HC Deb 22 November 1950 vol 481 cc350-81

3.46 p.m.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)

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

The Bill which I am about to commend to the House for its Second Reading is rather long and may appear complicated, but its purposes are fundamentally simple and will, I feel sure, be welcomed by Members in all parts of the House. Men called up for whole-time National Service have been granted rights of reinstatement in civil employment either under the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act, 1944, or, more recently, under the National Service Act, 1948. The main object of this Bill is to ensure that members of the Reserve or Auxiliary Forces called out or recalled for whole-time service to the Forces should possess corresponding rights.

The need for introducing this Bill arose from the recent events in Korea. The Admiralty have recalled a number of officers from the Emergency Lists of the Royal Navy and some men from the Royal Fleet Reserve, while the War Office have recalled some thousands from the Regular Army Reserve of Officers and the Royal Army Reserve. It is clearly desirable that these men should, when the time comes for them to return to civil life, possess rights of reinstatement in the employment from which they were called away.

In the present unsettled state of world affairs, the possibility of further incidents of this kind, which might also necessitate the recall of reservists or the embodiment of members of the Auxiliary Forces by any or all of the three Services, cannot, unfortunately, be excluded. To save having to deal with each case which may arise piecemeal, the Bill is not restricted to men recalled in consequence of Korea. It has purposely been made of a general character and wide enough to cover all men and women, including "Z" reservists, who might be recalled or embodied in any other incident which may arise.

The second main purpose of the Bill is for the benefit of National Service men who, before 1st October last, when all National Service men who had not already completed their period of whole-time National Service became liable to serve for an additional six months, had voluntarily agreed to extend their whole-time service by not more than six months. By so doing they lost the reinstatement rights which they would otherwise have had at the end of their whole-time service. It would clearly be unjust that these men, who agreed voluntarily to do what the situation demanded before this additional obligation was imposed on all National Service men, should lose these rights, and the Bill therefore proposes to restore them.

I have also taken this opportunity of suggesting that two anomalies in the existing arrangement for reinstatement should be put right. The first is, I am advised, that National Service men who during their whole-time service are granted commissions and who serve as officers for the balance of their whole-time service lose their reinstatement rights. The extension of the period of whole-time National Service from 18 months to two years may be expected to lead to an increase in the number of National Service men granted commissions. This, therefore, makes it all the more necessary that they should have reinstatement rights.

The second arises from the fact that arrangements have been made under which doctors and dentists liable to be called up for National Service are granted commissions to serve in their professional capacity in the medical or dental branches of the Services for as long as they would serve if called up for National Service in the ordinary way. As these men are not called up in pursuance of an enlistment notice issued under the National Service Acts they also at present have no reinstatement rights when they complete their service. The Bill proposes to confer them on this class of citizen.

The other provisions of the Bill are consequential. Clause 4 makes provision similar to the corresponding provision in the Act of 1948 for linking together two periods of whole-time service separated by a short interval. Clause 5 adapts various sections of the National Service Act of 1948 to include the persons to whom the Bill relates. In particular, it extends to them the provisions of Section 50 of that Act which prohibits the dismissal of employees by reason of their liability for whole-time service in the Forces.

Some of the reservists recalled in connection with Korea have already returned to civil life. There were, for example, inevitably a number of men who were found on recall to be medically unfit for service in the Far East. Most of these men have no doubt already gone back to their old jobs and any few who have not have probably obtained other employment without difficulty. However, to cover any cases of difficulty which may have arisen, Clause 7 (1) of the Bill provides that any of these men will, immediately after the Bill becomes law, have the right to apply to their former employer for reinstatement. This arrangement corresponds with what was done to meet a similar problem when the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act. 1944, was passed. If any men want advice on how to apply for reinstatement they will be able to obtain it at any local office of the Ministry.

As regard the commissioned officers on whom reinstatement rights are being conferred for the first time by this Bill, if it were desired to cover all those whose service has ended in the past, it would be necessary to go back for at least three years. Most employers, however, have no doubt willingly taken these officers back and, in fact, no cases of difficulty have come to my notice. It is therefore proposed to confer these rights as from the passing of the Bill.

Our experience is that there are relatively very few disputed cases in connection with reinstatement. Out of about five million people who were called up during and after the war, all of whom had reinstatement rights, I think that at the outside fewer than 1,000 cases had to have the highest legal intervention by the Umpire. Employers have, generally speaking, co-operated very well indeed in taking back men who have done their National Service. I have no doubt that they will co-operate in the same way for the men and women for whom we are now providing. Any few disputed cases which may arise under the Bill will be settled by the well-tried machinery which already operates in connection with the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act, 1944, and the National Service Act, 1948. I refer to the reinstatement committees and to the Umpire and deputy umpires sitting with assessors. I think that I may say without fear of contradiction that this machinery has worked to the general satisfaction of everyone and quite smoothly. I should like at this point to express a tribute to the way in which the chairman and members of the committees as well as the Umpire and deputy umpires and their assessors have carried out their responsible duties.

In submitting this Bill, I am happy to inform the House that my National Joint Advisory Council endorse the principal provisions, and as that Council very broadly and very completely represents the employing interests in this country, it is an indication of their desire and intention to assist in seeing it brought into full operation. I confidently recommend the Bill to the House which would, I am sure, wish to make certain that everything possible is done to safeguard the employment of the men who are fighting in Korea and of the men who may be called up on a future occasion to assume a similar burden.

I have not felt it necessary to go into very great detail concerning the full terms of the Bill. It is necessarily rather complicated as it means reference back to several other Acts, but its principles and its proposals are very simple indeed, and I hope that the simplicity of the proposals will be sufficient justification for the simple statement which I have made in submitting the Bill to the House.

3.56 p.m.

Mr. McCorquodale (Epsom)

Some of my hon. Friends have been pressing for some time that reservists called up for service in Korea should have the protection of the machinery which was set out in the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act. Notably, I would make mention of the speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low) and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), who last month, made specific reference to this matter and urged the Government to do something to provide this protection.

