§ Considered in Committee [Progress, 5th December.]
§ [Mr. DUNNICO in the Chair.]
§ Major ELLIOT
For the convenience of the Committee, would the Minister make a statement as to the position in which we are now? Would it be better for her to move to report Progress in order to have the statement in order? It is merely for the convenience of the Committee that I throw out the suggestion.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Miss Bondfield)
I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee to withdraw Clause 5.
§ Major ELLIOT
There are on the Paper Amendments to the Clause, and one which my hon. Friends desire to move surely is in order. I would therefore suggest that if the right hon. Lady is not prepared to move to report Progress, I should do so, simply for the purpose of bringing the discussion in order.
§ Major ELLIOT
Yes. I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
It will be within the recollection of all of us that the Debate last Thursday night proceeded along lines which were not then regular party lines. The situation became somewhat obscure, and, as far as I understand, the learned Attorney-General undertook, in the first place, to withdraw and considerably redraft Sub-section (1) of Clause 4. Subsequently, discussion went on upon Sub-section (2) which, after considerable debate, the Minister agreed—shortly after a speech by the learned Attorney-General stating that certain principles should be adhered to—that these principles should not be adhered to, because, what I may call for convenience, the Hayday formula, should be 86 accepted. That undoubtedly brought about a position in which the Committee had to consider again Clause 4 from the beginning. Accordingly, after the negativing of various Sub-sections, Clause 4 was negatived as a whole on the Motion of the Minister. I understand that since then the leaders of the Front Government Bench, if I may say so, because the word "leaders" might bring up several awkward questions, which I do not desire to discuss now—but the Government and their supporters held a meeting which, of course, was a private meeting, in which discussion was entered into which we in other parties have no right to inquire at all. Still, information was given then as to the financial effect of the proposals which had been accepted in spirit by the Minister on behalf of the Government in Thursday's Debate. With these proposals it is vital that the Committee as a whole should be acquainted before it can come to any conclusion upon the proposals which the Government are about to lay before them and, undoubtedly, the whole of the Government's attitude must be altered by the concession, if it were a concession, which was made in Thursday's Debate.
I understood a moment ago from the Prime Minister that he did not think there had been any concession. I am sure that was not the opinion of the Committee as a whole, and certainly not the opinion of what I may call the "fourth party." I doubt if it were even the opinion of the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday), whose modesty we all admire in the signal victory he gained over his own Front Bench. The position of the Committee is simply this: The new formula—the Hayday formula, if I may call it so—must have' the effect of adding certain persons to the live register of unemployed. It must have the effect of bringing additional persons on to benefit, or it would have no meaning. We are all agreed about that. Let me put it that for every 100,000 persons who come under the fund an extra amount of £4,000,000 a year comes out of the fund. We have a right to ask the Minister how many people she estimates are coming on the fund as a result of this. Is it 100,000 or 200,000? There were something like 350,000 persons disallowed benefit. Even supposing half of them are reinstated, 87 that is something in the neighbourhood of 200,000 persons, and that will be a great drain on the fund, which, we have been informed by the Prime Minister, is in so critical a state that it must have money put into it before we rise at Christmas or it, may have to put up its shutters. It is to have an added strain of over £4,000,00 or £8,000,000 a year laid upon it as the result of Thursday night's Debate, and, I may say, as the result of a considerable amount of pressure on the part of hon. and right hon. Members below the Gangway who are very fond of coming down and threatening hon. Members opposite with economy in the abstract and pressing for greater expenditure.
§ Major ELLIOT
There was no right hon. Member from this side who spoke in favour of increased expenditure. [An HON. MEMBER: "The same here."] I heard a right hon. Gentleman, a former Home Secretary, speak, and certainly he was not urging the Government to cut down expense in this Bill.
§ Major ELLIOT
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that there are other industrial Members on this side beside the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), and while I have the utmost respect, as all have, for the hon. Member for Grimsby, few would say that he held the same position which is held by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel).
