HC Deb 25 March 1947 vol 435 cc1197-208

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

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Teeling (Brighton)

I want to raise the question of the employment of disabled ex-Servicemen. This question applies to the whole of the country, and is of very considerable importance at the present moment. We had a Debate last week which, I understand—I could not be here—related more to the finding of employment for disabled ex-Servicemen who have not yet found employment. I do not want to take up too much time, because I understand that others wish to speak on this subject, but I want to specialise on the subject of disabled ex-Servicemen who are already in employment, and who are likely to be dismissed in the next few months owing to the Government decision to cut down Government staffs. It is a very laudable idea that we should considerably decrease the employment of civil servants, but I maintain that it is absolutely disgraceful that those who have become completely disabled in the war should be among the first to go out. Naturally, those who have been completely or partially disabled during the war did not get into the Civil Service, temporarily or otherwise, until, presumably, the middle or the latter part or even the end of the war. The present regulation is that those who came in last should go out first, whether they were ex-Servicemen or whatever they were, and, therefore, these wretched people are, in many cases, among the first to be turned out when it comes to a question of cutting down expenses.

I will get back if I may to the question of the regular ex-Servicemen. Because of this war, and because of the vast number of people who were called up and fought in it, we are apt to forget the regular soldier, sailor and airman, and to confuse them with those who were called into the Services for the duration of the war. Now we are beginning to appeal for men to join up and become regular soldiers, sailors and airmen. How are we likely to make people feel keen on this profession with always the possibility in the long run, of another war coming on, if we cannot show that everything possible will be done for them at the end of their service? In last week's Debate, in reply to questions as to why disabled ex-Servicemen were not being employed, as we considered, in sufficient numbers in the Ministry of Food, the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food said that it was grossly unfair that people who were regular civil servants with pensions coming on should in any way be displaced for the sake of others. That may be true, but we must realise that we are asking men to go into the Forces, and they will not stay in the Forces for as long as civil servants stay in their jobs; they will go into the Forces for the regular period of time, but they will not be in a position to go into good jobs afterwards—they will be too old for it—unless the Government realise the nation's responsibilities for having asked these people to serve in the fighting Forces. When they have ceased to be of use in the Forces the Government should put them into Government employment and see them through the same period as any ordinary civil servant would go through. If we do not do that, we are not likely to get as many recruits as we want.

That was recognised as far back as 1906 when, in a Royal Commission, it was pointed out that the Government Departments, and especially the Service Departments, should go out of their way to see that the people who serve in wars should be given the first employment in the War Department or in the Navy Department, and then only afterwards should others get employment in those Departments. That was as far back as 1906. Today, the position is considerably different. But do not let us talk about the plight of ordinary ex-Servicemen only. How much more serious is the case with regard to disabled ex-Servicemen, and still more with regard to completely disabled ex-Servicemen. We had our first problem on this subject after the 1914–18 war. At that time my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), who always had a pretty good interest in the fighting Forces, saw to it that after the war the disabled ex-Servicemen were given complete priority in Government Departments. So much so, that, even with the agreements which have been made after this war, nobody who was disabled in the 1914–18 war can be kicked out of a Government job until all the others have gone first: They have complete and absolute priority because our present Leader of the Opposition jolly well saw to it that the men who fought in that war had everything done for them after it.

