§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Miss Bondfield)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill deals with two distinct questions, anomalies and transfer, which have no relation one with the other, and, with the permission of the House, I shall deal first with the transfer point, so-that it may be disposed of and got out of the way, Hon. Members will notice that Clause 3 deals with the question of transfer, and the purpose is to regularise the position in relation to certain expenditure, borne on the Vote for the Ministry of Labour on services in connection with industrial transference. This Clause has been introduced in fulfilment of a promise made to the Public Accounts Committee. In the second report from the Select Committee on Public Accounts, recently published and available to Members in the Vote Office to-day, there will be found on page 3, a criticism of the use of the Appropriation Act to override certain statutory provisions. The report states:Your Committee regarded this position as unsatisfactory, but they accepted the explanations given to them on behalf of the Ministry of Labour in regard to the difficulties in securing such legislation during the 12 months which have since elapsed, and note that a Clause to regularise the present position has been included in the unemployment Insurance Bill recently introduced into Your House.The Clause docs not effect any change in policy and is not in any sense a new proposal at all, its purpose is to secure greater mobility in the transfer of labour from depressed areas and the amounts concerned are, broadly speaking, as follows:
£ Free fares to juveniles 2,500 Grants and loans for lodgings and removal expenses of men (and their dependants) from depressed areas 33,000 Advances of fares to employment found other than through the Employment Exchanges and fares home of stranded workers, say 3,500
I think there will be no dispute about the importance of carrying out the wishes of the Public Accounts Committee to regularise this expenditure.
£ Miscellaneous small grants for incidental expenses of men moving from depressed areas 1,000 Making a total of 40,000
I will turn to that part of the Bill which deals with anomalies, and may I say here that I feel that it is essential on my part to place on record the very deep appreciation that the Government have for the members of the Royal Commission and the public-spirited way in which they have devoted themselves to the examination of this question? They are all very busy people, and they have done so at very great inconvenience to themselves, and I wish personally to record, on behalf of myself and the Government, our very sincere thanks. With regard to the word "anomalies" in the Title of the Bill, the House will find in paragraph 103 of the report that this is the word which the Commission themselves have suggested. They say:Much attention has been directed to certain provisions of the scheme which give rise to what have been commonly termed the 'abuses' of the Acts, but which may more fairly be called 'anomalies'.It is because of that reference that we have adopted this word in the place of the other as the Title of the Bill. The anomalies, as the House will see from the report, are, broadly speaking, put under four headings—the casual and short-time worker, the seasonal worker, the intermittent worker, and the married woman. The Commission point out three reasons why they consider that these anomalies should be dealt with in some special way, and they say, in paragraph 104:The seriousness of these anomalies lies inThose three reasons are sufficient in themselves to demand an examination by this House of the case which I have to put before it, but hon. Members will notice that none of these three reasons suggests 2103 any extent of the problem, and the Department does not claim that these anomalies are widespread or that they would involve any very large sum of money. On the question raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) as to the numbers likely to be affected in each category, I think the numbers are relatively unimportant. The point is whether certain categories of persons are or are not receiving benefit for which they have no claim, benefit which under the Act or under any public opinion, whether it is the workers' public opinion or other bodies' opinion, nobody ever contemplated that they would receive. Those are the main points, and on Thursday, 25th June, in reply to a question, I gave this answer as to the data upon which the Government Actuary or the Commission themselves have suggested a possible saving of £5,000,000. This is a rough and ready estimate of how the Actuary has divided up the classes, and how—this is only a rough estimate, not based upon any exact details, because they do not exist—in his opinion the £5,000,000 is divided up. Broadly speaking, he suggests that:
- (1) the unnecessary expenditure from public funds to which employers, workers and the State have contributed;
- (2) their effect on the repute of the scheme;
- (3) their encouragement of methods of industrial organisation which may be harmful to trade and employment in general."the classes comprising casual and short-time workers and married women would each account for between £2,000,000 and £2,500,000, and intermittent and seasonal workers together for between £750,000 and £1,000,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th June, 1931; col. 593, Vol. 254.]The Ministry of Labour cannot take any responsibility for these figures. In the evidence the House will have seen exactly the amount of information that we have at our disposal. We have placed the whole of it before the commission, and upon that information the Actuary has given these rough and ready estimates. It is only experience that will be able to show us whether they are even approximately near the amount of money involved. Then, with regard to the evidence itself, I do not propose to weary the House this afternoon with long quotations from the evidence. We made a special effort to ensure that the evidence should be available to the Members of this House day by day as the Commission proceeded, and it is hoped that, by this, Members of the House who have been interesting themselves in this question will be familiar with the evidence which the Commission has so far heard.
2104 The recommendations arising out of the evidence which they have considered—and, of course, they have only partially considered the evidence—will be found on page 51 of the report, in the summary, under the paragraph headed "III.—Anomalies (paragraphs 103–125)." Hon. Members will see there that they sketch out in very broad outlines the lines upon which they think these anomalies should be dealt with. The Government agree, in principle, with these recommendations, and the purpose of the Bill is to give substantial legislative effect to the recommendations contained on page 51 of the report. If I may claim the indulgence of the House, I want to deal at some length with the reasons why we have chosen the method of regulation rather than to attempt to embody in an Act of Parliament statutory clauses for dealing with these anomalies. It is because it is essential to secure elasticity, and we can see no other way of securing elasticity in order to deal with the innumerable variants of the same problem with which we are dealing in the different classes of trade and in the different conditions of employment.
Take for example, the classes who may be regarded as receiving substantial earnings. By that, we mean those who are neither unemployed nor under-employed in the sense in which those terms are usually used. What happens is that they are working intensively for a short period of time. Their working week is much shorter than the normal working man's working week. They compress into, it may be, 36 hours enough work pretty well to drain their energies, and in some categories they need the extra days of rest in order to recuperate in time for the next day's job but their earnings are substantial, and I do not think that any responsible trade union leader considers that where such a category exists or where such men are employed under those conditions they should also draw two, three, or four days' benefit on the top of those substantial earnings. In order to be quite sure, however, that we do not inflict injustice by laying down some statutory condition which is going to operate throughout the whole year, although the workers' conditions may change, we have to proceed by regulations, fitting the circumstances of each of these groups of trades.
2105 There is the problem of the ascertainment of earnings which vary with the different categories of labour. There is also the problem, for example, of those instances, very small perhaps, but instances which do exist, where earnings plus benefit are put into a pool and cover a period of a month at a time, and the kind of regulations that would meet such a case could not possibly be applied in an Act of Parliament. It is therefore essential that we should proceed in these matters, not by Statute, but by regulation. The Commission are very obviously of that opinion, because in paragraph 103 of their report they say:It is difficult to make provision in an Act of Parliament for unanticipated problems, and it is not surprising that the general provisions of a scheme which is designed to deal with the normal type of unemployment should, in their application to an infinite variety of individual circumstances, operate in some cases in a way which was not within the intention of the Legislature.I can take, for example, the difficulty which we should have in connection with what are described as seasonal workers. It is perfectly clear that there are two categories of seasonal trades. There is a seasonal trade like the building trade. No one wants to interfere with that. There are times and seasons when that trade is pretty slack, but work is going on all the year round. That is not one of the seasonal trades to which this paragraph refers. It refers to the class of seasonal worker who adds to whatever is his ordinary occupation, employment at some special work at a particular season of the year which is governed by dates or the weather. Jam-making is an illustration of such work, in which for a few weeks in a year there is a tremendous rush to secure the preservation of the fruit that has been picked, and when that is over and done with nothing happens until next year in connection with this category of seasonal workers. There are certain classes of workers who do not, in fact, do anything except particular seasonal jobs, and they wait until next season comes round before they come into the employment field again. These, I submit, can be better dealt with by regulation than by any words in a Statute.
Then there are the intermittent workers. We have here to be very careful not to do a graver injustice than the one 2106 we are trying to cure. The intermittent workers can be divided into those who would work more if they could and those who would not. It is a very definite distinction. There are, for example, the shop assistants who want to have full-time jobs, but because of slackness of trade can only get a few days work a week, and should not be penalised on that account. There are other workers who do not wish to have more work than that which is provided for them on Friday and Saturday in connection with their old employment, and are brought in for the busy days of the week and do not wish to have employment on the other days of the week. It is obviously unfair that those people who do not wish to have a full week's work should be able to draw regularly four days' benefit from the fund and earn two days' wages in the shops. That cannot be dealt with so well by Statute as by regulation.
We come to the very thorny question of the married women. I do not believe that married women can be legislated for as a class. It is not right that it should be so, and I wish to put before the House the picture as I see it. At July, 1930, the number of women, aged 18 to 64, who were insured was 2,880,000. The proportion of married women is estimated to be between 25 and 30 per cent. of that total; that is, not more than three married women to every seven single women.
In 1927 the proportion of married women claimants to the total number of women claimants was 26 per cent. In October, 1930, it had risen to 50 per cent. Although the proportion of married women in the insurance field had not materially increased, the number of claimants had risen from 26 per cent. in 1927 to 50 per cent. in 1930.