Therefore we welcome this Bill, and we should do our best to facilitate its passage; indeed, the more so, because I think it is rather overdue. There are men, as the Minister has said, who are already coming out of the Forces, and who want this protection, and every day we delay, the longer we exclude others who should be brought in under this Bill. Therefore, I hope that now the Bill has been introduced, rather tardily, possibly, it will be pushed on with and made the law of the land as soon as possible.

If I may venture on a personal note, I was privileged in February, 1944, to move the Second Reading of the original Bill. Looking over the debate at that time, I regret to see that I spoke at rather inordinate length in endeavouring to explain what was then a completely novel conception to the House. It was a very complicated, pioneering Bill. We sat in the Ministry for long hours considering how best to give some protection to people who had been in the Forces. We had valuable advice from employers, trade unions and private citizens, and we eventually brought in the Bill.

At that time, the Bill had a rather lukewarm reception in the House, even from some of my hon. Friends. I remember one of my hon. Friends saying, "Will it work? I do not think so." Another said that it was practically unworkable. That only shows how unwise it is to prophesy in this House when HANSARD takes down what we say. The Bill worked quite admirably because, possibly, it did not appear to be logical, and that may have been the reason why, in this illogical land, it worked so well. I have not heard of more than two or three complaints from any sources of, for example, the decisions of the reinstatement committees, and I should like to join with the Minister most heartily in the well-deserved words of commendation which he has delivered on their work. The procedure was worked with good will by both the employers and the trade unions concerned.

The whole crux of the Measure was whether it was "reasonable and practicable" for the employer to take back the applicant. The reinstatement committees, in cases of dispute, had to define what was "reasonable and practicable." I believe that a number of legal pundits said that this was impossible of definition. However, we got over these difficulties and the procedure has given satisfaction to all.

I should like to emphasise that this Bill is not, nor was the original Act, a Measure to create jobs, but to ascertain who has the right to a job which is there. It defines the obligations of the employers in relation to the priority of any applicants for a job. I know that a great number of employers were grateful for the guidance the Act gave them on this difficult and rather complicated question, which might well mean the dismissal of a man who had been in the job since the Reservist was called up in order to reinstate him.

We are not dealing here with another most pressing problem, which is to find jobs for Regulars when they come out of the Forces. We all wish to see our Regular Forces built up, but this problem is not being dealt with in the Bill. I say, in all seriousness to the Government, that this is a major problem which I hope they are giving attention to, and in regard to which I hope they will be coming to the House with proposals. This is a matter on which my hon. Friends feel very deeply.

There is another small point I wish to mention. We made provision in the original Act that everyone on demobilisation or release should get information about his rights under reinstatement. I presume that this will be carried out in this case.

Mr. Isaacs

indicated assent.

Mr. McCorquodale

While we welcome the Bill, there are some points which will need looking into and some Amendments which, possibly, should be made in Committee. We shall examine the Bill in the friendliest possible way. The Minister made reference to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum and the extraordinary state of affairs that it was only recently discovered that, legally, any National Service man who had the good fortune to become a commissioned officer through his prowess and hard work thereby lost his reinstatement rights. It seems to me that someone must have slipped up rather badly in drafting the 1948 Measure. I am glad that no cases have arisen in the interval, although hardship might have been caused. It is an omission which everyone will regret, but which I am glad we are now putting right.

I do not quite understand what is meant by subsection (1, b) at the bottom of page 1. It is rather complicated, but it apparently excludes protection to commissioned officers who are members of any Reserve that involves periodical training. Surely it excludes all officers other than National Service officers and Class Z Reserve officers? For example, there is no protection specifically made for volunteer Territorial officers who, by going to their fortnight's camp, might lose their jobs. Although it is rather unlikely that they would lose their jobs, it is unfortunate that these people should be expressly excluded by these few words. I may be wrong in my interpretation, but I ask the Minister to give the matter his attention, and to make an Amendment if that be necessary. It is important that everyone who does voluntary training at prescribed times as part of his military duties should get protection.

The 1948 Measure laid down, quite rightly, the period during which a man had a right to apply for reinstatement. The period was cut down because National Service men knew some weeks or months ahead when they were coming out of the Forces, and they could therefore make the necessary arrangements. It was highly desirable that men should apply as early as possible. But under this Bill we are bringing in a new class of reservists who have been called up for Korea and elsewhere, and they are not likely to know with any degree of accuracy when they will be released. I suggest that [...]t would be desirable, in the case of men who do not know when their release is likely to be, that they should be given a longer period.

Another point that has been put to me, with which some of my hon. Friends will be dealing in more detail, is the position in regard to superannuation rights and the payments made to bring Service pay up to civilian pay. I understand that the Treasury are making up the pay of the reservists recalled for service in Korea. The local authorities, on the other hand, have no such rights. Their rights lapsed, and I understand that they are pressing for the right to decide for themselves whether or not to make up the pay of any reservist called up for Korea or to maintain superannuation. I do not know whether this matter is covered by the Bill, or whether it would require some Treasury regulation. None the less, it ties up with the same subject.

Finally, there is the position of the man who was in a service cottage as a necessary part of his employment. I am not going into the political arguments of whether service cottages are a good or a bad thing in the case of nationalised or private industries, but the fact remains that a man may not be able to return to his job unless the service cottage is made available to him. I do not think this question arose during the war, when people were away for a long time, but it is a problem that is arising among many of these reservists. Perhaps we might have some clarification of that position. If a man had a service cottage before he was called up, his reinstatement rights should include the service cottage being available to him when he comes back. My hon. Friends and I are only too pleased that the Minister has brought in this Bill, and we urge him to pass it into law as quickly as possible.

4.10 p.m.

Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

I also wish to raise the position of a reservist occupying a tied cottage who is called up for Korea. I had a very urgent message from one of my constituents who received only seven days' notice to rejoin the Forces at Colchester, knowing full well that it meant going to Korea. As soon as his employer heard of it, he told the man that it would not matter if he was to be away for only one month, but that if lie was to be away for some months, he would certainly require the cottage that was occupied by the man's wife and family for another worker to do his job. If we are to protect the employment of a man while he is in the Forces, have we not also an obligation to give protection to his wife and family while he is serving in the Forces?

