HC Deb 21 July 1931 vol 255 cc1275-301

It shall be the duty of the Minister to make, as soon as possible after the passing of this Act, regulations which shall make such modifications in the provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Acts relating to the determination of claims for benefit as may appear to be necessary, so that persons who satisfy the first statutory condition for the receipt of benefit but who are held to be not unemployed on any day although they received no wages in respect of that day shall be entitled to benefit.—[Mr. Maxton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

In drafting the new Clause we carefully included the phrase: so that persons who satisfy the first statutory condition for the receipt of benefit but who are held to be not unemployed on any day although they received no wages in respect of that day shall be entitled to benefit, in order to bring it well within the Ruling that you gave on the previous occasion. The fact that we mention the first statutory condition will make it obligatory that anyone who wants benefit as the result of the inclusion of this proposed Clause, must have the 30-stamps qualification within the limit of two years, and will bar out those who at that particular moment, had a less qualification such as is allowed to those on transitional benefit. Our purpose in moving this new Clause is to take advantage of the offer which, I think, was made in reply to a line of criticism that we directed against the Bill, that it was one-sided in its operation, that it operated only to deprive people of benefit who are presently getting it, or who are entitled to it under the present legislation, but that it did not bring in any one person out of the hundreds of thousands who, though barred by the strict terms of the Statute, have what everyone recognises is a sound and just claim to unemployment benefit as genuinely unemployed persons and who are satisfying all the general conditions attached to the insured person.

I mentioned hundreds of thousands, but there are probably many more. The Ruling of Mr. Speaker, however, makes it impossible to bring in large numbers whom we would have preferred to see included, but there is a sufficient number presently suffering injustice to justify the House in including the proposed Clause and removing some portion of the anomalies that are operating against a large section of unemployed persons.

The position we desire to meet by this new Clause is more particularly that of the miner, who frequently, having presented himself for work and gone down the pit, and proceeded to the place where he is to be employed, finds on arrival after a considerable journey that, through some unforeseen circumstances, he is unable to engage in any wage-earning work that day and has to return home, probably after the expiry of a considerable period of time. He is a piece worker and he is deprived of wage earning for that day, but, as unemployment insurance law stands at the moment, he is not an unemployed person. He has paid insurance contributions, he is ready to work, he is normally engaged in insurable employment, he is available for insurable employment, but he is denied any benefit, although he is unable to work and earn wages on that particular day.

If the Minister includes this new Clause, she will remedy a grievance which has been very widely felt, and which has been frequently voiced to Members of Parliament in correspondence from their constituencies, particularly from those constituencies where there are a large number of miners. I mention specifically the case of the miner, because it was in the case of a miner that the leading decision by the umpire was given, but other workers are not exempt from the same grievance in their particular industries. There is the case of workers in a textile factory who present themselves for work, and ten minutes after the normal start a breakdown occurs in the machinery. A day's work and a days earnings are lost, but, according to the decision, that day is not one on which persons, although deprived of their wages, are entitled to unemployment benefit.

There are other cases, such as one which I received from my constituency recently, which seem to come within the scope of this proposed Clause. Such are those persons who, being unemployed and seeing no immediate prospect of employment, consider whether they can equip thmselves for employment in some new direction. I have in mind the case of a young lad in my division who became unemployed in the particular work in which he was engaged, and, coming to the conclusion that the future prospects of his industry were not very good, proceeds at considerable expense to his parents to train to get new qualifications, new knowledge, and new skill that may equip him for employment in an industry that offers better opportunities than the one in which he had been engaged. That is just exactly the type of man who should be encouraged by this House with all its talk about demoralisation, its dislike of encouraging the man who does not want to work and never did want to work, and with its fear that Unemployment Insurance is developing the shirker type. Surely such an individual, who is prepared at a fairly advanced age to take up a new walk of life, is prepared to submit himself to the discipline of a new training, is prepared to incur the expenditure involved in this new training in order that he may become a socially useful unit in an industry that may be able to employ him, is entitled to every encouragement that the House of Commons and the Government can give him.

Under this new Clause it will become possible for the Minister to recognise that such a man is an insured person satisfying the first statutory condition, who, although engaged from day to day, is not receiving wages and is entitled to unemployment benefit. I hope that the Minister, having vindicated her authority by refusing to submit to Measures for 19 hours on the Committee stage, and having shown that she is a strong Minister and that she genuinely intends to carry out the undertaking which she mentioned on Committee stage—I am not quite sure to which of the undertakings she was referring, whether they were public undertakings or private undertakings—and having carried out her undertaking to introduce the Bill and carry it through the Committee stage, will consider whether now on the Report stage she cannot include this new Clause, and so relieve the Bill of the charge that has been made, and will be made, that the anomalies to be dealt with will operate against the working classes. I hope that she will see that this new Clause will bring into benefit large numbers of insured persons who to-day are refused benefit, and that that refusal constitutes in very truth a real abuse and a real anomaly.


I beg to second the Motion.