I will give another group of figures, because it is important. We have to make up our minds on this problem, and I want to be fair to everybody concerned in putting my case as clearly as I can and the basis for my conclusions on this matter. At October, 1930, there were 238,000 single women claimants. If you take the proportion of three married women to seven single women in the insurance field, there should have been 102,000 married women claimants. As a matter of fact, there were 239,000, an excess on the normal 2107 proportion of 137,000. This excess is partially accounted for by the slump in those trades where married women were known to be very largely employed, but that is not altogether so. It does not account for the complete difference, and I am drawn to this conclusion with the aid of one other group of figures which show that the entry into insurance has diminished, that is to say, there were fewer people entering into insurance during 1929–30, but that there was an abnormal decrease in the numbers passing out. Instead of getting the average of previous years, there were fewer people entering into insurance but a large increase in the numbers insured. It is obvious that this is due to persons staying in insurance who in former years passed out. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that of the women to-day who are abnormally remaining in insurance in excess of those of previous years, a proportion are married women who are doing so largely because they are able to obtain benefit.
I do not claim any superior wisdom in this matter, but I do claim that in a knowledge of the conditions of working women in industry, my practical experience is second to none in this House. I have personally been in the closest touch with the different categories of women's trades during the last 18 months, and this question has caused me a tremendous amount of anxiety and difficulty. I have taken the opportunity of meeting groups of people in different parts of the country, such as working women, working-men's wives, insured women and claimants, and I have definitely come to the conclusion that there is a strong body of opinion which believes that there is an evil here that ought to be cured, and a difficulty here that has to be met, and that in trying to deal with it we shall receive the active support of those who want to put the position of married women on a footing of real equality.
The woman who does not intend to work after marriage changes her industrial status. She is not unemployed in the same sense as before; she is engaged in an unpaid occupation, and often is not available for work to the same degree as before marriage. That applies particularly to certain geographical areas in the country, and in certain 2108 other geographical areas it does not apply to the same extent. In Lancashire, for instance, you have much more of the old established system where married women naturally go on working after marriage and some relative looks after the household affairs. She is not doing a double job in the sense that married women would do in other geographical areas where it is not the custom to arrange for some relative to look after the family. It is, therefore, necessary that we should have regulations which will deal with the several categories of married women in special circumstances. At the present time a woman can, and very many of them in fact do, voluntarily give up work on marriage and obtain benefit on a declaration that she is unemployed and available for work, although in fact it is clear that the work that is suitable for her is not available for her in her changed industrial status. Under the present umpire's rulings, marriage creates an inequality in favour of the married woman that does not apply either to the married man or to the single woman. I think that it will have to be made clear that benefit is not a dowry on marriage on account of contributions paid; that it is not a source of income to enable a woman to be economically independent of her husband's earnings, or to supplement the poor earnings of her husband; that marriage does not create a special privilege to escape the normal obligations of a job; that benefit is only due to an unemployed married woman who is still in the industrial field, and will remain so in the same sense in which a man or a single woman remains; such a married woman does not ask for special favours and should not have benefit denied when unemployed.
Those are the lines on which we desire to proceed, and we ask the House to give very careful consideration to the points which are raised here, because it is only necessary to state them in order to show how very carefully the regulations will have to be framed, and may have to be altered if they do not work. It is essential that there should be great elasticity, and the possibility of close consultation with the industries concerned in connection with this very complicated question. I think, however, I have demonstrated to 2109 the House that it is not perhaps possible to find words which will deal with a situation of such complexity in a Statute. It is on these grounds that we have proceeded with a Bill based upon the principle of regulation rather than the principle of statutory enactment.
I now come to the Bill itself, and will deal quite briefly with the Clauses. First of all, may I say very emphatically in respect to certain criticisms which I have seen in different quarters, that under this Bill the Minister has not a general power to deal with the four classes of anomalies? All that can be done is to make such changes as appear necessary for dealing with claims of persons in those classes who, in a benefit period, are in receipt of substantial earnings or would not normally be insurably employed. Those are the two points only in which the Minister has got power. With regard to Sub-section (1) of Clause 1, it will be the duty of the Minister, as soon as may be after the passing of the Act, and after consultation with the advisory committee, to make regulations for the purpose of removing the anomalies. The regulations to be made are to impose additional conditions for the receipt of benefit, restrictions on the amount and period of benefit and to make such modifications in the provisions of the Acts relating to the determination of claims as appear to be necessary for giving effect to the intention that benefit should be limited or refused in the classes of cases concerned.
It will be not at all a matter of course that in a given case, John Smith or Mary Smith will necessarily lose his or her benefit under the regulations we make. We make these regulations, but the insured person still retains all the statutory rights for the consideration of her claim which exist for the insured person. She is entitled to take her case to the court of referees. She is entitled to appeal, if given leave by the court of referees or if a member of a trade union, to the umpire. The same applies, of course, to men claimants. There is no intention to deny to any of these doubtful claims within these four categories the usual machinery for the adjudication of claims, but we do believe that the regulations will be of great assistance to the courts of referees in dealing with these claims.
2110 Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 defines the classes of persons to whom the limitations and restrictions are intended to apply. They are persons who, within a given period, may be entitled to receive benefit in respect of certain days, although they have in fact received substantial sums by way of earnings or similar payments for other days within the same period; Seasonal workers, that is, persons who are employed on work which is performed during a certain season of the year, and who, outside that season, do not generally work on any other occupation.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
At the end of Subsection, (1) are the words, "substantial earnings or other similar payments." Will the right hon. Lady tell us what "other similar payments" are?
Miss BOND FIELD
The word "earnings" is used in a different sense in different industries. There will be, for example, the pool of which I spoke just now, where the earnings of 20 or 30 men are pooled, plus the unemployment benefit of any of them, and the total is divided up. You cannot call the quotient the earnings of a particular man. It is meant to cover the sums of money which accrue to him as a result of his conditions of work.
The third category to whom the limitations and restrictions are intended to apply is that of persons who, while they are regularly employed on one or two days each week, do not work, and frequently do not seek to work, on any other days of the week. Those are what we call intermittent workers. The fourth category is that of married women, who since marriage have paid less than a given number of contributions within a prescribed period, that is, those women who, since their marriage, have not shown by work in an insured trade that they remain within the insurable field. This does not mean that every married woman has to go through a process of examination. It only means that those married women who are not able to be employed in the sense we use the term, are required to satisfy certain prescribed conditions other than those laid down in the Act.
§ Mr. GEORGE HARDIE
That includes the women as well as men. Are these 2111 people who are outwith the provisions of the Act as it stands to remain insured persons?
§ Miss BONDFIELD
It will be a very great mistake to try to force exemptions from the Act, because the conditions of employment may change, and we want them to be in a position to draw their unemployment pay. We want them, if conditions of employment change, not to be outwith the Act, but well within the provisions of the Act. There is no intention to exclude any categories from insurance. Sub-section (4) is, if I may say so, the ordinary routine Clause, and appears in both the 1924 and the 1927 Acts, and is necessary for administrative purposes. It is quite impossible to survey the register in a short space of time, and the Clause allows three months to the administrative staff to deal with the different categories in the review of the register.
I come to Sub-section (5), which, in my opinion, is by far the most important and most valuable part of the Bill. Here is a new principle introduced. This Clause has been very greatly misunderstood. The comments which I have seen about it show that those who have been criticising it do not apprehend what is going on in the great bodies of organised labour and organised employers. It will be noticed by those who have carefully read the evidence, that both in the trade union evidence and that of the Confederation, very definite proposals are made for bringing these two great bodies who represent the insured population into closer contact with the actual administration of the fund. This is a beginning, and I profoundly hope and believe that in this experimental period—for it is experimental—dealing with this comparatively small matter—small in extent, though a matter of great principle—if we can get this Advisory Committee working in close association with the administration, we shall get far more satisfactory results comparable with that control exercised in connection with health insurance. Not that I want to suggest approved society machinery—that is not the method which would suit this—but that the people themselves who are vitally concerned in the right and careful administration of the fund and who have the industrial ex- 2112 perience in the different categories of trades may be called in to advise the administration as to the framing of regulations and the proper working of such regulations. The main function of the Advisory Committee is to advise the Minister whether, having regard to the intention of the Act, draft regulations are in fact effective, or likely to be effective, without doing injustice to the interests of the trade and to the insured persons.
I want, for a moment, to refer back to the third reason given by the Commission for the necessity of dealing with this question, namely, the encouragement of methods of industrial organisation. Who are likely to know best what will encourage or discourage such methods except people who are directly concerned with a trade? This Advisory Committee will work in such manner as will enable us to get very quickly—because in these matters we have to proceed willy-nilly in consultation with the interests concerned—and the important point about the Committee is that we shall get that consultation and advice at first hand in the beginning of things, instead of at a later stage, when it would be much more difficult to arrange the wording of a regulation or the framing of an Act of Parliament.
It is my earnest and sincere hope that this Bill, and the setting up of this Committee in consultation with the employers, the trade unionists and the Treasury, which will represent the taxpayer—the tripartite contributors to the fund—will mean, perhaps, the opening of a newer and better chapter in the administration of unemployment insurance and the administration of unemployment relief to unemployed persons of all categories. As I say, I can only claim for it that it is an experiment which, I profoundly believe, is in the right direction, and I ask the House to give a Second Reading to my Bill.
§ Major ELLIOT
I am sure that all of us will have listened with great interest to the admirable, clear and lucid statement which the Minister of Labour has just given us of the complicated Measure which is laid before us. I think the whole House prefers the Minister to make that sort of speech, than to carry on a controversy in this House with a famous French economist as quoted in "The Times." After all, we are dealing with 2113 a new departure, and it is not of such great interest to the country to hold an autopsy over past mistakes. We are dealing here with a departure of infinite importance, not merely to the people who may come under the category of anomalies or abuses, not merely to the 2,600,000 people who are now on the live register, not merely to the 9,250,000 people who are insured, but to the whole 17,000,000 workers of this country, because this Measure is of vital importance to all of them, and its implication, namely, the financial stability of the country, goes far beyond even their interests, and touches the immediate, practical interest of every member of the nation.
