HC Deb 11 April 1946 vol 421 cc2111-4
Mr. Isaacs

I am now able to announce the decision of the Government on the admission of foreign women for domestic employment in hospitals and private households.

There is still a great need for domestic workers in hospitals and similar institutions. Whilst it is to be hoped that the new rates of wages to be adopted and the improved conditions will attract an increased flow of British domestic workers into the hospitals, some time is likely to elapse before this can be achieved, and in the meantime steps must be taken to deal with the immediate problem. It is therefore proposed to approach the Government; of a number of European countries where there is thought to be a potential supply of domestic workers for hospitals, with a view to extending to those countries the recruitment scheme now successfully operating with the assistance of the Belgian Government. In addition it will be open to the hospitals to apply for permits for the admission of individual foreign women, with whom they have themselves got into touch, to fill their domestic vacancies. Second only to the needs of the hospitals are those of the housewives who have borne an excessive burden for years past. I propose to explore with foreign Governments the possibility of enlisting their assistance in the recruitment of suitable women for private households. It is clear, however, that an immediate measure of relief is due, and it has accordingly been decided to reintroduce forthwith the system under which permits may be granted for the admission of individual foreign women for service in private households. Subject to any special inquiries which may have to be made in individual cases, applications will be considered for women of all nationalities other than German.

Under this scheme a permit may he granted to an employer who has not already a domestic staff which is reasonably adequate having regard to the circumstances of the household, provided that my Department is satisfied that there is no suitable British woman available, and that the wages to be paid are not below those prevailing locally for the particular kind of domestic work. Permits will be issued in each case for periods not exceeding 12 months in the first instance, and this will enable the position to be kept under review. If the employment for which the permit was issued comes to an end the consent of the Department will be required before any other employment in this country can be taken up. The necessary administrative arrangements are now being made and the scheme will be put into effect as from 6th May I would ask prospective employers not to make applications to the local offices of the Department before that date.

Earl Winterton

May I, as the chairman of a voluntary hospital, ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will make it clear that, provided the conditions of service are satisfactory, there will be no sort of disequilibrium, in other words, there will be complete equality, between the rights or opportunities of voluntary hospitals and municipal hospitals in obtaining this extra staff?

Mr. Isaacs

We have no intention of discrimination at all. We want to see that all hospitals of every character, which are caring for the sick, get the help they need.

Mr. John Paton

May I ask the Minister whether he would consider laying down a minimum standard of conditions, which is just as important as wages?

Mr. Isaacs

The reference I made to improved conditions now in operation in the organisations concerned does cover conditions of employment.

Captain Sir Peter Macdonald

In addition to the needs of hospitals, which we all recognise, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the urgency of providing more staff for seaside resorts in the coming holiday season, as there is great urgency for more staff for seaside resorts, and they have been promised some assistance?

Mr. Isaacs

That has not been ruled out. It is still under consideration, but, as there is a considerable amount of work to be done to staff the hospitals we do intend to give preference to that side.

Mr. Mikardo

Will these people be available for employment by local authorities who run "home helps "schemes?

Mr. Isaacs

I would like to look into that.

Mr. Erroll

Will these women be allowed to bring their children, if they have any, to this country; and will any provision be made for their children?

Mr. Isaacs

No, Sir. We are not proposing to import families. I am not quite sure whether, if a woman has a family to look after, she could do domestic duty.

Mr. Skeffinģton-Lodģe

Could the Minister tell us whether the scheme covers the employment of nationals of ex-enemy countries?

Mr. Isaacs

I think the words I read out very clearly were "all nationalities, other than German."

Mr. Sidney Shephard

Will the responsibilities for the cost of the fares be borne by the employer, or is it a matter of arrangement?

Mr. Isaacs

This matter is under discussion—I do not want to be unduly long about this—and we are negotiating with these various Governments. They have people who are anxious to work, and we have the vacancies to fill, and we think there must be a suitable bargain both ways. I will look into the point.

Mr. Shurmer

Will the Minister say that priority will be given to our hospitals before these women are placed in private service?

Mr. Isaacs

I think that is definitely covered by my statement.

Mr. Walkden

May I ask the Minister, if he is considering the case of the seaside resorts, whether he will see that we safeguard these girls against the foul conditions that obtained before the war—long hours, low wages and the tipping system? Will he ensure that they have real conditions, if he is going to help the seaside resorts?

Mr. Isaacs

I can only say that we are still in negotiation on that question.

Mr. Braddock

Will the Minister consider postponing the application of this scheme to private householders until the needs of public institutions are met?

Mr. Isaacs

No, Sir, because we hope to work on a kind of bulk arrangement with institutions, but there are many people who have contacted individuals who can be brought in, and there are many households in this country urgently in need of help.