HC Deb 26 February 1936 vol 309 cc587-612

11.10 p.m.


I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Unemployment Insurance (Inconsiderable Employments) Regulations, 1935, which were presented to this House on the 22nd day of January, 1936, be annulled. Last night we were debating regulations dealing with imports, and I then thought that it would be an advantage if the same procedure could be adopted in the case of the regulation with which I am now dealing. Instead of having to move a negative Resolution, I think it would be much better if the Minister had first of all to get the affirmative approval of this House for any regulations that are issued. One of the difficulties in which we are placed is that we are arguing against an accomplished fact. The Minister has already put this regulation into operation, although if he had had to bring it before Parliament it might have been rejected. We are, therefore, always handicapped in having to argue against a Minister who has already put into operation regulations to which we are opposed. I wish that our procedure could be altered. I say most respectfully that these unemployment regulation orders affecting the lives of large numbers of the common people should be dealt with under some better procedure than exists at present, and that we ought not to have to discuss them after 11 o'clock at night, when most hon. Members desire to get away. I apologise for having to keep the House but this is the only way I can raise the issue.

The question deals with a section of the working people. For many years persons who worked for a period of eight hours or less in a week with an employer did not have a stamp put upon their cards although if he so desired he could insist that a stamp should be put upon it. Legally a stamp ought to have been put on his card, but the Department did not force it unless the individual so desired. That was the position until recently. It has now been altered. The Statutory Commission have heard evidence on this point and have decided to change the procedure. The evidence was given chiefly from the Trade Union Congress, and one or two other trading bodies. The Trade Union Congress took the same line against the regulation as I am taking to-night. They thought it ought not to be put into operation. The effect of the regulation is that in the case of any person securing work with an employer for less than four hours during the week no stamp will be put on his book. That is the new law. I agree that there was a time when large numbers of working people did not want to put stamps on their cards, but the position has changed. The coming of the means test and the 30 stamps, and the need for 10 stamps to be secured thereafter, has brought about a different situation, and a man—I say this with sorrow—would now almost work for nothing in order to get a stamp. That is a cruel criticism of the law.

The unemployed men search for work and sometimes they get it. There was a time when men were penalised, because they did not seek work—if they were not genuinely seeking work they were not given benefits. The position now is that if the men search for work and obtain four hours or less, they have not to get a stamp on their book. This means that a man may start work for an employer, Mr. A., on Monday, and do four hours work or less. There is no stamp. The same thing may happen with an employer, Mr. B., on Tuesday. On Wednesday the same thing may happen again. A man may work for four different employers for 16 hours in a given week and yet no stamp is put on his card. I would remind my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in which there are dockers that this has a serious effect on the docking community. I do not profess to speak on this matter with the same knowledge as is possessed by the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith), who has been connected with the Dockers' Union for a lifetime, but I do know that the shift for dockers is four hours or under. A docker may obtain work with three or four different employers in a given week and yet may not be allowed to have a stamp on his card.

There is another class of men to whom this applies—the waiters. These men stand outside the Employment Exchanges and services agencies waiting for a job. A waiter might get a job for a dinner one night, a dinner the next night, a lunch the next day—if he has luck; and all these jobs would be for four hours or less and for different employers, and consequently no stamp would be put on his card.

At the present time the average working man wants to stamp his card. The curious thing is that one would have thought that if there were a demand for non-stamping it would have come from the working people. A worker may get five or six shillings for four hours work, and 10d. represents a big inroad on that sum. Consequently, one would have thought that the demand for non-payment would have come from the workers; but it has come from other sources. As far as I can gather from the evidence given before the Commission, collection is said to be difficult in certain cases. I cannot see the difficulty of collection. The only reason I can find for this—and it was stated before the Statutory Commission —is the possibility of a man getting 30 stamps in 30 weeks for only four hours work in each week and then becoming a drag on the fund for standard benefit, which has to be met out of the contributions of those who are at work.

May I try to meet that case? Surely these men would become a drag in any case whether they go on the fund or on the local rates and if it is a choice between the two, is it not more defensible that they should go on the fund than that they should become a charge on local rates? If the theory is that people should be encouraged to look for work why should any penalty be placed upon a man in these circumstances, even if the amount of work he has done is small? Why penalise men who go out in search of work, who do a few hours work in a week? So far from discouraging them this House ought to see that no obstacle is placed in their way.

Another thing which the Order seeks to do, and which I do not understand, is to prevent people who take on the work of clearing snow from getting stamps. I suppose that Scotland gets a larger share of snow than the South and I know that such cases arise. If a man is employed on four days in clearing snow why should be not get a stamp? I may be told that such a man has to be searched for, that he is not easy to find and that his books may be missing. I cannot follow that reasoning. With the best will in the world, I can see no reason for this. It may be said that in regard to inconsiderable employment the term was eight hours. The Minister may say, "It was eight hours, and I am reducing it to four" I say that it was only eight hours because the Department did not require the stamp to be put on. The real legal position was that if a person worked for any portion of a week, he ought to have a stamp. It is the Department which has allowed the legal position to go, and now the position is being made worse by the right hon. Gentleman making it four hours instead of nil. To-day we are entering on what I think is a wrong policy, a policy of penalising men who have had the greatest difficulties to face, men such as those who go into markets or market gardens, or who drive cattle on market day. It is a disagreeable and a mean job. They go down to the docks in search of work. They may get an hour or two's work, and to penalise them is unfair. The Minister ought to revert to the former practice that any person who is given a period of work ought to have it allowed to continue for a stamp.

