HC Deb 03 December 1948 vol 458 cc2316-22

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, in page 6, line 4, after "be," to insert: as appropriate to be undertaken. This Amendment goes with the second Amendment in the same line, which is at the end to add: having regard to the nature of the work for which those employees are primarily employed. The House may be aware that in Committee my right hon. Friend gave an undertaking to discuss this Clause with the National Association of Local Government Officers who were anxious lest their members might be put into a difficult and less advantageous position than other members of the civilian population. The first of the Amendments is designed to clarify what was always the intention, namely, that the phrase: as appropriate to be undertaken. which appears in line 2, should specifically apply to any obligations which were to be placed upon local government employees, and not merely obligations placed upon the police and other categories mentioned in the Clause. I do not think that it makes any substantial change other than to make quite clear the intention which was already there.

The second Amendment is more substantial. Its effect is to ensure that, in imposing any duty by regulation upon local authority employees in regard to training for civil defence, regard should be had to the nature of the work for which those employees are primarily employed; that is to say, that the training which might be imposed upon these employees by regulation is intended only to relate to such extension as may be necessary in wartime of their normal local government functions. It would not relate to imposing some entirely different duty, unconnected with their peace-time duties, upon local government employees. For example, if it were a question of ambulance drivers it would be the necessary extension of their ambulance driving duties, and not other duties that would or might be imposed upon them by regulation. I hope that that will go a long way to allay any fears which local government employees or their representatives may have felt.

There is one further point which my right hon. Friend desires me to make plain. It has been one of the contentions of the National Association of Local Government Officers that it is, in any event, the wrong psychological approach to include in the Bill compulsory powers of this kind. I think that my right hon. Friend made it clear in Committee that he shared the general admiration felt for the co-operation given by local government employees during the last war in matters of Civil Defence and that no re- flection of any kind on the general willingness of those employees was intended. I would point out that under the Bill as it now stands the designated Minister is not committed to making any regulations at all. It will depend upon the way events turn out as to whether it is found necessary to make regulations.

The intention which I am asked to make clear is that, first of all, regulations will be made under Clause 2 (1) which will indicate what is the nature of the Civil Defence duties which local authorities will have to undertake. Thereafter there will be an indication given to local authorities by means of a circular that they should seek the co-operation of the appropriate classes of their employees in training for and carrying out those functions. There will be ample time after that circular has been issued to ascertain the response to that invitation, because necessarily it will be some time before full training facilities are in hand, or worked out, and while they are being worked out there should be no difficulty in discovering whether there is any need at all for regulations to be made of the kind envisaged in this Clause, which would in the last resort impose compulsion upon those categories of persons undergoing training. It may well be that no regulations will be necessary, and the Bill does not impose upon the Minister any obligation to make regulations in that event. I hope that explanation will assist in allaying any fears which local government employees and officers may have.

The House will appreciate that the Secretary of State has a responsibility under the Bill to see that this work shall be done properly in war time. It is part of his responsibility to see that necessary training is undertaken in advance. In the last resort, therefore, he must have the assurance in the Bill that he can discharge his responsibilities. Subject to that, there is no intention to use any compulsion unless it should be necessary. I hope that, with these assurances, those who previously may have felt anxiety may be prepared to rest content.

Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)

It would be ungracious of me if I did not acknowledge the manner in which the Home Secretary, the Under-Secretary and his officers have endeavoured to meet the case put against this Clause, and I express my appreciation of what has been said. I am bound to say, however, despite the charming manner of the Under-Secretary, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), that I am sure that he will be the first to admit that these Amendments do not remove the fundamental objection to this Clause. The extent to which training can be imposed on the staffs of local government authorities in connection with Civil Defence is hardly appreciated. It impinges on almost every department in the local government service—the sanitary inspector's department, the borough engineer's department, the treasurer's department, and in fact right throughout the service.

As the Minister said, it is true that power to impose compulsion is to be kept in reserve as a last resort, but the fundamental objection remains. Compulsion is being imposed on a section of the community, not Crown employees but employees of local authorities. I see in this Clause grave possibilities of conflict between the employing authorities and the Minister or the officer issuing directions about training. While one appreciates that some endeavour has been made to meet the points of view put forward, I am advised that the National Association of Local Government Officers cannot be quoted as agreeing to this Clause, however amended, because of the fundamental objections which I have indicated. I am afraid, too, that the right hon. Gentleman and his officers will have other sections of the local government staffs to deal with when the matter comes right down to the issuing of any regulations or instructions.

