§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Thomas Shaw)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is one which alters materially the present law dealing with unemployment insurance. It contains Clauses which, I think, will be highly controversial, although I hope not contentious. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that on the 30th July, unless something be done, a considerable number of workmen will cease to be entitled to unemployment benefit, and I have tried my best to let hon. Members know the provisions of the Bill in sufficient time for them to consider it and also to give them sufficient time in Committee to deal with any points with which they disagree. When I began to consider what to submit to the House, I found that I had to settle, first of all, certain matters of principle. There has been a considerable amount of controversy during the last two years as to the relative advantages of insurance by industry and a general scheme of insurance. I found in actual fact that the Federation of Employers were very much in favour of a general scheme, whilst on the side of the organised workmen there was a difference of opinion. In view of all the circumstances, and with the desire to get as much consent as possible, I decided to continue the system on the old lines.
Then I had to face a question to which I have given such thought as I was capable of giving, namely, what to do with the agricultural workers of this country. There, again, I found myself face to face with a difficulty which up to now I have not been able to solve. I think every Member of the House will agree that at the earliest possible moment the agricultural workers should have some protection against unemployment. But, frankly, with contributions as they are at present, and with the state of opinion both of the farmers and of the agricultural workers, it was impossible, in the time at my disposal, either to 2042 consult properly the two sides or to give due consideration to any scheme that might be adopted, though I hope that the time is not far distant when, in conjunction with the Minister of Agriculture, we may be able to arrive at a decision and to submit definite proposals to the House. There is one minor detail in this connection to which I desire to draw attention. There is at the present moment a fairly considerable debt owing to the Treasury from the Insurance Fund, and it is impossible to expect the agricultural workers or the farmers, neither of whom have received any benefit from previous insurance schemes, to become responsible for the repayment of that part of the deficit which yet exists. It may be possible, as I have said, in the near future so to arrange as to present to the House a proposal which, whilst doing justice to the agricultural community, will be fair and equitable to everybody concerned.
Then I had to face the question as to whether, given adequate protection to the State, it was not possible to increase the benefits so that no genuine workman or work woman willing and able to work should be submitted either to a policy of gaps or to recourse to the guardians, and I decided to submit to the House a proposal which will give in those genuine cases of which I have spoken full benefits so long as unemployment lasts. It is evident that, unless that provision be hedged round with restrictions and guarantees to the State, there is a danger; and I have taken the precaution to arrange that, after a certain number of weeks' benefit has been drawn, strictly in accordance with the scheme laid down in the Bill, there shall be other conditions to be complied with by the person seeking benefit which will, I think, give an adequate guarantee to the State that only the genuine people are paid.
§ Mr. SHAW
You will find them, I think, in Clause 1 (3). Let me say definitely, and lay stress on it if I can, that in the interests of the workmen themselves it is essential that the Unemployment Insurance Fund should not be drawn upon except by genuinely unemployed and genuinely employable men and women. 2043 There is nothing that could do more harm to my suggestion than the suspicion that the Unemployment Insurance Act was being taken advantage of by anyone, because that suspicion would inevitably grow and finally might wreck the scheme itself. Working men as a rule are just as honest as, say, Members of Parliament, and certainly have less knowledge of the wiles of this wicked world than Members of Parliament; but, as in all classes of society, there are people who look upon the State as fair game, so there may be in the ranks of the workers persons of that description. I had to consider whether it were possible to abolish altogether the waiting period, but I found that the cost would be so enormous—a rough estimate places it at something like £10,000,000 a year—that I had to choose between the continuance of the benefits or the abolition of the waiting period, and, as obviously a workman can better afford to face the first week with nothing than he can at the end of a long period of unemployment, I chose what I think is the better alternative. There have been arguments in connection with insurance in which a contrast has been drawn between a national scheme and the common practice of the trade unions before a national scheme was in existence. May I point out that the circumstances are altogether different? A trade union based its rules not on the necessity of the case but on the actuarial calculation of the fund, and based its number of weeks on the amount of money which it could pay on the contributions it received. Nobody in a trade union ever dreamed of a contribution for unemployment purposes alone of 2s. 1¾d. a week, and the actual contribution of the workman is much higher than ever he paid in the shape of a trade union contribution for unemployment insurance benefits. Therefore, I hope that during the course of the discussion, if reference has to be made to the practice of trade unions, that the point that I have made with regard to the contributions will be borne in mind.
I had to consider if it were possible to do anything to remedy what I think is generally admitted is a legitimate grievance. Under the present law, if a workman happens to be employed in the same premises as workers who go on strike or who are locked out, automatically 2044 he is ruled out of benefit. Take a typical example. There was a long strike of moulders. The moulders' labourers had nothing at all to do with the dispute. They were not concerned in it and could not reap any advantage from it if the men won. Neither if the men lost would their conditions have been affected. But, because they happened to work in the same moulding shops, benefit was refused them, although they were genuinely unemployed through a cause over which they had no control. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) gave, I think, a pledge to the House carefully to examine the subject, and during the last Government's term of office a Committee, which I think was originally set up by the right hon. Gentleman, examined the subject but failed to come to a conclusion. I have had to take the responsibility of submitting to the House a Clause, which I hope will be adequate to deal with the subject.
I turn now to another part of the Bill, which I think has given rise to more misunderstanding than any other part. I refer to the Clause dealing with the inclusion of young persons from fourteen to sixteen years of age within the scope of unemployment insurance. Many genuine educationists, fully in accord with the general provisions of the Bill, have expressed themselves as uneasy and dissatisfied with regard to this provision, so I venture to give to the House an explanation of the grounds on which I base my case. At the present time, young persons leave school at fourteen and enter into employment. Between fourteen and sixteen, they are almost totally lost to any influence whatever. Broadly speaking, the State does not know where they are, nor does it know what they are doing, nor has it any responsibility for them. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the parents?"] I will deal with the parents when I need to deal with them. I am speaking for the moment, not of parental duty but what I consider to be State duty. If we had to place the whole responsibility upon the parents, I am afraid we should have to scrap our educational system and many institutions which we now possess.
May I say that not only can the State through unemployment insurance get to know where these children are and what they are doing, but it can secure a record which will enable it or any social institution 2045 to help those children not to get into blind alley occupations. At the present time, there is no guarantee of that kind at all. What makes it worse is that in some large cities these children go immediately to work and displace children of a greater age who require slightly higher wages, with the result that you can have a youth of 16 out of work, without any opportunity at all of getting work, thrown on his own resources or on the resources of his parents. I submit that the case before the House is not as to whether insurance or education is the better way. That is not the alternative before the House. If the House were voting on two projects, one for insurance and one to send the child to school until it is 16, I could understand a great deal of the opposition of the educationists, but the bald fact is that these children at 14 leave the education authority and there is nobody at all to look after them.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
Will my right hon. Friend's proposal not make it much more difficult for the child to be educated after the age of 14?
§ Mr. SHAW
If the Noble Lord will let me develop my case, I think he will find that I shall deal with that matter. If these children be insured, one thing is certain. If they become unemployed, there is a provision in the Bill that will see that, at any rate, they receive the best instruction it is possible to give them during their term of unemployment and that will prevent them being thrown on the streets. I claim that this proposal will not interfere in any shape or form with educational development; rather will it tend to help. I do not pretend to a great knowledge of an academical character so far as the education question is concerned. But I have a knowledge of one side of the subject that men with academical knowledge perhaps have not to so great an extent. I have the knowledge of a boy who actually left school at 10 years of age to work half-time, and I have knowledge intimately from the point of view of the child itself. I have been through the elementary school, and I know it in so intimate a way from the child's point of view that I challenge comparison on my knowledge with any Member of the House. It has been assumed that in some way this proviso will prevent parents sending their 2046 children another year or couple of years to school. I claim that it will not have that effect, but rather will help parents to give their children another year or two years. What takes place in the average working-class home? The parent has to decide whether his means will allow him to give the child a further opportunity or whether he must depend on the child's wages. The parent weighing up the circumstances—again I speak from very intimate knowledge—is more likely to say, "If I have to pay an insurance contribution out of the small wages of this child, I will give him another year at school in preference to sending him to work." There is one argument advanced from the educational side with which I have been profoundly impressed, and that is that if you definitely place the age of 14 in the Insurance Act there is a danger that the psychological effect will be to stereotype that age. I am frankly prepared to meet that, and to say to hon. Members who take that point of view, "If you can submit any Clause which will give me the power to insure a child that has definitely left school, I will take out the figure and accept your Clause."
There is another point about which there has been considerable misunderstanding, which has been shared by some Members of the House. It is that under this Bill, if it becomes law, the tendency will be for parents to send their children to work and that they will automatically and almost immediately come into benefit under the Insurance Act. I am prepared to accept in Committee any Amendment which will make this Clause actually operative. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which Clause?"] The Clause dealing with 30 weeks' contributions for benefit. The intention of the Bill, which I am going to make as watertight as possible, is that under no circumstances shall a child come into benefit until it has 30 contributions to its credit, which means in effect that it will be impossible for any child to come into benefit until it has been actually working for wages for a period of something like eight months. So it is absolutely impossible under the terms of the Bill for children to come almost immediately into benefit, as has been stated in many newspapers.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Clause 3 (2) gives the right hon. Gentleman the right to dispense in all cases with the contribution. 2047 I understand he will make that all right but it is not in the Bill.
§ Mr. SHAW
I am willing to accept any Amendment which will take the power from the Minister or anyone else to allow children to come into benefit unless they have genuinely worked for the term of weeks of which I have spoken. I want to acknowledge the help I have had in this matter from certain well-known and highly-respected Members of the House. They have with the most perfect courtesy given me their point of view, and I am grateful for their assistance, and I hope the guarantee I have now given will allow them to help me to remove these children altogther from the category of the unknown quantity and really to give them a chance of being helped in life from the beginning of their industrial career.
Then I come to the question of benefits. I had decided, before deciding what amount to submit to the House, on the policy of continuous benefit and obviously that circumstance had to be taken into account when I determined on the figures I wished to recommend. I am quite satisfied that in these exceptional times, the payment of 15s. to a man and 12s. to a woman under ordinary circumstances simply means running into debt week after week, and every man who has lived a working man's life knows, and some of us know from very bitter experience, what it means when one has, not by bad conduct but by bad fortune, incurred debt. There are some of us who know—I am not exaggerating; I am speaking from personal knowledge—of years and years of effort to pay off debts incurred through no fault at all of the working man. Consequently I have decided to raise these figures to as high a level as I thought the House would give me, all the circumstances taken into consideration. So I propose to give to the men 18s., and to the women 15s., an increase of 3s. in each case, the same allowance for a wife, and to double the allowances now paid to children. The effect will be that a man and wife and three children—that is the typical family—will get 6s. increase on the benefit they have previously received. The single man and the single women will get 3s. increase each.
With regard to the finance of the Bill a White Paper has been issued which 2048 shows conclusively that, so far as it is possible to compute, the present contribution will not only bear the expense of the scheme, but will actually pay off the deficit that now exists. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the repayments are going on at an accelerated rate, and that there is no question at all of the actuarial estimates not being realised.
There is another difficult matter with which I had to deal. Under the old Acts there were powers to sot up special schemes for industries. It seemed to me that a scheme that lifted out the good life, so to speak, from the insurance scheme was unsound, and that the best thing to do was to make the scheme all embracing, so far as it could be so made, and to take the good with the bad. There are certain classes of workers—municipal servants, insurance workers, and certain categories of railway workers—who have been excluded from the previous Acts. I have not tried to bring those in, but I have taken steps in the Bill to prevent the setting up of further special schemes.
There was another matter which I thought was inconsistent with a sound scheme. Previously a man who has had a phenomenal run of good luck, if one may speak colloquially, had the right at 60 years to demand the difference between what he had paid and the benefits he had received. I think that is altogether wrong. In insurance surely the fundamental basis is that the good should pay for the bad, and a worker who has had the phenomenal good fortune to be regularly employed ought not to be able, at the expense of the fund, for that is what it amounts to, to take back any balance that remains to him, and throw a heavier burden on those whose fortune has not been so good.
I have not touched on most of the special details of the Bill. I take it for granted that hon. Members know as well as I do what the condition has been up to now. I will not inflict on them a mass of detail of the history of insurance, because I think that would be a waste of their time, and would certainly not be treating them with the respect they deserve. But there is one reservation I have to make on special schemes. At present there is a Committee sitting dealing with the very difficult and involved 2049 subject of the decasualisation of labour at the docks. I want it to be definitely understood that what I have said on the question of special schemes must not be taken to prejudge issues which may be raised by the Report of the Maclean Committee on decasualisation at the docks, and I hold myself free, and I hope the House will hold itself free, to come to a decision on that special problem after the Report has been presented.
I have had to consider, too, the discussion and the controversy which have taken place with regard to general schemes of insurance. It is a very fascinating theory that all involuntary unemployment, whether caused by sickness, accident, invalidity, bad trade, or old age should be dealt with in one complete whole under one administration, and I have no hesitation in saying I believe such a scheme would be infinitely more economical and beneficial than half a dozen separate schemes under different Ministers. But it is a subject which is very involved and very difficult, and which involves a tremendous amount of detail and consideration of the circumstances of different organisations and different Ministers. This problem presses. I hope some Government in the near future will be able to give the time, the thought, and the energy to the subject that it deserves. But I had to deal with a problem that is immediately pressing, and my desire was to do something now in order to help the people who are suffering very badly.
I claim that my Bill, if passed, will bring a great deal of assistance to a very deserving part of the community. It will, I think, be welcomed particularly by those large towns where unemployment has been worst and where, owing to the fact that the calls on the guardians have been so heavy, the municipalities have found themselves unable to carry out schemes which in ordinary circumstances they would have carried out. A considerable proportion of this extra money which is being paid will be felt immediately in the towns where unemployment has been worst, and I hope the House generally, and educationalists in particular, will give a Second Reading to the Bill. I know some of its Clauses are controversial. I hope in Committee to be able to prove that they are not contentious. I 2050 am certain that the worst thing that could happen in this House would be to prevent this Bill going through, with the idea that some day, and in some way, better things may be done. The problem which confronts the House to-day is, how we can deal immediately with very pressing circumstances. I confidently appeal to the House to give me the Second Reading of the Bill, believing that it will bring benefit to millions of our people and help many a struggling local authority.
§ Sir PHILIP LLOYD-GREAME
It is extremely difficult, and I think impossible, to express a comprehensive and final judgment upon this Bill at the present stage, for two reasons. In the first place, the whole structure and financial solvency of the Bill depends upon the financial conditions and calculations which have been set out in the actuary's report, which, as far as they are a mathematical calculation, are no doubt perfectly sound and justifiable, but which rest, as far as I have been able to judge—the Minister has said nothing about it in his speech—entirely upon the statements given to the actuary by the Minister. I am rather surprised, as I think probably other hon. Members are surprised, that the Minister has given to the House no explanation whatever of what is the basis upon which he has made the calculation in regard to the amount of unemployment.
The second reason which makes it difficult to express a final opinion on the Bill, is that it deals with a very complicated subject and it deals with it in that worst of all ways in a Bill, by reference to a large number of Acts. We are referred in this Bill to the Act of 1920, which is called the principal Act. Then we are referred to the Act of 1911, for which the right hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) was responsible, which I suppose is the vice-principal Act. Between 1911 and 1924 there has been a whole collection of Acts, year after year and sometimes two in one year, dealing with this subject. If this Bill is the final and comprehensive contribution to the problem of unemployment insurance, I do think that the Minister would have been well advised to produce a Measure which in one single Bill sets out, once and for all, what the insurance proposition is. Hon. Members have only to 2051 read Clause 1 to realise the difficulty. That is a Clause with which the Minister himself is not wholly familiar, because when I asked him if a certain thing was in the Bill he said it was in the appropriate Clause. I am very grateful to him for that answer. It is an answer which I shall not forget if I ever find myself on that side of the House again. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never!'] Wait and see! This Bill is extraordinarily difficult to follow, complicated in its provisions, and twenty times more complicated because the drafting is by reference. These two reasons make it impossible to express a final judgment on the Bill to-day, and they make it the more important that this Bill should be fully considered by the House in all its aspects.
All I can do is to lay down certain principles which, in our opinion, are essential to any final and permanent scheme of unemployment insurance, to see how far this Bill conforms to those principles and how far it does not, and by that test to see in what way the Bill will require amendment. While I say that, I want to make it perfectly plain that we shall require, on this side of the House, a drastic amendment of the Bill in Committee if the provisions mean what I understand them to mean, and our action upon Third Reading will, naturally, depend upon the form in which the Bill emerges from Committee. Before I come to the specific points of the Bill, there are certain general observations which I should like to make. The first observation is that the Minister is trying in this Bill to do an almost impossible thing. He is trying to legislate for normal conditions in an absolutely abnormal time. He has, therefore, to assume what will be the conditions which are going to operate when things become normal, and what will be the time when things are going to become normal. That, surely, is a very hypothetical proposal to put before us.
I should have thought it was rather unwise, because we are not dealing with this thing for the first time. We have our principal Act, and we have the conditions laid down for normal insurance. We have our special Acts, one of which we passed the other day, which lay down the conditions which are to apply during 2052 the abnormal period. I should have thought—though I am perfectly ready, as we all are, to consider this Bill upon its merits—that much the wiser course for the Government to have pursued would have been to continue to deal with the abnormal conditions by abnormal Measures, which this House would have been quite willing to consider, and to postpone dealing with what should be the terms in normal times until you are a little more sure what will be the conditions in which you are going to operate. It becomes, therefore, all the more important to consider what are the financial conditions and the financial structure upon which this Bill is based. If you are wrong in your finance in an insurance scheme the whole of your scheme falls to the ground. If you have guessed wrong, the scheme may be insolvent. I am going to say a few words later about the financial memorandum, upon which the Minister was strangely silent.
In the past, all the Estimates have been extraordinarily wide of the mark. In 1921, even the right hon. Member for North West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) did not guess quite right, nor did my right hon. Friend Sir Montague Barlow, who was our colleague in the last administration, and I have no reason to suppose that, where those distinguished and experienced men made great mistakes in their calculations or guesses, that the present Minister of Labour is going to prove infallible. Let us see what happened in the past. In 1921, the Estimate was made that, by April, 1922, the fund would be £4,750,000 in credit, but the result was that at that date the fund was £14,750,000 in debt, In 1921 we had a second shot. The Estimate then made was that in July, 1923, the fund would be £15,000,000 in credit. As a matter of fact on that date it was £15,500,000 in debt. That guess was £30,000,000 out. In 1922, after having found the previous guesses were very much on the wrong side, it was estimated that the fund in July, 1923, would be £27,000,000 in debt, but, as a matter of fact, it was only £15,500,000 in debt when that period arrived. I quote these figures merely to show how extraordinarily difficult it is to make any reliable estimate. When we go into Committee on the Financial Resolution, we shall want clear and convincing evidence 2053 that the financial basis is sound and that the right hon. Gentleman's calculations are correct. It will be no good his coming to the House and saying, "I have here the Government actuary's report." That actuarial document is a sum in arithmetic based upon estimates made by the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, he cannot come to the House and hide behind the actuary's report. He will have to come to the House to prove that the instructions which he gave to the actuary were correct. We shall have to look into that very closely.
Unemployment in 1923 averaged 1,287,000. From January to April, 1924, it averaged 1,150,000, and I think the figure to-day is 1,118,000. Now I come to the estimate given to the Actuary by the right hon. Gentleman. His estimate is, in the instruction he gave to the Actuary, that up to October, 1924, there will be unemployment amounting to 1,100,000, and that up to the end of the deficiency period in June, 1926, there is to be unemployment averaging 1,000,000 people. At this stage we come to what is called normal, and thereafter we are to have the unemployment of 800,000 people. The House will have noted that with some interest. It is surely a remarkable confession. Here we have this forecast of 1,100,000 people unemployed up to October, 1,000,000 unemployed through the next year and 1,000,000 to June, 1926, and 800,000 for all the years that are to follow. That is a remarkable confession and calculation to come from the Labour Minister in a Government which professes to have a positive solution for the unemployment problem. The right hon. Gentleman preluded his speech with a speech made in the ampler atmosphere of Bolton. In the course of that speech he explained how great were the benefits that this Bill was going to confer. He said:It might astonish thorn to know that the Labour Ministry, as a Ministry, could not begin employment schemes. Therefore, the only alternative for him was to find maintenance.No doubt it did interest or astonish them very much to know that, I think it would have astonished them very much more if at the last Election, instead of coming forward with promises that everybody was going to find work and that they had a sovereign remedy, he and his friends had gone on to a political platform with a prospectus which disclosed probable unemployment 2054 of anything varying from 1,100,000 to 1,000,000 during the three years which they proposed to remain in office.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
It will not be done by the right hon. Gentleman's own abilities. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] I say that advisedly.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
The right hon. Gentleman himself has explained to his Bolton audience that it is not within his capacity to begin employment schemes.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
On the contrary, I should have said that it was one of the first duties of the Labour Minister, in conjunction with his colleagues, to initiate schemes. The right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell, when he was Minister of Labour, was working day and night devising schemes.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
Certainly they were, in the Trade Facilities Act, and you are bringing in one yourself now.
§ Mr. HARDIE
On a point of Order. Can the right hon. Gentleman mention the Trade Facilities Act as being something connected with the organisation—
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I do not propose to discuss that now, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to know what the Trade Facilities Act has done, it has put in force between £40,000,000 and £50,000,000 worth of work.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that when you put hundreds of thousands of people into work, and each piece of work is new work 2055 on the railways or in some other enterprise—
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I think everybody will be perfectly satisfied if the Ministry which the hon. Gentleman supports are able to produce new undertakings in the oldest industries in the world. So far we have not seen anything of that kind at all. That being so, the whole of this scheme stands or falls according to the correctness of the estimate which has been made. May I draw attention, also, to the fact that, in the course of the Actuary's Report, he states, among other things, that he has made no allowance whatever for the extra charge which will arise for unemployment by reason of Clause 4, which is the Clause that gives benefit in the case of any trade dispute, and the Actuary says—which is rather remarkable—that "in the nature of the case the cost of this factor is insusceptible of calculation." It may be insusceptible of calculation, but that does not mean it is negligible or insignificant. If it were assumed to be negligible, I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman would have inserted it in his Bill. It may be a very serious matter, and certainly this Government have not been remarkable for their success in avoiding strikes up to the present. If this Clause be passed into law, it becomes an actuarial fact of the first importance. I will say something about the Clause when I come to the details of the Bill. I shall not unduly detain the House, but I propose to criticise this Bill in somewhat more detail than the right hon. Gentleman gave in his explanation in introducing it.