Under the Order the Minister proposes that where a week is regularly worked from, say, Wednesday to Wednesday, only one stamp is to be put on for that week. I gather that in some parts of the country there are men who have worked for years one week in two weeks, and the week runs from Wednesday to Wednesday. I am told that there is only to be one stamp put on for that week. This involves a serious principle, and it raises sharp issues. Once this goes in, I am afraid it becomes irresistible that you will have to base your sum not on the week of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, but on the week of the employers. If it suits the employers to bring in men from Wednesday to Wednesday then those employers, for suiting their own convenience, ought to find it no hardship to pay for two stamps instead of one stamp. I have never yet found any body of workmen objecting to pay for these stamps. God knows, they pay too regularly. What they object to is the treatment they receive even when they have paid, but never once have I heard from these people any real objection to payment of stamps. I trust that these regulations, which I think will affect large numbers of people and inflict hardship, will tonight at least be examined and given some scrutiny by this House, and that we shall not pass them lightly, because they affect the lives of poor and, I think, very decent people.

11.28 p.m.


I am sure the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) had no need to apologise to the House for raising a matter of this importance. He has enlightened the House with that ability which on these matters is peculiarly his own, and I do not propose to take any time in further legal explanation of the position. I think those who were here during the proceedings on the 1934 Act which is called the 1935 Consolidation Act, will agree that all these dangers that we pointed out during those long drawn out Debates have proved to be in fact almost understatements. Here we are to-night called upon, after 11 o'clock, to discuss regulations which affect great masses of men and which, when they get into actual effect, may indeed have the result of robbing some thousands, if not tens of thousands, of men of unemployment benefit. As the hon. Member said, what has been the practice administratively is now about to be made the law, with this exception, that roughly the Ministry of Labour said that if a man was engaged for eight hours a day, he had to have a stamp put on his card, but this says that he must be engaged for four hours. But there is this difference, that when a man was engaged, and it had to be decided by the Ministry of Labour whether or not he was to be insured, they could use their own power and knowledge from time to time—what, we call "savvy." Now a direct law has been laid down, and it will be studied by all the worst types of employers and used for their own purposes. I do not think there is the slightest doubt that if these Regulations pass, a new science will grow up among employers to see how they can employ men for the shortest possible time without being liable for the stamp.

There is one thing I cannot understand about this matter. An investigation was held concerning juveniles from 14 to 16. The Minister has certain powers under what is called an emergency clause to declare that certain juveniles for the moment are outside insurance and to make regulations which must be considered by the Statutory Committee. The Minister did that. He declared that juveniles from 14 to 16 were to be for the moment outside insurance. The Statutory Committee investigated the matter and decided that the juveniles had to be inside and that this four hours limit had not to apply to them. If any one were to read the report, they would ask themselves why, if these juveniles were not to be subject to this rule, should the adults be subject to it. There is not an argument that can be used in the one case that cannot be used in the other. What the Statutory Committee said on this point was very striking. It was that the evidence tendered to them when they were considering the regulations submitted to them by the Minister brought to their notice the extraordinary variety of ways of eking out a living by small or occasional employment. I think they would be more surprised if they knew that, whereas they thought the limit of four hours was to deal with all who could be legitimately insured, it has been discovered there are certain dockers who do not work very often even four hours and that they will not be insured. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) has a particular instance which he will give. I understand that in some of the larger ports there is a limit of four hours while in some of the smaller ports it is two or three. In these conditions, these men will not have their stamps put on their cards and will not be counted as insured.

I ask the House to visualise the possibilities in view of the widespread nature of industry and its complexities. Industry, when dealing with matters of this description, is a kind of unknown quantity, and if the House gives consent to these regulations it will not be much older before it finds that it has innocently given consent to regulations which have actually had the effect of declaring masses of men outside insurance whom the House never intended to be excluded.

The hon. Member for Gorbals very graciously did justice to the Trades Union Congress. They sent a letter to the Statutory Committee in which they said: The Council ask me to point out that if the Regulations in their present form are made effective it would be possible for large bodies of insured workers in any industry to be deprived of a contribution to which they are properly entitled, For example, where for any cause, such as breakdown, a works had to be closed for a week, the workers concerned would lose a contribution for that week if less than four hours had been worked. I dare say the right hon. Gentleman will say that it is not contemplated that incidents of that kind should be brought within these Regulations. Supposing that a factory stopped through a breakdown of machinery, or a mine was stopped, within two hours of beginning work, and the men were idle for a week, is it not possible that even that kind of case may be brought within the words "inconsiderable employment"? That case has been put to me and the Trade Union Congress actually put it to the Statutory Committee. It is possible that such a case would be outside the Regulations, but the Minister ought to make a declaration on the point to-night in order that we may know what the position is.

