HC Deb 30 January 1934 vol 285 cc321-6

10.42 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 8, line 36, to leave out Sub-section (1).

There is great hardship as far as this Sub-section is concerned. We have discovered on many occasions in compensation cases that men have omitted to report an accident to the employer and have been deprived of compensation. The same thing will apply here. I will give an illustration. A boy commences to work between the ages of 14 and 16 years, and the factory where he is employed may become idle. The appellant is then expected to report in the prescribed form to the Employment Exchange that the boy is idle. There are many employers of labour here who know what happens. You have a breakage in machinery. You go to the foreman who will say, "The machinery will not be ready for three or four days." But it is discovered, after having given an order to an engineering shop for whatever is required, that the works will not be able to be restarted for three weeks or, may be, a month. The appellant, as a result of the report given by the boy that the works would restart in three or four days, would consequently not make an application on behalf of the boy. That would be a very great hardship, because until the day he made the application he would be deprived of benefit due in respect of his boy. Therefore I suggest that if it is a genuine case and the parent can prove to an official of the society by document from the office that the boy has been idle for a certain time, that he should not be deprived of benefit, and that the Minister should consider between now and the Report stage the addition of words so that any cases that arise may be met.

10.46 p.m.


The object of this Sub-section is not that of meeting the sort of cases that the hon. Member has in view. Its object is to ensure that an insured person shall make a claim for dependant's benefit, roughly speaking, at the same time as he makes his own claim or as soon as the dependant becomes entitled to benefit. What happens at present is that it is laid down that an insured person cannot draw ordinary benefit before he has made a claim in the prescribed manner, but that does not apply in the case of his dependants and therefore it often happens that months and even years elapse before suddenly a man realises that he might have made a claim. He then makes the claim and may be entitled to arrears in respect of the dependants for the months or years. It is often very difficult, however, after that lapse of time, to determine whether or not such dependants were entitled to benefit, and it is in order to obviate that difficulty that this Sub-section has been put down. It merely says that a man must make a claim for dependants' benefit in the prescribed manner, and it further says that regulations will be made governing the matter. There are specific words in the Clause to cover the point raised by the hon. Member. It is provided that regulations may be made for meeting cases of delay in making application for dependants' benefit. In the sort of case that the hon. Member has in mind where a man thought his child was only to be unemployed for two or three days and then finds that it is for two or three months, it is possible that the proposed regulations would allow the claim to be ante-dated.

10.49 p.m.


Suppose a man was not aware that a claim in respect of his child could be made until long afterwards. Would that be a good case?


I should not like to answer such an hypothetical question without notice.


The hon. Member must know that there are cases where a child continues at school and the parent does not know for some time afterwards that he has a right to claim for benefit in that particular case. At the present time, though by the rules he has very often not given proper notice, yet because he is innocent of the conditions and unaware of the fact that he was in a position to claim, the man has not only been given the claim but also the arrears, on the ground that he was reasonably ignorant of the fact that he could claim. The actual form of the regulations may be a question of difference. It may be an exaggerated statement to say that people sometimes claim for years back. There may be odd cases. While we would not unduly press a matter of this kind, I think hon. Members would like to see some provision that claimants need not claim at a particular time or else be deprived of their right. The Government say that the regulations are to be fairly flexible.


I think I am quite safe in telling the hon. Member that.

10.52 p.m.


What are the regulations? Are they to be the ordinary regulations issued by the Department, or are they to be debated in the House?


They will be regulations within the meaning of the Act.


Do I understand that these are the same sort of regulations as are referred to in the powers of the Advisory Committee, and not Departmental regulations?


They will be submitted in draft to the Advisory Committee, and the Advisory Committee will consider them and hear any objections from interested parties in the usual form, and then report back to the Minister.


These regulations are submitted to the Statutory Committee by the Minister; the Statutory Committee make a report, and when he gets that report he makes the regulations and they are laid on the Table of the House.

10.53 p.m.


The House has only the power to reject them totally, and not to amend them. I therefore hope it will be made perfectly clear that the regulations made under this section, as would normally be the case in any court of law, will provide that mere delay owing to ignorance of the law shall not be a bar to the prosecution of any claim.

10.54 p.m.


I should like to draw attention to a point in which there might be some difficulty in claiming dependency benefit. We are told that dependants being inmates of certain institutions are not regarded as dependants. Regulations ought to be sufficiently elastic to meet these several points, otherwise hardship may be inflicted on parents who may have a just claim although at the moment they may not know their rights under a particular provision.


That is one of the points to be considered by the Statutory Committee. All interested parties will have an opportunity of bringing forward any point they desire.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

10.55 p.m.


I should like to impress upon the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour that I do not think that the Government will get away with this proposal to maintain the children's allowances at 2s. There is a large body of opinion in this Committee that, under present conditions, with the dependent child's allowance at only 2s., far too many of the children of the unemployed in this country are definitely under-nourished. I do not believe that the House of Commons will allow that to continue for an indefinite period. Medical testimony on this question is overwhelming. We shall certainly put down an Amendment to increase dependent children's allowance on Report stage and, therefore, I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will give an undertaking that between now and then the Government will seriously reconsider this question, upon which many hon. Members in all quarters of the House feel very keenly indeed.

10.56 p.m.


I want to support the representations made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and I have an Amendment proposing that the dependants benefit should be raised to 5s. per week. We think that that is the minimum sum which is defensible. It may not be defensible on the grounds of actuarial purity but from the point of view of maintaining a child it is the least amount for which any case can be made, and it is a very weak case at that. I am not going to argue the merits of one sum as against another, I am simply associating myself with the hon. Member's claim that the 2s. which stands in the Bill is one of which every decent person in the House must feel ashamed. No one could face any constituency on such an amount. There may be distinctions between industrial constituencies which are hard hit and other constituencies, but there are children affected by this Bill in every constituency and nobody can defend before any audience the vote which was given yesterday by which parents are asked to maintain a child on 2s. a week. I urge the Minister of Labour, for the sake of his own reputation, to face up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or whoever he has to face on this matter, and tell him that he is not going on with the Measure unless he is prepared to allow him this concession.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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