HC Deb 18 March 1926 vol 193 cc617-702

I beg to move, That item Class VII, Vote 3 (Ministry of Labour), be reduced by £100. I desire, in the first place, to draw attention to two matters that may be regarded as requiring attention separately. Those two are the treatment of what is generally known as the Women's Employment Committee and the question of the position of the Ministry towards trade boards. In regard to the first, I desire to draw attention to a point arising out of the Employment Committee regarding women, because we regarded this as a piece of purely constructive work. The training of women, in particular, in trades and occupations that would be regarded as suitable to them and would enable them to secure employment was a distinctly new thing, and, in our view, needed all the assistance, financial and otherwise, that the Ministry could render in that connection, but what we find is that at the present moment the grant has been reduced from some £80,000 to £60,000, as I understand the latest information in regard to it. Worse still, as far as our information goes, we are informed that the grant will now be spread over three periods of four months each, which means that £20,000 for four months only will be paid rather than that the full amount should be spread over the year, enabling the committee to organise the work beforehand. It means now that, so far as the training of women is concerned, what is going to happen is that arrangements can be made only four months ahead. That, under any circumstances, is an impracticable way of dealing with the question of the training of women, and I can scarcely imagine how anybody with any experience in training workers, whether male or female, can justify a method like that. It at least shows an amateurish attempt to handle a very important part of the unemployment problem.

Then there is the important question of the trade boards. The most remarkable thing about the Ministry's treatment of the trade boards is that just at the very time when every attempt should have been made to assist the workers in the various industries, particularly in the grocery trade, we are told that there is no need to set up the rates that have been agreed upon. We are told that the circumstances do not justify the setting up of those rates, but the fact is that throughout long years now the general request among the working people of this country has always been to secure trade hoards in order that we might save ourselves the difficulties that always arise from disputes and other things of that description. We were under the impression that the best guarantee for a sort of stability in trades of that description was to have bodies like trade boards set up, but where we could not get the people organised, it was more important still to assist those workers, through governmental aid, if you like, in the way of setting up these boards and registering rates of wages and hours and other conditions.

Here we had, in connection with the grocery trade, a distinct decision on the part of the trade hoard that a certain rate should be set up, and we have now got the information that the Ministry does not see its way clear to carry out that decision. Our view is that that its a violation, at any rate, of a policy that was carried on by former Governments of different parties, who were concerned about carrying out the decisions of trade boards, but to-day, when prices are as high, relatively speaking, as has been the case, previously, we have the rates of wages and conditions of employment in the grocery trade falling away more completely than ever. There are more young persons getting into blind-alley employment inside the grocery trade to-day than was ever the case before. Ever-increasing numbers are flocking into that trade, and, as a consequence, there is little or no organisation and no guarantee as far as wages and hours are concerned.

When we come to other cases, like the catering trade, for example, if there is a sweated trade in this country, it is the catering trade. Yet the Ministry says this is not a good time, to do anything with regard to it. There was an inquiry, the result of which has not been given to this House. We have had none of the documents, not even the document upon which the Ministry formed its own decision not to set up a board for the catering trade, though, singularly, in this particular trade the wages are the very worst. It would be difficult to find any other trade or occupation where wages and hours are worse than in the catering trade. The unions have taken a considerable amount of trouble to get the information, because we could not get it as a result of the action of the Ministry itself. The unions have gone into the matter, and concluded that a board is necessary. It is upon their information that these figures are based. We find waitresses in this country at the present time receiving in wages 7s. to 17s. 6d. per week. In very rare cases the wages go to 25s. a week. I know it will be said in most of these cases they get tips. An inquiry has been made into the tipping system. In the largest shops, those which may be regarded as large company shops, the tips are the lowest of all. The average works out at under 2s., and the better-class shop at 4s. per week. If you treble that amount, and put it on to the 7s. to 17s. 6d. a week, the wages would then be sweated.

The conditions in this trade can only be likened to white slavery. The hours range from 51 to 73, the general rate running through most of the catering trade being 73 hours a week. There are very few cases indeed where the hours are 51. If ever there was a case where the Ministry could have done a good and useful thing for a great and increasing army of workpeople, it was in this case. It cannot be said that it is subject to foreign competition, any more than the under taking trade is subject to foreign competition. None of the arguments that would be put up with regard to the steel and engineering trades, or trades of that description, or with regard to what are known as the sheltered trades, can be brought forward in this case. We are told that The Acts would only be extended to new trades where it had been clearly ascertained by a systematic investigation that sweating conditions prevailed. Anybody who has been behind the counters or in the kitchens, and who knows the conditions, the long hours and constant movement in which these people work must be convinced that the trade is a sweated trade. Perhaps it would be well if the Minister told us what he would call a sweated trade. Would he say that where the wages are 5s. a week, with a maximum of 10s., that was a sweated trade? The next step would seem to be so far backward that the workers must pay to be employed, and then, perhaps, it would be a sweated industry. Surely no Minister or any Member of the House is prepared to justify these rates, and, on these grounds, we are entitled to urge that steps should, at any rate, be taken to improve conditions, and I think it would improve conditions to set up the Boards necessary in those cases. One thing against which we are entitled to protest is that, immediately upon this Government's resumption of office, and immediately the employers see the Government's representatives, there should be this hostility to the continuance of Trade Boards. The truth is that the Government are standing behind the employers, and not assisting the working class in anything we want done.

I wish to draw attention to the attitude of the Ministry with regard to work-people in this country at the present time, and this is of general application to those workers who have been, what I call, completely ordered off the unemployment insurance. The whole thing now seems to be at the discretion of the Ministry, and a certain set of officers. Whatever those officers say is taken for granted, and large numbers of people, really good, high-class workmen are swept away from benefit at their instigation. The Ministry seems to take it for granted on the information of those officials, and if an inquiry is set up, it is among officers of a similar temperament. These workers have contributed, if not from the point of view of contributions to the Unemployment Fund, at any rate as an asset to this country. I believe every hon. Member is constantly getting letters from constituents relating to people who have been struck off. I cannot go into many of them, but I will draw attention to one which is most important, because it shows to what extent these men are suffering. The letter will indicate pretty well the type of man with whom you are dealing. The letter runs: I beg to bring to your notice my position with respect to unemployment benefit. I am now 62 years of age, and worked continually in the Chepstow and Sudbrook shipyards from 1888 until 1923. Owing to the industrial conditions in Chepstow, I. in common with hundreds of men, lost my employment. Since 1923 I have only worked very casually. Perhaps at the very most I have been able to secure 10 or 15 stamps on my card. On 2nd September last I was notified that I could no longer receive any benefits under the Act. As a matter of fact, I have received no payment since about the second week in August. My case is very well known to the local unemployment committee, who seem to be powerless to help me. Every effort has been made by me to obtain employment, but scores of men younger and more able than I am cannot get employment. I claim that inasmuch as I am out of work through no fault of my own, but through the industrial condition, I ought to continue to receive benefits under the Act. I shall be pleased to give you names of employers, and also well-known local gentlemen, who will bear testimony regarding my inability to obtain employment. This is a case where the discretion of the Minister has been used completely to cut the man off benefit. I want to ask the Minister, what does he think is going to be the future mental make-up of this man—never mind about the present mental make-up? This man was for 35 years at one job. Since the Insurance Acts came into operation, he would have paid 15 years' contribution at the very least, and he is now at a period when it would have been a useful thing to him, and when it would have been a good thing for the Minister to have used the discretion he has, even though it might be assumed to be against public policy. He would, at any rate, have been maintaining in benefit one who, through a long course of years, has subscribed very liberally to the funds of the insurance organisation. This is not an isolated case, but one of thousands and thousands at the present time, and I do not wonder that many of our work-people, many of them not even Labour men, believe that this House has become a sort of mausolem of buried hopes so far as the people of this country are concerned, and that appears to be the position with regard to large numbers of men at the present time.

4.0 P.M

It would seem, if we proceed rapidly along these lines, that, instead of having a C 3 nation, we shall very soon get a Z 26 nation. That letter is a. fair indication that unemployment is an unmitigated curse to large masses of the people of this country. I want to tell the Committee, quite frankly, that the time is rapidly approaching when it will be impossible to deal with this question of unemployment it this way. We heard it said the other day that the number of unemployed has gone down from 1,200,000 to 1,120,000. What does it all mean? If we are to be delighted at a change of that description, it means that we are, as it were, agreeing to the permanency of this problem. We are getting quite used to 1,200,000 and 1,300,000 unemployed, and we are glad that the number has fallen 50,000. We hoped that it would have fallen by 60,000, and we think it would have been much better if it had fallen 80,000. What does it all mean? It means that a million are being almost perpetually ground down to unemployment.

As far as I can see, this figure of 1,000,000 simply represents your signatories. Behind that number, there are perhaps 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 more people who are suffering dire distress and agony as a consequence of the conditions under which they are living. In addition, it is forcing upon us these horrible housing conditions of which we hear over and over again. You can change your housing system, you can get tin boxes, or iron boxes, or cow sheds, or barns, or Weir houses, but people in that poverty-stricken condition will live where they can and under what conditions they can. We all know that the amount you pay in unemployment benefit will practically buy only a decent hotel dinner. Yet we are continually hearing of people living on this dole. It was the biggest insult to the working people of this country when it was called a dole, because every cent of it belongs to them. Indeed, we ought to move a vote of thanks to them in view of the fact that the Government are able to make a proposal to lift £5,500,000 out of the fund which they have created, or will at least be able to lilt it as the years go on.

This 1,000,000 of unemployed includes not only a large army of skilled men, but, side by side with them, 200,000 women. The treatment which we are meting out to the women at the present time is brutal in the extreme. That cannot he disputed. You have, first of all, reduced the amount to be spent on training these women. It is the very best thing that has been done by the Ministry, and it ought to be kept going. But you are going to deprive them of training to the extent of £2,500 per year. The anticipated amount of this reduced grant is £3,600, but formerly it was £6,000 per year. We ought to have some account as to what is going to be done with this £2,500 that is being completely thrown over so far as the training scheme is concerned. Again, is there any justification for the treatment of many applicants for benefit and those who are being scored off at the present time? Nobody can justify it. We protest against the attitude which the Ministry and its officials are taking up with regard to many of these women. The only reason they give in many cases for taking them off the fund is that it is against public policy or public interest to give them the benefit. Have the Ministry thought what is happening with regard to a large number of these women and girls? We have homes for lost dogs and lost cats, but there is no home for the decent woman who is unemployed. They can be scored off with ease and comfort, and people can be got to justify it. We are here to protest against the attitude of the Ministry with regard to these women. The Ministry could do more. If the Government gave £50,000, £60,000 or £100,000 more to keep these women under far better conditions, it, would be doing a very useful piece of work. We are sometimes told, particularly in connection with the women, that the Socialism which many of the Members on this side of the House advocate is destroying home life. As a matter of fact, the Ministry, by cutting these people off from benefit, are almost daily and weekly destroying home life in this country, and we think that aspect of the question should be considered.

There is another thing I want to say with regard to this question. I want to draw attention to the fact that there are large numbers of young men who get to the age of 16 or 17 and who are discharged because there is no further opportunity for continuing them at work in certain industries. The treatment they get is simply to put them off without any hope for the future. If there was any real, genuine desire to handle this problem properly, the Ministry would at least organise that army of young men and women and see that they are given opportunities in training schools, technical schools, or secondary schools to link up their education. No Minister dare stand up at that Box and oppose the spending of money for such an object, and any Minister who proposed it would receive the general support of the vast mass of people who at the present time are suspicious, doubtful, and hostile to the Department because of what is happening to large number of our people. If you say you cannot do this, then I refer you to the fact that it is quite easy, when you want to subsidise beet-sugar, or housing, for you to handle the problem. But when it comes to looking after the men, women, and children of this country, it seems to be such a difficult problem that you have not the money to deal with it. We very easily find £4,000,000 for our Mesopotamian exploits, but, when it is for the purpose of assisting people at home, then it seems such a difficult proposition that we talk about the hardship and impracticability of it.

The Minister of Labour would find no better supporters than among the trade union element if he made any determined attempt to assist the workers in this connection. We world give him every support if he would put his hands to this problem in such a way as to be an assistance to the people of the country rather than to oppose them as at present. You can go on scoring these men and women off your unemployment books and forcing many women, as you are doing, to become prostitutes and many of our best men to lose their hearts and to do things which under ordinary circumstances they would not do, but do not forget that you are creating a great mass of resentment against these institutions. You must remember that large numbers of these men bore arms, and bore arms on your behalf for a. long period. They will be thinking about this treatment, and they will be reminded of your promises. Rather than encourage them to revolt in such a. way as to create a danger to our institutions and to the general stability of the country, you ought to assist them to give of their best. At the present time you are assisting them on the down grade. They are being spoiled, and they are being encouraged to have a hatred of society. Be careful that this great mass of unemployed does not overwhelm those who are responsible for their treatment.


It is significant of the attitude of the Government towards the problem of unemployment that their Estimates this year show a decrease of over £2,000,000. It seems as if the Government were prepared to sit down and be content with this constant figure of over 1,000,000 unemployed. We are told that the average unemployment is 10 per cent. or 11 per cent., and yet, appalling as that figure is, we know that in certain trades and in certain parts of the country unemployment reaches 20 per cent., and in other trades and districts, as in the case of the shipbuilding industry on the North-East Coast it reaches as much as 50 per cent I submit that the handling of the problem, which may he quite satisfactory where you have two and five per cent. unemployed, is quite inadequate and breaks down where you have 20 per cent., 30 per cent., 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. unemployed. We cannot simply go on the old lines. Do the Committee realise what we have been doing during recent years? It is somewhat appalling to note that since the Armistice, according to replies which I obtained from the Parliamentary Secretary the other day, we have paid out £340,000,000 hard cash for no services rendered. Unemployment has taken £238,000,000, out-of-work donation £62,000,000, and £40,000,000 has gone in relief to the able-bodied unemployed.

Are we to be satisfied going on the same lines in the next few years, spending hundreds of millions without getting anything in return? This year these Estimates, and the estimates of the local authorities provide for something like £70,000,000 or £80,000,000 to be paid away for no services rendered. Surely it does not pass the wit of man, when spending these millions, to see at any rate that we get some return. The unemployed do not want to receive benefit or poor law relief without rendering any service. They wish to have honest, decent work rather than take this money and give no service in return. If we are going to spend these millions, the Government might consider whether it would not be better to spend the money, giving work rather than benefit and relief. We had not long ago a debate on the question of our roads, and the need for main arterial roads, for secondary roads, and for roads of all classes and description was made manifest. If we spent some of these millions on improving our road and transport system, we should at the end of the year have some valuable assets to show. Take the question of our canals and inland water service. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health presided over a Commission which went into that matter, and their report showed that there was room for improvement and for refashioning and remaking our inland water system.

There are many other ways in which help can be rendered. There is land and Foreshore reclamation, and there is the question of improved harbours, improved tramways, extension of light railways in the rural districts which are in close touch with the urban districts and which will bring them into closer touch, and so take out the congested populations of the towns into the country districts. All these things would give us valuable national assets for the money which is at present being spent and for which we are getting nothing in return. If the Government have not the vision, the foresight, or the ability to do these things themselves, surely, there is no reason why they should stop local authorities doing work of the kind? Yet that is the effect of the issue of a circular which the Ministry have distributed to the local authorities, with a view to hampering the efforts of the local authorities to get on with useful work to employ the unemployed. We need to employ more men and not less; yet, according to the figures given the other day in the House, the latest returns for January of this year show that 104,000 men were employed on State schemes, compared with 109,000 a year ago. That is a decrease of 5,000 men, although unemployment in the country is greater than it was a year ago.

The same is indicated in the amount of money sanctioned for various works of public utility and various work for the relief of unemployment. From October to January last we had £7,000,000 worth of work sanctioned as compared with £9,000,000 worth of work in the previous year, showing a. £2,000,000 decrease, and a gradual decrease in the efforts of the Government to provide work instead of an increase in that effort. The same tendency is shown in the Votes that have not yet been, but will be, presented in connection with unemployment grants and grants for the relief of unemployment. These figures show a falling off of £1,500,000. I suppose that is considered to be economy! It may be of a saving character, but it is economy at the head at the expense of the ratepayers. The unemployed have to live, even if there is no work provided for them. If unemployment benefit is cut down they are simply forced on to the rates. It is surely a mean and a. paltry policy on the part of the Government to get out of their responsibilities by thrusting upon the local ratepayers a burden which ought to be borne by the taxpaper!