Then there is the question of those engaged in snow shovelling, men who are entitled to our sympathetic consideration but are likely to be penalised because of these new Regulations. Had this Debate come at the beginning of the day one would have had a lot more to say on the matter, but I ask the House to treat it very seriously. During the passage of the Act of 1934 we were assured time after time that the Government would give every facility for the proper consideration of the Regulations. This is not the time of night for such a full consideration; the opportunity has certainly not been given to us. But I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the points put by the hon. Member for Gorbals, the wider point I have put and the point that is to be put by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe are of sufficient importance not only to call for a reasoned answer but to make him hesitate before trying to push the Regulations through. I ask him to take them back and let the Statutory Committee have a further look at them. The Trades Union Congress, which has wide knowledge of the ramifications of industry, has received additional evidence on the point we have been submitting, even since their evidence was given. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will not push these Regulations through to-night, but will take second thought on this matter.

11.41 p.m.


I trust that the Minister is sufficiently cognisant upon this matter to be able to answer several specific points I wish to raise. In 1935, the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, in submitting evidence to the Committee, adduced arguments in regard to the position of the casual worker at the docks. They were satisfied with the assurances given that nothing was contemplated in these Regulations to affect that position. With the issue of these Regulations, and upon making inquiry at the Ministry, we were informed that the particular Regulation which deals with persons of 16 years of age and over, and who work for less than four hours—I presume that that means what it says, and not four hours or less—would remain as they have always been. They include the great majority of the dock and riverside workers of Great Britain.

To meet the exigencies of a very casual coastwise trade in some of the smaller ports in Scotland—one in particular—we have had to agree to a two-hour minimum in order to attract the small parcels to be delivered at these smaller ports, to save their being taken to the larger ports and coming overland. With regard to the Irish train at Greenock, we have been forced to agree to a one-hour minimum or any part of an hour. Will this Regulation affect those people who have heretofore come within the purview of dock workers who, in the past, have been in receipt of benefit. I would ask the Minister to give a specific reply, so that we may be assured that dock and riverside casual workers in the warehouses will maintain their position as heretofore.

11.43 p.m.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Ernest Brown)

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith) for giving me notice of these questions, and I will deal with those points first. I assure them that there was no intention in the mind of the Statutory Committee or of the Government to affect dock workers. Let me quote what the committee said on this question: Although there are industries in which wages are reckoned on an hourly basis, and an engagement may be terminated by giving an hour's notice, there is no industry in which the normal period of continuous engagement on any one occasion for the bulk of the men is less than four hours. That was said particularly in reference to the dock industry. These Regulations have been in operation since 3rd February. Notification was given on 20th December. Until late this morning I had no intimation about this point. I think it is true that the great bulk of all the docks of the country is intended. I understand from my hon. Friend and from other sources that there is a small number working less than four hours, and I would say specifically to the House at once and to the hon. Member that I have asked for full particularns to be given to me, and as soon as they are received I will have them investigated. I will take any action that appears to be necessary. I have the power by means of a provisional regulation to take action at once and to make it effective as soon as a decision is reached. That I shall do, to make quite sure that the position of the dockers is as was contemplated by the Committee and by the Government.

This is an important matter, and the House and the country are under an obligation to the hon. Member for Gorbals Mr. Buchanan for raising it in the only way open to him. It is not my duty to debate to-night the general question of the Regulations, but let me explain the position. I must disagree with the hon. Member on his illustration of fact. I understand him to say that the man who works from Wednesday to Wednesday will pay only one contribution, but that is not so; he pays two. He only pays one if he has been unemployed since the beginning of a week, starts a shift of not more than a, normal working day before Sunday night, and works again on Monday; or he pays one contribution if he finishes a shift not more than a normal working day after midnight on Sunday and becomes unemployed for the rest of the week. It is at the weekend that this shift operation becomes effective. For the rest, it is a matter of evidence. It is very easy, when one is dealing with the administration of a great and complicated machine, and feeling that one is doing one's public duty, to use, in expressing the point of view of those affected, words like "robbery" and "penalisation," but the emphasis is wrong.

The general case made by those who, outside this House, have been criticising these Regulations, is that what is being done now will cause a great many people who, before the Order, had stamps for their cards, not to have stamps for their cards. That is not ark accurate statement. We are now regularising in a narrower form what has been the practice under all Governments; I will give the reasons for it directiy—they are stated in one of the three reports of the Committee. The practice which is now being narrowed was that, as the hon. Member for Gorbals says, people in inconsiderable employment of less than eight hours, although legally they should be required to pay a contribution, were informed, if they made inquiry, that the payment would not be enforced unless the worker desired it. The cases in which the worker has desired it have been, over all these years, very few indeed.


The number is increasing.