I hope that the Minister will accede to our request, for it will give her the opportunity which I am sure she has been seeking. When we put before the Ministry cases of hardships where the Umpire's decision has gone against the worker, invariably the Minister has said, "If I could, I would meet you, but the finding of the Umpire is final, and we cannot interfere." In my sojourning in mining villages, I have had several cases drawn to my attention of miners finding no work after going to the pits. The miner gets himself ready for the pit, and if the average Member had to perform that operation, he would think that that in itself was a good day's work. He has put on his clothes and has walked miles through the open countryside, with no shelter, with the rain and the wind beating on him, and when he gets to the colliery—perhaps, as in one case I know of, after walking for one and three- quarter hours, and soaked to the skin—he is informed that there is no work for him. In the case I refer to the man did not have to go down the pit. His application for benefit was turned down because on that day, so far as the Employment Exchange was concerned, he was not available for insurable employment. It was the Umpire's decision.

It is to put power into the hands of the Ministry, so that no Umpire will be able to give such a decision as that, that I am seconding this Clause. Take the building industry, in which the men are subjected to terrible hardships under this legislation on account of our climatic conditions—particularly bricklayers and the labourers for bricklayers. Carrying the hod is about the last job on God's earth! These men turn out in all kinds of weather, only to discover when they get to the scene of operations that the foreman has decided that this is not a day on which it is going to pay him to keep the men working. He decides that he cannot get a day's work out of them because of either frost or rain. I know of men who go out of the city of Glasgow seeking work—because my own brother-in-law is a builder. They go out miles. I wish some of the boys who are smiling now had a job of that kind to do. They would not find it a smiling matter. Those men walk out of the city of Glasgow to the suburbs or, it may be, away out into the country, again in our inclement weather; men who are underfed, under-clothed, without any overcoats, many of them with no underclothes, because they cannot afford underclothes. They go out to their job, only to be told that there will be no work that day. Because of having gone out they are told, when they get to the Employment Exchange, that they have not been available for insurable employment on that day.

Take the case of my own industry, shipbuilding and engineering. Shipbuilding is largely an outside job, the men are not working under cover, and time and again in the depth of winter, after they have risen out of their beds in the morning and gone out into the wild weather, anxious to get work, anxious to earn an honest penny, hanging about the gates waiting on it, suffering all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, they find there is no work that day. Yet because those men were not signing on at the Employment Exchange they are regarded as not having been available for insurable employment. This is not an odd case that I am citing. I have submitted innumerable cases to the Ministry. All the workers in the factories, all the mill workers, textile and woollen, come under the ban. This Clause would relieve them. If, when they go out to their work in the morning, they find that the power has gone off, and a thousand or two of them are involved, every consideration is shown to them; but when it is simply a ease of a loom or two breaking down, or a section that is stopped, then no consideration is given to them, they are a few, and they get neither pay from the employer nor anything from the Employment Exchange.

I am anxious that the Members of the House shall understand what it is we are trying to get at. The position is that because those individuals go to their work, are willing to work but are unable to work through no fault of their own, and through going to their work are unable to be at the Employment Exchange, that they are cut off benefit under the umpire's decision. We do not want to stretch out the Debate, but we are anxious to get some concession. "Hope springs eternal in the human breast," and it is a good thing it does. Finally, I say this, that if any saving is effected by this Bill it should be used to give justice to those who are unemployed.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Miss Bondfield)

The history of this matter is so very complicated that it is due to the House, and due to the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, who have put their case in a very temperate way, that I should explain why it is not possible for me to accept the new Clause. As the Mover has said, it is the mining industry that is primarily concerned. There is a certain fringe of cases that may occur in other industries, but the difficulty is felt most acutely in connection with mines. This is the progress which has been made in connection with this definition of when a man begins work in a mine. First of all, the umpire's decision was that it was when he was at the pit top. Then it went a stage further. After representations by and the skilful arguments of the trade union representatives before the umpire the point was moved to the pit bottom. Then, very largely due to the successful case conducted by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), it was moved to the lamp station, and that is where it is at present. The lamp station is the point determining when a miner is beginning his day's work.

I am not at all surprised that the name of no miners' Member is attached to this new Clause, because the miners' Members are well aware of the complications of the situation. The situation is complicated by the fact that the starting point for the day's work suits the compensation cases, suits the minimum wage question and presses with only little hardship upon a small proportion of people in conection with unemployment claims. However, this point of when the day's work begins is one of the points—there is a whole collection of umpire's decisions in relation to this matter—which quite obviously cannot be settled by an Act of Parliament. Owing to the infinite variations in connection with the day's work, it must be a question of the interpretation of the statutory condition by the statutory authorities. We have asked the Unemployment Insurance Commission to review this aspect of the matter to see whether any improvement can be effected in connection with the results of this series of umpire's decisions.

Reference was made to the building trades, but I certainly think this Clause would not be acceptable to the workers there. Their policy is to try to secure payment for wet time, and to make special arrangements which will meet the peculiar circumstances of their industry. The Clause also raises the very, very difficult question, a question absolutely woven into the very fabric of the insurance system, of availability for work. I am sure I have said enough to show that the issues raised by this Amendment are so great and so complicated that they would be entirely outside the purpose of the Bill, and for these reasons, not because there is no criticism of the complaint referred to, but because it is not possible to deal with it in this way, I cannot accept the new Clause.


