§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. T. Shaw)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I have under consideration a Bill for the enlarging of the present Unemployment Insurance Act, a Bill which, by reason of the fact that it will be technical and difficult to draft, I find myself unable for the moment to present; but I want the House to understand that this Bill I now present is not finality, and is merely a Bill to deal with a pressing immediate difficulty. The Bill, which I hope is non-controversial, is a Bill of one Clause, and is intended to deal with one injustice from which, I think, insured persons are now suffering. The present position is, that unemployment of an exceptional kind is facing the country. In the opinion of the Government, that unemployment is directly caused by the War, and ought to be considered as a national responsibility. The present position is that the industries bear, roughly, three-quarters of a burden that ought to be purely national, and, in addition to that, there are certain sections of the present Act which operate in such a way that at certain times people who have been continuously unemployed for long periods, persons who generally are very poor, suddenly fall out of benefits altogether, which means that, in the case of those who are too proud to go to the guardians—and there are hundreds of thousands of working men who are too proud to go to the guardians—they simply suffer the more in silence. There are those who go to the guardians, and the result is that precisely those towns which are worst hit by unemployment, precisely those towns to which the nation has the greatest responsibility, find themselves burdened by an increase in the poor rate, due to the fact that this gap exists in the National Insurance scheme.
This gap that I am asking the House to remove operates in this way. After 12 weeks of what is known as uncovenanted benefit, just as I previously said, after a 1382 long term of unemployment, three weeks is suddenly chopped out of the middle of the benefits, and people are thrown on their own resources. I am proposing that this gap of three weeks shall be filled in, and that the benefits shall run concurrently until the end of the term. I cannot justify the gap. It is a relic of an old system that was built up long before the War, that dealt with pre-War conditions, and bears no resemblance at all to present day conditions. In the old days before the War—and the Bills have been built up on the old system—Friendly Societies existed. Payments of benefit were made strictly in accordance with the number of contributions that had been paid by the worker, and when the worker had been out of employment for a certain length of time the benefit was stopped for a double reason, the first being that the proportion between payments and benefits had been established, and the second being that it was felt that some pressure was necessary to get the person who was being paid benefits into work. That state of things does not exist to-day. There is a direct national responsibility. It is a responsibility of a totally different kind from the responsibility of pre-War times. The nation itself is escaping a liability that ought to fall on it, and is putting it on to the poorest of our population and making them bear a burden much too hard for them to bear. That is the position of affairs, and I am asking the House—and I do not think that I am asking in vain—without a long speech, to give me the power to meet what I consider to be a claim of elementary justice. I am asking that this gap should be abolished and that the benefit should be paid continuously until the end of that term whatever that term may be. May I say, in conclusion, that there is a tendency to speak of this insurance payment—even the workmen themselves use the term—as a dole.
§ Mr. SHAW
This so-called "dole"—I want to attack the word—is not a dole at all. As a matter of fact, the nation is evading its responsibility to the unem- 1383 ployed people by making the industries themselves pay three-fourths of the benefit. It is wrong to call it a dole, because the industries—the workers and the employers—pay three-fourths of the premiums. It is, therefore, no charity on the part of anybody. It is rather an evasion by the State of a very considerable part of its own responsibility. That is the position as I see it and as, I think, the House will see it. We can find no justification in logic, in fair play, and, above all, in humanity for the present condition of things. I estimate that this proposal will cost under £500,000 and that not more than one-quarter will in any case come from State contributions. That £500,000 will be paid to people who in 95 per cent. of the cases now lack the actual necessaries of life. I want the House to look beyond the figures to the people who are affected. There are in this country, I am sorry to say, even now nearly 1,250,000 people unemployed on the live registers, people for whom the country can find no work: and those of us who in our personal experience have known what it has been not to have the money to purchase a meal know exactly what that state of affairs means. When I tell the House that these people, in the majority of cases, cannot afford to spend id. per head of the family per meal, the House will have some idea of what privation means under this Act when it is in operation, and hon. Members will be able to judge what it means when the benefits are cut away during what is known as the three weeks' gap. I ask the House to give me the Second Reading and to give it me unanimously, believing that there can be no opposition to the proposal that I now make.
§ Sir LAMING WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I welcome this Bill and I think that everybody sitting on this side of the House will welcome a Measure which is to get rid of the three weeks' gap, which undoubtedly to-day is not fulfilling the purpose for which it was first invented. It was first put in in order to prevent abuse and as an aid to administration. Provided that the administration of the Act does prevent abuse and is properly carried out, I think that this gap ought to be withdrawn. See how it now acts. If unemployment or employment were inter- 1384 mittent and it were really necessary to urge people off the Unemployment Fund into work and there were work for them to go to, then indeed you might justify the three weeks gap, but we are not in that position at all. Unfortunately, there is a long continued period of unemployment, and the gap does not drive people from the Unemployment Fund into work, but merely drives them from the Unemployment Fund on to the guardians, and, as the Minister himself said, there are many men who will not go to the guardians under any conditions whatever. The very best of the men, whom it ought to be the desire of all to help, are the men who are being penalised to-day by this gap. There are many men who are not willing to go to the guardians but who, on the other hand, are willing to take the Unemployment Fund to which they have contributed and which, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, is miscalled the dole. There is no ignominy or stain of any sort for a man to go upon the Unemployment Fund when his circumstances so require. We are, and we always have been, in favour of contributory insurance. The only effect of the gap is to take a man from the contributory insurance scheme and put him on to the rates—a non-contributory insurance scheme so far as that man is concerned. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I quite agree that we all pay rates, but so far as the man is concerned that particular benefit has not been contributed to by him except as a ratepayer. There is quite a difference in my view, if not in the view of the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Lansbury)—
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I realise exactly what is the position of a ratepayer, and I was not in the least misstating it, but the average man, as the Minister himself said, draws a great distinction between taking relief from the guardians and drawing from the Unemployment Fund. I honour that distinction. If the hon. Member for Poplar does not, I understand his feeling, but I have a feeling quite different. I think there is a great deal of difference, and I am glad that that difference should be 1385 emphasised. I want to call the attention of the House to the Bill itself. The title of the Bill is so drawn as to prevent any Amendment being possible by anyone either on this side of the House or on that. I remember when the Act of 1923, to which this Bill is an Amendment, was going through the House last March, the Socialist party, then sitting on this side of the House, complained that we had drawn the Financial Resolution in such a way that they could not make Amendments. That was not altogether true, because they did put down Amendments. They put down eight or ten in Committee and on Report. But the Government today has drawn this Bill in such a way that I defy anybody to introduce any Amendment at all. This Bill is merely for the repeal of Proviso 2 of Section 2. There are many other Amendments to the -Unemployment Insurance Act which are just as urgent as this one and which ought to be made. The difference between the Socialist party in Opposition and the Socialist party in Government is very curious. It was full of Amendments last year. There were eight or nine Amendments, and night after night, the House sat up till two or three in the morning listening to those Amendments. What happens to-day? The Bill is drawn in such a way that no one, not even anyone on the back benches opposite, can make any Amendment. The hon. Member for Poplar would have great difficulty if he wanted to pursue the Amendments to which he spoke and for which he voted last March. The right hon. Gentleman who is leading the House (Mr. Clynes) then went into the Lobby with the present Prime Minister in favour of an Amendment to reduce the waiting period from six to three days. That is a thing upon which a great deal can be said, but no one can put that Amendment down now.
