HC Deb 25 June 1947 vol 439 cc487-93
Colonel Clarke

I beg to move, in page 59, line 46, at the end, to insert: 3) If within five years after the vesting date—

  1. (a)any existing officer relinquishes his employment on the ground that he has been required to perform duties which are not reasonably comparable to or are an unreasonable addition to those which as an officer of his previous employer he was required to perform; or
  2. (b) the services of any existing officer are dispensed with by an Electricity Board because his services are not required and not on account of misconduct or incapacity to perform such duties as immediately before the vesting date he was performing or might reasonably have been required to perform; or
  3. (c)the emoluments of any existing officer are reduced,
that officer shall unless the contrary be proved be deemed for the purposes of Subsection (1) of this Section to have suffered loss of employment or loss or diminution of emoluments by reason of the vesting. For the purposes of this Subsection the expression 'existing officer' means any person who was on the nineteenth day of November, nineteen hundred and forty-five, and immediately before the vesting date such an officer as is referred to in Subsection (i) of this Section and whose services are transferred to an Electricity Board by reason of the passing of this Act. This straightforward and simple Amendment is a simplified substitute for the provisions of the existing law. It will give employees who may be found to be redundant in the first five years after the vesting date, some right of compensation. Although at the beginning of the five years there would not be many cases, as time went on they would be likely to increase. At first there will be a good deal of work in organising these new bodies, but, as time goes on, fewer employees will be needed. Similar provision to this is made in Section 77 of the London Passenger Transport Act, 1\938. Whereas today a redundant employee in the electricity industry can get a job with an alternative company, when the whole industry is nationalised there will be no other possible employment for him, and he will be out of work.

Major P. Roberts

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so particularly because it puts the onus of proof away from the employee who may be taken out of employment. I particularly draw the attention of the Minister to the words: that officer shall, unless the contrary be proved… Here we are dealing with the monopoly of labour. It is happening in the nationalisation of the coal industry, although I know the Minister does not like it, and I do not think responsible members of the Coal Board like it. Men are being asked to take lesser jobs, and when they demur, they are asked over the telephone, "You are not going to fight the Coal Board, are you?" When there is a monopoly of labour these temptations occur. The Amendment is designed to provide that when the man says, "I will not take that job on" he gets his rights, unless the contrary can be proved. It is a safeguard to the employee.

Mr. Shinwell

I am afraid I cannot accept the Amendment in its existing form, although in principle I take no exception to what is here presented. There are exceptions. For example, I could not tie myself down to a qualifying date or period of service. The principal reason why I cannot accept the Amendment in this form is because I think these provisions are more appropriate to be dealt with by regulations, and provision is made for regulations for this purpose. So I agree, with certain modifications and adjustments which are appropriate to the particular circumstances of this industry, to provide regulations which will cover substantially the proposals contained in the Amendment.

6.0 p.m.

Major P. Roberts

Does that also covet the point of onus of proof, which I mentioned?

Mr. Shinwell

I would not like to say offhand. I would like to look at that, but it appears to me to be quite reasonable.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

May we take it the regulations will substantially meet the points which have been made? I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he did not like the words "five years," and did not want to tie himself to that particular period. May we take it that the regulations which he will issue will substantially carry out the terms of this Amendment? The Minister knows better than any one else that when it comes to a matter of regulations, all we shall be able to do, presumably, will be to move a negative Resolution. We shall not be able to amend them. It is quite conceivable that when the regulations are presented to the House they will, in fact, be generally acceptable but for some one particular item, such as the length of time. I am sure that the Minister would agree that if my hon. and gallant Friend withdraws his Amendment on this understanding, we should have some general idea of what the Minister intends to do, broadly speaking, to carry out the terms of our proposals. I am not asking him to tell us in detail.

Mr. Shinwell

The right hon. Gentleman will understand that it is quite impossible for me to provide at once an alternative form of words. I have said, and I repeat that substantially I accept this proposal. There may require to be modifications. The regulations may be a little better or slightly worse than this, but the principle is accepted.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept what I think is'the most important part of this Amendment, the transfer of the onus of proof? I do not want to tie him down to any particular details, but I think we are entitled to have an answer to the general question, that an unfortunate person, faced with this great monopoly, shall know that he will not have to establish his case, but that the onus is the other way round

Mr. Shinwell

I have replied to another hon. Member that it is very difficult for me, off-hand, to express an opinion on that. I said that I thought it was reasonable.

Mr. Hobson

I am concerned with the question of compensation for loss of status. I am in agreement with the aim of the Amendment so far as the preservation of salaries is concerned, but I hope that the question of reduction of status is not to be a ground involving compensation. Surely the passing of this Measure does not mean that all the chief engineers will continue to be chief engineers. There is to be some rationalisation, particularly where areas are very small, and there are many small undertakings. I hope that the Minister will not consider that loss of status, the fact that a man is not to be chief of a particular area, is to be a prima facie case for compensation. I am in agreement with hon. Members opposite so far as preserving the salary and conditions of employment are concerned, but status is a different matter.

Mr. Shinwell

The only assurance I can give is that we shall not go beyond what is reasonable. If there are persons in the industry who have been transferred for one reason or another, and there is a moderate loss of status, provided that the salary remains the same and the person concerned is not worse off financially, that would not appear to me to call for any additional compensation. We expect that the regulations will be framed in a reasonable fashion, and that is what I am prepared to do.

Colonel Clarke

In view of the assurance given by the Minister, particularly that he will go into the question of onus of proof, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Shinwell

I beg to move, in page 60, line 21, to leave out "may," and to insert "shall."