I was not clear about one point. The right hon. Lady said that in remedying this admitted abuse one could not proceed by legislation but would need to proceed by regulation, and—


I think the hon. Member misunderstood me. What I said was that the point at which employment begins is so infinitely varied in the different trades that it could not possibly be dealt with by a Clause in an Act of Parliament.


May I ask a further question, because I am not yet quite clear about this? Do I understand the right hon. Lady to say that if she can get over the detailed point of when the employment starts she has now, under existing legislation, the power to grant benefit by regulation?


The point is that, if a man is judged by the umpire to be unemployed, he is entitled to benefit, but, if he is judged by the umpire to be employed, he is not entitled to benefit.

5.0 p.m.


I want to make it clear at once that I have no intention of opposing the Government, but I wish to draw attention to a matter which I hope will have some consideration. I refer to the case which occurred in the Yorkshire coalfields and which is well known. It was determined by the umpire, and I happened to be in charge of it, along with the miners' general secretary and members of the Yorkshire Miners' Association. I want the Minister to understand how this thing has been determined, and how people are regarded as being in employment and out of employment in these cases, so that the whole matter may be reviewed. We took the case as a test that if a man walked from his home to the pit on the surface and walked a mile and a-half underground, as in this case, he was entitled to be regarded as having been working. The umpire decided otherwise. That decision was given, and it applies now to the whole country. I put the point to the umpire, Suppose that workmen or workpeople have learned on the surface that they could work, would then they be entitled to unemployment benefit? He answered "Yes." But if he got down below and went to the coal face he was not entitled to payment of benefit. That, to my mind, is a wrong thing under the existing law. I only wish to impress upon the Minister that she will take a close interest in this matter and endeavour to put it right.


I want to ask the Minister whether she cannot give some further consideration to this matter before a final decision is reached. May I give her some illustration as to the hardship and injustice that now operates under the existing law and which the proposed new Clause would obviate? I will give her the cases of two young men, each of whom had a good insurance record. In the first case, the man had an unbroken insurance record of over seven years. During the whole of that time he had had his card stamped with the utmost regularity every week. He had been in a good steady job, and he was a good steady workmen. The firm who engaged him kept him till the last moment and parted with him with regret when they could no longer retain his services. He went to the Employment Exchange, thinking himself fairly safe for a period during which he could look round to find other work. He hunted over the whole of this area trying to find work in his own trade, and discovered, after exhaustive search, that the reason which had compelled his own employers to discharge him had had the same effect upon other employers in the trade.

As it was of little use to seek further employment in his own trade, he decided to make a change to find some other way of earning a living. He went to the Ribble Omnibus Company, who told him that they had no vacancies and that they could not offer him employment, but that they were prepared to give him a ticket that would entitle him at any period of the day to ride upon the company's omnibuses and to observe the work of the conductor and that at some subsequent period, if they were short of conductors, they might send for him. He did not, therefore, become an employé. But in his anxiety to show the Employment Exchange officials that he was not a slacker he went to the exchange and reported what had happened and immediately found that his unemploy- ment benefit was taken from him. I do not believe it was ever intended that in these circumstances a man should be deprived of benefit. When the incident was brought to the notice of the Minister, she at once sympathised but declared that unfortunately she was helpless. The machine operated in such a way as to inflict injustice on this man, and it had to go on inflicting injustice on him and on others who might be in the same circumstances.

The sympathy which the Minister extended on that occasion can be implemented now. The acceptance of this new Clause would prevent recurrence of a similar admitted injustice in the future. I appeal to the Minister that, if the law is operating in such a way and she has no power, as Minister, to prevent such injustice recurring, she should have notices exhibited in the Employment Exchanges warning those men who want to find work of the risk they are running of forfeiting their unemployment benefit.

The other case which I want to mention, curiously enough, belongs to the same company, the Ribble Omnibus Company. An engineer who became unemployed thought that this transport industry, which is growing very rapidly in Merseyside, as elsewhere, might find him employment. He reported to the offices of the company and was informed that it was necessary for him to undergo a test to discover whether he was suited for the work and had the necessary degree of efficiency. The test he had to undergo was that he had to work two successive night shifts. This he accepted and reported on the first night. He was told by the foreman in charge of the night shift what was the work required of him and by what he would be judged in the morning. He worked his night shift through and was told that his work had been satisfactory and that he was to report again the same night for another night shift. He went on the second occasion, put in his second night shift, and, after calling at the offices of the company, he expected, having satisfied all those who were in charge of the mechanical side, that he would be given a job. But when he arrived at the office he discovered to his disappointment that all the information waiting for him vas that it had been decided he was not up to the company's standard.

The ordinary individual, knowing these facts, would say that the man had been deceived, that he had been exploited, that two nights' work had been got out of him by the company for which they had paid him nothing, and that the man had been persuaded under false pretences to give up two nights' rest. It might be said, from another angle, that he had been guilty of preventing another man being employed for two nights. He went to the Employment Exchange to claim unemployment benefit. The Employment Exchange decided that under the existing law he was not entitled to benefit, and that he was, as a matter of fact, not unemployed. He got no farther. The court of referees naturally interpreted the existing Act just as the Employment Exchange officials had done, and did not give the man leave to appeal. All he could do was to come to me, and I told him that I would bring the case to the notice of the Minister. One always finds, when cases of injustice and hardship that have crept in are brought to the notice of the Minister, that she sympathises honestly and automatically. Her sympathy is with these people all the time, but she has been compelled hitherto, on every occasion, to point out with regret that the existing Acts do not allow her any alternative. She has no power under the Acts as they now stand, and she has so far been quite unable to give any assistance.