I am glad to hear that, but I understood this was brought in as a matter of great 1386 urgency. This was not one of the urgent Amendments that was moved last March. The right hon. Gentleman found some still more urgent Amendments last March. 1 was calling attention to the fact that the liberty of the House was being taken from it, and that we are not to be allowed to move those Amendments which the Socialist party thought it was necessary to propose last March. I am sorry that our liberties are being taken from us, but I recognise that this Bill, so far as it goes, is a good Bill, and I shall support it.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
May I be allowed to congratulate the Minister of Labour upon his appointment. His close and intimate acquaintance with the aims and aspirations of organised labour, of which we have had witness this afternoon, his large and kindly sympathy, and his shrewd Lancashire mother wit fit him admirably, if I may say so, for the great task which he has undertaken. I turn to the Bill and the original Act which we are now amending once more. It would be difficult to over-state the part which the Insurance Act has played in the grave and persistent unemployment through which we have been passing and are still passing. We have adapted it again and again to meet the varying needs of the situation. I came to the House six times and asked it to amend and adapt and extend the Act. My right hon. Friend Sir Montague Barlow came once. This is, therefore, the eighth time the House has been asked to amend and to adapt this great instrument. It will not be the last. The right hon. Gentleman has told us in advance that he is coming later with a more elaborate Measure. The Act is still there to bear, as I think, strongly and well the burden which we have placed upon it, and it is a remarkable tribute to insurance by the threefold co-operation of the employers, the workpeople and the State. I emphasise that because my right hon. Friend let drop a phrase in which he spoke of "what ought to have been 'purely national.'" I know he and his friends are in favour of a non-contributory scheme. I am aware of that, but might I with great respect suggest to them that they would be very well-advised—I know they will not take this from me—but I put it to them that in their desire for a non-contributory scheme they should 1387 consider well. However, my right hon. Friend possibly put in that caveat to save the situation, and to keep the flag flying.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I only referred to the phrase, "it ought to be truly national," which my right hon. Friend put in as he went along. I hope it is not going to be a prophecy for the future. For I do hope that in any future alterations which he has promised, or any Amendments my right hon. Friend may suggest, he will not endeavour to destroy the contributory and three-fold co-operation of the employers, the workpeople, and the State. If he does, I think he will make a great mistake, and he will destroy the great instrument which has borne a terrific strain during a time of unprecedented—
§ Mr. PURCELL
On a point of Order. Are we discussing a non-contributory scheme or the Bill before the House?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman was referring to some remarks made by the Minister of Labour.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I will leave that point, which I merely took in passing and by way of warning, and come at once to the present Bill. As I say, those c3ncerned will be making a mistake if they go back upon a contributory scheme, though I doubt if they will take any notice of what I say. The present Bill makes a comparatively small change in the Bill of last year which it proposes to amend. The. Act of last year provided 26 weeks' benefit, covenanted or uncovenanted, or both covenanted and uncovenanted, for the year from 18th October last to 15th October next—6 weeks' benefit in the 52 calendar weeks, with a proviso that when 12 weeks' uncovenanted benefit had been drawn there must be a gap of three weeks. Those who have drawn their uncovenanted benefit continuously have already gone through the gap. My right hon. Friend has made. the figure £00,000, while the Bill says £00,000.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Observe the benefit paid out under this scheme in a non-gap week to about £600,000. If you can abolish the three weeks' gap by something less than £200,000 a week, considerably less—say, £500,000 for the three weeks—then there are many people who must indeed have gone through the gap.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Then this Bill will not help them, and there must be very many. For those who have got work since 18th of October, it will only make an exhaustion of the 26 weeks' benefit for all of the year come three weeks earlier, that is all. I am glad that my right hon. Friend told us that they are coming here with a further Amendment of the main Act of 1920 later this Session. Certainly they will in one respect have to provide for more than the 26 weeks' benefit which the Act of last year provided between 18th October, 1923, and 15th October, 1924. In regard to the gap itself, I should like to say a word or two. My right hon. Friend describes it as an injustice. As a matter of fact, it is the common form in the trade-union out-of-work benefit, though perhaps not entirely so. However, I will not stress that point, but when the main Act—with all these eight Amendments placed upon it—was passed in 1920 —or rather, before it was passed—there were three or four million people covered by insurance. We brought 12,000,000 into the permanent structure of the Act which provided, like all previous Acts, and like all trade union and friendly society out-of-work schemes, that before being entitled to benefit the workmen must have a certain number of contribution stamps on his card. That is the fundamental precedent to the receipt of benefit. The Act of 1920, increasing the number of insured persons from 4,000,000 to 12.000,000 brought 8,000,000 into insurance for the first time. They came in on the 8th November, 1920, at a time when unemployment was very bad. and was rapidly getting worse. Supposing we had left the Act in its permanent form with the, stamps in advance of the benefit, the Act would have been something approaching a mockery to the great bulk of those people who came in then for the first time, and under conditions which would have made it quite impossible for very many to have obtained the credit which, 1389 as 1 have said, was universally laid down in the past as a condition precedent to the receipt of benefit. What happened? There was £22,000,000 in the funds collected during and after the War. They had insured before, and practically no one got anything out. I got this House, while maintaining the permanent side of the benefit after contribution, to add a great new emergency side under which—to put it in a sentence—benefit was made payable in a proper case in advance of the contribution. That is the uncovenanted side. My right hon Friend opposite talks about these people having paid. That is not quite correct. They will pay in due course when they have got back to work. I agree with him that the use of the word "dole" is wrong. Let me say I have never used it, and I have never allowed anyone to use it in my presence without challenging it. I was sorry to hear the Prime Minister fall into the same mistake on Tuesday and call a payment a "dole." The money in the fund of £22,000,000 enabled us to have this new emergency side, but it put a big strain on the structure of the scheme. It was an expedient.
had to come to Parliament to get borrowing powers for £30,000,000 and we carried on the uncovenanted benefit in advance of the contribution side as part of the whole scheme. But, of course, that put a very great strain upon it. We had to go very carefully, and with very great caution, and the gap was one of the expedients which, in the circumstances, we felt compelled to adopt to spread the money out so far as we could without putting undue strain on the scheme. After all, we must not forget that what we are administering is an insurance scheme and not a compassionate fund. I think we must all of us keep that constantly before There is another reason. Not only did we put this uncovenanted emergency side upon the fund but something else. We provided more weeks' benefit in the year. The Act of 1911 gave 15 weeks' benefit in the year. The Act of 1920 gave 15 weeks' benefit in the year. The Act of 1921 gave 26 weeks' benefit in the year, and the right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Labour made it 44 weeks' benefit last year. Therefore the gap was frankly an expedient to spread the money out as far as we could. Further—and I will be quite 1390 frank with the House in this—it was an endeavour to remind the recipient of the money that he must really bestir himself. [How. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh"] I say that I had better be quite frank in the matter, for I agree that, though it may be a good expedient in normal times, it is not much good telling a man to bestir himself in times like the present when there is no work.
The three weeks' gap and the 26 weeks' benefit under last year's Act did undoubtedly contemplate a condition of employment much more favourable than has emerged. Last year's experience was a very disappointing one in regard to employment. As a matter of fact, for seven solid months from 31st March onward, progress literally petered out. The figures did not improve in units, and even to-day —I do not know whether the House is aware of it, for the figures are not published in this form—but we have only to-day 176,600 persons less on our unemployed lists than we had this time last year. Therefore, whatever the Government or its supporters may say when they come to consider the Act of 1923, it will be in the light of present circumstances. The first consideration that we are promised is that the gap shall end. Further, I am quite confident of this, that my right hon. Friend will have to come before the House of Commons this Session and make provision for this year beyond the 26 weeks of the scheme of last year.