I could not accept that; that is not my information. Again it is a matter of evidence, and I say that there have been very few indeed of such cases. Of course there has been a lot of discussion, not in this House but before the Committee and outside. The matter arose, as the Committee themselves have said, because under the Act of 1934 all those who had to administer the Insurance Acts have realised that this administrative practice was most unsatisfactory, but the difficulty was to find a way out that was fair to all concerned and administratively practicable. The very cases that have been referred to to-night show how difficult it must have been to administer the previous law. Let me begin by stating the reasons given by the Statutory Committee. They stated: In general, if a certain type of work would be insured when performed by a regular employee, it is undesirable to exclude it from insurance when it is done by a casual employee; relieving the employer from contribution may appear to place a premium on casual engagements. But strict application of this principle without any exceptions at all is impracticable, and it appears anomalous to insure people against loss of employment when the employment itself is trifling. Apart from this general consideration, the special reasons which in the past have led the Minister of Labour to adopt a fairly extensive administrative practice of not pressing for contributions in the case of inconsiderable employments are mainly four:

  1. "(1) That for very short periods of employment the full weekly contribution, amounting for adult men to 1s. 8d. and for adult women to 1s. 6d. from the employer and employee together would represent a tax out of proportion to the wages paid. On two or three hours of work the contribution might often exceed the wages.
  2. "(2) That apart from the financial hardship, the trouble of requiring production of unemployment book and affixing thereto of stamps in respect of few hours of employment is excessive.
  3. "(3) That in the case of persons who were employed in this way only occasionally, and were otherwise neither insurably employed nor seeking a livelihood by insurable employment, to enforce insurance 598 would mean levying contributions in respect of which they had practically no chance of obtaining benefit. A typical example cited to us was that of the married woman who works as a waitress now and again on Saturday afternoons or on special occasions.
  4. "(4) That, on the other hand, the collecting of contributions for trifling periods of employment might involve the fund in excessive claims for benefit, by persons who had no chance of obtaining a livelihood by insurable work, but contrived to get enough contributions just to keep qualified. Ten contributions secured perhaps by doing ten hours' work in ten different weeks, might give a. claim to benefit for 26 weeks. Consideration of this possibility was one of the main reasons leading the Ministry to desire legal authority for their administrative practice. In such cases the employee might wish to press for contributions even where the employment was trifling, in order to make a claim; the Ministry in the absence of statutory exception would be compelled to support him."
The question has been under examination by the committee for a period of a year and a half, and they heard evidence from, not only one or two bodies, as suggested by the hon. Member for Gorbals, but many. If hon. Members will look at the appendix to the report for May, 1935, they will find a long list of bodies who made representations to them. The committee themselves, as my observation of their work leads me to believe they always do, went to the utmost trouble to get all the facts that were available. Because of difficulty in administering the law under the Act of 1934, as the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street said, power was taken to make Regulations about this matter and other matters, and my predecessor made Provisional Regulations which were laid before the Statutory Committee. They considered them and came to this conclusion. It was not advisable to deal with the question of juveniles apart from the general question. They therefore remitted the Regulations back and they were allowed to lapse. But they said that they thought that the whole question should be investigated. It was investigated at length.

The result of the investigation is as follows. First of all, it was agreed, after hearing all the evidence, that it was necessary to make Regulations of this kind in respect of inconsiderable employments of the type mentioned. They also said that the recommendations now enshrined in the Regulations are the very minimum that ought to be done if the situation is to be adequately met. I have now to tell the House precisely what will happen under these Regulations. I may begin by drawing a comparison in the three classes of cases of the position before the Regulations and now. Take the first class, persons employed on Sunday where the spell of employment extended to the following week at least to the extent of one working day. Previous to the Regulations the practice was that Sunday employment was insurable but the contribution was not usually pressed for, though in a few cases it was. Under the Regulations Sunday employment in those cases will be excepted. In the second class, the case of persons employed on Monday where the spell of work covers the previous week to the extent of Sunday and one other day, the previous practice was that the Monday employment was insurable but the contribution was not usually pressed for. Now the Monday employment will be excepted. In the case of a person of 16 or over employed in clearing snow on more than four days a week, the previous practice was that the work was insurable but contributions were not usually pressed for, if the employment did not exceed eight hours. Under the Regulations they will be excepted.

Hon. Members will ask why that should be so. The committee made this quite clear. The fact is that the exception of these people is nothing new. Until recently they were excepted under the Subsidiary Employment Order, but on the revision of that Order the exception was dropped on the ground that these employments were not now usually carried on as subsidiary employments to other employments but by people who were not otherwise employed. The contribution to be paid by these people is not only administratively very inconvenient, since they do not usually possess unemployment books, but they have to be taken on at short notice and the employer cannot state how long the employment may last. The earnings are very small and the deduction in proportion to the earnings is very heavy. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Gorbals speaks with very great positiveness about that matter. That is not the case. Every Government and every Minister of Labour in turn has found that rigidly to enforce the law in these difficult and complicated cases was impossible, and that is why year after year they have never done it. Now for the first time we are attempting to regularise the thing and put it on a firm basis, and a narrower basis than the administrative practice, for instead of having it up to eight; hours it is now up to four hours. That will mean that more people will pay contributions under these regulations than did under the usual administrative practice.

