HC Deb 02 July 1920 vol 131 cc957-78

(1) Subject as hereinafter provided, the Minister may, on the application of any society approved under the National Insurance Act, 1911, or any other association of employed persons (other than industrial assurance companies and collecting societies, or their separate sections, or societies organised by them either solely or jointly with other bodies), being a society or other association the rules of which provide for payments to its members, or any class thereof, while unemployed, make an arrangement with the society or other association that, in lieu of paying unemployment benefit under this Act to persons who prove that they are members of the society or other association; there shall be repaid periodically to the society or other association out of the unemployment fund such sum as appears to be, as nearly as may be, equivalent to the aggregate amount which those persons would have received during that period by way of unemployment benefit under this Act if no such arrangement had been made:

Provided that the Minister shall not make or continue an arrangement with a society or other association under this Section:—

  1. (a) Unless he is of opinion that the payments authorised by the rules of the society or other association to be made to its members when unemployed (inclusive of any payments in respect of which a refund may be made to the society or other association under this Section) represent a provision for unemployment as respects such of its members as are employed persons which during the period between the commencement of this Act and the thirty-first day of July nineteen hundred and twenty-one exceeds the provision represented by unemployment benefit at the rate payable under this Act by an amount which is equal to at least one-third of the provision represented by unemployment benefit at the rate payable before the commencement of the National Insurance (Unemployment) Act, 1919, and which thereafter is at least one-third greater than the provision represented by unemployment benefit at the rate payable under this Act:
  2. (b) Unless the society or association has such a system of obtaining from employers notification of vacancies for employment and giving notice thereof to its members when unemployed as is in the opinion of the Minister reasonably effective for that purpose.

(2) The council or other governing body of any society or other association of employed persons which has made such an arrangement as aforesaid shall be entitled to treat the contributions due from any of its members to the unemployment fund under this Act or any part thereof, as if such contributions formed part of the subscriptions payable by those members to the society or other association, and, notwithstanding anything in the rules of the society or other association to the contrary, may reduce the rates of subscription of those members accordingly.

(3) For the purpose of this Act, the amount of any sum which, but for this Section, would have been paid to any person by way of unemployment benefit shall be deemed to have been so paid.

(4) The Minister may make regulations for giving effect to this Section, and for referring to insurance officers, courts of referees, or the umpire appointed under this Act, any question which may arise under this Section.

(5) The fact that persons other than employed persons can be members of a society or other association shall not prevent the society or other association being treated as an association for the purposes of this Section, if the society or other association is substantially a society or other association of employed persons.

(6) The Minister may, with the consent of the Treasury and subject to such conditions and otherwise as the Minister may prescribe, pay to any society or other association with which an arrangement under this Section is in force by way of contribution towards the administrative expenses of the society or other association in connection with the arrangement, such sum, not exceeding in any year an amount calculated at the rate of one shilling for each week of the aggregate number of weeks of unemployment in respect of which a repayment is made to the society or other association under this Section, as he thinks fit, and any sum so paid shall be treated as part of the expenses incurred by the Minister in carrying this Act into effect.


I beg to move, in Subsection (1) to leave out the words, "society approved under the National Insurance Act, 1911, or any other."

The effect of this would be to limit the administration of the benefits under the scheme and to disable the friendly societies from taking part in this scheme. By a decision of the Committee, and not in the terms of the original Bill, the friendly societies were brought into the provisions of the Measure. I would remind the House that this Bill proposes only to extend something which is already in operation. It proposes to extend unemployment benefit to a very large number, which would mean, I think, somewhere between 11,000,000 and 12,000,000 workers in the country.


Nearer 12,000,000.


It is, therefore, not a Bill raising for the first time any new question, but one extending what is already in practice. This practice has existed for some years, and the trade unions and the State alone have been the channels through which these benefits have been given, and I doubt whether any hon. Member could get up and prove that any injury of any kind has been done, or any wrong inflicted either on the employed or on the employing class, or that anyone's interests have in the slightest degree been impaired by that administration. Is there any fault within the trade unions which would justify the bringing in of the great friendly societies to this new and, to them altogether alien, piece of work? I hope I do not, even by implication, not to say by intention, say the slightest word against the friendly societies. There are no two more capable bodies in the country than the trade unions and the friendly societies. They are twin brothers for a great purpose, but the work of both of them has been very well defined within very different limits. The personnel of the membership of these two great organisations may be said to be the same. The millions of men who are in the trade unions are the millions of men who are in the friendly societies, and the friendly society members are the same men who week by week attend the great trade union meetings in their branches, and so on, throughout the country. So that here is, as it were, one of those dramatic quarrels among friends, but I hope it will be conducted as friends ought to conduct quarrels, that is to say, with the sole object of reaching the best conclusion that can be reached in the largest interest of both, by the application of reason and common-sense to the situation.

