§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. McCorquodale)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I move the Second Reading of this Bill with some trepidation. If Paraliamentary Secretaries can ever be described as fortunate, I would suggest that my colleague the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) and I are very fortunate, in that our Minister has entrusted to us a very large part in the preparation and presentation to Parliament of two Bills which the Ministry of Labour have now before the House. We have been very grateful for that sign of confidence, and also for the opportunity given us of gaining experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth, with his Disabled Persons (Employment) Bill, is in sight of home. I think it will be generally agreed that he conducted his part in that Bill with distinction, skill and humour. That is why I am in a condition of some trepidation. If I may mix metaphors for a moment, I would say that I am going in to bat as a sort of second string, and I am frightened lest I should let the team down. I hope that the House will show some consideration for me, especially as the Bill is complicated, and I shall have to stick rather closely to my notes in some parts of my remarks.
The House will recollect that when the first Military Training Act was passed, in May, 1939, a provision was introduced to give to those called up under it, rights of reinstatement in their original civilian jobs. The object of the Military Training Act was to bring in a short period of peacetime conscription. We were introducing a militia and it is quite possible that the Section on reinstatement rights would have been adequate for the needs of those who were being called up for a few months in peace time. But now those men, and those who have been called up since, are, after more than four and a half years of war, in a completely different position from that which was then anticipated. I think that anybody who has recently studied 1433 Section 14 of the National Service Act will have come to the conclusion that its provisions are totally inadequate for our present requirements. I am sure that hon. Members will agree with me that there can be nothing more calculated to arouse a sense of frustration and bitterness in the minds of men and women than to tell them that, because of their present services, they have a right given to them in the future, and for them to find when that time comes that the right is merely illusory. I suggest, for that reason, that it is a matter of the greatest importance that we should clear up the present position as to reinstatement rights of Service personnel.
My Minister and I have received many representations from Members of Parliament and others as to the unsatisfactory nature of the present provision. I will take a few examples which have been raised. All those who have been called up under the Military Training Act and under the subsequent National Service Acts have been granted reinstatement rights, but those rights do not extend at present, to volunteers to the Forces. Again, the obligation on the employer to reinstate a man apparently merely extends at present to the period of his normal engagement, so that an ex-Service man, having established his reinstatement rights and arrived to take up his old job, might find himself being pushed out again at the end of the first week by an unscrupulous employer, or even at the end of the first day, if his normal engagement was so short. Again, the Section does not give any guidance to the oft-cited, and indeed very real, difficulty, of the reinstatement duties of an employer who has had several employees in the same job, one after another, successively called up to the Forces. I give those few examples to show that the original proposals are inadequate to meet the present position.
I do not think, therefore, that the Government need any justification for asking the House to repeal the original Section and to consider the new Bill which I am now introducing. The Bill seeks to remedy existing anomalies and endeavour to provide a workmanlike machine to carry out what we intend. I would like to emphasise as strongly as I can at this stage that the Bill proposes to establish reinstatement rights to existing jobs. It is not a Bill which is intended, or in 1434 any way claims to create any new jobs or employment. Therefore it is not a part, and is not intended to be a part, of any charter of full employment, or anything of that sort. The Government's intention to provide full employment must rest on other grounds than the grounds of the Bill. This is a limited Measure, designed to define the priority of entry into certain jobs. It is very important that soldiers, sailors and airmen should understand this limitation. If there is, or is likely to be, a job available with the employer by whom a man was last employed before he was called up, the intention of the Bill is to give a degree of priority of engagement for that job, to the senior returning ex-Service man who applies for it. But if there is no longer that, or any other, reasonably suitable job available—
§ Mr. McCorquodale
No, Sir. I am coming to the point in a moment. It means senior in engagement. If there is no reasonable job likely to be available, then, I am afraid that this Measure will not help that particular ex-Service man. It is important that that point should be understood. Therefore, I say that the Bill is not intended as a contribution to the maintenance of a general level of employment in the post-war period. Nevertheless, it is rightly regarded by the men and women in the Forces—as we are told on all hands—as being of the greatest possible importance to them, personally. Surely those people are the first charge on the consideration of this House, and the Bill is therefore not only of interest to Members of the House but its progress is likely to be watched outside with the greatest interest, especially by the relatives of those who are serving. In the Department, when we came down to the detailed discussion of this proposal for legislation, we found, as indeed we had expected and feared, that it was a matter of the greatest difficulty and complexity. I should like to pay tribute to those officers in the Department who have spent so much time on the Bill, with great success, and also, if it would be in Order, to the Parliamentary counsel who have so skilfully translated our intentions into words appropriate to an Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Does the hon. Gentleman think that some congratulations might be extended also to those Members of the House, who, four years ago, pressed upon the attention of the then Minister the very anomalies that he is now seeking to correct?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I have no doubt that the hon. Members concerned have themselves the pleasure of remembering those things. We naturally consulted, and have had most helpful and useful advice from, representatives of employers and workpeople and other interested parties. We have also had the ready and willing promise, I am glad to say, from all concerned of their most sincere good will and co-operation in carrying the Measure into practice when the time comes. I am convinced that if the basis for reinstatement in civil employment of the ex-Service man depended entirely on its legal aspect, our plans could not work out to our satisfaction. These legal rights and penalties are in the main to deal with the recalcitrant employers, but surely the over-riding factor required for successful functioning of this operation will be good will and consideration on the part of all concerned—I would emphasise of all concerned—both employers and fellow work-people. Therefore, the fact that we have this promise of good will in full measure is a matter for the keenest satisfaction, and yet I suggest that we must maintain these legal sanctions. A question was asked the other day by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) of my Minister which seemed to suggest some doubt in his Mind as to whether all this legislation was really necessary, whether it would not have been better to rely on the good sense and decency of employers in general, with the sanction of public odium, and perhaps the pressure from local confederations which could be put on backsliders. I do not agree that such a situation would be satisfactory. Not only would it not be possible ultimately to enforce the obligation on the unwilling employer, but there is surely a more fundamental reason than that. These rights have been promised to the soldiers, sailors and airmen, and if the returning Service man has a right—and I emphasise the world "right"—to expect the best possible provision to be made for him, the last thing he would like would be that his employment should be made the subject of what one might call a voluntary, 1436 charitable endeavour on the part of his previous employer. If he has a right, and I maintain that because of his service to the nation he has that right, there should be a legal power to enforce that right.
At the outset of my remarks I mentioned the question of volunteers, who were not included when the reinstatement rights were introduced for the first time. When the war broke out a Clause was introduced in the first National Service Act similar to the one which was in the previous Military Training Act, 1939, and the war time Act conferred reinstatement rights on Reservists and Territorials called up to the colours as well as on the men called up under the National Service Act, but no provision was made even then for new volunteers. I do not think we really need be surprised at this if we remember the circumstances, because reinstatement was a novel idea in those days, and it was not possible at the outset of the war to know whether volunteering was likely to play a big part in our recruitment. It was the obvious course to lift this Clause almost bodily from the peace time Act and place it in the war time Act, and that is what occurred. It is interesting to note that those Dominions which have introduced reinstatement rights, and also the United States of America, who have also introduced something of this sort, have included volunteers as well as conscripts under their schemes. It has been our policy since those days to encourage volunteering to the greatest possible extent, especially for the most hazardous branches of our Services, and most notably, of course, in the case of air crew members both of the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm. In actual fact no less than one-fifth of our total Armed Forces at the present time are volunteers, and in the women's services the proportion of volunteers is very high indeed. I think everyone will agree that these men and women should certainly have the same rights as those who were conscripted. It would be quite indefensible that a man should be without reinstatement rights because he answered the call of his country voluntarily and did not wait to be called up compulsorily.
There is a further argument, which has more recently come to the front, for extending these rights to volunteers. It is quite possible that the European war will be over before the war in the Far East, 1437 and it will be necessary for us to retain for the war against Japan the maximum forces that we can possibly deploy. The House will agree that every possible consideration must be given to the men who will have to go to fight that war. Many of them will be volunteers, and they must not have lesser rights as regards reinstatement than other men who would have been released earlier and who will have been able to establish their reinstatement rights and, possibly, have got back into jobs.
I mentioned at the outset that the existing law gives no clear guidance as to what is to be done when reinstatement rights are held by a succession of men who have all in turn been called up. This shows at once the necessity for a change in the existing law, for it is unsatisfactory that legislation should not give a plain answer beforehand to questions that must arise in an enormous number of cases. The position is in actual fact even worse, for under the existing law such questions can only be finally answered as a result of the prosecution of the employer by the former employee. At the moment that is the only method of settling disputes. It is a position to which I will refer in a few minutes and which I cannot think is altogether satisfactory.
If hon. Members will turn to the Bill they will see that in Clause 1 (a) we are closely following the existing law in providing that a man should be reinstatedin the occupation in which the applicant was last employed by the former employer before the beginning of his war service and on terms and conditions not less favourable to him than those which would have been applicable to him in that occupation had he not become a person to whom this Act applies.—if it is "reasonable and practicable." Otherwise, he is to be reinstated under Clause (b) "in the most favourable alternative occupation and under the most favourable conditions" that are reasonable and practicable. I suggest, therefore, that everything must turn on those words "reasonable and practicable." I ask the House to turn to Clause 5, because it is in that Clause that we seek a definition of what is reasonable and practicable which will provide an answer to the question most frequently asked. The principle of this Clause is that the man whose employment with his former employer dates back longest is to have the prior right. That is the definition of seniority for which the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) 1438 was asking. The effect of Sub-section (1) of Clause 5 is that if the only way in which an ex-Serviceman can be reinstated is by dismissing someone else who has been earlier established in the employment then that is not to be regarded as reasonable and practicable; and if two ex-Servicemen apply at the same time and it is only reasonable and practicable to reinstate one of them, then the one to be reinstated is that man whose employment in the firm dates back longest. Under Sub-section (2), if an ex-Serviceman can be reinstated only by discharging someone whose employment does not date back so long, the obligation of the employer is to discharge that other man and reinstate the ex-Serviceman.
§ Sir Granville Gibson (Pudsey and Otley)
May I ask a question on one point? I am only seeking information. In such an event as the hon. Gentleman has just outlined, what would happen in the case of a firm where a man comes back from the forces and there is a man who has been employed in the job during the war? Is the employer really called upon to dismiss that man?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I am obliged to the hon. Member. Yes, that is the case. If the ex-Serviceman was in the employ of the firm before the other man, then the ex-Serviceman has a prior right, and the other man must be dismissed, if that is the only way to get employment for the ex-Serviceman in his old job. I am suggesting that the fact that discharge under this Clause to make room for an applicant is stated to be a reasonable and practicable solution shows that an employer is not in general required to create jobs which would not otherwise exist, and that is an important thing to remember. If, again, two ex-Servicemen return one after the other and it is only reasonable and practicable to reinstate one, the first comer is to be reinstated, if he applies, of course, even if his employment does not date back so long as that of the other one; but he will have to give place in due course to the other ex-Serviceman whose employment does date back longer if and when the latter returns and applies for reinstatement. But it would still be the obligation of the employer if he has or can find another suitable job to offer it to the ex-Serviceman who is being displaced if he has not been employed in the firm for more than six months since his return.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
In the case which the hon. Gentleman has just described the ex-Serviceman in the job is discharged to make way for a man who has priority. Has that man who has been discharged any right to come back again if the employer, after employing the first man for 26 weeks as directed by the Bill, says, "I have done my duty to you under the Act and I discharge you"?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The question, so far as I could follow it, illustrates the difficulty of trying to answer hypothetical questions across the Floor of the House. I should like to see that question in writing, because I did not quite follow it all; then I would certainly get an answer for the hon. and gallant Member. Across the Floor of the House and in the middle of a speech it is difficult to concentrate upon a hypothetical question of that complexity. I did say before the interruption that an ex-Service man who was displaced would have to be offered another job, if possible, if he had not been employed for six months, and that brings me to another point in the Bill. We have fixed a period of six months for the retention of the reinstated man, for I suggest that reinstatement without retention is quite an illusory benefit. It is obviously necessary to prevent the possible type of evasion that might take place by an unscrupulous employer only employing the man for the briefest period and then pushing him off. The United States and the Dominions lay down a minimum period. In Clause 4 we fix the minimum period as 26 weeks or six months. It is interesting to note that the Dominions have chosen the same period.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
Six months in the Dominions. I am not sure about the United States of America, because their whole legislation is on rather different lines and we cannot quite compare it. We have had consultations on the length of the period, and we are satisfied that retention for six months is a reasonable claim for the returning ex-soldier to make. I do not think anybody is likely to object that six months is too long. During the six months the returned ex-soldier will have a chance to impress his merits on his employer, and naturally we all hope 1440 that in the vast majority of cases his employment will become permanent.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I am a bit perturbed about this, and I was asked by the local authorities to put this point. The Government have taken on a crowd of local authorities' employees for A.R.P. and then have called them up into the Army. Who is their employer, the local authority or the Government, and who is it that will have to find them a job when they come back?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
That is a question to which we will certainly provide an answer. My right hon. Friend will reply to this Debate. I am sure a great number of Members will wish to ask questions and he will try to answer them. It is rather difficult to answer questions of that sort straight across the Floor of the House. I think I should mention at this stage, that the provision for retention for six months will be subject, as everything else is in this Bill, to what is reasonable and practicable. The employer who reinstates a man will not be required to retain him if, owing to change of circumstances, it is not practicable to do so; for instance, if the job has disappeared. It is not meant to create a job if no job exists. The obligation on the employer is to retain the employee for 26 weeks following his reinstatement or for so much of that period as he can reasonably and practicably be able so to do.
I now come to a very important section of the Bill, and this is the method of enforcement and the settlement of disputes. The existing law provides no civil machinery for the settlement of disputes, but merely leaves it open to a person who thinks he should have been reinstated to prosecute his employer in the court and if the prosecution is successful the employer is liable to a penalty not exceeding £50 and the payment of 12 weeks' remuneration. With the best will in the world, it will not always be easy to decide what is reasonable and practicable. I suggest to the House, therefore, that it is obviously best to treat this matter in another way. We hope that the definition of "reasonable and practicable," in Clause 5, which I have described will remove many doubts as to the liability of reinstatement. There are bound to be disputes, and it is most desirable to provide appropriate machinery to deal with them, without resorting, in the first instance, to the court. 1441 Therefore, as the House will see in Clause 8 of the Bill, we propose to provide committees consisting of a chairman, an employers' representative, and an employed persons' representative. It is possible that some of the cases which arise will turn on technical considerations in industry. That is quite likely in many of the jobs, and technical assessors might be helpful in certain cases to advise local reinstatement committees. If this proves to be the case, the Bill gives power to the Minister to appoint such assessors. From the decision of the reinstatement committee, the Bill provides in Clauses 8 and 10 for appeal to an umpire. Here we are following a well-known policy of the National Service Acts and of the courts of referees which has worked with remarkable smoothness. Reasonable uniformity between the decisions of the different reinstatement committees will be obtained through the rulings given by the Umpire in representative cases. These committees will be able to make orders for reinstatement or for compensation for loss suffered, such compensation not to exceed 26 weeks' earnings. It is only if an order for reinstatement is not complied with that the employer concerned will then be open to prosecution.
We laid down in Clause 2 the method of making application for reinstatement and this is a matter to which, naturally, the representatives of employers and employed persons attach great importance. It is obviously desirable, I think, that an employer should know at the first possible opportunity if an ex-Serviceman desires to claim his reinstatement rights, a matter which is, of course, entirely decided by the ex-Serviceman. I have seen it suggested in some quarters that this Bill is likely to compel the ex-Serviceman to demand his reinstatement rights. That is not so; it is entirely a matter of the wishes of the ex-Serviceman, and no form of pressure is going to be used in this direction. We stipulate, therefore, that the applicant shall forward his application in writing either directly to his employer or through any of our employment exchanges within a period up to the fifth Monday after the end of his war service. There is thus a clear four weeks before the application has got to be made and there is, of course, an escape proviso in case sickness or any good cause prevents the sending-in of the application so soon.
1442 Administratively, we have had in mind, if it can be done, to issue to the returning ex-Service man or woman, at his or her demobilisation centre, an explanatory leaflet about the reinstatement rights and enclosing with it, an application form with the suggestion that the man or woman should fill this up immediately if he or she wishes to go back to a former job and forward it in the prescribed manner. The House must remember, however, that the applicant will be returning from a long period of arduous war service and he, surely, needs some time to settle down, to find a home to live in, which unfortunately will not always be easy, and to enjoy a little holiday after his long service, so we are proposing that he should inform his employer of the time when he will be ready to return to work, which should be at some date within the following month, and he will thus have a little over eight weeks before he need settle down to a job. Some may say that this is too short a time and that the returning warrior should be allowed a longer period than two months in which to make up his mind whether he wishes to go back to his old job. We were impressed by the very strong representations made to us by both sides of industry that it is desirable, not only in the national interest but in the interest of the man himself, that he should settle down to his peace-time job as quickly as possible, and we therefore came to the conclusion that the period of just over eight weeks should adequately meet the problem.