Have the present Government of this country—who, towards the end of this war, and during the period of the General Election, spent so much time in telling the troops how they were their friends, and what they would do for them—raised one finger to try seriously to help the disabled ex-Servicemen of this war? Why is it that the disabled men from the 1914–18 war have this priority? It is because our Party insisted on it after that war. But after This war the Labour Government have not got the guts to do the same thing for the fellows who fought. What actually happened was, that at the end of the war Sir Walter Womersley, who is unfortunately no longer a member of this House, and the present Foreign Secretary, who was then Minister of Labour, came to an agreement that after the war disabled ex-Servicemen, and those civilians who were disabled by bombing, or were wounded in any particular work in which they were taking part, would be given full priority. But those were the days of the Coalition. Then the Coalition Government went out and the present Government came in. What has happened? The present Government have given way completely to the Civil Service Association, to the pressure brought on them by that well organised organisation to see to it that the disabled ex-Servicemen, instead of having the priority suggested as far back as 1906, whereby they came first and others only afterwards in the Service Departments, now have the wonderful opportunity of being allowed to remain to the extent of 3 per cent. That is all the present Government think of those who have become disabled in this last war. I know it is said that the civilians worked just as hard. Nobody denies that they worked very hard. But after all, a man who loses a limb, who is shaken in a variety of ways when fighting in the Services, needs a bit of extra encouragement. I should like to ask whoever is to reply, what has been done about the definite statements that were made. I have in front of me a brochure from the Ministry of Labour and National Service, dated January, 1945, with regard to the Egham Centre to help disabled men back to work. I quote a paragraph from it: The aim is to get the disabled person fit for work or for training for work, not just any work. Even with serious disabilities men can in most cases be fitted for jobs in which they will earn as good a living as their neighbours and be able to do as well for their families. Reassurance on this score is indeed half the cure, for it dispels the mistaken idea that a disabled man cannot tackle life on equal terms with his fellows. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us if anything is happening with regard to the Egham Centre? What are the figures; how many are being given jobs and given places?

Then again we have the Disabled Persons Employment Act of 1944 which only appeared in September, 1945. That Act provides that preference of employment be given to ex-Servicemen and women who were registered as disabled. This means that if an employer notifies the local office of a vacancy for a disabled person, and there are several applicants suitable for the job, it will be the duty of the office to submit first the name of any ex-Serviceman or woman as the case may be, and this preference applies to all Service people. What has happened to that? What is the present position? We know what really did happen. The Civil Service Association put pressure on to the present Government—not the Coalition Government—with regard to what was going to happen when it became quite obvious that these Departments, which had grown tremendously during the war, were going to be cut, as they are now being cut. At the Party Conference which took place in my own constituency in Brighton last year, this matter was brought up. The Disabled Ex-Servicemen's Association then criticised Mr. White and his organisation. They said they had not been allowed to come in on this, and the men on the big Association answered "On the contrary. We have ex-Servicemen working on our organisation. You have been fully represented, and everything that has been needed has been said in your favour and on your side." That, in actual fact, is not the truth. There is no doubt at all that the Disabled Ex-Servicemen's Organisation in the Association has had practically no say in it whatsoever, and were not even allowed to come in and take part in this discussion.

What is the net result? The net result is that you have this Civil Service Organisation where a vast majority took no active fighting part in the war, and they are in the present position that they can put pressure, and have put pressure, so that they, and not the ex-Servicemen, get the benefit. The net result is that only the employment of three per cent. of ex-Servicemen, according to this arrangement, is allowed. What is going to happen to other ex-Servicemen is already happening in my constituency. We have there the R.E. Records, where something like 160 ex-Servicemen are being turned out. Instead are being left people who are in many cases women and those who have got other employment as well. The completely disabled men are in the position that they can practically find no other work at all; they go to the Labour Exchanges, and the Labour Exchanges admit they can do nothing.

The Government has got to find jobs for these disabled ex-Servicemen, and not just say they are going to provide work and leave them, at the present moment, high and dry. If they must turn out these men they must find them other employment. But there is no reason to turn them out because there are many of those who are being left who could do the other work that is needed today—the work of reconstruction in the country—whereas these disabled ex-Servicemen quite definitely cannot. Therefore, I suggest that the Government is doing an evil thing at the present moment in not recognising the position of these people who have become completely disabled and who want very anxiously and very keenly to help the country, and whom the Government has always encouraged before and said that something will be done for them. In actual fact the Government is not doing anything, no matter what the right hon. Gentleman is going to say. I know the cases. Nothing is being done for them, just the usual remarks made by the Government that something will be done one day. I maintain that it is both callous and unjust.

10.35 p.m.