In this case, there was a wife and four small children occupying the house by virtue of the man's employment. If the wife and family have to evacuate the house in favour of another man and his family, are we, in fact, safeguarding this man's employment? It will be very difficult to get the other worker out of the cottage under any existing legislation, and, therefore, the guarantee of reinstatement may be quite worthless. The wives and families of men in a similar position to my constituent should also be fully safeguarded while the husband is in the Forces.

There may not be many cases of this character. I have had one brought to my attention, and I should not be surprised if others will crop up, because the system of the tied cottage applies not only to agriculture, but to other industries. Men who have spent seven years in the Regular Forces and five years in the Reserve can be employed in agriculture and other industries where there are tied cottages. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider safeguarding the position of the wife and family for so long as the husband is serving in the Forces.

I do not think this will be a big problem from the legal point of view. It ought not to be very difficult from the housing point of view. If there are not many of these cases, some form of prefabricated house could quickly be erected, or the local authority could be instructed to make provision in their housing programme for the wives and families of men serving the world in Korea. The Government ought to indicate the protection they are prepared to give to these families, so that these men who are doing their duty on the other side of the world need have no anxieties about the housing accommodation of their wives and families.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Leather (Somerset, North)

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) has said, a great deal depended under the 1948 Act on the definition of what was "reasonable and practicable." There are a great many definitions of these words, hut it depends in industry very much on the human relations of the people concerned. One important matter that arises under this Bill, which has not been considered before, is how the pension rights of a man coming back into industry will be affected after he has been away for some two, three, or four years.

This situation did not arise with National Service men, because the vast majority were young men who had not come under any pension arrangements in industry. I believe that good employers—and I am fortunate enough to work for a good employer—will see that when their employees are reinstated, they do not lose their pension rights. This question is becoming very important under present world conditions with the high cost of living. It is certainly very difficult in these days to save money. The question of pensions in industry is becoming more and more important, and this may mean very real hardship to many thousands of workers.

I have an interest in many pension schemes. From the practical point of view, where the insurance industry provides the great majority of these schemes, there is no doubt that the employer concerned can make the mechanics of the scheme fit into the circumstances, and men can be brought back into a scheme in a number of different ways. At the same time, while I urge that it be done and should like to see it done, I am convinced that it is quite impossible for the Minister to draw up a law to enforce it, because there may be 5,000 companies who probably have 5,000 different pension schemes. It can only be done by encouragement—by the Minister saying "This ought to be done," and encouraging industry to act upon it.

There is one exception which I should like to put, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be in a position to answer it. The Government themselves are by far the biggest employers in the country, and throughout many sections of the nationalised industries, particularly gas and electricity, there are men who have pension rights which have been carried on by the nationalised undertakings from the private companies, whom they succeeded and for whom the men worked. Could the Parliamentary Secretary give us an assurance that the Government will see that these men's pension rights are not sacrificed or that they do not lose a substantial measure of pension through serving their country? That is something in the Government's control that can be done without any major legislation or alteration of policy.

Mr. Collick (Birkenhead)

Why does the hon. Gentleman say without legislation?

Mr. Leather

Because we are always told in this House that the domestic affairs of the nationalised industries are not our concern, but are for the industries themselves. Some of these industries have pension plans and it does not require legislation by this House for them to be introduced. It is purely a decision for the directors of the nationalised industries I presume that those directors pay a good deal of attention to what they are told by the Minister. I am satisfied that this is something that the Government can do, and that unless they do it they cannot expect the rest of industry to do It. It is a case where they can set a good example as a model employer.

I repeat to the Minister that from the insurance point of view, the mechanics are quite simple. Many firms make up the whole of a man's pay the time he is away, and in that way it is perfectly easy to make the usual deductions for pension, and to carry on the pension rates in the same way as if the person concerned had not left the factory. If that is not practical, there is a thing called a Past Service Fund. That is well known to insurance companies, and is the kind of thing that can be done.

In view of the importance of pensions to many millions of our workers, I would ask the Minister to keep what I have said in mind. Today workers cannot possibly save enough money to set aside for their retirement, and their pensions, therefore, are something of increasing importance. Here is something which I believe the Government can do by giving a lead in the nationalised industries and by declaring their view to industry, which would be a great benefit to everyone concerned in this Bill.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)

Towards the end of his speech the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) mentioned the tied cottage, the question of which was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye). That is a point upon which I should also like to touch. In the old days the tied cottage was largely associated with private industry, but today, when we have a large number of nationalised industries, we find that the problem of tied cottages is of importance to them, and particularly is that so in the railway industry. In Crewe in my constituency, there are a large number of houses which are owned by the nationalised railways, and in the past under the private company many men were evicted from those houses in order to make way for new employees.

This is a very difficult problem and those in charge of the railways today have to consider it very carefully. A number of occupants of railway tied cottages in my constituency have been given notices to quit. I am glad to say that under the new régime none of them has been carried out yet, and I hope, as I said before in this House, that no one will be turned out in those circumstances. There arises the possibility of reservists being turned out. I should like the Minister to consider the suggestion which came from the benches opposite, and also from some of my hon. Friends, to make sure that no one loses his railway tied cottage, or, for that matter, any other tied cottage, by reason of the fact that he is called up to serve His Majesty in the Forces.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)

With regard to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen), I should like to tell him that I have just been able to save a constituent from being evicted from a tied cottage owned by a nationalised industry by acting very strongly in the matter, so that they are not as soft-hearted as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested, and upon which he thought they should be congratulated.

I have watched for this Bill ever since I heard the announcement that His Majesty's Government were calling back the reservists into the Forces. I thought it was a pity that they were not able to announce at the same time as they announced their intention to call back the reservists that some such Bill would be introduced. The Minister of Labour will, no doubt, agree with me that had that been done it might have saved a certain amount of anxiety. However, we have now got the Bill. I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) remind the House that we must see on the Committee Stage that the Bill covers all the persons whom we wish to cover by such a provision.