There is, I think, another important consideration which I should mention to the House. A great number of our main industries have been concentrated by one means or another and a very great number of the businesses of the country are either curtailed or have shut down altogether for the time being. It is quite likely, therefore, that in many cases an ex-Serviceman's old job, or a similar one, will not be immediately available although there may be a very good prospect of it being available in the near future. The obligation on the employer is to reinstate the man when he makes the request for his old job or the next available job, but I am suggesting that such a job may not, at the moment, exist and, therefore, the applicant may have to wait. It is very desirable that these industries should get back on their feet at the first possible 1443 opportunity and also, I think, that as many of their old employees as may be should return to the employment in which they are skilled.
§ Sir I. Albery
There is one point which I think ought to be cleared up. By what means does the Bill determine whether an employer is able to give employment to a particular number of men? It may be that an employer had six lorry drivers before the war and now only employs three. Who, therefore, determines the number he should employ now?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
If there is a dispute as to whether he should employ more than three, then the matter goes to the reinstatement committee for adjudication.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
On the facts laid before them. They have not got to make a job where one does not exist. I am suggesting that it is very desirable that these concentrated industries should get back on their feet as early as possible and that the men should return to the jobs in which they are skilled if they so wish, and we are therefore proposing in this Bill that the employer's liability should be a continuing one so that if he cannot reinstate just at the moment, he shall reinstate at the first opportunity provided the applicant, of course, still wants to come. In Clause 2, Sub-section (3), we provide that if the applicant cannot be taken on at once he should keep in touch with his employer by renewing his application every three months so that the employer may know where the worker is and whether he is still willing to come. There may be a great number of temporary jobs at the end of the war, clearing up the mess, to which the ex-Serviceman may wish to turn for a while until his old job is available for him, but it should be our endeavour to see that his right to get back to his permanent employment is safeguarded as far as possible.
The continuing obligation of the employer to reinstate will exist for the time that this Bill is in operation, which is, until six months have elapsed after the present emergency and that is defined in Clause 20 by reference to the Armed Forces (Conditions of Service) Act; and the end of the emergency is the date when the service of reservists, territorials 1444 and duration volunteers will automatically end, which is in fact six months after demobilisation is completed. There is perhaps one point with which I should have dealt. I have mentioned that we have provided for appeal from the decision of reinstatement committees to an umpire. It would clearly be impracticable for everyone who is disgruntled at the decision of a reinstatement committee to be allowed to appeal. That would clog the whole machinery. We therefore propose to follow the precedent laid down in the Health Insurance and National Service Acts and only to allow appeals to the umpire in cases where the decisions of the reinstatement committees are not unanimous, and in cases where leave to appeal is given by the committee. In other cases the House will see in Clause 10 that appeals may only be made at the instance of an organisation of employers or an organisation of employed persons of which the man or the employer is a member at the time when the application was made.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
May I interrupt? Has the Minister not the right of appeal as in the case of the National Service Act?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
In the case of the National Service Act, the Minister is immediately involved because the man has been called up for State service, but this is a matter in which the State is not immediately interested, and, therefore, we do not think it would be right for us to make the appeals directly, but, of course, if there is any decision against which we think an appeal should be made, we will ask the appropriate organisation to see that it is made. With regard to the scope of the Bill the House will see from the First Schedule, that all the Women's Services directly concerned with the Armed Forces are included, and I am sure the House will agree that they should be so included in view of the excellent service they have given to the country. Under Clause 6 it includes all male persons who after the 25th May, 1939, entered upon a period of whole-time service in the Armed Forces of the Crown. The reason for fixing the 25th May is that on that day the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Act and the Military Training Act were passed, and also some of the women volunteers started service about that time. It also includes under 1445 Clause 6 (1, c) persons, whether male or female, who after 10th April, 1941, entered into whole-time service with the Civil Defence Force within the meaning of the National Service Acts, 1939–42, in consequence of an enrolment notice under those Acts. The House may well say one of two things about that. The first question might be why sections of the Civil Defence Service are included at all, or, alternatively, if we are including volunteers as well as conscripts, whether it would not be logical to include volunteers as well as conscripted persons in the Civil Defence Forces. The facts of the matter are these, and I suggest they are important. When it became necessary, in 1941, to recruit compulsorily for the Civil Defence Forces the Government were advised at that time that direction under the Defence Regulations could not legally be used for that purpose and so the National Service Act in 1941 was extended in order that men could be recruited to the National Fire Service, the procedure being the same as for the Armed Forces. Thus what really happened was that by a side wind this small group of people obtained reinstatement rights which had always been in the National Service Acts and the Armed Forces Acts from the beginning. It would not be right, we felt, to remove by Act of Parliament the right of reinstatement from persons to whom a previous Act has already given it.
We, therefore, do not propose to go back on this small number of Civil Defence workers—the actual figure is about 30,000 in the fire service and the police forces—who have already obtained these rights. But I think the House will realise that if we opened the door to other Civil Defence personnel, voluntary or directed, we could not resist the claims of other deserving bodies of men and women who have played such a fine, indeed vital part in the war service of the nation. What, for instance, of the women of the Land Army, the men directed to the mines or explosive works or filling factories, or those who were directed to vital war work in general? We could not leave it at that. We would have to consider not only those directed by the Ministry of Labour but those who have gone voluntarily to war work without waiting to be directed. So, in the end, I would suggest, the House will see that the effect of having gone right down the slippery slope would be to 1446 make the Bill of no use to ex-Servicemen or indeed to anyone else.
§ Mr. Silverman
I was not sure whether the hon. Gentleman in his catalogue included those directed to the mines. I think we have all understood that, in the past, the Minister has said that boys directed to the mines will have the same right as if they had been in the Armed Forces of the Crown. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman really intended to say that or whether it was a slip.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
No, we are not proposing that the men directed to the mines under any of the schemes shall be included in this Bill. They are not included under the National Service Act. If the hon. Member reads the exact words he will see.
§ Mr. J. J. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
Would that apply to the men who have been in the mines all along?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The optants? Of course. I have explained why we have restricted the rights under this Bill. It looks probable, as I say, that we shall see victory won in Europe while the battle in the Far East still rages. We sincerely hope, in that case, that a large number of Civil Defence workers will no longer be required for active duty, and they will therefore have the opportunity of seeking fresh jobs while the great majority of Service personnel are still fighting a bitter and costly war far away from home. I believe in all sincerity, that the Civil Defence personnel in general will not wish to gatecrash—if I may use that term—these reinstatement rights which were obviously originally intended for members of the Armed Forces of the Crown. It is interesting to note that my Minister made that quite clear when speaking of the National Service Act in 1941, so I would strongly urge hon. Members, if I may, not to seek to widen any further the scope of this Bill.
It has been suggested that we were wrong in giving rights to ex-Service men while exacting no obligations in return. It has been put forward that if an employer is required to offer 26 weeks' work, the employee should be required to stay an equivalent period in the job. I do not think that would bear examination. We are endeavouring to enable the ex-Service 1447 man to return if possible to his pre-Service occupation, but if he finds he dislikes his work and wants to get away I cannot believe it is going to be any good not to allow him to go. A disgruntled employee will not be a happy employee and I am sure it will be better for all parties concerned if a change were made. Furthermore, we are in this Bill trying to recognise that ex-Service men have some rights because of their sacrifices, and I do not think it would be appropriate to put on them obligations of this sort at the same time.
I am asked to say, so that there shall be no misunderstanding, that the Government are prepared to accept obligations towards their former employees similar to those imposed on other employers under this Bill. May I remind hon. Members in conclusion—and I apologise for keeping them so long—that this Bill is, as I have said, of a strictly limited character, providing priority of employment, and that it can in no way create new employment. Nevertheless, it is a measure of great importance at this present time to our soldiers, sailors and airmen, and to the maintenance of their morale. That is the reason why I have kept the House, I am afraid, for a time while I have endeavoured to go not only into the provisions of this Bill but into some of the reasons lying behind them.
§ Mrs. Hardie (Glasgow, Springburn)
I have been waiting patiently—I did not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman—to see if he would make clearer the position in Sub-section (1a) of Clause 1, the effect of which is that men or women in the Services are to be put into jobs not less favourable than those which would have been applicable to them had they not been called up. I have in mind the case of young men and women who were employed in shops, insurance offices and banks who would leave at 19 and come back at the age of 24 or 25, and who would have been earning promotion in the intervening time had they remained. Do they come back to office boy's status and wages and conditions, or is the employer asked to put them in jobs appropriate to their age, without having had them for the appropriate time in actual service?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I think the obvious obligation on the employer is to put them 1448 back into the job in which they would have been, if they had never gone away, and to give them the appropriate wages and conditions. There may be questions about apprentices and the like and their re-training which will have to be discussed, industry by industry, but the Clause quite clearly lays down that the returning ex-Service man or woman should get the job appropriate to his or her age and appropriate to the service he or she would have given if they had never been away. We are not suggesting that if a man thought that by staying he would have been promoted to foreman or manager—
§ Mrs. Hardie
No, but in a bank the ex-Service man concerned would have been earning promotion in wages, and in a shop he would have been learning a trade. They will have to come back without knowing the job which would have been appropriate for them had they remained.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The hon. Lady is on quite a good point. We shall have to make arrangements possibly for training, or retraining, a great number of people, which we intend to do The obligation under this Bill is to restore to those concerned their position at the level and on the wages they would have expected had they never gone away. I would finally say this. I would recommend the Bill as an earnest endeavour to establish reasonable reinstatement rights in their civil employment for the men and women in our Armed Forces, because I believe that is the intention not only of this House but of the whole country. That is an object we all have at heart and I would therefore with some confidence ask the House to give this Bill its Second Reading.
§ Major Thorneycroft (Stafford)
May I at once pay a tribute to my hon. Friend for the great ability and skill he has shown in presenting this rather complicated little Bill to the House. I would also like to pay a tribute to the ingenuity of the draftsman. But having gone through these more or less graceful preliminaries I feel bound to say that I would be disguising my real feelings if I did not say that this is a thoroughly bad Bill. I am not making, and I hope no one will represent it as such, a personal attack on my hon. Friend or my right hon. Friend who is to reply. I have the highest regard for both of them. I do not question the honesty 1449 of their intentions or the fact that they are trying to do something really good.
My objections to this Bill are threefold. The first is an objection on principle. I do not think it is possible to take one small part of the machinery of demobilisation and resettlement by itself and deal with it in vacuo without having any idea about what the Government's general plan is. My second objection is a practical one, and maybe even more cogent. I suppose there is one overriding test of all Bills we consider in this House which goes far wider than the mere party boundaries. It is found in the answer to the question, "Will it work?" I do not think this Bill will work, and that is my second objection. My third objection is based on grounds of conscience. This Bill purports to meet a pledge and that pledge, putting aside all the legal phraseology, is generally understood by the words, "The serving men will have their own jobs back." I do not think the Bill meets that pledge. I think that to introduce a Measure which does not meet a pledge yet purports to do so is a dangerous thing. I do not want to be mealy-mouthed about the business. I will not say it is a swindle, because that word has unfortunate associations in current by-elections, but I will say that it is a political manœuvre with which I would not like to be associated.
I would like to recall our minds to what was going on in 1939 when proposals of this sort were first introduced. At that time we were living under the pressure of great events. I do not think any one of us realised to the full the implications of total war, the immense upheaval of our economic, industrial and social system which was going to take place. The principle of conscription itself was only reluctantly conceded by a large and responsible body of political opinion. That was the circumstance in which provisions of this sort first found their way on to the Statute Book, the first in the Military Training Act—only a matter of six months then—in the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Act, and finally in the National Service Act. Looking back, it is interesting to observe that on each of these occasions less and less time was devoted in the Committee stage to the careful consideration of the proposals—[Interruption]—apart from the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) who always gives the most anxious consideration.
§ Mr. Silverman
I thank the hon. and gallant Member for his complimentary reference, but at that time a little group of us on this side called very special attention to the fact that what was put into these earlier Acts was a pledge that was, as the Minister now describes it, for the reasons he gave, illusory. May I ask the hon. and gallant Member what he did about it then?
§ Major Thorneycroft
I am not going to pay the hon. Gentleman a second compliment. I think I was quite generous enough. That was in 1939. We are now in 1944, and things have changed. The problem itself has changed. It is no longer a question of trying to resuscitate old jobs in order that they should fit the ex-Service men on their return. It is much more a question of taking the Service men and retraining them and finding enough of them to do the immense task of reconstruction that lies ahead. That is the fundamental problem with which we are all faced. Not only the problems have changed. The men have changed; they have grown older. Many have lost their old skill, and many have gained new skill and new aptitudes in the Services. I do not think we can attempt to fit the problem of 1944 into the framework of 1939. I do not think that is the way we should tackle it. It is in these circumstances that this Bill is presented to us. It is an honest attempt to meet the pledge; I admit that quite frankly. I do not think that the drafters of the Bill themselves think it does meet the pledge. If they did, I doubt whether they would have introduced the words "reasonable and practicable" nine times in the Explanatory Memorandum.
§ Major Thorneycroft
The original pledge is nearly as complicated as this one. We are going to have this question of pledges introduced more and more. There is one reasonable approach to this matter, and that is that you have to look at a pledge in the way it is generally understood by the people to whom it was made. The people to whom it was made generally regarded this pledge as meaning, "We are going to have our old job back." If there is an obligation, as I think there is, it is not a conditional obligation, it is an absolute obligation to find a job in every 1451 case, and not only in a small number of cases. Few can, in fact, benefit under this Bill. It is not intended to affect the large number of men who never had jobs before they went into the Army. It is not going to help those who have grown out of their jobs. The office boy who is now a bomber pilot going over Berlin at night is not going back to licking stamps. It does not affect those who want a new job, who have learnt a different skill and a different trade and do not want to go back to the old one. It does not help those whom the employer will take back any way, as many will—there is no sense in making it obligatory for a man to do that which he is going to do in any case.
The only ones who will benefit are a limited class, the men who want to go back to their old jobs, whose old jobs are still open, and whose employers, because they are bad and anti-social employers, will not take them. I doubt whether that limited class represents a very big percentage of the actual number of serving men. Even in this class, the employer may show that it is not reasonable and practicable to take the man back. Even if it is, there may be two or three other men or women who have served and who have a better priority. Even suppose that the man is lucky and gets the job, some other applicant may come along with a better claim, as I understand the Bill, and the first man may be removed just when he thought he had got through these difficult conditions. As I listened to my hon. Friend dealing with the provisions of Clause 5, I tried to put myself in the position of an employer looking at all those tortuous phrases and trying to find out the nature of this somewhat tenuous obligation and to whom he owed it. I was reminded of the story of the woman in the Bible who married the eldest of seven brothers. He died, and she married the second brother, and he died too, and likewise the other five. At last the woman died also, and in the resurrection whose wife was she?
§ Major Thorneycroft
The answer is that they would be like the angels in heaven, where there is no marriage or giving in marriage; but in this case I think they would be rather puzzled angels. Let us assume that the man is not only in this limited class, but that he happens to be 1452 the lucky man in the draw, and has the priority. At the best, he has the right to be employed for 26 weeks by an employer who does not want him. At the worst, he will sit back for a month or so while the employer is engaged on litigation as to what is reasonable and practicable and what the Regulations which are going to be passed by the Ministry of Labour on that subject really mean—Regulations which they may not have seen and which neither the employer nor the employed man really understands, or, worst still, rival employees may want to litigate about this matter. I do not think that that is a very useful right to give to the serving man.
I know that the argument may well be advanced that, anyway, this Bill does not do any harm. I do not think that that is a very attractive argument. What will go out to the serving man is not the rather difficult technical provisions of Clause 5 (1, c), as to whether some other man was employed on conditions of service of the same permanent character, but the rather pompous Title of the Bill. The serving man will say, "Look what Parliament is doing! It is going to give us our old jobs back." My hon. Friend said that the serving man attached considerable importance to this matter. If any word of mine could reach the serving man, I would tell him to look at this Bill with great caution; that it might be wiser not to think so much of the old jobs of 1939 but to start looking more into the future. It is very difficult for a back bencher to make practical proposals to the Government. I do not know what the Government's plans are. It seems to me that we are entering on a period when we are going to have a tremendous change-over from war to peace, when we are going to have something comparable to an industrial revolution packed into a few months or weeks. I do not know how the Government are going to tackle it. They may tackle it by means of an Essential Work Order, and all the cumbersome machinery that goes with it. Under an Essential Work Order you may take the men out and give them benefits far greater than anything accorded under this Bill.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
My hon. and gallant Friend realises that the Essential Work Order applies to scheduled undertakings.
