HC Deb 24 June 1924 vol 175 cc251-2

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Unemployment Insurance Acts, 1920 to 1924. The object of the Bill is to provide Unemployment Insurance for agricultural workers. I was in hopes that the Government or the Minister of Labour would have agreed last week in Committee to include agricultural workers in the scope of the Unemployment Insurance (No. 2) Bill, but as I understand the Amendments put down with that purpose in view could not be accepted or embodied in this No. 2 Bill, therefore I beg to give reasons why agricultural workers should be entitled to receive unemployment benefits as well as the workers engaged in other industries. In the first place, the agricultural worker is subject to unemployment, as well as those engaged in any other industry, and the fear of Unemployment, and the suffering it brings in its train are as real and grave to him and his dependants as to these other workers. Moreover, a large number of agricultural workers from time to time have clearly and earnestly expressed their desire to be included in a National Unemployment Scheme, and as a total of just over three quarters of a million workers—some 772,000 according to the latest returns—are affected, it seems only right and just that their claims should be considered.

It may appear somewhat difficult on the surface, because the rate of pay received by the regular worker is so low, and often comes to less than an average of 30s. per week. But an analysis of the figures of unemployment in the industry shows that the percentage out of work is 5.7 on an average So that it seems to me that we could well afford to mete out special treatment to this class of worker by making his contribution a low one and a reasonable one or, at all events, a maximum one not exceeding 4d. per week. The farmer, or employer, on his part would also be called upon to pay 4d. and, in view of the low average of unemployment, the contribution of the State would be 4d. per head. In my opinion, these total contributions of 1s. per week should be able to offer the same scale of unemployment benefit as is in force in other industries, while it is just possible, and I have every reason to hope, that the rate of contributions could be brought down as low as 3d. from each, making a total of 9d. I need hardly emphasise the fact that the agricultural worker is a skilled man, and just as deserving as any other member of the community of assistance in this direction, and should no longer be pushed into the background. It is recognised that agriculture is essential, nay, vital, to the well-being of the country, and the passing of a Bill to give the agricultural worker the benefits, long denied to them, which other workers enjoy would do much to stabilise the industry and remove many causes of dissatisfaction and the tendency of the rural population to migrate to the towns.

There is no reason whatever why the agricultural worker should be left out of an unemployment insurance scheme. It is extremely unfair. The time is now past when these workers should be looked upon as the Cinderellas of industry, and I trust the House will see its way to support the Motion, and thus do justice to the claims of those who, in my view, have hitherto received scant recognition of the service they render to the nation. The House, I feel sure, must frankly admit that some protection against unemployment should be afforded them; and I venture to hope that the Bill, which it is now my privilege to ask leave of the House to introduce, will have the sympathy and approval of the vast majority of this House.


Is this Bill intended to apply to Scotland?


That is a point which can be dealt with in Committee.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Sydney Robinson, Mr. Crittall, Mr. Duncan, Mr. George Edwards, Mr. Emlyn Jones, Mr. Hillary, Mr. Hob-house, Mr. Hope-Simpson, Mr. Hoffman, Lieut.-Colonel Rudkin, Lieut.-Colonel Woodwark and Mr. Thomas Williams.