I will answer the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street about the other cases in this way, that the House now has the advantage that it never had before that there is a regular procedure whereby immediate attention cart be brought to any hardship arising under regulations of this kind. Not only have I power now to make Provisional Regulations to meet an emergency if the emergency is proved, but, more than that, the Statutory Committee is there and in practice, in the infinite variety of cases that are brought to the Ministry—there is a list of a hundred separate ways in which men and women earn small sums of money by inconsiderable employment—as we apply this we shall find oat where the shoe pinches. We will watch it with the utmost care, and I shall take very good care to see that, if things not intended to happen under the Order occur, they are put at once before the Committee for consideration, and that appropriate action is taken. The Order has been in force since 3rd February, and to-day is the first time that the case of the docker has come to our notice.


What about breakdowns in the mining industry


The answer to that question is that such cases will be very few indeed. We do not have many breakdowns in the mining industry. If a man is compelled to stop working by reason of a breakdown occurring less than four hours after the beginning of the working week and is off for the rest of the week, he will not pay a contribution under the Regulations.


This matter is very important to those who are engaged in mining. Suppose there is a breakdown at nine o'clock on the Monday morning—the men having gone down the pit at six o'clock—and the pit does not work again that week on account of the breakdown, does the Minister mean to say that the men who have gone down on the Monday morning and have not worked four hours will have no stamp?


I think that that will be so under the Regulations. I speak with reserve, and I am giving the House the best judgment I can on the point.


Then the right hon. Gentleman must expect a good deal of discontent and hardship.


These are things that we shall watch with very great care. When we are applying an honest practice under the law by Regulations in a field so intractable and difficult as this, cases are bound to crop up which can be dealt with under the conditions I have stated.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in such a case, there will be immediate consultation on the matter, and, if there is proof of real hardship, something will be done to ameloriate that condition?


I give the House the fullest assurance about that, and I shall watch this matter with the utmost care and use the machinery which exists for investigating to the full all the evidence to see that any such hardship is properly dealt with.


Do I understand that it means, in regard to Sunday and Monday working, that two separate stamps will be put on the card?


No, the point is that it has been two separate stamps, but now it will be only one stamp.


I am sure that the House will be glad to have the assurance which my right hon. Friend has just given, and I believe that when he sees something of the operations of these Regulations, he will find that these kind of anomalies will arise. Will he be good enough therefore, to deal with them at the earliest possible moment and not wait until pressure is brought to bear upon him in this House?


I have made that perfectly clear, and the report makes it clear also. The committee are aware that they have not heard of all the cases, although they have had a long investigation. We shall watch them with great care, and so will the committee.

12.4 a.m.


Do not the cases which have been raised show conclusively to the Minister that he has used the wrong instrument to deal with the situation? Here you have a very difficult and changing set of conditions in various trades, and, therefore, ought not the most flexible and elastic sort of instrument to be used in connection with them. Yet, what does he propose? He proposes to superimpose a rigid Regulation upon that vast mass of complex circumstances, in place of the flexible instrument existing to-day. The result is that there must be an enormous number of anomalies all of which will have to be corrected by provisional orders in the future.

We are very pleased to hear that the cases of the miner and the docker will receive consideration at the Minister's hands, but they are no more entitled to receive consideration than the other vast mass of casual labourers. Many of these have no funds or organisation, and are they not entitled to justice? Because the dockers and the miners are organised and can make representations they will have justice, but hundreds of thousands of people who are not organised at all will have no justice. What is the existing position? It is that our kind of society cannot be carried on except by a vast mass of casual labour of various kinds. Our vast machinery is lubricated by this vast mass of casual labour, and though there is the new hierarchy of the labour world, if this vast mass of casual labour were not there, the machinery of our civilisation would be very much more difficult than it is. Are not they entitled to the same form of protection and the same justice?

The Minister explained the position, and said that unfortunately the consideration of these cases involved a lot of administrative difficulties, and that very often it is necessary for members of the Ministry of Labour to consult the workman when he insists on having the stamp. He said the number of those cases was so inconsiderable and the number of instances where workmen insisted on stamps was so few, that not very much hardship would be inflicted by this Regulation. But the Minister misses the point. It is because the labourer now has the right to have the stamp that he gets the stamp without dispute. The Minister has no statistics to enable him to decide what is the extent of this difficulty, because the employer knows that the workman has only got to insist on the stamp and he gets it, therefore, without any dispute arising. The Minister does not know what is happening now. If you take away from the workman the right of insisting on a stamp, the consequence is that the employer can do what he likes. It is merely because the right is there now on the part of the workman that he has been able to go to the employer and agree with the employer to have the stamp put on the card and a dispute does not arise. I submit to the Minister that his suggestion inadequately protects the position in the casual labour world, and will in fact do a far greater injustice than he knows in this matter.

