I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
First of all, I should like to thank those Members who have spoken on the previous important Bill which has just been read a Second time for curtailing their speeches so that this Bill may be reached to-day. I appreciate the privilege which has been extended to me through my luck in the ballot of presenting this Bill. Perhaps, after all, it is only appropriate that a disabled man should present a disabled men's Bill, because it is only, perhaps, those who are disabled that know exactly what it means to be in that category. I well remember, when I was discharged from hospital, suffering, as many of the disabled are to-day, from unemployment, and I can assure the House that the greatest good that was done me was done by the mere fact that I was able to take up work. It did far more for me than the whole medical profession ever did, and I am talking about the time when I was not, perhaps, such a hefty fellow as I am at the present moment, but was suffering then with a 100 per cent. disability.
In presenting this Bill, I appeal to all parties in the House. I am one of those who do not believe that party politics should enter into the problem of the ex-service man. Although I have been a voluntary worker on behalf of my fellow ex-service men ever since my discharge from the Army in 1916, and although I sit in this House as a Conservative, I have never permitted party politics to enter into the question of the ex-service man. After all, when we joined the Army, they did not ask us what our politics were. As a matter of fact, during my service in the Army, I never heard politics mentioned; and after one has been here week in and week out, one sometimes wishes one were back in that blissful state of affairs. It is true that they did ask you what your religion was, and I remember a curious thing that happened to myself. I happened to join a Scottish regiment, and on my small book I was a Presbyterian, while on my identification disc I was "C. of E." I have often wondered who, had I died of wounds, would have buried me. However, it was very useful sometimes, because one was occasionally able to dodge compulsory church parade.
In presenting this Bill, and reaching it rather late in the day I hope that it will not be talked out. I hope that it will get a Second Beading. It will then be for us to try and approach the Government as to whether they will grant us facilities for it. But I should like, in introducing this compulsory Measure, to say a word of praise for the work of the King's Roll Council. I appreciate, and the ex-service men's organisation in this country, the British Legion, appreciate, very much indeed the work that has been done by that Council—by that gallant Field-Marshal Earl Haig, and the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson). While thanking them for all that they have done, I should like also to thank those patriotic employers of labour who have supported the King's Roll by taking on, as 5 per cent, of their employés, disabled men. One naturally is not altogether keen on introducing a compulsory Measure, but one realises that, when the voluntary scheme has not acted as we anticipated it would act, it is time we began to think of compulsion.
I do not want hon. Members of this House to be frightened by that word, but still, at the same time, we realise and know that the voluntary system has failed, and that it will continue to fail as the years go on. We realise full well that sentiment, so far as the disabled man is concerned, is gradually fading away, and, therefore, there is all the more reason why we should bring in some scheme to safeguard the disabled man who sacrificed so much for his country. That is why this Measure is being presented to this House. In 1919 the King's National Roll was set up by Royal Proclamation, and it had two objects. The first was to absorb into employment all disabled men. The second was to secure equal distribution of those disabled men among the various industries of this country. In 1922 it was found that the voluntary system had failed, and a Select Committee was set up to go into the matter. The hon. and gallant Member for Fareham was, I believe, the Chairman of that Committee. It was set up by this House of Commons, and what did it find? It found that the voluntary system was failing, and it was necessary either to await a revival of trade, to reconstitute the voluntary scheme on a different basis, or to adopt compulsion. The Committee agreed that it is the honourable duty of the country to see that every disabled man, and not only a proportion of them, has a chance of employment. The Committee also found that the sentiment in favour of preferential treatment of, and general sympathy towards, the disabled ex-service man, was on the decline. I entirely agree with that, as I have already said. Sympathy, so far as these poor fellows are concerned, is gradually fading away. At the conclusion of that Report it was laid down that, unless the problem had been successfully dealt with by the 1st May, 1923, recourse should be had to a form of compulsion.
We consider that that scheme has not succeeded. It is now May, 1924, a year after the time that was laid down by the Committee, and we consider that the time has now come when such a Measure as I am presenting to-day should be adopted by this House. After all, it is over five years since the King's Roll Committee was set up, and what do we find? We find that 12 months ago there were 30,800 firms on the King's Roll, while to-day there are 28,474, a reduction of practically 2,000. That may be accounted for by the fact that many of those firms who were on the King's Roll have removed themselves from the Roll by not carrying out the regulations laid down by the King's Roll Committee. It may, on the other hand, mean that a few of those firms have gone into liquidation. At the same time, we know that, under the rules and regulations of the King's Roll Committee, the licence, if you like to call it such, has to be renewed every year; and we are also aware that many of those firms that are on the King's Roll to-day have really no right to be on it, because they are not carrying out the obligations as they ought. The number of firms that have been added to the Roll during the last six or eight, months has been declining. In July, 374 were added, in August, 328, in September, 254, in October, 262, November went up somewhat, December, 293, January, 192, and February last, 132, so that during that period the number has decreased by something like 60 per cent. Many firms who are still on the Roll have really no right to be on it. We found on investigation in one town that 60 per cent, of the firms who were using the King's Roll stamp on their paper had no right to use it or to be enrolled. They were of course struck off the Register. If that applies to one town it may, and probably does, to a great many other towns throughout the country.
The support the King's Roll Committee has received has been very good in some places. In others, and especially with regard to local authorities, it has been very bad and not at all patriotic, because after all on any local authority there are many jobs that these disabled men can be put to. To-day the King's Roll covers some 330,000 men out of 680,000. They have no security of tenure as far as their work is concerned. A particular firm employing a certain number of them may go off the King's Roll and the men may be sacked from their job. The figures which are obtained through the machinery of the Ministry of Labour have been questioned more than once. On investigation in one town, we were informed that the official number of disabled men on the register was four, but we found out that there were 103. The figures the Ministry give do not include men who are suffering from 100 per cent, disability, because after all a man who is getting 100 per cent, pension is not entitled to unemployment insurance. Naturally he would not go day after day and register at the employment exchange because he knows full well there is no chance of getting a job. The same thing applies to agricultural work and fisheries, so that those men cannot be included in the total which has been made up by the Ministry. After all the voluntary system as it exists to-day is not fair to the patriotic employer who takes on a quota of disabled men. He is in keen competition with other firms which are not patriotic, and therefore naturally he suffers to a certain degree by taking these disabled men into his employ. I feel sure that patriotic employers will welcome the fact that those films which have not accepted their responsibility with regard to these disabled men are to be subject to compulsion, because it will place all firms on the same footing. Nearly all the other countries engaged in the War have adopted compulsion. They have found that the voluntary scheme has failed. Surely we in this country have as great an admiration for these men as any other country have and we should do everything possible to assist them. Italy introduced such a scheme when she had half a million unemployed, and in less than eight months that number was reduced to 500.
