HC Deb 12 August 1947 vol 441 cc2389-98

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Snow.]

10.1 p.m.

Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

I desire to draw the attention of the House to a matter which has come to a head within the last two months, the question of the withdrawal of recognition by His Majesty's Government and by the Treasury in particular from the Association of Ex-Service Civil Servants. This association was formed at a time not unlike the times in which we find ourselves today. It came into being in 1920 when, like today, we had a considerable period during which large numbers of men were being demobilised from His Majesty's Forces. It was out of those circumstances that the association was born. It was born to fulfil a need which indicated that the men coming from the Services and entering His Majesty's Service again as civil servants required special attention.

In considering this matter there are two points which I wish to stress. The first is, have any ex-Service men as such the right to representation? The second one is, having assumed that to be true, is this association which we are discussing, the right body to make that representation? To those two points I hope the Financial Secretary will apply his mind when he replies. With regard to the first point, should ex-Service men as such have representation, the conditions under which ex-Service men enter the Civil Service are quite different from those which obtain with regard to any other class of individual. They are the only class in which service outside the Civil Service counts as service inside the Civil Service. The differentiation between ex-Service men and others, including Civil Defence workers, was drawn up by the arbitration tribunal recently when it awarded a special incremental rate in regard to war service.

The Government today are engaged on a recruiting drive, receiving, I think, a mixed reception and meeting with doubtful success. We see around the country pamphlets and posters in which emphasis is laid on the fact that if recruits come into the Services, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, they will do their seven or 12 years, and when they come out they will get a good job and be well looked after. At the same time, His Majesty's Government are saying to their own Department that there is no case for ex-Service men to have representation as ex-Service men, when they return to His Majesty's service in the Civil Service.

If there is to be no difference between service in the Armed Forces and ordinary employment, I completely fail to see why an employer should be required or even expected to grant one of his employees holidays over and above the ordinary holidays for him to attend the Territorial Army camp. There again, a differentiation is clearly drawn by which Armed service is quite different from any other employment. As I have said, this Association has been dealing with the Treasury and with other Government Departments since 1920 but yet now, in June, 1947, His Majesty's Government have decided that they are no longer fit persons to represent the interests of ex-Service men.

One has to pass from that first point as to whether there should be any differentiation between ex-Service men and others to the second point as to whether this Association should represent the interests of ex-Service men. Have they performed those functions satisfactorily both to the ex-Service men within the Civil Service and also to the other partner in the matter, the Treasury? To the best of my information they have negotiated quite satisfactorily since 1920. There are 30,000 ex-Service men in the Civil Service. Of these, 11,000 are in this Association, which means that only 19,000 remain to be divided up between the other unions within the alliance. That assumes that all these 19,000 are in fact members of one or other of these unions, which is by no means certain. Has the Association done much in the cause of ex-Service men? The Financial Secretary has gone into this question, and I ask him to consider the matter as he found it. Has the Association performed its duties in the interests of ex-Service men? As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, the Association was largely instrumental in the allocation of 10,000 vacancies to ex-Service men. That was the result of negotiation. They were also instrumental in the appointment of the Lytton and Southborough Committees, and of the Tomlin Commission which dealt with the question of Civil Service conditions as a whole, but with special reference to ex-Service men. I mentioned earlier that the incremental rate in respect of war service was introduced by negotiation with the Association which I am discussing.

My last point is of particular significance because I feel certain that the Financial Secretary will say that the Civil Service Alliance will deal with the interests of ex-Service men. There was a matter in which it became evident that those coming out of the Armed Forces were in fact going back into the Civil Service, and it was the submission of the alliance that a time limit of 91 days should be imposed within which period an ex-Service man should be required to enter the Civil Service. If he did not do so within that time any War Service which he might have did not count. That case was fought by the association against the Alliance, which the Financial Secretary will probably tell us is the body to fight the cause of ex-Service men. I submit that in that case they fought against ex-Service men. It is a specific case where the cause of the ex-Service men conflicts perhaps with others. Are not these men entitled to consideration?

I do not want to treat this as a party matter, and I hope hon. Members opposite will agree with me, but the party which I represent seek to defend the rights not only of the minority unions but of minorities within unions, which is just as important. In every war that we run into, which seems to be every quarter of a century, we promise the men and women who fight our battles that they will come back to a land flowing with milk and honey and that we will do everything in our power to make life happy and easy for them. We give preferential treatment today to miners, but seven years ago we had other heroes in the front line of our battle, the men of Dunkirk and of Malaya. It is these men about whom I am talking to the House tonight.

Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)

Would the hon. Member pardon me for interrupting and answer a question, purely for my own information? Am I to understand that ex-Service men who are returning to their original jobs are being graded as temporaries?

Mr. Langford-Holt

I am referring only to temporary men. I am sorry that I did not make that fact clear, and I apologise to the hon. Member.

The final thing I want to say is that these men have done service for which the country can never repay them. Let us face that fact. I am very sorry to see that the first breach in this moral contract is being made by His Majesty's Government. I sincerely hope that the Financial Secretary will tell us that he will reconsider this matter. We ask for nothing more than justice, for sincerity from the Financial Secretary and for the freedom of one man to choose with whom he will associate in any bargain that he may make with his employer.

10.13 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

The issue raised by the hon. Gentleman is a simple and narrow one. He has raised, and I have no complaint, the withdrawal recently by the Treasury of official recognition of the Association of Ex-Service Civil Servants. This body, as he very rightly said, has been in existence for a large number of years. Normally, unless, as he said, wars are going to occur every quarter of a century, an association of this kind must have a period set to its existence, because ex-Service men, unless wars renew them, are apt to run out of supply! This Association has, as the hon. Member said, done very valuable work, both after the 1914–18 war and during and since the recent war. On the facts, for reasons which I will give in a moment, the Treasury has felt bound to withdraw official recognition from this body.

The hon. Member has assumed from this that the Treasury is against ex-Service men as such and against the notion that they should, if they are so minded, have their own association or trade union. Of course, the Treasury hold no such belief. This is a free country and there is no reason whatever why ex-Service men should not join together in a trade union or an association within the Civil Service if they so desire. For my part, I see no reason why they should not do so and am quite willing and, indeed, would be anxious to encourage the getting together of ex-Service men if they feel they have common interests which are different from those of their fellow trade unionists' within the Civil Service. One of the results arising out of the war which has recently been concluded is that ex-Service men, unlike ex-Service men at the end of the 1914–18 war, found that they were not the only ones who had engaged in and suffered from the tragedy of the war. This time everyone, civilians and those in uniform alike, felt the impact of the war. Men who served in the National Fire Service or in some other form of national service, equally served their country and, indeed, sometimes at greater risk than many men who went into uniform.

Therefore this time there has not been the comradeship there was among ex-Service men after the 1914–18 war. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am simply stating facts. The ending of this war did not see the influx one might have expected into an association of this sort by ex-Service men who came back from the war. Apparently they have preferred in fairly large numbers to go into one of the other trade unions or associations which cater for their grade of the Civil Service. [Interruption.] It is no good hon. Gentlemen shaking their heads. I have the figures here.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Would the right hon. Gentleman give us these figures because I think we shall disagree on this point?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Of course I will give the figures. It would be unfair to the House if I did not, because what I have to say is really based on these figures. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that they disagree with the figures before I have given them. In response to the challenge of the Civil Service Alliance, and with the co-operation of this particular association, we have checked up on the figures of membership, and at the time those figures were taken—they were taken fairly recently—they were not disputed by anyone.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what he means by the challenge of the Civil Service Alliance?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am coming to that if hon. Gentlemen will allow me. I must make my speech in my own way. I was jumping a little in replying to the interjection by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt). Had I been left to develop my argument in my own way, it would presently have been made clear what I mean by the word "challenge."

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury put two questions. What I shall say in the time left to me will I hope answer and dispose of both. His first question was: Have ex-Service men as such, a right to Civil Service representation? That is are they entitled to form their own association if they wish, and having formed it, are they entitled to recognition? The answer is, yes. His next question was: Is the Association of ex-Service Civil Servants such a body? Most certainly it is such a body and it is recognised as such so far as certain grades within the Civil Service are concerned though not now so far as other grades are concerned. It is recognised within Departments but outside, as a national negotiating body, for reasons which I will give presently, and on figures I will presently quote, it has now been decided that it is too small compared with other trade unions and associations within the Civil Service to count, so far as certain grades are concerned, with the others when national negotiations take place. Since the repeal of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act of 1925 any civil servant has been quite free to join any staff association he wished to join if it would accept him. That goes for temporaries as well as for established staff. It is likewise true that any staff association, including the Association of ex-Service Civil Servants, has the undoubted right to make representations to the Government. That did not emerge, and was not made clear by the opening speech of this Debate.

Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)


Mr. Glenvil Hall

Yes, direct.