§ Major Thorneycroft
My point is that the first way the Government can tackle this question is by putting a string on each individual man and putting him where they think the work ought to be done.
§ Major Thorneycroft
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his very fair correction. I may have described the system wrongly. Let us call it the system of registration and direction. If they adopt that system, they can give the serving man far greater benefits than under this Bill. The other course they can adopt is to make block allocations of man-power to various industries, in order that those industries which they want brought up to great activity will be brought up, and others which they do not want brought up will be kept down.
§ Mr. Silverman
That could only be done by having such an all-inclusive control of industry as the hon. and gallant Member would be the last to support.
§ Major Thorneycroft
My hon. Friend seems not to have read "Forward by the Right." I will send him a copy, and he will see that I am very far from objecting to control of industry.
§ Major Thorneycroft
But suppose the Government adopt the second method, the broad allocation method. It seems to me that the Bill will be unworkable. One Government Department will say, "Here is your old job back in the silk stocking trade" and another Government Department will say, "We do not want silk stockings; we want all our man-power engaged on producing capital goods." May I very shortly make a few practical proposals as to the lines on which I think this matter should be tackled? The first thing is for the Government to take what steps they can to create the conditions in which jobs will be found. My hon. Friends and I have pressed the Government for a declaration on the question of full employment—my Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) made a speech on that matter in the Debate on the Address—but so far there has been no Government 1454 statement on the matter. The second thing is that they should declare their demobilisation plans. It is not enough for Ministers to make vague and contradictory statements in the country; there are still no clear statements about their demobilisation plans. The third thing is that in taking men out of the Army they should at least take some care in studying their particular aptitudes and abilities, so that these men may be put into the right jobs. The fourth is that they should start national training schemes. The great thing is that people should be trained for jobs which they can hold permanently. I ask my right hon. Friend to make a statement on this point. I admit that, while these are practical proposals and would help far more than anything contained in this Bill, they do not give the serving man a right to a job. My own view is that to give serving men the right to be employed for 26 weeks, and to be sacked at the end of that time, is not worth much. I think that this 26 weeks would be better spent in learning a job and getting that job permanently.
There are two ways in which the Government can tackle this question: they can do so either by regulation or by leadership. If my right hon. Friend or my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister were to make a declaration of policy on the matters I have indicated, to tell the employer and the serving man what the Government's plans are and what the Government want done, they would achieve far more than by any number of ingenious Regulations. I do not suppose that anybody outside the House of Commons is going to oppose this Bill. I do not suppose the employers' organisation will. I do not suppose the trade unions will. Why should they? It combines two excellent qualities: it is practically unworkable, and it is politically expedient. But it is not what employers' organisations think or what trade unions think which ultimately matters; it is what we think. It is our responsibility. For my own part, I have rather a high regard for fighting men, and I am not prepared to fob them off with easy promises and soft words. I would rather tell them the blunt facts, that peace does not mean a return to 1939 and the old job for them, any more than it does for any other member of this society. I would rather tell them that they will have a job, not necessarily 1455 the old one, but a job in which they can take a pride and be of service to their country.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
We welcome this Bill, and shall facilitate its passage in the Committee stage, but, at the same time, shall seek to strengthen it on behalf of the ex-Servicemen and our noble men and women who are now serving in the Armed Forces. This Bill is a contribution to dealing with the gigantic post-war problems with which this country will be faced. We believe that this Bill, so far as the social unplanned system, for which most of the hon. Members who have cheered so loudly stand, is concerned, will implement the promise made in 1939 to our men and women who went into the Armed Forces. We believe that, as far as it is possible, this Bill will bring about the reinstatement in their pre-enlistment employment of those who have served in the Armed Forces. It imposes an obligation upon the employers to provide employment, and that, fundamentally, is what hon. Members do not like and is responsible for the critical speech to which we have just listened. But those of us who belong to the people, and are born of the people, cannot forget what happened after the last war and how we were treated, and this Bill, in itself, marks a big step forward compared with the treatment of my generation after the last war. The Government have the final say in the calling up of men and women under the National Service Acts, and we believe that although, in accordance with this Bill, reinstatement will depend upon the goodwill of the private employers in industry, who are well represented by the hon. Members who cheered that speech, it is the Government who will have the last word. We, on this side, shall devote all the Parliamentary time possible to seeing that this country fulfils the obligation and implements the pledge given to our men and women who have served in the Armed Forces.
I cannot forget, during the time that I carried through a good deal of work under very difficult circumstances and in a representative capacity, that my best friends, both men and women, used to say, "Beware, Ellis, of the most plausible people." I could not help thinking of that when I listened to the speech we have just heard. We believe that it is 1456 the desire of the British people that those who have served in the Armed Forces should be reinstated in their pre-enlistment employment, and I am convinced that those hon. and gallant Members who are closely associated with the ordinary men and women in the Forces will agree that it is the least we can do on their behalf. Knowing capitalism as we do, and having felt its lash, as some of us have for 20 years, we have our doubts about the employers' attitude when the war is over, and these doubts have been intensified by the loud cheering in this House. We had an example only a few weeks ago, when the hon. Member for Balham and Tooting (Mr. Doland) raised a disgraceful bit of business that had happened in the London area. He told the House that a firm in the London area had informed a sergeant serving in India that, owing to reorganisation and staffing arrangements, no guarantee of re-engagement of any pre-war member of the staff was possible. I realise that the cheering that has just taken place means that those hon. Members believe in the attitude of that firm. Fortunately, the Minister of Labour and the Government were not prepared to take that view, and, as a result of the answer that was given, I understand a change has been brought about. The Minister, in reply to the hon. Member for Balham and Tooting, said:The firm have not committed any legal offence, and I am willing to believe that they meant no harm, but I must express my astonishment at their stupidity in not realising the effect which such a letter must have upon its recipient, and my condemnation of their apparent disregard of any considerations other than those directly affecting their own interests."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1943; cols. 837–8, Vol. 393.]When this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, that will be a legal offence. I was going to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he would consider issuing a leaflet, in clear and simple language, pointing out the responsibilities of the discharged men and women themselves in connection with this Bill, but the hon. Gentleman has made an announcement to-day that it is their intention to do that. I am very pleased to hear that, because, as I know from my own experience, four weeks soon go, and it is most important that men and women in the Armed Forces should be reminded of their own responsibilities. I know from my own experience, not as a commis- 1457 sioned officer, but as one who served in the ranks, that most men will be glad to get home and that four weeks will soon go, hence the need for their responsibilities to be emphasised in this leaflet. How will men and women be affected in cases of this kind? I was an apprentice when I went into the Army and I was demobilised in 1920. When I came home the firm were willing to reinstate me, but, owing to an industrial dispute, were not able to. I secured employment at another place and fortunately everything went well, but suppose a person is not prepared to walk about or be at home, and prefers employment, as most men and women do in this country. If he finds other employment, the job may only last a few days or weeks. In that case, will he have forfeited his legal rights under this Bill because he accepted employment?
Many times in this Bill the words "reasonable and practicable" are used. May I remind the Parliamentary Secretary that what is reasonable and practicable to the hon. Members who cheered is not reasonable and practicable to my Friends? Can we have the words defined in accordance with the intention and spirit of the Minister of Labour? It may be that those hon. Members may be sitting there when this Bill comes for implementation, and therefore it is most essential that, during the passage of this Bill, and while a Coalition Government are in office—because we have no confidence at all in the Conservative Party of this country and that confidence has been further undermined here to-day—those words shall be interpreted in a way that will give us more confidence.
We should have a few concrete interpretations in the Bill or in the Regulations. Many cases will have to go before the reinstatement committees. Lawyers, for example, may preside over most of them. We see that a large proportion of the hon. Members sitting over there to-day belong to the legal profession. We know the kind of treatment that the workers of this country receive at the hands of the legal profession. We cannot forget the administration of the "Anomalies Act." At the 1931 Trades Union Congress some of us were among the small number who prophesied what would happen in connection with the administration of that Act, and they will administer this Act in the same way unless a definite interpretation in the 1458 Regulations is issued, with the instruction that it shall be administered as magnanimously as possible.
When a man has been away three, four or five years, is 26 weeks' employment, as a maximum, considered long enough? In many cases it will take that length of time to acquire the skill required. In my own trade, and in others, men will need at least 12 months to enable them to become proficient enough to follow the trade. The words "reasonable and practicable" remind me of a hard experience I had myself. In 1930–31 I read the agreement which exists between the engineering employers and the trade unions, and Clause 12 of that agreement says:When a depression in trade takes place, systematic short time shall be worked, where practicable, in preference to discharging men.This is what happened. Our interpretation of that Clause was that all available employment should be spread over as many people as possible, but those responsible for running that particular side of the factory, and those men who were ready to play up to them in order to keep their jobs, interpreted it in a different way, but fortunately we were able to get through to the higher management, with the result that they took a bigger view. That is the kind of attitude which is going to ruin this country, and which was responsible for 20 years of disastrous government between 1919 and 1939, and was the kind of attitude responsible for the anti-Soviet policy between the two wars. That is the kind of attitude responsible for the pro-German policy that nearly got us into a very difficult situation. Fortunately the people of this country have seen through this attitude, and I am confident that if they have an opportunity of translating their opinions by bitter experience this House will be filled with a different kind of people from those who have filled it during the past 20 years.
During this difficult period some of us determined that as many men as possible should be given employment in industry, and the result was that the employers agreed with us that all available employment should be spread over as many people as possible. I want to ask that we should approach these words "reasonable and practicable" in the same way 1459 during the Committee stage, and I can pledge my hon. Friends that they will do all they possibly can to facilitate the carrying out of this pledge given to the ex-Service man before the war. We shall strengthen the Bill and do all we can to improve it. We consider that the available employment should be spread over all engaged in any industry, and it should be so arranged that they shall have a decent standard of living maintained. Could we not have the Regulations put before the House before the Committee stage is reached, or a White Paper issued containing the ideas upon which it is proposed to base the Regulations? I think it is important, and the House will expect it, that when we go into Committee on this Bill we should have a White Paper so that we can consider the Regulations and see that the Bill can be administered in the very best way possible.
We must make the Bill and the Regulations as sound as we can make them. We owe it to our men who are serving in the Armed Forces, and we shall need the fullest possible information on the Committee stage. The Regulations can mar the Bill and its administration. We have seen to-day the attitude of certain people towards the Bill and the Regulations, and therefore it is most essential that we should have the information before us, so that we can make the Measure as strong as possible. We cannot forget how our people were treated between 1931 and 1939. Clause 11 of the Bill provides that an employer who fails to comply with an Order for reinstatement is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £50. Many people do not mind paying fines of that kind. In industrial areas, bookies who are caught do not mind paying fines many times that amount, because they make it up in other ways. Therefore, we suggest that the very minimum fine should be £100 for any firm that fails to carry out its obligations under the Measure.
The reinstatement committees will be very important. The average man who will go before such committees will be inclined to be nervous when he is asked questions. It will be bound to affect his evidence, and we ask that representatives of the men themselves should be allowed to attend with them, so that they can state their case if necessary. We have received 1460 a letter from a number of organisations pointing out that the Bill does not provide for the reinstatement of personnel who were conscripted into Civil Defence. It is only the persons who were conscripted into Civil Defence at the end of the blitz period for whom the Bill provides. They ask that the personnel serving under Civil Defence during the blitz period should be included. I ask the Minister if he will see that the reinstatement committees are given a greater status than committees of the kind we have had in the past. They ought to be composed not of the kind of men who have been cheering the critical speech that has been made to-day but of large-minded men in industry. We want these committees and the whole of industry to be a success. We want this country to be a great country after the war. We have to get away from that attitude and call upon men to serve on these committees who know industry and the people. A great deal will depend upon these committees and we want them to be a success, because we owe it to the men and women who served in the Armed Forces. We have enough of the courts with workmen's compensation, and we want the question of reinstatement to be kept away from the courts. Reinstatement must not be made a legal battleground upon which some people can depend for their professional income.
We must frankly admit that in some cases small employers will no longer exist and we realise that there will be great difficulties in carrying out this Measure. The difficulties will be tremendous, and it is for us to make our contributions with the object of minimising those difficulties. Where small employers no longer exist it should be a State obligation to implement the promise made to men and women by arranging to find employment in accordance with the provisions of the Measure. I would like the Minister to reply to this question: How do the provisions of the Bill compare with those of similar Measures in our Dominions and the United States of America? When the war is over with Germany as many of our men as is possible will want to come home. They will have had enough of it. Then, I suppose, volunteers will be asked for in order to deal with Japan. Can we have an assurance that this Measure will apply until the Japanese war is finished and all our men return home?
§ Mr. Smith
—that fact should be taken into account. We were in the war in 1939 and we stood alone for 12 months and, therefore, when any relaxation occurs I hope that these facts will be borne in mind. I want to make it clear that our movement stands for fulfilling our obligations to our Allies. A great deal depends on this Bill and how it is administered and upon the spirit. In this war up to now—and I am pleased about this, because we suffered from it last time—there has been very little favouritism as far as calling up is concerned. I do not apply that to profits and property, but as far as the people are concerned there has been no favouritism worth talking about. The National Service Acts have determined when and how a person shall serve. We could never have mobilised our man-power so efficiently had it not been for the fairness of the Minister. We cannot forget the way he has been treated lately, especially during last week in this House. Can we have an assurance that the same fairness will be applied in reinstatement? I know that the Minister himself cannot give such an undertaking, but cannot we on the Committee stage co-operate together as far as possible in order to see that that fairness is applied? The hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) has made a very critical speech against the Bill on behalf of a large number of Conservatives, who are led by the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill) and are the kind of Members who filled this House in 1918 and 1929.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
At this point I think that I might intervene. We cannot discuss the Conservative Members' Committee or the Labour Members' Committee at this stage of the Bill, and perhaps the hon. Member will keep to the Bill and not deal with outside influences.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I heard a great deal of that speech. I am not in any way stopping the hon. Member from dealing with it, but at this stage of the Bill outside committees have nothing whatever to do with the Bill itself.
§ Mr. Smith
Thank you for that guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The hon. and gallant Member for Stafford said that this is a thoroughly bad Bill and he was loudly cheered by nearly all the Conservative Members present. He went on to say that he did not think that they should take one aspect of demobilisation. We say that the men and women for whom this Bill is designed to cater should receive preference in regard to reinstatement. We shall do all we possibly can to implement the pledge that was given in 1939 and 1940 to the men and women serving in the Armed Forces. The logic of the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and of every hon. Member who cheered him, was that the pledge of 1939 should not be kept to our men and women serving in the Armed Forces. He said that things had changed, but he had no need to remind us of that fact. Those of us who are regular in attendance in this House have seen the change among hon. Members now that we are getting through the war in the way that we are. He said that he put himself in the place of an employer. He had no need to say that. It was obvious from his speech that he was speaking on behalf not of all employers but of the narrow-minded employers of this country. Men and women in the Civil Service have been guaranteed reinstatement, and all that we are asking is that ordinary men and women should be put upon the same basis 1463 as those who have been guaranteed reinstatement in their pre-enlistment employment. We believe, although we recognise all the difficulties that arise out of the unplanned social system which those hon. Members are doing all they possibly can to perpetuate, that, in spite of all that, the Bill is a genuine attempt by the Government to implement the promise that was given in 1939.
I was surprised at the speech which was made to-day and yet I ought not to be surprised. We are living in serious and difficult times. Our men are looking forward to carrying through the greatest feat in the world's history. This Bill will give them a little satisfaction and the Government should see that they are given more satisfaction. They ought to make an early announcement in regard to pay and gratuities to be given on the termination of hostilities. We appreciate the sacrifices and the services of nearly all our people in this country, but none of these have been as great as the sacrifices and services of those who serve in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and in the Merchant Navy. We would like to know how the men who serve in the Merchant Navy are to be affected by this Bill, and hope that the real friends of these people will co-operate with the Government in order to improve the Bill so that these men and women will have confidence in those who are serving the public in this country.