Let me deal with the Bill. It is rather extraordinary that it should succeed another Bill with which it has so much in common sympathy. I hope it will receive the same fate that the previous Measure did. This is a just and fair Bill, which will accomplish that which the voluntary system has failed and always will fail to accomplish. It is so drafted that it can be adjusted in Committee. If all employers are brought under the scheme, we consider that the number of disabled that each will be able to employ will be something like four or five per cent. Is that a lot to ask? I have seen disabled men in these training centres who could do as hard and as good work as able-bodied men. I have seen a man who had lost his right arm filling a cart full of rubbish, knocking nails in with the hook at the end of the arm, carrying heavy bags filled with various materials. Those men have undoubtedly adapted themselves to circumstances, and I am certain if they only had the chance of employment they would do everything they possibly could to give satisfaction and show their appreciation of the fact that the country had not forgotten them altogether. We do not believe that any employer employing less than 10 men should come under the Bill, but that, of course, will be for the Committee to decide. Under the Bill a disabled man will naturally be guaranteed employment for the remainder of his life. Is that not something for the disabled man to look forward to? What has he to look forward to to-day? Nothing but unemployment. We must not only look at the question as it is at the moment, but we must look to the future so far as these men are concerned. We must look 10 or 15 years hence. I remember that when I joined the Army, many people said, "The same thing will apply as applied in previous campaigns. These men will come back and will be forgotten." The answer was, "No. This is too great an affair. There are too many people interested in these men to see that they will not suffer." They are suffering, and the House of Commons to-day has before it a Measure which will do something to remove that suffering. I trust the House will be ready to do something to redeem the great promises that were made when these men were asked to go and fight for their King and country. The numbers affected by this Bill will naturally decrease. The men will eventually die. There are some people who say that old soldiers never die. Unfortunately, there have been many cases where men have died. If this and other Governments had adopted different Measures in connection with disabled men, many lives that have been lost since the War might have been spared.
We realise that all industries cannot bear the same percentage. Regulations will be drawn up in Committee and by the Minister of Labour and submitted to this House before they become law. If an employer or a man happens to be dis- satisfied with a decision of the Committee he will have the right of appeal. A penalty may be inflicted upon an unworthy man and his disablement certificate removed from him, or a penalty may be inflicted upon an unworthy employer. The special merit of this Bill is that we allow two years for it to get into working order. We do not want to interfere with industry, owing to the position in which industry finds itself at the present time. Therefore, we allow the employer of labour two years in which to adjust his workpeople so as to absorb the small percentage of disabled ex-service men he will be required to take. No matter how much pension the Minister of Pensions may give to the disabled man, it cannot make up for what he has lost. This Bill will inflict no hardship upon anyone. We are not asking the Government to spend any money on it. We are asking the industry of this country to realise its responsibilities towards these men who saved those industries during the War. It gives me great pleasure, and I regard it as a great honour, to move the Second Reading of the Bill, and I hope it will receive the whole-hearted support of the House.
I beg to second the Motion.
The hon. and gallant Member who has moved it is himself a disabled ex-service man, and he made a most eloquent plea on behalf of those who, like himself, suffered in order that this country might survive. I desire to add my plea to his. I would ask hon. Members when they are judging of the merits of this Bill to put to themselves two questions. First, is it desirable that industry should absorb all the disabled ex-service men, or is it not? There can be two answers to that question. The next question is, has the voluntary system under the King's Roll succeeded in obtaining the object in view or has it not? The evidence which the hon. and gallant Member has just given appears to me to be pretty conclusive on this subject. In 1919, under the most auspicious circumstances, an appeal was made by the King, and the sense of the nation was stirred—
Trade was good, industry was moving, and yet between 1919 and 1922 the scheme has so little succeeded that the whole system has to be revised. Despite the fact that the persons controlling the scheme were men of extreme ability and men whose zeal was worthy of the utmost admiration, we find that there are large numbers of disabled men out of employment. The Committee of the King's Roll assess the figure at 38,000, but I understand the Legion assesses it at 80,000. If we take the mean between the two, we shall get a more or less accurate figure. For the sake of argument, I will take the lower figure, although I cannot accept it. If there are 38,000 unemployed disabled ex-service men, it is a disgrace to this country. If anyone had said to me between 1914 and 1918 that there would be 38,000 unemployed disabled ex-service men, I would have reviled him as a slanderer of his country. If he had said that on a recruiting platform before conscription was brought in, how many recruits would have been got? If it had been said after we adopted conscription, every man of fighting age would, rightly, have been a conscientious objector. We have arrived at a stage when the voluntary system has failed, and we have to take exactly the same steps which this country took when the voluntary system failed during the War. We have to have resort to conscription. The country did not hesitate to conscript men in order to save the life of the country, and the country ought not to hesitate to conscript employers in order that the men who fought for us can be put into a position of security.
No patriotic employer has anything to fear from this Bill; he has everything to gain. If instead of the patriotic employer shouldering too large a quota of the disabled ex-service men they are distributed over the whole of industry, it is obvious that the good employer will gain and not lose thereby. There are provisions in the Bill which absolutely safeguard the employer. It will take two years from the passage of this Bill into law before any employer can be penalised for not having his quota of men. That affords protection not only to the employer but to the men who are working in that industry to-day. No man can be turned out of the job in which he is now engaged in order that an ex-service man may be put in his place. We simply ask employers to fill up the vacancies that occur through natural wastage in the course of months and years with these disabled ex-service men.
There is nothing harsh in this Bill as regards employers. Clause 8 provides that
An employer shall not be compelled to employ or continue to employ any particular disabled man who holds a certificate in accordance with the provisions of this Act, or any disabled man who is not suitable for the purposes of his establishment.
Again, Clause 16 provides:
An employer shall not be bound to employ the number of disabled men prescribed by the Minister of Labour or be liable to any penalty under this Act if—
That Clause safeguards the position of the employers. The promoters of the Bill do not pretend that it is perfectly drafted. We are willing that alterations of detail should be made in Committee. What we ask the House is, by passing the Second Reading, to establish two principles; first, to lay down definitely that it is the duty of this country to absorb into industry every man disabled in the War who can do any job at all; and the second principle is that you should not give them security, as the King's Roll at present does, only for 12 months from the time of their engagement, but that you should give them security of employment from the passage of this Bill for the whole of their industrial life.