§ Major ELLIOT
The right hon. Member for Darwen, no doubt, will speak for himself again. I am more concerned with the position in which the Committee are, and more particularly with the position the fund is in. The case is quite simple. Obviously, for the convenience of all sections of the Committee a state- 88 ment ought to be made by the Government. We are entitled to ask the Minister of Labour, in all courtesy, if she can furnish us with some approximate estimate as to the result of the redrafting of Clause 4, whether she thinks it will make a difference and, if so, whether she can give an approximate estimate of the difference. Does she think that it is desirable to stand to Clause 5? The Prime Minister said, I think with great force, that Clause 5 goes with Clause 4. Clause 4 has gone, and Clause 5 ought to go along with it. Clause 5 deals with statutory conditions, and repeals the existing protection of the fund. It may be that the Government desire to sweep away every kind of restriction upon the fund, but I do not gather that that is their intention. The Minister of Labour said that she intends to introduce a new Clause 4 and that the new Clause will bring in some sort of restriction upon the payment of benefits out of the fund. If Clause 5 stands there will be no restriction of any kind, not even the elementary restriction to which hon. Members below the Gangway agree, that a man who had been offered a job and refused it should thereupon be disqualified from receiving benefit.
While that is so, the Government ask us to-day to pass Clause 5. to repeal the protection and to trust to a Clause as yet undrafted, without any estimate of its financial consequences, without any statement as to the payments underlying it, which is to be introduced upon the Report stage. So far as we can make out, it has to be passd by Thursday of this week. Here we are at the beginning of the week, no estimate has been made, no White Paper has been laid giving the terms of the Clause, and it is proposed that this Clause, which means a burden of £4,000,000 or £8,000,000 not merely upon the Treasury but upon the fund, of which this House is the trustee, should be passed by the end of this week. Today, Monday, we have no idea whatever nor has the Minister of Labour any idea of the financial consequences which the passing of that Clause will have.
Let us consider the finance which the House of Commons has found for the fund ever since last July. In July we found £3,500,000. In this Bill we are finding £8,000,000 for the transitional period and one million pounds for ad- 89 ministration. Then there is a further £4,000,000 for new benefits. Those sums amount to £16,500,000. To this amount has to be added, as a result of the debate of last Thursday, a sum of, I suggest, at least £4,000,000 a year. [An HON. MEMBER "How does the hon. and gallant Member arrive at that figure?"] Because right hon. and hon. Members below the Gangway on both sides of the House were under the impression that a great many persons were being kept off the fund by the operation of the Clause as presented by the Minister, and that they would be brought on to the Fund by the operation of the Clause which they desired to be re-drafted. Whether that is so or not was a matter for debate between the Prime Minister and his supporters. The Prime Minister has had a debate with them in private, and it is desirable that the matter should be debated in public. We have given from the Treasury £16,500,000 as a result of decisions arrived at this year, and we are to give at least a further £4,000,000 as a result of Thursday's decision, bringing the total to £20,000,000. We may even have to give £8,000,000 as a result of Thursday's decision.
§ Major ELLIOT
From the Treasury. This additional sum of new money for the fund, this extra. £4,000,000, if the fund is in the critical state that it is said to be, will come out of a direct Treasury Vote. If that is not so, we ought to have an explanation. These large sums of money have been found, and we are now confronted with the finding of certainly another £4,000,000. Hon. and right hon. Members below the Gangway as well as above the Gangway have asked "Is this the best way to spend another £4,000,000?" Two hon. Members who have an Amendment upon the Order Paper to shorten the waiting period have stated that in their view, the most urgent thing in the administration of the whole fund is to shorten the waiting period.
The hon. and gallant Member is not really discussing the Question before the Committee. I have been quite agreeable to allow certain arguments to be put in support of the Motion to Report Progress, but the hon. and gallant Member must admit that he has gone rather far afield.