We are not, therefore, in any sense opposing the claim of the friendly societies because of any feeling against them or because we do not recognise the immense work which they have done or are continuing to do for the good of the working classes of this country. We have the great co-operative societies doing one kind of work, helping the worker to spend money to the best advantage, we have the trade unions helping the worker to get the utmost amount of money to spend, and we have the friendly societies providing facilities whereby the mass of the workers may invest their small margin of reserve or savings in order that the conditions of sickness, disability, and all those things covered by the term "rainy day" should be provided for by the modest means of investment of the ordinary working man. The friendly societies have done this work so well within the sphere of that form of friendly and philanthropic service that there is no ground for encouraging them to enter a totally new sphere of service in relation to a totally different matter. The only organisations, long before the State thought to do anything at all in the matter, which provided for the workman in relation to his employment or unemployment were the trade unions. A very large number of them, indeed, nearly all those unions which can be described as covering the skilled workers of the country, had some apparatus, some provision by which they not merely paid a benefit to a man whilst he was out of work, but by which they did more, and indeed did better, and helped a man to get in work as speedily as possible. The trade unions were therefore the only bodies which did the best thing that anyone can do in connection with unemployment, namely, to find the man a job as soon as possible. The trade unions, as such, have now in the workshops and factories of the country a stronger position than ever before. Indeed, we have the idea of bodies of workmen being so well organised now that before men are started, when vacancies occur, the decision as to whether they shall be employed or not is one referred to the workshop committee, or to the delegates, or to the man who is acting on behalf of the trade union in respect of what are its functions within the workshop.

The friendly societies stand in a different case altogether, and they have no position within the workshop. They have no direct contact with employers as employers, they have no touch with the State in its functions in respect of this great problem of industry. Their service is in another department altogether, important as that department may be. The friendly societies, it may be said, could under this measure set up the necessary apparatus and make all the provisions required to administer this benefit and even to help to find men employment, but I suggest that there is no need to do it. I suggest that the State and the trade unions can do all that is absolutely necessary, and that it would only tend to conflict and disagreement and unnecessary expenditure of time and money to bring in these bodies, designed, as I have said, altogether for a different purpose of public service. I can assure the House that if this Bill is passed in its present form it will not be easy for the friendly societies to administer unemployment benefit. I do not say that a measure of this kind should deliberately make it difficult for a body to do work which avowedly, it may be said in some quarters, they ought to do. If the House believes that the friendly societies should be permitted to administer these benefits, then the House should further agree greatly to amend certain provisions of this Bill which will certainly have the effect of making it difficult and costly for the friendly societies to do what nominally the law would permit them to do. I put this to the House in order that the House should look at the matter as one of broad principle and necessity, and not accept the view that, although nominally we are permitting the friendly societies to administer benefits, actually and in practice we are putting every obstacle in their way to make it almost impossible for them to do so. I ask that in this, as in other matters, the House should honestly face the issue as one of principle.

Finally, I would say I am sure that if the Clause is not amended in the direction in which I move, it will be a cause of very unhappy quarrel between these two great organisations, and that quarrel must greatly imperil the functions of the State as the second party for the moment in respect of the administration of unemployment benefit. It will not be a nice thing for the representatives of the Ministry of Labour to have to come in and settle quarrels between these two parties, or between individuals who may be divided in their sense of duty towards two organisations of which they are members. Millions of workmen are members of the two organisations. It would be a great mistake for the Members of this House to present a condition which would offer a divided sense of duty in relation to these two organisations. So briefly, I say that, in the experience of the working of this Act, no case has been made out for handing over the administration of this extended Act to a third party—a party which has no provision whatever within its machinery for industrial affairs or for providing employment for the men out of work. I repeat, the greater part of this problem is not that of paying money week by week during a state of idleness. The greater part of it is to reduce the period of unemployment by getting a man back to employment. The trade union organisations are the natural body to that end, and it would be doing the friendly societies a better turn to ask them to stick to the task for which they were created.