Unemployment really is a national, and not a local problem. Certain districts have an excessive number of unemployed, the result of the War. Many districts are worse hit because during the War certain towns and areas became known as munitions towns and areas where the people crowded during the War at the call of the nation to make munitions. Having got to these places, these districts and towns, the Armistice came along, and then we got the housing problem. Because of the shortage of houses, it is difficult for these people to move away to their former homes from where they have been working—that is to say, from the munitions centres. Therefore these centres, and the iron and steel districts, because of the trend of events, have, a much bigger proportion of unemployed than rightly belongs to them. The local authorities are left with the maintenance of the unemployed, and this problem is aggravated by the refusal of the Government to put in hand, or to allow the local authorities to put in hand, public work, while at the same time they are cutting down unemployment relief. The whole attitude of the Government is that of endeavouring to evade their national responsibilities, and to put on to the localities a burden which they have no right to bear.

I wish also to protest against the administration of unemployment benefit. I should like to give one or two illustrations of what I mean. Take the case of a man who has been employed 10 or 12 years, and has contributed towards unemployment insurance. At the end of that time he, it may be, retires and sets up a little business, may be he becomes manager of a public house, and carries that on for a year or so. At the end of that time he finds his new occupation has not been a success, and he endeavours to get back to his own trade. He cannot, however, get any work. Because of the Regulations he is debarred from receiving unemployment benefit because he has not been in the proper employment during the specified time. I should like to put it to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry whether that is fair, whether, indeed, it is not a gross act of injustice seeing that this man has contributed practically towards unemployment benefit over a long period of years, and has never drawn a penny piece himself; yet now that he is unemployed, by the working of this rule, he is debarred from any benefit whatsoever. I submit that the charge of getting money under false pretences might almost be made against the Government.

There is another case I can give the Parliamentary Secretary, a case perhaps not involving quite so much hardship. All the same, it is one deserving attention. I refer to the case of a man who has been working for an employer who goes into bankruptcy. From his wages have been deducted his contribution. The man goes to apply for benefit—I refer to a ease which happened some time ago—and the benefit is refused because that man's late employer has failed to stamp his card. I submit that in a case of that sort the whole burden ought not to fall on these insured persons. The State should bear some of it because they have authorised the employer to make the deduction, and the deduction having been made, it is not the fault of the man. The State ought to exercise discretion in a case like this and grant benefit. There have also been hardships owing to the refusal of extended benefit. A little time ago I was asked by the Middlesbrough Board of Guardians to draw the attention of the Ministry to the exceedingly hard way in which they were administering extended benefit in particular cases. The local committee recommended benefit. These recommendations have been turned down by the action of certain officials of the Ministry. The board of guardians pointed out to the Minister that the rota committees had been served by those who gave up a considerable amount of time to the work, and patiently went into the various cases that were brought before them. They knew the local circumstances, and knowing all these, they made the recommendations which were subsequently turned down by people with no local knowledge. There are hundreds of cases, not one or two, which have been turned down. I submit to the hon. Gentleman that there should be other instructions given in the case of the local committees which inquire into these cases of extended benefit, and make their recommendations. These instructions should be to the effect that these recommendations should not be upset by any outside body or official who knows nothing of the circumstances.

Particularly do I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to cases which have appeared before the guardians of men who have worked 30 or 40 years at some job, men who have never been unemployed till the present time, and who, because of impossibility of finding work, and so showing that they have been employed for what is considered a reasonable period of time, have been refused benefit. To say that in a shipyard and an engineering district where most of the work is closed down that a man has not been genuinely seeking work, or that he has not had a reasonable amount of employment during the succeeding 12 months or a few years, is foolish. Fifty per cent. of the shipyard workers on the North-East coast are out of work. The suggestion that men are not genuinely seeking work cannot apply to these men, and particularly to men who have never before been out of work, and have contributed for years and years to the Insurance Fund.

The extent of this harsh administration is evidenced by the increase in the number of those applying for poor relief. We have been told in the last day or two by various Ministers about the wonderful reduction now taking place in unemployment. It may be a big reduction in the unemployment benefit that is being paid, but I doubt very much whether there is any real reduction in unemployment. This, I think, is evidenced by the fact that in the Middlesbrough area before these harsh rules were being administered, when the administration was more sym- pathetic, we find—in July of last year—the total number of able-bodied cases of relief in the Middlesbrough Union was 1,065 at a cost of, £720 a week. In February of this year the number had increased to 2,081 and the cost to £1,809, practically three times as much. That does not look as if there is any real decrease in the amount of unemployment. It shows that the local rates are having to bear burdens which, if continued throughout the year, will put an extra 1s. 6d. in the on the rates. This will mean £1,000 per week increase on the local rates. I submit that the policy and aim of the Ministry should be above that. The administration should be more sympathetic. All this sort of thing does not make for a revival in trade.

Instead of refusing money, we ought to have more money spent by the Ministry of Labour in the way I have suggested, because the money will have to be spent in any case. If the money is, spent in a harsh and inhuman method of administration, then that administration is going to punish those who ought not to be punished, and it only means transferring burdens to the local rates, which are already at breaking point. In many parts of the country the local rates are standing at 18s., 19s., and 20s. on the pound. It is impossible to go on on that scale because the very increase in the rates is retarding the recovery of industry. The rates are a heavy first charge on industry and manufacture. Taxes are a burden. Rates are a greater burden. The Income Tax, at any rate, is provided out of profits made, whereas the rates are a first charge of industry, even if there are no profits and, perhaps, before any work is engaged upon.

Therefore, I do say that the Ministry and officials should adopt a more sympathetic attitude towards the administration of extended benefit. They should not be so keen at turning down the recommendations of the local committees which have gone into the question thoroughly, carefully, and know the merits of the cases. They are better judges, surely, than those gentlemen who sit in Whitehall, or some other distance away. I appeal to the Ministry, instead of cutting down the grants in relief of unemployment work, that they should give increased grants. At the present time the grants authorised are only 75 per cent. for half the loan period. The local authorities receive a substantial contribution in normal times. In times like the present, when the rates are at breaking point, and many of the local authorities have exhausted their resources, and spent, it may be, more than they can afford for unemployed work, I submit that it is to the benefit of the Government to increase and not to reduce the grants. We are told that one of the reasons against these grants is that they have to come from industry. I am only pleading for money which will have to be spent in any case, either in unemployment relief or in unemployment benefit. Instead of it being paid where no services are rendered, ought it not rather to be turned to useful employment, to the finding of work that will be a help in keeping up the moral of the people, and will be a national asset after the work is accomplished?


There are certain cases of administration which I desire to bring to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary—some of them have been before the Ministry before—which to my mind call for a- little more consideration on the part both of the Committees and of the officers of the Ministry. I recognise fully that in many of these cases both the officers and the Committees have a difficult task, but I do not think that such full consideration has been given to them as the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary would expect. The first case is one to which I called attention in a question a week ago. It is the case of Albert McCabe. In the first place, I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether this was a case in which some discretion had been exercised by the Committee in consequence of the man's earnings, seeing that there was only the man and his wife, and that the wages during 16 weeks amounted to an average of 23s.? Nothing on that point was said to the man in refusing benefit. The ground upon which he was refused benefit was stated to be that he was not genuinely seeking work. This man is 55 years of age and a steel melter. As is perfectly well known, the steel trade is in an extremely depressed condition. He has the opportunity of working every fortnight and takes it.

His complaint is not so much about the decision of the Committee as about the treatment he received when before the Committee. He was told by a member of the Committee, "You earn ¢1 a day." He replied, "Yes, when I am in full work I can earn £1 a day." As a matter of fact he is only getting something like a day a fortnight. Then a member of the Committee said to him, "Get out. We do not want any £1 a day men here." Whether it is true or not that he is able to earn a day, a remark of that kind is entirely uncalled for and ought not to be permitted. The question I put a week ago was as to whether when he was before the Committee there was any complaint as to his conduct, and the reply I got was that on learning that benefit would not be granted he created a certain amount of disturbance. It was after the decision had been reached, but it was before it had been communicated to him that he was told he was earning £1 a day and, when he tried to explain, was told to get out. That must indicate to any impartial person that the temper of the Committee was not what it ought to have been. The case was one of a man unemployed through no fault of his own. He could get employment when employment was available, and I put it with respect to his case, as to other cases that have been brought to one's notice, that that is not the right kind of treatment to come from men who are in no way suffering when dealing with men who are suffering very great hardship.


Did he kick up a row?


He said something that was not convenient—that was not Parliamentary, perhaps.


Good luck to him.


The next ease is one of a different character. It is that of a man 63 years of age who for 33 years had been in employment. Then his employment stopped—the place was closed—and he had to search for work elsewhere. He came before the Committee, who turned him down.


Whose case is this?


The case of Arthur Jones. The committee turned down this case on the ground that this man of 63 was not genuinely seeking work. I wrote to the manager of the Sheffield Employment Exchange to ask what chance there was for men of 60 years of age to find employment, and this is his reply, dated 28th October: No applications are received at the Sheffield Exchange for workmen over 60 years of age in any trade. Whilst there are several thousand workmen below the age of 60 unemployed, it is improbable that any inquiries will be made for the older men. Why do not the committee say frankly to the man: "We are very sorry, but there is no chance of a man of your age finding employment"? He is a man who has held one job for 33 years, and yet he is told that he is not genuinely seeking work. It is the total lack of real human sympathy in cases of this sort that causes so much distress. He ought to have been shown more consideration instead of being treated in that way. What is offered to his wife, a woman of 67? She is told that she ought to go as cook in some institution in Staffordshire. A woman of that age: I say again it is improper treatment for these people, against whom nothing is to be alleged except their misfortune.

Here is another case of an extraordinary kind which I took up with the Ministry in July last. This is the case of Tickhill. He was refused benefit, in spite of the fact that he had 47 stamps on his card, on the ground that he was not genuinely seeking work. It was subsequently admitted that a form which had been used occasionally by the Ministry in connection with the Sheffield; Board of Guardians had been used and filled in by the Ministry to the effect that the man was not genuinely seeking work, and that that form ought not to have been used. What do the hoard of guardians say in regard to it? Relief was given. The form was sent to the Employment Exchange and was returned marked 'disallowed.' It was marked 'B,' which, according to the code in use, means 'Not genuinely seeking work.' This is the report on that case of the Superintendent of Out-relief—his report on a main with whom he has not been in touch occasionally but in continual touch for three years: Worked for the Nunnery Colliery for many years till July, 1922, having to leave the pit owing to eye trouble. Since then he has worked odd weeks for several builders, and for fairly long periods on corporation relief work, and we are of opinion that he would take any kind of work he is able to do. We believe him to be a respectable man. The Committee, however, turned down toe man's application on the ground that he was not genuinely seeking work. I took this matter up, and had a letter from the Ministry, who explained the statement, that he was not seeking work by saying he was not taking what opportunities there were for obtaining employment in the mines locally—this at the very time when, of the two pits in the neighbourhood, one was actually discharging men and the other, for the first time for a long period, had been reducing employment to four days a week. This man had to leave the pit in consequence of eye trouble, and yet it is maintained, not by the Sheffield Committee but by the Ministry here, that he ought to go back into the pit again. I say that is a most unjust way in which to treat any man. His position was that: he, his wife and three children had to live on a fortnight's earnings or, rather, each fortnight they have to live on half the money they ought to he having, simply because of this error, which was pointed out months and months ago and in regard to which he can get no consideration. They were really starving.

A fourth case was one about which I asked a question in August. It concerns certain tramway work. When four men applied at the Attercliffe Exchange they were told that this was relief work, and they must apply to the guardians. They applied to the guardians, and the guardians sent them back to Attercliffe. Then Attercliffe sent them to the Sheffield Exchange. The Sheffield Exchange sent them to the Town Hall, and the Town Hall sent them back to the Sheffield Exchange. I was told that this did not actually occur. I have interviewed one of the officials of the Ministry and discussed it with him. I said, "There has been a complete misunderstanding, and I want it cleared up. Can we have an inquiry on the spot, with these four men present, in order to see what the actual state of affairs is and how the misunderstanding arose so that if they have misrepresented what actually took place we may know about it?" But no inquiry takes place, and I am simply assured again that I am mistaken in regard to the matter.

Now I come to a reply which I received two days ago to a question I asked on 15th December. It has taken three months to get this reply, because the matter has been the subject of examination by the Clerk to the Sheffield Guardians and by officers of the Ministry of Labour. That question had reference to the granting of relief in cases when unemployment benefit had been refused to the number of cases, and the cost. The statement I received goes into a good many questions which I did not ask, but which I am extremely glad to have information upon. It is true the reply is from the Ministry of Health, but they have been in communication with the Ministry of Labour. The comparison here is between the figures on the 21st February and the 28th November, the dates. I asked for: The number of cases relieved on account of suspension of unemployment benefit goes up from 966 to 2,360. The number of cases receiving benefit go down from 2,250 to 1,639. The number of cases not receiving benefit go up from 966 to 2,399 and the amount of relief granted owing to the suspension of benefit goes up from £965 to £2,575 per week. That means an expenditure of £83,000 a year has been thrown on to a necessitous area, which is very hard hit at the present time by the action of the Ministry. Particulars follow as to the 2,360 cases.

In 2,196 cases they say definite decisions of disqualification wore Laced and the balance represents cases under consideration, or in fact in receipt of standard or extended benefit. In 80 of the other eases a re-hearing had taken place and benefit was again being paid. All these claims were traced for extended and not for standard benefit. In 98 cases disallowance was on the ground that the applicant was not normally in insured employment. In 168 cases they were disqualified on the ground that insurable employment was not likely to be available, and in 999 cases on the ground that the applicant had not had a reasonable period of employment during the last two years. In 513 cases the disqualification was on the ground that the applicant was not making a. reasonable effort to obtain employment. Therefore you have here 513 cases disqualified on the ground that they are not making a reasonable effort to find employment although there are 999 oases for whom employment is at the same time not available, and surely that is an extraordinary decision to arrive at. Then there comes a statement which justifies the Minister in telling us repeatedly that in regard to regulations made for the disallowance of benefit "really these cases are very few amounting here to only 20 out of 2,196," and, of course, this throws into the air any arguments used on this side as to their being a, large number of these cases.

But this is not the whole story. I do not know whether the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour are in the habit of issuing statements of this kind. It is perfectly true that they are engaged in doing subtraction sums and trying to reduce the number on the Unemployment Register, but I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to do a sum in simple addition, and if he does he will find that the total of these cases amounts to a good deal less than the total given, many of them are not accounted for at all, in spite of the fact that "definite decisions of disqualification were traced." The number unaccounted for in the cases I have cited is 318, and our allegation is that they have been disqualified in consequence of the Regulations to which I have alluded. When particulars of this sort are given we have a right to ask that the whole facts should be disclosed, and we should be supplied with the whole story. If in a matter of this sort figures which are so incomplete are supplied, then, with regard to some of the other figures which we have quoted, we certainly have, very great reason to ask whether there is any reliance to be placed upon them.


The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) said he wanted more money spent out of the unemployment fund, but I want to see very much less spent in that way. I would like to see this fund accumulating to such an extent that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to cast an eye upon it and see how much he can get out of it, and that can only be done by getting the total amount of unemployment considerably reduced. The real cause of un- employment is the absolute distrust to be found all over the country, and it is all very well for hon. Members belonging to the Labour party blaming capital. My view is that hon. Members above the Gangway are just as much to blame, and even more so, than capital. It is all very well for hon. Members to keep talking about the evils of the capitalist system, but what are they doing to improve platters? They are simply making people in the country as unhappy as they possibly can, and they are not trying to get together the capitalists and the workers in order to arrive at some sort of understanding between them. Take as an example the engineers' strike which is now going on—


The questions which the hon. Member is now raising do not arise on this Vote.


