Mobile Women Workers, Scotland.

– in the House of Commons on 6th August 1942.

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Photo of Mr George Mathers Mr George Mathers , Linlithgowshire

I want to condense what I have to say, and I would therefore use a concrete case to indicate to the Parliamentary Secretary where I think some consideration might be given to the better guidance of hardship tribunals. A girl, one of my constituents, who was in employment appealed three months ago for deferment. That was backed by her employer, because the deferment asked for was more particularly for the employer, and three months' deferment was given. Within the three months her mother has become quite seriously ill and is now waiting for a bed in a hospital in order to be treated for a very serious condition. The family doctor has insisted that this only daughter come home from her work, without finishing the three months' deferment that was given, and take her place in the home to look after the four men in the family. The father and three brothers are all miners, and to give an indication of what she will be required to do I am told that those men turn out at different times, varying from a quarter to 5 in the morning to 11 at night, according to the times of the shifts worked. That girl, in going to the hardship tribunal with her own case, not with her employer's case, was not given deferment on those grounds, although medical certificates were presented to show the condition in which the mother was placed, and one member of the tribunal, I am told, went the length of saying to the girl when she was making her plea, "But you are not going to the infirmary with your mother." It seems to me that if true that was a shocking thing for the girl to be met with. At the moment the position she is in is that her deferment has been refused by the hardship tribunal, but I am glad to think she has been given the opportunity of appealing to the Umpire, and I feel certain that that is a case that the Umpire cannot possibly ignore. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that that kind of case is one which demands some better instructions being given to hardship tribunals.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

I do not think that the Minister, could he have been present, would have objected in the least to the way in which this subject has been raised, or to the type of speeches that have been made. In regard to some aspects of the problem, the suggestion has been made that the Ministry of Labour are not responsible, that is in the placing of work which would have absorbed the women who of necessity have been transferred The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who opened the discussion, and did so in a speech which, if I may say so, surprised me by its moderation, gave two or three instances which, I think, call for examination and an interpretation of the law with respect to married women and the position of the daughter of a widower who he suggested was, in another regard, treated as a married woman. He began by suggesting that we cannot handle women in the same way as men, without involving repercussions. His whole speech suggested that the discussion of hardship and of what constitutes hardship under the tribunals must of necessity be difficult and call for careful handling. We realise that, and nobody realises it more clearly than the Minister. I agree that it is impossible to pass legislation affecting our family life and particularly our women folk without repercussions and without involving hardship.

My contention is that there is always hardship when an individual who does not want to leave home is called upon to leave home, but that is not hardship within the meaning of the Act. The difficulty arises, in carrying out what we believe was the intention of the Act. The hon. Member for Gorbals referred to the case of the daughter of a widower and stated that, in law, such a person would be in the same category as a married woman. He referred to what appears quite unfair, that whereas a girl in charge of an illegitimate child is protected, a girl in charge of a younger sister is not protected, by the same Act. I admit what was intended, but whether the law is implementing what was intended is a different matter. I do not think, strictly speaking, it can be regarded as legally sound to place a person, such as the hon. Member described, in the category of married woman, but I will bring that particular legal point to the notice of my right hon. Friend with a view to its being examined. I am sorry that this developed into a Scottish Debate, on the first opportunity I have had of sitting in, without being looked at in a certain kind of way.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

The hon. Gentleman was the target, but in a friendly way.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

I admit it was very friendly. As the hon. Member said, this is not strictly a Scottish question. The transfer of women has not only taken place from Scotland to England—and not only from England to Scotland either, although it is sometimes suggested that the Minister of Labour was, for some unknown reason, bringing girls from a particular town in Scotland and sending English girls there There may be in- dividual cases in which, for some very special reason, a person with particular qualifications has been sent to a place from which women are being exported; but it is only in very peculiar and particular instances. I have said a lot of hard things about the Ministry of Labour in my time, but I can assure the House that the Ministry would not purposely embark upon a policy of doing the wrong thing in order to be wrong as seems sometimes to be suggested. I would not attempt to stand at the Table and justify the transference of girls from one town to another when at the same time girls from the other town were being sent back to the first. It may have happened, I am not suggesting that it has not happened; in the best-regulated undertakings things sometimes go wrong, but the House can rest assured that it is part of the Minister's policy to see to it that when mistakes of that kind are made, they are rectified as quickly as possible, for the simple reason that it is not only more expensive but we know that it leads to troubles of the kind described to-day.

I repeat that this transfer of women is not simply a Scottish question, and the attention paid to the transfer of what I described as mobile women sometimes tends to over-emphasise this aspect of the women's placing work of the Ministry of Labour, and to get it out of due proportion. From January to May this year 757,845 women were placed by the Ministry in all forms of industrial employment, including 387,000 in munitions industry. There are no statistics showing the exact numbers of those placings which involved living away from home, but some indication of the proportion is given by the fact that the settling-in grant which can be claimed by people who are transferred away from home was claimed and paid in 22,000 cases. That is, 22,000 out of 757, 845.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Does that really represent the proportion; are there not certain conditions attached to the payment of this sum which prevent it being a true figure?

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

I think the hon. Member for Gorbals is confusing two different things—one is the lodging grant which goes on continuously, but the same conditions do not apply to the settling-in grant, which is paid to the women who are called upon to transfer.

Photo of Major Guy Lloyd Major Guy Lloyd , Renfrewshire Eastern

What percentage of the 22,000 come from Scotland?

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

I could not work that out now, but I will give the figures later if I get so far.