It has been argued that if we pass the Second Reading and that the Government are unable to give facilities for the passage of the Bill—though I hope sincerely that they will be able to do so—the fact that this principle has been established by the Second Reading of the Bill will militate against the successful operation of the King's Roll. I do not believe that. What will happen will be that if we establish the principle the good employer will say to the bad employer, "Unless you come on to the Roll and take your quota of men you will get compulsion." Exactly the same thing will happen as happened when it became known during the War that conscription was coming, when you got the largest flow of recruits that ever you had, people who did not want to be conscripted. I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading. If they do not they will damp the hopes not only of the thousands of men who are out of employment, who are disabled, but of the hundreds of thousands who are in employment but always have in their hearts the fear that at any moment they may be out of employment.
I hope that I may be allowed, as one who was responsible for a long time for the King's Roll, to say a word on this Bill. The House will know that we invited employers to retain 5 per cent, of their places for disabled ex-service men. If they did that, they could write their names on the King's Roll of Honour, and use the seal of the Roll on all their communications. Down to October, 1920, we got on very well. As we have been reminded, facilities for employment were to hand, and trade was good. If that condition of things had continued, this problem would have been settled long ago. Let me say for the British people that there were many towns which were proud to send up their names to me as places in which there was not a single disabled ex-service man. Then we ran into very bad weather, and we have been struggling against adversity ever since. Though many have not done their duty, let us remember that what is attributable to forgetfulness really belongs, in some cases at any rate, to bad trade. Many firms which had to reduce their hands—many of them ex-service men, and some of them disabled ex-service men—could not respond to the appeal.
The administration of the King's Roll was carried on under the Ministry of Labour, as it is now, through the local employment committees. Those committees did their work with great enthusiasm, and we all ought to be grateful for the fine, unostentatious service which they gave on behalf of the disabled ex-service men. In 1922 a Select Committee presided over by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) thought that a new impulse ought to be given to this movement, and it went further and said that if by May, 1923, the problem of resettling these men suitably in civil life had not been dealt with on the lines they proposed, recourse should then be had to a form of compulsion modified in character and scope as circumstances may dictate. That is why we have got this Bill before us with the names of two members of that Select Committee on the back of it. Then my hon. and gallant Friend's desires took the form of transferring the work from the local employment committees to the municipal authorities, with the mayor, lord mayor, provost or lord provost in the chair. He thought, and I daresay that he was right, that more weight would be attached to the appeal sent out from the town hall, with the borough coat of arms at the top of the notepaper, than would apply to a letter from the local Employment Exchange. I at once adopted that suggestion, and when I left in October, 1922, I left behind me the machinery for immediately carrying into effect the transfer from the local employment committees to the local councils.
My right hon. Friend Sir Montague Barlow took it up at once, and I would like to pay a tribute to the enthusiastic way in which he carried out this transfer. There are now 258 King's Roll committees new style, municipal style, doing all they can. There are, as we have heard to-day, 28,800 firms on the Roll, and they are employing 330,000 disabled men. But there are certainly 20,000 firms in this country, each employing 25 or more persons, which are not on the Roll. That is why this Bill is introduced. The number of disabled men unemployed is staged to be about 40,000, though many people would double that figure. The difference is due to this—and there is a certain pathos in it, though it is very fine from another point of view—that there is any number of disabled men who have never disclosed the fact that they are disabled because they feared that, if they did so, it might give rise to some prejudice against their employment. That is where the discrepancy of these figures comes in. Take it at 40,000 or 60,000. I cordially agree that, whatever the figure may be, we have to wipe it out.
I shall certainly vote for this Bill, and I hope that the whole House will do so. I am not discouraging the efforts made by voluntary agencies. I know that the British people have passed through a cruelly bad time and have done fine work for these men under adverse circumstances, but here we are with 40,000 out of a job, and it is about time that we took one step forward. I am not going to entrench the 20,000 firms, or many of them, who have 25 employés or more and are not on the King's Roll, in their own indifference by rejecting this Bill. I have less hesitation because of the case of the public local authorities in this kingdom. There, at any rate, you have bodies which are not subject to trade fluctuations. You have in their case an undertaking, an organisation, which might set an example to other people. Take London. London has done first-class. There are in London 58 public authorities of all kinds, and they are all on the Roll, except three boards of guardians. [HON. MEMBERS: "Names, please?"] I could give the names. One of these three, I hope and believe, will be on the Roll very soon, so that of the 58 public authorities there will be 56 on the Roll immediately, and I hope that the other two will follow suit very soon. In the Engish provinces, of 50 county councils there are 44 on the Roll and six are not on. I am dealing with big authorities. Of the 79 county borough councils, all are on. That is splendid. Of 226 town councils, 179 are on, four have promised to come on, and 43 are not on, though I admit that a few of these are rather small. Of 721 urban district councils, 425 are on, three have promised to come on, 293 are not on, though many of them are small bodies.
In Wales, of the 12 county councils, seven are on, one has promised to come on, and four are not on, but two of these, I hope, will shortly see the error of their ways. Of the county boroughs all are on. Of the 27 town councils, 19 are on and eight are not. Of the 61 urban district councils, 29 are on, two have promised to join and 30 are not on, though the last named are all small bodies. I speak of Scotland with great respect, but it is in this connection the most disappointing part of the United Kingdom. I do not know the reason. Perhaps it is that the scheme has not been pressed on the Scottish people. I know the Scottish pride in their national regiments. The figure of the Scottish Highland soldier has made Scotland's name great all over the world. I am amazed at the Scottish figures. Perhaps we have not done our duty in bringing the matter before the Scottish people. There are 33 county councils in Scotland, and of these 13 are on and 20 are not. Of the 20, three are small. There are 99 county district committees in Scotland. Of these, 32 are on and 67 are not, and five of these are small. There are 201 town councils, of which 78 are on, four have promised to join and 109 are not on,
although, again, more than half of these are very small. I hope the House will pass this Bill and send it through a very close sieve upstairs. Then I would call the attention particularly of the local authorities to this movement. Tom Hood said:
Mischief is wrought by want of thought as well as want of heart.
It may be so here. We must press this matter forward as much as we can. These men fought our battles and we are going to fight theirs.
I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Pielou) for the very interesting and able way in which he moved the Second Reading of this Bill. The task could not have been left to an abler Member. I support the Bill for two reasons. The first is that I served on the Select Committee, under the able chairmanship of the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson). In June, 1922, we reluctantly came to the conclusion that voluntary effort was, to some extent, failing, although a vigorous effort was being made to revive it in the re-organisation that has since taken place and has been referred to to-day. I happened to be one of those who did some small service during the early period of the War on the recruiting platforms of my country in Wales. On the Select Committee I was very pleased to have an opportunity of going to Germany. We found that, to a large extent, Germany had solved the problem of the disabled ex-service man. She had made marvellous strides in dealing with, not only blind men, but men without arms and those who had been wounded very badly, and we were pleasantly surprised—though these men were of the nationality that we defeated, they deserved to be provided for—to find that the men were being cared for in an excellent way. When we came back to this country we made our report. We did not think that, in the circumstances, we need fear compulsion, and that if our voluntary system did not attain its object by 1st May, 1923, in some form or other, it would be advisable to bring compulsion into operation. It is now May, 1924, and this Bill is before us. The Bill may not contain all that is desired, and may be unwieldy or crude, but the Minister of Labour will be able to give us some guidance with the infor- mation at his disposal, and all we ask is that the Bill be sent upstairs, where it can be put through the sieve, and if there are any Amendments required they can there be inserted in the Bill.