4.0 P.M.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. WARREN

I am in entire agreement with the sentiment expressed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) when he referred to the fact that there is a strong kinship between the trade union movement and the friendly society movement of this country, insofar as many of their ideals are concerned. The friendly societies of the country, as hon. Members know full well, came into being that they might improve the condition of those who were associated with them, and teach them the very highest principles of citizenship, their relations to one another, their obligations to their families and to others, and, generally, to improve their status. The trade union movement, too, if I understand it aright, came into being that it might improve the lot of the workers in relation to their employment, in matters of wages and hours, and other matters that had to do with their general welfare. Therefore, there is a strong relationship between those two movements, and I hope that in this House to-day, in connection with this matter, the question of quarrel will not come in at all, because I want to assure this honourable House that there is no quarrel on the part of the friendly societies, nor have they in their heart or mind anything antagonistic to the great trade union movement. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the operation of unemployment insurance as we know it up to this moment, and he alluded to the provisions of the 1911 Act. May I remind the House that, in the compilation of that Act, it was the intention of the Government of that day that the approved societies of the country should administer unemployment insurance benefit so far as it was then anticipated, because in the main structure of the 1911 Act the provisions for unemployment insurance were contained; but in the passage of that measure through this House, it was thought well to separate that portion of unemployment insurance, and it was relegated to Part II of the 1911 Act. I do not think I am putting it too high when I say that at that time it was contemplated that the societies who should administer national health insurance were also to take a hand in the unemployment insurance as then provided. But it became a separate part. Why did not approved societies in 1911 ask that they might administer unemployment insurance? Because at that time unemployment insurance was confined to three main industries in this country—shipbuilding, general building and engineering—and the approved societies of the time knew full well that all the persons employed in those three industries were within the four walls of various trade unions. Therefore, at that time no application was made by the approved societies to have any part in administering unemployment insurance.

To-day we have before us a far different measure from that suggested in 1911. The Measure before the House today extends unemployment insurance to the whole of the employed population of this country, and, whereas the 1911 Act only dealt with some 3,000,000 to 3,500,000 people, to-day you are contemplating a measure that will cover some 14,000,000 persons, a large portion of whom are not members of trade unions. Now all we have asked on behalf of the approved friendly societies is that there might be the open door, that there might be the means found whereby they could come in. What is the position under the 1911 Act? Out of a contemplated insured population of 14,000,000 persons, there are some 3,500,000 provided for. Under a section of this Act there may be possibly some 3,000,000 go out under the provisions of special schemes; in other words, they may contract out. It leaves still some 8,000,000 persons to be dealt with only in one of two ways as provided for in the original Bill. Either they had to form themselves into an association of employed persons or they had to take their benefit through the employment exchange. Of the 8,000,000 we who represent the great friendly societies do not think we are putting it too high when we say that 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 are not members of trade unions; in other words, we are prepared to go beyond the figures that the Ministry of Labour possess, and say that you may take 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 persons in the trade union movement in this country. We are not asking that we shall take any hand in administering the benefits in their respect, but we are asking that we may have a hand in administering the benefit to the remaining 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 who are not at present members of trade unions, who have an innate dislike to labour exchanges, and who would desire to be associated with the approved society to which they belong. I regret that in my opinion the position of the approved societies has been prejudged. It has been said at first that it was the business of the trade unions. If I am not putting it incorrectly, that is the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting. He says really: "this is our job."


So it is.


Did they say that in 1911, when it was contemplated that the National Health Insurance should be administered by the friendly societies of this country? I would have the House remember that, because we are quoting the 1911 Act in many of its aspects. The original intention of that Act was that National Health Insurance should be administered through the friendly societies of this country, those friendly societies which were approved by the Commissioners—hence the origin of the name. My friends of the trade union movement at that particular time, did not say, "It is the particular province and work of the great friendly societies of the country," who have given 100 years gathering experience in operating sickness insurance. They claimed it was also part of their job. This House listened to their claim, and permitted them to come in. I have no fault to find with that. If, however, that argument was good in 1911 in respect of National Health Insurance, I submit it is equally good to-day in regard to Unemployment Insurance benefit.

