HC Deb 08 April 1936 vol 310 cc2915-9

A. As soon as may be after the passing of this Act, the Minister shall consult with the Postmaster-General and, subject to his concurrence, shall make Regulations under the principal Act so far as it appears to them to be practicable and reasonable for the purpose of enabling persons residing in rural areas to make claims for, and to obtain payment of, agricultural benefit at a post office within a reasonable distance of the place where they reside


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

10.53 p.m.


I want to raise one point on this Amendment. It is a rather important Amendment. I am not quite clear from the Minister's remarks about the genesis of this Amendment. He spoke of some agreement having been reached. We must not discuss proceedings in another place, but I understand that the Amendment was carried against the Government.


Originally, but that was withdrawn in another place and this is substituted by agreement.


That does not alter the fact that the principle was carried against the Government in another place, and in view of the strictures sometimes made against another place I am glad to think that by their action agricultural labourers have been saved hardship and wear and tear in their boot leather. Agricultural labourers are employed for various reasons into which I need not go when physically more infirm than labourers usually employed in industry, and it is very important in the case of these men, who would be the people who are likely to be out of work, that they should be able to obtain unemployment insurance as easily as possible. I think it is not going too far to say that but for this Clause many would not have drawn insurance at all. They would have been nervous about making the journey. But if we are to have the Amendment we may as well make it workable, and I share the doubt of the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) as to the meaning of these words. I share his doubts as to whether the words, so far as it appears to them to be practicable and reasonable, are sufficiently stiff in the circumstances. The word "practicable" is one which is dear to the heart of all civil servants and Ministers. It is constantly being used, and, as any lawyer would tell the Minister, there have been a great many legal decisions on the meaning of that word in many Acts. I notice, moreover, that this procedure is to be set up after the Minister has consulted with the Postmaster-General and after the Postmaster-General has given his concurrence. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give an assurance that he really intends to apply this procedure in all rural districts, and not merely in the more remote districts. I believe it to be essential if the whole scheme is to be to the benefit of agriculture, as we all wish it to be.

10.56 p.m.


I would like to put the same point in another way, and I hope the Minister will be able to give a little more information concerning it. I did not quite recognise his description of how this new Clause came here as corresponding exactly with my own reading of the facts. According to the Minister, this was the thing most dear to his heart. I rather gathered, not from what happened in another place, but from what happened here, that it was not so, and that it would not have come as it has now but for the action taken somewhere else. I think all hon. Members would like to know whether or not, in effect, this new Clause is likely to work out in a way which will make these benefits payable in post offices, because under the wording "practicable and reasonable" it may be one thing and it may be another. I know that we cannot tie the Minister and that we cannot ask for too much information in the initial stage, but will this, in effect, mean that the ordinary rural post office in an ordinary district, which is neither too concentrated nor too remote, will pay the benefits to the agricultural labourers, or will it only apply in very remote districts where the workers would otherwise have to go a very long distance to get their benefits? If the Minister can give us more information about this, I am sure the House will be grateful.

10.58 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

I would like to point out to the House that the original Act allowed post offices as well as Employment Exchanges to be used, but as most of the unemployed were industrial workers and were in places where there were Employment Exchanges, the Employment Exchanges were used. As a Member representing a very large agricultural district and perhaps the largest cultivated district in the country, I welcome this concession by the Government. In ray constituency it would be almost impossible for the agricultural labourers to go the long distances they would have to go to the towns where the Employment Exchanges are available.

10.59 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE

An Amendment very much on these lines was put down in my name on the Committee stage of this Bill, and consequently I would like to thank the Minister for making this concession now. He has made slight alterations in the Amendment I originally put down, but I hope he will be able to assure the House that this will not mean that he will whittle down the concessions he has made. I hope he will assure the House that every post office in every parish will be available for thus purpose.

11.0 p.m.


I, too, represent an area which is largely rural, and I welcome this Amendment. I have often wondered whether such facilities could not be made generally available, and I hope that experience in the working of this Measure will influence the Government to extend the practice to all areas. Some of my constituents live 10 miles away from an Employment Exchange, whereas they are only, perhaps, a mile or a mile and a-half away from the rural post office. In the winter time, when the roads are often blocked with snow and the weather very inclement, it will be a real convenience to labourers in that area to be able to make use of the post office.

11.1 p.m.


With the permission of the House, I should like, in reply to the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), to say that the intention of the Government was to make the best possible arrangements that could be made for the convenience of the labourers in these districts. The problem of unemployment insurance is not an easy one, and a vast amount of detail is involved in the operation of the ordinary machinery. Therefore it would be impossible and indeed unnecessary to use the village Post Office where there was a branch office of an Employment Exchange. On the other hand there are places where the Post Office would not be the best possible medium for carrying out our intention. What we had in mind was, first that in some places we would appoint local agents. In many cases, with the permission of the Post Office authorities and subject to their willingness to act these would be rural sub-postmasters. In other cases, where there is no branch office of an Employ- ment Exchange and where no Post Office is available, it was our intention to appoint travelling agents to attend on some days in the week so that the agricultural workers would be able to lodge their claims and make their signatures and have their benefit paid by means of postal orders which could be cashed at the nearest Post Office.

That was the type of machinery which I had in mind. The Amendment to which the Noble Lord referred was not in those terms. It was an Amendment which would make it mandatory for the Minister, in every case, to use the Post Office and that would not merely be unnecessary and very costly but would indeed be impossible. When I am asked whether this will be the normal machinery, I should not be frank with the House if I did not say that, I do not think "normal" to be the right word in this connection. I will say that we do intend this to be a reality. The Ministry has a very large experience, on the industrial side, of the difficulties of administration and, having surveyed the whole field and seeing what the need is, we will, in the letter and the spirit, carry out the terms of this Amendment.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

How are the Ministry officials to let the labourers know when these agents are going to visit particular villages?


Those who are concerned will get to know.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Remaining Lords' Amendments agreed to.