§ Major ELLIOT
I bow to your ruling. I was led away to show that the action of the Committee in dealing with a subject such as the waiting period would be governed by the fact that we have voted away all the money at our disposal. That was the point put by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to his supporters. Therefore the hands of the Committee appear to be tied henceforward. If that argument is not germane to the subject, I do not wish to discuss it further. I do say, however, that we are entitled to ask from the Minister of Labour a clear statement as to the position in which the Committee finds itself, and we hope that she will be able to give us that. If we are to function as a Council of State, or anything of the kind, we must have the facts laid before us, and we should not be asked to come to a conclusion upon this most important issue in less than a week's time—an issue of the utmost importance to the Government, the finances of the country and the happiness of millions of human beings who are affected.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
The speech of the hon. and gallant Member seems to be much ado about nothing. Clause 5 re peals the fourth statutory condition with respect to "not genuinely seeking work." If there is one point upon which there is unanimity in the Committee, almost without exception, it is that something must be done in regard to that matter. The Prime Minister has stated that Clause 5 is attached to Clause 4; it is complementary to Clause 4, and we shall have Clause 4 in the Bill before we move Clause 5 in. Therefore the simple method of dealing with the business at the moment is to ask the Deputy-Chairman to put Clause 5 to the Committee, so that we may vote it out for the time being, on the understanding that it comes back again in order that the whole matter may be dealt with when Clause 4 is upon the Order Paper. It must be remembered that we are merely dealing with Clause 5 in respect of one condition of benefit which everybody is agreed has become absolutely unworkable, and must be dealt with. Therefore it does not seem to me that this is the appropriate occasion on which to raise the merits of Clause 4. It is merely for the convenience of the Committee that we use the appropriate forms of the House to get Clause 5 out 91 of the way, so that it can come back again when Clause 4 is upon the Order Paper.
§ Mr. FOOT
I rise to answer something that was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot). A prompt answer is necessary from these benches. As I understood the position which was announced last Thursday, the Sub-sections were to be taken out of Clause 4 and the Clause was to be withdrawn, so that it might be presented in another form more consistent with the general demands of the majority of the Committee. It was certainly not understood, as we are now led to believe by the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove, that that Clause was to be taken out and that there was to be no substitute for Sub-sections (2), (3) and (4). I had the opportunity, in the hearing of the hon. and gallant Member, although he did not think it right to refer to it to-day, to urge that there was a necessity for some substitute for Sub-section (2), if it was to be removed from the Bill. It is unfortunate that the hon. and gallant Member should make his attack upon those who sit on these benches, whose attendance throughout the Debates on this Bill, and also in the Division Lobbies—
§ Mr. D. G. SOMERVILLE
On a point of Order. Has the matter which is now being raised by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) anything to do with the Motion before the Committee?
I am afraid that it has not, but the non. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove strayed a little from the Motion. May I suggest that the Committee should allow Clause 5 to be withdrawn? It is not within my power to put the Question: "That the Clause stand part," seeing that certain Amendments to it are upon the Order Paper. I can only do so with the consent of the entire Committee. If it is the general view of the Committee that Clause 5 be withdrawn, I shall be glad to put that Question.
§ Mr. FOOT
When so many millions of public money were involved and when the state of the fund and the public Exchequer were involved, I would point out that not one word by way of protest or warning was uttered from the Front Opposition Bench, who profess to be in a particular sense the trustees of the public purse.
§ Major ELLIOT
I am not going to discuss the question which has been raised by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot). What I want to point out is this, and I am sure that the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) will agree that it is a point of great substance, that the hon. Member suggests that what I may call the Hayday formula has not been accepted. It was the understanding of many hon. Members both above and below the Gangway last Thursday that that formula had been accepted. I am not arguing whether the Hayday formula is right or wrong, but before we continue our Debate we must know whether the Hayday formula has or has not been accepted.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
On a point of Order. I am one of those who are affected by the possible withdrawal of Clause 5. Shall I be in order on the Motion to report Progress in stating my objections to the withdrawal of the Clause, or must I wait until you put the Motion?
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
Before the Motion is put, would the Government consider when they present the new Clause 4, and with it the new Clause 5, recommitting the Bill in that respect, rather than attempt to discuss it on the Report procedure. So far as we under- 93 stood from the undertaking given last week, the new Clause 4 is to have one omnibus Sub-section, based on what is called the Hayday formula. All the other Sub-sections are to be wiped out as separate Sub-sections, and there is to be a new omnibus Sub-section. I think the Committee should have the' utmost freedom in considering the new draft. The Prime Minister will agree that an a complicated matter of drafting such as this, involving further financial commitments, we should be able to debate the actual words of the new Clause in Committee, and I therefore ask that when the new Clause is brought up on Report stage, the right hon. Gentleman will consider recommitting the Bill and enable us to get into Committee for the purpose of discussing it.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
We are carrying out the pledge we gave, and we have consulted and shall consult those who took a prominent part in the discussion on Thursday when the undertaking was given to withdraw Clause 4 and bring up a new Clause. That was the distinct understanding. Those consultations are still proceeding. Until we get a decision as the result of those consultations I do not think I can make any promise.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.