Apart from that, this case has been prejudged when it is said that the friendly societies of the country are unable to perform this work. Who has a right to say that until the friendly societies have been tested and failed? The friendly societies have built up, at great expense and labour, a very considerable organisation. The ramifications of this organisation are in all parts of the country. I remember full well, on the Second Reading of this Bill, following shortly as it did upon the Estimates submitted to this House by the Minister of Labour in relation to the extension of Labour Exchanges throughout the country, the House was very adverse to that Estimate, because, in its judgment, it was a very ambitious scheme, and it called for a large outlay of money. I then presumed to say in this House, on behalf of the friendly societies, that seeing their ramifications were in every village, hamlet, township, and part of this great country, they were in the position to place at the disposal of the Ministry of Labour considerable facilities, and much machinery, that would eventuate in great saving, and in enabling this work to be carried out with a great measure of success. In 1911 it was not known what success would attend the efforts of the friendly societies in relation to National Health Tnsurance. I ask hon. Members whether, with their experience and knowledge, it is not a fact that the great friendly societies have operated National Health Insurance as successfully, and perhaps more successfully, than any other organisations that were called in to administer the Act?




I am confronted with an answer behind me "no." I speak from a very long experience of the work of the approved societies of this country, and have yet to learn from any source that they have failed in that direction. I think they would have been a conspicuous success for the humane, satisfactory, and efficient manner in which the Act has been administered. The point I wish to make is that up to the moment the great friendly societies of this country have not failed in any promise they have made. I suggest that it should embolden this House to listen with a sympathetic ear to the request being made that they may come in and take a hand in administering unemployment insurance, because I suggest that they would make an equal success of it. May I tell this House that the great friendly societies are busily engaged in formulating and perfecting a scheme which they believe will meet with the entire approval of the Ministry of Labour. It is said that they have not the machinery and they have had no experience. May I answer that the same thing may be said of a large number of trade unions who have never yet administered unemployment insurance benefit, and who will have to set up the machinery, and who will have to justify themselves to the Minister of Labour before they are permitted to take any part.

I only returned late on Tuesday from the North where I have been consulting with the leaders of some of the friendly societies who are busily preparing what they hope to submit, provided the House listens to their request, and provided this Amendment is retained in the Bill, and they will submit a scheme to carry out the Act, and whatever regulations are imposed. By that scheme they are prepared to stand or fall. They do not ask for any preferential terms, and they ask for no other terms except the full requirements of the Act. Having made that application and formulated their scheme and submitted it to the Minister of Labour, it will be for the Minister, if he thinks it does not meet all the requirements, to turn it down. We have tried very hard during the last two months or more to meet all the objections that could be reasonably raised by our friends of the Labour party. They were strongly opposed to any idea of Industrial Assurance Companies having anything to do with this measure and words have been inserted in the Bill that utterly ruled them out. I have copies of letters written as far back as the 4th of May addressed to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Deptford (Mr. Bowerman), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Labour party (Mr. Adamson), and to others in which we have ventured to say this on behalf of the approved friendly societies of the country: We are intensely anxious that there shall be no misunderstanding and that there shall be no quarrel, and there is nothing antagonistic in that which we are asking for, and we will enter into a compact as far as we reasonably can to say to any member of a trade union who should be a member of an approved society 'Your place to take your unemployment benefit is with your trade union.' We have gone even beyond that, and we have said to the trade unions, "If by chance a man who is a member of an approved friendly society afterwards joins a trade union, and desires to take his unemployment benefit through that trade union we will render every reasonable facility for his transfer." What more could we do to try and meet the objections which have been raised? I want to say on behalf of hon. Members who represent the friendly societies that they would deplore beyond all words that there should be any misunderstanding between this movement and the friendly societies. The hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) spoke of us as being twin brothers. I agree. These two movements should walk through this land hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder, working for the interests of the great industrial community. We have no desire to trench on the ground occupied by the trade unions or to interfere with their work, but we ask, if the House permits us, to have an opportunity of administering this Act in respect of large numbers of persons who are not members of trade unions, and who do not desire to be associated with the employment exchanges in relation to this Measure. That is all we are aiming at.


