HC Deb 16 February 1945 vol 408 cc565-72

1.5 p.m.

Commander Prior (Birmingham, Aston)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 9, leave out "his former office," and insert: the office to which he would have been entitled had he not proceeded on war service. The effect of the Amendment will be to rewrite he was not re-employed in his former office so as to read, he was not re-employed in the office to which he would have been entitled had he not proceeded on war service. The purposes of the Bill are very clearly explained in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, which says: The main object of this Bill is to put employees of local authorities who are on war service … in the same position … as employees of the local authority who remained in local government employment. It is the custom for employees of local authorities, especially those in very junior ranks, to receive increases of pay and promotion in respect of the period of time in which they have been employed, and I submit that Clause 2 does not place those employees who have been on war service in the same position as those who have continued in employment with local authorities. They come back on exactly the same terms and with exactly the same remuneration as when they left years before, and that is causing them a very grave hardship indeed. Recently I had a visit from one of my shipmates who has been discharged from the Service on account of health. He has been sent back to his former employment on exactly the same terms as obtained when he left nearly five years ago. That young officer correctly stated, in my view, that he had a very serious grievance, and it is that grievance which my Amendment seeks to remove. It may well be that the Minister will say that this point is covered by Clause 8, Sub-section (2), which says: References in this Act to the reemployment of any person with reduced emoluments shall be construed as referring to re-employment with emoluments less than those which he would have received in respect of employment … immediately before the date on which he ceased to be engaged in war Service if he had continued to be so employed until that date. If such be the case my Amendment is redundant and should be withdrawn, but if that is not the case I consider that a very grave hardship indeed is being inflicted on employees who have proceeded on war service. The Minister may point out to me that he cannot go beyond the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act of 1944. Section 1 (a) very clearly lays down how this position is dealt with in the case of those in civil employment, and I submit that the local authorities' employees are in a completely different category. They are skilled in local authority work, they have pension and other rights, and if they are to give up all that to look for employment in other spheres of life they will be suffering a very grave hardship indeed. The hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden), during the Second Reading Debate, pointed out how the railway companies were dealing with this matter in that those who were in their employment were given temporary appointments. I believe that the same state of affairs takes place in the Civil Service, but here employees of local authorities, returning after many years of arduous work in the service of their country, are put in exactly the same position in regard to compensation as when they left—a very grave injustice indeed.

Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)

I would like to say a few words in support of the Amendment. I have put no Amendment on the Order Paper because I was under the impression—I am so innocent—from their sympathetic and friendly attitude, when the Bill was read a Second time, that the officers of the Department would themselves find nice words which would meet our point. Unfortunately, they have not done so, and I have just received a letter from the Minister explaining that he could not quite see his way to do it. I ask him to be kind enough to have another look at this matter. I think it could be done. In all these services—and there is a great variety of them—there is a regular promotion system. It is subject, of course, to alteration if there is any misconduct or fault on the part of the person concerned, but normally officers go from stage to stage in the customary manner. If they have been away for some years serving their country and then come back and find that their customary progress has been annihilated and they have to stand where they were when they left and wait many years before they get another chance, it is a source of bitterness and real hardship to the good men concerned.

I am a little uncertain whether the words of the Amendment are quite adequate, but I feel that if the Minister looks at this question again with his usual sympathy—and I am sure there is sympathy in the Department for this point—he may find even better words than those tabled by my hon. and gallant Friend. Perhaps the inclusion of the words "by customary practice" after the word "which" in the second line of the Amendment would help the position. We do not want any man who comes back from the war to say, "If I had not gone away to fight I would have been general manager by now." That would b preposterous. A general manager is not appointed by seniority or customary practice. This only refers to the ordinary men in this fixed service who get their pay increases and promotion according to customary practice, and really that customary practice ought to be protected. They ought not to come back and find that their position as employees has been damnified in any way whatever. Therefore, I beg of the Minister to undertake to have another look at this and see what he can do for us on the Report stage.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford)