If these calculations are wrong, and are not realised, the deficiency period may go on indefinitely. That, apparently, some Members on the other side of the House would regard with complete equanimity, but if the deficiency period goes on longer than is absolutely necessary, or than can be prevented by sound legislation, that means that, during the whole of that time, the contributions are to be maintained at the present rate of 2s. 1¾d., and the contributions which come upon the employer and employed at the rate of 1s. 7d. That 1s. 7d. is a direct overhead charge, and, 2056 therefore, a direct charge on the fund out of which wages have got to be paid. Therefore, it is tremendously in the interest of every worker in employment, or hopes to be in employment, to get down that overhead charge of 1s. 7d. at the first possible moment, and we should be particularly careful on a financial matter of this kind, at a time when industry is faced with the keenest competition in all the markets of the world. I believe if the right hon. Gentleman had waited, he might have produced a more effective and a more comprehensive scheme. He suggested that that might fall to the lot of others. I think it very likely will. We shall have to see, in considering this Bill, that it does not prejudice any such comprehensive scheme in any of its provisions.
I am sure I have said enough to convince the House that the finance of this Bill will require the most careful consideration, because it is fundamental, and not merely one or two Clauses, but the whole of the Bill depends entirely on the soundness of the right hon. Gentleman's instructions to the actuary. Therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, or the Leader of the House, to give an undertaking, that before we go into Committee upstairs on this Bill, that we can take the Financial Resolution on the Floor of the House. I think it is right if, as I say, the whole structure of the Bill depends upon the actuary's report, that this undertaking should be given, so that before we enter upon the consideration of the Bill in Committee, we may really know what is the basis on which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has made his calculations. I think in all quarters of the House that would be regarded as a convenient arrangement, and I believe it would save time in the long run. Assuming—it is a very broad assumption—that the calculations he has given are justified, I should like to come to some of the specific provisions of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman himself dealt very lightly with the first Clause, and particularly with Sub-section (3). This is one of the most serious Clauses in the Bill. In effect it makes uncovenanted benefit for an almost indefinite period part of the normal insurance system of the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Subject to certain conditions."] I am 2057 coming to the conditions, but the conditions, if the hon. Gentleman will read the Bill, are conditions of an extraordinarily, loose character.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour said that it was so hedged round as to afford the greatest possible safeguard for the State. We shall see that when we get into Committee, but taking the four provisions set out in Subsection (3), so far from hedging it round with restrictions, it is extremely probable that for year after year any man will be able to go on drawing the benefits. I am not saying a word against uncovenanted benefit in abnormal times, but what I do say is that you ought not to make it part of your permanent insurance system in normal times, and for this reason. It violates what is one of the essential conditions which have always been laid down as necessary in these Unemployment Insurance Bills, and that is, that the covenanted benefit which is drawn by the recipient should bear a relation, not merely, and not only, to the aggregate solvency of the Fund, but a direct relation to the number of contributions the man himself has made to the Fund. That is laid down in Bill after Bill, and I thought hitherto had been universally accepted. The old ratio which was laid down was to draw one week's benefit for six contributions. It will be possible to draw 150 weeks' benefit for 30 contributions.
Let the House observe what that means. It means that, for the first time, you are getting right away from the whole of this cardinal principle of unemployment insurance. I believe you are attacking it—I do not know whether intentionally—at its very root, and, instead of a real system of individual unemployment insurance, you are taxing industry for Poor Law relief. That is really what that provision comes to. It is a part of your normal system. When we are dealing with an abnormal situation, let us deal with it in special and abnormal measures, but the right hon. Gentleman is asking us to deal with the normal situation in this way. I believe that to be absolutely unsound. It is absolutely contrary to the whole practice of the trades unions themselves.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
It was stated in this House that there must always be 10 per cent. of the workers unemployed. That was said from those benches.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I never heard that said, but, anyway, I am not responsible for something which somebody said in this House. There seems to be some doubt as to where it came from.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I may observe that it is not very far away from the calculation of the right hon. Gentleman, who put 800,000 into his estimate of the normal, which works out, I think, at something like 8 or 9 per cent. However, I do not want to get drawn off into that. I will only say this in reply, that even if it be necessary for a certain number to be unemployed—and the fewer the better—I am sure we can and should get it down much lower than the figure the right hon. Gentleman suggested. But that is no reason for vitiating your unemployment system in this way. I will go further and say, that if you put this uncovenanted benefit as a right in normal times into this Bill, you will give far greater inducement to the man who does not want to find work to stay out. [Interruption.] I maintain that proposition, and every working man knows it. The great majority of working men are only too anxious to get into work and stay in it, and they are not different from anyone else in that respect. [An HON. MEMBER: "Different from hon. Members on the Opposition side!"] That is a very unnecessary and an irrelevant observation. Most of us have to earn our living, and we all work to do it. Quite obviously, in every walk of life there are people who will not work if they can help it. There are such people over there, and there are here.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
Yes, and you will find them in Bow and Bromley, too. The best way of increasing their number is to make uncovenanted benefit the simplest thing to obtain in normal times. And, be it observed, it is not fair on the man who is in regular work, or who is trying to get into regular work, because you are increasing the liability upon the Fund, you are putting off the day when the contributions can be reduced, and are keeping up the charge which has to be imposed to meet that Fund, and paid out of 2059 industry, and which is paid by the man in regular work and the man who is always wanting to get regular work. May I add, also, that it is contrary to the practice of the trade unions? Their practice in the administration of their own benefits is that they do not keep people or continuously, but do make a gap before a man can come on to benefit again. I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman talked about tightening up, though he was not able to point to the Clause in the Bill which did it. I might point to his Regulations, which, so far from tightening up the administration of uncovenanted benefit, have notoriously slackened the conditions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen behind him cheer, and certainly I appreciate that, but that is not the claim that the right hon. Gentleman makes. He said that he was tightening it up, when all the time, by his Regulations, he is making it more loose.
The point was raised that this is going to relieve the rates; but it is not. I could understand an argument based on an insurance scheme coupled with a complete reform of the Poor Law, but by putting an increased burden on industry you are giving no guarantee at the same time that you will relieve the burden on the rates. On the contrary, the administrative action already taken by the Ministry of Health, which was debated in this House not many months ago, shows that, so far from ensuring that the administration of outdoor relief will be more uniform, it is likely to be much less uniform under the system of administration which is now being inaugurated. Therefore, I submit that when we get into Committee this Clause should be amended, in order to provide that the abnormal period shall be met by an abnormal Measure, but that, when we get down to the normal, the benefit which is received shall bear a direct relation to the contributions which are made. Of course, it is easy for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the rate, of benefit which is now being received is not enough for a man and his family to live upon. It is perfectly true that it is not, but neither is the rate which is put into the Bill. I remember that, when our Bill was brought in, we were asked whether 2060 1s. a week was enough for a child. Of course it was not; but is 2s. enough?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
Certainly, I did, but I think the hon. Member had better let me develop my argument. I think the House wants this Bill carefully considered, but the whole argument, which the right hon. Gentleman himself advanced, was that 1s. was not enough, and at that rate 2s. is not going to be enough. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] But what you have really got to see is, how much money you have at your disposal, and what is the best way of applying that amount of money. And, let it be observed, that, by increasing the benefits paid, you are continuing the deficiency period longer, and are, therefore, continuing longer the burden at the full rate of 1s. 7d., which has to be borne by the industry and by every workman in the industry who is employed. The higher you put the benefit the more risk you run of making the fund insolvent, and this is another very important consideration. If you have this money at your disposal, had you not much better apply it to other benefits which will be of greater advantage to the general mass of the contributors, rather than simply increasing the amount of unemployment benefit? I can well conceive that if that money is at the disposal of the State, it would be far better, in the interests of the total employed and contributing population, to try and use that money for the purpose of earlier contributory old age pensions, than simply to extend the rate at which this benefit is paid. [Interruption.] Really, hon. Gentlemen must try to learn that on all sides of this House these subjects are being approached with a view to trying to make the best provision that is possible, and if they hope to have their arguments treated in that serious manner, they should at least extend the same courtesy to others.
The same argument applies to the question of raising the State contribution. What the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do in this Bill is to increase the contribution of the State in normal times by £5,800,000 a year, that is to say, to double it. Is he sure that when he comes to the point he will have that money available? I think this habit of drawing post-dated cheques upon a problematical balance is 2061 an extraordinarily dangerous one. Surely, it would be much wiser to determine, when you come to the period at which you can reduce the contributions, what is the financial condition of the country and what is the amount of money that is available. You will then not only be on sounder financial grounds, but will be able to judge much more accurately what is the best way in which to apply the amount of money that you have at your disposal.
Let me say one word about the question of strikes, over which the right hon. Gentleman, as I think, skipped rather lightly. Hitherto, in every successive Bill, it has been laid down, and I think generally accepted, that the Clause which the right hon. Gentleman seeks to put into this Bill is utterly unworkable. I should like to read to the House, because it sums up the matter much more succinctly than I have ever seen it done anywhere else, an extract from the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) when the Bill of 1911 was before the House on Report. He said this:In the first place, we must secure that this fund shall be used to relieve people who are out of employment owing to the inevitable fluctuations of trade, as distinguished from relieving people who are out of employment in connection with some industrial dispute. We must have a test which can be quickly and certainly applied.He goes on to point out how utterly impossible it would be for any trade union or any official to apply a test which would involve one of the most difficult questions that the Law Courts have ever had to decide; and he proceeds as follows:May I point out to the House two reasons why the test in the Bill is likely to be the right test?[Interruption.] Surely, hon. Gentlemen are not suggesting that no consideration is to be paid to the considered judgment of the Attorney-General when the Bill of 1911 was introduced? He goes on:First of all you do not want a test which is capable of being manipulated either by the trade union leaders on the one hand or by the secretary of the employers' federation on the other. If you say that everybody who is not directly concerned in a strike is to have unemployment benefit, then it is obviously to the interests of the secretary of the trade union to pick and choose a few among the people in the works to strike, so that it would have the result of bringing the works to a standstill. 2062 He could select a particular kind of labour which would bring to a stop the motive power of the factory, and he might thereby, if he manages the affair adroitly, throw upon the unemployment fund a body of men who loudly assort that they are not directly concerned in the strike, but who would certainly have joined the strike if it had not been made to their advantage not to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1911; cols. 804 and 805, Vol. 32.]He pointed out that exactly in the same way the employer could extend the area of his lock-out. That convinced the House in 1911, and I venture to think that that reasoning applies with just as great force to-day. There is no doubt that such legislation will make it possible, in effect, to call a general strike by calling out only a few key men, and to charge the general strike on the Unemployment Insurance Fund. That, be it observed, is not likely to make strikes less frequent, but, on the contrary, is likely to make them more frequent. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to deal with a question like that of the moulders' strike, let him deal with it in a way which will prevent these strikes from occurring. Let him give us facilities for dealing with the Bill which has come from another place to ensure that, where there is a dispute in some vital public service, or in some vital key industry, upon which many other industries depend, there shall be neither a strike nor a lock-out in that industry until there has been a full and impartial inquiry and public opinion is informed. If the right hon. Gentleman will proceed upon those lines, and I hope I shall have his support, he will keep his Fund more solvent, he will do a great deal to avoid exactly the kind of strike to which he refers, and he will be doing more to promote the general trade of the country than he could in any other way. In view of what he has said about children, I do not propose to deal at any length with that matter, but I gather that he is prepared to reconsider the whole position in Committee.
§ Mr. SHAW
No. Let me say, in order that there, may be no misunderstanding, that what I said—I am going to repeat the words if I can—was that if the House will give me a child that has definitely left school and has gone into employment as an insurable person, I am willing to meet the House in every way I can, to take out the actual figure, and to give an 2063 absolute guarantee that no child shall draw benefit unless it has at least 30 contributions to its credit.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I think that that had better be left to be discussed in Committee. I only want to say one word upon Clause 8, which is the Clause dealing with special schemes. I think that that will need very careful consideration when we get into Committee. I agree, and I am sure it will be generally agreed, that any scheme of national insurance must be national, and that all industries which are included must support the common fund; but I think we shall need to see, when we get into Committee, whether, while ensuring that essential condition, it is yet possible to allow some provision for special schemes consistently with that. I should like to safeguard the position by saying that, while we maintain the fundamental condition that all must contribute to the Central Fund, we should see if some provision can be made for special schemes. I think that I have said enough to show that the finance of this Bill is still very obscure and that there is a number of Clauses which will require very drastic amendment if the Bill is to be satisfactory. It is right that it should receive careful consideration by a Committee of this House, and there will devolve upon the House and upon the Committee the dual and difficult task of assessing the financial soundness of the proposals and of making the Bill conform to what, in the light of long experience, have been found to be the essential principles of a sound scheme of unemployment insurance.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
This Bill, taken with the two smaller Bills passed last Easter, does make two considerable changes in unemployment insurance policy. First it makes benefit continuous week after week without intermission. The original Act of 1911 provided 15 weeks' benefit in the year. The Act of 1920 made it 26. Last year we had reached, under 2064 the auspices of my right hon. Friend opposite, 44 weeks in the year. Now there are 52 weeks' continuous benefit in the year. That is the first outstanding feature of this Bill. The second outstanding feature is that uncovenanted benefit, that is, benefit payable in advance of contributions, will, in the first place, continue up to the 1st October 1925, under Clause 3, Sub-section (2), and thereafter something very nearly approaching uncovenanted benefit becomes a permanent feature of the scheme under Clause 1, Sub-section (3). These things impose a very heavy strain upon the Fund. The Fund, according to the actuary's report, can bear it, but they badly postponed the date of solvency. These, with other features of the scheme, postpone it, according to actuary, until June, 1926, and they involve perpetuating the abnormally heavy contributions of to-day.
In fairness to the workmen and the employers, who find three-fourths of the money from which this fund is composed, it is essential that the checks upon administration under a scheme on these lines should be more rather than less continuous and effective. My right hon. Friend said that he is going to secure that. Of course that is not in the Bill, but he can secure it by administration. So, therefore, I turn to his Estimates for 1924–25, which we shall examine on Thursday, and I see that he contemplates still further reductions of the unemployment insurance staff. I have no doubt that these cuts were arranged for before this Bill was put on the stocks, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will point out to the Treasury the extent to which this Bill will add to the labour and the responsibility of an already overworked staff. Any relaxation of check now, with continuous benefit and uncovenanted benefit as a permanent feature of the scheme, may have serious results on the fund. The least you can do, having regard to the heavy contribution paid in so many cases from slender resources, especially when people are on short time, the abnormally heavy contributions, which have now to be continued for two years, contributions which in a great many cases bear no relation whatever to the unemployment risk of the contributor, is to see that the fund is not dissipated by being drawn upon by any claimant to benefit whose claim is not thoroughly well established.
2065 I have nothing to say to the increase in the men's benefit from 15s. to 18s. or the women's benefit from 12s. to 15s. Efficiently administered the fund can stand it. In 1921 for four months from March onwards I made it 20s. for men and 16s. for women. The cost of living index figure then ranged between 141 and 119 per cent. It is now of course 71 per cent. I came down later in July, after four months, back to 15s. for men and 12s. for women, but before the winter I felt the necessity, and was glad to have an opportunity, of working into the scheme something for the women and the children, and I did it because of the experience of the first winter of the present depression. In the case of the children's allowance we made it 1s. because it was all we could do at the time. Unemployment was almost twice as bad as it is now and was going up by leaps and bounds, and references have been made this afternoon to the hopelessness of the problem confronting us then, and more than one cheerful prophet forecasted absolute bankruptcy for my scheme. Therefore I had to make it 1s. I have been pretty vigorously attacked from almost every Labour platform in the country as a child starver. Even 30 years of the buffetings of public life do not prevent that getting right under the skin, and a fairer way would be this that whereas I found 15s. for the married man with two children I made it 22s. As regards being a child starver, all I can say is that I take this comfort to myself that for years and years with the late Sir John Gorst I did my share in getting the Provision of Meals Act placed upon the Statute Book.
I view with very great misgiving indeed the policy of insuring boys and girls of 14. I listened to the Minister's statement on that, and appreciate his desire to relieve our anxiety, but it often happens in this House, and I have seen it more than once in my time, that proposals put forward with the most unexceptionable purpose, as this is obviously, work out in practice entirely differently from the way anticipated by us all. Even since the passing of the Act of 1870, there has been a steadily growing opinion among the working classes in favour of keeping their children at school a little longer. There is any number of us here—and not all on 2066 the Labour Benches—who are here because of the sacrifices of our parents. I do not want this Bill to standardise the industrial age at 14. That is what it does. I wonder that labour does not realise the amount of adult unemployment which is caused by juveniles. [HON. MEMBERS: "We do!"] Then what about this Bill? I remember that when the trade depression came upon us we invited certain Labour leaders to join us in excogitating a scheme of relief. They refused, but they formed a joint committee of their own, and in 1921 they issued a report which I have in my hand. I may read the names of those who formed that Committee: Appointed by the Labour party: Mr. Sidney Webb, Chairman; Mr. A. S. Lawrence, Mr. Robert Williams, and the Rt. Hon. Arthur Henderson. And then, appointed by the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress: Miss Margaret Bondfield, Mr. E. Polton, Mr. A. A. Purcell, the Rt. Hon. C. W. Bowerman, and Mr. Arthur Greenwood. Four of those are people on that bench, and two of their names are on the back of this Bill. In the course of their findings they said:Withdrawal of juvenile labour.We have already suggested that steps should be taken to prevent the flow of new-labour into the labour market during the continuance of the present depression and that juvenile workers already in industries should as far as possible be withdrawn and provision made for educational training. These measures would do something to relieve the congestion and increase the opportunities of employment of adult workers.That is not this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "It should be."] Preach that to the Minister of Labour. Do not preach it to me. The Minister of Labour is a practical man, like all Lancashire folk. He was not on this Committee, and is not responsible for this recommendation to withdraw children from labour in times of depression and send them back to school. He is a much more practical man than that. He comes and says, "Make the boy insurable at 14." I do appreciate his motive. What he says is, "You have got to face it whether you like it or not, and I do not like it, that they go to work at 14."
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
In a great many cases the parents make such sacrifices that the children have not to go. The 2067 right hon. Gentleman says, "They go to work and they get in and cut of jobs and blind alloy occupations. They come under very evil influences in the streets. Let me put them under the Insurance Act. Then I have got the register, I have got my hands on them, and I can use an influence for their industrial future. In any case if they get out of a job and get unemployment benefit I will make them go to some place of instruction." That is his aim and purpose.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I made provision similar to that in the Act of 1920, as far as it affected young persons between the ages of 16 and 18, and it has not been a success. I agree that the Minister is going to have £100,000 a year out of the Fund to try to make it a success, so far as children between 14 and 16 are concerned, but, frankly, I do not think that it will be a success. I would far rather see the State grant maintenance bursaries to the poor parent who tries to keep his child at school a little longer, than make that child eligible for unemployment benefit at 14. As a matter of fact, the Board of Education with the local authorities do provide maintenance allowances to-day. In 1923–24, £760,307 was so administered in respect of 92,830 pupils. Surely that is the line of advance, for a Labour Government of all Governments, and not this proposal to ensure them at 14 years of age. I listened to the Minister with satisfaction with reference to what he is prepared to do. It is better than his Bill. What he says, in effect, is this: "If any child is legally entitled to go to work and does go to work, I want to bring him under the Insurance Act, and I will not do it and he would not get benefit until he has paid 30 contributions." The right hon. Gentleman may take it from me that my criticism is not at all captious. Therefore, we will give every consideration to that which does remove the defect by taking out this age of 14—a most obscurantist proposal to put 14 as the industrial age of children.
A few words as to the trade dispute disqualification. From the beginning in 1911, as the right hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) knows—he played a great part in that scheme—the 2068 question of benefit in relation to strike or lock-out has been most troublesome. The original Bill of 1911 proposed this—the workman who has lost employment by reason of a stoppage of work which was due to a trade dispute at the factory, workshop or other premises in which he was employed, shall be disqualified for receiving unemployment benefit so long as the stoppage of work continues, except in a case where he has through the stoppage of work become bona fide employed elsewhere in an insured trade. During the Report stage another Clause was added to that by consent, or after consultation, and it ran as follows:Where separate branches of work, which are commonly carried on as separate businesses in separate premises, are in any case carried on in separate departments on the same premises, each of those departments shall, for the purpose of this provision, be deemed to be a separate factory or workshop or separate premises as the case may be.As a whole, that has stood since. This does inflict hardship, particularly upon labourers. Time and again I have endeavoured to find a line of equity in this very difficult matter, but without success. At one stage I suggested that the Lord Privy Seal, whom I am glad to see in his place, and Sir Allan Smith, that is to say, a leading Labour man on the one side and a representative employer on the other, should meet. I said to them, "Come to an agreement between you, and if it is at all workable, I will put it into the scheme." Nothing came of that. As the Minister of Labour has said to-day, I appointed a Departmental Committee before I left office, to see if we could ourselves frame something. Nothing came of that. The present Minister of Labour sweeps all the difficulties of the past away and proposes to us Clause 4, Sub-section (1), which says:Sub-section (1) of Section eight of the principal Act (which imposes a disqualification for the receipt of benefit during a stoppage of work) shall not apply in any case in which the insured contributor proves that he is not participating in the trade dispute which caused the stoppage of work, and that he does not belong to a grade or class of workers members of which are participating in the dispute.That cuts the Gordian knot with a vengeance. I observe that in all his calculations the Government Actuary, Sir Alfred Watson, takes no account of the effect of this proposal, and says that the case is insusceptible of calculation. The 2069 basic structure of the whole scheme, with contributions from employed persons and from employers, makes this a problem of extraordinary difficulty. I know too much about it and about the anxiety of my right hon. Friend in his present office, to meet the question with any mere dog-in-the-mangerism. I will say no more about it to-day, except to assure my right hon. Friend that it will have to be very carefully examined upstairs.
Let me say something about the proposal to abolish the refund of contributions at 60 years of age. "When the original Bill of 1911 was framed, there was a refund provided both for employers and employed persons, and I do not mind saying that that was put in to make the scheme more palatable. The Bill of 1920 abolished the refund to employers. It proposed to abolish the refund to the insured persons, but during the passage of the Bill the refund to insured persons was reinserted, and now my right hon. Friend comes forward once more and says, "We are going to abolish the refund at 60." I will say two things about the refund. It involves a stupendous amount of clerical work. You have to keep the weekly records of about 12,000,000 people for 40 years, and in regard to the great bulk of them it will be no good, because the great bulk will not qualify for the refund. Look at the contingent financial liability. So far as the refunds are actually made, they come out at about £350,000. That is only a beginning of things. It is only the fringe, only the 2½ million insured people paying 2½d. per week. In the end you have to cover 12,000,000 people, paying at one time 4d., at another time 5d., and at another time 7d., and now 9d. per week. Even the saving Clause in the Bill says that if you are 50 years of age when this Bill passes, when you come to 60 and are qualified you shall get your refund, but not at the contribution exactly paid, but at the contribution of 1920, namely, 4d. a week. Even that, dealing only with people over 50, will cost £3,300,000. What the contingent financial liability would be if you went right up over the whole field, it is impossible to say. Certainly it would run into many tens of millions.
