HC Deb 04 December 1950 vol 482 cc105-11

Where under this Act there is an obligation on an in to offer any person reinstatement in civil employment, who, immediately preceding his entry upon a period of whole time service in the Armed Forces of the Crown, was occupying a service dwelling, the obligation on the employer shall be deemed to include an obligation to offer accommodation not less suitable and of no lower standard than that which the aforesaid person occupied prior to his entry upon a period of whole time service in the Armed Forces of the Crown.—[Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-are)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Clause covers a very difficult point, and one for which I feel sure the Committee will appreciate it is extremely difficult to legislate. At the same time it is a very important point if we are to be assured that Reservists, in particular, are to be fairly treated. If a man is called to the Colours either as a National Service man or as a Reservist and he is in occupation of a service house attached to the industry in which he works, as far as I can see he is not covered for equivalent accommodation when he leavew the Services.

A Reservist called to the Colours might have been occupying a service house in connection with his employment by British Railways. On his being called to the Colours his place might be filled by another man to whom the house might be handed over for the purpose of his employment by British Railways. The result would be that that accommodation would not be available for the Reservist when he left the Forces.

Two troubles would result from this. The first would be that the Reservist recalled to the Colours would be gravely apprehensive about what would happen to his family. The second one might be that on his return from the Forces he might find himself debarred from reemployment because no service accommodation was available to him and consequently he would not live as near his job as was proved to be essential by the mere fact that he was considered to require a service house by the undertaking employing him.

It may be considered that this is not the right way to deal with the matter, but I feel certain that the Committee will agree that it is a point upon which an assurance must very definitely be given to the Reservist or National Service man when he is called up. It would be very bad if the Committee allowed any doubt whatsoever to exist in the mind of such a man. I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some assurance either that he will consider the matter or that the danger is not where we think it lies.

I stress a further point. I hope the Minister will not plead that this is not a very serious matter because it has not arisen in the past. A comparatively new situation has arisen in the last few months, in particular, in relation to the calling up of Reservists. During the war many men who were called up were able to leave their families in service houses to which they were able to return when they were released from the Forces for the very simple reason that those men were not replaced in their industries. In the curious situation of the cold war, this is not quite the case and a man who is called up may find that someone else is doing his job and now has the accommodation which he occupied. There is, therefore, a new problem, and to say that this has not proved very difficult in the past is not a fair answer to the argument which I have put forward.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the legal position in this matter? Is it a fact that the family of a man called up for service under the National Service Act could be evicted from a service cottage without an order of the court and that the court would not have to consider whether it was reasonable to give the employer possession in such a case?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

That raises only one side of the problem. First of all, there is the question of eviction. During the war there were hardly any troubles of that nature, largely because men who were called to the Colours were not replaced. In many cases industries replaced their men in the Forces by people accommodated in the hostels which were set up, and therefore the need for accommodation on the spot was not felt in such a vital way as it would be now. As to whether the court would give an order for eviction, we must take some cognisance of the fact that that depends to a considerable degree on the urgency of the plea by the industry or undertaking owning the service house.

Even then the hon. Member did not quite cover the point. What happens when the man returns? I ask him and the Committee to remember that the position of the Reservist in these matters is far more critical and difficult than that of the man called up for National Service. The Reservist may well be a man who had made his way and established himself after some years in the industry in which he was engaged, and he is more likely to be in some such trouble as this than the younger National Service man who has not had so long to establish himself in his industry. For those reasons, I ask the right hon. Gentleman either to accept the Clause or to give some assurance that the point will be or is fully covered.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

This is a very human problem and it arouses sympathy automatically, but I can see that there are difficulties. What we have to accept is that in the Bill we are admitting that the relationship between some employers and their employees is not all that might be desired. It would be highly desirable if we could be quite sure that every employer would do the honourable thing by his employees who were called up. However, we have to face the fact that some of them will not, and the Bill tries to make sure that everyone is treated as fairly as possible.

