HC Deb 17 October 1950 vol 478 cc1852-5
4 and 5. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Minister of Labour (1) what are the considerations of public policy which prevent him from now disclosing his intentions with respect to reserved occupations in the event of an emergency;

(2) what steps he has taken to inform employers engaged on work for the Service Departments as to the categories of their employees who will be liable to be called up for military service in the event of an emergency.

Mr. Isaacs

The basis of reservation in an emergency would necessarily depend on circumstances at the time, and no useful purpose would be served by disclosing at this stage details which are subject to continuous review. Furthermore, there are objections on security grounds to disclosure earlier than necessary.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the difficulty of men who would wish to offer themselves for Civil Defence work if they knew that they were free from military obligations? In view of the fact that certain categories of men will obviously be reserved, cannot the right hon. Gentleman at least give a clear indication with regard to those categories?

Mr. Isaacs

This matter is really very difficult, and those of us who had experience of the constant chopping about of reserved occupations in the last war realise the problems which are raised for employers. Our problem is this. If we were to announce now that certain classes of workers would be reserved on account of their employment and the employers made arrangements to keep those workers, and then because of changed circumstances they had to alter their arrangements, it would create chaos. Our hesitation in making an announcement is really in the interests of the industries concerned.

Captain Crookshank

Whether or not that is the case, can the right hon. Gentleman amplify his statement that there were security reasons against publicity?

Mr. Isaacs

We do not think it is wise that we should let a possible enemy know exactly what classes of industry we consider as being of first-class importance and intimate that those are the ones which the enemy should go after.

Mr. Colegate

Can the Minister give us an assurance that he will keep fully in touch with the employers in this matter so that the mistakes which have been made in the past can be avoided and the reserved occupations be for essential keymen?

Mr. Isaacs

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for putting that question. It reminded me of something which I might have said earlier. We are in constant touch with the National Joint Advisory Council and we should not make any statement to the House until we had the observations of that body and they were satisfied.

6. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Minister of Labour what is the liability to be called up for training of men who were in a reserved occupation during the 1939–45 war, and who are not now in a reserved occupation; and to what extent this liability is affected by the man concerned being under or over 26 years of age.

Mr. Isaacs

Reservation in the 1939–45 war does not affect the liability of those who are now under the age of 26 to be called up under the National Service Acts, 1948 to 1950.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend by that answer to correct the last sentence of the written reply which he gave to me on this subject on 18th September, which says the precise opposite?

Mr. Isaacs

If it was a written reply, I would like to look at it. [Laughter.] This is a very important point, because there is a great deal of misunderstanding about it. The point I want to make clear is that the liability of these men remains, but there is no intention of calling them up because as far back as May, 1946, the Government announced that, having done all the combing out possible, and having called up everybody we could get, the remainder would not be called up. We do not propose to go back on that undertaking.

Sir Herbert Williams

Does the remark in the earlier part of the Minister's answer mean that Ministers do not read written replies?

Mr. Isaacs

The hon. Member must not think that everybody does the same as he does.

Sir H. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman said that as it was a written reply, he would have to look it up. Does that mean that he had not read it before it was sent to the OFFICIAL REPORT?