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

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Teeling) has raised this matter tonight, because it is quite obvious that if anyone needs educating on this matter, the hon. Member does. I have rarely heard in this House a speech which contains so many inaccuracies as the speech to which we have just listened. I do not know whether I heard the hon. Gentleman aright, but I would like to make this point before I forget it. I understood him to say that at the Labour Party Conference held in his own constituency at Brighton, the Civil Service Clerical Association brought pressure to bear on the party, and, through the party, on the Government.

Mr. Teeling

I said that at the party Conference the ex-Servicemen asked Mr. White's organisation why they were not allowed to come in on this.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Is the inference that Mr. White's organisation was in on this? If so, I would like to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Civil Service Clerical Association is not affiliated to the Labour Party, and was not present or represented at the Conference. The position, so far as the Civil Service ex-Servicemen are concerned, is that temporary members of the Civil Service are discharged on redundancy grounds on the principle "last in, first out." We think that is normally a good principle, and about the only one in these days which one can have if one is to do justice.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)


Mr. Glenvil Hall

I have not much time, but if the hon. and learned Gentleman wants to raise this matter he should get an Adjournment Motion of his own.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I only want to put a question. It is an important point on this doctrine of "last come, first go." Does the Financial Secretary say that is a principle that should apply with regard to the employment of ex-Servicemen, and in giving preference to Irish labour in Ministry of Supply depots?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I must answer this Debate in my own way, and I will answer the points put to me by the hon. Member for Brighton. I am just laying down broadly the principle, that was agreed upon by the Whitley Council between the staff side and the employers' side in July, 1945. This agreement, broadly speaking, was that, where civil servants are temporarily employed and, later on, redundancy occurs, the last in should be the first out. Where we get, as we are getting today, temporary civil servants who have been employed in the Armed Forces, the Merchant Navy, the Mercantile Marine, or similar services, and temporary civil servants are redundant, a temporary civil servant who has been in the Army for five years and in the Department for only two months will stay on, where a temporary civil servant who has been in the Department for five years will go. We think this not unfair.

Major Haughton (Antrim)

I dislike to interrupt the Financial Secretary, but he made the plea that we cannot debate the subject in this way unless we seek to do so on the Adjournment, on another occasion. I would point out that the argument put forward by my hon. Friend was on behalf of the disabled ex-Servicemen.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am coming to that, if my hon. and gallant Friend will allow me, and if I am not interrupted too much. I have just indicated to the House what, broadly, is the principle followed in declaring civil servants redundant. The ex-Servicemen of the 1914–1918 war are in a special position. After the last war a pledge was given to them that they should stay on, and that others should go. The same pledge has not been given this time, but it is not because the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition gave that pledge last time, and that this time there is a Labour Government in office which has not given the pledge. This matter was discussed and decided before this Government came into office. If the hon. Member for Brighton will look at Command Paper No. 6567, he will find that it gives the whole story. It was decided during the tenure of the last Government, before the war came to an end, and there is a definite reason for it. This time, in contradistinction to the end of the previous war, nearly all of us had been in the war, and many people who had served in the Civil Defence services, went through more danger and risk than some of the men and women who were in the Armed Forces. It was felt that there should not be any straight line drawn between those who had served in the Forces and those who did not, and, therefore, no pledge was given.

Mr. Teeling


Mr. Glenvil Halt

It is not true to say that it was a question that this Government was not doing the right thing by the ex-Servicemen, and—

Mr. Teeing

I was talking about disabled ex-Servicemen men.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

When adopting this principle of "last in, first out" the Whitley Committee bore in mind that an Act was on the Statute Book which lays down the quota for every employer. He must employ a quota of three per cent. of disabled men in his firm, factory, or workshop. I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman, in regard to his gibe that only three per cent. was the number to be employed, that this was passed by the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was head.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

