HC Deb 10 December 1929 vol 233 cc376-81

Where any person has paid unemployment contributions for a period of five years and then goes into an uninsurable occupation he shall be entitled to pay his own and the employers contributions and be entitled to draw benefit.—[Mr. Batey.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I move this Clause for the purpose of enabling a number of men to remain members of the fund who are prevented from doing so at the present time. In the colliery villages, we have started workmen's clubs whose members are drawn from the mining classes. When they are in the mines, they are able to pay to the Insurance Fund. As soon as a man becomes a steward of a workmen's club, as he is not in any insurable trade, he has to leave the fund. Many of these men are desirous of continuing payment to the fund. The object of this new Clause is to meet that position. I think it would be a. very considerable improvement because so long as the men are stewards of clubs they will be paying to the fund hut not able to draw benefit. It would enable them to go back into the mines and still be members of the fund instead of leaving it. That also applies to caretakers of workmen's institutes and schools. Since we have had distress in the mining areas many of our people are glad to get a position of any sort, and they become caretakers of schools or workmen's institutes. I am anxious to enable these people to continue to be members of the fund, because it will not be a disadvantage hut an advantage to the fund.

I can anticipate the Minister's argument that this new Clause would be opening the door too widely. Perhaps it might. It might open the door to men in any uninsurable trade, but a large number of our people are glad to take temporary work anywhere, and, even if it did open the door a little way, it may be wise, to do so in order that they can take up temporary employment and keep their connection with the Insurance Fund. Then when they leave uninsurable work they can go back in the mines and be members of the fund. My chief object is to meet the position of stewards of clubs and caretakers of workmen's institutes and schools. If the Minister cannot accept the Clause in its fullness, I would like her to say what she can do, so that we can put down words to meet it on Report stage.


I wish to support this new Clause. I have had a good number of applications from people situated as the hon. Member has stated. They ask that something should be done to give them an opportunity of continuing in the fund. I can confirm that, because in my own constituency there are quite a number of working men's clubs of all kinds, Labour, Conservative and Liberal. The stewards of these clubs are taken from the milling community. These men have to cease paying to the fund. Therefore, if nothing is done, they do not get benefit. They ask for the opportunity of being able to continue if they take on such a position. We recognise that the Minister has accepted an Amendment to cover the two years already, and I am wondering whether this Clause will cut across that Amendment. If she can accept this Clause we shall be very glad.


I am very sorry that it will not be possible to accept this Amendment. It cuts across the basis of the principal Act. It widens the basis of persons who may be regarded as being in insurable occupations, without taking steps to widen that ambit. I have already made a considerable step in advance in this direction on a previous Amendment and I am very sorry that I cannot accept this proposal.


I should like to put one point to the Minister of Labour. During these times of industrial depression a number of unemployed people have been able to get their friends to advance them a little capital with which to start a small business. After they have been in it for some time they find either that they are getting on very well, or that it is not possible to make it a success, and in the latter case they have to leave the small business and look for work again. They find it difficult to get work, and during the time they cease to conduct this small business and the time they are looking for a job they are under very difficult circumstances. They are ruled out from obtaining benefit. I wonder whether the Minister will look into this matter and consider the possibility of providing for these people who are making this attempt to get out of their terribly depressed conditions. There are quite a number of people in every industrial district who have made this attempt, and I hope she will reconsider the matter in order to encourage them to make an endeavour to help themselves in the assurance that if they fail and have to come back to the ordinary field of unemployment they will have the Unemployment Insurance Fund to fall back upon until they find employment.


I should like to support what the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) has said. There are quite a number of men who have made an effort to find work in an uninsurable trade and, although there is the understanding that employment in an uninsurable trade will not deprive them of their right of appeal, what we find is that if they have spent 10, 12 or 20 weeks in an uninsurable trade they have found it difficult to establish their claim again as in an insurable occupation. There is a great fear in the minds of unemployed men that they do prejudice their claim by looking to an uninsurable trade for temporary work, and I hope the right hon. Lady will give this point her very serious consideration in view of the fact that this fear prevents men and women looking for opportunities of employment in uninsurable trades, and secure to them the right to follow it without the risk or danger of prejudicing their rights under the Unemployment Insurance Act.


There may be valid reasons for rejecting this new Clause, but they have not been forthcoming from the right hon. Lady. The great object of the nation at the present time is to get employment for the people, and, if these men are inclined to refuse employment because it is an uninsurable occupation, it reacts to the disadvantage of the whole community. Up to 1924, a man who had paid his insurance contributions was entitled to recover them. That is no longer the case, and there is a strong deterrent to women going into domestic service and to men taking employment on the land because they feel they are going to lose the benefit of years of contributions.

There may be valid reasons against dealing with this matter in this way, but T would point out that under the Health Insurance Act it is possible for a man or woman to become a voluntary contributor. I do not know why that should not be the case under the Unemployment Insurance Act. If it was so, it would encourage a large number of persons to take work which they at present refuse, and, therefore, I submit that the right hon. Lady, or anyone who is assisting her on the Front Bench at the moment—nobody has assisted her very much so far, although I see that the Minister of Labour in the Socialist. Government of 1924 is here; what for I have not the slightest idea, nor has anybody else—before the new Clause, which does benefit the Unemployment Fund and increases the chances of men getting work, is withdrawn, should give us a little more adequate reasons why the Clause is unacceptable.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

I really think that this Amendment needs a little more consideration than the right hon. Lady has given to it. May I put one or two cases? There is the case of the agricultural labourer. It is a very difficult job to get casual labour at certain times of the year. When the potato picking season arrives, as well as other classes of vegetable cultivation, and also in the ease of sugar-beet lifting, a, considerable amount of extra labour is required. At the present time a large number of agricultural labourers come from Ireland, who take the money back to Ireland and spend it in that country, riot in England. If the right hon. Lady would consider this question a little more it is quite possible that she would be able to introduce legislation which would improve the prospects of employing English agricultural labourers in this country instead of Irish agricultural labourers. I hope we shall give further consideration to this Amendment because there is a great deal more in it than meets the eye.


I am one of the very few Irish Members in this House, and I regret to hear the racial animosity which has been reflected in the speech just delivered. When I came to England from Ireland I came with a bare face. I want to ask the right hon. Lady and the Committee whether they agree that this is a, question of Irishmen, Englishmen, Scotsmen or Welshmen. This is an Insurance Bill, and we are supposed to be discussing the needs of individuals under this scheme. I suggest that the only question before the Committee is the right of the child to receive benefit under the insurance scheme. You can have all you like. I do not care what you have; you will not get it.


I am afraid that the hon. Member is speaking to the wrong Clause. This has nothing to do with children.


I never did speak to the right Clause, and I, therefore, withdraw and apologise, hoping to have an opportunity of speaking to the right Clause.


I did not deal at length with this new Clause, because it seemed to me obviously the wrong way to do things. It suggests that you should allow people voluntarily to pay contributions while in an uninsurable occupation in order that they can ultimately get benefits. That is the wrong way. I have just agreed to an Amendment which, I think, some Members who were not in the House at the time may not be aware of; I have promised to incorporate a proposal on the Report stage to lengthen to two years the time in an uninsurable occupation without the loss of qualification. That meets substantially the main point of this Amendment, and it is as far as the Committee should expect me to go in this matter. If it be desired to increase the categories of insured persons it cannot be done by a Clause like this.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.