HC Deb 06 July 1916 vol 83 cc1705-13

The following shall be the rates of contribution for workmen insured under this Act:

To be paid by the employer 2½d. a week.
To be paid by the workman 2½d. a week.

In the case of workmen of the age of twenty-one or upwards whose remuneration does not include the provision of board and lodging by their employer, and the rate of whose remuneration does not exceed 4s. 6d. per working day, the following shall be the rates of contributions:

Where the rate of remuneration does not exceed 3s. 6d. per working day:

To be paid by the employer 3½d. per week.
To be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament 1½d. per week.

Where the rate of remuneration exceeds 3s. 6d. but does not exceed 4s. 6d. per working day:

To be paid by the employer 3d. per week.
To be paid by the workman 1d. per week.
To be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament 1d. per week.


The hon. Member's new Clause, with the Schedule attached to it, involves a charge beyond the Money Resolution authorised in Committee.


I think there must be some mistake. I do not think the Amendment standing in my name will involve an extra charge upon the Treasury. It is quite true that it will involve an extra charge upon employers, but I think it will be found that the charge on the Treasury will be the same if my Amendment is accepted as is proposed under the Bill. In those circumstances I suggest that the Amendment is in order.


I am afraid it does involve an extra charge. I have examined it along with the original Bill, and it seems to me inevitable that it must mean an increased charge. The hon. Member will notice that the Money Resolution is strictly confined to the scale of contributions in the original Bill, and merely brings in an additional number of trades and persons. Therefore, we must not go beyond that in our discussion of the Bill.


The hon. Gentleman has just stated that the Treasury charge at the outside is only going to be lid. My Amendment does not propose that it should be more than l½d., and it therefore appears to me to be in accordance with the Resolution.


If the hon. Member will look at the original Bill, he will find there that the Treasury liability is not to exceed one-third of the other contributions, and this alteration in the scale would involve an additional charge upon the Treasury.

Schedules (1 and 2) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


Anyone who looks ahead must recognise that the future is very uncertain indeed, and I am sure that any provision made for munition workers will receive the unanimous support of this House. I should like to put in a plea as to whether some provision could not also be made for employers. In a great many industries, as, for instance, the motor industry in the city which I have the honour to represent, employers have forfeited and lost the goodwill of their businesses in their desire to serve the State. It is no doubt a proper and right thing that employers should contribute this increased tax because they have made large profits the same as employés have received large wages, but at the same time they will feel it, and I would ask the hon. Member to bear in mind whether some compensation could not be given to them for loss of goodwill in converting their premises into munition factories. We shall, unquestionably, after the War have to face a large amount of unemployment among munition workers. An enormous number of men and women have been pressed into the service, to secure supplies of munitions, and in many cases they have worked night and day, sacrificing their health to increase the output. A great number of them when the War comes to an end will be thrown out of employment. This Bill, I understand, will affect something like 1,500,000 employés in the country. We hope that in a short time there will be sufficient accumulated to meet the liability, and the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly justified in asking Parliament to give him powers to ensure the solvency of the position. I hope he will use this Act to the utmost to meet the demands that will be made upon it, that the relief will be prompt, and that the terms of the Act will be stretched to its utmost elasticity, so as to provide for the very great hardships which we are bound to see at the termination of the War. Many of us dread the position in which the great mass of munition workers will be placed at the termination of the War, and if the right hon. Gentleman could assure us that he will bear in mind the question of compensating employers who have lost the goodwill of their businesses and the extension of this Act to its utmost limits to meet the liabilities of the working classes, he would have the sympathetic support of everybody in this House.


If the members of the Labour party had known that we should not have any chance of putting forward the suggestion embodied in the proposed new Schedule upon the Paper, I think there would have been some little discussion on the Second Heading of the Bill. I do not know any Bill which has passed through Committee more rapidly. It passed in about two seconds, without any discussion at all. Had we known, some of us would have urged the advisability of making some alteration with regard to lower-paid workers. There are a tremen- dous number of women at Coventry, Birmingham, and in other parts of the country who are not receiving more than 2d. per hour. We were going to suggest that it is quite impossible for them to pay the contribution which the Government is calling upon them to pay. Of course, if the Government are prepared to consider the advisability of increasing their wages we shall not have the slightest objection.

