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Clause 5—(Liability To Complete Interrupted Service)

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1947

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I beg to move, in page 3, line 41, to leave out Subsection (2).

This Amendment is being moved again with a view to trying to obtain a satisfactory explanation. It was moved in Committee by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low), and I do not think that on that occasion we received a very satisfactory answer to the points which were raised. The Government have now had time to reflect upon the issues raised, and I hope that we shall get more satisfaction. This Subsection covers two points. The first is, as I understand it, that it is to be left to each Service authority to define by regulations what term of service in an auxiliary Force shall be deemed to be equivalent to whole-time service or part-time service under this Bill. It is desirable that there should be some co-ordination between the Service authorities on this issue, and also that people who volunteer for service in the auxiliary Forces in lieu of part-time service should be informed, and be able to inform themselves, at the time they volunteer, of the extent to which such service in the auxiliary Services will count in lieu of part-time service. That covers the first point on which we should like some information. We should much prefer if, instead of leaving this to the Service authorities, the definition were incorporated in the Bill.

Under the second part of the Clause, anyone who has served in an auxiliary Force and is then transferred back to complete part-time service, is only allowed to count a maximum of 15 days of his auxiliary service in any one year towards his part-time service. I should like to know what justification there is for that. It seems to me in one way to impose a penalty upon those who volunteer for service in the auxiliary Forces, though I recognise the difficulty with which one has to contend. It is that of avoiding the possibility of someone in the auxiliary Forces doing so much service in one year, and then leaving those Forces and saying, "I have done enough. I need not do any more in the next five years for which I should otherwise have been liable for part-time service." It ought to be possible to make a fairer adjustment between service in the auxiliary Forces, and service under this Measure.

I beg to second the Amendment.

I wish to make a few remarks on the number of days' training which a volunteer is allowed to count. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War may think he need not listen to me because, for a reason which he may remember, I have had to make my argument twice already. It was in the middle of the night when I first made my point on This matter, and then for some reason the right hon. Gentleman was not present. I would like him now to explain why it is that he appears to injure the volunteer under this Subsection. As my hon. and learned Friend has said, he is allowing the volunteer to count only 15 days in each year, whereas the National Service man is allowed to count 21 days. If the volunteer is in the Territorial Army, and is to be considered efficient and earn his bounty in any one year, he has to do the equivalent of 22½ days' training. The right hon. Gentleman agreed with me when I last put that point and I think he will agree again. If the right hon. Gentleman really wants to encourage volunteers, why allow them to count only 15 days? The House is entitled to an explanation.

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to be put in the position, from the point of view of the Army, whereby men who volunteer can get rid of their 60 days' training liability, in the course of the first two years. Surely, there has been time, between the Committee stage, when the same arguments were put forward, and now, in which to think out some Amendment to this Subsection, or a new Clause if necessary, which would have the effect of allowing them to count at least that period which is required by the Territorial Army Regulations? The right hon. Gentleman may say that he wants men who are volunteering for the Territorial Army to stay in it for four years, and he may go on to say that 60 days divided by four comes to 15. That seems to be good mathematics, and it may be the explanation of the choice of 15 days for this Subsection, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is a good argument for distinguishing between the volunteer and the National Service man to the detriment of the volunteer, as in this Subsection. I think that, on the points made by my hon. and learned Friend and the point which I have put now, the right hon. Gentleman has a certain case to answer.

The real reason why we want Subsection (2) is to avoid the possibility of those men who do not complete their full-time service under this Bill, but who for various reasons go on to one of the reserves—particularly in the Royal Air Force—being able, as it were, to compress their reserve liability, which is now spread over six years under this Bill, into two years, thereby escaping their obliga- tion to serve in the reserve for six years. The point made by the hon. and gallant Member about the association between the voluntary Territorial Force and those who have to give their services under this Bill, does not arise, because volunteers are not covered by this Bill at all. It is only those called up under this Bill, who have to do this 60 days' period of reserve service spread over six years.

Surely, we are dealing here with a man who, for some reason or other, has accepted the obligation of a volunteer in an auxiliary Force; and, surely, that man has accepted greater obligations than those imposed by this Subsection.

9.0 p.m.