Surely I am not very far away from the mark when I am trying to show how unemployment can be reduced. I suggest that we should try to get a better feeling between trade unionists and capitalists, and actually come to a bargain with the employers. I am perfectly certain if we do this that a great deal would be done to get unemployment benefit reduced, and then we should be able to establish a strong fund for the time when things might be even worse than they are now. At present things are not so bad if we could only come together and try to make them better. What the Left wing are trying to do now in regard to the Insurance Fund is simply to burst it. They want to see things as bad as possible. I know that they are better talkers than workers, but I happen to be a better worker than a talker. I am always present in the House to do my duty, which is a good deal more than can be said for a number of other hon. Members. I am simply justifying myself by saying a few words in favour of getting this Unemployment Insurance Fund reduced, and if my hon. Friends above the Gangway would do a little less talking and a little more work in order to get things placed upon a more workable footing, then the Insurance Fund would be reduced very considerably.

Captain GUEST

I have listened to the Debates on this question with an increasing feeling of despondency and despair. I submit that the subject we are now discussing is one of the most vital questions with which we are asked to deal. I am sorry that in our discussions upon this question recrimination still holds the field at a time when there are over 1,000,000 men and women out of work and the cost has been put at £100,000,000 a year. Besides this, we must remember that, year after year, we are spending vast sums of money in order to keep these people from absolute destitution. In reference to the provision of these funds, some support and favour the Income Tax payer at the expense of the ratepayer and vice versa, but all the time the number of unemployed remains about the same and the burden on industry has still to be carried. If we read the Coal Report and the Government adopt its suggestions, then, obviously, the number of unemployed will be increased. Unless we face the problem, as the Report warns the country to face it, we shall find ourselves in a more desperate condition than we are now, and the effect on these people is bound to swell the number of unemployed. Therefore I say without any hesitation to the Minister who is representing the Government to-day that he must, at all costs, find a cure for unemployment. For five years now we have been contemplating this problem. There was the first wave after the War, when the figure was very high; then it gradually fell, and it has now reached a level of about 1,250,000. We seem to be taking it for granted that there must always be somewhere in the region of 1,000,000 men and women out of work. I think we ought to make up our minds in exactly the opposite direction and find some cure for this problem.

If you compare the proposals of the three different parties in this House you will find that they do not differ very greatly. Take the Socialist proposals. It is that there should be a Development Board and to that Board should be handed a sum amounting to several millions in order to deal with this problem. As regards the Liberal policy, the fact that so much work has been done in connection with this problem is largely due to the foresight of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), but a lot of the work which has been put in hand will very likely prove to be unnecessary and unsuitable before it is completed, and a great deal of it is uneconomical as well.

5.0 P.M

The policy of the present Government is very little more than the pursuit of the policy of their predecessors. Take the case of the coal industry. That industry having come on to the rocks, they come forward with a subsidy at the expense of the State. These policies are very much alike, and, if we could cease treating this question as a party question, there is nothing to stop the three Leaders of the three parties from getting together and trying to solve the problem on a national basis. One may be told that one is asking for an ideal, but it is only by the three parties working together that a solution big enough to solve the problem can be undertaken. Palliatives have become exhausted.

There is a cure, and I believe it is at our door if we have the courage to face and grasp it. My hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough mentioned earlier in the Debate that during the last four years the State had spent unprofitably £340,000,000 in trying to keep pace with this problem, and I have mentioned myself that £100,000,000 a year, borne by industry, has been devoted to the problem. With that money, and with a real policy, such as I will submit in a minute, I am certain that the evil could be cured. My proposal is a little influenced by the efforts and the performances of the administrative Departments during the War, which showed that there is no limit to the magnitude of the effort the nation can make in an emergency. When we were fighting the foe in France and Flanders, the nation rose as one man, and was not frightened at any expense. I submit that this sad evil of unemployment is just as serious a national danger as the enemy was in France and Flanders. If we do not cure this evil while we yet can, it will become a festering sore, which will harm the moral of our people, not only now but in the next generation also. How can people remain almost permanently living on relief in one form or another, without degenerating morally and physically?

What is the field which I submit is available for this cure? It is the British Empire. Why cannot we think in terms of the Empire as a unit, instead of thinking only of this country or that country, whichever it may be? Those of us who have travelled a good deal in the Empire know that the untapped resources of the Empire are limitless. Of course, the answer may come back that the Dominion Parliaments do not care to assist us very much. There is some truth in that, but it is largely because, first of all, they cannot find the development to give the emigrant sufficient to do, and, secondly, they do not wish that the emigrant should take from their own nationals, if I may so call them, the money which they earn in wages.


They cannot raise loans.

Captain GUEST

I am informed that they cannot raise loans. I submit, however, that, if the Dominions do not care to take our emigrants on a permanent basis, they might take them on a temporary basis. What is there to prevent our sending a quarter of a million able-bodied men across the seas, of course, by arrangement with the Dominion Governments, to undertake specific productive work in those lands? It sounds a little unusual, perhaps, but I can give instances. Not long ago a band of men went out to assist in collecting a Canadian harvest, and rendered good service both to the Canadians and to themselves. Again, it is well known that there are hundreds of square miles of swamp in British Columbia which could be reclaimed to-day if there were enough labour to do it; and we all know what Australia would say if she had a chance of obtaining labour on this scale. Instead of spending £340,000,000 on unproductive work, instead of spending £100,000,000 a year, which is nothing more or less than a burden on industry, we could with the greatest of ease, as we did during the War, send these armies of men on temporary visits to carry out specific work. It is suggested that they will not come back, and possibly a good many would be absorbed into the life of the Dominions in which they worked, but in many cases it would relieve this country of an intolerable burden, and give backmoral to those people who are at present suffering from the receipt of relief. I submit that the scheme I have suggested is worth trying. We have the money, and we could undertake it if we cared to, and I believe it is well worth the while of the Government to give some consideration to it.

Viscountess ASTOR

I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the question of unemployment among women. At present there are 200,000 women registered as unemployed, and the actual number is probably far greater—probably about 250,000. I should be glad if I could have the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary on this, and I should very much like also to have the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because I think he comes into it too. I shall be most grateful if he will keep his seat and listen, because this is very important from a woman's point of view. At the present time there are 200,000 registered unemployed women, but there are a good many more not registered, and we think the total is probably about 250,000. No relief work is provided for unemployed women, and there is only one scheme which tries to train and help this large number of women and girls. It is the Central Committee on Women's Trades and Unemployment. It came into being after the War, and its object was to absorb some of the thousands of girls who were thrown out of employment. At the present time, training centres have been established by it up and down the country, where already 37,330 women have been trained. I am certain that the Committee will be interested to hear that about 60 per cent. of the women who have been trained in these centres have found domestic employment, and about 85 per cent. of those who have been given professional training are known to have found work on completion of their training.

This Committee, however, has had to exist in a hand-to-mouth manner. It has been given grants, out has been told that it might have to close down, and it has been very difficult to get grants for it. It represents the only attempt that has been made in this country in any way to deal with unemployment among women. The present grant is £80,000, and I want to ask the Government not to cut it down, but, if possible, to extend it. I ask them to do this on the ground of economy, because most of the women are drawn from insurable trades, so that an actual saving is effected by converting them from unemployed into employed women. When we say anything about women, we are usually asked, why do they not go into domestic service? There are many reasons. I am all for girls going into domestic service if they are fitted and trained for it. I would be the last person not to encourage them to do it. But it is absurd to think that you can either dragoon or starve girls into domestic service. If you want to get them into domestic service, which, after all, is a highly skilled occupation, you have got to persuade them, and, in many cases, not only to persuade them, but to train them.

We know that at one time it was one of the favourite arguments of the stunt Press to talk about the long line of unemployed girls going and drawing the dole while they refused to go into domestic service. There was so much row about it that the Governmente—[An HON. MEMBER: "He has gone!"] Has he gone? [HON. MEMBERS: "He has nothing to give away!"] I know, but I wanted to give him something. I am certain, however, that the Parliamentary Secretary is in full sympathy. After the stunt Press had started that argument—and even now it takes it up—a Departmental Committee was set up, in 1922, and, after going very thoroughly into the question of unemployed women, that Committee reported that the payment of unemployment benefit to women had very little to do with the shortage of domestic servants. We were very pleased at that, because many of us who are interested in this question were continually hearing people ask, whenever we mentioned the matter, "Why do they not go into domestic service?" I remember that it was perfectly appalling in the Parliament of 1919, 1920 and 1921, because, every time a question was asked about women, some ignorant person got up and said, "Why not put them into domestic service?" Bow I would long to put those people into domestic service!

That time has passed away now, and we know that unemployment benefit has nothing to do with it. The only way in which these girls are to be got into domestic service is by persuading them and training them. I hope, however, that the Government will take into consideration the large industrial areas, like Tyneside and South Wales, where there is now no industrial outlet for girls. In those areas, where girls have been employed in industry, the slump has thrown thousands of them out of employment. I urge the Government not to be put off by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He knows very little about these social questions, and his judgment is always lacking. I am sorry he is not here. These girls are now out of work, and our great object is to try to get them into some work that they can do. The training centres to which I have referred have trained thousands of them, and have got them to see that domestic service can be an interesting job if they know their work; but we cannot force them, and it is a tremendous plunge for them to take.

I was talking to a woman who runs one of these centres only to-day, and she said she wished the House of Commons could realise what a tremendous plunge it is for some girls to go into domestic service. Take the case of those whose families have lived in industrial areas and have been factory people for generations. They have thought of life only from that point of view, and it is very difficult to get them to leave home, with its freedom—because, even if it is a crowded and poor home, there is a freedom there that you cannot get in domestic service. It is no good saying they are better off; man does not live by bread alone. You have to train them and get them used to it. When people talk about wanting to get men on to the land, let us see what the Government did. They found it very difficult to get men who had been raised in towns to go on to the land. See what they are spending on agricultural training to get men on to the land. It is far more than they have ever spent to get women into domestic service. I hope it will be agreed in ail quarters of the Committee that the Government should continue the grants for this training centre work, so that the people who are interested in these centres may not feel every moment that they will have to close down. I think the Government ought, certainly, for the cake of the women of the country, to do as much for them as they would do for the men.

I would remind the Committee that these courses are for three months, at a cost of £20 per head. Of this £20, £1 a week goes in maintenance, out of which the girl pays 3s. a week for uniform, so that the whole cost of the actual train- ing is £7. At present there are 45 centres in existence and, comparing this with the six months' training given to unemployed young men for agricultural work, it will be seen how modest the demands for women are. The women who run these training centres are very enthusiastic, because they have seen girls come in rather timorous and rather prejudiced, very often from homes where it has been impossible for them to live in any really decent sort of way, and in these centres they have been taught to take a pride in their work and to take a pride in themselves. They have been encouraged, and the development has been enormous. This could never have gone on had it not been for the selfless and often unpaid work of those who run the centres, because, although they are paid a certain amount, the real work that they put in could never be paid for. They are personally interested in the girls, and they can testify to the enormous benefit the training has been to the girls who went there. The Parliamentary Secretary recently admitted that these centres have well justified themselves, and I hope, feeling the way he does, he will make a real fight. This is the only thing that is being done for the women, and we women of all parties ask that it should be put on a permanent footing. I hope the House will realise that I have never belonged to that section of the community who wish to forge women into domestic service. I do not believe in force of any kind, and the person who is out to force a man or woman to do anything—


What about Prohibition?

Viscountess ASTOR

I would not dare to get on to that, because I should be called to order, but I should like the people of this country to have a chance of saying what they think about it. I do not want to force anything. I hope the Minister of Labour will be firm and will fight the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this, always bearing in mind that this is no extravagant scheme. It is keeping women off the unemployment list. It is helping to train them, and doing what we hear so many public men talk about—"Why are not women more domesticated? Give them a chance to be more domesticated. This is a real chance, and I have no doubt the hon. Lady opposite will back me up. This Government was put in largely by women. There is not a Member of the House of Commons who will not tell you that when it came to the Election the women were the ones to fight. The women are really doing a great deal of political work in all parties, and they have the right to demand of the Government they helped to put in that the only constructive scheme dealing with unemployment of women should not be cut down, but should be added to.


The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Bristol (Captain Guest) was very sympathetic, and it wakened echoes of response in the minds of some of us. His great proposal seemed to be migration. Unfortunately you cannot migrate 100,000, or 1,000,000, unemployed workers. As far as our information goes about migration, it is a very expensive proposal indeed, not only for our own country, but for the Dominions at large. While the Dominions are anxious to have emigrants from this country, and while many of us would like to see some of our people go there, provided the conditions are, such as will induce them to go and will afford them a comfortable living when they get there, yet we have learned that the Dominions themselves find the charge so heavy that it is utterly impossible to take up a scheme to any large extent in that direction. Therefore we are pressed back on the necessity of solving the problem at home or doing what we can to relieve the distress of our unfortunate fellow creatures. The speech was sympathetic, as also was that of the hon. Member for Middleton (Mr. Sandeman), but I am sure that if they read his remarks in his constituency, and if the local authorities pay any attention to them, they will be very much astonished, because when the Lancashire delegation came here on this matter, we who met them were told, amongst other things, that the Borough of Middleton itself, when these unemployment grants ceased, would be saddled with a rate of 10d. to meet the cost of the unemployed schemes.

We have been told during the last few months that the numbers of unemployed are decreasing, I sincerely hope that is the case, but will the hon. Gentleman kindly tell us into what trades or occupations these men are going? As far as we have been able to find out, there is no appreciable difference in relation to any trade or industry of the country so far as the employment of new hands is concerned. If it is true that unemployment is decreasing, all the information some of us are receiving and all the reports in the newspapers are misleading. For instance, I have received from my own constituency this resolution: Having regard to the constantly increasing number of able-bodied persons, the whole cost of whose maintenance is thrown upon the Guardians through their having ceased to become eligible for unemployment benefit, this board respectfully urges His Majesty's Government to recognise that the causes of the, great widespread unemployment are national in character, and to establish by legislation the principle that the expense of the support of the persons out of work shall be a charge upon the national funds. This is the sort of resolution we are still getting, though we are being told every week that large numbers of men are disappearing from the unemployment roll. Some of us believe they are disappearing off the unemployment roll, but they are going on to another. In the borough in which I live the current rates for the half-year have gone up by 1s. 6d. in the £and all that has been, and is being utilised to meet the extra expense of the board of guardians, and even for the next half-year we have been informed in the papers that there is going to be a further increase. Therefore, I should like the Minister, not only to say that the numbers of men are decreasing, but to tell us, if he can, into what trades and occupations these people are going.

The next question I want to ask is this: Will he give us a definition of what "genuinely seeking work" means? I represent a constituency in which there is a variety of trades, and therefore I do not come up against the great difficulties of some of my friends who represent constituencies where the number of trades is not so great. Still I find men who are refused benefit on the ground that they are not genuinely seeking employment. Does this mean that they have day by day and week by week to go round the various workshops in the town asking the foreman or manager to sign some sort of form indicating that they have been looking for work? If that is what it means, in vulgar language it is a mug's game—an utterly foolish game. In fact, it is the very reverse of what Labour Exchanges were intended to be. When they were first introduced, even before they became a Government concern, their main purpose was to direct a man to the place where he would find work. The main purpose was to do away with the man tramping from workshop gate to workshop gate and from dock gate to dock gate.

The very suggestion of the employment exchanges arose from the fact that those who had been studying our trade union history realised that some of us in the trade unions were making a profound mistake in sending our men on travel when they were out of work. We gave them what is known as a travelling card. We told them, as the Minister does, to go and look for work. We sent them further afield. They went from one place to another, and when they got there they found men like themselves out of work in that locality. The expense was wasted. The Employment Exchanges were really intended to do away with the necessity of sending a man tramping around looking for work. On the top of that, the foremen and managers of the various engineering shops are beginning to rebel at having to sign these notes guaranteeing that a man has been looking for work. I should like to know whether my interpretation of the expression "genuinely seeking for work" is right, and that it means going from shop gate to shop gate and from dock gate to dock gate daily or twice a week. If the hon. Gentleman will tell us that, we shall know what to do in the future.