My second point is as to the necessity of having something done. In this respect I am bound to say we have no complaint as far as the mining employers in South Wales are concerned. I am informed that such is the case elsewhere in Great Britain, but I do not desire to lead the House to believe that my personal know ledge extends to any place beyond South Wales. I was pleased to be able to say to the Committee that no difficulty had arisen in South Wales, and that all the men were received back into their occupations as far as they wore able to present themselves to be received back. I regret to say there are thousands unable to follow their employment, but that has not arisen from any want of readiness on the part of the employers to provide facilities and open places for them. We want the men who are unable to resume their employment to have a chance in some other direction and to be trained in other occupations. Unless the professions we made on recruiting platforms at the beginning of the War are to be falsified, a Bill of this kind should go into Committee upstairs to be carried into law, and to fulfil the promises that were made to these men. I want to ensure that the things which have occurred in past years should not occur again, and that the men who offered themselves as sacrifices to save the country should be looked after and protected, and have a share in any employment which may be available. I appeal to the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. If there are any defects in it, they can be remedied upstairs, and I trust it will have an easy passage into law.
Everybody in the House welcomes the speeches made by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion to give this Bill a Second Reading. Whatever the figures are, if there is a large number of men or any number of men unemployed, it is the business of the country, by hook or by crook, to put those men into employment at the earliest possible moment. I desire to speak on this subject because I have been for the last three years absorbed in every detail of it. I wish at the outset to refer to the remarks of the last speaker about Germany. It is true Germany instituted a compulsory system, but it must be remembered that Germany at that time had no unemployment problem, and, whether there was a system of compulsion or not, probably there would have been no disabled men unemployed. That does not alter the fact that Germany has adopted a compulsory system. There has been some discussion as to the dimensions of this problem. I do not think it matters what the dimensions are. I understand there are from 38,000 to 40,000 disabled men—I of whom we know—unemployed at the I present moment and there may be others. We ought to recognise that the King's Roll local committees have done a great work during the past year. These are new committees. They are all voluntary bodies, they comprise members of the British Legion, they have put in an immense amount of work, and they have achieved some results.
A year ago there were, approximately, 24,000 effective firms on the King's Roll, and not 30,000, because over 6,000 were classified as not effective at that time. There are now 28,800, and only 200 of these are possibly not effective. Therefore there has been an accretion of between 4,000 and 5,000 firms to the number on the King's Roll in the last year. That is something done. So far as we are aware just over a year ago there were 65,000 disabled men out of work. So far as we know to-day, on the same relative basis of calculation, there are 38,000. Therefore there is a considerable drop, and I mention these figures to show what the local committees have done under immense difficulties. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) mentioned the local authorities. I think it is a very serious matter that they have not shown the lead to the country which they ought to have shown. There has been an increase in. the number of local authorities on the King's Roll in the past year, but it is not the increase we should like to see or which should take place. One must realise however it is not every local authority which can go on the King's Roll. A considerable number of them employ so few men as to be negligible. I wish however to bring home to the House the good work of the local committees and to recognise it and pay them some tribute and give them some encouragement.
Being a Scotsman, I try to look round every corner, and when a Measure of this sort comes forward I like to look at the possible difficulties. I readily agree with the Mover in almost every word he said, but there appear to be some difficulties, and there is only one body of people in this House who can tell us whether these are real difficulties or not, and that is the Government. I want to know if there are any difficulties in connection with the employers' organisations and the trade unions. I anticipate serious difficulties from those bodies. Take the case of the engineering trade. In some branches of the engineering industry trade is very bad, and a large number of trade union men are out of work and are awaiting their turn to go on work. They will all get a set-back on account of this proposal. What is their attitude, and what is the attitude of the Government in that respect? I am not so sure that if this Bill gets a Second Reading it will become law this year. The Government are the only people who can tell us whether facilities will be given for its passage into law during the coming year. If there are such difficulties, and if it is not likely that the Bill will become am Act this year, then everybody will agree that the local King's Roll committees will have to carry on their work and will have to be encouraged in every way. I put this point of view because I do not wish to do anything or say anything which is going to make the work of the committees more difficult.
I desire to make some constructive proposals in the event of this Bill failing to become law. I want to see these men absorbed into industry as early as possible. If there is no chance of the Bill becoming law, let us set to work to get something done, anyhow, while we are waiting for a Measure to come on. I propose that hon. Members should assist in this matter. Hon. Members who are sitting here in this House might do a great deal more to help in this matter than they have done in the past. I propose that hon. Members should interview the local committees in their constituencies, see what their task is, what their difficulties are, investigate on the spot the firms who are not on the King's Roll, and bring pressure to bear upon them and get to know the conditions in their constituencies. I believe that alone will tend to absorb a considerable number of disabled men and so help all those who are connected with this business. The second thing is, I want to see a drive at those 20,000 firms. We ought to agree here that, if we cannot get this Bill through this year—and it does not seem to be probable it should be brought up early next year, and that these 20,000 firms shall be got at somehow or other, and the sooner the better. My last proposal is a very important one. I tabled a Resolution in the House a short time ago on this particular subject. If we could get that Resolution through, it would make a very material difference straight away, while we are waiting for any Measure which is brought forward. My Resolution was to effect the translation into statutory compulsion of the principle of preference, in respect of all contracts and works for which either the ratepayer or the taxpayer is liable to make a contribution, to firms on the King's Roll. That would make an immense difference, and it would mean something if we could get it through in the meantime. Let me say, in conclusion, that I welcome a full discussion. I welcome any discussion, or publicity, which is going to help this matter on, whether it is by voluntary or by compulsory means, or whatever it is But I ask everyone here not to forget that these voluntary bodies have been working hard, and probably will have to go on working for some time to come, and I urge them to say nothing or do nothing which will damp their ardour, but rather to spur them forward to fresh energies towards the solution of this problem.
