I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
This Clause deals with the subject of compensation to officers of local authorities who will be affected by the changes in the arrangements for registration which will be made by this Bill. When we make changes in our local government arrangements which affect the position of the officers and which result in a reduction of their emoluments, it has, I think, always been an accepted principle in this Committee that provision is made for compensation in respect of the loss of emoluments which these officers would incur. In this Clause, it is intended to bring about that result irrespective of the alterations which this Bill makes in arrangements for registration. The Committee will see that it extends to officers who are employed by the council of a county, county borough, metropolitan borough or county district in the capacity of returning officer or in connection with the preparation of a register of electors or jurors' book. There are a certain number of officers who have hitherto been engaged in the arrangements which are made for the preparation of the register and jurors' books, for which they are remunerated, in the majority of cases, by the payment of fees.
It appears to be the case that those officers will not be employed on work which hitherto they have been accustomed to perform. The result will be that they will not be entitled to receive the remuneration for the work which has hitherto been paid to them. That being so there will be a reduction, varying in degree, in the total emoluments which these officers are likely to receive when this Bill becomes law. Therefore, if the Committee follows what has been generally accepted as a principle for dealing with a situation of this nature, it would be right that we should insert in this Bill a Clause in the terms of the Clause which I am moving which would entitle those officers to claim compensation for the loss of the emoluments which they seem likely to sustain. These emoluments are in some cases received by way of fees and in some cases they will be received by way of some form of special arrangement, but whether they are paid by fees or in some other manner, they do form an important part of the remuneration of the officers concerned. Although this perhaps may be a matter which is of lesser importance than the topics which the Committee has been discussing this afternoon, it is a matter of considerable importance to the officers concerned, and in these circumstances I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to see his way to meet us, if not by this Clause, by a Clause in some other form which will provide the compensation we are asking for these officers and treat them in the same manner as it has been the practice to treat officers whose remuneration was affected by circumstances over which they had no control in a great many other Bills in the past.
I rise to support the new Clause so well moved by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson) and at this late hour, as the case has been so admirably put by him, I propose only to add a few words. The National Association of Local Government Officers is deeply disturbed at the lack of any compensation provisions in this Bill. It may be true that the position arises out of temporary conditions, but the fact remains that the loss to which the hon. and learned Member has referred is a continuing one. I hope that the Minister will agree—and this really is the essential of the case that I am submitting to the Committee—that the extremely valuable principle of compensation for loss of earnings, either wholly or in part in respect of earnings arising from legislative action in this House, is in no way going to be altered. It would be tedious to enumerate the Acts of Parliament which have been passed during the last 50 or 60 years where that principle has been maintained, and I would beg of the Minister to give us an assurance that he is in no way going to depart from that principle.
The House, for a long period of years, has safeguarded the interests of ordinary men and women when their livelihood was being worsened in any way by legislative action of this House. The Minister, perhaps, may find it difficult at present to accept this Clause. In any case, I hope that he will be able to tell us that he is fully seized of the importance of the principle which I have endeavoured to enunciate. It may be that he cannot accept the new Clause now, but if that should be the position—I hope it is not and that he will be able to accept the new Clause—I would ask him whether he can give us a definite assurance that, when further legislation is forthcoming, he will put this matter on a proper and permanent basis, and that the case which we are endeavouring to put to the Committee will not be overlooked but will be very much in mind. I would appeal to the Minister to allay the anxieties of a very large number of men and women by either accepting the new Clause or giving us an adequate assurance.
This is a most complex matter and we have examined it with every desire to do justice and with the firm principle embodied in all our minds that we are not to derogate in any way from the established principles of compensation. If we thought that the circumstances of this case came within the established principles, and if there was any precedent that covered this case, I think I can say on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that we should have no hesitation in coming here as we have done before.
However, on our view of the facts this case is very clearly distinguishable from all others in which compensation has previously been given. Therefore, if we refuse here, we are not in the least prejudicing other cases which can be brought within the ordinarily understood principles. There seem to be two distinctions here from the ordinary case. There is a very complex history of designated officers and proper officers who come into the picture and go out again in a manner that is extremely difficult to understand, but the net result appears to be that nobody had any security of tenure with regard to this class of appointment before the war, because it is always open, without any infringement of the law or even, I think, of good faith, to change over from one officer to the other, and nobody had any ground of complaint if that was done. There was no established security of tenure in regard to any of these appointments—that is one distinction from the ordinary case.
The other distinction is, as my hon. Friend has properly said, that this is a temporary Bill; we do not know yet what will happen to these duties or these officers at the end of this temporary Measure. If we revert, as we may, to the pre-war practices, then the question does not arise, because they get back their duties and their remuneration. If we put things upon some new permanent basis, then I agree that one of the distinctions that this is purely temporary goes by the board, and the thing will have to be reexamined to see whether the other distinction is by itself a valid reason for distinguishing this case from the general rule. However, these two distinctions together, appear in our view, to make it impossible for us to bring this case within the class of case where compensation has been given in the past, and for that reason we find it necessary to refuse the concession which is asked for in this Clause.