HC Deb 02 May 1934 vol 289 cc323-53

The Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee shall, as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, make such proposals as may seem to them practicable for the insurance against unemployment of persons employed—

  1. (a) in occupations, other than manual occupations, receiving a salary of not more than five hundred pounds per annum;
  2. (b) as domestic servants;
  3. (c) as outworkers;
  4. (d) as share fishermen; and
shall make a report to the Minister containing the proposals and any recommendations of the Committee with respect thereto, and the report shall be laid before Parliament.—[Mr. Lawson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.25 p.m.


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

The House will be pleased that at last we have an opportunity of dealing with certain classes who are outside the Unemployment Bill whom it is thought, by many observers of social matters, ought to be included. I ask the House to notice the particular principles that are involved in this new Clause, as well as the classes which it is proposed to include in the Unemployment Bill. It is proposed, first of all, that the Statutory Committee should consider these matters with a view to making a recommendation concerning people employed, first, in occupations other than manual occupations receiving not more than £500 a year, secondly as domestic servants, thirdly as outworkers, and fourthly as share fishermen.

May I say at the outset that it is a peculiar and I think a regrettable thing, and almost as marked in this new Bill as it has been in the Bills of previous years, that people are encouraged to look upon unemployment insurance as something that they should have nothing to do with until they are in need of it, that if people are what are called good lives, they should be excluded from the operations of the Bill, and only when in need should they be seriously considered with a view to bringing them within the limits of the Bill. Some 12,000,000 employed people are already compelled, willy nilly, to contribute towards the Unemployment Insurance Fund, but certain sections are allowed to contract out, and other sections of the industrial and professional community are not in, sometimes because they do not wish it and sometimes because they are not allowed to come in as not being people who immediately need unemployment insurance.

With that introduction, may I say that the proposal to increase the limit to £500 has largely in mind, although it would not be limited to that class, the clerk of to-day, who very often is subject to very difficult conditions indeed, and while I would not use that altogether as an argument why they should be included, because I think clerks should be considered on the whole as good lives, yet it is a significant fact that, as far as one can gather, the members of that profession at the present time, almost irrespective of conditions or security of tenure, are highly desirous of coming within the limits of this Bill, largely because they think there will be some sense of security, not merely for themselves, but because of the very limited number who are subject to unemployment.

I have in my hand a letter from the General Secretary of the National Union of Clerks and Administrative Workers, and I think there are hon. Members in the House who heard Mr. Elvin state his case upstairs, and were not only struck by the justice of his claims but were very much moved by some of the examples that he gave. For instance, he pointed out that a clerk is in a different position from the ordinary industrial worker. He has to keep up a certain appearance because of his commercial connections; he is required to live in a certain class of house; and there are great demands made upon him even while he is working. That was the state of things that sometimes was difficult enough before the War, but I gather that since the War there has not been that security of tenure for clerks that there was before. Mr. Elvin says that the War changed the conditions. There was a different attitude on the part of the average employer towards his staff. Like the artisan, the clerk was subject to economic necessity, and, if it did not pay to keep him, he was dismissed. Sometimes in the case of the more highly paid clerks they had reductions of salary for some time before they were dismissed.

Men in what are called the black-coated professions are, when thrown out of work, in many respects in a worse position than the manual workers. The manual worker is a member of a community which often has all kinds of means of bringing succour to men who are in a position like that. At any rate, the manual worker is roughly sure of his unemployment benefit, and he is not so much troubled by status and appearance. If the professional worker begins to look seedy, it undermines his chances of finding employment, and he is placed in such a position that he has to stand on his own legs. The regrettable thing is that such men often cannot turn to other classes of work. We have come to a time when professional workers march in the great unemployed processions, and in books, in the broadcast, and in many other ways we have had some pitiable tales of the lamentable conditions to which these people have been subjected.

I would, however, rather base the reason for asking for this £500 limit on the fact that, while we think these men ought to be safeguarded in case the calamity of unemployment comes upon them, they are, taken as a whole, good lives, and they will go towards securing the very principle which the Government wish to operate in their Bill, of making unemployment insurance sound and solvent. While I do not think we can too much emphasise the position in which these people are placed in case of unemployment, I think that, on the ground of good lives, they are in harmony with the desire of the Government as expressed in this Bill, and there is an unanswerable case for sending this question to the Statutory Committee.

