§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
I beg to move,That the Bill be now read a Second time.This is a moment in which I envy my predecessors. As I was thinking over what I should say to-day I thought of my predecessors from Mr. John Hodge down to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw). I looked upon them as fortunate men. They were fortunate in this, that the subject, though always intricate, was not nearly so complicated, at any rate in the early days, as it has become in my time. Every year since 1920 up to my own time has seen its crop of Unemployment Insurance Acts. Each annual harvest, with, I think, one exception, has seen at least two such Acts and some have included three. Every Act that has been passed has left the subject more intricate than it was before. That is the reason why I ask the House to give me its forbearance this afternoon. I intend to be as brief as possible, but as the proposals in this Bill mean a remodelling of the whole system of unemployment insurance, the statement must be adequate. I propose, also, to be as clear and deal with the subject in as broad an outline as possible, but I do not wish to shirk any difficulty in the subject, and, as I said, its complications are very great indeed. These complications are caused by the actual facts in the history of unemployment insurance in this country and they are only intelligible in the light of the history of those facts, and so, with the approval of the House, I propose, as thoroughly as I may, to deal with one or two features in the history of unemployment insurance. I can assure the House that in so doing I shall not waste their time but save it, because it will enable me not to cumber up the statement I have to make of the proposals of the Bill by the explanations that would otherwise be inevitable.
The history of unemployment insurance in this country falls, for the purposes of discussing this Measure, into two main 204 parts—the first part from 1911, when the scheme was started, up to 1920, and the second part from 1921 up to the present day. When it was decided that the State should take in hand insurance against unemployment, we followed the usual course in this country of not trying to elaborate any theoretically perfect scheme, but to see what working models there were that we could adopt for the purpose. The existing trade union schemes of insuring their members against unemployment were the obvious models to take for the purpose. The result was that the first Unemployment Insurance Act of 1911 was based largely on the trade union model. It was increased considerably in scope five years later, but the great extension came in the Act of 1920, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir Robert Horne). In the Act of 1920 the scope of unemployment insurance was extended practically to all the trades that it now covers. There have been some variations, some amendments and extensions of the system, but it is still known as the principal Act. Broadly speaking, it was based, like its predecessors, on the trade union system and it did not alter the main characteristics of its predecessors.
I would ask the House to mark what these main characteristics were, as it is essential for the consideration of the present Bill. First and foremost the system that was established was the system of standard, or, as it was then called, covenanted benefit. It was a system of statutory right, meaning that any workman in the insured trades could, if unemployed, get benefit as a right, provided that he satisfied the conditions to which I will allude in a moment. The second main feature was that as the payment of benefit was a matter of statutory right, so the machinery by which it was administered was a statutory machinery also. Claims were decided by the Insurance Officer or, on appeal, by the Court of Referees, and the Umpire was a final court of appeal. The Umpire was deliberately placed in a position of independence, so that his decision could neither be over-ruled nor altered nor revised either by the Minister of Labour or by any administrative official. Thirdly, there were tests, the aim of which was to achieve two objects, first of all to see that a man was in the insurance 205 scheme, that is to say, that benefit by unemployment insurance was properly applicable to him—I will say a little more about that when we come to the present Bill—and, secondly, that he was really trying to get employment. Those were the three main characteristics of that system of standard benefit, and it had one more which was, in part, a legacy of the old trade union scheme. That is to say, there was a limitation of benefit partly by a total being set of the number of weeks for which it could be obtained in a year and partly by what is called the ratio of benefit to contributions, namely, that a man could get one week's benefit for every six weeks in which he had paid contributions. That was the system of standard benefit, which reached its greatest extent by the 1920 Act.
I now pass to the second stage. In the winter of 1920–21 there came the great slump and hundreds of thousands of men and women were thrown out of employment. The scheme just started had not been long enough in existence for those people recently insured under it to have paid contributions enough to qualify for benefit adequate to meet the situation, and so it had to be met by some extemporised expedient. Consequently, the Act of 1920 was altered, enlarged, added to very greatly, and completely changed in many ways. As a result of that, in the 1921 and successive Acts there has been grafted on to the first system, and existing side by side with it, the system of extended benefit as we know it, or as it was then called, uncovenanted benefit. The position that we so reached was that the scheme of unemployment insurance in this country was of a dual nature. There were two systems side by side but essentially different in their character one from the other…standard benefit, under which a man received benefit in return for contributions already paid, and as a matter of statutory right; and extended benefit, under which a man received benefit for contributions not paid but anticipated, which was essentially not a statutory right but a discretionary grant. That discretionary grant is quite clearly a cardinal feature of the extended benefit system.
The fulfilment of the conditions for extended benefit was decided by the Minister. The mechanism by which it was administered was of a discretionary nature as contrasted with the statu- 206 tory mechanism of the other part of the system. It was dealt with by local employment committees acting generally through rota committees, but the final determination lay not with the umpire but with the Minister. Recommendations were made by the local committees; it rested with the Minister to make the grant. If he were a wise man he interfered, as indeed all of us do, as little as possible, with the work of the local employment committees, compatible with our, own final responsibility to this House. At any rate, the ultimate basis was the discretion of the Minister who made the grant. That kind of dual system was tolerable and perhaps inevitable in a time of emergency, but it was not likely to be satisfactory as a continuing and permanent scheme. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) brought in his Bill of 1924, I think his object was to turn the discretionary condition into a statutory right. I do not think he fully succeeded. I do not say this in any disparaging way, because so long as you have an extended benefit system without an automatic test, you cannot abolish the discretionary element altogether. It is like the old saying,You may drive out nature with a fork, but it always comes back again.So long as you have not an automatic test, the discretion of the Minister creeps back, whether you wish it or not. In the Act of 1924, my right hon. Friend introduced a first Statutory condition, and yet power was taken in the same Act for the Minister to waive that condition at his discretion and the whole discretionary machine, with the final authority of the Minister to give extended benefit, was retained.
I have now finished with the history of unemployment insurance, and I ask the House to note the position. We have a dual system. One part of it, as I think everyone who really is acquainted with the Act and its operation will agree, is not working satisfactorily. I refer to the extended benefit system. It is not a case of a good system badly administered. On the contrary, it is well administered largely through the local employment committees and their rota committees. A feature in British life of which we are all justly proud, and which is in many respects unique, is the amount of voluntary service given by private in- 207 dividuals to public work. If gratitude was ever due it is due to members of the local employment committees who have worked at this public service week in and week out, often under not too congenial conditions and without that slight meed of reward which publicity gives. It is, as I say, not a case of a good system badly administered, but of an essentially defective system administered, I think, as well as we could ever have had any hope or reason to expect. In any system, the element of uncertainty ought to be reduced to the minimum. Under this discretionary system it could not be. Again, under a system set up by law there ought to be as much uniformity as possible. Under this system, naturally, different committees took different views. It was impossible for all of them to take similar views. In some cases persons who might have been considered by most people to be genuine applicants would be recommended for disallowance, while in other cases claims would be granted or recommended for grant from motives of charity and without any such strict regard as to how far the claimant satisfied the conditions for benefit. The task of these committees was extraordinarily difficult. As has been put to me by some critics in the House, the genuine applicant, quite apart from differences of opinion in the committees, often may be unable to put his case convincingly, while on the other hand, as has been said, the "fly man gets by" the committee every time.
That was the state of affairs which led us to think that if an improvement could be devised it should be introduced. That is the reason why Lord Blanesburgh and his colleagues were asked to undertake the investigation which resulted in the Blanesburgh Report. We may agree or not with the Report, but I am sure the House will recognise generously the way in which a number of men and women, nearly all of them, and particularly, perhaps, the Chairman, with a full burden of other work already on their shoulders, gave time, trouble, patience and ability to a very difficult work. So we come to the Blanesburgh Report and the present Bill. With one exception, with which I will deal adequately, we adopt all the main recommendations of the Blanesburgh Report.
I propose now to deal with the provisions in the Bill giving effect to those 208 recommendations, so far as legislative effect is necessary. It will be for the convenience of the House if I deal with the main provisions of the Bill in this order—first, the essential nature of the scheme it is proposed to set up, secondly, the classes of insured contributors under the scheme, as recommended by the Blanesburgh Committee, thirdly, what may be called the minor provisions for which place is found in the Bill, and, lastly, the finance of the scheme and the contributions.
Let me deal first with the nature of the scheme. It recasts the whole of the present system of unemployment insurance. It provides one unified scheme based on a statutory right, that is to say, it gives the unemployed insured man a right to benefit if he satisfies certain conditions, with which I will deal in a few moments. I ask the House to mark the consequences which follow, necessarily, from setting up one unified scheme based on a statutory right. In the first place, extended benefit goes. If extended benefit goes, then the word "dole," if ever it was applicable, is at least applicable no longer. [HON. MEMBERS: "It never was!"] I have never admitted that it was. At any rate it is now no more applicable. The next point is that anything in the nature of a discretionary grant vanishes also, and personally I feel rather like Christian when he was relieved of his burden. The next point to note is that this unified scheme is on a considerably broader basis than that old system of standard benefit. It ought in normal times to meet all claims of unemployment. In the old days and up to now standard benefit was a system of insurance, but it was a system of half fledged insurance. It partook also of the nature of a deposit contribution scheme. We have broadened it out into a system of real insurance, like fire insurance. In fire insurance a man pays premiums, the company assesses the risk of fire and offers compensation based upon that assessment. If a man's house is burnt he gets compensation, which does not bear any fixed relation to the actual amount he has paid in premiums. On the other hand, there is one condition under which he does not get compensation—that is if he deliberately sets fire to his own house. That is a real insurance system, and that is the nature of the system we are setting up in this Bill. 209 I come now to the conditions for receipt of benefit. The first condition which is necessary under any system of statutory right is an automatic test of some kind, and this is provided for in the Bill by the Clause that requires the payment of 30 contributions in the preceding two years. The object of this is to show that the contributor is in what is called "the insurance field." By this I do not mean that he must belong to one of the insured trades. That goes without saying. It means that benefit by unemployment insurance is properly applicable in his case. Suppose a man is unemployed owing to having passed the age at which he is generally considered fit for work, then unemployment insurance is not properly applicable to his case. He would be pensionable and his case would be dealt with by the pensions authorities. He would not be in the unemployment insurance field. Similarly, if a man is unemployed because he is sick he is dealt with by health insurance, and does not come within unemployment insurance. In the same way, if a person is not a regular worker in an insured trade, he is not within the unemployment insurance scheme, and that applies equally to the trades outside, like agricultural labourers, and, I say it advisedly, to the man who does not want to get work. I should be the last to say these are a numerous class, but, so far as they exist, they are not in the insurance field, and the test of this is the payment of 30 contributions in the last two years. The other and the only other condition is that he should not be like the man who sets fire to his own house—that is, he should be genuinely seeking work. The Committee recommended that we should insert in the Bill a short definition of "genuinely seeking work."
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
That point can be dealt with later. I cannot go into all these details at the moment, but I am quite ready to meet these points later on. As regards the definition of "genuinely seeking work," I have cudgelled my own 210 brains, and I have asked my officials to cudgel their brains also, to produce a short and accurate definition. We have not yet succeeded, and I do not believe it is possible. They are three good British words which, on the whole, are fairly distinct in their meaning, but they are insusceptible of definition. The same difficulty applies to any definition of the word "reasonable," which is a test in many legal matters. If any hon. Member will produce a good short definition of "genuinely seeking work" I shall be happy to consider it favourably with a view of inserting it in the Bill. I think I know the chief object which the Committee had in mind. It was that the insured contributor shall be able to know the considerations which will guide the statutory authorities in deciding on his case. Those considerations are set forth in one judgment of the umpire, which is a Schedule to the Report, and in some other judgments. I will gladly endeavour to get these considerations put in as brief a form as possible for the guidance of any contributor, and also make them available in all the Employment Exchanges. I think that will achieve the result which is desired.
Next I deal with the machinery of the new scheme. It is a statutory machinery, with Insurance officer, Courts of Referees, and a final appeal to the Umpire, whose decision is final and independent, and cannot be overridden by the Minister or any administrative authority. That is the essential nature of the new scheme proposed. I say with confidence that it is an immense advance on the system that we have at present to administer. The present system is a defective one, although administered as well as it is possible to administer it. This is an immense advance upon the present scheme though, of course, to be satisfactory it obviously needs good administration as well.
Now I pass from the essential nature of the scheme to the classes of insured persons. As Members of the House will note, we have followed in this case, as in the nature of the scheme, the recommendations of the Report precisely. It is proposed to create a new class of young persons from 18 to 21 years, as recommended in the Report. Let me give the actual reasons for this suggested in the Report. The Report states that the 211 classes and the rates of benefit finally resolved uponare an adjustment of conflicting views, but they have in the minds of all of us their justification in principle.The Report goes on, after referring to the rates for persons over 21, to justify the change proportionate between married men and single men on the ground of the greater commitments and responsibilities of married men, and says:It is by similar considerations that the lower rates for unemployed boys, girls and young persons are principally to be justified, although other factors also enter into this case.In paragraph 71 the Report states:Our purpose has been to apportion the available money according to needs, but so also as to correct features of the existing practice which in some cases have been attended by undesirable results. There is in the Local Employment Committees considerable support for the proposals in this matter, upon which we have all agreed. We have also taken into account the Report of Sir Donald Maclean's recent Committee #x2026. which specially drew our attention to the case of young persons.In their conclusion, the Committee state:We have considered it of the first importance so to frame our schemes that it is as free as possible from all injurious tendencies…. The reduction in the rate of benefit of young persons, the periodical review of those who make lengthy claims on the funds by a competent, authoritative and impartial tribunal…. re expressly designed for this purpose. We have realised that the reputation of the scheme in the eyes of the insured persons must be continuously maintained. Otherwise the benefit, so far from maintaining the self-respect and independence of these persons when they are unemployed, will have precisely the opposite effect.Those are the opinions of the Committee. Their view was supported by the preponderating opinion of Local Employment Committees when they considered the subject. Opinions differed, but the preponderating opinion was in the direction of the Committee's recommendation. We have followed the recommendation in the Bill. As regards adult benefits, with one alteration the scales remain the same. If they are inadequate they are, at any rate, the scales set up in the Act of 1924. Only one change has been made, and that is a change, again following the recommendation of the Committee, to make them more adequate to the need of the recipients. I think that if there were a 212 given sum of money to be distributed and anyone in this House were asked which was the better distribution, to give a single man a benefit of 17s. and 7s. for a dependant wife or other relation—
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
No. 17s. for a single man and 7s. for the dependant wife of a married man, as against 18s. for the man and 5s. for the dependant wife, if he was married, I think that practically everyone would say that judging it from the point of view of need and responsibility the division of 17s. for the man and 7s. for the dependant relative was the better division of the two. I pass now to the lesser provisions of the Bill, with Which I propose to deal briefly. The Report suggested a periodic investigation into the Fund. We introduce that in Clause 3. The Committee asked for certain changes in the classification of the dependants in respect of whom the 7s. might be paid. We deal with that in Clause 4. There are the two very important recommendations as regards trade disputes. They are dealt with in Clause 6, again following the Report. There is the Clause that deals with the administration by trade unions, in which case again we follow the Report. In Clause 7 we abolish the power to set up special schemes, as the Report wished, and in Clause 12 we set out the transitional provisions based on the recommendations of the Report as to the transition from the existing scheme to the future permanent scheme.
There is one consequential point, and that is that under the existing scheme soldiers and sailors and members of the Air Force, when they leave the Service, are credited with a certain number of contributions to enable them to enter industrial life without a handicap. As the scheme is altered there is to be an adjustment of the contribution. By Clause 11 we put them in a better position under the new scheme than under the old. Lastly, there are two quite small points which are not recommended by the Committee but are important for proper administration. We thought that we were acting strictly according to the law in the way in which we dealt with sums that had been improperly received. A doubt has been expressed as to whether our practice was 213 strictly in accordance with the law. We, therefore, make that secure. We also give power to those holding official inquiries to take evidence on oath. Those are minor points.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I will deal with details later. For the remainder of the time which I wish to occupy now I will deal with the fourth main point in the scheme, and that is the finance. I am afraid that what I have been saying up to now has not been lively. When I deal with the figures of finance I fear they will be found as dry as a diet of cracknels in the Sahara! I will deal with them in detail. As the House is doubtless aware, the present contributions in respect of an adult man are, 8d. from the employer, 7d. from the worker, and 6d. from the State—making 21 pence in all for every adult man who is insured. There are correspondingly lower rates for the other classes, but I shall deal here with this particular rate so as not to complicate the question. At that rate, the fund's income and expenditure just about balance at the present moment. The rates have been put up or down—generally up—to meet the needs of the time. The view taken by the Committee may be briefly described as follows. They took the accepted view that, before the War, trade moved in certain cycles, years of good trade and of bad trade succeeding one another, and they anticipated that trade would again begin to move in cycles after the War. If that be so, it gives an opportunity in their opinion for taking a longer view of the finance that is necessary, and of estimating what would be right over a number of years. Approaching it from that standpoint they came to the conclusion that one ought to be able to assess a sort of normal average figure of unemployment over one of these trade cycles, good years and bad years evening each other up. They put that figure of a normal average amount of unemployment at 6 per cent. If 6 per cent. is taken as the normal average amount of unemployment over a number of years, and you base your calculation on this percentage, you can estimate what benefits can be given for certain contributions and therefore how the system will pay. We all want as big benefits as possible and as 214 small contributions as possible. That is natural and human; but, obviously, they have to be made to meet, and in the opinion of the Committee the benefits to which I have already alluded can be given for a system of contributions to which I shall now come.
In place of the existing contributions of 8d., 7d. and 6d., or 21 pence in all, they came to the conclusion that over a cycle of average trade the benefits suggested in their report could be given for 15d. per week, per head, divided equally between the employer, the workman and the State. But they then took into consideration the amount of the existing debt, which to-day is about £22,000,000. That debt, in their opinion, had to be paid off, and in order to provide a sinking fund for paying it off, they increased the proposed 5d. from each of the three parties, to 6d., making the contributions 18 pence in all, instead of 15 pence. With the margin of income so created they decided the debt could be paid off.
I am ready to accept the principle of 6 per cent. as probably the most reasonable figure for a cycle of trade—if and when cycles of trade recur. On the other hand, we defer for the time being accepting the Committee's recommendations as regards reduction. The 6 per cent. figure of a normal average of unemployment is being criticised. I have taken all the extraneous expert advice I could, and I, personally, have come to the conclusion that it is at least as reasonable to take 6 per cent. for a continuing cycle as any other figure. [Laughter.] I think it is probably about the right figure. If anyone were to say that it should be 5 per cent. or 7 per cent., I should say it was more likely to be 6 per cent. Hon. Members opposite laugh at me for speaking thus cautiously. My reasons are plain and distinct. There are some matters which are wholly incalculable like the weather. You can never foretell but only forecast what the weather will be, and when a forecast has been made probably some melancholy depression comes from the Atlantic and upsets it.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Of course trade, so far as it is affected by human agencies, is more susceptible of forecast than that, but it is not possible to make 215 an exact estimate. It never is possible and if it ever were possible it would probably be more difficult in this country and under present conditions than in the case of any other modern country. I do not wish to weary the House by going into the reasons. Everyone in the House is aware that this country was more upset in its trade and commerce by the War than any other country. Our overseas trade was greater. Of that upset some of the conditions and some of the features are passing but some are permanent. It is not merely a problem of going back to the same distribution of trade and of population as before. It is a question of permanent adjustments. There are reasons within everybody's knowledge for this, such as the development of local manufacture in markets which did not manufacture much before and used to take their goods from us; the substitution of other articles for those which we used to sell; water-power in Switzerland, and so forth, and the development during the War of some industries to a degree of producing capacity that probably cannot be fully employed in the near future. These are all conditions with which we are familiar, and the result is that some of the readjustments required are not temporary but will have to be permanent. Some trades are depressed for these reasons, while other new trades are growing up, like the motor industry, the electricity industry, and the artificial silk industry. These help to carry the burden, partly by absorbing those who would otherwise have been new entrants into other industries, and partly by the fact—now generally recognised—that if the rest of the industry of the country is fairly prosperous the degree to which it can absorb persons from depressed trades is very remarkable. These are the reasons which make any estimate of the future extraordinarily difficult and introduce uncertainty. I have gone through the different trades and traced their growth so far as it can be done by pursuing them on diagrams and by other means, and it is as a result of that examination that I say that the figure of 6 per cent. is probably as reasonable a figure as can be taken, if you are to base the future on an average figure of unemployment.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a ques- 216 tion with regard to this figure, because it is the basis of the finance of the scheme and is therefore very important. Is it 6 per cent. on insured persons only or on the whole of the employed persons?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
It is 6 per cent. of the total number of insured persons. Now I come to the second point in the scheme, the reduction of the contribution, to an equal sum of 5d. from each of the three parties. Once again I ask the House to bear in mind the present contribution of 21 pence per man per week. The Committee suggest an early reduction to 18 pence. In our opinion, it would not be prudent or right at the present moment to make an immediate reduction to 18 pence. There is a quite distinct improvement generally in the course of trade and of employment. At the same time, that improvement has been retarded and, as I think, the uncertainties of the future are great. It is absolutely necessary to move prudently. If there were an immediate reduction to 18 pence the result would be to turn the recent reduction which has been made in the debt into an increase of debt. There has been a reduction of the debt in the last seven months of about £2,700,000. The winter months are not as good as the summer months, but that rate of reduction, if continued, would mean about £4,000,000 in the year in repayment of debt. If we were to make this reduction to 18 pence now instead of a reduction of debt at that rate, we should start this scheme by making the debt increase to an extent which, for this year, would have been at a rate approaching £3,500,000. I am sure that, in the circumstances, that is not a prudent step to take; and what is more, the Committee themselves in their Report put in a caveat in which they refer to the fact that such a reduction could only properly be undertaken if a likelihood existed of improvement in trade being continued. Let me read their words:While we are satisfied that that scheme with its rates of contribution cannot properly come into operation until, with a real prospect of continuance, what we may call the position of last April—that is April, 1926,—is restored, until, that is to say, the existing scheme is again more than paying its way, we are not without hopes of that point being reached within a period that may be measured by months rather than by years.217 As I have said, improvement has been retarded. It would be thoroughly imprudent at this moment to start the new scheme by putting the contributions on a basis which in this year would have meant, not a saving, but an increase of about £3,500,000 on the existing debt of the fund, which is already at so high a level. So, as I said, we do not intend to make an immediate reduction. On the other hand, if the improvement continues we shall be only too glad to do so as soon as it is prudent. We believe that the House will agree with us that, before we can take that step, the improvement which has begun ought to continue. If, as seems likely, there is an increase in co-operation between employers and work-people in industry, the improvement ought to be accelerated. We are as anxious as anybody to be able to make the reduction and would be prepared to do it if a substantial amount of debt had been paid off, and if, with any proposed reduction, the conditions were such that, even on the reduced contributions, we should still have the debt under control so that it would continue to be repaid, though at a slower rate.
I have dealt with the proposal for the reduction of contributions, and I now come to the recommendation that there should be an equal contribution of 5d. in the final scheme. It is for precisely the same reason of prudence that we suspend taking now any final decision with regard to this question. I ask the House to note the considerations involved. If improvements in the administration such as we propose are desirable, then they ought to be brought in with as little delay as possible, so that we may start the transition to the new system as quickly as may be. But with regard to the final rates of contribution, it is not conceivably possible that they could come into effect for three years from now in the very shortest space of time. And so I ask the House, is it wise to take a definite decision and tie the hands of the Government before it is necessary? I ask the House once again to consider the facts. The supposition of the 6 per cent. cycle is a most reasonable supposition. In prudence we want to be sure we are on that cycle first, and that the improvement continues.