I am amazed, as we sat through long nights on the National Service Bill in 1947, that there was not included in that Bill a protection for the man who got his commission during his National Service. That was a remarkable case of misdrafting by someone. I hope there are no other loopholes or defects in the original Act. It seems to me that this Bill may possibly omit one or two classes of people whom the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would not wish to omit. Does it, for example, cover the case of those short-term volunteers who were asked to volunteer specially for service in Korea? There were not very many of them, but they were asked to volunteer only for a very short time, and it appears to me that they are not covered by this Bill.

Secondly, do the provisions of this Bill or of the original Act cover the National Service man who has been longer than two years in service on his own personal undertaking? If my memory serves me right, there is a scheme in the Royal Air Force under which a National Service man after a period of three years is allowed to forego a year of his part-time service. If it is necessary we should enact a new Clause in this Bill to cover such a case. At any rate, I have made the point, and perhaps the Government will give us an answer during this Debate. If there is a loophole we can deal with it in Committee.

One of the great advantages of having a Bill like this, is that it tends to reduce the great uncertainty which must afflict those called back to the Forces—I am thinking of the reservists—and their families. We have an example of the difficulty in the tied cottage. I believe there is another side to this of which we might hear on some more suitable occasion, but there is the general uncertainty for the period during which the man is serving. It affects everybody; it affects the employer who is covered by the Bill and the employer who has to provide a tenancy for the man and his family; and it affects the family themselves. They have their plans to make.

It should also be noted that it concerns things like pensions and superannuation rights, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), has just referred. It must, of course, be very difficult for the Service authorities to say what is the period, but I am wondering if it would not help in a Bill of this sort to carry the spirit of the Bill further and give some indication as to what will be the maximum period in the present circumstances for which these men have been called up and have had their civilian life interrupted.

My last point was referred to by my right hon. Friend. We are all concerned with making the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy into a life career in some way or another. The ability of a man to find employment after his service must, of course, be affected by the fact that the employer has obligations under this Bill during the time when the employees are on the Reserve. It is also affected by the fact that a man spends his active life in Service conditions which might not be wholly suitable for the type of civilian employment he seeks. I hope we are going to hear from the Government how they will fill the gap which still exists in regard to a career after Service life. This Bill, as all my hon. Friends have said, is very welcome, and I hope to play an important part on the Committee stage in seeing that it fulfils the purpose which we all have in mind.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. P. Bartley (Chester-le-Street)

I wish to comment upon two or three aspects of the Bill. Some of us had experience of the operation of the Reinstatement Act of 1944, but there is one point which has not yet been mentioned in the Debate and that is the type of case which occurred in the mining industry. The workman there had normally a free house. In other cases he received allowances in kind for rent and coal. When he was called to the Services his wife and family were safeguarded. There was not the anxiety which has been suggested. The wife and family continued to receive the allowances in kind which had been paid to her husband while he was working at the colliery.

The case which sometimes created difficulty in the industry was of the person who claimed a particular job which he was doing when he entered the Forces. Miners employed underground were not called to the Forces. Those who were called were from the surface. Some of them were young chaps of 19 years of age who were away for four or five years. When they came back, they insisted upon their claim to the particular job they were doing when they left and not to the job which they would have been doing as a result of the normal up-grading process in the industry. A decision was given in law in favour of their claim to their previous job for at least 12 months after they re-entered the industry.

I would draw the attention of the Minister to the need for something more specific in the Bill to secure that persons affected by it have a claim to jobs which they would have been doing as a result of the upgrading system. If they had been away from the industry for four or five years some training would be necessary. This is an aspect of the Bill to which I hope the Minister will give attention before we discuss it in Committee.

4.34 p.m.

Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

In giving general support to the Bill I would draw attention to some small points. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low), has already touched upon one point which merits attention. In the Royal Air Force there are a thousand men who have volunteered for an extra period of service, mostly of a technical nature, and usually for 18 months beyond the period of National Service. It would appear that those men are not covered by the Bill. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would look at that point before we come to the Committee stage.

My second point relates to men returning from service, and their position on the housing lists of local councils. I quite appreciate that we cannot legislate for them in the Bill, but perhaps when the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the Debate he would agree to ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to give guidance to local authorities to see that people who are drawn away to do National Service for a long period do not suffer by losing their position in the queue for council houses. Discrimination has been shown in the past by some councils, and applicants have been taken right off the waiting lists on joining the Services. On returning from the Services those applicants had to wait for a period before they could get back to the housing list. I know that provisions to cover these cases cannot be put into the Bill, but it is vitally important that men should not only be reinstated in employment but should not suffer additional housing difficulties in any way by duty in the Services.

4.36 p.m.

Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)

I want to reinforce the other side of the picture which has just been presented by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), who spoke of the National Service man serving for an extended period. I would call attention to the person who, for one reason or another, comes out of the Service before his proper time. Such short-time service might deprive him of the protection of the Bill and I ask the Minister to look at the matter from that angle.

We recognise the serious urgency of this Measure, not only because of the situation in Korea but after our experience this afternoon. We ought to recognise that the Bill might be doubly urgent when we remember the scene that we witnessed in this Chamber. It appears to me that there are forces about that are prepared to disturb even further the tension that exists in the world. Because of that scene this afternoon, the Bill seems doubly urgent.

Commander Noble (Chelsea)

I welcome anything which will make things easier for the men who are serving. No doubt many of them suffer great hardships. I would draw the attention of the Minister to another category not covered by the Bill, Regulars who have come to the end of their service of 12 years, or whatever it may be, and now find that they are held for an indefinite period. I met a man the other day who was actually on his release leave when the emergency occurred. He was going to a new job in a few days when he was called back into the Forces. He does not know how long he has to stay there or whether the job will be open to him when he comes out. All good employers would treat such cases favourably and on their merits, and I am wondering whether they can be brought within the scope of the Bill.

4.39 p.m.

