Orders of the Day — Local Government Staffs (War Service) Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 4th September 1939.

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Order for Second Reading read.

5.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time"

The main object of the Bill is to empower local authorities and certain other authorities to make up the balance of the civil pay of their employés undertaking war service, and the provision is extended to include Civil Defence services. The proposals in the Bill have been discussed with representatives of the various associations and the London County Council, and they agreed to the general principle of the proposals. The permissive character of the Bill follows the precedent of the Act passed during the last War. I hope that with this explanation the House will be able to agree to the Second Reading.

5.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Ammon Mr Charles Ammon , Camberwell North

We welcome the Bill, but there are two questions I should like to ask. How is it proposed to make up the difference so far as the local authorities are concerned? It is impossible to estimate what it will be owing to the fact that we have no experience on the point. Will it be by way of a block grant? Does it mean that the whole of the increased expenditure will be taken up in this way, or that some portion of it will have to be borne by the local authorities themselves. There is no obligation on local authorities to apply the Bill, and as to whether there is any likelihood of trouble owing to the differentiation in practice the Minister perhaps may have some opinion. As regards Clause 4 I gather that local authorities are empowered, if necessary, to pay their own contributions and their employés contributions, with regard to superannuation benefits. In that case I suppose it will be necessary to draw up some kind of agreement to be entered into. As far as I can see there is no provision for this.

5.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Dundee

There are one or two points I should like to put to the Minister. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) has pointed out that the Bill is purely permissive, in this sense, that it says the local authorities "may" make up the amount of the salary, that is, pay the man his ordinary salary less war-time remuneration. May I remind the Minister that different local authority associations have taken a different view of this matter. Quite recently a circular was sent out by the County Councils Association. I have not the circular with me, but the effect of it was that where a man had volunteered to join the Territorial Army or some similar service before the war started the County Councils Association recommended their members to make up his salary, but if he was conscripted after the war started they recommended them to take a different course. That is rather an undesirable differentiation. I understand that there have been a good many cases in which local government servants and local government officers have been desirous of joining the Territorial Army but have been discouraged in some cases from doing so by the local authority, possibly because they wanted them to take part in A.R.P. work instead. Therefore, it may not be entirely the fault of a man himself that he did not join the Territorial Army or volunteer in some capacity before the outbreak of the war, and you would have the anomalous situation of some employés of the same authority having their pay made up and some not. That was the attitude taken by the County Councils Association. An entirely different view was taken by the municipal boroughs.

The question I want to ask is this: The Minister is giving power to local authorities to make up the salaries of their employés in every case. Therefore, will he use his influence with the local authorities to see that they use these powers and make up these salaries? Of course the right hon. Gentleman cannot compel them, it is purely a permissive matter, but will he make it clear that it is the view of the Department that these powers should be used by local authorities? In the second place, I should like to ask the Minister a question in regard to Clause 3, Sub-section (2), where you have these words: If any such person dies during his period of war service or is prevented, in consequence of being permanently incapacitated by injury or disease received or contracted during that period, from resuming service in his civil capacity I have looked at these words and I find some difficulty in understanding what they are meant to convey. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten me. Is it intended to provide for the case where a man has been permanently injured? Is it intended to save his superannuation rights? That may be the meaning. The hon. Member for North Camberwell referred in particular to the power which is given in Clause 4 to local authorities in certain cases to pay into the superannuation fund, not only their own contributions, but also the man's contributions. Under Sub-section (3), the power is purely permissive, for it is stated that the local authority: may pay in respect of him to that fund the aggregate amount which he would have been liable to contribute I am a little puzzled by what follows a little further on in the Clause, because in Sub-section (4) a similar provision is made with regard to probation officers, but in their case it is stated that: The probation authority shall pay to the superannuation fund established by any rules or scheme relating to the superannuation of such an officer amounts equal to the aggregate of any sums which he would have contributed to the fund In the case of the local government authority in the ordinary way the employing authority may or may not, at its own discretion, pay the man's contribution into the fund, but in the case of the probation officer, it must do so. I should be glad if we could have some explanation of that differentiation. I am sorry to raise somewhat small and technical points on the Second Reading—I am sure the Minister will appreciate the way in which we are taking these Bills—but I thought that it would be better to raise these points at this stage.

