§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I beg to move, in page 5, line 35, at the end, to insert:Provided that the date specified in the notice shall be not less than fourteen days after the day on which the said notice was served.I hope that this Amendment will not arouse the controversial issues which have been aroused by previous Amendments. It is designed to improve the machinery of the Bill upon a comparatively small point. This is the Clause which provides the machinery for the medical examination of the person to whom the Bill applies. As the Bill stands, a notice can be served upon a person affected by the Bill without there being any specified interval between the service of the notice and the date on which the person has to report to the medical board. The words in the Clause are:… a notice requiring him, at such time on such day as may be specified therein.On Second Reading the Secretary of State for Air stated that seven days' notice would be given to reservists before they were called before a medical board. I have no doubt that it is the intention of the Government to honour that undertaking, but I submit to the Committee that even that underaking is really not quite good enough. The Committee will appreciate that a man who does not comply with one of these notices is subjected to criminal penalties. A subsequent subsection provides for a fine of £25.
When we are dealing with men who are living their ordinary civilian avocations, it may well be that in a certain number of cases so short a notice of a medical board as seven days may cause very considerable hardship. It is easy to think of examples. The commercial traveller who is away from home for days at a stretch, and the proprietor of a small one-man business, who has to make arrangements for somebody else to conduct his business during his absence if he has to attend a medical board, are examples, and other 2393 examples will spring very readily to the minds of hon. Members.
It would make the process less inconvenient to these people if they could be given at least 14 days' notice. The Committee will recall that these medical boards are not necessarily very close to the homes of the men concerned. There are 93 of them in the United Kingdom, and, with travel facilities as they are at the moment, a considerable journey may well be involved in at any rate a certain number of cases.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for War will not resist the Amendment on the ground that it will inconvenience the Ministry of Labour. I am sure that, from the War Office point of view, inconvenience to the Ministry of Labour is not a very powerful factor, and, even if it does involve some inconvenience to the Ministry of Labour, on balance it is better to compel that Department, if necessary, to plan their medical boards a little longer ahead than is intended rather than to have the inconvenience which a short period of notice will impose on the men.
The background of the matter is that we are imposing on some 235,000 of our fellow citizens some degree of inconvenience this summer in the public interest. It is therefore incumbent upon us to prevent any unnecessary inconvenience being added to that unavoidable inconvenience, and if we can smooth the arrangements by securing that really adequate notice is given to these men of the day on which they have to go to their medical board, we shall, in some, perhaps trifling, respect have done something to make this service less inconvenient than it would otherwise be.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) thought that the Ministry of Labour would be inconvenienced if any alterations were made in the present arrangements. I assure him that the Ministry of Labour really do want to make arrangements which are most suitable to the persons concerned. That is the reason why—the hon. Gentleman is quite right—we have not inserted any time limit within which the men should appear before the medical board. We did not specify any period of time in the National Service Act. What happens is 2394 that we notify the man of the day he should attend for the medical examination, and, if he finds the day inconvenient because of business arrangements, we change it.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned commercial travellers, and so on, and I quite agree with him that it would be most stupid to try to force people to deviate from their ordinary life in so many ways because we were being rather pig-headed about a certain day by which a man must appear. We do not do that, and we have not done it with the National Service men, and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, -that is a far bigger task than this one will be.
I ask him not to persist with his Amendment. I assure him and the Committee that we try, and shall continue to try, to meet the convenience of people who are to appear for medical examination by saying that if a day is not suitable probably another day would be better. and that we will hold the medical examination then. That is the spirit in which we try to conduct this scheme, and we have had no complaints from the National Service men.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am very interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Can he tell me this? Does the notice to be sent to these men requiring them to attend a medical board indicate to them that they have the right to say that the date is inconvenient and tell them what steps to take if it is inconvenient?
I cannot answer that. I should like to look into it first. I believe the proof is that in the far bigger task with the National Service men, where we have had the arrangement suggested in this scheme, we have had no problems. Many of the men have asked us to reconsider the date, and we have done so, and things have run very sweetly. I will look at the point which the hon. Member has put—I cannot answer it offhand—and, if it should be necessary, we will take that into consideration.