Brigadier Clarke (Portmouth, West)

I should like the Bill to state when men are likely to get out of the Services. Reinstatement in civil life affects both employer and employee. The employer has to keep a job open for three or four years although the man may have only been learning it when he left, and later may have to learn it all over again. The man, when he comes out, has not the skill that he had when he went in. The men are not necessarily being employed in their own trades. When they join the Infantry, they become ordinary fighting soldiers. There is great concern in the Services as to when these men will be coming out. I know that the Government have difficulty in this matter, and that in the present state of the world it is difficult to say that men will not be moved from Korea to Malaya or to any other place where Communist trouble may begin.

Only a very small proportion of reservists are being called up, but there is a considerable number of men who have equal responsibilities who are escaping the liability for call-up. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would agree that if we are to have fair shares for all, we ought to say that subject to there being no major war, for instance, the service of the men who are called up should be limited to, say, two or three years or to some other fixed time, when other reservists would be called up to take their place.

The hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) referred to men who were leaving the Services to take up civilian employment. I have had any number of these cases, from naval men rather than from soldiers. They have no occupation to which they can point and say, "I have been following this job." They may have been promised employment but they have not been in it previously because of the length of their Regular service. These men, who are now leaving the Forces and entering civil life for the first time, are not protected by the Bill.

I had a case recently of a man who had got married and had bought some furniture, and was expecting his release on 1st September. He neither got his gratuity to pay for the furniture, nor did he leave the Service and join his civilian job. After representations to the Secretary of State for War it was agreed that the gratuity should be paid. I am now pressing and hoping that additional gratuities will be paid to the men who have to serve an additional year or two in the Forces.

I wish that a representative of the Admiralty had been present to hear of similar things which are happening in the Navy. In July and August, sailors were invited to re-engage. After the patriotic ones had rejoined to continue in the Service, an order was published saying that any man who joined after 1st September would get an additional £100 gratuity. But the Navy then refused to make this payment to those who would have been leaving the Service in September and had had the patriotism to join up earlier. That is extremely unfair treatment and I hope that it is being looked into. I have nothing more to say except that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Low) and I are extremely pleased that the Bill has been introduced.

4.43 p.m.

Mr. Slater (Sedgefield)

I, like other hon. Members, am very grateful for the introduction of the Bill by my right hon. Friend. Many of us who have been members of local authorities can well remember the dissatisfaction which was shown, even during the war, when many of our employees were in the privileged position of being given security by legislation then in force. I consider that we have a moral obligation to the young men who have been called up to the Armed Forces, not only in respect of their normal Service period, but also in regard to any extension which they may be required to serve.

In listening to this Debate I have been wondering—and I put this suggestion equally to hon. Members opposite who have been Members of the Forces—whether it would be possible to devise a similar scheme for the protection of men who engage for long periods of, say, 10 or more years in the Forces, and whether after such a long period of service it would be possible to safeguard their interests in returning to civil employment.

I was rather sorry to hear it said this afternoon that there had been neglect in the consideration of applications by men in the Forces for council house accommodation. I think that something ought to be done to ensure that assistance is given in this direction. From my own experience, I can say that when cases of this kind came before my local authority we endeavoured to keep them under consideration at all times; these men have a right to receive every consideration. I welcome the Bill also for the satisfaction it will give to the young men who are serving in the Forces.

4.46 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston upon Thames)

While I share a good many of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater), I do not propose to follow his arguments very closely, because while they relate to matters of the very greatest importance, they are, as I think he will realise, matters with which the Bill does not even attempt to deal, and the Bill is, as he would appreciate, limited in extent and deals with important but different matters.

The course of the debate has made it abundantly clear that hon. Members on all sides regard it as highly appropriate that at a time when His Majesty's Forces are engaged in fearful climatic conditions in a struggle in Korea, the House should be concerning itself in an attempt at least to mitigate the ill-effects of that service upon their civilian prospects and careers. For that reason, as the Minister will have appreciated, the principle behind his proposals seems to have been accepted in all quarters of the House.

Many hon. Members know from experience that when men are serving in the Forces anxieties as to their future inevitably loom very large in their minds; and perhaps the further they are isolated geographically from this country, the larger those considerations loom. It must be an even more powerful factor in the minds of those who at a time like this are conscious of the fact that they are a very small numerical minority of His Majesty's subjects and that while they are engaged in work of the very greatest national importance the majority of their compatriots are still engaged in their normal civilian avocations. That makes the introduction of the Bill at this particular moment doubly appropriate.

I was lost in admiration for the right hon. Gentleman when he said that this was a simple subject. It may be simple to the right hon. Gentleman, but, to me, many complex and difficult issues inevitably and inescapably arise in any attempt to deal with this problem. Indeed, if example were needed, the very fact that in the 1948 Act—I am sure. Inadvertently—omission was made to deal at all with the case of National Service officers, shows how many difficult practical problems always arise when one tries to cope with this subject.

The present Bill must inevitably raise more complex problems because it deals in a considerable degree with a different subject matter to the 1948 Act. For this reason, the 1948 Act dealt almost exclusively with young men called up under the National Service Acts. The Bill, while it deals of course with them, deals also additionally with a quite different category of men: the reservists who are recalled to the Forces. Those reservists tend to be men of some age, generally men with family responsibilities, some of them holding substantial positions in civil life. When we have to deal with their problems in a Bill of this kind, the problem unavoidably becomes different in kind, and different, perhaps, also in degree to what it was when we were dealing almost exclusively with younger age groups.

If I may illustrate the differences that seem to arise both from that fact and from the fact that in part of the Bill at any rate we are dealing with people who. unlike those called up under the 1948 Act, do not know the date on which they are to be released, I will, if I may, fortify the argument by example, and press a little further a point which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale).

Under the 1948 Act, quite properly, a very limited period was given for making the application to exercise reinstatement rights. Under Section 36 (2) of that Act, the application had to be made during the period beginning with the end of the applicant's whole-time service and ending with the second Monday after the end thereof. That is to say, a period of at the most 14 days. That is, no doubt, reasonable when one is dealing with men who from the beginning of their service know precisely the date on which they will be released. Indeed, they have all the advantage of being dealt with in batches who are, no doubt, informed through the ordinary Service channels of their rights.