5.32 p.m.

Photo of Sir Noel Goldie Sir Noel Goldie , Warrington

I trust that neither the House nor the Minister will think that I am raising a quibbling point. The point I want to raise may be a Committee point, but I feel that there may be a slight slip in the drafting. The Preamble to the Bill says that it is a Bill to make provision with respect to clerks and deputy clerks of the peace, and in the Schedule, paragraph 2, there is a reference to the clerk of the peace of a borough and in paragraph 5, which deals with various appointments, there is a reference to: the standing joint committee in the case of a clerk, or an employé of a clerk, to county justices, and the borough council in the case of a clerk. The point on which I should like to have an assurance is that the word ''borough'' includes "city." In a certain capacity I have been brought into close touch with clerks of the peace and also with magistrates' clerks who are appointed not by the borough council, but by the city council. Unless there is something in the Local Government Act to the effect that the word "borough" includes "city," I suggest that it might be as well in Committee to amend the wording of the Schedule in those two cases and to make it read "city or borough council." This matter applies to 10 or 15 towns which have the dignity of being called cities.

5.35 p.m.

Mr. David Adams:

Like other hon. Members who have spoken on this Bill and preceding Bills, I desire cordially to congratulate the Minister of Health and other Ministers on the very valuable social legislation which they are producing immediately on the outbreak of war. Those who had experience of the last War will know that some of the legislation which we are now having was not introduced until the War had reached an advanced stage, and that certainly some of those who suffered socially and financially as a result of the War had their grievances attended to only very lightly, if at all. That charge cannot be made to-day, and perhaps this indicates a very commendable and desirable advance in the social consciousness prevailing in the Government.

The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) observed that this Bill is optional as far as the authorities are concerned. That applies only to Clause 1, for Clause 2 places a clear and definite obligation upon certain authorities to pay half the salaries of certain officials. That is a very important power, and I think some further explanation should be given to us concerning the authorities that are mentioned in the Schedule. It seems to me that many authorities which ought to have the benefit of the Bill are excluded. Hon. Members will note that clerks of the peace, or deputy clerks of the peace, coroners, probation authorities, insurance committees, joint electricity authorities and the managers of local education authorities are included. Apparently these are the whole of the authorities that are to be concerned under this Bill.

Why is the Bill so restricted? I have in mind statutory non-profit-making authorities, such as the Tyne Improvement Commission, which are performing great service as conservators of rivers. Virtually they are the local authorities of the rivers and the waterways, and they employ many hundreds of people. They are the owners of docks, railways, ferries, foreshores, and so forth. They are important organisations whose importance does not grow less because we are in a state of war. As the Schedule refers to small concerns such as insurance committees, which long ago ought to have been placed under the local authorities, to the general advantage and economy of the country, I am surprised that such great authorities as those which I have indicated appear to be rigorously excluded from the operation of the Measure. This is an important point to me and to a large number of others who are concerned with these excluded authorities.

Should they possess these powers to expend this money without statutory authority, or an option such as is given under Clause 1, I should be satisfied; but if they are excluded, then I am sure that many hundreds of authorities and employés throughout the country will want to know why they should not have these benefits. Perhaps the Minister will see that when we reach another stage of the Bill these authorities are specifically included.

5.40 p.m.

