HC Deb 30 November 1911 vol 32 cc789-94

(1) The sums required for the payment of unemployment benefit under this Act shall be derived partly from contributions by workmen in the insured trades and partly from contributions from employers of such workmen and partly from moneys provided by Parliament.

(2) Subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, every workman employed within the United Kingdom in an insured trade, and every employer of any such workman, shall be liable to pay contributions at the rates specified in the English Schedule to this Act.

(3) Except where the regulations under this Part of this Act otherwise prescribe, the employer shall, in the first instance, be liable to pay both the contribution payable by himself, and also on behalf of and to the exclusion of the workman, the contribution payable by such workman, and subject to such regulations, shall be entitled, notwithstanding the provisions of any Act or any contract to the contrary, to recover from the workman by deductions from his wages or otherwise the amount of the contributions so paid by him on behalf of the workman.

(4) Notwithstanding any contract to the contrary the employer shall not be entitled to deduct from the wages of, or otherwise recover from, the workman the contributions payable by the employer himself.

(5) Subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, the Board of Trade may make regulations providing for any matters incidental to the payment and collection of contributions payable under this Part of this Act, and in particular for—

  1. (a) payment of contributions by means of adhesive or other stamps affixed to or impressed upon books or cards, and for regulating the manner, times and conditions in, at and under which such stamps are to be affixed and impressed;
  2. (b) the issue sale custody or delivery up of books or cards and the replacement of books or cards which have been lost destroyed or defaced.

(6) A contribution shall be made in each year out of moneys provided by Parliament equal to one-third of the total contributions received from employers and workmen during that year, and the sums to be contributed in any year shall be paid in such manner and at such times as the Treasury may determine.

Amendments made: In Sub-section (1), leave out the word "from" ["contributions from employers"], and insert the word "by."

In Subjection (3) leave out the word "his" ["by deductions from his wages or otherwise"], and insert the words "the workman's."

In Sub-section (3), leave out the word "otherwise" ["his wages or otherwise "], and insert the words "from any other payment due from him to the workman."—[Mr. Buxton.]


I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (4).

The President of the Board of Trade will remember that when we discussed this in Committee, it was pointed out that this Sub-section caused the Clause to be unfairly drawn as between the employer and the workman. The Subsection specifically lays down that, Notwithstanding any contract to the contrary the employer shall not be entitled to deduct from the wages of, or otherwise recover from, the workman the contributions payable by the employer himself. In other words, a specific bar is put on the employer from deducting from the workman's wages the employer's own contribution. It was pointed out in Committee that if that is done there ought also to be a specific bar put upon the workman from compelling the employer not to deduct his contribution. We proposed as an Amendment that, Notwithstanding anything contained in the Trades Disputes Act it shall be unlawful for employed contributors, whether in pursuance of a trade dispute or not, to attempt to recover either directly or indirectly from the employer the amount of their contributions. Our view was this, that unless this Sub-section were omitted or this Amendment were put in as a proviso to the Sub-section it would be open to any trade union, or association of workmen to engineer a strike to compel the employer to pay the contributions which the workmen were compelled to pay under the Bill, and that, having regard to the very wide powers given by the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, such a strike might be engineered, the strike would be legal, and the trade union would be perfectly immune. The Solicitor-General pointed out that that would not be perfectly fair to that workman, and subsequently we proposed another Amendment to make not only a strike for that purpose illegal but also a lock-out on the part of the employer. The Government, however, refused to accept either one Amendment or the other. I fully admit that both the Amendments are very difficult, but I want to ask the Government why they want to have Sub-section (4) at all. In Clause 5, which deals with contributions to be paid under the health part, there is no such provision at all as this contained in Sub-section (4). Let me read the operative part of Clause 5, Sub-section (2):— The employer shall in the first instance pay both the contributions payable by himself and also, on behalf of the employed contributors, the contributions payable by such contributor and shall be entitled to recover from the contributor, by deduction from wages or otherwise, the amount of the contribution so paid by him on behalf of the contributor in accordance with the rules set out in the third Schedule of this Act. That provision is precisely as that contained in Sub-section (3) of Clause 79, but there is no subsequent provision in Clause 5 similar to Sub-section (4) of Clause 79, and I want to know why on earth it is necessary to give this specific power to the employer in regard to the contribution he paid on behalf of the workman in the unemployed part of the Bill when it was not thought necessary to give him any such power at all with regard to the health part of the Bill. I know the President of the Board of Trade is most anxious to meet the wishes of the employers as far as he can, and to make the Bill work as smoothly as possible, recognising that it imposes very large additional burdens upon industry, but this particular Sub-section is likely to cause a good deal of trouble. It certainly is not quite fair to the employer that this Sub-section should be in while he himself is in no way protected against a strike against this deduction from wages.