I shall certainly follow the example set by the previous speaker, and be very brief with regard to this Bill, not because there is not a lot to be said in support of it, but because I do not want for a minute to imperil its getting through to-day, as I recognise one may do if a full discussion does not take place. The time, of course, is very short. The hon. and gallant Member in introducing this Bill appealed to every section of the House for support. I do not think his appeal will have been made in vain. I certainly can assure him that, so far as the Liberal Members of the House are concerned, they will
undoubtedly support him. If one attempts to criticise the Bill in any way, it is not from a desire to do anything that might injure it, but rather to help it forward. I cannot quite understand why the Proposer has given the definition that he has of disabled men, because I do not see why every disabled man, i.e., disabled as a result of the War, should not be brought within a Bill of this description. I appreciate, of course, that the point, like other matters, if the Second Reading goes through satisfactorily, can be dealt with in Committee. Again, I do not like—and I have no doubt other hon. Members feel exactly the same—compulsory legislation; but it seems to me that it is absolutely necessary now with regard to this question. It was not until 1922 that the Select Committee sat. There had been ample opportunity up to then for the promises made to the ex-service men to have been carried out; yet we find in 1922 that the Select Committee, which gave the most careful consideration to the whole question, said the voluntary system was not working successfully. The Report finished with these words:
So urgent is the problem, that should the figures show that the problem has not by the 1st of May, 1923, been successfully dealt with on the lines proposed, recourse should then be had to a form of compulsion, modified in character and scope as circumstances may dictate.
We are now in May, 1924, and if the matter is still in that unsatisfactory condition, it behoves us no longer to wait for it to be dealt with voluntarily, but to introduce some measure of compulsion such as is provided in this Bill. I venture to think every hon Member is of that view. Even then, I do not know that one would advocate compulsion unless one felt it could be argued successfully that not only was it for the benefit of the man, but of the employer and of the State. There can be no question that it is for the benefit of the man that the State should take care that employment is found for him It is for the benefit of employers, in that if we are, as a State, to be honest and carry out our pledges to those men that fought for us, the State has got to do it, if the employers will not or cannot do it; and if the State cannot do it through employers, then it must set up factories and provide forms of employment for these men. It is to the advantage of
the employer that the State should not be called on to do that, because the State will enter into competition in business with the employer. Therefore, it behoves the employer to take care that he avails himself fully of the provisions of this Bill, and does everything he can to see that the Bill is carried into effect. I do hope, with the last speaker, that the Government are going to take care to give some facilities to this Bill. Surely there can be no cause more worthy of further assistance from the State. Surely the Government will come forward and say, in view of the delay in extending help to these men, that they will render the disabled man some assistance. There is no problem which more urgently requires attention than this one. I hope we are not going to raise hopes throughout the country among these unfortunate men, only to have them dashed. Goodness knows they have had enough hopes raised for them which, to their bitter disappointment, have not borne fruit. I feel sure the Labour party, like the Liberal party and the Tory party, really want to help these men. Therefore, do not let us dash the hopes that may be raised because the Government will not come forward to assist us to carry this Measure. I appeal to the whole House to support it, and I hope that at last we are going to help these men who fought and sustained these terrible injuries for their country's sake.
The whole House is grateful to the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Pielou) for having brought this matter to its attention, because it is not a party question, and from all quarters of the House there is the same desire to do what is best in the interests of the disabled men, and give them a fair opportunity of finding congenial work. No cause could have been put forward better or more moderately than by that disabled Member, who so well represents this great community, to whom we owe so much and for whom we all feel so much sympathy, but, at the same time, we must consider this matter, not only with our hearts, but also with our heads. It is quite true that we can amend a Bill of this kind in its details in Committee. We have had that told us both by the hon. Member for Stourbridge and by the hon. and gallant Member for Scarborough (Captain Herbert), who seconded, but I do not think that any Amendment in Committee can get away from what is really the crux of the Bill, and that is the acceptance of the principle of compulsion. That is a principle which, I think, we ought to accept with great reluctance, and only if it be proved necessary.
The present position, as we have had it disclosed this afternoon, is that the majority of the employers are doing their very best, but that there is an undefined minority who are not bearing their share of the burden. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) spoke of 330,000 who were covered by this scheme, and of the balance, estimated at 350,000, who were outside it. He also said that, as against something less than 30,000 firms on the Boll, there were about 20,000 firms off. Presumably, those firms must be doing a very large share of the employment of these disabled men, because, if nearly half the firms are not on the Roll, and more than half the disabled men are employed by other agencies than those on the Boll, it shows that the other agencies are carrying a considerable share of the burden. We have also to remember that there are a great many firms who would like to be on the Roll, but who, from local conditions, cannot find the disabled men to make up the percentage. That matter came to my notice at the War Office. There is a big munitions firm, employing thousands of men, who work in a munitions area, where, in consequence, there are very few disabled men. They cannot get on the Roll, and they are not on, and, therefore, I think we have to avoid assuming that firms not on the Roll are necessarily shown not to be doing their best to bear their share of this national obligation.
That is admitted in the report of the King's Roll. We cannot apply this hard and fast rule to all local authorities, because some of them are so small that they cannot bear the percentage, and they have not got suitable work of a light character. I suggest that it may well be that ex-service men who need employment may, on the balance, lose by substituting compulsion for the good feeling which now exists on this subject. It is the universal wish of the community now to see these men employed.
At the present time the employers are, I believe, taken as a whole, doing their best. Are you going to have employers equally helpful when they are subjected to irksome and, as they may consider it, very vexatious interference? You would, under this Bill, put a certain class in a privileged position. They alone would be relieved from the necessity, which all the rest of the community has to bear, of justifying their position in industry by efficiency. It is not only among the employed but among employers that that system exists. Every unit in industry has to justify itself in the survival of the fittest. We have had most gratifying results, according to the Council of the King's Roll, as to the way these men work, and as to their excellent; conduct, but they are human, like everyone else, and is it not possible, if they are put in this privileged position, able to push others out of industry in order to get in themselves, that some of them may take advantage of the position against the interests of their class as a whole? I think now they have got the sympathy of the employers and the sympathy of the trade unions. There is no jealousy. It is felt that if a larger proportion of disabled men are employed than the rest of the community, that is quite right; but it will be a different matter if you give a statutory right to them to be employed to the exclusion of ordinary men, and if two years hence you find this dismissal of men so as to give place to a privileged class. I believe, if you once admit this principle of compulsion, you will land yourselves on a quicksand of difficulties. We want to make sure that these men are employed, and if you legislate against the opinion of classes of employers and employed engaged in industry, I do not think—that is my argument; I may be wrong—that yon will be helping them.