Happily, the finance of the Bill will stand it. I am sorry that Lord Banbury is not here. He and the hon. Member for the Mossley Division (Mr. Hopkinson), who took much the same view as he, were constantly telling us what they thought of the position. What of the, facts? We took power to borrow £30,000,000. The highest point actually attained in borrowing has been £15,000,000. To-day I am glad to say that that deficiency in the fund has got down to £12,000,000. That being so, and the whole borrowing being only £12,000,000 out of a possible £30,000,000, I think no one will doubt the capacity of the Act to hear this small additional charge.
I have only one snore thing to say. After all, money relief must be found for these poor people if they cannot get work. But the main and outstanding objective 1391 which everybody ought to keep in view is that work should be found. They are quite honest and sincere when they say that it is work they want and prefer, but cannot get it. Last Tuesday the Prime Minister referred to Government aid in the direction of finding work. His observations were very sketchy and left a very great deal indeed to be desired. However, we shall later in this Sitting have an opportunity of discussing the Money Resolution, which will be a beginning in that direction. My view of that problem is that it is to find work for these workless. I may have the opportunity of expressing what I think of this matter when we come to the Money Resolution.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
I have listened to the statement made by the Minister of Labour, and I have also listened to the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara). I am glad to notice that they all seem to be taking a new view of the gap idea, which has been the pernicious principle obtaining in previous Unemployment Insurance Bills which have passed this House. I think most of us who have been in the House for a few years can recall the almost impassioned utterances of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell in defending the principle of the gap, telling us how absolutely necessary it was that such a particular principle should be placed within the Bill. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell said that the Prime Minister had made a rather sketchy statement on this subject. May I point out that there are poor people who have been unemployed for two-and-a-half and three years who, after hearing the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell, believe that they left very much to be desired so far as they were concerned.
The gap system was one of the outstanding objections to the last Bill, particularly when we have had men anxious to get work, and it has now been admitted by the Minister of Labour and hon. Members on both sides of the House that men are unable to find work because of the 1392 great depression in trade. There is one curious thing which arises at the present time, and it is with a view to getting some promise and to draw the attention of the Ministry of Labour to one or two of these points that I have risen to address the House. I have always been against the gap, and I have no apologies to make in supporting this Bill. I have protested against the gap in the previous Parliament, and I have always pointed out how obnoxious the principle was. To-day there is a system which is growing up, and, indeed, has grown up already, in the Employment Exchanges in their administration which brings in a principle even more obnoxious to-day than the principle of the gap, and that is where you find men who, by rights, are entitled to what is called uncovenanted benefit, having gone through the period of covenanted benefit, because they may not have the necessary number of stamps upon their book to qualify them for covenanted benefit, when they go before the unemployment committees to have their cases considered to put them upon uncovenanted benefit, are sent a pink form, and there are various reasons given on this form why the claim for benefit has been refused.
In most of the cases in which benefit is refused on the pink form, four of the reasons are scored out and the one reason which seems to be unanimous in the eyes of the unemployment committee is the reason that the committee are not satisfied that you are genuinely seeking whole-time employment. In addition to the pink form, I have here two cases I have taken out of many I have received. One is the case of a man who had been 40 years employed with one firm who was thrown out of employment in 1921. With such a record of employment with one shipbuilding firm on the Clyde, that man receives a pink form saying that he is not entitled to benefit because he is not seeking whole-time employment. I have another case of a man who was for 30 years a member of the Boilermakers' Society, a first-class member, who, together with his apprenticeship, had been 35 years in one employment, and he also received a pink form. Those men are not put upon the gap.
The gap for them is simply an insult, and to tell them they are work-shy and not genuinely seeking employment is a deliberate insult to men who are con- 1393 scientious workers, as is clearly shown by their record of employment. I want to draw the attention of the Minister of Labour to cases of that character. There are too many men being told that they are not entitled to unemployment benefit for this particular reason. I could produce hundreds of these pink forms if necessary, and I am sure any hon. Member representing an industrial constituency can get hundreds of them if he wishes to do so. I hope the Minister of Labour is going to put a stop to this obnoxious doctrine which is being carried out throughout the country. While it is part of one of the previous Acts that that is the reason for refusing men unemployment benefit, I am sure that it is now being stretched to the extreme by Unemployment Committees, and they are putting forward that particular reason given on the pink forms in cases where such a reason is not applicable at all.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
These matters do not appear to me to be relevant to this Bill. They are matters of administration, which should be discussed in Committee of Supply when the unemployment Vote is put down. I notice there is a Vote down for Thursday on this question, and it will be for the Chairman to say then whether or not the Vote covers this subject. These are general administration points, which ought not to be discussed until the legislation is before us.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I do not wish to go outside your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but two Members sitting on the Front Bench and a Member of the Liberal party have already dealt with questions of administration, and naturally, this being an amending Bill, I thought we were being allowed a wider latitude than was usually the case. That was why I was touching upon those points. So far as the gap is concerned which it is now proposed to remove, while it has been a grave hardship upon those to whom it applied in the past, many of the Unemployment Committees, instead of putting the men on the gap, are now treating them by their administrative powers in this particular manner thus ruling them outside of benefit altogether.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I only interrupted the hon. Member when I gathered that he was going to deal with a number of administrative points. That was why I intervened.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
That was the only point of administration with which I wanted to deal. I only wish to show that this principle was not applied in the same manner as in the past, because the Unemployment Committees were using part of a previous Act to rule them out altogether, without putting them on to the gap. This practice. was ruling them, not only out of benefit in this way, but also out of relief from the guardians and the parish councils in Scotland, because they had to produce the pink form. The parish councils in Scotland and the boards of guardians in England write to the Employment Exchanges to find out whether an applicant has been refused benefit, and whether the reason is because he is not genuinely seeking employment, because they are not bound to give relief to men who are not looking for work.
I submit that the Minister of Labour should take this question into consideration with as deep a concern as he is now taking up the question of the gap. The gap has had a certain amount of publicity, but this particular matter has not had the same amount of publicity at all, although it is dealing a harder blow at those individuals, because the gap lasts for three weeks. These men have been ruled out for months at a time in this way. This is a matter which I hope is going to have the attention of the Minister of Labour. I am glad to know that the spokesman for the Conservative party favours this proposal, although there were mutterings and rumblings against the removal of the gap. I take it from what has been said that we are going to have an agreed House in regard to the removal of the gap. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) after his experience in piloting Bills through this House knows the temper of hon. Members, and in the past he has done his fair share of opposition to us when we wore pleading on behalf of the unemployed worker, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has now come to grace. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the couplet:While the lamp holds on to burnThe greatest sinner may return.I am glad the lamp is still burning and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell has returned. 1395 Seeing that we have unanimity on this question I hope those people who have had to be placed on the gap will now feel that this House, whatever view may exist of general politics, is going to do a generous act towards those people by removing the gap, thus making it possible for them to carry on during the period of unemployment. I trust the Minister of Labour will take into consideration the removal of that obnoxious principle, and find time to introduce a Bill dealing with this matter. I hope he will send out instructions to the Employment Exchanges advising them to be very careful in regard to the cases they are ruling out of benefit on the grounds I have alluded to in the pink form.