I beg to second the Amendment.


If the hon. Gentleman's proposal were accepted there would be no provision in Part II. of the Bill to the effect that the employer was not entitled to deduct from the workman's wages that part of the contribution which the employer himself ought to pay. The hon. Gentleman recommends this proposal to the House on the ground, as it appears to him, that there is no such provision in Part I. of the Bill. I am afraid he has been devoting so much attention to Part II. that he really has not studied Part I. as closely as he should have done before he made that statement. Schedule 8 provides:— Notwithstanding any contract to the contrary the employer shall not be entitled to deduct from wages, or otherwise recover from a contributor, the employer's contribution. The hon. Gentleman was, therefore, in error in supposing that there is no such provision in Part I., and, in point of fact, that provision which exists in Part I., of course, ought also to exist in Part II. What we have done in Clause 79, by the Amendment already accepted and by the further Amendment we are about to propose in Sub-section (4), is to remove any possible ambiguity in the language of these two Sub-sections. It was pointed out in Committee that there might be some misunderstanding as to what was meant by the phrase "otherwise recover," and I think that criticism was quite well founded; and I am sincerely anxious to meet criticism if it is well founded. For that reason we have been careful now to introduce such changes in the Clause as will make it quite plain that when one speaks of recovering otherwise, one is not referring to any attempt to prohibit that which cannot be prohibited by law, namely, the alteration of a scale of wages by industrial conflict. We all hope these industrial conflicts will not arise, but most certainly if either side desires to enter into such industrial conflicts, no Act of Parliament would prevent it, and it cannot be prevented, for this most simple reason. If you propose that the employer shall be prohibited from endeavouring to throw his contributions on the workman by some form of industrial conflict, the employer will very easily get over that difficulty by offering some other explanation for a lock-out. In the same way it is idle to legislate that the workman, in view of the new charges put upon him by this Bill, shall not be entitled to strike for higher wages, because he will get over that by striking for some other reason. The hon. Gentleman has unwittingly fallen into error when he thinks there is no corresponding provision in Part I., and really what we have done now is to bring the two sides of the matter to an equality. We have made it plain that our Clause does not profess to interfere with these industrial conflicts which on the one side are aimed at raising wages and on the other at lowering wages; but, on the other hand, it is made clear that if the employer desires to deduct the workman's contribution from the workman he must do it by deduction from his wages or from some other sum due from him to the employé, but he is not entitled to deduct from his wages that part of the contribution which the employer ought to pay, and these two provisions are now embodied in Clauses 3 and 4.


I think my hon. Friend has every excuse for not having discovered, tucked away in the Schedule, the corresponding Clause relating to Part I. that is so much better expressed in Part II. We can congratulate the draftsman that in Part II., at any rate, he has put it in the place where you would expect to find it. Part I. is full of surprises, and it is not in the least astonishing to me that my hon. Friend did not discover that there was a similar Clause in Part I. We had a considerable argument in Commmittee upon an Amendment that I moved to try and make the same rule apply to workmen as was applied to the employer and I recognise that the Government have tried to meet the position because the criticism we then addressed to the words "or otherwise recover," although not recognised as quite just in Committee, upon reconsideration, has apparently impressed the Government to the extent that they have themselves now put down Amendments to show that they mean "or otherwise recover by legal process." We had a long discussion upstairs, and it all amounted to this, that if the employer should recover under ordinary economic conditions, or if the workman could make the employer pay his 2½d., an Act of Parliament was quite unable to affect economic laws, but having once come to that conclusion, the most, it seems to me, that could be done is to limit it, as I think is now done on the Amendments that the Government propose otherwise to "recover by legal process." That point having now been met by the Government, I hope my hon. Friend will not think it necessary to press the Amendment, because I think, after all, the words of the Government are as strong as any words can be, seeing that no words can alter whatever the economic effect of this Clause will be.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: After the word "of" ["deduct from the wages of"], insert the words "or other payment due to the workman."

After the word "workman" ["or otherwise recover from the workman"], insert the words "by any legal process."—[Mr. Buxton.]