It is a very different matter, however, when dealing with reservists who have not, as some of my hon. Friends have pointed out, the faintest idea of when they will be released. That point is made the stronger when one compares the provisions of the 1948 Act, which I have quoted and which is incorporated in the Bill, with the provisions of Section 2 (2) of the original Act of 1944. Under the 1944 Act, the application had to be made at any time up to the fifth Monday from the end of the period of whole-time service, allowing, that is to say, between 28 and 35 days. It seems to me that that period, which then of course related to people whose date of release was unknown, is the more appropriate when we are once again dealing with people who do not know what their date of release will be. I hope that when we come to a later stage of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman will not shut his mind to an Amendment, because it would be very wrong and contrary to what are, I am sure, the general wishes of the House that any man should lose the rights which in the Bill we seek to confer upon him, solely because he did not take action within the very limited period prescribed under the present Measure.

Another aspect of the greater complications when dealing with these older men has arisen and has been dealt with in speeches from the other side of the House. I refer to the question, which is inevitably posed, that in certain localities it is quite valueless and useless to say to a man that he shall have his job back unless it is made sure that he has somewhere to live in order to do that job. Circumstances vary widely, but there are a number of jobs, both in agriculture, as the hon. Member for Norfolk. South-West (Mr. Dye), pointed out, on the railways, as the hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) pointed out, and in certain other industrial activities where, if a man cannot live quite close to his work, he cannot do that work.

I appreciate that there is here a difficult series of problems. There is the problem posed, I think, by the hon. and learned Member for Crewe, of what is to happen during military service to a man's wife and family who occupy accommodation connected with his employment. This is a very difficult problem, because, while no-one would regard it as right for the wife and family of a Service man to be evicted because of his service in the Forces, yet there are examples, such as, for instance, a signalman's cottage in an isolated country district on the railway, where if someone has to do that essential job he has to live in those particular premises. It would be difficult to put into an Act of Parliament any right to occupy service premises during the absence of the man for whose work they were provided.

Mr. Dye

Taking the case of the railways, if a man is engaged as a signalman he is not engaged for a certain signalman's post but can be transferred anywhere on the railways. That is quite different from the case of a man living on a farm where the cottage may be the only one on the farm.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am afraid—I sure that it is my fault—that the hon. Member has failed to grasp the point I was seeking to make. He is on another perfectly good point. My point concerns the isolated signalman's cottage in the countryside—

Mr. Harrison

Or level crossing.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

That is a very much better example. It is the only place in which the man who has to do the job can live. That is the kind of difficulty. We cannot say that through the absence of one man on National Service a signalman's box or crossing shall be unmanned. On the other hand, it should be possible to make quite sure in such cases that where a man is given by the Bill the right to resume his work he should be given at the same time the right to the accommodation from which he alone can do this work. I appreciate the difficulties, but they only go to show that these matters are not quite as simple as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate that he thought they were.

There are problems of very real difficulty. Another problem posed from the other side of the House concerned the possibility of giving some sort of preference on housing lists to men coming home from the Forces and seeking to exercise their rights under the Bill.

There is another matter which concerns the very limited number of young men who responded to the appeal made a little time ago to serve for 18 months or the duration of the Korean war, whichever period was the shorter. I find it difficult to understand why this was not dealt with in the Bill. I do not believe the numbers are very large—the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt have the figures—but it seems in principle quite wrong that these very patriotic citizens who, without any obligation imposed upon them by the House, volunteered to serve in the Armed Forces in these circumstances should not have the same rights as the Bill confers upon other men who are serving with them. It may be that in my reading of this complex Bill I failed to understand the part which gives them these rights, and if the Parliamentary Secretary can say that those rights are there and can point to the Clause which gives them I shall be completely satisfied. If my reading of the Bill is right and these men are not covered, it would seem appropriate and proper to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider on the Committee stage incorporating some cover for them.

There are also such issues as superannuation and balance of pay and so on. Some of these issues require legislation. I understand that local authority pension schemes, which are regulated by statute, cannot be adjusted in favour of men called up for the Korean war or other forms of National Service unless there is legislation. If an attempt were made to do so without legislation, those who made the attempt could be surcharged by the district auditor. I hope also that the right hon. Gentleman has considered the desirability, particularly in respect once again of the older men who are very much concerned with the Bill, of making sure that when they get their jobs back they also get back with the jobs their full superannuation and pension rights. That is a most important issue, as is the co-related and inter-related issue of the right of their employers, particularly in the case of local authorities, to make up their pay.

There is also the question—with which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is prepared to deal—of the interpretation of Clause 1 (b) so far as it affects the right of officers who go to Territorial camps to have their position protected against dismissal by their employers by reason of that liability. This is a complex subject. The views of some of my hon. Friends on the Clause may be due to a failure to know exactly what it means. It would certainly appear that such people are excluded, and if they are excluded their exclusion seems at least to warrant some inquiry into the reasons for it.

Most of the matters which have arisen are undoubtedly matters which will have to be thrashed out in Committee. I want to make one general proposition relating in particular to the way in which I hope the House and the Minister will approach the Committee stage. When we are dealing, as we are now, with a comparatively limited number of people who in Korea are fighting not only for the freedom of that country but also for the rule of law throughout the world, if we are to err, let us err on the side of generosity. If there is any doubt or difficulty in the drafting or construction of the Bill, let us in those circumstances over-insure in their favour. Let us make quite clear and quite certain that no such omission as that from the 1948 Act relating to officers occurs with this Bill which is brought forward in these circumstances of particular national emergency.

Even in action, soldiers are often very deeply concerned about their future and the future of their families, and I believe that, human and humane considerations apart, we shall very well serve the cause of the United Nations in Korea by making it abundantly clear that this House will insist on the most generous treatment possible in this respect, and, I hope, in others, being given to those members of His Majesty's Forces who are engaged at this moment in a grim and deadly struggle.