We hope we are getting rid of the abnormal situation that is a legacy of the 218 War, but it is quite clear there must be, in any case, difficulties and uncertainties ahead—difficulties and uncertainties both as to the revenue of the Exchequer, and also in the domain of trade and industry. As I look upon it, the future is full of hope, but you cannot act with the same confidence that would be based upon certainty. In my belief, we are getting out of the wood that we were in as a result of the War, and we are beginning to see the clear ground in front of us, but until we can get really clear, and until we can see with comparative comfort the ground ahead, it would be absolutely imprudent to take a final decision on this question. We do not feel that we are entitled to-day to say yea or nay to the principle of equal fivepenny contributions in the final scheme. It is unnecessary to do so now. It is premature to do so until the future gives us the facts on which alone a decision can safely be made, and we, therefore, leave that decision open and unfettered, and quite unprejudiced, until we get the facts on which to base it. It is prudence dictated by a broad and sane view of the responsibility of government, and, as trustees for the country, we can take no other course.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House declines to assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which fails to effect a fairer distribution of the burden of maintaining the Unemployment Fund and will further increase the excessive charges upon the rates, reduces already inadequate scales of unemployment benefit, and imposes certain conditions for the receipt of such benefit which in many cases will be impossible to fulfil.The speech of the right hon. Gentleman in support of the Second Reading of this Bill has been full of moderation and, as one would expect, very weak as far as justifiable reasoning for the Bill was concerned. If it is a bad Bill, it is very difficult to make out a good case on its behalf. It is bad, and all the time the right hon. Gentleman has been speaking in terms of prudence and finance, my mind and my heart have been intermingled with the poor, unfortunate unemployed man with his wife and his children, and I wondered to what extent the logic of prudence will satisfy their hunger and depression. It certainly will have no effect other than that of in- 219 creasing the agony and furthering the depression. The right hon. Gentleman said that this Bill means a remodelling of the whole of our unemployment insurance Measures. If it is a remodelling, it is a very shaky affair. If it is a remodelling of all the bad parts of the bad past seven years, then it has been successful in extracting all that is worst and putting that into this one concentrated form. He said that, after all, this model commenced on the lines of the trade unions, but there is always this difference. In the case of the trade union in 1911, administering unemployment benefit, there was only one person making the contribution, and there could be no adequate provision. If the right hon. Gentleman has based his model upon the sacrifice one individual could make without assistance, we can understand his reasoning, but he has taken, really, a wrong basis, because we have here a three-party interest that ought to be able to provide a model better than that upon which he assumes the unemployment insurance has been built.
As far as standard and extended benefit were concerned, the right hon. Gentleman said that all extended benefit was given where there was no stamp right. The right hon. Gentleman knows, as well as I and others know, that it was possible for an individual to be on extended benefit acting, under the Minister's discretion, while still having many stamp qualifications to his credit. His stamps only carried him over the limited period when we had the gap for the 15 weeks, and later for the 26 weeks, and whatever stamp values he had after that period he could not use as a matter of right. He was compelled to stop there, whatever stamp values he had in reserve, and come on to extended benefit, so that it is not true to say that all the extended benefit cases were cases where there was no stamp qualification standing to the credit of the individual. "Oh," he says, "but we must base our insurance on the same principle as fire insurance." He speaks without having in his mind the circumstances under which the 1920 Act was instituted. He knows very well that the 1921 (No. 1) Act had to make provision for persons who could have had no stamp qualifications at all, and when he says it is up to them to make provision like the householder in insurance 220 against fire, it is tantamount to saying, "We will leave you to undertake the risk of being burnt out without having had the opportunity of insuring against such damage being done." You gave no chance to insure, and from 1920 to 1927 there are many thousands who never had a chance of insuring themselves. The point of view of the right hon. Gentleman clearly indicates that in future the figures, unreliable though they are, and which do not give us a real picture of the actual state of unemployment, will become worse, because in the early part of next year the insured person reaching the age of 65 will evidently come on to the old age pension of 10s., and be struck out of unemployment insurance benefit; so that really you will be able to wipe off, in a wholesale manner, persons who can be re-absorbed into employment and have to pay insurance, and when they become unemployed, then, because of the old age pension, you will say they will still be in an insurable trade, and you tell us they are on an insurable basis; but when they ask for benefit in accordance with payments made, you say they cannot have it, as they are not in the field of insurance.
Then the right hon. Gentleman read out parts of the Report of the Blanesburgh Committee. Has the right hon. Gentleman ever read paragraph 57 of the Blanesburgh Report, which immediately precedes the one setting out this scale of benefit? If he has, he will see that the Blanesburgh Report says—and I condemn it—that the measure of benefit must not be of such an amount as to prevent an insured person, when in employment, from practising thrift—I am paraphrasing it—that it must not be sufficient in amount to deter the young man from emigrating abroad. There are two or three other reasons which they give to show that whatever benefit you give, you must always put the unemployed person in a bad economic state, so that you may utilise him for various purposes, knowing in your own mind that the amount you set down cannot keep him in food alone, never mind shelter and clothes.
It is too late, of course, to ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw this Bill, though I would much prefer it withdrawn, and an attempt made to secure something upon which agreement might be reached. Because, after all is said and done, while you have introduced 221 vicious schemes which you say will become permanent, at the same time you only give us a patchwork, for, indeed, it makes no less than 20 separate references to other Acts dealing with unemployment. That cannot, in any sense, be said to put before us something clear. My right hon. Friend said, when starting, that it was necessary to give some kind of little general review of these things. One would imagine that unemployment was a matter that only came up in 1911. Of course, he will know that the first Exchange Act was in 1909. He will know that Exchanges were set up in that year. He will know the purpose for which Exchanges were brought into being. He will know that their prime basis was to bring together the unemployed man and the person requiring his service. He will know that that function has now completely gone. My right hon. Friend may shake his head, and he may talk of the numbers who are sent to vacancies; he can easily tell me that four or five men who are totally unsuitable are sent to one vacancy. He knows very well also that very often, once an unsuitable person applies for a job, the employer never applies again to the Employment Exchange. He knows that until you get compulsory registration of vacancies at Employment Exchanges, you will not be able properly to carry out what was intended to be the function of those Exchanges.
The right hon. Gentleman said there were two phases, one from 1911 to 1920 and the other from 1920 to the present time, but I want to remind him of a few more. In 1916 you included other sections, and when he speaks of these amounts of benefit and contribution, I hope he will remember the 1918 Out-of-work Donations Act. In 1918 you had a large scale demobilisation taking place, and you had to make some provision for it. You had munition and other works closing down, and you made some provision for civil work. You know very well that in November, 1918, you started by paying 24s. a week to the unemployed adult and that before a month had gone by—early in December of the same year—you were compelled by outside pressure to raise the 24s. to 29s. a week, and the women up to 25s. a week, so that at the end of 1918, without a contribution, you had 29s. for an adult, with 6s. for each dependent child under the age of 15. 222 That was because they were ex-service men and civilian employés who had suddenly been thrown out of occupation, to put it no higher than that. But between 1918 and 1920 the Government of the day became puzzled. They were carrying a charge that they did not like the idea of continuing. When we have such academic demonstrations as to how we must have this Fund on a sound financial basis, it is very nice to review these little pieces of history.
You carried those men for two years, and you knew that early in 1921 the slump would be fully upon us, for you had a Cabinet Reconstruction Committee before the termination of the War to prepare for such an eventuality, but you made no preparation, the result being that at the end of 1920, when you had £22,500,000 standing to the credit of those who had been paying since 1911, you took that £22,500,000 to start off your scheme of 1920. It is as well to remember these things when you talk about the dole. Early in 1921 you parcelled over from the Out-of-work Donation scheme, for which the State had direct responsibility, over 200,000 people, I estimate, who could not have a stamp, and you put them on the new scheme for unemployment free, and you carried them. Not that anyone wishes to decry that; distress calls for something more than a mere demonstration of figures.
So we have found that right the way through, up and down, there have been increases in the payments and reductions in the payments. They have gone up to 20s. for the adult since then, but the great point that I want to make here is that all through the whole course of those events you have never had a class distinct and by itself of from 18 to 21 years of age. Now think of your placards that were posted on the walls. "It is you we want, you who are 18 years of age"—fine men and fine women, among the very best. You said: "It is you we want." When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of great cohesion and a possible gathering back of trade to the country by that understanding, I wonder if he appreciates the little bit of grit that he is putting in here. In most of our industrial agreements the adult age starts at 18 for men and women, and if there is to be a discrimination in the factory and workshop, so far as contributions and benefits are 223 concerned, between 18 and 21 years of age, that is bound to make itself felt, because the employer will know these differences; he will think that from 18 to 21 should be a lower standard than from 21 onwards, and, of course, we shall have to battle against attempts of that kind.
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman or his experts will be able to deny that there is a third-party risk in unemployment. The risk is to the nation, for when you have large numbers unemployed, someone is suffering as well as the unemployed. You cannot inflict punishment and suffering on a solitary individual without it redounding to the discredit of the nation as a whole; when you get unemployment in this concentrated, mass form, it must reflect to the discredit of the country, and yet the country gets out without paying its fair share. While it says: "We must have a real sound scheme of insurance to cover everything," it slinks and hides away from its responsibility as the third partner. It is a third partner with 50 per cent. of the administrative powers, in so far as it creates the conditions under which the money shall be paid, and yet it gets away with paying only about a fourth or a fifth of the contributions towards the maintenance of the Fund.
I want to show that the State owes millions of money to this Fund. I estimate that since the 1911 Act up to July, 1927, approximately £235,000,000 was received from workers and employers and that during the same period the State paid only £80,000,000, or somewhere about £35,000,000 short of a third share. The House will be able to see the significance of that. From November, 1920, to November, 1925, £225,000,000 was paid in benefit, and if you add what has transpired since then—a sum of about £78,000,000 up to some months ago—you have a total expenditure of £303,000,000 in benefit, out of which, as I have already stated, workmen and employers have paid £235,000,000 and the State £80,000,000. But then there are your administration expenses, and on the basis of 9 per cent. only—but you have power to go up to 12½ per cent.—you take £27,000,000 away from the Fund for administrative purposes only. You do more; you give the Fund power to draw up to £30,000,000 from the 224 Treasury. To show how utterly impossible it is to get anything like an actuarial basis upon which to promote, in our times, an adequate and proper unemployment insurance system, you had to come to this House in March, 1921, and ask for power to draw on the Treasury up to £10,000,000,, with only five months' experience of your 1920 Act. Within five months of using the £22,500,000 that you had robbed from another fund, you were still so out in your so-called calculations that you had to come and ask power from Parliament to draw £10,000,000; while by July of the same year you had to come again and ask for it to be increased to £20,000,000, and at the moment the figure stands at £30,000,000.
There is, at the moment, £22,000,000, as the Minister has said, of a deficit. First of all, there is no provision in this Bill to wipe out that deficit. The State, on the basis of providing a third part of the total contributions, owes the Fund £35,000,000, out of which it could well afford, even as a bad debtor, to say: "We will wipe out the £22,000,000 deficit, and let your Fund have a clear start, and even then we will be better off by £13,000,000." What a generous thing for the Government of the day to come here and say: "We must have these things on an actuarial basis, and we must travel on lines of prudence"—a prudence that will not only inflict increased hardships upon the unemployed, but will also withhold its fair quota of contribution towards relieving any of the distress that happens in that connection. Would the House believe it? We are often twitted about never making a suggestion. I have made some, and I will make some more, though not now, owing to lack of time, but I will call attention to one. Is it not true that the Government have taken £22,500,000 from the Road Fund, and is it not true that the present debit standing against the Insurance Fund is rather more than £22,000,000? You practical people had better look at it. There is a sum of £22,500,000 that could have been spent in opening up work on a large scale on your arterial roads, but you take from that sphere the exact amount of money that you lend to the Unemployment Insurance Fund at a rate of interest. You draw the money from a useful sphere, in which work could be provided and the nation benefited, and 225 you lend it to this Fund in order just to keep the unemployed man's body and soul together and provide not a little bit over.
Is there anything practical in that? If you were to open up 500 miles of road—and there is plenty of room for it in this country—and if you were to employ 200 men to each mile, there would be 100,000 whom you could take off the Fund, and with the cement and engineering for bridges and other industrial supplies that would be necessary, you would begin to absorb others. Surely it is wrong to come at a time like this and say, "We must cut down, we must be prudent, we must now begin to look at this thing from the business point of view." If that be the business point of view, it is a shocking point of view, and there is no substance in it. It is only the pretence of prudence. What is the significance of your new class? Just take this one point of view. You propose to say to the man between 18 and 21, "Well, now, your 18s. by July will come down to 10s." You take 8s. from him. Almost in the same breath you say, "We must have an actuarial basis," and for the 8s. you have taken away from him you lighten his burden by a penny a week. You leave him, of course, the 10s. for his remaining burden of 4d. or 5d.—5d. during the deficiency period. What basis is there for that? Is that as scientific and accurate as the rest of the estimates that we get? But what does that 10s. mean to that man? Remember Paragraph 57 of the Report. It must not deter them from emigration and work abroad. I am going to put it quite plainly. I have been unemployed, and I can speak with some knowledge and feeling of what it all means, and I say that you can expect these young men to have less respect for the laws of this country under these circumstances than they otherwise would have, even with the limited allowance of 18s. a week that they get now.
Stories heard in the police Courts already demonstrate that, as you throw people off your Unemployment Fund, they revert to all kinds of vicious practices, but did even the "fly" man who gets through and draws his benefit ever get as much as his reward for viciousness as other people more vicious than he living in other classes of society? He has per- 226 haps had a week or two of benefit, and is then hauled up before the Court; and I say there is always the temptation if there are hungry mouths to feed, and. I have more respect for the man who will attempt to obtain benefit in some way or another to feed those for whom he is responsible than those who will go to the workhouse as inmates and lose whatever self-respect they have. The young man has the alternative of going either into the Army or into the Air Force, or into the Navy for the sake of food and shelter. He will not sponge on his parents. It is not right to expect him to do so. If he does not do that, he will not have any respect for your laws. You will make him more vicious and more determined to go to all kinds of subterfuges. The benefit does not represent food alone for a man from 18 to 21. A man during these years can eat twice as much as a man of 40 or 45, because he has a physical standard to maintain. If he does not maintain it, how can you expect him to be absorbed into an occupation, and how can you expect industry to take him back? The biggest possible opposition must be used against any attempt to create this separate class.
But bad as it is for young men, it is worse for the women, a thousand times worse. Take the single girl in lodgings. You cut her allowance in half, and the 8s. will not pay for her furnished room, let alone anything else. What temptations are you putting before them? Dare you say to other sections of society, "Eight shillings must maintain you"? Do not think that these young women are not thrifty, but their wages, when in work, leave no margin for any adequate saving such as might augment the 8s. a week, and give them a reasonable weekly income to keep them in decency and comfort. What does it mean? Do you mean to say that they must go willy-nilly into domestic service? I do not decry domestic service, but I am certain that there is something behind the mind of the Government. I think they want to wipe them off and make them leave the country, so that they will be able to say there is less unemployment than there actually is. It simply means that you will have the gruesome stories of tragedies that you get now occasionally told in the Coroner's Court. Why? Many a young woman when faced with the alternative, rather than dismantle herself 227 of her virtue and character in order to feed the physical being, will prefer to go out of existence altogether. There is no sob stuff about this. These are the facts. Even with the present state of unemployment, many of those who are refused benefit gradually find their way timidly down into the street and to other low standards of moral existence about which, in the first instance, it would have been revolting for them even to have harboured a thought. Do you want to create such a state of affairs? You must not be allowed to do it, and I am certain opposition to it will be more bitter than many of you may feel inclined to think.
But you do more. The Minister said that was the only class interfered with; the others were the same. How about the boy and girl between 16 and 18? This scheme of insurance is not to reduce their contributions, but their benefit. The boy between 16 and 18 has come from 7s. 6d. down to 6s.; the girl from 6s. to 5s. You pile it on. You start by creating this new class. You start a new battle to inflict greater injury, and you carry it down with a bizarre kind of mannerism, and say, "We feel it better to take a shilling off the single man and put it on to the dependants' allowance." You have taken from the single to pay for the married, but in order to wipe out your debt and in order to make up for the £5,000,000 you are going to withhold, commencing from next year, and in order also to wipe the deficit out, you create a new class and come down to the young between 16 and 18, and still say that they must pay the same contribution. And you ask us to believe that you are speaking sincerely when you say you must take actuarial calculations and must be prudent. Where does it come in? The right hon. Gentleman said you may as well use 6 per cent. as any other figure. Has it not struck the House what that means? It means 650,000 persons permanently unemployed. There are 11,700.000 insured persons, and I do not think I am far out when I say 650,600 represents 6 per cent. [An HON. MEMBER: "720,000."] That is much more. See how modest I am.
With regard to the question of 30 stamps, it is said that you must have some standard on which to go. I have met men who have been unemployed for the past three years. There are some 228 men who hardly hope to get back within the next few months, to say the least, or the next 12 months. There are some men who were admitted to benefit who were never able to to make a stamp qualification, and who have not yet been able since then to secure a stamp qualification, and what do you say—Thirty stamps in the two years immediately preceding the date of the claim to be reviewed quarterly. The person who has 30 stamps, any part of which may be in the first quarter of the two years preceding under review, willy-nilly, goes out because at the end of the first quarter the quarter in which he drew benefit is added, and the first quarter of the two years is lopped off. Consequently, away he goes, although he may still have 26 stamps standing to his credit. What are you going to do? Nothing. He goes, of course, to the Poor Law authorities. The 30 stamps are not, to my mind, the proper qualification to make at this stage, because we are not in a normal state. Industry and the nation are not normal. But we have the Government, because of political conspiracy or capitalist sharks, dumping depressed and hard-put people, when they are right in the middle of the storm and stress, and when they want help and assistance most. We beg of you not to do that. We ask you to re-organise your plan so as to give a greater freedom to claim benefit. But, bad as that is, let the House note the artfulness of the thing in this respect. A large class will be coming off the register within the first three months of the Bill coming into operation—if it becomes an Act. From 19th April all in receipt of benefit will have their claims looked into. The Minister's discretion in relation to one class of case will have gone. A person may draw benefit while his claim is being examined, but for no longer than six months, for all claims must be reviewed within six months. The Unemployment Insurance (No. 2) Act, 1924, allowed benefit to be given to applicants who could not get a stamp qualification but who would be normally employed in an insurable occupation. In 1925 the right hon. Gentleman slightly varied the provisions of that Act, so that it provided that the Minister could, if he felt it to be expedient in the public interest, admit to benefit a certain class of claimants with no stamp qualification. 229 On 19th April the review begins: All these men, as their claims are examined, will be struck off. How many will that affect? Unless we can have some figures given to us, the effect of that proceeding can only be estimated in this way. On a previous occasion the Minister stated that one-half of the total amount paid in benefit is paid as extended benefit. That does not mean that one-half of the number of people drawing benefit are drawing extended benefit, but it is fair to suppose that a large number are getting the benefit at the Minister's discretion, and when that discretion is taken away under this Bill they will go out of benefit. There is also another class comprising men who at present have an opportunity of making a claim within a certain period, and who, if they establish a claim under the present stamp qualification, can go on for the benefit year from the date of the claim. That provision, too, will cease under the new Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will soon get down to his 6 per cent. by the wiping off of those two classes.
My concluding word on the matter is this. While I admit the figures which have been given to us are official figures, I say they are totally inadequate as a representation of the actual state of affairs. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. He did not want to touch any of this stuff. Let me prove to him what I mean. The returns show 1,100,000 people registered as unemployed. The public generally may believe that all those registered as unemployed are in receipt of benefit, but, on the average, out of every 1,000,000 returned as signing the unemployed register 820,000 only are in receipt of benefit or are having their claims investigated with a view to being admitted to benefit. At the moment, therefore, only about 8 per cent. are drawing unemployment benefit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Eighty per cent!"] Yes; but 8 per cent. of the whole number in the insurable field. The Minister, therefore, will soon get down to his 6 per cent. if only he can wipe off another 200,000 or 300,000. If this point is questioned, I would say that every one of the figures I have quoted has been taken from Government publications. In the July number of the Ministry of Labour Gazette it was reported that 53,000 persons signing the unemployment register were not in insurable trades at all; that 230 there were 101,700 on the two months' file; and that 826,477 claims were admitted or were under consideration—that is out of a total of 1,090,746. It will be seen, therefore, that there has been no misquotation in the figures I have given.
The point I want to make is that the 101,000 odd who are on the two months' file are at present returned as unemployed persons. When the new Bill comes into operation some people who to-day pay a penny car fare in order to go to an employment exchange to sign on—which may be three or four miles away, as some of them are—will not trouble to attend, seeing they are definitely refused benefit. What need have they to go to the Employment Exchange in such circumstances? They will still be unemployed, however, and their cards will be put into the two months' file, and as the period of two months elapses the cards will be thrown into the dead heap. The man is unemployed, but he is no longer counted as unemployed because his card has been there for a period of more than two months. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able later to tell us what is the average number of cards taken out of the two months' file each month. It ought to be very easy to give that information.
Then what about the case of the child, or the young girl or boy—those between 14 and 16? There is no provision at all for them. There is no check as to the number of them who are unemployed. Will the right hon. Gentleman believe me when I tell him—and I am certain he will, because I have been to some of the juvenile centres—that there are boys who left school at 14 who are now 17 and 18 years of age and have never done a day's work?
§ Mr. HAYDAY
They do not come into insurable occupations till they are 16. The education authorities will not make provision for them, and the Ministry of Labour will not make provision for them under the unemployment insurance scheme. Some go to the juvenile centres, but I believe those do not constitute a large percentage of the children who leave school at the holiday periods. I believe there must be between 200,000 and 300,000 boys and girls now growing 231 into young manhood and young womanhood who have not a stamp qualification and who have no need to go to the Unemployment Exchange to register as being out of work, because there is no reason for them to do so. The exchanges cannot find them work; they simply drift and drift. I often wonder why the great societies for the moral welfare of the people do not probe into the many tragedies that such a system as this must breed.
I would prefer to see an extension of life given to the present Measure dealing with unemployment insurance and the withdrawal of the new Bill and the setting up of a joint Committee of Members of the House to see what can be accomplished by general agreement. No one feels more depressed than I do at the thought of poor unfortunate men and women who are suffering from unemployment being made the shuttlecock of political controversy at times like this. No one will accuse me of having said anything this afternoon which would mar the creation of an atmosphere favourable to such joint action as I have suggested. I would remind the House that this will be the 18th Measure we have passed to deal with unemployment, about 14 of them having been introduced since 1920, and each new one seems to develop the worst points of those which preceded it. If we really want to do something for the unemployed, I think the present occasion affords an opportunity to give a little more generous treatment until such time as trade conditions in this country improve. Not the most pessimistic of us, I think, feels that we have ahead of us as bad a period of seven years as we have experienced between 1920 and 1927, but if we still have to meet another bad period of two or three years would it not be better to be broad and just in our treatment of the unemployed during that period, in order that when better times come our people may not be too depressed and too weak to take advantage of the opportunities which will then arise?
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I beg to second the Amendment.
The Minister of Labour, when introducing this Measure, pictured himself as Christian laying down his burden. It 232 occurred to me as he used those words that he was quite evidently going to lay his burden on to the shoulders of the unemployed and the working class generally. He thought it right to give us a short survey of how unemployment insurance came into being in this country and to show how circumstances produced what he called the dual system. There is the statutory right of an unemployed person to receive benefit based upon his contribution, and, on the other hand, there is what has been called uncovenanted or extended benefit, which, he said, is really an act of grace on the part of the State towards the individual. We are told that one of the purposes of this Bill is to get rid of this dual aspect, and provide one unified system which will entitle an individual to unemployment benefit on a statutory basis when he finds himself genuinely in that position. I wonder why the Minister did not give us some indication, when dealing with this Measure, of what he considers would be the result in the case of people who at present are in receipt of extended benefit. A transition period is provided for in the Measure but it is a very limited one, and there is not the slightest suggestion on the part of the Government as to what is going to happen owing to the constantly increasing number of those who are unable to satisfy the statutory requirements of 30 contributions. There has not been the slightest indication on the part of the Government as to how they intend to deal with this matter.
I ask hon. Members to support our Amendment on two grounds. In the first place, the result of this Bill becoming law will be to impose upon local authorities a very much greater burden in providing for unemployment than is the case at the present time; and, in the second place, a greater hardship will fall upon those decent citizens who have already had a long record of unemployment during the period of depression. Those are two reasons for our refusal to assent to this Bill. I want to supplement what has been said in this connection by my hon. Friend the Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday). First of all, I wish to deal with the local aspect of this question. For a long time many people in this country have insisted that unemployment should be regarded as a national burden, and various areas have 233 come to be regarded as necessitous areas. In those particular areas the burden of unemployment has been flung upon the general mass of the people in a way which has been unfair in the extreme, and those districts have had to bear far more than their fair share of the burden. Those of us who sit on the Labour Benches in this House have taken up the position that unemployment is a national problem, and it is the business of the State to deal with it.
We have just passed through the local elections, and up and down the country there has been an agonising cry because of the high local rates. There has been a fearful outcry on the part of the people because of the weight of the burden of local rates, and even the employers have complained that the heavy rates are placing a tremendous burden on industry. The ordinary ratepayer also complains because under the difficult circumstances obtaining in those areas he finds it almost impossible to live. This Measure, from the very nature of things, must inevitably lead to an increase in the rates. Hon. Members must make no mistake about this matter. There is no doubt that the big burden of local expenditure is due to the provision which has been made for the able-bodied unemployed who have been unable to obtain unemployment benefit. Any impartial analysis of the figures will convince anyone that that is a fact. It is notorious that the administration of the Ministry of Labour has been tightened up from time to time, and the effect has been that it has thrown more people upon parish relief, and they have had to apply to the board of guardians. This Bill will enormously increase the burden of the rates in local districts, and those rates will be forced up very much higher than they are at the present time. I shall be greatly surprised if in many of the necessitous areas the passage of this Measure will not result in an increase of at least a shilling in the £ in the rates in order to make provision for the needs of the unemployed, whose maintenance will be thrown upon the funds of the local authorities.