It will be argued that the proposal to abolish the refund involves a breach of faith which is only partly met by the saving Clause relating to people over 50. 2070 It is not completely met because they get a refund on 4d., and not on the actual contributions paid. I have had put before me a better form of compensation for the abolition of the refund than that which is in the Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Islington (Mr. Comyns-Carr) suggested it to me, and I think that it is pretty attractive, and not open to the charge of breach of faith. My hon. and learned Friend said, in effect, "Why do you not give a week's holiday benefit for, say, every two or three years during which full contribution has been made? That will be more attractive. You could meet your refund clerical work as you go along, and you would not be confronted with a grave financial contingent liability at the end of the journey." I have had some correspondence with my right hon. Friend about that, and he makes it clear that the cost would be pretty heavy. I agree. But there is the attractiveness of a week's holiday benefit. I ask him to consider it again.
May I take, finally, the basis upon which Sir Alfred Watson makes his financial calculation? What is the basis? The Minister says to the actuary, in effect, "Between now and 15th October an average of 1,100,000 people wholly unemployed, from that point to the end of the deficiency period an average of 1,000,000, and thereafter, after June, 1926, an average of 800,000." That is a pretty gloomy outlook, far too gloomy, far more gloomy than the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us the other night in making his Budget statement. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not expect to get revenue from that sort of outlook. His idea was that there would be a very much more rapid improvement in trade. In any case, whether it is too gloomy or not, it is a most amazing estimate to come from a Labour Government. Has the Minister of Labour never read the Labour party's electoral appeal to the nation? I can well believe that he has not read it. That appeal denounced as wholly inadequate and belated the work-finding schemes of the late Government, which offered a prospect of employment for only a fraction of the unemployed in a few industries. The appeal told us in terms that the Labour party was all for the immediate adoption of national schemes of productive work. Here is something which manifestly disregards all that, 2071 takes it as if it had never been written. It is an Estimate which manifestly does not contemplate a single new scheme for finding work. And there is no money in the Budget for new schemes.
When I was Minister of Labour, every time I stood at the Box and asked for a longer period of benefit or for an extension of benefit, as the Minister of Labour does to-day—although, at the same time, I was doing my best, with others, to find work schemes, as the Minister of Labour is not doing to-day—we were subject to scathing criticism from the Labour benches. Let me refer to what was said by the present Lord Privy Seal. He said that money relief was criminal waste, inasmuch as it gave no service in return. We were told that Labour would alter all that, and that work-finding and work-making would be its main objective. Money relief was a bad "second best." Schemes for immediate application the Labour party had cut and dried. Anybody who likes can read it in the Report of the Labour party on unemployment. I remember the present President of the Board of Trade, on 1st August last year, recalling the fact that on page 47 there is quite a nice series of schemes that ought to be put in operation at once. Let us look at what has happened. I would like to see some of it in practice, and what I want to know is when it is going to begin. Let us see what has happened so far. This is what the Labour Government have done to date. They have, first of all, extended the benefit to single young people living at home. In the second place, they have made all aliens eligible for benefit. In the third place, they have abolished the three weeks' gap during which benefit was previously not payable. In the fourth place, they have made provision for further benefit. In the fifth place they now propose in this Bill to provide continuous benefit week by week without intermission throughout the year. In the sixth place they now propose to increase the amount of benefit and, in the seventh place, they propose to make children of from 14 to 16 years eligible for benefit. They have done all these things without adding a single new scheme of work. If I were doing that and if my hon. Friends were sitting opposite to me led by the Lord Privy Seal, that is the sort of speech which he would 2072 make, punctuated by the cheers of his outraged followers. "What are you doing? You are making money relief your main objective. Work ought to be your main objective. Your schemes only provide work for one out of 12 people unemployed. How are you going to find work for the other 11? Money relief is a criminal waste, inasmuch as there is no service in return for it. Give Labour a chance and we will alter all that." I put it to hon. Gentlemen sitting in the Labour Benches is that an unfair presentation? [HON MEMBERS: "No."] Thank you very much. I am very sorry the Prime Minister is not here because 2½ years ago he wrote:The greatest risk that a Labour Cabinet will have to run in the development of its industrial policy will be the temptation to offer doles instead of prosperity. Fortunately, however, it can choose no Chancellor of the Exchequer who can afford to support doles wholesale and its general financial and trade policy will soon eliminate the conditions which make doles a tempting expedient for short-sighted and irresponsible politicians.To call the Prime Minister "a short-sighted and irresponsible politician" would mean the offender being consumed in a blaze of righteous indignation, but the right hon. Gentleman at any rate, has time to get up and state frankly "When we denounced doles and promised work we had no idea how difficult the task of making work would be. We have, therefore, sinned in error and when next we deal with the unemployment problem from the public platform we will add a word of praise instead of abuse for our predecessors because we must admit that, with the best intentions in the world, the most we can do is to follow in their footsteps, leaning far more heavily than they did on doles which we denounce but which in practice we have widely extended and developed."
§ Mr. COVE
I welcome the large humanity and the sympathetic treatment of the unemployed which is meted out in this Bill. I am in favour of the increase of the rate of benefit and the continuity of benefit and other provisions made in this Bill for the unemployed, but I wish to have the privilege of uttering one note of criticism in regard to Clause 5, which extends the provision of unemployment benefit to children between 14 and 16 years of age. We have to face the question: Is a young child 2073 of 14 to be regarded from the wage-earning point of view or from the point of view of being a subject for education? Is the problem an educational one or is it a problem of casual labour? Clause 5 deals with the adolescent as a wage earner. As far as I understand the Labour party's policy, we have always denied the right of anybody to treat an adolescent as a wage earner. The Labour party have clearly laid it down that children of this age are fit subjects not for the factory but for the school, and ought to receive continuous education and, in fact, full, free, secondary education, with maintenance grants provided by the Education Department. This Clause will prevent that policy or, rather, will make it more difficult for that policy to come into operation. The Education Act allowed of the school age being raised to 15, but if unemployment benefit is to be given to children of 14, should they enter a factory and subsequently become unemployed, I ask the Minister of Labour what education authority in this country will dare to raise the school age in face of that payment of unemployment benefit? That provision in itself will deter the local education authorities from raising the school age. The Minister of Labour said he was greatly concerned with regard to blind alley occupations, and I know his sympathy with these children—a sympathy which I greatly appreciate; but blind alley occupations will not be abolished by this Clause. They are inherent in the present system of machine production, and if the Labour Government is to bring in Measures which are in line with economic development, they must provide for continuous education in the schools of our country.
The Minister of Labour says he has made provision for these children to attend juvenile unemployment centres, but I suggest that these centres are quite unsatisfactory as far as real education is concerned. You cannot educate children while they are thinking of work. You cannot educate children by making them spend one or two, or even four, weeks in a cosy room in a juvenile unemployment centre. Before you can have real education for these children you must have teachers in a position to plan out a long scheme of work with definite objectives in view. That cannot possibly be done in the juvenile unemployment centres. Further, is it not true that you cannot 2074 get trained and qualified teachers to act in juvenile unemployment centres? Hardly any trained and qualified teachers, if any at all, will enter a juvenile unemployment centre. That work does not come under the provision for pensions; that service will not be recorded for purposes of superannuation, and therefore there will be considerable difficulty in getting fully qualified teachers to take part in this work. I understand the Minister is prepared, in Committee, to eliminate the age of 14, for which I am grateful, but that in itself is not sufficient. It is necessary to take the care of these children out of the hands of the Labour Department and put them into the hands of the Board of Education. That is the proper Department to deal with the adolescent. I should like to ask the President of the Board of Education if he thinks that real education can be imparted in a juvenile unemployment centre, and also whether he is prepared to accept the policy of extensive secondary education with full maintenance grants for the parents in the case of these children?
The proposal in the Bill has caused considerable perturbation in the ranks of the educationists and my own union—the past presidency of which I share with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara)—composed as it is of representatives of all shades of political opinion, unanimously condemned this Clause on educational grounds. I fear the good effect already created by the administrative action of the President of the Board of Education have been, to some extent, nullified by the action of the Labour Ministry in incorporating in the Bill this provision for unemployment benefit payments to these children instead of saying quite boldly, "We stand for the provision in the 1918 Act that the school age should be raised." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell twitted the Labour Government on its policy. I suggest to him that had it not been for the torpedoing of the 1918 Act by a Liberal President of the Board of Education, we would have had that provisions as to the school age already in existence. If I may use the expression, there is no more tragically pathetic figure in educational history than the Liberal President of the Board of Education whose ideals were high, but whose definite 2075 actions were very weak. The Labour Government have come in for the heritage which has been left them, the heritage of the Geddes Committee, which hon. Gentlemen opposite so strongly supported, while hon. Members below the Gangway were also then in the Government.
I appeal to the Minister of Labour, and to the Government, to take away Clause 5 completely. Let the President of the Board of Education deal with this problem in such a way as to encourage educationists and local authorities throughout the country. I understand that a deputation from education authorities is to appear before the Minister this week. Give them the chance to put into operation the Clause in the 1918 Act which allows of the raising of the school age. It is far better for the youths of our country to be educated for skilled jobs. Only last week I was privileged to see a Memorandum written by a Sub-Committee of the Advisory Council erected under the Minister of Labour himself, and it dealt with the problem of juvenile unemployment in London. It suggested that, since London had become the national warehouse, the national distributing centre, labour, and especially juvenile labour, in London is bound to be unskilled for the large majority of children, and is bound to be casual. It is inherent in the kind of employment up and down the country, and not only in London. Therefore, I ask the Government, in view of the economic development and of the development of machine production, making it increasingly more certain that labour must be unskilled, to take these children—600,000 every year leaving the schools of the country—out of industry, to give their fathers and mothers a chance to take their places to prevent the cutting of wages, and to bring those children completely under the jurisdiction of the Education Act.
§ Mr. REMER
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Cove), who has just resumed his seat, said the Liberal Minister of Education was a pathetic figure. There is only one figure who is more pathetic, and that is the Labour Minister of Education at the present time, faced, as he is, with this Bill, which is going 2076 to kill practically every scheme which the Labour and Liberal parties and our own side, on that particular line of thought, have put forward on several occasions as being our idea of what should be done in the form of education. I regard this Bill as a very unsatisfactory Bill from every point of view. I would like to take those hon. Members of the Labour party who were in the last House of Commons back to the time when we were passing Bills to extend uncovenanted benefit and so on, and to remind them that they moved Amendments to increase the allowances to children very much to what they are in the present Bill. The child was to be given an increased benefit, according to their Amendment, from 1s. to 2s., and I think it is obvious to everyone who sat through those Debates that, whatever we had proposed, they would have proposed something more. If we had proposed 2s. they would have proposed 3s., and if we had proposed 4s. they would have proposed 6s., and there is, I think, the unsatisfactory thing which is going through the whole of this unemployment insurance question, that it has become a kind of auction between political parties, to try and bribe the electors with these increased benefits in order to secure votes.
There is another very grave reason which can be set against this Bill, and that is the fact that this Unemployment Insurance Fund is still to a very large extent overdrawn. At present it is overdrawn to the extent of something like £9,000,000, and I feel very strongly indeed that there should not be any increase whatever in the benefits given under this Bill until that Fund is back again in credit with the Treasury. Until that Fund becomes solvent, until it is in a position when it has repaid the overdraft, I feel that the increased benefits should be left over, because unemployment is undoubtedly a vicious circle. Unemployment causes the unemployment pay, the unemployment pay causes higher taxation, and the higher taxation causes more unemployment; and more unemployment again causes more unemployment pay, and so it goes round and round. I would like specially to bring to the notice of the Government the serious position with which this country is now faced. During last year, and in the early months of the present year, there was a 2077 distinct improvement in trade, mainly due to the very good Conservative Government which we had last year. The unemployment figures were brought down to nearly half what they were at one time, and the present Government inherited a very rich harvest when they took office. Trade was gradually improving and getting into a position where it was hoped that unemployment would be brought down to the normal, but the only thing the present Government have done is to squander this position away, until, in my opinion, there has been a noticeable set-back in the state of trade.
Every year, if we look at the unemployment figures, we find that they are lower in the spring than in the winter months, and during the last fortnight we have seen the first sinister sign, so early in the year, of an advance in the unemployment figures, and there can be no doubt in the mind of anyone who is engaged in business that world trade has received a set back. In the United States of America, where trade has been so good for the last two years, it is very much worse than it was six weeks ago. Hon. Members opposite may say that that is no fault of the present Government, but undoubtedly the uncertainty which they have created by their administration and by their government since they have been in office has had a most serious effect upon people engaged in world trade, and particularly the tomfoolery in which they have been indulging in regard to negotiations behind the scenes with the Russian delegates. There is undoubtedly at the present time a surplus of goods in America, due very largely to over-production, and these goods are at the point of being dumped into this country—
§ Mr. REMER
It has a lot to do with it, because, if the Government go on with their present policy, the present figures for unemployment will be materially increased, and, therefore, this Fund is absolutely insolvent. Discharges are going on in nearly every motor-car factory in this country, and I am certain that the figures which we are going to see in the next six or nine months are going to show a material increase in unemployment. We have looked at this scheme as it is set forth in the Memorandum, and we find that the cost of the 2078 scheme, according to the actuarial estimate, is approximately £7,000,000. We are all aware that some of this cost is not to come until the scheme is solvent, and the point I want to make emphatically is that it is not wise and sound finance to incur any of this cost until the scheme has recovered its solvency. The most serious objection is that which was raised by the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara), namely, the objection that the Government have not done one solitary thing to fulfil their promises on every platform and in this House, before the last Election, that they were going to bring forward a great and comprehensive scheme to deal with the unemployed problem. Though I may be regarded as pessimistic and as gloomy with regard to trade prospects, I believe that we are in for a very bad time next winter. I believe that trade has undoubtedly turned a corner backwards, when it ought to be improving and going forward.
We must remember that there has been a great reduction in the unemployment figures through the very large railway orders which have been given forward, not because the railway companies required these goods, but because they had ordered them in anticipation of their requirements and in advance of necessity. These orders will, during the next few months, be finished, and I happen to know that several of those manufacturers who are at present employing their works at full time have the gravest anxiety as to how they are going to keep their works, building railway engines, wagons, and other material, in full employment. Unless the Government tackle strongly and quickly the question of finding work for our people, instead of finding them doles, as they have done, the country is going to be in a very bad state before very long. As far as I can see, the Government are making not one solitary move of any kind which is going to find work for the unemployed people who are now receiving unemployment pay. In fact, when you mention the question of unemployment in this House it is generally received with hilarious laughter from the Government Benches, as if they rather regarded Election pledges and Election speeches as a bit of a joke, and they only bring forward a cold, callous glare if you I mention the sufferings of the unemployed. 2079 Where are these great and comprehensive schemes about which they spoke so freely and which were going to deal with such a lot of unemployment? They seem on the Government Benches to think it is a joke to hoodwink the electorate. They went round at the last Election and told the electors to vote for their class, because the capitalists, they said, were deliberately putting people out of work.
§ Mr. PERCY HARRIS
On a point of Order. Are we to be allowed to deal with the whole problem of unemployment, or merely with the question of insurance which is raised in this Bill?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) was possibly anticipating a speech which he hoped to make next Thursday.
§ Mr. REMER
What I was trying to impress on the Government and the House was that, instead of finding these very large sums necessary for the schemes promised by the Government at the last Election, when they said they wanted work and not doles, we have this unsatisfactory Bill. Therefore my objections to this Bill were on those lines. I know the difficulties with which the Government are confronted. Having said at one time that they were trying to find work, and that it was so easy to do this, now they have to do something to-day, and to increase the dole in order to satisfy the annoyed working people, of this country. I feel very strongly, as I said at the start, that this insurance scheme—
§ Mr. CLIMIE
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us when the Labour party said that it was easy to find work?
§ Mr. REMER
Oh, on many occasions hon. Members opposite have practically stated that they were the only party in the State which could find work, and which had a real remedy and a definite scheme against unemployment. We know why they have introduced this Bill. They have got into office. They know they cannot do what they were going to do, and, therefore, they have to offer bribes in order to keep themselves in the snug position into which they have got. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh at what I say. I know that the Labour party laugh at their inability to find work. They do not realise that this is bad for the country, that it is bad that 2080 the country should be placed in the situation in which it is placed. I feel very strongly also that this question of unemployment insurance is too serious for our country to remain one of party politics—for one party to outbid the other in order to bribe the electorate of the country. I feel very strongly that this Bill will not have a good effect upon our country. I feel it ought certainly not to be put into operation until the scheme itself has recovered its solvency.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) will forgive me if I do not follow him into his gloomy prophesies regarding the future trade of this country, and the prospects of this Bill. His whole speech seemed to be very indirectly related to the subject which we are discussing. I should like, however, if I may, to compliment the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Cove) on the very admirable maiden speech which he has just delivered. He spoke with lucidity and conviction as to the apprehension which had been aroused in the minds of educationists in the House and in the country with regard to the position of children under this Bill. Speaking for my own part, I must say that my personal apprehensions are not entirely allayed, or, indeed, substantially allayed, by the concessions which have been foreshadowed by the Minister in his opening speech. It seems to me there is need at this moment for much clearer thought in regard to the relationship of juvenile employment and education. We have got to make up our minds—the House is being asked in connection with this Bill to do it—whether juveniles between the ages of 14 and 16 are to be a problem of education or are to be a problem of casual employment. I would like to ask this question, to which an answer might be given when the Minister, or possibly the Parliamentary Secretary for the Department, replies, as to what is the actual nature of the educational instruction which is proposed.
The Minister stated it would be such instruction as was possible. If that merely foreshadows an extension of existing juvenile employment centres it is of no value for the purpose for which it is intended. I am well aware that in some of these centres very excellent work is being done, but I believe it is a fact that 2081 the average attendance at these centres is something like three weeks. No one who has any knowledge of education would suggest that anything of permanent value in the nature of education can be derived under that system, aggravated, as it is, by the fact that the teaching staff of these institutions is limited by the fact that their service does not count for pension grant. I should be glad to have further information upon that point. I would also like to raise the question of Clause 11 as to who is to bear the second half of the cost of this educational process. Is it to be borne by the local authority or by the national Exchequer? If it is to be borne by the local authority it appears to me the Government are going back upon the provision which they have already made by the offer to allow 100 per cent of the cost of unemployment centres. I shall be glad to have this point cleared up.
There is one point which I should like to mention in this connection which has not been raised by any previous speaker, and that is this: that it hardly seems to me to be fair to propose to make a profit of a cool million out of insuring these children, and only to use £100,000 for the grants to educational institutions. That is at the back of the proposal, that £1,500,000 should be raised, and £500,000—including the grant of £100,000—should be devoted to education and the cost of administration. It seems to me that, if we are going to raise that large sum, a substantial amount of it might be devoted for educational purposes. But my own feeling is, that we ought at this stage to take a bold measure and to raise the school age to at least 15. I believe that the Minister of Education has at his command, under existing legislation, powers which would enable him to deal with this matter, this terrible blot—because no one can under-estimate the importance of it, or think other than that it should be adequately dealt with. I fully appreciate the point of view of those making this proposition. I realise to the full the great mass of intellectual destitution that is being created at the present time in this country, and I hope that in Committee we may arrive at something which will be agreed upon between all parties in the House.
The trade disputes disqualification Clause is the next matter to which I should like to refer. I should like to congratulate 2082 the Minister on having taken his courage in both hands and made a proposal in regard to this admittedly difficult and thorny matter. Anyone who has been connected with the industrial disputes which have occurred in the last 18 months must be fully aware of the great and undeserved hardship and suffering that has been inflicted upon men who have no connection with the disputes at all. The present proposal in the Bill does not, in fact, do away with one of the most frequent causes of hardship and suffering. So long as the employed person who is connected with the dispute is called upon to prove that he is not for these purposes connected with the dispute and goes through the usual machinery of the insurance officer, the Court of Referees, and the umpire, the same cause of suffering and hardship remains, because this process takes weeks, and even months; in the meantime the man's benefit is stopped and he is forced to apply to the guardians, or, like many workers, goes half starved, because their pride will not allow them to go to the guardians. We might endeavour when this Clause is in Committee to arrange to remedy this matter as far as possible.
At the moment I do not wish to deal with the more controversial issue of the equitable treatment of the three contributors to the Fund. I still think that the Clause as it stands is an improvement on the previous Act. I approach this Bill from an aspect which has not been mentioned by previous speakers, and that is as to whether or not it contains anything which is incompatible with the consolidation and extension of the whole of our schemes of public assistance: indeed, a comprehensive plan of insurance—or security if you call it so—against the social risks to which we are liable. I do not see, with the exception of this educational proposal, anything which will, in fact, make our task in the future consolidation of the scheme of public assistance more difficult, because it is not, in fact, that we have not got the money to provide adequate security for the people of this country; the problem is to use the money which we are in fact already raising so that we get the best value for it. In the course of his remarks the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) developed an, argument that attempted to prove that 2083 these insurance proposals were likely by increasing taxation to cause unemployment. I challenge that statement altogether. So long as you have 6,000,000 persons or thereabouts who are in and out of employment, and who come within the scope of these Acts, so long you will have the phychological feeling which prevents men from doing their best, owing to the haunting fear of unemployment. This helps to reduce output and keep prices high, interferes with our export trade, and causes that chronic under-consumption by the people of this country which is a very important contributory cause of the unemployment from which we are suffering to-day. I shall support the Second Reading of this Bill, which I welcome as being an advance on any previous legislation which we have had for this purpose.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
The two speeches to which we have listened from the Opposition Benches have been quite of a character in keeping with the previous policy of those concerned in dealing with this great and important subject of Unemployment Insurance. There has not been a contribution of any helpful character during the Debate from those benches. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) devoted the whole of his speech to a recital and confession of the Conservative party's inability—or lack of desire—to do anything, so acting as a drag upon those who are desirous of making some provision for the unemployed citizens of this nation. He opened his remarks with the statement that the Government of the day were providing a Bill to deal with the normal conditions of unemployment, and he practically said that it would be better had they come forward with another patchwork Measure to deal with the immediate condition of things. The hon. Member forgot to tell the House that from 1911 until the Labour Government came into power there had been no fewer than 14 Acts of Parliament, 10 of which became necessary because of the incompleteness of the work of previous Governments between 1918 and the present moment. There has been one long succession of patchwork attempts to deal with the state of affairs in relation to the suffering consequent upon unemployment in the nation.
2084 It would have been better, instead of complaining about the Government of the day faced with that terrible heritage, if hon. Members opposite had been more helpful in their previous productions, instead of waiting for an important Measure of this character to be introduced. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer), without an atom of knowledge of the circumstances, said that we have waited until June, and then he says we have come forward with a Bill as a bribe to the electorate. He must have known that, under any circumstances with any Government in power, they would have been obliged between now and October to have introduced a Measure of this kind, otherwise they would have had a gap as from July to October without any provision for unemployment benefit at all. How would they have faced such consequences as that? Therefore, I say that whether it had been a Labour, Liberal or a Conservative Government, they would have been obliged by the force of circumstances to have introduced some measure to meet the deficiency and wipe away the gap between now and October of the present year.