There has been considerable discussion and some little feeling on this subject. It is part of the scheme of this Bill, as provided in Clause 17, to avail ourselves of the help of certain outside agencies and associations. We have laid it down that any association of employed persons, the rules of which provide for the payment of unemployed benefit, if such association is prepared out of its own funds to add one-third to the benefit, and further, if the association is able to satisfy us that their machinery provides a satisfactory system of notifying unemployed members of suitable vacancies, then it shall be eligible to act as our agents for the administration of the unemployed benefit. Undoubtedly when this Bill was drafted with this particular Clause we had mainly in mind the trade unions, because of their special qualifications for bringing employer and employed into prompt and effective touch one with the other, and because of their expert knowledge of the precise sort of craftsman who would meet the employer's requirements. That is vital. The first purpose of this Bill is not merely the dispensing of the unemployment benefit; the first consideration is that it shall, as far as possible, provide for keeping people in continuous employment. If I understand this Bill aright, its first work when it becomes law will be to take steps to keep men in want of a job in close touch with jobs wanting men. The Bill specialises to the extent of fitting the right man to the right job, a task which really requires much skill, practical knowledge and even apprenticeship. To send the wrong type of artificer to a particular job merely leads to irritation all round. A considerable amount of complaint has been made even against the Labour Exchanges, after their long years of acquaintanceship with the job—they were formed, it will be remembered, ten years ago—that they only help to make confusion worse confounded by putting the square peg into the round hole. As Minister of Labour, I emphasise this point, because it is really vital to our purpose, namely, the prompt and effective filling of a vacancy by the right man. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Sir A. Warren) succeeded. against the advice of the Government and against the advice given by my predecessor, in amending Clause 17, the earlier part of which ran— ….the Minister may, on the application of an association of employed persons…. Frankly, the intention there was that such associations should be mainly trade unions. My hon. Friend's Amendment made the Clause read— ….the Minister may, on the application of any society approved under the National Insurance Bill or any association of employed persons…. That is why all this discussion has arisen. The controversy, after all, is a very old one, going back to the National Insurance Act of 1911. The first part of that Act dealt with health insurance, and the second part with insurance against unemployment. It then seemed a natural and common sense procedure that the friendly societies should do the health business and the trade unions the unemployment business. In the course of the discussion, however, a Clause was introduced, which ultimately became Section 23, as a result of the fact that the trade unions—I do not say improperly—said that, being allowed to do the business of Part II, they ought also to have the opportunity of being allowed to do the business of Part I.


The industrial societies had agreed first.


Certainly. I am stating the historical fact. What emerged was that, under Clause 23, the trade unions were entitled, on behalf of their members, to take up Part I. as well as Part II. In the present case, more or less, we have the same problem the other way up. The benefit societies say that, inasmuch as they do the business of Part I., they ought to have the opportunity of doing the other part as well.


That was discussed in Committee, and it was proved that the trade unions had every qualification for it.


There is no doubt that they had every qualification; I do not dispute that. As I said earlier, the main purpose of this Bill would be entirely missed if the friendly societies, in seeking this work, did not make themselves thoroughly efficient to carry it out. This Amendment came before the Committee before I came to it. Seeing that it might be assumed that the friendly societies, having been put in, might conceivably be in at the end of the journey, it became my duty so to amend it as to ensure that, if they were going to be in at the end, they should be an effective instrument for the purpose. Therefore an Amendment was put in to which I would call particular attention. The object was to lay it down that if a friendly society sought this work it would not be entitled to undertake it— unless the society or association has such a system of obtaining from employers notification of vacancies for employment and giving notice thereof to its members when unemployed as is in the opinion of the Minister reasonably effective for that purpose. I am proposing now to make a further Amendment.


Do trade unions get notice from the employers?


