been said in approval from the back benches.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Drewe.]

Committee upon Friday next.