I can quite understand the anxiety of the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. D. Mason) about unemployment, because I should say without hesitation that when hostilities terminate Coventry, Birmingham, and such places will be hit harder than other industrial centres of the country. It will simply mean that the munition workers of Coventry, Birmingham, and other places will be thrown on the streets at once. The Government are well advised in bringing forward this measure, because it will certainly give some little financial relief to at least 1,500,000 men and women who are now working on munitions. They will get at least 7s. per week, if they have paid in accordance with the original Act, plus what they will get from their organisation. It would be very advisable that men and women now outside the pale of trades unions should get inside the pale at the earliest opportunity, because then they will get 10s., if not more—7s. from the State and 3s. from their organisation. In some cases the 7s. is made up to as much as 20s. per week. I quite admit that the Act is limited and that they can only get fifteen weeks' unemployment pay in one year, but one would hope that before the fifteen weeks were over some other means of employment might be found. I do not think the Government are in a position to know the number of people who will be insured in the trades to which the Act is now extended, but the amounts payable are limited, because the Government are only bound to pay, at the outside, 1½d. for every member insured. Many of us are very thankful to the Government for bringing in this Bill, but we should have been more thankful if they could have exempted from payment the lower-paid women workers.

5.0 P.M.


I should like to add my word of commendation to that of the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. W. Thorne). I regard this Bill as a step—it is true it is a small one—in the direction of what might be called the preparation for peace. I hope the preparation for peace will be a great deal more complete than was the preparation for war. The preparation for peace will have to be a good deal more (Comprehensive than anything touched upon in this Bill, but, in so far as the Bill does deal with one of the difficulties that will confront us when the War is over, or before the War is over, it is a step in the right direction. I would join with my hon. Friend in expressing the ardent hope that no vested interest, either of workmen or of employers, will be allowed to stand in the way of the demobilisation of this Army as soon as possible. There may be something to be said for the gradual demobilisation of the fighting Army. I hope that will be done gradually, so that the labour market will not be flooded by a lot of men coming from France, for whom no provision adequate to their number can be made. But with regard to the industrial army I hope, as soon as they have ceased making shells, or whatever they may be engaged upon—that will be before the end of the War; it will be when we know that no great demand for shells is coming —they will be turned adrift, no matter what it may involve, and that they will be demobilised in some way or other as soon as possible for the industrial reconstruction that must take place. There must necessarily be a period before that industrial reconstruction takes place. I take it that this Bill is to make provision for that period. The only word of criticism I would desire to offer is that the Bill is too small. I do not know whether it will be possible to exact more money. I rather differ from my hon. Friend who entertains fears with regard to the ability of anybody now working in munition factories to pay 2½d. per week. If it is a fact that there are some women—and I accept my hon. Friend's statement that there are —either working in munition factories or doing anything directly or indirectly for the Government in the prosecution of this War—if there are, I say, some women who cannot pay 2½d. per week, the remedy is to increase their wages and thus put them in a position to pay it. My point is that the Bill is not big enough. The War perhaps may be over in a few months. We all hope it may be. Suppose the services -of these people are required for another five months only; that is not an exaggerated hope. If they are only required for that length of time—and they will be wanted only so long as, in the opinion of the military authorities, it is necessary to keep on making shells and ammunition—the provision made by this Bill is for only one month after, and but a meagre amount on unemployed benefit is ensured. With ail due respect for those who will have to undertake the work of social reconstruction after this War, I say that work is not going to be completed in one month or even in a few months, and, therefore, I should have liked to have seen the Bill much bigger.

I should have liked to have seen it exacting not less, but more money. I should have liked to have seen it exact a good deal more money, so that the amount of benefit to be derived from it could have been spread over more than one month— so that it could have been spread over a sufficient period to allow breathing time to provide other employment for those no longer required in the munition industries. In regard to the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Coventry Mr. Mason), I should like to emphasise what has been said about the effect which may be produced not only in Coventry, but in my own Constituency and at Woolwich, and at places like that. I shudder to think what the effect may be at Coventry, Birmingham, Newcastle, and many other places. Towns have actually been built up on the shell-making industry during the last year or two. These occupations will go, they will go suddenly, and one must not forget in this connection the position of the employer. I hope I am sufficiently broad-minded to include employers with other classes of the community who have done their bit towards winning this War. We are going to win it. If employers have suffered by surrendering their businesses so that their factories may be used for the making of munitions, then I suggest one ought not to stand in the way of their getting what compensation they are entitled to. I rather think, however, that that is going outside the scope of this Bill, which follows the structure of the original Bill, and which provides only for 2½d. being exacted from the workman, 2½d. from the employer, and 1½d. from the State. The hon. Member for Coventry may have a good case, but obviously his point is one which cannot be dealt with in this particular Bill. I am in favour of this measure. I regret it was not introduced long ago, so that we might have had a greater period of preparation. But late in the day though it may be I hope it will go through, and, if any Amendments are introduced, I trust they will be in the direction of increasing rather than lessening the amount of money to be raised.