I do not under stand what the hon. Member means. I shall ask the Committee to amend that still further by leaving out the words "that purpose," and inserting securing that unemployed persons competent to undertake the particular class of work required shall with all practicable speed be brought into communication with employers having vacancies to fill. In view of the possibility of friendly societies and other bodies remaining as our agents for unemployment work, I am bound to see teat they shall be thoroughly effective. I lay great stress on that Amendment, which is now in the Bill as a proviso, and I call attention to the amplification of the words "for that purpose" because that is vital to the purpose of the Bill and its successful working. Of course, the friendly societies could undoubtedly administer the benefit. That is very simple, though it is not going to be quite so simple as some of them think. In relation to the question what is and what is not a disqualification arising out of trade dispute, I can foresee, unless the agent is pretty skilful and well-informed, a number of questions going to the referee and the umpire arising out of whether or not a person has been disqualified for this benefit because of a dispute in the establishment in which he is working. At any rate, the payment of the benefit is comparatively simple, but from the point of view of the industrial community itself, from the point of view of the greater national issues involved, let me labour the point. The really important question is not the administration of the benefit but whether those who seek to act as our agents under Clause 17 promptly and effectively put a man in want of a job in touch with employers. That is the acid test, to use the jargon of the day. That is why I was bound to add Amendments designed to make an effective instrument and further, on the Motion of the hon. Member for Portsmouth in Committee, the industrial insurance companies and collecting societies were barred. They did not ask for the work. Their exclusion was designed to narrow the field of trade union anxiety. The approved societies at this stage of the Bill must realise what they are undertaking. They have not only to get and pay unemployment benefit, but they have to establish and maintain a really effective liaisonbetween employers and employed. That involves the daily attendance of the agent at the office. It means effective methods for obtaining lists of vacancies from employers and bringing the vacancies before the notice of their insured persons and the circulation of lists of vacancies as between one district and another. That is very important if this Bill is to be effective. It should be remembered that the members of approved societies belong to all sorts and conditions of occupations. They are aggregations of all kinds of craftsmen—not segrations of a particular class of craftsmen which are to be found in trade unions. All this will involve very considerable expense and the friendly societies cannot use their health funds for it.


They know that.


That would be illegal, and the Government will take care that they do not use the health insurance funds for this purpose. The conditions are imposed without fear or favour all round.


It never entered into the heads of the approved societies that they could use National Health Insurance Funds for this purpose. I beg the House not to be misled by any suggestion of that kind. Surely after all the years we have administered National Health Insurance we know where we are and where we should stand with the Government Auditor.


I do not say they would use those funds, but I am stating what is the position, and it is well in a very vital matter of this sort that we should know exactly where we are. Whether the friendly societies when they come to look into the matter will consider that it is worth their while is a matter for them; but I have to say, and I say it to any other organisation, that I am concerned with the proper working of Clause 17 and keeping the men who are out of a job in close touch with a job, and my business will be to see that whoever volunteers under Clause 17 to be our agents they will have to go through a rather narrow sieve in order to qualify for this important function. Primarily that function is to see that a man gets a job. A great many requests have been made to us that we should leave this matter to the House, and I am instructed to say that it is the decision of the Government to accede to that re- quest. My own personal view is that in practice when the friendly societies come to look into the matter and see what is involved they will not find it worth their while. I may be wrong. It will be very onerous and difficult work. My hon. Friend (Sir A. Warren) ended on a note deprecating any enmity between those two great bodies, the friendly societies and the trade unions, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) made the same point. I have received a resolution from the annual Conference of the Federation of Trade Unions, the last sentence of which reads: The Council regards the proposal to hand the administration and payment of unemployment benefits over to other organisations as a definite attempt to undermine the Trade Union movement. I know that that view is widely held. So far as it is applied to those who have sought to include friendly societies under this Bill I believe it to be entirely unfounded. Does anyone who knows the hon. Member for Edmonton (Sir A. Warren) suppose that he harbours any such intention? He is the mildest mannered man that ever scuttled ship or cut a throat. No one supposes that he has any evil intent against the trade unions. I should be very sorry if, arising out of this discussion, the view were held that the friendly societies were endeavouring to undermine the trade unions. All I am concerned with is to make everybody understand that whoever wants to be the agent has got to do the job thoroughly. Personally I think that six months hence however the matter stands most of us will in all probability look back in surprise at the storm that arose over this particular matter.