The time has arrived when the opportunity is given to see that in future such hardships and injustices shall not be inflicted. Let it be borne in mind that what I have said about cases from my own constituency, with respect to an industry that is developing tremendously there and in other parts of the country, may be paralleled in all industrial areas where skilled men are being displaced. They are being thrown upon the unemployment market in such numbers and in such conditions that they realise that there is little hope of returning to employment in their own occupation. Being accustomed to think for themselves more than others may do, they are tempted to turn to the developing industries in their area, and they present themselves in the hope of securing new employment. Every one of those men, genuinely seeking work, is tempted to accept the conditions imposed by the company I have mentioned and by other companies, and their accept- ance, arising from the eagerness of their desire for further employment, is the reason, under the existing Act, that they are deprived of their unemployment benefit, however long their insurance record may be.

In the second of the cases that I have described, I appealed to the Minister for further assistance. Again, while she was unable to see that this man got his unemployment benefit, she did at least agree with me that the decision that the man was not unemployed carried with it another implication, so far as the firm was concerned. The man may have been an employed person. I called upon her, in view of the decision that had been officially come to that the man was not unemployed, to get into touch with the colliery company and to insist upon the firm stamping the man's card. I am glad to be able to say that she proposed to take that course. Obviously, no pressure, either by the Minister or by the House, could be put on a firm to insist that the man who had given two nights' work should receive two nights' wages for it. That is an injustice of the kind that is bound to occur, and now there is an opportunity for putting the matter right I ask the Minister whether she will not consider, with all the sympathy she has given us in the past, taking action to see that these injustices are put an end to, once and for all.


In order that some of my colleagues in the House, and many other people not within these four walls, might not misinterpret the silence of the miner Members of Parliament on this occasion, I should like to state why we do not intend to oppose the Government when voting upon this proposed new Clause. All the statements made by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and others, with regard to the miners, are perfectly correct. When this matter first arose, the miners' trade unions were obliged to deal with what they then regarded as an anomaly. Prior to that time, miners who proceeded to the pit top and found no work available, were denied the right to receive benefit. When a case was submitted to the umpire, we not only had to controvert the philosophy of the courts of referees and the local insurance officials, but we had to argue before the umpire that the fact that the person had de- clared himself for work, had proceeded to the colliery, and then had had to return, having earned nothing, at least justified him in submitting a claim for unemployment benefit. The umpire was able to argue that, for the purpose of the minimum wage law, once a person arrived at the colliery for the purposes of the firm, our claim was sustained, that the man was actually at work, although he never descended the mine and consequently did not earn any of the money. For the purposes of minimum wage law, that was regarded as a working day.

With regard to compensation law, it has been established for very many years that, if the man arrives at the colliery and is on the premises, should he be crippled in the colliery or at the colliery surface, he would be entitled to receive compensation. While in logic it might be that we could not argue that a man was at work for the purpose of compensation but was not at work for the purpose of unemployment insurance, we thought that we had a high moral case in claiming that if the man presented himself in the pit bottom, and then had to ascend the mine, having earned nothing at all, clearly he was available for work. No work was there for him and he had earned nothing, so consequently he should have payment for that day. We proceeded to the umpire on one occasion, and we satisfied the umpire about a man who went down the mine, walked one mile and had to return because no work was available, owing to a breakage, or a fall of roof, or any one of the numerous things that can happen in a mine. The umpire recognised that this was a distinct hardship and anomaly, as far as the man's work was concerned, and he extended his previous decision to include a man who had descended a mine so far as the point where the men's lamps are handed out, and who then discovered that there was a fall of roof and had to return. It is an anomaly that such a man should be regarded as unemployed for that day.

There is still the point beyond the lamp station and the actual working face. We recognise the difficulty of the man who proceeds to the point and has to return, having earned nothing at all, because of our general knowledge of this problem, which is highly technical, in view of compensation law and minimum wage law. We insist that this and similar anomalies, or whatever you may care to call them, should be submitted to the Royal Commission for their consideration, and for report when their final report is forthcoming. That is the point of view of the miners' Members sitting on these benches, and that is their justification for not opposing the Government. Once the final report of the Royal Commission is forthcoming, steps can perhaps be taken. At the moment we have no desire to endanger our minimum wage regulations, made between trade unions and employers, or to incur the possibility of losing compensation for workpeople injured at the pit top or at the pit bottom. We think that hon. Members below the Gangway will understand the point of view of the miners' representatives in supporting the Government.