I have no reason to oppose this Bill, but I rise to point out that the duty it imposes upon employers, and especially upon controlled firms, is very onerous indeed. For instance, the exaction of the odd halfpenny increases the difficulty of calculation.


That can be remedied by the employer paying 3d. and the workman 2d. in alternate weeks.


Yes, in some cases there has been that mutual arrangement. But what I want to point out is that this Bill does impose a good deal of work upon the management of big industries at a time when it is very difficult to get it done. I can assure the House that firms working on munitions are simply smothered with Government forms and requests for detailed information, and this Bill puts an extra duty upon one at the very moment when it is most difficult to conduct business really effectively because of these continually increasing demands.


I desire to acknowledge the very friendly spirit in which this Bill has been received, and I thank my hon. and right hon. Friends below the Gangway, as well as the hon. Member for Limehouse (Sir W. Pearce) for the kindness with which they have heflped the Government in considering the details of this Bill. With regard to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes), I think there is a good deal of force in his contention. I wish, as he wishes, that we had brought in this Bill earlier. I do not think I could possibly use language more appropriate to the conditions which will probably apply to labour at the end of this War than he has done. So far as the contributions are concerned, I am bound to say I share his feeling. I wish they were higher. I should have liked to have seen larger provision made by means of the weekly amount, and spread over a longer time when the labour crisis comes. But I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that this temporary Bill must follow exactly on the same lines as the original Bill to which it is to be attached. It would be quite impossible to have two insurances of a different character running together, and if my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. W. Thorne) will look at the Bill from that point of view he will find an answer to his criticisms. We are obliged to adhere to the old Bill because we have to graft this measure on to it. I certainly will take into consideration what my hon. Friend has said as to the possibility of removing the defects he has pointed out, but obviously that will have to be done by a separate Bill dealing with the question of insurance as a whole.

I do not think we need offer any excuse because we are making provision for what may occur when peace comes. We did not expect war and we were not prepared for it. For that we were not to blame. But we do expect peace, and we should be blameable if we made no preparation for it. There is one advantage, and I think it is really a great advantage—it has not yet been mentioned by any of the speakers—which is likely to arise from this Bill. The hon. Member for West Ham expressed a hope that when the end of the War came there would not be any long delay in the return of civil labour to its old work and surroundings. But it is very important before that change takes place there should be some form of registration, and that form will be provided for by this Bill. If it should prove necessary to take any general action of a relief character in the crisis which may follow the conclusion of peace—I trust it will not be necessary—it is to be hoped there will not be such an immediate redistribution of labour as would involve the scattering to the four winds of those who are now engaged in munition works—then, I say, I attach almost as much value to this provision for registration as to the Bill itself.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lime-house pointed out just now a growing evil in connection with the trouble of administering these national schemes. The trouble is enormous, and the more you extend the area to which the scheme applies, although it may be much better from the national point of view, you are largely adding to the work of administration, and therefore we ought, by looking ahead, to do whatever we can to diminish the work and cost of administration. That is, to my mind, as important as providing the actual relief. These are the two main objects for which this Bill has been introduced. The Board of Trade are very grateful to the House, and to both employers and employed, for their attitude in regard to these measures. It is satisfactory to know that since this Bill has been before the House no single employer has raised a word of objection against the additional burden which will be imposed upon him by it, and the fact that we find both employers and employed are working together for the making of every possible preparation against trouble at the end of the War, shows there is less intolerance on either side than sometimes would appear to exist. If we can do anything to strengthen that feeling it will be an advantage for which we shall have cause to be thankful.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.