HC Deb 30 January 1934 vol 285 cc279-99

8.3 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 7, line 8, to leave out from the beginning to "that," in line 11.

This, of course, is consequential on the Amendment which we passed this afternoon, when we struck out the paragraph with regard to obtaining suitable employment and substituted another form of words. It follows, therefore, that this paragraph becomes meaningless.

8.4 p.m.


We agree that this is consequential, but I would like to ask the Minister when we are really going to start business. This is another manuscript Amendment, and we have not yet got to the Amendments on the Paper. I put a point before the last Division was taken, and the Minister promised some consideration on the Report stage, but as a result of the Government's action, and not of any action of an obstructing Member, we have not yet reached the Amendments on the Paper. I would therefore like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he cannot reconsider, not when we come to the Report stage, but sometime during this week, this Guillotine arrangement.


The hon. Member knows that I can only give the same answer as my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council gave this afternoon. That is exactly the question that was put at Question Time to-day, and I cannot go beyond that answer.


Except that when the Lord President of the Council spoke this afternoon, he was not fully informed of what occurred yesterday, and I am sure he could not have anticipated what was going to happen to-day. Indeed, not a single hon. Member had the slightest idea that we should sit for half a day without discussing anything on the Paper. The right hon. Gentleman has a sense of fairness to the House, and in view of this experience and of the reflection, in reference to Parliamentary procedure generally, that he has to keep the high standard for which this House has been noted, I think he really should review the Guillotine arrangements.

Amendment agreed to.

8.8 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 7, line 12, after "Act," to insert "or under section four of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1930."

This is also consequential on the Amendment passed this afternoon.

Amendment agreed to.

8.9 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 7, line 19, to leave out from "determined" to the end of the Clause.

If hon. Members will refer to the Bill, they will see that the purpose of the Amendment is to prohibit the Government from giving to the courts of referees and to the umpire power to add to the disqualification for six weeks a disqualification for six months if the same offence is committed a second time within a benefit year. That is the short and clear point which is made by the Amendment, but clear and short though the point is, it raises matters of the greatest possible importance to unemployed men. Indeed, the more this Bill comes to be examined in Committee, the more it appears to be the child, not of the National Government, but of the Federation of British Industries. We have been discussing all the evening an Amendment the purpose of which was to make the unemployed man spend more time at the factory gates and less time at the Employment Exchange, because his presence at the factory gates would suit the employer's purpose much better than the segregation of the unemployed at the Employment Exchange. That was the whole purpose of this new whip that the last Clause put in the hands of the Government. The purpose of this Clause is to hold a sword of Damocles over the head of every workman in Great Britain and also over the men who are out of work, because the effect of it is to say to the workman that if he has a disagreement with his employer and so has six weeks' benefit withheld from him, and then has a second disagreement with his employer in the same benefit year, he shall lose his title to all unemployment insurance. He falls out of the insurable category entirely and goes straight on to unemployment assistance.

If these powers are given to industry, they will have the effect of withholding from a British workman the independence of spirit which he is entitled to have in his employment. I have attended at very many courts of referees and before the umpire representing men who claimed benefit after having been dismissed for alleged misconduct. I do not know what the experience of most of my hon. Friends has been, but I always found it frightfully difficult to prove that the employer was wrong. The courts seemed to start off with the assumption that if a man lost his work, he lost it as a general rule because of his own fault. For example, the employer was rarely present at the court of referees. He might be summoned on a special occasion, but he was very rarely there and could not therefore be cross-examined. He made his statement upon an inadequate form; and remember that the employer is making his statement concerning a man with whom he has quarrelled, and in such circumstances he is not likely to make a statement favourable to the man. But if the man has a disagreement and finds that his employer is an intolerable person, if the personal relationship which is set up between them makes it impossible for him to remain in that employment and he leaves, he is subject now to disqualification of benefit for six weeks, but if he does it a second time, if he is a man of independent spirit who stands up against his employer, if he is in the mind of the employer a disagreeable person, along comes the State and says, "For the second offence we are going to punish you by withholding your benefit for six months."

The purpose of this Clause is to make Englishmen into sheep. The Minister laughs, but really, unless Members of Parliament give consideration to these problems either with practical experience or with a sense of imaginative pity, they will never understand what will happen. Hon. Members must realise the position of a workman. A workman is perfectly entitled to have independence of spirit and to be self-reliant. He might indeed be an active trade unionist, and the function of this Clause is to weed out all the active trade unionists from industry. As I said at the beginning, the Clause was inspired by the Federation of British Industries. Hon. Members will recall that a few years ago the Federation of British Industries sent out a series of interesting pamphlets in which they pointed out how the manner in which the unemployment insurance scheme was being administered left what they described as a too great rigidity in the wages system of this country. That was the elaborate phrase they used, and it was repeated in this House by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), and it has been used on many occasions by people who wanted to use ambiguity of language in order to conceal their real intentions. The Federation meant that it was so easy for a man to obtain unemployment insurance benefit and the disqualifying conditions were so lax that the existence of unemployment did not bring the old pressure to bear upon wage standards; men were able to resist reductions of wages and were able to build up their trade union machinery much better because the State had taken away the old lever of unemployment from the hands of the employers.

The purpose of the last Clause that we discussed and of this Clause is to force the pressure of unemployment on to the employed man to enable the employer more easily to obtain reductions in the standard of living. That may not be the intention of the Minister, but we have come to believe that Bills that come before this House are sometimes much more the production of the Department than of the Minister and that the Department is under the influence of extraneous bodies. I am satisfied that if this Clause goes through it will have the effect, as I have described, of withholding from an employed person unemployment benefit if he happens to be a man of independent spirit who has disagreements with his employer. What was said by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) earlier in the evening is now being italicised by the portion of the Clause which we want to amend. He pointed out that if a man under the Amendment which we have accepted failed to apply for employment, he would be disqualified for six weeks. If he failed to apply on two occasions, he would be disqualified for six months. I put it to hon. Gentlemen that six months' disqualification for unemployment benefit is a most savage sentence.

I cannot understand how hon. Members can square legislation of this kind with the pretentions that we hear on numerous occasions that Conservatives think as much of the unemployed as Labour Members. We have heard it so often, but it is simply mealy-mouthed hypocrisy. Six weeks' disqualification has been considered by many Employment Exchange officials and by many employers of labour to be a very inadequate punishment. They say that if a man leaves his work he merely has a disqualification of six weeks, and he is certain to have his benefit at the end of it. Consequently, many men want only to throw up their work. As has been pointed out on a number of occasions, the actuarial effects of this are negligible, because, provided there are more men for jobs than jobs for men, the refusal of one man to accept a job or the fact that a man throws up a job simply means that there is a vacancy for somebody else. Therefore, the actuarial consequences of retaining the existing law are negligible, and the gains from including this Clause are nil. The gain is not financial; it is psychological, and the gain is on the part of the employer, and the loss is on the part of the unemployed man. The employer gains by a greater psychological hold on the employed man. He gains because you impose heavier hardships for disagreements with the employer. This Clause will create among the employed people a deeper sense of fear of the heaviest punishment for differences of opinion with the employer. It is also, of course, an attempt to spread a greater degree of terror and uncertainty, because, if men are disallowed benefit on two occasions for not having sought work, they will lose their benefit for six months.

This is a simple point, but it is important. The Minister will have to have a very good reason for including this provision in the Bill. All the things which he is putting into this part of the Bill take away all the sugar which the Chancellor of the Exchequer put on the pill. You have extended the insurable period, and thereby claim that this Bill is humane. You now include in this part of the Bill so many additional disabilities that you take away all the advantages of that increased period of benefit. I want to ask the Minister when he makes his reply to have some regard to what is happening in Great Britain. Employers have already the most powerful means of coercion over their employés. The country is suffering seriously from the failure of the working-classes to resist the downward pressure of wage standards. The home market is being seriously depleted by the failure of the trade unions in circumstances of economic depression to perform their usual function of maintaining and raising wage levels. If you put into the hands of the employing class keener, stronger and more terrible weapons to use against those with initiative and courage, you will pay the price for it in ways that are perhaps intangible, but, even though they may be intangible, they will have the gravest consequences for this country.

Therefore, I ask the Minister to leave the punishments as they are already. The fact of unemployment is punishment enough, and the right hon. Gentleman has not very much respect for his fellow countrymen if he thinks that men do indeed throw up their work for such wanton reasons that he must punish them in addition to the punishment of being idle. I ask him to have a little more respect for his fellow countrymen and not consider them as though they were all work-shy and pariahs and undesirable people who have to be whipped into employment. Everybody knows that whenever any job is available thousands of men apply for it. To put in a Bill a Clause which has behind it the assumption that unemployment is in itself an inadequate punishment, and that the withholding of benefits must be an added penalty, is to have a very low opinion of one's fellow countrymen. I ask the Minister to withdraw the Clause, and to do so at once, because if this goes out to the country it will make it very difficult for supporters of the National Government to answer the questions they will be asked at unemployed meetings. The Clause says, in effect, "Unemployment is too slight a thing for you to bear, and we must add to your burdens that of increasing poverty."

8.26 p.m.


There have been occasions during the proceedings on this Bill when, unfortunately, perhaps, from my point of view, I have not found it possible to agree with the view put forward by His Majesty's Government, and therefore I venture to say at once that this is not one of those occasions. I find myself quite unmoved by the speech just delivered by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). I am very grateful to him for his tender solicitude as to the difficulties which supporters of the National Government may have in answering questions at meetings, but I am bound to say that if hon. Members had not got the Bill before them they would not have known, while he was speaking, that he was referring to the penalty for a second offence within a period of 12 months. Had this additional punishment been imposed for a second offence at any time during a man's term of insurance, it might have been regarded as a harsh, or an unduly harsh, punishment; but I think the words which show that this is an additional penalty imposed only when the offence is committed twice within a period of 12 months do very much alter the circumstances, and in my opinion wholly justify the change which the Minister is proposing.

It is very unfair and is, indeed, an argument quite unrelated to the facts, to talk about the average man in this connection. These penalties are not directed against the average man. We know that the average man is not "work shy," but only too anxious to find employment. No system of penalties is directed against the average man who keeps the law, but only against the few who do not find themselves willing or able to observe it. I have no doubt the Minister will be able to give us much more detailed reasons for his proposal, but I am bound to say that on this point I do not find myself in agreement with those who are objecting to the Bill. I rise only to ask one question, the answer to which I ought, perhaps, to know, though I think a good many hon. Members will be interested if the Minister will give us a reply. I would like to know what happens to individuals who are disqualified under this or similar Clauses. Do they come under Part II automatically? Do they come under the review of the board, or do they fall to be dealt with by public assistance committees? Is the penalty simply that they are transferred from Statutory Benefit to the consideration of the board under Part II, or are they ruled out of Part II? It may be my fault that I do not know the answer, but I do not find in the Bill any clear explanation. Perhaps if I had read it with more attention I should have found out.

8.30 p.m.


I do not follow the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) in all the reasons he gave for moving his Amendment, and I do not see in this proposal a great industrial plot, but I do think that the part of the Clause to which he objects contains something to which very great exception could be taken, and I shall certainly support his Amendment. I am not impressed, as I say, by the motives which he seems to see behind this proposal, but I was impressed, because I know from my own knowledge, by his references to the way in which these tribunals must necessarily act. We all know that they cannot be conducted with more than a certain amount of formality, because so very much has to be done in a short time. It is so often the case that they have before them only a few bald lines written by the employer, merely a statement of the offence and little more, and there is the unemployed man saying rather too much and not saying it very skilfully—pouring it out to the tribunal, who come to the conclusion that they cannot accept all this. They feel that if they put down all those statements they probably would be upset on appeal. So, in consequence, it is not a trial. If we are to pass this penal section, making the consequences to the unemployed man so very much worse, I should want the whole routine of these investigations to be very different, with very much more formal evidence, in order to ensure that injustice is not done.

Let us look at the reasons which can be given for disqualifying a man, and remember that if it occurs twice within 12 months it will mean for that man disqualification for six months. There is the reason "voluntarily leaving work." I know of a case recently in which what the man actually did was to leave his work because he was ill. Doctors certified that he was ill; there was no question about it. His offence was that he had not rung up his employer on the telephone and told him so. I dare say he ought to have done it, but it is the sort of thing which an ignorant man might omit to do. It is very easy to miss doing it. I am informed, and I accept the fact, that the umpire has decided that on evidence of that kind a man can be adjudged to have left his employment without just cause. That shows how trivial an offence, if twice repeated, may bring a large and terrible penalty. Therefore, I urge the Minister not to give his Bill a bad taste in everybody's mouth by letting it go out with this penal flavour. I am sure that he wishes well of his Bill, and thinks highly of it—and I wish I did so—but at the same time I do not wish to see it involved in unmerited unpopularity as the result of Clauses, or parts of Clauses, which are not really an essential part of it, on which it does not depend and which appear to be so many annoying extras put in, one might say, for the purpose of making it look as grim and forbidding as can possibly be imagined. I beg the Minister to consider whether this is worth while, whether anything he can gain by terrorising a few people who, I dare say, deserve it, is worth the great risk of doing an injustice to other people who do not deserve it. I am bound to give my vote against increasing penalties of this kind in a way which, I am sure, is going to create a very bad impression about this legislation.

8.34 p.m.


I wish to give two or three reasons why this new proposal should not be adopted. First of all, I cannot find in the recommendations of the Royal Commission any suggestion about this six months' period, nor, in the evidence before the Commission, can I find anything to back up this change. I do not want to go over ground that we have already covered, but if the matter remains as it is, after the alteration made by the Minister in regard to disqualification, a man will be disqualified if officials of the Ministry of Labour can prove that he has been unable to get a job. That is the effect of the change.

What is the position? A man is disqualified for six weeks. The week after the six weeks have expired he can be brought back upon the same charge and disqualified for six months. At the end of the six months, he can, in another week, be taken up and disqualified for another six months. At the end of those six months, and in another week or two, he can be disqualified for a further six months. That point has not been brought out. Once a man has been convicted—that is what it means—he is disqualified, because it is alleged by the officials of the Ministry of Labour that he is unable to get a job. The man can be disqualified for six months for a second offence. I take an analogy from the old not-genuinely-seeking-work position. What happened there? Because of what was called "not a reasonable period of work within two years," a man, at the end of six weeks, was told by the Ministry officials, "We will not allow you back on to benefit, because you have to prove that you are not unable to get a job again." Then he could be disqualified for six months.

Please note that once a man has had that six months' disqualification placed upon him, the effect, as I read the Bill, will be that of 18 months, because his year starts from the end of his six months' disqualification. There is the power to repeat and to repeat this sentence. It is really a punishment and is far too severe. Take the question of misconduct. The common offence is misconduct, and in regard to the six weeks' or the six months' sentence, the minimum tends to become the maximum. Six months for a second offence is, I think, a terrible punishment. I know that a man will become chargeable under Part II, but he is not likely to get benefit when it has been refused under Part I. His wife and children will, I assume, get benefit under Part II, but he, whose claim is to standard benefit, is, I expect, to be put into the workhouse. If not, he will have to live off his wife and family. If he goes in to the workhouse, it becomes more and more difficult for the man, who has a good standard benefit claim, to get back into work. If he does not go into the workhouse, he becomes a drag upon his wife and family.

I trust that in this matter the Minister will see his way to cut down considerably the provision relating to the six weeks. For anybody who has committed misconduct, six weeks is a terrible punishment and does not cure the offender. Six months or six years will not cure him. In any case, when you are dealing with standard benefit claims, to impose a punishment of six months is a hideous sentence, and I trust that the Minister will reconsider the matter.

8.41 p.m.


An hon. Member expressed the view that many of us on these benches are suspicious in regard to this Bill. Some of us feel, as the Debate goes on, that our worst fears will be realised, should the Bill reach the Statute Book in anything like its present form. The Minister has told us that in his view it is a great piece of social legislation. It will be judged finally, of course, by the unemployed people themselves. In regard to the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), we have very grave doubts as to how the matter will work out in practice, and I want to give one illustration from my own experience of how this Clause may have disastrous effects upon certain types of workers.

In my area we not only have coal mining, but the hosiery industry as well. We have some doubling mills. The fine- ness or coarseness of yarn is, as most hon. Members well know, talked of in terms of "counts." Suppose you have count 100 and count 120; you cannot detect the difference between those two counts either by touch or by sight. Here is the case of some girls who came within my knowledge quite recently. They were working in a doubling mill, and were handling those fine counts. Accidentally one girl mixes the counts. She is dismissed. The Employment Exchange wants to know from the employer why she is dismissed, and the employer puts on the form the word "misconduct." Because of that misconduct, the girl's benefit is suspended for six weeks. She did a very simple thing that any girl might do quite accidentally, and yet under this Clause, as I understand it—if I am wrong I hope that the Minister will correct me—if a girl did that twice in one year, she would lose six months' benefit for the second offence. Surely that is a form of punishment that ought never to be imposed for such trivial offences.

It may be that the employers suffer some inconvenience and loss; I will grant that. If this Bill is intended to help the unemployed, and if it is really a great piece of social legislation, why should penal Clauses of this kind, that will operate in many cases disastrously upon a large number of workers, be included in it? I have always thought that the humanitarian factor, as it is called, has played quite a minor part in the building up of the unemployment insurance system. The real reason, of course, all the time has been to maintain the social peace. We on these benches, as we review these Clauses in Committee stage, are driven more and more to the conclusion that the Government are just trying out what degree of pressure can be brought to bear upon the unemployed without causing a great uprising of the unemployed. That is the real significance of the penal Clauses that they seek to impose. I ask the Minister to tell us if it is possible under this Clause for girls to be punished in the way that I have described.

8.45 p.m.


There are two points that I should like to put from my experience in connection with disqualifications. In the first place, I do not know whether there are in the Department records of the thousands of cases in which during the last few years benefit has been disallowed to miners in South Wales on the alleged ground of negligence or misconduct, but, if such records exist, I am sure that, if these thousands of cases were investigated, it would be found that in the vast majority of them the local courts of referees have been so suspicious of the charge made by the employer that they would impose upon the man merely a nominal disqualification for one week, or even only three days, instead of a possible six weeks. This Clause means that those thousands of cases which the local courts of referees think so small would take effect as if the most heinous crime had been committed against the employer.

There is another and graver point. I would ask the Minister to take his mind back to 1926, the year of the great upheaval in the mining industry. The miners hold that the stoppage of work in that year was enforced upon them by the employers; they have never regarded the events of 1926 as a strike, but as a lock-out. When miners claimed benefit then, a decision was registered against them. In the event of any similar situation arising again, and of any body of trade unionists in similar circumstances claiming benefit and its being disallowed, that would be held against them, and would prevent any of them from having benefit for six months. That is the astounding thing that might happen under the operation of this Clause. It seems to me that very little consideration has been given to the possible extensions of the application of the Clause, and, therefore, I think that, if the Minister will be good enough to consider these practical difficulties, his good sense will surely indicate that the best thing to do would be to withdraw the Clause, as has been suggested.

8.48 p.m.


One of the most remarkable things about the progress of this Bill is the entire absence of any definite statement from the Minister of Labour. Here we have a very important Bill, the Clauses of which we view with great suspicion, and which is going to have a detrimental effect on the unemployed, but we get no word of explana- tion from the Minister as to why these provisions have been put into the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) is bound to be suspicious of a Clause like this when he remembers his own experience in the mining industry. We who have had experience in the mining industry know that the general disqualification in connection with trade disputes has been used by unscrupulous employers to force down wages. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the records of the Ministry of Labour will show that employers have even written to the Ministry asking that officers should be sent down to certain localities to tell the workmen that, if they did not accept the employers' terms, they would be thrown out of work and disqualified under the Unemployment Insurance Act.

Having in mind that experience of the general disqualification, we are very suspicious of this Sub-section, and would like to know why it has been necessary to put it into the Bill. It has been my fortunate, or unfortunate, lot to have to represent many individuals at courts of referees, and on many occasions I have had to defend the cases of men who have been discharged on alleged grounds of misconduct. What does that misconduct usually consist of? The man may have been told to get off the firm simply because he has sent what may be regarded as an abnormal quantity of dirt out of the pit in a tub. We have had to argue the merits of such cases, sometimes for hours, and, when the man's benefit has been disallowed and he has been disqualified for six weeks, it has been a terrible hardship upon him. Here is a provision which says that, if such a man comes twice with the same disqualification within 12 months, he can be disqualified, not for six weeks, but for six months.

I have taken the opportunity during the Recess of addressing a number of meetings up and down the country on this Bill, and I have endeavoured to explain to the best of my ability what certain of its Clauses mean. I have put the provision which we are now discussing before meetings of employed workers and before meetings of unemployed workers, and everybody to whom it has been explained believes that there is something sinister behind it. Why is it necessary to have it in the Bill? It is a tremendous weapon. Take the case of a man who is disqualified once, say for misconduct, and whose foreman or deputy, not being too kindly disposed towards him, says to him, "Unless you do so-and-so, out you go, and you know what that means." That fear is real. Again, it must be remembered that scores of cases are tried by courts of referees where the individual has no one to represent him, is almost entirely ignorant of the provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, and is certainly at a disadvantage when he is up against a trained lawyer who happens to be in the chair. Therefore, we are bound to oppose this provision, and I hope we shall oppose it as strongly as we can. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) made some very strong statements. I listened to them very carefully, and I am bound to say that his statements and the fears that he expressed are, in my opinion, justified. Therefore, we must protest against this Sub-section, and do our best to get it withdrawn.

I must also protest against the attitude of the Minister of Labour in not explaining why these changes have been necessary in unemployment insurance law. The Parliamentary Secretary nods his head. If I may say so, he is one of the nicest of individuals fox dealing with a very complicated and very distasteful Bill. I was rather surprised this afternoon when he expressed doubt as to whether we should believe him when he read a certain Section. However much we may differ from him, we can trust him to quote the Statute correctly. Earlier in the evening he said, in trying to justify a Clause in the Bill, that the Government must have some regard to what the Royal Commission found in their examination of the problem, but we should like to know why it has been necessary to put in this penal Clause, and what evidence, if any, was brought before the Commission to justify a Clause of this character. What is intended by it? Is it intended to be a kind of punishment to those who have committed misconduct once or is it intended to be a deterrent to the ordinary man in employment not to commit the same offence time and time again? The Committee is entitled to know what is the underlying idea and what has compelled the change. Is the Minister silent because he does not want it to go out to the country what the Government are attempting to do? I hope we shall find supporters not merely on this side but on the other side as well. I feel that the present law, which permits each case of misconduct to be discussed entirely on its merits, with a disqualification of benefit for six weeks as a maximum, is ample.

8.56 p.m.


I hope the Minister will give very serious consideration to the points that have been raised. It may be that I do not understand the full effect of this proviso, but it seems to me that it would very possibly open the door to great injustice. The referees are human, and they work under great pressure. I know of very hard cases in the practical carrying out of unemployment insurance administration, and I fear that the proviso will open the door to the possibility of very great hardships being imposed on individuals. After all, why should we jump straight away from six weeks to six months? It seems a tremendous step to take and, when we realise what it means in poor families, I would put pressure on the Minister to give the matter very serious consideration indeed.

8.58 p.m.


The speeches we have heard in support of the Amendment show some misconceptions which I will endeavour to correct. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) suggested that the proviso was inserted in consequence of a report of the Federation of British Industries. I have not read that report, though after the advertisement given it by the hon. Member I will certainly do so. The hon. Member also said that the Ministry is under the influence of extraneous bodies. It is quite right that the Minister of Labour, or any other Minister, should receive representations from interested bodies, but that is a wholly different thing from being under their influence.


I did not say the Minister, but the Ministry.


I do not think that explanation is much better. Another misconception appeared in the speeches of the hon. Members for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) and Greenwich (Sir G. Hume) who both seemed to think that this six months was mandatory. In fact, it is a period beyond which the disqualification cannot go. It is permissive, and it is not necessarily imposed. If there is any misconception on that point, I should like at once to remove it. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) was a little unreasonable. He said I had not given any reasons why this proviso was put into the Bill at all. I will tell the Committee at once why it was put in. It was in consequence of a direct recommendation made by the Royal Commission. That reason has been sometimes rather mocked at and regarded as no reason at all, but the Royal Commission was set up by the party opposite and composed of persons nominated by them and its terms of reference were settled by them. Suppose we turned down all these recommendations one after the other; it would have been said, "Here you have had a most impartial, careful inquiry by people nominated by us and you have disregarded or turned down every recommendation they have made." Any responsible Minister who had to frame a Bill after such a prolonged inquiry would be bound to give some consideration to the views expressed by so authoritative a body. I will read the recommendation that the Royal Commission made on the subject: We believe that in cases of refusal of an offer of employment or of loss of employment through misconduct, or leaving voluntarily, the evidence before courts of referees is sometimes such as would convince a court beyond any reasonable doubt that the claimant had not only refused or failed to apply for employment or had lost his employment through his own fault, but also that he was not anxious to obtain employment at all. In such cases we consider that the court should have power to record a finding to that effect and should have power, not only to disallow benefit for the maximum period of six weeks, but to suspend benefit thereafter until the claimant, on a new claim, had satisfied the statutory authorities that he would normally seek to obtain his livelihood by means of insurable employment. Such indefinite suspensions of benefit are now made under the conditions for the receipt of transitional payments and we think that they would be appropriate, in an insurance scheme, to the limited number of cases where a period of disallowance of six weeks does not meet the needs of the case. Until reasonable uniformity among courts of referees in the exercise of this power has been established we consider that indefinite suspension of benefit should in all cases give a right of appeal to the Umpire. The Committee will observe from that statement that the Royal Commission proposed something more drastic.

9.3 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman is dealing with the position of certain specific cases, about which everyone is satisfied, of men having deliberately neglected their work and having been dismissed. Will the right hon. Gentleman apply himself to the thousands of cases which occur in the industrial life of this country where such a charge cannot be levelled. There are thousands of cases which courts of referees have judged to be fifty-fifty—50 per cent. the fault of the employer and 50 per cent. the fault of the workman. The right hon. Gentleman is seeking to apply the recommendations of the commission probably to tens of thousands of workmen against whom no such charge can be levelled.


I will give a short answer to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman and say that those are cases which have gone to the courts of referees, who have taken action upon the points raised.


In thousands of those cases the courts of referees would have decided a mere nominal disqualification It might be three days or six days, but it is a disqualification. A disqualification of three days is as effective as a disqualification of six days. These may be very minor "crimes" in the first instance, but they have a more serious disqualification on the second occasion.


I do not want to pursue that particular aspect of the question except to state that the points which the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) has just made are, no doubt, cases which courts of referees would consider, and it does not in the least follow that courts of referees would make the disqualification longer than the few days to which he refers. But when I come to the Amendment I am in a difficulty. I have said more than once that I wanted to consider all these Amendments on their merits and to give full regard to the recommendations. When I desire to accept an Amendment or endeavour to make what would be regarded as less hard some provision in the Bill, I am told that I am trying to trick the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If, on the other hand, I say that I do not accept an Amendment because I think that it is a bad one, I am told that I am hard and relentless, and do not in the least mean what I said, when I stated with all sincerity that I wanted to consider each Amendment on its merits. Therefore, I am in some little difficulty in dealing with the present Amendment.

There is a consideration which is far stronger than that which has been put by any hon. Member to-night. It was referred to yesterday, and the point was made to some extent by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and by other hon. Members. Under the Bill the Insurance Scheme will cover people who have a good record of employment, and insurance benefit as we know it will only be paid to persons far 26 weeks in the benefit year with a possible maximum of 52. Therefore, the class of person who comes within the Bill has, for the reason I have stated, whether a man or woman, almost certainly a fairly good record of employment, or else the person does not come within the provisions of this part of the Bill at all. I do not believe—and the point has been made already—that there are among this class of persons many people who persistently refuse to take suitable employment. In the first place, I do not think they want to do that, and in the second place, under the Bill, it is to their interest to remain within Part I of the Bill and get the benefit of the insurance rates within it. That fact I am prepared to accept, and these considerations have persuaded me to accept the Amendment. I feel that I ought not perhaps to yield to an almost irresistible impulse to refuse the Amendment if my object and purpose is to be misunderstood. I think, however, that I ought to have regard to these really weighty reasons, and in the circumstances of the case I am prepared to accept it.


I should like the Minister to answer the question put by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan). When persons are disallowed, do they go under Part II?


It does not arise.


We appreciate the spirit in which the Minister has met the arguments which we have put forward on the Amendment, and we appreciate the fact that he has an open mind upon these matters.


There are, as I understand it, certain people who are disqualified under the existing law for a six weeks' period or less. We are leaving out six months, and there will still be people under the existing law who are disqualified for the six weeks' period. Will the Minister answer that point?


Perhaps the hon. Member will communicate with the Minister afterwards, as we have got beyond that point.


Is not the Amendment still before the House?


Yes, but the first "six weeks" are not included in the words which are proposed to be left out. The first "six weeks" are in the paragraph which we have already passed.


Perhaps I may have an opportunity of raising the matter later.

9.15 p.m.


I thank the right hon. Gentleman for accepting the Amendment. It is a very important Amendment as far as the tinplate trade in South Wales is concerned. There are many certain happenings in regard to machinery for which men are liable to be either suspended or dismissed, but, if the right hon. Gentleman will look at the rules of our conciliation board, he will find that we have had put in a special clause which provides that no man shall be suspended or dismissed before an official of his society shall have appeared to negotiate the case for the man. There are many tinplate workers and steel workers to whom the employers look up to as reliable, trustworthy men. We have the hon. Member for Neath (Sir W. Jenkins), a conductor of a choir in a church. Take the case of the conductor of a choir being dismissed and being able to put up a case that he ought not to be dismissed. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if the Amendment had not been accepted there would have been strikes in the tinplate trade. Let us imagine a man like the hon. Member for Neath or the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) being dismissed as the result of some spite or spleen on the part of a foreman. The result would be that the trade union leader would instruct the men not to work on the next shift. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has accepted the Amendment, because it fits in with the clause that we have in operation so far as our conciliation board is concerned. I hope, if we convince the right hon. Gentleman on other Amendments, that he will accept them with the same grace that he has accepted this Amendment.

9.18 p.m.


This is a happy, auspicious occasion, and I hope that it will be the precursor of many others. I desire to express our thanks to the Minister for the concession. There was an Amendment on the Order Paper in the names of some of my hon. Friends on these benches which was designed to effect the same purpose as the Amendment that has been accepted.

Amendment agreed to.

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

9.19 p.m.


What will be the position of the men who, as the Clause now stands, are disqualified for six weeks from drawing benefit? Will they be under the board set up under Part II of the Bill or under the public assistance committee?


They will come under Part II of the Bill if they fulfil the conditions set out in Clause 35.


They will not be ruled out of Part II merely because of the fact that they have been disqualified?


No, Sir.