§ "Where more than one hundred persons are entitled to benefit, who are normally employed at the same factory or works, the Minister shall, upon the application of the persons entitled to benefit and the employer concerned, arrange for payment of the benefit to be made at the factory or works."—[Mr. Waddington.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. WADDINGTON
I beg to move,That the Clause be read a Second time.2292 The object of the Clause is to make general what is now conceded as a privilege in many districts. I speak more particularly of Lancashire, where it is the policy of the Ministry, where there are a number of people employed in a particular factory, to make the payments at the factory. There is a great difficulty in certain other areas where, when they have a period of unemployment, they have to queue up at the Employment Exchange to receive their benefit, though in a neighbouring town people, under similar conditions, have the benefit taken to the works. It is very desirable, in view of the short time which exists in Lancashire, that the policy which is in operation in certain areas should be made general. The difficulties of payment at the Exchanges are very considerable. You have queues which are large, and the people have to stand outside the Exchanges during all sorts of weather. It is impossible, with the insufficiency of the accommodation at the Exchanges, to deal properly with all the applicants. I am sure that the proposal ought to meet with the acceptance of the Minister with his knowledge of Lancashire conditions.
Let me give an illustration from an Employment Exchange in the Rossendale Division, which I represent. In December last year, there were at this particular Employment Exchange 1,100 persons on the register. Of that number, 700 were employed at two particular mills. There was great disturbance in the district owing to the queuing up in bad weather. Representations were made to the then Minister, Sir Montague Barlow, by the town council, the trades council, and the employers concerned that some different method should be employed. Sir Montague Barlow arranged that the payment should be made at these two mills. That took off 700 people, and made it easier for the Exchange to deal with the remaining 400. These payments were made at the works. Two officials from the Exchange went to the mills and made the payment. It was convenient to the officers, and very satisfactory to the work-people and the employers. That went on for two or three months. Then, under the present Minister, an order was sent down that this method was to be discontinued, and these 700 workpeople had to go back and queue up in the streets in order to get their benefit. That resulted 2293 in more trouble in the area. Representations have been made to the Minister to remedy this grievance, and to go back to the system of his predecessor, but so far those representations have been ineffectual.
It is because these representations to the Minister have been ineffective that we now seek to make this compulsory under the conditions of this Clause. There can be no suggestion that it will be difficult, because it has been actually practised in many areas throughout the country, and what is an advantage in one case can surely be equally well done in another case. I hope that the Minister will see that this is a Clause which he can accept. It is one which will bring great relief to many thousands of people and will save many officers from the trouble which arises from not knowing whether this application should be refused or granted. If it be made compulsory, then many operatives in the cotton trade in Lancashire will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Captain BRASS
I beg to second the Motion.
I do so because I feel in the same way as the hon. Member does, that it is rather unfair that some people should be forced to queue up and go to these Employment Exchanges and that other people should be allowed to receive their unemployment benefit at the works. In my particular constituency, there is a place which is about three miles from the nearest Employment Exchange, and it is over a steep hill. A lot of the operatives are ladies—old ones—who are unable to go this long way, three miles there and three miles back over this steep hill, and in very bad weather. As a result, they wrote to me, and I took the matter up with the late Minister of Labour. He looked into the matter, with the result that these people were paid their unemployment benefit at the particular mill concerned. If they are allowed to receive it there, I do not see any reason why, provided there are enough of them, other people should not have the same privilege. After all, that concession which was given to a number of people ought to have been given to other people in my division as well.