This is moved in order to make the provision mandatory instead of permissive. We had some discussion in the Committee, and I decided accordingly.

Amendment agreed to.

Colonel Clarke

I beg to move, in page 60, line 47, at the end, to insert: (7) Regulations made under this Section shall be so framed as to secure that no person shall be in any worse position under the regulation than he would have been if the relevant provisions of the Acts repealed by this Act had been re-enacted with any necessary adaptations. This is a suggested final Subsection to Clause 49. In view of what the Minister said in regard to our previous Amendment, he may favourably consider this one. This is a sort of sweeping-up Clause, based partly on Clause 48 (2). That Subsection begins: Where provision is made by any such regulations for the amendment, repeal or revocation of any existing pension scheme or of any enactment relating thereto…regulations shall be so framed as to secure that persons having pension rights are not placed in any worse position by reason of the amendment, repeal, revocation, transfer, extinguishment or winding up. There is today a mass of legislation on this subject, rather long and rather complicated, but it ensures that employees who become redundant today are compensated, and are not prejudiced, on any reorganisation of electricity undertakings, in regard to their pensions and matters of that sort. I suggest that the words that we are proposing are more definite and more favourable than those in Clause 49.

What is about to happen in the industry? It would be an understatement to call it a reorganisation. It is such a complete upheaval that there is a greater risk of hardship in this direction than previously. A certain clearing up of the legislation is required. Many electricity companies have extremely good pension schemes for their employees at present, and it will be rather hard if, when they came into national employment, they should be worse off than they are at present under private employment.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest and Christchurch)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Shinwell

I hope that hon. Members will not press me to accept this Amendment. As I have indicated, regulations will be provided, but there must be certain modifications of the old practice relating to compensation. We have provisions contained in the London Passenger Transport Board Act, and there are other Acts of Parliament which prescribe what shall be done in cases of this sort when compensation is created thereby. We have to modify these practices in the light of modern conditions, and there has been a change in conditions, for example, full employment, which it is hoped will continue. There are also other factors which must be taken into account.

The best I can do is to say that we take note of this proposal. It is not our desire that the position of any person should be worsened, and, inasmuch as the position of any employee is worsened, that is a factor which will no doubt be taken into account alongside other factors. But the other factors certainly must enter into the calculations of those who are responsible for making the regulations. Therefore, I am afraid that this is an Amendment which takes us rather too far along the road at this stage. Indeed, it is a little premature, because we may have the discussions with appropriate and representative organisations who are concerned in such matters before we decide definitely on the terms and provisions of the regulations.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

The right hon. Gentleman will realise that, although conditions may have changed, and no one could deny that, the fact remains that over a long period of years a code of compensation practice has been built up. The Minister said a change had come about as a result of full employment. In the case of the younger members of the: staffs, no doubt that is true, but I think anybody who has had any experience of the last year or so will agree that one of the tragedies of the present day situation is that, although there may be nominally full employment and there may be nominally a shortage of manpower to fill the potential jobs, the fact remains that the number of jobs available for the older people, especially for people over 40, definitely is on the decline. I imagine that there is hardly an hon. Member of this House who has not had the experience which I have had of people writing to me and saying that the Ministry of Labour Appointments Bureau have done the best they can but, being over 40, they receive the reply to all the applications they make to firms whose names have been given to them by the local exchange, "The vacancy is not available for people of this age because of difficulties with pensions schemes and so forth."

No one would deny that at present there is a substantial body of people who have served during the major portion of their early and middle age who today are finding it impossible to get a job. To that extent the situation has, if anything, deteriorated compared with what it was 10 or 15 years ago. Therefore, we are concerned about these older people who, while private enterprise and local authority under takings were in existence in large numbers, might have stood a chance of finding some alternative employment in the job for which they were educated and trained and in which they, have spent the major portion of their working lives. Those people will find it even more difficult than it was before to find jobs as a result of the amalgamation and reorganisation that is to take place.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Heston and Isleworth)

In all the amalgamations which took place after the 1914–18 war, when large shipping firms and other organisations amalgamated, was it not people of this age who suffered in exactly the same way?

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Hudson

I agree that they suffered, but I do not think that they suffered quite to the extent which the evidence that reaches all of us in all parts of the House leads us to believe today. I suggest that successive Parliaments for the last 30 or 40 years have been impressed with the difficulties. That was increasingly the case during the period which the hon. Member mentioned. Parliament has been at particular pains during all these years to build up a code of compensation practice. The Minister may say he is justified. We will not argue that for the moment. Hon. Members will admit that there is no question but that Clause 49 as drafted is substantially less favourable than the alternative code. We are anxious to see that in any regulations the Minister may make the terms shall be at least as favour able as the code. The mere fact that it is difficult to provide that ought not, in our view, to be a reason for depriving these people of the compensation which, if it had been a matter of the amalgamation of private companies or local authorities, they would have enjoyed. I hope that the Minister will remember that and not ride off with the excuse that conditions have changed.

The right hon. Gentleman said, quite rightly, that these regulations which will have to be drawn up and published, will have to form the subject of discussions with the associations or bodies, whoever they may be, who may be taken to represent the interests of the persons concerned. There is not an hon. Member in any part of the House, still less any hon. Member opposite, who would deny the proposition that these bodies would feel themselves in a very much better negotiating position if they had been fortified with the existence of some Clause such as we suggest, than if they are merely left to the tender mercies of the right hon. Gentleman, however tender some hon. Gentlemen may think they are likely to be. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind when he comes to negotiating with the persons concerned.

Amendment negatived.