The hon. Lady, in making her reply, stated that the matter had been under review, and was placed for further consideration in the hands of the Royal Commission; but I was surprised when she stopped there. In view of the proposed new Clause which the House is discussing, I wish she had been able to state that, on the result of the deliberations of the Royal Commission, the whole question of employment would be reconsidered. That might have met the case. It would only be a question of waiting until a full investigation had been made into all the criticisms. In regard to what I would call the time-and-station points, in settling whether a man is at work, speaking as an ex-miner, I know from practical experience it is quite possible to do a major portion of the day's work in walking to work. There is no need to go into such details now. If this question is still being considered, and if the Ministry has not made up its mind because a considered judgment on the matter has not been reported to it, cannot the Minister now state, on the responsibility of the Government, that, when these considerations are completed and submitted, she will again bring the matter before the House, in order to get the changes necessary to establish a complete state of justice, so far as that part of the Act is concerned.


No one on these benches regards this proposed Clause as in anyway complicating the problems of the miners, in their dealing with the very difficult and intricate questions of workmen's compensation. I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), but there is nothing in the proposed new Clause, in the way I interpret it, that has the effect which he suggests. We do not prejudge the decision of the Advisory Committee when they have considered all the complicated points as to where employment starts and where it ends. We simply base our case on this perfectly simple proposition: the purpose of the Unemployment Insurance Act is to provide benefit to persons not receiving wages because they are in fact unemployed. That is precisely the position of the persons whose cases we have considered. The essential point is that they are receiving no wages for that day, whereas they have to pay their rent, and feed themselves and their families during that day. The purpose of the Unemployment Insurance Act is to provide benefit in respect of that day. "Well," says the hon. Member, "this is complicated by questions of what, and when, and where the man becomes employed, for the purpose of workmen's compensation." I do not think it is complicated at all. If the man goes down the mine, he goes on to the premises of the company. I think in some cases even if he is on his way to the premises of the company, and he has the misfortune to suffer an accident, under workmen's compensation law he gets compensation. That is an entirely different problem. He is about his employer's business, and the employer is bound to pay compensation. The problem here is not to secure him some compensation but arises from the fact that, because of the no doubt perfectly right but narrow reading of the law, he is deprived of wages.

Nothing in this proposed new Clause at all prejudges what arrangements may be made, or what decisions may be reached, in the variety of trades. I would remind my hon. Friends that the miners' case is only one of a great number. There are lace makers, workers at rolling mills, carters, textile workers, and others, all of whom are the subject of leading cases in this matter. Heaven knows how many cases have been actually decided by courts of referees on the basis of the decision of the umpire. In this case there is no divergence of view among those who have taken part in this discussion. Everyone who has spoken agrees that these are anomalies and ought to be corrected, and that they press unfairly on the insured persons who are thus deprived of benefit. We say, Members on the Benches behind the Government say, the Minister says, and, when cases have come before the Umpire, the Umpire has in effect said, that such is the case. In the case of the trainee, the person receiving training but not receiving wages, the umpire said—and he has said the same in a number of other cases: There is a natural desire to assist claimants in such circumstances, but the statutory authorities are bound by the statutory provisions, and cannot, in order to satisfy that natural desire, ignore the directions laid down for their observance by the legislature. Everybody desires it to be done, but the Minister, in reply, says, "Wait till we have the full report of the Commission; wait till they have examined this matter in detail; wait till we have their recommendation." Why should we wait? We are not waiting for the full report of the Commission in the case of the anomalies that this Bill is designed to relieve. Why should we wait in this case, where the purpose is approved by everyone, to put right injustices which are suffered by insured persons?

If there is a series of cases in which the regulations method proposed by the Government in this Bill is appropriate, it is exactly this class of case, because you have to make your regulations to satisfy the varying circumstances of a variety of trades. Regulations which may be appropriate to the mining industry, having regard to the question where work begins and where it ends in that industry, would probably be quite inappropriate in the building industry or some other industry. What we want to do is to give power to the Advisory Committee set up under this Bill to consider the circumstances of each of these industries, in close consultation with the trade unions and others concerned, with a view to producing regulations which will remedy these admitted injustices. One does not suppose that they will do that in the next two or three weeks, or probably in the next month or two, and in the meantime, no doubt, they will have the further reports of the Unemployment Insurance Commission covering the broad general principles on which these anomalies may conceivably be removed. What we are doing here is not to ante-date or ante-judge those principles; we are just giving power to the Minister to deal with these matters when she gets the reports and when the Advisory Committee has examined the cases. I see no opposition on the opposite benches and there is certainly no opposition on these benches, to dealing with anomalies that affect adversely the people whom we all on these benches primarily represent. I cannot see any conceivable advantage in waiting for several months during which the other type of anomalies will receive first attention, and I very much hope that the Minister will be prepared to meet us in what I think is a very reasonable proposal.


I want to appeal to the House at least to come to a decision on this point. In the very protracted all-night Sitting, certain definite promises were made on points which, if I may respectfully say so, were of even greater importance than this, and it would be a profound mistake if those who raised very clear and specific grievances should not have an opportunity of putting them forward. My hon. Friend the Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) will not, I am sure, think I am taking advantage when I put it to him that it must be obvious that, when there are in this House, sitting on these benches, a large number of representative trade unionists from all the industries that he mentioned—miners' representatives, engineers—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Robert Young)

The right hon. Gentleman should address me.