§ Mr. G. BALFOUR
I think it only right to say at the outset that I cannot agree that this is a good Bill. I know that whenever we approach the question of unemployment in this House there is always a suggestion that hon. Members take the view that a Bill for the relief of unemployment in any form must necessarily be good, and that any hon. Member rising to oppose it must be an evil-disposed person. In my judgment this is a had Bill for the reason which I have given on three or four previous occasions in this House, namely, that it will tend to continue the present chronic state of unemployment. Whenever a 13111 in its title is even remotely connected with unemployment, or the relief of unemployment, we are necessarily driven to consider the relation of that Bill to the state of unemployment in the country. I will only make a very few remarks in order to deal with the arguments submitted by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean). He said that these pink forms are constantly being returned and no relief given because the applicant has not been genuinely seeking for employment. Is it not a fact that these committees have discharged their duties well? Do they not make an honourable attempt to find out whether or not men do seek employment? I am sure the Minister will go with me in this: that these committees do—as far as it is humanly possible and making allowance for human fallibilities—discharge their duties as well as any other committees that are appointed. Is it not reasonable to suppose that there is a great deal of 1396 truth—when the majority of the forms are returned as stated on the ground that the applicants have not been genuinely seeking employment—in the suggestion that by filling this gap you will be perpetuating the desire not to get employment but to get the sustenance allowance?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is not a point of Order. The hon. Member can ask the hon. Member who is in possession if he will give way.
§ Mr. MARLEY
The hon. Member is in the privileged position of representing a constituency in which there is a very small amount of unemployment, and when he makes the assertion that men prefer to take the dole first instead of seeking work he is taking advantage of his peculiar position, and he ought not to make such a suggestion in this House. I have had the privilege of opposing the hon. Member, and I am sure that the attitude he is taking up is not the attitude of the hulk of his constituents.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
Perhaps the hon. Member does not know that I am not speaking for any one of my constituents on this problem, but I am speaking as the result of my personal experience and of my electioneering experience. I fought on two occasions the seat now represented in this House by the Member for Govan.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I wish to submit to the Minister for Labour in all seriousness—and Ns-bother he agrees with my reasons or not, I am sure he will admit that the only matter of concern for us in connection with this Bill is whether it is merely a temporary expedient or is ultimately to provide a solution of the unemployment problem. if he regards it as a temporary palliative, if he will tell me he is not looking on this as the first stage of a wider solution which is to be set on foot, then I will say to him, "Go on with your temporary experiments once again, and, if it 1397 succeeds, I will support it. But if it fails, then on a future occasion I shall refer to what I have said to-day." I remember telling the late Minister for Labour (Dr. Macnamara) that by his policy he was making unemployment more probable—that he was building up more and more unemployment. The facts as they exist to-day show that that has been the result of the policy. If this gap is to be removed, you will tempt large numbers of the less energetic men to rely on relief instead of on work. What I want to do is to drive men to reply upon their own labour and not to rely on relief, by whomsoever contributed.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
As one who has had a tragic opportunity of inquiring into the effects of this gap on a particularly large scale, I have been led to a conclusion very different from that arrived at by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour), and I should like to say that I am giving my unqualified support to the present Measure. I hope it is going to be the beginning of a complete divorce between the unemployment problem and Poor Law relief. With regard to the point made by the hon. Member for Hampstead and the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean), I should like to point out that for some time past, even before the gap came into operation, in certain towns or in certain industries where men were engaged under the barbaric system of a stand or market, the influence of the gap never could operate at all. Men never had any opportunity when they received the pink forms. They were unable to convince the Committee, for there was only their own word to justify the statement that they were genuinely seeking full-time employment. I am hoping that this is a beginning of a separation of unemployment insurance from Poor Law relief. While one would like to see men compelled to seek for work, the gap is not an expedient for doing that. It is only their sense of dignity and the wish to supply the needs of their wives and families that compels them to seek work, and the gap can never be any substitute for that. The gap has accelerated the dispersal of savings and the breaking up of homes, because a large number of men will not 1398 accept Poor Law relief. I have made inquiries into this matter from Employment Exchanges, Poor Law officials and other available authorities, and they tell me that there are fewer work-shy men to-day than ever. Pressure has gradually driven those who were—and there is a certain number always—work-shy, to seek work. The connection between unemployment insurance and the Poor Law has been a constant source of irritation, and nothing has added more to the distress of the unemployed than the uncertainty as to the gap generally. I welcome this small Bill, especially as the Minister has foreshadowed that he intends to make it more complete. I welcome it as one small step towards building up a complete system of security which will enable our workers to give of their best without the haunting fear of unemployment.
§ Mr. LUKE THOMPSON
I do not wish to unduly prolong the discussion on this Bill, but I rise wholeheartedly to support it in the form in which it has been introduced by the Minister for Labour. Unlike the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour) I represent one of the largest industrial constituencies in the country, one which has suffered under the largest percentage of unemployment, and there is no man and no Member who has represented any constituency under such conditions but will look with favour on the proposals contained in this Bill. I want to say, further, that I am delighted to know that it is only to be part of an extended review of the Unemployment Act, 1920. I would particularly like to draw the Minister's attention to Section 81 of that Act, because it, is it acting with undue hardship on men out of employment at the present time. I would welcome his assurance that in the early future this matter may receive the attention of the Minister. I am glad there has been an endeavour to face the true significance of this Act and to get rid of the word "dole." I notice that as late as yesterday a very prominent cleric, near my own constituency, has been desperately denouncing the dole, but I should like to point out that, with all its defects, since it has been in existence it has saved the country from a great deal of industrial unrest, and has given many thousands of families necessary sustenance in times of extreme need.
1399 5.0. P.M.
I whole-heartedly support the principle of Unemployment Insurance, and I hope to see the day when it reaches greater perfection. With regard to the non-benefit period, I believe that when the gap was originally instituted it was a sound principle. I believe that it not only safeguarded the Insurance Fund, but also safeguarded the, contributors to that Fund. Furthermore, I think it was founded on a firm and sure basis, because it was founded on a basis of normal employment. I am sure that the promoters of the original Bill took into consideration the fact that over a long period, possibly half a century, the normal unemployment had only been something like 4 per cent., and that, when the peak periods of that time did arrive, they only extended for a short time. Those conditions have been entirely wiped out by the unparalleled and prolonged state of unemployment that we have to-day, which has upset the whole basis of the former Act. Therefore, 1 am whole-heartedly in favour of the wiping out of the gap period. The majority of men cannot find work. I have been intimately associated with the whole operation of the Act for some considerable time, and have had dozens, nay, hundreds, of cases through my hands, and I have more than once represented before the Court of Referees men who have been in difficulties. I know that, while men are told to look, and have been looking, for work, it is a fact that, in the case of a shipbuilding industry such as that of the town which 1 represent, where we have had 20,000 men out of employment, it was absolutely impossible either for the men to find work, for the Exchanges to find work for them, or for their employers to give them work. I never could see why these men, because of that disability, due to no fault of their own, should be compelled to seek aid through the guardians from a fund that was contributed in a dissimilar manner from the one whereby they should receive direct support. For these reasons I have great pleasure in supporting this Bill, and I trust that at some future date we may have a further additon to it that will remove the anomalies and disabilities under which many workers are suffering to-day.
