HC Deb 18 July 1924 vol 176 cc837-42

I beg to move, in page 13, line 43, to leave out the words "This Act does," and to insert instead thereof the words The provisions of this Act amending Sections forty and forty-one of the principal Act shall have effect with respect to those Sections (as amended by any subsequent enactment, including any Order in Council made under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920), as they apply to Northern Ireland, but save as aforesaid this Act shall.

The object of this Amendment is merely to correct a slip which occurred in the Bill in regard to the armed forces of the Crown. Those coming from Northern Ireland would be put in a prejudiced position as compared with those from Great Britain.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with an Amendment.

Bill, as amended, on recommittal, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."


I should like to make four very short general observations on this Bill. If the Government had left the scheme as it was when they came into office, solvency would have been arrived at before the close of this year. I believe that then the contributions that were being paid, namely, 10d. by the employers and 9d. by the workmen, could in each case have come down to 6d., and we might have put to them, as I should have done, the desirability of using the extra 3d. and 4d., not then required for unemployment insurance, for other benefits—increased old age pensions, reduced age for old age pensions and a start with widows' pensions. I think I should have left this scheme, in the main, as it was found. I should have given 2s. to the children. I should have left it as it was in the main, and then solvency could have been arrived at before the close of this year. But in his wisdom the Minister has gone out in an entirely different direction—no gaps, continuous benefit week by week, no restriction of benefit at all against certain young persons and aliens who previously were restricted, and benefit as a legal right on a very slender contribution qualification. That is all right only that postpones the deficiency period until roughly somewhere about Easter, 1927. I hope the people who have been paying this money so loyally and ungrudgingly all this time will go on paying, but I am afraid the policy of the Government in extending, as it has done, the deficiency period, and keeping up contributions which bear no relation whatever to unemployment insurance risks, may prejudice the finance of the scheme, though we all hope that will not be the case. One thing further. I think it is a profound mistake to have given benefit as a statutory right on the very slender contribution qualification which this Bill sets up. You are taking very high contributions, especially from people on short time, to build up a fund for their insurance if they are out of work on a most slender contribution qualification. It is not to be a matter of discretion on the part of the local employment committee, but they will have a legal right to benefit week by week, according to this scheme, down to June, 1926. You are taking money out of a fund built up by heavy contributions to form an insurance fund really to relieve the local rates. That is what you are doing. You are turning it into a compassionate fund, and contributing sums as a compassionate fund, which ought not to be taken out of the fund at all, but out of the local rates. I hope, again, the right hon. Gentleman will get to the end of his journey successfully. This scheme, as we now know it, has made benefits much more charitable and on a much wider scale. It is now partly an insurance fund, but largely a fund which may be used for the purpose of making weekly allowances of a compassionate character. For good or for evil that is what you have done. But whatever you do, if you take that line you have to see that it is properly administered. People get tired of making heavy contributions when they are not sure that this money is being properly used in every case. The employment exchange staff was pretty overworked last year. This year's Estimates propose to cut it down by between 500 and 600 persons. That Estimate was prepared before this was contemplated at all. I appeal to the Minister and to the Treasury to increase that staff, otherwise you are saving '70s. a week on a local Employment Exchange clerk and you are running a risk of losing ten times that amount because of lax administration. These people have been overworked. Their numbers are now to be reduced, with enormously added responsibilities. If you are penny wise and pound foolish and save 70s. on a clerk, you stand the chance of losing 700 shillings because of poor administration.

Particularly under this scheme, with its rather generous handing out of benefit, with the slightest qualification, it is vital that you should be quite sure that the recipient is genuinely seeking work. You cannot do that, no matter how you test the man, unless you have a job to offer him. Wherever there are vacancies, and as things improve more vacancies will arise, do let employers of labour send notice of the vacancies to the Employment Exchanges, so that the Minister, confronted with a man who says, "I claim benefit as a legal right," can reply, "Can you not find work?" If the man replies, "I cannot," then the Minister at the present time has to pay. On the other hand, if the Minister can say, "Look, here is a vacancy at my disposal. There is a job suited for your capacities. It is waiting for you. Take that job. If you do net, you will not get benefit." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to find that I am in complete harmony with my hon. Friends above the Gangway. I have always been appealing to employers to assist us. In my time at the Ministry of Labour I strongly appealed to employers of labour to help me with vacancies, so that I could apply the one final test as to whether a man was genuinely seeking work. My appeal now is to employers of labour to help the Minister with his new scheme, with all its widely extended benefits, to administer the scheme properly, by placing at the disposal of the Minister vacancies which are the last and final test as to whether a man is genuinely seeking work.


The effect of what we have done to-day is to remove all control over the fund by Parliament. I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour that the Actuary's report holds out hope that the fund will be solvent at the date when it comes to an end in 1927. On the other hand, I believe that the Actuary has shown conclusively that the fund is not likely to be solvent in 1927, or solvent at all. That being so, I think the Bill strikes a very serious blow at the whole system of contributory unemployment insurance. It may be a fatal blow. The best part of the Bill is that contained in the Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) and carried, which limits the operation of the Bill to two years. Had it not been for that, I think the effect of the Bill would be to destroy the whole system.


I cannot in the time that remains reply to what has been said, but I thank the House for the very great courtesy which it has extended to me, in very difficult circumstances, in giving me my Bill, and I am profoundly thankful for it. I hope now that I shall get my Bill without a Division.

The remaining Order were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at one Minute after Four o'clock until Monday next (21st July).