Apart altogether from other considerations, it is a terrible sacrifice to have to be away from home for many years and many men in the Services have been away from home three, four and five years. Many of them are the fathers of children who are now two or three years old and whom they have never seen. If one talks to some of our women on omnibuses when they are carrying young children they will say that the fathers have not yet seen the children, and yet we can have all this quibbling here to-day by hon. Members of this House who had a great responsibility for the worsening of the international situation that brought about the war. We cannot do too much for these men and women. After the last war nobody cared. Many of my hon. Friends signed on at the employment exchanges for months. They had served in the last war for three or four years 1464 and went through Passchendaele, Ypres and Cambrai, and yet, after the war, nobody cared. Somebody is going to care this time. My hon. Friends are going to see to it, that no matter what kind of Government they are, they will have to care after this war, and we believe that this Bill is a genuine attempt to carry out a pledge after this war. Many times I lay on my bed in France and Germany. Many of the hon. Members who were cheering to-day and who claim to be great patriots have never done this. I exempt hon. Members who are serving; I do not refer to them but to certain hon. Members.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
Surely that is not a charge which should be made in this House. It can equally well be made to hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Smith
I shall take notice of your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but my hon. Friends on this side have sat here and, in spite of the speech we have had to listen to, and the provocative cheering, they never raised their voices but were prepared to listen. Many times I lay on my bed in France and Germany wandering what the future had in store for me. Thousands will be doing that nightly now. This Bill will give them a little hope. It will be a contribution towards dealing with the difficult problem of demobilisation, and let no one underrate these difficulties. It makes me smile when I hear some people talking about the way they are going to carry out demobilisation. After the last war, under stern military discipline, I was involved in two strikes in France and one in Germany because we wanted to come home. We had had enough of it, we had gone through it, and we wanted to get back to our wives, to our young people and to our associates; and the same will apply again. Therefore, the Government should give the maximum confidence to those who are serving this country so well at the present time. That is the contribution that we on our side, together with the Government, are making in regard to this Bill. Let the Government remember that many of our men will have been away five years. We entered this war in 1939 and we stood alone for 12 months. We have called 1465 upon every available man and woman in this country to serve in accordance with the decisions of the Minister and the Government. We have built no houses in this country since the beginning of the war worth talking about, and therefore it is along these lines that something constructive should be done. This Bill is a limited contribution to the problem of demobilisation and full employment. It provides for the reinstatement of our men and women who have served so nobly in the Armed Forces. The nation has contracted an obligation to all our men who have served so well at home and in the Armed Forces, and the logical consequence is that this Bill should be carried through as quickly as possible, but the Government should follow it up with a policy of full employment or of full maintenance.
Twice in my relatively short life—and this is a condemnation of British public life in itself—we have had full employment in two wars. Our people are now saying—and I am going to encourage them to say it in every possible way—"If we are all wanted in war, then we should all be wanted in peace." Those who support the system that gives so much to so few, the pre-war appeasers who are now the economic defeatists, the same people who cheered so loudly not so long ago, are now saying that after this war Britain will be poorer. We refuse to accept that pessimistic view of Britain's future. We are not poorer except in regard to the loss of many of our best sons. Never were our people better organised, never was the production per employee greater in industry than to-day, never have our people had greater skill, never have we had more productive capacity. Our stock in this country is higher now throughout the world than ever. In 1939—as a result of their influence to a great extent—our stock had gone down badly, but because of the efforts of our people, because of the fact that we stood alone for 12 months, the stock of the British people throughout the world is now higher than ever. Therefore we do not take a pessimistic view of Britain's future. We want to think big, plan big, build big, and not quibble in the way that hon. Members have quibbled to-day. That is the road towards building a bigger Britain, that is the road towards full employment, and we believe that this Bill is an indispensable contribution to the policy we have outlined.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)
I am sure that those of us who have listened to this Debate so far, have very much enjoyed the verbal quarrel between neighbours in the County of Stafford. We have had a brilliant performance on the part of my hon. and gallant Friend who sits in front of me and a typical speech from the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith). I find myself not in full agreement with either, and I hope to explain to the House why I take a different attitude upon this Bill. I was intrigued, as I think we all were, with the closing sentence of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) when he described this Bill as one which was "practically unworkable but politically expedient." That is a good Parliamentary debating sentence, and I give it no higher praise than that because I should be very sorry to support a Bill on the ground that it was politically expedient if, in fact, it was an impractical Bill.
I agree with what my hon. and gallant Friend said in some respects. He said this was a piecemeal attempt to deal with the problem. I think it is, as I hope to show presently. He asked, will it work? To that I think the answer is that it can be made to work if we all co-operate on the Committee stage to make such improvements in it as seem to us to be desirable. His third objection was: Does it meet the pledge given to serving men? He admitted that it was an honest attempt to fulfil the pledge but did not think it did. If this Bill is an honest attempt to fulfil the pledge, then I do not think it is true to say that it is politically expedient. The terms seem to me to be a contradiction to some extent.
On the other hand, I agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford in the latter part of his speech when he favoured the efforts of the Government being concentrated on the provision of full employment. I could not agree with him more. I also think he is on perfectly sound ground when he asks the Government, at the earliest possible moment, to declare their demobilisation plans because demobilisation and reinstatement are very much knit together and it is very difficult for us to be considering this question of reinstatement to-day in the absence of knowledge of what are the Government's demobilisation plans. He made two minor suggestions—if he will not mind my 1467 calling them minor—that men who have been in the Services for four or five years and have acquired new skill should be selected with care for the post-war jobs they will be asked to undertake, and helped to find them; and that there should be new training schemes. A good many employers are ready to set up training schemes inside their own works where this is practicable.
So far as the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke is concerned, he made one most valuable admission which presently I am going to call to our aid. He is not satisfied with the way in which regulations are to be made. He and his party want to see them. He wants the House to have an opportunity of discussing them. He wants a definition of what is reasonable and practical and so on. There will be few of us who are in disagreement so far as that is concerned.
§ Mr. E. Smith
I realise the many difficulties in drafting and I asked, if we cannot have the Regulations before the Committee stage, could we have a White Paper issued containing the ideas on which it is proposed to base the regulations?
§ Sir A. Gridley
I quite agree, and if a White Paper setting out the proposed regulations were presented to the House first that would be valuable to Members of all parties, and so I hope that may be done. We are discussing to-day a Bill with which in part I wholly agree. It is a measure of compulsion to provide that employers reinstate their former ex-Service employees—if they have been lucky enough to survive the risks of this war—in at least as good employment as they enjoyed pre-war so far as it is reasonable and practical. It is, perhaps, a somewhat sad reflection that we are discussing a compulsory Measure of this kind at all, because it seems to suggest that employers do not fulfil their moral obligations, whereas, as a matter of fact, I think every one will admit that the majority of good employers have not only promised their men who are now serving overseas, and who survive, that they will reinstate them in their jobs when they come back, but have also given financial assistance in the way of making up the difference between the Service pay and the former pay in Indus- 1468 try, so that the absence of the breadwinner will not bring financial hardship upon the family.
It is true there is a small percentage of employers who cannot be relied upon to carry out their moral and social obligations, and such bring undeserved discredit upon the great majority of employers who fulfil their responsibilities. There are reasons, however, why the men themselves should have security and as our legislation stands at present they certainly have not got that because, since we passed the National Service Act, conditions have wholly changed, and there are now two or three men on active service who used to be in the same job, and employers and the men themselves want to know what their position is.
I very much doubt whether the magnitude of the reinstatement problem after the war is going to be as formidable as it was after the last war. If this country has learned any commonsense, and if we in this House—whatever our political views may be—have learned anything by bitter experience, it is that we ought to retain for some considerable time, perhaps for years after this war, a pretty strong Army, Navy, and Air Force. Therefore, we shall not make that senseless immediate reduction in our forces that we did at the conclusion of hostilities in 1918 to 1919. The Services themselves have become so much more highly mechanised that they will require to retain a very much larger number of skilled men than they needed after the last war. Thousands who have joined the Services will not return to their old jobs and will not desire to return. They will have lived an entirely different life from that to which they were formerly accustomed. They will have learned to have a spirit of adventure and to take risks, and will seek wider opportunties, when they come back, than those in which they shared before they voluntarily or compulsorily joined the Services.
A few days ago we discussed the Education Bill, which will create a demand for many thousands of teachers. There will be a call upon many who are now serving in the Forces, who should be encouraged by training and other means to fit themselves for posts that will be vacant in the teaching profession. That is one of the most urgent needs we must satisfy if we are to make real progress 1469 in our new educational programme. Alas, only too many of our former employees will never return, because they have already made the supreme sacrifice. Before this war is finished who knows what further heavy and distressing sacrifices will yet have to be made, what costs we have yet to pay, before we gain complete victory? Therefore, I do not think that this problem of reinstatement in civil employment after this war will be as great as it was after the last war. We have learned a great many lessons from the mistakes we made at that disastrous time.
The important problem of unemployment has, properly, been mentioned. If only we can find the solution to that problem it will make demobilisation and reinstatement in industry very much easier and many of the difficulties with which we shall be faced will melt away. Therefore, I hope we shall have within the next few months a plan for full employment, either from Sir William Beveridge, if he can produce such a plan—and I beg leave to doubt it—or that the Government themselves will present us with their views as to how the problem should be tackled.
I would now like to refer to one or two points in the Bill itself and to call the Minister's attention to them. In Clause 1, Sub-section (1) it states that employers are under an obligation to reinstate former employees when their war service ends after the commencement of the Act. I am not quite clear whether that should not be retrospective. Are employers not to be bound to reinstate former employees whose war service ended before the commencement of the Act? If not, should they not be, so that all are treated alike? Sub-section (1b) involves the reinstatement of an employee in the most favourable occupation and on the most favourable terms and conditions which are reasonable and practicable in his case. I emphasise the words, "in his case." Would it be unreasonable to ask that the words, "and in the circumstances of the former employer," should be added?
In Sub-section (2) the employer is compelled to take the employee back at the first opportunity which is reasonable and practicable. The question here arises as to how long the employer may dally. I have here a letter from a responsible body of employers in the West Country and on that point they say this: 1470From the point of view of the employer it is noted that the Bill does not impose any time limit, enforcible by the applicant, under which the employer must employ him or even answer his application. If the employer does not reply to the application for 13 weeks the applicant must renew it. How is the applicant to know whether the employer can employ him or not? Should there not be a provision requiring employers to reply?Some of my hon. Friends opposite may think it rather strange that employers should suggest that an obligation of that kind should be put upon them. I ask the Minister to be good enough to consider that question. The same employers refer to Clauses 2 and 3—and these are substantial points—and say:In view of the delay which might take place on the part of the prospective employee it seems that it would be helpful to employers if the demobilisation authorities themselves could notify employers that the particular person will be demobilised on a specified date.I hope hon. Members can concentrate on this rather difficult illustration. The point of view of these employers is this: Suppose an employer has had three persons, "A," "B" and "C," occupying a particular position and all three have been called up and are now serving and all three become available at the same time. Suppose "C" is the first to notify the employer that he is available for employment when "A" was the original person in the position; the employer might not know until some weeks later that "A" or "B" is to be released and will be available. The employer might very well take on "C," only to find that "A" or "B" is also available, although they have delayed notifying him. The suggestion is made—although it may be impracticable to adopt—that the man's unit should make the notification, not the local demobilisation authorities. There is a gap here that seems to require filling.
There is another important point mentioned by these employers, which arises under Clause 5. They point out that a man highly skilled in a particular job in which he has worked for, say, 15 years, is directed to another industry while another person who is appointed to take his place may be called up after working for only six months. Both become available for reemployment at the same time. The Bill, it would seem, provides that the least skilled man, the one who worked for only six months in the job, is bound to be re- 1471 employed while the older employee, who is far more skilled, will be refused. It is hoped that this is a wrong interpretation of the Clause and it was suggested that I should raise the point with the Minister. These are some of the practical difficulties in carrying out the provisions of this Bill as they are at present drawn.
I intended to raise a point on Clause 6, to which the Parliamentary Secretary and my hon. Friend opposite referred, namely, that the Bill deals only with part of the problem that we ought, as a Parliament, to be tackling. No one would gainsay that prior importance should be given to reinstating in industry those who have served in the Forces and in Civil Defence, but there have been hundreds of thousands who have been taken out of one industry and transferred to another industry, very frequently at a rate of wages lower than the one they were enjoying at their former occupation. Are they to have to struggle to get back to their former jobs? The Women's Land Army has been referred to and there are many other occupations one could think of in which transferees are only too anxious to get back to their former jobs. They have no security such as this Bill seems to provide for ex-Service men and women.
May I ask the Minister to look at Clause 7, which designates the employer of an applicant as one who is to employ him for only four weeks preceding the commencement of the applicant's war service. Is not this far too short a time? Should not the period of service be much longer? The employment may have been of a temporary or casual nature. Some employers may have dismissed long service employees because of the imminence of their call up. Would it not be more appropriate if the employer, under this Clause, was one who had employed the applicant for a continuous period of 26 weeks prior to the commencement of the applicant's war service? An employer should certainly not escape his obligations if he terminated the applicant's employment during the four weeks immediately preceding the commencement of his war service, unless the subsequent employer had taken the applicant into his permanent employment. I wonder, too, what is the position of a former employer who has given up business, possibly under compulsion, who has failed and become 1472 bankrupt, who has gone abroad, who may be in very reduced financial circumstances or may have himself become disabled? It only shows the great importance at arriving at what is reasonable and practicable so far as many of these Clauses are concerned.
I now want to refer to what has become a rather old horse in our Debates. Under Clause 8, which establishes Reinstatement Committees, sole and arbitrary power is given to the Minister himself to form panels and from these he may himself appoint a chairman and also one person to represent employers and another to represent employed. Surely, before the Minister constitutes these panels he should agree to put himself under an obligation to confer with organisations of employers and associations of employed persons. These arbitrary powers may be very necessary in war time legislation but here we are dealing with a post-war matter and this House should not grant to the executive powers which make them independent in peace time of Parliamentary control. I ask the Minister whether he will be prepared at long last to make a concession in this type of legislation.
I think we ought not to forget that it is not only men in this country, or those who come back at the end of their service, who should be in our thoughts. At the moment my mind is very much on the thousands of civilian prisoners, particularly in the Far East. Some of them were employed by companies domiciled in this country and others in overseas countries. How is their reinstatement in civil employment to be secured? Many of them joined local defence forces in the Colonial countries where they are now imprisoned and the question arises whether it is not the duty of our Government to ask Colonial Governments, as soon as they are in a position to do so, to pass similar legislation to that which we are considering, so that the interests of these men shall be dealt with.
Speaking as an employer, I give the Bill my approval with the qualification that I think that by co-operation between parties we can greatly improve it. I know there are some who consider that it is a quite unnecessary Bill and that the problem it seeks to deal with could be left to the good sense and the sense of duty of employers towards their employees. But I know that the great majority of em- 1473 ployers are in favour of the general principle of the Bill. They desire to see certain improvements made in it but they do not want it to be rejected. They desire to see it implemented because it will enable them to see much more clearly ahead than the legislation at present on the Statute Book allows them to do. I should like to read a paragraph from an admirable report produced by a committee presided over by an hon. Member of the House, the hon. Member for Lewisham West (Mr. Brooke). It states:A special responsibility will rest upon industry after the war to help the demobilised man to adjust himself to life out of uniform. Millions, over a period, will be entering or re-entering industry from the Services. For the older men it will be a return to the kind of life to which they were accustomed before, but even so they will have been for several years right away from it. Many will cheerfully welcome the change. Others will find it hard to give up an active outdoor life for a relatively static indoor one. Others, to whom Service life has meant interest and adventure, will yearn for the same stimulus in the factory or the office, and will chafe if they miss it. Good sense and understanding on both sides will be needed if all these men are to find their feet again in industry quickly and contentedly. The nation will be the gainer if industry can help. Then to carry over into civil life and every day work the same natural spirit of comradeship and of pride in doing a job well which they have absorbed in the Army, the Navy or the Royal Air Force.That is finely written and it is in that spirit that I would ask Members in all parts of the House to approach the Bill.
§ Mr. Lewis Jones (Swansea, West)
I was rather alarmed when I heard the slashing attack on the Bill by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft). I though he was unfair to the Minister and his colleagues. His speech seemed to suggest that this Bill was the first during the war which had dealt with the question of reinstatement, and the Minister was supposed to be throwing out to men in the Army, Air Force and Navy some kind of swindle. I am a member of the executive of the British Employers Federation, which has been consulting the Trades Union Congress on this Bill for some time, and our main desire has been to make the legal enactments already on the Statute Book more workable in order to assure the return to industry of as many men in the Services as it could possible take. The principle of reinstatement is not new. It was in the Militia Act of 1939. I know that ever 1474 since that Act there has been a dwindling in the chances of a return to industry, but that is the fault of the circumstances through which we have been passing in the last few years. It was an easy matter in the early part of 1939 to safeguard automatically the return to civilian employment of nearly all the militia men who were called up, which was a very small number compared with the large number called up during the period of the war. Obviously the chance of returing to their civilian employment is becoming more difficult.