5.2 p.m.

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

I have been in touch with the Admiralty about the case of a man who agreed to serve for a further two years but was not allowed to leave the Service at the time he expected he would do so. He obtained a fairly reasonable post to fill when he left, but because of his retention he has lost the job. He wants to have some indication of the date when he will be released so that he can try for another job. It does not seem that the Bill would cover his case because he has not got a post in which to be reinstated. Is it possible to protect people in such a case? I support the suggestion that in cases where hardship has been done to men by reason of their retention in the Services beyond the date when they would normally have been expected to be released, they should be given a gratuity or something of that nature for their additional service.

Can anything be done to meet the case of men on housing lists who are retained in the Services? When a man is recalled to the Services his remuneration is often considerably less than it was in his civil employment. When allocating houses many local authorities have regard to the employment and remuneration of the applicant, and the man's civil employment might warrant his being offered a larger or better built house, in view of his apparent ability to meet the obligations in that case, than would his remuneration while in the Services.

I know of the case of a company sergeant major with 18 years' service who had employment to go to and wished to leave the Service, but was retained. Not only did he hope to be able to take up that employment but he is also waiting for a corporation house. Can something be done so that a man who is detained in the Service because of an emergency does not lose his entitlement to be considered for a house? It is true that many local authorities give ex-Service men consideration based on the length of their service in their points schemes, but if the man is serving abroad it is not certain that he will get the consideration to which he is entitled.

5.7 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Frederick Lee)

We have had a most interesting Debate which has ranged over a vast field from tied cottages to pension rights. I do not complain in the least about that because, as the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, this is a most complicated issue. The more one gives one's mind to the subject, the wider the problems seem to become.

The right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) pointed out that he played a major part in introducing the 1944 Act, and we know of his great service in that respect. But I disagreed with him when he implied that the Bill was something of a pioneering venture. My reading of history leaves me with the impression that Oliver Cromwell used the persuasive argument to the people whom he wished to get into his forces that if they would serve with him and stay with him, he would do everything in his power to ensure that employers reinstated them in their jobs at the end of hostilities. Therefore, I doubt whether any of us in the House can claim to be pioneers in the complicated matter of reinstatement in civil employment.

The right hon. Gentleman put certain points to which I will try to reply. He will realise better than I do that a number of the issues which he raised. such as superannuation and such matters—I know how important they are, and, naturally, we all have them in mind—could not be included in a Bill of such a restricted type.

Mr. McCorquodale

I agree with the Minister in that respect and I hope he will draw the attention of his colleagues to the points raised this afternoon.

Mr. Lee

I trust that the combined volume of the voices of the right hon. Gentlemen and myself in that great humanitarian effort will not be lost upon my colleagues in the Government.

Several hon. Members mentioned the complicated question of the tied cottage. For instance, there was the point whether the wife and family can be guaranteed continued occupation of a cottage while the reservist is away. We should not like to see anything in this Bill which would preclude a man from obtaining re-instatement because an employer, either as a pretext or as a practical issue, felt he could not re-instate that man in the cottage which he had occupied previously. If we were to give such a guarantee now, it would presuppose that we would have to give somebody the power of ejecting the present tenants of such cottages.

I do not believe that we can solve these problems by legislation. They come rather within the scope of those words so often used in this Debate, what is reasonable and practicable. Had there been many concrete instances of this sort of thing happening, I believe we would have had notice under the working of the previous Acts. So far as we are aware in the Ministry, however, issues of this type have not been raised in the re-instatement committees. So while it is an important matter, and one which we must keep in focus, in practice I do not think it has worked out that way.

Mr. Dye

Do I understand my hon. Friend to say that nobody has the right to turn out the wife of a Service man occupying a tied cottage in the course of his service? If nobody has that right, obviously she is secure, but if the man who was previously employed has the right to eject her, then something ought to be done for the wife and family of the Service man.

Mr. Lee

My hon. Friend must have misunderstood what I said. I said that if we legislated now to give rights to a person who wants to be re-instated to take over again a cottage which he had occupied previously, it would pre- suppose that we should give somebody the power to eject those who had gone into that cottage during the period he was in the Forces. The right hon. Gentleman asked us to push on with this Bill because of those who are now coming out of the Forces. That is a most important point. There are probably a number of people who have been released from the Forces and who may well be awaiting the passage of this Bill into law, and the sooner we get it on the Statute Book the better.

A number of hon. Members asked questions concerning the reinstatement rights of people who had volunteered for short period engagements—18 months, "K for Korea" and so on. We considered this position but found, on balance, that we could hardly include in this Bill this and other types of short-term engagements which were not fundamentally different from other short-term engagements. Men who volunteered for them were warned that they would have no reinstatement rights. So far as I know, employers have never been under an obligation to reinstate men who enlist on Regular or short-term Service engagements, and it would be impossible to draw a hard and fast line between these men and those in the Regular Forces. In practice, however, I am certain that in most cases the employers of these men want them back if the men choose to come. The conferment of reinstatement rights on the National Service men who volunteer for an extra six months is exceptional, and is justified only because they would lose reinstatement rights which they would otherwise possess, whereas the men who have been compelled to do an extra six months keep those rights.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of these volunteers, has he available the numbers involved?

Mr. Lee

No. I am afraid not, but when there are numbers involved in matters of this kind, we get representations at the Ministry, and we have not had representations made to us on account of these people in that respect. However, I will make specific inquiries and will give the hon. Gentleman any information I can gather in the Department. So far as I know at the moment, there have been no cases.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am much obliged.

Mr. Lee

The right hon. Member for Epsom referred to matters arising from Clause 1 (b). His point was that officers and other ranks called up for periodic service—that is, members of the Reserve or Auxiliary Forces—should be given reinstatement rights and protected from dismissal on acount of any liability for annual training. We regard this as unnecessary for two main reasons. First, it is highly probable that contracts entered into freely between employers and employees would be held not to be frustrated by the short periods of training, lasting as they do in the main for not more than a fortnight. Secondly employers of reservists and members of the Auxiliary Forces know about the training liabilities of these men and are in general ready enough to make it easy for them to attend. To put specific obligations on employers in respect of these men might have the boomerang effect of reducing their employment prospects.