§ Mr. CLARKE
I desire to claim the indulgence of the House in expressing my 1400 approval of this Measure, which has for its object the removal of what I consider to be one of the cruellest provisions ever in force for increasing and intensifying the poverty of those already suffering under unemployment. I have difficulty in understanding the outlook of hon. Members who tell us that a gap is necessary as a driving force in the case of men who are unwilling to look for work. Among the million and a quarter unemployed there may be a few, possibly a number, who, for various reasons, are not desirous of getting work, but I venture to suggest that in the majority of cases they are victims of the system itself, which has created physical and moral conditions such as those which have been depicted. When we come to consider the great number of the unemployed, it is difficult to understand how anyone can believe that men or women who have been used to working to earn their own living, as it has been decreed, by the sweat of their brow, should be content to be the recipients of £1 a week, if they are married, and ls. for each child, rather than taking honest work in order to keep them independent and enable them to earn their living and that of their wives and children. It is an insult to the intelligence of the ordinary unemployed workman, who knows that there are a million and a quarter, including women, who are unable to find employment, who are denied the right to work, and are, because of that, denied the right to live. The suggestion that the gap is in some way an incentive to spur them on and compel them to look for work is an insult to the intelligence of the workmen, and, frankly, I feel that it is also an insult to the intelligence of hon. Members who sit on this side of the House.
In thinking of the gap system we have to visualise a continued strain of poverty and privation, not only as regards its effect on the workman himself, but as regards its effect on the women-folk and the children. The children are suffering from poverty and privation, and one day the father has to go home and tell them that he has arrived at the period of the gap, and that there is absolutely nothing for him to bring home to give them even subsistence to enable them to live. It seems to me unthinkable that any men or women should be found who would prefer to get their living under conditions like that, rather than take 1401 work that would enable them to earn their living independently of any such means. The Minister of Labour has told us what parish relief means in many instances, and that men and women feel that it is a stigma, though why they should do so I have difficulty in understanding. Their necessity, and the necessity of their women-folk and children, should be to them the justification for their action. They view it, however, as a stigma, and yet are ultimately driven to seek parish relief; and then we have big-hearted men on the boards of guardians, such as we have on the Poplar Board of Guardians, who make up their minds that at any cost the men and the women and children have to be fed, irrespective of the consequences. We have all these things reflected in this system of unemployment insurance and the system of the gap.
On the other hand, the gap system has been accentuated by the issue of Circular 51, followed by the refusal of education authorities to give to the children that necessary sustenance which they were getting in the schools prior to its issue. We have to remember that among the unemployed there are 250,000 women, or thereabouts; 10 per cent. of all the insured women are unemployed. Half of them are under 25 years of age, one-fourth are between the ages of 20 and 24, and one-sixth are from 18 to 19 years of age. These women are compelled to exist—it is difficult to understand how they do it—on 12s. per week, and then comes the period of the gap, and one has greater difficulty in understanding how they are able to tide over it. One can appreciate the temptations that beset their path in circumstances such as we can readily see arising out of this gap system. Because of these things, I feel sure that every hon. Member in this House will agree that, at least, we should make a beginning and get rid of this iniquitous business of the gap. I feel that it is a reflection upon us to allow it to continue. I sincerely trust that the right hon. Gentleman's hope will be realised, and that we shall have an unanimous vote in favour of the abolition of the gap system, so that at least some little gleam of sunshine may be brought into the lives of the men and women who have been unemployed during these years.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
Perhaps the hon. Member who has just spoken 1402 will allow me to congratulate him upon what, if I may say so, was a very successful maiden speech. There can be few Members of this House who will take any exception to a single word that he has uttered. I speak as chairman of an unemployment committee in connection with an Exchange which has watched the operation of this Act for some considerable period, and I agree that the time has now arrived when we should take the step that is suggested by the Minister of Labour this afternoon. It is not, of course, at all unusual, in a normal condition of matters, to have a gap of this kind. If one looked at the rules of most of the large friendly societies of this country, and, for that matter, of a large number of trade unions, one would easily see that various steps of this nature have been taken in the past, in order that there might be what is called a legitimate check in matters of this kind, and one could illustrate that still further by a good many other rules of a similar character. Therefore, in a normal state-of affairs, and human nature being what it is, one could not say that a step of this kind is a harsh or a cruel one; but to-day, obviously, a normal condition of that kind cannot operate, and I believe that a large number of the friendly societies themselves, and a large number of trade unions, are waiving a good many of the regulations and rules that used to, obtain when things were, as I am glad to think, very different from what they are t o-day.
I quite share the view, from my observation of a very large industrial area in London, that there is nothing to be gained, whatever advantage there may. have been in the past, by imposing check of this kind, and I am very glad to see this step taken. I hope, however, that no Members of the House will regard this as by any means an important step, or, perhaps, the most necessary step to be taken in connection with Unemployment Insurance. I think the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) was right when he hinted that the reason for this step being taken now was, he supposed, that this was, perhaps, the most advertised difficulty that ought to be put right in connection with Unemployment Insurance. I suppose that that is why the Minister of Labour has introduced this very small Bill this afternoon. I 1403 was much interested to hear from his preliminary statement that he had another big Bill, apparently, which was going to put a great many other matters right. I should like to hear a little more about those proposals this afternoon, because it is very important that the House should know exactly what is going to be proposed. I cannot conceive, for instance, why one Bill should not be introduced for the whole subject. It seems to me that there will be a considerable waste of Parliamentary time in introducing two Bills, especially if the one that is to follow is, as is apparently the case, almost ready.
Many hon. Members who have had some experience of past Parliaments know the difficulty of thus introducing two Bills. This Bill may be passed—I hope it win; but, if another Bill is going to be introduced by the Minister of Labour dealing, as I hope it will, with far more urgent matters than this, what will happen? We have the Budget, we have all the Financial Resolutions and matters of that kind, and I believe that it will be some months before this larger Bill will really make its appearance, or if it makes its appearance it will be a very considerable time before it becomes law. I share in the protest£—I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull, who always stands it matters of this kind irrespective of party policies, will join—at the manner in which the Bill has been drafted. It is perfectly true that it is drafted in such a way that you cannot introduce a single Amendment of any moment to it. I had a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Member opposite who interrupted the Prime Minister, and referred to the question of the allowance to children. There is a good deal to be said for that—I suppose there is something to be said against it—but the hon. Member will be in this difficulty. He will not be able to introduce that Amendment, for instance. If ever there has been a carefully drafted Bill, with the object, apparently, of avoiding Amendments, this is the Bill. I invite the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull to endeavour to draft some Amendments of substance to the Bill.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Even he, with all his ingenuity, will probably have them refused by the Chair. I shall watch events with great interest, and I shall wish him well. I have no doubt the Amendments are very good ones, and I will gladly consult with him as to whether I can support them. The fact, however, remains that this Bill is so designed that matters equally urgent cannot be introduced. It reminds me of past Governments. I thought we were going to make a fresh start, but the Bill is so designed that we cannot introduce Amendments, and we are promised that a larger Bill—when it will be brought forward and passed I do not know—will deal with a good many other matters.
There is a question 1 should like to put to the Under-Secretary for Labour in connection with the financial provisions of the Bill. The Minister of Labour has stated that it will cost about £500,000. 1 for one, and I dare say many others, would like to know the exact position in which the Unemployment Insurance Funds stand. I have looked up the last figures so far as they were presented to the last House, and on 2nd June last, as I understand it, above the normal contribution which the Exchequer had made to the Unemployment insurance Fund, they made an additional advance of £25,000,000. I do not complain of that, and I do not criticise, because, obviously, with the tremendous strain on the Fund which the last few years of dreadful unemployment have brought, one must anticipate that extra demands must be made, but the House ought to know, and it is a wise thing that they should know, exactly where we stand and what this additional sum will bring with it, and what arrangements have been made in that connection. I do not put this question forward in criticism of the Act, because I do not share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) with reference to the Act. I regard the Unemployment Insurance Act as a very excellent piece of work, and I think it is going to remain a permanent part of the law of the country. No doubt in future an enquiry ought to be held—I am sorry we have heard nothing about that—as to the exact relationship of Unemployment Insurance and National insurance and matters of that kind, because I believe a good deal of money could be sated if there was a proper 1405 enquiry and steps were taken to co-ordinate the various Insurance Funds that now operate. If we were able to co-ordinate we should save a good deal of money and should probably have a good deal more with which to assist the very many people who are suffering so much.