I feel, as I think the Committee will feel, a good deal of sympathy with the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. and gallant Friend, but I can see that the Minister might feel that there is some difficulty in putting a returning officer into the post which he would have held or which he might have reasonably expected to hold had he not proceeded on war service. I can see that from the standpoint of the authorities the break in experience might be an obstacle to reinstatement on those lines. The real point of the Amendment is that the returning officer ought to be sure that his remuneration when he returns to the service will not be less than it would have been if he had continued throughout in the service. I would invite my right hon. and learned Friend, if he does not feel himself able to accept the Amendment, to give us an assurance that he will look into the matter again from that standpoint, and at a later stage of this Bill make some provision that would secure that the employee who has proceeded upon active service and who, when he returns, finds that he is not entitled to, or will not receive, the remuneration which he might otherwise reasonably expect to have been his if he had remained continuously in the service of the authority, shall not at any rate be placed in any unreasonable position by reason of his active service.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)

With the spirit of this Amendment, every Member of the Committee would agree, but I would submit that in its present form—and I am speaking with some experience of local government—it would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to apply. Who is to determine the office to which a man would have been entitled had he not proceeded on war service? Is it the man? Is it the council? Who is it? Many of these young people who have gone away are obviously on salary scales. We all agree that while a man is away his increments should follow year by year, but who could say that a person on a maximum scale would necessarily have achieved a position higher or in another department? I think the terms are so wide that it would really be impossible to apply it, but if the Minister would look at it in that spirit of sympathy with which he has approached the problem of trying to see that no person on war service is in any way in a worse position than those who remained at home, then probably he will see whether anything can be done to meet the point.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)

I am very glad that we should have bad an opportunity of discussing this Amendment, and I am grateful to the hon. Members who have spoken on it. However, I am afraid I cannot accept it, for reasons which have really already been indicated. I have looked at this question since the Second Reading Debate and, of course, one has to remember right through that whatever we do, however sympathetic we are, war with its years of interruption causes difficulties which are inevitable. What we are trying to do in this Bill is, so far as practicable, to put local government officers on war service in the same position as officers who have remained at home, and it will not have escaped the notice of the Committee that we have dealt in the Bill and in the Schedule with men on an incremental scale. After most careful consideration, however, I feel it would be impossible to put upon anybody, local authorities or anybody else, a liability to pay compensation for a loss so problematical as to its existence and, apart from that, so difficult to value as to amount, as would be necessitated by some provision for loss of an "office to which he would have been entitled." After all, the intention of my hon. and gallant Friend's amendment is not really limited to income which the officer would have had, it is office to which he would have been entitled, and promotion really does not and should not always go by seniority. Consequently, though I should like to do everything possible, and I believe we are in fact doing everything possible in this matter, I cannot accept this Amendment.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson) suggested something that would really go outside the Bill altogether, if I understood him aright. He was dealing with a question of remuneration, and not a question of compensation at all. He wished to provide for men obtaining the same remuneration that they would have obtained, but this is a Bill for compensation of displaced officers and that is the limit of its scope. I should welcome the opportunity of looking into it again if I had not looked into it thoroughly already, and I am afraid I cannot accept the Amendment.

Mr. Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)

I am grateful, and I think the Committee is, to my hon. and gallant Friend the member for Aston (Commander Prior) for having raised this matter. There are only two possible classes of officers who may be affected. I see very well that it would be extremely difficult in the case of a man who went into the Army in, say, 1939 to expect when he came back not only to be reinstated in his previous job—which, shall we say, was that of an assistant surveyor—but to be appointed surveyor because he might, by the death of a previous surveyor, have felt he was entitled to that job, It would be extremely difficult to lay upon all the authorities concerned the onus of accepting such obligations as that.

