HC Deb 21 December 1937 vol 330 cc1922-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

11.42 p.m.

Mr. Buchanan

My hon. Friends and I had put down an Amendment to this Clause on the subject of the House of Commons and an affirmative Resolution, but it has not been called, and we think we ought to take the opportunity of divid- ing against the Clause itself. I must congratulate the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) on his ability in bringing in the case of the black-coated workers on this Bill. As he has said the Bill brings some few additional people into insurance and makes provision for the supply of a little milk and some biscuits in certain cases; but the real feature of the Bill is that it takes money which the Government are not entitled to take. The debt was not incurred by the people at present inside the Fund; it was incurred at a time of exceptional difficulty; and why present-day people should have to meet that debt is something which I cannot understand. The money being applied to the debt ought to be used for the benefit of insured persons: to increase the amount of the benefit, lengthen the period of standard benefit and mitigate conditions in other ways. One matter in particular the Minister ought to have considered, and that is the complaint, which comes from all parts of the country, that men are refused benefit at holiday periods in industry. To-day enlightened employers are introducing holidays with pay, and the unemployed ought not to be disqualified from benefit during holiday periods.

The other day I was reading in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the success which had attended the experiment of bringing men up to the standard of physique which fitted them for the Army. The secret of it lay in providing them with food, clothing and shelter. Give the unemployed access to the same things as the ordinary citizens enjoy and they will keep themselves fit. Before repaying this debt we ought to look after the well-being of those who have been unemployed. I hope that my colleagues in the Opposition will vote against the Clause because I think it is the worst feature of a Bill that is not too good as a whole.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Lawson

We shall vote against this Clause. I have given the right hon. Gentleman all the credit to which he was entitled on Clause 1, which deals with the feeding of adolescents—the other classes were added as a kind of decoration to the Clause. This Clause is the real heart of the Bill. The framers of the Clause thought that they would arouse a row in the House of Commons unless they decorated it and put some jam on the pill. Everybody knows that when the standards were fixed for the unemployed it was argued that they were not such as would maintain men in decency, and the reply to that was that the men were being given as much as could be afforded. Here is an opportunity of increasing a group of standards to men who have paid for what they are getting. It is supposed to be the proud boast of the Government that the surplus is the result of the men working. It is not true that the people who have made this surplus possible, and who will make it possible in the future, are the people who are responsible for the debt. I do not think that the Minister would argue that, and that he would practically accept the fact that, in the main, the people who are responsible for the debt are not those who are responsible for the increase in the surplus.

At this time of night we shall not go into the finance of this scheme, but we certainly shall go into the Lobby against the Clause, because it lays a burden by implication upon men that they ought not to be called upon to bear. It is depriving those who are responsible for the present surplus of the benefit of what the Government would call their own thrift derived from their own work.

11.48 p.m.

Mr. White

I do not wish to continue the discussion of the general merits or demerits of this debt having been placed on the Unemployment Fund, but I would recall in a word or two that no recommendation which has come before the Statutory Committee has aroused more discussion and divergence of view than this relating to the different ways in which disposal of the surplus could be arrived at. In the course of the Second Reading, I addressed an inquiry to the right hon. Gentleman to know whether he would accept an Amendment that recommendations such as might come before the Committee with regard to the disposal of the surplus should be on the same basis as other regulations, namely, that they should come before this House. If ever there was a matter in which the House of Commons should have a say, it is how the surplus should be disposed of. At one time the surplus amounted to £82,000,000, but there has since been a trend in the other direction. It is preeminently a matter in which the House should have a say.

At the present there is no method of deciding which are the prior claims in the various social services. This is a matter in which the House has already displayed the greatest possible interest, and it is pre-eminently one that should be considered by the House. We have on many occasions made our position clear as regards the relationship of this debt to the Fund. From the Second Reading of the Unemployment Bill in 1934 our position has been clear and we shall certainly vote against the Clause.

11.51 p.m.

Mr. Silverman

The hon. Member has drawn attention to the most sinister feature of the Clause. There may be two views sometimes as to what should be done with a surplus, but what the Minister is proposing is to retain himself the power to absorb surpluses in a particular way without reference to the House at all. Here you have power taken away from the House to control the surpluses at all and it is impossible to avoid the suspicion that in future administration the Commission will always have in mind that if there is any surplus available it is used in a particular way and there will always be the unconscious urge to retain the surplus. That is a matter which, if there were no other consideration, ought to persuade the Committee to reject the Clause.

11.52 p.m.

Mr. Dingle Foot

I really cannot understand why this Clause is thought to be necessary because there is already by the Act of 1935 ample provision made for the repayment of the debt. It is provided by Section 60 that £2,500,000 a year is to be repaid out of the receipts of the Unemployment Fund. In addition, by Section 59 it is provided that where the Committee report that the Fund is and is likely to continue to be more than reasonably sufficient to discharge its liabilities the report may contain recommendations for the application of any sum towards the discharge of the liabilities mentioned in Sub-section (2) of the next following Section. Surely there ought to be some explanation why when these very wide powers are contained in the Act additional powers for paying off the debt are now sought. The Clause says the Committee may recommend the application of other sums. The obvious question is what other sums, and the only clue that is given us is in the explanatory memorandum where it says that Clause 3 enables the Minister on the recommendation of the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee to use moneys in the general account of the Unemployment Fund which moneys are now invested in short-dated securities, in reduction of debt. That is to say that not only has statutory provision to be made each year, not only can any surplus that may from time to time arise be devoted to the repayment of debt, but even the reserves of the Fund, which presumably have been quite deliberately put up to provide for the future of the Fund, may also be appropriated for the repayment of this debt. This seems to me to be a considerable difference as compared with what was intended when the last Unemployment Act was passed, and I think we ought to have a word of explanation as to why the Clause is necessary.

11.55 p.m.

Mr. E. Brown

The reason for this Clause was explained quite clearly on the Second Reading. If I were asked which Clause of the Bill would most help the unemployed, I should say that it was this one. The redemption of the debt has been worked out on a scale ending in 1971. The Statutory Committee have also powers to recommend the repayment of additional sums of debt, and the effect under the present law is that, in proportion as they add any additional sums to the disposable surplus for paying off debt they shorten the period over which the repayment of £5,000,000 a year has to be made. We recommend this Clause to the House because we think it is not a business proposition from the point of view of the country or of the unemployed to have a debt of over £100,000,000 on which interest and redemption are being paid at the rate of 4⅞ per cent., while the money that we have in our reserve, and which, of course, is the money referred to in this Clause, is in short-dated securities bearing interest at an average rate of rather less than 2 per cent. In so far as the Statutory Committee use that money to pay off the debt, so the power to re-borrow up to the limit of what the debt would have been had these sums not been paid off is increased.

The Clause will make it possible, when the Bill is passed, for the Statutory Committee to use this extended power, which will relieve them of a large amount on which they are paying 4⅞ per cent., and receiving only 1⅞ per cent., or a cash saving of 3 per cent. If it is possible to add extra sums to those which they have already decided to pay off, it will make that money available for additional benefits for the unemployed. Anyone, who votes against this Clause will be voting against a provision which will give immediate benefit to the unemployed.

11.58 p.m.

Mr. Davidson

The Minister has carried that off very well, but I do not think he has carried it off quite as well as he expected. I would ask hon. Members of all parties, when they are examining this Clause, to recognise the plight of the unemployed man to-day who is materially affected by the Clause. The Minister of Labour can take it from me that any economist, despite the speed with which he delivered his figures, will tell the people of the future, if he tells the truth, that this is one of the most despicable raids that have ever been made on the unemployed men and women of to-day. In Scotland to-day, as compared with 1929, after seven years of the National Government, we have, according to the Minister's own figures, 51,000 more unemployed. There is still in this country a great unemployment problem, carrying with it all the attendant evils of poverty; and here we have a fund out of which Ministers in the present Government one after another have said

they would like to give to the unemployed of this country the maximum benefits that it can possibly provide.

To-night they are introducing a Clause which says that because there is now a surplus of £70,000,000 or £80,000,000 in the Unemployment Fund, it should be set aside for another purpose than for the unemployed, placing upon the unemployed not only the burden which they are carrying to-day, but an increased burden in regard to the National Debt of this country also. Affected by this Clause in Glasgow, there are 8,900 children medically defined as suffering from malnutrition, suffering from a lack of the necessary foodstuffs, because of the lack of adequate unemployment benefit. I think it is a disgrace, and the Minister of Labour, who, I understand, acts in some capacity as a lay preacher and attempts to preach the religion of Christianity, is a disgrace to the precepts of Christianity. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] He is a disgrace to everything that is known to be honest and that—

The Chairman

It is contrary to the traditions of this House to attack a Member personally on matters which have nothing to do with the Question that is under discussion or the business of the House.

Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 163; Noes, 78.

Division No. 74.] AYES. [12.2 a.m.
Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.) Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Findlay, Sir E.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Cox, H. B. Trevor Fleming, E. L.
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead) Cranborne, Viscount Fox, Sir G. W. G.
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (G. of Ldn.) Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page Fremantle, Sir F. E
Aske, Sir R. W. Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Furness, S. N.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Cross, R. H. Fyfe, D. P. M.
Balniel, Lord Crowder, J. F. E. Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) De Chair, S. S. Gledhill, G.
Beechman, N. A. De la Bère, R. Gluckstein, L. H.
Bossom, A. C. Dodd, J. S. Goldie, N. B.
Boulton, W. W. Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Grant-Ferris, R.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Duggan, H. J. Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Duncan, J. A. L. Gridley, Sir A. B.
Bull, B. B. Eastwood, J. F. Grimston, R. V.
Butcher, H. W. Eckersley, P. T. Gunston, Capt. D. W.
Butler, R. A. Edmondson, Major Sir J. Hannah, I. C.
Campbell, Sir E. T. Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Hannon, Sir P. J. H.
Cartland, J. R. H. Ellis, Sir G. Harbord, A.
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Elmley, Viscount Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.
Channon, H. Emery, J. F. Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Errington, E. Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan.
Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead) Erskine-Hill, A. G. Higgs, W. F.
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.) Holdsworth, H.
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J. Everard, W. L. Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J
Conant, Captain R. J. E. Fildes, Sir H. Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.
Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Nall, Sir J. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Hunter, T. Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Hutchinson, G. C. Nicholson, G. (Farnham) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H. O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
James, Wing-Commander A. W. H. Palmer, G. E. H. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)
Jones, L. (Swansea W.) Peat, C. U. Thomas, J. P. L.
Keeling, E. H. Peters, Dr. S. J. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Petherick, M. Titchfield, Marquess of
Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Pilkington, R. Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R. Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton Turton, R. H.
Lamb, Sir J. Q. Radford, E. A. Wakefield, W. W.
Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L. Raikes, H. V. A. M. Walker-Smith, Sir J.
Levy, T. Rayner, Major R. H. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Liddall, W. S. Reed, A. C. (Exeter) Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Lipson, D. L. Reid, W. Allan (Derby) Warrender, Sir V.
Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton) Wells, S. R.
Loftus, P. C. Ropner, Colonel L. Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)
Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Rowlands, G. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
McCorquodale, M. S. Royds, Admiral P. M. R. Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Salmon, Sir I. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
McKie, J. H. Salt, E. W. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Samuel, M. R. A. Womersley, Sir W. J.
Marsden, Commander A. Savery, Sir Servington Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Maxwell, Hon. S. A. Scott, Lord William Wragg, H.
Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Shepperson, Sir E. W. Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.
Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R. Somervell. Sir D. B. (Crewe) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.) Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J. Lieut.-Colonel Kerr and Captain
Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. Spens, W. P. Dugdale.
Munro, P. Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.
Adams, D. (Consett) Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Paling, W.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.) Parker, J.
Ammon, C. G. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Ridley, G.
Banfield, J. W. Harris, Sir P. A. Ritson, J.
Bellenger, F. J. Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.) Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)
Buchanan, G. Hayday, A. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Burke, W. A. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)
Cassells, T. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Sexton, T. M.
Cocks, F. S. Hollins, A. Silverman, S. S.
Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford Hopkin, D. Simpson, F. B.
Daggar, G. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Smith, E. (Stoke)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Kelly, W. T. Sorensen, R. W.
Dobbie, W. Kirby, B. V. Stephen, C.
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Lawson, J J. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Ede, J. C. Leach, W. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Leonard, W. Tinker, J. J.
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Logan, D. G. Westwood, J.
Foot, D. M. McEntee, V. La T. White, H. Graham
Frankel, D. McGhee, H. G. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Garro Jones, G. M. Maclean, N. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Marshall, F. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Maxton, J. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Grenfell, D. R. Milner, Major J.
Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Noel-Baker, P. J. Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Mathers.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.