The Minister has used one or two words which are bound to evoke at any rate a sympathetic response from all sides of the House. She has spoken of this as an experiment and said that during this experimental period we must try the new method which she has submitted for the consideration of the House. She is asking the House to take a decision of very great consequence. We are asked to set up what is neither more nor less than a D.O.R.A. Act for the whole scheme of unemployment insurance. We remember the wide change wrought in the social structure of this country by means of that small Bill which was passed in the early days of the War without any debate; I believe there was only one question asked, as to whether it was retrospective or not. That Act transformed the whole structure of this country; and it is no exaggeration to say that the operation of the machinery which it is proposed to set up and the Orders which may be laid as a result of this, Bill may very easily have a similar transforming effect upon the whole structure of unemployment insurance as we know it. Yet nobody can say that this is anything but a tardy and dilatory attempt to deal with the problem. The Minister herself has drawn attention to this problem for the best part of a year, and laid White Papers which drew attention to it earlier even than that.
There was the famous White Paper of December, 1929, just after the Minister had accepted some Amendments which were brought in from the same quarters from which opposition, and vehement opposition, is now threatened to this Bill. The White Paper stated that two classes 2114 of persons, among others, were being brought in—married women and seasonal workers—regarding which it was not possible to make any financial estimate of what was likely to happen as a result of the Bill as then amended. In that White Paper the Minister went further and stated that what was being done would attract into the benefit-paying field persons who were not in any real sense of the word in the market for employment. That was in December, 1929. After that the Minister herself began to make reference to it in the numerous speeches which she delivered when she came to the House for increasing sums of money. She spoke of it in July last year, and when introducing the Money Resolutions of one of the borrowing Bills, and again on 8th December she spoke of it at length, and she claimed credit for it, saying, "It is my Department that has brought these things to the notice of the House and the country as a whole." It was not a case of these things having been pressed on her from outside but that her Department was investigating these things, that her Department was able to give information to the House and to the country upon these matters; and it is rather a tardy discovery now to say, as the Minister says and the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill says, that it is impossible to give any answer to the three questions which both the House and the country and the opposition parties—which are not confined now to one side of the House—desire to know. Those questions are: How many people are going to be affected; how great are the savings which are going to be secured; and when is this Bill going to come into operation? The answer to those questions is vital to any consideration of this Bill.
Over a long period we have had discussions by means of committees and commissions of one kind or another. This is the first moment at which the Government start action. The action, it is true, is merely the setting up of a machine, but the Minister has pledged herself very emphatically this afternoon to the intention to operate the machine and makes it function, to the intention of genuinely using it and getting results both moral and financial which will make a real difference to these anomalies which are now one of the blemishes on the scheme. 2115 But we have to debate this Measure in ignorance even of a suggestion by the Minister of how many people are going to be affected. She says not many people will be affected. That is a relative phrase. A saving of £5,000,000 is the estimate of the Royal Commission. Her aim is to secure the objects of the Royal Commission. A saving of £5,000,000 is a large sum which cannot be attained without trenching upon a wide field and without the possibility of making inroads into a considerable number of payments which are being made. It is useless for the Minister to say, "We will pass this Bill, we will set up this tremendous engine"—a much more powerful engine than the Minister has brought out in her speech—"and £5,000,000 will be saved, but it will not affect very many people. On the whole nobody will really notice it."
In dealing with this subject we are dealing with matters which will raise widespread feeling, and possibly indignation, throughout many constituencies, all the more because of the differentiation between areas which are enshrined in the Bill as tabled by the Minister, and it is useless for the House to go forward with this question in anything less than a spirit of firm resolution. Undoubtedly attempts will be made to alter this, and unless the House realises to what it has set its hand it will flinch when the testing time comes. Nothing but a grave sense of the desperate position of the whole system of unemployment insurance could have moved the Minister to introduce proposals such as this, and only like considerations could inspire any hon. Member in any part of the House to support them.
The Measure touches not merely the question of benefit but far wider things, questions of constitutional control which go to the roots of our system of government. Two great things are being reversed this afternoon. For the first time in the history of this Parliament we have a statement in a Bill that it shall be the duty of the Minister to make regulations which shall impose additional conditions in respect of the receipt of benefit and such restrictions on the amount and period of benefit as may appear necessary. Several times the Government 2116 have submitted Bills to Parliament with the observation, "This is a temporary Measure. We ask you to bear with us just now, but we are going to come along with great advantages." The Unemployment Insurance Act of 1930 was put through on those terms. "This is not our main project," it was said, "These are not our most favourable intentions." But this is a reversal of the engine; the same process that has come about in so many other countries has begun here.
There is another thing. Directly or indirectly the vast question of direct democratic control is being broached this afternoon. The question is, Can this House directly control the enormous schemes for which it is ultimately responsible or are we to adopt the principle of the statutory commission, such as we have in the case of the Electricity Commission and the British Broadcast Corporation—the new 20th century idea of a removal of administration from the attack of the electorate? [Interruption.] Yes, that is the question, and it is a fundamental question. Is this to be the principle on which we are to act or are we to go on the old principle of direct control by the elected representatives of the people, a thing which was fought for so many years by our predecessors in Parliament. The process of engrossing power into its own hands has been pursued by this House not for decades but for centuries.
§ Major ELLIOT
Oh, yes; and I say this is a good principle. I am not proposing to attack it. I voted for the appointment of the Electricity Commissioners and for the creation of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and I will vote for a statutory commission every time. I believe it is not merely the only way to avoid the constant bidding of one party against another at elections but the only means by which this House can preserve any shreds of control that it may desire to exercise.
§ Major ELLIOT
The end of democracy! Well, the Tory party has not been quite so enthusiastic about democracy 2117 as some parties on the other side, but it is a very interesting example of the wheel coming full circle that it is from a democratic party that the proposal to remove these things from the purview of the people should have come. The proposals put forward are proposals which I, certainly, and many of us on this side will support. During a long period of administration we have come to a realisation of the fact, which has been recognised by many thinkers on various sides of politics, that the attempt by this House to carry out direct administration of these great schemes will lead, in fact, to the control of none of them whatever. But this Bill is in some respects strong meat even for the historic party which supported the Kings against this House of Commons. Take the proposal on page 3 of the Bill about the constitution and the continuance of the advisory committee—the commission, the judges, for they are no less—who will administer these new proposals:If any member of the Advisory Committee becomes in the opinion of the Minister unfit for any reason to continue to be a member of the Committee, the Minister may terminate his appointment.Suppose one puts it in terms more familiar to this House: "If any member of a bench of judges becomes in the opinion of the King unfit for any reason to continue to be a member of the bench of judges, the King may terminate his appointment." When we come to the Committee stage of this Bill to-morrow, and when your chair is vacated, Mr. Speaker, I think that the ghost of one of the Stuart monarchs will be found seated therein. The sardonic chuckle of Charles I may well be heard proceeding in ghostly fashion from that seat in which he once sat. And if the officials in the Gallery do not feel a certain ghostly chill from the spirit of the Earl of Strafford I shall be very much surprised.
We are discussing these two very great principles, and on these two very great principles the Minister has made a courageous departure, and a departure which merits the attention and, I believe, the sympathy, of ail Members of the House. I notice that there is an Amendment for rejection down on the Paper in the name of the hon. Baronet the Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley). The Bill, however, seems to me to envisage a mode of procedure very closely 2118 parallel to the method of procedure which I understood was desired by him, namely, that it is not competent for Parliament to discuss matters in detail, but that schemes should be submitted to Parliament as a whole and Parliament should accept or reject them.
It is not the machinery which is the important thing, but what you mean to do with the machinery, and it is the result of the operation of the machinery by which the policy of the Minister must be judged. The Bill itself seems to me to go much further than the explanatory memorandum, or what the Minister has indicated in her speech. I should like to ask whether I am right or wrong in the interpretation which seems inevitable from the words used in the Statute. Who are the persons whom it is proposed to bring under the aegis of this new commission and under the orders which may be issued by the Minister as a result of their deliberations? They are:married women who, in any prescribed period subsequent to marriage, have had loss than the prescribed number of contributions paid in respect of them.Persons whose normal employment is employment in an occupation in which their services are not normally required for more than two days in the week.Persons whose normal employment is employment for portions of the year only in occupations which are of a seasonal nature.The remaining classes of persons to whom the Section applies are the following:(a) persons who on any day within the period in respect of which benefit is payable or within any preceding period prescribed by the regulations receive any earnings or similar payments of such a kind, and of such substantial amount, as may be so prescribed;Surely that is a definition of unemployed persons as a whole. They are persons who within any period precedent to the period of unemployment are in receipt of earnings. I do not wish to catechise the Minister, but that provision seems to me to cover a very wide field.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
I think the hon. and gallant Member has omitted the words "prescribed by the regulations."
§ Major ELLIOT
But they are the Minister's own regulations, settled by her after consultation with the committee which has been nominated by the Minister, any member of which the Minister 2119 may dismiss at any moment. The period is to be decided by the Minister and the means and the nature of the earnings are to be prescribed by the Minister. Therefore, I cannot avoid the conclusion that here we have really an extension of the inquiry to the whole field of unemployment, and, if not a means test, at least an earnings test which it is within the power of this committee to apply to any person. The question is what is the House really being asked to place on the Statute Book of this country. It seems to me that we are being asked to grant powers which override every safeguard which has been given to the unemployed person, for all those safeguards may henceforward be modified at the will of the Minister or the committee.