The way in which the Minister avoided this aspect of the Measure seems to me very strange. You have working now a dual system. The Minister of Labour did not say anything about the number 234 of those who are obtaining standard and extended benefit, but I believe the proportion roughly is about fifty-fifty. You have over 1,000,000 unemployed, and the proportion of standard benefit cases is about 50 per cent. of the total. I know there is a certain amount of variation. I also find in connection with the claim for extended benefit that in 1926, according to the figures given by the Ministry of Labour, there were 3,830,000 applicants for extended benefit in that year, and almost 600,000 of those applications were refused. If this Measure passes, it is quite obvious that when the transition period has passed there will be an increased number of those people in receipt of extended benefit who will come upon the rates of the localities. As was pointed out by the Mover of this Amendment, what is now proposed simply means that the State, which has never paid anything like its proper share of the provision for unemployment, is taking advantage of the present position of things to throw an increased burden upon the districts, quite apart from the difficulties with which the people in those districts are faced at the present time.
I want to put another aspect of this question before the House. Last year the claims for extended benefit were about 3,800,000 and almost 600,000 of those claims were rejected, although 3,200,000 were passed. I want the House to try to visualise what an amount of poverty is represented by those figures. Those people do not get extended benefit, because they are not able to produce the necessary number of stamps. It is not because they are worse people than the other class who get the benefits; it is not because their character is in any way worse than the character of those who receive the standard benefit. As a matter of fact, the people for whom I am pleading have been the most unfortunate of all of them. They are the people who, more than any other section of the community, have borne the burden of the period of depression. Under this Bill the Government are going to impose upon those people a new burden, and practically they are going to say to them, "We will give you this period of transition and this chance. This is your last chance, and this is all we can do. We are very sorry for you, but you must go to the guardians, and if they cannot do 235 anything for you then you can go to hell."
We are now dealing with people who had a good record in industry up to the year 1920 or 1921, and all their lives they have been respectable, hard-working citizens. Now the slump has come, and they have been most cruel victims in this respect. By this Bill it is upon those people that you are going to impose a greater burden than ever they have borne before. The Government are saying to those people, "Unless you can get 30 contributions, and pick up and get a job, we cannot do anything more for you, and you have got to go." I want to impress upon the House that these are all decent people. To prove this, you have only got to peruse the evidence which was given by an Assistant-Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, Mr. Price, before the Blanesburgh Committee. The Report of that Committee states very definitely that these people are not "slackers" in any respect. It is also laid down very clearly in that Report that as far as the Charity Organisation Society investigated this matter, they found that these people formed a very respectable section of the community. It is, perhaps, the idea of the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary that it is impossible to-day to re-introduce the gap, but that this would be better than the gap. There is the idea that, if these people are flung on to the parish councils, somehow or other they will get a job. Again, however, the evidence given before the Blanesburgh Committee by the same official shows his opinion with regard to the gap. Mr. Price was asked whether the gap did not have the effect that in all these instances people found employment, and he replied:I should not myself say that very many more people found work because they were coming up to or were actually against a gap than would have found work under ordinary circumstances if there had been no gap.This idea, in connection with doing away with extended benefit, that people put into that position somehow or other will find a job, is absolute nonsense, and is based on no reality at all.
Then I want to come to the other aspect of this question, and to deal for a little while with the setting up of the 236 new class—the 18 to 21 class. I wonder what the young people of this country have done that they have aroused the resentment of so many people. I wonder why there seems to be such a dead set against the young people in the community. There are so many hundreds of thousands of young people coming into the labour market in the year, and finding it a very difficult place in which to be. So many of them find themselves at the age of 16 out of employment; so many of them at the age of 18 to 21 are unable to find employment; and practically, during all those years, the Government have been able to do nothing for these young people. They have been allowed to come into the most depressing circumstances, with no opportunities of employment. The Blanesburgh Committee did certainly suggest that there should be some training for the young people, and, indeed, they went so far as to say that, if young people of the ages of 16 to 18 went to the Exchange and got unemployment benefit, the very name itself would tend to produce degeneration and to demoralise the young people, so that the allowance should be known as a "training allowance." The Committee also had in view that, for the 18 to 21 class, some serious attempt was going to be made to set up training centres where they would be trained and given opportunities, so that, after they had passed through this training, they would go out into an industrial world with new hopes and would be able to realise those hopes. There is nothing of that in the Bill—nothing whatever. It is just downright robbery of these young people.
The Minister made a great point that this Measure was an attempt to put the unemployment insurance system of the country on to an actuarial basis, that it was similar in its features to fire insurance. I believe there is about sufficient fire in it to burn up this Government before they have finished with its provisions. Considering it as an insurance scheme, however, you take these people of 18 to 21, and reduce the total contribution paid in respect of them from 1s. 9d. to 1s. 6¼d. in the case of young men, and from 1s. 5½d. to 1s. 2¾d. in the case of young women. That is a reduction of 2¾d. in each case, and, for this reduction of 2¾d. in the premium, you reduce the benefit from 17s.—taking the 237 new scheme for the ordinary adult—to 10s. If you are working it out as an insurance scheme, you will have to apply the rule of proportion. You will have also to take into account the possibility of employment during the period from the age of 18 to the age of 21, and also the industrial life of the person concerned. I would like to hear, when the Minister replies, what is his justification for this as an insurance scheme in the case of these people. Surely, from the industrial point of view, their capital value to this Insurance Fund is better than, say, that of the person between the ages of 40 and 50. Surely, they are a better risk for this insurance scheme than the others. Yet these young people, upon whom the Fund has got to depend, are going to be asked to take the least benefits, and then it is spoken of as an insurance scheme. The Minister suggests that it is not going to be half-fledged insurance, but is going to be real insurance, and yet there is to be a reduction of 2¾d. on a premium of ls. 9d., while the benefit is to be reduced by 7s.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
The true reduction, I think, should be a little more than 1s., basing it on the former rate of 18s. If those young people were of any other class than the working class, Members of the Government would never dare to make any such suggestion. I remember when, a short time ago, Members of this House got into such a state of excitement about the attitude of some Members on this side with regard to the sending of the expeditionary force to China. The expeditionary force had to be sent to China to protect British lives there. Suppose that a British working girl 20 years of age had been wise and seen this Bill coming, and had gone away to China. Why, according to the theory, the Government would be prepared to send the British Fleet, to send an army, in order to protect her. But God help the girl if she stays at home and gets out of employment. Then there is 8s. a week for her. I want Members in all parts of the House really to consider seriously what is behind that. I know it may be said that, after all, the parents may be able to allow something; but, if the young people are paying a premium which should entitle them to much more, why 238 should the parents have to do it? Moreover, it is notorious that in the great majority of cases there is not the slightest possibility of the parents being able to make provision for these young people; in many cases the young men and young women will be the children of people who are themselves unemployed, who have themselves been passing through the most terrible circumstances.
The Minister of Labour was a little doubtful about some of the figures that were given by my hon. Friend the Member for West Nottingham, when he was moving this Amendment, with regard to the 6 per cent. The Minister of Labour says he thinks that the 6 per cent. figure for unemployment is just as good a figure as any other. The Government Actuary, in his Report on the Financial Provisions of the Bill, gives estimates based on 7, 8, 9 and 10 per cent., but he also says this:Reference should be made to the fact that the gradual transfer from the existing conditions and rules for receipt of benefit to the new statutory conditions is likely to be reflected in the cost of benefits for the first two years following the commencement of the Act.And then listen to this:There are, however, no means by which the recipients of benefit during this period can be statistically classified, even if, which is equally impossible, the general rate of unemployment in the period could be predicted.He says it is quite impossible; and the Minister of Labour says that, it being quite impossible to predict, 6 per cent. is as good a figure as any other. Let us look at the figures for 1925 and 1926. I will read them out. There are 24 of them, but I think it is worth while to see how the actual figures have gone during the last two years. These are the figures from the Government's own Report. In December, 1924, the percentage was 10.7. In January, 1925, it was 11.2, and in the succeeding months of 1925 it was 11.3, 11.1, 10.9, 10.9, 11.9, 11.2, 12.1, 12.0, 11.4, 11.0, and 10.4. In January, 1926, it was 11.0, and in the succeeding months of 1926 it was 10.4, 9.8, 9.1, 14.3, 14.6, 14.4, 14.0, 13.7, 13.6, 13.5, and 11.9. And the Minister of Labour says that 6 per cent. is just as good as any other figure. The Government Actuary says it is quite impossible to predict, and, that being so, the Minister of Labour says, "I will predict 6 per 239 cent." Everyone in this House knows that the Minister is absolutely wrong, that he will be the worst prophet that ever lived, that he will be such a bad prophet that there will be no chance of his being stoned because he has given a true prophecy.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
He will not be a St. Stephen. There are the figures. There are evidences that trade is getting a little better here and there. There are those lighter industries which are growing up in the Midlands, making provision for so many, and it will be all right. But when it comes to the financial aspect, he says, "Do not trust to my prophecies. The Government have decided that it would be imprudent to start a new scheme with doubtful contributions, but start the new scheme. We will cut off these people from extended benefit. We will introduce this statutory condition. We will risk that but we will not risk deciding what is going to be the Government's share." The Minister of Labour lives in hope, but the unfortunate thing is that he is living in hope at the expense of the poor, of those who have had to pass through the most terrible experience during these years. When he was giving his history of unemployment insurance I do not think he made sufficiently plain how alterations have to be made because of the impossibility of insured people under the scheme being able to satisfy the contribution basis. In the 1923 Act there were 12 contributions as a basis. The scheme was not in operation until it was found it was going to be possible. There was a minor provision in that Act which allowed eight weeks of benefit for four contributions. It was no use. The unemployed people could not satisfy the provision and you had to bring in amending legislation. In 1924, again, there was the introduction of this condition of 30 contributions in two years, but when that Act was being passed it, was quite definitely recognised that unless we passed out of the period of depression it could not be operated. There is nothing like that here. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he really believes that in 1929 trade will have im- 240 poved to this extent. If he does, he is certainly a very hopeful individual. I do not believe anyone in the House really takes up that position.
Again, with regard to the scales of benefit generally, I think the present scales are quite inadequate. If the Government considered we were coming to a period of normality with regard to unemployment, it would be their business to make more adequate provision for the unemployed, so that they would not have to pass through the horrible experience they have had in recent years. If we are not going to have such a dreadfully bad period, if we are getting to the normal, surely we can afford to be a bit more generous. But not a bit of it. It is just one more evidence of the way working-class people are treated by this House. When a great war comes they are all heroes, but in a period of depression and unemployment they become nuisances, dole-drawers, slackers and wasters. They are the gallant fighting men of the country when they are protecting the interests of capitalism on foreign fields. When they come home and there is no work for them, the people who have claimed them as heroes have no use for them and will give them as little as possible. They gave them a little more when they gave them the out-of-work donation. They gave them 29s. a week for a man, 25s. for a woman, 6s. for the first child and 3s. for each of the other children. But one of the people high in the interests of the other side has revealed to us that at that time they were afraid of revolution, and they thought it was a useful thing. Now the Government are not afraid of it, and so they are proceeding with this scheme. After all, they no doubt think some of the 18 to 21 people will become recruits for the Army when they cannot find employment, and they are only being afforded 10s. a week to provide for themselves. Even the Army is better than that. That seems to be the idea of this scheme.
What is the good of trying to put your scheme in a time of abnormality, as it is still evident the present is, on to a basis which will be suitable for normal times? No one believes to-day that circumstances are still other than abnormal. Sir Alfred Watson, the Government Actuary, works it out from that point of view. All the time in dealing with this matter the name 241 insurance has just been camouflaged. I have a quotation from the evidence of the Government Actuary. He says:In this unemployment insurance scheme, under the stress of circumstances both benefits and contributions have been bandied about and tossed hither and thither in and out of Parliament until you cannot say that the contributions or the benefits at present or at any time in the last two or three years have borne any logical relation to each other.Would any Member of the House suggest for his son or daughter an allowance of 10s. or 8s. a week? People come forward and advocate that for others which they would regard as a terrible thing if they had to suffer it. I can hardly understand the type of mind that can agree to something like this. I know they try to take comfort that it will be supplemented somehow or other, that the parish council or the board of guardians will do it. Is any Member of the House prepared to go to the districts and say the parish council or the board of guardians should pay more than they are paying at present for the unemployed? I do not believe it. In the case of other people we are hopeful that it may be supplemented, but if it were the case of a son or a daughter of a Member of this House, he would feel the agony of a young man or woman being placed in such a position. I saw in the "Observer" on Sunday an advertisement of fur coats at 600 guineas. While that is going on in the country, this House is being asked to agree to a payment of 8s. a week, and that only if 30 contributions have been paid in the preceding two years and the applicant is genuinely seeking for employment. It seems almost too heartless that the House of Commons should seriously contemplate such a position. I know there are hon. Members who are members of churches and societies who are gravely concerned with the problem of the women on the streets. No one can deny that one of the tendencies with the economic circumstances of the young woman of 20 years of age and only 8s. a week, with no friends, will be to go on to the streets or to end her life.
I wonder that any Government could bring forward such a scheme as this. I have had experience of a previous Conservative Minister of Labour. I thought he was bad enough. When the present Minister was appointed we were told we could hope much from him, that he had 242 studied the problem of the East End and he could be depended upon, yet all the time we of the working class know how our people have had to suffer because of the régime of the present Ministry. Some of us may be inclined to be too hard and too angry in discussing this question, because if it has not been our own individual experience it has been the experience of a member of our family. I remember, also, that to-day the formal opposition to the Government in this House is the opposition of the Labour party. The fact that there is this great powerful party in the House of Commons to-day, and the fact that there is this great powerful party in the country outside, numbering millions of earnest, enthusiastic men and women within its ranks, is due in no small measure to the failure of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, or their predecessors, or those below the Gangway, to deal with this problem of unemployment in days gone by. I remember when the late Mr. Keir Hardie was called "Member for the Unemployed," and I am conscious of this fact, that because of the attitude of our opponents to this terrible problem which causes so much suffering, and which is a shadow over every working class home in the country, the time will come when this Government will have to face their responsibility for this brutal, careless Measure. I do not ask the Minister to withdraw it. I do not appeal to him to withdraw it or anything. I have found the uselessness of appealing to the Government or to Members opposite in connection with these matters. We have been able to obtain nothing by our appeals.
To-day, throughout the country, there are people, many of them good, kind people, anxious for a better state of things, preaching industrial peace. I have read that the Prime Minister has been described as a good, kind man. He is one of those good, kind men whose hopeless, inefficient philanthropy is responsible for so much suffering in the world. There are those good, kind people who are anxious to-day to promote industrial peace. It is suggested that if we will only meet together in Lord Mayors' parlours or if we gather round a table—if we can only gather round the table the industrial leaders and the great industrial captains—we shall be able to get out of our present difficulties and 243 create a better state of things. If we could only get hold of Mr. Cook, Mr. Evan Williams, Sir Adam Nimmo and Mr. Herbert Smith and some of the others! If we could only get a table round which. they could sit! A sort of idea seems to be abroad that the British Empire is going down because we are not able to find a table. We cannot get a table round which they may sit! It is something far deeper than the idea that we do not understand one another, and that if we would only smoke with one another we should understand one another. There is a class difference inherent in the present state of things. If it were not there, the Government would never have dared to bring into the House of Commons such a Measure as this. The class war is there; it is not something that is created by agitation and by individuals. It is seen in the cruelty of a system which proposes that young men and women should be given 10s. and 8s. a week. It is in things like those, it is because of such proposals that we have strife in the world to-day. If a Member on the other side believes in the possibility of industrial peace, I challenge him to come into the Lobby with us against these cruel, infamous proposals which the Government have put forward in this Measure.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
The two hon. Gentlemen who have proposed and seconded the Amendment have covered a great deal of ground which I do not propose to follow. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment is, as we know, very well versed in the details of unemployment insurance, and I think that perhaps through his interest in those details he has allowed himself to be led away into what amounted to a number of Committee points rather than a Second Reading speech. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken dealt, if I may say so, with such a very large number of topics not wholly germane to the Second Reading of this Bill, that it would be difficult for me to follow him in detail. We recognise with interest and I may say with pleasure a number of rhetorical tropes which we have heard before from him, and which he is able, with very great skill, to introduce on almost any subject either on the Floor of this House or upstairs in Committee. But there is one aspect of this Debate which has not been mentioned by any of the three speakers 244 who have up to now occupied the time of the House. This Debate is really of a rather academic character. Because whatever our views may be—and I wish, if I may, to be allowed to give my own views of the subject as shortly as I can a little later—about the future of unemployment insurance, or this particular Bill, this Bill must be passed into law substantially in the form in which it stands. [An HON. MEMBER: "A Bill!"]. A Bill very much in the form of this Bill, because any large reconstruction of the unemployment system would involve a Bill of such a character which clearly could not be passed in the time which we have at disposal before the end of this Session. It is perfectly clear, really, that in the situation which has now arisen, the discussion must be somewhat academic. Whatever our views may be, this Bill, or a Bill substantially in this form, must be passed into law.
This Bill is alleged to be founded on the Report of a Committee and, if I may without impertinence, I would like to draw attention to the growing habit of legislation by reference to a Committee. I think it is rather deplorable to have this tendency in our system. It seems to me to be the duty of Ministers to formulate their policy and then to submit it to this House of Commons. Of course, I know that in the past we have often submitted different problems to Royal Commissions, but then it has always been an accepted system in our political life that the recommendations of Royal Commissions are never carried into effect. Nowadays, whatever the matter, whether it be the buying of chocolates after 8 o'clock or the complete restoration of the mining industry, or whatever is the question before Ministers, the tendency is to refer it to a Committee, and then this House is confronted with the statement that, because a Committee is unanimous, we are to be bound by its decisions. I think someone ought sometimes to protest against this growing custom of referring to a Committee, which includes a very excellent assembly of skilled persons, a large number of important matters regarding which it is really the function of Ministers and of this House to discuss free from preconceived ideas. With regard to the present Committee, anyone who has studied the evidence, and anyone who has studied particularly the very conclusive Reports, 245 must be struck with the excellent work of the Committee. I should not be impertinent enough to set myself against or to discuss the work of that Committee without admitting the excellent work, and the skilful way which they did the work, put before them, and I think we ought to pay some tribute to the courage with which various Members of the Committee agreed to sign what became a unanimous Report. At the same time, I think there are certain criticisms of the whole attitude with which they met this problem which ought to be made. In making this Report, they divided their recommendations into what they called the fundamentals and what they called subsidiaries. Those that are called subsidiaries are really mainly concerned with points which probably better arise on the Committee stage of this Measure. It is the fundamental part of their recommendations which is most germane to a Second Reading Debate. But before they made any recommendations at all as to the framing of a new insurance scheme, they made a number of general recommendations, and these recommendations are of very great importance. The Minister, in the speech he gave us, did not give us any very great information with regard to what was going to be done to carry out those preliminary recommendations of the Blanesburgh Committee, for instance, what is he doing to induce employers either by compulsory or voluntary methods to register, if not their vacancies, at any rate, their records of employment? What steps are being taken to carry out the Report of the Malcolm Committee? What steps are being taken to increase the excellent work which has already been done by juvenile unemployment centres? What real steps are being taken to develop the whole system of training which is the essential part of dealing with our unemployment problem? Can the Minister assure us that these preliminary recommendations upon which the whole foundation of the scheme rests—because, according to the Committee, it is only by carrying on this work to reduce unemployment to the lowest possible figure that the scheme they recommend can have any sound basis—are to be pressed forward in a real, strong spirit of determination? There is one very pregnant and 246 important sentence in this Report. In paragraph 46 the Committee says:Specialisation is the root cause of much unemployment.That is a very true saying. Any one who is concerned with industry knows that one of the mistakes we are making to-day is that the great mobility which, through the invention and the perfection of the machine, is more and more being given to labour is not made full use of. Specialisation carried too far produces, as the Blanesburgh Committee rightly says, a great amount of unemployment which could be done away with. It is an essential part of trade to see that in our modern industrial system all the benefits from the development of the machine, the simplification of the machine and the mechanical processes can really be used in order to improve the mobility of labour. The training systems which we have on a small scale have been successful, and anyone who has seen their work must have been impressed with that fact.
The most important point in regard to this question is that there is not a fixed amount of employment available, but that there is a certain amount of employment available for the right men, and by the creation of the right man by training he is able to get a job which he would not have got otherwise, and which nobody would have got if that man had not been available. A man may be taken on at a time of rush or working overtime or at a particular period of the year and if he proves himself a very useful man he remains in that occupation. In that way he makes a job for himself. He is a man who becomes so necessary to the organisation that, in fact, he creates employment for himself. The amount of employment available is not static, but it is to some extent of a dynamic character.
There are some very interesting recommendations in the preliminary recommendations of the Committee with regard to the necessity for the movement of new labour into the expanding industries. There are certain suggestions with regard to a kind of adult apprenticeship, in which by arrangement it might be possible to take on labour in the expanding industries under a particular system of rates of wages and conditions applicable for an apprenticeship period for the new labour moved from other industries. Are the Government going to follow up 247 these recommendations with a determination to get something done? These are recommendations some of which will involve delicate industrial negotiations and adjustments. Have they brought these matters before the notice of the joint industrial councils in the industries where those councils are in existence? These are the kind of questions which industrial councils, combinations of employers' associations and trade unions could well discuss. It is just by an amicable arrangement of some of these questions that a great deal could be done to increase that mobility of labour which is one of our main problems to-day. Therefore, I think that anyone on this side of the House who proposes to support this Bill ought to demand, and has a right to demand, of the Minister a guarantee that these preliminary recommendations will be pushed forward, and that he will do his very best to use every means open to him to exert the power of the Government to extend Governmental training schemes and to use his influence in industry to bring the trade union and employers' associations into co-operation for the perfecting of any schemes which he can put before them.
When we come to the recommendations for the insurance scheme itself, I think we ought, whatever our political views, to admit that there are in the main recommendations many points which are a real advance. I leave for the moment the question whether this form of unemployment insurance is in itself the best possible scheme. I am assuming that this kind of scheme is well within the fabric of our present system. There are certainly many recommendations which will command universal support. There is the abolition of the Minister's discretion; the making of the benefit a statutory right; the alteration of the rules in regard to the referee and umpire; the alteration and modification of the provisions in regard to trade disputes. Further, assuming the basis of our schemes to be, as the Committee assumes it to be, a flat rate of contribution and benefit, the proposed modification in regard to the contributions and benefits will command general support from most people. Then there is the definition of "genuinely seeking work" and "suitable employment," and there is the alteration in regard to benefits for 248 married and single. These recommendations are good. Then there are certain minor modifications to meet hard cases, which will, I think, commend themselves. I think that most people will feel that the Committee, with all their difficulties, have done well to reach a unanimous conclusion on these various points.
I cannot, however, help feeling very sorry that the Committee did not have, shall I say, the courage or, at any rate, did not decide upon a more serious, definite consideration of the whole basis of insurance, and I cannot but feel that a great opportunity has been missed in this way, because we all know whatever we may say that anything approaching our present system of unemployment insurance has a tendency to be a compromise. The Minister of Labour said this afternoon that we all want to get as good benefit as possible with as little contribution as possible. That is not quite accurate. One of the governing factors of our present system of unemployment insurance is that we do not want to get as good benefits as we can; one of the governing conditions is that the benefits must not be more than is the general labourer's rate of wage. Under any flat rate unemployment insurance scheme if you have a flat rate of benefit it must be a rate of benefit low enough not to tempt the unskilled type of workman into unemployment rather than into work.
The Committee, after the very interesting evidence they have heard on this subject, did not seriously consider the possibility of a system of insurance with varying rates of contribution and benefit according to the wage groups to which the men belong. In two European countries at the present time such a system of unemployment insurance is being worked. Some interesting evidence was put before the Committee on the point and, of course, the various schemes put forward may have been unworkable. But it is quite clear that so long as we have a flat rate of contribution and benefit we cannot have an insurance system which provides benefits good enough for the highly paid workman, but we must have something of a compromise, with all the difficulties and hardships that such a compromise involves.