An additional reason for resisting the Amendment is that, particularly in the case of the first men who are to come for training—those who come at the end of April—there will be only a very short interval between the date when the Ministry of Labour know that the man is to be medically examined and the time when 2395 he is due, if fit, to report for training. We desire to give men as long firm notice as we possibly can whether or not they are to be recalled for 15 days' training. Wherever possible, something more than the 21 days prescribed in the Bill for call-up is our object. Although we accept the principle in the Amendment, that is one of the most important reasons why the Amendment would not be to the advantage of the men. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The last part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman seemed to me to contradict the first part. At the beginning, his argument was that we need not put the Amendment in the Bill because the Government would always give at least 14 days' notice and would change the date if it were inconvenient. Towards the end of his speech he appeared to indicate that they would require on occasions to give less than 14 days' notice. The Amendment is designed to see that the notice shall not be less than 14 days, and the question which we require to have answered carefully is: Is it the intention of the Ministry of Labour to give less than 14 days' notice or not? If it is their intention always to give notice of 14 days or more, there can be no objection to the adoption of the Amendment. If, on the other hand, it is the intention of the Ministry in some cases to give much less than 14 days' notice—if seven or even only three days—at least we ought to be told. That is the case put up by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) which has not really been answered.
While I recognise that the Ministry of Labour do their utmost to avoid inconvenience, I would stress that sometimes people are required to make very inconvenient journeys to get to the centre for the medical examination and sometimes the days selected for the examination are by no means convenient, but, at the same time, there is very little opportunity, as I understand it at the moment, of men being aware of the right to get the day changed. Can the hon. Gentleman answer my question: Is it the intention ever to give less than 14 days' notice? If it is the intention ever to do so, let us understand clearly the circumstances. If he wants more time to think about it, I am sure my hon. Friend will say that he 2396 will withdraw his Amendment provided we are given the assurance that it will be looked at carefully between now and the Report stage.
§ Mr. Grimond
Perhaps if not hon. and learned, he will become so. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has raised a point which, though small, concerns a considerable number of people who may be affected by this Bill. In reply, the Minister gave a fair assurance. I want to ask him two questions. First, I think he will admit that there are some sins of omission, if not of commission, in the Quiz. For instance, I think it is not mentioned that a man can appeal to have his medical examination altered. I understood him to say that was the case if it were inconvenient—
§ Mr. Lee indicated assent.
§ Mr. Grimond
That is a point which might be mentioned in this document. And since we now know that the appeal against being called up lies to the Secretary of State for War or the Secretary of State for Air, that will no doubt also have to be included in the document. Secondly, a point which continues to worry me is that there is a penalty attached to any failure to present oneself. No doubt the Minister will tell me that in previous Acts this penalty is also attached—
§ Mr. Grimond
This is a larger penalty. Will the Minister look at subsection (4) and amend this to make it clear that if a man is asked to present himself within less than 14 days, and fails to do so, he shall not be subject to this penalty? It seems to me that we should not penalise a man if we give him less than 14 days and he fails to present himself. If the 2397 Minister will look into that, he will satisfy us to a great extent.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary a question on this point? In the first line of the Clause the word used is "may," suggesting that it does not necessarily follow that it will be necessary to examine each and all of these men. I recognise that the process of medical boards is perhaps more effective than it was in the past as a result of the machinery being the same as for national insurance, and therefore it could accept a sudden influx of men. But there is not a great deal of time available and the number of men concerned is considerable.
The argument passing through my mind is this: these were all fit men not long ago. They are not going on active service or leaving this country. The majority are going only for 14 days. We are asking them to be examined when their training is apparently not to be particularly arduous. What is the chance of any mistakes being made if they are not examined for 15 days? The answer I get as a medical man is that there is machinery already to protect them. The men who do not feel fit will go to their own doctors and ask for a certificate stating they are not fit. They will then send it in. Obviously all such cases could easily be examined with despatch by the medical tribunals. Therefore my question is: Will my hon. Friend tell us if it is envisaged that each and every one of these men is to be examined, and does he think the machinery will be able to do the work?
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
I ask the hon. Gentleman to put himself in the position of the man who receives this instruction. It is awfully easy for the hon. Gentleman to say that we can always make arrangements for these people, and it is also easy for him to say, "We have made successful arrangements," because the only people with whom he has made successful arrangements are the people who have made objections. The majority of people, however, when they receive a communication of an authoritative nature from the Department of the hon. Gentleman are quite alarmed. We know there is no reason for alarm, but they do not, and when they receive a communication saying, "You will come and do this," 2398 they think they have to go, and they do not know that they can have the satisfactory negotiations which we are assured the hon. Gentleman makes with those who complain. In fact, the hon. Gentleman has implied that his advice applies only to people who have the guts or are sufficiently tiresome to raise the matter.
The Amendment is put from the point of view of the ordinary people who do not normally argue with the Ministry. It is becoming a regrettable fact that very few people feel they ought to argue with Ministries these days. Therefore I see no reason why this Amendment should not be accepted. The hon. Gentleman, as my hon. Friend pointed out, said in so many words that there was no reason as far as he could see why they should not come within 14 days.