Did not that Act make express provision for raising the quota in certain circumstances?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Generally, the quota was three per cent. Regarding certain occupations, which are described as "designated occupations," such, for instance, as that of lift attendant, other considerations apply, and the posts were set aside for disabled men. Generally, disabled men had to be employed up to a percentage of three. That Act does not apply to the Government, but the Gov- ernment have seen to it that it has implemented the Act so far as Government employees are concerned. Moreover, I have figures which show that, in outside employment, employers need only employ three per cent, while in the Government service the percentage is much higher. Each Government Department has to employ at least three per cent. of disabled men, but taking the Government service as a whole, Department by Department, the percentage of disabled men employed is 5.1 per cent. In the case of the War Office, which I think is the Department the hon. Member had in mind when making his remarks, the figure is 6.7 per cent.—more than double the figure laid down in the Act, to which most employers work. These figures do not, furthermore, express the fact that, in most Government Departments, jobs like lift attendants have been "designated" and set aside particularly and specially for disabled men.

Major Haughton

Are these included in the 6 per cent.?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

No, they are in addition to the 6.7 per cent. of the War Office and to the 5.1 per cent. for other Government Departments. I think I can claim that the record of the Civil Service in this matter is exceedingly good, and tonight I have nothing to apologise for on behalf of this Government, and nothing to be ashamed of. It is clear, in spite of the examples I have given, that occasionally you do get cases in which ex-Service men who should be kept on, are in spite of the quota, and all the rest of it found to be redundant, and under the general scheme of things may be given notice by the Department concerned. I say here and now, on behalf of the Government, that we are rather worried about this, and that a few cases have occurred. There has been one at Brighton of an ex-Service man who lost both his legs and became redundant, who was a temporary servant and an excellent clerk. He was given notice, but I am glad to say that he has been kept on. This instance brought to our attention the fact that here and there these kind of cases do occur. You do get men like that for whom the Government of the day, whatever its complexion, should do what they can, particularly as men of that kind must be considerably limited in the kind of work they can do. Often we could keep such a man in the Civil Service and make it possible for someone much more able to go out to some other form of production where he could serve the State with greater capacity.

I would tell the hon. Member and the House that we are going into this question to see what can be done. Quite obviously if we can do anything to help men in that position we will do so, but the general position is as I have outlined it to the House. With regard to the Disabled Persons Employment Act, of 1944, which was passed by the last Government, we are working well above the percentage there laid down as a quota. We are doing everything we possibly can to help all disabled and ex-Service men generally to fill a productive and useful place in society in the years that lie ahead.

Finally the hon. Member asked me a question about Egham and other Government Centres. Those centres are continuing to do great work, helping men to re-equip themselves for civil life. They are sending men out as the months go by, with renewed hope in life and the knowledge that they are of some use to their fellows, and to the industrial life of the community in general. I can assure the hon. Member and the House that we are watching these things; we are doing what we can to re-equip these men, and, as and when they are equipped, to see that they do find their proper niche in society and industry.

10.48 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

The right hon. Gentleman has dealt fairly fully with this question of disabled ex-Service men employed in the Civil Service. I remember, and I expect the Financial Secretary also remembers, an assurance being given when the Bill dealing with the subject being discussed in this House, that the Government would set an example with regard to the disabled ex-Service men. There was one point on which the right hon. Gentleman could not touch, because I had no opportunity of putting it to him, but I have put a Question to the Minister of Supply with regard to ex-Service men generally. Ex-Service men were sent from their associations for employment by the Ministry of Supply; they had regular and good employment, and then when the question of redundancy arose, they were discharged on the principle "last in, first out," while certain Southern Irish workers and conscientious objectors were retained. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question about that. I understand from the Minister of Supply that that is in accordance with an arrangement made with the trade unions. I take that from his answers which I have here. I think it is extremely unfortunate if trade unions in fact take up such an attitude, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will look into that matter again. I asked the Minister of Supply whether he had consulted with the British Legion on that question. To that I had no answer, but although it may be right, speaking generally, that "last in, first out" should be the principle, I do say this, that when an ex-Service man is taken into the employment of a Government Department on the recommendation of his regimental association then he should get some priority over the Southern Irishman who until recently not only retained his employment but also got lodging allowance in addition. There should be some priority of retention under the Government. I think that applies to all Government Departments.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Order made upon 13th November.

Adjourned at Ten minutes to Eleven o'clock.