Mr. Langford-Holt

I think the right hon. Gentleman is implying that this association has exactly equal facilities with the other unions. I hope they have, but I do not think they have. It is my submission that they have different rights. If they have different rights what is the point he is making?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I wish the hon. Member would let me make my own speech. I am stating certain facts, and if he will allow me to deploy my argument, he will see that they fit in, and that what I am saying is not what he assumed, but something rather different. What I am saying is that any staff association can now make representations to the Government direct if it wishes, but formal recognition as a national negotiating body—which is quite a different thing—is not accorded to every association. This is common sense. There is no point in allowing any small group forming an association numbering no more than 10, 100, 500, or even 1,000, full recognition by the Government. It has been decided, and I think it is common sense, that unless they represent a substantial number, or are the only union catering for that particular grade, type, or class, and thus are in a position to speak for them, that they should not be given formal recognition as a negotiating body.

Mr. Langford-Holt

I am sorry to keep interrupting, and I apologise. The right hon. Gentleman has just said that official recognition cannot be afforded to a small body. This Association has 11,000 members, representing ex-Service civil servants. The County Court Officers Association consists of 1,200, and represents county court officers——

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Really the hon. Gentleman is not being fair to me. I do not mind how much of my time he takes, but I hope he will not go away and say that I have not done my best to answer——

Mr. Langford-Holt

I apologised.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

—the case put forward. I did not interrupt the hon. Member, and I hope he will realise that I have only a limited time at my disposal. I am as anxious as he is to help the ex-Service man. This decision was not taken lightly by the Treasury. Consideration of this matter took several months, and the decision was only taken in the light of the facts which showed themselves when inquiry was made. As I have said, it has always been the Treasury practice to base formal recognition in the full sense on numerical strength. We must have some body which can speak for the great mass of a particular grade in order that we can negotiate with them, and come to reasonable and proper terms, and it is unbusinesslike to negotiate with a body which cannot be said to represent those whom it claims to represent. The mere fact that a body represents ex-Service men does not in itself provide any reoson why that body should be accorded recognition equal to that of another which represents many tens of thousands, although on sentimental grounds, I agree, there is reason why one should be as favourably disposed towards it as one can possibly be.

Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Wavertree)

War service does not count? Is that the point?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Of course it does. If the hon. Member had read Command Paper 6567 he would have seen that we are greatly weighting entry into the Civil Service in favour of ex-Service men.

Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)

Can the right hon. Gentleman mention any other ex-Service body which represents more?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Yes, the Civil Service Alliance does claim, I understand, to represent as many Civil Service ex-Service men, as does this particular union.

Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)

Has the right hon. Gentleman got the actual number?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I must be allowed to make my speech in my own way. Temporary clerks, which comprise the grade to which the hon. Member calls attention tonight, and for which this association particularly caters, have been represented jointly by what is known as the Civil Service Alliance, which comprises the Civil Service Clerical Association, the Inland Revenue Staff Federation, the Ministry of Labour Staff Association and the County Court Officers' Association, together with the Association of ex-Service Civil Servants. Up to now these bodies have been jointly recognised by the Treasury as representing temporary clerks.

Last year, the Civil Service Alliance, containing these various other bodies, challenged the representative capacity of the Association of ex-Service Civil Servants. As a result, an inspection was held, which was I believe agreed to quite freely by all the bodies concerned; I had nothing to do with it. As a result the membership was shown to be, in the case of the Alliance, 93,954, practically 94,000, whilst the A.E.C.S. could only show a membership of 8,568. In other words, there were 10 times more in the Alliance than in the smaller union. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are four unions in the Alliance."] The number of temporary clerks is 170,000. If the House will remember that figure, they will see that 50 per cent. were in the Alliance and less than 5 per cent. were in the A.E.C.S. On those figures, the Treasury had no alternative but to withdraw formal recognition, so far as temporary clerks were concerned, from the Asociation of ex-Service Civil Servants. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why? "] Because they represented too small a percentage of those involved to be able to speak for them.

It is still possible for ex-Service men to join any association including the A.E.C.S. if they so wish. It is still possible for a civil servant to join that association, and that association can, on his behalf, as an ex-Service man, make representations to the Treasury and to the Government, and those representations will be listened to. In addition, this association is still officially recognised as the body with which formal negotiations take place in respect of unestablished messengers. And in addition, as I have already said, this association is likewise recognised within Departments, and can make representations within Departments on behalf of its members. I want it to be quite clearly understood that we do not and never have sought to penalise ex-Service men but it must be remembered. …

It being Half-past Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.