§ Resolution reported, "That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of contributions towards the cost of benefits conferred by any Act of the present Session to extend the provisions of the National Insurance Act, 1911, relating to unemployment insurance, to certain trades and employments in connection with the present War, and of any excess in the payments out of the Unemployment Fund over the receipts into that fund under such Act."
§ Resolution read a second time.
§ Mr. KING
I beg to move, after the word "contributions" ["contributions towards the cost of"], to insert the words "not exceeding two million pounds."
I made a few remarks yesterday, when we were in Committee on this Resolution, to the effect that I object on principle to voting an absolutely unlimited and unnamed sum of money. Even though the hon. Gentleman representing the Board of Trade made a very courteous and full reply, and although I had the opportunity and pleasure of reading it again this morning, I still feel that I was right, and that the tradition of this House in dealing with Votes of money ought to be, if possible, observed here, and that we ought to say, in voting a new amount under a new Act, how far in the first instance the Board of Trade should go. I would set that sum at the amount I 1697 suggested yesterday, £2,000,000. Admitting, as the hon. Gentleman did yesterday, that he had not the faintest notion of what the cost is going to be, I say £2,000,000 for a project of which you have not the faintest notion is quite enough to begin with, and should go a considerable way. After that, if it is going into many more millions, let the hon. Gentleman come to the House and give some sort of idea of the success or prospects of a scheme like this, and I believe the House would readily accede to a further sum of money being voted. I therefore venture, under the circumstances, to move this Amendment.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I beg to second the Amendment. I did not have the same privilege my hon. Friend had yesterday of hearing the discussion in the House, but I join with him, and I hope the House will join with us, in insisting that some sum of money shall be put into this Resolution. I cannot myself understand the ways of the Treasury with regard to these sums of money. When a sum of money is to be devoted to a particular purpose they exhibit a tremendous parsimony, and put in a fixed figure, as they have done, for instance, with regard to the Statutory Committee and pensions for soldiers, when they put in £1,000,000. When they come to this question they give those who are in charge of this scheme an entirely free financial hand. This scheme is to provide for an unemployment which may not arise, and as to which we are told, and have been told for a long time now, that the Government are taking steps to prevent it arising. A Committee was appointed the other day to look after after-war problems, and to provide that after the War as little dislocation of employment shall arise as possible. If we are going to give a free hand in money, surely it is an admission in advance of failure to do anything with regard to unemployment after the War. As my hon. Friend pointed out, we have, first of all, to get the War finished. We have to beat the Germans before this problem will arise. There cannot be any problem of this kind until that fact has been accomplished, and to vote an unlimited sum of State money for a purpose which is not defined is against every good financial tradition of this House. I am very glad to see the financial leader of the House present on the Front Bench opposite. [Sir F. Banbury indicated Sir G. Reid.] No; that is a mistake which my right hon. 1698 Friend makes. We prefer in this House to deal in absolutely home-made financial goods, and that is why we look to him as the leader on this occasion, and I hope he will support this effort on the part of those of us who are left in the House of Commons on a fine afternoon, when it is deserted by every Minister of responsibility, to see that the public purse is looked after. Not even the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has attended this afternoon to give any guidance with regard to the spending of money—the Minister who objects to the spending of money in every other Department. Neither he nor the Chancellor of the Exchequer is present. With the natural contempt in which they hold this House and public opinion, they show they can spend money when they like; but I hope this afternoon, even if we go to a Division, we will let them see that we shall put in a fixed sum, so that they cannot carry the country into another wasteful extravagance.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
On very many occasions in times past I have moved Resolutions of this kind, and on one occasion I carried such a Resolution against the Government. Those were in times when there was not the necessity which exists now for care in finance. We are told everyhere that economy is necessary at the present moment, and large sums of money have been spent by the Government in putting up large posters requesting us to exercise economy. We were also told this afternoon by the representative of the Munitions Department, in answer to a supplementary question which I raised myself, that it did not matter what Ministers said in the House, and that the only thing was what was in the Act of Parliament. After that statement, it is no use paying the slightest attention to what Ministers say as to what they are going to spend. We must only look at the Resolution or the Act of Parliament, because that is the only thing we now know, on the authority of the most extravagant Department existing at the present time—namely, the Munitions Department—that all they regard is the Act of Parliament. Under those circumstances, I think it is most necessary that we should put a limit in this Resolution. I do not know whether £2,000,000 is the right sum, but I should think that £2,000,000 would be sufficient, because, after all, it could always be increased next April, and it is not likely to come 1699 into effect very much before next April, even if it comes into effect before April at