I think that Subsection (2) has to be read in conjunction with the whole of Clause 5, which deals with liability to complete interrupted service. It may well be that a National Service man, with a liability under this Bill for 12 months whole-time service, will go on reserve, for one reason or another, and escape a certain amount of whole-time and part-time service, for various reasons. For instance, in the R.A.F., it may not be necessary to keep a man for the full 12 months, and we may let him go to the Air Force Reserve, when he will volunteer to do more than he would ordinarily be liable for under this Bill. We do not want him to be able to claim that part-time service in the first year or two. The whole purpose of this Bill is to make sure that the National Service man after his full-time service shall be kept up to date for six years with the reserve training. There is also the question of the bounty for those who volunteer. It might be that not only would the National Service man be volunteering for the Reserve, but he would be able to get the whole of the 60 days concentrated into the first two years. That might make him eligible for the bounty which is given to the volunteer Territorials who complete more than the number of drills which the National Service reservist will be obliged to do. For that reason we cannot accept the Amendment to omit Subsection (2). There was another Amendment advanced in Committee relating to the "cat and mouse" suggestion that it would be possible to call a man back if he had been discharged. That is governed by the next Amendment to be moved by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. I hope that explanation will satisfy hon. Members opposite, and will enable them to withdraw the Amendment.

May 1, with the leave of the House, put a question to the right hon. Gentleman which might crystallise the position and enable us to be satisfied on the point? Supposing a man, having volunteered for the auxiliary service, does 21 days' service in the year, why should he not be allowed to count more than 15 of those days against his liability of 21 days' service in a year under Clause 2?

The reason why a person who has taken alternative part-time service on that basis is not to be allowed to reckon more than 15 days' training in one year towards the 60 days is because, on a volunteer footing, he can earn a bounty for attending hourly training periods and week-end camps outside the annual camp periods. That would make a distinction between the member of the Territorial Army who volunteers to do that, and a National Service man who has an obligation under this Bill.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move, in page 4, line 7, to leave out Subsection (3), and to insert:

"(3) The Minister may cause to be served on any person liable under this Section to be called upon to undertake part-time service a written notice specifying the term of part-time service which he is liable to perform, and, subject as hereinafter provided, that person shall after the expiration of the period of fourteen days after the service of the notice be deemed to be entered or enlisted for service in such force as may be specified in the notice:
Provided that if within the said period of fourteen days that person disputes his liability to be called upon to undertake part-time service, or the term of part-time service which he is shown by the notice to be liable to perform, and requires the Minister to refer the question in dispute to a referee, the notice shall not become operative to enter or enlist that person unless a referee selected by the Minister from a panel of persons nominated by the Lord Chancellor, after inquiring into and determining the question in dispute, directs that the notice shall become operative so to do on such date and for such term of part-time service as may be specified in the direction."
In the Committee stage we undertook to examine this matter and we put this Amendment down in the belief that it would meet all the points which hon. Gentlemen on both sides asked us to consider. At this stage in dealing with this Amendment I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I also referred to the four Amendments to this Amendment which are down on the Order Paper. This proposed new Subsection has two points in it. The first is that the Minister of Labour and not the Service authority will issue the written notice. This means that if a man disputes his liability he can raise the matter with the Ministry, and in any event that is considered more appropriate since he is not in the Forces and he will be treated as a civilian and not as a man in the Forces.

The second point is that the written notice will not take effect until after a period of 14 days. If a man disputes his liability, and, what is more likely, disputes the amount of part-time service he is called upon to do within the 14 days, he may require the Minister to refer the question to arbitration. If he goes to arbitration the notice will not take effect until the referee has determined the question and the notice then shall specify the period of service and the date.

One of the Amendments provides that the matter shall automatically go to the referee if the man concerned raises any objection. We ask the House not to accept that proposal, because there will be many cases where the man will say, "I object to this"; he will have to fill up a form if he is going to appeal, we will look at it and say, "A mistake has been made here, there is no need for the matter to go any further," and we shall cancel the notice. But if, under the regulation, because a man raises an objection the case is automatically referred to a referee, it will waste the time of the man concerned and of everybody else. We want to leave an open course to the man, so that if we cannot settle the matter he can go to the referee if he wishes. It is obvious that if the Minister settles the case to the man's satisfaction, he will not want to go to the referee. It is only where we think we cannot settle it to the man's satisfaction that he will want to take the matter there.