I think the people of the country, employers and employed and the men in the Services, welcome the clarification that the Bill provides. It does not provide work for a single additional man. It is not an unemployment Bill but a Bill to secure reinstatement in civilian employment. It has nothing to do with finding employment in the general way that we are all talking about. I welcome the Bill and I believe it is workable. I can say on behalf of British employers that it is our intention to co-operate in every possible way to make the Measure work smoothly. It is the most natural thing in the world for an employer to want his own work people back, and what is more natural than that the men in the Services should want to go back to their own employment and their own employers? The Bill gives us the guiding principles as to the methods by which these men are to be reinstated. I think the Press during the last few months has been responsible for the misunderstanding which has taken place in connection with the Bill. It does not guarantee to every ex-Service man his employment back in civilian life. It could not do it. I know of jobs in the steel industry which five or six different men have held. You cannot replace the lot. When one of our national newspapers tells people that the Bill guarantees re-employment in civil employment, that is all wrong. It is impossible to reinstate every man in the Services in his own civilian employment.
I know a case of a works which has had on its pay roll 1,000 men. Half of them have gone into the Services. Of the 500 now employed 300 will be discharged in order to allow of the reinstatement of the men in the Services and 200 will not have a ghost of a chance of returning to work. That is not the fault 1475 of the Minister. No Government could have promised these men reinstatement in a job that is not there, because the only thing that stops them going back to the job is the seniority rule that is set out in the Bill. It is a pity that the impression has been created in the country that the Bill provides reinstatement in civilian employment to anyone who has gone into the Services. Another statement that has been made rather surprised me. A leading article in one of our national newspapers says:Many people joined the Services as lads. There are others who went to the war as little more than boys and will come back as men wanting men's jobs. Their case seems to be covered by the provision in the Bill that applicants must be reinstated on terms and conditions not less favourable than they would have enjoyed had they not joined up.The Bill does nothing of the kind. The Bill has never promised that a boy who joins the Army and remains there till manhood will get a man's job when he gets back to civil employment.
§ Mr. Jones
If my hon. Friend will turn to the Act of 1939, as amended by Section 14 of the Act of 1941, he will find that it says a man must be re-employed in an occupation on terms and conditions not less favourable to him than would have applied to him had he not left civilian employment. That means that if a man had remained in civil employment for five years and had been promoted to a higher grade job, he would have had the higher status and remuneration of the job. The present law says that a man is to be reinstated in an occupation, and if that means anything it means that if, while he has been away from his job, he has missed two promotions and two advances in wages, he has, when he returns to his employment, to get conditions equivalent to those that would have applied to him had he remained in civil occupation. That is the law as it is to-day. This Bill, however, says that the man is to be reinstated, not in an occupation, butin the occupation in which the applicant was last employed by the former employer before the beginning of his war service and on terms and conditions not less favourable to him than those which would have been applicable to him in that occupation"—1476 not the promoted occupation—had he not become a person to whom this Act applies.There have been during the last five years advances and increases in sliding scales, and we say that a man who comes back to the job he held when he joined up is entitled to all the advances that have been paid in that job while he has been away. That is my explanation of it, and I think I am right.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I have already spoken once. The Minister is to reply, and he can deal with the point then.
§ Sir I. Albery
I gather that the hon. Member is making the point that under the Bill an ex-Serviceman on his return will be less well off than he would have been under the old Act.
§ Mr. Jones
I say that under the present law a man could claim to be reinstated in an occupation, not the occupation, on conditions and terms not less favourable than those that would have applied to him had he not joined up, but that is always qualified by the phrase "reasonable and practicable." I believe that something has been taken away by this Bill that the ex-Serviceman has under the present law. After the last war it was my lot on many occasions to reinstate men in the iron and steel industry and to demote men who had not been in the Services in order to give to the returned Servicemen the promoted jobs they would have had if they had not joined up. I am satisfied that in this Bill the Minister is introducing changes in the law in order to make it practicable that a man will be reinstated in his old job, that is to say, the job he was in when he joined up, and that he will have the full advantage of any betterment that might have taken place in that job while he was in the service. I am not a lawyer, but that is how I read the Bill after the discussions in which I have taken part for many months on various aspects of the Bill. I believe that my interpretation is right.
§ Sir I. Albery
On a point of Order. Matters of the most important legal kind are being discussed and I think that a Law Officer of the Crown ought to be present to advise us.
§ Mr. Jones
May I refer to the question of payment for the job when men return and show how essential it is that Section 14 of the 1939 Act should be amended by this Bill. Take the case of apprentices in the engineering industry. The director of the Engineering Federation told me the other day that one member had had 200 apprentices join up. An apprentice serves for five years, and at 18 he has done two years of his period. He then enlists in the Services and serves, say, five years. He is 23 by the time he leaves the Service. Had he remained in civil employment he would at that age have been a journeyman for two years, and it is fairly obvious that we cannot expect any employer to guarantee an apprentice, who has done only two years of his training, the full craftsman's rate when he returns to his employment. I am not suggesting that the Clause deals with the question satisfactorily. Apprentices have to be dealt with on a totally different footing. The best people to deal with apprentices under this Bill are the employers' organisations and the trade unions. It will be possible for them to take into consideration, for instance, whether an apprentice while in the Army was attached to a technical unit and, if so, to make allowance for the time he was in such a unit.
Reference has been made to the 26 weeks' employment. May I assure the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford that I belong to an industry where the termination of a contract is practically unheard of. In the whole of my 26 or 27 years' experience in the iron and steel trade of South Wales, I do not know of half a dozen dismissals. Men become attached to individual works and they remain there all their days. We must not, therefore, look upon employers as merely wanting to take these men back to their employment, satisfy the 26 weeks' requirement, and then throw them on the scrap heap. The newspaper which I have already quoted, after referring to the fact that every soldier must be reinstated, says:If for any conclusive reason that job cannot be given, then compensation will be given instead.
§ Mr. Jones
One of the national newspapers—not one of the hon. Member's 1478 papers. It is a pity that there should have been so much misleading of public opinion on this matter. Compensation under the Bill will only be paid if it is proved that it was reasonable and practicable for an employer to reinstate an ex-Serviceman and he failed to do it. The Bill does not guarantee reinstatement to every worker. It does not guarantee him a man's job if he was a boy when he enlisted. What is more, it does not guarantee him compensation if he is not reinstated. The whole effectiveness of the Bill will be decided by the definition which the Minister gives in Regulations to the words "reasonable and practicable." I like the suggestion that the Minister should produce for the information of the House a copy of the Regulations and that he will tell us in his reply what he thinks, ought to be the definition of these words.
I know the difficulties that are bound to crop up. May I put two or three cases? Clause 5 lays down the basis of reinstatement and talks about the seniority rule. Is seniority in employment to be seniority in a department? Take a factory which has several specialist departments. A man is to be reinstated in a job, but he cannot be reinstated in the department he was in before and cannot be found alternative occupation in that department. It is, however, possible to find him alternative occupation in a different department of which he has experience. I want to know whether seniority of employment means seniority of employment in all departments or in the department in which the man was employed before? Take another case. I have in mind two steel works in South Wales owned by the same company. I know for certain that one of these works will be closed down within the next few weeks and that it will not be re-started after the war. The men employed by those works were employed by the same employer. Will the men who return from the Services, who had worked in the closed-down works, have the right to reinstatement in the other works across the road which are owned by the same employer? Does the phrase "former employment" mean the location of the business or the business of the employer?
There is another case which is rather important to industry generally. A large number of industries never employed women before the war. In the iron and steel trade they were not generally em- 1479 ployed, and when it became necessary to find substitutes for some of the men who were called up we allowed women to be employed by agreement with the trade unions, and they have done a remarkably good job. It is clear to us now, that a steel works is not a place for a woman, any more than it is right to send women down a mine. Voluntary agreements with trade unions say that women shall not be in steel works after the war, yet the Bill gives to women rights of reinstatement within the industry, notwithstanding the fact that the employers and trade union leaders are in agreement that they should not be employed there. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will put that point to the Minister. Nobody has had greater experience than the Minister in these matters and I am sure that he will understand it at once. Employers and employees in the industry are very concerned about it.
I, personally, believe that this is a workmanlike Bill, but it has its limits. It was never intended as a solution of the problem of unemployment, but was merely intended to put into workmanlike order the reinstatement Sections of the 1939–41 Acts of Parliament. It will need all the good will and toleration of employers and employed in the country, and a good deal of co-operation between the Trades Union Congress and the Employers' Confederation. I can, however, assure the House that the British Employers' Confederation are determined to do everything possible to see that the Bill is workable and not only to give the impression, but to make sure, that men who return from the Forces get a square deal. The men will be greatly disappointed that reinstatement is not possible for them all. It was suggested that the Bill should have been kept back until the Government have produced their big scheme on the subject of employment, but the problem with which the Bill deals arises every day now. For example, there was a case a few weeks ago of a sailor who had lost a leg and came back to drive the same crane which he had been driving before the war.
We cannot afford to wait for the bigger Measure dealing with unemployment, but I hope that the Government are considering very seriously the big question, so that alternative employment may be found for 1480 these men. I am satisfied that the men in the Forces are seriously concerned about what is to happen to them when they come back. I am in regular communication with a very young commanding officer serving overseas with a technical unit. He tells me that the men with whom he works, and to whom he gives wonderful praise, show considerable concern as to their post-war employment and he appeals to me and to other Members of Parliament not to let those men down. In a letter a few days ago he said:I have a slogan out here which all my lads understand. I count only deeds and not excuses.He reminds me that when the men come home they will count not in terms of excuses but only in terms of employment. I hope that the terms of the Bill will not be expanded to include civilians, because that will mean less chance for ex-Servicemen to get their jobs back. When the Bill is on the Statute Book, I hope that the Government will turn their very serious attention to the problem of unemployment which has continued for so long.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
When this House adopted the Military Training Act some six months before the outbreak of war, everybody knew that, in all probability, before the six months' period of training contemplated by the Bill had expired, this country would be at war. It is not the case, as has been hinted in some of the speeches that we have heard, that circumstances have changed, and that what we are contemplating now is something different from what we contemplated then. One of the problems with which that Act purported to deal, and with which the House wanted it to deal, was this problem of reinstatement of work, at the end of the period of service, which everybody knew might be long. It dealt with the matter in a way which the Minister to-day has described as inadequate and illusory. Somebody interrupted the speech made from this side of the House just now to suggest that the Bill gave the returning soldiers less than they got under the other Measure. That, of course, is quite patent nonsense, and could not be suggested by anybody who had read both Bills. The only thing that anybody had any right to at all under the 1939 Act was one week's notice. When you looked at the phrases and added this, that and the other together, it was clear then, and after a 1481 lapse of some four years has apparently become clear to the Government, that that Measure gave a right to a week's notice, or to a week's wages in lieu of notice, and to nothing else in the wide world.
The Bill before us may have its defects. It may not, in all its phrases, be quite clear. It may not cover every aspect of the problem. We are prepared to concede all that; but the Bill, even as it stands and without any improvements that we might seek to effect or succeed in effecting in Committee, will give to the great majority of those who return after the war the right to enter the employment that they left, on terms not less favourable to them than they would have enjoyed had they never left it, and security in that employment for at least six months. How anyone, in the light of those facts, can suggest that the returning soldier gets less under the Bill than he would have got under the other Measure, I just do not understand.
A variety of Committee points has been raised. There is the question of whether something ought not to be done for large numbers of people who are not covered by the Bill. The hon. Gentleman who spoke just now thought it would be a mistake to widen the scope of the Bill to admit them, while other people think it would be most unfair not to do so and that all classes have equal rights. The question which I raised with the Minister was about boys drafted or directed into the mines. It may very well be too, as the Minister suggested, that I should look very carefully at the words of the pledges which were given. If I looked at them with a microscope I might find that this Bill was not any breach of a pledge. If that is so, the only result would be to make me think that the Minister had kept his promises in the letter but broken them in the spirit. I am certain that all the boys who were directed into the mines will be covered by the assurances then given that they would be in no sense worse off than if they had been directed into the Forces. All those are Committee points, and I hope that they will all be raised, with any other points that ought to be raised, in Committee in an attempt to improve the Bill, and I am certain that the Government will welcome helpful suggestions from any quarter of the House to make the Bill more workable, or more lucid where there is any ambiguity.
1482 It that were all, there need be only a very short Second Reading Debate. If the Debate has to be longer, it is because of the amazing speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft), speaking as he told us for a group of people. He suggested to me that I ought to have read "Forward by the Right" but I do not see why I should start off on the wrong foot. If I have not read, "Forward by the Right," I have read the Atlantic Charter and I know the assurances which have been given to the world about the new world that we are to get. By supporting the Bill, my hon. Friends are not relieving the Government of their obligations to provide a very different world after the war, and none of us are under any illusions that the Bill does it, or seeks to do it. I feel that the hon. and gallant Member knows that very well. He talked about trying to force 1944 into 1939. Of course, you cannot, and nobody believes that when the war is over the world will go back to what it was on 2nd September, 1939, as though all that has happened in the interval was a nightmare and that all we had to do was to open our eyes, forget it all, and take up our lives exactly where we left them then. Everybody knows that even if that were possible, we should be back at war within six months.
Here is a Bill which attempts to do a difficult and limited job. The hon. and gallant Member says he does not warn it done, and he gave us three grounds or reasons of objection. I understand, by the way, that it was at one time his intention and that of his Friends to move the rejection of the Bill. He has not done that, but he has made a speech which, if he believes it, ought to have led him to urge the rejection of the Bill.
§ Mr. Silverman
He was not thinking about the next General Election. He told us that he was not. His complaint about the Bill was that it was a swindle, although he did not like to use the word because of its unfortunate associations. How unfortunate the associations are we shall not know until to-morrow morning. He said that the Bill was politically expedient, and that we were all supporting it because it was so and because it was practically unworkable. He said he was 1483 against it in principle, and his principle was that you should not attempt to do part of a job until you were ready to do the whole job. Then he said he was against it because the Bill was unworkable on practical grounds, and then, if you please, he told us that he was against it on grounds of conscience. He thought it would be a most immoral thing to do. Why would it be an immoral thing to do? Because, he said, a pledge was given to give people their jobs back, but that this Bill does not give them their jobs back. I cannot feel what is in the hon. and gallant Member's mind. It seems to me that no one can make any sense out of the three grounds he gave for criticising the Bill.
Supposing this Bill, either as it stands, or as it will be after it goes through Committee, does, in fact, carry out the pledge that was given, supposing it is workable, then you would have a Bill that carries out a pledge in a workable way. But the hon. and gallant Member would still be bound to reject it on principle. That is what he told us. Did he mean that? Did he really mean that this House ought not to carry out a pledge in a workmanlike manner because it was wrong in principle to do so? It does seem to me, and I say so with all respect, that there was an element of humbug about his speech. He invited that his speech should be brought to the notice of soldiers and sailors and airmen. Presumably, he wanted them to be told that this was a swindle. Did he really want them to be told this was a swindle? Did he want them to be told that the whole confederation of workers' organisations, on the one side, and employers' organisations, on the other, had come together, at great labour, to work out a scheme, and that a Government representing all shades of political opinion in this country had introduced that scheme into the House in legislative form in order to swindle the soldiers, the sailors and the airmen? The hon. and gallant Member makes a speech which commits him to opposing the Bill, even if it is shown that it carries out the pledge and that it carries it out in a workmanlike manner—and that seems to me to be the swindle. It would be very unjust and dishonest to say to the sailors, soldiers and airmen: "You are being swindled by the employers; you are being swindled by the 1484 trade unionists; you are being swindled by Parliament. I am the only honest man and I would not allow the pledge to be carried out in a workmanlike fashion, because I am against it in principle."
It does seem to me that the little group of those who are becoming fashionably called "Young Tories" will have to think again, or they will never be much older Tories. It seems to me they are making a very bad start. They are justifying the taunts that were levelled at them from this side of the House only a few days ago. The hon. and gallant Member invites me and invites the public to read his pamphlet. He wants us to focus our attention on what they say and to ignore what they do. Their activities in this House are directed towards introducing as many snags and difficulties as possible even in the limited, piecemeal reconstruction legislation. How is that going to help anybody? How are you going to make a new world out of that? Heaven knows I have been, and still am, profoundly dissatisfied with the speed and the scope of the Government's proposed Measures for social reconstruction. I have taken the opportunity to criticise the Government, and that is a most unpopular thing to do, not only on one side of the House. I have done it because I thought it right to do it, and because I thought the public generally is not only ready and waiting, but gasping for some sign that the Government do understand what the times demand and are prepared to do something about it.