all. Therefore, I think that £2,000,000 is probably quite a sufficient sum to put in, but if my hon. Friend who is at the present moment leading the House states that £2,000,000 is not sufficient, and that he requires £2,500,000, or some slight increase on that sum, I should be quite willing to support him. But I do think, in all seriousness, that some limit should be put into this Resolution. I do not think that we should give to the Government, or any Government at any time, but especially at this time, what is equivalent to a blank cheque. There can be no reason why that should be done. Surely the Department in question has considered what this is going to cost, at any rate for a certain time, and if they have considered that they should come down to this House, which, more than ever now that the House of Lords has no control over finance, should exercise that function for which we were originally appointed, namely, to safeguard the public purse. I shall have pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. D. MASON
I am very sorry to be in disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset (Mr. King) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), and also that I cannot support the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). I yield to no one in my desire for economy, but I do think, with all respect, that they are imagining a trouble here which really does not exist, because we must, as the right hon. Gentleman stated yesterday, provide for the solvency of this fund. The unemployment insurance, which, I understand, in this case will be extended to munition workers —a body of men who, I think we will all agree, have undoubtedly given their best to the State, many sacrificing health by working night and day for many months past to supply munitions of war, without which we would not have been able to congratulate ourselves on the recent advance. The Bill, I understand, provides for a levy of 1½d. from the State, 2½d. from the employé, and 2½d. from the employer. That in itself does away with the argument of the right hon. Gentleman opposite that there is a blank cheque. You must, of course, if you incur a liability, provide for that liability, and without this Resolution you will not be able to get your Bill.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said. I am not opposing the Bill, but I say in this Resolution we ought to have an amount. We ought not to pledge the credit of the country to an unlimited extent. If a sum of £2,000,000 is not enough, then put in £3,000,000, but some amount ought to be in.
§ Mr. MASON
We do not authorise an unlimited amount. The Bill is based upon certain Regulations, and you cannot exceed those Regulations, but you must provide for the solvency of the Regulations^ and this Motion is to do that. In the original Act ample provision is made for the guarding of this blank cheque of which the right hon. Gentleman is so afraid. The Government cannot use an unlimited amount of money and distribute it gratuitously all over the land. They have to abide by the Act of Parliament which provides for a certain benefit for a workman who has paid his levy, and this Resolution is to enable Parliament to get money out of the Consolidated Fund to guarantee the solvency of that particular benefit. The right hon. Gentleman showed yesterday that he is utterly unable to state what the amount of money is. He is not aware of the amount of unemployment there will be. My hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) seems to think there will be no unemployment. I hope he is right.
§ Mr. MASON
This Bill is to enable us, and I congratulate the Government on their foresight, to take time by the fore lock. We all hope that this will not be a long War, and that it will c6me to a satisfactory conclusion at an early date. This is to make provision for peace. There is not a very long period to insure. The levy cannot accumulate very large sums, assuming the War comes to a satisfactory conclusion at the end of the autumn of this year. This Resolution is to enable the Government to guarantee the solvency of their scheme. The Parliamentary Secretary lucidly explained this matter yester-day, and he cannot in the nature of things state what amount he will require, but there must be some provision to guarantee the solvency of the fund. With regard to the extension of the Act—
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
There seems to be some misapprehension in regard to this proposal. It has been stated that there is no limit to the expenditure; but there is. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) is evidently under the impression that the Government could go on spending money under this Bill, but it is nothing of the kind. This is really an Act which extends the provisions of the existing Unemployment Act (Part II.) to new classes of workmen under which the contributions of the Government are definitely fixed. During the currency of the Act the Government must spend a certain amount, and their contribution takes two forms. First of all, there is the amount which they actually contribute to the Insurance Fund itself. Secondly, their contribution, I believe, is roughly about l⅔d. It is one-third of two 2½d. The workman contributes l½d., the employer 2½d., and the State l⅔d. The State receives part of this back again for cost of administration, but it spends more on administration than it gets back. I wish to let the right hon. Gentleman know the liability. He is quite right in saying that an unlimited liability ought not to be put in a Statute, but I am trying to show what the liability of the State is during the currency of the Act. For every workman who insures the State pays 1⅔d. a week and a little bit more for the cost of that administration, and that is a definite figure.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The Resolution reads:to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of contributions towards the cost of benefits conferred by any Act of the present Session to extend the provisions of the National Insurance Act, 1911, relating to unemployment insurance.Would it not be possible under that provision to alter the benefits and to increase them?