It may be necessary that this Bill should be placed upon the Statute Book and I think it is necessary. There is no doubt that the evils into which the Unemployment Insurance Scheme has fallen are so great that it is only by drastic means of this kind that they can be removed. There is a cry going up in regard to this question for a scapegoat for the demerits of the whole scheme. I am not referring to the vehement language used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) about "cadgers" and "cadging on the dole," but I am referring to words which are beginning to be used by the Government Press and by the supporters of the Government which are of an even more offensive character. "Spongers" is the word which is now being used. One of the Government papers says:This Committee will be set the task of drawing up regulations which will prevent these sponger cases from drawing benefit.It further, in another issue, said recently:If the I.L.P. gets itself committed to any policy of defending abuses or sponging on the unemployment insurance benefit it will do an ill service indeed to the unemployed.That is a quotation from the Government organ in Scotland formerly edited by the Lord Privy Seal. It is the business of this House to deal with those cases. At the Glasgow Conference of the Trade Union Congress this question of unemployment insurance was discussed and a very hot speech was de- 2120 livered by a lady, Miss Brand, of the Transport Workers who in supporting the Motion urged:That the married woman anomaly should be removed without delay. She alleged that 25 per cent. of the women who went to the Labour Exchanges were simply parasites on the fund.'The real working woman' she declared, is being penalised because of this type who are spongers and nothing more.'Those are very strong words, and they indicate a feeling that people are beginning to look for a scapegoat, in regard to this very grave injustice. We have to consider the proposals of the Minister from the point of view both of their objects and the methods by which she proposes to achieve those objects. Obviously those objects are something which the whole country is more or less in sympathy, that is to say a desire to remove and reform the abuses of unemployment insurance. A trade union correspondent writing in the "Forward" says:These are the chief classes of anomaly. There may not be so very many spongers in each class, but even a few spongers here and there are used by the class enemies of the unemployed as an excuse for proposing to reduce the unemployment benefit rates all round; it is therefore clearly in the interests of the unemployed that these spongers should be eliminated.I think that is a frame of mind in which the whole country can sympathise. As for the methods which the Minister brings forward, they are defended by the Minister and in the Government Press largely on the ground that they are the methods which the Trade Union Congress brought before the Royal Commission, notably by the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday). It is quite true that the words of the hon. Member for West Nottingham have been almost written into the Statute and it is more than interesting to find anti-democratic feeling beginning to run even in those bodies of organised labour which the hon. Member for West Nottingham represents. The methods which the Minister of Labour proposes can only be justified on the ground of an experiment. She asks us for liberty to make an experiment of a temporary but of a very sweeping kind which it is quite possible may create even a greater injustice than the injustice which he is seeking to remove. We are all agreed that a start must be made in dealing with this question. We are all 2121 agreed that in some way or other this master has to be tackled and the difficulties to be faced ought not to prevent this House from tackling the problem. We are in sympathy with the objects of the Minister as she has explained them. The methods which are being adopted are the responsibility of the Government. The Government are asking for these great powers and we shall not withhold them. The Government will be judged not by the Bill but by its results. Six months hence the testing time will come. Then we shall want to know what has been the result of the tremendous power which the Minister is asking the House to give to her this afternoon. Then we shall ask the Minister for the results of her administration. When the results of that administration come to be audited I feel certain that the House will say that it would be a better policy to reform the scheme drastically than deal with it by the methods which are suggested in the Bill now before the House and will get back to the real principles of insurance. The Minister has asked the House for these powers and the responsibility is theirs. This is the first active step they have taken, and we shall do our best to see that the powers which have been asked for shall be given.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
I do not quite know what the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken means by his speech. I rather gathered, from the start of his observations, that he is in favour of the Bill, but a large portion of his speech subsequently seemed to me to be devoted—no doubt, from a party point of view, perfectly legitimately—to making the task of the Minister as difficult as he possibly could with her own majority behind her. I do not rise with any such intention; the matter is far too serious for that. I agree with the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member at the start of his speech, when he made some interesting and valuable philosophic reflections upon the position of this House with special regard to the Measure which is now before it. It is a very serious matter that by this, and, indeed, by other Measures passed by the Government, the functions of the Government of this country have been in material respects largely transferred to Government officials; but I feel that, however much we may protest against and dis- 2122 like that, our situation is so complex, so serious, and, indeed, so critical as regards the matter with which we are at present faced, that, if we were to adopt the ordinary methods of dealing with a matter of this kind by means of a long and complicated Measure, and the House of Commons itself were to settle down to devising how in almost every instance the matter should be dealt with, we should not finish with this Bill until the early days of the New Year.
We are faced with a question of vital importance to the country—the question how we shall begin to deal with this matter of unemployment benefit, which is crushing with an overwhelming force the financial stability of the country. That is the fact of the matter, and we should be very foolish indeed to blind our eyes to it. It is lamentable—and here I agree with the hon. and gallant Member—that we are forced to deal with one of the most difficult matters affecting the lives, the well-being, the happiness, and, indeed, the physical maintenance of hundreds of thousands of people who are in a position of difficulty through no fault of their own. The inevitable effect of our Debates before the Bill leaves this House will be that we shall put ourselves in a difficult position in a large number of our constituencies.
I would like to make one general observation on the question of insurance and the unemployment benefits which are now being poured out. It is a choice which this country has had to make while an almost silent revolution has been going on in our midst. There has been an attack, not so much by employers' associations, but by the economic forces of what is known as the standard of life—in other words, the rates of wages. Were it not that there has been in operation this, in many respects, much abused insurance system—though I agree to a large extent that the use of that term is not applicable to benefits or means of maintenance which are poured out—if it had not been for that, we should, during the last 12 months, have seen riots, and bloodshed, and a complete upheaval of our commercial and industrial system. There has not been a life lost, and scarcely a pane of glass broken. I say that, with all the abuses, and they are great, the 2123 expenditure of the country has not been altogether wasted, and hon. Members above the Gangway, representing, as they do, in many respects, the great financial interests of this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—they have been flinging across the Floor of the House class appeals and so on, and we get cases presented from that side of the House with regard to these great and, in my judgment, necessary interests—they may well be thankful to the party to which I belong for the fact that, with the assistance of the Labour party in the House at the time, we initiated this great system which has prevented this revolution during the past few years.
Let me address myself to the particular proposals before the House, and I shall be as brief as I can, because I know that many hon. Members are anxious to take part in the discussion. The word "anomaly" is, of course, taken from the Report, but there is not the slightest doubt that the right words is "abuse"; they are frankly abuses of legal powers. I have had the opportunity, not only for months but for years, of rather close study of this particular question, in connection with one of the great industries, and I want at once to say that to make a general, sweeping charge of an organised attempt, on the part of the industry which I have been examining, to abuse the Unemployment Insurance Act, is wrong; but it is perfectly true that it has become more and more widespread, largely owing to a steadily lowering morale of the country as a whole with regard to its dependants. That was, perhaps, inevitable. I do not see how it could be helped, in the terrible conditions in which so many people have been living upon State assistance.
There have been, to my knowledge, thousands of instances where men have refused to take the benefit which they could take if they were so disposed. I have particularly in my mind an instance of two lightermen in the Port of London, who regularly work between two and three days a week, earning £5 or £6. They are typical of a very large class who have refused to take any measure of assistance from the Insurance Fund to which they belong, and they are really fully insured people, because they work every week, and their contributions 2124 are made accordingly. But it would be foolish for the House to imagine that this system, which the present Bill endeavours to do something to mitigate or cure, is not becoming much more widespread than it was, and, if the House will excuse me, I will give one particular instance. I selected it from my file of papers this morning, and I took it at random. There are instances which are not nearly so dramatic as this one, but I will give it to the House. I do not know the name of the man, because these matters came before us by number, but every one of these cases was vouched for and placed before us by the representatives of the men as well as of the employers; they were perfectly frank upon it.
This particular man, in a period of 17 weeks, earned over £8 twice, over £6 twice, over £5 five times, and over £4 once. In 10 weeks out of the 17 he earned over £4, and there were only two weeks out of those 17 weeks in which he did not draw unemployment benefit. That is the kind of ease with which this Bill seeks to deal, and, while at the present moment that is perfectly legal, who is there in this House who will deny the assertion I make, that neither Parliament nor anyone else ever intended that, within the limits of an Insurance Act, such a man should draw unemployment benefit? It was not intended, and there is not an hon. Member listening to me in any part of the House who can justify it.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I will not argue that with my hon. Friend. If he holds that view, he desires, obviously quite honestly, a different state of society from that in which we all have to live. You might take instances like that throughout the printing industry, and throughout the whole range of those industries where there is part-time employment. I will not add anything on the question of married women; that has already been sufficiently dealt with; but, there is not the slightest doubt that not only is there a very large number of these cases, but what makes me very much annoyed is the fact that they are steadily increasing, showing perfectly clearly that what is to my mind an entirely wrong conception of the relation of the citizen to the State is growing up. That is my view, and I know it is shared by a large num- 2125 ber of Members of this House. I hold it very strongly, because it is the basis upon which the whole of our legislation has hitherto proceeded, and it is directly in line with the basic principle, on which legislation has already been enacted by this House, that the Government should take upon themselves the onus of correcting as well as they can—it is a most difficult task for them; no one appreciates that more than I do—this anomaly and this abuse of the law as it at present stands.