I admit that I ought to have looked the other way when I was dealing with the engineering industry. It must occur to my hon. Friend that there is some justification for those who at least know the cases, who, unlike the hon. Member have conducted those cases—[Interruption]—with the greatest respect, there are others who have dealt with thousands; let us admit that. What is the real point? Take the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Potts). He knows perfectly well that, had he been arguing that same case, for the same miner, for the same Federation, on the basis of workmen's compensation, he would have had to reverse the arguments that he used—[Interruption]. Everyone who is a trade unionist and has to deal with the practical side of these matters knows it. Here is a technical point on which not only hundreds, but hundreds of thousands of miners, railwaymen, cotton operatives, and people in all industries are affected by the compensation side of the case. That is the difficulty. It all turns—[Interruption]—I am stating the experience of a trade union leader and one who has negotiated and knows these difficulties. It all turns on the phrase "availability of work." Everyone knows the difficulties and technicalities, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour put it quite fairly, saying that the whole thing is under consideration and she would give consideration to it. That is as far as you are entitled to expect—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Supposing that the report was the other way—supposing that it was absolutely contrary to what my right hon. Friend desired, and she committed herself in advance to accept it. At all events I hope, now that the matter has had a fair discussion and the points are quite clear to the House we may at least, without moving the Closure, have an opportunity of dividing.




Mr. Rowson.


On a point of Order. May I inquire on what basis speakers are selected in the Debate?


The selection of speakers rests with me.


I know. What I am questioning is the justice of the selection.




May I submit a point of Order?


There can be no point of Order in regard to the selection of speakers. No point of Order arises.


With great respect, I desire to submit a point of Order to you. Am I entitled to do that?


In connection with the selection of speakers, no.


Am I entitled to put this point to you, that from the beginning of this discussion, every time a speaker has sat down, I have risen and you have called upon all kinds of people?


The hon. Member must exercise patience.


I am afraid that so long as you are in the Chair, Sir—[Interruption].


I do not rise to say anything regarding the miners' case, because, as was said by the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), that can be safely left with the Miners' Federation to deal with, and they understand the details of the case from top to bottom. I want, however, to back up the plea put forward by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) regarding those who are trying to get into new industries. There is a great deal of substance in the point that he made, and I can cite cases from the district in which I live which are very hard cases. For instance, in that area 14 pits have been closed down, and there are many opportunities for young fellows both to get into the service of the Ribble Omnibus Company and into the service of the Lancashire United Tramways. A man can volunteer to go as a learner on either the trams or the omnibuses. Because there is no work to be had in the mining industry, he goes into another industry to try and qualify in order that he may ask for a job when he has passed out, and when he goes there in the position of a learner he is told by the Employment Exchange authorities that he is no longer employed, and he is receiving no wages at all for the work that he is doing. I have had a case before the umpire in which the umpire said that the man could have his unemployment benefit for every day on which he was not on the omnibuses, but on the days when he was on the omnibuses as a kind of learner, earning nothing at all, but qualifying himself for employment if a vacancy occurred, he was not regarded as unemployed. I submit that the plea which has been put forward is sound, and that in cases like this men ought to be allowed to go as learners and make themselves proficient in the job, and get their unemployment pay during the period that they are going through tuition.


I rise to express the hope that the Debate upon this proposed new Clause will not end without a further statement on behalf of the Ministry of Labour, for I regard the position in which the matter is now left as exceedingly unsatisfactory. The Secretary of State for the Dominions has echoed the plea made by an earlier speaker behind him, that this matter should be left without further action on the part of the House of Commons until such time as the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance has reported to us, and he says it is understood that this matter will be dealt with in a later report. I say with great respect that the right hon. Gentleman should be the last person to submit that plea to us, for he occupies a very prominent position in the trade union movement in this country. He sat for many years on the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, and still occupies a very prominent place in the deliberations of the annual gathering of the Trades Union Congress, and he must be aware, or, if he is not, he has entirely forgotten his previous affiliations, that the Trades Union Congress itself has condemned the work of the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance so far, and has issued a special pamphlet to explain the reasons why it regards the work of that commission so far as hopelessly unfair from a working-class point of view. The right hon. Gentleman must know that that commission, from a working-class point of view, is suspect, and to ask Members on this side of the House to take no action pending the recommendations of a commission, whose previous recommendations have been condemned by the Trades Union Congress, strikes me as the very negation of logic, whether it comes from a trade union leader or from anyone else.

If I am unable to understand the position of the Secretary of State for the Dominions, I am equally unable to understand the position of the miners' representative who spoke earlier from lower down the Chamber. I listened to him with a great deal of respect, because I know that he has the miners' interests very genuinely at heart, but I do not understand the logic of his argument, for it comes down to this. He said, "I will not go against the Government, but I beg the Minister to have regard to the anomalies that have arisen under the present practice and to do what she can to remedy them." The essence of the Minister's position at present is that, whatever she may desire to do, she has no power to remedy any anomalies whatever. As things are, if an umpire gives a decision, that decision is binding upon the Minister and she cannot, without violating the original Act of Parliament, undo it. I wonder how many of us have taken up with her cases of our own constituents where, in our view, wrong and harmful decisions have been given and how often we have received the reply that the Minister regrets the circumstances of the case that has been put to her but reminds the Member that under present legislation she has no power whatever to modify or to alter the decision that has been given by the umpire.

