HC Deb 11 November 1947 vol 444 cc182-4
25. Mr. Hardy

asked the Minister of Labour whether he is now in a position to announce the measures which he proposes to take to deal with the problem of persons making no contribution to the national wellbeing.

Mr. Isaacs

I have today made an Order under Defence Regulation 58A, as extended by the Supplies and Services (Extended Purposes) Act, 1947. The Order will give power to require the registration of persons who are unoccupied or who are following certain occupations. The age limits will be the same as those imposed by the Control of Engagement Order, 1947. The occupations at present in mind are employment in betting and gambling, including football pools and amusement arcades, night clubs and street trading in urban areas.

There will be two methods of registration. Under one method individuals will be called upon to register personally; under the other method employers will be called upon to register particulars of their employees. After registration the persons registered will be called to the employment exchange for interview and dealt within exactly the same way as persons seeking employment under the control of engagement procedure. This means that in appropriate cases they will then be offered employment on essential work and, if necessary, formally directed to it.

Mr. Quintin Hogg

Having regard to the extremely serious nature of this announcement, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he intends to send people to prison for refusing to register, if they refuse to do so on conscientious grounds?

Mr. Isaacs

The question of conscientious grounds is a very difficult one, and I would beg to be excused from entering into it at the moment.

Mr. Hogg


Mr. Isaacs

The hon. Gentleman has asked the question; he might know the answer, and say exactly what is in my mind. So far as sending people to prison is concerned, there is no desire to send anybody to prison, but in these days anybody who wants to eat and live ought to perform some useful service.

Mr. Chetwynd

Has my right hon. Friend any estimate of the numbers involved in these categories?

Mr. Isaacs

Not until the registration details are known. As has been clearly indicated in the House on several occasions, there is a certain percentage of people in this country who do not appear in our records. What the number is—whether it is half a million, or above or below that number—is not quite clear, but I have every confidence that a great number of these people will willingly come forward and offer themselves.

Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew

Does this Order require an Affirmative Resolution of the House?

Mr. Isaacs

No, Sir. It is similar to the Order we had last week. Copies of the Order will, I hope, be in the Library this evening, or certainly tomorrow morning, and will be ready for distribution next week.

Mr. Hector Hughes

In order to rope in those persons who are not in the Ministry's records, will my right hon. Friend seek the assistance of the police, and will he also indicate what sanctions he will apply to spivs and drones?

Mr. Isaacs

I will say at once that we have no desire to seek the assistance of the police in this matter. We shall see whether this scheme of calling upon people to come forward and do their duty for the country meets with any response. Should we have to take other steps, we would not hesitate to do so.

Mr. Medlicott

Having regard to the way in which this Question is framed, would it not be appropriate if in the list were included the names of most of the present Cabinet?

Mr. Austin

As these regulations do not appear to have any effect on those who live on unearned income, and make no contribution to the national economy, is my right hon. Friend considering introducing some regulation to deal with such people?

Mr. Isaacs

I have of necessity made my answer as brief as possible, in order to convey to the House my intention to make the Order. If any of my hon. Friends will look at the Order later on and will tell me how I can tighten it up, I shall be delighted to hear from them.

Mr. Hogg

While nobody will disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's contention that it is the duty of people to work nowadays, does he not realise that compulsory registration of people in time of peace is, in the view of many people, a further step towards the re-introduction of chattel slavery into this country?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member should read page 336 of the Rules about Questions.

Mr. Hogg

On a point of Order. Having regard to the extremely serious nature of these replies, I beg to give notice that I propose to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.