I was approached with a view to trying to get the concession for other people in other parts of the division. That was 2294 refused, and I think rightly refused in some cases, because the number was not enough and the expenses entailed would have been too great. But in this Clause we have put in the number 100, which I think is very reasonable. After all, these people are unemployed through no reason of their own, and they are themselves actually contributing towards the benefit which they are receiving. If they have to go all this long way in the rain—and Lancashire Members will realise that it rains more in that county than in other parts of the country—it really is a very serious thing indeed, especially for the ladies who in a great number of cases are not capable of walking this awfully long way. We only ask the Minister to make the concession where there are 100 people employed in one factory or mill, and the cost entailed would be very small indeed. It could not mean any great cost to ask someone to go to a mill where there are 100 people to pay the benefit instead of asking those 100 people to walk six miles in the rain to receive the benefit. I therefore most earnestly appeal to the Minister of Labour to consider this matter very carefully and see whether he cannot accept the Clause.
§ Mr. SHAW
I am going to ask the hon. Gentleman who moved and the hon. Gentleman who seconded this new Clause to withdraw it. I have a considerable amount of sympathy with their case, but I suggest that the. Clause in its present form cannot possibly be carried out. The Clause, for instance, proposes that where the employer and 100 workpeople are agreed, the payment shall be made at the works, but, assuming that two workmen living near the Exchange objected, it would be impossible to carry out this method as the Clause is now worded. I am sorry to hear that the system of queuing up, to use the Lancashire expression, is still prevalent, and, while asking the Mover and Seconder to withdraw the Clause, may I give them my personal assurance that the policy of the Ministry will be that, wherever we can avoid the inconvenience of queuing up, and wherever it is administratively possible, we shall make the payments at the mills. It is, however, highly inadvisable to tie the hands of the Minister as to where these payments shall be made. I shall do all I can to meet the common-sense needs of the matter, but 2295 I can imagine cases in which it will be highly inadvisable to make the payments at the mill. There is a certain amount of work that must necessarily, for the sake of efficiency, be done at the Exchange, and where it can be done at the Exchange without inconvenience it ought to be done. I ask for the withdrawal of this Clause, at, the same time giving my personal assurance that I will investigate the cases of which the hon. Members have spoken, and will, as a general rule, attempt to make such provision as will meet the common-sense needs of the case. I know what occurs in a town where suddenly a number of people are thrown on to the register out of all proportion to the capacity of the Exchange or of its staff, but I do ask the House not to tie my hands, and to leave me to deal with the cases as they arise.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I desire to associate myself with what the Minister has said. The purpose of this proposal can be, and is being, achieved by regulation. I was sorry to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Waddington) say that there had been a change in policy. I cannot believe that that can be the case. Wherever it is possible, it is being done. What will happen if the Minister is compelled to send up to the mill a pay clerk who is a member of an Employment Exchange staff which is very much over-worked to-day? I observe that the Minister had, in 1923–24 10,355 local Employment Exchange officers. That was before this Bill, with all its extensions of benefit, was ever contemplated. With all the very much larger operations of this Bill, my right hon. Friend is proposing, in his present Estimate, to cut down that staff to 9,714. He will have to increase it largely if this proposal is going to be carried out efficiently. How is he to send up a pay clerk to the mill in every case, as he will have to do if this is made statutory, when that unfortunate gentleman is already very much overworked in the Exchange, and when his functions will be enormously increased by this present Bill? He cannot be in two places at once. I suggest, with great respect, that this matter should be left to the Minister, and cases such as those which my hon. Friends have brought forward should be put to the Minister. If he is practically 2296 made by Statute to do this when it an be done by regulation, it will do great harm.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
I venture to think that the Minister of Labour has met quite fairly the point raised by this Amendment. I recollect the cases to which my hon. Friend has referred, and the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman did make Regulations in certain cases. From the administrative point of view this Clause might be almost unworkable if it were limited to cases in which 100 persons are unemployed. Having regard to the fact that the Minister has said that he is prepared personally to look into cases that may be brought before him in which an arrangement can be made, I suggest that my hon. Friend will be quite safe in accepting the assurance of the Minister.
§ Mr. WADDINGTON
I accept the offer which the Minister has made, though I hope it will be generously interpreted, and that it will not be necessary for us to trouble him with these cases again. I beg to ask leave to withdraw.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.