Let me say a word or two about the proposals of the Bill. I fear, myself, that it is not sufficiently mandatory in its terms, and, when the Committee stage is reached, there will no doubt be arguments on that point. In the meantime, I would just say that I hope that a Measure of this great and far-reaching importance will be kept on the Floor of the House, and I shall do my best to retain it here. It contains, as hon. Members know, very far-reaching and vital changes in our method of approach to the mitigation and cure of this problem. There can be no doubt about the seriousness of the case. I think, myself, that the country as a whole is deeply concerned at the present position of unemployment benefit and the conditions under which it is poured out. Here it looks as though we were setting up just another inquiry. I hope that it will be quite evident, as the Bill goes through Committee, that that is not the intention of the Government, but that they really mean to get authority and machinery from this House to deal effectively and decisely, and as swiftly as possible, with the first step to bring this vital matter more into accordance, not only with the principles on which the Insurance Acts have been founded, but with the urgent and vital and critical financial needs of the country as a whole.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Let me say at the outset that it is my intention to oppose this Measure. The right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir D. Maclean) said that, from his knowledge, there was great disquiet over the question of unemployment insurance. On that I will not dispute his honesty. It all depends in what circle one moves. In my circle the grave disquiet in regard to unemployment insurance is the discontent about 2126 people who are denied benefit. The right hon. Gentleman moves among representatives of the financial interests. I have no doubt that in his circle, comfortable and well-to-do, they are rightly annoyed that the poor should be getting anything, because giving to the poor may cost them money. I agree that this question is of great importance. The hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) said that this is a revolutionary Measure. In my view it represents in Labour philosophy a complete alteration. I remember the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), at a Labour Conference a year or two ago, making a speech that, to some extent, was sneered at and scoffed at. He said that the Labour party was a revolutionary party. Many people disagreed with that view. The Labour party is revolutionary to this extent, that hitherto it has consistently stood for the class idea in politics. It has constantly stood for the working class point of view. This Bill takes a different point of view, and it does not stand by itself as an isolated case. If we take this Bill, following upon the attack on the wages of the civil servants, and the circular letter issued by the Minister of Health on health insurance, it represents not the class point of view of the party as a whole but the fact that the Labour party is changing its colour, its tone and its outlook, and that it joins with other parties in their attack on working class people.
This Measure, say what you like about it, twist it as you may and, if you care to base your defence of it on the argument that there are abuses, that there are people getting benefit who are not entitled to it, means, and I deny contradiction, that a sum of money is to be taken from those who are now receiving it. The Minister may not say that the amount will be £5,000,000. Some may say that the amont will be less, but in my view it will be more. Assuming that the Royal Commission's medium figure of £5,000,000 is right, it means that that amount is to be taken from working people. It may be that some of them are working at the docks, earning the fabulous figures that have been mentioned. They may one day emulate the Cabinet. They may get all the money that has been stated, but the fact is not denied that they are working people. 2127 The sum of £5,000,000 is to be taken from them. It may be said that they are not entitled to the money but, at any rate, they are working people, and the Labour Government intends to take £5,000,000 of national money from working people. Why? To give to other working people? To get rid of other anomalies? To give it to the men and women who are constantly refused benefit, when our party knows that they should be getting benefit? No. They are taking £5,000,000 from these workers in order to save the rich at Budget time from more taxation. They are attacking the workers.
The "Forward" has been quoted. When do women who claim their legal rights become spongers? The working woman who is married if she has a legal right to benefit has a right to get it without being blackballed and libelled by a paper owned by a Cabinet Minister. He is not so superior that he can afford to libel us. He might have been decent enough, when he knew that he was a backer of this Bill, to refrain from libelling other people. There might have been some reason for this Bill if the House of Commons had been told, if our party had been told that there are those who are less deserving than other sets of people, and that we would take the £5,000,000 which would be saved from these people and give it to those who were more deserving. There might have been some justification for that. At least, it would have shown that they were not going in for robbing the workers, but that they were transferring the money from one worker to another. They do not do that. To give the money to another worker would be wrong. They are taking the money to save the faces of the Income Tax and Super Tax payers.
Take the Measure in itself. It is supposed to deal with four classes of workpeople. Who are those classes? I shall have something to say about the short-time and casual worker later. The right hon. Member for North Cornwall said that Parliament had never intended that the man to whom he referred should get benefit. I would remind him that in 1927 the Conservative Government, in which the hon. Member opposite was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, passed an Act which gave that man benefit. That was not a Labour Act 2128 of Parliament, but a Conservative Act. That Act operated in 1927 and 1928, before the Labour Government came into office. Who said it was wrong? Was there any outcry then against the £8 a week man getting benefit? No. The outcry has come now. He is not to get his benefit as he did under the Tory Act. Is it not a terrible thing that Labour men, elected to improve the conditions of the working people as against the Tories, are actually seeking to pass an Act which will be worse than the Tory Act. I would ask trade unionists whether it is their object to make an Act affecting working people worse than was the Act passed by the Tories. There was no outcry in those days. There was no question in the House of Commons about the £8 a week man. There was no Press agitation. When and why did the agitation start? It started because there was the will to move. If you have the will to move anything you will believe anything. It started with the will. The Minister gave evidence. The Minister's officials backed the Commission with evidence, and in turn every newspaper loaded its columns and its contents bills telling us of these awful anomalies.
The agitation has started. It reminds me of what happened during war-time. We were told about munition workers having fur coats and pianos. We were told of munition workers earning £30 and £40 a week, while other people were going home wondering how they were going to manage to make ends meet. They picked out cases. They had the will to believe it. They wanted to believe it. They got up an agitation, and the Press carried it on. What is the amount of justification for this Bill? There never was any agitation in this House or outside it or in the trade unions for cutting down the short-time of the casual worker. If you read the evidence of the Trade Union Congress you find that it is contradictory of every line of this Bill. Since when have we changed? The married woman is denounced. I will let hon. Members, if they will, multiply their cases about married women. Since when has our movement changed its mind? The abuses are blamed on the married women. It always seems to me that women are blamed. When a Cabinet Minister goes wrong and we look for an excuse, we say that it is a woman. If 2129 a Member of Parliament fails to keep his promise someone comes along and says that it is because of his wife or a woman. Always, if you want to lay the blame, you say it is a woman. You always get a woman. Better still, get a married woman.
It may be said that some of the unemployed people want the married women off the lists. I will not deny it. Let me say this regarding the unemployed. There is a feeling, I know, among the unemployed men that at the courts of referees they are not protected. They have always the terrible feeling that they are living day in and day out in the fear that they will be knocked off. They are always living in an atmosphere of uncertainty. These men feel—it may be wrong, but it is human—that if somebody else goes off they may remain on. Not that it is just, not that it is right, but their feeling is, that if somebody else is off they might be all right. During the War I worked in a factory, and I was single. The married fellows came along and said; "You are for the Army, and we may escape." But they did not. They all went. What about the married women under this Bill. Does this misnamed Measure say that the married women are not to receive benefit? No. When we were making proposals upstairs for this Measure we were told about the dentist's wife. It was said that it was not intended that she should get benefit. Does this Bill say that she is not to get benefit? Can anyone in this House say that the dentist's wife, the wife of a well-to-do man, is to be refused benefit? The Bill says that it will be the duty of the Advisory Committee to see that there are a prescribed number of sums, and, after that, she will get benefit. The dentist's wife wishes to get benefit. If she can get eight weeks' work, which they might prescribe as the number, or 10 weeks, after marriage, she will get benefit. If, on the other hand, she is not a dentist's wife but the wife of a labourer, say an immigrant from the North of Scotland, with no influence, and none to get her work, but her need greater, there is no benefit. The senior Member for Sunderland (Dr. Phillips) was asked in evidence about married women being disqualified. It was put to her that a woman who has paid her insurance during 2130 her industrial life, when she is single, loses benefit when she is married, and she was asked, "You do not approve of that?" She answered:It is not only that I do not approve of it, but, luckily, married women have votes, and I should say it would be entirely impossible for any Parliament in this country to penalise those women.
§ Dr. MARION PHILLIPS
I still hold exactly to that, but I do not think the hon. Member has given a full understanding of the question. I hope to give it later on.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I have read it all. I have the biggest biscuit factory in the world in my Division. It is owned by the Co-operative Society and employs thousands of women. They are dismissed immediately on marriage. Many of them are anxious for work, but cannot get it. In a neighbouring constituency there is another biscuit factory which does not employ trade unionists. There the women are kept on after marriage long enough to qualify. The organised are penalised and the unorganised are not. The married women problem presents itself in another way. I look on my colleagues on all sides of the House, and I am struck, not being a Puritan, with the large number of people who follow Puritan standards, men of very high religious renown who sincerely hold their views. What are we proposing to do now? A married woman must qualify after marriage. If she does not enter into marriage but cohabits with a man, she gets benefit. If you go straightforwardly and marry, you are penalised, hut if you live in sin you get benefit. That is this Bill. The Secretary for War may sneer, but can he deny it? If a child is born out of wedlock, the priest will go to the man and try to convince him to marry the girl. Under this Bill, if he refuses to carry out what the clergy rightly ask him, the woman will get benefit. The man will be well off. He can live with her. If he refuses, the State will subsidise him and will pay benefit. Surely never was there greater condemnation of a Measure.
May I put this to my mining colleagues? In Lancashire there are opportunities for married women workers following their employment after marriage. You may have a man in Lancashire earning £3 or £4 a week, and his wife gets work. In a mining village the 2131 men earn, it may be, less than half that sum. The Labour party is going to say, "We will punish you, not because you are not willing to work, not because you are not needing to work, but because you were born in Wales and not in Lancashire." That is your Measure. In the mining valleys, the opportunities for a woman to work are limited. If she is in Lancashire, though the need may be less, certainly not greater, because she is born there and lives there, this Bill will give her benefit.