I quite appreciate it is a small number, and because it is a small number, it is a matter of grave consideration whether it is worth having this disturbance, if we can deal with the matter in another way. That is the point of my argument. The Bill is put forward on the ground that disabled men are less valuable to industry than men who are free of that disqualification. The promoters say that they want—quite reasonably—to share this economic loss evenly around industry. Though they are less valuable these men are not to be paid any less wages, and that, I think, we all appreciate is a perfectly proper proposal. I am afraid, however, that equality as between one firm and another and between one employer and another is really unattainable. The Bill provides that there shall be exemptions where an unemployed disabled man cannot be found. In these districts firms will thus be free from bearing any proportion of this industrial handicap, and they will be able to compete with firms which are carrying their quota. In the same way some employers will not bear their share. I believe you will be up against the same difficulty as in the case of the Evictions Bill, where certain individuals, chosen more or less by chance, had the liability to house the unemployed rent free. This is just the same principle. You will throw on to a certain proportion of industry a burden which, I believe, ought to be borne by the community as a whole.
I think that the obligation to see that these men employed lies upon the State. It is not to these men's interest to transfer that obligation to private persons chosen without complete equality. Really, I doubt whether there is the ease that has been suggested. The report of the 1922 Select Committee says that "there is the same proportion of disabled men out of work as we might expect in view of the figures of unemployment as a whole." Since then, between October, 1922, and June, 1923, when the Interim Report of the King's Roll National Council was issued the number of disabled men out of work was reduced from 65,000 to 32,000. The King's Roll National Council say in their Interim Report: "In appreciating the meaning of these figures it is noteworthy that while the percentage fall amongst men on, the unemployment registers since October, 1922, is 17.3, the percentage fall in the register of disabled ex-service men is approximately 50." Since then, it is true, it has been less satisfactory, as is mentioned in the Report. The people most suitable for employment having been dealt with they would, they say, have to put forward greater efforts to provide for the residue.
I feel there has been so great an improvement under the voluntary agencies that it would be a pity to destroy this system, which has already achieved so much, unless we are certain that we are going to put a better system in its place. I gather that the promoters of this Bill are disappointed with the progress which has been made, but I think the House really ought to go more by the opinion of the King's Roll National Council than by the opinions of any other people, however excellent their motives and however great their interest in the cause of the disabled men. I agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) said as to the unlikelihood of this Bill passing into law this Session, because it is very late for a private Member's Bill to be taken up. I never remember Government business being so backward at this time of the Session and so little prospect of starring private Members' Bills. If there really is such a strong case as the promoters of this Bill have suggested, I advise them not to press this matter to a Division this afternoon, but to put forward their case before the King's Roll National Council and get it endorsed by the experts on this subject, who are really in a position to hear the evidence and to give a decision. In that case we might legislate early next year on definite grounds rather than on the somewhat disputed case which has been put before the House to-day.
I am sure it is the wish of the House to hear what is the position of the Government on this Measure, and without any circumlocution I will say at once that the Government desire to leave the matter to a free vote of the House. As far as the main question is concerned, this is one upon which there is and can be no question of party advantage, because all parties in the House, and certainly not least the Labour party, are vitally concerned in seeing that justice shall be done to the fullest possible extent to the disabled ex-service men. I wish to lay stress upon the fact that the King's Roll Committee consists of Members of both Houses of Parliament, of employers, of trade unionists, and representatives of the disabled men themselves. The Government feel that whatever that Committee recommend would receive the most careful and immediate consideration of the Government. The Government do feel strongly that, as that is an expert Committee, and a body which has devoted itself to the whole question, it is to that body the Government should look for advice as to the particular form which legislation should take.
May I now give a few facts concerning the position of the Government as employers in this matter? It may be of interest to the House to know that in connection with the Government employment of ex-service men they naturally would be very interested in this Bill, because they are specifically included in Clause 17, and it is absolutely necessary to point out that the machinery and some of the provisions of that Clause would be inapplicable to Government Departments. On the 1st of April, 1924, 42,858 out of a total permanent and temporary staff of 296,621 were disabled ex-service men, or a percentage of approximately 14 per cent. That figure includes, of course, all those women who are necessarily employed in connection with typing and cleaning, places which would not be available for disabled ex-service men. As a result of the recommendations of the Ramsay, Lytton and Southborough Committees' Reports, the number of disabled men in temporary posts in the different Government Departments has materially increased since 1919. On the 1st of April, 1924, 14,667 out of a total temporary staff of 52,227 were disabled men, or a percentage of approximately 28. On the permanent staff, out of a total of 244,394 employed on the 1st of April, 1924, 28,391 were disabled men or, approximately, a percentage of 11.5. These percentages have been reached in spite of a considerable decrease in the total staffs. Certain conditions have been laid down such as offering favourable opportunities for obtaining permanent posts in Government Departments through the medium of examinations. The general average of disabled men in employment is either 7 per cent, or 7½ per cent., and the Bill suggests 5 per cent. The point I am trying to make is that, under the present system, the percentage of employment in relation to those firms on the King's Roll is in excess of the requirements of the Bill, and I think that ought to be recognised as a tribute to those employers by those agencies that are trying to make this provision.
Again, I think it would be neglecting my duty as the Government's spokesman if I did not point out that in all these matters the question of efficiency must of necessity play a very large part. I believe the disabled men's organisations themselves have most readily and freely concurred in that view. My own personal opinion is that one has to move extremely carefully in a matter of this kind if the statistics appear to show that the tendency is in the right direction. I speak entirely in the interests of disabled men themselves, because nobody in this House can be under the impression that I have any objection to compulsion as a principle, or that I have the slightest objection to the really socialistic attitude which has been put forward this afternoon. I welcome it most heartily. Speaking as one who for 15 years has been an employed person, I realise that the relationship between employer and workman is one peculiarly susceptible to that sort of pressure which might entirely react against the employed person. If an employer wants to get rid of me, he can find a hundred ways other than dismissing me, of turning me out of a job or inducing me to turn myself out. I, therefore, personally regard that element of voluntary co-operation in this particular question as of extreme importance, not merely from the point of view of getting a man into a job, but also from the point of view of making him comfortable when he is there, and from the point of view of the employer, of his own free will, being prepared to make an exception in the standard of efficiency required.
I think the Debate this afternoon is going to do a lot of good. I am quite satisfied that the strong expression of opinion from all parts of the House is going to stir up the consciences of those employers who are not doing their duty at the present time, and who are not taking a risk by carrying a certain burden of inefficient labour, inefficient through no fault of the individual, but through something entirely to the credit of that individual. All these are matters which should be brought before the notice of the employers of the country in order to stimulate them to greater endeavours.