On that point, I am afraid I am not in agreement with my hon. and gallant Friend, but there is another point which has been raised, and on that I am not quite satisfied with the reply of my right hon. and learned Friend. That is the case, to give an example, of a man who in 1939 joins the Army and then comes back and who, in the course of his ordinary service, would be entitled to annual increments. I understand from my right hon. and learned Friend that he would not be entitled to those increments but would go back on his old salary. He has explained the reason for it, and has said this cannot be covered by the Bill. I wonder if that is absolutely the case. It seems to me that a man in that position would suffer consequential loss—one might almost say, direct consequential loss, and that instead of having a salary of £500, as he would if he had stayed in the service of the local authority in the ordinary way, he would now, on coining back after 5 years' absence, only be entitled to £400 a year. That seems to me to indicate that such a man would be suffering consequential loss, due to the fact that he went into the Army. Am I quite wrong in thinking that this cannot be covered by the Bill? I should have thought that the long Title of the Bill would, in fact, cover that, and I would, therefore, direct my right hon. and learned Friend's attention to that particular point in view of the further suggestion that I have made to him, and would ask him if he could not possibly see his way at a later stage to introduce an Amendment which would cover that particular class of person which I have mentioned.

Mr. Willink

I think the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick), though interesting, is quite clearly outside the scope of this Bill. The point he is dealing with is one which relates to the general question of reinstatement in employment. The scope of this Bill is limited to making provision for due compensation for officers who because they are on war service, are not within the usual provisions for compensation when pecuniary loss has arisen by reason of a change in the functions of the local authority in whose service they were. Now my hon. Friend's observations were applicable to any officer of any local authority to which he returned after war service, whether or not there has been any change in its functions, and it would be right outside the scope of this Bill to provide new terms with regard to reinstatement of officers returning from war service and to ensure that they should immediately obtain from the local authority the increment which they would have had but for their war service. That, I am afraid, is a conclusive objection to dealing with that matter in this Bill—it would be right outside its scope.

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)

The point which is now being discussed seems to be so outside the scope that I am afraid I ought to have stopped it quite a long while ago.

Mr. G. Hutchinson

On a point of Order, Mr. Williams. I apologise to the Committee if I failed to make my remarks clear a moment ago, but is it not the case that under this Sub-section the compensation to which the officer would be entitled is necessarily based upon the remuneration in receipt of which he was at the time when he proceeded on war service, or upon the remuneration which he might reasonably be anticipating that he would be receiving when his war service ended?

The Deputy-Chairman

I think that as far as the Amendment is concerned, the Amendment is in Order, and I have always considered it was, but as far as a certain argument is concerned which has been raised by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson), which the Minister himself said he thought was entirely beyond the scope of the Bill, as regards that certain point of remuneration, that seems to me to be getting beyond the scope of the Bill. I allowed it to be put because I thought there was a doubt, but I do not think we ought to follow it, especially as the Minister himself says he cannot get it into the Bill.

Mr. Hutchinson

On a further point of Order. I do not want to press it too far, but is it not the case that in order to determine the compensation to which the officer would be entitled under this Clause it is necessary first to have regard to his remuneration, because the compensation must necessarily, under this Clause, depend upon the loss of the remuneration which the officer will sustain by reason of his loss of office or emoluments?

Mr. Willink

I do not know whether this will make the matter clearer; it is quite correct, as my hon. and learned Friend says, that in certain cases it is necessary, when considering compensation, to consider what remuneration the man would have obtained. What I was suggesting, and continue to suggest, is outside the scope of the Bill, is to put forward additions to the Bill to provide for remuneration and terms of remuneration when no question of compensation and no question of change of functions has arisen.

The Deputy-Chairman

I think probably that is the real point at issue.

Mr. Hutchinson

I agree with what my right hon. and learned Friend has just said, and I agree with him that one can only have regard to the officer's remuneration, or anticipated remuneration, in the limited sense in which that remuneration will form a basis of the compensation to which he will be entitled under this Bill. I would like to invite my right hon. and learned Friend to consider this matter again and see whether, in that limited sense, it is not possible to provide for the compensation to be based on the higher rate of remuneration which the officer might have anticipated if he had remained in the service of the local authority.

Commander Prior

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Willink

I beg to move, in page 2, line 22, leave out "on," and insert "in."

This is a mere drafting Amendment, required in a number of places in the Bill. By inadvertence the word "on" appeared in the place of "in," and in a number of places we desire to have the word "in" in order to have consistency throughout the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.