What is the case for not accepting 14 days? The best case is that made by the hon. Gentleman on other Clauses this evening, namely, that he is behind-hand with the job, that there will be a rush at the last moment, that people may be called up too hurriedly. But it is to defend those people that this Amendment is framed. Nothing the hon. Gentleman has said convinces me that there is any reason for not accepting this Amendment, and I must support my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames.
§ Mr. George Ward (Worcester)
I intervene only because it is within the memory of this Committee that the hon. Gentleman, in trying to persuade my hon. and learned Friend that everything was really reasonable, said that these people could ring up or write and say, "It is inconvenient for me to come next Tuesday." Surely that in itself is an indication that the hon. Gentleman is thinking in terms of very few names? But there are people who go away for a week quite frequently. They may come back and find their letter waiting for them, it having been pushed through the letter box, with the result that the appointed day has passed. Therefore it is important to know what space the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Is it a week, a fortnight three weeks?—The question of whet this Amendment should be accepted hangs on what the Minister has in mind in the way of notice. We are entitled to a much more satisfactory answer on that than we have so far received., [...]tnerT
§ 8.30 p.m.
I thought the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) proved too much. He tended to show that the thing would be impossible of achievement, even if we put in 14 days, because if it is necessary for people to be away from their homes for seven days on business, as I expect they may be, there is no guarantee that they will be back within 14 days. At present no actual period is prescribed in the Bill. In the interests of the very people whom he has in mind, it would be far better to leave the matter as it is. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Harvey) got hot and bothered about what he presumed to believe was the hardhearted attitude of the Ministry of Labour. In fact, we have worked this sort of arrangement on a very wide scale with National Service men, and there has been no complaint from the 200,000 men a year we are now dealing with about hard-heartedness or lack of co-operation.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
Perhaps it might be relevant to ask how many prosecutions there have been under the equivalent Section of the 1948 Act.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
The hon. Gentleman accused me of being hot and bothered: I am neither. The point is that the National Service man expects to be called up, but, because of the long delay, this scheme is being rushed through and men do not know whether they will be called up or not. The call-up may be inconvenient. Many have arranged holidays and that is why we want to protect them.
When I first spoke on this Amendment I said that we want to give as long a firm notice of call-up as we can. If we were to allow 14 days before medical examination, that would not give us adequate time to call up and get into training the early people who must be called up before the end of April. We think that it is important to give firm and adequate notice, of more than 21 days if we can. That would be of more benefit to the men than this question of 14 days before medical examination. It would not be in the best interests of the men to accept this Amendment.
I do not think that we could accept the rather revolutionary suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), that we should 2400 not have medical examinations. If there were no medical examinations and fatalities occurred, I can well imagine that the Government would be in a most invidious position. In fairness to the men themselves, they should have medical examinations. The hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. ManninghamBuller), asked whether I was prepared to give an undertaking that in all cases 14 days' notice would be given. I cannot give such an undertaking. That request was merely another way of asking me to accept the Amendment.
The hon. and learned Member also talked about the possibility of there being only three days' notice. There is not. There has been a firm undertaking that seven, or more, days' notice will be given. We do not depart from that. I hope that the Committee will see the point of giving the maximum amount of notice of call up in excess of 21 days if possible, but making certain at the same time that the medical examination and all the preliminaries are disposed of in time for the early batches to be ready for the exercise. That is why I suggest that it would not be in the interest of the men to accept this Amendment.
§ Dr. Stross
Is not my hon. Friend aware that, normally, when Territorials go to camp they either do not have any examination or only a fairly cursory one? I speak from experience. They do not always have a careful examination. Is there much difference between one type of training and the other?
I think that there is. We are dealing with an older type of men than those usually found in the Territorials. They are men who, in most cases, have been out of active service for a while. Because they are of more advanced age it is more necessary that the good offices of the profession which my hon. Friend graces so well should be brought to bear before the men are asked to undertake the new refresher training.
I think that pretty well covers the point that was put to me by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). We really are concerned to give the maximum amount of time possible. We could not give seven days 2401 but we often try to make an early arrangement with a person who can show that it would be most inconvenient to ask him to attend a medical board on a certain day. We do everything possible to meet him and the obligations which he has on matters of that sort, and I should have thought that that was going as far as any reasonable person could expect us to go.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I was only trying to help the hon. Gentleman in his conversation with his supporter behind him. As I understood the Minister's argument, it was that the average age, and the average gap since last service, in the case of these men, would be longer than in the case of the Territorials. I understood that to be his argument, and I therefore ask him if he would be more specific and if he could say what is the average age or the average gap since last service or, if he does not know the average age or the average gap, the maximum or the minimum—the element of the tolerable and tolerability in this matter.