I welcome the Bill introduced to-day with all its shortcomings, and there are many deficiencies to be met before one can say that we have a complete Bill providing for unemployment benefits or these periodic disturbances in industry which are coming along. I felt a little disturbed, in the case of young persons, at the apparent willingness of the Minister to hedge that round still further by insisting that, as a safeguard, there should be 30 contributions from boys and girls at 14 years of age into the unemployment fund before they would be entitled to benefit. I do not think the critics on the educational side in many instances are sincere in their criticism of this provision now being made for boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 16. Each party in turn has had the power to provide through the Education Acts of this country for compulsory education up to the age of 16, with provision for loss of earnings and maintenance between 14 and 16 years of age, but it has never been attempted, and they have never tried to make any provision at all. You have simply limited compulsory education to the age of 14, and you have left them afterwards outside any provision at all 2085 to run loose. The result is that many boys, after leaving school for one or two weeks' work, have been thrown out of employment and left to run the streets, and the educationists have not been so pronounced in their protestations on this point since 1920, when the great slump set in. They have been content to allow those between 14 and 16 years of age to wander about loosely, and this is unfair not only to those boys and girls but to the nation.
This Bill is an attempt to link them up under unemployment insurance in such a way that, as a condition of drawing benefits, there must be certain attendances at some educational centre, some contact, and continuity of education. I say that those educationists who may try to hedge in this proposal on Committee ought to be prepared to come forward with some amending Bill to the Education Acts of the country, and provide that in future the compulsory attendance age at school must be 16, with some sustenance allowance between 14 and 16 in order to do away with the economic pressure on the poor families, so that there will be no loss, and in order that there may be provided adequate means for making provision for their physical well being as well as provision for their intellectual development. Do not leave this loose end in regard to boys and girls between 14 and 16 years of age.
What was the principal reason that dominated those who put in the age of 16? It must have been that they felt that that was an impressionable age, and because they felt that that age was the proper time to have some kind of statistics that would flow into the Labour Ministry denoting the ebb and flow of employment and unemployment. You now suggest the payment of the 5s., but you take some of that in order to provide educational facilities. I think this will certainly determine the line of discussion in Committee, and at any rate it will determine the action which I shall take with reference to the hedging in. What do you gain by stipulating that you must have 30 contributions? You do not do away with the principle of fixing the age at 14. You do not make it easier for them to obtain benefits. They have to wait until 30 payments have been made, and this leaves the period of eight months for them to run at a loose end. Under these circumstances those boys and girls 2086 will not have any educational facilities, or any provision made for them at all, and so you will be as you were in that important respect. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) said that just as they protested against 1s. so they ought to protest against the 2s. If the right hon. Gentleman had been present I would have asked him if he would have been willing to support in Committee a proposal of 5s. a week, and no doubt he would have said "No," and why? Whilst finding fault with the inadequacy of the provision now proposed the right hon. Gentleman says that we shall never have the money to meet it, and at the same time he actually says that the provision we are proposing is totally inadequate. I think that is most illogical.
The right hon. Gentleman says that our actuarial statements are all wrong, but on this question the calculations of the previous Government estimated an expenditure of £30,000,000. They forecasted on that basis, and yet the right hon. Gentleman throws out a very cheap sneer as to the lack of ability on the part of the Minister of Labour on this point, and he suggests that he has not the ability of his worthy predecessor in that particular office. If they were £30,000,000 out then my right hon. Friend must be something like £50,000,000 because of his lack of ability to deal with this matter. I think that was quite a cheap and unwarranted sneer. Up to the present moment we have not heard whether the Opposition intend to Vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. I want the Labour Minister to be emphatic about this Measure and to wipe away the gap system altogether. Why should provision be made for only part of the period of a man's unemployment? If made at all, why should provision not be made for all the period, and for such time as he is unemployed and is seeking employment?
The suggestion made from the Opposition side is that the Labour Minister for the first time is introducing something like permanent conditions to meet an abnormal set of circumstances. I think the abolition of the gap is more than justified. The very Ministers who have been urging its abolition themselves have, been compelled from time to time to extend their uncovenanted benefit, and I they have had to admit that they have 2087 been so shortsighted that they have had to pass time after time another emergency Bill. When they talk to us about the number of Bills which have been introduced let them look at their own record and they will find that thirteen or fourteen such Bills stand to their discredit in dealing in a patchwork way with this great question.
There is one other good point in this Bill, and it is that after a period the State will take its proper place and meet one-third of the total cost instead of one-fourth. I could never understand the principle of partnership in this great undertaking of national insurance created by the Acts. The State administered and made all the rules and all the different things that govern the qualifying of the payments and all the benefits, and yet it get off with only meeting the bill to the extent of one-fourth. At the moment that is the position. [Laughter.] What the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) finds to joke about in what I have said, I for the life of me cannot understand. Is it wrong to suggest that the State should pay one-third of the liability?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
What was amusing me was the wonderful idea of the State paying all this money when the State is a mere abstraction.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
The remarks made by members of the Opposition are to the effect that we are imposing a big burden on industry by these charges, but I would remind hon. Members that it is those who are engaged in the industry that have to bear the brunt, and if you admit that all this is provided by the human units, the busy bees of industry, then that is common cause.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
If the worker provides it, why do you begrudge him his share of it, and an adequate share? Whilst the right hon. Gentleman spoke of uncovenanted benefit and said that should not be overlooked, is there anything more wrong in a person drawing uncovenanted benefit than in a sleeping partner who simply invests money in a business, never attends to it, and does not know what its 2088 processes are, but sits and draws the result of it regularly every year or half year? Surely there is no difference.
I am going to ask the Minister to reconsider the trade disputes disqualification Clause with a view to strengthening it, because it will lead to considerable trouble. It is a great improvement. It will enable many to come within the area of unemployment benefit. But the very wording of it shows its difficulty. He must prove that he is not in a grade or class of worker. There may be men in the grade and in the class of employment that may be in dispute but who are in no way connected with it, and cannot benefit by any settlement. There are many difficulties in that respect. In 1922 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) gave a promise, which he carried out, that he would set up an ad hoc Committee consisting of four representing the industrial side from the employed persons' point of view, and four representing great industries from the employers' side to help them. He said if they would find agreed words he would promise to insert them in the Bill that he was going to bring before the House.
That Committee, of which I was a member, and which has been the subject of many questions in the House, met in June, 1922. By its third meeting the workers' side had submitted a Memorandum covering 12 typewritten foolscap sheets. The employers' side promised to supply a Memorandum in answer to it setting forth their views. From July, 1922, until the Committee broke up no such Memorandum was ever presented. The arguments were that the Labour Ministry of the day had circularised the trade Union Congress Committee and the Employers' Federation on the question of co-ordination and the excuse from the employers' side was that they ought to meet no more and that this might be merged in the larger question, and so we went on from meeting to meeting. The employers' pamphlet, which has been issued to all Members I suppose, refers to the fact that the Committee sat all this time and failed to agree. The workers' side whittled down their original proposals. They were ready for an agreement but the other side feared collusion in disputes and would not agree to anything. Almost every Member in the House admitted that the grievance 2089 was genuine. The evil was there, and the hardship could not be denied, but no agreement could be arrived at. The workers' portion of that special Committee in their Memorandum suggested this, and I suggest that their words would be suitable for an Amendment to this Bill—That, excepting in a case where an employed contributor, although employed in the same factory, workshop or other premises, does not himself participate in such trade dispute and the terms and conditions of his contract of service are not the subject of such trade dispute.It certainly seems to me that the Minister ought to get that clear-cut decision before the Committee if it is at all possible so that there shall be no further loose wording in a Clause of that character.
May I say one or two words of friendly criticism also in relation to the waiting period? The original waiting period necessary was three days. Having once qualified by putting in the three days' waiting period, that held good for a period of six weeks. That means that if a person put in the qualifying period for benefit, then got employment, and was unemployed within six weeks again, there was no second waiting period. Now six waiting days are necessary as a first qualifying period. If a person puts in six waiting days, then finds employment on the seventh working day and is employed for three weeks, and falls unemployed again, a further six waiting days must be put in. That means that, having made the qualification first by going six days without benefit, but enabling him to qualify for it, that will only cover a period of 17 or 18 days at the outside, whereas previously the three waiting day period covered a period of six weeks before it was necessary to put in a further qualifying period. That is harsh. I know my right hon. Friend says it will cost £10,000,000, but I would face this position. I would not say, "We are promising you certain benefits which are an increase on the past, but we are going to retain the restrictions." The very fact that the Minister says it will cost £10,000,000 shows the proportions of the grievance. It shows there are a large number under this six days' qualifying period restricted to 18 days before qualifying again. The fact that it would cost 2090 £10,000,000 shows that you are denying benefit to people who ought not to be denied, and it would be very niggardly indeed if you continued to try to make the fund solvent at the expense of disregarding the rights of those who are unfortunate enough only to be unemployed for six days.
We must not ignore the possibility of temptation. Surely a man who is unemployed for four or five or six days might say, "I might as well get my six waiting day period in, and refuse an odd job which will only last a week or fortnight." I have a case of a person who had to do that no fewer than four times in one year. That means that he was unemployed for more than four weeks without the possibility of getting his unemployment benefit. That is not right, and I would urge that under any circumstances we should come back to the three waiting days, and that the period permitted should be six weeks before having to qualify again. There is another point which has been almost entirely lost sight of. A person, once disqualified for six weeks' benefit by reason of some misconduct or other, actually under the present waiting period arrangement is disqualified not for six weeks but for seven. The first six qualifying days have been put in, and then he is disqualified for six weeks. Six weeks being greater than the time allowed in between, which is 18 days, would mean requalifying after he has gone through his disqualification for six weeks. That is a point I am sure my right hon. Friend will take note of. If one Clause says a man is to be penalised only for six weeks, that does not mean seven, but it works out at seven under the present Regulations.
One thing I am glad of. It is a controversial point amongst all Members. I am glad the Minister is asking that there shall be no more special schemes. I hope there is going to be no contracting out for any privileged or specially favoured industry. The national employment scheme should be spread over the whole of the industries, in order that the industries with the least percentage of unemployment shall be able to make their just contribution to assist those less fortunate than themselves. The argument of the Minister himself should hold good. His point was, that the reason for doing away with the right to claim at 60 years 2091 of age any credit standing to a particular contributor through the difference between benefits paid and contribution was to cease, because it was not right that a man who had had more regular employment and had a credit to his account in the fund, could draw it and so extend the liability of the others. The argument is good. It comes with greater force when you deal with large questions of industry. If you allow an industry with 1½ per cent. of unemployed persons to withdraw from the scheme because it is cheaper for them, and they could run it more cheaply, you are leaving the residue with a greater percentage of unemployment. The actuarial estimate is, that if you withdrew by special schemes any industry with a percentage not greater than 5 per cent. you would have to review the whole of your contributions. You would have to pay more. Why should the casually employed man, why should a person not in regular employment, in an industry which is not thriving well, with his 10 per cent. of unemployment, be called upon to meet a greater charge from his industry because the more favoured have been allowed to contract out? A national scheme must be made a national responsibility, and no special privileged industry should be allowed to contract out at all. On the whole, I think the Bill is a real attempt to give us something reasonably substantial in the way of paving the road for the Government establishment of an adequate unemployment scheme. Whatever may take place in the general social services and the Acts of Parliament dealing with, and consolidating them, this ought not to be held up. One argument was that because there is a Committee dealing with Poor Law administration, this Bill ought not to be proceeded with, but another Committee set up to report in connection with unemployment generally, and its relation to Poor Law administration. The task is before us, and I am glad the Minister has introduced his Bill to-day. I hope that his greatest hopes will be realised, and that the Bill's passage will be speedy.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
With reference to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, I should like to see some steps taken with regard 2092 to the consolidation of insurance schemes. At the same time, I realise that the Bill should be got through before the end of July, in order to prevent lapses in the original Act. I have one or two comments to make with regard to the Bill. I cannot help thinking that there will be a great deal of contentious matter when we come to the Committee stage. For instance, the Clause dealing with children will provide a great deal of discussion. Certain contributions are to be paid. I cannot help thinking that what is in the right hon. Gentleman's mind, is to build up a credit in the name of those boys and girls so that, later on, in three or four years, when they are 17 or 18 years of age, and have got regular employment, they will have a credit in the books of the Ministry which will be of assistance to the general scheme, and also to them in later life. I should have thought, myself, that greater help in the way of a pension scheme would have been of more benefit. I think the right hon. Gentleman, having regard to his position, should have great influence with trade unions, and might encourage them to allow a larger proportion of apprentices. Instead of that, an hon. Member says that in the building trade there is an excess of skilled labour already. That is perfectly true, and the Labour party has done nothing to meet the demands of labour. That is one of the troubles we have with the party. Instead of producing these schemes, which they said they had already available, for increasing labour, they have done nothing but produce schemes for increasing the dole. I shall have something to say on this later, but I do not want to go away from the point with which I am now dealing, the question of bringing in children between the ages of 14 and 16. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will go into the question of apprenticeships and of technical education. I think he will realise the possibilities. It is all very well to say that you would like to have boys and girls up to 16 or 18 years of age at school, but it is not a practical question at this moment. I do not know what the Minister of Health would say if he were to be asked to build schools to keep boys and girls between the ages of 16 and 18 at this moment.
I am glad that the question of refund is being dealt with. The refund of contributions would have led to endless 2093 trouble in the future. Not much stress has been laid on the enormous burden on production which these schemes produce. Every penny put on means an increase of cost on the part of the producer, and if you have to allow for a refund, it is better to bring that into your actuarial calculation and reduce the contributions which are, to my mind, too high and increase the costs of production. It is better that you should reduce the contributions rather than allow for a refund. I think there will also be difficulties when we come to Clause 4, which deals with trade disputes. It is almost impossible to draw the line when you are dealing with this question, and to try to differentiate between the men actually engaged in a strike or lock-out, and those who are not. Although the right hon. Gentleman may think that he has produced a satisfactory scheme, I think he will find it rather difficult when he gets to the Committee stage. I rather admire the courage of the right hon. Gentleman in putting forward the figure of 1,500,000 as the number which one might expect to find unemployed at the end of the present year, and also the figure for 1926 which, I think, was 800,000. It does not fit in at all with his party's election pledges. It does not fit in with what they said, that the Labour party was the only party which had a policy ready to meet unemployment; nor does it fit in with the speeches of some of the right hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite. Several have been quoted to-day, but one has not been touched on, and that is the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary (Mr. Thomas), at Derby, on the 2nd January. He said:We will make a real attempt to substitute work for doles which have already demoralised our people and done incalculable harm to the definite stability of the country.I have several other quotations. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read them!"] I know hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like being reminded. Yesterday—[An HON. MEMBER: "Set them to music and sing them!"] I think that is more suitable for a Glasgow audience than one here. In prose and in cold print, after the excitements of an Election, and after the votes have been secured by questionable practices, I dare say it is objectionable to be reminded of them, but it is true that in a Government document it was 2094 announced that you expect over 1,000,000 unemployed, and yet six months ago you said you had the only remedy which would deal with unemployment. In the interests of the country, let us into the secret.
§ Mr. HERBERT FISHER
I do not rise to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, but to express my sincere anxiety with regard to the effects which one particular Clause of it may have upon the development of the system of education in this country. I allude to Clause 5, which enacts that boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 16 should be treated as insured persons under certain conditions, and should be able to draw unemployment benefit. That is a very serious departure from the existing state of the law. It definitely implies that the State recognises boys and girls between 14 and 16 as members of the industrial world. It makes permanent provision for their insurance against unemployment, on the assumption that they are permanently to be regarded as industrial units, and it runs directly counter to the theory which is embodied—though I admit it is not fully acted up to—in our existing educational legislation. I listened with very great attention and interest to the perspicuous speech with which the Minister of Labour commended this Bill to the House, and I noticed that he said that children over 14, under existing circumstances, go out into industry and that after they have passed away from school the State does not know where they are or what they are doing.
He drew a picture, which was no doubt partially true, of the deplorable effects which often come over the mind and character of juveniles when they are once released from the wholesome discipline of educational institutions, but he did not accurately state the legal position at the present moment, nor did he accurately state the educational facts at the moment. The legal position at the moment is that every boy and girl and every young person is under statutory obligation to receive whole-time or part-time education up to the age of 16. That is the theory of the law, and it is because the provision in Clause 5 of this Bill runs counter to that theory that I feel bound to take exception to it. With the objects of the Minister of Labour everybody in his House must have the fullest sympathy. My right hon. 2095 Friend is impressed, as every thinking man must be impressed, with the deplorable wastage of mind and character which go on when our boys and girls leave the elementary schools and pass on to what is euphemistically called "the university of life." I was greatly impressed by those evils when, in 1918, I pressed an education Measure upon the attention of this House, and the arguments which my right hon. Friend has used this afternoon are very much the same arguments as those which I employed in 1918 to commend the Education Bill of that year to the House. I am fully in agreement with my right hon. Friend, both as to the magnitude of the evil and as to the necessity of finding some remedy for it. All that I question is the method which he has adopted in this Bill. I was, indeed, very glad to note that the right hon. Gentleman was not altogether adamant on this Clause, but was quite willing to make concessions in Committee, and I very much welcomed and appreciated his compliant mood in that regard.
I will now explain very frankly to the House another of my doubts with respect to the operation of this Clause. I first of all ask myself how it will affect the minds of the parents of children, and then I ask myself how it will affect the local education authorities. I do not for a moment suppose that I have the knowledge of the Minister of Labour as to the normal working of the mind of the normal working-class parent with respect to this matter, but I am not speaking from my own experience. It has been represented to me by a large number of members of the teaching profession, who have a very close knowledge of the way in which the minds of parents work in connection with the destinies of their children, that this provision will work ill, and I think my right hon Friend will find that the general impression of the teachers all over the country is that, if children from the age of 14 onwards are insured, and are capable of receiving insurance benefit, that consideration will certainly weigh in the balance on the industrial side and against the educational side. The effect will differ in different parts of the country. It may very well be that in London the parent of the better class, who sends his boy or girl, very often at great personal sacrifice, to a secondary 2096 school or to a junior technical school, will be quite impervious to the influence of the Bill. Such parents will get the best education they can for their children in spite of this extra weight which is put upon the industrial side of the balance. But that will not be so all over the country.
The Board of Education is very anxious to develop the system of secondary schools in this country. I dare say many hon. Members will recollect that in 1860 or 1861 Matthew Arnold, who was not only a great poet and critic but a great educationist, told the country that it should organise secondary education. He pointed out that at that time, whereas in France and Germany the working-class parent, or the small shopkeeper, or the foreman, could obtain a first-class secondary education for his child at very low cost, there was no similar provision in this country. I think we have very largely wiped out that reproach. We have at the present moment over 1,100 secondary schools receiving grants from the Board of Education, educating nearly half a million children—67 per cent. of whom have come up from the elementary schools, most of them in free places—and giving them a really good general secondary education up to the age of 16, and beyond if they choose to go beyond. It has been one of our great objects at the Board of Education to organise and develop that system, and I greatly welcome the announcement recently made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education that he was anxious to develop the secondary schools. I hope he will succeed in doing so. Their number was doubled during my period of office, and the number of scholars in the schools was doubled. I very much hope that in the next six or seven years we shall find a comparable addition to the number of secondary school places and to the number of those who receive free places in the secondary schools.
What has been our principal difficulty in developing this secondary school system? Our principal difficulty has been that of keeping the children for the full secondary school course of four years, up to the first secondary school examination. I am glad to say that at the present moment we have triumphed over that difficulty. I think that most of the parents now in all parts of the country are willing to sign agreements, when they 2097 send their children to these schools, that they will keep them there for the full secondary school course. Unless they stay for the full course they really do not receive very much benefit from the school, and the money spent upon the school is wasted. Assuming that the Government come forward and say that every child between the ages of 14 and 16 is to be an insured person under the Act, after paying 30 contributions and then, there is the 5s. a week for him, I ask myself how will that operate on the minds of the parents who are now, at considerable personal sacrifice, keeping their children in these schools? Of course, it will act differently in different cases, but I do submit—and I make this proposition from my knowledge of the great difficulties that I myself experienced when President of the Board—I do submit to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour that it will in many cases act as a deterrent, and that the parent will say, "Well, hitherto employment has been very uncertain; there, have been good periods of employment, but there has always been a risk in sending a boy or girl into an industry, because of unemployment; but now the State is taking away that risk, and on the whole we think it better to send the child into industry than to take advantage of this provision of secondary schools." I think that that would be a misfortune.
I am not, however, really so much impressed by the possible effect of this provision upon the mind of the parent as I am by its possible and probable effect upon the minds of members of local education authorities; and here I can speak with some personal knowledge. I yield to the Minister of Labour at once in his knowledge of the working of the working-class mind. He has advantages which I do not possess. But I have some advantage, as having been a member, not only of an urban local education authority, but also of a county local education authority, when I consider the possible effect of this provision upon those bodies. We have in this country a very great system of public education. I believe that if my right hon. Friend and his successors, whoever they may be, at the Board of Education, really develop that system as it is intended that it should be developed, it will be by far the greatest system in the world. There will be no country offering to the children of its working-class population benefits comparable to those which our system will offer 2098 when it is being worked to the full extent. Already the provisions that we have on our Statute Book, though, unhappily, they do not all operate, are the admiration of the whole civilised world, and, consequently, I am very anxious that no step, however well meant, should be taken now which is likely to prejudice the development of our educational system.
Let me just point out that at the present moment the law contemplates that a large number of children will stay at school after the age of 14. It is perfectly true that 14 is the term of compulsory full-time education in elementary schools, but we do not regard that as an ideal educational period. If you look at the Education Act of 1921 you will find abundant traces of the pre-occupation of the Legislature with the question of post-elementary education. You find, for instance, that children are allowed to remain in elementary schools up to the age of 16. You find that local education authorities are compelled, under the Act, to provide courses of training for the older pupils in elementary schools, including those over 14. You will find also that we have central schools, we have junior technical schools, we have a provision for compulsory continuation schools, we have our evening institutes—we have a great machinery of education quite apart from the secondary schools, more than 1,100 in number, for carrying education above and beyond the elementary stage. I say to the House, that we must be very careful not to prejudice the development of that system.
I have been informed that an hon. Member in this House has, during my temporary absence from my place, stated that I ran away from my own Act. What happened? I introduced an Act of Parliament for the development of education, but, unfortunately, after I introduced it, several circumstances occurred which were very prejudicial to its full and immediate development. There was, in the first place, what I do not in the least regret—a great rise in teachers' salaries. The whole of the estimated cost of the continuation schools in my Bill was £10,000,000, but two years later the bill for the salaries of elementary school teachers alone went up by £21,000,000, or twice the cost of the complete system of post-elementary education provided for in the Act. That was one adverse fact. Another 2099 adverse fact was, as everyone knows, the great slump in trade. A third was the industrial disturbances, which involved a loss of 147 million working days in three years. All those circumstances made it very difficult for local education authorities to go forward and their co-operation is essential. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education will find that he is not master of all he surveys. He has made a number of, if I may say so, admirable speeches on education. I entirely agree with his educational ideas. But he will find that it is one thing to preach those ideas, and another thing to induce 317 local education authorities to put them into practice. I have thus very serious anxiety as to the effect which this provision will have, first, upon the minds of the parents and, secondly, upon the minds of local education authorities. The local education authorities will say, "Why should we develop secondary schools? Why should we develop continuation schools? You are asking us to put our hands into our pockets to develop these centres for unemployed juveniles between the ages of 14 and 16, and that will suffice." It will be the line of lease resistance for them, and I think that future Presidents of the Board of Education will find it increasingly difficult to get the 317 local authorities, some of them zealous, some of them languid, some of them positively obscurantist, to work with them to develop the system.