What encouragement are they getting from my hon. and gallant Friend and his associates? Every time some little Measure is introduced they raise some snags in debate about definitions, or who is in or who is out, prolong the Debate and introduce as many political controversies as they can.
§ Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-East)
Is not that an improvement on the Committee stage which the hon. Member says he is going to give us in this Bill?
§ Mr. Silverman
Yes, but as I said at the beginning of my speech—and I repeat it now—a great many Members have taken part in this Debate and have raised a great many points which I would like to see raised and dealt with in Committee. I may have one or two to raise myself. I do not think the Government will object 1485 to helpful constructive suggestions in Committee.
§ Sir A. Beit
The hon. Member was just referring to certain improvements which were introduced by some of my hon. friends in the Committee stage of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Bill.
§ Mr. Silverman
I also supported some suggestions on the Committee stage of that Bill, but I did not get my way about all of them. I am not sure I got my way about any of them, but I was prepared to combine with anybody who wanted to make a constructive suggestion. A great many of the suggestions which were made at that time were not constructive at all, and were not intended to be constructive. They were intended to be obstructive and were intended to use the broken bodies of the disabled in order to provide a platform for political debate. That is not reconstruction; that is not a new world. That is the same old Tory world all over again. New faces, new voices and new worlds, but the same old Tory swindle, the same old reactionary principles and nothing else.
Perhaps I have spoken long enough, but I would like to repeat that we do not intend that this little Measure, which is intended to do all that can be done to implement a particular pledge and to deal with a particular limited situation as best it can, shall be regarded even as an instalment of general plans for social reconstruction. It is not intended to be that and it ought not to be discussed in that form. I only make the point because I think it is the right point to make in view of the speech that was made. I hope that, when the Committee stage comes, we will be able to co-operate in order to deal with certain difficulties which are there and will have to be dealt with and to decide matters which are still the cause of controversy, but, subject to that, I think everybody welcomes the Bill and congratulates the Government on having made an honest attempt to implement the pledge they gave.
§ Captain Prescott (Darwen)
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) referred to new Tory faces. Mine is one of them, and I would ask the indulgence of the House for a maiden speech. May I say also that I am a young Tory in years if nothing else. I would commend to the House the Bill which is 1486 now before it. I would commend it in principle but at the same time I would venture, if I may, to offer one word of explanation and another of caution. First and foremost I am sure that everyone in this House desires that when the men and women now in the Services come back they shall be able to return not merely to their homes but so far as possible to the employment which had previously been their choice, and by which they had earned their livelihood. I am quite certain that whoever may have spoken to-day, and from whatever side of the House, the desire has been universal to repay the debt which in fact can never be repaid to those millions of men and women concerned.
I confess that I, like many other people in this House perhaps, would have wished for more than we are in fact getting by this Bill. But it is something, and for my part I would welcome it, and I hope it will show to the men and women in the Forces that they are not forgotten by the Government nor are they forgotten by this House. But as has been said by the Parliamentary Secretary in introducing this Bill, it does not create employment. If I may use the term, it is really an "apportionment Bill," to apportion such employment as may be available after the war. I sincerely hope that before very long it will be possible for proposals to be put before this House implementing a policy of food, work and homes for all, because I venture to say, with diffidence, that if these problems are not tackled and solved in as satisfactory a way as is possible when peace comes, this Bill, despite the good intentions behind it, might prove an aggravation rather than otherwise.
I do not want it to be thought that I speak with any personal interest in this Bill. I make no claim to gallantry, or to have done anything more than countless thousands have done in this war; I have done less. But as an officer who served, or tried to serve so long as he was permitted to do so, I would tell the House, if I may, of the very great concern which I know exists in England and overseas among men in the Services, who are repeatedly asking the question "What will happen to us when the war is over?" Therefore although I would ask for more, and I hope we may obtain more for these men to whom we owe so much more than much, I hope it will go out from this 1487 House as a message to them all and as a partial reassurance and show them that they are ever present in our minds.
May I mention on this question of employment not merely the men and women in the Services but also those other countless millions who have run the country and have provided the implements of war without which, despite their valour, the Services would have been of no avail. In that respect may I, for example, mention an industry of which I have particular knowledge. It has made enormous sacrifices in the cause of the war effort; it has achieved very great results. It is possible that in the near future its efforts may not be required to the same extent, and indeed may possibly finish. There are with regard to that particular industry so far as I am aware, and I have made inquiries, no detailed plans, no detailed measures for ensuring that when the time comes it may pass from war production to its ordinary peace production. If steps are not taken, then not only would the employers be unable to fulfil their provisions under this Bill but there would be complete unemployment in that industry and many thousands would be thrown out of work.
It is for those reasons that, while I support this Bill most fully—though I think probably from an administrative point of view there may be certain difficulties in working it—I ask that it may be considered in relation to the country as a whole, and to the plans for reconstruction of industry and full employment for all. May I thank the House for the patience with which they have listened to my maiden speech and the views I have put before them. They are not, I fear, very novel, but I feel them deeply. It has been said on the other side of the House by one hon. Member whose speech I listened to with great pleasure that he was a son of the people. There are fewer class distinctions these days than previously, I am glad to say; but for his information, and for the information of the House may I say that I also can make that claim, and while I take great pride in being a Member of this House I take even greater pride in representing a constituency which saw and aided the early struggles of my father.
§ Mr. Owen Evans (Cardigan)
It falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. and 1488 gallant Member who has just made his first speech to the House. I am very gratified to have heard him and to welcome him to the House. He has spoken fairly and reasonably and with brevity, and I am quite sure that the House will be very glad to listen to him again in the days to come. He struck what I consider to be the right note with regard to this Bill. He said he was interested in the Bill because he knew that members of the Forces were interested in their future after their return to civil life. It is for that reason that I welcome this Bill and support it.
The President of the Board of Education in introducing his great Measure, the Education Bill, said it was the first of the Government Measures of social reform. Whether he meant it was first in order of time, or in order of importance, I do not know, but I think he must have meant it was the first of a series of Measures which the Government propose to introduce to deal with social and economic questions after this war is over. Among the important things, education is certainly fundamental but one other question of great importance is the question of employment. We have heard in Debates and in the Press that the application of the Beveridge Report will depend on the avoidance, to a large extent, of what is called mass unemployment. The Minister very modestly said in his speech to-day that this Bill does not profess to give any additional employment anywhere. That has been said also by a number of speakers, and it is quite true, but I venture to say that the machinery provided by this Bill to co-ordinate the employment of those men and women from the Services when they return to civil life is a necessary part of the organisation of employment in this country. It is an extremely important point. It does not increase, I suppose, by any amount, employment in this country but it does enable employers to know exactly what they have to look to when the men return from their Service occupation.
As I look on it, the Bill is absolutely essential as a guidance and help to employers and as a means of directing those employers who would otherwise be inclined to leave things alone, or not to give due consideration to old employees who returned after the war. I listened with great interest to the very eloquent 1489 and forceful speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft), and I think that that speech can be left entirely to be answered by the most able speech that we have heard from the hon. Member above the Gangway. It was amazing to me to hear anybody who describes himself and his group as being radical and progressive call this a bad Bill because it does not embrace all industrial and economic problems that are likely to arise after the war.
I do not happen to belong to any employers' confederation or body of that sort, but in the industries with which I am connected we are very closely concerned with representatives of the trade unions. I took the trouble to send a circular to the heads of very large works in this country, to get their opinion on this Measure and on how it would work in administration. The replies I got pointed out various difficulties and some anomalies, but not one of them objected to the Bill as a whole. They all welcomed it, as making it easier for them to deal with the situation when a large number of men return. One of them, the head of a very large works from which 300 to 500 men have gone into the three Services, said that there was nothing in this Bill which they as a works would not have been prepared to do without any Bill, but even in their case, although they have a splendid organisation and a splendid understanding between the managements and the trade unions, he admitted that the Bill gives some guidance on how they should deal, for instance, with several people who have been doing the same job. I recognise that the points that these people made are Committee points and do not undermine the principle of the Bill, but, without exception, each put his finger on these difficult, rather vague words, which appear several times in the Bill, "reasonable and practicable." I hope that the Minister, in the Regulations, will try to explain what constitutes reasonableness and practicability. I know that those words have been in all kinds of legislation for many years, but I hope that the Minister will be able to define more clearly what they will mean in practice.
Another point raised by those employers was that the Bill puts the obligation on the employer to employ a man on terms and conditions not less favourable than he would have had had he not joined the 1490 Forces. Nobody anticipates very great difficulty in the case of the ordinary workmen, the tradesmen or unskilled labourer; obviously, it means that where increases in wages or better conditions have been given in their classes of work they are entitled to the benefits of them. But we know that the position is different amongst the black-coated men and technical men on the staffs. In any great industry there is a big staff of research workers, chemists, metallurgists, and so on. It may be that one man is rejected for the Forces and is allowed to continue in the service of the company, and in the years that follow he makes great progress in his profession, he attends classes, and gets a degree. His colleague, who has gone into the Services, comes back after his discharge. What will his position be? He cannot be reinstated in the position that he might have occupied, the position occupied by his colleague, who has graduated. I am sure that the Minister will take the opportunity on the Committee stage to deal with these difficult problems of administration, and I do not propose to detain the House on them now. Speaking generally, I am sure that the bulk of employers will welcome this Bill as a guide. They would have carried out its principles anyway. Great preparations have been made, without this Bill, in many large industries, and they fully recognise their obligations to those who have served their country in this great crises.
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
I have listened to most of the speeches, starting with that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft). I share many of the views which he expressed in criticism of this Bill. I have also listened to hon. Members who have spoken from the point of view of the employers, but my main concern is the point of view of the man who is serving overseas. I would not go so far perhaps as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford in declaring that this is a bad Bill, but from the point of view of the man serving the country overseas, I should certainly describe it as very disappointing. Most of those Members who have spoken for the employers have welcomed the Bill, but nearly all have said that they were actually making arrangements to do something better than what is provided in the Bill for the ex- 1491 Serviceman when he came home. I am sure that the average employer up and down this country is perfectly honest and will do all in his power to help ex-Servicemen when they come back. This Bill, in most cases, will help them to say, "I have done all I have been called upon to do, and probably something more beside."
The Bill appears to me to be wrongly titled. Instead of being Reinstatement in Civil Employment, it should be Limitation of Obligation for Reinstatement in Civil Employment, because, in fact, that appears to me to be what it does. I should like the House to consider what this Bill really does. Consider the different classes of employer. Class 1 are those employers who desire, and are able, to give employment to all their employees when they return from the war. Class 2 consists of the employers who desire to give employment to all employees but who may not have vacancies, though in many cases they will make them and would actually employ their people, even if this Bill were never passed, in so far as they were employed before. They would do so purely out of a sense of loyalty to their own employees who come back from the war. The third class are those employers who will find it impossible to take back their employees. These three classes must cover the bulk of employers. Those who will take their men back, even when they have not got full employment, do not need to be compelled; those who cannot take them back cannot be compelled. That leaves practically only one class of employer—and I am sure they are a very small number in this country—those who could take them back and refuse to do it. They must be a very small quantity, and therefore it seems to me that to set up a whole lot of machinery, with committees, umpires—
§ Mr. Lewis Jones
Is the hon. Member aware that there is a law of reinstatement already? You have got the 1939 and the 1941 Acts, and all this Bill does is to clarify them.
§ Sir I. Albery
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I do realise that there is already a law, but my complaint is not that the Government should do something to clarify existing law or simplify it, but that it appears to me that, in the present Bill, they are setting up a whole lot of 1492 cumbersome machinery which is entirely unnecessary. It might provide employment for the people mentioned in the Money Resolution and for the umpires, but I think this matter could be better approached from another direction. I do not think anybody could deny that, broadly speaking, it is the desire of employers all over the country to take back people who have gone to the war, and I suggest that if the Minister of Labour had gone to the big employers of labour in this country and asked them to give him an 80 per cent. guarantee, collective, not individual, but by associations, that they would arrange to take back everybody who came back from the war, he could have obtained that guarantee.
One has to remember, unfortunately, that everybody will not be coming back. What I dislike intensely about this Bill is the impression it will give to the men overseas, very few of whom read the Debates in this House, that this House of Commons has passed the Second Reading of a Bill which really does confer upon them some advantage and greatly safeguards their position as regards re-employment after the war. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford that to a large extent, it will not work. When it comes to the question of the committees, I really do not understand how they will act, and I do hope the Minister, in his reply, will give his attention to that, and will make it clear to us how these committees are to decide when an employer can be forced to take on additional employees over and above those whom he thinks he can employ.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
Surely the hon. Member must remember that, after the last war, a certain number of employers were rather scared of taking back men who had been successful in the Services and who had become captains, majors and even colonels, because of the fear of how they would behave in taking orders?
§ Sir I. Albery
I must say I am not aware of the exact circumstances described. There are obvious difficulties. If somebody leaves as a junior clerk and comes back as a colonel, it is obvious he will not wish to be any longer employed as a junior clerk and there will be difficulties. As far as I know, employers will do their best in that direction and 1493 will be very glad to do it. A good deal of stress has been laid on the fact that those who have gone to the war, especially the younger men, have in many cases been deprived of essential training which would have justified their employment in the position to which they ought to be entitled. There is another side and a very important side. There is no doubt that many of the men who go to the war will have gathered, in the war, a very valuable experience which will certainly make them more valuable employees in many respects. I do not wish to say more except that I am disappointed in the Bill. My great fear is that it will convey to the men in the Forces that a guarantee and provision have been made for them to a much greater extent than is really the case under this Bill.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
May I offer very sincere congratulations to the hon. and gallant Member for Darwen (Captain Prescott), who I think is a real accession to the strength of the House and incidentally to our party. I welcome him the more as the successor to one who was greatly beloved by those who knew him and who fell in battle in the most honourable traditions of this House. The House welcomes this Bill, and its very publication has done much to relieve the anxiety existing throughout the Forces regarding the prospects of post-war employment. I agree, however, with the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) who indicated that the label in the shop window is of a considerably more alluring character than the goods within. I feel that it is, nevertheless, necessary to stress the prerequisities which are essential if this Bill is to become anything more than a pious aspiration. Without being guilty of reopening a topic debated by the House last week, may I reiterate that men who earn their living on the land cannot be reabsorbed in the future unless the present position regarding the future of agriculture is speedily resolved?
I wish to raise a practical problem with the Minister. As the House knows, officers of the Royal Naval Reserve are peace-time officers of the Mercantile Marine. To my personal knowledge, some of these gentlemen, who now have behind them four years of inestimable service to the country as commodores of 1494 convoys, have already received communications from the shipping companies which employed them in times of peace saying that, owing to heavy losses in their fleets, there will be no jobs for them on the cessation of hostilities.
Those letters have already been received by the officers whom I have mentioned. Here is a real problem and I should be most grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister, whose sympathy and good will no one can doubt, would tell us whether this matter has been under review and, if so, what solution the Government have in mind. Would it be possible to take over a number of the Liberty ships and run them under the Ministry of War Transport, which, one hopes, by that time, will have become the Ministry of Peace Transport, making use of these R.N.R. officers for the purpose? This difficulty calls for solution without delay, so that detailed plans can be completed long before the fighting ends. I think I gather a muttered query by the Minister as to whether I am suggesting that these should be run under Government ownership. I am not interested as long as these officers get ships in which to sail. That conforms, I think, even to the views of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford.
I have one more point to make and one only before I sit down, and I hope that I shall not be accused of what the hon Member for Stoke (Mr E. Smith) called quibbling, if I put it to the House. He rather indicated that those who criticised the Bill were the enemies of progress and were acting in a manner detrimental to those who are fighting. I think he will agree with me that this is a real point. Resettlement, rehabilitation and reinstatement are admirable objectives but they are not enough. There are large numbers of special cases in which reinstatement is in one sense actually undesirable. I refer to those young men, mostly secondary school boys, who come into the Services from dog's body and blind alley occupations and who have made good as executive officers, having for the first time had the opportunity of displaying the great qualities of leadership which were latent in them in their school days. I suggest to my right hon. Friend and to the House that it is not in the national interest that these men should return to those same blind alleys from whence they came.
