HC Deb 09 July 1924 vol 175 cc2287-91

(1) Section seventeen of the principal Act (which provides for arrangements being made with associations which make payments to their members while unemployed for the payment to such associations of sums out of the unemployment fund equivalent to the amount which those members would have received by way of unemployment benefit), as amended by any subsequent enactment, shall have effect as if in Sub-section (1) thereof there were substituted for the words" which those persons would have received" the words "which those persons would have been entitled to receive."

(2) Where in consequence of a decision of an insurance officer or umpire or a recommendation of a Court of Referees a society or other association has paid to one of its members any sum by way of provision for unemployment, then, if the decision or recommendation is subsequently revised, so much of that sum as represented the amount of benefit which but for the arrangement would have been payable to that person may, unless that person shows that the sum was received by him in good faith and without knowledge that he was not entitled thereto, be recovered, without prejudice to any other remedy, by means of deductions from any benefit or from any payment from the society or other association to which that person thereafter becomes entitled.

Any question whether a person is liable under the provisions of this Sub-section to have a deduction made from any benefit or payment due to him shall be determined in the same manner as a claim for benefit.—[Mr. Show.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The purpose of this Amendment is to deal with a matter which is now in some doubt. Under the old Acts, trade unions in certain cases have acted as agents for paying benefits. According to a recent decision of the Umpire, there is some doubt as to who is liable in cases of payments which are made in good faith but against the terms of the Act. Negotiations have taken place between my Department and the trade unions and this Clause is an attempt to remove existing doubts by providing that the unions who act as agents for the Departments shall be responsible for all payments incorrectly made, but that the Department shall take the responsibility on its side of helping the union to secure repayment of payments incorrectly made when the person who has received those payments has not received them in good faith and has known that the payments were incorrectly made. On the one side the Amendment gives the Department the assurance that all payments incorrectly made will be refunded to the Unemployment Insurance Fund. On the other side the Department undertakes the liability of helping an agent society to recover payments that have been made when the payee has known that he was receiving incorrectly benefits to which he was not entitled. I ask the House to give me this Clause.


I want a little more information on this matter. The societies which act on behalf of the Ministry of Labour pay out what are called associated claims. They only make the payment of that money when the Ministry of Labour itself has intimated to them that that money should be paid over. I understand from this Amendment, and also from the speech which we have heard just now, that all that is going to be done is that the Ministry of Labour is going to assist the associated societies in getting a refund of the money that has been paid wrongfully, but on the recommendations of the Ministry of Labour officials. I think that it should be put the other way round, that as these associated societies have only paid over the money on the recommendation of the Ministry of Labour officials, or of the machinery set up by the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Labour should rather guarantee those societies against loss in paying out the money upon their recommendation, and that the Ministry of Labour itself should take these steps itself which it is now saying it will help the unions to take to recover their money. I think that that would be the much fairer method, and while I am not altogether determined to oppose this to the extent of taking a Division, I think that the Minister of Labour, and his assistant, with the great knowledge which both of them possess of the working of the trade unions in all its different details, might at least have put this Amendment down in a manner that would have been a great safeguard to the trade unions, and secured to them a great deal more of the money which some of the unions have already lost because of recommendations made to the Ministry of Labour officials.


I can only say that this matter has been most carefully considered with the representatives of the trade union societies themselves, and the Clause is an agreed Clause. The umpire gave a decision in a case quite recently which leaves the Department in doubt as to what the actual condition of the law is. In order to clear up that doubt negotiations were entered into with the societies that were administering benefit, and they agreed with us that the societies must take the responsibility of any payments wrongfully made but that we shall help them.


Wrongfully made on the instructions of the Ministry of Labour.


If these payments are made directly on the instructions of the Ministry of Labour I do not think that this Clause would affect it, but wrong payments that are made by the society, either carelessly or through misunderstanding of the law, or through fraud, can all be dealt with by this Clause. In the one case, that of carelessness, the society must bear its responsibility. In the case of misunderstanding of the law it takes its own responsibility. In the case of fraud the Ministry prevents the member who has claimed from the society, and received money wrongfully, from simply taking away his book and making his claim against the Employment Exchange and leaving the society with its liability, and it gives power to deduct from future payments the amount which has been wrongfully paid.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time.


There is an Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. GavanDuffy). I do not think that it would have the effect which he has in mind. Does he desire to move it to get information from the Minister?


I beg to move as an Amendment to the proposed new Clause, in line 9, to leave out the words "or umpire."

I have not the least desire to prevent the Ministry of Labour aiding trade unions to recover any payments that have been incorrectly made by the trade unions as such, but the new Clause contains three things. The first is that if through the decision of the judicial officer called the umpire any sums of money are paid for the provision of unemployment benefit that money shall be repaid if his decision or recommendation is subsequently revised. I object absolutely to this House agreeing, or even to the Ministry of Labour proposing to presuppose, that the umpire shall review his own decision. We have been told on innumerable occasions in official documents, and we have been told by the Minister of Labour himself, that the decision of the umpire is final and binding, and, if the decision of the umpire is final and binding, then there ought not to be any Clause put into a new Act that will encourage the umpire to revise his decision. There must be finality somewhere, and the officers of the Department upon whom the finality is imposed ought to have the respect and the confidence of the people who are concerned.

There is very strong suspicion, and I have the gravest suspicion myself, that in the case of Watson, of Cleator Moor, the umpire was invited, if not indeed, directed—I do not know what goes on behind the scenes—to review his own decision. This was not a hasty decision. I appeared before the umpire, and with his usual courtesy, in which he is like his predecessor, he listened to me and my case for over an hour. He cross-examined with the astuteness and ability that belong to him. He took over four weeks to consider his decision, and he gave it then in favour of the applicant on whose behalf I appeared. Then, five or six weeks after that, the umpire was invited or directed—I do not know which—to review his own decision, and he reviewed it and gave a contrary decision, despite the fact that I had evidence there which would lead me to believe, and would lead anyone to believe, that the insurance officers not merely misrepresented to the umpire, but concocted evidence that could not possibly be accurate, because it contradicted the photographic evidence which I took the opportunity of producing.

4.0 P.M.

My point is this. We do want some one officer under the Minister of Labour to whom we can appeal for a fair and impartial decision, and whose 4.0 P.M. decision we can accept with respect. In the case to which I refer I would have accepted an adverse decision from the umpire with great respect, but, as a matter of fact, I got a decision, as I think rightly, in my favour, and the decision of the umpire was wrongly reversed. The only point for which I am arguing is that this House should not pass a new Clause whereby the umpire will be lifted out of that position of independence which he has held and be invited by the Minister to revise his decision. The new Clause really provides that the umpire shall be invited to revise his decision; otherwise, I cannot see any meaning in it. It is true that some of the trade unions, owing to the private advice given by officials of the Ministry of Labour, have been making payments of unemployment benefit which ought not to have been paid. I do not see that it is very much use crying over spilt milk, and I do say, having regard to the army of spies now employed by the Ministry, and the army of touts now supervising with greatest astuteness the payments that are being made from the Employment Exchanges, that there ought to be one man, the umpire, to whom we can look with respect and whose decisions we can accept as being fair and impartial. Can the House imagine the House of Lords revising its own decisions? They cannot do it. They never dream of doing it. Consequently, I do suggest that the umpire ought to be left as an impartial authority to do justice to all people concerned.

Amendment not seconded.

Clause added to the Bill.