HC Deb 13 February 1934 vol 285 cc1813-20

The following Amendment stood upon the Order Paper: In page 24, line 17, at the end, to add: The Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee may at any time make a report to the Minister that a scheme for promoting greater regularity of employment in any industry is required and they may themselves, at any time, submit such a scheme to the Minister for his approval. If a scheme under this sub-section has been approved by the Minister the committee may at any time report that it is not in force and that the industry is, in consequence, making claims upon the Insurance Fund which are unreasonable; and the provisions of sub-sections (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), and (8) of section seventeen of this Act shall apply to such a report."—[Dir. Horobin.]

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)

Does the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin) rise to move his Amendment?


I desire to move an Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir Arthur Michael Samuel).


The manuscript Amendment to which the hon. and gallant Member refers has not yet been reached. If the hon. Member for Central Southwark is not present, I cannot ask him to move his Amendment. I see that there is a manuscript Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel).

Captain RAMSAY

I beg to move, in page 24, line 17, after "scheme," to insert: jointly prepared and accepted by an organisation representing employers and an organisation representing workpeople in any industry. I move this manuscript Amendment in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir A. M. Samuel). It is very simple, and has the backing of very influential opinion in this country, including that of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. The objection that is taken in some quarters to this Clause is that the Minister is given power to approve schemes, but it is not laid down by whom a scheme may be submitted or whether, in approving a scheme, the Minister shall or shall not be bound to obtain the approval of either employers or employed. In Sub-section (2) the Minister has power, in promoting one of these schemes, to make payments on behalf of employers, which payments he can recover from them, and any objection to such a scheme must be made by a joint committee consisting of employers and employed. What appears to be a fairly innocuous Clause upon the surface, might prove to be the reverse, were the Minister of Labour to be someone in sympathy with a scheme put forward by employés. He might approve a scheme against which the employers were very strongly opposed.

Under the Bill as it would then be, the employers would have no power to resist such a scheme being put through, and they might find themselves bound to submit to it. They might find the Minister making payments under this scheme against which they had no power to resist, and they might be unable to appeal against the scheme because, as Sub-section (2) lays down, any representation against the scheme must be made by a joint committee consisting of employers and employed. If the employed have formulated a scheme for the Minister to accept, it is hardly likely that they would join in a representation with the employers asking for the scheme to be modified.

I would ask the Minister to consider the possibility which I have outlined, and whether he can accept this very simple Amendment. It can offend no one, will not give any rights to employers or to employed, or differentiate in any sort of way. The hon. Baronet, on whose behalf I have moved this Amendment, asked me to express his great regret that he could not reach the Committee earlier, owing to circumstances over which he has no control. If I have brought the Amendment forward at too short notice for the Minister to make any promise now, I hope that he will look into it, in order that he might say at a later stage whether he could modify the Clause in some way and make a statement.

6.9 p.m.


I feel sure that the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment will hardly expect me to be able to accept an Amendment of which I have only heard in the last five minutes, and of which I have not even had a copy. There may be something in his point. I will look into it between now and the Report stage, but I could not give him a considered answer to his representations at the present moment.

Captain RAMSAY

In view of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

6.10 p.m.


We ought to be told the exact meaning of the Clause, which might mean a lot, and might mean nothing. I do not understand its implications in full. Wherever possible, we ought to have a statement from the Minister, in order that the Committee might know exactly the meaning of Clauses. I have been told that an arrangement has been come to between the Minister and the General Council of the Trades Union Congress. That might well be the case, and if it is, this Committee, as well as the General Council, should know what that arrangement is, or at least it ought to know what the arrangement means. I do not know whether that is true or not, because I have only heard it.

My first impression in regard to the Clause was that it might give power to the Minister to use State funds in order to subsidise employers. Not only myself but other skilled Parliamentarians think that the Clause might be read as giving the Minister power to make such subsidies from the Insurance Fund. Until that is made clear, and a definite pronouncement is made, I must reserve myself, despite what any other hon. Member might say, even if he be an official representative of the Labour Movement, to oppose the Clause. I will have no subsidised wages from the Insurance Fund, and I want a definite understanding that nothing of the sort is implied, even in the most indirect fashion. If anything of the sort is even indirectly implied, the two of us here will vote against the Clause and will use whatever influence we have.

The second point I wish to raise is to ask the Minister whether the machinery of the Clause is not intended as an attempt to ease the problem of casualisation of labour at the docks. If that is the purpose I have no objection, because I would welcome anything which would ease the terrible struggle at the docks. I first read about that struggle in Jack London's novels—the struggle at the docks for a job, and at the gates even. While that may be the purpose of the Clause, we have to deal with it as it reads, not in regard to a purpose that might be implied, and we have to exercise more than cautiousness in this matter. If the purpose of the Clause be that which I have described, and if there is no other purpose, the Clause does not clearly explain that purpose. Any hon. Member reading the Clause as it now stands would not say that it had to do with casual labour at the docks, and it would need great imagination to connect the two. If the Clause seeks to eliminate that problem, I shall not oppose it or hinder it.