My hon. Friend who spoke for the miners is really guilty of intellectual dishonesty when he announces that he feels aggrieved about some decision of the umpire and yet appeals to the Minister to do what she cannot do, to modify or alter the decision that the umpire has given. We all know the difficulties that we are under with the umpire's decision and it seems to me within the competence of even a minority Government, where it finds that powers vested in umpires have been used in a sense detrimental to working-class interests, to transfer those powers elsewhere. We are not asked in this Clause to transfer them to the Advisory Committee. If we were, I should be opposing it instead of supporting it. In my view that Advisory Committee, like the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, is loaded against working-class interests. We are asked to transfer the powers to a Labour Minister of Labour who is in a position to answer to the House for the decisions that are given.

That brings me to the Minister's own contribution to the Debate. I noted down as carefully as I could the words she used as the main justification for resisting this Amendment and they were that there was such a variety of practice as to the precise point at which a man's work does or does not begin that it is impossible to deal with the matter within the scope of this Bill. That is the Minister's main reason for urging that we should not attempt to deal in the Bill with an anomaly that is admitted in all parts of this side of the House.

Let me compare that plea with the plea that the Minister made for the Bill. When she was pleading with the House of Commons to pass the Bill, she said, in regard to the categories dealt with in Clause 2 (a), (b), (c) and (d), that circumstances varied so much from one part of the country to another, and the circumstances of the individuals varied as between themselves, that you could not deal with this by legislation and you must deal with it for practical purposes by setting up some small advisory body which could give the Minister expert advice upon the handling of particular categories and particular cases. That plea for the Bill, from its point of view, was a good plea and it made a sensible impression upon the House. But, if it is logical, that plea in the one case is the answer to the Minister's argument in the case now before us for, if what she says is correct—and Heaven forbid that I should question it—if there is such an intimate variety of practice as to the point at which a man's work does or does not begin, clearly the same arguments that justify the Bill justify us in moving this Clause. If there is such an infinite variety of practice, why leave in the hands of umpires, who give a series of conflicting rulings, the decision as to what would happen in particular cases?

The Minister's own case for the Bill is the case for this Clause, with the important exception that the Clause at least proposes to put responsibility upon the Minister and not upon an advisory committee constituted in such a way as to be loaded against working-class interests. The second Member who participated in the Debate from the Government began by saying that he was not in any circumstances going against the Government. I want to make my own position clear. I look forward to the time when we shall have a House of Commons which does not care a rap whether it goes against the Government or not provided it is doing what it thinks is the right thing. I believe it is the right thing to ensure that an anomaly which is admitted in all parts of this side of the House should be dealt with in the Bill.

There are many anomalies in unemployment insurance and, indeed, when an unemployment insurance scheme has ceased to be wholly an insurance scheme and has become partly an insurance scheme and partly a scheme for the administration of State relief—and that is true of the present scheme—there must be anomalies. But the thing I cannot understand is why the Government only chooses to deal with those anomalies which benefit working men and ignores all the anomalies that hit working men. This is one of the anomalies that hit working men, and the only answer that we have had from the Minister is that she does not regard it as an anomaly which is appropriate to be dealt with in this Bill. I understand that in the country the other day she was complaining that on this issue she had met with a good deal of misrepresentation. I am sure I do not want to misrepresent her, and I do not believe my hon. Friends on these benches do. But she misrepresents herself, she misrepresents the whole of her past history, she misrepresents the whole of her work in trade union and labour circles when she proposes a Bill to deal with certain anomalies that benefit working men but resists strongly any attempt to deal with anomalies that hit working man as this particular anomaly does.

I beg her and the Secretary of State for the Dominions, who again has a very long trade union record to his credit, not to rest upon the assurance that they can defeat the Clause in the Lobby. We know they can. We know the Tories will abstain, and there is a strong probability that the Liberals will abstain. If they abstain, the Government can count with automatic certainty upon the defeat of this Clause. But automatic majorities have nothing whatever to do with the merits of the case. What the Front Bench is concerned about is not the results in the Division Lobby but, first, the justice of the particular case and, secondly, the undesirability of putting the Government in a position where it appears to be proposing legislation to deal with certain types of anomalies that benefit workmen but resisting legislation to deal with other types of anomalies that injure workmen. From both those points of view there ought to be a further statement from the Front Bench before we go into the Lobby.


For certain reasons, the Government have been impelled, from practically every part of the House, to proceed with this Bill to adjust anomalies where the State, or the Exchequer, or the Fund is to save money. Here we have anomalies which from the Labour point of view should certainly have consideration. They are acknowledged. If the Bill is to deal with anomalies, why is it only to be one class of anomalies? Why is there to be a shutting out of people whose claim is established righteously and yet, with very remarkable skill, reasons are put forward on behalf of the Government why we should take the diplomatic course of leaving the matter over? Why not leave the whole thing over? I know of no pressure from any Labour interests to proceed with this Bill. Is it a matter of life or death for the Government that these things called anomalies should be dealt with while on the great anomaly, the tragic anomaly, the international anomaly, no discussion is to be allowed? This ignominious failure on the part of the Government is a tragedy. Why is it to be impelled by great forces on the question of saving a few million pounds while there are masses of people demanding that they shall have work or substantial maintenance? Pressure is being put here to-day. "Do not put this matter too strongly forward. Leave it till the Commission reports." Why has the Commission pushed forward the matter of this Bill? It is a humiliating spectacle.

