HC Deb 04 December 1950 vol 482 cc98-103
Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I beg to move, in page 4, line 26, at the beginning, to insert:

  1. (1) Section thirty-six of the National Service Act, 1948 (which relates to the time for making applications for reinstatement) shall have effect with regard to persons to whom Section one of this Act applies as though for the words "second Monday" in subsection (2) thereof there were substituted the words "fifth Monday."
  2. (2) Section thirty-seven of the said Act (which relates to the duty of an applicant to state date of availability for employment) shall have effect with regard to persons to whom Section one of this Act applies as though for the words "fourteen days" wherever they occur in the aforesaid Section thirty-seven there were substituted the words "four weeks."
This Amendment relates to the machinery for implementing the decision of the House and the effect of the Bill. Its subject matter, as the right hon. Gentleman will recall, was raised during the Second Reading by a number of Members, and I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to deal with it as a carefully considered question, in view of the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to indicate that it would be looked into carefully. I need not, therefore, take up very much time in putting the case for the Amendment.

The Amendment relates to two things. It relates to the fact that, first, a Service man has to put in an application to exercise his rights, and, secondly, to state the date at which he will be ready and available for work. This Amendment deals with the periods during which he can exercise his rights. The Bill brings in the effect of Sections 36 and 37 of the National Service Act, 1948, under which the periods during which, if those rights are to be exercised, the application has to be made are very restricted. In the case of application to exercise the rights, the period is the period ending with the second Monday after discharge; that is to say, it is a period depending on the day in the week of his discharge, varying from eight to 13 days. In the case of availability for work, the period is 14 days.

It so happens that this matter was dealt with in a different way in the 1944 Act, for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) was partly responsible. By Sections 2 and 3 of that Act, the periods were prescribed as being up to the fifth Monday subsequent to discharge and four weeks. We seek to incorporate the same periods as were prescribed in the 1944 Act. There is one consideration that will, I imagine, have presented itself to the right hon. Gentleman's mind. The restricted period under the National Service Act, 1948, was, no doubt, justifiable because that Act was concerned with men who were serving a precisely defined period. I agree that the period was in accordance with the different decisions that were taken, but it was a precisely defined period of 12, 18 or 24 months. In other words, the men knew when they were to be released, and it was reasonable that if they wished to exercise their rights of reinstatement they should do so quickly.

Under the 1944 Act, we were concerned with people, as in this case, who had not the faintest idea when they would be released. Under this Bill we are, so far as the Reservists are concerned, dealing with people who have not the faintest idea when they are to be released. It seems to me that where we are dealing with such people, the period which was put into the 1944 Act is the right one to put into this Bill.

7.0 p.m.

I do not suppose that the acceptance or refusal of this Amendment will affect many reinstatement rights. The great majority of those to whom it can apply will be aware of them in time, and steps will be taken in time to prevent the doing of an injustice. But a small section of people, by reason of their own carelessness, may not avail themselves of their reinstatement rights in time. Nothing that I say in urging this Amendment will in any way diminish from my view that the sooner the people exercise their rights the better it will be.

It is in the interests of their employers, as well as in their own interests, for these men to know quickly how they stand. On the other hand, the fact remains that there could be a small minority of people who, by reason of the very restricted period laid down in the 1948 Act, could be denied the exercise of these rights. I have an intense dislike of procedural limitations of time which deny people the opportunity to ask for rights which they believe they have; though it is proper in some cases that things should be brought to a conclusion before a long period has elapsed. However, it seems to me that the period of time laid down in the 1944 Act offers a solution of the conflicting claims of the two interests to which I have referred.

I hope very much that the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accept this Amendment, and if he does not see his way to accept it, he may be able to assist the Committee by telling us what the results were under the 1944 Act. His Department must have practical experience of how the scheme actually worked. For my part, I have never heard of any difficulty in regard to that period. The right hon. Gentleman has sources of information which are denied to us on this side, and I hope he will give the information. We are not suggesting an untried proposition, but something which has worked perfectly satisfactorily over a period of several years. It is in the hope of eliminating the possibility of an occasional injustice, even an injustice caused by a man's own carelessness, that we feel that a longer period is required.