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Of course, it is possible under the Act. If my right hon. Friend looks at Clause 2 he will see that we do give power to the Board of Trade to add more men and more trades and include other classes in the provisions of the Act, but still the limitation remains. I could give a rough statement, as I did 1702 yesterday, to the effect that the number of workmen we anticipate will be brought under this Bill is about 1,500,000, and it would be easy to calculate on that basis in respect of whom there would be contributions the amount, and it would come to a certain sum in a certain time, but it is impossible to say exactly what the number is, and the insertion of a limit would not affect the liability of Parliament by one farthing. Parliament is entering into a bargain with each indivdual workman, and the State assumes the liability under that contract. It would be wrong, and I think illegal in the widest sense, for the House to accept a liability under a contract and then limit its own liability by inserting the total figure which might absolve it from the liability into which it has entered. Whether the number be great or few who come in under the original provisions, or a number increased by subsequent additions authorised by Parliament when the Act was passed, Parliament is liable to pay to these men every farthing due under the contract it makes, and in respect of which those men make contributions.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
No, Sir. This Bill distinctly gives us power to add to the number of persons who may be insured, but no power to alter the benefits. The right hon. Gentleman would have a strong case if we were taking power to increase the benefits. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at Clause 1 he will see that it provides:Subject to the provisions of this Act, the provisions of the National Insurance Act, 1911, relating to unemployment insurance (including the provisions as to contributions out of moneys provided by Parliament), as amended by the National Insurance (Part II. Amendment) Act, 1914, and the National Insurance (Part II. Amendment) Act, 1915 (which provisions as so amended are hereinafter referred to as the principal Act).It is perfectly clear from that what is proposed. I think my right hon. Friend's point in the abstract is perfectly good, but it does not really apply to this Bill. My right hon. Friend has put his case in a businesslike way, and I hope I have given him a businesslike explanation. By Section 3 Parliament undertakes to make good at the expiry of the time specified 1703 the definite liability to which I have referred when the temporary insurance scheme comes to an end, if it is not by a subsequent Act made permanent, which is an entirely separate matter. It might be that before this Act expires there might be a general wish that the scheme might be made permanent and grafted on to the existing scheme; but that is a perfectly open matter. If that does not happen, and if the Bill remains in its present form and conies to and end when the Act expires, there may be a deficiency, and if there is, it will have to be made good by Parliament. This Act for financial reasons has to be grafted on to the existing Insurance Act. Some workmen will be doing part of their time under the old Act and part under the new Act. They may go from one workshop to another, and one of those workshops may be under the old Act and another under the new Act, and it is impossible to have separate stamps and contributions.
We intend to keep the two separate on the general accounts, by having different forms of books. It is intended to keep the two accounts, not between the individual workman and the State, but as between the two accounts and the State. Under the present insurance scheme there is a reserve fund, a joint fund of the employers and employed, amounting to about £6,500,000, and obviously it would be grossly unfair that the new contributors should be entitled to make good any deficits which there may be on this temporary scheme out of the savings of the old scheme. Therefore the conditions on which we ask under this Bill those who are already insured under the existing scheme to accept this temporary scheme is that any general deficiency on the general account in the temporary scheme will be made good by Parliament, and will not be a burden on the permanent insurance scheme. There will be that further liability, but it is a definite one, and it cannot be a penny more or less than the actual deficiency when it is ascertained. There is no question of the expenditure of money in war-time, because the Act does not end until three years after the termination of the present War, or five years after the commencement of this Act. Therefore the liability is definite and not indefinite. I am quite sure the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King) has done right in raising this general question as a safeguard, but I claim that we are not guilty on this occasion.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.
§ Question put, and agreed to.