May I say a final word in relation to the matter generally? It is true that the men and women who are out of employment to-day would much prefer to apply under the Unemployment Insurance Fund than to seek Poor Law relief, but there is a further thing they desire far more than going to the Insurance Fund, and that is work. The vast majority of the people who are on this fund—I have had some opportunity of observing a good many of them — undoubtedly require work. I do not think any hon. Member would say everyone is perfect, and that there is not a certain number of people who would perhaps prefer to go on to unemployment insurance for the rest of time, but that does not apply to the vast majority of the people. What they really want is work, and I am anxious to impress upon the Minister of Labour and the Government that this House is awaiting with the greatest possible interest the proposals for obtaining work. I say that with all the more confidence because of statements of the Prime Minister and members of the Government during and after the Election. The Prime Minister, for instance, said:Labour would take office, because in defiling with unemployment they believed they had a programme and a power that no other party posseesed.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I am glad to hear those encouraging cheers from the benches opposite, because it makes me all the more anxious to know when these proposals are going to be put forward. I have certainly not heard them yet. As I understand the present policy, it is a continuation of the old policy. That is not what the country and the House has been promised, and I share the view of the Colonial Secretary, who some little time after the Prime Minister had spoken, on 8th January, at Leeds, said:There will be no triumph for Labour until we have solved the unemployment problem.That is an excellent sentiment, and there is a better one still, which I will quote. The right hon. Gentleman said: 1406We are here to say that the problem is going to be solved by Labour "—The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull will shudder when he hears the rest:and by Labour alone.We, on these benches, and I am sure hon. Members opposite, invite the early presentment of these proposals, because whilst the Bill is a good one, it is a very small one. I do not think any hon. Member in any part of the House can say much more about it than that. On behalf of a large number of people who are unemployed, and who have read these statements in the papers, and are hoping that these promises will be fulfilled, while we agree with the Bill, we ask the Minister of Labour and the Prime Minister at an early date to present those proposals which are going to solve the unemployment problem.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. Member has referred to me several times. Indeed, he seemed to address most of his speech to me. He surprised and delighted me, as did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) when, following the same line of reasoning, they complained that the Bill was so drawn that they could not move any substantial Amendments to it, and they led me to suppose that if only they had been continued a little longer in office, they would have made these Amendments, I presume, to increase the allowance to children and all the rest of it. All I have to say to that is that it i rank hypocrisy. The hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) never used to stand up on this side of the House and make speeches like that. His complaint now is that the Labour Government is only bringing in this little Bill, and they ought to have brought in much more and done very much more. That apparently is also the complaint of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester. It is hollow and it is nonsense. They were in power with a clear majority. They could have done all these things. The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour) said a great many men would be encouraged not to seek for work. What happens actually is that, through this gap, men, who by no stretch of the imagination a few years ago could have been considered the sort of men who would go to the guardians, 1407 are forced now to go to the guardians. In my own constituency the guardians tell me they are having to relieve men through this very gap, though they are not at all the kind of men they are used to dealing with—men who have been in skilled employment for many years, and who own houses—and this small reform is long overdue.
May I address myself especially to the hon. Lady who represents the Office of Labour on the Treasury Bench? In my constituency, from which I have just returned, and where I have been consulting with the dockers—[Laughter].I have a perfect right to consult them. I wish the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot would occasionally go amongst the dockers. There are large parties of casual workers who will not get any benefit from this Bill at all. They suffer from another sort of gap altogether, and that is the gap of men who are employed for a few days here and a few days there in the week. Take the case of a man who goes to the docks for work, and cannot get in on Monday and cannot get in on Tuesday. If he is offered half a day's work on Wednesday he will get less than if he shirks it and draws the unemployment money. They have to go three days before they can get anything at all. I assure the hon. Lady this is a very burning question amongst these men. They have, owing to the exigencies of the time, to live from hand to mouth, and what they want is this. If a man is genuinely seeking work and cannot get it at the docks for a day, he wants something to carry over to the next day—these men depend on what they get day by day—to keep him in health and strength to look for a fresh job the next morning. Further, if a man is employed for 18 days continuously, he has to be six days unemployed before he can get anything at all, and the same thing applies there. There is a third point, and that is that if a man is employed for half a day only—he only gets five shillings, or thereabouts—that half-day counts nothing. If he is employed half a day the next day, that counts nothing. He can be employed for any number of half-days, and then if he gets two days' blank with no work at all, he can draw nothing to carry him on. I assure the hon. Lady this is a burning question amongst these casual labourers 1408 in Hull, and that is the sort of gap I hope her Department is paying attention to and will remedy. The Bill does not help them in any way at all. It is not in the Bill. I suggest that two half-days should count as one day. Furthermore, I suggest that they should be able to get some assistance at night, in order that they may have a bite of food to carry on until the next day, when they have not been able to get any work. If the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour would do that, she would be even more loved by the casual labourers than she is at the present time.
This Bill, 1 suppose, is a perfect example of doing something by a stroke of the pen. It is very short and it removes a grievance. It amends Proviso (2) of Section 2 of the 1923 Act. May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, when she replies, to cast her eye over Section 4, Sub-section (1) of the same Act. By taking two strokes of the pen instead of one stroke she could have increased the 1s. allowance for each child to 2s. 6d.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
My hon. Friend says that it cannot be incorporated. My complaint is that it has not been included. I do not complain that the Labour party has not made a new Heaven and a new earth in four weeks, but I do say that if by one stroke of the pen they can remove the anomaly regarding the gap, they could by another stroke of the pen do something in regard to the allowance for the child. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that next week she will bring in another little Bill. I do not want to delay the passage of this excellent Bill. I can assure the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour) that we understand his position, and we think it is an honest difference of opinion. I like his honesty. I suppose the fact of the matter is that, representing Hampstead, he is voicing the opinion of a great many of his constituents, who do not know how the workers live. I wish the hon. Member would accompany the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) down to the docks occasionally, and look into these cases. I can assure hon. Members on the Treasury Bench that these casual workers are taking their advent to office with great calmness, and 1409 they expect a good deal from them. They will be disappointed, because every Government disappoints them. When my own party conies to power, I suppose we shall disappoint them. There are certain little, simple, legislative Acts that could be brought in now, and I hope they will be brought in. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to try to do something at a very early date to remove still further the anomalies that exist. If we are told that the finance of the Act cannot stand it, then there is a simple remedy, and that is to increase the contribution made by the State to the Fund from one-fourth to one-third in order to keep the Fund solvent. In conclusion, I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Clarke) on his very excellent maiden speech.
§ Colonel PENRY WILLIAMS
I wish to say a few words to welcome this Bill. It does not, however, go far enough. It is quite obvious to those of us who are engaged in industry that the Government is bound to tackle this unemployment question very soon. There are industrial disputes going on, and we shall have questions arising as to the position of men who are not directly engaged in these disputes and who have been refused all benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Act, because they work in the same factory or at the same dock where the industrial dispute is going on. That question has been debated in this House for nearly 15 years. Two years ago a Committee was set up by the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Alacnamara) to report on the matter. I have been out of the House a year, and on coming back I heard the Minister of Labour, in reply to one of my hon. Friends, say that that Committee has not yet reported. It is a disgrace that the Committee has not reported. That question must be settled, because the condition of the worker to-day is very serious. Instead of mending, trade is going worse, and those of us who are engaged in industry are beginning to despair about trade ever mending so that our unemployed may be absorbed.