Let me take the short-time worker. This party was built up by trade union money. The Bill gives power to inquire into earnings. If a man earns £2 10s. in three days, he is not to be paid for the other three. He has been in a union. He is organised. He has fought, and he has won his £2 10s. for his three days. If he had not been in the union and had not organised and fought and won, he would only get 30s. This party, built up by trade union money, says, "If you had not joined your union, if you had not built up an organisation, you would only have had 30s. and we would have given you State money." In my Division there are a large number of men earning on an average in three days about 25s. to 30s. They will never organise. I have got them in, but they went out. If they organised to-morrow and joined forces, they could raise their wage standard to £3 10s. The moment they join a union and are organised, the Labour Government will come along and will say, "That is wrong. You should not have demanded those wages, because, the moment you demand them, we will deprive you of unemployment benefit." Can trade unionists defend that? Take the intermittent worker, the week-end watchman. The right hon. Lady said she knew of shop assistants who only wanted to work two days a week. How does she know? What is her proof? What right has she to say what test she will apply to those workers? Where are the women? Who are they? She comes to the House and creates a bogey that is not there and asks us to believe it. Let her produce her evidence here where we can examine it in the light of day. In this Bill it is not the shop assistant, but the week-end watchman. He does not earn £8 a week or even £1. The seasonal worker is also to be attacked. The girl 2132 who goes into the fish curing industry is going to be attacked. The Labour party was built up on the theory that poverty is not the fault of the individual, but the fault of the system, and, therefore, a man should not be punished for something over which he has no control.
The policy of the Labour party used to be "work or maintenance," and now they go and punish a man or woman for something over which he or she has no control. Who is there in this House who can say that the seasonal workers have any control over their lives? Who can say truthfully and honestly that the seasonal worker is idle because he or she desires to be idle? Under this Bill you are going to attack, not the £8 a week man, not the rich dentist's wife, but seasonal workers who for 10, 12 or 14 weeks are in work and are unable to get work for the rest of the year. This is the Labour party. This is the Measure which has been introduced, and one of its backers is the Lord Privy Seal. Is this what we are to expect from the Lord Privy Seal who has promulgated so many ideals? I remember the Lord Privy Seal as editor of "Forward" when he attacked War Loan interest. The robbers, he said, should be attacked and their money taken from them. Almost the first Measure that be backs is not an attack upon War Loan interest, but an attack upon the poor. I should have thought that his first Measure would have been one to implement his promise to get 300,000 miners back at work in the production of oil from coal. One might have thought he would have continued in those pursuits, but to-day he backs this Measure.
I often wonder if the Labour party are simple, or whether they are misleading themselves. Take the commission. The commission has been denounced in every part of the country. The commission presented an interim report. Whose interim report is it? It is not the commission's. I object to the dishonesty of denouncing somebody else for doing something over which that somebody had no control. Whose interim report is it? The Government's. The commission did not want to report, but the Government forced them to do so. You have denounced, not the people who have forced the commission to report, but the commission who did not want to report at 2133 all. What does the Birmingham "Town Crier," one of the Labour papers, say about the advisory committee? It says that it is as well that we gave a majority to the Tories on the commission because now we have learned what the Tories want to do. On the advisory committee there is a majority against us almost as great as that on the commission, and yet we are to expect justice. While all the red words are still flowing in denunciation of the Royal Commission, the Government say that now they will trust a second Royal Commission composed of the same people. The last Royal Commission have not only made a report, but they have recommended to the Ministry the power to refuse benefit.
Our people are being told that there is to be Parliamentary control, but the things that are being said to our people are not creditable either to the speakers or to our movement. Those taking part in this movement may succeed for a month or a year, but ultimately their judgment day will come. We are told that we have Parliamentary control. Never was there a greater lie. What is the truth? The Minister, after we adjourn at the end of this month, can, in the second week thereafter, issue a regulation which can be worked during the whole of the holidays. It is said that reports will be laid before Parliament and that private Members can come down to the House and fight. Fight whom? The Government? It is an utter impossibility after 11 o'clock at night. I am surprised at the attitude of certain hon. Members here. I remember the Secretary of State for India, when he was a protector of freedom, standing up at the end of the bench opposite and attacking the system when the Government of the day were introducing Safeguarding. It is bad for Safeguarding. It is wrong for Safeguarding, but it is, oh, so right when attacking the poor.
You may defend your Measure to-day. Some hon. Members may get up and say that there are a number of married women wrongfully getting benefit and some short-timers earning considerable sums getting benefit. As far as an amateur can do so, I have calculated that no fewer than 300,000 people will be affected by this Measure in a year. I will be generous, and cut off 150,000 of them as being persons drawing fabulous 2134 sums. But what about the other 150,000? I will even go so far as to say that there may be only 50,000 poor people made poorer by this Measure. But it would then be a terrible indictment of the Labour party. The Labour party, built up on wrongs and sufferings, are to-day engaged in the foul conspiracy of robbing those 50,000 people.
This Bill will not end there. It will be extended. The Minister said that it is only an experiment. Next year more. Where are your anomalies going to stop? I can quote the case of a neighbour of mine, a young man, who is drawing benefit and has £12 a week coming into the house. You must stop that. You cannot stop there. Take the short-time worker earning £2 10s. a week. He receives an income of £130 a year. If another man earns £4 10s. a week for 40 weeks he will get £180 a year. The man who gets £180 a year will get benefit for 11 weeks, having only paid 40 contributions, but the man who has paid 52 contributions and has earned £130—£50 less—is not to receive a single day's benefit. You call that wiping out anomalies. You are creating anomalies which will give benefit to those who live in sin. What a way. What a Measure. It is on which I shall do my best to oppose. The Bill is wrong from every point of view.
One or two friends of mine have said, "George, do not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill; it can be amended in Committee." There is not a good line in it. There is nothing to commend it. I shall go into the Lobby regretfully. It may be said by comrades of mine that I may like doing so. I regret having to oppose the Bill. I would much sooner this Bill had not been brought in. We shall be challenged and pilloried. Secret meetings and conclaves will be held. For my part, I have one or two loyalties. Loyalty I have to my party, and none more so, but, greater than that loyalty, the greatest loyalty to me, is my loyalty to the poor from whence I sprung, and nothing, not even secret meetings and a threat against my livelihood, will ever make me desert those folk who have given me bread.
§ Mr. OLIVER STANLEY
It has been my misfortune on a previous occasion to follow the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) in one of these Debates, and it is no light burden for anyone to follow 2135 an hon. Member who speaks with such eloquence and sincerity upon a subject in regard to which he feels so keenly. There is the further difficulty which makes Debate between the hon. Member and myself, within the confines of a Bill such as this, almost impossible,—the fundamental divergence between us goes far deeper and lies far wider than this or any similar Bill. His whole conception of the state of society which it is possible to build up, and his whole conception of financial possibilities and economic laws differ entirely from mine. He believes that State taxation does no more than inconvenience the rich who have to pay it while benefiting the poor who receive it. I believe that that taxation does more than inconvenience the rich. I believe that at the same time it damages the poor, and that the expenditure which seems so simple in this House, and appears to be putting direct benefits into the pockets of those whom the hon. Member represents, and sincerely represents, is, in fact, putting a small benefit into their pockets every week and at the same time withdrawing from them for ever the chance of what they want more than doles—the chance of regular employment. It is because of the fundamental difference which exists between us that a Debate upon the lines of his speech is almost impossible.
But just as I can look across that gulf at the hon. Member and recognise that the views which he holds, wrongly as I believe, are views which he holds with sincerity, so he can look across the gulf at me and believe that I hold equally sincerely views which he condemns. The hon. Member has, indeed, some cause of complaint, not against me or my hon. Friends on this side of the House, but against right hon. Members who sit upon his own Front Bench. The hon. Member might well have thought from the philosophy upon which the Labour movement has been built up that those hon. and right hon. Members sit on his side of the gulf, not on mine, and that they hold to-day the views which have been expressed so often in the past, of the inexhaustible fund of wealth in the hands of the few idle rich which only needed a strong Socialist Government to distribute to the deserving poor. It must be a shock to him, as to many who 2136 have helped to build up the Labour movement, to find to-day that those hon. and right hon. Members are with us.
The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing the Budget of this year was the death-knell of the Socialist party. What was his argument? It was that we must avoid taxation, we must attempt this expedient and that expedient, in an effort to avoid taxation, to avoid any more being put on the Income Tax and any more on the Super-Tax. Why? Was it because the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a friend of the rich? Was it because he is afraid of the inconvenience it may cause them, and does not want to hurt their pockets? Or was it because he believed that more taxation would hurt industry and employment, and that more men would lose jobs? If that is consistent with the Socialism which the hon. Member for Gorbals advocates, and which I have no doubt the hon. Member who is sneering at my remarks has often preached at the street-corners in his constituency, then I say it is the death-knell of Socialism.