It is the policy of the Ministry, if we can meet the requirements, without transference, to do so. Somebody has suggested to-day that the reason we transfer girls from Scotland to England is that there is some sinister design on somebody's part to depopulate Scotland and repopulate England with the best blood by bringing in the Scottish girls. I can assure the House that although I have a great admiration for the Scottish girls I would not be a party to a policy which had any sinister design of that kind behind it. Mistakes may have been made; in the light of events, it may be that when we made our plans, even before the war, factories were placed in the wrong places, and I am not here to-day to suggest that all the planning that has taken place was rightly done. I am not here to suggest that some of the districts which are being fed from outside are not over-populated from the standpoint of industry as things have turned out. What I am here to defend is the action of the Ministry in that when factories have been erected and the work has got to be carried on, the policy that has been followed of attempting to fill these factories by the people best able to man them has led of necessity to the transference of labour. Although that has brought with it hardship I wish to suggest that so far as we are concerned we have attempted to look at these hardships with a view to making them as light as possible. The plans that were made long ago, as I have intimated, rendered transfer of labour necessary.

What about the method of transfer? The country has been divided into areas, and these areas have been classified under three heads. In the first place, areas where there is a shortage and the demand is urgent: women are sent to those areas. The second classification is where the local urgent demands can just be met from local resources, and therefore it is not necessary to import or export labour. This is where it appears as though there were a disadvantage to those districts which are called upon to export, because there are quite a number of districts in England and some in Wales where the urgent demand can just be met by the people who are there. Therefore, the people who are in exactly the same category as the Scottish girls are allowed to remain at home and carry out the work, because the urgent local need is being met by the local people. Then there are areas where the demand is less acute and can be satisfied by immobile women, in other words areas in which there is a demand for labour such as has been instanced to-day, but where, at the same time, the demand can be met by the women who are not working but who cannot leave home. It is there the necessity arises for these young persons who are mobile, whose removal from home can be carried out, to be transferred and for the immobile women to carry out the work. Although, as has been suggested to-day, it leads to difficulties, and the human element comes into it more than anything else, yet this is the only possible way in which the whole of our man-power and woman-power can be mobilised. Unless you employ the immobile women in the places where they can be employed and transfer your mobile women, even though it goes against the grain, it is the only way in which both the mobile and immobile women can be utilised.

The regulation of transfer is done by linking together all the different areas. For instance, the Northern and North Wales areas supply the North-West, whilst Scotland and the North-Eastem, South Wales and London supply the Midlands, and the others are self-supporting, though they have to transfer women within their own boundaries in some instances. Thus throughout the country women are required to leave home and in the light of what has been said it is interesting to note that Scotland is transferring 500 women a month to the Midlands but London is transferring 670 a month to the Midlands, so that there is a greater number of people going out of the London area every week into the Midlands than is coming from Scotland. [Interruption.] No, I have not overlooked either the numbers or the geographical position. I am not attempting to compare London with Scotland. It is not a question of having picked out Scotland; it is a question of the necessities of the situation having to be faced, in order to provide the woman power which is required. For obvious reasons, no cross-transfers are being made.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Owing to the widespread devastation of London, a lot of people have had to leave London in any case. That does not apply to the Northern Kingdom.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

The interruption is rather in favour of what I was suggesting. What I wanted to point out was, not that London was doing more than Scotland, but that we had not picked on Scotland just because it was Scotland—and there is no intention of doing so. The hon. Member for Gorbals, quite properly, pointed out that there are different categories of mobile women. You have them under the Registration for Employment Order. In that case the hardship cases are dealt with by panels of women outside the Ministry. After they decide a case, directions are given, and if exception is taken to the direction, appeals can be made to the Local Appeal Board. There is another category, which, I think, is the one that causes most heartburning. That is the category which comes under the National Service Act, consisting of those women born from 1918 to 1921. Here the appeal is to the Hardship Committee. They can appeal only for postponement of calling up. This House decided that the same conditions as apply to the calling up of men under the Military Service Acts should be applied to women of this category. This is where the question of the interpretation of what constitutes hardship arises.

It is suggested that instructions should be given to the managers of our local exchanges or to people in certain positions connected with the local exchanges, that they should exercise discretion. It is not easy to allow discretion to officials in local offices in the interpretation of an Act of Parliament. I do not see how it could be done. The hardship tribunal, having gone into the question, the appeal is to the umpire, who is the final authority.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

This is one of my challenges. The umpire, who decides this matter, says to people that they have to prove more than hardship, that they have to prove exceptional hardship. I say that the umpire has no right to break the law, and you have no right to let him do so. All that has to be proved is hardship, and the umpire is not entitled to add anything to that.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

He is the individual who, in the final resort, has to determine—

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

He is not allowed to break the law, or to make the law—we do that.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

I admit that, but I am not prepared to admit that he is breaking the law, or that we have broken the law in refusing to accept that which was laid down by the hon. Member.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

It was laid down as "hardship" and nothing else. There has been added to it by the umpire the word "exceptional," so that it is "exceptional hardship," and even the umpire should not be allowed to break the law.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

That is a question which I cannot got into, but I do not think that the umpire is the individual who had added the term "exceptional." The question arises of how hardship is to be defined and it might be that in interpreting hardship the word "exceptional" is brought in to show the difference between hardship and need. There is not a case anywhere of an individual being asked to leave home in which hardship might not be involved. The question is, what is hardship legally and what is the meaning of the word "hardship" as we understand it?

It is impossible to reply to all the remarks that have been made, but all that we have done on the welfare side to meet the requirements of people compelled to transfer from home has been done because we know of the repercussions which might arise. Although I have not been able to answer all the questions put to me, I promise that the speeches will be read and the arguments that have been raised will be noted, and as far as the Ministry is concerned, we are anxious that, within the terms of the law and the desires of the House, that which has to be done will be done with as little hardship as is possible under legislation of this type.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly till 8th September, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 5th August.