When we come to the question of domestic servants, we are on rather more controversial ground, but on the principle that all good lives under the £500 limit—personally I would go further than that—should be members of the Insurance Fund, domestic servants should be included. The case that was made out when this matter was before the Royal Commission was based upon the fact that there was no unemployment in domestic work and that therefore there was no need to bring domestic servants within the Unemployment Insurance Act. To my mind, that is an argument why the better placed and secure workers should be in the scheme; they will have the right to benefit if need be, and at the same time they will be helping to make the fund more secure. The Young Women's Christian Association of Great Britain emphasise this objection. They say that the risk of the unemployment of such workers is very small and that unemployment insurance paid in respect of them would constitute a revenue tax rather than an insurance against risk. The same argument has been used time and again in the case of all social insurance, and anyone who examines the evidence which was submitted to the Royal Commission with regard to the inclusion of certain classes of workers will see that the ancient arguments used against National Health Insurance in its inception were brought up again. The Scottish Council for Women's Trades took very much the same line in regard to domestic servants. Miss Jessie Stephen, who has sought to get some kind of organisation, not without success, among domestic servants, has for years been just as emphatic the other way. She speaks from first-hand experience as one who worked for years in domestic service, and she is just as emphatic that domestic servants ought to be brought within the Insurance Fund. She says : As one who has been actively connected with the organisation of domestic servants over a period of 22 years, I am opposed to the continuation of the present regulations which except those workers from unemployment insurance unless they happen to work in places carried on for the purposes of gain. She goes on to say : It provides one of the chief reasons for the reluctance of the ordinary unemployed industrial worker to enter domestic service. They are penalised because they take on this work. Apart from the argument that because persons are not unemployed at the moment or not likely to be next week they do not need to consider insurance, which is roughly the position of those who are antagonistic to including domestic servants in the scheme, I think Miss Stephen's evidence was overwhelmingly in favour of insuring domestic servants. There is antagonism to such a proposal from those who employ domestic servants, but there was such antagonism to bringing them under National Health Insurance, and this is simply a repetition of the old feeling. The Minister may say, of course, that there would be difficulties in administering the scheme in the case of domestic servants. I do not know whether he will use that argument or not.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Henry Betterton)



I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he will not use that argument, because I have heard that objection put forward. There has been a tendency in this country to undervalue the status of domestic servants, and I think their inclusion in unemployment insurance would tend to raise their status. That would give them a standing and tend to make it easier for them to be organised, if need be. It would also give them security, and that would be valuable in the case of the older and middle aged women who wish to remain in domestic service and make it the profession of their lives, but find they cannot get work so easily as the younger ones.

I come to the case of the outworkers and share fishermen. There are many classes of outworkers; we find them in the glove industry amongst other industries. The State has had to come to the help of a good many of these people, and to set up trade boards in order to secure decent wages for them. I think the trade boards have been successful almost beyond the expectation of those responsible for setting them up. They have been so effective that when I was responsible for administering them under the Ministry of Labour I often used to say that I wished the miners were under trade boards, because it would help to get more consideration of their wages than there is at the present moment. These outworkers, some of whom are doing work which is not within the common range of knowledge, desire to be brought within the ambit of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, and while there may be a number of administrative difficulties to overcome, I think the matter should receive the very serious consideration of the Statutory Committee, for although they are getting fairly regular work they are also subject to unemployment.

The share fishermen, according to a letter from Mr. Ernest Bevan, of whose organisation some of them are members, are very definite, I understand, in the wish to be brought within the ambit of the Unemployment Insurance Acts. It is not my purpose to deal with each of these sections of workers, although it would be possible even for a layman to talk at some length on each case. There are Members here, however, from different areas of the country, who are just as anxious that the claims of these people should be considered as are any of those whose names are attached to this Clause, and I want to give them an opportunity of explaining the position of those workers with whose work they are most intimate.

In conclusion, I would say that up to the present we have not had an opportunity of considering the claims of the people covered by this new Clause, and we think they ought to be submitted to the Statutory Committee. I do not know whether the Minister's mind is made up on this matter, but at least it should be possible for us to go as far as to ask the Statutory Committee to give it their serious attention. I do not wish to make any reflections on the Royal Commission, but though the claims of most of these classes of people, if not all of them, were considered, the Royal Commission had more fundamental matters to occupy their attention, and did not have the time to go thoroughly into these cases on their merits. Therefore, there is a very strong ground for asking that the Statutory Committee should go into the question. As I said at the outset, these people are good lives, they will strengthen the fund, and go far to make it what the Government say they are trying to make it, and that is a real insurance fund. If classes like this are left out I do not see how the Government can hope to make the fund solvent.

The Government compel the industrial workers, some of them the lowest paid among our workers, to be insured against unemployment whether they want to or not, yet at the same time there are left out whole classes of the population, who might be of considerable value to the fund. Within the classes at present outside the scheme there are small numbers of people whose circumstances when they are unemployed are lamentable in the extreme. Those people drift and drift. They try to keep up appearances and want to give of their best, but they go down stage by stage, until they find themselves under the law as it is at present and before this Bill comes into operation, dependent upon the Poor Law. I know that the Minister has made arrangements in regard to those people. The clerks and people with whom we established contact, even in the higher salary ranges of £500 a year, are very definite about it. They want to be honourable members of the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said that what they really want, in order to maintain their economic security, is that they shall receive with certainty, as of right … a weekly sum, which together with any private provision that they have been able to make, will at least, by providing money for rent, enable them to keep a home above their heads."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1933; col. 1610, Vol. 283.] The clerks organisation replied to that : That is exactly what the unemployment pay will be for the higher-paid non-manual workers. It will at least be some security. The lot of the industrial worker is bad enough. There are examples up and down the country which are moving, beyond words. Bad as their condition is, the condition of the out of work professional people, in view of their training and their connections, is much more lamentable. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give this matter his serious and sympathetic consideration and that he will agree to let the matter go to the Statutory Committee.

3.52 p.m.


I would like to add my plea to what has just been said. In Lancashire there are hundreds of black-coated workers who, through no fault of their own, are out of a job. They come to one and say : "Cannot we get into the insurance scheme? Cannot you do something to get us a chance of subscribing?" What has been said by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) is perfectly true. They would be just the very best class of life to get on to the Insurance Fund. I do not think that so very many claims would be made by them, except in places like Lancashire, where, having worked for all those years, they suddenly find that there is no trade left and that they have to be turned away from their jobs.