For good or for ill, there has been an agitation in this House over a period of time that has not been confined to one party, against men who work in various parts of the country, and frequently at the docks, for three days regularly per week. They work three days on and three days off. An attempt was made to deal with their problem in the Anomalies Act. When that Measure was introduced, the Labour Government of that time, in their first draft, sought to provide that a man's benefit could be refused if in the three days he earned more than a court of referees thought he was justified in earning. The Bill was subsequently modified so as to provide that benefit was confined to people who did not earn more than their normal standard wage. I have a feeling that this present Clause is an indirect method of getting at the person who works regularly three days a week. Such a person now gets benefit for the other three days, but my feeling is that this Clause is to be used as a lever to get such a man to spread his work over the whole week so that he may not qualify for the three days' benefit. Reading the Clause, not as a skilled Parliamentarian with capacity in these matters such as is possessed by great organisations like those of the employers and the trade unions, but as a simple Member of the House, I have to read what is here, and it seems to me that it would be wrong for us to pass the Clause unchallenged.

I want to get from the Parliamentary Secretary guarantees on two points. The first point is that under this Clause, neither directly nor even in the vaguest way indirectly, can any of the funds be used for subsidising labour or wages. The Parliamentary Secretary may say that they have the power to do that, that they can reclaim the money from the employers, but I do not want even that power of reclaiming the wages from the employers to be given. The second point is as to whether there is implied in this Clause any power to compel workmen now working three days a week to alter that arrangement so that their work can be spread, or whether the Clause is to be confined entirely and solely to casual labour at the docks. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will let the House of Commons know exactly what the Clause means. It may be that he has had talks with other people about it, and that is proper and correct, but I think the House is entitled to know the result of those talks.

6.18 p.m.


As so often happens with this Bill, the wording of the Clause is obscure, but I think I can paraphrase it, I hope satisfactorily to the Committee, by saying that the main object of the Clause is to give statutory authority for work which the Ministry of Labour has been doing for some considerable time, more especially in the dock industry. The Clause deals especially with the regularisation of employment, and therefore applies mainly to industries, such as the docks industry, where employment is particularly casual. The Clause enables us to assist in the regularisation of employment in the dock industry. It enables us to come to the assistance of voluntary schemes which have been approved by the men and by the employers, to second our officials as secretaries of these schemes, to put office accommodation at their disposal, and to supply them with stationery. But there is no possibility of the Clause being used to subsidise wages.

It also enables us to do what we have been doing for some considerable time at Liverpool. There, when men work perhaps for half-days for different employers during the week, instead of a man having to go round to each one of the employers at mid-day on Saturday and collect his wages for half a day here, and a day there, and two days somewhere else, he comes to a central stand, he is paid by us the amount due to him from all the employers, and the money is recovered by us from the employers. The only thing that the Clause does is to enable us to go a little further, and where, as we hope may be possible in some industries, a supplementary scheme can be got going, to pay out any sums that may be necessary under such schemes, the employers having previously put us in funds for the purpose. We have so far achieved considerable success in our efforts to decasualise labour at the docks. Between 1925 and 1932 the register in the Port of London was reduced by 36 per cent., in Liverpool by 13 per cent., in Hull by 34 per cent., and in Bristol by 18 per cent. Further progress was made in nearly all ports in 1933, the register in Liverpool, for example, being reduced by 12 per cent., and in Bristol by 9.6 per cent. I hope the Committee will realise from these figures that the work we have been doing has met with a substantial measure of success. It is in order to regularise its continuance, and to give statutory authority for what we have been doing in the past, that we ask the permission of the Committee to have the Clause.


In the circumstances, we do not intend to divide against the Clause.


Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to explain precisely what is meant by the words: additional benefits in respect of unemployment. I understand that the Ministry pay various sums by way of wages, but Sub-section (2) of the Clause speaks of additional benefits in respect of unemployment, and I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would explain what they mean.


It is as part of a scheme for regularising employment. No scheme possessing this feature exists at present, but we want to take power for developments which we think are possible in the near future. I would stress the point that under this Clause the schemes will have to be voluntary. The Minister takes no power under the Clause to impose any scheme; it is only if the employers and the employés in an industry say, "Here is a scheme; will you use your machinery for carrying it out?" that we want the power to use that machinery. We anticipate that it may be possible that certain schemes for regularising employment would contain as one of their essential elements compensatory payments to certain of the workmen concerned, whose employment would be adversely affected by the greater employment given to the remainder. That compensation payment would be something additional to unemployment benefit, and it would be provided, we anticipate, by funds put at our disposal by employers. It is payments of that kind that we are asking the Committee to authorise us to make on behalf of employers, in order to enable a comprehensive scheme to be carried through with our assistance, where without that assistance it would probably fall through.


Thank you.

Clauses 28 (Continuation of 20 & 21 Geo. 5. c. 16), 29 (Minor amendments), and 30 (Payment out of moneys provided by Parliament, &c.), ordered to stand part of the Bill.