I think the Committee showed a certain lack of facing realities in one of their statements with regard to the effect 249 upon the Poor Law of the benefits given by unemployment insurance. In their report they call attention, in paragraph 83, to the question of unemployment insurance and Poor Law relief in so far as it deals with the able-bodied unemployed. Everybody knows that at the present time men drawing unemployment insurance benefit do get in addition relief from the guardians. It is shutting our eyes to realities to say that unemployment insurance benefit is a substitute for Poor Law relief. In many cases the guardians have to give additional benefit. So long as you have a flat-rate insurance scheme with a low rate of benefit, which is an essential part of the scheme in order to avoid the difficulty of enticing the lower-grade workman into benefit rather than work, you are bound to have the parish coming in to some extent as a subsidiary, and it is hypocrisy to say that that should altogether be done away with.
A leading article in "The Times" calls attention to the fact that the result of the Blanesburgh Committee's Report must be that some 150,000 persons will be thrown additionally upon the parish. That will be so. The Committee did not really face the difficulties. In fact, this scheme is not going to be brought into operation at any rate for two years. Because of the extension of the period for a transition scheme, as it is called, this scheme will not operate for two years, and I predict that it will not operate even then, because we shall be driven by the force of circumstances and the realities of the case to introduce amending legislation before the period of the transition scheme ends. We shall not be able to drive so large a body of men upon the resources of the local authority. I might call attention to what has been found during the last 10 years and what has been the practice in our legislation. We introduce a Bill with a certain number of Clauses, some of which we know cannot work. We carry out a scheme which is complete in itself logically and so on, but we have a saving Clause saying that certain portions of the scheme will not come into operation before a certain period, knowing very well that in the course of that period we shall be able to give ourselves a further period of grace.
250 I am sorry that the Government have not dealt with this matter on a much wider basis and that they have not had the courage to take a much more generous view of their responsibility in regard to the whole question of the relation between insurance and relief. I am not very much impressed by the rhetoric of the last speaker. When we come to consider this matter do not let us be led away by an appeal to sentiment. Let us see how these people are supported who are unable to support themselves. The only question at issue is, who is to support them? Ever since the days of Queen Elizabeth people have been supported from some source or other if they have not been able to support themselves. The only question now is under what system, by what method should that support be provided. It is not a question of whether people are to die of starvation, but it is a question of what is the authority and what is the best and proper method of providing for people who at any time are in that unfortunate situation. In my view the parish ought to remain, and must remain under any system of reform of the Poor Law as the authority to look after those persons who are unemployable either through old age or infirmity. They will not be more than a small percentage in any parish. You will not have one parish with a great number of old and infirmed people and another parish with no old people. That condition spreads itself out between the various communities.
Those people who are able-bodied unemployed fall into two categories. There are the ins and the outs. We talk about one million unemployed. There are men who are in and out of employment under every system of unemployment insurance that is made. I would like to see higher rates of contribution and higher benefits and I would like to see the scheme even more rigidly applied. There must also always be amongst the able-bodied unemployed a group of people who are not likely to obtain employment again in their own trade; people who have been unemployed for two or three years and whose trade has gone. They are the real problem with which we are faced. These people must be maintained on a national basis. They should not be put upon the parish neither should they be carried upon the unemployment insurance fund. It is neither fair to the parish and the local 251 authority nor is it fair to the unemployment insurance fund that such people should be a charge upon them. I believe that in any final reorganisation these people will be carried under a scheme of national relief.
That involves immense obligations. It involves the fact that these people cannot maintain that they have the right to have employment in the particular trade to which they have belonged. They should not reach that category until it has become pretty clear that that trade will not give them employment in the future. They are the people who need to be trained in some other trade, whose mobility must be helped, who must be helped by migration or settlement on the land and training for other general trades. Those are the people to whom the State should say "You have exhausted your right to be in a contributory unemployment insurance scheme. It is wrong for you and for the parish to throw you upon the parish. We will bear your support upon our national scheme, but the corollary to that is that you must, within reason, obey orders and whilst taking the benefits of training you must submit the slight loss of freedom that it entails." That is the way that the thing should be worked out. My quarrel with the Minister, and with the Committee is that they have not faced up to the realities of the situation. They have introduced a Bill which will carry us through, because it will not, in fact, work. The whole of the finance of the Bill has already broken down. The whole actuarial basis of the Bill has been proved to be unsound, and except for the existence of a, transition scheme the Bill would produce absolute chaos in our industrial system.
If that is not an altogether exaggerated picture, I would urge on the Minister that the Government really has a duty to face and face boldly these difficult problems. After all, it has had three years of office in which it could have considered these difficult questions. One year, I know, has been lost and thrown away by the folly of the national industrial struggle, but Ministers really have had time to study the correlated problems of relief, local government, Poor Law and unemployment. I am not sure that Ministers have not almost exhausted their right to extended benefit. I would not say that in the last two years they have 252 not been genuinely seeking work, but I hope they will not follow a course which would place them in the category of persons not likely to obtain employment in the future. All hon. Members who have recently come from their constituencies have the same experience. They know that the people in the country are not interested in half the matters which create interest in the Lobbies of this House. Half the matters of great moment here disappear in the country; they are not considered at all. Questions of employment, the conditions of trade, questions of the revival of industry, and what can be done to alleviate rather than increase the burdens on industry, interest everybody, employer and workman alike. The finance of this Bill shows that the Blanesburgh Committee's Report on finance has broken down. The Government have added to the burdens of industry by not taking up their share in the tri-partite arrangement, and the Government must add considerably to these burdens by postponing the period in which reduction can be made. If ever the effect of the transition period is faced, the fact of throwing a larger number of men on the Poor Law must prove another burden to the great basic and productive industries of the country. Therefore, as I said at the beginning, although this is an academic discussion, because something must be done, I beg and urge the Government to face seriously the difficulties of industry and trade and local government, and devote the period of this Parliament that remains to a real endeavour to find a solution to this class of problem, a solution of which, I am convinced, would do more than anything else to bring about a revival of the prosperity of this country.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
This is the twelfth Unemployment Insurance Bill this House has considered since the Armistice, and we are no nearer a solution than when the 1919 Act was passed. My main criticism on this Measure is that it does not provide work for the unemployed. We are content to go on paying out huge sums of money and get no services rendered whatsoever. What has this cost us since the Armistice. Since the Armistice we have paid out over £400,000,000 in unemployment insurance, out-of-work claims, and relief to the unemployed. 253 We have paid out this £400,000,000 without getting anything in return. What wonderful schemes could have been carried out with that huge sum of money. We could have made the roads of England and have solved our transport problem. If we had spent this huge amount on housing it would have enabled us to do away with every slum area and solve our housing problem. The Government have determined, however, that the work should not be done and have preferred to find unemployment pay rather than work for the unemployed. Under this Bill we are to spend £50,000,000 this year for unemployment and £25,000,000 for poor relief, £75,000,000 altogether, without any work being done in return. If the Government has no vision or foresight to put in hand large schemes of work themselves, surely they could allow local authorities to get on with their own schemes.
In Middlesbrough we have spent half a million pounds in useful work, and we are prepared to go on provided we get help from the Government. We have dock schemes which are being held up on account of finance, and it would be much better for the Government to employ unemployed labour for building these docks rather than pay money for doing nothing. We talk about an average of 9 per cent. unemployed, but that is only an average figure. In different parts of England, in the South-east and South-western districts, it is much less, but in other parts of the country it is much higher. In Wales it is 23.9 per cent., in the Northeast of England it is 14.7 per cent.; and these, again, are only average figures. If you take certain trades, you will find the level of unemployment much higher. In marine engineering it is 17.3 per cent. and in shipbuilding 26 per cent.; and these high figures have prevailed for some years. No wonder the unemployment insurance scheme has broken down! In Middlesbrough, there are 38,000 insured workers, and over 6,100 are unemployed, an average of 16 per cent., and owing to the stringent administration of the unemployment benefit scheme large numbers of these have to seek Poor Law relief.
The consequence is that the out-relief, which in 1914 was £326 per week, is now over £3,000 per week. The Poor Rate was ls. 2d. in the £ in 1914, it is now 6s. 10d., while the ordinary rate has risen from 8s. to 20s. in the £. Other 254 towns show similar results. Why should our industrial towns bear such high rates as these and residential towns escape with a rate of 7s. or 8s. in the £! It is not the fault of the locality. It is not the fault of the employer or the employé. It is one result of the after-math of the War. It is due to national causes and should be a national charge. These heavy rates retard the recovery of trade. Rates, unlike taxes, are a first charge on industry. In the shipyards on the Tees in 1914 the rates were £400, equal to 7d. per ton launched. In 1926 they were £3,027, or equal to 4s. 5d. per ton launched. This is a serious handicap in competition with the world. This Bill will tend to throw more burdens on the rates by the abolition of extended benefit. It fails on two counts. It fails because it does nothing more to make the case of the unemployed a national instead of a local charge, and it fails because it makes no attempt to find work for the unemployed. The Government are content to go on paying out huge sums for no services rendered, whereas, if they were to put in hand useful schemes of employment they would get valuable national assets and find wages for men instead of unemployment benefit.
§ Mr. KIDD
The criticisms which have been put forward by some hon. Members this evening fail because they fail to take notice that we are here dealing with an insurance scheme. The hon. and gallant Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Captain Macmillan) treated the House to a most excellent speech, but he seemed also to be guilty of that omission. In the first place, he seemed to complain that Lord Blanesburgh and his Committee had been rather too narrow in their outlook. It seems to me that the Blanesburgh, Committee were pinned down by their terms of reference which wereto consider in the light of experience gained in the working of unemployment insurance schemes what change in the scheme, if, any, ought to be made.They were not called upon to propose a new scheme. They simply had before them the scheme already existing and were asked if they could improve upon it. If this House is to confine itself in the same way to considering simply and solely the insurance scheme submitted by the Bill, then all the criticisms against the scheme seem to me to have missed the point. After all, when you are deal- 255 ing with an insurance scheme you are dealing with a sum which for all practical purposes must be regarded as a fixed sum, and, therefore, if I am an opponent of the distribution of that sum I ought to be in a position to propose how one class should get a little more and another class should get a little less. As I understand the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) and the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) they would have given greater point to their argument if they had said that they preferred that something should be taken from the men and given to the women, or that not so much should be taken from the single men and given to the married men.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Will the hon. Member allow me. I do not understand that we are committed in the way he suggests until we have passed the Financial Resolution. Up to the time the Financial Resolution is passed the House has elasticity as regards the amount to be paid in the form of weekly payments.
§ Mr. KIDD
This Bill proceeds on the Report of a unanimous Committee, and there is no deviation from the terms of that Report, except in this one particular, where, quite rightly, the Government have pursued a policy in which they have been guided by the experience which they alone could have. This Bill, as I say, proceeds on the unanimous Report of the Committee which was representative of all parties. The Report results in a scheme which provides a fixed fund, and if we are to confine ourselves to the Bill, as we ought to do, the only thing we can change is the way this fixed amount has been distributed.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I should like to hear Mr. Speaker on that point. It puts the House of Commons in a very low position.
§ Mr. KIDD
Oh, no. But I find encouragement to go a little beyond the precise terms of this particular Bill in the Blanesburgh Report itself. I think perhaps the most attractive part in the very attractive speech of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees was where he dealt with the mobility of labour. We are living in a time when there are great discoveries in scientific research and invention, and he suggested that the Minister of Labour should keep that fact more in mind to the extent of making more specific provision for training the unemployed men and adjusting them to these conditions. Thus a man who is not fit now for a particular occupation might by training be very quickly fitted therefor. The hon. Member made one very sound observation. He said that before you can secure mobility in a scientific age there would require to be some very delicate industrial negotiations. There the hon. Member put his finger on the spot. The Blanesburgh Committee very properly point out that the best thing to do is to avoid unemployment. On the other hand I think the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees detected a source of no little unemployment in the fact that there are influences hindering the adjustment of workmen to the new conditions of to-day.
Obviously, as the hon. Member pointed out, the whole idea of machinery is to make manufacture a simple matter. Therefore the man in attendance on the machine does not require all the elaborate preparation that was required in the old days of manual labour, when apprenticeship was related to handwork which called for more preparation if the necessary skill were to be exhibited by the man. But those days have passed. There is a tendency to avoid adjusting ourselves to the new times, and that brings about in our industrial conditions a rigidity which more than anything else is responsible in very large measure for our unemployment. I think the House is indebted to the hon. Member for Stockton for making that point. I have no doubt that the Minister, given an indication that there is agreement in all parts of the House as to the necessity, indeed the desirability, for bringing about this change of attitude, will be the first person to make all provision for giving the necessary training, which in many cases may be a very brief training. The whole ten- 257 dency of our time shows that everyone is more and more dependent upon the results of scientific research and invention. In other words individualism is proving itself the dominant power. The crowd is becoming more and more dependent on the individual, and the individual is becoming more and more independent of the crowd. [Interruption.] It is exactly that attitude, indicated by the interruption of hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite, in which we discover the reason for the rigidity in our industrial conditions, which finally is found to be the cause of our unemployment.
I want now to notice some features of the Bill that appeal to every representative of an industrial constituency. First there is the disappearance of extended benefit. I have no wish whatever, after many a tough correspondence with the Ministry of Labour, to be unduly flattering, but I think it only honest to say to him, when extended benefit is disappearing, that I have never found the Minister or his subordinate officials other than most merciful in the exercise of their discretionary power.
§ Mr. KIDD
There is one grievance removed by the Bill, and I very much welcome the fact. Those of us who come from mining counties must have had innumerable cases where men who, neither by themselves nor by their fellows, could be said to have had any responsibility for a stoppage or even any sympathy with the stoppage, have found themselves denied benefit because some few members of their trade or grade happened to be in a union which had supported the stoppage. I do not think that any matter caused greater grievance in industrial districts. I welcome its disappearance now. In reply to an hon. Member opposite who interrupted me just now, let me say that 18s. cannot be regarded as a generous allowance. I quite see that the result of this Bill may be to throw a bigger burden on the local rates. But, I repeat, we are dealing with an insurance scheme. A transition period has been allowed, and it may be that the extended burdens cast on the districts and on the rates will be such that the Government will require to give that question particular attention. The possibility of that arising, notwithstanding the transition period, is not a subject to be taken 258 under review in dealing with such a Bill as this. If that eventuality does occur, then it will be for the Government to deal with it on its merits.
With regard to the differentiation in the payment to young men as distinguished from married men, I have heard references to-day to emigration being rather stimulated by it. I do not know that the Blanesburgh Report goes the length of stimulating emigration, but surely no one opposite would say that we ought to discourage emigration? We certainly should not discourage it, particularly on the part of the young. When you come to the married man, who is anchored to the spot by all his dependants, emigration becomes well nigh impossible for him, although in hundreds of cases within my own knowledge such men would gladly emigrate now. When you are dealing with young men, surely you are entitled at least to leave unaffected the natural spirit of adventure in the young, and nothing should be done by way of insurance legislation or anything else to discourage the young men from going abroad. The world grows smaller and smaller every day. Contact between the home country and the Dominions and Colonies is comparatively easy and simple. The Bill is very wise in that it makes a distinction between the married man and the young man, even though in doing so it may encourage the young man to emigrate to a country where he can win an independence which cannot be his here, and make a future for himself that he would not be likely to attain otherwise.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The hon. Member who has just spoken invited us to consider this scheme as an insurance scheme, and for a few moments I propose to take up that challenge. The Minister of Labour led off by telling us that this was an insurance scheme, and that his desire was to take the thing out of the sort of mixed administration and put it on a sound basis of insurance, a scheme to be run on business principles. When the right hon. Gentleman came to the critical figure of the percentage of unemployment that could reasonably be expected in a normal year, his speech seemed to grow a little thin, because we did not have any explanation why the figure of six per cent. should be the figure for a normal year, or why the contributions should bear the present relationship during theinter- 259 regnum. We had only the statement that six per cent. was quite as good a figure as anything else. It is as good a figure as anything else if you are dealing with unemployment insurance; six or seven or three or 10 is as good as anything else as the index for possible unemployment, because there is no basis on which to build an insurance scheme at all, and that is the plain truth.
For two or three minutes I wish to go through the pitiful and picturesque history of all the different estimates that successive Ministers and Treasury officials have brought out as the foundation for insurance schemes. They began in 1911. In that year, on the basis of trade union unemployment, it was estimated that 8.6 per cent. of unemployment was a reasonable figure. It was not. That estimate, based on those figures, was wrong, and the fund accumulated an enormous surplus. Later on I actually sat upon a Government Committee which, on the information of the experts, sent up to the Minister in 1918 two schemes, one for 20 years and the other a temporary scheme. There, on the advice of the experts, we reported that it was not unreasonable to assume that over 20 years the average rate for all trades would not exceed 3 per cent. In 1920 the Government Actuary set to work to frame a new insurance scheme on the basis of figures then available. Actuaries are wonderful people, but no more than the meanest and humblest person here can they do one thing—make bricks without straw.
I want to take some extracts from the Government Actuary's report for the Bill of 1920. In 1920 he said that the average unemployment for the selected trades of 1911 had been assumed to be 8.6 per cent., but he preferred to put it at 6.5 per cent. Then he went on to other groups, that is to say, nearly all the employed people of the country. He said that for the others he estimated the percentage of unemployment on statistics supplied by the Minister of Labour, though he did say that in certain groups—transport, shop assistants and some others—the figures supplied by the Minister had no statistical basis. He said that of three trades. But the other was not very trustworthy, for the Minister's figures showed that the average expectation of 260 unemployment in the mining industry was 1.5 per cent. The Government Actuary made a general estimate of 5.3 per cent. Government officials are not altogether wanting in worldly wisdom. The Actuary carefully dissociated himself from any responsibility for the estimates. He said:While in order to obtain a financial basis for the scheme an estimate of the general rate of unemployment is necessary, the material available for the purpose is far from satisfactory.7.0 p.m. I notice that in the White Paper supplied to the House the Actuary refers us to the fuller statement at the end of the Blanesburgh Committee's Report, and this is what he says there with regard to this basis for a solemn insurance scheme into which men are to put money and from which they are to receive benefits as a matter of business. He says:At no time, therefore, from 1912 onwards has the working of the current system of national insurance against unemployment provided any data with reference to which the 'general rate of unemployment' for a long period and in relation to a wide span of industries can be estimated. The position in this respect remains as it was found in 1919 when the extended system of unemployment insurance which was brought into operation by the Act of 1920 was being constructed"—And this long-suffering civil servant adds:and financial estimates had to be prepared.The Government Actuary, solemnly, before the Blanesburgh Committee calls for water and washes his hands, and tells the Committee that there is no basis for an insurance scheme properly so-called at all. But he had to produce something, because the Government like the glamour and the mystery of an insurance scheme, and so, like the arithmetician in the "Hunting of the Snark," he took six as a convenient figure, and on the estimate of 6 per cent. unemployment he built up the whole scheme of contributions and benefits of the Blanesburgh Committee. But there is no evidence to show what unemployment will be in the "normal trade cycle" of which the Minister spoke. There is no evidence to show what unemployment is likely to be this year or next year or for the next 10 years. If it were only a question of bringing a sham scheme of insurance before the House of Commons, the matter would be serious 261 enough; but the fact of having made estimates of contributions and benefits on a wholly illusory basis means that neither the workman, the employer nor the State will know what the contributions are actually going to be. Whenever industry is in trouble, whenever employers find it difficult to sell their goods, they have suddenly to increase their contributions to the unemployment insurance fund, and the fact is that since there has been an unemployment insurance fund the contributions and benefits have run up and down. In 1911 the contributions were 6⅔d.; under the Act of 1920 the aggregate was 10d., then it went up to is. 6¾d. and then to 2s. l¾d., and then by the Economy Act it came down to 1s. 9d. When you have contributions running up and down the scale in this way; when almost automatically that whenever industry is troubled and oppressed the contributions for this purpose go up, then you have something which is not merely ridiculous financially, but is a certain handicap to trade.
It is high time the Government did away with this idea of insurance. It is not insurance at all. It is not an estimate. There is not material for a bet with regard to unemployment. On the administrative side, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd) has pointed out, it is not an insurance scheme because you do not limit what a man will receive from a fire insurance by any question of the lowest rate which people who burn down their houses should receive. Here you import into the insurance scheme questions of social necessity such as the obligation to remove all temptation to refrain from seeking work. These are altogether foreign to anything in the nature of an insurance scheme. The Government in dealing with unemployment cannot ride two horses. They cannot have insurance tempered by social considerations. Above all, they ought not to bring before the House of Commons something which they call an insurance scheme, but in regard to which no one can give a basic estimate that is worth having.
I do not wish to go over the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment. Putting aside all human considerations and dealing with this question as a matter of business, I say it is one of the worst pieces of business ever submitted 262 to the House of Commons, and there is not a man on the other side who knows anything about figures who can deny what I say. There being no possible financial basis for an unemployment insurance scheme; it being necessary, as nearly all of us agree, to import into the question of the payment of benefit certain considerations which are foreign to an insurance scheme, it is the clear duty of those responsible for the country to deal with the matter in a more intelligent as well as a more human manner. The proper way of dealing with it would be to have certain fixed contributions from employers and employed which would not be raised in times of bad trade, which would be sacred, and to make the State bear the residuary burden. That has been done before in regard to financial questions. It was done in regard to teachers' superannuation benefit, after the local authorities had had many bankrupt schemes. When I first went into public life the school boards came smash because they had not sufficient figures on which to base a proper life insurance, but the later Act insisted upon fixed contributions from the teachers and the local authorities and then the State took over the remaining burden and paid as the claims demanded.
From a business point of view that is the only intelligent and intelligible way of dealing with material so uncertain as this. By doing that you set your hands free for a great multitude of things. If the State takes the whole of the burden, the State too can lighten the burden by schemes of work and so forth. By having this fetish of unemployment benefits to which the State contributes, you have all the evil and all the muddle which arise when financial schemes are based upon something which you cannot defend and which is a mere guess. It leads to uncertainty and confusion. I seriously challenge any Minister or any Member on the other side whether they can give any better estimate of the course of unemployment than that given by the Actuary in 1920 and now repeated. This is not an insurance scheme, it is a mere bluff on the House of Commons.
I desire to say a few words to back up what has already been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Captain Macmillan). Many of us are growing a 263 little tired of government by committee. The Government are constantly setting up Committees, but nothing ever happens as a result. They set up the Southborough Committee, but we have never heard anything further of it, and many of us feel that they do not want to do anything about the question. Then they set up the Malcolm Committee, which made very important recommendations, and we would like to ask them what they are going to do about that Report? Then there was the Hadow Committee. I do not complain of the recommendations of that Committee not having been carried out in their entirety, but the President of the Board of Education failed to put into operation one of the most constructive of that Committee's proposals, namely, that relating to the raising of the school age. These things are not very satisfying, and many of us who are fighting Socialism wish to do so with a constructive plan of social reform. We realise that Socialism has only made headway because Socialists promised to do certain things, although we know that they cannot do what they promised. There is no more ardent fighter against Socialism, inside or outside this House, than I am, but there is no more ardent fighter against piecemeal legislation than I am. Some of us on this side want a big constructive policy, and what we have against the Government in regard to the Report of the Blanesburgh Committee is that the terms of reference were so restricted that the Committee could not deal in a properly constructive way with one of the most important problems before the country. [Interruption.] When I have finished putting some questions to the Government on this matter I am perfectly prepared to go into the question of class consciousness to which a previous speaker on the other side has referred, but I must deal with my opponents one at a time.
There is one recommendation of the Committee in regard to which I am particularly anxious to question the Government. I entirely disagree with the system under which contributions and benefits are based on sex rather than earnings. I do not believe that at present the country is ready to go as far on this subject as many women would 264 like, but in every country which has a social insurance scheme, the contributions and benefits are based on the workers' earnings without reference to sex, and when the Labour Office at Geneva inquired how that system worked, they were told it worked perfectly well. I am also concerned about the references to juveniles in this Report. Have the Government any constructive scheme? Here is what the Blanesburgh Committee say:In regard to the unemployment benefit of juveniles we should consider it unfortunate if as a result of receiving benefit through the Employment Exchanges these young people were led to regard the Exchanges primarily as places for obtaining money when out of work. At such an age an attitude of this kind is bound to be demoralising.I absolutely agree. The Committee continue:Our desire is that the Exchanges shall be for them the places where they can through the staff and the Advisory Committees receive helpful guidance for their future careers. It is at this age that industrial workers are made or marred and we are convinced of the necessity of providing them when out of work with suitable industrial instruction and training. This is the reason for our recommendation that no payments shall be made to juveniles at all unless they attend a suitable course of instruction, wherever such a course is available, and we propose that the payment shall be styled not 'unemployment benefit' but 'training allowance.' We attach the greatest possible importance to this provision of facilities for training. We are aware that efforts have been and are being made by the Ministry in this direction. In our judgment further provision is essential. Indeed, if we had not been recommending that useful training should be provided—if necessary, even out of any surplus in the fund—some of us"—and this is important—would not have agreed to reduce the existing scale of benefit for juveniles, and others would have insisted that juvenile benefit should be abolished altogether.Training is scarcely less important in the case of young men and women from 18 to 21, and we earnestly desire that in their case also facilities for training will be available or made available to the greatest possible extent.That is a thing which ought to be the concern of every Member of the House, and there is not one single mention of it in this Bill or in the Minister's speech.