Much can be done, and is done, by the public spirit and goodwill to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. He pointed out that when he introduced the previous Bill there were many comments about the illogicality of the whole thing. I know it could be argued logically that many anomalies can arise, but, taking the experience of previous Acts, the main principle upon which we must rely in administering this Measure is good sense and willingness to work it. In any event, this question is outside the main purpose of the Bill, which is to safeguard the employment of men recalled for an indefinite period of service, as distinct from a short period of pre-arranged training.

The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames also made the point that the people concerned in this Bill will not have long advance notice of the date of their release from the Forces. I agree that there is a certain point in this. I realise that it is not possible in existing circumstances and, indeed, in the circumstances which we may be going into—and goodness knows what they may be—to give the same type of guarantee as was given in the previous Bill. Therefore, agreeing as I do that there is something in this point, I will undertake to consider this question before the Committee stage.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

That is the notice of application?

Mr. Lee

Yes, that is what I mean, that we will have a further look at it before the Committee stage and see if there is anything we can do. But in the uncertainty of the future we could not possibly tie ourselves down to some sort of notification of release or anything of that kind.

A number of hon. Members spoke on the question of the tied cottage. I have endeavoured to give our point of view about that, and I do not think that I can add to what I have said. I believe it is quite impracticable in legislation to cater for these contingencies. I do not think we can enforce anything on the basis of asking other people to leave a cottage they are occupying because an ex-Service man has returned.

Mr. McCorquodale

I should not like the hon. Gentleman to make a categorical statement of that sort. I believe by reference to the 1944 Act, the reinstatement committee would probably rule that the man who had the job intermediately would have to be dismissed to make way for the original applicant, and I should not like a contrary statement to go out without further consideration.

Mr. Lee

That may be, but the point I was making is that I do not think it would be in the interest of the men concerned to try to legislate in a hard and fast manner for any such contingency. I believe the committees themselves are far more competent to judge each particular case of that type, and therefore I hope we shall not be pressed further on that matter.

On the question of re-housing by local authorities, we are again on a matter which is outside the scope and limit of this Bill. Local authorities with which I am in some measure acquainted have systems, not only of registration in the first place but of re-registration over a limited period of time; and many of them take into consideration the services given by people who re-engage in the Armed Forces. In fact, they give points for that sort of thing. So long as there is not a general application of a specific system throughout the country, I do not think it possible for us to legislate for that type of case.

I agree at once with the hon. Gentleman that it would indeed be detrimental, not only to the very natural desire of the people who are called to the Forces, but also to the whole recruitment scheme, if people who were called to the Services were to be victimised, as it were, by being put further and further back in the housing lists. I believe that the vast majority of housing authorities take that into consideration when operating their points system for houses.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Would the hon. Member assure me that he will talk that over with the Minister of Health to see whether some guidance cannot be given so that they shall not lose way in these lists?

Mr. Lee

Yes, Sir, I will see that we bring it to the notice of the Ministry of Health. I accept at once that it is a humane point which should not be lost sight of.

I hope I have covered most of the points raised this afternoon. I know that matters of pension rights have been raised by the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) but I do not think we can possibly include that type of thing within the confines of this Bill. I suggest that in most circumstances pension rights depend on the terms of contract between employer and employee; certainly it is quite impossible for the Government to compel employers to alter the basis of those pension rights because of a Bill of this type. I agree again that it is a most desirable thing, but I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that within the confines of the Bill in which we are granting reinstatement rights to people who it is, or may be, necessary to bring back into the Forces because of an emergency, it is quite impossible to deal with matters of pension rights.

Mr. Leather

The Parliamentary Secretary gave an assurance to my hon. Friend on the question of housing. May I ask him for a similar assurance that the Ministers in charge of nationalised industries should have this brought to their attention?

Mr. Lee

On the question of nationalised industries, I thought that the hon. Member answered himself. He first suggested that the Government had control of these industries so far as the terms of employment, pension rights and so on were concerned. He went on to point out that in fact the boards were the people who would make those terms of employment. I do not think the Government would be acting in the spirit with which this House regards the general conduct of the nationalised industries if they attempted to impose terms or conditions of employment of that type.

I should like to see pension rights preserved whether in the case of nationalised or private industry, irrespective of the call-up of the person concerned, but the Government as such, having relinquished—or never having had—the right of day-to-day administration over nationalised industries, could not attempt to impose such conditions on the boards conducting the affairs of nationalised industries.

Mr. McCorquodale

I am sorry to interrupt again because the hon. Gentleman is so co-operative but I think it does serve a useful purpose. With regard to the local authorities having the right to make up salaries and also keep the superannuated rights of their employees, I understand they made representations to the Ministers concerned. I believe it is analogous to this Bill and I hope that the hon. Member will do it.

Mr. Lee

I understand that point is under discussion at the present time and naturally one cannot make a statement about it.

I hope the House will now agree to the Second Reading of this very important Measure, and have in mind the concluding point made by my right hon. Friend; that we are dealing with men who have now gone out to look after the cause of democracy in Korea under most difficult circumstances. I am quite sure, as the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, that when one is a member of a small isolated minority of people who have been taken away from their employment and are not able to conduct their family life and other matters of interest to them, it is incumbent upon everyone of us to do all we can to let those men know we are thinking about them; and we should do everything we can to ensure, not only their return to civil life, but that that return is possible under the best conditions.

Mr.Holmes (Hemsworth)

May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if arrangements have been made for these men to obtain all the necessary advice they may require?

Mr. Lee:

We shall see that at all local employment exchanges a service is at their disposal and none of them will suffer from a lack of information as to what are their rights. In this way we shall ensure that on attending the local employment exchanges, they are acquainted with what are their rights.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Collindridge.]

Committee Tomorrow.