HC Deb 10 May 1911 vol 25 cc1218-20

I ask leave to introduce a Bill "to make provision for work or maintenance being given to the unemployed." A word of explanation is due to the House for taking this means of introducing the Bill. There are other Bills before the House which deal with unemployment, and had this measure proceeded on the same or similar lines I should have introduced it in a less formal manner. But this Bill seeks to set up quite a new and distinct principle in modern politics. The title is the "Right to Work Bill." It is to make provision for work being given to the unemployed. We submit that in the provisions of this measure we are seeking to modernise a very old right conferred on Englishmen by the statute of Elizabeth 43, chapter 2. On that measure the whole of our modern Poor Law system has grown up, and unquestionably the foundation of that system was not the provision of monetary assistance, but the provision of work for the able-bodied and destitute poor. The provisions of the Bill are few and explicit. In the first three clauses machinery is established for registering the genuine unemployed. A person who has been seven days on the Labour Exchange register without suitable employment having been found for him is then entitled to apply to have his name transferred from the Labour Exchange register to the unemployed register. Only British subjects are eligible to make such application. At the end of seven days from the name being registered on the unemployed list, the public authorities, State and local, are under obligation either to provide suitable employment or to find such maintenance for the unemployed person and his dependants as the medical officer of the district may certify to be necessary to maintain them in physical efficiency.

The subsequent Clauses provide for the training of the unfit, and the compulsory detention of the worthless and undesirable. The cost of the whole of the provisions of the Bill is divided between the local authorities and the Treasury. Under the Bill the total cost of carrying it into operation, which falls upon local authorities, must not exceed a penny in the pound on the ratable value in the course of one year, the whole of the remainder, whatever the amount, falling upon the Treasury. I desire it to be understood that in suggesting the provision of work we are not thinking of relief works hurriedly arranged for in order to meet crises when unemployment comes upon us. The underlying feature of the Bill is that great undertakings of public utility and Government Contracts, shall be arranged in advance, and held in readiness to be launched when unemployment begins to overtake us. Nor are we desirous to establish a set of people who will be maintained in idleness out of public funds. Our provisions with regard to maintenance are intended more in the nature of a spur to stimulate Government Departments and public authorities to provide work, knowing that unless such be done the unemployed have to be provided with maintenance from public funds. This measure does not conflict with any other Bills or proposals for dealing with unemployment. It is supplementary to the insurance scheme of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is supplementary to the proposals for regulating casual labour, dealing with boy labour, and other matters of that kind. We do not seek to stipulate how the State shall provide employment. We confer on the individual the right to demand employment or maintenance, leaving the State to take the necessary action to carry out its obligations.

These, in brief, are the main provisions of the Bill, and we are in hope that since the present boom in trade is already beginning to show signs of exhaustion some measure on these lines will be adopted by the Government and carried into law, so, that when unemployment again becomes prevalent the country may be spared the humiliating spectacle of tens of thousands of honest men and women being deprived of the opportunity of making a living or of the right to work.

Question, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for work or maintenance being given to the unemployed," put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Keir Hardie, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, Mr. Barnes, Mr. Crooks, Mr. Enoch Edwards, Mr. Fred Hall, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. William Johnson, Mr. Lansbury, Mr. O'Grady, and Mr. Tyson Wilson. Presented accordingly, and read the first tune; to be read a second time upon Wednesday, 24th May, and to be printed.