I should like to know the position of the single man. The single man is at a disadvantage compared with the married man. It is all very well to say that a man who is on the gap can go to the guardians and be relieved. I know it is 1410 the duty of the guardians to relieve all necessitous cases, but when the man is single and he goes to the guardians, they do not give him outdoor relief, in many cases, but order him to go into the workhouse. Only the other day I met a friend of mine who complained bitterly about that provision. He said, "For 30 years I have been working, and I have never been in the workhouse, and you know that I will never go into the workhouse, and I am starving." He had been denied all unemployment benefit. That is a condition of things which will have to be altered very quickly. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has referred to the children's allowance of ls. I say, with all due respect to the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell, that that allowance was a disgrace to any Bill. Those of us who keep dogs pay 2s. 6d. for the keep of a dog per week. It is not fair to expect a workman to keep his child for Is. a week. T ask the Minister of Labour to get on with his complete Bill. This House is today in sympathy with the desire to re-arrange all the provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Act. So far as we are concerned on these benches, we will give the utmost support to the Minister of Labour in order that he may bring in a Bill which will once for all make our legislation on this subject a humane Measure.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Miss Bondfield)
I am at a disadvantage in having heard only part of the Debate, but what I have heard has been exceedingly encouraging. The criticism has been rather in the nature of criticism of what, the Bill lacks, than of what the Bill contains, and I am, therefore, confident that I can appeal to the House to give it unanimously a Second Reading. I am happy to feel that when the main Bill is introduced, there will be a volume of support from all quarters of the House, as indicated by speeches from both sides to-day. There is a simple reason why this Bill is confined to one Clause. It is because we are now in another gap period, and we do not want a single week more to go by in which people are compelled to seek relief from the Poor Law. It was felt that if the Bill dealt with any other subject, it might 1411 take a longer time to get through, and in the interests of the community as a whole we felt that the stigma of pauperism should be removed at the earliest possible moment from those people who are now approaching Poor Law relief. For that reason the Bill is confined to a single Clause, and I appeal to the House now to give it a Second Reading.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Can the hon. Member say anything about the question of the casual workers?
§ Miss BONDFIELD
It is, obviously, not possible for me to say anything about that subject now, but I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that everything that he has said will be received sympathetically by the Minister of Labour when he is preparing the larger Bill.
§ Mr. REMER
I think it will be the view of everyone who has listened to the speech of the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour that she deserves to be congratulated upon the lucid way in which she has put forward her ease and also for the brevity of her speech. In the latter respect she has set an example to the Front Ministerial Bench which we hope will prevent occupants of that bench from speaking at too great length. My experience of this House during the last five years has been that when a Minister rises to speak he speaks at least for half an hour and very often occupies a full hour, with the result that back bench Members do not get an opportunity to speak.
While I recognise the reason which the Parliamentary Secretary gives for the Bill not being wider, I am a little disappointed that she has not indicated when the new Bill in its wider scope will be brought forward. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) used very harsh words about Members on this side of the House. He accused us of rank hypocrisy. We all know that hon. Members opposite are judges of hypocrisy. During the last General Election they declared that Socialism was the greatest danger there was in the country, but when they had been elected they were so hypocritical as to put a Socialist Government into power. 1412 The hon. and gallant Member, instead of turning to these benches, ought to have turned to the Labour party and addressed his remarks about hyprocrisy to them; that would have been more in keeping with the facts of the case, because it is well known that the reason why this Bill has been framed in this way is to prevent Amendments being put down, either from this side or from the other side, to extend the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member mentioned the dock worker. He is not the only Member of this House who has a knowledge of the dock worker. I claim to have a knowledge of that class of worker. There is a great deal in what the hon. and gallant Member said on this subject. I have the greatest possible sympathy with anybody who works in a casual way as these men do, and I maintain that some method must be adopted for dealing with that kind of unemployment, because it is the most demoralising form of unemployment that exists at the present time.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) is not present, because I should have liked to refer to what he said on the question of unemployment insurance generally. He was in charge of the Ministry of Labour when the Unemployment Insurance Bill was introduced. At that time we all realised that it was a great experiment, and we knew that the. Bill was not perfect, and that it would require alteration. One of the difficulties in regard to this question at the present time is that we have had one small Bill here and another small Bill there, until it is very difficult for the man in the street to find out how the law stands in regard to the matter, and it is a constant source of irritation. We need a comprehensive Measure to put the matter on a better basis, so that we may get rid of all these misunderstandings. One further trouble has been caused by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). When he was Prime Minister he took a holiday at Gairloch, and be was chased over the hills of Scotland by the London mayors, who were determined that a deputation should reach him. He came to this House with an emergency Measure and introduced a large scheme of unemployment relief. That was the first tinkering with the subject. We are going to have now a 1413 second tinkering with it, and probably there will be three or four altogether. Though I have the greatest sympathy with this particular Bill, I do feel that it is necessary to get all these unemployment insurance schemes upon a better and broader basis. I could not help smiling when I heard some of the speeches this afternoon. I have here a quotation from the Minority Report of the great Poor Law Commission which sat from 1905 to 1909, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was one of the members of that Commission who signed the Minority Report. That Report stated:If the community will not restrict itself to relieving persons at the crisis of their destitution—and this is a necessary condition of any Poor Law or of any destitute authority, whatever its name—the community cannot, without grave financial danger and still graver danger, depart from the principle of 1834. However unpopular may be the doctrine, it is still true that if destitute persons are to be given curative and restorative treatment without deterrent conditions and without any stigma of pauperism, you are constantly increasing the number of persons who, unless they are in some way prevented from sinking into destitution, come in and out of the Poor Law as suits their convenience, to their own grave demoralisation and at a ruinous cost to the nation.For the past few years this question of unemployment has been dealt with by tinkering with the subject, and if the Government bring forward any business like, scheme to get rid of the difficulties with which we are faced, I can say for myself, and I believe for the great bulk of those on this side of the House that it will receive our warmest support.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. ALLEN
It may be considered impertinent on my part, as coming' from Northern Ireland, to take any part in this debate, but I do it first because I believe that this Bill has been introduced for reasons of common humanity and that it is the duty of every Member to support anything in the interest of humanity—in my part of the country our workers suffer severely because of the existence of this gap which it is proposed to remove—and my second reason for interposing is that all Measures passing through this House are taken note of, particularly by the Minister of Labour in our Northern Parliament, and are applied almost immediately to the situation as it exists in Northern Ireland. 1414 I am glad to say that our Minister of Labour in Northern Ireland is a man of great broad sympathies, who is keenly interested in the working man, and whatever Bills are passed in this House are immediately taken up by him and transferred to the Statute Book in Northern Ireland, and I am certain that he will lose no time in following the action of the Minister of Labour on the present occasion. 1 can assure the House that a great many people in Northern Ireland will welcome this Measure, for though it may be an indirect step, so far as they are concerned, it will eventually reach them. One of the great causes of complaint and distress in my part of the country is that when these people are drawing what is commonly known as the dole—and no matter how we try to escape the name I am afraid that people will continue to use it—after they have been drawing the money for some time it suddenly ceases, and they do not know where to get any more. I am glad that the extension of unemployment benefit to these people is one of the first acts of this Government.