§ Mr. VAUGHAN
I was not sneering at the hon. Member or doing anything of the kind. He has quite misunderstood me.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I am sorry if I thought that the hon. Member was sneering. I now understand that he was only disagreeing with kindliness. Let me pass from the fundamental conception upon which the hon. Member's speech was built and return, without the gloss of his eloquence and oratory, to the type of cases we are considering in this Bill. My sympathy with the hon. Member increases. We are here asked to deal with certain anomalies which arise, not in the system which the hon. Member desires, and not in the system which right hon. Members opposite could enforce without a General Election, which seems so far away from sight, but in the system which exists to-day, a system which enables a married woman who has happened in the past to have had employment, and therefore come into an insurable occupation, but who has married today with no intention of returning to employment, to draw benefit, while alongside her is a married woman who in her single days never qualified for benefit, 2137 and who now being married does not want to return to employment and is unable to draw anything at all. Why that distinction? I could have understood it if every married woman with a family should not be dependent on her industrial past or future, that the mere fact that she was married should entitle her to benefit, but if, in fact, you are going to draw a distinction on industrial grounds how can you say——
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
This Bill does not deal with the married woman. She does not want work; she wants benefit, and under this Bill there is a prescribed number of weeks she has to work after her marriage. If she gets work, she still gets benefit. You are not stopping the married woman from getting benefit. In fact, she is the only woman who will get it.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I think the hon. Member is under a misapprehension as to the terms of the Bill. What happens is this: Married women who in any prescribed period subsequent to marriage have paid less than the prescribed number of contributions come under the terms of any regulation the Minister may make; the must satisfy the requirements with respect to the receipt of benefit. Undoubtedly, the Minister of Labour will impose conditions with the precise object of eliminating the type of cases to which the hon. Member has referred. He drew attention to the case raised by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir D. Maclean) of the man who with two days work in the week drew £4 a week. Does he really think that under the present system it is fair that men in work should draw 17s. a week while the man who has nothing to depend upon should draw the same amount?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
That has been the law from 1927 to 1929, and you never made any attempt to amend it. It has been going on for years. You have only discovered it now because the newspapers have picked out one case.
§ Mr. STANLEY
It has not been discovered now because the newspapers have picked out one case. It has been discovered by the Minister of Labour in the examples which have been given to the knowledge of hon. Members, and by the evidence brought before the Royal 2138 Commission, and by the report of the Royal Commission which was set up by the Government to answer their questions. The only thing I cannot understand about the hon. Member's speech is that he is so much concerned about this. He does not realise that the operation of this Bill will rest, not in the hands of Parliament, not in the hands of hon. Members on this side of the House, not even in the hands of this Committee, on which as he thinks there is a majority against the class he represents, but in the hands of the Minister. Hon. Members opposite know their Minister of Labour; they have known her for two years. Have they ever known her to do anything? Does the hon. Member for Gorbals really anticipate that if the Bill becomes law and these tiresome discussions are out of the way the right hon. Lady is going to operate the powers conferred upon her by this Bill? I cannot believe, from anything in her past, that this will be the case, and it is because I differ from the hon. Member on that point that I find it so difficult to make up my attitude as to this Bill.
Usually when a Bill is presented one's political principles, or party principles, or personal predelictions—they may not always be the same—almost immediately dictate the course one is to follow, but, on the other hand, many hon. Members on this side of the House share with me a doubt as to what our attitude should be upon the Bill. It may mean so much; it may mean so little; it may be a great experiment which will revolutionise the whole unemployment insurance, and it may be just one more of those smokescreens which the fertile ingenuity of the right hon. Lady has so often evolved since she assumed her office. There is one fundamental error in this Bill from whatever point of view you look at it.
I must disagree, though slightly, with the interesting and novel statement made by the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot). He pointed out that this was a new departure in the way of withdrawing from the control of the House of Commons and the responsibility of hon. Members the execution of certain Acts and handing them over to the control of outside bodies and commissions and committees. I must point out that this Bill stops half way and gives the control to the Minister, but there is 2139 nothing which prevents the Minister handing that control on to impartial outside bodies which are to rescue Parliament and the politician from the tyranny of vote-catching appeals. As a matter of fact, the committee which is set up under this Bill is absolutely powerless; it has absolutely no functions whatever. Unless the right hon. Lady chooses to send certain matters to it for reference it will never have a job of work to do. If she does send certain questions to it she can ignore its report when it makes it. These men may be selected for their knowledge and experience of the working of these Acts. They may see under their noses anomalies and abuses continuing which they know ought to be remedied, but they are absolutely powerless to do anything in the matter. They have no power to investigate, and no power to report.
The whole initiative in the Bill rests with the right hon. Lady, and there is nothing in her past record which leads one to believe that she is strong enough to do that. The organisation set up is a hybrid one. It has none of the merits which responsible control of Parliament may still have. It has none of the merits which a new independent organisation of the future may show. It has the demerits of both and the advantages of neither, but, at any rate, one can say that it is more than the right hon. Lady has done in the past. She is, of course, largely the cause of this Bill. A great many of the anomalies which we are now setting out to cure have been caused by her. Hon. Members will remember December, 1929, when she came down to the House with a new Clause in her Bill designed to substitute another test for that of genuinely seeking work. She marched her troops up the hill—and then she marched them down again. The Attorney-General on one day with great sincerity blew the charge, and with equal sincerity on the next day blew the retreat. To-day for the first time the right hon. Lady since that crusade, which she must regret, has shown a little courage. It is, at any rate, the first recognition she has given of the need for action rather than talk. It is the first time she has tried to do anything without saying before she does it that she must have another few months for consultation and thought. On the whole, meaningless as the Bill may prove and impossible as it 2140 is to know its effect, while it is but a poor thing, it is the right hon. Lady's alone, and for that reason I think we should give it a Second Beading.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
On a point of Order. Seeing that there are so many hon. Members who are anxious to intervene in this Debate, Members who have been constant in attendance and have been helping the work of the House and in Committee and elsewhere, is there any special rule or regulation whereby an hon. Member who absents himself for several months at a time is to have the special privilege of speaking when he wishes to do so?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There is a note of complaint in the remarks of the hon. Member. I should rather have thought that he would have commiserated with me on the multiplication of parties in this House.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Further to that point of Order. I certainly do commiserate with you, Mr. Speaker, in your extreme difficulty; but am I to understand from your statement that the best guarantee to be able to advertise one's presence and to be able to speak in this House is merely to form a new party?
§ Mr. MACLEAN
May I put this point to you, Mr. Speaker? All the speeches that have been delivered already, with the exception of the speech of the Minister of Labour, have been speeches against the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes; there were certain points in their speeches which were against the Bill. The hon. Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) have, both of them, Amendments on the Paper against the Bill. One of them is still a member of the Labour party, and the other is the leader of a new party, but, at the same time, he has been looked upon, until his entry into the House, as a, member of the Labour party. Consequently it appears that in the selection of Members from the Labour Benches those are being selected who are speaking against the Bill and not in favour of it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
When the hon. Member puts a point of Order he might listen 2141 to what I have to say in reply. As to whether speeches of hon. Members are in favour of or against a Bill, my difficulty is that, even after a speech is made, very often I do not know whether it is for or against a Bill
§ Sir OSWALD MOSLEY
I can assure the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who is so anxious to ensure my attendance in this House, that I shall always be here on the rare occasions on which his Government produce a Measure of the slightest importance to the country or one that has any relevance to the national situation. We have had the remarkable view expressed that all the speeches delivered in this Debate have been delivered against the Bill. I, on the contrary, was under the impression that a perfect harmony prevailed between the Conservative, the Labour and the Liberal parties in support of the Bill, that we have been attending a love-feast, a new coalition of all the three senior parties on this occasion, in support of the Bill. The first discordant note in the Debate was the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I am afraid that it is my unhappy lot to strike another discordant note, although of a rather different nature.
It has been admitted that there has been for long considerable disquiet among large sections of the public as to the conditions under which unemployment insurance is administered at the present time, and this Bill is the response of the Government to that agitation. It cannot be denied that anomalies existed in the legislation which has grown up over a long period of time—grown up in a series of Measures and in a very haphazard fashion. It also cannot be denied, as the hon. Member for Gorbals incidentally pointed out, that the anomalies are not all on one side. Some of them operate against the working class; others often, doubtless, operate in favour of the working class. This Bill is being brought forward in the name of equity, of righting wrong, of removing anomalies. Why, then, were these considerations of equity so long absent from the minds of this Government and of their predecessors? Why have these gross abuses, as they are now called, been allowed to remain so long upon the Statute Book? They were 2142 allowed to remain on the Statute Book unchecked and unaltered until the demand for economy became strong in the country.
To call this a Measure of equity, whatever the merits of the Bill, is, of course, a complete misnomer. It is a Measure of economy, and nothing else. There are hon. Members now on the Opposition side whose Government permitted these abuses to continue. The present Government permitted these abuses to continue until the whole fabric of unemployment insurance began to crumble and collapse, in the absence of any policy to reconstruct the industries of the country. Of this both the present Government and their predecessors were alike guilty. Not only that, but the absence of policy, will or decision in any party in the State has reduced the whole insurance system of the country to collapse and catastrophe. Not until then did we have a demand put forward in the name of equity, a demand which is really a demand for economy, to save, at the expense of one section of the population, the whole insurance system from disaster.
I submit that in this matter there are two inalienable rights. The first right is that of the man or woman who has paid the requisite number of contributions, to draw unemployment benefits when out of work. That is a contractual right, just as strong as the right of any hon. Member to know that his descendants will draw the results of a policy he has taken out on his life, when he is dead. If a man pays his unemployment contributions a requisite number of times he has a perfect right, when out of work, to draw benefit. This Bill does not discriminate. It does not raise the principle of transitional benefit at all; it falls on transitional and normal benefit alike.
§ Sir O. MOSLEY
I think that that is true, and that the case can be put even more strongly than that. If the requisite contributions have been paid and the man is out of work, he has a contractual right to draw his benefit, just as strong as the right of my children or the children of any hon. Member to draw the result of a policy on which we have paid premiums all our lives, if we are dead. 2143 Equally on the other side the State, which is the guardian of the fund, and is in the position of the insurance company in normal transactions, has the right to be sure that a man is out of work, just as our descendants have a right to be sure that we are in fact dead. Those are two rights which have to be met in any equitable system. How can they be secured, the right of the individual and of the State? I submit that there is only one way to determine whether a man is out of work or not, and that is to provide him with work. That is the only fair way, and there is no other way. If you have not that test you are keeping out scores of people who are entitled to benefit.