The hon. Member, who introduced this discussion, referred to those leaving school, and to the young men of an early age who are unemployed. An interesting report came out the other day dealing with matters concerning those who find their way into our prisons. The Cardiff Prison Governor affirms most positively that the younger prisoners received are to a great extent the product of current economic conditions: The present state of unemployment and housing produces a heavy toll of young prisoners, and the need of snore social effort by organisations reaching youths leaving school was never greater than at present. What does the Ministry of Labour intend to do to stop this flow of young criminals as the result of unemployment? May I quote again? The Governor of Durham Prison says: The unemployed boy of to-day will be the unemployable man and criminal of to-morrow. Some of us know how difficult it is to deal with young people under any circumstances. It is much more difficult to deal with them when they are left to their own resources when they leave school, and it is much more difficult to deal with them when in. six, 12 or 24 months they have had to loiter about, never getting started in any kind of decent occupation. I should like to know whether the Government intend to do something in this direction, which will prevent this calamity of turning these young people into incapable citizens, into persons who are likely to be a danger to the community, and persons who would bring disgrace upon themselves and, possibly, on their families. If he will answer these questions I shall be very much indebted to him.

I have referred to statistics from a Lancashire local authority. They are very much concerned as to the future of this matter. The. Government are going to start curtailing these unemployment relief grants. This record says: The undermentioned local authority will have to meet rates for unemployment relief which work out as follows. They then give quite a large number of local authorities and show that from 9d. to 1s. 8d. will be the amount of rates they will have to find to pay for these schemes. It is very unfortunate that, at this time of day, we should still be in the position of not being able to do anything of material advantage to reduce more rapidly the number of people who are seeking employment, and, on the other hand, providing suitable sustenance for all those who are out of work through no fault of their own. I met the other day a gentleman from Australia. I do not know who is responsible for blackguarding the working classes of our country in the Dominions. He told me quite definitely that there were thousands of workmen in this country who would not work, and he was somewhat astonished when I asked him who gave him that information. He said that he had spoken to a gentleman. I asked him whether the gentleman was an employer of labour, and he replied that he was. I said, "Go back to him and ask him if he knows of anyone who will not accept work when it is offered, and if he says 'Yes,' ask him if he has done his duty as a citizen and reported the matter to the Employment Exchange." That is the duty of an employer of labour. If he offers work which is available to a workman, which is under proper conditions, and the workman refuses the work, we know that he would be refused his benefit immediately. We do not believe that this statement is true, and I asked my friend to inquire. I have heard the same statement from other people at home. I have not met an employer of labour who has been able to substantiate such a statement. I have not met an employer in London or in my constituency who can substantiate the statement that there are men who will not accept work when offered work under proper conditions. That being so, it is about time we heard less of what my hon. Friend who introduced this discussion called the "dole." I was very glad to see a statement issued this morning in the Report of a Committee over which a former Member of this House, Sir Donald Maclean, presided. That Committee report: The Committee declare that the use of the word 'dole' as a synonym for unemployment benefit has done much to obscure the fact that benefits paid during unemployment accrue by virtue of participation in an insurance scheme, and that in the majority of cases unemployment is the result, not of lack of energy or resourcefulness, but of prolonged trade depression. I agree that that is so. It is for the Government to find ways and means of doing away with this trade depression, and to listen to the appeals made from time to time on behalf of those who are out of work through no fault of their own, and who are willing to work, but cannot get it. In these circumstances, they are entitled to receive out of the Insurance Fund, into which they have paid, and into which those who are at work are still paying—a Fund which has been amassed by their fellow-workers —a sufficiency for their needs in the time of their distress.

All the money which the Government advance to this Fund has to be repaid with interest. In these circumstances, we feel that those who talk about this Fund being a charge upon the nation should remember that the Fund is contributed partly by the employers, partly by the workmen and partly by the State, and that the Fund should be available for those who are unfortunate enough to be out of work.

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

My object in rising is to try to reinforce some of the remarks made by hon. Member's opposite with regard to the expression—"Genuinely seeking employment." All of us, I imagine, must have encountered the same experience. Men have come to me or have written to me explaining that they cannot get employment and that a committee has decided that they are not genuinely seeking employment. In the area from which I come it is almost impossible for anyone to get any kind of employment except that connected with coal mining. It is clear that in places where the pits are not working it is almost impossible for the men connected with the pits to get any other kind of employment. Therefore, I beg the Minister in areas such as these to try to see whether the committees that are responsible for these decisions with regard to the men who seek employment could find work for them. Case after case has come to my notice where men really have done their best to get employment, but it has been impossible for them to get it within the area in which they live, yet the committee—I do not blame the Ministry because the committee is the responsible body—bas decided that the individual in question is not genuinely seeking employment. After a certain lapse of time the committee has changed its mind and the man has been put on the unemployment pry again. I will not go into individual cases because a great many of them have been given to-night, and the point is the same. What I want to do is to try to secure some better definition of the term "genuinely seeking employment," and some closer investigation in many cases where it is genuinely impossible for men to get employment.


Anyone who speaks in a Debate like this must feel that everything that can be said on the question of Employment Exchanges and the administration of benefit has been said in this Parliament 50 times over. All that we can do is to go on saying it over and over again. The main difficulty we are up against is the declared policy on the part of the Ministry of Labour to make the Fund solvent by turning off as many people as possible. We may bring hard cases, we may bring up the case of women and the case of the distressed areas, but all the time we are up against the stone-wall attitude of the Ministry, that they have to cut down the number of people receiving benefit, either to make the figures look better or to have the Fund. It is a pity that the Minister of Labour in these circumstances does not make it clear to the queues of men outside the Employment Exchanges how hopeless it is for them to spend any time there, because they are wearing out shoeleather and breaking their hearts all the time, and they are finding that it is hopeless.

I would like to endorse what was said by the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) about women. The women are very resentful over their treatment. I would call attention to the fact that where in the case of men one in seven are disallowed benefit, in the case of women one in three are disallowed. Of the total number of applicants for benefit 33⅓per cent. of women are turned down. The average period of extended benefit granted to men is 12 weeks, compared with only four weeks granted to women. They are paying on the same terms as the men and yet the scales are weighted as heavily against them. For any woman to get extended benefit at the present time she has to he a thoroughly artistic liar. It is not the girl who can tell an artistic tale who is turned down. I have sat on rota committees, and I have seen over and over again the type of girl who gets the benefit. The girls who go into the workshop and who are unaccustomed to state their case and who do not understand the position find themselves, perhaps, faced by a chairman who very often bites their heads off as soon as they go into the room, or asks them impertinent questions. The girls get embarrassed and find themselves outside the room with their benefit disallowed before they know where they are.

These are not exceptional cases—any hon. Member could bring dozens of cases of this sort, and I should like the Minister to tell us why it is that the women are being discriminated against in this way. If they are single women, they are told that they must live with their relations. If they are married—our Lancashire women are accustomed to earning their living, although married—they are told that they must live cm their husbands. On the very day that they ask for their standard benefit they are told that they are not genuinely seeking work. The position is becoming appalling. It is no use the Minister saying that certain Regulations were made by the previous Government. Those of us who are connected with Employment Exchange work know that the attitude adopted since this Government took office has been the worst of any Government. We know what the difficulties were under the last Government, but we did find then that it was possible to get justice done to the women. We know now that it is often no use trying to get justice done, because there is always the stone-wall attitude against us. The hon. Member for North Bristol (Colonel Guest) has suggested temporary emigration—a sort of solving the problem on the hire-purchase system. You dump down certain people overseas and you get them back if not suitable. Even for emigration purposes, the Minister of Labour is taking advantage of those who desire to emigrate in order to save money at their expense. I heard of the case of a woman recently who put clown her name for emigration, and when she went to draw benefit the next week she was told that, as she had put down her name for emigration, she was not available for employment and therefore not eligible for benefit under the Act. What is the use of encouraging people to emigrate in these circumstances? They may be kept for weeks waiting for their passage and for their ship. and they cannot live on nothing.

I should like to know something about the position of the training schemes for young people. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour in the Labour Government gave much time and care to the question of these training schemes. At the present time these training schemes for young people are being starved, as are the training schemes for women. Is there any real economy in that? We are laying up for ourselves a terrible legacy for the future with regard to these young persons. It is much worse for the boys than for the girls, because in many cases the girls are able to help at home and to feel that they have their place. The boys are at a very difficult period, when care, discipline and training are required. They are left to run about the streets and often are made to feel that they are not wanted. In many cases they are made to feel that they are not wanted at home, that they are a burden on the family exchequer. A growing lad from 14 to 20 will eat as much as his father; his needs are as great. There is nothing for him to do. One street in my constituency where the juvenile Employment Exchange is situated has always seemed to me the most tragic part of the whole of that tragic area. There one finds boys who have been four, five and six years away from school and who have never had a job. One can see the progressive deterioration of those boys.

The Minister of Labour at the time he passed his last Insurance Act took a very grave responsibility when he said these young persons should not get unemployment benefit. What does that mean? I know of case after case where the parents simply cannot afford to keep these lads at home. If they go out and live with neighbours and then go to the Employment Exchanges and say they are living in lodgings they are not able to get their insurance benefit. If ever there was a time when these lads and girls- should be at home under the supervision of their parents it is during this difficult period in their lives; and especially when they are not at work. These girls and boys are placed in a very serious position. The training schemes are ludicruously inadequate. They are starved of money, they are not extended, they are starved of equipment, and instead of settling down to a period of training these lads are sent on all sorts of odd jobs. It is impossible for the teacher to teach them anything, and all round there is a general feeling of uncertainty and insecurity which is the worst thing that could happen for these boys. I ask the Ministry to seriously consider whether this is real economy or whether they are not presenting the country with a very expensive lesson, the cost of which will have to be met in future years.

Then I want him to make the position clear with regard to the effect of this formula, "not genuinely seeking employment" on widows' pensions. We have not yet had this made clear. In the case of a man who comes under the provisions relating to the prolongation of insurance benefit, that is, a man who has 80 stamps on his card previous to 1920, if he is out of work for more than two years and then dies, his widow gets benefit under the Widows' Pensions Act. But there are a number of men who do not come under those provisions, who have not had their 80 stamps, and I want to know what is the position of their widows? These men have been genuinely seeking work. They go before a rota committee, who say that they have not genuinely sought work, and then if such a man dies his widow does not get her pension. I have here the case of a man who does not come under the provisions relating to the prolongation of insurance benefit. He stood outside a factory, where certain jobs had been advertised, from three o'clock in the morning until eight at night in the hope of getting a job. It was wet and he got soaked to the skin. Owing to the terrible effects of unemployment on his physical constitution, he is now in bed with pneumonia. He may die, and I desire to know whether in those circumstances, having been unemployed for more than two years, his widow will lose her pension? This is a serious matter for literally hundreds and hundreds of people, and unless we can have some sort of assurance from the Minister, or some definite ruling on the point, a great deal of hardship may be suffered.

It would be a good thing if the Minister would rule out altogether this formula of "not genuinely seeking employment." In the Widows' Pensions Act it is laid down that the widow of a genuinely unemployed man will get her pension; but it is not made clear in that Act whether the widow of a man who is "not genuinely seeking work" will get her pension if he does not come under the provisions relating to prolongation of insurance benefit. There is no doubt that this formula of "not genuinely seeking work" is responsible for an enormous amount of unnecessary suffering. It puts a moral stigma on the man. If he is told that he cannot have his benefit because the Minister of Labour wants to save money, he knows where he is. If he is told he cannot have his benefit because he has not the requisite number of stamps, he knows where he is. But if he is told that he has committed this undefined crime of not genuinely seeking work and is not told how he is to prove that he has been seeking work, the man is on the horns of a dilemna. If the Minister could cut this formula out altogether and go on the equally effective formula that it is not in the public interest he should have his benefit, he would do a great deal to take away some of the difficulties. You may starve the men, but do not insult them while you are doing it.


I am anxious to add one word to what has been said by so many hon. Members on the subject of the abuse of this formula, "not genuinely seeking work," and I propose to confine myself to the general topic that has been so fully dealt with hon. Members on both sides of the House—the general question of the very varying interpretations put upon the rule by the Committees. It so happens that in my own constituency I have had the case of the application of this rule about genuinely seeking work so clearly put before me that it would be improper not to mention it while the subject is under discussion this evening. It is on the following lines. A large group of men employed in the Tay Salmon Fishery rely for work from February to October upon such occupations as agriculture, and semi-agricultural work as they can pick up in the vicinity of the little villages in which they live. A very considerable number of these men—and I should be glad to have a definite reply from the Parliamentary Secretary on the case of these Tay salmon fishermen —have been treated with regard to their normal benefit, not as to their extended benefit, upon lines for which I can see no justification at all.

Between October and February their only chance of employment in the little country villages where they live is occasional agricultural work or some semi-agricultural occupation. A number of these men, I know from personal experience and also from communications, have tried their best to get the ordinary kind of work this winter which they have had in previous years. It does not cover the whole period of their unemployment between October and February. This year, largely owing to circumstances of weather, the ordinary agricultural operations have been impossible, and they have found it very hard to get employment. The Dundee Employment Committee, under whose charge they are unfortunately placed—a city committee understands nothing about rural conditions—has informed them that they are not genuinely seeking employment. It is not true that they have not genuinely sought employment. It is quite true that they have not been able to find employment, and, if I were not entirely averse to the process of reading documents to the House, I could give chapter and verse for this. But it is not true that they have not been seeking employment. This is not a case of extended benefit; it is the normal benefit for which they have paid their weekly contributions. I have one particular case here—I am almost tempted to break the rule which I have just laid down and read it to the House. It is the case of a man who tells me that in the weeks immediately following the close of the salmon fishery he inquired persistently but unsuccessfully for no less than seven jobs. He lives in a small village where the number of jobs available is very small, and it is perfectly ludicrous to say that this hard-working man who has tried unsuccessfully no less than seven times to get work, is not genuinely seeking employment.

What I dislike about it is this. I can quite understand the policy in the case of extended benefit—that is on a different basis—but when you come to the normal guaranteed benefit it seems to me that the very greatest care should be taken not to accuse men of not seeking employment when it is perfectly well known that in fact they are. I know the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that the Ministry have no power over the Committees. I am quite sure they have no legislative powers, but they have influence, and I recommend the Minister to warn the Unemployment Committees that on the question of not genuinely seeking employment the very greatest care should be exercised. I do not know that it really puts a stigma on a man, as has been said by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson), but it does make a man feel that there is a lack of justice. He knows that he has been seeking employment, and that he would work hard if he could only get work. Just because he lives in a rural district where there are only a few odd jobs, and he has not found one at all, he is told that he is not seeking work.

I regard with the very greatest concern this growth—it is clear there is a growth—in the policy of cutting off the payment of their normal benefit on this specious plea. I regard that growth with the greatest dislike, and I urge the Minister to make it quite clear to the Unemployment Committees that they are not to play hanky panky tricks with this Rule. I cannot imagine anything more distressing and depressing for a man who wants employment, who has a wife and family to be told that just because the district in which he lives does not offer much employment, and because the employment he has sought he has not obtained, he is not seeking employment. I shall be far from satisfied if we are put off in public with the kind of reply I got in private.

6.0 P.M.


I wish to put a particular point to the Parliamentary Secretary, not because it arises in a single case, but because, from information which has reached me, I fear there may be many cases which under the present exercise of discretion by the Minister may be treated in the same way as the case of which I have actual information. This case, like the one dealt with by the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) who has just spoken, deals with the claim to standard benefit, and it arises in circumstances which are not very uncommon. It arises in a case where a man has paid week by week, month by month, and year by year, contributions under the head of unemployment insurance—both his own contribution and the contribution which comes from the employer—so that there is standing to his credit in the fund a very substantial sum of money. He has kept his work for years on end, and, therefore, to that extent has a moral right to a very substantial benefit. Then the man falls ill, and falling ill, he is on that account away front work for quite a, substantial time—in the case before me for a year. It is a very necessary feature of the scheme that you cannot draw unemployment benefit if you are not in a condition to work. Possibly, although a man has paid for years his contributions towards unemployment benefit, when he ceases to be employed on the ground that he has fallen ill, he does not get unemployment benefit. It is quite right that he should not do so.

His right is a right to sickness benefit. But when the man gets well, perhaps after an interval of a year, and endeavours to resume his work, it often happens I am sorry to say, that the place is no longer open to him, and though he is able and fit to work he finds he cannot get work. What is the view that the Department takes as to the way in which that man should be treated in so far as the Department's discretion allows?

I have in my hands particulars of the actual incident which first called my attention to the matter, though I have made further inquiries since. It is the case of a man who paid unemployment contributions regularly from November, 1920, to the end of 1923. There is obviously a very substantial sum which has been provided, representing those three years of continuous work. There would be something like 150 or 160 weekly contributions. Then the man, at the end of 1923, fell ill and was not able to work for a year. Now that the year is up, he has been making great efforts to find work. He had light work for a short time, but he is not able to get the sort of work he seeks. No one suggests that he is a malingerer. None the less, though there is this large sum standing to his credit, on which he has never drawn to the extent of a single week's unemployment benefit, lie is told that he is not entitled to any unemployment benefit whatever, not even standard benefit. This was so surprising to me that I not unnaturally looked to see whether there was anything in the Statute or in the Regulations governing such a case. When I looked at the latest Regulations issued by the Ministry in respect of unemployment insurance, I found, under Head 16, this announcement: Every claimant for benefit is required to satisfy the statutory conditions, first, that he proves that not less than 30 contributions have been paid in respect of him since the beginning of the first of the two insurance years next before the beginning of his benefit year. (During the period up to 30th June, 1927. this condition may be waived where the Minister thinks fit.) The insurance year starts in July. In this man's case the two insurance years would be from July, 1923, to July, 1924, and from July, 1924, to July, 1925. This man, who has been paying week by week to the Unemployment, Fund for years and has never drawn a single week's unemploy- ment benefit, was unfortunate enough to fall ill in the first of these two insurance years, in December, 1923. The result is that in that year he has the weekly contributions to the Unemployment Fund for only a comparatively few months. Then he dropped out of work. In the second year the poor fellow has not had any occasion to make contributions to the Fund because he has not been employed. He is now being told by the officials of the Department that he is not entitled to get a single week's unemployment benefit, notwithstanding that he has contributed year by year for years and has never drawn a single week's benefit, because 30 contributions have not been paid in respect of him since the beginning of the first of the two insurance years next before the beginning of his benefit year. I cannot believe that that is the real intention of the Department, or indeed the policy which was ever intended by Parliament to be pursued. Let me point out that under the Consolidating Act of 1920 there was a provision in Section 8, Sub-section (4)— Where no contributions are paid in respect of any person during any insurance year, he shall, unless the non-payment of contributions was due to his being sick, be disqualified for receiving unemployment benefit until twelve contributions, exclusive of any contributions paid in respect of him before that year, have been paid in respect of him under this Act. Therefore, it is quite plain that you may construe the intentions and policy of Parliament, as common sense would suggest, that a man does not lose his right to draw out from the very fund which he has been creating for years merely because in addition to the misfortune of not being able to work, he has fallen ill. Yet under the Regulations of the Ministry I read that a claimant for benefit will not get any, not even standard benefit, whatever may be the number of contributions he has made in the past, unless within the last two insurance years 30 contributions have been paid in respect of him, and that his only opportunity for relief is that during the period up to 30th June, 1927, this condition may be waived when the Minister thinks fit.


The part in question of Section 8, sub-section (4), of the Act of 1920, was repealed by the Act of 1924.


If you please. Are we to understand that it is the view of the Ministry, now that they have a discretion to deal with this matter, instead of having this put upon them as a statutory duty, to exercise the discretion by saying to a man who has never drawn any unemployment benefit at all, after contributing to the Fund for years: "Now, we have you. Because there is no Statute which says that you are entitled to have a period of sickness, and since it is within our discretion, we propose to refuse you a single week's benefit"? I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary cannot seriously hold to that proposition. I am an old stager on this subject, but am a bit rusty now. If this unfortunate man were to die to-day the Act provides, or it used to do so, that his executors would be entitled to get out from the Fund so much of the contributions in respect of him as have not been used in paying unemployment benefit in his lifetime. [HON MEMBERS: "No. When he reaches 60!"] I am obliged for the information. If he reaches the age of 60, under the original Act, it was the case that he was entitled to say: "I am a person who has contributed week by week against a risk. You have had my money and invested it, and now that I have never drawn out the equivalent of what I contributed there ought to be some adjustment in my case."

Let me put a question. Surely it cannot be the view of the Ministry of Labour that a man who is not only a decent workman but has succeeded in keeping his job for years, who has never on any occasion drawn out any benefit, is none the less to be told that in the discretion of the Ministry he is not entitled to get any benefit, because, forsooth, he fell sick and was unable to work for a year or a year and a half. That is the result in this case. Though I do not at all wish to take up the case simply as an individual case, yet it appears to me to raise a point of very considerable general importance, which I would invite the Minister most carefully to consider. I invite the Parliamentary Secretary to say that it is not the view of himself and of the Minister of Labour—whose absence for such an unfortunate reason we all deplore—that a man should suffer because, though he has contributed for so long, there is inter posed a period of sickness before the time comes when he can call for benefit under the heading of "Unemployment Benefit."

Of course, Health Insurance and Unemployment Insurance were always so arranged that if the contributor was a man who was entitled to draw sickness insurance, because he was not fit to work but was ill, it was on that side that he got the benefit. And, of course, he had paid for that too. Therefore, it is necessarily the case that, as long as a workman is away from work because he is ill, he cannot draw unemployment benefit. It seems to be a preposterous conclusion that a man who has been contributing all these years, and never exhausted his rights for a week, should be told that the fact that he has fallen ill for a substantial period of time—is, in the view of the Ministry, which has a discretion a reason for saying that he is to be refused a single week's unemployment benefit.


I had not intended to intervene at this juncture, but the remarks of the last speaker have induced me to say something in reply to him. I find that during the Debates on unemployment the present Government are largely saddled with the excesses and imperfections of the Act of 1924. The statement we have just heard from the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) bears considerably on the point. I gather that he complains that a person who has contributed regularly to the Unemployment Insurance Fund and has recived no benefit, and who for a certain period fell ill, is practically precluded from the two years next before the beginning of his benefit year. According to the Rules, the statutory conditions apply both to standard and extended benefit, but, according to the Act, the conditions apply only to standard benefit. The Regulation controlling that matter is that at least 20 contributions must have been paid in respect of the claimant at the beginning of the insurance year next before the beginning of his benefit year. That is for standard benefit.


I do not think that is the test now. I think the test now is 30 benefits over two years.


I was 10th to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he was speaking, but I was then under the impression that he was mistaken. Now my impression is confirmed. The obligation under the power which has been exercised by my right hon. Friend is 30 contributions at any time, or in the alternative eight during the last two insurance years. Therefore, the case he mentions is covered, though I will gladly go into it with him.


There seems to be considerable misconception and confusion in this matter. The condition that 30 contributions must have been paid in respect of the man at the beginning of the first of the two insurance years next before the beginning of the benefit year was necessarily imposed by the introduction of the 1924 Act, and it was due primarily and imperatively to the fact that the demarcation between the conditions for covenanted and uncovenanted benefit had entirely broken down with the 1924 Act. Therefore, if certain conditions had not been set up for extended benefit, you would necessarily have had non-contributors drawing benefit on the same basis as standard benefit. Among the four conditions which were laid down, this is the first statutory condition with which a person must comply, and as a matter of fact the waiver was only until October of last year. This Government extended the waiver, and had that waiver not been extended it is possible that 250,000 insured persons might have been disallowed benefit under the 1924 Act. It is only fair to say that the Ministry under the present Government, acting with very laudable discretion, waived the qualification of the 30 and accepted the eight contributions, and the result is that the period has been extended. I think the case mentioned would come under that category, and that if the man has eight stamps he would then qualify for extended benefit.

I have not been able to participate in or to hear much of the Debate to-day, but I judge that, as on other occasions, there have been—I will not say recriminations—but some unfair visitations on the present Ministry in connection with the administration of the present Act. To a large extent, the difficulties of the administration at present are due to the 1924 Act, and the Percentage of disallowances is largely, if not entirely, due to that Act. I have been interested to make an analysis of the figures, and the completed returns, both as regards my own constituency and as regards the whole country, reveal the fact that while there have been considerable disallowances under the 1925 Act, the disallowances under the 1924 Act average about 70 per cent. of the total. This is due largely to the conditions applied to the administration under the Act of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw). The greatest hardship felt at present in regard to extended benefit arises from two reasons, the first of which is that Regulation providing that the applicant must have been making every reasonable effort to find work. I have many times heard Members of the Opposition strongly condemn that statutory Regulation, but I would remind them that it is due to the 1924 Act, which was passed when their party was in office. Further, it was due to the fact that there was a need to regulate and safeguard expenditure.

If hon. Members look it up, they will find that the Regulations issued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston in connection with the 1924 Act contained this specific condition relating to extended benefit, namely, that the claimant must be making every reasonable effort to obtain employment suited to his capabilities. The Regulations and instructions issued by the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that this condition was of supreme importance and was intended to ensure that every applicant for extended benefit was a genuine seeker for employment. It was also explained that the claimant must show to the satisfaction of the Committee that he was genuinely and at the particular date of claiming, taking all possible steps to obtain any employment for which he might reasonably be regarded as suited. An interpretation of the word "reasonably" is given later on by the right hon. Gentleman, who says that the burden of proof that this condition has been fulfilled rests upon the claimant, and the expression that he is "genuinely and at the particular date of claiming" seeking employment, is said to mean that the Committee must be satisfied that the claimant, since becoming unemployed, had been continuously seeking work. That is the difficulty. The Committee are bound to interpret these expressions according to the instructions, and a man who has been out of work for one or two or perhaps even three years has the utmost difficulty in complying with the Regulation laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, that the word "genuinely" should be interpreted as meaning continuously seeking for work.

While statements may be made to the effect that the administration of these Acts has been somewhat tightened up, it is only fair to make these facts known. I know that the local committees administering this most difficult legislation are composed of representative trade unionists, together with masters, and I believe, generally speaking, it is administered with fairness, and with a desire to avoid inflicting undue hardship on those who apply for benefit.


It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. L. Thompson) was not in the Committee during the whole of this Debate. He admitted himself that he was not here all the time, but he assumed that recriminations had been hurled at the Minister by hon. Members on this side.


I did not suggest that there had been recriminations to-day. When I have been here I have heard reflections on the Ministry in this respect.


Therefore the hon. Member came to the conclusion that the same thing had happened to-day. He is quite mistaken. I have been here during the whole of the Debate, and I think the hon. Gentleman in charge of this matter will agree that there have been no recriminations, and that nothing of an unkind nature has been said.


Hear, hear.


The hon. Member for Sunderland then proceeded to change the whole issue of this Debate, and instead of directing his attention to the present adminstration, he placed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Shaw) in the dock, and hurled recriminations at him. In regard to the question of "genuinely seeking employment," he says that this condition was included in the 1924 Act. One is not going to dispute that statement, but the 1925 Act gives the Minister a right of discretion and the power which the rota committees enjoyed under the 1924 Act has now gone. Therefore, if a rota committee comes to the conclusion that certain men have been genuinely seeking employment, and decides that those men are entitled to receive benefit, those cases can he turned down. The rota committees can only recommend, and their recommendations are generally turned down.




My hon. Friend says that is not so, but I will draw attention to a fact which may enlighten him. Some months ago in the district which I represent, the rota committees refused to function because they felt their work was of no benefit to the applicants. They said unless they had a guarantee that their investigations would be of some use, they were not going to waste their time in recommending cases which were afterwards turned down. They continued to sit under protest, and I am glad to say that there has been an inquiry, an official of the Department has been sent down, and satisfactory arrangements have been made with the result that now the committees are functioning as usual. In regard to this question of "genuinely seeking employment." I have here a letter from a board of guardians, not in my own Division, but in the county from which I come. This letter is not inspired by any spite or vindictiveness against the Government, because this board is largely constituted of members who are of the same political beliefs as the present Government—I think only five of them are members of the Labour party. They write: I am directed by my board to send you a copy of a letter they have sent to the Minister of Labour and to the secretary of the local employment committee, dealing with the question of applications by men for unemployment benefit, and the treatment meted out to them, and they request you to be good enough to interest yourself in the matter in the manner indicated in the said letter. The letter is as follows: My board, in dealing with applications for out-relief by several men who have been in receipt of unemployment benefit, find that in several cases such benefit has been withdrawn on the ground that the employment committee are doubtful whether the men are making a reasonable effort to obtain employment, and upon referring to the communication sent by the committee to such men, find that the wording of Clause 4 of Form U1 503A has been altered from the committee consider you have failed to prove that you are making every reasonable effort to obtain employment,' etc., to 'the committee are doubtful whether you are making every reasonable effort to obtain employment,' etc., and they are strongly of opinion that in any such cases where the committee are only doubtful as to the efforts of the men to obtain employment, such applicants should have the benefit thereof, and unemployment benefit should be continued until the committee are really satisfied that the applicants have not been making every reasonable effort to obtain employment. In consequence of the men being deprived of their unemployment benefit at a time when they cannot procure work, they are compelled to apply to the guardians for out-relief, the burden being shifted from the State and placed upon the local rates, and my board protest most strongly against this procedure. The board that wrote that letter has the least unemployment to deal with of any board in Cumberland, and that board is crying out because the burden has been removed from the State on to the local rates. In the area which I have the honour to represent, in the industrial portion of Cumberland, we have had iron and steel workers working intermittently since 1921 till the present time, large numbers of miners and other workers have been unemployed, and we have found that every week cases are being turned down, so rapidly and in such quantities, by the Unemployment Committee or by the Department that our boards of guardians are feeling the strain so keenly that it will not be long before they find themselves in a dreadful position and probably absolutely on the verge of bankruptcy.

In regard to the question of genuinely seeking employment, another thing that the men have to comply with is the condition that "they are not likely to be employed in an insurable trade." I want to quote a certain instance from my own constituency, where there was employment in one portion of it in iron ore mines, but in that particular locality the mines are worked out, and the men hale now to travel long distances to work in coal mines or other iron ore mines. Men of 60 or over in that area cannot get work, because there is no other class of work to do. When they go to these other mines to compete with the younger men, they are generally turned down, and when they go to the. Employment Exchanges they are turned down again, because it is specified on their papers that they are not likely to be employed in an insurable occupation. I have seen One or two cases where an applicant has been turned down for a rather curious reason, and that is that it is not in the public interest that, he should be paid. I suggest that the Act has been bad enough, but that the Regulations that have followed the Act have made it practically impossible for the local committees and the people on the spot to give decisions that are of any advantage to the applicants. I agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland that the men who generally fulfil the office of rota committee men are men of experience, both the employers and the workmen, and, generally speaking, I believe they give every consideration to the cases that come before them. But what is the use? If they give a. decision in favour of the applicants, they find that all their work has been in vain and that the decision is turned down by the Ministry of Labour or one of the other Departments.

In regard to men who have been on compensation, in mining we have a certain disease that men contract in very large numbers—miners' nystagmus. After the men have been off work for a few weeks, or it may be months, generally speaking, the medical officers who examine them come to the conclusion that they are fit for light employment, and they generally specify that on no consideration must it be underground again, while sometimes they say the men must not be employed where there is machinery or any likelihood of dust. They are practically confined to a very narrow radius of occupation, and their limits are so narrowed down that these men find it very difficult to get employment of any kind, but although these men have been certified by a medical man to be fit for some light employment, we are finding to-day that they are being turned off repeatedly from unemployment benefit, and they naturally ask where they have to go. They are told they must go to the board of guardians, and the board of guardians promptly turns round and says: "if you are suffering from miners' nystagmus, you ought to go on compensation, and the man is going in a circle all the time, and, generally speaking, is suffering from the pangs of hunger. I suggest to the Parlia- mentary Secretary that all these difficulties that have been enumerated this afternoon were pointed out from this side of the House while the present Act was passing through the House. As a matter of fact, the anomalies have come out more pronounced than we ever dreamed they would do. I remember saying certain things myself, and I was rather doubtful of them, but I regret to say that those statements have proved only too true, and I suggest that the time has come when the Minister has either got to give us a Bill that will give more generous advantages to the unemployed than does the present Act, or, during the period in which he may be framing a new Bill, he ought, as far as possible, to lift the embargo on committees and give them a freer hand to come to decisions in accordance with the local circumstances, which they know so well.

One could go on pointing out many other things, but other hon. Members wish to speak, so that my last word will he this: I want to say, with all sincerity, and not from a spirit of recrimination, that I would warn the hon. Gentleman that he ought to take his mind back to 1922. Then there was an oppressive Unemployment Act, and the ultimate result was that you found large bodies of men travelling from town to town, protesting against the inadequacy of the maintenance made for them by the then Unemployment Act. I believe that we are coming to that state of affairs again. It cannot be expected that these young men will go on all the time in the manner in which they are going on to-day, finding themselves outcasts practically, and told that they are not genuinely seeking employment and that they are not entitled, because there is a certain income going into the house, to benefit. We find these young men getting very discontented and dissatisfied, and we have to realise, as Members of this Assembly, that the youth of this country is made of the same spirit to-day as was the youth of the country in the years 1914–1918. They will not stand all the penalties and hardships you may put upon them without resenting it in a. way that none of us would like to see, and I want to plead with the Minister to direct his attention to these questions. I hope he will be able to give us more encouragement that something different is going to be done towards solving this question of maintenance for these men, apart from the question of providing work, which I will leave to abler minds than mine to deal with.


I wish to address the Parliamentary Secretary in regard to one part of the Act, and one part only, that is the part which speaks of misconduct as a disqualification from benefit. In ascertaining or endeavouring to ascertain what constitutes misconduct, it is the habit of the Ministry to send forms to employers asking them for information as to whether or not an applicant has misconducted himself.


Of which Act is the hon. and learned Gentleman speaking?


I am speaking of the general habit of the Ministry in ascertaining under the principal Act whether a person has or has not misconducted himself. The normal procedure, as I understand it, is that under the Acts generally, and under Regulations, forms are sent to employers to find out whether the conduct of an applicant has or has not been satisfactory. Those forms are filled up by employers, and they are received by the Ministry, which frequently acts upon those forms without any further inquiry at all. If an employer chooses to state that a man's conduct has been unsatisfactory, and that is the reason why he has left his employment, in many cases on that mere notification alone the insurance officer will say that that man is not entitled to benefit. I want to call attention particularly to a certain case which has come to my notice. In the city which I represent a man, an insured contributor, was dismissed because he refused to drive a heavy motor lorry at a speed exceeding the speed limit, which is 12 miles an hour, and he applied for unemployment benefit. The employers notified the insurance officer that he had been dismissed for unsatisfactory conduct, his right to benefit was denied, and his case was rejected by the insurance officer. He appealed, and his employers repeated the statement that he had been dismissed for unsatisfactory conduct. It is true that they did not appear before the court of referees to substantiate their case, and ultimately his unemployment benefit was given to him.

I want to ask the Minister whether any real test is made, when employers state that men have misconducted themselves, or not conducted themselves in a satisfactory manner, to find out why they say that, on what evidence, and what are the facts on which they rely. There are, unfortunately, in this country malicious employers, spiteful employers, men suffering from various kinds of what they imagine to be grievances against their workers, and it is a very serious thing if a person can irresponsibly fill up one of these forms and deprive a man of benefit without a real and searching inquiry being made by the Ministry before they come to a decision. I suggest that no officer of the Ministry of Labour ought to refuse unemployment benefit to a man on a more unsworn statement, on one of these little brown pieces of paper, from an employer, before making an investigation to see whether or not what the employer legs said is true. I have no doubt many of my hon. Friends who will follow in this Debate, and many hon. Members on the other side, if they could speak what is in their minds in this matter, as some already have, would say that in their experience many employers have been quite reckless and careless, if not worse, in making these statements. If you examine the Act itself, it was never contemplated tint the employer should occupy so important a position as a kind ofex parte Judge in deciding whether a man should have unemployment benefit or not. I am not denying the right of the Ministry to make inquiries, but I am suggesting that when the employer has answered in a manner unfavourable to the applicant, it is the duty of the Ministry, not to dismiss the man's case, but to make further inquiries. In case after case up and down the country the Ministry have, on the mere statement of an employer, turned a man down and made no further inquiries at all.

The whole situation is profoundly unsatisfactory. The Court of Referees, which is supposed to act more or less in a judicial manner, has no power to call employers before them. It has no power to test the validity of what the employer says. If the employer does not come to the Court of Referees, the Court is left completely in the dark as to whether it is true or untrue, and when, finally, the case does come on for hearing, the Court may or may not choose to believe what the employer has said, when he has not taken the trouble to come before the Court and substantiate his case. Of course, in a case where it is clear that the employer has acted without. sufficient care, and where he has not supported his accusation, it may be the benefit may be paid. But the injury has been done to the man, and the injury is irremediable. Therefore the Ministry ought to he very careful in these inquiries.

I want to press the point that a regulation should be drafted or an administrative order made, that when the inquiry is put to an employer, "Is there anything in the nature of misconduct or unsatisfactory action on the part of the applicant?" and the employer says there is, that should not be the end, but the beginning of an inquiry into the facts, and in no case should an insurance officer refuse a man benefit merely because one of these forms has been filled up. If the employer fills up a form and puts the Ministry on an inquiry, there can be no complaint. If he says, "I have no reason to say that this man should be disqualified from benefit," there is an end of the matter. If he likes to take the responsibility of saying that the man's conduct is unsatisfactory, then that should be the beginning of the matter, and not the end, and in no case should it be justifiable for any insurance officer to reject a claim merely because of an employer's statement. That is the point I wish to stress, and I hope we shall get an assurance, that whenever such investigation is made in the future, that will be the beginning and not the end of the inquiry into a man's case.


I wish, in the first instance, to emphasise the point that was raised by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) with regard to workmen in the mining industry who are suffering from nystagmus. I do not think it should be confined to men suffering from nystagmus, because men who are incapacitated through injuries in the course of their employment come under the same category. What was the position of those men prior to the War, or during the period of the War? Whenever men suffered from nystagmus, or received an injury which only partially incapacitated them, in consequence of the normal state of unemployment those men were generaly taken back into the industry. But now, because of the abnormal conditions, it is impossible for these men to be employed in that industry. I am under the impression that the Unemployment Insurance Act is to meet abnormal cases of unemployment. If that be so, and these men are unable to get employment because of the abnormal conditions, then, logically and reasonably, these men are entitled to unemployment benefit. The men go to Court, and the Judge decides they are only partially incapacitated, say, up to 15 per cent. or 25 per cent., and are able to do a reasonable amount of work. In the mining industry it is impossible for these men to be employed, unless they are able to compete generally with the able-bodied men. To that extent, their opportunities for employment are very restricted. They only get 8s. or 10s. a week, as the case may be, in compensation, but, owing to the fact that they are incapacitated to some extent, the decision of the rota committee, the insurance officer, and, ultimately, the Ministry of Labour, is such that it debars these people from receiving the unemployment benefit.

I have not so much cause to complain with regard to the decisions of the rota committees as others who have been complaining in the course of the Debate. Indeed, my complaint is that the Ministry interferes with the decisions of the rota committees, and that the insurance officers, who know nothing at all about the local conditions, interfere with decisions that have already been arrived at by the rota committees. I remember on several occasions during Debates in the House on this question the Minister twitting this side of the House with regard to the position of the rota committees, because there are representatives of Labour upon those committees, and that whenever any complaint was raised from this side of the House against the decision of a rota committee, we were raising a, complaint against the decision of men who believed the same as we do, who were looking after the interests of the working class to the same extent that we were, that, therefore, it was unfair on our part to raise any complaint at all against the rota committee, and that, so far as the Minister himself and his Department were concerned, they invariably accepted the decision of that committee. Unfortunately, the Ministry have not consistently carried out that policy. During the past four or five months, several rota committees have arrived at decisions agreeing, say, that a man has been genuinely seeking employment, and that lie is entitled to receive benefit. The insurance officer comes along, and holds up that decision. The man has to wait three, four or five weeks, and sometimes fails to get the operation of the decision of the rota committee.

Surely, if anybody ought to know the local conditions, it is the rota committee. Take the mining industry in a one-industry area. It is useless for a workman to go from one colliery to another colliery in order to seek employment, because there are workmen unemployed at each particular colliery. The rota committee know the local conditions, and have given a much broader interpretation to the meaning of "genuinely seeking work," or, at least, have laid down certain lines upon which the interpretation ought to be based. It will be very interesting to hear the reply of the hon. Gentleman to the question as to the real interpretation of "genuinely seeking employment." Take the practice adopted by the rota committee. In the area from which I come, every man has got to produce, every time he comes before the rota committee, a list of the number of places he has been daily seeking work. Sometimes a man will present a list of from 30 to 50 names, according to the time that has elapsed since the committee sat previously. The man has written evidence of his efforts to get employment. The list is handed in, and the committee decade, upon the evidence produced, that the man has been genuinely seeking employment. The insurance officer comes along, and decides against him. I maintain that the rota committee should be the deciding factor upon the lines which we have been told is the case on numerous occasions. If the rota committee, who know the local conditions, the people and the circumstances, and who have realised the difficulties of finding employment, comes to a decision, we have got to accept it from our side, and the Ministry should accept it as well, and the insurance officer should not have a right to interfere with that decision.

In those particular areas where the mining industry is the only industry, or the important industry, the extent to which these people are denied the right to unemployment benefit has a direct bearing upon the creation of unemployment. The collieries are very heavily rated at the present time, and can least afford to bear an additional burden. If there be an increase in the poor rate in an area where the rate is already anywhere about 8s. in the £—and, according to the Report of the Royal Commission, them are a number of collieries that can ill afford to work at the present time— to that extent you are increasing the burden upon those collieries. The natural effect of avoiding payment of unemployment benefit to a number of unemployed is the creation of more unemployment, and, therefore, an increased amend upon the Unemployment Fund itself, and an additional charge upon the poor rate. It is, therefore, a false economy, and inasmuch as we have been discussing an Economy Bill during the last two nights, I think it would be well for the representative of the Department really to consider this question in the light of the impracticability of an increase of rates in these particular localities, in order to evade the due obligation of paying unemployment benefit to those who have been paying for years under the Unemployment Insurance Act.

7.0 P.M.


During the course of this Debate, certain speeches have been made as to how to reduce the number of unemployed workpeople in this country, and I was interested to hear the suggestion Of the hon. Member for Middleton (Mr. Sandeman), that if we could get rid of the left wing of the Labour party all would be well. He suggested that but for those people, the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have an opportunity, at some future date, of being able to secure some large addition to his depleted fund from the contributions paid by the workmen and employers to this Unemployment Insurance Fund. May I remind hon. Members such as he, that there is another side to this story, and it is this: We have a very large firm in our county to-day who are refusing to put into operation what he calls harmonious co-operation between employer and employed. We have a large firm where there has been a trade dispute for some months. There were 10 points in dispute. Eight of them have been agreed to by the workmen. Another one has been agreed to by both sides, and on the tenth the employers refuse to be harmonious in their co-operation and demand their real pound of flesh. In consequence, there are three or four thousand workmen, with their wives and families, who are on this Unemployed Fund who could be relieved, to a large extent, if the Tory Government would impress on the employers the desirability of putting into operation, and not talking so much about, that harmonious co-operation.

The hon. Member for North Bristol (Captain Guest) made a suggestion to the Government. He said the importance of emigration had probably not been fully realised, and ho suggested that, either temporarily or permanently there should be some arrangement between this country and the Dominions for the purposes of reducing the number of unemployed people in this country. That is a very dangerous suggestion. I can foresee, as I have already seen in my own Division, that the best type of people is the only type who are going to be of any value to the Dominions. That makes this country's position more serious, because she would be left with the aged and the infirm. We are going to be in a serious position if you do not examine that position carefully.

I want to draw attention to one or two points in the Estimates. There is an increase in the local employment committees of £5,250. I would have been more satisfied if that figure had been e reduction by £5,250, because the whole administration of the local employment committees in this country under the present Government has become worse week by week. There ought not to be an increase in the money allowed in these Estimates for local employment committees, because the Department itself is taking the whole of the work from these committees, so far, at least, as my area is concerned. They are reversing the decision from time to time of those committees, while saying that they place absolute confidence in them. There is going on a process—on which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will have something to say—under which recipients et benefit are being called before officials of the Employment Exchanges the day before they are asked to appear before the rota committee. They have to answer the same questions before the officials of the Exchange as they have to answer next day before the rota committee. The officials are putting them through this process, and practically coining to their own decision without allowing the rota committees to put into operation their own ideas.

We have another situation arising. The rota committees are now refusing to accept certificates supplied to workmen by firms to whom they have been to seek work. They are saying as an excuse that various firms in our locality are prepared to give certificates to men seeking work simply as a matter of course, without making any definite inquiry. That is placing the unemployed person in a most awkward position. What is he to do? The Ministry of Labour say they turn him down because he is not genuinely seeking work. When fie does genuinely seek work, the officials say, "We cannot accept this, because the firms in the localities do not take proper precautions to see that the men are seeking work." The right hon. Gentleman should see that our people in those areas have a straight deal under this Unemployment Insurance Act. They pay their contributions under the law. We Have certain men who have been connected with collieries that are supposed to be taking part in a trade dispute. These men got work under local councils or with some neighbouring firm. They work for a number of weeks and then apply again for unemployment benefit. They are refused, although they have made statements to the effect that they do not intend to go back to their original employments. They are refused benefit because they have once been connected with a colliery or firm who have a trade dispute which has not been settled. That is a very unfair process for our people to have to undergo.

An hon. Member opposite suggested that the Minister of Labour had no power over these committees. He was complimenting the Minister on the fact that the committees knew the whole circumstances and gave their decision on the local evidence, and said that, as a. matter of course, the Minister of Labour accepted this kind of thing. Unfortunately, our experience is quite different. We have quite a large number of cases, one of which is as follows. A man who had worked regularly at a colliery for over 30 years, and was an exceptionally good and efficient workman, was unfortunate in that he had to be dismissed with a batch of men owing to slackness of trade. He endeavoured to secure work at various places in the locality and eventually the rota committee turned him down, because they said there was not sufficient evidence to prove that he had bean genuinely seeking work. Of course, he thought the treatment was exceedingly severe, and he endeavoured to get his case brought before what is called the complaints committee. The complaints committee, on the same evidence on which the rota committee had turned him down, agreed that he was entitled to benefit. Yet the Minister of Labour, in his final decision, backs up the rota committee as against the complaints committee. We have that kind of thing going on from time to time.

I have complaints from urban district councils in my own area that because of the present administration by the Ministry of Labour of the Unemployment Insurance Acts their position is being made extremely difficult. They quote, in a letter to me, the case of one man of 20 years of age who finished working on 8th September, 1925, received benefit for a fortnight, and was then told his benefit was stopped on the ground that there were other members of the household working. The question for the Minister of Labour under the Act, so far as I can follow it, is whether the man is entitled to benefit, and not whether there are any members of the household working. The Act does not state that a man is not entitled to benefit because there are one or two members of the same family working. The Act is to provide a man with Unemployment Benefit provided he is an insured person with the correct amount of contributions, until such time as he can find work or work can be found for him. I notice in the Estimates an item referring to a reduction of the Government allowance under the Unemployment Insurance Act of£1,395,000. I assume that this is in connection with the economy campaign. Rather than reducing the Government grant under the Unemployment Insurance Acts at the present time. there ought to be some little addition given, in order that people might receive proper treatment under the Act. We have, in our county, a case of one large firm where men in reality should be receiving benefit under this Act but are not. Why? Because the men have given way on certain points, and the manager again is refusing, in this particular instance, to give a guarantee to the workmen that when the pits resume they will be absorbed before strangers. Because of than we have five collieries where men arc not receiving benefit to which they are entitled.

There is another point in the Estimates. There has been a reduction in the industrial training of disabled ex-service men of £534,848; in "other training" there has been a reduction of£900; and for grants for re-settlement in civil life there has been a reduction of£27,000. Actually for the training of people for occupational work in this country there has been a reduction of £562,748. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to explain to the Committee what is the Government's present policy with regard to life training centres that they established some time ago. These training centres, I understood, were for the purpose of training our people, particularly our ex-service men, to make them efficient for work which would be useful to this country and to themselves in particular. I know that there was a statement made some time ago in this House with regard to the policy of training these men for the purpose of sending them overseas. Even if it be the policy of the Government that those training centres should be used for the purpose of sending unemployed persons or unemployed ex-service men overseas, it seems to me to be a tremendous reduction—£562,000 — when the Government have themselves said from time to time that this is useful work.