I should like to express some doubt as to the value of these training centres. I quite appreciate the importance of getting boys and girls off the streets. I concur in every word which the Minister of Labour said on that subject, but we have had some experience of the working of these unemployment centres. We have had them in operation for juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18. Admittedly, the education furnished in these centres is given under most difficult and almost heartbreaking conditions. The boys and girls go in and out. They are there for a week and then they are away again. The teacher gets no continuous hold upon them. I agree with my right hon. Friend when he says that an occasional word may do good; that five minutes' direction from a wise man or a wise woman may help a boy or girl in their career, but, on the whole, 2100 it is, admittedly, a very inferior form of education.
Again, these centres only reach a very small proportion of the boys and girls whom you desire to influence. First of all, you have to realise that a great many local authorities do not establish these centres, and will not establish them. You will get them established in some big towns but not in the small towns, and not in the rural districts. When they are established, you will find that only a small proportion of those who ought to go to the centres do, in fact, attend. I have had the figures supplied to me in connection with one of the best local education authorities in the country. The figures respecting this authority, where centres have been organised for five years for juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 show that, in spite of the energy and zeal of the authority, and in spite of the fact that the classes have been going on for five years, only 30 per cent. of the unemployed or partially employed juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 have been caught by the net. At the present time in London there are only 1,300 boys and girls, between the ages of 16 and 18, at the training centres, a very small number compared with the total number of unemployed juveniles in the area.
I think the House will have appreciated the drift of my argument. I say that we are likely to imperil the development of a really fine post-elementary system of education if we bring boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 16 under insurance and into these unemployment centres. That is what I fear. The Minister of Labour may very well say to me, "I appreciate your difficulty, but we are up against the actual problem. We are up against the problem that the schools are not ready and that the boys and girls are already in the streets, and that something must be done for them. What do you propose?" I will tell him. First of all, I would suggest that a fresh effort should be made to get hold of the voluntary organisations in the country which deal with adolescents, and stimulate them to fresh effort. They are very numerous and varied. I agree that they would only cover a small part of the field, but we might get more work out of them and we might correlate their efforts more successfully.
2101 I agree with the teachers in thinking that you might get more valuable results by spending all the money you have to spend upon making allowances to enable poor boys and poor girls to remain on at good schools, or to go to secondary schools. That, I think, is a valuable suggestion. I, further, suggest to the President of the Board of Education, not only that he should press on, as I know he is anxious to do, with his central schools and his junior technical schools, but also that he should ask local education authorities to provide schemes for the development of continuation education two or three years hence. He is now spending on education £3,000,000 less than I spent in my last year. I believe that in three years' time we should be ready to have continuation education for boys between 14 and 16, under the provisions of the Act of 1921, at any rate in our great industrial towns.
By all means, start centres for the training of boys between 14 and 16, but do not link up these centres with a change in your law which is likely to affect the mentality of the parents, which is likely to render it more difficult to develop post-elementary education, and which is likely to relax the efforts of local education authorities, upon whose co-operation the Board of Education must, in the last resort, depend for the development of educational institutions in this country.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Trevelyan)
If no one else than my right hon. Friend had expressed the anxieties of those who are enthusiastic for education, I should have felt it my duty to reply to him. I am not, like sonic of my hon. Friends, mainly critical of my right hon. Friend's period of office because he did not carry out to the full the great Act which he passed, but I am chiefly grateful to him that I am able to do what I am able to do to-day because of the great legislative work which he did when he was in office. Any appeal which he makes must have its effect upon me. I should like to say, also, that when my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Cove), in what I believe was a maiden speech, put very forcibly the view which has been expressed by the National Union of Teachers, I naturally feel inclined to listen.
Appeals are made to me in this House, and also outside, and I am told that the 2102 whole advance in education which I want to see is liable to be stopped, and that the whole fabric of my reforms is tottering. I should be the first person to fear what is now being done, and to deprecate what is being done, if for a moment I thought that it was going seriously to retard the raising of the school age; if I thought that it was seriously going to discourage parents from continuing their children at schools, as they are doing in larger numbers every year, although the school age has not been compulsorily raised, and if I thought that it was going to prevent local authorities going on in many directions of educational achievement. But, somehow or other, I am not rattled; I do not know whether it is that I am too innocent, but I hope it is because I am a better judge of what is really going on in the minds of the people of the country and in the minds of the local education authorities.
Let me say what this proposal really means. No one pretends, least of all my right hon. Friend who brought in the Bill, that the best thing that can happen to children of 14 or 15 is that they should be employed in industry. What we say is that if they are in industry, and if their education has necessarily come to an end, it is better that they should be insured, and it is also better if that insurance can be used, directly and indirectly, to provide them with even a small modicum of education. I do not want to exaggerate the education which is to be provided, and I would ask my hon. Friends above and below the Gangway not to exaggerate the uselessness of it. We cannot yet judge of the possibilities of these centres for unemployed children. They have never had a chance. They have never been properly developed. They were among the first things cut by the Geddes axe. If developed under local authorities, and if we can devise some means of getting better teachers than have hitherto been available, there is no reason why they should not become more or less useful. I am not going to put it higher than that.
It is far better that the children who are unemployed should be in these centres than on the streets. There is no hon. Member in any quarter of the House who will dispute that proposition. We are not satisfied with the form of education, but we say it is better that the children should be there than in the streets where they 2103 are now. The real question is, are you going to refuse a boon when you cannot get something which is very much better? It has been suggested that this proposal to bring children into insurance is a gesture which by the action of the State in doing so sanctions the idea that children ought to be in industry at the age of 14. It is said to be an obscurantist proposal. I should have thought that my right hon. Friend Mr. Shaw this afternoon dissipated that idea, because he said, that if he took the children they must have done with school. He is going to make it perfectly clear that the children must be beyond the school age, and must have given up their education. He also wants to make it perfectly clear that the proposal is not being made particularly palatable to greedy parents, by ensuring that they shall have eight months or so paying insurance before they can get benefit. It is said that the proposal is going to have a terrible effect in making parents keep their children from school, and a further terrible effect on local authorities. I beg leave to doubt it.
Let us take parents first. As I see it, parents generally are in two great categories, either the parents who are thinking absolutely, first and foremost, of getting their children into work, or the parents who, first and foremost, have got into their heads the idea that they want their children to have an effective education. I agree there are parents who are on the balance between these two ideas, but the great mass of parents are either on one side or the other. This proposal is only a very small additional inducement, at most, to the greedy or the needy parent. At most, it is a very, very small additional inducement, if that. Supposing the wage offered to children of 14 goes up a little in a district, that is an additional inducement, but you cannot say that leads masses and masses of parents to rush to send their children into industry, when they were not going into it before. The most you can extract from this, whatever way you look at it, is that it is a slight additional inducement to go into industry, and my right hon. Friend, I think, could make out a case that it is not an inducement to go into industry, because the immediate wage is going to be reduced by the amount of the premium that has to be paid. So that, really, as far as the individual parents 2104 are concerned, I do not believe this is going to have the very least effect in inducing them to get their children into industry. I honestly do not believe any large number of people will be induced to do it by these proposals.
What is really happening in the country? There is not the slightest doubt that there is a great forward movement in education, and it is gathering momentum. Surely it is a remarkable fact that the little I have been able to do has been accepted almost with enthusiasm by every Section of the country. Why is that? That would not have been the case prior to the War. There would have been all sorts of criticism. It is for this very simple reason, that the great mass of people are beginning to realise the advantages of education, and want it for their children, and it is really an exaggeration to say that a small thing like this is going to stop the momentum of that movement. You can see the change in the large numbers of parents who are now-keeping their children after 14 in the schools. You can see the change in the rising demand for raising the school age, and you can see it in the crowded condition of the secondary schools. In almost every part of the country more secondary schools are wanted. Some of my hon. Friends say, "Yes, but what we want you to do is to remove the children out of the labour market—to raise the school age at once to 15." Nobody would be more delighted to do it than I should myself, but this is not going to do that. The truth is that, however much we as educationists and politicians may be anxious to raise the school age to 15, public opinion has not yet sufficiently made up its mind to do it.
There is a very easy test. I have made it clear that any local authority that comes to me and asks to raise the age to 15 will not find obstacles in the Board of Education any longer. They may come and make what proposals they please with regard to maintenance, or anything else, and, again, they are not going to find obstacles, if they can show that they can effectually educate the children; if they can show that they have room for them, and if they can show that they intend to keep them till they are 15. If it should appear throughout the country, as I know personally it is quite likely to appear within a year or so, that 2105 a large number of local authorities are ready to raise the age to 15, and do so, then I think you will get a move on which will enable you to go on with the larger proposal of raising the whole compulsory age to 15. But my hon. Friends must realise that I am compelled not to deal with this thing even in the spirit of theory, as the right hon. Member for the English Universities spoke just now. I am up against facts, and the facts I find are that public opinion is not yet ready for 15, although it is moving in that direction, and I am bound to say I think it is an enormous exaggeration of the effect of this proposal to say that any large number of local authorities are going to be averse to raising the age to 15, just because of this power on the part of my right hon. Friend of bringing the children into the Insurance Act.
Then, I could not follow or agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities when he was speaking on secondary education, and was saying that this might be a very serious obstacle to the development of secondary education. It is quite true, as he said, that during his period of office the opportunities for the use of secondary education about doubled. We wiped out a reproach, but we have not nearly reached the point that is required by the existing demand. I think he will know as well as I do how in the years succeeding the War there were thousands and thousands of children who wanted to get into secondary schools, but there were no places to be found for them, and I have not the slightest doubt, from everything I see and hear, that if only the parents of this kind of children to-day knew there was the least chance of getting secondary education, they would be only too delighted to send their children to those schools. The demand is all there. I think my right hon. Friend exaggerated when he said that the prospect of insurance to the children in secondary schools would lead them to leave early. I do not think it would have that effect at all. I am bound to say I do not think that families who are seeking after education so keenly as to take the inadequate opportunities there now are for secondary education, are going to withdraw their children because of the very small additional industrial benefit which at its best can be argued to exist owing to this development.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
I am referring to all. Free secondary education is beginning to be the most important, but I think it applies to all—to free and fee-paying education alike. I think those parents and those people who want children thoroughly well educated, are not going to be affected by a small thing like this. I agree that this question is not one which can be finally decided, because it is, I admit, to a great extent a judgment of what our people are thinking. But the thing by which I am more deeply impressed every day is the keenness of our people in education. When my right hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities says that he knows the local education authorities, I have no doubt there are many of them that are going very slow in advancing, and will easily find poor enough excuses for checking any educational advance. But they will find those excuses in any case, and I am convinced there is such a movement in this country that the encouragement which this Government intend to give to educational advance of all sorts is going easily, by this momentum, to carry us on to a new period of advanced education, and that this proposal is going to act as no moral or effective check on that progress.
The CLERK at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. SPEAKER from the remainder of this day's Sitting.
§ Whereupon Mr. ROBERT YOUNG (Chairman of Ways and Means). took the Chair, as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LUKE THOMPSON
I regret that I was unable to be in attendance when the Minister of Labour introduced this question. I was serving in another part of the House, and therefore could not be here, but I want to say something on the Clause which has closely affected me, and closely affected many of my constituents, during the past 18 months or two years, and I wish particularly to draw the attention of the Minister who is in charge of this Bill to the disabilities that are set up through Section 8 of the Act of 1920. The problem which there presents itself is how to preserve the benefits to the insured person while at 2107 the same time preventing the perpetuation of a trade dispute. I am not sure, on looking over Sub-section (1) of Clause 4, that we are entirely overcoming the difficulty that presents itself in Section 8 of the Act of 1920. I judge that it may set up some new difficulty, that it may be difficult to overcome. At a first glance at this Sub-section, I thought it set up a new set of difficulties, but I am informed that it is supposed simply to deal with the disqualifications under Section 8. I should like to ask one of two questions, and the first one is in regard to the effect of this new Clause in removing the disabilities which the workers have been subjected to for a long time. I welcome the removal of those disabilities heartily. I have been brought again and again up against anomalies which it was very difficult to overcome, and which, I believe, this new Clause 4 will to a certain extent remove. At the same time, I do not think the Clause goes quite far enough. I have had expressions of opinion from the workers themselves on the point, where men in a trade dispute are members of a trade union, although they may not be in the same workshop as that in which the dispute takes place, but where they have the possibility of voting to perpetuate a trade dispute, that they should not receive unployed benefit whether they were in that dispute in that particular workshop or not. I want to draw attention to the latter part of the Clause which, I think will affect people who are members of a trade union, but who may not have been in the dispute. They may have been out of work before the dispute began. I should like to know how Clause 4 operates in regard to members of trade unions in that position. During quite a number of disputes during the last year or 18 months, we have the peculiar position that there have been many men out of work who have not been participating in the dispute, but from the fact that they were out of work before the dispute began they were qualified for unemployment benefit. Thus, it is found that while men, members of a trade union, who were participating in the dispute, were receiving unemployed benefit, at the same time members, who were not participating in the dispute, but happened to be working in the same yard or workshop where the 2108 dispute existed, were excluded from unemployed benefit. How will Clause 4 apply to people of that description? The latter part of the Clause reads:and that he does not belong to a grade or class of workers members of which are participating in the dispute.The implication is, that if he is a member of a grade or class of workers, he will be excluded from unemployment benefit. It is a very important, point, and one about which there would be divergence of opinion.
This Clause 4 possibly does not go quite far enough in that it maintains the possibility of a long dispute I realise the difficulty, and I know that considerable time—a couple of years in Committee—has been spent in trying to find adequate words to express that. I hope suitable words may be found when it reaches Committee. Another question arising out of this Clause, is that while it seeks to remove the disqualification in the first part of Section 8 of the 1920 Act, it has no reference to the latter part of that Section, and I will draw the attention of the Minister in charge to the latter part of Section 8 (1) where it says:Except in a case where he has during the stoppage of work become bona fide employed elsewhere in the occupation which he usually follows, or has become regularly engaged in the other occupation.Do the Government intend to make any further interpretation of these words "regularly engaged"? I am acquainted with varied experiences of men who have been working in a prolonged dispute, and there have been cases of skilled men who have endeavoured to find work elsewhere where difficulty has arisen in the interpretation of the words "regularly engaged." I have endeavoured to get an interpretation in many quarters, and I believe the last time I spoke on this question here, I gave instances of men who had left the skilled employment, and had been employed elsewhere on unskilled work for a considerable period. One case I have in mind was where the period extended over some 16 weeks. The man did not find work on a like employment, and had taken unskilled work. Although he had been on that for a considerable time, when he fell out of employment he was disqualified for unemployment benefit. That anomaly, with all due regard to the effort the Government has made in this respect, 2109 should be looked into carefully, and some definition should be given as to the time that should expire to warrant the words "regularly engaged." I suppose every part of the House will be interested in this. It is a great tragedy both to the man and to the country in general that skilled men should have to take the position of unskilled labourers. The effect of the latter part of this Clause is that where a man in a dispute seeks work elsewhere, possibly not in his own trade, but takes on as an unskilled labourer, the definition of the latter part of this Clause is that "regularly engaged" means that he must be continuously employed at that trade. Take the case of a glass worker, a skilled man. He leaves that work and gets employment in an unskilled trade. Before he can qualify for unemployment benefit, he has to be regarded as an unskilled labourer. Out of regard for these men, some attention should be paid to those words "regularly engaged." Doubtless the Bill will undergo some transformation in Committee.
In regard to Clause 3 (1) (a, iv), some, attention will have to be given to the term "genuinely" in relation to the words "seeking work but unable to obtain suitable employment." Those who have had any experience of that word "genuinely" will appreciate what its interpretation means. I view with some trepidation and concern the insertion of that word, and think some other term should be substituted for it. It is right I should tell the House what I have been up against in connection, more particularly, with younger people and with those who are engaged in service. I know there is considerable difference of opinion as to the desirability of certain people being insured; but the Act is there, and this is the difficulty I find. In many cases where these people, young women particularly, fall out of employment, they are generally offered employment out of their own town, sometimes at considerable distances, say 50, 60 or 100 miles. It is impossible, in many cases, through family circumstances to accept employment at such distances, but, because of their refusal to accept, they are denied unemployment benefit. I do not know what qualification can be made, and I do not want to suggest the committees should not have the discretion to act in this way, but where there is unemployment, say, 2110 in an industrial area such as my own, if you like, in the cotton districts of Bradford and elsewhere, where there must be a considerable chance of numbers of girls being out of work, it is not quite the thing, from the family or any other standpoint, that girls should be sent out of their own district to distant districts to find work. These things have cropped up in the actual working of unemployment insurance, and now we are trying to improve matters, I think we should do our best in Committee to settle these difficulties, and protect, not only the worker, but also protect the nation, from the possibility of any prolonged labour dispute. I should like to say, however, that I welcome the general principles of the Measure.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
The Minister in charge of the Bill must be congratulated on the general measure of support and approval with which the Measure has been received by the House. Criticism has been made that it would have been well to have waited until it was possible to bring in a more complete Measure, which would co-ordinate the various sources which provide public assistance. This Measure, in itself, goes a long way to assist in that very co-ordination, in so far as it raises to a more reasonable level the grants made for unemployment benefit. We have had in very recent years duplication of services, men drawing unemployed benefit, and that benefit, because of its meagreness, having to be supplemented by the guardians. It is to be hoped that owing to the large sums which are permitted under the unemployment insurance schemes, the necessity for that duplication of effort will be considerably reduced.
The Minister referred to what he is doing in this Measure in reply to those claims that have been put up to him from certain industrial areas for assistance towards meeting the abnormal unemployment which they have had to bear. It will be of considerable assistance to such areas; and the fact that he has used this extra assistance as an answer to the claims of these areas, carries with it, I submit, an implication that the Government, and he himself, admit these claims for special assistance, and I put it to his representative on the Treasury Bench that, having admitted the justice of this claim so far as the future is concerned, 2111 there is still something due with regard to the past. If the claim is just it is not sufficient to meet it so far as the future is concerned, but the huge amount of debt which has been piled up in many of the large industrial areas of the country, owing to the abnormal amount of unemployment, also calls for some assistance from the Government. I hope that they will realise this and will not close their eyes to doing something to solve the problem which has arisen owing to the existence of this debt.
I may repeat one or two illustrations of the inequality of this burden of unemployment which has to be relieved by the guardians in cases in which the assistance under the Unemployment Insurance Acts has not been adequate. Blackpool had a poor rate for last year of 5d., and West Ham has a poor rate of 9s. 5d. Other towns have a poor rate of from 8d. to 1s., while at the other end of the scale you have as high as 10s. Where you have these abnormal differences in a public charge on account of the same public service there is a very strong case for some recasting of the inequality of the burden, and I do appeal to the Government to do something to relieve this burden which is crippling these industrial areas and preventing their recovery.
Reference has been made to the question of the qualification and the waiting period. Under previous Acts the waiting period was reduced to three days, and that worked effectively as far as administration is concerned. It was only owing to the stress of finance that the waiting period was increased to six days. I submit that the time has come now when the waiting period should be reduced to three days once more. I put that claim forward on the ground that the six days' period throws an unnecessary hardship on the local authorities as well as on the individuals concerned. We are told that the cost will be several millions. Whatever the cost it has to be met by someone, either by the individual worker or by the ratepayer in the industrial area where unemployment is bad. As this is a national charge, as is admitted in the Unemployment Insurance Acts, the matter should be dealt with on broad lines, and the waiting period should not be more than is necessary in order to carry out effective administration. 2112 Therefore, I hope that when we get to the Committee stage it may be possible to reduce the waiting period from six to three days.
I also welcome on the broad grounds of justice the abolition of the gap. I never could understand the gap which has been such an obsession on the part of previous Ministers of Labour. The suggestion that it was necessary as a test was a farce, and I am glad that the present Minister of Labour has seen his way to abolish it and realises that when a man is willing to work, and work is not forthcoming, adequate maintenance should be provided for out of this Fund. My hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Colonel P. Williams) and myself have heard with special pleasure the concession made with regard to the trades disputes disqualification. A year or two ago the then Minister of Labour the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) promised to appoint a special Committee with representatives of employers and employed to go into this question, to see whether a formula could be found in order to remove those injustices which were hitting so hardly the innocent victims of trade disputes. In discussion on the original Act and every successive Act my hon. Friend has pleaded for this, and as an employer of labour he is better qualified to speak on it than I am. Therefore, it is with particular satisfaction that we have heard to-day that a Minister has been found to take his courage in his hands and abolish this provision, which has inflicted such hardships on innocent victims throughout the country. Satisfaction has been expressed from the opposite benches also that this tardy act of justice has at last been done.
One hesitates to intervene with reference to the doughty duel which took place between the present and the late Minister of Education. But the Minister of Education, whose zeal for education is gladly admitted by all, whose work one rejoices to see carried on so effectively, suggested that they were only dealing with the children who were actually in industry, and that that removed the objection which some educationists had to giving unemployment benefit to them. The whole point is that the very fact of the existence of this benefit will tend to drive into industry those who otherwise would not 2113 go in at such an early age, and I submit, notwithstanding what the Minister of Education has said, that the wise course would be to give maintenance grants to all children who need them, who stay at school from the age of 14 to 16. No doubt the cost would be more, but the educational service would be infinitely greater. If that is not possible, I would suggest that in the payment of benefits to dependants there might be a graded scale, giving an increased sum in the case of the children of those who are unemployed who were over 14 provided that they were kept at school. I would suggest that there might be a grant of 5s. a week to the man out of work for every child over 14 who is kept continuously at school. In that way you would relieve the home from the hardship which comes from unemployment and relieve the extra burden which is thrown upon it, because in the interests of education the man refuses to sacrifice the well being of the child. I submit that to increase the benefit to those who are over 14 as dependants of those who are out of work is a sounder proposition from an educational as well as from an unemployment point of view.
I would suggest, in conclusion, that, while in this Bill it is impossible to deal with all the questions that arise on unemployment and the co-ordination of the various public services, provision might be made for carrying out some of the recommendations of that Committee which was appointed by the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell in 1920 for dealing with Employment Exchanges. It was my privilege, with others, to serve on that Committee, and one of the recommendations that we made was that the local employment committee should be given greater status and should be charged with the general oversight of employment conditions in a district. At present it is no one's business to have regard to these matters. You have your distress committee the boards of guardians, and the unemployment committee of the local authority, all dealing piecemeal fashion with unemployment when the difficulty arises. The suggestion of the Departmental Committee was that you should have in each district a local employment committee charged with the general oversight of the conditions of labour and trade—not that it can control to any large extent, but 2114 seized with the responsibility of watching the ebb and flow of trade, and, so far as possible, regulating the placing of local contracts by the municipality and the placing of national contracts for public work, so that this work was distributed over the periods when employment in the ordinary sense was likely to be less. It would touch only the fringe of the question, but it would do something to mitigate the hardships of unemployment. I hope that the Government may exercise a larger vision and make provision for a local body of that character.