I am afraid I could not answer that without notice. In some instances, the people called up will be getting on for 40, and, if we take that as the maximum age, which is what the hon. Gentleman asked for, and accept that as the age which a number of men will have attained, I think it confirms the point I made that it is very necessary, for their own safety, that we should have medical examination of these people before they undertake their service.
I hope the Committee will agree that we are doing everything humanly possible in this respect. I hope they will bear in mind the fact that, so far as the time factor is concerned, it would not be physically possible to accept this Amendment and still have the early batch of men ready for service by the required time. For those reasons, I hope that the Amendment will not be accepted.
§ Mr. Grimond
What the hon. Gentleman says is quite true. People may have ample opportunity of getting the date shifted, but does anybody know it? If anything goes wrong, if there is a mistake, can we have some assurance that the man will not be prosecuted until he has had 14 days?
I come back to the argument which I used previously. The same problem arose in connection with the National Service people, who were numerically greater, and we are proposing to use here the same method which has been used in that case. We have had no complaints whatever that any hardship has been brought about by the use of this system. If there was some point about a man who was away from home on business or on holiday, and had not received his notice asking him to go before a medical board, it would be most improper to think of prosecuting that man because of circumstances over which he had no control.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not maintain his present stonewalling attitude. We are all surely concerned to minimise. to the greatest extent possible, any inconvenience caused by the provisions of this Bill. I must confess that I was a little disquieted when the Parliamentary Secretary, having made a great point. as he thought, of the fact that, if a date proposed for a medical board was, in point of fact, difficult or inconvenient, it could be changed, never said where any indication of that state of affairs was given. We know it is not in the Quiz and we still do not know, because the hon. Gentleman has not told us, whether there is any indication of it on the notice itself.
If there were some such indication, it would have some effect on my mind, but it is no good the Parliamentary Secretary suggesting that this is an ordinary matter, and that, in the case of instructions sent from the Department ordering a man to report to a medical board, an ordinary man who receives that document is going to appreciate that it can all be fixed up in a genial way on the telephone, as if it were an appointment for a cocktail party. When the ordinary man receives an official document of that sort, he will no doubt regard it as more than a basis for discussion. The Parliamentary Secretary cannot rely on this point unless he can satisfy the Committee that any adjustment of 2403 dates made on the initiative of his Department is brought specifically to the notice of the man concerned.
The hon. Gentleman said that he was taken by surprise by the point, but he has considerable assistance available to him in the precincts of this Committee, and I was hoping that he would be able to get that information now. That might help to assist the passage of this Bill, because he made a point, which has some validity, about the difficulty of giving 14 days' notice for the first call-up at the end of April. There is force in that argument, and nobody on these benches wants in any way to handicap the making on these arrangements. But we have the duty of looking after the interests of the people on whom we are imposing these burdens.
I was very disturbed when the Parliamentary Secretary appeared to go back on his original statement and to return to the original view of the Secretary of State for Air, that the ordinary period would be seven days. I think it would be quite intolerable if only seven days' notice were given and if a man who did not comply with the notice were prosecuted. I was sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary was not able to give an assurance in reply to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that if for the. convenience of the Department a short notice were given, at least the hand of prosecution would be stayed.
It is utterly wrong to prosecute in these cases unless there are very exceptional circumstances, including deliberate avoidance. I am sure that no hon. Member on this side of the Committee wants to delay this matter any further, but as I say, we have a duty to our constituents, and I am not satisfied that the Parliamentary Secretary is taking the steps which could be taken to ease the way of these men.
To justify our position, I made the point that there was no time limit in the Bill, and that, if we were to impose a time limit, it could in fact work to the general disadvantage in some cases. I also pointed out the time factor, which in some circumstances would make it physically impossible for us to have the full 14 days and yet give the 21 days' notice, and so on. I want to be helpful and to assist the Committee as far as I 2404 can, but it is certainly not true to say that we are trying to keep to a minimum number of days after which we shall prosecute a person for not complying. I find it difficult to visualise how many days one could give and yet keep within the time factor, which is so important.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
That was why I asked if the hon. Gentleman would give an assurance on the point between now and the Report stage.