The Minister has not made out a case for altering the existing position. He admits that the existing position is a flexible one, and that where difficulty arises it can be investigated and common sense applied to the vast variety of circumstances in the casual world and yet he says it is necessary for this vast machine, this Advisory Committee of highly-paid persons with nothing else to do, to sit for months and months to see how they can squeeze all these poor devils to the post. That is what is happening. Whenever you appoint a committee of this description outside the purview of this House, they have to justify their salaries, and you see Regulations of this sort pushing these poor devils against the wall. It is entirely unworthy of this House, and there could be no greater offence against public decency. It is said that a few weeks' benefit is being got which ought not to be got. The House should be ashamed of itself for establishing a vast machine to squeeze these poor devils. What is going to happen to them if they do not get benefit? Have you had from the Federation of British Industries a complaint that the unemployment insurance contributions are a heavy burden because they have to meet a few weeks' benefit? Has the Trades Union Congress, representing over one-third of the contributors to the Insurance Fund, received protests that their contributions are going to poor people who ought not to get it?

The only people who have moved in this matter are the Advisory Committee of highly-paid persons who are going to get evidence. I submit it is unworthy of the Minister and the National Govern- ment that it should persecute people of this sort. A case has been made out for this Regulation to be withdrawn. A vast number of individuals who are enjoying benefit now will not enjoy benefit if this Regulation is carried. Will the Minister tell us what will happen to these persons? They will have to go to the National Board for their own distress and for unemployment assistance, unless they are outside insurance, as many are, and then they have to go on to the rates. All their cases will have; to be investigated and all the circumstances taken into account. It is not simplifying the machinery of government because these men will still have to be dealt with. The only difference is that the Minister will have perfected the symmetry of the insurance system.

Many of us warned the Government at the time when this Committee was established that this sort of Advisory Committee was of the kind which would act objectively, dispassionately and mercilessly and create damage to the weaker members of the community. There are men in this House who are very rich and in comfortable circumstances. If you go to the West End on any winter's evening, you will see lines of old men, 40, 50 and 60 years of age, carrying sandwich-boards. This great committee, presided over by a distinguished economist, was engaged for 17 months in discovering how it can deprive the poor old sandwichmen of a few weeks' unemployment benefit. There is no more pitiable spectacle than some of the human derelicts who, out of permanent employment, try to find a few shillings to keep themselves together. That is the type of man that the Minister is going to persecute. What a Government! If tiny had any bowels of pity they would not tolerate this sort of thing. Some men manage to get a few days' work in snow clearance. That does not last long in the English climate, but the National Government are working out statistics to find out how long a fall of snow rests on the ground. They said that a fall of snow in England rarely lasts three days. Therefore, if a man has not spent four days clearing away snow, he does not get a stamp. That is the sort of legislation brought forward by the Government, and I submit to hon. Members that if they have any sense of decency at all, they will ask the Minister to take away this Regulation.

12.16 a.m.


I would like to raise a matter of considerable importance which has not been dealt with so far. The Minister knows that when a man dies his widow's pension rights depend on whether he has had a definite number of stamps during the five years prior to his death. I know that is not an employment question, but one concerning health insurance, and I know that if the man has not been unemployed for a long time, it does not affect him. Nevertheless, as the Minister knows, if a man has been nut of employment for a considerable time, he tends to fall out of the insurance scheme. There are marginal cases where a man has been out of the insurance scheme for a considerable time and has therefore jeopardised the rights of his widow to a pension if he dies. I know this would be a complicated business, but could not the Minister give the House some assurance concerning these marginal cases? Otherwise, it would mean that the unfortunate woman would have her pension rights jeopardised if the man dropped out of the insurance scheme.


In the reply which he gave concerning the dockers, the right hon. Gentleman said that the point which had been raised could be settled because it would come under the head of "successive employment." I want to ask whether, if a man works three or four days in the course of a week, that could not be regarded as successive employment?


The right hon. Gentleman has said that he will carefully consider the cases that have been referred to, but I want to ask how these cases could arise without the present procedure with regard to the court of referees and the umpire being short-circuited? Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to short-circuit that procedure? If he does not propose to do so, does he not consider it advisable to take back this Regulation?

12.19 a.m.


The hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) has referred to certain anomalies. I would ask the Minister whether he is not aware of the fact that, if the question of the dockers is to be settled by placing them on the basis of permanently employed men, he is creating some anomalies? It was definitely stated that in the case of the dockers the cards would be stamped. I submit that if that be the case, there is a differentiation, in that the right to benefit is to be given to the docker and denied to other workers in casual employment. I do not understand why we should have this distinction. Here we have relatively two different classes of employment that can go on continuously, and there is the anomaly side by side of one employment that can carry qualification in regard to what the hon. Lady has mentioned as being insured, and that other form of employment which will not carry insurance benefit because it does not come within the category of being employment. The Minister must know the differentiation under the National Health Insurance Act between employment and casual employment, and I am anxious, if it is possible, to see that, in the determination that is made, we shall have something that can be applied generally, all round. I should have thought that, in bringing in Regulations like this, the question of anomalies ought to have disappeared, and I think we ought to be truly grateful to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) for raising these important points.