In conclusion, may I make one reference to the statistics with regard to compulsory laws abroad? The figures from Italy are not reassuring on this matter of compulsion. There, with hardly any unemployment at all, the unemployed disabled soldiers number 7,000; and in referring to the German situation, I find this statement in the Report put forward by the Committee, to which reference has already been made:
Your Committee are of opinion that no comparison can be drawn between the conditions prevailing in Germany and in Great Britain. After careful investigation of the operation of the compulsory Act, which, after all, only applies to a relatively small number of men, namely, those whose loss of earning capacity is over 50 per cent., your Committee consider that, if severe depression of trade overtakes Germany, it is now quite possible that the existing compulsory legislation might entirely break down
The difficulty, therefore, is that, while nobody is satisfied with the rate at which unemployed disabled men are being absorbed into industry, nevertheless it is entirely open to question, it is entirely open to argument, whether any compulsory system is going to increase the ratio of employment of these men in existing industrial circumstances. It would be a great incentive to ordinary employers to know that this is held over their heads, and that, if they do not do their fair share in absorbing these disabled men, other steps may be taken; but, in view of the fact that the steady progress is perfectly clearly demonstrated by the figures, and that the arrangements come to in 1922 are working with progressive results, it does seem to me personally that it would be a great pity to come to such a drastic decision as entirely to alter the basis on which these men are being employed.
As I have said, my duty is to say that, so far as the Government are concerned, they recognise that this is a question upon which the House should express its opinion entirely freely, and they will be guided, in whatever action is subsequently taken, by the advice of the King's Roll Committee.
As one who was very much interested in getting men into the Army during the War, I naturally feel, in a matter like this, that I should like to voice my opinion. But I appreciate that at this late hour I might be jeopardising the success of the Bill by taking up the time of the House, and I propose not to ventilate any thoughts that may be in my mind, because I realise that I might be doing more harm than good. All that I want to do is to appeal to those who do not think that this is a matter of serious and sacred obligation to the men who served. I want, on behalf of the disabled ex-service men, to entreat this House, now that it has the opportunity, to show that we as a nation are not unfaithful to the sacred pledges that were given, and that we do recognise that the men who served us in our time of need, and saved our country in its days of peril, should be the men who are looked after when we have the opportunity. I support the Bill most heartily, and plead that it shall be given a Second Reading to-day on principle, allowing plenty of time in Committee to work out the defects in detail, so as to give the disabled men in our country a chance.
I think there are certains points in this Bill which are open to objection, and to one or two of these I wish to direct the attention of the House. The Mover of the Bill, if I may say so, made a very fine speech, and in it he pointed out that the obligation on the employer is to employ disabled ex-service men to the extent of 5 per cent. I would like to ask, however, whether he and those who supported him really have any knowledge of how the great industries of this country are actually conducted? In my own trade, consider any big ship-building yard, such as that of Messrs. Harland and Wolff, where I was employed. I have seen there, in one month, 5,000 men employed, two months afterwards almost 10,000, and then, four months afterwards, less than 2,000. They vary in the different trades. In the case of the joiners, for instance, there would be 1,000 men employed in one month, and three months afterwards less than 100, when a boat had been completed. How can any person in this House of Commons say that you can ask a firm like that of Messrs. Harland and Wolff, or any big engineering firm—and that is one of the big industries of this country—to employ a certain number of men in that way? You cannot do it. When we limited the number of our apprentices in proportion to the men we had in the trade we found it would not work. In the shop I was employed in we had 20 or 30 men one month and the next month four. It went on varying like that. One of the difficulties of the Bill is that the number of men in the big industries is constantly varying.
In addition I want to raise an objection from the employed workmen's point of view. Five per cent, of 20 men is 1. When is the next 5 per cent. to operate? Is it when the number reaches 40 or is it to be 25? If you compel an empoyer to take ex-service men he will look upon it as a handicap to his business. Perhaps he has 24 men and he could employ 26 but he will not do so, and he will thus keep two men out of work in addition to the ex-service man. Therefore possibly the Bill, far from solving the problem at all, will help to throw men out of work. It may be said in reply to this that the employer must maintain his output, but he can adopt other methods, and one is very simple. He can resort to working overtime in preference to handicapping his business in this way. Once he has taken this man on he cannot dismiss him unless he can prove unsatisfactory conduct. Who in this House is going to ask an ordinary employer, with the ordinary varying business competition, to take on a responsibility like that? I am surprised that right hon. Gentlemen on these benches are doing that. The men who have the least right to go into industry are the men who are least able to go into it. The men who ought to take the most part in the industry of the country are the men who are the most able to. This Bill seeks to add to the number who are least able and to increase the number who are most able on the unemployed list. It is the duty of any Government, if we are going to have these men engaged in any industry, to have them engaged in direct State factories. I wonder if those who have drafted the Bill have any knowledge of the way industry works. If an employer finds an employé not satisfactory he can dismiss him. Anyone who has worked under the Compensation Act knows what happens when you come up against an agreement of that kind. The employer is supposed to keep the man as long as he is satisfactory, but any foreman or manager can find 101 pretexts for dismissing him. I think it is the duty of the Government to say that if a man suffered during the War, he is entitled to get from the State sufficient to keep himself and those dependent on him in decency and in comfort. That is the way to solve the problem, and it is the way in which this Government or any other Government ought to solve it.
There is one danger about a Bill of this kind, and that is that it looks as if one were not in sympathy with the disabled men if one votes against the Bill. I think that the man who is disabled in industry is as much a soldier for his country as any other man disabled. He performs and has performed useful service on its behalf, and he ought also to be dealt with in a comprehensive fashion by any Government in future. I have always adopted the rule of not voting against the Second Reading of any Bill, and I shall not vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, becuse I think that every Bill is entitled to its Second Reading and to be discussed.
This Bill is open to grave objection, and if it were passed it could hold out a ray of hope and promise to these men that would be of no use and that would be a mere shadow in place of the substance. This is not the honest, direct and correct way of dealing with the matter. If we are courageous men, we shall withdraw this Bill and insist upon the Government putting real substance in place of what this Bill appears to me to be, a mere shadow.
For hon. Members merely to point out the difficulties that are involved in any scheme of compulsion, is not doing the case of the ex-service men much good. Nobody has ever denied that any system of compulsion that you choose to bring it must be full of the most intricate difficulty. The hon. Member who has just spoken made two suggestions as to how we could help the ex-service men, other than by this Bill. He said that the State should employ these men in State workshops. We had that suggestion put before the Select Committee on which I had the honour of serving, and we found that the men themselves begged us not to bring in that solution of their difficulty. What they wanted was to be distributed amongst whole people, healthy people, and not to be segregated together. Those suffering from shell-shock felt that otherwise they would have no hope of getting cured.
The other suggestion made by the hon. Member was that the State should give pensions sufficient in amount so that these men might keep themselves. The system, rightly or wrongly, which has been adopted is that the pension is based upon the physical disability and not upon the occupational disability. Let the hon. Member face this fact, that it is next door to impossible at the present time to change the basis upon which pensions are paid. If the suggestion had been that as regards those men who are disabled to the extent of 70 per cent., or who are suffering from such disabilities as neurasthenia, shell-shock and tuberculosis—cases where employment can hardly be found or expected—the State should make up by an increased pension what the pension already given does not grant to the man, the suggestion would have been valuable.