Sir John Anderson (Scottish Universities)

I think the matter that arises here is fundamental to the efficient building up of a Civil Defence service. When the question was raised in Committee, I confess I had some sympathy with the attitude of employees who felt that, under a provision of the type proposed, duties which were foreign to the real character of their individual employment might be imposed upon them. Nevertheless, I think it is a misnomer to apply the word "compulsion" to such obligations as will remain inherent in the Clause after the Amendment proposed by the Government.

What is really contemplated is an obligatory extension of the obligations of employment, which is rather different from compulsion in the sense in which we use the word in connection with conscription. Take the case of the police—a case which is covered by the Clause—about which very little was said. Every time a new penal enactment is put on the Statute Book, the responsibilities of the police are potentially extended. I do not think there is anything extraordinary or very objectionable in a provision which in effect puts on employees of local authorities duties in connection with Civil Defence which link up naturally with the duties and reponsibilities they already have.

Mr. Burden

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the Home Secretary has specific responsibilities for the police but that he has not those same specific responsibilities for the local government service?

Sir J. Anderson

I really do not see the relevance of that point. As the Bill stands, the Home Secretary is not necessarily the Minister who will be concerned in these matters. It might be the Minister of Health. Whoever the Minister is, he will be acting in discharge of his duty as a Minister and his responsibility to this House. The Home Secretary has met very fairly the representations that were made to him. I think it really would be ungracious not to recognise that, as indeed the hon. Member did. What is proposed here is really inherent in the plan for using local authorities—a very good plan, I agree—in carrying out Civil Defence duties. The local authorities must be able to rely on their employees in that connection, and I think that this provision is necessary and that the House would do well to accept it.

Mr. C. Williams

I have a great deal of fundamental agreement with the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) in the views he has expressed. The ordinary English Member, when examining a Bill, naturally takes the point of view that he never wishes to put in a compulsory Clause on a matter of this kind unless it cannot be avoided. I welcome the fact that the hon. Member put his point of view most clearly. We should be grossly neglecting our responsibilities as direct representatives of these sections of the community if we did not accept the position that it is one of our primary duties to see that compulsion is not applied unless it is absolutely necessary.

With reference to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson)—not quite my right hon. Friend; I had forgotten that he is an Independent—I listened to him with great admiration. I agree that when we consider the terms of duty of these various sections of the community we must include certain performances which have to do with Civil Defence. In those circumstances, they should be informed when they undertake their duties of the full extent of their obligations.

The Under-Secretary told us that these words were necessary for the purpose of clarity. He said that the powers would be used sparingly and never unless it was absolutely necessary. I accept that position. I cannot see how we could work this scheme without a provision of this kind. I hope that those who are directly representative of the persons concerned will watch the administration of this scheme most carefully and see that no order or anything of that sort is brought in which may extend these powers. I issue that warning. We are apt to push forward a Clause such as this, and unless the representatives of the men keep their eyes on the administration, we may see these powers ill used without any wish on the part of the Home Secretary or the Under-Secretary to do so. From that point of view, and from the point of view of trying to balance the two sides, I sincerely hope that the Amendment will be accepted. I hope, too, that the words of the Under-Secretary and of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities will receive further publicity and that the local authorities will be told precisely what the position is. I welcome the Amendment as an improvement of the position, although it is not by any means perfect.

11.30 a.m.

Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)

I want my hon. Friend to direct his attention to one point. Representations have been made to me by young girls that this pro- vision is likely to vary entirely the terms of their employment. It is quite possible that they may be employed in local government offices where people concerned with this sort of training are liable to very officious. I want to know what steps the Minister of Health is likely to take to say how much of this kind of work in relation to training is to be done in peace time, whether steps will be taken to inform all people in local government offices that their terms of employment have been varied, and whether new recruits to local government will also be so informed.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 6, line 4, at end, add: having regard to the nature of the work for which those employees are primarily employed."—[Mr. Younger.]