I regret that this matter should be made the occasion of differences between the friendly societies and the trade unions. All my life I have been in close association with both these movements and therefore I may claim to speak dispassionately on the subject. If I were serving my own personal or political interests I ought to associate myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, because I am assured that in the next election I shall not receive much support from the organised Labour forces in Norwich. Therefore I ought now to be currying favour with the great trade union movement. Nevertheless I have reached the conclusion, after due consideration, that my hon. Friends who represent the great trade union movement are not serving the interests of that movement as I understand them by forcing this question to an acute issue. I recognise that there is much to be said that when the Bill of 1911 was before the House the trade unions forced an issue and entered a sphere which was perhaps the prerogative of the great friendly society movement, but that affords no justification for continuing that error on this occasion. What we have to recognise, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out and as I had to recognise when I occupied the position which he now fills in such a distinguished fashion, is that we have to have regard not merely to the disbursing of benefit, because any machine can be provided for that purpose. The Labour Exchanges, whatever their defects from the point of view of providing employment, are certainly efficient for the purpose of paying out benefits, but that is a mere mechanical operation. The problem with which we have to deal and with which every trade union secretary becomes acquainted is not one of paying out benefit at the weekend, but facilitating the time when a person ceases to draw benefit and we are able to place him in employment.

I have been an official of a friendly society and a trade union movement. Friendly societies are based on a much broader basis than trade unions. Friendly societies may surely be described as a great national or citizens' organisation, and I am aware of the fact that in many instances the Secretary of a friendly society, the person who will be charged with the administration of this out-of-work benefit, is not associated with the industrial classes, but may be an independent person. While I have not the wide experience of my hon. Friend I have some practical acquaintance, and he knows it, with the friendly societies' movement. But here in the trade union movement men are selected because of their identification with the trade and its conditions. I was for many years the secretary of a printing trade union in Norwich. I knew every printing trade firm in the city. They were in close contact with me. As soon as an out-of-work book was signed my first business was to maintain daily contact with the firms engaged in that industry. I believe I was more useful because of my technical and trade associations in limiting the time of unemployment and the payment of benefit than I would have been if I had been simply the secretary of a friendly society. I know there is a good deal to be said for the view of the friendly societies in the matter. It was represented to me that this was a scheme of a national character, and that it was difficult to justify any class or sectional treatment of it. I had some conversation with the hon. Member for Edmonton (Sir A. Warren) and others in regard to the matter, and when we came to thrash out the question, we found that it was not merely a question of devising machinery for disbursing the benefits, but that it concerned the whole organisation of industry, and that a trade union secretary was the best one to do the work, because he could help to minimise unemployment by his daily contact with the affairs of the industry. I submit that the friendly societies would be well-advised to withdraw their claim in this respect.

It has been said that the whole scheme is on a wrong basis. This is not the time to discuss that. It would seem to be desirable that each trade should carry its own burden of unemployment itself. It is urged that workmen and employers should be in a closer organisation, and that the liability for unemployment should be a charge upon the industry and ought to be so carried. There is a section of people who urge that there should be a more intelligent organisation of the workers and the employers, that they should be brought closer together in order to organise the affairs of the industry and to minimise or prevent unemployment. The organisation of industry should be more human. Employers and workmen should co-operate in their industry, on such things as dealing with unemployment, so as to administer such schemes with less interference by the State. But objection is taken that such close co-operation is impossible, and we have therefore to justify State intervention. We have that State intervention. That being so, I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that he will have to put aside sentimentality and look for the most efficient means of administration. My friends of the friendly societies have admittedly machinery at their disposal. It would involve a complete reorganisation of the friendly society movement. They would have to set up an entirely new department; they would have to set up means of maintaining daily contact with the firms in any vicinity. That must involve additional expense, and from that point of view alone it would be an uneconomic department. The trade unions, by generations of practice, especially having regard to modern developments, have this machinery in existence, and, therefore, they have much greater facilities for administering this benefit After all, we are not concerned, and my friends of the Labour party and the great trade union movement are not concerned, simply with paying out benefit. We would prefer that society could be so perfectly organised as to ensure to every willing worker fifty weeks' work in a year. I recognise that the industrial machine is so complex that that may not be possible. Nevertheless, we maintain that the human necessity still persists, and we have so to organise things as to ensure that 52 weeks' income is provided for every family in the land. That is the justification for this particular scheme After due consideration, and without having regard to any political possibilities,—my own position would be best secured if I were to throw myself into close association with the friendly society movement in this matter—I say that I am concerned with the practical possibilities in this matter. I am one of those who seek to establish and maintain harmony in the State. I have risked a good deal and have done much in recent years to create better understanding between employers and employed. There is much behind this proposal of the class antagonism to which I object. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, No!"] I have always expressed myself fearlessly here, but with due regard to the feelings of others. At least I may put it this way: I have the apprehension that there is much class antagonism in support of this proposal. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is at least a suspicion which is borne into the mind of organised workers. They see in it a desire and an attempt to undermine their organisations. I believe there is something in their view.


