§ 9.10 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I beg to move,That the draft of the Unemployment Insurance (Anomalies) (Seasonal Workers) Order, 1935, laid before Parliament in pursuance of the provisions of Sub-section (6) of Section 55 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1935, be approved.2782 I am grateful to hon. Members for making it possible to take this Order this evening, although the hour may be somewhat late. We have, of course, been working against time in this matter, but I hope hon. Members will assist in passing this Order because if it is not put through now, seasonal workers who will obtain, easement might lose perhaps six or seven weeks. I need not detain the House very long with any history of this matter. It will perhaps suffice if I say that the general Acts under which this Order will be made and the regulations now operating are as follow: If a person is a member of the class of workers who are included in the occupation of seasonal workers, and if the seasonal occupation is his normal employment, then he must satisfy the special conditions in order to qualify for benefit during the off season. I need not detail the special conditions; they are found in the admirable and lucid report of the Committee which accompanies the Order. One word about the two classes of seasonal workers affected. There is the class in holiday resorts, waitresses and waiters and servants in boarding-houses and hotels, and others; and there are the seasonal workers unemployed in other localities—fish workers, beet workers, the "stop-me-and-buy-one" men in the ice cream trade, and so on.
The origin of these particular proposals is this: Under the original Act an Advisory Committee of nine persons was set up. The Unemployment Insurance Act of last year replaced this by the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee. The original Advisory Committee recommended an alteration which took place in August, 1933, but despite that slight amendment the working of the arrangement under the Act continued to be criticised. Criticisms were made in this House by hon. Members and in the country by those who had a knowledge of the seasonal workers. The result was that the Ministry of Labour carried out a very close survey through its inspectorate which confirmed the substance of some of the criticisms and, therefore, the Minister referred the question to the Unemployment Insurance Committee. The Committee have reported, after having received both oral and written representations from many sources, including several Members of this House. 2783 I can sum up the report for the purposes of this discussion by pointing out that they recommended three things—first, that there was a real danger to the Insurance Fund but for the operation of the Anomalies Act; secondly, that easements, six in number, should be made in order to meet some of the criticisms which were well founded; and, thirdly, and very important, that certain alterations were necessary as regards unemployment assistance. They also pointed out that these latter alterations cannot be made by Order. One word on that. It cannot be done under an Order, it is clearly a matter which falls to be dealt with by the Unemployment Assistance Board. I may inform the House that I have approached the Board with the request that they should give the Committee's proposal their careful consideration. The question whether anything can be done without legislation is by no means clear, and as the proposal is intimately connected with other proposals which arise on unemployment assistance, I am not in a position at this stage to say how far it will be possible to give effect to the proposal. But I repeat, the Committee made it quite clear that it cannot be done by this or any other Order made in this way.
The House will observe that the report of the Committee suggests that the easements should be made by means of two groups of amendments—six amendments in all—which seek to obtain two main results. In the first group there are four amendments which make it easier for certain claimants, although they have been held to be seasonal workers, to get benefit in the off-season; and in the other group two amendments, which will keep outside the definition of "seasonal worker" a number of people who now fall within. A word about the scope of the Order as a whole. It is self-contained. It is so drafted as to take the place of two existing Orders in so far as they cover seasonal workers, and, in the second place, portions of existing Orders relating to seasonal workers are revoked, and, in so far as their substance remains unamended they are incorporated in the new Order. The Order is, therefore, self-contained, and there is no need to refer to the Orders which are repealed.
2784 This difficult matter has a jargon of its own, the kind of language that experts use when they want to make simple things appear very mysterious and, therefore, I shall best serve the interests of the House if I give a short summary of the Order. Paragraph 1 deals with repeals and rights and obligations; paragraph 2 with definitions and paragraph 3 with "the period of the off-season so current." In addition, paragraph 3 contains an adaptation for workers who are in the middle of an off-season at the beginning of an insurance year such as professional footballers, maltsters and others. It also excludes periods when the claimant was sick. Paragraph 4 makes two modifications in the special conditions which seasonal workers have to satisfy as to actual employment. In the first place all reference to insurable employment has been deleted from the special provisions. In the second place paragraph 4 permits the claimant to aggregate the work done in the relevant off-seasons. Paragraph 5 is a limiting provision to exclude such industries as the building and clothing trades from the application of the Order. Paragraph 6 (1) affects all seasonal workers and enables an aggregation of work in more than a single district to be made while paragraph 6 (2) excludes certain industrial workers who through force of circumstances have taken up seasonal work, although it is not their normal work. It has also two provisos, one affecting ex-service men and the second affecting workers in trades insured under special schemes.
I now take these paragraphs one by one, showing how each operates and its effect. Paragraph 1 cancels the existing Anomalies Regulations in their application to seasonal workers. The last four lines are a reproduction of a section of the Interpretation Act, 1889, which applies to practically every Act of Parliament containing repealing sections and is in common form. Its effect is that if, before the repealing law comes into force, a right has been acquired under the Orders which are being repealed, but has not yet been enforced, the repeal of the Order does not prevent the right being enforced after the repeal, and similarly of course with an obligation. Paragraph 2 need not detain us long. It contains the necessary definitions and is, in substance, a reproduction of part of the existing Order. For instance, the 2785 definition of "off-season" is the same as that in paragraph 2 (ii) of the existing Order and the definition of "seasonal worker" is taken from the existing paragraph 2 (1). Thus paragraph 2 is solely concerned with definitions germane to seasonal workers. In paragraph 3 (1) we come to the question of "the period of the off-season so current" which has given rise to a great deal of criticism among those who have watched the operation of the previous Order. The paragraph carries out the suggested Amendment (iv) on page 10 of the report. It is designed to remove the effect of the statutory authority's interpretation of the words "during the period of the off-season so current," in the existing Order. Hon. Members who have made representations to the Committee and the Minister on this point will know that it has been ruled that each part of the off-season must stand by itself. For example the period between Christmas and Easter or the period between Easter and Whitsuntide have to stand, in the existing Order, under this term "the period of the off-season so current," by themselves. The effect of that ruling has been to require the seasonal worker to show 25 per cent. in each of those short periods if he wants to pray in aid the current off-season. This has been often very hard upon the claimant and is not what is intended. Paragraph 3 (i) is designed to remove the difficulty. There is also an adaptation to meet the case of workers such as professional footballers and maltsters who are in the middle of an off-season at the beginning of an insurance year. The insurance year begins in July and the professional footballer and the maltster are in the middle of the off-season then. For them the Order substitutes the term "calendar year" for "insurance year." Otherwise their off-season would be broken artificially into two parts, of which the first would be linked with the second part of the off-season in the preceding summer, while the second would be linked with the first part of the off-season in the succeeding summer. The latter part of this paragraph provides that in such cases regard shall be had to the calendar year within which the whole of the off-season normally falls. I think it clears up the main difficulty in most of these cases.
2786 Paragraph 3 (ii) is concerned with sickness and carries out the Committee's recommendation number (iii) on page 10 of the report. It excludes in the reckoning of the period of off-season any period during which the claimant was sick. At present the seasonal worker's failure to obtain the necessary amount of work in the off-season to qualify him for unemployment benefit, may be due to sickness preventing him doing work during the off-season which otherwise would have been available for him. The effect of the Amendment is to reduce the period of the off-season by the duration of sickness, and therefore to reduce the amount of off-season employment required to qualify for benefit in that off-season. Paragraph 4 (1) is in reference to the special conditions which the seasonal worker has to satisfy in addition to the ordinary conditions for benefit. It incorporates the modifications in the special conditions recommended by the Committee. These relate, first, to actual employment, to a substantial extent, in past off-seasons and second, to the expectation of employment in future off-seasons. The Committee suggest changes which make it easier for a claimant to satisfy the condition as to actual employment. They propose no changes in the conditions as to expectation of employment in future off-seasons which in practice has no appreciable effect in excluding claimants from benefit.
These recommendations are numbers (i) and (ii) on page 10 of the report. To meet the first, all reference to insurable employment has been deleted from the special conditions. The claimant will now have to show only that be has done the necessary amount of work, whether insurable or uninsurable, in two off-seasons out of three preceding his claim and the current off-season may be one of these. The test is the man's ability to obtain work without the qualification that it should be insurable work. That will affect a great number of seasonal workers. To meet the second recommendation provision has been made in paragraph 4 (1) (iii) to permit a claimant to aggregate work done in the relevant off-seasons so as to show that on an average he has been employed to the requisite extent during the two off-seasons in question and has done some work in each of the two off-seasons. This is designed to meet the case of the claimant who has a longer 2787 spell of off-season work in one of the two years mentioned in the special conditions and less than the required amount in the other, or in the current off-season, and will be a substantial relief to some seasonal workers.
I wish to make four minor notes on paragraph 4 (1). It allows any employment to qualify. 4 (1) (b) reproduces the omission of the reference to insurable employment and in practice the claimant who has satisfied the other special conditions is assumed to satisfy this condition too. I emphasise the fact that if this were omitted, there would be a danger that the Umpire might interpret the condition as involving a substantial alteration in the intention of Parliament, and there is no such alteration of intention. Paragraph 4 (2) repeats in relation to the calculation of work in the off-season the paragraph in 3 (1) relating to the reckoning of periods of off-seasons. The umpire's interpretation of "employed to a substantial extent during the off-season" is incorporated in paragraph 4 (1) (iii). The term "claim" has been substituted for "application" because of a change in the technical meaning of "application" made by Section 29 (2) of the 1934 Act, now Section 113 of the 1935 Act. With regard to paragraph 5, this reproduces 2 (iii) of the present Orders, with a verbal alteration of "those portions of the said class" to the simple description "seasonal workers." This is a limiting provision designed to prevent the application of the Order to industries such as the building and clothing trades, in which, while there are marked seasonal fluctuations of work, there is no off-season in which no substantial amount of employment is available in any particular district.
I come to paragraph 6 and the two Amendments, which are designed to exclude certain workers from the operation of the seasonal workers' special conditions. They are contained in paragraph 6 (1), which affects all seasonal workers and in 6 (2), which affects certain industrial workers who have fallen on distressful times in their own trade and have taken up seasonal work. They operate in the following way: Paragraph 6 (1) has to do with the term "the same district." It embodies the suggestion numbered (ii) in page 9 of the Committee's Report. At present a claimant who can show that he 2788 is employed in occupations within a single district, of which the aggregation of the periods of season is 39 weeks or more, is not regarded as a seasonal worker. If, however, he is employed in occupations in more than one district such aggregations of period of season are not permitted and he may be treated as in seasonal work. Paragraph 6 (1) will enable the aggregation of periods of season whether consecutive and followed in the same district or not. This will affect certain fisher folk who, of course, follow the fish, and certain other workers.
Paragraph 6 (2) affects ordinary industrial workers such as those who have fallen under great depression in their own trade and gives effect to the suggestion numbered (i) in page 9 of the Committee's report. The intention of the provision is to exclude from the scope of the Order the ordinary industrial worker who, through force of circumstances, has taken up seasonal work and who has a fairly regular recent record of employment before he took that seasonal work. The Clause gives him this opportunity. It widens his chance of securing stamps by taking the last 10-year period. It allows him to select any five consecutive years inside that 10-year period and provides that if in any four years of five consecutive years, he gets 150 contributions, he will then be excluded from the seasonal workers' operation. That means in four years, being 208 contributions, he will be allowed 58 weeks of grace for unemployment, sickness, holidays and other things—150 contributions in any four of five consecutive years in the last 10 years. It will give the industrial worker a broader basis from which the calculation of his contributions can be made, and I am advised that not only these particular workers may take advantage of this provision of paragraph 6 (2) but that a certain number of workers who have not at any time followed a trade that provides fairly regular employment all the year round will be able to take advantage of that paragraph.
Let me say a word or two about the two provisos. Proviso (a) puts the ex-service man in the same position as the ordinary industrial contributor in the matter of being able to show contributions in the last 10 years. The proviso is more generous than the strict terms of the penultimate paragraph of the Report, 2789 inasmuch as contributions treated as paid under Section 96 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1935, would give the ex-Service man the benefit of service in the Force only as far back as 30th June, 1927, whereas the proviso gives him the benefit of all service for the full 10 years if necessary by virtue of the words "or which have applied if the date of his discharge had been after 30th June, 1927." The second proviso (b) of this paragraph affects the workers who have been in special schemes. It is inserted to cover the case of the worker who, before taking up seasonal work, was insured in one or other of the special schemes, such as banking or insurance. The form of words was necessary because under these special schemes contributions were paid in a lump sum quarterly, and provision therefore had to be made for converting the quarterly contributions into the equivalent number of weeks for the purposes of this Order.
The House may be asking what will be the net effect of all this jargon in the Order. The net effect, as far as we can calculate it, is as follows. The House will know that last year there were 20,000 disallowances. It is calculated that had the terms of this Order been in operation, there would have been 23 per cent. fewer disallowances. As to the cost, I can only give an approximate figure, but it will be in the neighbourhood of £50,000. This Order will mitigate a number of hardships which have been recently expressed, and which have been persistently pressed by Members in this House and from outside quarters, and recognised by the Committee in their very clear report. The Order is an easement of the present position, while it still allows the Act to protect the fund, as is recognised by the Committee, and as was recognised by the House in 1931, to be necessary. In the belief that this easement will be generally acceptable to the House, I commend the Order to the House.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The House will be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the explanation he has given of a very complicated Order. The area he has covered is very wide. I think—it may be a daring statement—that it can be understood by very few Members in the House, and I should not describe myself as one of them. It will mainly be understood 2790 by Members who represent industries in different parts of the country affected by the various sections. For that reason I wish we could have had a whole day to discuss this very important Order. I confess that, although it means an easement for some sections of people, I was rather reluctant to take this course and had to give some consideration to it with my hon. Friends before we finally decided to rush this thing through as we are doing. But it is true that if it did not get through this week, a certain number of people would in the autumn have lost benefit that they might otherwise have obtained. It is all the more necessary to have a long and wide discussion upon this matter, because I think this is the first discussion we have had since the operation of this Order. There has been plenty of debating of it, but I do not think we have had a straight-out opportunity, so to speak, of discussing the regulations that we were working previously, and it is all the more regrettable, because when the Bill went through the House in 1934, owing to the operation of the Guillotine we were not able to discuss the matter then. Indeed, it was largely because of that difficulty that the House agreed to work by Order rather than by the ordinary regulations.
On the face of it, some of these sections are improvements, but they are like all regulations of this kind: it seems to me that they sometimes carry certain dangers. Take, for instance, 6 (1), dealing with the 39 weeks. This is an improvement on the face of it, but it does not affect a great many people. Indeed, the outstanding thing about this Order is that it is very difficult to get any reasonable estimate as to how many will be affected by it. On page 9 of the report—and as far as simplicity is concerned it is a valuable report—we are told:The Seasonal Workers' Orders should not apply to a worker whose normal seasons of employment exceed 39 weeks in the aggregate, even though the employment is in different districts. This Amendment corrects an interpretation placed by the Umpire on the existing Orders. It places the worker who moves from one district to another in the same position as if all his work were in one district. The change is a small, one … but is clearly right in principle and removes an intended anomaly.That means that the man who works 39 weeks under these conditions will be free 2791 from the general operation, but I ask the House to note that it has been possible under the administration during the past year or two to include men who actually worked up to 39 weeks. I submit that that was the kind of thing that nobody ever dreamed of and that it justifies the claim which the report says was made before, that there has been an extension of these two injustices that were originally never contemplated. On this particular point I want to ask a question of the Minister, because, like all remedies dealing with this matter, it leaves very grave dangers. Some of my friends think that the very act of extending such classes on such a standard means that we are under the danger of bringing other people within the operation of the Seasonal Order who have not been there before. I make that statement to the Minister because it is a fear that is held by friends of my own. On page 6 of the report there is this statement:Relatively to unemployment and the total number of claims to benefit, the number of disallowances under the Seasonal Workers' Orders has increased. The stationary character of the number of disallowances in the past three years is consistent with, though it does not prove, the contention of some critics of the Orders that there has been a gradual extension of their scope to new classes of workers.I know very well that, apart from this new section, there are the regular tests for seasonal workers and there are the definitions affected by the Umpire's decisions. It has been clearly stated that the building trades, for instance, are ruled out, but in spite of that there are friends of mine who think—and it is a point that ought to be answered—that in erecting the 39 weeks standard in order to exclude certain people who have been included before, you might run the danger of making that a standard which includes other classes who have not been contemplated as seasonal workers in the past. I want to ask the Minister whether he can give a guarantee that, in passing this section to benefit one or two small industries, we are not running the danger of including industries that are not now seasonal. Then this Order says that the aggregate seasons in the district or districts in which he is normally employed amount to 39 weeks. What is going to be the standard of "normal"? I suppose that would be a matter for the Umpire's 2792 decisions, I should be very much obliged if the right hon. Gentleman would tell us what will be meant by "normal" in this respect.
Then there is 6 (2), dealing with the four out of five years in any 10 consecutive years. It will make it possible for certain people to go into seasonal trades without losing status, and that, of course, has been a very great grievance. But again we may have people with fairly decent contribution records, having regard to the circumstances in the district in which they have lived and worked, but they will not have the 150; they may have 148 or 149, and by making that new standard it may be that you will create fresh difficulties, even though it means an easement for particular people in the long run. There is also an improvement in that the term "employment" is to be used rather than "insurable employment." That will make it possible for a certain number of workers—it is difficult to know how many—to retain their benefit status. But the amount of insurable work into which seasonal workers can go outside their own work is very limited. Some may be able to go into agriculture, but I should think that would be only to a limited extent. While this is going to do a certain amount of good, and perhaps will save a limited number of workers, it is not going to be of very wide effect.
In Section 4 (iii) of the draft Order it is stated:that in either case such employment amounts in the aggregate to at least at much as one-quarter of the whole of the combined extent of the respective off-seasons as aforesaid.What does that mean? Does it mean that the aggregate amount of, say, two or three seasons, is to be used instead of simply one season as at present, because I understand that the present method is to take 25 per cent. of the off-season as the standard? The allowance for sickness is very good, as are also the contributions for airmen, soldiers and sailors to be taken into consideration on the principle and on the conditions suggested by the right hon. Gentléman. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman why it is that the contributions credited to boys and girls at school are not to operate in this instance? I do not remember seeing any reason for that in the report, but it does seem to me very 2793 difficult to explain, when credits are operating for certain classes, why these credits do not operate in the case of younger people to whom Parliament has given that privilege, and yet it is to be denied to them in the operation of this Order. There is room for considerable debate, and I could have wished that we had longer time. This Order does certain good things. It lengthens the period during which claimants ordinarily employed otherwise may engage in seasonal work; it makes it easier for seasonal workers to qualify for benefit in the off-seasons; and it makes allowances for sickness and other things. All these provisions will help the applicant in some degree, but I would point out that the case put by Members of this House, by the public outside, and by the Trades Union Council was that this Seasonal Order had been applied to an extent and to classes never contemplated when the original Act was going through Parliament.
Those who are responsible for the reform have to meet the charge, and while they have not admitted if they certainly have not altogether repudiated it, that stage by stage the tendency has been to extend the operation of the Order to different classes. I think there is something in the nature of our industrial arrangements to-day that gives colour to that fact. Mechanism is changing industry. Nationalist isolation is changing industry. There are great changes taking place which are limiting certain industries that used to be at work from year's end to year's end. Although unemployment has been decreasing, the number of cases of disallowance under this Order has not decreased at all, and therefore there is substance in the charge that this Seasonal Order is being extended from one industry to another and from one class to another. All kinds of industries are becoming seasonal now, and general tests such as are laid down in these Regulations penalise people who, we think, should be fully entitled to benefit. The operation of this Order has proved in practice to be of such a nature that it has punished great numbers of people, and while we accept this Order, which certainly gives easement, as the Minister says, to an indefinite number, yet it is by no means a satisfactory thing that at this late hour of the night we should be dealing with a 2794 subject which should be handled in a much more drastic way.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
I would like to join in thanking the Minister for his explanation of this complicated and intricate Order. It is undoubtedly owing to their intricate nature that the development and practice of the seasonal workers regulations has led to extensions to classes and industries never foreseen by Parliament, and certainly never intended.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I would be grateful if the hon. Member would tell us what Parliament did not intend to do.
§ Mr. WHITE
There have been developments in connection with the transport industry and with other industries that were never in the mind of this House when the matter was discussed before. Who, for example, would have imagined that in a jam factory a man might have been classed as a seasonal worker when he was employed in the orange season making marmalade, and later in the year became a seasonal worker when there was a seasonal rush in the maufacture of mincemeat? These were matters which were never in my contemplation, and these administrative matters have extended in a way which was not foreseen by Parliament. The fine drawing of distinctions has led to hardships and great dissatisfaction among large numbers of people. There has also been the general dissatisfaction caused to workers who had a substantial stamp qualification as seasonal workers being disallowed benefit, while others who had an inferior stamp qualification in normal employment were allowed benefit. Coming from a district where there are distressed industries, and where many of the more energetic people are determined to get work as best they may, and seek seasonal occupation, I am glad that the regulations will enable these people to qualify for benefit.
We ought not to dismiss from our minds the fact that the reputation of Parliament for dealing with matters of this kind is very low at present, and that makes it the more incumbent upon us to give the utmost attention to these matters and to have the maximum of time for considering them. For that reason I regret that, although this report has been in the hands of the Government for three weeks or thereabouts, whatever the length of our discussion to-night, we have not had 2795 ample time to consider the draft Order or the report, and still less to have consultation with those of our friends who are concerned in the districts. I welcome one sentence in the report in which the committee say that they have not had time to make an exhaustive examination of this matter. I draw considerable comfort from that, and I hope that the committee will continue their study of this matter and get nearer the root principle of it. If they have not power to do it of their own volition, I hope they will do it at the Minister's request. I am rather surprised that there is no mention of clerical workers. There are a considerable number of cleical workers who have become seasonal workers, and I hope that the committee will not overlook them. There is a large number of clerical workers in connection with those who run football competitions—not hundreds, but thousands of them. I am not saying whether it is a desirable occupation or not, but when the season ends they are out of work. The youth or girl who may be determined to earn his living as a clerical worker may have his first period of employment in one of these offices, and when he comes out of his or her employment, however long the season may be, and whatever his stamp qualification may be, he is denied benefit. That is a matter to which attention should be given.
We welcome this draft Order for what it does. We are not unmindful of the fact that, as in the past, the alteration of regulations and orders may have effects which are very different from those in our minds at the present time. Undoubtedly, we welcome some of the recommendations; they will ease the situation very considerably. In particular we welcome the recommendation and that part of the Order which will enable different periods of off season work to be aggregated. As to the total effect of the draft Order, I confess that I cannot make any estimate. Having regard to the large number of complaints and the genuine difficulties I have seen in recent years, I do not feel optimistic that they will all be swept away, or even the majority of them, if the total net result is to be a payment of £50,000. We regret that we have not had a longer time to appreciate the value of the Order, or to enable us to be more certain of the criticisms for which we feel 2796 there may be room, but I hope that the work of the committee will be continued, and, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us whether it will be continued with or without his request.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
Like the hon. Member who has just sat down, I, too, welcome the draft Order, and those of us who have had to do with seasonal workers must find a dual satisfaction in reading the report and the draft Order in that, first, there is some justification for what some of us have held out to our constituents as to the difference between a system of insurance and a system of State maintenance; and, secondly, we find in the Amendment some justification for the complaints made on all sides of the House for many months past as to the working of the existing regulations hitherto. The draft Order improves the position, but I cannot accept the broad generalisation that the Amendments now proposed and the possible application of Part II, which the report says is desirable, will necessarily make generally acceptable and fair the conditions under which the workers act. It seems to me that the Report itself is contradictory in this particular respect, for on page 7 there is a justification by figures that seasonal workers are, as a class, bad risks for unemployment insurance. The report makes out that seasonal workers as a class are rather worse risks than the general level of industrial employees. The report then proceeds to sub-divide and classify in treatment between various classes of seasonal workers, various localities and various different trades. After all, you cannot generalise, on the one hand, and say that seasonal workers are as a class bad risks, and then proceed, having condemned them as a total class, to try to deal with them in particular categories. It seems to me that the report is trying to get the best of both worlds. I agree that our whole insurance system in this country is interwoven, with sub-divisions, classifications of localities, and so on. In respect of seasonal workers we must continue that sub-division. We must reject this report that seasonal workers can be treated as a bad risk.
It seems to me that the draft Order, while it will do a great deal of good, does not do away with the basic injustice that seasonal workers are definitely ordered to pay contributions in respect 2797 of periods when they have employment and are definitely debarred from drawing benefit during the periods when they are equally certain of being unemployed. That is a basic injustice which is not removed by this draft Order, although the position is improved. I trust the Parliamentary Secretary will not answer me with the general reply, "Oh, they are bad risks." If there were time tonight I could show that there are definite subdivisions of seasonal workers among whom injustices will continue in spite of this draft Order, and, if the principle of class subdivisions of seasonal workers be conceded, I cannot agree that the plea that seasonal workers as a whole are bad risks is any justification for declining to take action which would right the injustices of a limited section of them.
Let us not shut our eyes to the fact that there may have to be further amendments of the law in respect of seasonal workers. While we welcome this Order there is general agreement that this cannot be the end of things so far as seasonal workers are concerned. If it is found that, in spite of this Order, these injustices continue, I hope that the Unemployment Statutory Commission will have the position referred to them again for further investigation, hard as that may be on them. The report envisages further Amendments. It is stated at the end that the proposals are not complete, and I ask the Government to give an undertaking that the matter is not closed definitely or for a long time to come. I ask for that assurance in view of what I regard as a deplorable sentiment, or at least an unfortunate way of expressing it, which is contained in the very last sentence of the report. Having dealt with the effect of the amendments and the effect of transferring these workers to Part II, if that were possible, the report concludes:If we are wrong in this"—that is to say the effect of such action—it will be possible to make further amendments later. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to retreat from a concession once made.That is a most deplorable conclusion to an otherwise admirable report, because it means, in effect, that we must pursue a policy of conceding a minimum in case we give too much and then are too weak 2798 to cancel what we have done. I was amazed to read those words,It will be difficult, if not impossible, to retreat from a concession once made.That is an admission of weakness and of a disinclination to admit you are wrong. At any rate the Government of the day had the courage to admit that their previous regulations were wrong; they had a courage which this Commission do not seem to possess. I hope the Government will not find such sentiments catching, because in that case any effective proposals which might be introduced under the new regulations might be choked by the fear of doing something which would be unpopular, and things might be done in the interests of expediency rather than on their merits. Again I say that I trust these sentiments will not be infectious in the Ministry of Labour, and that we shall continue to get amendments, when necessary, such as are made by this draft Order. The position of the seasonal workers has been vastly improved, but I hope the question is not closed, and that it will be reexamined in the light of the experience of the working of this draft Order, and further improvements introduced until, finally, the last injustice to this class is removed.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I rise to say a word or two on this subject, because I suppose that in some way I have a more intimate connection with it, possibly, than most hon. Members. Hon. Members in opposition above the Gangway will forgive me if I say that I cannot agree with a single sentiment expressed by them. I would also apologise to the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White) for interrupting him, putting him "off his stride," but be used an expression, which I have heard repeatedly, that Parliament did not "intend" to do this or that. I cannot agree with those who suggest that Parliament was here doing something unwittingly—unless we on these benches were very unskilful in presenting our case. Anyone who reads the Debates in Committee on the Anomalies Act must be painfully aware that many things which have since happened were then predicted. Let any hon. Member, whether Labour, Liberal or Tory, read that Debate in fairness, and he will find everything set out in absolute detail, how 2799 it applied to girls who went to work, and to men in the factories, and so on.
It has often been said that the Act was all right, but the administration was bad. If I ever heard an untruth, that is one. It is a deliberate untruth. If it had not been for the administration, particularly that of the umpire, the Act would have been far worse. The umpire has in fact already done some of the things which are now proposed. The umpire has set the pace, as well as put the brake on. The people who administer the Act are the same as those who administer other Acts of the Labour Government. I am sorry that this matter has come up for discussion at this hour of the night. I do not forget the speed at which that Act was passed. We passed the Act, which was to affect 350,000 people, in one night, when an attempt was made to suggest that votes should not be taken upon it, and that we should only be allowed to stand up in order that no votes should be recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT. That is an indication of the conditions under which it was passed, although it affected the lives of 350,000 people at least, allowing for double and treble claims.
We fought that Act. When I read about planning and constructive ideas, I reflect that it was the worst drafted Measure ever passed by this House. Never was there an Act so full of loopholes and of indefensible provisions, not only in respect of the seasonal worker but upon the intermittent worker, who perhaps works for two days a week and whose boss permits him to work for an extra day without any wages. The man gets benefit if he does three days' work, even though he works for his boss for nothing, but if he does not work for his boss for nothing he does not get benefit. That is the plan of people who hold distinguished positions, and who told us that shoals of people were getting benefit to which they were not entitled. I have heard denunciations of the means test, but I denounce that Act. If the number of people who were refused benefit under it—they were about 20,000—had been greater, the situation created would have been a first-class political scandal. It was not so, owing to the smallness of the number and because the widespread effects were not gathered together. There is far less to show for 2800 this than for any other unemployment insurance attack upon the workers.
It might be argued in theory that there should be a means test to prevent people with £1,000 or £10,000 from getting benefit, but an occupational test is now being substituted for a means test. It is proposed to punish a person for the occupation he holds. What right have you to punish a man for his occupation? A man has no control over being a miner, an insurance agent or a joiner. A seasonal worker has no control over his job. You are substituting a worse test. What right have you to say that the provision in regard to 30 stamps in two years shall apply to everybody, except groups who follow a certain occupation? I appeared before the Advisory Committee and I came away feeling they were impressed with the argument which had already been discarded by Tory Members in this House, let alone Labour Members or ourselves, that this was not a paying proposition because the seasonal worker would draw more in benefit than he paid in contributions. That would apply also to a large number of other trades at different periods.
Take the shipbuilding industry. During the last five years it has been a colossal loss to the fund, but nobody says that it should be exempt. But, instead of these seasonal workers being a cost to the fund, they have actually saved the fund money. I do not speak of the fishing people, about whom I do not know very much, but, taking the great bulk of the seasonal workers in big towns—say in Cumberland, in Glasgow, or on the North-East Coast—if trade is good, while they do not follow their ordinary occupation in the off season, they go and take other jobs, and so save the fund money. They do not draw benefit, but they pay into the fund. And then it is said that, because they are seasonal workers, they are not good payers. Such people should never be classified in that way. This misnomer of saying that they cost the fund money is nonsense. Then the Statutory Committee, on page 9 of their report, make another statement which some of the members of the committee made to me. They say:Reports obtained from Divisional Controllers of the Ministry of Labour agree in showing that the bulk of seasonal workers would like to get work in the off season if they could.2801 But they go on to say:There are considerable groups of people who do not appear ordinarily to want work except during the season.There is a law in the courts of this country, and I though it was usually accepted in Parliament, that, before you make grave charges against people, you should produce the evidence on which you base your case. Here grave charges are made against a large number of people that they do not want to work, but no evidence is offered. The Committee say that they have evidence from certain officials, but no evidence is produced. Who gave Sir William Beveridge, the chairman of this committee, who is a lecturer at the London School of Economics, the grace of God to say things about poor people? What right has he to set down a slander without a word of proof—for it is a slander to say in this document, without any attempt to prove it, that groups of people do not want to work. What right have the committee to say that? What kind of evidence have they? Who are their informers? In what districts are they? Who are they? There is no evidence. We are asked to continue these regulations in this whole-hearted fashion, and the only thing the committee can get to back up their claim is a statement that numbers of these people do not want work.
The hon. Member for Grimsby (Sir W. Womersley), when he was a free Member instead of a tied Member of the Government, and when he had a splendid record as a Tory, opposed the Government on this question. It is not an easy thing to do, but he did it. He knows every corner of Grimsby, and he knows these people—decent, kindly people. He knows how many of them in his town do not want work. That statement does not apply to them; it never came into their heads. I go to Grimsby occasionally to visit the prison there, though I am thankful to say, because of the weather, that I do not reside there, either inside or outside the prison.
On the Clyde there are men who go in the summer season to the boats. Their whole time is taken up wanting and trying to get jobs. Any divisional controller could make such a general statement were he not liable to be called to this bar or some other bar to prove it. I am sick and tired of this kind of thing. 2802 The report has never tackled the issue. The original advisory committee was comprised of four trade unionists and four representatives of employers with a neutral chairman. For years they allowed these things to go on and never once did they bring in a report. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street was afraid these regulations might apply to categories outside them. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) said he had voted for the Anomalies Act and would vote for it again. If it is such a good Act and is good enough for fishers, why should it not apply to other trades? What right have you to claim better treatment for some than you give to others?
The last time I spoke I said the Minister had made a bad job of his case. This time he made a good job of a rotten case. What does sickness mean? The off season is 13 weeks and a person is sick for six weeks. It means that in the remaining seven he has to show 25 per cent. of work, a difficult thing in areas where depression is widespread. What does "uninsurable" means? Does it mean a person employed in an occupation where even health insurance stamps are not payable, that is to say, a person employing himself for a few weeks or working on commission? If a man went out on a coal lorry for three weeks, would that constitute employment? The Umpire a considerable time ago decided the case of domestic servants. It is true that he did not go as far as this Order goes, but he went a considerable way in modifying it. It was the Commissioner who introduced the 75 per cent. principle, and it is true that the Commissioner modified it later on to 75 per cent. of the off season. The test of this proposal is that it is to cost £50,000, and at the most 4,200 people will receive benefit who did not receive benefit before. The position is that you are still left with 16,000 men and women who will not receive benefit under this provision.
As far as the 4,200 persons are concerned, I welcome the Measure, but we who sit on these benches will never be satisfied with any other test than the ordinary insurance test. We think that 30 stamps in two years is far too stiff a proposition already, and is a sufficiently severe penalty for anyone, particularly in the districts where most of these people are to be found and in which work is 2803 difficult to get. While we shall not oppose this Order to-night, we cannot say that we welcome it with much enthusiasm, and we shall take the earliest opportunity to see that not only the difficulty of the seasonal workers is removed, but that the whole Anomalies Act, which should never have been introduced, is abolished.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ Mr. NUNN
As one who has taken some interest in this question for the last few months, I am extremely grateful to the Minister and to the Statutory Committee for having given us at any rate this small measure of improvement. It stands to the credit of the National Government that they have considered and dealt with this question, which is one embracing a comparatively small number of people, but for those people a question of very serious importance indeed. To my knowledge they have listened to all sections of the House, and I know that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has been one of the chief movers in the attempt to get a change made, and hon. Members of my own party and hon. Members of the Liberal party opposite—I cannot speak from personal knowledge as to whether any hon. Member of the Labour party took a vital interest in this matter—have considered the needs of these unfortunate seasonal workers.
§ Mr. NUNN
Thank you, I did not know that the Trades Union Congress had done so. I was not aware of any hon. Member opposite having done anything about it. It was my fault for not knowing that, but I did come across other hon. Members who were very active. I should like to add to what other hon. Members have said, that we do not regard this as a final Measure. We are very grateful for what we are getting, and I am extremely grateful to the Minister for being able to introduce this draft Order now, so that the benefit may operate quickly. I think he will realise that we shall look upon this more or less as a step towards better things. I do not want to say more about that, but this question is a very serious one, although it affects a very limited number of people. We are not quite satisfied that we have got all that we ought to get.
2804 I feel rather strongly about the question of the expectation of future employment. When a man under the ordinary conditions of employment, an ordinary insured worker, goes to the employment exchange for work, if work is offered him outside his district he is expected to take it. I do not see the justice of saying to a seasonal worker when he claims that he is eligible for ordinary employment, that the scope in which he may get that ordinary employment is in his own district. The seasonal worker should be eligible for work anywhere in the country, just the same as the ordinary insured worker. I am sure that this is a matter which the Minister will bear in mind. As there has been a good deal of what might almost appear to be grudging appreciation of this Order, and I do not want to seem myself to be grudging, I want to say how grateful I am for what has been done, but at the same time to enter a caveat that this is not the last thing, in all probability, that the Minister will hear about the matter.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. STEPHEN DAVIES
I am sorry that I cannot offer the least congratulations to the Minister or the Government for this Order. Knowing what hardships the seasonal workers have had imposed upon them during the last few years, instead of congratulating the Government I am afraid that my feelings are much nearer execrating the spirit of the Government, and particularly of the Statutory Committee which has produced side by side with this Order the explanatory memorandum. I have the disadvantage that I do not know much of the political history of the anomalies regulation, but I have had possibly more than my share of experience in connection with the Anomalies Order, and particularly of sitting at courts of referees and seeing hundreds of seasonal workers, particularly girls, who have returned during the off-season from seaside resorts and other places and who, after having put in seven, eight, nine, and even ten months of work have been deprived of any assistance, notwithstanding the fact that they have paid seven, eight, nine or ten months contributions to the Unemployment Insurance Act. If ever a Government perpetrated from the point of view of these seasonal workers a piece of sharp practice it was to impose the obligation of paying contributions to the Unemployment 2805 Insurance Fund and when these persons were forced into unemployment to deliberately refuse to assist them. It has been known to me and probably to other hon. Members that girls have had to come back home during the off-season into homes that were extremely impoverished, and they had no recourse to any kind of assistance.
§ Major PROCTER
Was it not the Socialist Government that passed the Measure of which the hon. Member is complaining?
§ Mr. DAVIES
I am assuming no responsibility whatsoever for what a Socialist Government or any other Government did before I came to this House.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I presume that it was not only the Socialist party, who went into the Division Lobby on this matter. Could not the whole of these anomalies have been wiped out, particularly as the fund now shows a credit balance for last year of £21,500,000? The Minister has told us that the operation of this Order will possibly benefit seasonal workers to something like £50,000 a year. With such a balance in hand I think the Minister could have put sufficient pressure on the Statutory Committee to have made a complete clearance of these wretched anomalies. The peculiar thing is that the Government subsidise a number of training centres for prospective seasonal workers, and it is now clearer than ever that the Government should put an end to this wretched anomaly, whereby contributions are taken from the seasonal workers, and then, if they are unfortunate enough to become unemployed refuse them benefit. The plea of justification in the explanatory memorandum makes extraordinarily quaint reading when it attempts to re-define the meaning of insurance. Let me read this passage. The Statutory Committee tell us:Nor even in regard to those who want work in the off-season, but have no chance of it, can we agree that it is a departure from the principle of insurance to enforce contributions while denying benefit in the off-season. On the contrary, insurance means insurance against a risk; insurance against a certainty is not insurance but subsidy.That is the first time I have ever come across a definition of insurance in such terms. I suppose we are entitled to infer that, a person who has an insurance policy 2806 on his life in anticipation of shuffling off this mortal coil, is not insuring, in view of the fact that that is an absolute certainty sooner or later; that it is not an insurance because it is not a risk but a certainty, while if a man puts a shilling on a doubtful horse it is insurance because the transaction obviously contains an element of risk. That is my reading of the new definition of insurance. I should like the Minister to satisfy me with respect to that paragraph. In his explanation we were led to understand that the changes proposed in paragraph 4 will be an advantage to many seasonal workers. My impression is that paragraph 4, instead of improving the position of the seasonal worker, makes that position worse and I wish that the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) had pursued that point a little further. Under this proposal, two off-seasons are, as it were, being bound together. The question will be, whether the seasonal worker has been employed 25 per cent. during the two periods whereas now, under an umpire's decision, a seasonal worker who has worked 25 per cent. of his off-season—and that can be applied and is applied to one season only—immediately becomes entitled to benefit. By spreading it out over two seasons I suggest that we are placing the seasonal worker at a disadvantage.
Further, I wish the Minister to explain the position which will arise under paragraph 6. It tells us that the Order shall not apply to any seasonal worker who proves that the aggregate of the seasons in the district or districts in which he is normally employed amounts to 39 weeks in the year. Assume that the season is 36 weeks but that an individual seasonal worker, by some means, manages to work for 39 weeks. Will that individual be entitled to his benefit, notwithstanding the fact that his season is normally only 36 weeks? I hope that we shall have a definite answer on that; point. I reiterate that I am extremely sorry—and I am sure many hon. Members share that feeling—that the Government have not faced the position and swept away the whole of these anomalies and miseries, particularly as the Fund now shows an excellent credit balance and these are people who are entitled to considerations.
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Mr. HARBORD
I should like, in the first place, to compliment the Minister 2807 of Labour on the amendments in the Draft Order and the manner in which he has explained them to the House. I am sure that the seasonal workers affected will be grateful to him and personally I fail to understand the rather unkind remarks of the last speaker. The hon. Member does not appear to appreciate the fact that a wrong is being righted and that something is being done which the Labour Government neglected to do when they had the opportunity. Therefore I suggest that such remarks as we have heard come with a very bad grace from those benches. I wish to speak for a class who at present are not touched by this Order. I refer to the men employed by the Great Yarmouth Corporation as lavatory attendants. They are ex-service men, they are willing contributors to the National Unemployment Fund and their employers are willing to pay their quota also. By some decision of the Ministry of Labour, they have been prevented hitherto from obtaining the measure of justice and equity to which they are entitled. It is urged that as these lavatories are not attached to a public place of entertainment or some public undertaking, the men are not eligible for unemployment benefit. I want to remind the Minister that this important matter affects hundreds of men in different parts of the borough. Seeing that these men are so deserving, if what is said of them is not only lip-service, surely they stand out for recognition. I appeal on their behalf to the Minister to say that this matter will be reconsidered afresh, and I hope with some improved results.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Sir MURDOCH McKENZIE WOOD
This question of seasonal workers is a very important one, and it is regrettable that we have not had more opportunity of discussing it. On many occasions previously when it has been touched upon it has been part of a larger question, and it has never had the consideration it really deserves. Even to-night it is going to have very much less consideration than it requires. It is rather remarkable that we should be asked to pass a Motion to approve an Order of this kind, which has been made on the recommendation of a Statutory Committee whose report contains the statement that they have not had adequate time to consider the question, 2808 and they have not been able to present a full report. I cannot understand why it should have been necessary to put the Statutory Committee in that unfortunate position, but in that case I take it that this is only an interim report and the Order we are considering is only an interim Order.
The Minister of Labour has had this report for three weeks. I do not complain of the time he has taken to consider it. It no doubt requires a great deal of consideration, but if the Minister of Labour required time to consider it, so did the House, and it is a pity that he did not give us the same opportunity of considering this difficult question that he thought it necessary to take for himself. The Minister was enjoined under the Act of 1931 to present forthwith any report that he received from the committee which was set up under that Act, but when the duties of this committee were transferred under the Unemployment Act to the Statutory Committee this provision about the presentation forthwith was deleted. I cannot believe that it was meant that the right hon. Gentleman should sit upon the report as long as he did, and I hope in future that he will remember the injunctions which were laid upon him by the Act of 1931, and, as far as possible, live up to them.
I should like to associate myself with some of those who have thanked the Government for this small improvement. It is an improvement, but I think there may be a disposition to exaggerate its importance. Take first of all the exceptions from the class of seasonal workers which it is proposed to make under this Order. All insured persons who can show that they have an average of 39 weeks' work will be automatically dropped out of the Order and will not be classed as seasonal workers. Thirty-nine weeks of employment on an average is a very high average in these bad days, and if you go to any industry which is in any way depressed you will find very great difficulty in getting workers to prove an average of 39 weeks. I think also the other provision that a man is to be excepted if he can show he has had 150 contributions in four out of five years in the last 10 years will also be very much more difficult to fulfil that would appear at first sight. I cannot believe that in my own constituency it will affect many men. It may, however, affect some 2809 classes, like the salmon fishermen, who have a very long season and have it every year and have very regular employment. They have about seven months, which will give them some 28 contributions, and they will probably be able to make up this condition easily. It is only small classes of that kind to which this particular exception will apply. However, I am glad for it, because I have no doubt it will assist some.
With regard to the other improvements which are made, I would like to mention one, because I pressed it on the Statutory Committee when I had the opportunity of appearing before them, and I feel certain that it will be of great advantage, anyway in my own constituency. That is the provision that, for the purpose of considering work in the off season, uninsurable work will count as well as insurable. It has been a great complaint in my part of the country that salmon fishermen who, for instance, in past years have been accustomed to fish as salmon fishermen for seven months and immediately afterwards to go to the harvest fields, where the farmers are very glad to have them, were penalised by the fact that that did not count for the purpose of giving them unemployment benefit. That was a disadvantage not only to the fishermen, but to the farmer as well, because if you put him under a disadvantage of that kind, there was always a tendency for the salmon fisherman to fight shy of such work. The removal of that condition will be of very great advantage to that class. This particular provision will affect another class who are very numerous in my constituency, namely, women fish workers. When they became unemployed the natural occupation for them to turn to was domestic service, but that also has been outside the scope of unemployment insurance, and any of the better type of girls, as very often they were, who took work of that kind found themselves later on penalised by the fact that they had tried to do work which came to their hand. In these two classes the change recommended by this Order will be of great advantage.
There is one peculiar repercussion which may came from this Order to which I would like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. It shows how peculiarly these things are dovetailed 2810 into one another and how unexpected are the results of one change in another field of social activity. I am thinking of the provision which is made to exempt workers who are sick. They will have to prove sickness, and it is obvious that the method of proof will be by showing from the National Health Insurance record that they have been sick for that period. That will place an additional strain on the finances of the National Health Insurance system, because immediately any insured person becomes unwell he or she will feel that in his or her interest it is desirable to go to the panel doctor and be certified sick in order to provide the necessary proof later on.
§ Sir M. McKENZIE WOOD
I do not follow the hon. Member's interruption. My point is that in future there will be a greater tendency to rush to the panel doctor and be certified sick than before, and that will place an additional strain on the finances of the National Health Insurance system, and it is worth while noting that now because the finances of that system require careful watching. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will in the near future be able to bring this question to the notice of the House again, and that there will be another opportunity to discuss it at greater length and perhaps with fuller knowledge than at the present time.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I should also like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on bringing this report before the House. Like other hon. Members, I had hoped for better things, but I feel that we have begun to amend an Act that has proved very harmful to a great many people. I would like to point out that, apart from the people who have been referred to as seasonal workers, there are a good many others who are going to benefit under this scheme of 150 contributions in four out of any five consecutive insurance years in the last 10 complete insurance years, particularly men classified as labourers who have wished to work as labourers at any labour they could find. As the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has pointed out, these men 2811 have been anxious to get work, and they have taken work, and they have been subsequently scheduled as seasonal workers. I will give an example. A labourer looking for work is taken on by a showman and works for him as a labourer. When his work is finished he looks for more work in the open market, but he cannot get any and he works again as a showman's labourer. He then finds that he is scheduled as a showman's labourer and he becomes a seasonal worker, although the only difference between him and any other labourer is that in his anxiety for work he has sought work and found it, and has saved the country paying him benefit during that time.
There is another class of case which I have brought to the notice of the Ministry of Labour, and it relates to such work as bridge painting. I am told that there was in the past no definite work entitled bridge painting. I would point out to the Minister that in the painting of the Tay Bridge we have had the difficulty of men being taken on during the summer and only a few during the winter. These men are labourers and are classified as labourers. When taken on they are not required to show any particular skill in painting; they have a medical examination and that is all. They paint the bridge as labourers, and, having done so, they find themselves scheduled as seasonal workers.
We have gone in for over-classification, which has ruined people in their work in a great many cases—and the men most eager to get work and the men to whom the State has not had to pay out money are the men who have suffered. I think that this scheme of 150 contributions in four out of any five consecutive insurance years will benefit a considerable number of people throughout the country. A great deal has been said about men seasonal workers especially, but I know of a great many cases in which woman workers are concerned. Throughout the country there has been this over-classification and such people as those I have mentioned will be those who will benefit most. I believe that the more we examine this legislation the more we shall find these intricate cases, and I do hope that the Minister will bring forward more of these Orders. Having begun I hope he will 2812 go on with these amendments of the regulations.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I am sorry that I am unable to compliment the Minister on this Order. I also want to remind the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that, whatever comments he may make about this party with regard to insurance anomalies, they do not apply to me, for I have been against this Act ever since I first came here, and I am against it now. I have voted against anomalies, and if there was a Division to-night I would go into the Lobby against this Order. If I understand this Order correctly it means that any person who can prove that in any period of four out of any five consecutive insurance years in the last ten complete insurance years has paid 150 contributions he is not to be considered as being in the category of the casually employed.
Let us analyse this wonderful concession. We are told that 20,000 claims have been disallowed every year and that this concession will benefit 23 per cent. of such cases. If my arithmetic is correct, that means that 4,600 claims will be allowed in future, and 15,400 will be disallowed. An hon. Member says "Hear, hear." He may compliment the Minister for making a little gift—
§ Mr. LOGAN
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. It is wonderful to be congratulated. I cannot understand why there has been eulogy of the Government. Some hon. Members may, after a couple of hours devoted to this question, rush away to the industrial districts with a feeling that they have salved their consciences, but my conscience will not be salved. If there be justice in the claim of those who come within the computation of 150 weeks what about those who come below that line of demarcation? Is there no other way of solving the problem? As far as I understand things, all the 15,400 people to whom I have referred must in future seek Poor Law relief, and it is even questionable whether they will be entitled to Poor Law relief. An hon. Member whom I interrupted said he did not understand my reference to ten years in connection with the recent Bill amending National Health Insurance. That did 2813 enable people who had contributed a certain amount to get benefits; but if the period is less than four years persons will not qualify under this Order to get sickness benefits.
We have been told by the Minister that there are so many complications that it is utterly impossible to deal with all of them at this late hour. Why should anomalies which have existed for so long be brought before the House when there are only a couple of hours available for a discussion of them? We have had Debates on matters not nearly so important. I do not want to be personal and suggest that the Minister wants to rush things. I am blaming the National Government. Hon. Members opposite have twitted the Labour party with having passed the Anomalies Act, but if this Order were to go to a Division to-night they themselves would vote for it, although it would leave these 15,400 people without any benefit. They are pledged to support the National Government and will do so no matter what it is that they propose. I have not seen any of those hon. Members objecting to going into the Lobby. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) to twit the Labour Government; he may be justified, but there is no justification for other Members of the National Government laughing at statements that are made and then going into the Lobby and voting for things that the hon. Member for Gorbals condemned. There is neither reason nor sense in that. This is a question of 15,400 people, Poor Law cases, in the badly depressed areas. In the City of Liverpool and on the dockside, one person in six is unemployed, and the problem is a difficult one.
The Minister has come forward, in these days of depression when hon. Members from all parts of the country are complaining of the poverty of their areas, with qualifications to enable him to give a concession to the seasonal workers, which is that over the average of four years there must be 150 contributions, that is to say 37½ contributions per year. In the depressed areas, any seasonal worker who has been employed for 37½ weeks in the year thinks that that is very satisfactory indeed. I know the Minister has a very onerous job, but I am not going to throw bouquets at him; I shall criticise him and the Government 2814 for bringing before the House, just before we break up for 13 weeks, something which will be no presentation to the unemployed. I should have considered that the workers could have paid into a fund, whether it be 37½ or only 30 contributions per annum, based on a five-year average, and that there could be some system, within the solvency of the Ministry of Labour Fund, of paying people who are casually employed.
I agree that benefit will accrue to 4,600 people, who will be allowed benefit, but there are 15,400 who do not come within the purview of what we are now asked to pass at such short notice. The injustice still remains. There is no free fund of contributions from which people who have paid in and are willing to work could receive benefit. If people contribute to an unemployment insurance fund, and you are not able to give them benefit, you have no right to retain their contributions. The benefits that may be credited in regard to weeks of sickness, are one of the debits that may be placed on both sides of the account. It is both a debit and a credit in the bookkeeping in regard to that person. That is a great concession, and I welcome it. It will aid certain people who, owing to sickness, would never qualify for benefit at all. The Minister will be bringing forward later on new regulations dealing with a more important matter, but I hope that when he comes back rejuvenated and with more optimism than he has at present he will introduce an amending Bill to deal with this matter which will give more satisfaction to the House.
§ 11.21 p.m.
§ Mr. CURRY
I rise to reply, in a sense, to the hon. Member who has just spoken. I should like this discussion to end on a more appreciative note than he has just sounded. I should have thought it would have been obvious to him that the burdens even of the distressed areas will not be any heavier if they are reduced by 20 per cent., which is what the Order does if the hon. Member's arithmetic is as correct as I thought it was.
I welcome this Order because I have always felt that the question of the seasonal worker is a very important question. I have always thought that the seasonal worker was being treated in a way in which we had no right to treat him from the point of view of morality. 2815 It seems to me to be fundamentally wrong to accept contributions from anyone if you deny him benefits. It would have been open to the State to say that it would not accept these workers as a risk, and that they would not be allowed to come within the field of insurance, but, once they have been allowed to come within the field of insurance and have been accepted as a risk, it has always seemed to me to be immoral to refuse to carry them as properly insured persons. The Order will almost entirely get rid of the seasonal worker difficulty in my constituency. Almost the only seasonal workers I know of there are those people, generally shop-girls, who discover seasonal work in the East Coast resorts as waitresses during the summer, and come back to find that they are classed as seasonal workers and have lost their insurance rights.
§ Mr. CURRY
There are a few unemployed ex-Labour Members of Parliament in the district which I represent, and I am sure the hon. Member's compassion will be aroused when I tell him that their appeals to their miners' association for special benefits fell upon deaf ears. These girls used to go to holiday resorts, and, on coming back, found that their insurance rights had gone. There is another class of seasonal workers, generally boys who are ordinarily engaged in pit work and other forms of employment, and who at times get some sort of employment at ice cream vending. I have often tried to get the Ministry of Labour to tell me just what is the season for ice cream, especially on the North East Coast, but it is very difficult to get such information. These two classes of cases will be dealt with under the Order, and therefore I am thankful for it; but I should like to join in the chorus that we have heard to-night, of hope that this is the beginning of the revision of the position with regard to seasonal workers, and not the end.
I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his accession to the office of Minister of Labour. He and I have known each other for a good number of years in the field of political activity and I know from personal acquaintance of him of the great industry 2816 that he is capable of and the enthusiastic application that he makes of that industry to any task to which he sets his hand. He has before him one of the most difficult tasks that could fall to any man and I am sure I voice the opinion and the wish of all who are his personal friends in saying we hope he will meet those tasks successfully, and that in so doing he will bring all those benefits to the insured population which I am sure it would be his wish to do.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
With the leave of the House I will reply to questions which have been put. I should ill-requite the kindness of Members in all parts of the House if I entered into the wide and controversial issues which have been debated. I will refrain from drawing the obvious distinction between above and below the Gangway in the matter of the Anomalies Act. I only say a word about its history because of a special phrase in the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. Davies). If he will take the care to examine the evidence of some of his friends before the Commission before the Act of 1931, he will not repeat the statement he made to-night about their attitude in the same form. I leave it there.
It is my duty to refer any further consideration that may be necessary of this matter to the Committee for their observations and I assure the House that I shall read every word that has been said to-night and watch the application of the Order with very great care and take what action I consider is necessary in the light of circumstances. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) was afraid that the 39 weeks provision might bring in other classes. That provision is designed to exclude people and I do not see how the ablest lawyer could turn it into an inclusive arrangement. I can assure the hon. Member that his fears are quite unfounded. He asked about juveniles. Of course, the intention of the Section to which he referred is to protect the worker with a regular record of industrial insurance. Contributions on behalf of juveniles for education are far too remote from that intention. That is why the Committee made the recommendation they did. My hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), who raised 2817 the case of clerical workers, and especially those working in bookmakers' offices, overlooked the fact that in the analysis made of the various classes of workers, bookmakers' clerks are included in one of the tables, and I think that the particular workers to whom he referred will be found to be bookmakers' clerks and will be benefited by this Order.
§ Mr. BROWN
I will keep it in mind. I think that they are the kind of workers to be included as clerical workers. It is essential to point out the type of workers affected either in the health resorts or the other classes. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. Davies) questioned paragraph 6 (1). He must understand that the aggregate of the seasons there referred to is not the same as the individual's spell of employment. Let me give him a formula, which I would ask him to study in the OFFICIAL REPORT. If the season is 36 weeks and the individual works 39 weeks, he has three weeks off-seasonal work to count towards the 25 per cent. required by paragraph 4 (1, a). If the season equals 36 weeks, the off-season equals 16 weeks, so that he has three weeks towards four out of 16 weeks. That is how it will work, and not in the way that he imagines. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) put a definite question about the actual work. He asked whether it was work for which Health Insurance stamps, or any work? It means any work, using the term in its widest sense.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Does sickness count as exemption? Does the hon. Gentleman say that weeks of sickness are credited as if the man was at work, in the same way as they are with stamps, or do weeks of sickness reduce the period to which the 25 per cent. applies?
§ Mr. BROWN
The hon. Member is quite right; it will be the panel which will be the proof in this matter. That, I think, answers the hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. McKenzie Wood) and the hon. Member for Gorbals. There was 2818 another question put by the hon. Member for Banff about the last paragraph in the report. May I say to him two things. The Committee would be the last to claim plenary inspiration for any paragraph in the report, and I am sure that they will read his remarks on the paragraph with the greatest interest and will take notice of what he said. If that be not so, I will see that their attention is directed to it, so that they themselves may think over what they said.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Will the right hon. Gentleman also direct their attention to the question about people not looking for work?
§ Mr. S. DAVIES
I put a question on Clause 4, in respect of which I stated definitely that the position had been worsened compared with the Commissioner's decision.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I am sorry, but I really cannot accept that statement, because I have seen the decision of the Commissioner applied in so many cases.
§ Mr. BROWN
That is a difference of opinion that we will not argue to-night. We must see how things work out in practice both in his experience, and in my experience as Minister watching the operation of this Order. I am grateful to hon. Members for co-operating with me in passing this Order. My sole desire, as it is theirs, is to see that those seasonal workers get benefit under the Order, and I am glad that hon. Members have co-operated with me to that end.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the draft of the Unemployment Insurance (Anomalies) (Seasonal Workers) Order, 1935, laid before Parliament in pursuance of the provisions of Sub-section (6) of Section 55 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1935, be approved.