It was suggested last time that the ordinary courts should be used. We are advised that we can hardly send these cases to a court of summary jurisdiction. because at that point neither an offence nor a civil claim is involved summary courts usually deal with complaints or offences of some kind. We have provided here for another method. We suggest that there shall be a referee who will be selected by the Minister from a panel of persons nominated by the Lord Chancellor. That will take the matter out of any influence of the Ministry of Labour. All the Ministry will do will be to select somebody appropriate. by which I mean somebody appropriate in the locality. and so on. Therefore, disputed cases will be settled by an impartial referee, which is what was pressed for by hon. Members who raised this matter in Committee. I submit that this proposed new Subsection meets the points which have been raised. It would not be an advantage to accept the proposed Amendments to this Subsection, because we think a great deal of confusion and trouble would be created, and the new form of reference for settling these cases takes the matter out of the realm of any kind of suspicion

I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman, who has met our arguments which we adduced on the Committee stage with regard to this point. We then put forward the argument that a man who disputed his liability to service under this Measure should have the matter determined not by a court-martial but by some other civil tribunal. We did not attach any particular importance to the adjudication being by a court of summary jurisdiction. We accept, and welcome, the two main points that the notice shall be served by the Minister, and that in the event of dispute the matter shall be adjudicated upon by the referee. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think that we are in any way unappreciative of the manner in which he has met our main argument, by reason of the fact that we have put down Amendments to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal. Although I do not want to press them, I would like the right hon. Gentleman to bear these arguments in mind. Under the proviso as it now stands if a person "disputes his liability"—those are the actual words in the proviso—the dispute may be oral or in writing. There is nothing in the proviso to say in what form it should be. Therefore, it appears to me that by leaving the words in this particular form, there might arise the difficulty that when trying to call up a man, the Ministry would say "We have served you with a notice and you have not disputed it." The man would say, "I went to the Ministry of Labour Exchange, I found a clerk there and disputed it." He would find great difficulty in disproving that fact. Therefore I suggest there is some force in saying it should be a written notice, and probably stating the grounds for disputing that written notice. I think the right hon. Gentleman meant that when he said they would be required to fill up a form, but in fact that is not provided in the proviso, and strictly and legally the man affected could comply with this Clause by merely going along to the employment exchange and saying, "I dispute my liability."

When any person goes into an employment exchange it is the practice, when he goes to the counter, for a note to be made immediately of his name, address and the purpose of his visit. A note would be made, and quite definitely he would be asked for his particulars, so the matter would be recorded.

That may well be a matter of good administration in the Ministry's employment exchanges, but I ask the Minister to look at it from the purely legal point of view. He will find, whether or not the form is filled in, that under the proviso as it now stands a man can bring himself within its terms by merely saying, "I dispute my liability." I do not press that, but I do ask him to consider it. I think it will improve the Bill, which is what we are all out for.

With regard to the other Amendments, the Minister will appreciate that the Clause as now drafted puts the burden upon the person disputing his liability to do two things. First of all, he must say, "I dispute my liability," either to serve or to serve to the extent required. He has then to fulfil the requirements of saying to the Minister "Refer it to the referee," and strictly, and in law, a man would not bring himself within this Clause, as amended, by merely saying, "I dispute my liability." Under the Clause as now drawn, with this new Subsection, it would be possible to have the case adjudicated upon and for his claim not to be regarded as liable for service to be rejected on the ground that he had not coupled with that claim a requirement that the matter should be referred to the referee. That is the point of our Amendment. I quite agree that the Minister should have power, where he is satisfied that the man who is disputing liability is right, to admit that he is right without the matter going to a referee. I should have thought it was open to him to do that at any time without a statutory provision. As the proviso now stands, I emphasise that it puts the burden on the man disputing liability to say to the Minister, "Refer this to the referee," and if he does not say that to the Minister he does not bring himself within this Clause. They are two minor points. I merely ask the Minister to look at them and consider them, because I think they have some substance. I conclude by repeating my thanks to him for the way in which he has met us on these most important points.

Amendment agreed to.