Along with my colleagues I welcome this Bill as a step forward, and the more so because there is nothing in it which will prevent the co-ordination of a more complete scheme of insurance; there is nothing which runs contrary to that larger scheme which we all hope to see, and which can be provided for out of the funds which now exist when unemployment becomes more normal, providing more adequate grants for dependants, particularly widows and orphans, and also providing at 65 years of age for deferred pay or disability pension, so that the worker need not hang on till he reaches the age of 70 in order to draw an old age pension. All these schemes can be dovetailed in. The time is not long distant when a comprehensive all-in insurance policy will be formulated in this House—a scheme which will provide adequate security for the worker not only against unemployment, but against ill-health and old age and all the evils which fall to the worker in the industrial world of to-day.
§ Mr. BARKER
I want to say with much deference that I differ most profoundly from the views which have been expressed by the right hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Fisher). The fact that the Government propose to give 5s. a week to every unemployed boy between the ages of 14 and 16 will not keep a single boy from school. What is the wage value of a boy at that age? It is somewhere between 15s. and £1 a week. If a parent will not keep a boy from school when he could earn 15s. or £1 a week, it is evident that that boy will not be kept from school for the paltry sum of 5s. per week. There is another point with reference to these lads. Up to the age of 14 years they can get 2s. per week maintenance under the 2115 Bill. What is to become of the boys after they are 14 years of age when the 2s. a week has been stopped? Surely it is a great anomaly to stop the payment to the boys when they have become increasingly expensive to keep. If the right hon. Member for the English Universities had been really desirous of keeping these boys at school and improving their education, he would have suggested that they should have had 5s. per week while they remained at school.
I want to congratulate the Minister on bringing in this Bill. It mitigates to some slight degree the miseries of the unemployed, but it does not go far enough in that direction. Our policy as a Labour party is either work or maintenance, and we cannot say that 18s. a week is a maintenance rate at the present time. Even this small concession to the unemployed is meeting with considerable opposition, especially from the other side of the House. I notice that the right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) wants to fence the proposal about with barbed wire and other safeguards, so as to make sure that there will be no imposition to get the 18s. a week. Of course, I know that any effort made to relieve the worker from the bondage of capitalism always meets with the strenuous opposition of Members on the other side. This Bill will be in the danger zone when it reaches the Committee stage. The Committee room is becoming the lethal chamber for Bills. Every speaker who has addressed the House has given a very qualified blessing to the Bill and has promised that it will have very careful attention in Committee. It would be more straightforward to object to the principles of the Bill in the House, when hon. Members would speak with the full light of publicity on what they said. I am certain that if there is any interference with the Clause which gives 5s. per week to the unemployed boy, the Clause will receive the unqualified support of the great masses of the industrial people of the country. I hope that the Government will make no concession on that Clause.
My object in rising was to call attention particularly to the position of those who are only partially employed. Unless a partially employed man is idle three days in one week he is not qualified for benefit; he may work four days a week and he may 2116 be idle 33 per cent. of his time, and yet he would not get one penny benefit from this Bill. That, in my opinion, is a very serious blot upon the Bill. Although these workers are only partially employed, and are receiving a very low rate of wages, they have to pay the very high contribution of 10d. per week out of their scanty earnings, and a man who is partially employed may lose 100 days work in the year, and yet he would not be qualified for benefit under this Bill. I urge the Minister of Labour to make some concessions in this matter. We demand that these men, when they have been idle for six days, should qualify for full benefit under the Bill. To say that because a man is partially employed he is to get no benefit whatever is indefensible. I sincerely hope this point will have the serious attention of the Government, because it is a very sore point. There are as many men partially employed as there are unemployed, if not more, and some of these partially employed men, owing to reduced employment, are actually getting no more income than men who are totally unemployed. This is a serious injustice which I hope will receive the sympathetic attention of the Government. I welcome the Bill as a step in the right direction, but it is only a step and it will give great dissatisfaction to a large number who have been expecting cither maintenance or employment. I am sorry there is nothing in the Bill which deals with finding employment, and if I have any sympathy at all with criticism which has come from the other side, it is in the fact that nothing tangible is being done up to the present to provide employment. With all its defects, the Measure is worthy of the support of the House, and I hope the Government will stand fast by its provisions in Committee.
§ Mr. A. A. SOMERVILLE
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Fisher) and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) seemed to disagree with the President of the Board of Education in his belief that this Measure will not be an obstacle in the cause of education. I am not disposed to agree with his view. It is hard to believe that, if the State provides a system of unemployment benefit for boys and girls from the age of 14 onwards, it 2117 will not come to be regarded in the country as a sign that the State accepts 14 as the natural ago at which boys and girls should leave school. Personally, if the finances of the country permitted, I should greatly wish that boys and girls should remain at school until the ago of 15 and, if it could be effected, that would be a large contribution to the solution of the unemployment problem so far as it concerns boys and girls of 15 years. As the President of the Board of Education has said, however, you cannot carry a Measure of that kind until the sense of the country is with you, and until the parents themselves really wish for it. We know perfectly well that at the present time such is not the case. The speech of the President of the Board of Education was particularly interesting, because he seemed to be vehemently trying to persuade himself that the results which he was afraid might follow would not follow from this Bill. I am afraid they will. If one could have a clean sheet, one would try to keep these children at school at least to the age of 15 by extending very largely the principle of the central schools. The opinion is largely held throughout the country that the instruction given at our schools to children between the ages of 11 and 14 is not of real value, and the reason why central schools in London have been so successful is that they have been largely vocational in character, and people have come to believe in them. If that system could be extended throughout the country, we should have a real improvement in our system of education, and I cannot help thinking that there is a great deal of point in the remark of the hon. Member who has just spoken, that it would be very much better to employ the 5s. per week unemployment benefit as a maintenance grant to keep these children at school.
Like other unemployment Measures, this Bill does nothing towards solving the unemployment problem. It does not provide a single piece of work for any boy or girl, man or woman. What we want is something constructive, and not merely a Bill which spends money. What are we to do with the thousands of boys and girls who are leaving school every year without any prospect of employment? The Bill does nothing for them. There is one thing 2118 which can be done. We had yesterday a most interesting Report from the Overseas Delegation on Empire Migration, of which the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall) was a distinguished member. Some of the members of that delegation went out in a very sceptical spirit, but the Report is most favourable to the principle of Empire migration. At the beginning of last year, I remember listening to hon. Members who now sit opposite pouring scorn on that principle, and asking what was to become of the young people who were severed from home and left without the restraints and the religious instruction which would apply to them at home. Now we are glad to see the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean returning from Australia, after inspecting the results of migration to that great Dominion and to New Zealand, with a favourable Report.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
I am only referring to the part of it which deals with this question. As a matter of fact, the Salvation Army, the Church Army and Dr. Barnardo's Homes are doing most excellent work in sending children to the Dominions where they are looked after. One would like to see a large settlement on the group system, or a settlement of communities in the Dominions. The result would be not an immediate solution, or even a part solution of the unemployment problem, but a large contribution to its future solution. Every citizen of the Empire who goes from this country to settle in the Dominions is a centre of trade and a means of encouraging employment in this country. I had not intended to speak, but I was moved to do so by the remarks of the hon. Members who have dealt with the question of education, and I feel that a State scheme, the result of which will be to take boys and girls from school at the age of 14 is a retrograde step. I am sorry that it has been proposed, and very much surprised that it has been proposed by a Labour Government, because I feel that, much as we disagree in many respects, the Labour party has the cause of real 2119 education at heart, and we can join hands on that, at any rate.
§ Colonel PENRY WILLIAMS
I would not have sought an opportunity of entering into this Debate to-night except for the fact that during the whole course of these Unemployment Insurance Bills, ever since 1911, I have taken part in each and every effort that has been made to get rid of the trades disputes disqualification. I look round the House, and I see very few Members who in 1911 joined with me in that attempt that we made to get rid of this disqualification in the original Bill. We got a very bad beating on that occasion, but we have persisted, and now I believe that at last we are going to get rid of what is undoubtedly an injustice, and one which has created more friction than any other disqualifying Section in that great Act. The worker who is refused benefit, having paid his contribution, because he is in a factory where a dispute has arisen feels aggrieved; and I speak from the other point of view. I happen to be an employer of labour, but I have always taken up the attitude that when I am compelled to pay for the insurance of my workpeople, there is an obligation on me to see that they get the benefit of that insurance, whether it be workmen's compensation or insurance against unemployment.
I think the difficulties of removing this disqualification must have been overrated. I remember that in 1914, just before the War, we extracted from the Board of Trade the extent of this problem, and it is really a very small matter. Some 96 per cent. of unemployment was due to trade causes, and only 4 per cent. of the total unemployment under the original Act was due to trades disputes, and the amount that would be affected by this present proposal is only a fraction of 4 per cent. of the total unemployment. I should like to know from the Minister of Labour—and I am very glad to see him here—what machinery he is going to set up to deal with this matter, because I think the success of this Clause depends upon the machinery which he sets up. To begin with, it must be swift acting. There must be no delay, when a man is thrown out of employment, in having his case settled by the authority which is dealing with it, and you must have a central authority to decide these questions as to 2120 whether or not a man is entitled to benefit. Otherwise, if you have a local authority, you will have conflicting decisions given all over the country, which will create more friction than we hope to get rid of by the removal of this disqualifying Section.
I welcome this Bill whole-heartedly, and I believe it is a great improvement on any other Unemployment Bill which we have had. It is an extension of the Measures which my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) brought in during the long term when he was responsible for the Ministry of Labour, and, whatever may be said of those Measures, however inadequate they may have been, the fact remains that after he had succeeded in getting each one through the House, it was the best provision that had ever been made for the unemployed of this country up till that time, and I think he is entitled to very great credit for the efforts, which he made. He certainly resisted many of our Amendments, but we did not expect him to be able to accept some of them. Now the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has gone one step further, and brought in a better Measure, and I hope it is not the last improvement that we shall see. I welcome very much the provision which has made the benefit period continuous over the whole year. I believe it is the duty of the State to see that a man who is thrown out of employment, and who cannot get employment, is properly provided for until he can.
I must take exception to one statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He seemed to indicate—I may be wrong—that a trade that was being asked to come within the scope of the Bill had a right to look at the position of the funds of the scheme, and say: "No, in our opinion, the scheme is not sound. The funds are not in a satisfactory condition, and, therefore, we have a right to keep outside the scheme." He said he could not ask agriculture to come within the scheme while there was a large deficit, but I submit to him that no industry in this country has a right to divorce itself from the national life of the country, that it is a part of the national life, and that if it be required to come within the scheme, and to help in the maintenance of the great industrial insurance scheme 2121 that we have before us now, the Government has a right to require it to come in and shoulder its fair proportion of the national burden.
I have only one other remark to make, and I do not want to be in any way offensive, but this Bill is not a complete satisfaction of the promise which was given by the Labour party at the last Election. I was met with it in my constituency over and over again, that the Labour party had the real remedy for unemployment. [An HON. MEMBER: "We have!"] Then why do you not produce it? Is this it?
§ Colonel WILLIAMS
You will have a majority on this Bill, because it is a good Bill. If you will produce your scheme, and it is a scheme which will get rid of our unemployment problem, we will support you.
§ Colonel WILLIAMS
During the Election I saw a big notice in my constituency, which said: "The Government"—that is, the late Government—"have muddled the problem of unemployment. Don't let them try again. Give Labour a chance." Is this it? Surely this is not the answer. There must be a further proposal of the Government, and I am waiting for that proposal, because I believe that this unemployment question is the one question which is vitally interfering with the prosperity of our working people and of the people of this country, and any scheme which will tend to supply work and get rid of that horrible fear of unemployment will certainly have my earnest support.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The concluding remarks of the previous speaker have been in the main the criticism directed both by hon. Members below the Gangway and hon. Members on the opposite benches to this Bill, and to all the schemes brought forward by the Minister of Labour. I should like to make that perfectly clear to the House, to hon. Members who are in the House, and to hon. Members who have left the House but have sufficient interest in the Debate to read other than their own speeches. The hon. Member on the opposite 2122 side twitted us, like the hon. Member below the Gangway, with having a sovereign cure for unemployment and of being unable to produce it, or with not having produced it. The hon. Member claimed, as I understood him, that his particular party has a remedy for unemployment.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
That is to say, that his party has a sovereign remedy, but immediately he made that statement he spoke about emigration. If hon. Members can provide work, if they have a sovereign scheme to get work and to put it into operation into this country, why do they come forward and advocate emigration and the getting of the workless people out of the country? That is not providing them with work.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The hon. Member is a member of a party whose members went around the country advocating, various schemes as a cure for unemployment.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Yes, but there are unemployed in America. Hon. Members opposite do not understand their own particular remedy. The hon. Gentleman made the suggestion that emigration was going to cure it. If you push people out of this country, and having got rid of them, endeavour to find employment for all who are left, you have not solved the unemployment problem, for you have sent them overseas to America, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and made it necessary for the Governments there to find work for them. The hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway also charges us with not bringing forward a scheme, when we say we have a sovereign remedy, and he asks why we do not bring it forward! Can 192 Members of this House carry a proposal that is obnoxious to the remaining Members?
§ Mr. MACLEAN
If, as the hon. Member says, we do not bring our policy 2123 forward then he does not know what we have Hon. Members say, after what we have said, why do we not produce our policy? I am submitting that 192 Members of the House out of 615 cannot carry a Measure which is obnoxious. That was proved on Friday, when Members below the Gangway joined with Members on the opposite side of the House to vote down and defeat the Labour party in bringing forward a Measure that would help to solve unemployment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! oh!"] Undoubtedly; but a cure for unemployment is not to be found in Free Trade, nor Protection, nor in an Unemployment Insurance Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "Socialism?"] It may be, but I can remember when the right hon. Gentlemen the joint Leaders of the Party below the Gangway were sparring at each other across the Floor of the House until they had their honeymoon at Paisley.
May I now state what my objection is to the present Bill brought in by the Minister of Labour? I join in the criticism that has been given to that part of the Bill relating to the bringing into industry of children between the ages of 14 and 16. I object to the idea that is brought out in this Bill that children of that age should be enrolled amongst the industrial classes of our country. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are."] That is no reason why they should continue to be. That is the objection I have. While at the present time it is permissible, not compulsory, but purely voluntary, for parents to keep their children—if they can afford to do it and sacrifice it—at school until they are 16 this Bill gives an incentive to certain parents to take their children away at 14. Hon. Members may disagree: then we will have to try and hammer it out and arrive at some agreement in Committee. That then is an objection I have to the Bill.
I see right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and, again, below the Gangway, and they wax indignant at this, but it has been their failure in the past to bring in satisfactory measures of education which would have made it compulsory to continue education up to 16, and that has left the child between 14 and 16 in a position that he can be brought into this Bill. If in days now past, when 2124 they had the chance with great majorities, they had taken their courage in their hands, and if they had loved education and had desired to see the children of this country secure the best education that could be given them—which they did not see to—and they ought to have done it—they ought to have made education compulsory up to 16 with a provision that those families placed in a difficult position had some consideration given to them in the shape of a maintenance charge for the children kept at school—then I am convinced there would not have been any particular occasion for this Clause to be introduced. I hope in Committee that the Minister of Labour will see to it that he withdraws it, and allows the Minister of Education to bring forward some satisfactory proposal that will deal in an educational manner under the Board of Education with these young people between the ages of 14 and 16.
There is another point in the Bill that others of us have been taking exception to in this House, and that is in regard to the strike Clause; this particular Clause which is now brought in to try to obviate hardships upon those who are involved in a dispute and consequently unemployed by reason of the dispute in a particular industry. The Clause that has been brought into this new Bill by the draftsman does not meet the circumstances that we have been criticising for many years in this House. Let the Minister consider what it says:—Sub-section (1) of Section eight of the principal Act (which imposes a disqualification for the receipt of benefit during a stoppage of work) shall not apply in any case in which the insured contributor proves that he is not participating in the trade dispute which caused the stoppage of work, and that he does not belong to a grade or class of workers members of which are participating in the dispute.May I submit to the Minister of Labour, what I am certain he ought to know perfectly well, and does know, that this is not going to give to individuals, who are likely to be refused benefit because of the trade dispute, what is required? Take, for example, the recent dispute of the engineers at Southampton. The workers remained out on strike after instructions from the executive to return to work. The employers all over the country threatened a lock-out, and the lock-out notices were printed and ready to post up in the shipyards over the whole of the 2125 country. Even if this Bill had been an Act with the words I have just read contained therein, it would not have prevented those men from being refused unemployment benefit. They would have been ruled out because they were participating in a trade dispute and because they were members of a trade or class which was affected or participating in that particular dispute.
Where a federation or a trade locked out even one man because in some part of the country a trade dispute is going on, those who are locked out in this way ought to be entitled to their unemployment benefit, and I shall submit an Amendment in Committee to try and secure unemployment benefit for that class of individual. The Bill says that the worker must prove that he is not participating in a trade dispute, but the Ministry of Labour knows perfectly well that what happens during the dispute is that men are discharged who are not connected with the dispute. In these cases a notice is sent to the Employment Exchange by the foreman or the manager stating that, "This man is dismissed because of a trade dispute." But the man concerned has no knowledge of what is on that paper. All he knows is that the Committee in the Employment Exchange has refused him benefit because of that note. I think the proof should be placed upon those who make the statement on the note, and any note sent to an Employment Exchange should be produced before the man and, if it is wrong or libellous, the man should be able to proceed against the foreman or manager.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
Does the hon. Member suggest that an employer, whose men are called out by a union because of a dispute in some other part of the country, should be compensated by the State?
§ Mr. MACLEAN
My hon. Friend is really mixing up the position. If a man comes out on strike, or he is one of a body of men who go on strike, then by their own voluntary action they are yielding up their title to unemployment benefit; but if they are locked out by an employer because of the action of some other individuals in another part of the country they are also deprived of their benefit. These men pay into the unemployment insurance fund, and they ought not to be deprived 2126 of their benefit. The hon. and gallant Member opposite wishes to know if in the case he mentioned the employer should be compensated. This is not a matter of compensating employers or workmen but it is a matter of ensuring unemployment benefit when the men cannot get the necessaries of life through unemployment and not through a strike. The hon. and gallant Member is suggesting that while a workman is not to have this benefit the employers are to be compensated—
§ Lieut-Commander BURNEY
I was only suggesting that the employer should be put upon the same basis as the workmen, because he contributes an amount equal to the workmen themselves.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am ready to back any Amendment to allow an employer to have his 18s. a week unemployment benefit. I am prepared to support equal treatment.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
They do not get it in proportion to what they pay, but as a reward for what they have paid. There is no question of proportions here, and I fail to see why the hon. and gallant Member should ask that the employers should be put in a privileged position. A man ought to have the opportunity of replying to any statement submitted in writing to any Employment Exchange. There is another point which occurs on page 4 of the Bill, where the Minister of Labour is still keeping in a proviso that a man is to gel benefit if he is genuinely seeking work, but unable to obtain suitable employment. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that there are a large number of cases that come under this particular provision, and there has been a great amount of dissatisfaction because of the decisions given by committees. Upon every occasion since these words were inserted in the Bill, and when the new Bill has come before the House, I have taken exception to those words, and have tried to get them altered or deleted.
The Minister of Labour has received cases from me and from practically every hon. Member of this House where men are genuinely seeking employment, and they show by their records before there was such a slump that they were not 2127 shirkers, and yet because of Regulations issued by the right hon. Gentleman's Department—I know they were issued before he came into office, but he ought to see that they are repealed—Regulations and instructions which hon. Members were not allowed to see by the late Minister of Labour, these men come under committees acting under those instructions to save the money of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and to go into every case thoroughly and work the scheme as economically as they possibly can. Worded as those instructions are, they bear the interpretation that where there is the slightest shadow of a doubt the benefit has to be refused. I suggest to the Minister of Labour that he will be conferring on thousands of hard working men, who are genuinely unemployed and seeking work but cannot find it, something they do not now possess if he agrees to strike out those words and insert words which will catch the shirkers. This provision should not apply to honest men who are thrown out of employment.
When these words were first inserted and unemployment was growing so rapidly and men were going on uncovenanted benefit and making applications to the employment exchanges, the Committees and Insurances officers asked them to show that they were genuinely seeking employment and they had to get forms signed by various firms or the managers of workshops to which they applied for jobs to show that they were really and genuinely seeking employment. They were producing, as I know in my own constituency, and as other Members know in theirs, thousands of certificates to the Committees to show that week after week, day after day, meal-hour after meal-hour, they were presenting themselves at workshops in the vain endeavour to get employment; and the foremen and many of the managers were doing everything they could to assist these men in getting benefit, and were spending time in signing those certificates. But when they present them at the Exchanges, when they appear before the Unemployment Committees, what are they told? They are told that these certificates are not worth the paper on which the signatures are, and they are ruled out of benefit as not being genuinely seeking employment. It is a tragedy. It is worse—it is a crime 2128 upon these men, and it is disgusting that the Labour Government is going to continue this Clause and carry on that bad method.
It is not merely that these men have heaped upon them the indignity of being called shirkers who are not genuinely seeking employment, but, when they cannot obtain their unemployment benefit, and go to the parish council or board of guardians, what does that body do? It immediately sends to the Employment Exchange at which the man is registered, to ask why he is not in receipt of unemployment benefit, and back comes the word, "This man is not receiving benefit because he is not genuinely seeking employment." Then the parish council or board of guardians says that the man is a shirker to whom they will not pay parish relief. That is being done in scores of cases in Scotland, and I am certain that it applies in England. It is not merely that a man is refused unemployment benefit for which he has been paying while he has been working, but he is refused even the parish relief for which he has been paying rates since he became a householder. I hope the Minister is going into this matter very thoroughly in Committee, in order that this state of matters may be remedied in this Bill.
I want to state emphatically to the Minister that, while the Bill, as a whole, is a great improvement upon any of the Bills which have preceded it, and while I, for one, welcome very heartily many of the proposals that are contained in it, yet it is not satisfactory to me in all its details, and I am going, as far as I possibly can, by submitting Amendments to the Bill, to try to alter it and make it what I consider an Unemployment Insurance Bill can be made if it is given the good will of Members of this House; and I hope that Members below the Gangway and on the other side who come to this House and tell us that they have all this sympathy for the unemployed, will, if those Amendments of mine meet with their approval, give them their wholehearted support. I say quite candidly that they will be drafted with the object of trying to mitigate some of the evils from which we in this country are suffering because of the misgovernment of Members on the other side and some, at any rate, below the Gangway.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I said "some." Having sinned in their youth, they are now getting the opportunity of coming to repentance, and I trust that when the Bill comes back from Committee altered in the manner in which I hope it will be altered, all sections of the House will translate the expressions of sympathy that have been given on the Floor of this House into practical operation by securing the passage of the Bill in that form.