Nevertheless, I see some difficulties in the new Clause. It is not that I am in the least unsympathetic to the case which my hon. Friend has made. I am very sympathetic towards it, and one or two cases in my own constituency have arisen out of the recent call-up; but I believe that this is not a burden which only the employer should have to bear. After all, employers are not the only people who provide houses these days. Local housing authorities ought to come into this. The moment we start discussing that, Sir Charles, you will probably be calling us to order for going outside the scope of the Bill. However, this is a matter upon which the Minister might very well consult the Minister of Health to see whether he can come to workable arrangements whereby the families of these men will be looked after by the local housing authorities and the local housing authorities will make sure when the man returns he is properly housed until the employer can offer him the tied cottage which he originally occupied.

Mr. Isaacs

I think I had better keep strictly to what is covered by the Bill and not roam into local authority spheres. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing), said that the danger might not be where it appears to lie. I hope to prove that, and to show the Committee that the Clause is not only unnecessary but would make the position less favourable than it is now. We had no idea on the Second Reading of this Bill that the tied cottage could be related to it, and therefore I was not armed with any information. However, after further examination, I am able to give some definite information.

7.30 p.m.

There have been two cases upon which this point has arisen and which have been decided by the Umpire, who is the highest statutory authority for deciding disputed applications for reinstatement. In one of these the Deputy Umpire stated: The application is to reinstate the applicant in the occupation in which he was last employed by the former employer before the beginning of his war service and on terms and conditions not less favourable to him than those which would have been applicable to him in that occupation had he not become a person to whom the Act applied. To reinstate the applicant without the use of the cottage was not "on terms and conditions not less favourable to him." The Deputy Umpire decided that the employer should give the applicant possession of the cottage within eight weeks of the date of his decision. The decision in the second case was on the same lines.

I am an economist and I wonder whether I can be economical in words now. Need I point out further to the Committee that this is the law as laid down now and that these people are fully covered by it? Perhaps in those circumstances the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to withdraw the new Clause, which I would point out is much less favourable than the decisions given by the Umpire.

Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)

Could my right hon. Friend indicate when those judgments were given? Was it during the war or immediately afterwards, when housing accommodation was not so acute as it is now?

Mr. Isaacs

It was in 1946. So they are entitled to the house as well as to their job.

Mr. McCorquodale

I am glad to hear the news given by the right hon. Gentleman, on the point on which I ventured to pull up the Parliamentary Secretary on Second Reading. At that time, speaking extempore, the hon. Gentleman suggested that it was not possible to enforce what the Umpire said should be done and, speaking from memory of the Act, I said I thought that reinstatement committees would rule as the Umpire did. It has been useful to raise this point in Parliament because there may be a number of people throughout the country who do not know their rights in this respect. There may even be some reinstatement committees which have not met this problem before, and which will now realise that case law has been made on the subject, and therefore will have no hesitation in dealing with the applicants. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to satisfy us in this regard.

Mr. Harrison

My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) spoke of the necessity for obtaining a court eviction order when a man leaves his occupation to go into the Services and his employer requires the cottage for his successor in the job. May I place on record the fact that in the railway industry, when there is an application by the British Transport Commission for one of those cottages which are tied to a job, inevitably the court gives occupation to the applicant and the family of the Service man is evicted from that cottage. They are probably given some notice, but inevitably the decision is that they must vacate it.

We feel that this can be unduly burdensome on the relatives of the Service man. This is particularly so when it comes to the reinstatement of a railway man. We understand that in the case, say, of a gatehouse keeper there is no possible chance of the Service man coming back to that cottage unless his successor leaves the job. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that there are difficulties in regard to the tied cottage which must be looked at carefully in a Bill of this kind if we are to get the benefit we wish for all grades of workers.

Another feature which gives rise to feeling amongst our workers is that tied cottages are now more than ever the practice. Companies are purchasing dwelling houses and using them to an extent never dreamed of before. So a set of circumstances is arising which will make for a completely different position in the law of reinstatement, not only to the job but to the amenities attached to it. The Minister should bear these matters in mind when giving us the assurance that this ruling of the Umpire will be applicable to such cases if they arise. I was pleased to hear the assurance because I had some doubts, until I heard it, whether it would stretch to the cases I have in mind.

Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing

I was pleased to hear what the Minister had to say, but not quite so happy about what the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison) has just said. The hon. Gentleman has put some doubts into my mind, and I can only hope that the Minister will look into what the hon. Member said. In view of that understanding, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.