I know the Minister has a difficult job, but I am aware too that a body of men has been set up to deal with these matters. These well-paid men have been long enough considering how they shall frame and apply Regulations, and it is about time that the question of anomalies disappeared. We should have no further anomalies. It should be right along the line of one flat scale. I am in total disagreement with the Ruling that has been given here to-night. It will be within the recollection of the House that I asked the Minister if he really meant that, in regard to the question of Sunday, which will, I consider, be concerned as the seventh day of the week, which comes within the working week and end that week, and Monday, which will commence the new week—I asked if I was to understand that two separate stamps would be placed on the card, and the Minister said, "No, there should only be one."

I do not understand—[Laughter.] I do not know what the laughter is about. If hon. Members opposite were accustomed to this question, they would know that if Sunday was a working day, your card would be stamped in that week, and if you started work on the Monday your card would have to be stamped again on the Monday for the working week. I am pointing this out to those who have no knowledge of these matters but who are supposed to be legislators. I am trying to point out the inequalities and the anomalies. Here you have the National Health Insurance Act, which says that you must stamp the card for a working day. Therefore, if you had a working day on the Sunday, it is the seventh day of the week, and the Monday becomes the first day of the week. I want to know why we should have this differentiation. I think we ought to have two days in regard to the stamping of the card. I am anxious to see the Minister having a clearer passage than the last Minister on this job, and I ask for his consideration of these matters.

12.25 a.m.


I want an understanding of what the Minister has said to-night, because I have just found out that I represent a large number of men who are affected, and I want to know what the right hon. Gentleman's assurance means. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who obviously has a great understanding of the administration of the Act, raised a very important point, and that is, How is the Minister, with the machinery that is being operated, going to deal with these cases if we raise them with him direct?

12.26 a.m.


I was going to raise a point of order arising out of what took place last night, when a Ruling was given with regard to a Mover of a Substantive Motion being allowed to speak again, but I will be content by saying a word or two arising out of what was said by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson). You cannot come here and argue, as the Minister has done, that it is impossible to get books for unemployment insurance. If you are going to have no stamping of books for unemployment insurance, you are bound to have employers who will think that no stamping for other matters will be required. What steps is the Minister taking to see that there is no using of this position in connection with health insurance With regard to the question of the workers having asked for their money back, as a matter of fact, there is not the slightest evidence that has ever been produced to show that the workers have ever wanted to get off without paying. All that has happened is that to-day there is becoming a greater demand than, ever for the working people to pay for insurance stamps. What steps have been taken to safeguard that the national health insurance stamps will be paid for by the employers?

12.28 a.m.


I am not entitled to answer for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health at all, but I rise by the courtesy of the House to deal with various points that have been raised. The question has nothing to do with unemployment insurance stamps, but is a matter of health insurance, and I suggest to the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) that she will find that the problem has never been confined to my particular Ministry or to unemployment insurance. It arises out of the impracticability and variety of a whole series of small employments which happen day by day in every town in this country. Government after Government, every Government in turn, has been forced to take administrative action, which we are now seeking to put straight. The point raised by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams) does not arise either. The question of insurability is not one for the referees at all, but for the Minister, and my legal position is that I have the power, under the Act of 1935, to make Provisional Regulations, and I have said to-night that where things are brought to my notice which were not intended, I will have investigation made.


Will not the right hon. Gentleman institute an inquiry and submit this back to the Statutory Committee for their recommendations?


No. The hon. Member has not seized the point. If such a situation as has arisen about the docks arises, after I have investigated it I have power under the law to make a Provisional Regulation which can be effective, just as this is effective, although the House has still three days for. a Prayer. Then I should, of course at once refer the Provisional Regulation to the Statutory Committee for ratification so that they may take further evidence in order to ensure that the provisional action was one that ought to have been taken. Then they report to me whether they agree that I ought to have taken such action in pursuance of my duties. There have been three separate reports by the committee. They have everything they need to sort it out, and they were never under any illusion that the first attempt to put a known practice into actual legal form would cover every class of case. That could not be so.

I am sure the House resents the kind of language used about this committee by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). The chairman is Sir William Beveridge, one of the most high-minded public servants in this country, and a man whose record about the poor and the casuals will more than compare with that of the hon. Member. When the hon. Member talks about persecuting sandwichmen and uses the kind of violent rhetoric which comes so easily from his tongue, let me tell him that the committee is a committee of seven members, not merely with Sir William Beveridge as chairman, but with one of the most distinguished trade union leaders in this country, as well as a representative employer. It is a body of able arid public-spirited men and women—with one woman who shares the views not of hon. Members on this side but rather of hon. Members on the high side below the Gangway. Since I am resenting this, I would like to pay my own personal tribute, on behalf of the Government and the nation, for the painstaking way in which they have investigated every problem put before them.


I want to be clear on one point. Apparently the Minister has taken the power to say that a person may work in one week a sufficient period of time to qualify for a stamp. That person may work in the next week a sufficient period of time to qualify for a stamp. I understand the Minister to say that that person need only have one stamp. By what right do you alter the law?