§ Mr. HANNON
I am sure the House has listened, as it always does, with great interest to the delightful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean), and, when he appeals to us to give practical sympathy to the Amendments which he proposes to put down in Committee, I am quite sure we receive that suggestion with the consideration which it deserves. The hon. Member has always been so considerate to us, and has always entertained such generous opinions, alike of our intellect and our statesmanship, that we must really pay him a little back. I believe that this Bill is premature. I shall vote for the Second Reading, but I venture to suggest to the Minister of Labour that he might have taken the trouble to make a fuller examination of the whole problem of Unemployment Insurance and Poor Law relief before he sprung this Bill upon the House of Commons at so early a stage in his responsibilities as a Minister.
§ Mr. HANNON
I venture to submit that the Minister in his speech did not make that position sufficiently clear, and one of the reasons why I have intervened in the Debate, at all is to ask him what kind of check he proposes to establish upon the relationship in the future between Poor Law relief and Unemployment Insurance. We have had in the city of Birmingham a prolonged grievance on the question of Poor Law relief. Until the gap was abolished, the board of guardians was burdened with a very considerable responsibility for dealing with men who were out of employment. Under this Bill, unless it is more clearly defined in the text of the Bill by Amendments upstairs, I do not see by what machinery the right hon. Gentleman is to apply 2130 those tests which will safeguard the interests of ratepayers and other parties concerned with Unemployment Insurance.
There is another reason why I say that this Bill is premature. The whole of our unemployment insurance legislation was based upon the maintenance of a fixed relationship between contributions and benefit. In this Bill the right hon. Gentleman is departing entirely from that principle. In future, under this Measure, no relationship at all is to subsist between the contributions and the benefit to be received. Indeed, it is quite possible, under this Bill, that uncovenanted benefit may continue during the whole of the 52 weeks in the year. The right hon. Gentleman knows that each succeeding Unemployment Act that we have had has enlarged the period of benefit, and by this Bill the benefit is practically made continuous. That was certainly never contemplated in the original scheme of Unemployment Insurance, nor was it even advocated by the right hon. Gentleman himself when he sat on this side of the House and criticised the Unemployment Insurance Bills which were brought in by preceding Ministers. He himself, I think, never advocated that there should be continuity of benefit for a practically unlimited period of time. It was always felt in this House, in discussing Unemployment Insurance Measures, that the tendency should be to return to normal conditions. But under this Bill the tendency is not to return to normal conditions, but to continue payments under present conditions for a prolonged period of time.
I am quite certain that under this Bill, which the Minister might have postponed a little longer, he is imposing a very considerable further burden upon the private enterprise of this country, and in framing this Bill he is having no regard to the relationship between the cost-of-living index figure and the benefit which he proposes to pay to unemployed persons under the Bill. Under the preceding Acts, when the cost-of-living index figure stood very high indeed, we were paying a comparatively small unemployment insurance benefit. Now, when the cost-of-living index has fallen to 71, he proposes to pay an increased benefit which, in the case of a family of a man, his wife and three children, will amount to 29s. a week. [An HON. MEMBER: 2131 "Shocking!"] I do not say it is shocking, but I say that in the present circumstances, when there is every temptation on the part of a considerable number of people not to work if they can avoid it, a man will not put himself to a tremendous amount of inconvenience in getting work if he continues to receive that benefit. Therefore, I think the right hon. Gentleman is making a mistake in placing the unemployment benefit at that high figure, in view of the cost-of-living figure. The important point to be remembered is that we are dealing with this Bill in this House without that fullness of knowledge of the whole circumstances affecting unemployment insurance in this country that we ought to have before us. The right hon. Gentleman, who has given so much thought to Labour problems, knows that, according to a report, no less than 10 per cent. of those drawing unemployment benefit were also drawing Poor Law relief, and also there was a considerable proportion of people who were receiving Poor Law relief, receiving unemployment benefits. In these circumstances, I feel strongly that before the Minister introduces this fundamental change, he should have made a full investigation of the circumstances under which unemployment insurance is dispensed by the State, and devised a Measure which would take care that an efficient stop should be applied to beneficiaries under both forms of relief.
Unless this Bill is substantially amended in Committee, it will be a bad Bill. Already the industries of this country are loaded down with every kind of charge, adding to the cost of production. The world of industry is now confronted with an additional burden, which the country has not asked for, and there has been no definite appeal, as far as I know, in any industrial constituency in this country for this Measure. The Minister, quite naturally, in order to keep that momentum of promise, wanted to introduce his Measure at the earliest possible moment, and wanted to introduce it by leaving the problem of unemployment entirely unsolved at the same time. On the other side of the House right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who invaded this country with all the vigour of propaganda previous to the last General Election and told us what they were going to perform, 2132 should tell us what they have done. They have produced a Bill to-day, and according to the speech of the Minister he can only look forward in seven or eight years hence to an unemployed population of 800,000 people. We are to have 1,100,000 this year, 1,000,000 next year, 1,000,000 in the next year, 800,000 afterwards, and so forth. If this Bill is any indication of the capacity of the Labour party to deal with the unemployment problem, it is the poorest product of constructive legislation in modern times. We hope that in Committee, Amendments will be accepted, and that the Bill may be substantially altered. Instead of helping industry, you sweep away whatever shred of protection industry has, and place upon it an additional burden without rhyme or reason. That is the policy pursued by the Labour party, the party which has an instinctive genius for dealing with Labour questions, and is the only inspired body in modern Parliaments that can solve the problem of unemployment!
I had an opportunity yesterday of discussing the unemployment problem in the United States with the American Commissioner of Labour, and he told me that there is substantially no unemployment in the United States. [An HON. MEMBER: "When did he tell you that, after you had had a few cocktails?"] He told me that in the United States the entire trend of public thought is to allow industry and the relationship between employers and employed to pursue their own course. Intervention on the part of the State was deprecated by every thoughtful public man in the United States, and he looked in astonishment to the continuity of grandmotherly legislation in this country. Though I shall support the Second Reading of this Bill, I believe it is a bad Bill. It is a Bill that must be amended in the fullest detail in Committee, and I vote on the full understanding that the fullest examination will take place in Committee.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WOODWARK
I rise to say a word on behalf of the agricultural workers, as a representative of an agricultural division. I must say that the Minister has got out of dealing with the agricultural worker in a very easy way up to the present, and I feel that the House should have something more definite as to what he intends to do to bring about a scheme to include agricultural workers.
2133 As far as I can see, it is a polite way of shirking the question. It is no satisfaction to the worker to know that the right hon. Gentleman is going to discuss the question with the Minister for Agriculture. What the worker desires is to be included, like all other workers, in this great national unemployment scheme.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WOODWARK
I should like to ask the Minister what steps he has taken to find out whether they desire to be included or not?
Is it in order for a Minister of the Crown to answer a question seated in this House?
§ Lieut. - Colonel WOODWARK
That only proves to me that the Minister, knowing that the agricultural worker was a difficult proposition and requires special treatment, thought the easiest way out of the difficulty was to politely shelve the whole matter and he has not offered to explain to us what steps he has taken to find out whether they wish to be included or not. The latest returns for male workers employed in the industry are 566,000 males, 59,000 women and girls, 104,000 casual male workers and 43,000 women and girls casual workers, a total of 772,000. I think those figures show that there is some need to take up the question of unemployment in the agricultural industry. At present farmers, as soon as they have finished with the labour in the spring, pay the surplus labour off and there is nothing whatever for those men except to go to the parish. That is wrong. If a young lad goes into a town and obtains a job and works for nine or 10 months and becomes qualified to draw unemployment benefit, if he goes back to his native village and resides there for a short time he is considered an agricultural worker and ail the stamps on his card are forfeit. The casual workers are mainly engaged on threshing, potato setting and picking, and they earn good money when they are employed. I think if the Minister will ask the representatives of the Union or will ask the hon. Member for Southern Norfolk (Mr. George Edwards) he will find that in reply to requests whether they should be included a majority from the branches was in favour of inclusion. As I have given him 2134 that information, I hope he will find out from the hon. Member whether I am right in saying the majority of branches of the Agricultural Workers' Union replied in favour of inclusion.
As regards the number of men who are out of work, as far as returns show from the replies to a circular which was sent round to practically all the counties, on an average, if you take it as an average—and I think that will be fair—the percentage out of work was 5.7, so there is some cause for the Minister to take into consideration the inclusion of these workers in the scheme. I am not satisfied with Clause 8, which abolishes the power to make special schemes, and I intend in Committee to move its deletion and to try to get some consideration shown to the agricultural worker. The workers, wherever I have been addressing meetings, have always appealed to me to know why the agricultural worker is always to be pushed into the background. You may say he cannot afford to pay because of his low wages. I think the farmer is favourable to an insurance scheme if it were not for the poverty of the industry. When a man has to live on 25s. a week, of course, every penny is a consideration. I have statistics, recently obtained, showing how the labourer lays out his 25s. In each instance he makes no provision for clothes or boots. He has to depend upon having them given him or buying them out of his harvest money. I hope when the Wages Board Bill becomes law his wages will be increased, and then he will be able to make a contribution. It will have to be a modified contribution, and there will have to be modified benefits. I do not see why the worker should not be called upon to pay 3d., the farmer 3d., and the State 6d. As to what the benefits should be, it is for the Minister to work out. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give a little more definite statement as to what he intends to do as to including the agricultural worker in the scheme.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
I think everyone who has listened to the Debate during the whole afternoon and evening, as many of us have done, will have come to the conclusion, if he did not hold that view before, that this is a Bill of quite first-class importance. Whatever view we may take either of its principles or of its details, if carried into law in anything like its present form it is going to 2135 exercise a most profound influence over our whole social system. As all Bills dealing with the subject must be, it is exceedingly technical. I do not propose to deal at all with technicalities, but I am going to state one or two great fundamental principles which seem to me to be involved in the Bill. I was disappointed that the Minister did not deal more precisely with those underlying principles which the Bill contains, and did not attempt to justify them and to show how the Bill would carry them out. The first point on which I will say a word or two is the proposal, which is not only novel but of far-reaching importance to hundreds of thousands of householders, to reduce the age from 16 to 14. There is no one in the House who has any other object in view than to do the best for the child, but the diversity of what I might call expert opinion is great. The Minister of Education takes one view, the previous Minister of Education takes another, the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) takes one view and other hon. Members on the same side take precisely the opposite view. So in this matter, as in every other matter which we shall discuss in Committee, we shall hold ourselves absolutely free to decide when the Bill emerges from Committee what action we shall take on Report and on Third Reading. It is often said, and said with truth, that accepting a Bill without a Division on Second Reading means that you accept the principle; but in regard to this Bill I want to say, on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, that we make no such admission, and that we hold ourselves perfectly free when the Bill emerges from Committee to take such course as we shall then be advised to do.
What is the first great principle which this Bill contains? It is, of course, that which is contained in Clause 1. Quite shortly, that Clause proposes to make what we know as uncovenanted benefit permanent for all time. I am not going at this hour to go into the history of what covenanted benefit is, or how it arose. That is well known to every hon. Member. What this Bill does, is to make permanent what has hitherto been temporary, and to make absolute what hitherto has been discretionary. The effect of that, in my opinion, is to remove 2136 from this portion of the Bill the principle of insurance and to substitute for it the principle of maintenance, because when you have uncovenanted benefit made permanent—the benefit paid without any relation at all to the contributions which the man may or may not have made—the principle of insurance goes and you put in its place the principle of maintenance. The Minister of Labour, with his usual candour, stated this, not only in a speech which he made at Bolton, but in his speech to-day. The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. G. Barker) and other hon. Members opposite, with equal candour, said the same thing. I acknowledge at once the candour with which they have supported this Bill on that ground, namely, that it is the first great statutory recognition of the principle of work or maintenance.
It is in the interests of no one in this House to disguise or attempt to disguise what is the issue between us. That is one issue between us, and it depends on what form this Bill emerges from Committee whether or not we support it on Third Reading. Reference has been made to a speech made by the Minister of Labour the other day in the country. The Secretary for Mines, after the Debate the other day, also made a speech in the country. It seems to me that these extra-Parliamentary utterances have a very definite value, because, while speeches in this House indicate the immediate purpose of the Bills before the House, speeches outside indicate with equal clearness what is the ultimate object of the Bills. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman made it abundantly clear that his justification for this part of the Bill was that it will give statutory recognition to the principle of work or maintenance. I do not propose to discuss that principle, but I am sure of this, that it is a principle which is utterly inconsistent with the principle of insurance. This is, in name at any rate, an Unemployment Insurance Bill. The more this discussion proceeds the more I become convinced, as I am convinced now, that we are in danger of losing sight of what, ought to be the fundamental principle of the Bill, namely, insurance, and that we shall put something else in its place which is not insurance at all.
There is one further point which, perhaps, is not strictly a question of principle, 2137 but it is a very important part of the Bill. I refer to the proposal to increase the amount of benefit to all the parties who come within its scope. There is no doubt that whatever may be said for or against this proposal it will, and it cannot help doing it, tend to bring the income of the man who is out of work more nearly approximate to that of the man who is lowly paid and who is in work.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
That is a danger, and it is a danger which has been recognised by no one more clearly than the Lord Privy Seal, because I see that in the debate on the Bill last year he made this profoundly true utterance—The fact of the matter is that, under our present law, a worker on short-time can receive less wages by his service in short periods of work than can the man, who is wholly unemployed for a week or a fortnight, receive in the form of benefit. Clearly that is not right, and it would seem to encourage idleness, and to incline men to call themselves out of work altogether."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1923; col. 101, Vol. 161.]That is a question which in all its aspects must be considered most carefully in Committee. In this connection I would like to put a point which so far has not been put. This Bill proposes to defer further the expiration of the deficiency period, with the result that the annual cost, according to the Actuary's report, will be a sum of £10,000,000, and the permanent, contribution by the State under this Bill will be very largely increased, I think by something like £5,800,000 a year. All these charges, whether they be paid by the employer, by the employed, or by the State, are, as one hon. Member pointed out, a charge upon industry itself. There is not a country in Europe that has a system of compulsory insurance which is even remotely approximate to our own. The only three countries in Europe which have any system of compulsory unemployment insurance are Italy, Austria, and, I think, the State of Luxemburg. It Italy the contribution of the employer and the employed together as a maximum may not be more than 2½d., and in actual fact I think it is something more nearly 1d. Therefore, the heavier the burden you place upon the man who is in work, the more you are penalising him when he is competing in 2138 the markets of the world for the trade of the world. And so it is no answer, really, to say that the fund will stand it, because the obvious answer to that is that if the charges become less, the contributions and the charges upon the industry will be less also.
There is one other point on which I want to say something, and that is the Strike Clause. This is a very old controversy. The right hon. Gentleman and his party, I freely admit, have been perfectly consistent in this matter from 1911 onwards, and I am not in the least surprised that this Clause appears in the Bill in the form in which it is; but it seems to me that it is idle to disguise, or to attempt to disguise, from ourselves the very obvious fact that if this Clause be passed into law in the form in which it is now, the result will be that it will be possible to call out a few key men in a district, and run a strike on the cheapest possible terms. There is no one who has protested more strongly against strikes, and pointed out the evils of trade disputes, whether lock-outs or strikes, than the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy-Leader of the House, and I would ask him to consider whether this Clause, if passed in the present form, would not aggravate the evil to which he has so often called attention, and encourage, rather than discourage, trade disputes of all kinds.
There is only one other word that I want to say in conclusion, and that is to repeat what has so often been said before, that it is a most ironical comment upon the statements that have been made so often by hon. and right hon. Members on the other side, that the Actuary's Report, made on the instructions of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour himself, appears to contemplate for all time unemployment reaching to no less than the appalling figure of 800,000 a year. I cannot help recalling the reception which we got when we proposed a not very dissimilar Bill, and the criticisms and observations which were made upon it. The right hon. Gentleman the Deputy-Leader of the House, speaking on the Debate on the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend Sir Montague Barlow, said:I am entitled, therefore, to contrast this Bill with the hopes constantly raised, and the public professions used in the 2139 country by the representatives of the Government in relation to unemployment. Each one of these evasive proposals is certain to evoke the condemnation of those who were misled by the promises which spokesmen of the Government repeatedly made as to dealing with the problem of unemployment"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1923; col. 96, Vol. 161.]Those were the criticisms which were made against our proposals last year, and I am justified again in calling the attention of the House to the obvious fact, to which many hon. Members have called attention in the course of this Debate, that there is not a proposal in this Bill to put a single man or woman in work, and if this Bill be passed in its present form, so far from providing any remedy for the evils from which we are now suffering, it will much more likely aggravate the disease which we all deplore.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
May I say, in the few remarks that I shall address to the House—because I am anxious to give ample time to my hon. Friend who is going to reply for the Government—how greatly interesting I have found the Debate, in which I have heard, I think, nearly every speech both in the actual application of speakers to the Bill and in the variegated subjects which they have chosen outside it. I heard my hon. Friend opposite indulge in a sort of prologue, or dress rehearsal, of the campaign which, I understand, will take place next Thursday in connection with the salary of my right hon. Friend. As for myself, I intend to leave it there to-day, and to listen to what explanation he is able to give for the crimes he has committed or the omissions he has made during his period of office. There is one point I would like to make in direct reply to the hon. Gentleman opposite, and the hon. Gentleman who spoke before him, in their plaint that our general national unemployment and health insurance schemes impose a handicap on our industries which other nations do not possess. I do not believe that is the fact, for two reasons. Ever since we passed our first National Insurance Act, in 1911, and, I think my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) will agree, ever since he passed the amplified National Insurance Act of 2140 1920, there has not been a single year in which prominent statesmen, publicists and economists have not come over to this country, largely as representatives of their Governments, to ask us to put them in touch with the full working and understanding of the National Insurance Acts, because they realise how much they desire that they should be working in their own countries, and not only working there for the benefit of the poor, but for the efficiency of their industrial life. There is no worse handicap to the efficiency of industrial life than to leave men in sickness or in a half-starved condition, because you have not courage in a country to put a full Insurance Act on the Statute Book.
There is also one point I should like to make in reply to the most interesting speech of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean). He pleaded that we should regard every Amendment on its merits in the future, and to the best of our ability, apart from any, as he was pleased to say, sins which had been committed in the past. I hope very earnestly that when this Bill gets in Committee, everything will be regarded on its merits, including the Government proposition itself, because this Debate has amply demonstrated there is no party question at all so far as this House is concerned, and I think we can afford to neglect in this House nonsense which is talked outside. If we can in this, which is the first Government Bill of anything like first-class importance which will be referred to a Committee, apply to the various Amendments there, from whatever quarter they proceed, considerations quite apart from party questions, I am sure we can make this, if I may say so with respect, a better Bill even than it is at the present time. While every Member has given a general support to this Bill, and no Member has suggested voting against it, there is not one speaker I have heard who has not taken exception to some particular provision, and who has not said that he is able to provide some suggestion for its improvement. Of course, this is not a Bill at all. It is an Amendment to an Amendment to an amending Bill to the National Insurance Act. It is a series of disconnected Bills. The only connection between the various Clauses is that they all demand money from the National Insurance Fund. I 2141 am not in the least making that a criticism of the Government, but it makes it all the more important, as we cannot have a general discussion on the whole principle, as for instance we could on the Finance Bill of this House, that each of these separate Bills should be very carefully considered with free Amendments permitted in the Committee upstairs. If all the Amendments suggested by various Gentlemen in this House are proposed upstairs, we ought to have quite a cheery time for the greater part of the Summer.
There is just one point worthy of consideration in regard to which I take an exactly opposite view to that of my right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame). He criticised the finance of the Bill and, speaking for my friends, as he I think spoke for his friends, we would very earnestly press that we have the Financial Resolution of the Bill, if possible, before the Bill is considered upstairs. In so far as I have examined the finance, I take a quite different view from the somewhat pessimistic conclusion to which he came. My own belief is that the Government have enormously under-financed the Bill. I have, of course, tremendous respect for what I believe is one of the greatest civil servants we possess, Sir Alfred Watson, with whom I had the pleasure of working. He is dealing, however, with figures given him by the Government, of registered unemployed receiving benefit 1,100,000. The number of registered unemployed has already gone below those figures, and there are no signs of it rising above them. He gives figures of 1,000,000 up to the end of the deficiency period, and the figure of 800,000 after that time. I venture to warn the House that it is quite impossible for this Government, or this House, to sit down and contemplate a continued existence of a subsidised company of unemployed, year after year, of 800,000. No Government could stand, and no Government would deserve to stand in this country, if it accepted the position that these men are to go on year after year, out of work through no fault of their own, receiving the dole which can never make up the amount they would receive in work, losing gradually heart and incentive, and that this was the last word of a civilised nation in that matter. If that is to be the result, it means the 2142 decline and fall of the British Empire. Therefore I venture to join issue with my hon. Friend who interrupted early in the afternoon. He said some hon. Members had stated that industry in this country required a margin of 10 per cent. of unemployed. Only a madman, or somebody utterly unfamiliar with the statistics of unemployment, in past years, could have said that.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
May I say that more than one hon. Member on the opposite benches has stated it was necessary to the industry of this country that there should be a 10 per cent. margin of unemployment.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
If the hon. Gentleman is really quoting speeches of my hon. Friends, would he give me the references in the OFFICIAL REPORT where these speeches may be found?
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
Some queer things seem to have happened while I was out of the House. During the ten years which occurred before the War, on the statistics of which our unemployment insurance was based, the average unemployment in this country was something less than 4 per cent. or a little over; with the variations in trade, sometimes rising to 5 or 6 per cent.—which we thought then was a calamity—and in good periods of trade coming down to 1½ per cent., when practically every man who wanted to work could work. That cycle of trade has got to be revived again, and I believe it will be revived while freedom of trade is granted to this country. In any case, a nation which has a permanent 10 per cent. of unemployment has either to set its house in order or go out of business altogether. If, as I believe, the improvement in employment in going to continue, I can see no reason why, before the end of the deficiency period is reached, we should not get at least to 6 per cent. of unemployment registered in this country. With a 6 per cent. of unemployment, the fund, which at present is making a profit even in these bad times, will be making a profit of something between £33,000,000 and £35,000,000 a year. I would much 2143 rather see that additional money paid in benefit than that the contributions by employers and employed should be reduced.