I hope that the Minister of Labour will consider the matter and, if he cannot accept the proposed new Clause, that he will use his influence with the Statutory Committee to see that the case of these men is thoroughly gone into. There are also the managers of mills and the foremen who are receiving about the present stated wage of the insurance scheme. A good many of those classes want to come in, and they would be first-rate subscribers. I think the Minister ought to jump at the suggestion in regard to the domestic servants because, until the Socialist Government comes into power, there will be no unemployment among domestic servants and we ought to have their subscriptions to help the poorer members of the scheme. I am certain that the Minister will do something about it because he has always been sympathetic towards these people. To satisfy us all he has only to give an assurance that what is proposed in the new Clause will be carried out.

3.55 p.m.


I wish to urge upon the Minister the acceptance of the central claim of this proposed Clause. All that we are trying to establish this afternoon is a prima facie case in favour of the consideration of various classes of worker. I want to emphasise the plea which has already been put forward on behalf of perhaps the most pathetic class in British society, the black-coated workers. That class has had the rawest deal of the last few years of the depression. They are the people who were affected most by the decontrol of houses and the removal of rent restriction; they constituted the bulk of the 1,200,000 people who were brought within the scope of the Income Tax in 1931, and they are the victims of mechanisation in banks and commercial offices. Inasmuch as they remain unorganised and inarticulate, it is well that we should put forward their claims for considera- tion. In commercial centres, ports and other areas which have been seriously affected by the shrinkage in world trade, it is pathetic to find skippers of boats, officers and engineers and others who occupied important positions in exporting firms unemployed, men who have had to keep up their appearance when their stomachs were frequently empty, who have committed themselves to all sorts of obligations in respect of house purchase and endowment policies, and who have struggled to give the best education to their children. It is well that we should appreciate that the whole trend of economic forces makes it urgently important that their claims should be taken into consideration in the matter of insurance.

Mechanisation is proceeding in banks, and in offices where various kinds of bookkeeping and accountancy operations are more and more being undertaken mechanically. Yet, though I may be over-estimating, and I will not commit myself to the figure probably, out of every 10 new jobs found since the War, seven have been in distributive and administrative activities. I do not think that I am far out. Here you have an ever-increasing class, inarticulate and unorganised, but of tremendous political significance. I am not going to stress this point, but I have more than a theory that the turnover at recent elections has been entirely due to the changed attitude of that great mass of inarticulate opinion. In view of the fact that the basic industries will continue to absorb less personnel because of mechanisation—fewer miners and fewer iron and steel, tinplate and ship workers being needed—and that the main economic activities are becoming distributive and administrative in this country, it is the duty of the Minister to suggest to the Statutory Committee that the position should be taken into consideration. All that we are concerned with now is to establish a prima facie case. We are not demanding that those workers should be included, but we feel that their situation is so tragic and so indescribably pathetic that we can establish a claim for their case to be considered by the Statutory Committee. I strongly urge that the Minister, if he cannot accept the proposed Clause, should at any rate accept the implication behind it, that such classes of worker are worthy of consideration.

3.59 p.m.


At an earlier stage of the proceedings on this Bill when the same matter was raised, the Minister expressed himself very sympathetically. I urge him to-day to take the most sympathetic attitude he can towards the proposal. I want to speak about the first class mentioned in the proposed new Clause, the workers of £500 a year. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman, as I did before, that we come here from the Midlands where there are thousands of such persons who might reasonably ask this House to consider their case. We are recasting, as I think, in the main on the right lines, the system of State insurance, and this Clause merely asks that the Advisory Committee should take into consideration, as soon as possible, the claims of certain classes to be brought within the ambit of State insurance. I say nothing as to the other classes mentioned in the Clause, but as to what are shortly called the black-coated workers, I do venture to add a very strong appeal to my right hon. Friend. The plight of those workers has been referred to. I do not believe that there can be a harder case than a poor fellow trying to live on the pittance he gets from the public assistance committee. Their case is as hard as can be imagined. Many of us have personal experience of these cases, and I repeat that there cannot be a constituency where these hard cases cannot be met with. I doubt whether there is a Member of this House who has not received pleas from his constituents that when this matter was reached we should ask for sympathetic attention to be given to it.

I am sure, from what my right hon. Friend said at an earlier stage, that he is alive to the urgency of this matter. He knows how many persons are concerned in this claim. It is true that we are putting all sorts of heavy duties on the Statutory Committee. They are responsible for surveying the inauguration of this scheme. All sorts of difficulties will call for their attention, and perhaps my right hon. Friend may hesitate to add to those difficulties by sending to them the recommendations embodied in this Clause, but, whether that be so or not, I do hope that to-day on behalf of the Government he will let it go out from this House that the plight of these persons is well realised, and that the Government desire to give them assistance as speedily as possible by bringing them within the ambit of State insurance.

4.3 p.m.


The House must at least give us credit for having brought forward something which is constructive. Last week the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. J. Reid) made a long speech criticising this side of the House for its destructive action for party advantage, but, judging by the way this Clause has been received by Members of the National Labour party, the Conservative party and the remnants of the Liberal party, it would appear that we have brought forward something which everybody wants accepted. [An HON. MEMBER : "What about the Independent Labour party?"] Probably we shall have the other view later on, so that it will be a unanimous opinion on the Floor of the House. All that we want then is the assent of the Minister of Labour. Probably we shall get it, because the arguments put forward must appeal to him.

The Clause attempts to embrace more of the workers in the Unemployment Fund. I do not want to use the argument about good lives or bad ones. Two points have been put forward this afternoon. One is the number of people out of work who are not included in the Unemployment Bill and who want some protection. The other argument has been that they are good lives. So that one cancels the other. My main point is that I want to bring within the purview of the Unemployment Bill all workers, whether by hand or by brain, because I know that from time to time, however good a man or woman is, however skilled they may be in their work, or, for the time being, however secure they may be in their employment, there comes a period, especially in this age, when men and women are thrown out of work and cannot protect themselves. It may be said that 20 or 30 years ago anyone who desired it was always sure of a job, but that is gone by now, and we must give protection to all. We want to give an opportunity for everyone to come inside the scheme.

Clause 21 gives the Statutory Committee power to examine the position of those employed in agriculture, to see whether it would be wise or not to bring them within the Bill. If this is going to be a comprehensive Measure—and it is going to be a comprehensive Measure—why not, at the same time, give to the Statutory Committee the power to examine other grades of workers, to see whether they cannot be brought in? I cannot see any reason why we cannot give that power to them. If they can prove to the House of Commons that such bodies of workers should or should not come in to the scheme, then, on that evidence, we shall be able to decide; but at least it will give us the opportunity of hearing whether or not they should come in. As it is, we are approached by people who say, "How is it that we cannot get the chance of coming in?" and, really, I cannot give an answer. All I say to them is, "You ought to be in, but at the moment we have not been able to get you in." Now we have the opportunity, when this Bill is being examined in all its features as to what it shall mean for the future. That being so, there is no reason why the House this afternoon should not include this Clause in the Bill, to give the Statutory Committee full power to examine the question.

4.8 p.m.


I wish to support the plea which has been made in various parts of the House to the Minister to see his way to accept this Clause. There may well be some difference of opinion in the House with regard to the desirability of including paragraph (b), which relates to domestic servants. On that point, I think, there is some divergence of view; but with regard to paragraph (a), which deals with non-manual workers, I think that there is no difference of opinion in any part of the House. It is in no sense a party question. The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) and some of his friends have given a good deal of attention to the problem of the non-manual or black-coated worker, and they are strong supporters of the reference of the question to the Statutory Committee for consideration.

When this Bill was first brought before the House, there was considerable uncertainty on two points with regard to the non-manual workers. The first point was whether or not they desired as a class to he brought within the scope of the Bill. There is no doubt whatsoever on that subject to-day. Correspondence which has reached me from all parts of the country, from individuals and from the organised representatives of these people, leave no doubt that the great mass of them are anxious to be included in a scheme of this kind. The other point on which there was some uncertainty was whether or not the benefit of an insurance scheme would be of real value to them, and on that point the consultations which have taken place with the representatives of the non-manual workers make it clear that the benefits which they would obtain under the scheme would be of very real value and assistance to them. One is well aware of the fact that the moment you begin to make provision for the inclusion of a new class in a scheme, and particularly non-manual workers, one comes up against difficulties of the National Health Insurance scheme, with the contingent pension question which inevitably arises. There is, of course, as one must admit, a real administrative difficulty, but that is not a reason for not referring it to the Statutory Committee for their consideration.

A case has been abundantly made out, I think, for referring all these classes of labour to the Statutory Committee. If this Clause were accepted by the Minister, it does not mean that the Statutory Committee is absolutely bound to recommend that these workers should be included within an insurance scheme. It would be competent for the Committee to say that they should not be included, and to give their reasons. They might say that they should not be included in the insurance scheme, but might be brought within Part II. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), I think, made a special plea for the agricultural worker, and asked why they should be left out.


No—that the Statutory Committee should have power to examine.


That raises the point as to whether some of these classes might not be better left to come in under Part II. If I were an agricultural labourer, having followed the proceedings of this Bill with care, I should say that the best thing which could happen to me would be that I should come under Part II, and receive satisfaction of my needs without contribution. The next best thing would be that I should be employed; and the third that I should be unemployed, and be under a contributory system of insurance. However, these are matters of speculation which I ought not, perhaps, to bring up in this way. But I have no doubt whatever that the Minister is sympathetic to what has been said this afternoon. He has already indicated his sympathy on previous occasions in the House, and I am sure he will do what is in his power.

4.13 p.m.


May I associate myself with the remarks which have been made by various Members? I come from Lancashire, and represent a Division which has not benefited to any great extent by the improvement in employment. I have personal knowledge of many cases of real hardship, and, as has been said, these are an inarticulate class. They are a silent class, and they are a proud class, and they are being kept to-day simply by the charity of their neighbours and by those by whom they have been employed in the past. May I also add that those men who are within the range of £500 a year, when they lose their employment have very little chance of getting back into employment, as this is the age of youth. It has been said that people who get within the radius of £500 a year ought to be able to look after themselves, but we must not forget that they are committed to various expenses which those who have not such incomes have not to bear. By accepting this Clause the Minister is not committing himself to any definite scheme. It is only to be examined by the Statutory Committee, and I would say that, in the interest of this unfortunate class, the least we can do is to have their case thoroughly investigated.

4.15 p.m.


Before the Minister replies, I should like to make a brief reference to what was said by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). He said that here at least was a proposal on which the Minister might be sure that the unanimous opinion of the House was on one side. Personally, however, I am quite unconvinced that, certainly as regards three of the four categories mentioned in the Clause, it would be in the interest of the average person belonging to any of those categories to be insured. With regard, in the first place, to the £500 a year black-coated worker, the hon. and gallant Member for Rochdale (Major Jesson) has just said that, when these people with large salaries find themselves out of employment, it is almost impossible for them to get into employment again.

The logical conclusion from that is that they would benefit very little under the insurance scheme, and would very quickly come under transitional benefit. After the lapse of 26 weeks—a short time in what might be a long life—they would get no more benefit from the contributions they had made, and would only receive transitional payments through the Unemployment Assistance Committee. Every hon. Member who has spoken in the Debate has seemed to deal with this question as if it were a question of our giving away something to a very deserving and pathetic class, but it is nothing of the kind. We have to consider the average member of that class, and I should say that the average member of the black-coated fraternity, if he is a good clerk and has got his job at an early age, is practically secure of a job and is not liable to unemployment. People do not want to lose good clerks, and they always make shift somehow or other to keep them employed, even at limes when the demand for the goods they manufacture or the services they render is slack.

With regard to domestic servants, I think there is very little evidence at the present time that there is any great amount of unemployment. among domestic servants. I remember that there was a controversy many years ago as to whether they should be included or not, and that the proposal to include them was made on the ground that it would buttress the Insurance Fund and make sure that there would be one class at any rate who would contribute vastly more to the fund than they would draw out of it. It must be remembered that the inclusion of any class involves a weekly payment by the person employed and by his employer, as well as by the State. There are two sides to this ques- tion, as to every other, and it is a very serious question. The House ought to consider whether it is quite certain that we should be conferring a boon or not upon a particular class by practically instructing the Statutory Committee to take such steps as may seem to them to be practicable at the earliest possible moment to include that class in the scheme.

Coming to the question of outworkers, their work is obviously work of a casual kind. They get employment at some times, and do not get it at others. It is nearly always done as additional work at home, and brings them in an additional income when they get it. It does not seem to me that they are a class of worker who can be considered to be in regular employment and to be a proper subject for insurance against unemployment. As regards share fishermen, of whom I have a great many in my constituency working salmon nets, my experience is that their work is seasonal work. Practically all of them would be regarded as seasonal workers, and I think that no class of workers are so badly treated as the seasonal workers are. Under the scheme as it is administered at present, if they are out of work out of the season they get nothing at all. They are only insured, really, for their short period of employment during the short season for which they are regularly at work. These men know that they can get work in the summer season, and that they can get large rewards when things are lucky. They know that during the winter they will have to find another job if they want one, and they choose that method of life. Such a provision as this would not really confer any benefit upon them. If it were a proposal to give them full benefit during the winter season, when they could not work, that would be another matter, but there is no means of doing so under the Bill; that is not the scheme. Therefore, on an occasion of this kind, when Members naturally come down who are interested mainly in one side of the question and have already been convinced, I do not want the Minister, in a very thin House, to be under the impression that there is anything like a unanimous opinion in the House as a whole on this question, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will make his reply on that basis, and not on the basis suggested by the hon. Member for Leigh.

4.23 p.m.


I rise to support the Clause, lest silence on the part of my party might be misconstrued into antagonism, and I wish to associate those who work with me in supporting the Clause. I do not think I can add anything to what has been so ably said by others speakers of other parties. The greatest advantage that I can see from the granting of this concession in unemployment legislation would be, if I read the proposal aright, that it would include Members of this House in the Unemployment Insurance Scheme, and it would give a large proportion of them the opportunity of experiencing the operation of unemployment insurance, instead of merely talking about it. They would realise the privilege of standing in a queue; they would probably begin to understand the inadequacy of the accommodation that is provided at many Employment Exchanges; they would wonder whether walking down there, standing for an hour or two, and signing in a book two or three times a week, was not really worth more than the 17s. that came to them as the result of that effort at the end of the week. Many interesting lessons would be learned. I should be very interested to follow the efforts of the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) in her endeavours to prove that she was not a married woman anomaly when she was applying for benefit. I really think that the operation of such a provision would be one of the most educative things that could possibly be done for the legislators of this country.

I will not enter into the rather difficult subject of good lives and bad lives, but it must be obvious to a very large proportion of those on the majority side in this House that, as politicians, their lives could not possibly be regarded as good lives. I do not think the point as to their genuinely seeking to be here would be brought in question, for I question very much whether a number of those who sit in this House will ever have the opportunity of working at this craft again; and there would have to be very stringent regulations, which I sup- pose the Minister would see and submit to the next House, as to what was to happen when they had exhausted their full-time benefit. I can imagine some hon. Members objecting very strongly to the means test investigator coming round to their homes, and I can imagine very serious objections arising from, say, the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) if he were pushed into a work centre. On the other hand, I question very much whether the officer in charge of the centre would not have equally strong objections when he had had the hon. and learned Member for a week under his care. These are interesting considerations which arise on this proposed new Clause, and I hope that, if the right hon. Gentleman has not considered them before, he will now regard them as an additional and very powerful reason for agreeing to this proposal.

4.27 p.m.


I confess that I am extremely glad that this Clause has been moved, for it has not only produced the very amusing speech to which we have just listened, but it has given me the opportunity of stating what I conceive to be the purpose and object of the National Unemployment Insurance scheme. I may say at once that I find myself very much in agreement with what was said by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) when he moved the Clause. My object is to see, if possible, that this scheme shall not merely be solvent, but that it shall, so far as possible, be a wide and comprehensive scheme, embracing ultimately large numbers of people who do not now fall within it. I will give in a moment my reasons for advising the House not to accept the Clause. It proposes that The Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee shall, as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, make such proposals as may seem to them practicable for the insurance against unemployment of persons employed"— and then it goes on to specify certain categories. First of all there is the category which is known as that of the black-coated workers—those who receive salaries of not more than £500 a year. I can confirm from my own correspondence and from my own knowledge the truth of what has been said by many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street and the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight), that there are many very hard cases of men of that class who do not now fail within the scope of insurance, and many of whom are most anxious, if they can, to be included within it. It is quite true that there are many among these so-called black-coated workers who would be only too glad if they could be included in a scheme such as this. I do not want to discuss at this stage the difficulties, which are obvious, in the way of the inclusion in the scheme of those who are known as black-coated workers. Those difficulties were referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at an earlier stage of our discussions. The reason why I do not want to discuss them now is that I do not want to prejudice this matter when it ultimately comes before the Statutory Committee.

What I have said with regard to the first category mentioned in the Clause applies equally to the other categories, namely, domestic servants, outworkers, and share fishermen. There are obvious difficulties in these cases, and there are obvious reasons why none of these classes should be included. But I do not want to examine them because I want the matter, when it comes before the Statutory Committee, to be examined on its merits and, as it were, afresh. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street pointed out that all these classes were the subject of consideration by the Royal Commission, which he said did not have time to consider them on their merits. One of the great advantages of having this Statutory Committee as a permanent statutory body will be that we can refer to it questions such as these and any others which seem to the Minister to be cases that should be considered. Of course, these four cases mentioned in the proposed Clause are not in the least comprehensive. I have heard representations made, for instance, that the insurance scheme should be so enlarged as to provide for voluntary insurance of classes which are not now included. I express no opinion upon the merits of such a proposal. I only state that such a proposal has been made, and it may be that it and others should be submitted to the Statutory Committee.

Another proposal which has been made has much to commend it—whether practicable or not at the moment I offer no opinion. It is that, if you have a great comprehensive insurance scheme like this, it ought not to be beyond the wit of man to devise an arrangement under which those who have years of contributions to their credit should at a certain age either get benefit by way of pensions or some advantage very much upon the lines of the system that prevails with insurance companies where you are entitled to a bonus if no claim is made. Again, I offer no comment at this stage, except to say that that is a proposal which has been seriously made. I do not know if it has been made in the House, but it has been made outside.

My reason for asking the House not to accept a new Clause which asks that the Statutory Committee shall as soon as may be after the passing of the Act go into these matters is that under the Bill as drawn they have already allotted to them certain specific duties which they have to perform at once. First of all, they have to make a report with regard to the finances of the scheme. Secondly, they have to go into the question of the insurance of agriculture. Thirdly, they have, under Clause 2, to consider the question of borderline cases which I think really need looking into. Anomalies exist; for instance, the anomaly of pithead bath attendants who are insured if they are paid by the colliery company but not if they are paid from the Welfare Fund. I do not want to overload the work of the Committee by making it a statutory obligation to go into these other questions at once. But I give this undertaking, which I have been asked to give, that the matter will not only have my most sympathetic consideration, but that I will do all that I can to ensure, as soon as it is possible, that these and any other cases have the full consideration of the Committee. We shall then be in a position to pass an opinion in the House as to whether this, that or the other class ought to be included in the scheme.

4.36 p.m.


The Minister's last statement was rather unfortunate in view of the almost unanimous desire of those who have spoken that the proposed Clause should be accepted by the Government. We recognise the difficulties that stand in the way of the Statutory Com- mittee looking into the matter. It is true that certain functions and duties have been imposed upon them right away, and they will have, I expect, to be undertaken immediately after the Committee is appointed and holds its first meeting. But that, after all, is looking after something which has already been placed in the Bill and which is a part of the duties that fall to them under the Clauses of the Bill. I take it that the proposed Clause is not to. be construed as asking that the Statutory Committee immediately upon its appointment should consider the things that are in it. The words are "as soon as may be" after the Committee is set up. That might well be taken to mean that the more immediate things which are already indicated, and things which the Minister may have in his mind but which are not in the Bill, might be considered first. Consequently, I do not think there is very much justification for the Minister declining the Clause because it is to be looked upon that these are to be among the very first matters to be considered.

The difficulties which he mentioned, and which were referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer earlier in the Debate, as standing in the way of the so-called black-coated worker being included are difficulties which are only there for a strong Government, such as this Government claims to be, to surmount. After all, if a Government with the largest majority within this century and, I think, within the memory of any living politician are not sufficiently strong to overcome the difficulties of the £500 a year black-coated worker, they ought to hand in their resignations and call for a new election. The difficulties in that respect are no more insurmountable than those which arise in some of the other Departments and which are brought before us periodically and actually decided upon and overcome by Members of the House.

I am surprised that no one from the fishing areas has taken up the question of the share fishermen. There are difficulties arising there mainly, I should imagine, due to the fact that share fishermen are largely so unrepresented that evidence could only be taken from certain small areas and small groups of the men. Were the matter submitted to the Statutory Committee, they could go into the question of the share fishermen, as well as the other categories, in detail and endeavour to overcome the difficulty. They would have plenty of time, much more than we have, because they would not be confined, as we are, by a Guillotine Motion which descends upon us in the middle of a Debate and prevents some questions being considered at all, and they are the proper body to which to remit these matters for a decision.

The Minister threw out a rather hopeful hint that he would give sympathetic consideration—that hackneyed phrase so often used by Ministers—to the suggestion. I hope that that sympathetic consideration will materialise in action, because he has admitted that he has received large numbers of letters, I take it from constituents who are black-coated workers and who are desirous of being brought within the scheme. With regard to his suggestion of the bonus system, that would be simply getting back to the system that prevailed some years ago where employed workers who had had a good run of employment, with a large number of stamps to their credit, on passing out of insurance were paid what was practically a bonus. The system fell out of existence about 1924 or 1925. To adopt a bonus system would be to get back to something which has been abandoned by successive Governments. With regard to the point as to good lives, when the scheme was started there were between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 insured people. The percentage was very small, and it was estimated, when the scheme was first placed before the House, that it would be possible to carry it on a 4d. for 9d. basis, and it was carried on for quite a number of years. The small percentage of unemployed were to receive a high scale of benefit because of the large percentage of good lives that were in the scheme. It is the same in every scheme. It is the good lives in all insurance schemes which are paying for those which are looked upon as the bad lives.

At the present time, because we have had such a long period of unemployment, a very large number of trades, which, in the original conception of unemployment insurance in this House, were looked upon as carrying or likely to carry, a very small percentage of unemployment, are now carrying huge percentages of unemployment. In some dis- tricts where insured workers in these trades were looked upon as having a large percentage of good lives and a small percentage of bad lives, 53 per cent. of the workers are unemployed. From that point of view you have a change in the manner of looking at the position with regard to the so-called good lives as against the bad lives in the insurance scheme, and you have the demand which is being made for the inclusion of domestic servants and for the £500 a year black-coated workers. There is the demand for a number of additional good lives to be brought into the scheme to benefit those who are looked upon as the lower-paid workers, and, therefore, more susceptible to unemployment at the present time than any other class of the community.

I submit that that is trying to prejudice the whole case and to prejudice calm judgment on the matter. If we are to have the question of insurance looked at from the point of view of what is a good life and what is a bad life the Statutory Committee is the body to do it with calmness. They can do it without any party prejudices, and, I hope, without any class prejudices, and at least without any guillotine to curtail the discussions and force them to a decision without being able to give the matter the calm consideration that it ought to receive. I regret very much that the Minister of Labour, despite his promise of sympathetic consideration, cannot see his way to accept the new Clause, and we must therefore divide the House upon the matter.

4.48 p.m.


There seems to be a general desire that something of the effect of the proposed Clause should be incorporated in the Bill. The Minister seemed to be sympathetic towards the idea. He has told us that, if in due time the Committee can find time, it will give consideration to the matter. The point which occurs to me is whether the Bill as now drafted would give the Statutory Committee the power to do so, or whether there would not have to be some Amendment of the Bill in order to give the Committee the power if it was thought desirable that it should be done.

4.49 p.m.


On the Committee stage of this Bill an Amendment was put down in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends, somewhat similar to a part of the provisions contained in this Clause. It was to ensure the examination by the Statutory Committee of the case for insurance of share fishermen. It was discussed along with various other Amendments, and finally I withdrew it, after having had what I thought was a fairly satisfactory explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour.

I do not propose to support the Clause that has been put down by hon. Members of the Opposition for this reason. I believe that the Minister has given what should be a perfectly satisfactory declaration to the House with regard to this particular matter. The share fishermen, for instance, are suffering from very bad times, as we all know, in common with other workers mentioned in the Clause. They are covered under Part II of the Bill, but a great many of them feel—and I feel with them—that their case should receive very careful consideration at the hands of the Statutory Committee. I feel that those fishermen should receive consideration at the earliest possible moment. We know, however, as the Minister and various other speakers have pointed out, that the Statutory Committee are going to have their hands very full, and it must be remembered that they are a new body to be set up. I do not think that it would be wise in the national interest to overburden that body too much immediately. Therefore, I feel that the House would be unreasonable not to accept the declaration of the Minister that he will do his utmost to see that the Statutory Committee give all those workers mentioned in the new Clause their earnest consideration at the earliest possible moment. I do not think that we could ask for more. It is not reasonable to ask for more, but we should at least be satisfied in our own minds—and I am satisfied—that as soon as possible the Committee will examine these various cases and take into consideration all the material facts connected with them. With the declaration of the Minister, therefore, I am perfectly satisfied, and I hope that the House will also join in resisting the proposed Clause.

4.52 p.m.


I do not intend to repeat any of the arguments which have been used from any part of the House this afternoon. We have had the first fruits of this type of legislation in the statement of the Minister. The Minister says that, owing to the fact that this matter may be discussed by the Statutory Advisory Committee, the House of Commons is now to be deprived of the opinion of His Majesty's Ministers upon it. This is the first time that such a thing has ever happened in the history of the British House of Commons. We have now a vast Government Department for which we are paying enormous sums of money. We have a Minister and a Parliamentary Secretary who are now merely puppets, and, in fact, a wanton and unjustifiable extravagance to the State. The right hon. Gentleman gets up at that Box and says, "I am not going to provide the House of Commons with any information stored up in my department. I am going to withhold from the House of Commons the accumulated wisdom of the permanent officials in my Department. I am not going to provide them with any guide or lead, because it might prejudice the Statutory Advisory Committee." The consequence therefore is that, before the matter is referred to the Statutory Advisory Committee, we do not get the Minister's opinion, and after it comes back from the Statutory Advisory Committee we do not get it, because then he will say : "This matter has been considered by the body set up by this House, and it is unnecessary for me to argue it at all." Therefore, neither at the beginning of this legislation nor at the end of it, do we have the benefit of the opinion of the Minister. I hope that if this is going to be a permanent feature of our constitution, the Prime Minister will not waste upon the Ministry of Labour a right hon. Gentleman of such high merit and outstanding qualities as the one who at present occupies the office. He had better put his biggest dud into the job.


There are plenty of them.


My hon. Friend suggests that the Prime Minister is well provided with that type of person both in the Government and among his followers in the House of Commons. I should like to adduce one consideration which has not been mentioned up to now in the course of the Debate. Unless the Statutory Advisory Committee or the Government immediately proceed to bring this thing under Part I of this Bill, the whole scheme of Unemployment Insurance in Great Britain, and indeed, the whole structure of the Bill, will be badly unbalanced. As I understand it, many of the people referred to in the Amendment are not under Part I, and, because they are not under Part I, they are not under Part II. The result is that you will have a very extraordinary state of affairs, which, if continued for long, will disturb the whole structure of this piece of legislation. You will have local authorities responsible for paying out public assistance to men who are debarred from Part I of this Bill.

If the Minister will give me his attention, I am endeavouring to point out how very urgent it is that we should put this matter right as soon as possible. At the moment there are four categories of able-bodied unemployed people in Great Britain, and a fifth category will come into being. The fifth category will be those able-bodied persons in need of assistance who will not be under Part I, and, because they are not under Part I, will not be under Part II, and will therefore have to receive assistance at the hands of the public assistance authority. There may be living next door to each other two men receiving assistance from unemployment assistance officers set up by the board. You will have two families in exactly similar circumstances, one receiving the allowance from State funds, and the other receiving public assistance from the local rates, and they may be treated very differently. Therefore, you will have grave feeling arising in consequence. If the amount given by the public assistance authority is more than the amount given by the unemployment assistance officers, it will bring the State into disrepute, and, vice versa, it will bring the local authority into disrepute. You may have very high feeling created and the local authorities put into a very difficult position.

As the House is aware, I am profoundly opposed to the Bill, but if you are going to have this sort of legislation it should be properly rounded off, and all able-bodied poor people should be brought under the scheme. You should not leave some under the local authority and some under the board. It is because of that consideration, as well as many others which have been urged, that I ask the Minister of Labour to accept the new-Clause, which would impose the obligation upon the committee to bring the recommendation before us at the earliest possible moment. If the claim of the Government is to be justified, that the burden of maintaining able-bodied poor has been taken off the local authorities, you ought not to leave this class still chargeable to the local rates. In some constituencies there will be a considerable number of people so affected, and in other constituencies there will not be so many. It is unfair that a local authority in one area should be asked to discharge an obligation from which another local authority is entirely exempt because such a class of persons does not exist in their area at all. Because of those reasons, I think that the Minister is making a mistake in not accepting the Clause which has been put down in the names of my hon. Friends belonging to the Opposition. I enter my strong protest against this mummification of His Majesty's Ministers in this House.

5 p.m.


There is one special plea that I should like to make to the Minister. I accept his assurance that these cases will be inquired into by the Statutory Committee, but I submit that the case of the share fishermen might well receive priority, for two reasons. The first reason is, that the share fishermen were nearly included in 1921, but they were opposed to their inclusion because of the false optimism of the boom after the War. To-day, however, so far as I can discover from personal inquiry, they are unanimous in their desire to be included at the earliest possible moment in Unemployment Insurance. I believe that in their case the difficulties could be overcome. I recognise the difficulties appertaining to the black-coated workers with salaries up to £500 a year, and domestic servants. Those difficulties will take up a great deal of time and involve a great deal of inquiry and therefore delay, but I do plead that the case

of the share fishermen shall receive very early consideration. These men did good service in the War, and many of them to-day are in receipt of poor relief. They deserve special attention not only because of their war service, but owing to the fact that they are a small body and that it will take very little time to examine their case. I hope that early consideration will be given to them.

5.3 p.m.


I would ask the Minister to consider one point. Under the new Clause special reference is made to people who, for lack of another word, are called the black-coated workers. I should like to point out that at the present time there are black-coated workers within the unemployment insurance law who contract out. Corporation and other municipal employés are among the worst offenders in regard to contracting out. The right hon. Gentleman ought to stop contracting out now. We cannot have black-coated workers demanding to come in because they think they are bad lives, while other black-coated workers are demanding to come out of unemployment insurance because they are good lives. The black-coated workers must go in, like the engineers, or stay out. There is one case where 2,000 employés are asking to contract out, Corporation employés, and one trade union at least is supporting them in contracting out. We cannot have trade unions supporting people in contracting out, and then have trade unionists coming here and asking that this class of people should be allowed to contract in. They should all be in. At the moment the right hon. Gentleman would do well to stop all the contracting out that is going on. Everybody should be brought within the scheme. If the Minister cannot agree to that now, I do hope that no one will be allowed to go outside the scheme until a new scheme has been set up to bring in the black-coated workers who are now out.

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

The House divided : Ayes, 60; Noes, 258.