I want to remind the House of what the Malcolm Committee said. On page 37 of their Report, they said: 265The evidence which we have received leaves no doubt in our minds that even a comparatively short period of unemployment may tend to demoralise and to affect the employability of the average boy or girl. … The disintegrating effect, moral and physical, of juvenile unemployment is incalculable. While it is easy to exaggerate the effects of partial unemployment due to short time, we doubt whether sufficient attention has been given to the fate of those boys and girls who live in areas where the staple industries are specially depressed, and where the atmosphere is charged with disillusionment and discouragement. In some districts where employment is a comparative luxury, to allow boys and girls of from 14 to 18 to roam the streets should be unthinkable. That the unemployed boy of to-day is the unemployable man of to-morrow is a saying which we are satisfied is often only too true.I want to know: Are the Government going to face up to this question of training centres for juveniles? The raising of the school age they have refused, and the Minister of Education said he could not face up to the raising of it in five years' time. I am quite aware that it is not practicable now, but still it is an important point. You had the Malcolm Committee and now you have this Committee's Report. We ask you—we who are fighting Socialism with our hearts and souls. We cannot fight it without a constructive programme. We do not believe that the country wants Socialism, but we do believe that this sort of piecemeal legislation is simply playing into the hands of those whom we on this side might call the enemies of society. It is quite obvious that the Front Bench need some recruits of more advanced views. Our Front Bench are not so far apart from the Back Bench as the Front Bench of the Opposition are from their Back Bench; the gulf that divides them is very wide. But we have got only a very short time now, and we do not consider there is enough constructive thinking going on.
I want to say to the Government what the hon. and gallant Member for Stockton-on-Tees put in so much better words than I can ever hope to do, but it is the view of a great many on the back benches. What is being done is not big enough, and they are not thinking far enough ahead. We do not want Committees; we want a policy. We know that we have got to pass this Bill now for there is nothing else to do. It has got to go through, and members of the Opposition know that. It is going through, and we know that it will be 266 very difficult for some members of the Opposition who realise it has got to go through, for some of the municipal elections have been fought on this Bill. It is easy enough to fight an election by telling people what you are going to do when you get in. Nobody but a lunatic has ever promised people Paradise by voting in men to run industry. [Laughter.] When I hear laughter at the capitalist system—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is not for the first time that I have to ask the hon. Member for the Sutton Division to address me.
You are quite right, Mr. Speaker, but, when I hear hon. Members opposite talking about the Paradise that is to come and how you are going to have industry run by the great mass of people, I look with horror, because I realise that most of the people who are talking about how they are going to run the country are industrial failures. That is what worries me. It is easy enough to get elected and come to the House of Commons and try to run the country, but running industry is much more difficult than running a country. That is why I am so keen that the Government should have a constructive policy and not go on in this way. Above all, we must ask them what they mean to do about the juveniles so far as this Bill is concerned. It is very unfair to an hon. Member opposite, who I am perfectly certain would have never signed, because there is nobody more interested in the question of juvenile employment—and I think there are others who belong to the party opposite who have said the same thing—that they would not have given anything to the children unless it meant that they were going to have industrial training. This industrial training does at least give to the children one hot meal in the day, and when you reduce the benefit, that means a great loss.
I do not want to be disagreeable to the Government, but I do beg of them to satisfy us by giving us something a little better than picking out the pieces which they like and really slurring over what to some of us are matters of vital importance. Every woman knows—and they have not to be mothers to know, for some people who know most about children have not children—that this problem of juvenile unemployment is one of the most tragic in the whole of the country to-day. 267 Older people who are unemployed are not such a danger, but, when you take from these young people two or three years of the most important part of their life, you can never get it back. There is nothing more terrible than the unemployable young person. Are you going to leave them from the ages of 14 to 15, even though you have given them benefit and money over which their parents have no control? I, personally, would have thought that if you were going to give money it should have gone to the parent and not to the children. But it is not the money that matters. It is the training which is far more important. I do hope that the Government will take warning before it is too late and deal with this question in a very big way, no matter how much they have to fight some of those—for there are some—whom I may call people who do not believe that the State ought to be doing anything. You have to fight them just as you have to fight the people who believe the State ought to do everything. There is a middle way, and I believe it is the middle way that the people want.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Captain Macmillan), in the course of his researches, might suggest a volume to the Noble Lady who has just spoken and who has been in search of a policy. It would be a very interesting volume for the next Spring publication. I refuse to be bludgeoned, either by his genial bludgeon or by her effervescing one, into saying that this Bill must go through. In my judgment, there is no need for this Bill to go through. I am aware that a Bill must be passed before the end of the year, but it need not be this Bill. If as the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Miss Lawrence) said, and truly said, this Bill is a sham, because it has no financial basis and no business man or actuary would ratify it with any assurance that it would be fulfilled, then I think the House ought to pay a great deal more attention to the provisions of the Bill, and to the wider effects which are bound to follow from it, than either the Blanesburgh Committee paid it or the Government obviously have done in framing the Bill.
Before I come to that part of the Bill, I would like to make a small complaint 268 about the style of the Bill. It must be, for a short Bill of 14 Clauses, one of the worst examples of legislation by reference that this House has ever had before it. It is almost impossible for the ordinary Member of the House who has no legal training, or even for Members of the legal profession who have not given careful study to the Insurance Acts, really to understand what many of the administrative details mean, as they are affected by certain references in the Bill. I have taken the trouble to analyse the Bill in this respect, and I find that there are no less than 16 separate references to other Acts or parts of Acts. I will not trouble the House with the whole of the number, but there is an appalling list which does make the Bill an almost incalculably sloppy one from that point of view.
It must have been obvious to Members who examined the Blanesburgh Report when it first appeared, that the Members of the Committee worked under great difficulties, because, first of all, the Terms of Reference were narrow, and, secondly, they attempted to feel their way towards a solution of the problem of unemployment by finding work, and were not able to go very far with it. It is quite obvious that they never really examined the outside considerations affecting the administration of unemployment insurance, and I should like to say two or three things about it. The problems which we have to face in this Bill, in my judgment, are these: They are problems affecting employment, problems affecting the unemployed, problems affecting industries, problems relating to taxes, problems relating to rates, and problems relating to benefits and contributions, and they all present separate problems from the point of view of the drafting of the Bill.
The first thing I should like to say is on a point which has not been taken up yet in the House, and that is the fact that very many people who pay contributions, not as insured persons but as employers, are gravely disturbed because of the basis of this Bill, or its lack of basis, financially. In a letter which I have in my hand, the director of a very large firm of employers, says this:There seems to he serious grounds for bringing pressure to bear on the Government fully to investigate the financial aspect of the proposals. The whole Bill has been based on the Report of the Blanesburgh Committee, who unanimously recommended that in the first place there should for a 269 period be a penny per week contribution to wipe off existing debts. Apart from this penny, the Committee recommended that in the case of male adults, the contribution should immediately be reduced as follows: Employer, from 8d. to 5d.; employé, 7d. to 5d.; and the State, 5d. In the case of women, employer from 7d. to 4d., employé 6d. to 4d., State from 4½d. to 4d. Juniors to be reduced proportionately. The Government has not adopted any portion of this aspect of the Report, and this Bill provides for an indefinite continuance of the present high contribution from all parties. It appears, therefore, that the Bill fails to give effect to the following important recommendations of the Blanesburgh Committee:(1) Equal contribution by State, employer, and employé;(2) Whilst adopting in full the reduced benefits for employés, 18 and 21, adopts only partially the recommendations re reduced contributions;(3) Ignores entirely the general recommended reductions in contributions.The writer adds:The reductions referred to in (3) alone (which were recommended after most exhaustive actuarial advice) would have meant relief of fully £6,000,000 a year to industry, £4,000,000 to employers, and £2,000,000 to employés.I wish to develop that for a moment. The point that I think was missed by the Blanesburgh Committee in its examination of the problem was the lopsided effect of the long continued depression and the long continued and chronic unemployment in certain areas. I am not referring either to rates or to the insured persons, but to industry. It seems to me that industry has two complaints to make against the present situation, and that those complaints will be aggravated by this Bill. The first is that certain areas have too large a burden to bear for the reward they get, and, because the unemployment insurance scheme is unable, even by the administration of its extended benefits, adequately to deal with the whole of the unemployed in their area, rates go up in the area and add a worse burden than taxes to industry, namely, a standing charge on the rates. Nobody who had watched this Debate for four hours could believe that we in this House were discussing a Bill affecting the fortunes of 12,000,000 workers, a Bill which is causing great and small employers of labour furiously to think from the point of view of the future of their industry, a Bill which is based on annual contributions of £17,000,000 from the workers, £19,000,000 270 from the employers, and £14,000,000 from the State, a Bill which is going to affect, for good or for ill, the fortunes of 1,100,000 unemployed upon the register. Nobody could believe that was the case, because at nearly any time in the Debate since 4.30 this afternoon the House might have been counted out. The Members who sit for areas not comparable to those which I have been discussing, the areas where unemployment has been chronic and long continued, have their own complaint to make against this scheme, because, if it be true that the men in the areas where there is much unemployment are paying too much and not getting enough, surely those where unemployment is not grave are paying much too much by way of contribution for too little benefit for the few in those areas who are unemployed at a given period.
The whole thing is lopsided, and where the Blanesburgh Report made a tentative approach, I complain that the Government have not taken the thing boldy. The fact is, that, after seven years when only for six separate weeks has the total figure of unemployment dropped below a million, we have reached a situation where the weight of contributions is actually a tax on industry and is actually standing in the way of a trade revival. I welcomed, as did many other hon. Members in all parts of the House, and many of the newspapers that do not support my own party political views, the recommendation of the Blanesburgh Committee on equality of contribution, because I felt that there was at least a recognition of the fact that the State ought to pay a larger share, because of the lopsided character both of the unemployment and of the weight of burden.
I want to go further. I say that, in my judgment, the Government are greatly at fault in that, so far from brushing aside equality of contribution, they should have gone further than the recommendation of the Committee instead of the other way. They might have reduced the contribution of the employer and the employed and boldly put twopence on to the State contribution. I am quite aware that this would be an entire reversal of the policy of the Government, that it would not please the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that those who talk of economy merely in terms of the total of millions in a Budget might not like this, but I am 271 quite sure that, from the point of view of the effect upon employment, trade, and national finance, it is infinitely preferable to have this burden put on the taxes rather than to have it put on the rates, for we are not supposed—although it may be rather a supposition in these days, when small Income Tax payers get their final demand in the month of August, when on their holidays—to pay our taxes until we get our income; but the rates are a standing charge, and they come down with crushing effect on the very areas which are most affected by unemployment.
Let me show the House how grave this is. I have made an analysis of certain areas, and I find that at the end of July there were eight areas where the percentage of registered unemployed was more than 50 per cent. That is a staggering figure. There were five areas between 40 and 50 per cent., and there were 13 areas between 30 and 40 per cent. To bring in a Bill of this kind, which is bound to drive men from unemployment insurance on to the rates, is to add most gravely, in areas like that, to the difficulties of the employers in industry who are most needing a fillip if we are to get a revival of trade and employment in those areas. I make my complaint now that the Government's finance is utterly unsound. The fact is that neither the Blanesburgh Report nor the Bill has any financial basis at all. There have not been, since the beginning of unemployment insurance in 1911, any figures to give anybody, either business men, exchange managers, or financiers, a basis on which to make a calculation.
From 1911 to 1914 the 2,500,000 who were then insured in selected trades happened to begin their insurance when we had a great boom, for the recorded unemployment in 1913 was only just over 2 per cent. Then we had the War, when there was no unemployment at all, and after that we had the post-War period, when things were absolutely abnormal. There has not been, and there is not now, any basis at all which will provide for any actuary a table of figures on which to build a permanent scheme, and I say, from that point of view, that in my judgment this is not the time for this Bill, nor indeed for any permanent Bill. The most that we can hope to do with 272 regard to unemployment insurance is to extend what we are doing now and to face the problem of finding work for the unemployed with far more vigorous minds than we have done in the last four or five years.
With regard to the abolition of extended benefit, I have a quarrel with the Minister here, for it is extraordinarily difficult, listening to this Debate or putting questions to Ministers or making a personal examination of the problem in one's own area, really to come to a definite conclusion as to what will happen if 30 contributions for two years is to be the only basis for benefit. These are the opinions that are held. There are some administrators in the employment exchanges who believe that the bulk of the people now insured will qualify; there are Poor Law authorities who believe that many thousands in their areas will be cast on the rates; and there are Members, like the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd), who seems to have a curious idea of rigidity, for he was complaining about the burden of the rates and at the same time welcoming the abolition of extended benefit, which seems a curious idea of a rigid scheme; and I would like to have pointed out to him, if he were in his place at the moment—I hope he may read my remarks in the OFFICIAL REPORT in the morning—that the Blanesburgh Report, from which he was quoting, is entirely opposed to his idea of a special subvention from the State to the Poor Law authorities, for reasons which they give.
The point I wish to take up with the Minister of Labour, and on which I want to put him a definite question, is this: I want to ask if he has made or is going to make any attempt to estimate the number, in the 12,000,000 of insured persons, who will fail to qualify owing to the requirement of 30 contributions in two years. I wish to put that question in the most categorical form. There are no figures at the moment. The Minister admitted to me, in answer to a question yesterday, that there were no figures, and I would suggest that there is a way in which figures might be obtained. He knows very well that all the books at the end of a period come up from the districts to Kew. At the moment they are discharging 89 ex-service men from Kew, 273 and I suggest that they might put those men to work on making an examination of certain typical books in areas where there have been more than 10 per cent. unemployed in the last seven years. If you took the unemployed men's books, three books covering a period of two years, you would get a fair average from each district as to the number of men who would qualify with 30 contributions. I suggest that it is vital to the consideration of this Bill, from the point of view of the finance of the scheme, of the unemployed, and of the boards of guardians in England and the parish councils in Scotland, that we should not vote blindly to-morrow for the Second Reading of the Bill, or in, say, 10 days' time for the Third Reading of the Bill.
The House ought to be instructed by the Ministry of Labour. They have the books, and they are discharging ex-servicemen from the staff, for whom they can find work which is necessary. I want to give the only figures that are available, which appear monthly in the "Ministry of Labour Gazette." Hon. Members will, of course, follow them month by month, and they will know the fourfold Regulations under which extended benefit is disallowed. Let me quote two sets of figures, those from 12th July to 8th August this year, and those from 9th August to 12th September this year, the figures for "not a reasonable period of insurable employment during the preceding two years." That is the only thing comparable, in all the statistics that I can find, to anything like two years, and as the qualifying period now is one in six, plus the discretion of the Minister, I think we ought to have some attempt to get at the root of the problem. In July the figures were: Males, 11,327; females, 1,281; total, 12,608, disallowed extended benefit because they had not a reasonable period of insurable employment in the preceding two years. Then, in the following period, 9th August to 12th September, there were 15,335 males and 2,053 females, or a total of 17,388. When the House remembers that these disallowances are only one category, and that out of total claims of 2,448,727 in 10 months, 733,598 were disallowed, either locally or by the Chief Insurance Officer, according to an answer given to me yesterday, I think it will be seized of the fact that I have not wasted the time of the House 274 in bringing forward this point. It is a major point, and I do press the Minister before we get a reply to assure the House that we shall have some idea before the Bill goes through what is the number of men now on the live register who will not be able to qualify for 30 contributions in two years.
I want following on that to add a point about the rates, for it is a serious one in the localities. I disagree entirely with the hon. Member for Linlithgow. The way out is not to add a subvention to the parish councils and the board of guardians, but for the Government wholly to understand that it is only fair that this burden should be spread over the nation in the soundest financial way, and that is to increase the Government contribution. If, at the same time, they will face it boldly and decrease the contribution of the workman and of the employer, then that will be good for industry and for employment and much sounder finance than that either in the Blanesburgh Report or in this Bill. I see no necessity for a special category between 18 and 21. I agree with everything that has been said about the undesirability of making a grade, and the scandal of cutting down the benefit of the young people. I wish to make this other point. I think the House is entitled, after the speech of the Minister of Labour, to some greater justification from him than he gave this afternoon. If the Members of the House between now and the end of the Second Reading apply their minds to the Clause dealing with the new grade of insured workers between 18 and 21, they will find only four references, and in those four references I venture to say there is no arguable case for segregating these young men and women from the rest of the poor; and, if the House will take the trouble to go to the Actuary's Report, they will find on page 91, section 13:In the case of young persons aged between 18 and 21 the benefits to be provided are substantially below the rates provided for persons aged 21 and upwards; in fixing the contribution proposed by the Committee to be charged in respect of members of this class I understand that regard has been paid to the deficit in the contribution of persons aged over 21 as shown in the last paragraph, and that, treating the finance of the scheme as a whole for all insured persons over the age of 18, the deficit in question is to be offset by surplus contributions in the 18 to 21 class. The contributions for this class are 275 accordingly fixed at the rates of 1s. a week (men) and 9d. a week (women). These contributions produce an annual surplus of about £900,000.I would like to ask the Minister, since they have adopted in full the recommendations with regard to benefit, but have not adopted the recommendations in regard to contributions, what surplus is estimated to come under the Bill from this particular class between 18 and 21. The Actuary's Report seems to make it quite plain that in that section of the scheme there would have been £900,000 surplus, and I fail to see what justification there is for taking the surplus of this grade 18 to 21 in order to put it into the scheme at the expense of those young people. I hope we shall hear a substantial justification for this new and very startling departure which is against the whole interests of the general scheme of National Insurance.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I am sorry that the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) is not in her place, because I would have liked to have dealt with a few of the remarks she made. We in this House are accustomed to hear the hon. Lady fighting Socialists by admitting the whole of the Socialist's case, but we will treasure that remark of hers when she described us on this side as the enemies of society. We are the enemies of her kind of society, society with a capital S. We are enemies of a society that has used its principles and its wealth and its privileges in order to join in the hue and cry against those who are out of work through no fault of their own, but largely through the financial policy of the Government, which has enriched their class and then comes forward and makes the gentle suggestion that it is a pity that, after this terrible problem has been created, there have not been little patches here and there slightly to improve the conditions which the Government themselves have created. I feel that the Government in this business are just adding to their terrible record in dealing with the problem which has been aggravated by their policy.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman on the Ministerial bench who is representing the Government at the present time has considered the effect that this 30 stamps qualification is going to have in certain areas that have been referred 276 to by the last and previous speakers. The 30 stamp qualification in two years means that a worker must have had at least 7½ months employment. That means, taking into account holidays, that practically they must have had one-third of the total qualifying period in employment. I should suggest that even in ordinary trade at the present time that is pretty high. But the problem with which the Government are dealing, and mainly concerned in this Bill, is not the problem of the trades that are normally employed—because, as has been stated by the Mover of the Labour Party's Amendment, that scheme is more than solved—it provides a very handsome surplus—but the problem of unemployment in those trades which are facing abnormal depression.
If you look at the area with which I am primarily concerned, the North-Eastern area, the great iron and steel producing area, you find that the period of depression has lasted since 1921, which I again repeat is largely the result of the policy that has been pursued by the present Government and its predecessor, namely, the policy of reparation and the policy of too rapid deflation. We have not merely blast furnaces which have not worked 7½ months in two years, but we have some which have not worked 7½ months in five years. Therefore, you have hundreds of men who are totally unable to qualify under this Bill and who will be turned out of insurance. There ought to have been put in the Bill schemes by which these men could have been dealt with. They cannot be left like Mohammed's coffin somewhere between heaven and earth and no one deal with them. I suggest that since the Government have pinned their faith to the system of unemployment insurance, to leave out these very people who are most in need, these people for whom the whole of the Insurance Acts since the ordinary solvent scheme broke down have been designed, is a piece of folly that is unexampled even in the history of this Government.
I shudder to imagine what is going to happen in places like Middlesbrough, the Hartlepools, and the North-East iron and steel area, as well as in similar areas, when Employment Exchanges have to inform these men that unless they have had 7½ 277 months' work in the last two years they are out of insurance altogether and they cannot get insured again unless they have worked for 7½ months. This is equivalent to telling these men that it is impossible for them to come into insurance again for a very long period indeed. These men, of course, cannot be left to starve, and, as the previous speaker has suggested, they must go on to the rates. We in Middlesbrough have lively recollections of what happened when the Government's 1925 Insurance Bill was passed. The immediate result was—I speak from memory—that £300 a week was added to Poor relief. That meant an increase of rate. The large works in our area, which are already crippled, have said that they cannot afford to pay these rates and have appealed against their assessment. One large firm has had its assessment cut down by £10,000. That means that the rates have to come on to the cottage property, and that means that this area, already devastated by unemployment, where poverty is appalling, has to face this fresh burden. There are tradesmen who cannot pay their rates, and the whole area is sinking into poverty because the Government will not face this position from a national point of view.
The Government seem to have taken as their motto, "Let the poor keep the poor." We have areas in this country where the rich people live, where the rates are comparatively trifling, being only a few shillings in the £. The Government are not coming forward with any equalisation of rates scheme. They say that the areas have to bear their own rates. If they are not going to equalise rates, they ought to pay out of national funds some part of this burden which is essentially a national burden. In places like Middlesbrough the problem is largely a war problem. You had people brought into these areas from all over the British Isles in order to make munitions. They have settled there and they have got into this position. Then you have the position that many of these men are permanently unemployed in their own trade, because of new methods in the iron and steel works. The production of iron and steel is actually higher than in 1913, but it is being done by 60 per cent. of the men employed in 1913. That gives us a 40 per cent. residual of men who must be dealt with 278 somehow. Have not the Government any constructive proposals whatever for this 40 per cent.? Are they going to be left for ever, sinking lower and lower into poverty, a burden on the rates, harried by a board of guardians that does not know where to turn for money? Have the Government no scheme for providing alternative employment or for training these men for other employment? If the Government have no scheme, if they have to come here and admit their bankruptcy, let them do their share in order to keep these men from actual starvation instead of them being harried, as they have been, and then finally faced with a sentence of execution like this.
Turning for a moment from the question of the Bill and the seven and a-half months' qualification, may I join my voice to what has been said with regard to juveniles, especially those from 18 to 21? For them this is an iniquitous proposal. If you take the young man or woman of that period, they actually need more food than men or women after that period, for the body is developing and the strain on the growing body is very great indeed. That is a critical period in the life of any human being. It is a period when they do need food and nourishment, and when the psychological and moral effects of under-nourishment are very serious indeed. When the body of a man or a woman is set and the character is formed, bad as semi-starvation may be, at least the lines of their lives are settled; but when we are dealing with the young, plastic material almost anything may happen. We are cutting down the benefit to 10s. for a young man and 8s. for a young woman, a sum which is not sufficient to keep them in food alone. The Ministry may have in mind that there may be relatives who can keep them. We have had rota committees using a small toothcomb, I might almost say, to try to find any conceivable relative on whom the burden of maintenance of these young people might be placed. The result of that is that a growing lad, who needs as much food as his father, or even more, becomes an added burden on the family income at a time when he is very sensitive indeed. However kind a family may be, he is naturally made to feel that he is a very great burden on them. That has a very bad effect on many youths, as I know 279 from experience in my own constituency. They get the feeling that not only are they not wanted, but that they are a definite burden at home.
If the young man or young woman is not at home but is in lodgings, we get a problem the magnitude of which I shudder to contemplate. Take the position of girls of that age. I know there are many supporters of the right hon. Gentleman who imagine that the whole problem of the employment of women is solved by saying, "Let them go into domestic service"; but suppose we leave that out for the moment. Let us take the case of the girl who is unemployed for a short period. Say the girl is a milliner and is out of work for a couple of months, from the beginning of the winter season until the Christmas trade begins. Any number of girls may also be thrown out of work for two or three months through the closing down of works. With those girls it is not a question of taking up an entirely new career in domestic service. They could not get jobs as domestic servants, they would be entirely unsuitable. They wish to remain in their trade, and their trade needs them, though for the moment it may be going through a slack period. I say quite frankly that we have no right to tell girls in that position, any more than to tell men, that, they must change their occupation.
