HL Deb 14 March 1944 vol 131 cc11-4

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I move that this Bill be now read a second time. In the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Snell it falls to my lot to pilot the Bill on this stage and on subsequent stages through your Lordships' House. Let me say at once that, although the measure may appear a little complicated and only of a temporary character, it is nevertheless a Bill with which I think your Lordships can wholeheartedly concur. The Bill has not been drafted in any hasty manner, nor have the Government forced their views upon unwilling employers. On the contrary, consultations with both sides of industry have shown that full co-operation for a scheme based on the lines of this Bill can be assured, and that we can further rely upon the good will of employers to reinstate into their former occupations, whenever it is possible, men and women who have volunteered for Service or who have been compulsorily directed into the Armed Forces of the Crown.

There must be a large number of members of this House who, in one way or another, were in the past large employers of labour, and who would quite naturally wish to make their contribution, in so far as is reasonable and practicable, to the reinstatement in pre-war employment of Service personnel. But it would be erroneous to suppose that the scheme which is embodied in this Bill is intended as a contribution to the maintenance of the general level of employment in any post-war period. It does not touch the more fundamental issues of any future economic policy. That, of course, will be dealt with by other measures to be laid before the House in the future. The Bill, therefore, has a limited objective, but it is none the less one of great importance to all men and women serving in the Armed Forces, who have, I believe, confidently expected that Parliament would make some provision to ensure their reinstatement into their former civil occupations.

Some noble Lords may remember that the Military Training Act of 1939 contained a safeguarding clause to the effect that men called up compulsorily for a short period of military training should be reinstated into their former occupations at the completion of their six months' service with the colours. A similar provision was made in the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, but so far no provision has been made anywhere for volunteers, and there can be no desire on the part of any of us to discriminate in any way whatever between compulsory and voluntary service. Indeed, I have been told that to-day one-fifth of the men in the Forces have given their service voluntarily, and the proportion in the women's Services is a great deal higher still. No one would wish that volunteers should have any lesser rights as regards reinstatement than others who have been compulsorily recruited into the Service, and who already have those rights under the existing law. We therefore regard it as our bounden duty to extend these similar rights to volunteers, and provision is made to that end in this Bill.

Let me now endeavour to interpret very briefly the more important clauses of the Bill and explain to your Lordships the procedure which demobilized persons should follow in order to obtain reinstatement into their former civil occupations. Under the Bill the obligation placed upon all employers is twofold. First, there is an obligation to reinstate; and secondly, an obligation to continue to employ the person reinstated for a minimum period. Clause 1 of the Bill deals solely with the former obligation and re-enacts the existing rights to reinstatement which are now contained in the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939. Clause 2 is of real importance, for everyone who makes an application for reinstatement must be clear as to the mode and procedure which should be followed. Persons leaving the Armed Forces should make up their minds promptly whether they desire to be reinstated or not. If they should desire to return to their former occupations, then under the terms of Clause 15 of the Bill they must make a written application either direct to their former employer or through the local offices of the Ministry of Labour and National Service on or before the fifth Monday after their war service ends. My right honourable friend proposes to have issued to every man and woman on release from the Forces a form on which to apply for reinstatement, and an explanatory leaflet drawn up in the most simple terms will also be provided. There is no obligation upon the applicant to return to work forthwith, but he would be expected to be prepared to start work after a few weeks of well-earned rest. It will be seen that unless he renews his application it lapses after a period of thirteen weeks.

Clause 4 of the Bill gives reality to the reinstatement problem, and it places an obligation and a duty upon all employers to employ the disabled man, as far as is reasonable and practicable, for the following twenty-six weeks, or, in certain cases which are laid down in the Bill, for a period of fifty-two weeks. Your Lordships will probably have observed that under Clause 1 there is specified in paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) the kind of employment which the employer is required to provide. Under the first of these two paragraphs the employer must keep a man in the job in which, and on terms and conditions on which, he reinstated him, or at any rate in a job with terms and conditions not less favourable. If, however, it ceases to be reasonable and practicable for the employer to do this, then his duty, as is laid down in the second paragraph, is to employ the man in the most favourable occupation and on the most favourable terms and conditions which are for the time being reasonable and practicable in his case. Clause 5, as its title denotes, deals with the priority of claims to employment. I do not wish to draw the attention of the House to the many different cases which are bound to arise, but the most usual one which has been so far cited is that where a number of persons have in turn joined the Forces after occupying the same job, and this clause lays down a definite order of priority to reinstatement.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Labour has given most careful consideration to the best procedure to be followed in the event of any disputes arising between the employer and the applicant. Under the existing law the only way of settling disputes is by the institution of criminal proceedings. We propose to repeal this method and set up in its place, under Clause 8, Reinstatement Committees which will be composed of a chairman, a person to represent employers, and a person to represent employees. In certain circumstances—I need not dwell on this at this stage—appeals can be made under Clause 10 to an umpire whose decision shall be final. The only other clause to which I need draw the attention of the House is Clause 15. There will undoubtedly be many cases where an employer, and probably an employee as well, will wish to dispense with the formality of a written application. This clause enables an employer to waive certain formalities, but at the same time—a very important point—it protects the rights of the applicant under the other clauses to which I have just referred. I do not think I need weary the House with any of the other miscellaneous or general clauses of the Bill, and I confidently present it to your Lordships for Second Reading. Perhaps I might add this, that subject—and only subject—to the agreement of the House, I shall with your Lordships' permission put the Committee stage down for the third sitting day this week. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Earl of Munster.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.