This is a sliding scale, not in accordance with equity, but in accordance with the demand for economy, stiffened up, made more difficult as your fund begins to collapse, and the demand for economy and the agitation and the very justifiable fear of the country begin to increase. We had the same trouble in another way over the question of "genuinely seeking work." There, again, the only test of the man "genuinely seeking work" is to provide him with a job. If he refuses a job he is not genuinely seeking work; if he accepts a job he is genuinely seeking work and by accepting it qualifies to come back into the insurance system. The absence of any policy by the present Government or its predecessor to provide work, made that test impossible, and so we have had varying conditions applied from time to time, sometimes operating more or less fairly and at other times more harshly.
Now we come to the present occasion, with exactly the same dilemma. The question now is, not whether a man is genuinely seeking work, but whether or not he is entitled to draw benefit, whether he is really unemployed in the conditions of his trade. If you had a job available to present in this £8 a week case, of which we hear so much, if the Government could say, "We have some constructive work schemes in your neighbourhood. We do not believe that you are really out of employment. You can take a job at whatever rate the Government has laid down under trade union conditions"—it would be certainly less than £8 a week—one of two things would 2144 happen. That £8 a week man takes the job and so shows the genuineness of his search for work, or he refuses the job and becomes disqualified for benefit. You have there an immediate test and a fail-test, applicable to every conceivable case, the moment that a Government has within its hands a job to offer the unemployed man.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
What about the case of the docker? The Government cannot make work at the dock when there is not any work there.
§ Mr. BROWN
The point is this. No one has suggested in that policy that dockers getting two days' work a week should be put on work of construction. The hon. Member's argument seems to be that the man who is now getting a certain amount of work should be given work in another trade, and work different from that which he is doing.
§ Sir O. MOSLEY
Again I think "We can Conquer Unemployment" will remove the hon. Member's doubt, if after a painful lapse of time it represents the policy which he was returned to support. Suppose that work for 600,000 men had been provided by a real Liberal Government, of which the hon. Member would have been a distinguished member. In every area jobs would have been available, provided by the State, and if the docker or the other man who is getting the £8 a week came along and said, "I am out of a job and want to draw benefit," the Government would say, "Here is a whole-time job for you, provided by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs; not a wretched part-time job which throws you on benefit, but a- whole-time job under the Liberal scheme for conquering unemployment." Immediately you would apply to him the only fair and proper test which, in the event of his refusal, would properly disqualify him. No, it is the abandonment of all these work schemes by Liberal party and Labour party alike, which places them in this dilemma.
To-day the spokesman of the Liberal party comes along, not with proposals to put 600,000 men into work or to put one man into work. All that has been dropped since the new alliance and coalition. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] They 2145 come along now, not with proposals to put one man into work, but with a proposal to economise, to save £5,000,000 and save the whole structure of the State! Back from "We can Conquer Unemployment"; back to retrenchment, but anyhow not peace within for the Liberal party. All the great constructive plans and proposals thrown overboard by them, as they have been thrown overboard long ago by the Government. No, Sir, it is the complete absence of any policy of any kind, either to reconstruct the industries of this country upon a permanent basis, or to provide short-term relief works of an economic character—it is the absence of that policy alone, which confronts the Government and the House with the dilemma of this legislation.
I should not be in order in going in any detail into proposals which we have discussed so often in this House, but I have often ventured to suggest not only that a long-term policy to reconstruct the industries of this country—utterly lacking in the present Government—was necessary, but also a policy of constructive relief works to bridge the gulf between the present and the fruition of that long-term policy. That plan would preserve the capacity to work and incidentally provide the only fair and proper test of those genuinely seeking work and those entitled to draw benefit. Until measures of this nature, which I submit are the truest economies that could be undertaken, are adopted by Governments, we shall stumble from Measure to Measure of this nature until you have a universal bullying of the unemployed population of this country.
What are the methods to be adopted under these proposals? The Regulations made by the Minister are to be laid on the Table of the House, and, if unchallenged, are to have the force of law. As the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove pointed out, those proposals have a familiar ring. I have no objection to the methods; I only object to the end. But why are these method" denounced as dictatorship when I put them forward, and hailed as the pure milk of "Labour and the Nation" when the Government put them forward? I ventured to suggest arbitrary methods to put men into jobs. The Government adopt arbitrary methods to put men out of benefit. That is the difference between us. The 2146 Government are placing in the hands of the Minister executive authority, and for what purposes is it to be used? Not for constructive purposes, not for rebuilding the industries of the nation, not for putting a single man or woman into work.
If you propose it for those purposes you are proposing a dictatorship and aiming a fatal blow at the British Constitution, and threatening the whole structure of British liberty. But if you come along not to build up but to cut down, to harry and bully a few poor people and save a few million pounds, then you can place in the hands of the Minister any powers you like to give him. Then you do not make him put his regulations into an Act of Parliament, because that would reveal his purpose and his Act would get a rough passage from his own back benchers. No, in that case give him his powers in the dark and let them operate afterwards, not, as I say, for the rebuilding of this country but for the purpose of cutting down. Anything is right when you are on the retreat, but nothing is to be permitted when you are on the advance. That is the method to which the Labour Government in its complete absence of policy in its surrender of every belief to which it was ever attached has, at last, been reduced.
This is a very small symptom of a general tendency. All over this country wages are being reduced and will be further reduced. Social services are being attacked; standards are being reduced, and, as these things are cut down, the home market, which is the last great field for British industry, is being progressively reduced and the great trade union movement, which came into existence to maintain those standards, is forced to acquiesce in their reduction, without a word, without a kick, because if it did protest it might bring down the Government to which it is attached. To what a pass has the great trade union and working class movement in this country been reduced under the leadership which it now enjoys. I have already suggested that if you want a test of those who are entitled to draw benefit or are seeking work, you should offer them jobs but that depends upon an executive efficiency which the Government have not shown.
2147 In any case, in relation to the magnitude of this problem this Bill is totally irrelevant. It is tinkering with the situation and playing with it and pretending to the country that you are really doing something, when you know that you are still doing nothing at all. By this little Measure you buy until the Autumn another short lease of your own miserable lives. You buy it at the expense of the poorest of your supporters who voted for you in more lavish days. You buy it at the expense of British industry which your continued existence in power places in ever-increasing jeopardy. That is the contribution of this Measure. That is the position of the Government; and it is a tribute to the strength and vitality of this country that, under these handicaps, it can still continue to look forward not without some hope in the not too-distant future, to the emergence of some force and some policy.
§ Major MILNER
For a number of reasons, but mainly because there has been other work to do, I have rarely troubled the House during recent months, but I feel that this Measure is of such importance that I ought to intervene on this occasion. In the first place, as I understand it, this is a Measure to deal with anomalies in unemployment insurance, as a corollary to the provisions which have quite recently been before the House whereby the Government and the House have provided £25,000,000 of increased borrowing powers for the Unemployment Insurance Fund and have therefore, to that extent, provided that amount for the payment of unemployment benefit. In the second place, this Measure indicates that, contrary to the belief which hon. Members opposite try to instil into people, the Government are ready and willing to deal with proved anomalies as and when satisfactory evidence of them is brought to notice. It will be observed that I use the term "anomalies." I disagree entirely with the word "abuses" which has been used by a right hon. Gentleman opposite, and I disagree also with the term "gross abuses" which I think I am right in saying was expressly used by the hon. Baronet the Member for Smeth-wick (Sir O. Mosley).
§ Major MILNER
The Royal Commission made it clear that the term "abuses" was not a fair term in this connection and that a fair word was "anomalies" and they went on to say:We wish to make it clear that the classes of claims which have been criticised as not properly within an insurance scheme, are permissible under existing legislation.I, therefore, take strong exception to expressions such as "spongers" and "dole-mongers" so frequently used in this House and elsewhere to describe those who are only claiming that to which they are entitled by law. I have taken the trouble to look up the meaning of the word "anomalies" in Webster's Dictionary, and I find it there defined as "an irregularity," or "a deviation from the ordinary rule," or, in astronomy—and this is a definition which I feel sure will commend itself to the hon. Member for Smethwick—"the irregular motion of a planet." [HON. MEMBERS: "With satellites!"] I might add, as suggested by my hon. Friends, a planet which is surrounded and accompanied by satellites. May I, incidentally, congratulate the hon. Baronet on his rather tardy attendance here? I think he is to be congratulated, because it must be a little difficult in the midst of such absorbing pastimes as fencing and polo to find time to attend to one's duties in this House. The hon. Baronet indicated that he would always be present when any important Measure affecting the interests of the workers was before the House, but we had not the pleasure of seeing him here during the last week or two when the £25,000,000 to which I have referred was being provided for unemployment benefit.
We have had the usual homily and dissertation from the hon. Baronet, whose principal complaint is that the Government have no policy. But where has he been during the past few weeks? I am aware that he did the representatives of Leeds in this House the honour of arranging a meeting of the New party in that city, but he himself, no doubt to the great regret of the Leeds people, did not grace that meeting with his presence. He left what was perhaps a rather difficult undertaking to an extremely courageous lady, namely, the hon. Member for Stoke (Lady Cynthia Mosley). But notwithstanding that meeting, the name of the hon. Baronet the Member for Smethwick is 2149 never heard in these days in the City of Leeds: