HC Deb 10 May 1934 vol 289 cc1327-34

7.13 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 67, line 28, at the end, to insert : Schedule I, Part II.—In paragraph (d), at end, insert a new sub-section— ( ) in universities and colleges which are constituent colleges of universities. The object of this Amendment is to make a small addition to those forms of employment specified in Part II of the First Schedule of the 1920 Act, in respect of which exemption from insurance can be granted by the Minister on application if he is able to satisfy himself that these employés enjoy such a practical permanency of tenure of their employment that it is unnecessary for them in their own interests to be insured against unemployment. The bodies on whose behalf this privilege is claimed are universities and constituent colleges of universities. The Minister will note that the Amendment is supported by one or more representatives of all the universities which will be affected by it, that is to say the nine English universities, the Universities of London, Scotland and Wales, but not the University of Belfast. I have not been able to get into touch with the representatives of Belfast University. The Amendment does not affect Oxford and Cambridge, because these universities are already able to claim, and have successfully claimed, exemption for the corresponding group of their employés. They have been able to do this because they have come under one of the groups that are already mentioned in the Schedule to the 1920 Act, the group which consists of persons entitled to rights in a superannuation fund established by or in pursuance of an Act of Parliament for the benefit of persons in that employment.

The universities that I represent and, I think, the other universities concerned, cannot claim under this Sub-section, merely because they are incorporated not by Act of Parliament but by a Royal Charter. They see no reason why this purely technical and historic difference should prevent their enjoying the privilege already possessed by the older and wealthier universities. With regard to my own group of eight universities, I have received letters from the Vice-Chancellors of the four largest, including the large majority of the graduates, expressing their strong approval of this Amendment. Two of the universities are more or less indifferent; one has not expressed an opinion, and one only would on the whole prefer to do without the privilege.

The numbers affected, if this Amendment were carried, would not be large, and could not possibly make any great difference to the Insurance Fund, even if, as is by no means certain, all the universities concerned decided to apply for exemption. All that is desired is that the door shall be open to them to do so. The numbers cannot be large, because the Amendment concerns only those employés who are earning under £250 a year and who are on the permanent staff, mainly such persons as clerical workers, laboratory assistants, porters in permanent employ, and so forth.

Some hon. Members may possibly object to granting exemptions from insurance in any circumstances, and I confess that I am one of those who, as a general principle, would rather see the national insurance system extended than curtailed. But that general principle is not raised by this Amendment. So long as the exemption of groups of workers is permitted at all, exemptions should be based on some consistent principle. On no principle of logic or justice can we say that the older and wealthier universities should enjoy the privilege and not extend it to the newer, poorer and more democratically-constituted universities. The financial burden of contributions for these employers is not considerable, neither is it negligible. In the case of one university it is estimated by the Vice-Chancellor that if exemption were granted it would mean a saving to the university fund of, perhaps, £300 a year. That is a sum worth considering in the case of a body comparatively newly-established and anxious to extend and improve its equipment, its libraries and so forth.

The House can rest assured that the exemption will not be granted by the Minister unless he is fully satisfied that it will not hinder the employés affected Indeed, the burden of so satisfying himself is directly placed upon him by law, and the advantages of exemption extend, of course, to the employés as well as to the universities. In most cases the employé is already obliged to contribute to a superannuation fund, and naturally he is not keen on paying weekly contributions to a fund from which, by reason of the nature of his employment, he is perfectly certain never to have to claim benefit.

I would like to add a word to explain why this Amendment was not brought forward on the Committee stage. It did not at first occur to us that this Measure did give an opportunity to put right this small anomaly in the working of the unemployment insurance legislation, and when it did occur to us we thought that Clause 2 sufficiently covered the point. I will not trouble the House by referring to that in detail, but anybody taking the words of the Clause in their natural interpretation would suppose that it did give these universities the right to claim an exemption which is already enjoyed by bodies is so analogous a position as Oxford and Cambridge. But a doubt arose as to whether Clause 2 would cover the case and we consulted the Ministry, and we have felt it best to put down this Amendment. I would ask the Minister, if he possibly can, to accept the Amendment; but if he feels that he cannot do so without a further and longer consultation with those affected, I hope he will give us an assurance that he will take the matter into full consideration before the Bill comes before another place, where, if he does not put down an Amendment, no doubt that will be done by some of those interested in the welfare of these universities.


I beg to second the Amendment, and in view of the very full explanation given to the House by the hon. Lady I do not think I need elaborate any of the points.

7.20 p.m.


I am afraid I can hold out no hope whatever of giving further consideration to this matter. I have considered it most carefully since it was first brought to my notice by the hon. Lady, but it is not an Amendment which I should be justified in accepting, and I confess that I was rather surprised that it should have been moved. During the whole course of our proceedings, both in Committee and on Report stage, there has been in all parts of the House a desire that this scheme of insurance should not be further limited but, if anything, extended. Indeed, I have given undertakings with regard to more than one considerable body of persons that I would not only consider their case but put it before the Statutory Committee for examination. This Amendment goes in an entirely opposite direction, proposing not to extend the scope of insurance but further to diminish it. The hon. Lady cited the case of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and said that other universities ought to be put in the same position. The first comment I have to make upon that is that the universities themselves are by no means unanimous in asking for exemption. According to my information, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester are in favour of it, Leeds is against it, and Sheffield and Durham are neutral. Be that as it may, there is this great distinction between Oxford and Cambridge and any one of those other universities, namely, that the superannuation funds of Oxford and Cambridge are established in pursuance of an Act of Parliament, which puts them in an entirely different category from the others. The hon. Lady has two Amendments on the Paper, and presumably she is moving the first one.


No, I am moving the second, and I read it.


I beg the hon. Lady's pardon. Therefore, I need not stress the point I was going to make that the first Amendment goes far beyond the scope of the universities. For the reasons I have given I cannot accept this Amendment, and, if necessary, I must ask the House to support me in that view.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman why he makes this sharp distinction between a superannuation fund established by Act of Parliament and a superannuation fund established, as in the case of Liverpool and most of the other universities, by Royal Charter? A second question is : If it is his general principle not in any way to extend exemptions, how does he defend Clause 2, which definitely gives him power to extend exemptions to groups of employés analogous to those who are already exempted?


I am not going to enter into a discussion of Clause 2, which we passed about two months ago, but there is obviously all the difference in the world between a Royal Charter and an Act of Parliament.

7.24 p.m.


I am very pleased that the right hon. Gentleman is not accepting this Amendment, but at the same time I am much obliged to the hon. Lady for moving it, because it has given the Minister the opportunity of making the kind of speech which we have been making for weeks in favour of an all-in unemployed insurance scheme. We have held very firmly that all classes of people should be included in the insurance scheme, and I do not think this is the time to begin exempting people. A curious thing about unemployment insurance is the very strong case made out by certain individuals and classes of people for exemption. There are sections of the black-coated workers who could put up just as strong an argument for exemption as these people—and many of these are black-coated workers—and it is strange to notice that their keenness for exemption is in proportion to their security. I am pleased the right hon. Gentleman has refused this Amendment, and I venture to prophesy that the day will come when the State will have to save people such as these from themselves.

7.25 p.m.


I am glad the Minister has not seen fit to accept the Amendment, and I am rather surprised that the hon. Lady moved it, because if I remember rightly she has put forward a different argument on other occasions. One point she made was that in the case of one university there would be a saving of £300, and she also said that it was not right to expect people to pay insurance who were in permanent jobs and would never come on the fund. I want to bring in those persons who are in employment but probably will never be troubled by unemployment, in order to help the unemployed. All our arguments have been addressed to the desirability of bringing more and more people into unemployment insurance, so that the burden may be more equally distributed. Our argument has been that unemployment insurance ought to be paid by the State, but if we cannot get that we want all employed persons brought into the insurance scheme, so that the area of the burden will be broadened. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White) was in a curious position in seconding the Amendment, and I wish he had been able to explain why he did it, because it is very difficult to understand his action. We have been very pleased to get the opportunity of emphasising our view on the point raised, which is that we should try to get as many people as possible into insurance and close the door to exemptions.

7.27 p.m.


The hon. Lady who moved this Amendment has moved it on behalf of certain universities with which she is concerned, and it is rather difficult to understand why the Minister should draw a distinction between those universities and the others referred to. The right hon. Gentleman did not deal with that point by simply telling us that the difference between an Act of Parliament and a Royal Charter is a very wide one. He never explained what he meant by that. That does not make very much difference from one point of view, whatever it does from the point of view of the practicability of this Amendment. We are not trying to upset the Bill by making exemptions compulsory. It is a voluntary thing, which may suit particular institutions and their servants, and the Amendment is moved not merely in the interests of those institutions but also in the interests of the people concerned. The Amendment would enable the authorities concerned to deal with the matter on the merits of the case from the point of view of the individual people interested.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, in page 71, line 20, column 2, to leave out from "4" to the end of line 27, and to insert : for the words 'or is under the provisions of the principal Act disqualified for receiving benefit' there shall be substituted the words' (other than the first statutory condition) or is under the provisions of the Acts relating to unemployment insurance disqualified for receiving benefit, or to be deemed not to be unemployed,' and the words 'under this Part of this Schedule' shall be omitted. This is a drafting Amendment.

7.30 p.m.


Amendments are much easier to follow when they apply to a Clause than when they deal with Schedules, which is rather a different matter. I am not quite sure what these words are intended to define, and I should like the Parliamentary to tell us a little bit more about this. It seems to embody some rather sweeping alterations which do not appear on the face of it.


I can only speak again with the leave of the House. I have two tpyewritten pages here, but probably the House would not want me to go through them. I can give the hon. Member an assurance that the Amendment does not make any material difference to the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

7.31 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 71, line 28, column 2, to leave out from the beginning to the end of line 49, and to insert : For paragraph 5 there shall be substituted the following paragraph: 5. Save as otherwise provided by regulations made in accordance with the provisions of this paragraph a continuous period of unemployment shall be deemed to begin on the date on which the insured contributor makes application for benefit in the prescribed manner; but regulations may be made under section thirty-five of the principal Act for authorising some earlier date to be substituted for the date of the application : Provided that, except in cases where good cause is shown for delay in making the application, such regulations shall not authorise the substitution of an earlier date for any purpose other than that of computing the first week of a continuous period of unemployment in a case in which the applicant, upon an application for benefit which begins his benefit year, proves in the prescribed manner that a continuous period of unemployment was in fact current at the date of that application.

This Amendment is to ensure that a man who has been on transitional payments or, under the new scheme, in receipt of allowances from the Unemployment Assistance Board, will not have to serve a new waiting period when he goes back on to benefit.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 72, line 42, at the end, to insert : Section 2.—At the enl of the section there shall be insertel the following subsection : (3) Regulations may be made by the Minister under section thirty-five of the principal Act providing that where a dependant is partly maintained by each of two or more persons entitled to benefit, each of whom would be entitled to an increased rate of benefit in respect of that dependant if he were wholly or mainly maintaining him, then, if the contributions made by those two or more persons towards the maintenance of that dependant amount in the aggregate to sums which would, if they had been contributed by any one of those persons, have been sufficient to satisfy the requirements of paragraph (f) of the last foregoing subsection, that dependant shall be deemed for the purpose of the enactments aforesaid to be wholly or mainly maintained by such of those persons as may be prescribed by the regulations.

This Amendment is moved in order to carry out a promise which I made during the Committee stage, to cover the case of several persons who maintain or help to maintain a dependant, and to enable one of those persons on becoming unemployed to draw dependant's allowance.

Amendment agreed to.