Take the case of a young girl living in lodgings in one of our large towns and working as a shop assistant, a clerk a milliner, or at any one of a hundred other trades which could be mentioned Women's wages normally are not sufficient to permit them to put by any money for a rainy day. They get perhaps 30s. a week or 35s. or £2, and they need every farthing of what they earn to maintain themselves in ordinary efficiency, and can save nothing to fall back upon. I speak as a trade union official who has organised thousands of these girls. If a girl in that position is thrown out of employment she is now to be offered 8s. a week at the Employment Exchange. What can she do with it? Who is going to keep a young woman of 18 to 21 years of age for 8s. a week? There are no lodgings to which she can go, certainly no reputable lodgings, much less find food for herself. I have been accused in this House of introducing sob stuff into my speeches, but I would ask the Minister, now that he 280 is here, what he would advise a girl to do who came to him with a problem like that? Where would he tell her to go? Even organisations like the Girls' Friendly Society or the Young Womens' Christian Association, or semi-charitable institutions like that, could not keep a girl on 8s. a week. I would ask the Minister to bear in mind that this is the period of life when the girl worker is most attractive. The dangers are most real if she is removed from home influence. She is faced with an appalling problem. For a girl like that to try to live on 15s. a week is an insoluble problem, and when the allowance is only 8s. it becomes a mockery. [HON. MEMBERS: "A scandal!"] I would like the Minister when he goes home to-night to ask his wife, if she is doing any kind of social work at all, as I am sure she must be, what she could suggest. I would like the Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl), who is sitting beside him, what she would say if some social worker came to her and asked, "What am I to advise these girls to do with their 8s.?" I cannot too strongly stress the tragedy this is going to mean to girls in our great cities.
I now come to another side of the question. The hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth quoted a part of the Blanesburgh Report to which I would like to call the Minister's attention. He said.Some of us would not have cared to reduce the existing scales of benefits for juveniles if we had not been recommending that useful training should be provided.I said earlier in my speech that I was against the contention that a woman should be told she must become a domestic servant, but if the Minister accepts the suggestion which has been put to him so often by his own side, I would ask him, what has he done towards training women for those jobs? According to his own supporters, there are an infinite number of them. During the period of office of the Labour Government the hon. Lady who was then Under-Secretary to the Ministry of Labour devoted a great deal of time to the provision of centres for training for domestic work those women who wish to undertake it. We women are a little tired of the assumption that domestic service is a purely unskilled occupation, and that any woman can take it up. At these centres 281 a number of women were trained for this career, and were able to get good posts; and there was the further advantage that those girls who did not actually get situations—though 75 per cent. of them did—had at least received a training which was of definite benefit to them in their married life. The present Government have systematically starved these training centres. One after another has closed down. For myself, I must admit that one of the particular attractions of the scheme was that a hot meal was provided for the girls in the middle of the day, and it provided useful training for girls who were tired of walking about doing nothing. When the hon. Member for the Sutton Division asks for constructive work to be undertaken, I would remind her of this one piece of constructive work which has been starved by the present Government.
Further, grants were given to the Central Committee for Women's Employment which not only dealt with training for domestic service, but the training of women for other branches of industry. The grants for that were very small, but every penny of that money has proved an investment which has paid dividends many times over by assisting to solve this difficult problem of employment for women. There again the Government have intervened to cut down the schemes, and I believe they have been reduced to vanishing point. We, therefore, come down to this position—the Government got from the Blanesburgh Committee a Report—with all of which, with a few exceptions, I am in thorough disagreement —and carefuly chose all the worst parts of that Report and embodied them in this ill-balanced Bill. The Government have not even paid the Committee the compliment of including those parts of the Report which would make the scheme a logical whole, and the result is that we have an utterly illogical Bill. In addition to that, we find the Minister hardly troubling to defend the scheme which has been put forward. With their record on the unemployment question I feel that it would be useless to ask this Government to do anything, but I would like to have some assurance that they will reconsider the question of the benefits to young people from 18 to 21 years of age, and, above all, reconsider their attitude 282 towards the training schemes which were set up by the Ministry.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I listened with great attention and with some interest to the speech with which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour introduced this Bill. I have been under the impression, an impression which I hope to retain, that behind the red tape of his office and behind the array of figures he produces, the Minister has been arguing against his own human conscience. I have hoped to retain that impression, but this Bill will not make it easier to do so. I listened to his speech in the hope of hearing some new departure from the attitude which the Government have taken up in dealing with this unemployment question, but the old adage has been fulfilled: "Blessed are they who expect nothing, for verily they shall not be disappointed." I expected much: I have got nothing. One part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech to which I particularly wish to address myself is that in which he referred to the difficulty of dealing with men genuinely seeking employment. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues may think that in introducing this topic I am bringing in King Charles's head again, but I speak as representative of a body of men who may be described, figuratively, as the Ishmaels of our industrial system, and I would like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the position in which they are placed. He told us that it is difficult to define what is meant by "genuinely seeking employment," the only guarantee is that a man must have 30 stamps on his card.
When a man pays an insurance premium, he does so with the object of getting as much as he can in a legitimate way. Take the case of the casual labourer. The Minister of Labour desires to be assured that these men are genuinely seeking employment. May I point out that the casual dock labourer is bound to report himself twice a day to the representative of the Ministry of Labour, and he has to sign a statement to the effect that he has been applying somewhere for work in the morning. In the afternoon this man may go to a certain firm and fail to get employment. Again he has to go back to the employment exchange and sign a statement to the effect 283 that once more he has been genuinely seeking work and could not get it.
In the present unsettled state of trade there are long periods when the casually employed man does not get any work at all. A man may go down to the docks for three weeks and sign on twice a day, and probably at the end of three weeks he will get half a day's work; then he may go on for another week or a fort-right without getting any work at all, and out of that half-day's pay he has to pay his insurance. In a case like the one I have just mentioned, because he cannot produce 30 stamps within two years, he is to be deprived of unemployment benefit; and the local employment exchange officers say that although the man was applying for work on the days for which he signed he did not get any work for a certain period, and therefore has not been genuinely seeking employment, and consequently he is disqualified. Surely, in cases of this kind it ought to be sufficient proof that a man is genuinely seeking work under the conditions which I have described. Case after case can be produced of men under the circumstances I have mentioned paying their insurance premium after being employed for a day, half a day, or one day and a half, and there ought to be no difficulty whatever in dealing with cases of that kind.
I now come to deal with the case of persons from the age of 18 to 21, and I am dealing not only with women but young men. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do with these young men? They are only disqualified from unemployment benefit upon the basis that the family income is 50 per cent. of the average earnings of the father when in full work. Under that condition, a young man who has paid into the unemployment insurance fund is deprived of his benefit although he has been paying all the time he has been at work. The position of a young man in those circumstances is not only tragic but demoralising, and he has either to live on his father's earnings or go on tramp and become demoralised, and he is entirely without any redress and cannot receive any benefit from the fund into which he has paid for so long a time. I feel sure that if the Minister of Labour could have his own way he would get 284 rid of all this red tape and departmental atmosphere, because I am sure instances like those which I have mentioned appeal to him very strongly.
Where do these young men go? They are denied outdoor relief because parish relief does not apply to young men in those circumstances. The consequence is that these young men become absolutely derelict with nobody to look after them or care for them. They apply for work and cannot get it, and then they are denied benefit from the funds to which they have contributed. To add insult to injury not only are these men badly treated in this respect, but, if they apply for Poor Law relief, down comes the inspector of the Minister of Health, and he summons a meeting of the board of guardians. Then the inspector goes through the list of the recipients of outdoor relief and afterwards preaches a sermon not only to the members of the board of guardians but to the men who are genuinely seeking employment and cannot get it, and he condemns them wholesale as shirkers who are not genuinely seeking work. This has been done in my district only a few months ago, and I am surprised that in the face of all these things and in face of all these Regulations the patience of the people affected has been so remarkable. In conclusion, I wish to say that I have stated what I know to be true.
There is, however, one feature of the situation to which I desire to draw attention, and it is that one of the main reasons for the existing unrest is the callous way in which the material wants of the people are being ignored by a Government who profess to be the custodians of the interests of the people. In any country worthy of the name, the worker ought to be an asset instead of a liability. To-day, the contrary is the case; he is a liability instead of an asset. The Government collect, for national health insurance and unemployment insurance—if my figures are wrong, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will correct me—something like £900,000 a week, and what for? To keep men idle and to meet the necessities of the sick and weary who are the results of our industrial system; and there does not seem to be ingenuity or statesmanship enough in the minds of His Majesty's Ministers to divert that into more useful 285 channels, by finding useful, undemoralising work for the men who are now paid to do nothing. That is the remedy, or one of the remedies, at all events, and, so long as it is ignored, so long shall we have this phantom of unemployment.
During the last two or three weeks, I have been visiting some of these people's houses. I lived in them when a young man, and I went to revisit the scenes of my youth. They have not changed a bit; they are the same to-day as they were then. Despite all our boasted progress, there are the same horrible slums, the same dwellings with a common court, a common tap, a common convenience and a common sink, owned by Noble Gentlemen who are legislating for the people in another place, and drawing huge fortunes from the misery and degradation of the people. I have in mind the case of an ex-service man who fought all through the War. He was taken when he was a B.1 man. I happen to know that because, God forgive me! I was chairman of the tribunal myself. I shall never forgive myself. He was taken with the knowledge that he was suffering from disease, but men were wanted, and he had to go, ostensibly in a labour corps, but when he got there he found himself in the trenches. If he had been left in his employment he might have lived to a good old age, but active service intensified the latent germs to such an extent that he was rendered incapable. He was sent back to the base, and from the base he was demobilised back to what we call normality. He comes back to his old job at the docks, but the strain of war service on his system had aggravated the disease, and he cannot get work, so that he cannot qualify under the right hon. Gentleman's Regulations; and to-day that man is deprived of his benefit, he is deprived of Poor Law relief, he is deprived of any relief whatever. I am not a pessimist, but an optimist, but I want to warn the right hon. Gentleman that this thing cannot go on for ever. He may, and, perhaps, will, endeavour to make apologies for its existence, but Nemesis will follow in the footsteps of any legislation of the kind that he and his colleagues are attempting to foist on the people to-day.
§ Mr. LUKE THOMPSON
Before applying myself to the consideration of the Bill that is now before the House, I 286 should like to reply to two general criticisms that appear to be made by hon. Gentlemen on the other side, in which there seems to be a considerable degree of confusion. The hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) has raised the question, which has time and again been raised in this House, regarding the phrase. "genuinely seeking work." The confusion, I think, arises in this way. The statutory condition applies distinctly to standard benefit, and, so far as the disqualifications for standard benefit are concerned, they are, I believe, very few; but where the confusion comes in is that it seems to be applied to the conditions regulating extended benefit. I am well aware that the qualification for extended benefit is statutory, and is the same as that which has to be fulfilled in connection with standard benefit, but the House will remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) was Minister of Labour when the Bill of 1924 was introduced, and when extended benefit came in in its fulness as we know it to-day, besides the conditions that satisfy the requirements in regard to standard benefit, other conditions had to be fulfilled for extended benefit, one of them being:That he is making every reasonable effort to obtain employment suited to his capacities and is willing to accept such employment.That was the statutory condition passed by the Labour Government in 1924 for the regulation of extended benefit. We on this side of the House have been assailed, my right hon. Friend has been assailed, and the rota committees have been assailed, for carrying out this statutory condition. Let me draw the attention of the House to the instructions issued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston to rota committees in 1924. He felt the difficulty, and the whole House felt the difficulty, regarding extended benefit and this statutory condition, and I should like to draw the attention of the House to L.E.C. 8215. I do so because I happen to be a member of the employment committee which administers the Act in my district, and, as such, I am familiar with the majority of the conditions under the Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston laid down in this document on page 18, this distinct instruction regarding extended benefit, 287 under the heading: "Onus of Proof: Registration at an Employment Exchange":The burden of proof that the condition is fulfilled"—that is to say, the condition to which I have just referred—rests upon the claimant. The phrase in paragraph 44 'generally and at the particular date of claiming' means that the Committee should be satisfied that the claimant since becoming unemployed has been continually seeking employment.Therefore, the interpretation by the Minister himself of the statutory condition is that the claimant should be continuously seeking work. That instruction was sent down to the committees, and was worked upon by them; and I must say, to the credit of the committees, that they have not carried out that instruction, at least in my area, with any degree of undue stringency, but they have had real regard for the unemployment that has existed in the district. When I hear, inside and outside the House, severe criticism—the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) talked about combing out the rota committees—I want to enter a protest and a defence of rota committees, because as far as my district is concerned, they have administered this very difficult Act in my opinion with a degree of fairness which has been exemplary.
The other criticism I want to reply to is this. Hon. Members opposite seem to be in confusion between the administration of a kind of semi-Poor Law and of an Unemployment Insurance Act. We are considering an Unemployment Insurance Bill. I have been listening to those who would administer an Act with statutory conditions, regulating it in such a loose way that it would not have any real practical value at all. I think the House should have a real regard for the fact that it is an Insurance Act that is being administered, that it is an Insurance Bill that we are considering, that it is a contributory Insurance Bill and that, as such, it must be defined by a Statutory Act and must be administered in that direction, and to talk about flinging people on to the guardians in the loose way one hears means that you are going to have no statutory conditions regulating the Unemployment Insurance Act. I want to clear my own mind—in fact I have— 288 and I want to help the House to come to some reasonable conclusion and opinion on the fact that this is an Unemployment Insurance Bill that we are considering.
Notwithstanding the criticisms of hon. Members opposite, I should like to pay my tribute to the Minister of Labour. In his remarks regarding the history of unemployment insurance and all the details regarding it he showed a real and a complete grasp. Possibly the Unemployment Insurance Acts are the most difficult to administer and the most complicated to understand of any that are on the Statute Book, owing to the fact that they have been built up in a piecemeal manner since 1911, making some addition each year—1917, 1920, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926, and here we are considering a new Bill. It is about time the ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding these Acts should be cleared and the position laid down. I say this in the interest of the insured persons and also of those who have to administer the Act. Every Member who represents an industrial centre must have numerous applications regarding unemployment benefit. I sometimes think I am a kind of miniature exchange. I know those who apply for benefit on their disallowment have really no true knowledge of the Act as it exists. There is a loose idea as to the entire application of the Act. A few days ago a man came to me and said, "Is it a fact that because I am a ratepayer I am entitled to unemployment benefit?" I said, "My dear fellow, you are entitled to unemployment benefit as an insured person and under statutory conditions." There are very few insured persons who know, under extended benefit, when they are going to be disqualified, when they will be in and when they will be out. There is an uncertainty attached to the whole Act which is unsatisfactory to the insured person and which I believe wants rectifying completely. I would apply the same principle to those who have to administer the Act. I am not challenging the knowledge of the officials who have the Act to administer, but I think my right hon. Friend and Members opposite also will agree that there are points continually arising that are incapable of definition and very difficult to administer because the statutory conditions may be interpreted in one way or another or may be subject to qualifications. 289 Again, having due regard to the composition of the Rota Committees, there is very great difficulty in getting adequate and uniform administration of the Act. It is true, as my right hon. Friend said, that you may get two distinctly different opinions and decisions in practically similar cases and there is a lack of uniformity throughout the country. Again, if I may give an illustration, last week a good fellow whom I know in Sunderland, who had been for some considerable time on benefit, went to Manchester seeking work. Although he satisfied the Rota Committee in Sunderland and was receiving benefit, when he got to Manchester within a week he was disallowed. That is most unsatisfactory, to my mind. If anything can be done to bring uniformity in the administration of the Act it will be a great gain. The hon. Member who spoke last said he thought there was no new principle running through this new Bill. I see a distinct new principle running through it which will justify it entirely. One of the reasons why I support and welcome it is that it eliminates the discretionary power of the Minister. In certain directions there has been a great deal of criticism levelled at the administration, particularly of the discretionary powers exercised by the Minister, but it may he under some conditions a wise thing to have discretionary power. I have carefully investigated the working of the administration of the Act in my constituency for the last two years, and the truth of it is, that while the percentage of disallowments in the country has been something like 14.3, the disallowment in my area has only been 9 per cent. On the general principle I agree with the findings of the Blanesburgh Report, and I also agree on the point at issue.
There is another point upon which I wish to touch—and it is rather a strong point with the insured person—and that is that under the present Act the right of appeal is not allowed under extended benefit. The position of the Rota Committees is that an appeal to the Minister is all that exists in respect of extended benefit, with the exception that in many centres—in my own particular area, for instance—there is a local appeals committee, where those who are disqualified, 290 if having any objection, may appeal to the local appeals committee. but that has not the reference or the appeal in it that a court of referees has. I welcome the principle that standard benefit and extended benefit will exist no longer, and that there will be one basis, one statutory condition controlling the whole insurance scheme. That a man who has had a period of 13 weeks, if he has a grievance, may appeal to a court of referees is, in my opinion, a very great advance on the system of the administration of the present Act regarding extended benefit.
I have travelled rather further than I intended but I should like to add one word, and, if my right hon. Friend will pardon me, it is one word of criticism. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes. I take this stand on these matters, that things that affect the industrial life of the workers are far too serious simply to be made into a real party dispute. What I do say is, that if there is any defect in this Bill, whether it is seen by Members on the other side of the House or by Members on this side, I think it is our duty at least to point it out for consideration. The criticism that I wish to apply—and I hope the Minister will have due regard to it, as I know he will—is with reference to the first statutory condition relating to 30 contributions in any two years. Let me say, that in general principle I agree with it, and I agree that it might be applicable if we had a normal unemployment of, say, 6 per cent., but I want to remind the House that the position of unemployment to-day, which is 9.3, is made up, because in some trades there is very little unemployment and in others there is big unemployment, such as is the case in my own area where it is 21.7. During the week-end I have been staying in Northamptonshire where in the boot industry employment is fairly brisk. If the test of 30 contributions in two years were applied there, it would be satisfactory and I should say it could be easily be applied. But under extreme conditions you have to visualise this possibility. If at the end of December, 1926, an insured person had 20 contributions, according to the new Bill he might run three months and at the end of three months he would have to come under review, and it would be decided by that statutory condition whether he had 30 contributions within the two years previous 291 to the three months that had gone by. If the 30 contributions had taken place up to the 30th December he would be all right, but if the 30 contributions had taken place, that is to say from January, 1925—
§ Mr. THOMPSON
Yes, it is insurance. What I want to say is, that in normal times, I think, it would work. I want to say to the Minister quite seriously—I do not know what is in his mind—that during the Report stage serious consideration regarding the matter should be given to areas like the one I represent, and that instead of striking an average of 30, it should be made somewhat less. I believe it would contribute to a real insurance scheme that would be workable throughout the country, that would give general satisfaction to the worker, ease to the administrator, and in every way, I think, it would be one of the finest bits of work that could have been done by the present Government. With these remarks I wish to draw special attention to the last thing about which I have spoken about.
§ Mr. KELLY
The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. L. Thompson) who has just sat down opened by stating that there was great confusion of thought and of speech from these benches, but I think when we remember his own utterances of the last two minutes, we find a confusion that is simply amazing. He opened by telling us that this was insurance, and he endeavoured to impress upon Members that this was not a semi-relief scheme, but that it was an Insurance Bill. He wound up by an appeal to the Minister that he should go away from insurance—
§ Mr. KELLY
Because his 30 contributions would be a most difficult thing to operate and administer and would deprive a great many people of benefit. I can quite understand the confusion on those benches. I understand the confusion of that party every time they touch a social problem, because they are afraid of dealing with it in a big way that would be effective for the people who were under consideration at the time. What is it that is wanted? Is it insurance? Is it to help over this period of unemployment? 292 Is it to help our people who find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own, but through the fact that parties such as those in power and others who have been in power for lengthy periods have left us this very serious problem of unemployment? [Interruption.] I notice that an hon. Member on the other side expected me to include all Government. I left one out. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing this Measure, told us that this was a scheme that was based on the Report and evidence that had been taken by the Blanesburgh Committee. He has adopted some portions of that Report. He has adopted the worst portion of that Report, and has given us a state of things in this Bill that is not going to help us with this unemployment problem.
I wonder what justification he could find—I listened this afternoon for some statement from him—for reducing the benefit in respect of those between the ages of 18 and 21. There are young men of 19 who by agreement with federations of employers are, when working, in receipt of the adult wage operating in a particular industry. If the young man of 19 becomes unemployed a month after reaching 19 years of age, then, although the employer recognises him as one who ought to receive the full adult wage of the particular industry, this Government says he must carry on, even though married, on 10s. a week. He may be a married man at the age of 19, and yet he must carry on with 10s. a week. I asked the Minister of Labour in 1925, during the Committee stage of the last Insurance Bill, and I ask him now, whether he can show to this House how a young man can live for a week on such an amount as is being handed out to him. If he cannot show that, then it is unjust, unfair and something worse than unfair for the Government to come forward with such a proposal as is contained in this Measure. With regard to young women, and as one dealing with many industries in which women are employed, I cannot understand the Government's suggestion that young women should be asked to carry on during a period of unemployment on such an amount as is proposed for them.
We are told that this is an insurance scheme. The hon. Member for Sunderland told us that we must have insurance 293 and we must not argue over something that takes the place of the board of guardians. May I remind the hon. Member that under the insurance that he speaks of, there is a subvention from the Government. Do you call that insurance? If that is what the hon. Member looks upon as insurance, I suggest to him that if he is prepared to agree that there should be a subvention from the Government, it is only a question of the amount of the subvention, in order to help these people during the awful period of unemployment. Those of us who know what it is to be unemployed, and a good many Members on these benches know it, have some regard for the feelings of the people who are looking for something to be done by this House at this time. If I wished to penalise hon. Members opposite I would suggest that they should have the experience which many of us have had of walking from gate to gate asking employers to allow us to enter their factory in order that we might be employed and have wages. If hon. Members opposite had that experience I think there would be a very different Measure put before the House than the one we are now discussing.
The Minister of Labour this afternoon told us that he was going to deal with a part of the Bill in a way which makes it even worse as far as administration is concerned than anything we have had up to the present time. What is the justification for placing in Clause 10 the provision that people who come before a committee may be placed on oath? What is the justification for putting such an item into this matter? It is known full well that the moment you create in these committees the same atmosphere that exists in the law courts, you are not going to have examination, evidence and results that will help you to reach a right conclusion. The people, many of whom find it difficult to present their own case because they are not accustomed to speaking before representatives, such as they have to face in the various committees, will find their difficulties increase when they find that they are being placed on oath, not that they are attempting to mislead anybody, but because the atmosphere created will be the same atmosphere that I have experienced in the police courts and the 294 law courts of this country, when the people are afraid because of the penalties which they are told attach to the oath.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but only to clear away a mistake. The oath is not intended to apply to proceedings before rota committees in the ordinary way.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
To official inquiries to find out whether a person is actually within an insured trade, but not to ordinary questions before the rota committees.
§ Mr. KELLY
I wish we had had that explanation earlier. Now we see that not only are we to have rota committees, employment committees and the umpire, but we are to have some committees of a judicial character set up in order to find out whether a person is employed in an insured trade. I take that to be the answer given to me and I am amazed at this time that it is found necessary by the Government to place such an item in the Measure.
We had a point mentioned by the Minister as to the necessity for some clear definition of "genuinely seeking work." The term "genuinely seeking work" was coined by the Minister of Labour and his officials, and the way it has been used in the last few years has been amazing. I have cases which I think will bear repeating in this House where the administrative officers of the Ministry have shown clearly that they have a very narrow conception of what ought to operate with regard to unemployment insurance. There was one case quite recently of some men in the Island of Harris. It was alleged that they were not genuinely seeking work, that was not in the place at all. The Rota Committee was held 100 miles away from the place where the men resided, and they were expected to make a 15 hours' journey in order to go and find out whether there was any employment for them. The case went before the referees court, which it was impossible for the men to attend, and but for the fact that these men happened to be members of an association. [An HON. MEMPER: "They would have been swindled!"] Well, they would 295 certainly have been done out of their benefit. The referees court deprived them of their benefit, and only when the case went to the umpire and it was shown that there was close contact with every part of Scotland where they might get work, was their benefit given to them. There is a further point in regard to married women. When a woman enters the marriage state it seems to be considered by the Ministry of Labour that she certainly cannot be genuinely seeking work, even if she is continuing the occupation which she formerly followed. It has been stated by one of my colleagues who takes eases before the umpire that it looks as if the Ministry of Labour are opposed to the marriage state in so much that only if a woman has married would there be any case taken before the Umpire. I wonder why the Ministry have taken this line. Is it because it is their determination to deprive as many people as possible of benefit during the period of unemployment, a policy which is to be carried out in this Bill? The very people who suggest that these unemployed persons should be deprived of benefit will administer this particular Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament. I have here the case of a man employed in Wiltshire. He had been for 29 years in employment and had only changed his occupation once. He was in receipt of benefit for about a couple of months, certainly very little more, and at once they decided that he was not genuinely seeking work because he was unable to tell them the places he had visited. The poor chap, not knowing that he had a right of appeal, remained without benefit for a period, until it was found that he was a member of an association with which he had not been in close contact because he had never had to apply to them for benefit. There are thousands of cases like it. This man would have been deprived of his benefit but for the association being able to take up his case.
I am sorry the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) is not in the House, because I want to refer to juvenile employment, as I have taken some interest in that problem and hope to continue that interest as long as I can. Here is the 296 case of a young woman unemployed in London, making application for work at place after place, and being unable to find it. She utilised a portion of the day in improving her education. She attended classes at her own expense and learnt typewriting, and actually the officials of the Government objected to her having benefit and endeavoured to deprive her of it. Had she not been a member of an association which was able to fight her case she would have been deprived of benefit, because it was held that she was not genuinely seeking work when she was trying to improve her education in order to be able to take up a position. May I quote another case, and I do not know what the House will think of this particular instance. It is the case of a man who was held to be not genuinely seeking work. He resided in Wick, which will be well known to my Scottish colleagues. He actually travelled from Wick in the north of Scotland to Yarmouth on the east coast of England in order to find work, but the officials of the Ministry claimed that he was not genuinely seeking work. What I hope the Parliamentary. Secretary will tell us in his reply is this. Take the year 1925, and I mention this because there is no provision in this Bill for remedying this evil. During 1925 the number of claims rejected by the chief insurance officers of the Ministry of Labour was no less than 442,251. The number of cases referred to the Court of Referees was 144,025, of which 90,026 were rejected. Nearly 5,000 cases were referred to the Umpire, who rejected 3,089.
What is going to be done in this Bill with regard to such cases, because in 1925 298,000 cases disappeared out of a total of 442,000? These poor people did not know that they had a right of appeal or were not members of an association. That is how the smaller number unemployed in this country at that time was arrived at. Now with regard to training. The Noble Lady the Member for Sutton made a strong appeal for training. I do not know why it should be necessary to ask the Ministry of Labour to deal with training, and particularly with the training of young people. They certainly have made no provision in this Bill with regard to it, although there was a proposal on the matter in the Blanesburgh Report. I am not saying a kind word for the Blanesburgh Report, 297 but that particular portion of the Report which deals with training might at least have been accepted by the Ministry. The hon. and gallant Member for Harrow (Major Salmon) and myself are members of the central Advisory Council on the Employment of Juveniles, and he will agree with me that there should be opportunities for training. There should also be opportunities for benefit, because it is no use calling upon these young people between the ages of 14 and 16 years of age engaged in these training centres unless you are going to do something to maintain them during that period.
It is a discredit to the Minister of Labour that in this Bill, which he claims is going to help in the matter of insurance, that he has left out all questions with regard to the training of juveniles. May I also suggest to him that he has left out all penalties for employers who are responsible in some cases for people being still on the unemployed roll of this country? I know cases of employers whose people were working on short time who penalised any of them who whilst signing on at the Employment Exchange got a full time job. You are putting in penalties galore so far as the unemployed person is concerned. Is it not time you looked in the direction of employers who are responsible for keeping people on the unemployed register of this country? I am not at all satisfied with this Measure. I shall oppose it. It is not a Measure which should be placed before this House in the year 1927. In addition to the smallness of the benefit, you are, in asking people to make 30 contributions on their cards at this time, no matter what the industry, imposing a condition which is going to keep people from having even the few paltry shillings you propose to give them in this Bill.
§ Mr. MERRIMAN
I have no wish unduly to prolong the battle of mutual recrimination on the subject of confusion of thought, but if the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) will forgive me for saying so, it is a little difficult to see why the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. L. Thompson), that there might be some modification in the rule as to 30 contributions, involves a departure altogether from a scheme of contributory insurance. On the other hand, if the Blanesburgh Report is a good Report as a whole, if it 298 commends itself in any way to the House, it seems to involve a confusion of thought to say that the Government who have adopted all the main recommendations of the Report, though they have postponed dealing with finance, have merely picked out the bad parts of the Report and dealt only with those. However, it is not my purpose to follow the hon. Member through the whole scope of the Bill. I wish to deal with one limited point only, and that is to express the hope that it is not yet too late to include in the Bill some provision for establishing the training of unemployed women for domestic service on a permanent basis and as a benefit under the Act.
I raised this question on the last Supply Day before the Recess, but I was not fortunate enough to elicit any response from the Minister who replied on that occasion. I bring it forward again to-day, because only to-day I have received from Manchester a resolution of the Lady Mayoress' Committee, which my right hon. Friend will recognise is an influential Committee, able to speak with practical experience of an efficient training centre in this respect—a resolution strongly urging the point I am now bringing forward. It is manifest that it is no use merely expressing pious opinions about a subject like this without facing the difficulties. Although I do not remember ever to have had the difficulties officially stated, I can imagine that there are at any rate three main difficulties which have to be faced. First, from the point of view of the Ministry of Labour, that is the administrative difficulty, there must be some assurance that candidates for the training are not merely taking it as a temporary refuge from unemployment, but that they intend to persevere. If, for the sake of argument, cotton operatives, mill-girls, who happen to be out of employment, merely take up domestic training as a temporary expedient and are prepared to drop it the moment a mill opens, if it opens even in the next fortnight, manifestly nothing but chaos can result.
The second point obviously is this, that there must be—it was a point raised by the bon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill—an avoidance of suspicion that the Ministry will be escaping liability for benefit by substituting training for benefit. There would have to be a pro- 299 vision as a safeguard against that. Lastly, there would have to be some provision to give effect to the perfectly legitimate feeling that if training at an employment centre is substituted for benefit, if training is made a benefit under the Act, the State gives some guarantee that employment will follow from the training. In this connection may I remind the House of three sets of figures, two of which were given yesterday? On 31st October last there were, in round figures, 187,000 women on the unemployed register. During the year ended 31st October some 3,000 women, in round figures, had been trained at the various training centres for women. It was not stated how many of those were trained for domestic service, but I understand that substantially the whole of the 3,000 were so trained. There is the further figure taken from the latest census returns, that the number of women engaged in domestic service now is about 100,000 less than before the War. From those figures it is perfectly plain that there is an enormous gap to be filled before there is any danger of those who are trained for domestic service as a benefit under the Act being unable to get employment. In fact, it is notorious that this is the one branch of the labour market in which the demand for labour persistently exceeds the supply.
That being so, I suggest that it cannot pass the wit of man to devise some scheme by which, first of all, only those women are sent for training who appear to be suitable, and, secondly, only those who mean to persevere with the training. Further, no woman should forfeit benefit for refusing to go into domestic service unless at the end of the training she were found to be thoroughly capable of undertaking domestic service. There is a further condition which it would be very easy to fulfil, and that is that the number sent for training should at no time exceed the number which is easily capable of absorption in the market. I do not pretend to be able to deal, nor is this the time to deal, with all the points of detail that will arise, but I suggest that although the difficulties are obvious, it should not pass the wit of man to overcome them. If it be the case that these difficulties are insuperable, I make the alternative appeal to my right hon. 300 Friend the Minister that, at least, the existing grant should be stabilised so that those who are responsible for these training centres should know where they stand instead of having to live from hand to mouth as they have to do at, present to some extent. The present system cannot make either for economy or efficiency, and I assure my right hon. Friend knowing, as I do, that he is anxiuos to promote this scheme—
§ Mr. MERRIMAN
If it is not possible to establish this training as a benefit under the Act, my right hon. Friend, by giving an assurance of the stability of the grant, will be rendering a very great service to those who are interested in the matter.
§ Mr. VIANT
I have sat through a part of this Debate, and I notice that whatever criticisms are levelled against the Bill from this side, we are everlastingly told to remember that this is an insurance scheme. Having listened to that statement frequently repeated, it occurs to me to ask what are the reasons and what is the justification for the emphasis laid on this point. We are informed that the abnormal period through which we are passing is due to the effects of the War and that in all probability we must continue to support a large number of unemployed for some time to come. If the abnormal amount of unemployment is a result of the War, is it not rather unfair to penalise an insurance scheme of this kind for it. I think it should be agreed that if abnormal unemployment is due to the War, it is unfair at this time to attempt to place an unemployment insurance scheme on an actuarial basis. If we continue to do so we are bound to inflict upon unfortunates who become unemployed penalties for something for which they are in no way responsible. If we reflect upon the various Measures passed by this House dealing with this subject we must admit that there have been extensions in regard to the number of persons brought into the insurance scheme, and as a result of those extensions the deficit on the Unemployment Fund has accrued. It would have been fairer had we been prepared to face the extension of the scheme as business men and if we had said," Now we must 301 give a grant that will be sufficient to cover the risk involved in these continual extensions." We have not done so. In no way have we met the position in that respect, and the inevitable result has been that we have gone on tightening up the Regulations for the administration of the Acts and this had an adverse effect upon the unfortunate unemployed. With this Measure there is a further tightening up. We were informed in an apologetic manner by the Minister himself to-day—
§ Mr. VIANT
—that this Bill is based on an actuarial basis, that the ground has been surveyed and an estimate made of the possible number of unemployed. Certain Regulations new to the Unemployment Acts have been inserted in the Bill. The provision as to the number of contributions which the unemployed man or woman must have made—30 in number—is going to act most adversely in regard to the casually employed. If an unemployment insurance scheme is to be of any value to the community, it ought to assist those who are subject to casual employment. This Bill is going to affect them harshly. We will assume that a man or woman having paid the 30 contributions starts to draw benefit. The position of that person will be reviewed at the end of three months, if I read the Measure aright. When the position is reviewed that person, who will then have drawn benefit for three months, is still unemployed. The person concerned is able to satisfy the rota committee that he or she has been genuinely seeking employment and that is not going to be an easy matter under these Regulations. Assuming such a person gets employment for a month the case again has to go to the Employment Exchange and the position is again reviewed. That is, the person has then had three months of unemployment and a month's employment. How is such a person going to qualify? I hope, with respect, that questions of this kind will be replied to by the Minister in charge of the Bill as it is a most important point.
I wish to justify my criticism that the Regulations are being made more harsh by drawing the attention of the Minister to Clause 5, Sub-section (2), which refers to the bona fide employer. I think a 302 large number in this House will be pleased to hear the reasons for inserting a Clause of that kind. Hitherto the Regulations have enabled the applicant to satisfy the committee that he or she had been employed by a bona fide employer. Are we to believe that under the new Clause in this Bill there is a desire to make it more difficult for the man or woman to qualify and that it will not be possible for an individual who may not in the ordinary sense of the word be an employer of labour—
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Betterton)
I am most anxious to follow the hon. Member's point. Will he indicate the exact Clause to which he is referring?
§ Mr. VIANT
Clause 5, Sub-section (2), paragraph (i). Supposing a man or woman is unemployed, and a private individual, who, in the ordinary way, is not an employer, meets that man or woman who is unfortunately unemployed, and is prepared to give them a week's or a month's employment which would bring them into benefit by enabling them to get stamps on their cards, are we to assume that because that private individual is not an employer in the ordinary way he is not to be recognised as a bona fide employer? That is an important point, and I hope it will be replied to by the Minister himself.
Then, again, in the course of the Debate there has been talk about a definition and the drawing up of a Clause which would enable those responsible for administering the Act to decide exactly when a man or woman has been genuinely seeking employment. I have had the pleasure of sitting on rota committees, and I know the difficulties, but in regard to the evidence that is invariably submitted, the average committee is possessed of sufficient commonsense to be able to judge fairly well as to whether a man or woman has been genuinely seeking employment. The drawing up of the definition or of such a Clause to assist the administration of a committee in that way, is not in any way so reliable as the commonsense invariably exercised by the rota committees themselves. I hope we are not going to try to define or to draw up a Clause of that kind. I do not think that is going to assist. I have invariably 303 asked the officials of the Employment Exchange whether they have offered the applicants employment and I have been invariably told they have had no employment to offer. I agree you are confronted with a difficulty there, but I do think, from my own personal experience, that the commonsense usually exercised by the rota or exchange committees is the most reliable in that respect.
I deplore the absence of training schemes, more especially for the young people. In my own constituency I invariably pay a visit to the juvenile Employment Exchange. We are fortunate in having a good official in charge of that exchange, but it is really appalling to see the time that is being wasted by our young folk simply because there are no training centres or schemes for them. I agree that even your training centres are not going to remedy your unemployment problem, but what I am concerned about is the time that is being wasted by the young people, which could be put to great advantage in making them more capable and more efficient citizens in future. Not only that, but there are the deplorable moral results which are bound to accrue and we on this side are agreed that it is a bad policy at any time to be paying money and getting no service in return. I do deplore the fact that the Government have not embraced the opportunity availed to them to insert Clauses in this Bill which would make it incumbent on the young people to attend training centres until suitable occupation is found for them. There are other speakers and I will not detain the House further but I hope the points I have raised in connection with the administration of the Act will be replied to by the Minister himself.
Mr. ROY WILSON
I do not intend to-night, in the very short speech which I want to inflict on the House, to deal in detail with the Bill which we are now discussing, as that has been done from both sides of the House, but I should like for a few minutes to refer to the speech which was delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Captain Macmillan) earlier this afternoon. I think most of us who heard that speech will agree it was an interesting, clever and eloquent speech, but there are, at any rate, one or two points in that 304 speech with which I should like to deal to-night, and in particular, a suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member to the Minister of Labour. Like most clever people, the hon. Member was rather carried away from the practical difficulties of the problem by his eloquence, and while I am quite sure that the Minister of Labour will not mind the attack made on him or on his Department, I should like to say one word about the suggestion made by the hon. Member as a solution for some of our unemployment difficulties.
Before doing so, might I say I think it is the experience of everyone who has held responsible positions, whether in Government or in industry, that it is very easy for people who have no responsibility to criticise those who have, and I am quite certain nobody will subscribe more warmly to that sentiment than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw), who was Minister of Labour in the late Labour Government. The hon. and gallant Member for Stockton-on-Tees suggested to the Minister of Labour that the Government should take charge of men who see no prospect of regaining work in their own industry, and that the Government should train those men for work in another industry. That seems to me to be really rather an astonishing suggestion. It is a suggestion which it is very easy to make, but I, for one, would be very interested to hear the hon. Member develop it on practical business lines. The first difficulty that occurs to me in connection with it is this—who is to select this new industry that this man, who has lost his work and is not likely to regain it, is going to take up and how long are the Government going to be responsible for it? Even supposing he is training in another industry, is there anybody who is competent to forecast what is going to be the future of the new industry in which he is being trained? It really does seem to me to be a suggestion that the hon. Member cannot fully have considered, and I, for one, should be very shy of accepting any suggestion of that sort as a practical means of solving our present difficulties.
I should like to add this. I suppose all of us who are concerned, and there can be none who are not, with the grave amount of unemployment will at least admit this, that had it not been for the 305 senseless stoppage of last year, the fight among our own people in a great basic industry, we should not to-day, at any rate, be quite so anxious about the unemployment problem as we are. The most hopeful sign, as I see it, is that it seems at last to be dawning on the minds of men that strife in industry is fatal both to the workers and employers and, indeed, to everyone in the country.
May I add a word upon the subject of juvenile unemployment? I do not often find myself in agreement with the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), but I am one of those who are profoundly disturbed by the prospect of so many of our young people growing up without work, and I am quite certain that this is a problem which must be ever present to the mind of the Minister of Labour. The dangers confronting growing young people who have to receive unemployment pay are so obvious that it seems unnecessary to dilate upon them here, but the greatest of all dangers facing these young people is, to my mind, that the tendency is, if they are out of work for a long period receiving relief, to create a new type of Britisher, a type that is always talking about his privileges and his rights but cannot bear to hear about his responsibilities. I hope these ever-recurring debates on unemployment will at long last teach us the lesson which I have always thought is the obvious one, and it is this, that Government legislation by itself never can cure the problem of unemployment. All that a Government can do is, by wise legislation, to promote the necessary conditions for the establishment of our industries, and I am convinced that the present Government and my right hon. Friend are fully alive to the facts and are doing all that they possibly can in that direction.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I do not rise to intervene in the pretty little domestic quarrel that seems to have broken out between the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Roy Wilson) and his colleague, the hon. and gallant Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Captain Macmillan). I have listened to every speaker to-day who has spoken in defence of this Bill, from the Minister to the hon. Member who has just sat down, and I am not conscious that any sentence has been uttered in defence of the provision which reduces 306 the benefit for women between 18 and 21 years of age to 8s. a week. It is a most amazing thing, surely, that benefit should be decreased at that period of life from 15s, to 8s. per week, and that no one, from the Minister downwards, has attempted to defend or to explain it. I have gone over the evidence given before the Blanesburgh Committee, and it is not mentioned there. The witness for the Ministry, Mr. Price, does not propose it, and it is referred to by nobody before the Blanesburgh Committee, which itself, in its Report, it is true, makes a recommendation, but I think we are entitled to ask from the Minister what induced this Blanesburgh Committee, suddenly, without any evidence, so far as I have been able to ascertain, to make that recommendation. Is it the case that the Treasury intimated to the Committee that it would only supply a certain sum of money, and, if that be so, what comes of all the talk this afternoon about this being an insurance scheme? If there is any other explanation, surely we ought to have it. I can, assure the right hon. Gentleman and his followers that they will have to defend this proposal somehow in the country, and surely we ought to have an explanation of it here.
Let me, as a Member who represents a constituency in which female labour is employed to a very large extent, put the position as I see it. You have an unknown number of women compelled to leave their village homes and drift into the big cities in search of employment. They are not all domestic servants; some are clerks, some of them are mill workers, some are engaged in shops, and so on. These girls do not get a sum of money by way of wages that enables them to put by for a rainy day, and not by the most intensive thrift can any of these girls save anything. When such a girl, at an age between 18 and 21, through no fault of her own, loses her situation, what is she to do? She cannot pay her lodgings, she cannot tour the country in search of work, and what is she to do? The right hon. Gentleman by this Bill, in my judgment—and I believe time will show that I am right—will add more to the prostitution of this country than even the long spell of unemployment has done, and he is sinning against the light. There is not a woman's organisation, there is not a Christian endeavour organisation in this country that is supporting 307 this provision in the Bill. They may have said something about cutting the benefit paid to young men—
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Well, they say there is an opening of some kind, that if they are healthy enough, they can join the Army, but what do they say about the young women? Nothing whatever. The Minister produces this afternoon what I take it is to be one of the most important Measures of the Session, and one of the most important Clauses in his Bill is shoved through to-day without a word of explanation by him. No speaker on those benches has attempted to defend it, and I was amazed when I heard the last speaker say that what was wanted was peace in industry and an absence of strife. In the name of Heaven, what does this mean? It means hundreds and thousands of women knowing, after this Bill passes, that there is no prospect for them but, as the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) said, either suicide or prostitution. If there be an alternative, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what it is? They cannot live on this money, and there is no opportunity of employment for them. All the vague and airy talk that we have heard about training is beside the point. There is no training in this Bill. There is no maintenance in this Bill. What we are facing in this Bill is a reduction to 8s. a week for the ages of 18 to 21, when a woman is wanting to be well clothed, and requires more food than when she is an old woman. She cannot live on it. It cannot be done, and for my part I trust when we have women—flappers as they are called—with votes they will recollect that their first economic baptism before they got the vote was handed out to them as starvation, wanton and deliberate, without any attempt at justification by His Majesty s Government.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
I have listened with care to the last speech. It is not original. I have read speeches in the Press in which prospective prostitution has been trotted out as the argument of the Socialist party.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
No, it is original. The hon. Member talks of hundreds and thousands of girls being exposed to suicide or prostitution. Does he suggest that there are hundreds and thousands of girls between the ages of 18 and 21 who are unemployed? Is that the suggestion, or is it a gross exaggeration purely for political purposes? The plain truth of the matter is that unemployment among the young people, broadly speaking, is far less severe than among the old. It is sometimes a complaint and sometimes the legitimate complaint against employers that they are too much inclined to take young people for a certain period and then to dispense with their services when they are entitled to what you might call man's pay or woman's pay. It may be 18 or it may be other ages, but the present charge is the reverse charge, and you cannot have it both ways.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Provision for any form of insurance scheme is not a contribution in respect of immediate benefit but in respect of a benefit that might arise at any time. If I pay life insurance premium, it is not in the hope and anticipation of dying this year, but that death will be long delayed. So there is no connection between the immediate rate of contribution and the rate of benefit should you happen to fall out of work at a particular time. It is deplorable that Members should use the prostitution argument as the only kind of argument against this Bill. One hears complaints—they may be justified or they may not be justified—but the Committee heard a great deal of evidence, and there is a great deal of justification that there is more avoidable unemployment among some of the young people than among some other sections. If that happens to be the case, that in itself is some justification.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Why, if that be the ca se and there is evidence, did the hon. 309 Member not submit it to the Blanesburgh Committee where it could have been subjected to cross-examination and rebutted if necessary?
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
There is a great deal of evidence that can be put in the precise statistical form; but there is also evidence which consists of a widespread impression among large sections of the population based upon a large number of individual experiences, which are never brought together in any Blue Book, and which cannot be brought together in a Blue Book; and when I assert that impression is widely felt and most people are acquainted with some evidence in support of that impression, I am supplying some general reason for the change. But let us look at it a little further. If any hon. Member objects to a reduction of any particular scale of benefit, then, if he is now favouring that that benefit should be restored to the increased rate, he will at the same time urge that any benefits that are increased should be restored to their original basis, because, after all, what we are engaged in doing is not spending a limitless sum of money. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has not a bottomless well and a bucket from which he can draw sovereigns at the Ministry of Labour. He is engaged in seeking to allocate to the best advantage a limited fund.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
No, it is merely obvious, but ignored by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The whole case seems to be based on the assumption that you can pay out what you like. I have heard references to 30 weeks. There is nothing holy about 30; 31 or 29 might do. This Bill is not the author of the 30 weeks. I have a copy of the Act of 1924, for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) was responsible. He has a prior claim to the 30 weeks. I think it would have been very much more important if all these arguments which we have heard about the 30 weeks had been adduced in an earlier Parliament in which I was not privileged to sit. After all, the argument may be right or it may be wrong If you are challenging 30 weeks, are you 310 challenging the whole basis of contributory insurance? If you are, say so; but do not half attack it by attacking 30 weeks, because if your challenge is against 30 weeks it is only on the ground that you have some other number to put forward. Otherwise, it ceases to be a contributory scheme.
I have not the slightest doubt you could marshal arguments against any number of weeks. There can be arguments against anything. The real trouble is that a great many hon. Gentlemen opposite are always advocating the impossible and always objecting to the possible. We live in a world of realities. If you are in favour of complete abolition of contributions, we have a noncontributory scheme which is called Poor Law. That is a non-contributory scheme of a sort, and a great many people rather resent receiving Poor Law relief. They think that there is something rather discreditable about it. They may be wrong, but that impression is widely prevalent, and the money which the Poor Law finds to-day would not acquire any different character if it came from the National Exchequer. The great mass of the people are bitterly opposed to a noncontributory system of relief, whatever be the name given to it. It could not be carried if there were a referendum, because the great mass of the people hate it. That being the case, surely we should be better engaged in concentrating our attention on seeing what is the best kind of contributory system which can be devised.
I have not heard all the Debate, though I have heard a good deal of it, and in one speech the hon. Lady the Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence) vigorously attacked the present scheme on the ground that it was not businesslike and had no actuarial basis, and that there were no figures on which to found a scheme. It is perfectly true that we are still passing through a period of abnormal economic difficulty, and that our unemployment level is still very high, though it is lower than it was when at its worst, and it is not quite as bad as it was in 1884, which was a time of abnormal unemployment. We cannot say, however, there is no actuarial basis. Many hon. Members opposite are connected with trades unions. Since 1871 many of those trade 311 unions have supplied either the Labour Department of the Board of Trade or, in later years, the Ministry of Labour, with statistics as to the unemployment prevailing in their unions. It is rather interesting to note the average figure of unemployment over that long period since 1871. I last worked out the figure about a year ago—if last year's unemployment returns had been included, the average would have been slightly worse—and found the average was, roughly, 4½ per cent., which is very much the same figure, curiously, as the actuary uses. [An HON. MEMBER: "What unions go back to 1871?"] Not a great number, but they include those of a fluctuating trade like coalmining, carpenters and joiners, and the Amalgamated Engineering Union, or the Amalgamated Society of Engineers as it then was. I do not think it includes the Workers' Union, which was not functioning in those days. Those figures show quite clearly that when you can eliminate an abnormal disturbance of trade you can get a figure upon which you can base a scheme. Over that period of 50 years the figure is 4½ per cent.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
May I ask the hon. Member whether he disagrees with the remark of the Government Actuary in the Blanesburgh Report that he can find no proper basis on which to estimate unemployment over a cycle of years?
§ Mr, WILLIAMS
I am giving evidence which is at my disposal, and at the disposal of the hon. Member who has just intervened. The problem which faces the Government Actuary at the moment is the acute problem of forecasting—
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The point is that according to the Government actuary there are no figures available upon which to base a forecast of unemployment over a cycle of years. He cannot find them. Does the hon. Member say that he has got a better basis than the Government actuary?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
No, the Government actuary quite properly seems to base himself upon the experience of the unemployment insurance scheme. That scheme was first introduced as part of the National Health Insurance Act, which 312 came into operation in 1912. At first it applied only to four major industries—shipbuilding, building, vehicle construction, and one other industry which slips my mind at the moment. That scheme provided a limited experience from 1912 till the outbreak of the Great War. For the whole period of the Great War we got no valuable experience at all on this point. During the War the unemployment insurance scheme was extended to munition workers, raising the total of insured persona from, broadly speaking, 2,000,000 to 4,000,000. The Act of 1920 further extended the scheme to all workers other than agricultural and domestic workers. Then came the appalling slump in trade, which began in the Autumn of 1920. If the Government actuary seeks to base any estimate upon what has happened under the system of unemployment insurance he will naturally turn round and say there is no basis upon which to construct an estimate; but I am entitled to examine such other information as is available, and I say that the information furnished by the trade unions over this long period of 50 years, while in no way contradicting anything which the actuary may say, justifies me entirely in the statements I have made.
To resume at the point at which I was interrupted. Certain criticisms of the Government's Bill have come from those who sit on the same side of the House as I sit. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) devoted a good deal of attention to the necessity of doing more in connection with juvenile unemployment, and I understand that the hon. and gallant Member for Stockport-on-Tees (Captain Macmillan) also applied himself to the same problem. I believe I am correct in saying that the recommendations of the Malcolm Report are for the most part in operation. It is the case that the Ministry of Labour has now assumed full responsibility—I think I am correct in saying that—or at least very largely assumed responsibility, for juvenile unemployment centres. The problem is one which varies very much from district to district. The constituency which I represent happens to be in a peculiarly happy position with regard to juvenile unemployment, having only 1 per cent., which is abnormally low. Taking the country as a whole, the figure is in the neighbourhood of 5 per cent. 313 But juvenile unemployment, though a serious aspect of the unemployment question, is riot the most serious aspect. The opportunities for young people to obtain employment are very much better than for those who are rather older. If the register of unemployed is sub-divided amongst adult males, adult females, juvenile males and juvenile females, we find that at the end of September—those being the latest figures available—unemployment amongst adult males amounted to 11½ per cent., whereas amongst young males it was only 5 per cent.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I mean those who are classified as such under the Act of 1924. They are the only people about whom I have precise statistical information. They are from 16 to 18 years of age. Amongst them there is only 5 per cent. of unemployment; amongst adult males the figure is more than twice as high. What I suggest to hon. Members is that they should not over-emphasise one particular aspect of the problem, especially when it happens to be the aspect which is least serious in most parts of the country. Though I admit there are parts of the country of which this statement would not be true, in most parts of the country it is not an abnormally difficult thing for young men or young women to get employment, and, that being the case, I think a great deal of the Debate to-day has been based upon information two or three years old. That is a criticism which I would direct to the speeches made by the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) made an interesting speech, and he asked us to realise that some young men at the age of 19 got an adult's wage, and therefore he suggested that when out of work they should receive the full rate of benefit. The same hon. Member also told us that there were men of 19 who had the full responsibility of families placed upon them. I do not think men ought to be married at 19. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am only expressing my own opinion on this matter, and I think it is deplorable that young people should assume undue responsibilities of that kind too early in life. But if people are foolish enough to accept the responsibilities of 314 marriage before they are in a position reasonably to meet those responsibilities, then they have no right to ask the rest of the community to support them in their folly.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
They were old enough to fight for you. [An HON. MEMBER: "You did not fight."] No, I was not fool enough to fight for a country like this. You paid these men to fight for you, but you will not pay them in peace time.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am only suggesting that we should not be expected to provide for the isolated case of the man who is foolish enough to get married at the age of 19. To present that kind of hard case as a reason for modifying this Bill is too absurd. As a matter of fact, the whole of the arguments we have heard this evening directed against this Bill have been based upon a careful selection of hard cases. I am perfectly satisfied that you will never build up satisfactory legislation by trying to make it fit a selected number of hard cases, and sensible legislation must be drafted to meet the average case of the ordinary man-in-the-street, and not such abnormal cases as those which have been cited to us to-night. The hon. Member for Rochdale was anxious to draw attention to the great advantage these people enjoy because they belong to an association, although he did not say which association. No doubt he was referring to an association of great value. The hon. Member stated that they had grievances to be remedied, and that they had an association to take up their cause. I am not going to say anything against people belonging to an association of that kind. Most of us perform the function of association without the necessity of our constituency paying any contribution. Time after time hon. Members of this House take up cases where citizens in their constituencies have some grievance against the State, and at times we get quite unreasonable requests outside the question of unemployment insurance.
Hon. Members of this House are acquainted with cases in which, as the result of an administrative act by some official who may take a wrong view, someone has to suffer hardship, but because occasionally an official of an Employment Exchange comes to a decision which on further investigation is reversed, that is no ground upon which to reject this Bill. 315 Most of the criticisms to which we have listened to-night are of that kind, and there has been no criticism against the proposal that the benefits should be a right instead of something administered at the discretion of the Minister. I think that, as far as this Bill will ultimately make the benefits a thing of right, and as far as it tends to take unemployment insurance out of the sphere of politics, it is a good thing.
I have already made some reference to benefits. What is proposed is a redistribution of benefits. You cut down in one direction, and what you save by cutting down in that direction you spend in another—you increase some benefits and you diminish others. It is no good attacking the Minister because he has cut down certain benefits, unless at the same time you take into account the increased benefit which is given in another direction. It is a balance of advantage. I would ask hon. Members opposite to view this problem as they view their own domestic expenditure. All of us, unfortunately, have limited incomes. We spend so much on the rent of our houses, so much on our clothing, so much on food. and so much on our amusements; and the time comes when we have to say to ourselves with regard to any particular item of expenditure, "Can I afford it?" Equally we have to say with regard to our expenditure, "If I have this I have to do without that." I would ask hon. Members opposite to face this Bill in exactly the same way in which they face their own personal financial problems. It seems to me supremely dishonest to assume that you can do all the things that you advocate. You can do a selection of them, because you can only finance a selection of them, and it is dishonest to people outside to lead them to believe that you can do all these things when you can do nothing of the sort.
Most of those who have spoken have had their mild indulgence in criticism, and I want to indulge in one little criticism. I would like to be able to find out, when this Bill has become law, what in fact the law with regard to Unemployment Insurance will then really be. I shall be faced with the task of going into the Library and simultaneously examining about a dozen volumes; and, not having received the training of a lawyer, I shall find it very difficult to determine 316 what in fact is the law at any particular point. In other words, I would make an appeal for a consolidating Act. I sometimes think there is something wrong with the Standing Orders of this House so far as consolidation is concerned. I wish we could invent a procedure whereby every amending Bill could be made a consolidating Bill, with the consolidating part of it not open to debate. That is a real practical difficulty under our Standing Orders. To me it is deplorable that it is so difficult for the ordinary citizen to find out where we are. Here, during the next few weeks, we are all going to be engaged in Committee in discussing this Bill, where there is naturally a great deal of legislation by reference, and it is not going to be easy—on the contrary it is going to be very difficult—for all of us to appreciate properly the significance of Amendments which are put forward. I do not know whether I am in order or not in pleading with the Minister that he shall give his most earnest consideration to the question of following this Bill by a consolidating Bill at the earliest possible moment. I do not say that the law is in a state of confusion. I have no doubt that it is all quite clear if you can get at it, but it is difficult for the ordinary person to get at it.
I want to indulge in one further line of criticism, not of the Minister, but rather of the Blanesburgh Report, if it is not improper to criticise the general view that the Committee took. They found in being a centralised scheme, with one central fund, and although that fund is administered locally, it is yet administered with the authority of a person in London—a Minister of the Crown. Every benefit granted is granted in the name of the Minister; he is responsible for every act done. There is no individual outside the Ministry who instinctively feels any sense of responsibility towards the fund. When there are 12,000,000 members of a fund, an individual person going on to it does not feel that what he draws is going to do that fund much harm. His little bit will not be felt; there will be plenty left afterwards. That is a very natural feeling and is a feeling that we all have. National health insurance is decentralised, so that there is a very large number of small funds, and, those small funds being in 317 the possession of a limited number of members, all of those members have towards their own fund a very high sense of responsibility. The result is that wrongful cases of payment are much fewer, while, on the other hand, a much more generous view is taken where a more generous view is called for.
I know that this is not the time to outline an alternative scheme, and I know the fundamental differences between unemployment insurance and health insurance. In the case of health insurance you have an average of sickness which does not differ violently from one year to another, and does not differ very violently from one county to another or from one town to another. With unemployment, on the other hand, you get abnormal periodical variations of a kind that you do not get in regard to sickness, and also abnormal variations of a geographical kind that you do not get with regard to sickness. Therefore, you cannot split up the Unemployment Fund in the same way that you can sub-divide the Health Insurance Fund. I believe there are methods by which the difficulty can be overcome, by which you can bring the contributors into very much more personal relationship with the scheme, which would enable them really to be the persons to decide whether their own friend and neighbour and fellow-workman is entitled to benefit or not. In other words I believe it is possible very largely to cut the State out of the scheme and bring the workpeople into it as the administrators. But this is not the time to advocate complete reconstruction and it is not the time to carry it through. You cannot carry through a scheme like that when the fund is still £22,000,000 in debt. It is some £2,700,000 less in debt than it was at the worst this year but until that debt has been reduced to zero, until a reserve has been built up, until we have got back to a state of normality and a state of good trade with a low register, with few people at a particular time drawing benefit, it is not possible even to reconsider reconstruction on entirely new lines.
Therefore, we are faced with the situation that we have a centralised scheme which on the whole is working well and that it has saved large numbers of people from incredible misery during the last seven years, that it has solved the situa- 318 tion in a way it could not conceivably have been solved, otherwise, because, despite the cheap and nasty criticisms one sometimes sees of unemployment insurance in the Press, it is broadly true that the great bulk of those who have drawn benefit have not been able to get employment. They are the legitimate unemployed. It is equally true that in every district there are a few who, by skill and artifice and ingenuity worthy of a better cause, have taken advantage of the scheme, but that is not true of the bulk. There is a proportion of those cases, and it is the existence of that proportion that renders necessary so many qualifying conditions in the Act. After all, in any Unemployment Insurance Act the greater part of the restrictions are never felt by the ordinary citizen. It is like when the Emergency Power Regulations were in operation last year, the bulk of us never felt them because we had no desire to break them. It is only the few who try to circumvent the normal Regulations that you have to deal with, and you have to provide an elaborate code to avoid abuse of the Fund, because if abuse is permitted in certain cases, and it is known to be permitted, the next grade of people of a higher moral standard is drawn into the scope of demoralisation and gradually it extends until the whole scheme is wrecked. You have to be rigid in your administration, there are times when you have to be apparently harsh in your administration, otherwise you would get a complete scheme of demoralisation.
I want the Minister to consider if he cannot deal with a problem which only arises to a serious extent in some parts of the country, and only arises in those districts when they are recovering from the worst of a depression. The problem I am going to put to the House is not one that affects a man who is suffering from continuous unemployment. It is the problem of the man who is constantly in and out. There are some parts of the country where unemployment is not very bad. The works are successful in getting employment for their people for a few weeks at a time. There may be a period of stoppage, then another period of employment, and so on. Under the system of insurance there is a waiting period, and I think a waiting period is essential. It is a matter of debate how long the waiting period should be, but that there 319 should be a waiting period is essential. The practice of the Insurance Act is based upon the practice of those trade unions which for many years ran unemployment insurance schemes, the bulk of which, I understand, from all the information I have been able to gather, always insisted on some waiting period. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name one!"] I have made inquiries from all the sources I can. I am speaking from memory, but I think that in the Report of the Blanesburgh Committee there is a specific statement in support of what I have said that it was the practice to provide a waiting period. If a man was unemployed for a day or two days he would not get benefit, but would only get benefit if he was unemployed for a considerable period.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If you ask me at the moment to name a union, quite honestly, I cannot. But I would also say this. I believe it is true to state that it is not possible for anyone to name a union which did not have a waiting period, and because the practice is universal I did not fortify myself. I am grateful to my hon. Friend who has passed me a copy of the Blanesburgh Report. On page 8, paragraph 6, it says:The general policy was to fix a maximum number of weeks for which benefit might be allowed, either continuously or within a given year; to insist that benefit should only begin after a 'waiting period'.I knew I had seen the statement. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not evidence!"] It is not evidence, but it has the merit that it is in a document. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not true!"] It may be true or may be untrue, but it is signed by the hon. Lady who sits on the Front Bench opposite, the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield), and however much anyone might criticise the things which are expressed later on, I do not think up to this moment anyone either inside or outside the House has challenged the accuracy of the statements made in the Report. It is the first time, as far as I am aware, that the 320 truth of that statement has been challenged anywhere, and it is only being challenged at this inconvenient moment because I happened to mention the fact.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member can read it for himself. I am perfectly certain he can put on a great many interpretations that no one else can find, and it will be an amusing occupation for him after we rise to-night. But I am quite prepared, if the matter is discussed in Committee, and I happen to have an opportunity of speaking, to make a justification for the waiting period. I think it is a perfectly sound thing. It would be incredible to have a satisfactory scheme without a waiting period. You would have every Exchange overwhelmed with applicants for benefit of the most trivial character. You would reduce the whole scheme to absurdity if you had no waiting period, and on an appropriate occasion I am quite prepared to build up a case in support of that. But for the moment I want to ask the House to look into one peculiar case. I was dealing with districts in which employment was getting better but was not good. The men are at work. Easter comes. The firm shuts down for 10 days, or it may be only for a week. The men are out for a week. They sign on at the Exchange. They fulfil the waiting period of six days, and then, before they have drawn any benefit, work is resumed. They work for another six weeks. Whitsuntide comes, and because the continuity rule is precisely six weeks, they have lost their qualification for benefit. The works are shut down for another week. They are out for a week, and they get no benefit. They work until August Bank Holiday. Again, they exceed the six weeks of work. Under the continuity rule they have lost their qualification. At the next Bank Holiday they are out for a week, with no benefit. The men may have three periods of unemployment like that, without drawing any benefit, and because of the incidence of certain periods they suffer. If the continuity rule was extended from six weeks to 13 weeks it would impose upon the Fund a rather serious charge of £500,000 a year; but I believe that the big difficulty to which I have referred could be overcome by an exten- 321 sion from six weeks to eight or nine weeks without imposing that serious charge, and I ask the Minister to look into the problem and see if it cannot possibly be met in some way. He will not lose altogether by it. When I say "he," I mean the Fund. Every citizen, whether he is dealing with unemployment insurance or Income Tax, is entitled, without dishonesty, to take the maximum advantage of the law as it stands. A workman goes to his foreman at the end of five weeks' work after he was last out and he says, "Look here, Bill! Things are slackening off. Am I going to be stopped next week-end?" "I expect so," says the foreman. "Well, stop me this week," says the workman, "while I am qualified for benefit." I am not criticising that. Many employers are deliberately arranging their work accordingly.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Yes I know it is true, and I have qualified that statement by saying that the men are entitled to take every advantage of the law as it stands. I go further and I say that the employers are deliberately conniving with them in that. I am not blaming them. If you have a law which creates a hardship and there is a way of evasion, that way will be taken. If that way of evasion can be taken and is being taken, it is surely a case for some modification of the law to deal with the hardship. I have made the case that we have only a certain amount of money to play with, and we have to consider our benefits in that light. I have been a little inconsistent in making this plea, and I do not know whether in the four corners of the Act there is any possibility of savings which would finance this small change in regard to a matter which is a cause of acute hardship to many people. I am sorry that I have rather exceeded my ration of time, but I was led to one thing after another by some interesting observations made from the benches opposite, and I hope I shall be forgiven for being too long.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
Before coming to my general remarks, I would remind the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams), while he is quite correct in regard to certain unions having a waiting period, once a man goes over the waiting period he generally gets benefit from the beginning. 322 Before dealing with the Bill proper I want to draw the attention of the Minister to a certain Section of Clause 5, because I would like an answer to a question which I intend to put to him. Clause 5 deals with a real grievance, and is an attempt to put right an injustice which has been suffered in many parts of the country. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. L. Thompson) and two other hon. Members, spoke about this 'Bill as an insurance Bill. I have a case in point of men who have been insured from the commencement of the Act, who have never drawn any benefit, who are now out of work and cannot get benefit. This Clause attempts to and does deal with this class of men, but I am anxious to know the exact scope of this protection. Is it intended to apply only to pending cases or is it intended to apply only to future cases? I have a case before the Ministry now which is typical of hundreds of others, where a man has been insured from 1911 right up to the present time. In 1926, owing to an accident, he was off for several months, and recovered in April of this year. He went to look for work, but could not find it, and he gets no unemployment benefit. This Sub-section deals with what is a real grievance, and I want to know whether it is the intention to apply this provision to cases that are pending, or is it to apply only to future cases.
Three hon. Members opposite have emphasised the fact that this is an insurance Bill, and they say that they believe in an insurance policy. The hon. Member for Sunderland dealt with the question of the 30 stamps. In my opinion this Clause 4 is going to operate unfairly with regard to men who are out of work. Let the House consider the difference it makes when these 30 payments are paid during the two years' period. If the 30 stamps are obtained at the commencement of the two years' period what happens is this. A man falls out of work, and he automatically is declared in benefit. He works for 13 weeks, and his case is reviewed under Clause 4; and it is found that automatically he goes out of benefit because he has not 30 stamps for the two years commencing from that date, but the man who is out six months after goes on and continues in benefit. Here you have two men paying exactly the same, 323 with the same number of stamps, one is deprived of benefit at the end of the quarter, but the other goes on. That is not insurance. Under the Act of 1925 a single young man whose father is working, and where the income of the house-hold is of a certain amount, is deprived of extended benefit—and that is the case under the present Bill—whilst his neighbour, a young man of the same age, in exactly the same position, they may be mates in the same yard, gets benefit because the income of the household is below a certain amount. The two young men may be living next door to each other; they may be working in the same shipyard. One gets benefit and the other does not. And hon. Members say that that is insurance. It is going to throw districts like the one I have the honour to represent deeper into the mud.
In his answer this afternoon the Minister of Labour said that certain expenditure would be incurred in obtaining the figures of men who have been thrown off the Unemployment Fund on to boards of guardians, but he knows how many there are without incurring any expenditure whatever—the number is 53,000. They cost us £225,000 a year, which is equal to a. rate of 1s. 8d. in the pound, and that we are paying because right hon. Gentlemen opposite will not assume what is a national responsibility. If this is an insurance scheme, let it be insurance. These men have been unemployed, and have been recognised as genuinely unemployed. They have been cut off simply because they are suffering from prolonged unemployment, and they are thrown on the rates. That is not insurance. The hon. Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Hay-day) has told the House what happened in 1918. He spoke of the £22,000,000 that was stolen from the Insurance Fund. A year or two ago I told the House what happened in 1918, because I was one of the eight men sent here to London two months before the War ended. We did not know for what we were coming. We were all general secretaries of large trade unions, except myself, and I was deputising for our general secretary. We were sent for. It was then recognised as a national question. There was not only the Minister of Labour at that conference, but the Secretary for War, and 324 the Board of Trade and the Home Office were represented. We had laid before us a scheme which gave men, not the 18s. that they get now, but the 24s. that was mentioned by the hon. Member for East Nottingham, and this was afterwards increased to 25s. on the bare contribution of 1911.
Is that on an actuarial basis? Was that fair to the men who had paid, as I have paid, from 1911? I would be the last man to say that the nation did wrong to give the lads who came back a benefit that was likely to keep them. We accepted it, though we did not ask for it. The nation recognised its duty to these men. But instead of recognising the responsibility nationally from national funds, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did what was done this year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day robbed the insurance fund to the extent of £22,000,000, paying 200,000 men who had never paid to the insurance fund at all. The Government gave that pay, but it gave it from the wrong source. That is my reply to those who chide us with the word "dole." The Minister, however, was good enough this afternoon to say that the unemployment benefit never was a dole.
As I see it the failure of this Bill is that it does not recognise the unemployment of the six or seven acute years that have just passed as a national responsibility. We have in Newcastle, on the Tees, on the Clyde, on the Mersey and even here in London, an undue proportion of this responsibility laid upon us locally. We are at our wits' end. We sent a deputation to the Minister a week ago. Unfortunately I was not present because I was ill; otherwise I would have been very glad to have put before him the views that I am now expressing. It is time that this question of unemployment. after six solid years, were so dealt with that a Bill recognised unemployment as a national responsibility. That is my general complaint to-night. There will be time during the Committee stage to discuss details, but my general complaint now is that the Bill does not recognise national responsibility towards unemployment, and that it will leave the question locally far more acute than ever it was.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I do not wish this Debate to pass over without expressing my deep dissatisfaction with the Bill 325 before the House. I do not think we can unduly emphasise the gravity of the situation which must of necessity arise from the effect upon individuals of the exasperating appeals that are constantly being made concerning unemployment. I am glad to have heard from the other side the admission, which is not frequently made, that it is not the case that the generality of these unemployed people have failed to prove their desire for work. It is only a small minority of whom that can be said. I am glad to have that acknowledgment because so far as I have gathered the current opinion among those whom hon. Members opposite mostly represent is very unfortunate and unwarranted, namely, that the existence of what is called the "dole" is making people reluctant to work. I think that is, on the face of it, an utterly ridiculous view when we have bodies of people unemployed who in former years proved themselves to be not only genuinely seeking work but who gave the most definite manifestation of their desire to render good service and many of whom obtained good wages. Now you have in this wealthy country an individual leaving no less than £11,000,000 of money.
I may he told that there are difficulties and disagreements upon the merits of different plans for financing a body of people such as the unemployed. But the money is there and the financial power is there, if those who control the Government were willing to state to the people whom they represent that it is essential in the interests of home defence that these matters should be placed on an entirely different basis. I do not consider that a Bill of this kind does justice to this great Empire when we are conserving such power and wealth as I have indicated and when we have a majority of Members of this House representing vast financial resources. In spite of this you have your Front Bench men and the representatives of the Government who are speaking here to-night, skipping over that central point which is undoubtedly the most serious of all, namely, the conserving of the young people of from 18 to 21 years of age.
What can possibly be the outcome of such an arrangement? Apart from the point of the serious reduction in the benefit, we are all familiar with the posi- 326 tion that the young people, because of this condition of affairs, are drifting aimlessly and hopelessly along evidently under the serious impression that this country has no outlook for them at all. When the right hon. Gentleman talks, as he did in moving the Bill, of the outlook being hopeful, I do not know whether he has experience of the unemployed, but my experience from meeting the unemployed is that they are full of hopelessness and are very indignant. Indeed, it is a difficult matter in my own constituency, when, you have men getting up and asking quite seriously whether it would not be better to stop talking about Bills in this country and take part in organising men to fight for the women and children. That is the sort of thing being put before our constituents. The answer I gave to that particular question the day before we resumed our Parliamentary duties was that I have a very distinct recollection of seeing men organised in this country some years ago for the purpose of fighting for the interests of their wives and children—to keep the home fires burning, as it was said. What was the sequel? The women and children were organised in the City of Dundee to protest against the fact that men had been sent away to fight for their country without proper provision being made for the women and children at all.
Several references have been made, and I think on fairly established grounds, to the protests made, and I think every member of the Government must know that when you talk of home defence, economy is the last thing that is considered. You know it perfectly well. There may be some small disagreement on the question of degree, but the fact remains that as far as armaments are concerned, as regards members of the Government, at any rate, when laying out money on armaments for the purpose of protection of the Empire and the defence of the homes of the people, there is no special consideration about economy. The first thing is to see that it is sustained. I have spoken before and, if I should resume the Debate to-morrow, I should like to say something more on the situation—about this matter, for I consider it is appalling to tell these men and women who compose the unemployment army that all this provision of millions 327 of money is understood to be for the defence of their Empire. The thing is a farce.
It is a difficult matter to try to see if it is possible, under the Regulations of the present Insurance Act, to get the managers in specially trying circumstances to overcome those particular restrictions, and there is such a sense of gratification when sometimes we may be successful. But so far as the general masses are concerned I maintain that it is a national question, and it is a preposterous thing that you should have the parish councils in Scotland and boards of guardians in England forced to take on the responsibilities which formerly had been met by the Minister of Labour and then carry them out as a matter of parochial relief. It is a situation which must not be tolerated. We have constitutionally 328 taken steps to urge the necessity of meeting the situation in an entirely different way. Whatever may be the plans for financing the scheme, we are not going to forget—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The remaining Government Orders were read and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of 8th November, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at One Minute after Eleven o'Clock.