The case for the Clause is clear and explicit and, indeed, acknowledged as far as the Government is concerned. I hope there will be a substantial vote from the Labour standpoint in order to bring home to the Government their abject failure concerning unemployment and to emphasise that they are utilising the last moments to deal with the like of this business while the great anomaly is being left alone. Stand up for your interests and go into the Lobby and make the Government feel just as they have been made to feel by the financial interests. Let us stand for the interests of Labour and go into the Lobby and vote for this Clause and, when the time comes, let us vote against the Bill.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 17; Noes, 221.

Division No. 444.] AYES. [6.0 p.m.
Allen, W. E. D. (Belfast, W.) Kirkwood, D. Strachey, E. J. St. Loe
Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley) Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern) Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles
Brockway, A. Fenner Maxton, James Wise, E. F.
Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West) Price, M. P.
Buchanan, G. Sandham, E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Horrabin, J. F. Scrymgeour, E. Mr. Beckett and Mr. Kinley.
Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. Stephen, Campbell
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Morgan, Dr. H. B.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.) Morley, Ralph
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro') Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn) Morris, Rhys Hopkins
Ammon, Charles George Hastings, Dr. Somerville Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)
Angell, Sir Norman Haycock, A. W. Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)
Arnott, John Hayday, Arthur Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)
Attlee, Clement Richard Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley) Mort, D. L.
Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bliston) Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Muff, G.
Barnes, Alfred John Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow) Muggeridge, H. T.
Barr, James Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield) Murnin, Hugh
Batey, Joseph Herriotts, J. Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood Hicks, Ernest George Noel Baker, P. J.
Bennett, William (Battersea, South) Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth) Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)
Benson, G. Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Paling, Wilfrid
Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret Hoffman, P. C. Palmer, E. T.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Hollins, A. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Bromfield, William Hopkin, Daniel Perry, S. F.
Brothers, M. Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Peters, Dr. Sidney John
Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire) Isaacs, George Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Burgess, F. G. John, William (Rhondda, West) Picton-Turbervill, Edith
Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland) Johnston, Rt. Hon. Thomas Pole, Major D. G.
Cameron, A. G. Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Potts, John S.
Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.) Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Pybus, Percy John
Charleton, H. C. Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne) Quibell, D. J. K.
Chater, Daniel Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Ramsay, T. B. Wilson
Church, Major A. G. Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A. (Preston) Raynes, W. R.
Cluse, W. S. Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford) Richards, R.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Compton, Joseph Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Cowan, D. M. Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S Molton) Ritson, J.
Cripps, Sir Stafford Lang, Gordon Romeril, H. G.
Daggar, George Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Rosbotham, D. S. T.
Dalton, Hugh Lathan, G. (Sheffield, Park) Rowson, Guy
Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd) Law, Albert (Bolton) Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)
Davies, E. C. (Montgomery) Law, A. (Rossendale) Salter, Dr. Alfred
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Lawrence, Susan Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge) Sanders, W. S.
Dudgeon, Major C. R. Lawson, John James Sawyer, G. F.
Dukes, C. Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle) Scott, James
Duncan, Charles Leach, W. Scurr, John
Ede, James Chuter Lee, Frank (Derby, N.E.) Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Edmunds, J. E. Leonard, W. Sherwood, G. H.
Egan, W. H. Lloyd, C. Ellis Shield, George William
Elmley, Viscount Longbottom, A. W. Shiels, Dr. Drummond
England, Colonel A. Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Shillaker, J. F.
Evans, Major Herbert (Gateshead) Lunn, William Shinwell, E.
Foot, Isaac Macdonald, Gordon (Ince) Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Freeman, Peter MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham) Simmons, C. J.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) McElwee, A. Simon, E. D. (Manch'ter, Withington)
Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N.) McEntee, V. L. Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)
Gibbins, Joseph McKinlay, A. Sitch, Charles H.
Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley) Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.) Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Gill, T. H. MacNeill-Weir, L. Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Gillett, George M. Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton) Smith, Lees-, Rt. Hon. H. B. (Keighley)
Glassey, A. E. Manning, E. L. Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Gossling, A. G. Mansfield, W. Smith, Tom (Pontefract)
Gould, F. March, S. Smith, W. R. (Norwich)
Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.) Marley, J. Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Gray, Milner Marshall, Fred Sorensen, R.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne) Mathers, George Stamford, Thomas W.
Grenfall, D. R. (Glamorgan) Matters, L. W. Strauss, G. R.
Groves, Thomas E. Middleton, G. Sullivan, J.
Grundy, Thomas W. Mills, J. E. Sutton, J. E.
Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Milner, Major J. Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Montague, Frederick Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow) Wallace, H. W. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Thurtle, Ernest Watkins, F. C. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Tillett, Ben Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda) Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Tinker, John Joseph Wellock, Wilfred Wilson, J. (Oldham)
Toole, Joseph Welsh, James (Paisley) Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Tout, W. J. Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge) Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)
Townend, A. E. West, F. R.
Vaughan, David Westwood, Joseph TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Viant, S. P. Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood) Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr.
Walker, J. Williams, David (Swansea, East) William Whiteley.

Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill," put, and agreed to.