Another question is in regard to the relief in the increased amounts to be given to the unemployed. That relief has been put on two legs, and it cannot stand on both. It is suggested that the relief at present given through the fund is not enough, and that therefore the unemployed should receive more. It has also been suggested that it will give great relief to the local authorities and the rates. Now, my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but he told me the other day that, taking sample statistics of those who wore receiving unemployed relief, and also relief from the Poor Law, he came to the conclusion that nearly half the total number registered were receiving relief from both of those sources. If the consequence of increasing the relief by 3s. is to relieve the rates by that amount, you do not benefit the unemployed. You are merely transferring the obligation from the ratepayer. That is a point which I would ask my right hon. Friend to allow us to examine with more detail in Committee.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I can mention some, because I had an investigation into the matter. At Sheffield, Barrow, and large sections of London. In Norwich and places where unemployment is severe, guardians supplement relief given by the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Otherwise some of these people who have been out of work for two years could not live at all. People manage to get over a few months' unemployment, though that is difficult enough, but the people we particularly have to consider are those who have had no opportunity of getting work for a year or 18 months, or even two years.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
Yes, Sheffield is a great tragedy. I found that when I 2144 investigated. A point which has been considerably discussed during the Debate, and to me the most difficult part of the Bill, is the question of the children. I was not satisfied with what was said on this matter. In insuring the children between 14 and 16 you are taking from those children £1,000,000 which you are not giving back to them. You are stealing the money from the children and giving it to the adult fund. It is proposed only to pay £500,000 or £600,000 to these children, while their insurance is to contribute £1,600,000. I would ask the Minister to see that all the money taken from those children shall go back for their benefit, and not be given to supplement the Insurance Fund of the adults. I do not think my right hon. Friend has made a beneficial change—though I may be in disagreement with some of my hon. Friends on these benches—in suggesting that he will move that for the first 30 weeks that a boy or girl over 14 is employed, he or she shall not receive the unemployment benefit.
I would rather, if I had the choice, give uncovenanted benefit to the children than to the adults, and I would rather give the benefit on condition that the boys and girls should attend school on their birthday at the age of 14 than later on after going to blind alley occupations; which you cannot control, such as selling newspapers, running errands, acting as messenger boys and so on, and being kept to those occupations, and then after 30 weeks, which is the greater part of a year, being told to go back to school again. In those conditions I submit that those children would have formed habits of resenting discipline which would make those schools 10 times more difficult than if you allowed the boys and girls to go to school the very first week after they were unemployed, with uncovenanted benefit which subsequently they could repay through the operation of the general insurance fund when they came into work.
My right hon. Friend said they want to get hold of the children early. How are they going to do that under this Bill? What work does insurance offer to them when unemployed? What education will he give thorn if they cannot take the work? The ordinary challenge of the Labour Exchange is generally work in the trade in which the man or woman is skilled. In what trade are you going to estimate that these boys and girls are 2145 skilled? Are you going, when the boys and girls are out of work, to offer them all those blind alley trades which will inevitably end in their being thrown out of work a few years afterwards? If not, what are you going to put in the Bill? I very much re-echo from my own experience the statement of the late President of the Board of Education that to deal with boys and girls after they have left school, and gone out into what I think he called the education of life, by trying then to drag them back to school again is a waste of Government money and the worst way of dealing with the whole problem.
I say that not because of any a priori views of my own but from an investigation of the attempt, which completely broke down in London, to work continuation schools from which you will get no benefit. These children at any moment will be liable to be called back to work again. They may go for a week or a fortnight to school but they can get none of the general pride in or collective enthusiasm for the school which some of us had for the school to which we went at 14 years of age and which we would like to see every citizen of the country enjoy. But you will get those sentiments of indiscipline which broke the hearts of the teachers in those schools in which this was tried. You must get your children straight from the elementary schools, if you like into training schools, secondary schools, trade schools, or in whatever form of education you think best, but there is no use in trying to get them eight months afterwards, when they have had the experience of running errands and so on. I can assure my hon. Friend that if she and her hon. Friend can devise some such scheme, instead of this scheme as an alternative they will have the support of the majority of my hon. Friends, but apart from that I cannot see any hope in this particular scheme.
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education challenged any of us to say whether we agreed with him as to whether it was not better that these children should be brought to some sort of school when unemployed than be allowed to, what he called, walk the streets. He said that all of us would be afraid to say that that should not be done. I am not afraid to deny his statement. I believe that the schools, as we have seen them, for children who go into 2146 them one week and are out another week, children who have already had experience of the perhaps too lavish freedom which children at work enjoy, not only do no good, but do active harm to the children who go into them. These schools fill them with distaste for the education which they receive, instead of the pride which they should have in them, and the children's sole wish, as has been proved in London, is to get out of these schools altogether and to lie low until they can get some other work. The last thing that we want to do is to encourage among them a distaste for any system of education that may be devised.
I thank the House for listening to me so kindly. One hon. Member, in a very interesting speech, having heard that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour was prepared to give way on a certain Clause, said he was glad that my right hon. Friend did not intend to be adamantine on that Clause. If I may be excused a personal impression, I would submit to the House this: In the old days when a Bill went up to Committee—I had charge of many that were passed—party Divisions were to a large extent abolished. A Minister either had to make out his case or to be defeated, and it was a feat in intellectual ability as well as a feat of interest to the Committee. We never minded being defeated in Committee, and in the great majority of cases we never asked the House, on the Report stage, to reverse the defeat which we have received in Committee, because we knew that every one engaged upon the Bill in Committee had been trying to make the Bill the best possible. In the last few weeks we have seen Committees conducted on different and more disastrous lines. I am not referring to the friendly discussions which took place in Committee A. But in the Committees on which I have served personally, the party lines have been drawn with rigidity, and Members have voted entirely in accordance with what the Leaders of their party desired. I think that that is a mistake and a misfortune. In connection with a Bill like this no party should come in at all. I, therefore, appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour that on such a Bill, as to which there are strong differences of opinion, though not differences of party opinion, he should be able, unless he considers that some attack 2147 is made on the essential and main principles of the Bill, to deal with an Amendment on its merits. Let us have some desirable cross-party Divisions, and when the Bill comes back to this House let it be not only the Bill of the Government but the Bill of all parties.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Miss Bondfield)
At the outset, let me acknowledge the cordial way in which the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill has been discussed. The differences that have manifested themselves have been, to a very large extent, differences on points of detail, and points which can be quite properly dealt with in Committee. The right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame), in opening the Debate, referred at length to the financial basis of the Bill. As the Financial Resolution is, we hope, to be taken early next week, it would be more appropriate to spend time in discussing the financial provisions then.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
Do I understand that the Government will undertake to move the Financial Resolution before the Bill goes to a Committee?
§ Miss BONDFIELD
Yes, the Government has undertaken that, and we hope it will be as early as possible. There are one or two figures, however, to which I would direct the attention of the House now. The right hon. Member for Hendon mentioned the figure of 1,118,000. I think he forgot that that figure includes Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The unemployed live register now is 1,026,000. That includes the part-time worker, and if we took a comparative figure on last year's basis of reckoning it would bring the total to less than a million. Roughly speaking, the figures of unemployment have sunk by about 220,000 since 21st January. There was one other slight error in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He referred to Acts going back to 1911. I think he overlooked the fact that the Act of 1920 repealed all the preceding Acts, and any reference in the present Bill to other Acts of Parliament can of course only refer to Acts since 1920. With regard to the calculation of the percentage of unemployment, I think there has been a real misunderstanding. It is not the intention to make a permanent calculation on that basis at all. The 2148 calculation is in relation to the deficiency period. While we do not think it right or wise to be too optimistic and while it is extremely possible that we have erred on the side of pessimism in taking even the 7½ per cent. which the figure of 800,000 represents, we hope very much we shall be mistaken and that it will be very much less. We felt it unwise to be unduly optimistic, and therefore we have taken this figure as a rough working basis for financial calculation.
With regard to the extension of the deficiency period and the lengthening of the period of high contributions the right hon. Gentleman asks what safeguard we propose to adopt. I venture to assert that there is a sufficient safeguard in the high contributions. There are three parties to these contributions, all of whom have a growing understanding and comprehension of the working of insurance, and we are not likely to be allowed much peace as a Government nor is the House of Commons itself likely to be allowed much peace, if the contributors to the scheme imagine we are keeping up the high contribution a moment longer than is necessary in order to deal with an abnormal situation. The most important point raised by the right hon. Gentleman was that of the principle which, as he quite properly pointed out, is embodied in the Bill and which departs from the idea that benefit is to be in relation to individual contributions. I was a little surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Betterton) follow up that argument by saying that we had adopted the principle of maintenance to the exclusion of the principle of insurance. I would say that we have adopted the principle of maintenance by the method of insurance and that the method of insurance has relation to the amount of damage suffered. If you take out a fire insurance policy, you pay certain premiums and the insurance company takes the risk, but the amount to be paid by the insurance company is in relation to the damage done by fire. It is in exactly the same way that we propose to extend the principle of maintenance in this Bill. We take the collective contribution to the fund and pay out benefits, and the benefits paid have to bear relation to the collective contribution and not to the individual payments.
It is most important to remember that principle in relation to unemployment 2149 insurance, because of the interdependence of trade. Take a highly-organised, stable, compact industry like engineering or the steel trade. Their prosperity is bound up with the question of the docks. These men may be 90 per cent. employed all the year round, provided there are normal conditions of trade, but there are men employed in the docks on an essential part of the process of bringing in the raw material and delivering the finished goods, and there are also men in the transport trade who may suffer from periods of casual employment. It is right and fair that this interdependence of industry should be recognised in this principle of the insurance scheme. Therefore, it is too late to talk about paying benefits in relation to individual contributions, when the individual has no control over the number of days that he may be permitted to work by the system under which he lives. So we frankly recognise that it is a broadening out—and, of course, this country proceeds by broadening out, from precedent to precedent, and so on—and this is one of the broadening-out processes, so that I hope the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division, while recognising that we do embody the principle of maintenance, will also recognise that we embody it by the method of insurance.
With regard to the short-time worker, the argument that was used by the Lord Privy Seal, I suggest, has been perverted from its original meaning. The point obviously is that the short-time worker requires to be considered from the standpoint of having secured to him a living minimum wage. The point about other countries, which the same hon. Gentleman raised, is a very slippery slope of argument, and it logically leads to sweated conditions of employment. We have turned our backs on that type of thing, and I venture to suggest that our captains of industry are far better satisfied with the form of labour produced by our method of protected conditions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear!"]—I was not at that moment using the word "protected" in its fiscal sense.
The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Barker) seemed to predict very stormy weather for our Bill in the Committee stage. I think he is a pessimist. I am very hopeful that we are going to have a fair passage in the Committee stage, for 2150 this reason, that the criticisms that have been put forward to-day for the most part, with certain negligible exceptions, have been criticisms with a real desire to strengthen the Bill in the best way, and I feel certain that in many points of detail it may be possible to find, by the collective wisdom of Members of the Committee, some better form of words than that at present in the Bill. The point that the hon. Member raised about the possibility of 100 days' unemployment is an extraordinarily exceptional case. For the most part the employers and workers do try to get together, and get some sort of system that will not so terribly penalise the short-term workers as was suggested.
With regard to the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville) and the hon. Member for the Moseley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Hannon), I submit to them that in raising the point that the Bill does not provide work, they are raising a point which really represents an absence of clear thinking on their part. Obviously, the Bill does not provide work. It is not the nature or intention of the Bill to provide work, but to provide maintenance during unemployment. I am quite sure that we are going to get the deluge on Thursday, but I suggest that that is the occasion for that kind of remark, and not in connection with a discussion on insurance. The recognition by the Ministry of the need for special treatment for agricultural labourers is very real and honest. The hon. Member for the King's Lynn Division of Norfolk (Lieut.-Colonel Woodwark) admits that the industry does require special treatment, and that the conditions of the industry are such that you could not possibly bring the agricultural labourers immediately under the high contributions required under this Bill. It would not be fair. Therefore, it requires special treatment, and, as the Minister pointed out, it requires the co-operation of the Agricultural Department side by side with the Ministry of Labour. That is a matter which must engage the earnest attention of the Minister.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) fears the effect of continuous payment. Surely there is again a little misunderstanding here. There is the 2151 26 weeks' period of standard benefit, and then—if I may use the phrase—the person in receipt of the benefit after 26 weeks has to come under the microscope. I think that is a most effective way of putting it. Let me tell the House exactly what he has to do. In the first instance, the conditions for standard benefit lay down five points. First, there must be the payment of 30 contributions—I am not now speaking of an abnormal period, but of the normal period—during from two to three years previously. Secondly, the claim must be duly made, and proof of continuous unemployment given. Thirdly, there must be capacity for work, and the person must be available for work. Fourthly, he must be genuinely seeking work and unable to obtain suitable employment. Fifthly, there must be, in the case of juveniles, attendance at some course of instruction, if required. Then, in addition to that side of the qualification, there is the disqualification side. There are here four points: (1) loss of last employment owing to stoppage due to trade dispute; (2) loss of employment owing to misconduct or voluntary leaving without just cause; (3) being an inmate of a prison or a workhouse, or being a resident outside the United Kingdom; and (4) receipt of sickness or disablement benefit, or old age pension or blind persons pension. There are all these provisions. I may say here, perhaps, to hon. and right hon. Members who, of course, know it as well as I do, that in connection with that category of conditions the procedure which has been followed is, first, that the insurance officer has to be satisfied. If a member appeals against the decision of the insurance officer he goes to the Court of Referees, and from the Court of Referees he goes to the Umpire. So that, as far as the standard benefit is concerned, there is this course, as it were, which has to standardise the conditions. Beyond that then, for the extended benefit, the unemployed applicant has to satisfy the local employment committee, composed of employers and workmen's representatives, that he normally works in insurable employment and will seek his livelihood by that means; also that in normal times suitable insurable employment will be likely to be available for him; thirdly that he has, during the last two years, done a reasonable amount of insurable 2152 work; fourthly, that the man is making every reasonable effort to obtain suitable employment and is willing to accept it.
These conditions must be satisfactory to the local employment committee, and they are in addition to the other conditions which I have mentioned. The local insurance committee may give a judgment on the unemployed person; the latter may appeal against the Committee, and the Ministry may order a reconsideration of the case. I venture to suggest that there is enough administrative guarantee in all this to satisfy every reasonable demand. Then there is the further check against maladministration by questions in this House itself. There is always that method of question and answer here. I suggest that the Bill, if anything, errs on the side of administrative checks, and I am satisfied that there is no real ground of the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman.
The Member for Sunderland (Mr. L. Thompson) raised some very interesting Committee points, and it is not necessary for me to deal with them in detail now. I quite agree that the definitions of the Bill do require to be carefully examined in Committee, and if it is possible to make them more definite it will be the desire of the Minister of Labour to do so. With regard to the emphasis which has been laid upon the Clause dealing with trade disputes, I am quite satisfied that we shall be very grateful if any hon. Members can give us a better form of words that will meet the difficulty than the form of words which are contained in this Bill. I think the injustice of the existing regulations with regard to disputes is recognised by every hon. Member, and it is in order to remove that grave injustice that we have endeavoured to find words. We have inserted what we thought was a formula which might be regarded as water-tight, but we shall be ready to consider any other form of words.
The Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay) raised the important point of apprenticeship, and be asked what was the Ministry of Labour doing towards ascertaining the number of apprenticeship openings, and he asked if it was not a fact that it was owing to trade union restrictions that there was not a larger number of apprentices. That is an entirely erroneous idea, because 2153 there is no trade union in existence to-day where the number of apprentices entering the trade is as many as is allowed by the rules of that trade. The rules of the trade unions that exist allow for a larger number of apprentices than can be persuaded to go into those particular trades to-day. That is a fact which is very ominous, and it is having a terrible effect from the standpoint of the number being trained.
I may say that the Juvenile Advisory Committee has been reconstituted, and they are turning their attention to this question. This Council has upon it six representatives of the London County Council and representatives of some of the largest employers in London, as well as other agencies, and it is taking a great interest in juvenile employment. That Committee is undertaking a very definite investigation at the request of the Minister of Labour. They are considering carefully London trades and trying to ascertain the conditions under which new entrants come in, whether clearly defined trades get their entrants from the provinces or from London, and to what extent are London boys and girls given a chance of obtaining a technical training. That is a very fruitful field, and it is an entirely unexplored field as far as the juveniles of London are concerned. It is a matter upon which we have no specific information, and that is one of the reasons which has led the Minister of Labour to include this clause in the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Fisher) has made an appealing speech on behalf of education, but I ask him to recognise facts. He says that the Bill recognises children in industry between the ages of 14 and 16, but they are there already. The children are in industries now, and we are facing this problem from the other side. We meet with them at the age of 16 years after they have been from two or three years separated from any educational influences whatsoever. It is because they are there that we are facing the facts. I quite recognise that there is a place for theories, and I profoundly believe in the importance of theories, but not as a stumbling block to the practical steps that are necessary. Let the House bear in mind that this is the only step which it is within the competence of the Minister of Labour to take, and it is a step to try to bridge a gulf, or, to use 2154 another metaphor, to explore an unexplored area, which, while itmay not be very large if we are merely counting heads, is very terrible in its effect upon the individual that is caught in that unknown and uncharted area of juvenile unemployment. It is largely because of its devastating effect that we wish to extend downwards to the point of meeting the education authority.
We do not want to touch the child as long as the education authorities can hold the child. It is a dovetailing process; it is an attempt to bridge a gulf. We see no opportunity immediately, within what may be called a child generation of school life, for the education authorities. We are quite prepared—the Minister is anxious—to accept a form of words which will eliminate the objectionable figure of 14, and will make it perfectly clear that as education advances insurance will recede just in the same proportion. We are anxious to find a form of words that will make that absolutely clear. With regard, however, to the criticism of the juvenile centres, I entirely dissent from that, because I think that a very important factor has been entirely ignored, and that is the fact that the juvenile centres have never had a decent chance, because, again, of this unexplored area. Many of the children who have gone to the juvenile centres have been for two or three years separated from educational influences, and while I recognise the plea of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) that there should be no gap at all, we are faced with the other difficulty, that it is a part of the duty of the Ministry of Labour to look at this matter from the standpoint of employment.
It is a part of our duty to regard those children who have entered industry from the point of view of employment, and therefore there must be some sort of standard by which you can judge whether a child is, in fact, in an insurable trade or not. We must have some sort of measurement that in fact the child is going into industry. Fortunately there may be—we do not know yet; we have not the figures to show it—a considerable proportion of children passing through the elementary schools whose parents are able to give them what the Americans call the Sabbatical year, who are able to give them a complete year's holiday 2155 before they take to a trade. There may be some who leave the elementary school because their parents think they are not learning enough, or they may leave for a hundred different reasons. They may go to visit relations. Therefore, we cannot say that as soon as a child leaves school it shall be insured. We have no test as to whether the child is ever going to be an employed person. What we must have is some measure which will show that the child is in fact going to enter into industry, and we think the 30 contributions are the test which it is reasonable to apply in that connection. In addition to that, we hope that it may reassure educationists that there would at least be 30 contributions in the way of any sort of temptation. I do not admit the reality of the temptation at all for a moment, but we hope that that will disarm some of the opposition of the real educationists.
I repeat that we desire in every possible way to co-ordinate the activities of the Education Department with the Ministry of Labour in connection with the juvenile problem. I venture to suggest to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Cove) that it is not a problem of education or a problem of insurance; it is a problem of education and a problem of insurance. There are two problems, but it is not one as against the other. We have to tackle them both with the same amount of zest and the same amount of enthusiasm. These two methods of dealing with the matter are not antagonistic. They should be entirely complementary. The hon. Member for Birkenhead East (Mr. Graham White), whose criticisms will, I hope, be not only welcomed but useful in Committee, raised the definite question as to what is the nature of the teaching in the juvenile unemployment centres; and some other hon. Members also raised the very vexed question of the pension valuation rights of the teachers in those centres, and also the question as to whether there was not to be a more extended contribution from the surplus to the children themselves. That question was also raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme. The idea briefly, in regard to the nature of teaching in these centres, is this. We desire to be in the closest consultation 2156 with the Minister of Education on this point, and to dovetail in, as far as possible, with all the proposals for practical and vocational training. In regard to the eligibility for superannuation of the teachers taking this kind of work, we hope that in the Teachers Superannuation Act (Amendment) Bill, teaching of every kind will be regarded as teaching for the purposes of superannuation. With regard to the contributions of children, I venture to say that the child is paying into a fund to which he or she will become an adult contributor as well as a juvenile contributor. It is not as though it were something separated from the ordinary working life of the child. There are no difficulties about the House coming to some decision with regard to taking a larger proportion of surplus, but we do want to point out that the surplus is, in fact, going to swell the fund. It is not going to be taken away from the fund, that fund from which the child will be able to draw during the whole of his or her employable life. It is a matter of less importance that there should be a surplus. An hon. Member complains that we give the benefits to members on the supposition that they will subsequently pay the contributions back to the fund. This is merely a broadening out of the precedent in the other direction, that is, that the members are forestalling the benefits they may subsequently have to draw from the fund, instead of paying back after they have become indebted to the fund.
I think I have just time for one more point. The hon. Member for Birkenhead, East also raised the important question of the trade dispute Clause and suggested that he would be able to give us some simplification of the Clause. I am glad he also pointed out that there was nothing in the Bill, as at present before the House, that will block the way to the consolidating Bill, and to the more widely extended powers which may possibly be co-ordinated in the insurance scheme. It is very important that we should all realise that the whole programme of insurance is still in its experimental stages. We have come to an extraordinary difficult period. This insurance scheme has defects, defects which we are gradually curing in the light of experience, and a year or two of experience is worth a ton of theory in regard to a question of this sort. It is in the light of experience that we are steadily improving 2157 the insurance schemes, the principle of which, I think, we have all adopted as a nation. But with regard to the consolidation of them, it is surely important that we should have a still further trial of this method of insurance. The principle of the common purse, the principle of the common fund, is still, at it were, on its trial, and has never had the place that it should occupy in a general scheme of social well-being. We are reaching a stage when we can by our experience tread much more firmly in the direction of further extension, and while this Bill is not the last word by any means in insurance—it is not intended to be the last word—it is intended to deal with the situation which must arise. It is intended to be a Bill which will obtain support from all sides of the House to be able to get it through all its stages in time to be operative by July and in that way to place, as it were, another great foundation stone for the edifice which will finally be built. The Minister will be prepared to consider any reasonable Amendments in detail, but he cannot promise to accept any radical alterations in the principle of the Bill.
§ Colonel Sir CHARLES YATE
Of all the checks, a list of which the hon. Lady gave us, is there any check to prevent a man who voluntarily gives up his work getting benefit at the end of six weeks?
§ Miss BONDFIELD
A man who voluntarily leaves his work is not entitled to unemployment benefit for a maximum of six weeks. At the end of six weeks he is able to qualify. He has then to satisfy the authorities that he is capable and available for work, and is genuinely seeking work, but is unable to obtain suitable employment, that he has his claim duly made and proof of continuous unemployment is given. He has to report regularly to the Employment Exchange and to satisfy the other condition.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. NALL
I want to refer to one or two aspects of the principle, or, shall I say, the lack of principle, underlying this Bill. To describe such a Measure as an Insurance Bill is merely a travesty, because, so far from insurance in the ordinary sense, those who will draw benefit under it will, 2158 in the main, not pay contributions for the benefit they receive. Therefore, in the main, the Measure is simply an extension of parish relief on a grandiose scale. A few days ago, the Minister of Labour went to Bolton, the one town in the cotton county which at present is enjoying prosperity.
§ Mr. SHAW rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.