§ 4.48 p.m.
I beg to move, in page 6, line 11, to leave out Sub-section (1).
For the purpose of clarity, may I remind the House that the statutory holiday and the recognised holiday which count for the waiting period and continuity of unemployment are governed by an Amendment to the Fourth Schedule of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1927, and by the First Schedule, paragraph 4, of the Unemployment Insurance (No. 2) Act, 1924. It has been customary to count these statutory holidays for the waiting period and continuity of unemployment, and the intention of the new sub-section introduced by the Minister is to delete that practice for the purpose of calculating the waiting period and continuity of unemployment. The effect of the Amendment is, I believe, to return to the status quo. As I understand it, the intention of the Minister in introducing this particular sub-section in Clause 6 was to prevent people obtaining benefit illegitimately at a period earlier than they were entitled to do. That was a most commendable intention, because the aim and object of everybody is to ensure that the fund shall be used by those people who are legitimately entitled to draw upon it and shall be preserved for 515 their interests as well as the interests of all concerned in the industrial world in the future.
But, as very often happens in life, when one tries to remedy an injustice one quite inadvertently creates other injustices. I should like the Minister to reconsider his decision to include this particular Sub-section in the Bill, in the light of one or two points and examples which I should like to bring to his notice. Take, for example, a year when Christmas Day and Boxing Day occur on Wednesday and Thursday. A man may work on the Monday and Tuesday; he is idle on the Wednesday and the Thursday. Under this Clause he will not be allowed to count them for the waiting period. He is idle also on the Friday and the Saturday, works again on the Monday and Tuesday of the next week; and, in my part of the country, the North-East Coast, where we get the advantage of the Scottish holidays as well as the English holidays, and consequently have New Year's Day as a recognised holiday, he is idle on the New Year's Day and in many instances is also idle on the Friday and Saturday in the second week. None of these days count for the waiting period. In the third week he works again on the Monday and Tuesday, and is idle on the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He may work on the Monday and Tuesday of the following week, but it is only in the fourth week that he will complete the six days which have to elapse before he is entitled to draw standard benefit.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give some consideration to this matter, because such a man will only be able to get two days wages in each of the four weeks, all the rest of the time, owing to the regulation that wages are not to be subsidised out of public funds, he will have to depend over that long period of time on two days wages in each of the four weeks. In many industries wages are extremely low, and, therefore, such a man will indeed feel the pinch during that long period.
The second point I desire to make is in connection with the vexed question of what are termed recognised holidays as distinct from what we know as statutory holidays. In my part of the country we have a recognised holiday which is 516 known as Race Week, and in other parts of the country you get the Glasgow Week, the Edinburgh holiday and the holidays in Lancashire, all of different periods and subject to the decision of the Umpire as to whether they count as recognised holidays or not. I am sorry to be so local, but I must illustrate my point from my own constituency, where a shipbuilding yard has got the whole of Race Week, under an Umpire's decision, recognised as a statutory holiday. Immediately adjacent but in another shipyard and in another constituency, which works on the same kind of ships, the Umpire has given a decision that only three days in the Race Week are to be counted as recognised holidays. You may have a case like the one I brought to the notice of the Minister in order to get a decision, of a man working in the other shipyard, but living in my constituency, who is able to draw his unemployment benefit at an earlier date than the man who lives in my own constituency and works in the shipyard in my constituency.
The fact is that if the Clause remains in the Bill you will get a great variation in the holiday periods all over the country and, in consequence, a very great variation in the period of time, so far as days are concerned, during which an unemployed man will have to wait until he qualifies and is able to draw his standard benefit. The right to draw standard benefit under the conditions laid down in the Bill will depend to a large extent in what period of the year unemployment mostly falls. Let me put it this way. There are some industries in which the slack period always comes nearer to the holiday period than is the case in other industries. It is difficult, of course, to get any accurate information as to how the Clause will operate, but you may get one industry where the period of slackness always comes during the holiday period, in which case men will have to wait considerably longer than groups of men in other industries and, therefore, you may impose a serious and grave injustice on large classes of the community. The right hon. Gentleman in his desire to see that the fund is protected from illegitimate claims has not taken all these facts which I have given him into full consideration, possibly because all the local customary 517 holidays throughout the country are not very well known in London. We have decided that the period which used to be known as the gap shall be six days. It is a little hard, even with the best intentions in the world, to lengthen that gap, particularly as it will fall only on certain men and not on the whole of the community. I know it is the desire of the Minister to make the administration of the Bill fall as fairly and as justly as possible on all sections of the community, but I feel strongly that unless I can persuade him to reconsider his decision we may have injustices cropping up.
May I put one further point. I believe that the Bill is going to be of real value to everybody concerned. Hon. Members above the Gangway take exception to that statement, but I have lived long enough in political life to know that I would rather wait until I see the effect of a Bill before coming to a decision. I am not yet certain how the administration is going to work out, but the general principles of the Bill commend themselves as being of real value to the unemployed and I am prepared to allow the unemployed themselves to give their decision on the Measure in the years to come. Leaving out hon. Members above the Gangway because they are bound to oppose the Bill, although they know that there is a great deal of good in it, those who are supporting the National Government honestly believe that it will be of great benefit to the country and to the unemployed, and, therefore, it seems a pity that we should run the risk of allowing injustices to creep in which may tend to destroy the broad principles embodied in the Bill, in which we sincerely believe. With all the power I possess I ask the Minister to graciously consider the points that I have put forward. If he can give us this concession I know it will be warmly welcomed by those who support the Bill as a measure of real benefit to the nation.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. MARTIN
I beg to second the Amendment.
The hon. Lady has put forward the reasons for it so lucidly that there is very little left to say, but I should like to add one or two remarks to help the Minister to arrive at a decision on 518 matter which is of great moment to the people on the North East Coast. In the coal industry a great deal of short time is being worked in the pits, and this particular provision will lead in its operation to one of those pin-pricks which irritate people who are working on short time and perhaps antagonise them to the general principles of the Bill, which, throughout the North East Coast, whatever Labour Members may say, is claimed as something which will afford them real help when they are unemployed. Take the case of a man who works short time for three days in any week. He works on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the pit, and it then becomes idle. That may happen through a variety of causes; some salesman on the quayside plays one of the tricks well known to the coalowner and evades the Mines Act of 1930 in such a way that an order is or is not placed, according to the agility he shows in evading the Act. Some other coalowner has a representative who is perhaps more pushing or intelligent than his neighbours in a different part of the county, and he gets an order, which means that the neighbouring pit is unemployed for the remaining three days of the week.
All these causes are outside the lives of the men working in the pit—sometimes miners are apt to forget how much work has to be done before orders can come in. But for three days at the end of the week he has no employment. Then during race week it is a whole week's holiday, and should it intervene he will not be allowed to count any one of the days in race week as waiting days for the purpose of unemployment benefit. That means that he will receive half a week's pay for half a week's work, he will be unemployed for the rest of that week and for the whole of the next week, and he must go into the middle of the following week before he is entitled to apply for unemployment benefit. The man will approximately have to go for a fortnight with only half a week's pay to support him and his family. I appreciate the effort the Minister of Health is making to abolish a certain evil which has cropped up, but I feel sure that he did not intend to perpetrate this further injustice which I think is bound to arise if the Clause is left in. Many other hon. Members agree with our point of view, 519 and although some may appear now to be doubtful, yet we think it is worth while to press this point, because we think the Clause may operate to the detriment of many people whom the Minister has no desire to hurt. If the Amendment is carried it will bring us back to the present practice, and a man in the middle of a recognised holiday such as race week could say that he has been unemployed for three days at the beginning of the week and three days in the previous week, and thus establish his claim. When a man finds that he is able to do that, I think he will be in a much better frame of mind to admit all the benefits the Minister his given him in the rest of the Bill.
I am sure the Minister had no intention of spoiling the general effect of the Bill, which the majority of the people in the industrial areas proclaim as a great benefit to industry and the unemployed generally. It would be a shame to spoil that opinion by the small feeling which would come into the lives of a percentage of the men, and which would be broadcast as one of the terrible things which the Labour party had brought up against the Bill. I therefore hope that the Minister will see his way to accept the Amendment. I know that if he does he will receive the acclamation of all those people affected by statutory holidays who might possibly be injured by the Clause as it stands.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
It is not very often that I find myself supporting an Amendment moved in the quarter from which this one has been moved. We had a similar Amendment on the Paper. We are very pleased indeed to find ourselves in common agreement with other hon. Members on this Amendment. It can be said that the hon. Lady who represents Wallsend (Miss Ward) argued her case extremely well. The illustrations she gave could be multiplied from various parts of the House. What the Government have done is to give effect to the recommendations of the Royal Commission which stated :A difficulty of minor importance arises with regard to customary holidays.I do not agree that it is a difficulty of minor importance. It is not a small matter at all. It concerns hundreds of 520 thousands of people. It covers people who are very often working intermittently, and who, as a result of the operation of this particular Sub-section, would be deprived of the few days that are much needed, particularly during these holiday breaks. The Royal Commission also stated :It has been the rule of practice that days of customary holidays, although not counting for benefit purposes, may count for the purpose of preserving continuity of unemployment and as waiting days.Further on, the report states :It has been held that this provision did not abolish the rule of practice that days of customary holidays should count for preserving continuity and as waiting days. In our view, such days should be regarded for all purposes as days on which the claimant does not satisfy the second statutory condition.That means that the umpire has moved that these customary holidays should count for waiting or continuity purposes. If anyone has had wide and diverse experience over a number of years, far wider than that of the average member of this House or of Members of the Royal Commission, and wider even than that of industrial members, it is the umpire because he has had multitudes of cases put before him. What he has done in these cases is not that he has been merely lenient. That is the implication in the Commission's statement—that there has been a sort of loose ruling upon this matter. The umpire does not rule loosely. As a matter of fact those who have been before the umpire know that he is a man of experience of the world at large, an able interpreter of the law, whose decisions have come to have practically the standing of law as decided by judges. I do not think there is any more careful judge than the umpire.
The customary holidays described by the hon. Member for Wallsend are one kind. But customary holidays differ in different parts of the country. He would be a bold man who would describe what the term "customary holidays" means, say, in the great shipyards on the Clyde and in the engineering works. Although I have had to deal with this matter I shall not attempt to go into it in detail, because it is so difficult that I am sure I would stumble in making an explanation. But the umpire has given a ruling. It does not mean that benefit is given for these holidays. It does mean that 521 the days count for waiting and continuity purposes. I am rather surprised that the Royal Commission did not argue the case and give some reasons for it. Of course there was some evidence given upon the matter, but I think the House would be ill-advised to take the course laid down in this Bill.
When I saw this Sub-section I was really alarmed. I was perturbed when we did not get an opportunity of discussing the proposal in Committee, and I am therefore glad that we have that opportunity to-day. The Sub-section will cover an alarmingly large number of people. It will cover just those people who need most consideration because of short time or intermittent work. We know the regular practice of some firms. Suppose that Christmas Day falls on a Wednesday. There are two days after that. There have been times when there was a doubt whether those days after Christmas Day counted as a holiday or not. That is the sort of difficulty that the umpire has been up against. It is not only that the Sub-section covers a large number of people but that it hits basic industries like shipbuilding, engineering and mining, which are governed by old-time practices. It hits those industries in which the employers have been in the habit of declaring certain days as holidays. In the Scottish area there are the summer holidays. They do not call them wakes, but fairs. There has been a considerable amount of trouble because the holiday is nearly a week in those cases. The umpire has had considerable difficulty in deciding whether those were customary holidays or not. The Minister of Labour in this Sub-section has sought to carry out the Report of the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. MARTIN
When I used the word "minor" it was not because I disagreed with the Mover of the Amendment on the importance of the Amendment, but that this was a matter of minor importance in proportion to the great good that the Bill as a whole does.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The average Member of the House will see most clearly what affects his own particular constituents and will not see the effect of the Bill as a whole. I am sure that the Minister will admit that this Clause is a much bigger matter than appears on the surface. 522 I appeal to him to reconsider the matter, and to make a concession by withdrawing this Sub-section.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
In order that the harmony of the House may be complete I have much pleasure in joining whole-heartedly in the coalition between the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) as the representative on this occasion of the Merseyside area. I believe that this is the first attempt to deal with the question of customary holidays by Statute. The fact that some 20 years of experience have been gained without such an attempt having been made illustrates the extraordinary difficulty of reaching any satisfactory solution of the matter. In a way this is one of those questions which is hardly suitable for discussion across the Floor of the House. It is an extraordinarily complicated question. It was described by the Royal Commission, as has been said, as a matter of minor importance. It may be a matter of minor importance in comparison with the major structure of this Bill, such as the setting up of the Statutory Committee or the Unemployment Board, or matters of that sort. But it certainly is a matter of major difficulty. In fact the speeches already made indicate quite clearly how complicated the matter is.
The Mover of the Amendment quoted cases of difficulty which had arisen in her constituency, and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street hesitated to embark on the matter at all. I will endeavour to illustrate what happened in my own constituency and the adjoining constituency last year. I think I shall convince the Minister that the rigid words which he has in this Clause will perpetuate rather than clear up the difficulties. I take the case of two shipyards within a few hundred yards of each other. In Shipyard No. 1 the customary Easter holidays were Good Friday, Saturday and Easter Monday. In Shipyard No. 2 the customary holidays were Good Friday and Easter Monday. In this Sub-section there is one word—"employed"—which makes it unworkable. The Sub-section states that a man shall not be deemed for the purposes of the Unemployment Insurance Acts to be unemployed on any 523 day which is recognised as a holiday at "the factory at which he is employed." In the case of these two shipyards, however, you would have a man who ceased work on the Thursday evening in the shipyard where the two holidays were recognised, but who resumed work after Easter in the other shipyard. It is frequently the case that people resume work after a holiday, not at the factory where they left off work but at an adjoining factory because they are employed from day to day.
No regulation which the Minister could devise, could possibly fit in with the different conditions in different types of factories and in different areas. If a set of men left off work on Thursday evening in the factory in which the three days' holiday were recognised and resumed work on the following Tuesday morning in the other factory, they would receive benefit for the three full days. On the other hand men who left work at the same time and who did not resume work at the same factory at which they were employed, on the Tuesday, the Wednesday of the Thursday or within any part of the 12 days' signing period, would lose their benefit for the full period of the holiday. Not only that but a man who in his keenness to get a job did half a day's work in one of these places during the period of the holiday would find that his effort to obtain work for one half-day had deprived him of benefit for the full period of the holiday. As this system is now working and as it would remain stereotyped by this arrangement, it is a definite discouragement to men to look for a day's or a half-day's work during the period when the holidays are approaching.
Having given this matter some consideration I think the words proposed in the Bill would be dangerous. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) referred to the hardships suffered by many of these men. In normal times it might not be a matter of much consequence, but many of them are in urgent need at the present time and to use a grim expression which has obtained currency in my district, they are "sold down to the last chair." The unfortunate occurrences which happened last year there by which considerable bodies of men were either deprived of a payment to which they thought themselves 524 entitled, or saw their neighbours getting better treatment than they received, created an unfortunate feeling and led to considerable hardship. If there is any question which would justify the setting up of a statutory committee to consider difficulties arising under this Measure and to consider carefully information collected from all the different districts, it is a question of this kind. It is difficult to concentrate upon it in a discussion across the Floor of the House of Commons, but I join in the appeal which has been made to the Minister that he should not continue this Sub-section at this time.
There is machinery upon which he can rely for getting fair and impartial evidence from each district in the country. There are in these districts local advisory committees composed of employers' and workers' representatives and others and a body of that kind could draw up a fair and just scheme which would satisfy its own particular district. But any attempt to deal with the matter by Statute, must create hardship in one district or another, and while it might work successfully in and suit one district it would be bound in other districts to be profoundly unsatisfactory. Anything in the nature of an attempt at settlement of the question on national lines at the present can only lead to further hardship and confusion. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) has done well to bring this Amendment before the House, and I hope that the Minister will see his way to agree with it.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I am in entire agreement with the last part of the speech of the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White). The more we consider this matter the more we must realise that there are difficulties connected with the different districts in the country and that before any definite change is made in the present scheme the Minister ought to have further information as to how the holiday arrangement works in the various areas. This has been described by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) as a very large and complicated problem. As he pointed out the term "customary holiday" is not defined. Some of us are inclined to think that it cannot be defined. I find that many hon. Members hold an entirely different view from any that I have ever heard of 525 before, as to what is a customary holiday. There is an idea, apparently, that a customary holiday includes even extra days taken before or after Christmas and on such occasions.
Many hon. Members have referred to various districts in England. May I draw the attention of the Minister to some of the districts in Scotland where the idea of a customary holiday is quite different from that which prevails in England? In Scotland the customary holidays are not Good Friday or various single days or two days, at different seasons such as Christmas and Easter. In most cases in Scotland there is one week's holiday, generally in July. As hon. Members have alluded to definite cases the House will excuse me if I give an illustration from a trade which I have mentioned in this House before and of which I have some knowledge. I refer to the jute trade. The jute trade is governed as to its conditions by a trade board. There is a week's holiday in July and all the jute mills have to close down during that week. If that week is not included for continuity and waiting period purposes what will happen? For one week the mill-worker, naturally, during the holiday does not draw pay. If that week does not count for continuity or waiting period purposes he will go on to the end of the next week and he will then not draw pay but will have to wait a third week and then he must either go to the public assistance committee or presumably come under Part II of this Measure.
That is a clear statutory holiday during which, as I say, every mill must be shut and it might be possible to frame some provision to deal with that type of holiday, which is regular, which occurs at the same time every year and which is always of the same duration. The difficulty arises where the customary holidays in different parts of the country are not regular in recurrence or duration, depending rather on such matters as the day of the week on which Christmas Day or Boxing Day will fall. But we do not want any scheme for including such holidays as waiting period or continuity, to be used by industries in order that they may turn off their people knowing that those people will be kept at the expense of the fund. That is an important point which has not, I think, been brought out yet. We do not want to 526 saddle the fund with an additional charge simply because an industry thinks that it will take the opportunity to rearrange a certain amount of its work, and that is the great danger which would arise if we were to withdraw this Subsection and do nothing.
At present we have not sufficient information as to the different types of holidays in different parts of the country. I see a difficult and complicated situation disclosed by the various instances which have been mentioned and I agree with the hon. Member for East Birkenhead that this is a subject which ought to be referred to the Statutory Committee or on which further information ought to be obtained from the districts. It cannot be treated as one problem. It is a complicated diversity of problems and there are certain dangers to be avoided especially that to which I have drawn attention of the fund being used by certain industries in the way indicated. I suggest that it might be possible not to alter the present law at the present time but to refer the matter to the Statutory Committee or else to get further evidence upon it with a view to making quite clear what a customary and statutory holiday is, in order both to protect the fund and to see that the worker, who at the end of the time is simply turned on to Part II of the Measure or public assistance, is allowed to come back on to the fund.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I join in the appeal to the Minister that he should not lightly turn down this Amendment. This is a very serious matter as far as shipbuilding and engineering and particularly repairing are concerned. It affects not merely the Clyde and the Tyne but the whole industry all round the coast. It affects engineers who go on board ships at Falmouth and Plymouth and Portsmouth and all round our shores for the purpose of doing repair jobs. They are going to be handicapped unless this Amendment is accepted. We want these men to be able to do these jobs at the holiday times. It is all right for those who in normal circumstances can make preparations beforehand for repairs that have to be done either in the works or by marine engineers on the ship, but there is the case of a small repair, which is only going to occupy a man for a day. 527 If men take jobs of that kind in the middle of a holiday, it means they are going to be cut off. The Amendment would enable them to do such jobs without being penalised, and I hope the Minister will keep in mind cases of that kind when he replies.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
After that double dose of Scotland, may I bring the House back to England where we suffer from the same trouble and the same fear about this particular Sub-section? I take it that the intention of the Sub-section is to restore the status quo which existed before the Umpire's decision of 1930. But I am not certain that the Umpire's decision was not perfectly logical. I think it was logical for this reason. Clearly, it is not right for a man to draw benefit during a customary holiday provided he has not been out of work immediately before the holiday. Nevertheless, for purposes of wages, if he does not go back to work during the week after the holiday, he has then had to do 12 consecutive days of actual unemployment, even if the first six do not count as statutory unemployment. During those 12 days he has received no wages, and he would have to go, as the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) said, to the public assistance committee or, in future, to the Unemployment Assistance Board.
In Lancashire we have the system of wakes weeks. Immense sums of money are saved up during the year, and it is all spent in that one week, mostly at Blackpool. A very large proportion of the population in my constituency still go to Blackpool or the Isle of Man for that week. But there is a large number of people, unemployed for different periods during the summer, who are not able any longer to do that, but who stay in the towns and, because they have not enough during wakes week, have to go to the public assistance committee. Then the cotton mills, in times of depression, close down for an extra week to unburden themselves of some of their surplus stock. If those second six days in fact only count as waiting days, the men unemployed during that temporary period have to go to the Unemployment Assistance Board under the Bill, and surely it is that sort of weekly unemployment for 528 which Part I of the Bill, the insurance scheme, is drawn up, to cover periods of unemployment between periods of employment. It is for that reason that I, with other hon. Members who have spoken, would ask the Minister to consider again if it is not really logical to uphold that Umpire's decision and if the state of affairs previous to that decision was not really the illogical state of affairs.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. McENTEE
We have had a striking consensus of opinion from speakers representing all political parties in the House, except that which is now called the National Labour party, that if the Clause is passed, the condition of the unemployed worker in certain circumstances will be worsened. Is it the Minister's intention that the unemployed worker in the circumstances covered by this Clause shall be worse off? I hope he will be able to say it is not, and I think he has had evidence from all parts of the House to-day that the operation of this Clause will definitely worsen the condition of unemployed men and women in certain circumstances. I do not profess to have had any intimate experience of the working, on the administrative side, of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, but I think I am right in saying that if any firm closes down at the present time for, let us say, Easter Monday and the Tuesday and Wednesday following, according to a decision given by the Umpire the man who is unemployed for those three days can in fact draw benefit for the Tuesday and the Wednesday, although he cannot draw benefit for the Monday, which is the customary holiday. If this Clause is passed in its present form, that condition will be altered, and instead of the unemployed man or woman being able, as now, to draw benefit for the Tuesday and Wednesday, having been unemployed for the three days including the Easter Monday, he or she will not be able to draw those two days' benefit in future. In that case, therefore, the condition of the man or woman who is unemployed would be worse than it is now.
There is another case, however, in regard to which I am not sure how the Clause would operate. Christmas Day and Boxing Day are customary holidays, and if they are followed by 12 working 529 days' unemployment, the person who has been unemployed for those 14 days would in fact get 14 days' pay, which would include Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but I think I am right in saying that under the Clause, in similar circumstances, the man or woman similarly unemployed for 14 days would only get 12 days' unemployment pay, and if I am right in that, then again the condition of the man or woman would be definitely worsened. I do not think there is any doubt about it with regard to the case of the Easter holiday, but in the second case I am not quite sure whether my interpretation of the new Clause is accurate, and I should like to have an assurance from the Minister on that point.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) began by stating that he thought this topic was one that was unsuitable for discussion, but I can assure him that there is nothing improper about it at all. On the other hand——
§ Mr. WHITE
My right hon. Friend does not suggest that I was guilty of saying there was any impropriety in this topic. Far from it. What I meant to convey was that this is one of the cases where Parliament sometimes draws a hard and fast line which does not correspond to the conditions in the country.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I am very glad the hon. Gentleman has now made his somewhat equivocal remark quite plain, but I can assure him that, even on his own interpretation of what he meant by unsuitable, I entirely differ from him. I think this discussion during the last hour has been one of the most instructive that we have had on this Bill. It is a highly technical question, as everyone agrees, but, on the other hand, it is a question of great importance and one on which we have had the benefit of the experience of hon. Members representing almost every part of England and Scotland; and in addition we have had this matter put before us in a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) which, for its fairness and clarity, I do not think has been surpassed during the whole course of these Debates. Therefore, I approach this matter with the feeling that it is one which we have done well to spend some time in discussing.
530 The hon. Member for West Waltham-stow (Mr. McEntee) raised a point which has not been raised before. If I understood him rightly, he was right on his first point, but I do not think he was quite right on his second. The history of this matter is this. For many years, as he said, this question of customary holidays has been governed by a whole series of Umpire's decisions, and the Umpire himself stated that where a person has been finally discharged from his employment before the holiday, the holiday is treated as a day of unemployment for all purposes, and benefit may be paid for the holiday. It frequently happens, however, that a customary holiday is extended. It may be extended because of stocktaking, it may be extended for the purpose of the overhauling of the machinery, or it may be extended because trade is bad. The Umpire has held that where the extension lasted for as long as 12 working days—and that is the point of the hon. Member for West Walthamstow—in addition to and consecutive with the holiday, the applicant is treated as though he had been discharged before the holiday and may be entitled to payment of benefit for the holidays. The Clause with which we are now dealing does not alter that practice in any way at all. What it does affect, of course, is what is known as the continuity rule. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) referred to the report of the Royal Commission, and I will read shortly what the Royal Commission said on this subject, in paragraph 421:A difficulty of minor importance arises with regard to customary holidays. It has been a rule of practice that days of customary holidays, although not counting for benefit purposes, may count for the purpose of preserving continuity of unemployment and as waiting days.Then it quotes the Acts of 1924 and 1927, and it goes on to state :It has been held that this provision"—the provision, that is, of the Act of 1927—did not abolish the rule of practice that days of customary holidays should count for preserving continuity and as waiting days. In our view, such days should be regarded for all purposes as days on which the claimant does not satisfy the Second Statutory Condition.The present law then is that holidays are not counted for benefit, but they are 531 counted for continuity, and the effect of the Sub-section which we are now discussing is to bring the law into conformity with the recommendation of the Royal Commission and to put benefit and continuity on the same footing, and that means that there will not be the advantage that there is now in respect of the continuity rule. This proposal was not put in the Bill, I need hardly say, without a good deal of consideration and without taking into account a good many of the points which have been urged to-day. As stated in the report, there was an attempt in 1927 to remedy the position by providing that a customary holiday should not count for continuity purposes except when a man had been discharged or suspended for 12 days or more, but although it was clearly the intention in 1927 to alter the law as interpreted by the Umpire, it was frequently found that the amendment did not achieve the purpose for which it was made, and the law remained unchanged.
The second consideration that occurred to me in drafting this Bill is that on the face of it it is inconsistent that there should be one law for the payment of benefit and another law for the continuity rule. Therefore, if you look into this matter merely as a question of consistency, clearly there is something to be said for treating them both alike, that is, either for treating the customary holidays as days on which benefit can be paid and counted for the continuity rule, or doing the opposite and saying that both in respect of payment of benefit and of the continuity rule, they shall not be counted. It is true that holidays are arranged for the mutual convenience of employers and workers, and in the ordinary sense a man cannot be regarded unemployed on a customary holiday any more than on a Sunday.
These are the considerations, combined with the recommendation of the Royal Commission, that induced us to put this Clause into the Bill. On the other hand, it is true, as the hon. Member for West Walthamstow said, that the existing law without amendment on this point has existed for a good long time, and it worsens the position of the applicant if this Sub-section is included. Therefore, the answer to the question the hon. Member put, is clearly that it is a curtailment 532 of the rights which the applicant now enjoys.
There are, however, further points that one ought to take into consideration, and they are all points that have been put by different Members according to their experience in different parts of the country. The conclusion that I have come to after listening to the Debate is that this Clause, if passed into law, would act unequally throughout the country for the reason that there are different customs in different localities. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) gave his experience, speaking from his own knowledge of the customs in the shipyards on the Clyde, of how it will affect them. An hon. Friend gave his experiences of what would happen on the North-east coast, where they have different periods of the year which are regarded as customary holidays, which may not be the same as those on the Clyde; while another hon. Friend gave the custom in Lancashire, where the Wakes may be extended, for reasons I have given, for two or three weeks, and where in many cases the habits and customs are not the same as those on the Clyde or on the North-east coast. After having given the best consideration I could to this question, and having listened to the Debate with special attention and with an earnest desire to do what I believe to be the right thing in this matter, I have come to the conclusion that, on the whole, I should be justified in accepting the Amendment.
May I thank my right hon. Friend very warmly for his kind consideration and for the great satisfaction he has given to those of us in all parties who have been associated with the Amendment. It gives us a great deal of satisfaction to know that he feels the same as we do.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (2).
I hoped that the Minister would indicate that he intended withdrawing Subsection (2), for it seems to me that it 533 ought not to be left in the Clause now that Sub-section (1) has been omitted. The two Sub-sections cover different points, but many of the arguments which have convinced the Minister that Subsection (1) should be withdrawn are equally applicable to Sub-section (2). It deals with a class or shift or a grade of persons who might be employed in a factory, workshop or mine, and whose customary working week is less than six days, and may be five or four days, and who are paid a full week's wages for that smaller number of days so that the other days in the week cannot be counted for continuity purposes. At the moment they are counted in many instances for continuity purposes. In the South Wales coalfield they have afternoon and night shifts; that is to say, men who are engaged at work in the afternoon and men who are engaged at work at night. Those men work five shifts a week and they are idle on Saturday as a general rule. The Saturday counts for continuity purposes, and in many instances enables the men engaged upon the shift to qualify for unemployment insurance benefit.
As was evidenced in the last discussion, this is an extremely complicated matter. Before I came to the House I had the task of interpreting this Sub-section to thousands of workpeople, and complicated charts had to be drawn up because a man might be working on an afternoon shift one week, a day shift the second week, and a night shift the third week. In circumstances of that kind the continuity period would be unequally distributed over different shifts. It would add to the colour of my vocabulary if I said what some of the men said about the continuity rule, but I remember vividly how on many occasions I saw the faces of some of the men light up when I was able to show that owing to the operation of the continuity rule they were able to qualify for benefit, whereas otherwise they would not have been able to do so. The Minister might say that this has become an established custom and that a man upon the sixth day of the week is not in fact continuously unemployed on that day, which is I think the second statutory condition. The Royal Commission reports on this matter:Another difficulty arises in the case of shift workers. If a factory regularly work a 5-day week, benefit is not paid for the 534 sixth day, and, if such a factory goes on short time, working week on and week off, benefit would be paid for six days in the off-week and would not be paid for the Saturday in the week of employment. If, however, a claimant were definitely discharged on Friday in the week of employment instead of merely suspended from his employment, benefit would be paid for the Saturday although he had done a full normal week's work in that week. In our view, when a shift worker has done a full normal week's work, he should be regarded as employed throughout the week and not entitled to benefit for any day of that week.In this case, again, the Royal Commission made a recommendation but did not provide us with the many arguments on which it was based; it merely recited the history, but did not provide the grounds of its recommendations. This, of course, only affects short-time workers, and I should like to put a point which I intended to put on the previous Debate, but the Minister rose to reply.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The point is that if a man does not become unemployed the question of continuity is of importance. I was about to point out that an argument can be applied here which was equally applicable to the last discussion. If a factory or pit works short time, it is because it is unable to dispose of its maximum output. If the holidays did not occur in this way and the output had been greater it could not have been disposed of and that shift would in fact be unemployed on that day. Where short time does not operate the point does not count, but where it does operate it does count, because the full shift's output cannot be disposed of, and if these days were not taken as days of holiday they would be taken as days of unemployment. The Umpire said, "Obviously a man ought not to have benefit on a day on which in fact he could not be regarded as unemployed." On the other hand, he said, "Obviously, where short time takes place taking the holidays is a form of curtailing output, and consequently it is not fair entirely to disregard that, and I will meet the position half-way and permit those days to count for continuity purposes."
It seems to me that the decision of the Umpire was a perfectly just one. Some 535 Members might think it would have been going too far if he had decided that unemployment benefit should be payable for that day. It certainly would be going too far, in the view of the Minister and of hon. Members, if he had decided that the day should be entirely disregarded, and he did the perfectly proper thing in saying that these days of unemployment are sufficiently border-line days to count for continuity purposes. In steel works blast furnaces and similar works where it is not now possible to dispose of the full output of a plant, the practice has grown up not of reducing the number of hours in a shift but of taking a shift off for one day a week. That is, indeed, a product of trade depression, though from the point of view also of efficient factory regulation, it is undesirable for men to work only six hours on an eight-hour shift, and it is better to effect a reduction of working time by closing down for one day in the week. On account of the prolonged trade depression that has come to be regarded almost as a practice, although, as I have indicated, it is a byproduct of trade depression, and the day lost is a day of genuine employment to the man. I am hoping that the Minister will see his way clear to delete this Sub-section, as he did the last one, because otherwise it will hit the miners in South Wales very hard indeed. The fund can bear this burden, and there is no reason why we should have niggling economies at the expense of the unemployed. It is hard lines to say that if a man is idle for one day through the circumstances which I have explained, that day shaall not count for continuity purposes, whereas if he only works for one hour in a day that is counted as a day's employment. The Umpire has taken all these facts into consideration in coming to the decision which he has taken.
One word in conclusion. The House knows the view we take about the Statutory Committee, but if we are to have a Statutory Committee, it seems undesirable to fasten down the law in this way when, in a few months' time, the Statutory Committee can consider all these matters. As has been pointed out, these are technical and complicated points, and if the Statutory Committee has any value at 536 all, I should imagine that this is just the direction in which it could, after taking all the local circumstances into consideration, give advice on which regulations could be drawn up such as would be elastic and adaptable to varying circumstances. I therefore beg the Minister to be good enough to delete this Subsection, because in that way he will be holding-off a blow from a large number of people who are already sufficiently hard hit by the industrial depression.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I am not approaching this matter, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) suggested in one portion of his speech, from the point of view of whether the change asked for would or would not result in what he called "a niggling economy." Throughout this complicated Measure I have attempted to do what I believe to be the fair and right thing to the people affected, and therefore, I hope he will clear that idea from his mind, and believe me when I say that I am approaching this question from the point of view I have just indicated. This point is different from the one which we discussed on the last Amendment. The hon. Member quoted the report of the Royal Commission, and I would remind the House of the last four or five lines :In our view, when a shift worker does a full normal week's work he should be regarded as employed throughout the week, and not entitled to benefit for any day of that week.The position under the Umpire's ruling is that if the normal arrangement of shifts at any works or factory is such that a full week's work is done in less than six days, a workman who has done his full work in a calendar week is not entitled to benefit in respect of any day in that week. That means that where, under the arrangements at the establishment, the full week is considered to be not a six-day but a five-day week, the man is not entitled to benefit for the sixth day. There is one exception to this rule, namely, that benefit may be paid for such a day if the worker is permanently discharged from his employment before that day. The Sub-section carries out the recommendation of the Royal Commission that under the circumstances I have named a worker should not be entitled to benefit in respect 537 of any day in that week, but having regard to what I said on the last Amendment I am again, after consideration, disposed to think that this is a Sub-section which, in the circumstances, I should not be justified in insisting upon, and, therefore, I can accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.