The hon. Member misses the point. The only period to qualify for

a stamp is a week. The week is the basis of the contribution in every case. That has been investigated over and over again, and those who followed the report of the Royal Commission will remember that they went into this very carefully as to what the basis ought to be. Although they were not quite satisfied that the week ought to be the basis, they came to the conclusion that there was no other basis possible, so that it does not matter how many stamps a man gets in other jobs in the week; there is only one stamp for one week.


That does not answer my question. When is the week? Is it any day you like? There is the insurance week. A person works in two insurance weeks and by what right do you alter the law?


The week is from Sunday midnight to Sunday midnight.


With regard to these men who have been shifting snow, there were men who worked in the pit in which I used to work. They ceased working in the pit a few weeks ago and they have been shifting snow. Why cannot they have a stamp if they have been shifting snow for three and a half days?


May I put one question to the Minister?


Hon. Members do not seem to understand that we are not in Committee.


I appreciate that the Minister has the right to decide the suitability but there must be a conflict of opinion in this matter.


The hon. Member has already made a speech.

Question put, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Unemployment Insurance (Inconsiderable Employments) Regulations, 1935, which were presented to this House on the 22nd day of January, 1936, be annulled.

The House divided: Ayes, 79; Noes, 141

Division No. 64.] AYES. [12.38 a.m.
Adams, D. (Consett) Compton. J. Dunn, E. (Bother Valley)
Adamson. W. M. Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford Ede, J. C.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Daggar, G. Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)
Banfield, J. W. Dalton, H. Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.
Benson, G. Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Foot, D. M.
Bevan, A. Davies, R. J. (Wenthoughton) Frankel, D.
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Davies, S.O (Merthyr) Garro-Jones, G. M.
Buchanan, G. Day, H. Gibbins, J.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. McGovern, J. Simpson, F. B.
Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Maclean, N. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) MacMillan, M. (Western Isles) Smith, E. (Stoke)
Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Mainwaring, W. H. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Hardle, G. D. Marklew, E. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Marshall, F. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Maxton, J. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Naylor, T. E. Thurtle, E.
Holland, A. Paling, W. Tinker, J. J.
Hollins, A. Parker, H. J. H. Westwood, J.
Jagger, J. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. White, H. Graham
Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Potts, J. Whiteley, W.
Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Pritt, D. N. Wilkinson, Ellen
Kelly, W. T. Quibell, J. D. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Kirby, B. V. Riley, B. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Lawson, J. J. Ritson, J. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Leonard, W. Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)
Leslie, J. R. Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Logan, D. G. Rowson, G. Mr. John and Mr. Mathers.
Macdonald, G. (Ince) Sexton, T. M.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Fremantle, Sir F. E. Penny, Sir G.
Albery, I. J. Fyfe, D. P. M. Perkins, W. R. D.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd) Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J. Petherick, M.
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.) Gluckstein. L. H. Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Apsley, Lord Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C. Procter, Major H. A.
Assheton, R. Goldie, N. B. Radford, E. A.
Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover) Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester) Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Atholl, Duchess of Gridley, Sir A. B. Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Guest,Maj. Hon. O.(C'mb'rw'll,N.W.) Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Guinness, T. L. E. B. Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Baxter, A. Beverley Guy, J. C. M. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Beauchamp, Sir B. C. Hannah, J. C. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Blindell, Sir J. Hannon, Sir P. J. H. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Bossom, A. C. Harbord, A. Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)
Boulton, W. W. Harvey, G. Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Salt, E. W.
Bowyer, capt. Sir G. E. W. Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan- Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)
Boyce, H. Leslie Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Sandys, E. D.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Scott, Lord William
Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham) Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir R. S. Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Horsbrugh, Florence Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st).
Bull, B. B. Hunter, T. Smith, L. W. (Hallam)
Burghley, Lord Keeling, E. H. Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Cartland, J. R. H. Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)
Castlereagh. Viscount Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.
Channon, H. Kimball, L. Spens, W. P.
Christie, J. A. Latham, Sir P. Stourton, Hon. J. J.
Colfox, Major W. P. Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.) Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Cook, T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.) Leech, Dr. J. W. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Courthope, Col. Sir G. L. Levy, T. Stuart, Lord C. Crichton. (N'thw'h)
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Cross, R. H. Mac Andrew, Lt.-Col. Sir C. G. Sutcliffe, H.
Crowder, J. F. E. M'Connell, Sir J. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Culverwell, C. T. McCorquodale, M. S. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
De la Bère, R. McKie, J. H. Titchfield. Marquess of
Dodd, J. S. Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees) Toucne, G. C.
Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop) Maitland, A. Tufnell. Lieut.-Com. R. L.
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Mannlngham-Buller, Sir M. Wakefleld, W. W.
Duggan, H. J. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Duncan, J. A. L. Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham) Williams. H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Dunne, P. R. R. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)
Eckersley, P. T. Mitcheson, Sir G. G. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Emery, J. F. Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. Wise, A. R.
Entwistle, C. F. Munro, P. M. Womersley, Sir W. J.
Errington, E. Nicolson, Hon. H. G. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Fildes. Sir H. Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Findlay, Sir E. Palmer, G. E. H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Fraser, Capt. Sir I. Patrick, C. M. Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert
Ward and Captain Waterhouse.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Wednesday evening, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at a quarter before One o'Clock.