I am trying to meet the point of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), and I will give the undertaking that we will look again at the question of seven days and will try to make the period as long as possible, consistent with the time factor for getting the men into action by the requisite date for which they are called. I think that in saying that I am going as far as hon. Members opposite could expect me to go, because, as I say, it is not now a question of personal opinions, but of the hard factor of the number of days in a month. Within the limits which the calendar allows us to have, we will certainly do our very utmost to extend as much as possible the time we give a person to go before the medical board. I cannot say whether that is 14 days, eight days or 10 days, but that is the kind of spirit which I think the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames asked me to show.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I am not quite sure that that reply goes far enough or covers all the points, but I appreciate its spirit. I understand that the hon. Gentleman will look at this again with a view to giving the longest possible time. What concerns us is that a person should receive short notice when it is a criminal offence if he does not comply with that notice. It is not sufficient to say that this would not be applied in certain cases. The law should not be adaptable like that.
It is a criminal offence, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to say that he will give further thought to this between now and Report stage, bearing in mind that the penalty under the Bill is five times the initial penalty under the National Service Act, 1948, for failure in the first place to comply with notice for medical inspection. If the Government are increasing the penalty, they should try to. define the 2405 offence with more precision. I do not want to take up the time of the Committee, but it is an important point, and I ask the Minister to say that he will consider these matters before the Report stage and that he will also consider the matter touched upon by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), of giving adequate notice to people of their right to have the date changed.
I think that request is reasonable in view of the penalty entailed, and I will look into it between now and the Report stage.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
In view of that undertaking and in the hope that at a later stage of this Bill the Parliamentary Secretary will have some concrete proposals to make, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State for Air will recollect that earlier in our proceedings we got into a procedural difficulty about a fundamental Amendment to Clause 2 to add a proviso exempting a man from his liability under this Clause, or rather exempting him from penalties arising under Clause 2 if he was in the process of applying for exemption as a conscientious objector or on grounds of exceptional business or personal hardship.
I think that under Clause 3 there ought to be a similar proviso. I should have liked to have moved it in manuscript form, but I understood that that was inconvenient. I hope the Government will give some indication that they think there is an appropriate place in this Clause for the same proviso, possibly in the identical terms of the proviso which they themselves sought to bring forward earlier in the proceedings.
The simple point is that if a man is in the process of claiming exemption from call-up notice under Clause 2 and he thinks he is going to be successful, he will be most unwilling to come forward for medical examination under Clause 3. As Clause 3 has special penalties applied to it quite distinctive from Clause 2, some sort of proviso must be added in Clause 2406 3 to exempt him from medical examination and the penalties attached to his non-attendance for a medical examination if he is in the process of applying for exemption on the grounds of personal or business hardship or because of conscientious objection.
I think I saw the Secretary of State tot Air nod his head and I hope he will be able to indicate to the Committee that he will look at this sympathetically. If he thinks that his own suggested Amendment to Clause 2 was in the exact form of words applicable to Clause 3, perhaps he will put his name at the top of it to indicate his approval.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
I think the noble Lord has made a very fair point, and I will certainly undertake to look into it on the lines he has suggested with a view to putting down a proviso on the Report stage.
§ Mr. Profumo
I should like to raise a somewhat wider point before we leave this Clause. The more I hear the details of this Bill, the more. I am convinced that the whole idea of this call-up has been hastily conceived by the Government. I should like to know if it is the Government's intention that this medical examination prior to a man arriving at the place of training, is the only medical examination he will have to undergo. If it is, I think we shall get into great trouble. We were told earlier by the Government, when the broader aspects of this call-up were being debated, that there would be arrangements for medical examination prior to the call-up, in order to allow the greatest amount of time for training during the short period of 15 days.
It occurs to me that a man might pass his medical examination A.1, perfectly fit, and then receive his notice to go and do his training. Then he would get on a train to go to the place of training. During that period he might easily contract scabies or something more serious—perhaps infantile paralysis—and then he would arrive with a lot of other men to be trained together. In the course of that training this disease could be contracted by other people who had been called up under this Bill. Who would be responsible? Are the Government responsible 2407 for any pension which may arise? Who will decide whether the man contracted this disease while he was being trained—
§ Mr. M. Stewart
I can answer the hon. Member briefly and, I think, satisfactorily. It is proposed that when a man arrives at his unit there should be a brief medical examination. I say "brief" partly because it is our object to save time, and it is brief in comparison with the medical examination described in the Clause. We have in mind the object of trying to safeguard as far as reasonably possible against exactly the kind of contingency which the hon. Member has in mind.
§ Mr. Profumo
May I make one other small point? May I take myself as an example? Suppose I am called up and I am passed fit. Will my papers go with me, so that I shall not be put through the same tests again? Will my case history go with me so that the second medical examination will be short?
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.