Photo of Captain James Duncan Captain James Duncan , Kensington North

I wish to raise two points. The first, which has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot), is that under the Bill it is permissive on local authorities to make up the pay of officials. This, it seems to me, may lead to differentiation between different classes of local government officers in the service of the same authority and also differentiation between similar classes of officers in different local government areas. I am not pressing that the Bill should be made compulsory. No doubt there are good reasons, historical and otherwise, for maintaining the voluntary character of these arrangements, but I suggest that the Government should give a lead in regard to what they want local authorities to do. In most cases of this kind the Government do give a lead. In connection with the Military Training Act and the Reserve Forces Act, they indicated more or less what they intended to do in connection with civil servants. If they gave a lead in this connection also, it would go far to avoid undesirable differences of opinion on local councils. Perhaps if my right hon. Friend the Minister would say something about the line which he would like authorities in the country to follow, it would be of advantage.

The second point arises out of Clause 1 (2). Is it the intention to stabilise the position, or to allow for promotion? If a local government officer would, in the normal course have received increments is it intended to allow for such increases? The words of the Sub-section are: A sum which shall not exceed the remuneration which he would have received, if he had continued to serve in his civil capacity.'' Does that make allowance for promotion? Then, in the other way, suppose that a local government officer has joined the Army as a private and as such has received a certain amount of supplementary pay from the authority which previously employed him. Suppose he becomes an officer in the Army, and as such receives as much as or more than he would have received if he had remained in civilian employment In that case, does the local authority continue to make up the difference between his former remuneration and his pay as a private or do they, from time to time, review the pay which he is receiving in the Service and alter their payments to him according to the rank which he holds? If, as I imagine, the intention is that there should be periodical reviews, then surely it should be stated in the Bill that there is an obligation on the man concerned to report any promotion which he receives in the Army or other Service, so that the local authority should not have to pay extra money and perhaps have to claim it back afterwards. These are important points which ought to be cleared up in the interests of the local authorities.

5.44 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

May I suggest adding to the Schedule as Item 18, the following words: officer or servant of a charitable institution to which it is certified by the Charity Commissioners that it is expedient that Section one of this Act should apply, notwithstanding any trust affecting the charity. A good many charitable institutions employ persons who may be called up, and it would assist in the operation of the Measure and prevent much subsequent correspondence if it were extended to charities as well as educational institutions.

5.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

I understand the importance of getting this Bill and the other Bills through the House, but there is room for much discussion on the questions which arise out of these proposals. It is obvious that there will be no possibility of adequate discussion of the Bill in the Committee stage and I suggest that the Minister should insert a time limit and should say, for instance, that the Bill will run only for three months. At the end of three months we may be in a better position to discuss the Bill properly and go into all the many questions of importance which arise out of it.

5.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton West

Will the Minister make it clear that the Bill covers mental hospital committees? These committees are in a special category. They have a certain relationship to the county councils but they are statutory committees and if the Bill does cover them, then they ought to be included in the list of authorities in the Schedule. Further, I would ask the Minister to give us a little more information on the financial side of the Bill. I feel sure that, in some cases, it will substantially increase the expenditure of local authorities. I appreciate the reason for ambiguity—the reference in the Preamble makes that clear—but in view of the fact that many authorities will have very heavy commitments, we should be careful not to overload them and the already overburdened ratepayers in many parts of the country. Perhaps the Minister will be able to say that beyond a very small increase to local ratepayers no great burden will be involved and that beyond a certain period the expenditure will be borne by the National Exchequer.

5.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Although it is true that the Committee stage of the Bill will necessarily occupy only a short time it is valuable to have the suggestions of the House before us when, as in this case, we are not taking all the stages at one sitting. I have on a previous occasion, as the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) knows, accepted Amendments which were shown to be of advantage in the Statutes which we were trying to frame. I shall examine the suggestions made on this Bill from that point of view. It is difficult, however, to accept the rather optimistic opinion of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that we should be in a better position at the end of three months to go into the details of all these Bills.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Not all of them, but Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