1495 The solution of the problem seems to be administrative rather than legislative but the Second Reading of the Bill appears to be the best opportunity to place on record my hope that the Ministry of Labour will build an adequate pipeline from the Forces, through commanding officers or some other machinery, by which their Appointments Department, an excellent institution which possesses great possibilities if energetically conducted, will be supplied with the names of men whose executive and administrative achievements entitle them to become leaders of this nation in the paths of peace as well as amidst the havoc of war. If the Ministry of Labour works through the Appointments Department, which I have had the opportunity of visiting and which appears to be an excellent piece of machinery, if energetically operated, there should be an opportunity for these men who have made good as leaders on the field of battle. Do not send them back to the blind alley from whence you called them up. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend, in replying to the Debate, would gave an indication of the intentions of the Government in this matter. I shall not detain the House any longer as others wish to speak, but these observations express my support of the Second Reading of the Bill and the hope that it will enjoy a smooth, rapid and improved passage to the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)
Like most hon. Members who have spoken I welcome the Measure now before the House. The Minister of Labour has done a very good job during the last few weeks in introducing two Measures of considerable importance, the one dealing with the rehabilitation of disabled men, not only in the Forces but in industry, and the other this Measure, which is for the re-employment of ex-Servicemen and women. I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) has not had the enthusiastic support from his own side that he expected. There has been a softening down of the tone on the other side since the speech he delivered earlier in the Debate, and perhaps it is just as well, as the impression that would have been created outside, and especially in the Forces, would have been very bad for 1496 him and those with whom he is associated. Those who are at present serving are very concerned, as they have been throughout the period of the war, as to what may happen to them when the war is over and they are demobilised. Many of them have recollections of what happened after the last war and are hoping that they may not have the same experience that their fathers or relatives had at that time.
Some objection has been raised from the other side to the complicated machinery under this Measure. If the machinery outlined in the Measure had not been there, there would have been very strong criticism from hon. Members opposite because there was no machinery with which to deal with the problem, but because the Minister is setting up machinery for dealing with the problem, objection has been taken to his action. We have been told that if the Minister of Labour had gone to the big employers in this country he would have found them very willing to have re-employed ex-Service personnel without all the complicated machinery proposed under the Bill. There is no complicated machinery under the Bill. It is very simple machinery and I believe it will be very effective. It will certainly rid us to a large extent of the problem which arose after the last war, when we trusted to the patriotism of employers to take back their workers. That war had not ended very long before ex-Service men, as well as those who had not served in the Forces, were to be found in queues at the employment exchanges. There was no patriotism then and no question of patriotic employers employing them; they were simply told there was no employment for them. The same sort of thing may happen after this war. We do not know, but it will depend very largely upon the steps taken by the Government to ensure full employment.
If the provision of full employment is the policy of the Government and they are determined that we are not to have unemployment, then, as far as hon. Members on this side of the House are concerned, the Government will receive all the assistance we can give to ensure that neither ex-Service men and women nor those who have been serving in, perhaps, a minor capacity, if one can refer to the essential industries of war as being minor services, will be unemployed as was the case after the last war. The Government 1497 are to be congratulated, if we compare this Government with the Government at the close of the last war, on giving some thought to these problems. Demobilisation did not seem to trouble the Government which we had at the close of the last war. Then, if men could not find employment there was a place for them in the queues at the employment exchanges. This Government are taking some thought on the matter and are making preparations.
In the Measure before us to-day we have at least a sincere attempt to deal with the problem. Like some hon. Members who have spoken, we admit that this is not a complete solution; it cannot possibly be, because some of the occupations that we had before the war started have gone. There can be no question of reinstating ex-Service men in employment that has gone. There will be other difficulties. Very considerable employments have been created for the purposes of the war, but these will go when the war finishes unless we have what hon. Members on the other side seem to contemplate—and this seems to be a sort of safety valve in their minds—very considerable Armed Forces, a large standing Army, a large Navy, a large Air Force. We have been told over and over again from the other side of the House that we will not be as unprepared for the next war as for this war, and the intention is to retain large Armed Forces. I daresay that hon. Members on the other side are banking on these large Armed Forces keeping men from industry who would otherwise be clamouring for jobs. We heard from the other side of the House that there will be no demobilisation this time as there was last time, so that there is not the need for the machinery set up in this Bill for dealing with the reinstatement of ex-Service personnel, because there will not be so many to reinstate. Will there not? I think there will.
The Minister of Labour is to-day introducing this Measure, but once he was introducing another piece of legislation, to conscript labour and to get the power to transfer labour from one industry to another just as he wished. That power is in his hands to-day; all he requires to say is that a transfer is in the national interest and it is sanctioned. But when the Minister comes along with a Measure of this kind, not to take individuals out of industry and put them into the Armed Forces or into some other occupation, but 1498 to reinstate them in civilian occupations, we have an outcry from the other side of the House about bureaucracy, interference with private enterprise, and not trusting the employers to do the right thing when the time comes. It is well that the Government are looking ahead in this matter, and I congratulate them on having introduced this Measure.
Like many others I would have preferred something much more comprehensive, but, at any rate, this is an indicaton that the Government are willing to go along step by step, and, even if they have not produced their whole scheme, we have to welcome a Measure of this kind so long as it is going in the right direction. We want the Government's whole plan, we want to know what they intend to do with the industries of this country, so that we shall have some idea of the number of men and women either in civil occupations or coming back from the Forces who will be absorbed into those industries. But that the Government have not produced their whole plan to-day is no justification for refusing to pass the Measure now before us. Therefore I welcome it. It may be true that in Committee we shall have to amend it in certain particulars, but I daresay the Minister will be willing to consider constructive Amendments that may be moved. On the general principle, however, there should be no question of this House giving a Second Reading to a Measure which is going to reinstate in civil life men and women who are serving in the Forces.
§ Major Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
I have listened to the speeches coming from hon. Members opposite, and the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) did not appear to me to do full justice to the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft). I have read this Bill with some care. When I read its Title I thought, at last we have got a Bill which will clear up the confusion which has existed since the passing of the National Service Act with regard to the reinstatement of ex-Service men. By the use of the word "reinstatement" I am quite sure that the majority of Service people will think that it means something which is going to apply to them all—all those in the Forces, not just a particular section of the Forces—and I went on to read the Bill hoping that it would carry 1499 out that object. I do not want to engage in any form of party politics, but I must admit that when I read through the Bill I was greatly disappointed with the machinery which the Parliamentary Secretary and others have chosen to describe as workmanlike.
It does not seem to me that this Bill, with its high object—which certainly has my fullest support—really goes far enough to achieve very much, and it was in that connection, as I understood it, that the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford made some reference to the words "attempted swindle" because, if this Bill goes through and the report gets abroad not only throughout this country but the world that this Bill contains something for every serving man, contains a valuable right for him, and if he comes home and find it does not, those will be the words that he will use. I did not understand that my hon. and gallant Friend was making any accusation against the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary, or impugning the objects of the Bill but trying to guard against the misunderstandings which might arise in the future and which might have very unfortunate repercussions. May I say why, although I support and welcome the Bill, I regret that it does not go further than it does? First of all it makes no provision at all for the mass of young people who have never been in any employment. It makes no provision at all for those whose employers have had to shut down their industries.
The only persons in the Forces to whom this Bill can apply are those who have the good fortune to come back and find their employers still carrying on the same sort of business, and even upon that small section of our serving men this Bill does not confer very much, because it has been said from all sections of the House that the majority of employers will do all they can without any Bill to provide for their own old employees among the ex-Service men. It has been said by the hon. Member below the Gangway who welcomed this Bill, that it is one which had been approved by the employers he had consulted. Those principles could equally well have been declared in a White Paper without any Bill whatever. This Bill can only apply to the small number of what I do not hesitate to call black sheep employers who are not pre- 1500 pared to fulfil their moral obligations to their former employees.
What sort of right does it give to the former employed ex-Service man against such an employer? He has to make an application. "The Parliamentary Secretary said he would be provided with a form at the demobilisation centre and perhaps he will be supplied with an Explanatory Memorandum and a copy of the Bill. If the soldier is going home on four weeks' leave one can imagine what he will do with that paper. But supposing he studies it and sends in his application for a job, the best job which it is reasonable and practicable for his employer to give him. His employer may have a different view from that of the employee as to what is reasonable and practicable. Suppose there is then an appeal to a reinstatement committee and then to the umpire. How long will elapse and what will the ex-Service man live on between the time of his application and the final determination of his right? It seems to me that a long period may result and that one quite possible effect of this Bill—I hope I am wrong—is that instead of creating active good will between employer and employed it will do exactly the reverse.
Take the case of two solicitors' managing clerks, who have worked alongside each other, have joined up together and have been demobilised at the same time. Suppose one is reinstated as a managing clerk by one firm and the other is given the lower position of third clerk in the adjoining firm. That may lead to a great deal of bitterness between employers and employees and not to that active good will which the Parliamentary Secretary said was a condition precedent to the real fulfilment of what is the object of us all. I would like to make it quite clear that although I share to a considerable extent the views put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford I am not one of those to whom the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) was correct in referring to as a member of the Tory Reform Committee. I support him to a considerable extent but not out of any connection with that Committee. I hope that on the Committee stage of this Bill we shall be able to make it a good Bill and that in our efforts to do so we shall not be accused by hon. Members opposite of seeking to play 1501 party politics. The most vital thing of all is that this Bill should not be represented and exaggerated by hon. Members opposite, so that those who are not in this country to-day should think that it confers on them rights far greater than, in fact, it does.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
I do not take the despondent view which some Members have taken of this Bill. I think it was necessary to have this Measure now, because men are beginning to come out of the Services and employers who want to do the right thing find themselves in some difficulty and are glad of the guidance which the Bill affords. I think the Bill is well drafted and to the ordinary man means what it says, and that the Parliamentary Secretary presented it well to the House. I wish it a good passage and, subject to minor Amendments, a swift way on to the Statute Book. Having said that, I am bound to add my voice to the Debate, not by way of criticism of the Government's proposals but by way of eliciting from the Government answers to two or three important questions. It must not be supposed by our people or by our ex-Service men and women—and I would like the Government to make it clear that they do not wish it to be so supposed—that this Bill is anything more than a very small and limited Measure to clear up difficulties about reinstatement and to give guidance in a very limited field. Under no conditions can this Measure solve more than part of the problem of seeing that ex-Service men and women come back to a job.
I hope that the Parliamentary draftsman, in using the word "reinstatement" did not seek to limit the Bill closely to the question of placing a particular person in his old job. I hope that the word "reinstatement" in the Title of this Bill means, broadly, the rehabilitation, the bringing back and the getting back into civil life of our men and women in the Forces. On that assumption I invite the Minister, on the Committee stage, to consider an Amendment which will declare a wider and a necessary policy on the part of the Government to meet the needs of those who, as I read the Bill, are not being catered for at present. They are, for instance, the men who did not have jobs before the war because they were at school or college or 1502 were unemployed. They cannot have a personal right of reinstatement in a particular place, but I think the nation and the House would say that they have a right of reinstatement in civil life in the broad sense of that word, and to go back to civil life on the road they were travelling before. If reinstatement does not mean that, then the Minister ought to find a new title or a sub-title which does mean that, so that we may secure for people serving in the Forces what the nation would wish them to have and what they think they ought to have—the right of prior place for a job.
What does that mean? Where a man has personal reinstatement rights for a particular place he must face the fact that somebody may have to be put out of a job to give him that right. That is an unpleasant fact that must be faced. The provision of a preference in employment for ex-Servicemen and women does not mean putting people in general out of jobs. It would be a bad thing that that should take place. What it does mean is exercising a discretion in the Ministry of Labour to see that the people coming back from the Armed Forces, who have not personal rights of reinstatement, are first offered to employers when they have vacancies. There is nothing new about this. It is familiar to the Minister, it has been familiar to other Ministers for 20 years, and I am glad to say that the right hon. Gentleman has now sanctified it by putting into a recent Bill a Clause which gives it statutory form. I submit that the Government should put a similar new Clause into this Bill, so that it may be known to ex-Service men, first, whether they have a personal right to a particular place under this Bill, which offers that right in a reasonable and practicable form, and that, secondly, where they have not that personal right Parliament says that they shall have the right of getting a job. When the Minister replies to the Debate I hope he will tell us either that he will consider some enlargement of the Measure upon these lines or that this Bill is only a piece of machinery designed to cover a limited sphere and that it is the Government's intention to bring in a wider Measure proclaiming the general preference for which I have asked.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
I look at this Bill more from the point of view of the local welfare officer, or the 1503 Citizens Advice Bureau, or the ordinary company officer in India, Burma or Italy. He hears something on the B.B.C. or gets some leaflets from the Army stating that the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Bill is being introduced into Parliament. The Bill affects a very large number of people. I have no idea of the exact numbers but should I be very wrong in suggesting 12,000,000? All soldiers, sailors and airmen are interested in the problem. Soldiers overseas particularly are afraid that they will be disillusioned, in the same way as soldiers in many cases after the last war were disillusioned.
If I were asked by a soldier what were the chances of employment for him under the Bill I should have to say, "You must have been employed by your former employer for four weeks before you joined up. You must be lucky enough to have been the first man holding that job to go. Your duty when you are discharged from the Army is to report before the fifth Monday after your discharge in writing to say that you are available for the job. If your employer, who has no obligation to reply, does not reply, in another three weeks you write again and, as far as one can make out, the employer again has no obligation to reply, so you go on writing every 13 weeks and hope for the best." That is as far as the Bill goes at the moment in regard to getting a job. Then what sort of job can he get? In accordance with Clause 1 (1, a) the employer is supposed to take him intothe occupation in which the applicant was last employed by the former employer before the beginning of his war service and on terms and conditions not less favourable to him than those which would have been applicable to him in that occupation had he not become a person to whom this Act applies.If that is not available, according to paragraph (b), such other occupation in the same line of business as would be reasonable and practicable. Is the soldier really going to be satisfied with that?
That is not all, because there are a number of other limiting provisions, notably in Clause 5 (2), which go to limit the need for the employer to give the soldier work. I am almost suspicious of the number of employers who have spoken welcoming the Bill, notably the hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. L. Jones), who tried to make out that Clause 1 (1, a) did not mean what the Minister explained 1504 that it did mean. In other words, he tried to make out that, if a chap goes to the war as a young man and comes back wanting a job, he is to be given the same job, whether he was an apprentice or not, as he had had before the war. The Parliamentary Secretary was asked whether that was the right meaning or not and he distinctly said that it should be in the same grade of occupation that he would have been entitled to had he not been in the Service. In other words, if he had been an office boy or a junior clerk when he left and in five years he would have been entitled to become a senior clerk, he would have been entitled to a senior clerk's job. That is the way I read it and that is the way the Parliamentary Secretary explained it. Again, there will be all sorts of difficulties in deciding what is reasonable or practicable. For these reasons I suggest that the Bill is potentially useful to 12,000,000 but in fact it will be of very little use at all. It will not be of the slightest use to those who have already been promised their jobs back in any case. It will not be of the slightest use to those whose previous jobs have come to an end because a factory has closed down. It is of no use to the small shopkeeper, because he is his own employer and he does not come into the picture. It boils down to this, that it is only of use to an employer who does not want to take him back—a frightfully small section of the population.
Are we to have this elaborate machinery to deal with, say, 20,000 cases? I believe it is necessary to have a Bill to deal with this small category of people—recalcitrant employers—but is it necessary to have these reinstatement committees and umpires and all the other elaborate machinery? It would be very much simpler if we could deal direct with the Minister and if he had powers of direction.
I intensely dislike Clauses 8 and 9. For the purposes of determining the questions and making the orders, reinstatement committees can do this, that and the other.Any order made by reinstatement committees shall be binding on the employer and an order requiring that there shall be paid to the applicant by way of compensation for any loss suffered or likely to be suffered by him by reason of the default a sumnot exceeding in any event the amount of the 26 weeks' wages can be enforced by 1505 the reinstatment committee. I do not like that sort of thing, because it takes away from Parliament the right to question the Minister on these difficult cases. The reinstatement committee is an independent body. Admittedly the Minister appoints them, but the Minister's answer will always have to be that the reinstatement committee has considered it and it has been referred to the umpire, whose decision will be final, and therefore the Minister has no right to intervene. That is wrong, because these cases will be very few but they will be just the sort of case which will be brought before Members in their constituencies and it is all the more important that we should have the right to question the Minister or, if necessary, raise the matter on the Adjournment or on the Minister's salary. If we are going on with the Bill we ought to amend the machinery so that the doings of the reinstatement committees can be reviewed in Parliament and the Minister made answerable for them.