The Minister of Labour referred—and it had been referred to frequently in this House and in other places—to the amount of £600,000 which has to be made up, and he said that part of it will come from the workers themselves, and part from contributions by the employers, and he gave us to understand that the remainder will come from the State. But I think that that is a delusion which is shared by a great many people, because we know that the State as a State has no money except what it collects from the people of this country, so that the £600,000 not only comes from the contributions of the employers and of the employed who are engaged in industry, but the remainder also comes from the same people, because of the taxes which they pay. So that the entire contribution of £600,000 comes directly or indirectly from the people themselves. I have the greatest possible pleasure in supporting this Bill. I am very glad that the Government did not wait until a larger Bill could be introduced, because then it would probably have been months before these people could have had this miserable gap filled. I am certain that there will be no vote on this subject, and that the Second Reading of this Bill will be carried unanimously.
§ Mr. ALSTEAD
If I may claim the indulgence of the House I rise to support this Bill because I have for some time been privileged to act as the chairman of an advisory committee in the district in which I live in connection with this work, and I am sure that the House will do the right thing if it eliminates this gap period from the provisions of benefit to unemployed insured persons. I wonder if I understood the Minister of Labour aright when he said that the State had been rather evading its duties and its responsibilities in connection with this provision. I think that Parliament in the past was exceedingly wise when it made the provision which it did for the unemployed men and women of our country because, if I am any judge at all of the temper of the masses of industrial workers who were denied the right to work, I feel sure that this provision has saved the country from dangers which one does not like to contemplate, and insofar as the elimination of the gap period will make the lives of these unfortunate people more tolerable, I feel sure that the House is doing the right thing in passing this Bill.
I was interested to hear the Minister of Labour saying that the poverty of many of the people who receive unemployment benefit is so great that they cannot afford so much as a penny to purchase anything other than food. I wonder if right hon. Gentlemen quite realise that the lack of purchasing power in itself is one of the causes of unemployment in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come up here!"]I have the honour and privilege of belonging to a party which has always realised that it is the want of spending power on the part of the producing classes of this country that keeps our country in the state in which it is to-day. I belong to a class which feels sure that if you increase the purchasing power of the masses of the industrial workers of the country, much of the unemployment which now exists will pass away. If we had agreement on this point we should have, in the first place, as far as possible, an increase in the productivity of this country, and, in the second place, we should have a more equitable distribution of the wealth produced in the country, and, in doing so, we should run no risk whatever of any economic cataclysm and we should run no risks of interfering with our power 1416 of competing with other nations in the markets of the world.
The necessity of abolishing the gap period only emphasises the low wages paid to and the low purchasing power at the disposal of so many of our industrial workers. We have our home market, but those who produce the wealth of our people have not sufficient w ages to enable them to buy the products of our own industry, and so far as we recognise the position and increase their purchasing power we shall stimulate the home market to such an extent as to reduce the unemployed class very considerately. I appeal to hon. Members in all parts of the House to concentrate on this problem because if there is one thing that the people of this country expect this Parliament to do it is that it should solve the problem of equitable wealth production and wealth distribution and solve it in such a way—[HON. Members: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members may laugh and may cheer, but I know that what I say is true, because without increased wealth productivity there can be no more generous distribution of what is produced. It is fundamental that the first thing which we must do is to ensure the employment of our people in such a way that they can produce abundant wealth, and having done that, we shall see to it that these people who produce it have a chance of enjoying the good things which they make, and in so far as these two things are possible I support this Bill because I know from personal experience what it will mean to those who now have to cover this gap period. Why should we drive these people to the guardians and increase the cost to the guardians, which in turn has to be raised from the overburdened ratepayers in industrial areas? These are things which are mutually destructive and do not tend to the wellbeing of the State.
§ 6.0. P.M.
§ Lieut.-Colonel JAMES
I have had great pleasure in listening to the remarks which have just been made. I understand that it is the hon. Member's maiden speech, and even though we may not agree with every word that he said, yet I am certain that the great bulk of us are entirely in sympathy with the measures proposed in this Bill. It is quite true that the Bill covers only a small section of the ground. We have a great 1417 mass of legislation on this subject, and we are adding to it on the one hand and subtracting from it on the other hand, until it becomes so incoherent that many of us have great difficulty in appreciating where a Bill begins or ends. No doubt from the point of view of ideal legislation it would be far preferable to recast entirely the Unemployment Insurance Bill. I believe that the present Measure will do much towards alleviating a good deal of the misery and distress which hitherto have stalked abroad in the country. This is only a small Measure, and I trust that every Member will support it and try to make it an active instrument for the good of the working classes. I notice that an hon. Member alluded to the fact that many people previously had to seek relief from the guardians, and thereby added considerably to the expenses of the ratepayers; but whether the money comes from the ratepayers or from the taxpayers, as a rule the two classes are more or less identical, and you cannot differentiate between local taxation and imperial taxation in the ultimate effect. I am certain that this distribution and delegation of authority hampers not only the Government but also the local authorities. For that reason I welcome this Bill.
§ Mr. HANNON
It would be a pity if this Bill, which will undoubtedly receive the support of the whole House, should pass its Second Reading without someone on this side adding a word of support to the statement of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour). It is exceedingly easy for the Minister to point out the great amount of misery and destitution that may be relieved by bridging this gap, but I hope that the House will bear in mind that there is a distinct danger in offering further and further opportunity, which may prevent men going back to their legitimate employment so long as they are provided with some sort of assistance either from the ratepayers or the taxpayers. I suggest that although Members of this House are receiving numbers of letters from boards of guardians throughout the country, which, of course, feel deeply the amount which they have to pay in bridging this three weeks' period, yet there is great danger that with the removal of this period many men will be satisfied with the amount of the unem- 1418 ployment insurance benefit and will not put forth sufficient effort to find work for themselves.
I agree with the Minister and with hon. Members opposite that there are great masses of workmen who would never dream of turning to boards of guardians, or to parish councils in Scotland, for relief; but there arc also very large numbers of men who do. The original basis of this unemployment insurance contemplated some intervening fact which would oblige a man to seek legitimate work. It would be a great misfortune if, by continuously amending the Acts, we were to make facilities, more and more from day to day, for people to avoid honest endeavour to secure employment for the maintenance of themselves and their families. The Minister was careful to indicate vaguely some further developments of unemployment insurance in the present Session. We ought to know what he contemplates. Is he going to remove any of the other safeguards which keep unemployment insurance within legitimate bounds? The industries of this country are bearing the cost of unemployment insurance to the cost of £19,000,000 a year. It is true that the people who are engaged in the work are also paying the very considerable share of £16,000,000 a year, and that the State is contributing £213,000,000.
The original principle was that there should be means whereby, after intervals of time, a test should be applied as to whether a man honestly sought work or not. In this legislation you are departing from that principle. [HON. MEMBERS:"No! "] You are. The only argument I have heard has been that there was a different set of circumstances now from those which prevailed in 1911. That is true. But you have not entirely eliminated the shirker. There must he some means whereby men of that class, who are unworthy to be side by side with honest working men, shall be forced to seek employment. No one objects to the Bill as it stands, but on this side of the House we will certainly watch with great care further proposals for the enlargement of unemployment insurance, in order to safeguard as far as we can, in the first place, industry as a whole and, secondly, the rights of the honest workmen whose contributions in large measure will be employed to pay those who do not seek 1419 work in a legitimate way. I hope that the Bill will have unanimous assent, but that the Ministry will take care in any further proposals to safeguard both those interests.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Miss Bondfield.]