The Government seem to me to-day to be barren of suggestions. They refuse every suggestion we put forward on this side of the House either in the shape of appeals or anything else. We have ideals expressed by one or two hon. Members, but they do not get us very far. The only other suggestion we have is the sending of our people overseas and breaking up the family life of this country as far as they possibly can. This Vote to-day is not justified, because the Government have shown very clearly that they are not capable of dealing with the situation that is so vitally important to this country. We have resolutions from urban district councils all over the place pointing out that they themselves are prepared to take on the responsibility of finding work for our unemployed people in these various areas. They are prepared to take on that responsibility if the Government will give them an opportunity of doing so. They have given them very definite schemes which will absorb the unemployed men in various areas in useful and beneficial work. They are turned down by the Ministry of Labour; they are turned down by the Ministry of Transport, or by the Unemployment Grants Committee, who say that owing to the economy campaign no further grants can be given for this purpose. We want to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary, on behalf of the Government, what is their definite policy —not the policy of removing men from the unemployed list and putting them out of benefit. We are very well aware of that policy—but what is the policy in the future with regard to finding different permanent avenues of work, so that men may be absorbed in useful occupations in their own country.


The difficulties that have in this matter are real difficulties coming from the discretionary powers of the Minister of Labour. The purpose of the discretion given to the Minister of Labour means that he can suspend the Act or any part of the Act in order to carry through what he wishes. It was pointed a few weeks ago that it was possible for the Minister of Labour, by his discretionary powers, to prevent the payment of fully paid-up standard benefit, and to-day the Committee realises that the Act can be so far set aside by the discretion, that was not in the Act itself, but by the discretion of the Minister. It is these discretionary powers that are giving all the trouble. Outside of them we can get down to the Acts, and to Regulations, but. whenever you go into these spheres where the discretionary powers of the Minister intervenes, then you have no Act or Regulations to guide you. You are in the sphere of the discretion of the Minister of Labour.

Take the cases that have been brought before the rota committees. Hon. Members take the trouble in some cases to investigate these personally in their own constituencies. What do they find? They find that even members of the rota committees arc thoroughly of the belief that there are secret instructions being sent out, although that is denied by the Minister of Labour. Every time I go to my constituency I meet the men who sit on the rota committees, and they try to convince me that there is some secret methods of dealing with several of the cases that they have had. But I want to touch upon the point of the income of the home. I want to ask the Minister, or rather the Parliamentary Secretary, If he thinks what occurs is at all fair that the young men of a family who are looking forward to getting married, or it may be to doing something else with their money. I would ask him if he thinks it is fair that the national responsibility towards unemployment should be so withheld as to compel what is called the thrift of an individual member of a family to be used to try to bring about a certain economy to satisfy an inefficient Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Let me give one or two cases to the Parliamentary Secretary. There is a case where there is a sick mother. Seven shillings and sixpence is being paid per week to get a girl in to look after the house. There are three brothers, of whom two are working and one is idle. The wages of the two amount to 50s. We were told when we asked why the unemployment benefit was not given that the income of the household was sufficient. What happens in Scotland is that under our Scottish system, when sons of the house arrive at the age of 21 generally they come under a new arrangement of giving so much to their mother for board and lodging, and what is left they put by towards getting married, for pocket money, and the like. When the Minister of Labour, at the behest of an inefficient Chancellor a the Exchequer, is out to rob all the savings of these young men, by saying that the income of the household is sufficient, I would point out that it is not what the sons really earn that counts, but what is paid into the family exchequer. You do not even allow the young men pocket money. You take every halfpenny shown on their pay sheet. You have done so in this case, and I want to ask if nothing is going to be done in regard to that form of—I do not like to use the word—but it is a form of theft. Here is the position: If the unemployed brother went across the street and took lodgings, you would have to pay, because he is one of those cases of standard benefit.

Then I have certain cases at Spring-burn where some of the women who do not like to be unemployed took uninsurable employment. The women were fully insured, having paid for over 13 years. They fell out of work again. They go down to the Labour exchange and there they were told they could get work at Stobhill Hospital. After being there for two years they were dismissed, and go to the Exchange, and are surprised to be told that they have no further benefit due because they have been in uninsurable employment. One can easily see what is going to take place because this matter had been scattered about Spring-burn. These young women are saying to the other girls: "Do not take employment that is uninsurable because what it means is this: After you have been paying in for nine or 10 years you are not going to get a halfpenny if you have been in another class of employment which is not insurable." I want to ask if an answer can be given to this point, and I am somewhat doubtful whether I shall get a satisfactory answer.

I want to come h r to the point raised by the right hon. Member for North Bristol (Captain Guest) who spoke about development abroad. I am more interested in development at home. He talked about swamps abroad that could be dried up. We have quite a number of swamps to be dried up in England before we go abroad. If you take the question of swamps there what does it mean? It means that you have got to find housing when you get there—I am speaking of abroad. You have to transfer all those who are going. It is much cheaper to deal with your land that is half the Year under water in England— it is not so much in Scotland—but there are big areas half the year under water. Yet it has never seemed to occur to anyone that this would not only be good employment for men, the sort of employment one wants, but that the land might become very valuable land.

If you come to the question of industry in itself I am not going to speak as sonic have spoken before in this Debate about starting industries in competition with the other nations. I have spoken before about new industries which ought to have been started, and which were promised before the War. You had an exhibition of this the other day when the Air Estimates were being discussed. We heard the Minister for Air and other hon. Members discussing enthusiastically the beautiful machines we can build, the aeroplanes we can build, and the magnificent engines we can put into the aeroplanes, yet it had to be admitted that while we build all these machines here, we depend for the fuel to take them up into the air coming from abroad. There is a new in industry.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)

I am not quite clear whether the hon. Member is entitled to develop that point.


I am dealing with the question of how we might reduce the number of the unemployed. I think, Mr. Hope, that the suggestion I am about to in mike should be allowed.


The hon. Member's suggestion would be in order if the Minister of Labour had any power to deal with it.


As I understand it, the Minister of Labour has wide discretionary powers given to him, and he can put the suggestion before the Prime Minister or the Cabinet.


If it is not in the Minister's power to formulate schemes of this sort—I am not quite sure whether it is or not—then clearly it is in order. If it means forwarding suggestions to some other Department, it is not in order.


What I am now suggesting to the Government or the Minister of Labour is what might be done to reduce unemployment.


If I may take the silence of the representative of the Ministry as indicating consent, the hon. Member can proceed.


I have no objection to the hon. Member or anyone else making any suggestions but, of course, I have no power at all and no money to do the sort of thing suggested.


On a point of Order. When we were discussing the Bill introduced from these benches the chief objection of the hon. Gentleman opposite to the Bill was that he had all the power to do all the things he proposed in that Bill: therefore the Bill was not necessary. That Bill proposed a whole volume of useful work. I should like to know who is right in this matter?


No, if I recollect aright in the debate to which the hon. Gentleman refers there was a scheme put forward to be considered by the Ministry jointly with other Departments.


On a further point of Order. Cannot we censure the Department—we should be very sorry that it should be the hon. Gentleman opposite— but cannot we censure the Department for not putting schemes before the Committee, for not producing schemes, and asking the authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to find the money, to get on with these things? It is, poverty of initiative on the part of the hon. Gentleman and his Department.


If the Committee is responsible to the Ministry of Labour, I think it would be in order to urge that it should make suggestions. I think it is a Treasury Committee.


The Committee to which the hon. Gentleman refers is a Cabinet Committee.


Is it not a fact that the Minister of Labour is Chairman of that Committee? If so, I should submit, Mr. Hope, that my hon. Friend can proceed with his suggestions.


Since the matter is a little obscure I will give the hon. Member for Springburn the benefit of the doubt.


The matter is one I should like to detail somewhat. It is on these lines: it is not new to this House. It is a suggestion from myself. We have been speaking about new industries. It is no use, for instance, opening up a new coalfield in Kent when you can get more coal than you want elsewhere. I am not suggesting anything in that line. I am suggesting that in the manufacture of fuel for aeroplanes there should be Government control, because that fuel is a Government necessity for those who believe in war. Yet here we have a Government that has destroyed the finest plant that was ever built in the world. It is sold and scrapped, at Gretna; yet we are having to-day to find a big sum of money for unemployed men, some of whom at least could be employed in manufacture, in that industry, to provide fuel in order, if nothing else, to take our aeroplanes into the air. But this is only one idea so far as the new industry is concerned. You have the question of petrol. The countries that are producing petrol are using more and more of it for their own needs, and leaving the surplus to be sent abroad.

When it comes to heavy basic oils we have only two plants in this country, while so-called backward Russia has ordered three plants to, start with. We are supposed to have been in this business 70 years and we have only two plants. Plants have been built in Britain for despatch to Russia. One left the docks in the last week or two. Yet we talk about ours being a forward country, and Russia being a backward country. When it comes to the initiation of a new industry, the supposed savages in Russia can show us the way every time—not only in organising, but in setting up new industries. It is only by the reorganisation of our industry that we are going to absorb the men who are unemployed.

Let me say, in conclusion, that the points I have gone over are matters which are biting deep into the hearts of the people who suffer. I am not speaking for the "dodger," as he is called—he forms a very, very small number in this great army of unemployed. I am thinking about decent types of people, personally known to Members of Parliament, and about all the cruelties which are being perpetrated. I am thinking of a woman lying in bed that I see so often, with her two brothers trying to save to get married, and another brother told that, although he has paid his contributions, he cannot get unemployment benefit, but is made to live as a pauper on his two brothers. I know that you as individuals would not sanction that. It is quite easy to see from your faces that you are nice, kind gentlemen.


I do not know whether the hon. Member is complimenting me or the Parliamentary Secretary?


If I was paying compliments just now, they certainly included you, Mr. Chairman, because we know from past experience just how kindly we are dealt with when we happen to go astray. In my last word, let me say that I hope that the good, kind hearts, including the Chairman's, of those engaged in this business, will see to it that this Act becomes an Act whose operation is riot dependent on the discretionary powers of one man, and not an Act to effect economies, but an Act to give justice to those who cannot help themselves.


We have had many criticisms of the Ministry of Labour by Members who were relating their experiences, and I think we should have the experiences, of quite a different character, of those who know the other side. At times everyone representing an industrial constituency is tempted to feel intensely irritated with the Ministry of Labour. Going about one's constituency one hears case after case which seems very hard, and one's sympathy is stirred, and one seeks to get a remedy from the Ministry of Labour, and often times fails. But I was surprised to hear some of the speakers say the irritation was caused by the Minister's abuse of the discretion which is left to him. Speaking with an experience of many cases from an industrial constituency which has suffered very badly in the last few years, I cannot agree with that criticism. I have usually found that the difficulty was that I was up against an Act of Parliament which denied all discretion to the Minister—at least it left him with a very limited discretion. There was a dispute recently in the shale industry in my own county, and on the question of unemployment benefit I at once came up against the Act of 1924, passed by a Socialist Government. Under that Act, if a referee decides against a man and the man happens to be a member of a trade union, there is an appeal to the umpire, as a matter of course; but if he does not belong to the union it is only as a matter of grace, or by the permission of the referee, that an appeal can go to the umpire. That is one of the commonest cases, and in such a case the Minister ha no discretion whatever, being bound by Act of Parliament. Without any desire to be unduly flattering to the Ministry of Labour, I am bound to say I am rather surprised to find them conducting this work, which must always be difficult work, in such a courteous, painstaking, and, within the limits of their discretion, most helpful way.

Everyone recognises the overwhelming necessity of dealing fairly with the unemployed, but everyone, who has a fair-minded regard for the national interest as well as for the interests of the individual, is bound to recognise the great possibilities of leakage in any unemployment scheme unless it be properly administered. Bearing in mind the state of the national Exchequer, and bearing in mind all our enthusiasm for economy, one cannot hut he surprised that we are able to get along as well as we do. In many cases I have realised the limits of the powers of the Ministry, but I have always found them using their good offices to solve difficulties; and in the ease of a Ministry that is never likely to get any laurel leaves, but always certain to get more kicks than ha'pence, I am surprised the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have done so well as they have done.


This Debate appears to be following the lines that every Debate of a similar character has followed ever since I have been a Member of this House. A large number of the Members of the party opposite appear to regard a Debate upon unemployment as an occasion for a holiday, and put in no appearance at all.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL

Your party has not got many Members here.


Some Members make suggestions for dealing with the problem, but a great majority of Members devote their attention to dealing with minor points of administration, making strenuous efforts to secure that the administration of the existing Act shall be less harsh than it has been hitherto. At the end of it all, those who have spoken and those who have only listened, wend their way homewards like good citizens, with an air of smug self-satisfaction, feeling they have contributed their quota to the problem. While all the time their is a standing army of over 1,000,000 out of work in this country.

It seems to be regarded as ridiculous that anyone should attempt to concentrate attention on that main factor. It seems to be expected, in order to conform with the rules of debate, that one should concentrate on minor, infinitesimal points, and the more infinitesimal the point the more necessary it appears to be that it should be dealt with at length. I do not intend to introduce any spirit of recrimination into the Debate but in what I say I want to lead up to a suggestion that I have to make. I can recall only one suggestion made in the course of this Debate, and that was a suggestion by the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Captain Guest) in favour of emigration. Up to now that suggestion has not met with a very friendly response, and I hope my suggestion, when I come to it, may receive better treatment.

The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Health, when speaking in the House last night, commented on the fact that a jeer came from this side of the House at the statement that unemployment was falling. I have noticed in Debates lately that every time a statement is made from these benches that unemployment figures are falling it is received with cheers from the opposite side and jeers from this side. A good deal of the explanation of that is to be found in speeches which some of my colleagues, and some of the hon. Members opposite, have delivered this afternoon regarding the methods adopted of late to reduce the figures of unemployment. In the Press only to-day there are announcements that the Lambeth Board of Guardians and the Southwark Board of Guardians are faced with a tremendous increase of expenditure.

Some explanation ought to be forthcoming; if the explanation is not to be found in the fact that it is only the figures of unemployment which are being reduced, and not the actual amount of unemployment, I do not know what the explanation is. The other day I put a question to the Minister of Health respecting one con- stituency which might be repeated of almost every industrial constituency in the United Kingdom. My question asked him whether his attention had been drawn to the fact that during the week ending the 19th February, 10,696 persons were in receipt of relief from the Cardiff Board of Guardians, against 8,641 in the corresponding week a year ago, and whether he could give any explanation of the cause of this large increase. The reply I received—I am quoting the exact words, was: Sir KINGSLEY WOOD: I am unable to say what is the explanation of the increase. I think it is very doubtful indeed whether unemployment is decreasing. Certainly, the figures are decreasing, but our contention is that the burden is simply being shifted from the State on to the local authorities. This is the point I want to lead up to. The other Friday the Labour party introduced a Bill for dealing with unemployment. It was the subject of a series of speeches from the other side of the House, very clever speeches, very able speeches, which tore it to rags and tatters. In those speeches Members pointed out that it was hopeless as an attempt to deal with the problem. Speaker after speaker ridiculed it, and it was voted down. In addition to putting forward that Bill, we on this side have made other suggestions. Ever since I have been in this House I have heard suggestions put forward, and have contributed my share to them. We have suggested raising the school-leaving age, the legal limitation of the hours of labour, afforestation, railway electrification, the giving of higher wages to increase the consuming power of our people. A thousand and one proposals have been suggested, but to all of them the Government have turned a deaf ear. We used to be asked to suggest schemes. We did suggest schemes, and so did the local authorities. It would be no exaggeration to say the pigeon-holes of Government Departments are bulging with schemes submitted by local authorities, by Labour Members, and even by Conservative Members. What is the use of continuing on these lines?

The Minister of Transport is not approving any new schemes if they entail any expenditure from the Road Fund, and all the schemes submitted to him since August last have been held up. The Special Grants Committee has slowed down almost to a standstill. On this side of the House we have produced our Bill to deal with this problem, and hon. Members opposite simply ridiculed it. We have produced our schemes, but they have all fallen upon deaf ears. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have also made similar suggestions to assist this problem, and some of them have put forward cold-blooded tariff reform proposals. Those interested in the fishing industry have also suggested the opening up of trade relations with Russia, and the agricultural Members have made various suggestions. Nevertheless the Government has shown no signs whatever of paying any attention to all those suggestions. In face of that we have the right to ask what is the Government doing? Up to the present they have turned down what everybody else has suggested, and they have turned a deaf ear to the proposals put forward not only by Members of Parliament but also by local authorities, and that attitude is not getting us any further. The Government has no remedy for unemployment, and when a right hon. Gentleman on this side of the House suggested that they claim to have a remedy it was met with great indignation, and the Government repudiated that they had ever declared they had a remedy for unemployment. Therefore it is established that the Government does not claim to have any remedy for unemployment.