The Bill will be a disappointment to very many serving men. They had hoped for something different. We all realise the difficulties of employers in view of the revolutionary situation that has occurred in industry since 1939. We do not want it to go out to the serving men overseas or at home, who do not read Acts of Parliament and what the Parliamentary Secretary said, that this is a Reinstatement in Civil Employment Bill when it really is not in fact and applies to only a very few serving men. Let us amend the Bill and make it a better Bill if the Minister will not take it back and do it himself.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
I regret that there has been an attempt to utilise this Debate to import into the Bill from the point of view of the serving man and woman something that it was never intended to do. May I first deal with the situation as it is? Parliament on that fateful day in September, 1939, took a Section from the Military Training Act which had been passed earlier and put it direct into the National Service Act without any machinery to give effect to it. I do not criticise this in the light of the circumstances at that moment. I am responsible for the administration of this Act, and what astonishes me is that Members who have spoken to-day have not appreciated that it is in operation 1506 now and that it is not an Act only to be operated when demobilisation generally takes place. The hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) has talked as if no men were coming out of the Army now. They are coming out every day, and I am faced every day with the problem of what employers' obligations are now—not what they will be when the war ends.
I would say to the hon. and gallant Member in all kindness and friendliness that this is a Coalition Government, and he cannot claim the liberties that he claimed to-day and keep a Minister on a lead. If he is going to attack me as he attacked me to-day, I will not say anything much to-day—out of kindness to him, and I will have regard to his youth, to his inexperience and to his overdeveloped ego—but if he does it again I shall claim the liberty to reply in the same language that he applied to me as a Minister. I do not want to do it, because I have a frightfully delicate job to do and a very heavy responsibility, and I am not playing the party game in this Coalition. I undertook to the Prime Minister to try to see this war through and to do one of the most delicate jobs that any Minister undertook. It is no good to tell me that I am honest and straight and that you do not criticise me, and then go on to infer that I am introducing a dishonest Bill. I am dealing with men who are fighting in every field in this war, and that sort of thing will not do. I will not make any further comment now, but I shall not submit to it again. I hope that we shall not have criticism of that sort of any Measures—Measures for which the Cabinet, not I, are responsible. The Government have considered this thing in all its aspects and have authorised me to present this Bill. I have had the most unfortunate experience of some of my own party voting against me at times and criticising me seriously, but no one can ever say that I have kicked the ball into my own net since I have been in this Coalition.
§ Sir I. Albery
Will the right hon. Gentleman really explain exactly what he is complaining of? I heard the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft). It was perfectly in Order and there was nothing personal about it. I have heard many speeches directed against Ministers, and occasion- 1507 ally against the Prime Minister, which could have given just as much cause of complaint as anything said to-day. What are the threats which the right hon. Gentleman is making?
§ Mr. Bevin
There was a reference to a letter sent to the Brighton constituency. It was perilously near accusing me of introducing a Bill which, as applied to the Forces, is a swindle, and I resent that very much. I am trying to play the game with everybody, and I say that, however clever these speeches may be, it should be remembered that there are thousands of men outside who place an implication upon that sort of thing. I say to my young Tory friends that they had better be briefed better from the young Tory office. I leave it at that.
This Bill is intended to straighten out, and no more than that, the unfortunate legal complication which was introduced at the moment and under the pressure of the declaration of war in 1939. I have not attempted to do anything else. May I remind the House that this question has been put to me over and over again, and perhaps I may quote from some of the answers I gave in 1941 when dealing with the extension of the Conscription Acts and the direction of labour. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) put some Questions to me, and I do not depart from the answers to-day. On the general question of reinstatement for everybody, he asked me whether I would take steps to cause the re-employment of workers at the conclusion of the service to which they were directed. I said that I had no power to issue directions for that purpose. Supplementary questions were asked, but the vital point is this. I said:I am bound to say that the way in which my mind is moving is that there should be acceptance of a general social obligation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th October, 1941; col. 1095, Vol. 374.]That is on the whole question of resettlement and on the point, where reinstatement is not possible, that these people have been directed out of their normal lives into some other life to serve the war purposes, but the industries are not there and the circumstances have so changed that they cannot be re-employed. I stand where I stood in 1941 when I in- 1508 troduced that difficult and delicate Measure to conscript women, when I said that the State cannot escape its social obligations for the re-employment and the proper succour of these people. From that I do not depart. I have never attempted in this Bill to deal with that. At the proper time the whole question of how to deal with demobilised men and women will be dealt with in this House, but not on this Bill. At that moment the Government will reveal their methods and proposals for dealing as a whole with the re-settlement in civil life of those who are serving in the Forces and not only in the Forces but in the Merchant Navy and, in addition, the people who have been, as one hon. Member put it to me, taken out of good jobs and put into inferior jobs in this war. I would like to say how glad I am that this has been acknowledged in this House now, because it has been assumed that everybody put on munitions went into a much better job. In many cases nothing of the kind happened. Some people have paid a very big price to help this country in very difficult circumstances.
That side of the matter has to be dealt with under a general, comprehensive scheme. If private enterprise or private employment cannot fill the bill to give employment, the argument between private employment and State employment goes West. Employment has to be found by somebody; it has to be provided, because we can never again leave people in a state of demoralisation. I think that on that point we are on common ground. That is the comprehensive method, and I think hon. Members will find, as the pattern unfolds itself in the work we are doing, that the Government will not have very much to be ashamed of in the preparations they are making. I know that it is very easy to say: "Why have the Government taken so much time to deal with this or that problem?" Believe me, Sir, the problems are not easy. It is so easy to write a report and, as I have discovered to-day, it is so difficult to draft a Bill. It is so easy to argue before a judge what a Bill means. I would have the House remember that I am an amateur K.C.—and I won, whether I deserved it or not, anyway. If I may say so in passing, that was the only time I ever blacklegged. I asked my opponent, who was a K.C., if he could give me the union rules. He said they had only one, which was, 1509 "Never try to take more than the client has got."
Most of the points raised to-day are, in the main, Committee points. I shall welcome a discussion in a friendly spirit in Committee. May I deal with one or two fundamental things? First, I would select machinery. It was said by the last speaker that only 20,000 or 30,000 people may be affected. That is not correct. I cannot give hon. Members the numbers that are in the Forces now, because I dare not reveal them. We had, roughly, 1,750,000 unemployed at the time when war was declared. That means that if you take the proportion of unemployed at that time to the employed the number of people actually without jobs when they entered the Services will not be more than about 150,000. So the rest must have had a job somewhere. I only draw that illustration to show the magnitude of the task, which has been accentuated during the progress of the war. Some employers under the interpretation of the present law have an obligation to as many as a dozen men for one job. That is an impossible situation. It is not a question whether you can take them back, but of what is the right thing to do.
They have another problem. Men have been in the Army or the Services, have come back and been released to Class W reserve, gone to another employment and are now back in the Army. All this manipulation of man-power that has gone on during the war has brought about the most difficult complications, which cannot be dealt with under the present law. What did we do? I remember sitting in the Gallery of the old House of Commons many years ago and listening to a Debate on industrial agreements and industrial legislation, and I shall never forget something which was said by Lord Robert Cecil in taking part in that Debate. A certain legal gentleman had been criticising industrial arrangements as illogical and ill-defined, and a phrase that always stuck in my mind came from Lord Robert Cecil, and it was: "That is why they work." It is so true. The basis of collective action and collective agreements in this country is not precise definition in precise legal language, but the good spirit and good understanding which are behind them. I did not want a law that could not be carried out, so what did I do? I went to the employers, the trade unions and all sorts of other people of a represen- 1510 tative kind. The question was never raised about anybody wanting to avoid the obligation. That question has never arisen at all in any of the discussions. What has arisen is, how to carry the obligation out.
I ventured the idea of the reinstatement committee. Committees of this kind may be ridiculed, but they have done a grand job in this war. If hon. Members knew the amount of legal trouble that has been saved in the administration of the National Service Acts and the good will created, through the independent chairman and the two assessors, they would realise that committees have helped to carry on this war to a most amazing extent. I resorted to that idea. I think that when we get into Committee hon. Members will not find precise legal language to carry out the obligation. I turned and rested on three things. The first was that, over the great area of British industry, the State and local authorities, there is a body of people who want to do the job of reinstating. Secondly, I have, on the trade union side, an opinion and a desire not only to reinstate and absorb, but to make up the training of men, in order to get them back into their jobs. That is a great spirit. Thirdly, I have a public opinion that is determined to see the right thing done.
On those three bases I have tried to invent the most simple machinery, without the Press blaring and making a stunt of it, or anything of that kind. In the ordinary room where these fellows meet, if they do not comprehend the legal terms, there may be three or four employers and trade unionists there who will say: "Well, it wasn't quite within the law" and somebody else will say: "At any rate, we'll find a job for him." I have to work very largely on that basis, in order to work smoothly. I am confident that it will work that way in the future. If hon. Members ask me to put everything down in precise legal terms in the Bill, then I am afraid I must say that I cannot do it. Another point raised has been about this awfully vexed question of regulations, which has almost become as historic as King Charles's head. It will apparently be coming up on every Bill.
§ Mr. Bevin
I knew I would get a cheer for that. I am not very keen about regulations at all under this Bill. In 1511 fact I will make this confession to the House: I did not put the provision in the original draft at all, but in the discussions I have had over a wide field of industry I have found that they are a little afraid of case-made law, a little afraid of every principle having to go to the umpire and then getting into a legal tangle. I have put this regulation proposal in the Bill to meet industry, not to meet the Minister at all. It is difficult to get case-made law to meet every kind of circumstances, and it was represented to me that I ought to take power to make regulations so that as the reinstatement committees get to work and the cases are thrown up reasonable regulations can be made, not too rigid, as a guide in settling these difficult problems. It is only in this sense that the idea of such regulations has come in this Bill.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
I apologise for intervening, I do not often interrupt, but did I understand the Minister to say that he had submitted some sample regulations to somebody?
§ Mr. Bevin
I am in doubt about this. I am in the hands of the House, but if hon. Members wish to press it, I do not know quite how to meet the point. It is this term "reasonable and practicable." I do not want to take advantage of that, and to give no guide to the reinstatement committees at all. It was suggested that in the working of these reinstatement committees a set of general propositions would come up out of experience and then, instead of having to get amending legislation at that time, I should have the power to make regulations born out of experience. I shall be taking a leap in the dark if I am asked to define these regulations before I know the kind of case I am to deal with precisely. It is very difficult to be able to say to the House that this or that is the precise form of regulation I shall want.
I am making a frank statement to the House. I am making this proposal to take power to make regulations should they be necessary. As far as I humanly 1512 can I prefer to work through guidance, but what it is desired to avoid, I repeat, is too much case-made law and umpire decisions whereby you are absolutely tied and cannot vary a principle at all. When we get to the Committee stage we might be able to analyse that a little more closely, but at the moment I only inform the House that it was really the wishes of those with whom I have been negotiating. I tried in this Bill, as far as I could, to build it up without any regulations of this kind at all, and I leave that to some of my colleagues in the Cabinet to face probably when other Bills arise.
I was particularly interested in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Darwen (Captain Prescott), and I, too, congratulate him on his maiden speech. The point he made about the rehabilitation of particular industries is a matter to which the Government are giving very careful consideration, but again, if I may say so to him with respect, it does not quite arise on this particular Bill, but I think there will be opportunities later to meet that point.
I was asked a question as to why we had inserted the four weeks in the Bill and not a longer period. Under the present law it is 14 days. If the man had been only in employment a day the obligation applies but it points to the necessity of this Bill that one of the difficulties I have had to face in dealing with returning soldiers, not with the big industries—do not think I am making a general charge, but you have an awful lot of sharp people in this world who are not too patriotic—I found that when certain employers discovered that they were under an obligation to reinstate they immediately sacked the man when I sent out the enlistment notice. By putting the date back four weeks I caught that clever trick by the neck. I hope the House will agree with me in doing it.
In considering this point, as the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) will appreciate, I was in a frightful difficulty with two types of labour. One was the building and civil engineering trades, the other was bodies like the dockers and others of that kind who were in casual employment, and had no employer, so to speak. What we have done in the case of the casual employments which have since become pools—and this deals very largely with the point raised by my hon. Friend about the Merchant Navy—is that we 1513 have made the pool the employer under this Bill in the case of docks and so on in order that where casual labour has been wiped out and a corporate body or organisation has come into existence in the meantime, although the employer may have disappeared in the case of that particular industry and a pool has taken the employer's place, then the man has the automatic right to be reinstated in the pool.
§ Mr. Bevin
Yes, Sir, that is as far as we can go. That does not deal with the problem raised on the more difficult side, regarding the reinstatement in particular firms. I sympathise with the R.N.R. and I have discussed the question with a number of men, as my hon. Friend knows. I know a good many of the captains and others who went gallantly to the R.N.R., and they come to me and discuss their position. I give this undertaking that when the general question of looking after these men arises I personally will watch their interests with very great care and see that if there is a hiatus in time, between their demobilisation and the provision of ships for them to sail in, they are not let down. I have the greatest possible sympathy both for them and the men who have done what they have done in that sphere. In that I am sure every colleague of mine in the Cabinet will be ready to respond to find a solution to the problem. I think I have dealt with the four weeks difficulty, but in Committee I will look into any point that hon. Members may raise on which there should be further consideration.
I have been asked about the men who have already come back and have been employed. Ought I to make this Bill retrospective? I was a little nervous about retrospective legislation: hon. Members have had rather violent views about it; but in so far as the Ministry of Labour, by direction to another job, have prevented a man from going back to his old job, he is protected under a Defence of the Realm Regulation, preserving his rights. Such men will be protected under this Bill. I am quite willing to look into the question of whether that can be extended, but I have very grave doubts. Already there have been so many adjustments made, that I am afraid of disturb- 1514 ing many voluntary arrangements under the very difficult administration of the law as we have had it.
There is one point to which I should call special attention. It shows that the very nature of this legislation should be flexible. I have discussed with both sides the possibility of what I might call pools of returning men from the Forces in industry itself. Again I cannot include it in the Bill, but this is an indication of how I think it will work out. You take a given industry. The industry has been concentrated. You cannot open up everything at once. You can preserve the rights of men, as this Bill goes, but both sides are willing in the intermediate stage to take on men coming back, who will be ultimately transferred to a firm which has yet to be opened up. I pay very great attention to that, because that flexibility in the administration for which I have provided is, I think, of very great service in dealing with this problem. My hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Lewis Jones) said that this had been discussed with the British Employers Confederation, and I think he put their approach to it extremely well. One of the most difficult trades to deal with is the retail distribution trade. Apart from the general employers' organisations, members of this trade have not been so intimately in touch with us, but when they heard the proposals they wrote to us, and I would like to read this paragraph, because this is where you get the ones, the twos and the threes, and not the big firms:In the first place, I should say the Confederation welcomes the Bill, both as to its principles and general proposals, as a fair and practical measure, and we believe it would hardly be possible to devise any more satisfactory arrangement for dealing with a very difficult problem.Well, that represents a side which has presented untold difficulties to me, because you get down to the ones and twos.
May I mention one other thing? It is said that this Bill is not sufficient and it was pointed out by the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford that a man who was in a junior position might be quite different when he came back. I ask hon. Members to remember that we have already announced to the House a complete scheme—and I beg hon. Members to take these Bills as they unfold themselves and look at them as part of a plan 1515 —a complete scheme of the Government, with very substantial grants, to make up the gap lost as a result of the war. If these young men come back and they need training, or, in the higher grades, to go to a university, or need technical training, we have gone out of our way to take all possible steps we can in order that these young men and women shall make up the gap caused by the war. You must not take these Bills as being separated from that. Assuming a boy who was in a bank, and needed to make up his accountancy but had not the facilities, we are ready as a Governmen to try to make up that gap which has arisen from being in the Services. We have already announced that to the House, and we are already trying to preserve the rights of apprentices when they come back.
In all these fields, which would take far too long to go into now, this Bill is merely endeavouring to simplify the employer's obligation and make quite clear to the men what their rights are, and then to create machinery of a common sense kind sufficient to get the maximum results. I beg hon. Members not to drag into this Bill the whole general demobilisation problem. That is a wide, big comprehensive thing, which must be dealt with and revealed to this House, but I assure the House, that when that is done this Bill will be found to be the correct link in the chain and will be a contribution to the working of the whole.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
May I ask the Minister to answer the point put by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman). Are boys directed into the pits to have the same rights as people directed into the Services?
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Captain McEwen.]
§ Committee upon the next Sitting Day.