I have mentioned these matters to show that this question is so hedged about with difficulty that merely to get up, as did the hon. Member who has just spoken and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness), and say, "This is very difficult. Is not there a possibility that we may do harm?" is not the way to discuss the problem which confronts us.
Two years ago hon. Members drawn from all sides met together day by day, week by week, and even month by month. As has been said, they toured Germany, Belgium, France, and Italy. We heard evidence from every organisation and individual who could give useful evidence on this subject. At the beginning every member of that Committee, I think I am right in saying, was against compulsion, and at the end of the inquiry the Committee unanimously, or, if not, the overwhelming proportion of them, found themselves compelled to advocate that if by May, 1923, the country by voluntary methods had not solved, or gone a long way towards solving, the problem, compulsion must be adopted. If we who had special facilities for coming to a decision upon the matter found ourselves compelled two years ago to come to this decision, how can the House to-day turn this whole proposition down merely because of its difficulty, when there are, without dispute, 38,000 disabled ex-service men out of employment?
I do not think there is any danger of this Bill being voted against, but I know that there is a danger of some hon. Member talking this Bill out. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am putting the case as strongly as possible against myself. I am here to support the Bill. If there is any hon. Member who is thinking of talking this Bill out, may I, with great respect, ask him not to do so unless he is prepared to maintain that what is being done now under voluntary effort, and by the King's Roll Committees, is sufficient to deal with this terribly grave problem. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) said that it was not worth while to produce the great disturbance which this Bill would cause if we can deal with the matter in any other way. I listened to his speech to hear of any other way in which we should deal with the matter, but there was no suggestion except this, that we are doing very well. He spoke about the encouraging Report of the King's Roll Committee and about employers and firms doing their best. That does not alter the fact that we have got some 40,000 men at the lowest estimate out of employment to-day.
I beg this House not to pass this Bill necessarily because they agree with every word in it not even necessarily because they agree with the principle, but because if they do not pass it, or if they talk it out, they would be doing a real disservice to ex-service men all over the country. Suppose that this Bill is given a Second reading and goes upstairs to a Committee, surely this much is gained. Then you will get Members joining the Committee from every party, and they will be able to argue this Bill line by line and sentence by sentence. You can have such suggestios for instance as that this Bill shall not become operative even two years hence unless indeed by then the voluntary system has failed. You can have all sorts of amendments, and I am certain that the cause of the ex-service men, which is the thing which we have all got at heart and which is above party, will benefit by the passing of the Second reading. My final appeal is that if any hon. Member is thinking of talking out this Bill I would beg him not to do so.
I wish to add my voice in support of this Bill, and I do so for the reason that it represents the positive attitude of State protection as against the negative attitude of private charity. Speaking as one who has had some experience of this matter in private negotiations with employers of labour, and on joint industrial councils, and bodies of that sort, I have never yet heard a valid argument against the employment of a reasonable number of disabled ex-service men. The plain fact of the matter is that in some of the larger key industries with the greatest trade fluctuations, we find the employers willing to put this into operation, and where we find that there is a tendency not to put it into operation is in the industries in which there is the greatest facility for the employment of disabled men, particularly the industries which progressively employ women and juvenile labour. I need only mention that in industries like the heavy steel industry employers are willing to accept this liability. There can be very little excuse, therefore, for the other industries, in which the standard of physical efficiency is far less and where what is needed, perhaps, is a little more dexterity of touch. In as much as the voluntary system has failed, I think the House will be acting in the interest of the thousands of men who are involved by giving a Second Reading to this Bill, not merely with a view to referring it to a Standing Committee and there letting it remain, but with a view to receiving the generous support of all parties. If this House makes up its mind about the Bill, there will be very little difficulty for the employers to make up their minds to put its provisions into operation. I know of no section of the trade union movement which is in opposition to the proposals of the Bill, and as to the minor details of the Bill, I hope that they are not to be magnified out of all proportion as a means either of talking the Bill out or voting against it.
I can assure the House that I have no intention of talking this Bill out. Like many other hon. Members who wish to speak, I intend to keep my original speech for my constituency, where it may be more useful than here. I would like to reinforce the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham, namely, that we Members of Parliament can do a great deal of good by going down, even this week-end, and "gingering" the King's Roll Committee in our constituencies, and finding out whether all the town councils, rural councils, and big employers are on the Roll, and if not, why not. I came to the House to-day very doubtful as to the way in which I should vote, but in no doubt as to the ultimate object of the Bill. We all want it. There was, however, a certain amount of doubt in my mind as to whether this Bill achieved its object in the right way. This afternoon I have not heard one sound argument against the Bill. One hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Government Benches got hold of the wrong end of the stick when he said that the State ought to provide big enough pensions to keep all these men and their families in comfort. This Bill will provide them, not with pensions, but with work. It is undoubted that what these disabled men want is not pensions but work. It makes the greatest difference to them and to their physical and mental health if they are able to do work alongside fit men and not with those who are suffering from the same disability as themselves.
I have personal knowledge of one case. This was a man who had been in my company in France and who became blind. When I first saw him at St. Dunstan's he was most miserable and felt that the whole joy had gone out of life and that he had nothing to look forward to, but a month or six weeks later when he was getting about again and learning a trade there was a complete change in that man's outlook on life. That is one of the strongest reasons for supporting this Bill—that it aims at getting something done. Although I disagree with many of the things in it and although I think it will be difficult to apply it, particularly in the rural districts, it is a step in the right direction. By voting for the Second Reading we are making a moral gesture of help and sympathy towards these men and if this Bill were talked out or rejected it would sound the death knell of their hopes. We have heard a great deal lately about Minister's pledges. I admit it is a very bad thing and quite unworthy of the House that pledges should be made which are not kept, but this is an infinitely more serious matter. This is a national pledge. There was not a single man who made a recruiting speech who did not say to the men, "Whatever happens, we will look after you; if you cannot continue your own occupations we will find other occupations for you." This is a national pledge and unless and until it is redeemed it is a national disgrace.
I certainly do not propose to talk the Bill out, and I intend to vote for it. I listened to the earnest appeal of the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut. -Colonel Guinness) that we should wait, but does the hon. and gallant Member realise that this is 1924, and that some of these disabled men have been waiting since 1914? We are told that the Measure must be quite fair to everybody, and that we may discriminate against some employers, but, at the present moment, there is a system of selection, and it is selection by conscience. It is those employers who have consciences who shoulder the disability, and not those who have none. I ask the House to show that we really want to help the ex-service men by giving the Bill a Second Reading.