Now I come to the question whether the Government have any plans for palliating the worst effects of unemployment, and if so what are they, and when are they going to produce them? Meantime all this is going on, and while members of all parties are doing their best to put forward suggestions which meet with no response, the local authorities are at their wits end and are getting deeper and deeper into debt. The principle adopted seems to be that the poorer they are the more they are to be punished. The practice has been for wealthy people to move out of poor localities and go to live in more salubrious districts where the rates are not so high, and thus they leave the poor to keep the poor. I will give an example of what the Tottenham Local Authority has attempted to do while the present Government has been in power. I would like to remind hon. Members opposite that Tottenhant is not a Labour Council and never has been, and what I am going to say may be regarded as a typical example of the position of local authorities in most of our industrial districts.

On the 17th December, 1924, the Tottenham District Council called a town's meeting. The chairman of the local district council presided, and he was supported by the local Members of Parliament, one of whom happens to be a member of the party opposite and the other was myself. There were on the platform county councillors, members of the Tottenham District Council, representatives of the boards of guardians and the various churches including the Free Church Council, the Salvation Army, the British Legion, the unemployed of Tottenham, the Trades Council, the Labour party, the Manufacturers' Association, the Jewish community, the local Women's Association, the local chamber of commerce, friendly societies and the local employers' exchange. Representatives from all those organisations appeared on the platform at that meeting and the following resolution was carried unanimously at a meeting at which about 1,000 people were present: That we, the assembled citizens of Tottenham, whilst appreciating the unceasing efforts which have been made by the various local and other authorities in the district to deal with the question of unemployment, view with alarm the number of unemployed and the consequent misery thereby entailed. Having regard to the limited resources of the local authorities of the country, and to the consideration that the prevision of employment is a national responsibility, this meeting calls upon the Government at once to formulate comprehensive national schemes for works of permanent utility, in which skilled as well as unskilled labour will be appropriately employed, such works to be financed nationally, and to be administered in local areas or groups of local areas by or under the general supervision of the local authorities of such areas. I do not need to read the whole of the resolution, but the last part of it is as follows: That the Prime Minister be respectfully requested to summon an urgent and special Session of Parliament, with a view to the problem of unemployment being dealt with immediately. We suggested that a special Session should be called but nothing whatever happened as a result of our suggestion. Then I come to October, 1925. Here you will notice that we went a step further, because we had determined to try something else. On the 2nd October, 1925, the Tottenham District Council passed the following resolution: That the council's previous resolutions relating to unemployment, and calling for a special Session of Parliament to deal with this question be confirmed. That the Council's resolution on unemployment, passed on 4th May, 1925, namely: That the Government be again requested to take immediately and active steps to provide remedial measures for the relief of unemployment. With this object in view the council suggest the convening of a national industrial conference, representative of the employers and workers of all trades and industries, together with representatives of the community generally. Such conference to sit in continuous session coincident with the Parliamentary Session until definite and practical measures are agreed upon acid given effect to. That copies of this resolution be sent to the Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, and to Mr. Lloyd George, and that the local Members of Parliament, be requested to take all possible steps to give effect to these suggestions in the House of Commons. That copies of this resolution be also sent to the local authorities of areas having a population of 50,000 and upwards, be re-affirmed, and that copies of this resolution be sent to every Member of the House of Commons, requesting in reply their observations thereof. That is another suggestion, and in accordance with the request of the Tottenham District Council I put a question to the Prime Minister whether he had received a suggestion that a national industrial conference should be called together to deal with unemployment, and the Prime Minister's reply was to the effect that he did not believe such an industrial conference would have any good results, and he preferred to see the representatives of employers and the men employed in each specific industry, and he did not think such an industrial conference would have any result. We made that, suggestion in a spirit which was intended to be helpful. I come now to the present time. Our next suggestion is contained in a letter dated the 3rd February, 1926, on which date the borough council of Tottenham adopted the following report of their finance and Parliamentary committee:

  1. "(a) That the local Members of Parliament be asked, in co-operation with those 695 Members of Parliament who have expressed their willingness to support the council's proposals, to convene a non-party conference of Members of Parliament, with a view of pressing the Government to take immediate steps to carry into effect the council's representations hereon.
  2. (b) That a communication be sent to those local authorities who decided to support the council's resolution requesting them to urge their Members of Parliament to co-operate with the Tottenham Members of Parliament on the foregoing lines."
In his letter the clerk to the Tottenham Borough Council further stated: I am to express the hope that you and Major P. B. Malone, M.P., will be so kind as to give effect to the council's proposals, and arrange for a non-party conference of Members of Parliament, to be convened with a view of urging the Government to take immediate steps to deal with the question of unemployment. I am giving these quotations to get the Parliamentary Secretary to realise that here is the case of one authority which has been patiently doing its best to get some attention paid to this problem. First of all we asked for a Special Session of Parliament, then for a National Conference to be set up, and now they have gone to the extent of asking the Member of Parliament for South Tottenham (Major Malone) and myself to convene a conference of Members of this House to see whether anything can be done along those lines. The effect of all this is that there is a rapidly growing impression not only in this House, but amongst the local authorities and the people in industrial districts that the Government have left off trying to do anything, and I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary that he must recognise the position in which myself and my colleague have been placed. We have tried to convene a non-party conference, and quite a number of Members of the party opposite have already written to the Town Clerk of Tottenham signifying their willingness to meet together to see if anything can be done along those lines. The hon. and gallant Member for South Tottenham and myself will do our best, but two private Members of this House, with the best intentions in the world, cannot get very far on a question of this sort.

My suggestion is to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether the Government would be prepared to take a lead in this direction. It is a humble suggestion, and I hope it will be not be met by merely pouring ridicule upon it, because that does not get any of us any further at all. My suggestion is that the Ministry of Labour should take the lead in this matter and approach the other parties in the House to see whether it is not possible to set up a non-party committee to get down to definite practical proposals which do not cut across the political convictions held by members of all parties. If a non-party committee of this House were to be set up without expecting any member of any party to give up any sincere political convictions, I think it would be possible to get down to a number of practical proposals upon which action could be taken, because every man put into work is something accomplished. I would appeal to the Minister not to treat this suggestion as so many others have been treated, because, if accepted in the right spirit, and taken up by the Minister and received by the other two parties in a right spirit, and a non-party committee is set up, I think it would have a far-reaching effect and would create a new atmosphere to bear on this problem which we have not had in the past.

8.0 P.M.


In rising to take part in this Debate, I share the feeling of almost hopelessness which has been expressed by several hon. Members. I remember taking part in all the Debates last year on the Unemployment Insurance Bill, both on the Floor of the House and in Committee, and I felt then that the position created was a very severe one for the unemployed in this country. We have heard from the last speaker one or two concrete suggestions, namely, that a non-party Committee should be called together, and also that the Government should get a move on with the provision of more work. Personally, I have not a great deal of faith in the idea of a non-party Committee, but, even with my lack of faith, if there is the thousandth part of a chance of its doing anything at all, the Government ought at least to give it some trial. The difficulty of this Debate is two-fold. It is difficult to discuss unemployment, its cause and its remedy, and then to deal with the administration of Unemployment Insurance. It is the most difficult thing in the world to discuss schemes and then to discuss terms of administrative detail. I know, and I am sure that every Member on these benches will agree, that schemes for finding a solution of the unemployment problem are the main job. If we could solve the problem, there would be no need to come here and argue the administrative details.

I want, however, to say to members of this Committee, even to those on these benches, that, even if the suggestion of ray hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison) were carried out, and even if our further suggestions as to trade with Russia and as to opening up and developing new trade at home and abroad were carried out, there would still be a number of people reemployed, for at the best, even if the Government were; to undertake those schemes, they could not do so without the lapse of some little time. In fact, it was one of the grievous things about the party opposite that, when they were in Opposition, they allowed no time at all to the then Labour Government to operate any of its own schemes. If you are, going to have schemes, people have still to be maintained, and that is why I am going to concentrate on the administrative side of Unemployment Insurance. Even if all the suggestions that have been made are carried out, the men must be fed in the meantime, and the Minister of Labour, so far from feeding the men, or even securing them the barest minimum of comfort, is taking every step to secure that they shall not get it.

I was interested in the statement of an hon. Member for a Scottish industrial constituency—I am sorry he is not here at the moment—that he had very little criticism to make of the Ministry of Labour. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham that one of the best ways of judging the Ministry of Labour is by the Poor Law returns, and I got the Govan Parish Council, which controls almost half the city of Glasgow, and which is predominantly Tory, to make out a return, not for a week, but for a whole year, starting with November, 1924, and ending in December, 192.5—that is to say, almost coinciding with the coming into office of tie present Government until the end of last year. In the first week of November, 1924, there were 3,490 able-bodied people on the Poor Law; on the 5th December, 1925, even with the supposed decreasing unemployment figures, the number had risen from 3,490 to 5,150 in that period. We find, in the Exchanges in the south side of Glasgow, a rapid increase of disallowances during that period of 12 months, and we find that, while the Poor Law authority in Glasgow spent £1,800 on able-bodied relief in November. 1924, in November, 1925, after a year of Tory Government, they were spending £3,805, or £2,000 a week more than when the Labour Government left office.

I know that Members come here—occasionally even Labour Members—and say that men who are out of work for a long while must have something wrong with them; that they cannot be looking for work, or they must be inefficient, or sometimes that they are lacking in capacity. Even applying that argument, those people have still to live; they must still exist. I know that the answer of the. Parliamentary Secretary will be the old favourite answer that this is an insurance fund. He will say to me, and to every other Member who has raised this question, that, if people were allowed to draw for three, four and five years, they would draw far in excess of what they had paid in, and, therefore, it could not be run on insurance principles. Admitting that argument, granting that he is correct in saying that this is an insurance fund and has to be run on insurance principles, might I then ask what he proposes to do for those who are outside the scope of the Insurance Fund I It is not sufficient to cut them off, saying that this is an insurance fund and letting it end there. People must still live; they are human beings, and our modern society has not reached the stage when we take them out and shoot them in a quick way.

If it be an insurance fund, what is the Minister going to say is to take the place of this fund in the case of those people who cannot secure benefit from it? If he cannot give them the benefit, then it is his duty, as Minister of Labour, to create some other fund which will secure that these people get at least a minimum amount of benefit. For instance, a man is disqualified because he has not worked for a reasonable period during the last two years. That is harsher even than telling him that he is not genuinely seeking work. If he is told that he is not genuinely seeking work, he might produce some evidence, but here, even if he pro- duces all the evidence he can gather to show that he is genuinely looking for work, yet, if he has not within two years had a reasonable period of employment, then, no matter what kind of evidence he produces, he is automatically disqualified from receiving benefit. It is not good enough even for the Minister of Labour to say that this is insurance, that it must be run on insurance lines and must be kept solvent. If he cannot find the benefit from this Fund, it is his duty to find the money to keep these folk alive from some other source which he ought to create.

There is a new administrative Circular that has recently been sent out. About three or four weeks ago, I almost committed heresy in the House when I had the temerity to oppose, as I have always done, a Bill in my opposition to which I always find myself alone—a Bill to give disabled ex-service men preference in securing work. As to the merits of that Bill I am not going to argue, but on that occasion I put it to the Minister of Labour that he could show an example to employers in this direction by granting disabled men benefit more readily than he has been doing. I find that the Minister of Labour, so far from helping in this direction, is in many cases penalising disabled men in regard to securing benefit. Take the case of a man who has been disabled and who goes to work. Under this new Circular, issued on the 5th March, 1926, if that man be single, and has a pension of £2 a. week, his pension is taken as an income and he is disqualified from receiving extended benefit. Could there be anything more unjust or cruel than to say to an ex-service man, "Here is £2 a week; that is for compensation, to a very meagre extent, for your injuries received during the War," and then, after he has drawn his standard benefit, if he is single, to take that amount as his income and refuse him any extended benefit at all? We hear people preaching that employers should show the way, and the only way the Minister of Labour can show is disallowing these folk benefit.

There is another point that I want to make. It is with regard to the question of standard benefit. I know the Minister of Labour will tell me that the Act of 1924 repealed a certain Section of the Act of 1920, and that, therefore, we are possibly more to blame than he. But that is not answering the case. The Minister has not to meet the sins of past Governments, but the sins that are being committed at the moment. I want to put the case of married women employed by a local cooperative society. The co-operators in that case have laid it down, rightly or wrongly, that, whenever women employés get married, they must leave their employment, and they are automatically dismissed on marriage. All the women who were thus dismissed were disqualified from receiving benefit on the ground that they were not genuinely seeking work. One or two of them were members of their union, and they went beyond the Court of Referees and got a decision from the Umpire reversing the decision of the Court of Referees; but what has happened? In the ordinary law, the High Court dominates all lower Courts, but the Minister of Labour does not accept that view. The Umpire's decision ought to govern the cases of all married women who are dismissed merely because they have got married, and for no other reason at all.

I have looked into the figures locally in Glasgow, and I find that during the past year almost every woman who has been dismissed because she had got married, and has made an application for unemployment benefit, has 'peen refused benefit. In those cases, however, where she had her union to fight it as far as the Umpire, she has received the benefit, and yet the Minister of Labour refuses to allow the Umpire's decision to govern those of the lower Court, that is to say, the Court of Referees. There is one thing on which I wish to congratulate the Minister. I see the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Couper) present. One of his favourite complaints used to be that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) had given aliens unemployment benefit. I represent an alien division of Scotland. All that my right hon. Friend's instructions have done is to increase the number in the whole of Glasgow by five. The hon. Member opposite made people believe that the Labour Government were giving all the aliens unemployed benefit. I see the Minister has issued a Circular in which former enemy aliens are not now to be discriminated against regarding extended benefit, and I congratulate him.

A Circular was issued on 9th March, 1925—the most cunningly-worded Circular that ever I came across. It appears to be a good thing but in practice it is one of the worst possible Circulars of all. It sets out to say there are a large number of people who come before the Committees who can be quite easily granted benefit by the exchange managers in a straightforward fashion without the applicants needing to wait or to come before the Committee, ad the exchange officials are given power to grant the benefit forthwith. But what in fact is happening is that whereas, before, the Committee could and usually did grant benefit for 12 weeks, the official is limited to granting benefit only for six weeks, and the result is that he is only granting benefit for six weeks and then the case is again reviewed and the applicant again has to go before the Committee. Far from being a benefit, the Circular means that the man is more frequently called before the Committee than was the case formerly.

My last word to the Minister is this. Thousands of people are being refused benefit. There are many Regulations, but there ought only to be one. Can you give the man a job. Can you find the woman work? An old trick of the Minister of Labour with the women folk is to ask a girl if she will take domestic service. If she says "No," benefit is refused. If she says "Yes," they could not give her a job, and the women are now saying "Yes" and they cannot be sent to jobs, but before, when the girls were honest and said "No," they were refused. It is not sufficient for the Minister either to say they are bad people. I come from a district which is not noted for its goodness, but I have always noticed that everyone who is sly, the cute man, the dodger, could beat all the Regulations that ever a Minister of Labour cared to put in force. The Regulations only penalise the honest and the decent, and the duty of the Minister of Labour is to see that neither man nor woman who is snaking an effort to secure work is penalised. I have seen people who are bad, some of them even worthy of hanging, or shooting, or sometimes jailing, but I have never seen a man or woman who deserved starving to death, and the Regulations which deprive people of benefit are starving them to death and punishing them worse than you would punish your criminal population. I hope the Under-Secretary will say that the Government, after 12 months, is going to relax these cruel, stringent Regulations which are penalising innocent people.


I want to draw the Minister's attention to the work of the local committees. In June last there was issued a small pamphlet dealing with extended benefit and dependants—really instructions to local committees. I want to read one or two paragraphs to show what we are expected to do. Clause 44, on page 18, reads as follows: