§ 6.12 p.m.
This Clause gave rise to a very long Debate in Committee, where the Minister brought up a manuscript Amendment which frightened us, because we could not understand his action. In this Sub-section which we wish to have deleted we see the result of that manuscript Amendment. The words in the Bill, before the manuscript Amendment was accepted, stated that a man must prove that he
is capable of and available for work but unable to obtain suitable employment.
We argued that those words carried us back to the position under the not-genuinely-seeking-work Clause, and we could see no reason for their insertion, and we cannot see any reason for the alteration which the Minister has made. We opposed the wording of the Clause prior to the alteration, and we oppose just as strongly the words in this Subsection. The words which the Minister accepted were :
or if it is proved by an officer of the Ministry of Labour that the claimant has neglected to avail himself of an opportunity of suitable employment.
I notice that the Minister has put down an Amendment to leave out the second word "an" and to insert "a reasonable," which would make the Sub-section say that a man must not neglect to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of suitable employment. We say that those words are far too drastic. First of all, an officer of the Ministry of Labour has the power to stop a man's benefit if he
is satisfied that the man has not availed himself of a reasonable opportunity of suitable employment. That may give rise to a good many grievances arising from differences of opinion over the interpretation of the word "neglected." The officer might say that the man ought to have gone to a place a certain distance away where a worker was wanted and where he might have got employment, and that because he did not do so he neglected an opportunity. We have no hesitation in saying that these words are just as dangerous as the words which were in the Bill before the alteration made in the Committee stage. We see no reason for an alteration of the Act of 1930. There was a long Debate before that Act was passed. Strong public opinion had been aroused regarding the not-genuinely-seek-ing-work provision, because it was found so easy to penalise a workman and stop his unemployment benefit. The Debate led to the abolition of the not-genuinely-seeking-work Clause, and the Act as it stands ought to remain. We see no justification for the Minister seeking to alter the decision come to when Parliament abolished the not-genuinely-seeking-work Clause. We believe that the Act of 1930 has worked fairly smoothly and there has been no need, so far as we are aware, for the Minister to seek to alter it. To allow this Sub-section to stand while it includes the words :
if it is proved by an officer of the Ministry of Labour that the claimant has neglected to avail himself of an opportunity of suitable employment,
is so dangerous that we are bound to ask the Minister whether he can see his way clear to leaving the law as it stands at present. If he cannot, in view of the dangerous nature of those words, we shall ask the House to delete the Sub-section, and to allow the Act of 1930 to continue to operate. To insert those words is asking too much; they put such power into the hands of an officer of the Ministry of Labour that he has abundant opportunities for stopping benefit, and I have no hesitation in asking for their deletion.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
I beg to second the Amendment.
One of the difficulties of the passage of a Bill of this nature over a protracted period, and particularly under guillotine procedure, is that we are not able to 539 bring our Debates in Commitee to a consummation, and points cannot be revived upon the Report stage. The Minister will recollect that this matter was discussed in Committee and very considerable feeling was aroused, and that anxiety was expressed as to how the Sub-section would work out administratively. I believe that the Minister is not anxious to restore the not-genuinely-seeking-work conditions, because he has expresed the view, which he probably holds quite genuinely, that the words would not create those conditions. If the words which it is proposed to insert can be so interpreted, my hon. Friends and I are in some doubt as to why it is necessary for the Minister to alter the law.
I can claim to speak with some small authority. I remember very vividly the Debate which took place in the last Parliament when the existing law was made. I do not know whether the Solicitor-General will argue the matter better than it was argued by his distinguished colleague, the then Attorney-General, but that distinguished statesman found himself quite unable to frame a form of words which would be acceptable not only to ourselves but, the Minister will recollect, to his own party. The existing law was received with universal acclamation in the last Parliament, although there were some gibes. It was recognised then, as it is now—this is my first point—that if the Minister is anxious to protect the fund from paying unemployment benefit to a man who would not accept employment if it were available, there is always a means of testing that man. There are jobs going in every Employment Exchange, almost every day. If a man falls into that category—and I am putting this very earnestly, because I am frightened about this Sub-section—all you need to do is to offer him a job. You can do administratively all the protecting you like against the undesirable man. If the officer feels that some men are being demoralised by continuous unemployment and are not lifting a finger to get a job, and that they would be better if they had one, all that the officer needs to do is to offer him a job and, if the man refuses to accept the job which is suitable, to disallow his benefit.
540 My second point is that the fund is not being called upon to carry a heavier burden as a consequence of leaving the law where it is. If the words are accepted, there will be no economy on the fund and they are not being put forward for purposes of economy. Where there are fewer jobs than persons available, all the available jobs are filled, and it is only a difference of whether John Jones or Bill Adams has the job. Therefore it is no use arguing that the fund is being unjustifiably burdened by permitting people to draw benefit who are not persons genuinely in search of employment. My third point is that the existing law makes it necessary that a man shall have a job of work offered to him, or shall be told about a particular job, before benefit can be withdrawn from him. Indeed, the words "offered to him" are quoted in the Clause in order to make the position clear. The Minister now says :or if it is proved by an officer of the Ministry of Labour that the claimant has neglected to avail himself of an opportunity of suitable employment.The Minister made one concession to the discussion in Committee. He proposes to add the word "reasonable" before "opportunity" and the phrase will then read :the claimant has neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of suitable employment.I admit that the introduction of that word makes the provision more acceptable, but the law will still be tipped over from what I call the objective test to a subjective test. At the moment there has to be a definite job of work in the offing. An employer has to be indicated and a job of work has to be stated before a man can be refused unemployment insurance benefit. Our fear is that that will not be necessary, and that all that the officer of the Employment Exchange will have to say is, "There were a few jobs at so-and-so yesterday or the week before; did you go and look for them?" I want the Minister to follow this. The man answers, "No." "Why did you not go and look for them?" The man's reply may be, "Because I knew that there were a lot of men senior to me in that place, and I knew that I did not have a chance of a job." It is not an exaggeration to say that there might be 1,000 men on the live register at the Employment Exchange, and there might be 10 jobs going.
541 My interpretation of the law is that under this Sub-section the Exchange officer will be perfectly entitled to say, and quite reasonable in saying, to those 1,000 men, "You did not know beyond a peradventure which of you would have those 10 jobs." That is our point, and I am not putting it to the Minister that he intends that those 1,000 men should be whipped up into an abortive search for work, but because of the difficulty in which he places his own officers. The interpretation will not be put upon this Sub-section by the insurance officer or by the Umpire, but must necessarily be upon the shoulders of a harassed local official. It is he who will have to decide. You will give him a regulation, but what regulation can you make? He must catechise the men, and he must be able to show that there are jobs available. The not-genuinely-seeking-work provision meant that men had to search for work although they might know that there were no jobs. The number of men who are idle will always be in excess of the jobs available, the officer can quite reasonably say to the men who do not get jobs, "You did not look for the job and, therefore, you do not satisfy the requirements of the law." That is our major case.
So far as we know, nothing is happening in the Employment Exchanges to justify a change in the law. We have not heard any complaints, and I do not know whether the Minister has; if so, he has not taken the House into his confidence. I know Employment Exchange administration intimately, and the officers tell me that things are going smoothly. Some hon. Members may think that that means that the unemployed are getting their benefit without trouble, but that would be a slur upon the men concerned. The number of jobs found by the men themselves is still very largely in excess of the jobs found for them by the Exchanges. Consequently, it can be reasonably assumed that the men are doing their very best to find employment. Most people are whipped into activity to find work from the very fact of being out of work, and the additional spur in this Subsection is unnecessary. If our fears are justified, the Minister ought not to take the risk of allowing administrative abuses to arise in the Exchanges which will carry the Statute beyond the intention which he himself has expressed.
542 I apologise for having spoken so long on this Amendment, but it is a matter of first-class importance. I will conclude by putting again to the Minister a point that I put on the last Amendment. In one of the Schedules to the Bill, in which the functions imposed on the Statutory Advisory Committee are defined, they are given the power to overlook this condition and make recommendations about it. The Statutory Advisory Committee will obviously be informed by the Minister and by the permanent officials of the Department how things are going at the exchanges, and, if it is found that gross abuses are arising, the Statutory Committee can inquire into them and make their recommendations to the House. If you are setting up a committee and giving them the task of making the law in a month or two, why should you at this moment lay down the law that they are going to be asked to make? It seems to me that we are wasting our time in that matter. I am opposed to the appointment of a Statutory Committee, but, if we are to have one, do not let us waste our time in making the law that they will be able to make in a month's time. It seems to me to be desirable from every point of view that this provision should be withdrawn, and I hope that the Minister, who has found himself in a very agreeable mood this afternoon, will be able to see his way, after what I have said, to accept the Amendment.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT ASKE
When Section 4 of the Act of 1930 was being framed, a very great deal of attention was given by a representative body, consisting of, I think, members of all parties in the House, to discussing the precise form of words for dealing with the matter which is now dealt with in Clause 7 of this Bill, and the provision referred to in the Amendment which is now before the House formed one of the subjects of discussion, but it was eliminated, not because the provision in itself did not-appear to be eminently reasonable, but because administratively it was regarded as being altogether impracticable. As the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) says, why should a form of words which was drafted after the most exhaustive discussion be altered? No reason has been given in the discussions on this matter, either in Committee or on the Second Reading, why any alteration 543 should be made, except that there is something in the Report of the Royal Commission about it. There is no justification as regards any abuses in administration; there is only some hypothesis that in certain circumstances there might be some abuse in the working of the Clause. I have made inquiries, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has, and I can find no reason whatever for any alteration in the existing law, which has worked admirably. Indeed, on such a difficult matter, I think that the form of words which has been adopted hitherto has shown itself to be the most satisfactory form for meeting a really difficult point. Whatever else may be needed in a provision of this kind, certainty in administration is of the greatest importance. Do we get that certainty if these words are put in? In my humble opinion, we reduce the whole matter to the greatest uncertainty.
I admit that the present words in themselves are unobjectionable, if they could be worked out fairly and justly in practice, but may I indicate the kind of point that would, and must, arise? Assume that there are 400 riveters out of work in a particular area, and assume that there are vacancies for half-a-dozen riveters at a particular shipyard. Assume that 50 men go and apply for those half-dozen vacancies, and only six are taken on, 44 being therefore refused. All the other 350 riveters in the area apply for unemployment benefit. It can be said, if the tribunal thinks fit to say that it is proved, that every one of those 350 men neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of suitable employment. That is the practical difficulty that I venture to put to the right hon. Gentleman in regard to this matter. It is a matter of the practical administration of the scheme. It really means that in such circumstances, where only six men could be taken on and there were 400 who were available for the job, all of them except those who actually went and applied could be disqualified if the insurance officer or the tribunal should think fit to disqualify them. That is absolutely preposterous.
One could go on giving scores of illustrations of the same kind, but the simple one which I have given shows that a principle of this kind embodied in the Bill would really place all people who 544 were in circumstances of that kind entirely at the discretion of the insurance officer or the tribunal. Instead of there being a definite principle which could be applied by the tribunal, the whole question would be reduced to one of discretion, so that it would be possible for the tribunal to allow or disallow benefit to all these other men just as they might think fit in any particular case. The law as it stands at present eliminates any matter of this kind, and no injustice is done, and in my submission to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman there is really no need whatever to alter a law which has worked so well, and to throw it into a state of uncertainty which has not existed hitherto.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
When this subject was debated in Committee I think the Minister realised that there was considerable uneasiness among hon. Members as to the effect of the form of words which he had devised, and he gave some indication that he would try to find better words. A considerable time has elapsed since then, and he has introduced exactly one word—the word "reasonable." The Ministry was in labour, and it has produced this rather exiguous mus. I am not saying that it is not, as far as it goes, an improvement, but what is being done all the time is to undo the work that was done in 1930—a work which was not the work of any one man or of any one body, but was the result of a great deal of genuine discussion after the fashion of that Council of State which the Prime Minister likes. I have in mind one, now a Minister, who took a large part in that discussion, and was as much instrumental as anyone in framing those words in the Act of 1930. I refer to my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines, who played a very great part in that discussion, and I remember that in the course of the discussion he always said, "You must get an objective test." An objective test is what you have at the present moment under the present law, where there has to be either a refusal or a failure to observe written instructions; but when you get to a word like "neglect," you are getting back to the old psychological test, when the responsible official is really put in a position of having to make a comparative estimate of the activities of different men in trying to get employment.
545 I regard that as most undesirable. I believe it is going to spoil once again the relation between the exchange officials and those with whom they have to deal, and to introduce altogether the wrong atmosphere. After all, the primary job of the Employment Exchange is to find work, and not to constitute itself an organisation for harrying people into going through the requisite motions of displaying activity. That is what I am afraid we shall get back to, and I regard it as completely unnecessary, and, indeed, harmful. There are so many more men available even now than there are jobs that the kind of abuse pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for East Newcastle (Sir E. Aske) and by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale will, I am afraid, actually occur in practice. You give to these officials a form of words like this :that the claimant has neglected to avail himself of an opportunity,and they each sit down and, according to their wisdom, try and see what Parliament meant them to do about it. They will arrive at very different notions of what their duties are in estimating what neglect is, and you will get a large variety of interpretation among different officials, with very wide discrepancies. That is not possible at the present moment, because the present test is so objective that there is no room for a difference of interpretation as between one exchange and another, and I would press the Minister once again, as previous speakers have, to give us at any rate some evidence, because none has been presented to us that there is any need for this change at all. None of those Members who have already spoken have heard any expression of dissatisfaction with the working of the previous legislation. I feel that the Minister, in his desire to give effect to words which may appear in the Report of the Royal Commission, or something of that kind, is really playing with fire in this matter. He is taking a situation which no one has found to be unsatisfactory at all, and, in trying to provide for every possible contingency, he is using a form of words which I believe will be found in practice to be very dangerous indeed. I beg him to leave well alone, and not to take a retrograde step which I can assure him would be regarded with the gravest anxiety in all parts of the 546 country where this test is liable to be applied.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)
Sub-sections have been going down like ninepins this afternoon, but I regret to say that I shall have to submit to the House that that process should now cease, and that this Sub-section should remain. More than one hon. Member has spoken as if there were some difficulty in understanding why this change was made in the Bill, and the Sub-section with these additional words was added. There can be no difficulty in understanding that to anyone who has taken the trouble to study the report of the Royal Commission which was set up by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but the discussions on this provision, both in Committee and this afternoon, have proceeded with but the most cursory reference, or no reference at all, to the argument that is contained in the report. Perhaps that is putting it a little high, but I have not myself noticed any such reference. May I cite these passages from the majority report?Under both parts of this test the initial onus is placed on the Employment Exchange. Under (a) the Exchange must notify the claimant of a suitable situation; under (b) it must give the claimant written directions with a view to assisting him to find suitable employment. We have dealt elsewhere with the functions of the Exchanges under the Labour Exchanges Act, 1909, and have expressed concurrence with their established practice of sending to an employer only the applicant industrially best qualified for a vacancy notified by the employer. It follows that the value of provision (a) as a test of the bona fides of a claimant is closely circumscribed and that in the case of an unwilling worker the value of the test is negligible. With regard to (b) we find that the power to give written direction has in fact been used very sparingly and that any considerable use of the power—especially its use solely as a test of claimants' bona fides—is calculated adversely to affect the proper performance by the Exchanges of their functions under the Labour Exchanges Act.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
It is an argument used after consideration by the majority of the Commission, and it is to be found in the report. I am not so foolish as to suggest that every Member of any party is bound by every word that appears in the report of the Royal Commission, 547 but you cannot dismiss, as if it were of no importance, a serious argument produced and agreed with by both majority and minority for a Royal Commission set up by hon. Members opposite which made a most lengthy and detailed examination of the whole question. They say that, as the function of Employment Exchanges is clearly to send the best men to jobs, it would be quite wrong to use this machinery of notification as a test to try to find out whether you do or do not get an unwilling worker and a shirker. It would be improper——
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I was not at the moment dealing with the object of the Amendment. I was putting, in my own words, an argument which is to be found in the Report of the Royal Commission. They go on :Having regard to the combined effect of these measures, we do not consider that the condition 'genuinely-seeking-work' should be restored, but we recommend that the present disqualification should be replaced by the original condition 'unable to obtain suitable employment.'That was In the Act of 1920. In 1924 hon. Members opposite added to that genuinely-seeking-work, which was found by common agreement in administration to produce very undesirable results.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I do not see why I need say why. I am giving e short history. [Interruption.] Surely what I say is correct, that genuinely-seeking-work was found to be producing results desired by no one, and therefore in 1929 we had the somewhat dramatic change that took place between the Bill as originally introduced and the Bill as it reached the Statute Book. Let me refer to what the Minority Report said, because bon. Members cannot dismiss as a mere nothing an agreement on the point 548 between the Majority and the Minority of the Commission. [An HON. MEMBER : "Oh, yes you can!"] You can do it in words, but it will not impress the House.We have stated that benefit should be continued so long as a claimant is without work, able to work and unable to get work. We do not think that, with proper safeguards as to interpretation, there is any reason why the condition which existed in the 1911 Act 'unable to obtain suitable employment' should not be re-instated. There must be a clear understanding as to how the words 'unable to obtain suitable employment' are to be interpreted. As a rule a claimant would satisfy the condition unless he has been offered suitable employment and has refused it. This was the original intention of the condition when it was included in the Act of 1911. As was stated at the time, the workman's inability to obtain suitable employment was meant to be tested and was tested substantially by whether the Exchange should offer him a job or not.There you have both the Minority and the Majority recommending an alteration in the existing law. We, at any rate, think that that is a matter to which attention should be paid. We have not the slightest desire to harass the unemployed from pillar to post, but we think it right that there should be proper safeguarding machinery for dealing with a class of case which is rare but which exists—the man who prefers benefit to work. If you study all the Debates and Reports on the matter, every responsible person who has dealt with the subject has agreed that that is a case with which there ought to be power to deal, and the existing machinery under the 1930 Act, for the reasons pointed out by the Royal Commission, is neither adequate nor appropriate for dealing with that case. In the original draft of the Bill we adopted the recommendation of the Majority and the Minority and put back those words which in the old days I think had not been construed in any undesirable way. No sort of argument against those words was ever advanced similar to the argument advanced against genuinely-seeking-work. The Royal Commission thought those words would prove satisfactory. There was, however, a feeling, I think in many quarters of the House, that they might to-day be administered in an oppressive manner. I think the basis of that feeling was the suggestion that, to some extent, they put the onus on the man. Anxious as we were that there should be no possibility of the kind of oppression that none of us here 549 desire, those words were withdrawn and the words in the Act of 1930 were reintroduced with the gap filled up. For the purpose of dealing with the unwilling worker both the notification and the direction have proved unavailable and inappropriate.
One or two hon. Members asked why we have no evidence of abuses. The answer is very easy to see. It is implicit in what the Royal Commission have found. They say that this machinery was inappropriate and ineffective to deal with the matter and, therefore, the evidence is not there. Wonderfully rare as it is, there are those among the unemployed who prefer benefit to work and, in the opinion of every responsible person who has dealt with the matter, it is a phenomenon with which there ought to be power to deal. When these words were actually introduced, the arguments which I have endeavoured to summarise were put up, and anxiety was expressed as to the form the words took. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said—at that time the word was simply "opportunity" without the word "reasonable" which we propose to insert :'An opportunity'." What kind of opportunity? Any opportunity? Is an opportunity an opportunity when it is unknown to the man who is out of work? If there is a job vacant ten miles away in another town, it may be an opportunity but, if it is outside the knowledge of the unemployed man, is that to be regarded as an opportunity? Is not an opportunity one that can reasonably somehow be brought to his notice or which has been brought to his notice by the Employment Exchange?—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1934; col. 212, Vol. 285.]We think it well may have been unnecessary but, in order that there should be no danger even of the kind of thing which no one in any quarter desires to see brought into the administration, we are proposing to insert the word "reasonable" before the word "opportunity." The officer will have to prove that the man is neglecting to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of suitable employment. It is really fantastic, to suggest that in any of the hypothetical cases put forward of 1,000 men and 10 jobs you would get anyone to hold that a reasonable opportunity of employment was being neglected by the 990 people who did not attend.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman suggest that it would be difficult to get any reasonable man to accept that position? Does he know that there are cases bearing on that point, and that dozens of men have been deprived of benefit for that reason?
§ Mr. MAINWARING
I wish here and now definitely to say that in decisions given it has been definitely held by courts of referees that because a man did not appear at a certain shop or factory at a particular time when hundreds of others were there, because he did not accompany the large number, he was deemed to have failed to make use of a reasonable opportunity. Innumerable Umpires have upheld this decision.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
If I am wrong, I withdraw, but I think the decisions to which the hon. Member refers were under the genuinely-seeking-work condition.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I think that the hon. and learned Member will take a reasonable view. May I say that since the not-genuinely-seeking-work test was abolished, we have had what is called "not normally in insurable employment," and you will find decisions given by the Umpire affecting men on the North-East coast particularly, who have been out of work three or four years. Because they could not show that they were going-round each day to particular jobs watching for them, it was held that they were not normally or genuinely seeking work. That was held in a large number of decisions.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
The hon. Member in his concluding words actually introduced the phrase "not genuinely seeking work" but he also referred to a different set of words "not normally in insurable employment." In my submission the test here is quite different, and I believe I am right in saying that these words have never previously been construed—"neglecting to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of suitable employment."
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
If there, are, say, 500 men at an Employment Exchange and it is known that the local authority are going to employ 10 men on the roads, 551 all these men are classified at the Employment Exchange as general labourers. There are 10 labourers' jobs going, and they can be given by the foreman of the local authority on any day. Now will it not be reasonable to expect that these men, not knowing who were going to have the 10 jobs, for each of them to apply for one of the 10 jobs?
§ Sir R. ASKE
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman say if it is not open to the tribunal in these circumstances to find against the men?
§ Mr. GODFREY NICHOLSON
Surely the interpretation would be that the Employment Exchange would know that the vacancy existed, and is not this provision directed to odd jobs which by chance do not come to their ears?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I do not know why the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) interrupted me, because he quoted exactly the same type of case.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I am having some difficulty in dealing with the various points that Members have put. In my submission there is no danger of the class of case which has been put, and is now being put, coming within these words. I want to add this. Of course this is a difficult problem. It is a problem which ought to be dealt with. I appreciate hon. Members opposite or anyone who takes the line that this is not a problem which needs to be dealt with. It is a perfectly fair difference of opinion. I am dealing now with words that have been introduced on the basis that it should be dealt with, and on that basis it must of course be a question of fact depending on the circumstances of each case. I submit to the House that these words with their triple protection, if I may so express it, of "neglecting to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of suitable employment" cannot be used to penalise except in gross cases where it can be shown that the man has acted unreasonably, and that what he has deliberately avoided is an opportunity of suitable employment. For these reasons, we ask the House to reject the first Amendment and to accept the Amendment which stands in my right hon. 552 Friend's name to insert the word "reasonable," which, in our submission, meets all objections that could possibly be made.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
One must reply with some respect to the arguments of the hon. and learned Gentleman. May I try to reason the case against him as best I can? His main argument is that various commissions have examined this problem and all were agreed on two things, first, that there was a problem and, second, that this problem ought to be dealt with by Parliament. That is his case, and he went over various commissions. First of all, it was in the 1920 Act. Then you had the not-genuinely-seeking-work Clause which was not in the Act attached to the extended benefit. In 1924 the Government of the day abolished what we called the Minister's discretion, and brought in not-genuinely-seeking-work to apply to standard benefit. Following on that there was set up by the Labour Government what was called the Morris Committee, which reported on a form of words, afterwards accepted by the Government but rejected by Parliament, the not-genuinely-seeking-work. The commission was then instituted, and both the majority and minority recommend a form of words similar to what we are asked to accept to-day.
That, in brief, is the history, but let me refresh the memory of the House on one or two points. First of all, the Solicitor-General argues a reasonable case, and it is extremely difficult, taking a reasonable view, to reply to him, because all the words he uses are reasonable words, and the arguments he uses are reasonable arguments. But let me reasonably suggest to him that there is a difference between theory and practice. I remember in my early days, when I was learning pattern-making, it was instilled into me that it was always good to get theory, but that you could never have a proper theory unless you applied it to practice. I suggest that is what is wrong. Let us take the question of genuinely-seeking-work. I was in the House when it was extended, and a colleague of mine moved that it should not be extended to standard benefit. I refer to Mr. Campbell Stephen who was Member for Camlachie. We were in grave doubt about the Minister, Mr. Tom Shaw, extending it, and we were met by the same kind of reasonable argument 553 that we are met with to-day. The late Dr. Macnamara said that if Mr. Campbell Stephen pressed his Amendment he would be accused up and down the country of standing for work-shys. What was more reasonable or fair than saying that a man should be genuinely seeking work? We were afraid that if we insisted we would be pilloried up and down the country as friends of the un-genuine workman.
That same point was put by two Members, one who had been Minister of Labour in the Coalition Government and one in the Labour Government, and we were pressed to withdraw on the ground that only the ungenuine person would be disqualified. We were told the numbers would be few and we were not to worry. What happened was that the numbers became alarming. Everybody in this House soon was agreed, and it was not only Labour Members, but, to their credit, others joined in insisting that the words should go. So the words went, but we allowed the words "not normally" to remain. Again we were ensured by the Minister to leave them alone. Only people would be disqualified who had been so long out of work that nobody would ever dream that they were normally wanting a job. "Not normally in insurable employment" took the place of "not genuinely seeking work." Before the Act of the Labour Government came into operation there was practically nobody disqualified under "not normally in insurable employment." They were confined to two sections of people, namely, men who had gone abroad for a long period, or men who had gone into business on their own account. The moment not-genuinely-seeking-work came in, the number for disqualification went up, as the hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) will bear me out, by more than 20 times. Why? Because not-genuinely-seeking-work became an impost. A man of 45 years of age who had been out of work for three years prima facie was looked upon as not normally in insurable employment, and he had to prove after the three years that he was normally in it. How did he do it? By producing a long list of places at which he had searched for work. So that "not normally" became "not genuinely."
The two most tragic places in Britain are the Welsh Valleys and the North-East Coast. I do not belittle the Clyde. 554 We on the Clyde have the terrible problem of shipbuilding. In shipbuilding it is almost impossible after three years unemployment for a man to drift back again. Nobody wants him. I have come from a union meeting to-day. On the North-East Coast our tragedy is not merely the Employment Exchanges or the employers. When a man has been out of work for a long time the workmen do not want him very much. He loses his skill. He cannot keep pace with them. Payment by results is now supplanting the old time system. The men get a bonus, and unless a man can pull his weight with the cleverer men it reduces the bonus. They do not want him unless he is capable. The result is that such a man remains out, and yet to-day, even with the not-genuinely-seeking-work abolished, he is refused benefit because he cannot go searching up and down. The law was not made in order to deal with the isolated criminal in society. We pass legislation to deal with cruelty to animals, but we should not do it if only one or two men were cruel. To-day we are passing a law to deal with a few people. I belong to one of the few remaining unions still paying unemployment benefit. Those unions which have stopped paying benefit have had to stop because of economic circumstances. We are more favourably placed. We have never stopped paying. We have never applied a test. We find that we do not need to apply a test. When once we tried to catch a fellow by means of a test, we failed. Under the present test, do you think that you will catch the bad men by such simple means?
I used to run a class for the not-genuinely-seeking-work, and those who came to my class got benefit. I got the fellows into a room, and I used a blackboard. I used to say, "Where were you yesterday?" The man addressed would look at me and say, "Have some sense. What is the good of looking for a job when everybody in the place is idle?" A man when questioned by the chairman of a court of referees would forget what he had said when he gave an account of his whereabouts, and would fall into a trap, and it meant that he was disqualified for not genuinely seeking work. I knew all the places to which they were supposed to go, and I used to get them to write them down in thick block letters. I sometimes did it for them. They were 555 always able to recite them correctly, and they got benefit. That is what happened. An old fellow who was a Kirk elder went before the court, and when asked a question, he replied with his usual honesty, "I went to no place. What was the use of going?" He got no benefit. He was honest, simple, and a straightforward man, and down he went. Every man and woman attending the Employment Exchange knows that there are a number of applicants for every job. They will take the card. Who is to tell whether they are genuinely using the card or not? What is to be the test for them? Are you to have a detective to march them down the road and see that they go? In the City of Glasgow, at my Southside Exchange there are 22,000 on the register, and in the neighbouring Exchange of Govan, 20,000, making 42,000, and out of these you may find only about 100 people who are bad. You will have spent in order to catch that 100 far more in administration than you will save.
The learned Solicitor-General has not said that this proposal is fool-proof. Even he, in his eulogy of the Clause, knows that it is not so. But, as I have said, even in his most enthusiastic phrases, he did not claim that it was fool-proof. In the Law Courts evidence has to be presented on oath and it is usually carefully sifted, but the position is not so in the court of referees. A man has to sit there defenceless unless he happens to be in a union. He sits there without an advocate or evidence or the assistance of anybody. The court is in private. In the Law Courts the Press are present, and there is no better way of securing justice than by publicity. I believe that the not-genuinely-seeking-work test would have collapsed on the first day if there had been an open court. I wish that I could picture to the House the position of these men. I have accompanied thousands of these men. This House is kindly in an individual way, but collectively it is cruel. I wish I could get hon. Members to be as collectively kind as they are individually kind, because no man in this House would knowingly do these poor people an injury. I wish I could get hon. Members to picture these men going to the court in terror, so stricken as to be hardly able to open their mouths.
556 Let hon. Members recollect the condition of things that prevailed under the not-genuinely-seeking-work formula. Tens of thousands of decent people were refused benefit. What was the net result? We were told that it had got at the rotters. The rotter is, after all, a human being. In certain respects there is not a great deal of difference between the rotter and myself. I have a chance and he has none. The rotter has to be kept by the Poor Law, in any case, or you may put him in prison. There are men in my division who have done time, who have served 10 and 20 sentences. I would sooner pay them 15s. 3d. a week than I would keep them in Peterhead at a cost of £2 or £3 a week. I would sooner give them their benefit, even though it might be wrong, than I would keep them in prisons or poorhouses.
I ask the hon. and learned Member for the credit of his Department, to withdraw this proposal. He says that employers only have the best men, the men best equipped for the job. Those who are not the best equipped do not have a fair test. That is the greatest condemnation of the Clause. Those who are not the best equipped will not be chosen and they will not be able to make a proof. I ask the hon. and learned Member in the name of common decency, not in the name of his party, for the sake of the profession to which he belongs, a profession which has always prided itself on being just, particularly to the poor, not to make a mistake at the expense of the very poor. If a mistake is to be made, let it be made at the expense of some other section of the community.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Sir REGINALD BANKS
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has spoken, as he always speaks, with knowledge, with charm and with force, but the whole of his argument was directed not to the form of words which we are discussing but to a form of words which has been abandoned. His reminiscences were reminiscences of the not-genuinely-seeking-work period. The examples he gave were examples which we found under the not-genuinely-seeking-work Clause. He does not seem to have grasped the fact that that Clause has been totally abandoned and that we are introducing a formula entirely different, not only theoretically but in practice, as 557 will be found. Members of my own profession in court may cite authorities showing that there has been a decision upon this or upon that, but sometimes we are told by the court : "That is all very well, but those are decisions upon a repealed Statute; decisions upon an Act which went 20 years ago. We are dealing with a Statute of to-day; therefore all your authorities are out of date and do not apply." I respectfully submit that the arguments of my hon. Friend are in a similar category.
He has only to consider for a few moments, not only from the lawyer's but from the layman's point of view, the obvious and essential difference between the two formulas. The not-genuinely-seeking-work formula imposes upon the man an active obligation. He has to be able to say, "I went looking for work," and he has to prove that he was looking for it. He has to go further, because "seeking" is qualified by the word "genuinely," which might suggest to the mind of a referee who was not disposed to be generous, the point of view : "Yes, perhaps you did go, more or less as a matter of form, to apply, but it was a sham, it was not genuine." Under that formula there is an onus imposed upon the man which I think most of my colleagues at the Bar will agree was almost impossible to discharge.
The other formula is very different. It does not impose the active obligation, qualified by such a word as "genuinely." Perhaps I can illustrate the point by a reductio ad absurdum applied to myself and my legal colleagues. It might well be said, perhaps sometimes it is said, that barristers who, for one reason or another, seek Parliamentary honours to occupy their time, usefully or not, in this House, are not genuinely seeking briefs. If such a suggestion were made it would be very difficult to refute. Anybody could say : "Yes, but you know you were not in chambers at every available moment. You did not go to all the Assizes or the Sessions. There were times when if somebody had arrived with a brief you were not there to take it. Therefore, you were not genuinely seeking briefs;" even if we were allowed to seek briefs. Suppose we adopt the new formula, then those who make an allegation of that kind would have to show that, first of all, there was an opportunity of a brief. 558 It would not be good enough to say that there are 100 barristers and only 10 briefs. It would have to be shown that there was an opportunity of a brief, that it was a suitable case which the barrister could take, and that it was a reasonable opportunity, by which I mean that it was not just some kind of vague possibility, but something of a substantial chance. Then the person would have to show that the Gentleman in question, knowing all these things, neglected to avail himself of the chance that was offered. What an entirely different proposition that is.
I have put it as a somewhat fantastic case, but the principle is just the same. The officer has to prove his case. The onus is upon him. The onus is not upon the man but upon the officer. He must prove that the man had his opportunity, that it was a reasonable opportunity and, more than that, that it was an opportunity of something that he could do. Then the officer has to say, "Knowing all these things you neglected to avail yourself of the offer; you did not take the chance that was offered," and he has to prove that. Will anyone, however human, however generous, and I hope we are not lacking in those qualities, say that if people have got a suitable job made available and they deliberately neglect to take the chance of it, that those who are honestly desirous of finding employment should be penalised by having to contribute towards their upkeep?
§ Sir R. BANKS
Yes, it is a genuine interpretation, but I am afraid that my hon. Friend is genuinely seeking to distort the meaning, and I am afraid the decision will be against him. There is only one minor matter that I would refer to. The hon. Member for Gorbals might genuinely have sought work at the Bar, and have succeeded. He has, however, fallen into a fallacy. He said that we do not impose penal Statutes to deal with a very small class of criminals. I do not know about that. I do not suppose that the 559 number of murderers executed amounts to large figures, but nobody proposes to abolish the penalty for murder because we do not have murder cases every day. If we do not have some kind of penalty who knows how the class of criminals—I am not saying that these people are criminals—would increase? The Clause is a just, plain and common sense proposition. Nobody thinks that you ought to pay the rotter if he prefers rotting to getting work. On the other hand, we want to do everything we possibly can to help the man who does want work. Every kind of ingenuity has been devised to find a form of words which will be wide, generous and will prevent those lamentable experiences to which the hon. Member referred. I submit that that formula has been satisfactorily found and I am prepared to support it, without any apprehension as to criticisms from any reasonable labouring man in my constituency.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
In a very lucid exposition of the case for the sub-section my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General began by saying that Clauses had been going down like ninepins this evening. I cannot resist the feeling that this Clause will prove to be a ninepin, but for somewhat different reasons from those advanced by hon. Members opposite. I think that, so far as words can be fair, these words are undoubtedly fair in the duty that they seek to impose. The burden that would rest upon any officer of the Ministry of Labour in seeking to prove a case against an unemployed insurance man is well nigh overwhelming, as has been pointed out with great cogency by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Swindon (Sir R. Banks). He must establish, first of all, that there is employment, secondly, that it is suitable employment, thirdly, that there is an opportunity of that employment for the person who is before the tribunal, fourthly, that he has not availed himself of that opportunity, and fifthly, that he has neglected to avail himself of it, which is rather a different thing. If one were satisfied that there was going to be a really careful, judicial hearing of the matter.
That is a burden which, except in the grossest possible case, I very much doubt 560 if the ordinary Employment Exchange officer could discharge. Juristically—to go back to a matter which was raised in the Committee stage, and which it would not be in order to discuss now—if one were satisfied with the method by which these matters were determined I do not think that there could be any conceivable objection to each and every one of these tests being applied to an applicant for benefit, but we have to face the fact that these issues are decided summarily, that issues are decided without legal help on the side of the man, that issues are decidede behind closed doors, so that nobody has any chance of checking a decision. As the man may have to go back to the tribunal to seek a further decision on a similar point he is anxious not to exacerbate the tribunal against himself, because there is the possibility of the kind of feeling : "We will get you next time." These things do not apply to a judicial tribunal, and they render the safeguards that these particular words have been devised to obtain not quite so substantial as they might otherwise have been. For these reasons, I am not impressed by the argument that the words themselves are complete and place the whole burden where I should like to see it rest, that is, on the shoulders of the officials of the Employment Exchanges.
I depart from that aspect, in regard to which the proposition is perfectly fair, to consider the other side, that is, has any case been made out for putting these words in? That is where I find myself without any information at all. The Solicitor-General, obviously, could not deal with it, and maybe we shall have some help from the Minister. Really that is the practical question which the House wants to know. There is no evidence, as far as I know, that there is any substantial number of cases to be dealt with. The report of the Commission only goes to show that it is impossible to get any evidence as to whether there is any large number of cases or not. The paragraph which has been quoted simply says that it is impossible to say whether these cases exit, because existing machinery does not enable us to find out. Therefore, unless we can be better informed, it would appear that this Sub-section has been designed to meet a situation which has not been proved to exist
561 There are one or two reasons why it is unlikely that these cases exist in large numbers. We are dealing with the insured unemployed, that is to say, with people who are in the area of employment, or who have recently been in that area, and are anxious to get back to it. We are not dealing, as was the Royal Commission, with the whole wad of unemployed, undivided into insured and uninsured, but with a mass of unemployed confused and mixed up in all sorts of ways. We are dealing now with people who were recently in the area of work, and who are presumably anxious to get back, people who have contractural rights secured to them by this part of the Bill. In these circumstances I suggest that it is reasonable to argue that there will not be a large number of people who are not anxious to avail themselves of opportunities for work, if opportunities are available. Therefore, the Sub-section becomes, to my mind, of somewhat academic interest, dealing with few people, and unless the Minister can tell us from his administrative experience, we have nothing else to guide us, that there is in the knowledge of his Department a large number of cases I for one should not care to support the retention of these words within the Clause.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
Hon. Members on this side will agree with the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) as regards the type of tribunal which will deal with these cases and the extreme importance of having a provision which cannot be misused. The Solicitor-General tried to impress upon us that because the Royal Commission recommended something we must pay serious attention to it. We must pay serious attention to the arguments behind the recommendation of the Royal Commission, not simply to the recommendation because it is a recommendation. One of the striking things in the report of the Royal Commission is that there is absolutely no evidence of any sort or kind of this abuse, against which this provision is being made. The Solicitor-General said that it was only intended to deal with gross cases which were rare, in fact, wonderfully rare. In the circumstances we believe that there 562 is no justification for upsetting the present position.
No case has been made out to justify the risk of a change. It is apparent that there is a risk attaching to a change of words, but it has not been shown either that the words will catch the persons they are designed to catch or that they will not catch the persons whom they are not intended to catch. In order to justify them, both these things must be shown. The cunning, work-shy person is just as able to evade this provision as any other, and there has been no evidence that these words will catch the wonderfully rare case of the work-shy man, and will not catch the common case of a man who is not able to represent his position properly because he has no advocate to appear before the tribunal, and may be rushed into making unfortunate admissions by being unable to answer questions which may be put to him. Therefore, apart from an analysis of the words, we say definitely that the Government have not produced any case to justify upsetting the present words and the present conditions.
In his final sentence the Solicitor-General in summing up what the Clause was intended to do, used a phrase which demonstrates aptly the difficulty when you come to put down words of this kind. He said that they would only apply where a man deliberately neglected to avail himself of an opportunity. The word "deliberately" does not appear in the Clause. Does the Solicitor-General mean that the word "deliberately" ought to appear, or that the Bill will be construed as having the word "deliberately" in it. He said that it was the Government's intention that the Clause should only apply where a man deliberately neglects an opportunity. The word is not included, and that alone shows that the words do not carry out what is now the avowed intention of the Government. They are, in fact, wider than their avowed intention. The whole history of this provision, it has been altered three times already, shows the immense difficulty once you try to upset a condition which exists, in arriving at some other form of words which Parliament hopes the court of referees will construe in the way they want them to be construed; of which there is absolutely no guarantee at all. That is the difficulty which the hon. and 563 learned Member for Central Nottingham pointed out when the provision comes to be construed by a tribunal which is not an expert tribunal. The danger of the Sub-section really lies in the phrase :has neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of suitable employment.What is "a reasonable opportunity"? A reasonable opportunity is what the person trying the case thinks a reasonable man would do. We have all different opinions of what a reasonable man would do, and the difficulty which arises is because instead of making the actual test some offer of a job you are introducing as a test not an actual act but the state of a man's mind at the time, and that is something on which very different opinions may be taken. The Solicitor-General stated that the reason for the insertion of the word "reasonable" was to cover a case put up during the Committee stage, as to whether the matter had reasonably been brought to the notice of the applicant. It does nothing of the kind. There is no mention here of the opportunity being brought to the notice of the applicant. Again, it shows how difficult it is to find words dealing with a state of mind or a hypothetical action of a man and get them to define what you want them to define. There is absolutely nothing here to say what is meant by "neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of suitable employment." It may be that he should have gone out and sought it. Is it reasonable that a man should go and look at all the factories in his neighbourhood to see whether they want hands or not? The opportunity may be the notice outside a factory that they want five hands. Is he to go and look for it? The Solicitor-General says that it is intended to cover cases where it is brought to his notice. Is that bringing it to his notice? Has he to trudge the streets and look for it? On these words there is ample opportunity for a long legal argument on either side of the question, whether the man must be notified of the job or whether he has to seek the opportunity himself outside. Which of these the Government want these words to cover I confess that I do not know.
To what does the word "reasonably" apply? Does it mean that he might reasonably have heard of the job if he had acted as a reasonable man? If he 564 does something which an ordinary reasonable man does not do and thereby misses an opportunity, has he "neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity"? One could go on indefinitely putting cases as to what "reasonably" really means here. Does it mean that he had a reasonable chance of getting a job when he applied? That is an entirely different thing, and of course would require different evidence and different arguments. When you come to analyse what has been wrong with all the objectionable tests which have been discarded in this matter you find that it is always a question of judging what is reasonable for the man to do. Was it reasonable for him to go out and seek work? That has always been the real test. The trouble has been where you have had tribunals of this sort judging what a reasonable man ought to do in the circumstances, a matter on which it is difficult to arrive at a decision.
Let me put this case to the House. Suppose every hon. Member was disqualified from drawing his salary because he has neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of making a speech. I imagine that there would be a great many protests from hon. Members who have on many occasions come into the House with the intention of speaking and who have gone out again saying that there were so many people trying to get in that there was no chance at all. In those circumstances would it be fair to say that that person neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of speaking in the House? That is precisely the question that is to be asked under this Clause. I suggest quite seriously that if one puts it in a way in which one can visualise oneself in the daily work of this House, one can see that the sort of difficulty there would be if the Whips—who, I suppose, would be the Employment Exchange authorities in the circumstances—came and put the case that one had neglected to avail oneself of a reasonable opportunity of making a speech. It would be almost impossible to get out of the difficulty and as a result one would be deprived of one's salary. That is exactly what the Government are doing with regard to the unemployed man. Many of us differ as regards the circumstances in which that deprivation would occur. I urge upon the Government that there is 565 really no case made out to put a risk on the unemployed man in circumstances such as those. Surely it is better, even at the risk of some rotters being transferred from Poor Law to unemployment benefit, which is extremely unlikely under Part I, to stick to the words which have operated satisfactorily and against which no factual case can be made out to-day.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMES REID
I intervene only to make one suggestion. I share to some extent the apprehension expressed by my hon. and learned Friends the Members for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) and East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). I do not think that the problem is likely to be a serious one, but one wants to allay apprehension if one can. I suggest this form of words as at least going some way to improve procedure—that it should have to be proved that the claimant has unreasonably failed to avail himself of an opportunity of suitable employment. That would get rid of all question of whether the neglect was a deliberate neglect or a casual neglect. It would get rid of all question of whether the opportunity was a sufficiently good opportunity to be called a reasonable one, and it would concentrate on what I believe to be the one point on which the Government want to concentrate, namely, whether the man had present to his mind the knowledge that if he went to a certain place at a certain time of day there would be an opportunity of getting a job, and he deliberately chose to sit still at his own fireside instead of going there. That is the kind of man the Government want to catch, the man who knows that if he goes round the corner he may get a job, but prefers to sit still.
§ Mr. REID
Of course, you cannot see into a man's mind, but what you have to prove is that the man knew at the time when he sat still—someone had told him or he had come to know in some way—that there was an opportunity of getting a job at a certain place if he went there at a certain time. If he sits still in his chair he has to show that he had some very good reason for sitting still, and if he has no such reason to suggest then it would be held that he had unreasonably 566 failed to go there. That is the way I should look at the problem from a practical point of view.
§ Mr. REID
That has to be proved by the evidence of someone coming and saying that the man knew, in a certain way to be described. Unless you prove by evidence of some sort that the man knew the job was available I agree that he should not be deprived of benefit. Merely because he does not happen to go where the job happens to be available, is not sufficient, but if he refuses to go, in my view that is sufficient. I ask the Minister to find a form of words that will draw a distinction between two classes of cases : The man who may as a matter of routine go to a certain factory A where there are often jobs—that is one thing; and the man who knows that on Monday morning there are certain jobs available in factory B, but he does not go there—that is another thing. We want to catch the latter man but to let the first one out of this Clause.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
I do not apologise for butting into a legal Debate in which lawyers are expressing their views, because for many years it has been my business to attend courts of referees. I am afraid hon. Members fail to appreciate the condition of the man having to appear before a tribunal with no advocates whatever, meeting a tribunal of persons, probably of untrained minds, who would be unable to define what is reasonable and what is suitable. It is a very different tribunal from the tribunal to which lawyers are accustomed. One has to try to visualise the court of referees as it is. But the answer to the Solicitor-General is, I think, that the man he is trying to catch has proved that he is not work-shy and has proved it by the evidence of his credit in the fund. The man concerned comes under Part I. He is a diligent worker and has established credit in the fund to himself, and he is entitled by law to absorb that credit. The fact that he has built up credit for himself under Part I is conclusive evidence that he is not work-shy.
The hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) is 567 quite correct in saying that you can never hope to catch the work-shy in this way. In fact the work-shy man does not exist under Part I if one technically analyses the thing properly. But if the Department at any time assumes that there is such a person as the work-shy, the Department can easily catch him if it desires by offering that particular individual a job at some time. I can give concrete instances of cases when I have sat as a member of a court of referees. As person was brought up because she, a married woman, had refused a job as cook. She was ultimately deprived of her benefit because she was not prepared to leave her husband, who had a good job and had substantial wages. I could give a number of concrete examples of cases like that having been brought up a few years ago. But the final answer really is that the words of this Clause would deliberately torment and torture unquestionably good persons who have worked sufficiently long and have been sufficiently diligent to build up for themselves credit that entitles them to unemployment benefit. Such persons you are setting out to attack in any words that you may frame in this Clause. It is common knowledge that whenever any job is vacant hundreds of persons go seeking it. It is indeed a very serious reflection on persons who have built up credit within the fund for it to be assumed that they would not take a job when a job was vacant.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. CROOM-JOHNSON
I have looked at this Clause with a good deal of attention, and I speak now because the original Section in the Act of 1930 was the one upon which I first had an opportunity of addressing this House, and I have therefore had rather a sentimental interest, apart altogether from its great importance, in this question ever since. I see no difficulty or no objection to making a provision of this sort, because it is laid down very positively and definitely in the Sub-section that the onus of proof is to be upon the officer who comes to make his case. As I understand the position, that does not merely mean that the officer has to come and say so, but that he has to establish it and prove it, not in the sense of giving some evidence, but he has to establish it as a fact to the satisfaction of the tribunal. But when I look at 568 the language which is being used to carry that into effect I am bound to say that I am not altogether happy about the word "neglected." That is the real point upon which we want to spend a little time and it is well worth while spending a little time upon it.
What does "neglected" mean in this Sub-section? Until I heard the observations this evening I thought I knew quite well, and possibly I do, but I am so minded that when I hear doubts expressed about a matter of this sort, which in my humble submission ought to be without doubt, I am a little apprehensive as to whether or not my judgment is the right judgment. Is it not much simpler to use some language which will remove that possibility of doubt, not merely from my mind but from the mind of the individuals who will ultimately have to administer the Act and bring this Subsection into operation? I have little doubt about it, but I appeal to the Minister nevertheless to give some further consideration to this form of words in order to make it quite plain that there can be no room for doubt in a matter upon which there should be no doubt.
I do not necessarily accept the phraseology of my hon. and learned Friend below the Gangway or suggest that the Minister should accept it, but if something can be done to remove any possibility of doubt this discussion will not have been in vain. From the broader point of view, it is just as well that we should protect the people who are interested in the fund—and who may possibly, in time to come, have the increased benefits which most of us hope to see—from individuals who are making unfair, unjust or improper claims. At the same time I am sure that we all desire, and nobody more than the Minister, that it should be made plain upon what grounds disallowances of benefit are made. When I look at the word "neglected" I ask myself, is it possible that that word may be construed by somebody who is not familiar with the use of technical language as meaning "failed"? I am not so much impressed as some of my hon. Friends with the difficulty as to reasonable opportunity because the onus of proof is placed upon the officer, and as I read the Sub-section the onus of proof is a severe one. I should imagine that only in 569 very few cases will he be able to discharge it.
The point is that the individual who is seeking benefit and who is entitled to benefit under these provisions ought to be able to look at the Clause and to realise what his rights are without any undue uncertainty. Having listened to the observations made in this Debate I cannot help seeing that there is room for some difficulty and uncertainty in reference to the use of the word "neglected." On those grounds, while I support the extension which is suggested by the Subsection, I appeal to the Minister to reconsider the wording and to see whether the difficulty which has been indicated with so much force might not be overcome. It is, possibly, only a question of language and of choosing the right word in the right place, and I cannot see that there should be any real difficulty in doing that.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
The hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom-Johnson) has pointed out a difficulty in the wording of the Sub-section, and I am sure that all sections of the House would join him in seeking to discover a way of remedying it. I view this matter purely in an empirical sense having had long experience of the administration of the Insurance Acts in the past and particularly of the "not-genuinely-seek-ing-work" condition which apparently no one desires to reintroduce. What was the interpretation placed upon those words "not-genuinely-seeking-work?" Actually they were interpreted to mean that a man had failed to avail himself of reasonable opportunities to find work. Once that interpretation had been made, the words "not-genuinely-seeking" were forgotten and in thousands of cases the only question considered was, "has this man availed himself of any opportunity or of every opportunity that has come his way to find work?"
Subsequently we found courts of referees asking applicants, "Where were you yesterday?" The reply would be, "I was at such and such a factory." It frequently happened that the chairman of the court knew that at another factory or colliery or workshop at some other place there had been a vacancy upon that day. The chairman would then ask the applicant whether he had attended at 570 that place. If the applicant replied "No," he was asked why. His reply would be that he had been at other places. He was then asked, "Why did you not go to that particular place?" It was held in hundreds of cases that in such circumstances the man had failed to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of finding work. It is suggested that placing this power in the hands of an official of the Ministry of Labour will remove some of the disabilities experienced in the past. I do not think it will. In the past it was the local employment officer who sent cases forward to the court of referees for review. It was he who selected them and that is precisely what he is going to be asked to do under this proposal. He is asked to submit proof and his proof will be a simple one. Judging by past experience all he will need to do is to submit to the court that at such a workshop, factory or mine, on such a day, there was a vacancy and the man concerned did not apply. On past experience of the administration of these Acts, that will be accepted as conclusive proof.
It is no good imagining that this proposal is going to start a new procedure. It is going to repeat the old procedure. We are in this astounding position. The Ministry suggest that they are out to catch the rare individual. Supposing there was one of these individuals for each exchange in the country, that would be a substantial number but you could still justify the use of the word "rare." Let us assume that at Tonypandy Exchange, for instance, there is one work-shy individual. In order to catch him you are going to harass the 5,000 other men signing at that exchange. The officer in the exchange must himself know of this man being work-shy. Unless he suspects it, he is not going to start this procedure. If that local employment officer has the slightest suspicion that among the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men signing at his exchange there is one who is work-shy, the remedy is in his own hands. Offer that man the first job that comes along. If the man wants work the official will be conferring a boon upon him. If the man is work-shy that fact will be discovered at once.
That is a simple remedy. There is no need for this Sub-section. The power is in the hands of the Minister. Let him 571 advise all exchanges and all his subordinate officers immediately to offer to the suspected work-shy individuals the first jobs that come along, and they will be eliminated in a very short time. But the moment you include these words you restore all that old machinery and local officers, whether they like it or not, will be bound to proceed on the old lines. Cases have occurred in the past involving not merely individuals, but hundreds of men, raising the question of whether they have or have not refused reasonable offers of employment. There is a possibility of this set of words being stretched to include what might normally be regarded as trade dispute cases, and men refusing jobs under what appeared to them to be unreasonable conditions of employment.
Imagine, for example, a workshop where a number of men have been thrown out of employment and there is, between them and their employers, an honourable understanding as to the manner in which those men are to be again placed back in employment when the occasion arises. Suppose a local employment officer assumes that when this occasion comes it is a reasonable opportunity for other than those workmen who have been discharged finding work there, and suppose he assumes that anybody can go in there, as has been done in the past. I am not drawing upon my imagination, but giving actual facts. Quite a number of instances have arisen in South Wales where that did occur, and men who were not previously in the employment of that employer were asked, "Why did you not go there and obtain some of those jobs?" and they were deprived of their unemployment benefit when they admitted that they had not been there seeking work.
I am conscious at this moment that every Member who has sat here and listened to any portion of the Debate on this Sub-section will agree that these words ought to be withdrawn, and the astounding thing is that if the Minister agrees to force this, he can get it carried by Members who have not listened to a word of the argument. That is the astounding position in which we find ourselves in this House, not merely to-day, but seemingly it is a common occurrence. It is a real tragedy to those of us who have experienced the evils of the past, and who see the possibility of their renewal 572 in these words, to find that this sort of thing can be imposed upon us against all the weight of argument in this House. I do ask the Minister to give this matter his serious consideration. We are not seeking any sort of personal kudos. I should prefer to go from this House and give heartfelt commendation to the Minister because he had, on his own volition, removed this possible evil from the Bill, and I sincerely trust that he will listen to the many appeals that have been made to him to reconsider these words.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The Minister has tried his best to find a way out of the difficulty in which he found himself when once he departed from what has been the working practice in this matter. The old saying that the way to a certain place is paved with good intentions is no more applicable anywhere than it is to this particular matter of the test of work-seeking. I do not intend to go over the ground that has been so well covered by my hon. Friends this evening, but I want to say emphatically that there is no way of departing from the present working rule upon this matter of the test of offering work, as laid down in the new Clause, which will work without very great danger to the men, and ultimate trouble. Ultimately it comes down to the test of a man's desire for work. Originally the proof was upon the man in this matter, but now it is reversed, but when it comes to the words that the man must prove that he has not availed himself of a reasonable opportunity of suitable employment, then, in the circumstances that have been described by my hon. Friends, of great masses of workers being unemployed, with jobs for only a few, you ultimately come down to testing the desire of the men for work, and I think we shall get back to where we were in respect to this question.
It may seem a far cry to the old test about genuinely seeking work, but that is the kind of thing that we are afraid of, and the Minister is as much afraid of it as we are. We say that once you get off the broad ground upon which this matter has been placed, and which has stood the test too, you are taking a very dangerous line of error. What was originally the test? A man went to the court of referees, and from there to the Umpire, and the 573 Umpire decided the state of the man's mind in reference to these matters. In paragraph 433 of the Report of the Royal Commission, we read :It is not necessary to relate in detail the contents of the Umpire's decision above referred to; and it is sufficient for our present purpose to quote the opening paragraph of the decision :'In considering whether a person is genuinely seeking work the most important fact to be ascertained is the state of the applicant's mind. If a person genuinely wants work, i.e., really prefers working for wages to living on benefit, it is probable that she is genuinely seeking it. Action is guided by desire, and whilst few people genuinely seek what they do not desire, most people genuinely seek what they really desire.'I hope the House thoroughly understands that decision, which means that the Umpire had got into a position where he had really become not only a psychologist, but having to test the mind of the applicant, and I think that anything that can be done to avoid the danger of getting back to that position certainly ought to be done. Once the Government get off the broad ground on which they have been working for the last three years in this connection, I can assure them that they will find themselves ultimately going back, from stage to stage, from the man to the court of referees, and from the court of referees to the Umpire, and the Umpire finding himself back to where he was on the genuinely-seeking-work Clause. All we are anxious about is to avoid these difficulties. It is not argued that a large number of people are involved, but the Ministry has at its disposal machinery which it has been using too ruthlessly in order to accomplish its ends. I refer to the not-normally Section. Matters of administration and their ultimate effect are the funeral of the Minister, but unfortunately a large number of poor people are involved, and the Minister would be wise to withdraw this Clause altogether. We shall go to a Division to show that we wash our hands of this business for it will only lead to trouble for Government and the persons concerned.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I should like to join my appeal to the others that have been made to the Minister to reconsider the necessity for this Clause. It has been admitted by everybody, including the 574 Royal Commission, that the number of people who have sought to evade the old Section is practically negligible. There is no proof that there is any considerable number of people who are what is called work-shy. If that be admitted, as it appears to be, why do we want to alter the provision at all? The only reason that can occur to the mind of a reasonable person is that the Government desire—I do not like to attribute that to them—to deprive working people of benefit. Let me put my case and the experience I had as one who for many years worked in London as a carpenter and joiner. I ask the Minister of Labour and the Solicitor-General to imagine they were sitting on a committee and the officer at the Exchange where I was registered brought to their notice a case such as mine, and that they had to consider whether I had neglected the opportunity of a reasonable chance of work.
When I was out of work I went out day by day from the place where I lived. I zoned the whole of greater London area, because I was certain I could not cover it in any one day. As a matter of fact, I found it difficult to cover in one week the places where there might be work. I went north one day, north-west another day, and so on until I covered each zone of London. It was my experience on many occasions that I went to a particular job in the morning and was told there was no work, but later learned that other men had got a job at that place in the afternoon. Frequently, I called on a firm one day without success, and found later that they had had jobs the following day after I had called somewhere else. Suppose the Minister of Labour and the Solicitor-General were sitting on a committee and the Employment Exchange officer tried to prove that I knew that the firm were likely to employ men. As a matter of fact, I did have a suspicion that the firm was likely to employ men, but I did not know when they would, and I had to cover other firms as well in a genuine endeavour to find work.
Would the Solicitor-General and the Minister say that, because I happened to miss the particular day or time in the day when jobs were to be had, I had therefore missed a reasonable opportunity to get work? They might, because of their experience and sympathy, come to the conclusion that I had not missed 575 a reasonable opportunity and that I was entitled to benefit. I want them, however, to imagine the type of people who sit on the committees in some areas, and I think they will agree that that type, which is mainly made up of employers, has not the experience and the sympathy which is necessary for the job. I put it that there would be a reasonable chance in those circumstances of my being denied benefit. That kind of case can be multiplied scores of times. All sorts of prejudices enter into the minds of people sitting on such cases. The officer of the exchange is an experienced man, and if he brings a case against an insured person it is his natural desire to win it. Because of his experience and the lack of experience in most cases of the unemployed person, he has a better opportunity of winning the case.
I have had men come to see me in regard to the old not-genuinely-seeking-work Clause and the existing provision, and I could not understand many of the decisions that were arrived at. There is not an hon. Member who has not had similar experiences. How are the words in this Clause to be interpreted? If we could sub-divide the Members of the House into 50 or 60 groups, and put them into as many rooms and we brought the same case before each group, there would be a serious difference of opinion about it. If that could occur with qualified people such as Members of Parliament, what can we expect from the inexperienced people who sit and hear the evidence against insured people? Many of them are seriously prejudiced against the man to start with. They nearly all have bias on the side of the officer, because they are familiar with him and meet him day by day. The appearance of the man will enter very largely into the consideration which they will give to his case, and if he has a plausible tongue and can present his case he will get a fairly reasonable hearing.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I do not know whether the hon. Member realises that he is making the most serious reflections on the courts of referees all over the country, which are presided over by gentlemen of great experience, and which contain, also, representatives of the workers. I am 10th to interrupt him, but 576 I do not think he appreciates the very serious and most unmerited allegations he is making against courts of referees, who have done their duty most admirably.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I venture to reply that I have heard a number of cases in which my judgment has definitely led me to believe that decisions were come to on prejudice rather than on reasoned judgment. I make that assertion quite definitely, knowing at least something of what I am saying; and it has been asserted in the House by men who have a far wider experience than I have, and men who have had a legal training, that this type of committee is generally an inexperienced one. If the members of a committee are inexperienced, they are not capable of coming to a sound judgment. I do not say that all are inex-prienced, but I say definitely that many of them are, and, that being so, one does not expect, and in fact one does not get, anything like a reasoned and sound judgment from them. It is true that the chairman of a court of referees is a man who is trained in the law. I believe the chairmen are all lawyers or, at least, that most of them are, but the chairman does not always govern the decision given. I have known oases in my own experience where the chairman's recommendation has been entirely ignored and overruled.
In some cases, at any rate, I am strongly of the opinion that it was prejudice which governed very largely the judgment which was given, and whether that was or was not the case does not really alter the serious difficulties in the way of a number of bodies of men such as courts of referees coming to anything like similar decisions in cases which in every respect are similar. I submit to the Minister that there is nothing in the arguments put forward in the report of the Royal Commission to justify any alteration in the existing condition, which has proved to be very much better than any of the conditions in previous Acts, and very much better than the new condition which the Minister is now setting up.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out, to the word 'an,' in line 29, stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided : Ayes, 217; Noes, 53.579
|Division No. 233.]||AYES.||[8.49 p.m.|
|Adams. Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Hammersley, Samuel S.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Lfverp'l, W.)||Hanbury, Cecil||Ramsbotham, Herwald|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Hanley, Dennis A.||Ramsden, Sir Eugene|
|Applln, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Harmon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe||Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)||Raid, James S. C. (Stirling)|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Remer, John R.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Renwick, Major Gustav A.|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Hepworth, Joseph||Rickards, George William|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Hornby, Frank||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Blindell, James||Howard, Tom Forrest||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Hurd, Sir Percy||Salt, Edward W.|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romf'd)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Jamieson, Douglas||Selley, Harry R.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Chamberlain. Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Ker, J. Campbell||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Chapman, Col. R.(Houghton-le-Spring)||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Shaw, Captain William T. (Fortar)|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Clayton, Sir Christopher||Lamb, Sir Joseph Ouinton||Shuts, Colonel J. J.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Law, Sir Alfred||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Colfox, Major William Philip||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S. W.)||Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-In-F.)|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Leckle, J. A.||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Leech. Dr. J. W.||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Cope land, Ida||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Lewis, Oswald||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock)||Spans, William Patrick|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Stevenson, James|
|Cross, R. H.||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Storey, Samuel|
|Crossley, A. C.||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Lyons. Abraham Montagu||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Culverwell, Cyril Tom||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Denville, Alfred||McCorquodale, M. S.||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||MaeDonald. Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Dickie, John P.||McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Drewe, Cedric||McKie, John Hamilton||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Todd, Lt.-Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Dunglass, Lord||McLean. Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Magnay, Thomas||Tree, Ronald|
|Eillston, Captain George Sampson||Manningham-Bulter. Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Elmley, Viscount||Margesson. Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Martin, Thomas B.||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Erskins, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Essenhigh. Reginald Clare||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Evans. Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Ford. Sir Patrick J.||Milne, Charles||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Ganzonl, Sir John||Moreing, Adrian C.||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Morrison, William Shephard||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Gledhill, Gilbert||Moss, Captain H. J.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Glyn, Major Sir Ralph G. C.||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Goldle, Noel B.||Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Gower, Sir Robert||North, Edward T.||Withers, Sir John James|
|Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd. N.)||Nunn. William||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Wragg, Herbert|
|Greene, William P. C.||Petherick, M.|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Grimiton, R. V.||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Captain Sir George Bowyer and Sir|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Pybus, Sir Percy John||George Penny.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)|
|Aske Sir Robert William||Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Cripps, Sir Stafford|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Browne, Captain A. C.||Daggar, George|
|Banfield, John William||Buchanan. George||Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)|
|Batey, Joseph||Cape, Thomas||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)|
|Bernays, Robert||Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Dobble, William|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Cove, William G.||Edwards, Charles|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Kirkwood, David||Rothschild, James A. de|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Lawson, John James||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Leonard, William||West, F. R.|
|George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Logan, David Gilbert||White, Henry Graham|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||McEntee, Valentine L.||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||McGovern, John||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Mainwaring, William Henry||Wilmot, John|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Maxton, James|
|Harris, Sir Percy||Mliner, Major James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Jenkins, Sir William||Nathan, Major H. L.||Mr. D. Graham and Mr. G.|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||O'Connor, Terence James||Macdonald|
§ Amendment made : In page 6, line 29, leave out "an," and insert "a reasonable."—[Sir H. Betterton.]
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I beg to move, in page 6, line 34, at the end, to insert :(3) An insured contributor shall be deemed to be capable of, and available for, work if he proves that he has been disqualified for benefit under the Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Acts, 1925 to 1932, on the ground that he is capable of some kind of work.These words might be considered to be self-explanatory, but it is necessary to amplify them a little. They are tantamount to this : If a man cannot get sickness benefit because he is capable of work, it should not be possible to rule that he cannot get unemployment benefit because he is incapable of work. If he is denied benefit on the one hand, it appears reasonable that he should be able to obtain it on the other. This Amendment is brought forward with the honest intention of doing justice where it may be in particular cases, denied, and, if it be denied, we think, from the point of view of equity, that this alteration should be conceded. I am anxious to know what the Minister will say in regard to it.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. CAPE
I beg to second the Amendment.
From the look of it, it is hardly necessary to move an Amendment of this kind, but it is put forward with the desire to make it clear that these men will be entitled either to unemployment benefit or to national health insurance benefit. I believe that the National Health Insurance Act states definitely that a man has to be totally incapacitated before he is entitled to benefit. It may be that a man is not totally incapacitated, but is in such reduced health as to be unable to follow his usual occupation. He may be a miner, a steelworker or a workman in 580 one of the heavy industries. He is sent to the regional medical officer by the approved society of which he is a member, and the regional officer says that the man is not totally incapacitated, although his general health is not up to the proper standard and that he may be capable of light work.
We want to make it clear, in a case of that kind, that a man would be immediately entitled to unemployment benefit. If we do not insert something like this in the Bill we leave the position in the air and make it very difficult for a man to state that he has a substantial claim. I feel sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will have had many cases of this kind through his hands when he was a Member of this House in years gone by, and represented a division in which very many of that type of case arose, and arise yet. A good many men who have worked in the heavy industries find themselves in difficulties. The Amendment is moved to make it clear and distinct that a man of that type would be entitled to benefit.
§ 9.2 p.m.
I am afraid that we cannot accept this Amendment. The difficulties that used to exist have been very largely reduced, if they have not entirely disappeared, as the result of some administrative changes that we were able to make after representations made to me by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), about three or four months ago. The difficulty arises because of the rules of the approved societies. When a man goes before the regional medical officer, in order to substantiate his claim that he is incapable of work, he cannot at the same time go to the Exchange and declare that he is capable of work. Owing to the fact that the approved societies' rules are retrospective, so far as payment is concerned, to the date of the regional medical officer's report, there is bound to be a gap of two or three days from the date when the man is decided 581 retrospectively to be capable of work, and during those two or three days, while he is seeking to substantiate his claim, he has to say that he is incapable of work. As the result of an administrative arrangement that we have been able to make, by advising the man to see his own insurance doctor in the morning and to go, on the same morning, to the Exchange and inform them of the decision of his own insurance doctor, the gap, where it exists at all, is reduced to the single day. As long as the approved societies maintain their existing rules it is impossible to ensure in all cases that a man comes directly off one form of benefit on to the other. We have already largely met the case that has been put before the House, and the delay in many cases is a maximum of 24 hours.
§ Mr. LOGAN
Is it not statutory, in regard to health insurance, not to declare a man off unless he has recovered, upon medical certification? The provision as to total incapacity is only putting an obligation upon the approved society to pay benefit. The point that this Amendment tries to avoid is that when the man is off—supposing that he declares off——
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I must point out to the hon. Member that he has exhausted his right to speak. He can, however, ask a question.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
I am somewhat disappointed that the Minister is unable to meet us on this Amendment. He agrees in effect that in certain circumstances men are denied benefit, and he says that an attempt has been made by administration to reduce the hardship to as small a minimum as possible. I should have thought that this was a comparatively simple matter, capable of a rather simple solution. The approved societies, on the one hand, anxious in the main to protect their funds and dealing with the matter under their own rules, send a man to the regional medical officer to see whether 582 the man is capable of some kind of work. On the regional medical officer declaring that the man is capable of some kind of work, the approved society immediately stops his benefit. All that we ask in this Amendment is that, if the regional medical officer says that the man is capable of some kind of work, the unemployment insurance committee, or whoever is responsible, shall not deny him benefit on the ground that he is incapable of work. If the regional medical officer says that the man is capable of some kind of work, it seems rather hard that he should be bandied about from pillar to post—that he should be told, on the one hand, as regards National Health Insurance, that he is capable of work, and that he should be told on the other hand, when he claims unemployment benefit, that he is incapable of work. It appears to me that the matter ought not to be left in the air in this way.
I should have thought that the Minister himself would have seen the justice of the Amendment. If there is one thing more than another that makes people discontented and bitter, it is being bandied about from one authority to another and left in the air. It is serious enough for the unfortunate victims, and even the Minister did not deny the possibility of some hardship. When a man has been in bad health, possibly for a considerable time, and very probably himself believes that he is unable to work, it seems hard that, if he is declared to be capable of work, he should be denied unemployment benefit on the ground that he is still incapable of work. I do not think anyone would desire that these two insurance schemes should have it, as it were, both ways. Either the man is capable of work or he is not capable of work. If he is not capable of work, he should have his National Health Insurance benefit. If he is declared to be capable of work, why not give him his unemployment insurance benefit as a matter of right? Why deny it to him, even if the period is reduced, as the Minister says, possibly to a single day?
I am surprised from time to time how glibly it is said that it is only a matter of one day, or of two days, or of three days. This little bit of money, small as it may appear to many Members of the House, is vital in the case of the vast majority of these men, and, if they are 583 denied it and have nothing else to fall back upon, their position is extremely difficult. I am not sure that the Minister has really seriously considered all the aspects of the matter. Why this simple Amendment cannot be put into the Bill is rather beyond me. We have to remember that, when the Bill is passed, it is likely to stand as the law for a fairly considerable number of years. We are now making laws which are going to settle to a very great extent all the ins and outs of unemployment insurance for a very considerable time, and it is hardly sufficient for the Minister to say, "We will attempt to deal with this matter as fairly as we can by administrative methods." That is not quite good enough; the guarantee is not quite sufficient. Unless this provision is put into the Act itself, I suggest that there will always be the possibility of injustice. In fact, there always will be injustice, and it will be injustice for which the ordinary man and woman will be unable to understand the reason. To ordinary men and women outside this House it would appear that, if ever there was a clear case for getting words inserted, with apparently no earthly reason why they should not be inserted, it is in regard to the words of this Amendment, and I would appeal to the Minister to see whether it is not possible in some way or other to make some concession on this point.
§ 9.13 p.m.
With the leave of the House I will answer the point which has been put by the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield). He is really labouring under a misapprehension. It is not a question whether the man is certified as being fit for light work, or fit for his ordinary work; the question is whether he is capable of any work at all, and the matter is, as I have said, a matter of the time lag between the actual date when the regional medical officer sees him and certifies him and the date when the approved society issue their certificate. There is a certain amount of point in what the hon. Member has been saying, but his representations should be addressed to the approved societies, because they have it entirely in their power to remedy the matter. It is a matter of their own administration. They might 584 say that their decision should be retrospective to the date on which the regional medical officer saw the man. Obviously it takes a certain time for the regional medical officer to write to the approved society, for the approved society to come to their decision, and to notify the man that he must bring his certificate to the Employment Exchange. If the approved societies would see that their machinery for dealing with this purely administrative matter is speeded up, or, alternatively, if they would agree to continue to pay a man his sick benefit until they actually issue their certificate that he is now capable of work, there would be no interval between the date on which he ceased to receive sickness benefit from the approved society and that on which he started to receive benefit from us. Really, the matter is not one with which we ought to be asked to deal. As I have said, we have, as a result of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), very considerably reduced the difficulty. In nearly every case there used to be a delay of some three days, but now it is only one day. If hon. Members wish to abolish that one day altogether, it is for them to make representations to the approved societies.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made : In page 6, line 35, leave out Sub-section (3).—[Mr. Hudson.]