My remark applies even to those. One thing inseparable from war is confusion, and if all these matters were left to be brought up again at the end of a short period and if people did not know exactly where they stood, we should only introduce more distress into the minds of those in whose interests we are putting forward this legislation. If it is found necessary to amend a Statute fresh legislation can be brought in. Throughout the last War legislation improving conditions was frequently introduced from time to time, such as the legislation which we are bringing forward en bloc at the present time. I do not think I can go further than a promise to consider the points which have been raised, but I will do my best to answer one or two questions. The reply to the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. Goldie), who asked whether "borough" in this case included "city," is "yes." Then, I was asked by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) whether the list of local authorities was sufficiently extensive. I think it is. I shall investigate the case of the authority to which he has made reference, to see whether or not it does come within the ambit of the Bill. My impression is that if it is a local government unit, it comes within the ambit of the Bill, and if it is outside the scope of the Bill, it would need to be treated separately, if indeed it is not statutorily barred against making up salaries as is proposed here. I think that also is the answer to the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), who brought up the case of mental hospital committees. In so far as they are local government units, I think they are covered by this Bill, but I think the special position which they occupy does not necessitate their being enumerated in the Schedule of the local authorities. I will, however, look at the matter further.

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

Will the right hon. Gentleman look into the question of the Metropolitan Water Board, which is a statutory authority but is not a local authority??

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Yes, I will undertake to look into the question of the Metropolitan Water Board, but, as the hon. Member will see, we are limited by the Title of the Bill, and I cannot promise to put anything in which would go outside the Title of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton West

If, as a result of inquiries, the right hon. Gentleman finds it necessary to include specifically mental hospitals, will he include them before the Third Reading of the Bill?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I should not like to give a pledge, and I am sure the House would not expect me to answer a hypothetical question of that sort, but I will undertake in good faith to look into it. One or two questions of finance were raised. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) asked whether some portion of the expenditure would fall on the shoulders of the local authority. I think the answer is "Yes." Obviously, if the local authority makes up the pay of certain individuals, the sum to make it up comes from the revenue of the local authority. The local authorities are recouped in many ways by the State, but if they undertake certain expenditure, a proportion of it is bound to fall on their shoulders, and it is for that reason that the point which he and other hon. Members made—the hon. Member for West Leyton also made the point: "Do not overload the local authorities"—it is for that very reason that the Bill is permissive and not compulsory. That deals also with the point made by several other hon. Members as to increments, whether the payment is a stabilised sum or whether it will allow for increments. As I say, the Bill is permissive and says that a certain sum of money shall not be exceeded. It is open to a local authority to review the position from time to time, according to the increase or the decrease of salary which its employés receive. I am sure that the employés would play fair by the local authorities and would inform them if in fact their salaries were higher and the sum to be made up was a lesser sum than had been originally arranged between the two.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) whether I would enjoin upon the local authorities to take certain steps. We have got this Bill on the strict understanding with the local authorities that it should be permissive and not compulsory, and I hope they will interpret it in a fair and reasonable spirit. I can say that we shall interpret it in a fair and reasonable spirit, and I think that precept will be better than injunction in this case. We cannot make provision in the Statute for all the cases that may arise. This is very much a sort of gentlemen's Bill and a gentlemen's agreement, and I hope very much that it will be treated in that fair and reasonable spirit. We do not intend to tie ourselves too closely to the letter of the Statute here. There was a reference by the hon. Member for Dundee to some rather obscure words at the top of page 4. They merely re-echo the provisions set out in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of Subsection (2). He also asked about the difference between the treatment of probation officers and certain other staffs. The fact is that the same treatment applies to probation officers as to others, but the option is as to the method of payment by the employing authority. These matters are somewhat technical and intricate, and perhaps the hon. Member will allow me, if I undertake to do so, to discuss the matter with him. We shall look further into the various points of criticism to see whether or not it is desirable to embody any of them in the Statute.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

How does a gentlemen's agreement apply to a council where there is a Tory majority?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I think that original sin is not entirely a monopoly of any one section or of even one political section of the community, and I have heard of employés who considered that they were receiving harsh treatment even from local authorities who were not entirely of the political complexion of the party to which I belong. But I do not wish to be provocative.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put and agreed to.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Captain Dugdale.]