Mr. Isaacs

The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has dealt with the matter in his usual clear way, and there are one or two points with which I should like to deal. I do not think we should make special provision for the person who is careless. He ought not to have any reasons for carelessness, because under the arrangement we are now making no difficulty should exist. No man can be told months in advance, as in the old days, when he is coming out, but certain steps will be taken. Leaflets will be distributed by the authorities to the men who are getting near their discharge date. Further, these men will be given, first of all, a broad indication of when they are coming out, and then later on a precise indication of their release date. So it will be seen that every step will be taken to ensure that they will be given proper facilities for making such arrangements as are necessary.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the period in the existing Act and the longer period under the 1944 Act, and he also referred to the breathing time between leaving the Forces and going back to work. It should be remembered that the men who were being catered for under the 1944 Act may have served four, five or six years. The House decided, when the existing Act came into operation, that there was not the same reason for giving such a long period of interim relief to men who had been called up for a relatively short period. Therefore, we cannot agree that we should go back to the long period.

There is, however, something in what was said by the hon. Gentleman. What I am prepared to do, if the Amendment is withdrawn, is to introduce an Amendment in another place. I am sorry that I could not get the Amendment ready while the Bill was passing through this House, and it is not satisfactory to produce manuscript Amendments at the last moment. The wording of the present Amendment is a little confusing, which is why we cannot accept it, but what I will propose in the new Amendment to be produced in another place is that we should insert "the third Monday" instead of "the fifth Monday," and "21 days" instead of "four weeks." That would give an extra week in each ease in which to make application. That would be an extension of the present period but not to the length to which the hon. Member has asked. Except for the Korean Reservists, about whom I shall say a little later on, we are dealing with men who have given service for 18 months or two years, against men who served for four, five or six years and for whom the longer time was provided.

Mr. McCorquodale

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour, in the very sensible remarks which he made on Second Reading, promised that he would consider this question before the Report stage, and a little further on he undertook that he would have a further look at it before the Committee stage and … see if there is anything we can do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1950; Vol. 481, c. 380.] The Minister has gone some way to meet us today. I can recall the discussions we had at the Ministry of Labour on the 1944 Act as to what was the appropriate period on the one side as against the very real desirability of getting the men back to work as quickly as possible. We did not want to draw it so tight as to make it virtually impossible for some men to retain their rights. I realise that in the main we are dealing with two-year Reservists, and that when they come out they will be serving for a shorter period than did those during the war, though the shorter period may be longer than under the original 1948 Act. Therefore, I would not oppose the right hon. Gentleman, as he has gone some way to meet us.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The right hon. Gentleman has been very conciliatory in this matter and none of us, particularly in the circumstances of the last few days, wants to take any step which will delay the passing into law of this Bill. I am not very happy about only going from the second to the third Monday, for I doubt whether that goes far enough, but I am a little bit encouraged by the fact that we can rely on the proviso to Section 36 (2) of the 1948 Act, which gives a discretion to the Minister if application is not made in time because of sickness or some other reasonable cause. Perhaps, before I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, as I intend to do, the right hon. Gentleman will indicate his intention of exercising his power under that proviso in all reasonable circumstances.

Mr. Isaacs

I am glad to give the undertaking, not merely that we shall operate it, but as to the right of the individual to claim that opportunity and to go to the umpire.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Remaining Clauses ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The following new Clause stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. MCCORQUODALE:

(APPLICATION OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT STAFFS (WAR SERVICE) ACT, 1939.) The provisions of the Local Government Staffs (War Service) Act, 1939, with such adaptations and amendments as the Minister may by order determine, shall be deemed to apply to any persons to whom section one of the present Act applies.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Touche)

The proposed new Clause is out of order, because it goes beyond the scope of the Financial Resolution.

Mr. Leather

On a point of order, Mr. Touche. In view of your Ruling, may I point out that the proposed new Clause relates to the position of local government staffs, and ask the Minister whether he will be able to take care of this matter in any other way?

The Temporary Chairman

The proposed new Clause is out of order altogether.