I regret that the goodwill and moderation which have characterised this Debate should have been disturbed by my right hon. Friend who has just spoken. There is no class prejudice. There is a feeling, I believe, that the trade unions desire to obtain a monopoly of this administration, and that if they succeed in carrying the Amendment, the trade unions would so increase their membership as to have practically a monopoly of the administration under the Act. Speaking for myself, I have no prejudice. I had the opportunity upstairs of closely studying this question. I approached it from a point of view not dissimilar from that of my right hon. Friend, because I also am a member of a trade union—a member almost all my life. Therefore I have no prejudice against the trade unions, and certainly no prejudice in favour of friendly societies as distinct from them. But I believe that the main question underlying this question, and the point upon which hon. Members will have to decide by their vote now—I am glad to say a free vote, to be given by the House without any prejudice—is not, " Are the friendly societies to have a share merely of the administration of this Act"; but, "Are the friendly societies to continue in existence?" I put that point as strongly as I possibly can, because I hold in my hand what has, no doubt, been circulated, and has, I hope, received the attention of hon. Members who had the circular through the post, as I had this morning. It is a reprint of a letter from a misguided secretary of a trade union—the Amalgamated Society of Watermen, Lightermen and Bargemen. What has that misguided secretary written to various members of friendly societies? Let me read only the first paragraph. It is dated, April, 1920, about the same time as the Committee upstairs inserted the words which my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) desires to strike out: Dear Sir and Brother,—I find upon going through our books that you are not a member or our approved society, and as we are desirous that all members of the trade society should be insured through us, I am sending you the necessary forms of application and transfer, which I hope you will fill up and return to me with the necessary transfer fee of 2s., which is payable to your own society. That is to say, "Will you come out of the friendly society, will you join this Amalgamated Society of Watermen and Lightermen," because they believe that they, and they alone, should have the right of administering this benefit under the new Unemployment Bill which is now before Parliament. That is the suggestion, and that is the suggestion I am going to say will be repeated, not by all, I am glad to believe, but by many officials of trade unions, if, as the result of the Division which is now pending, the proposal to delete these words, which were inserted by the Committee upstairs, should be accepted. The Government, as shown by the speech of the Minister of Labour, have held the balance evenly and fairly. They have said, in the Act of 1911, that the trade unions got an advantage, an opportunity, which was not provided for them in the first instance. They say cow, per contra, in this Act of 1920, which is pending, "Let the friendly societies have their share of the bargain, and let them have something which was not originally provided for in the Bill. And so we should hold the balance evenly and should not have a monopoly. We should have the two bodies working together for the benefit of the workers throughout the country, competing—and competition leads to efficiency—and making themselves more efficient in the administration of this beneficial Act, which we all hope to see placed quickly on the Statute Book." Therefore, I pronounce, as far as my humble vote is concerned, that I should vote in favour, not of monopoly, but of common efficiency and common administration by both these great bodies, the trade unions and the friendly societies.

Lieut.-Colonel CROFT

I should like to say a word in connection with the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. Roberts). I resent the fact that he was interrupted, and that exception was taken to his remarks, for his speech appeared to me to be absolutely candid and frank and, as his speeches always are, full of courage. I entirely agree with him that, wherever a large number of men in an industry are trade unionists, then the trade union is the best machinery for administration in this matter, but I would point out that there are an enormous number of small towns and large villages, throughout the whole of the South of England, at any rate, where there are no trade unions, and, as many of us believe that the employment exchanges cannot exist very much longer, because we believe they will fall by their expense and incompetence, where are these men going to go if they are not going to have their unemployment insurance administered through their friendly societies? For that reason I shall support the Bill as it now stands.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


Unconsciously this does a decided injury to trade unions, and I really do not see how the Minister of Labour's Amendments will help.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that. Question.


You have two organisations, and I see trouble—


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


The friendly societies will be catering for unemployment benefit, and when the employers—

It being Five of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.