HC Deb 23 March 1937 vol 321 cc2760-7

3.46 p.m.

Mr. Dingle Foot

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend Section 44 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1935. It will be within the knowledge of hon. Members that Section 44 of the Act of 1935 governs the procedure for an appeal to the umpire from the court of referees. Under the terms of that Section the insurance officer can always appeal against a decision of the referee, but when it is the claimant for benefit who is aggrieved by a decision, his rights of appeal are rather more limited. It is provided that he can appeal in any case where the court of referees is not unanimous, but that in any other case, where the court is unanimous, he can appeal only by leave of the chairman of the court. That leave may be given at the time the decision is arrived at or at a later stage. In addition, it is laid down—and this is the provision to which I want to draw particular attention—that an appeal lies to the umpire in any case at the instance of an association of employed persons of which the claimant was a member when he was last in work. Of course, an association of employed persons means in the great majority of cases a trade union, so that the position is that where a claimant is struck off benefit by a unanimous decision of the court of referees and is not given leave to appeal by the chairman, then, if he is a trade unionist, he has a further chance of appeal, but if he happens to be outside a trade union he has no chance of a further appeal at all.

This has always seemed to me a most unjust discrimination in our law. I am not using this occasion to attack the trade union movement, but it is true, and hon. Members above the Gangway are perfectly well aware of it, that trade unionists are a minority of the insured workers of this country. Under the existing system we give to this minority a special right of appeal which we deny to the great majority of those who are contributors to the fund. In the past, when it has been proposed to make any alterations, the objection has been raised that if you gave everyone an equal right of appeal you would have a great number of frivolous appeals and that the trade unions—it has been said quite truly—would not take up an appeal unless it contained some point of substance. I appreciate the fact that that is correct, and in order to get round that difficulty and obviate what is a patent injustice, I propose in the Bill to adopt the system which is common in our ordinary courts of law. I propose that the umpire himself shall have power to give leave to appeal. The Bill provides that if any claimant is refused leave to appeal by the chairman of a court of referees, he may apply in writing to the umpire. If the umpire, after seeing the application and the record of the case in the court of referees, is of opinion that a prima facie case has been made out, he may give leave to appeal. The system is the same as that in the Court of Criminal Appeal, and sometimes in the case of appeals in the House of Lords. It is frequently provided in our legal system that leave to appeal may be given not only by the court from which the appeal is made, but also by the court to which the appeal is made.

The suggestion which I am putting forward, and which I hope will be accepted by every section of opinion in the House, would leave undisturbed the rights of an association of employed persons to take up any case which it thought fit, but it would give an opportunity of appeal, which is now lacking, to the great majority of those who are contributors to the fund. The last occasion when this matter was discussed was on 1st February, 1934, when the Unemployment Bill was before the House. At that time, as some hon. Members will recall, it was proposed to extend the right of appeal, and that proposal was defeated by an unholy alliance between the two Front Benches. The Parliamentary Secretary resisted the Amendment on grounds of administrative convenience and also supported himself with the views of the Trades Union Congress, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) made one of the best diehard speeches I have ever heard in the House, for he said: The trade union movement, and certain other movements of a rather vague and unspecified character, have got a certain amount of privilege—because of what the trade union movement has won—and I say that we are not going to recede from that position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 5934; col. 676, Vol. 285.] I hope we shall not hear arguments of privilege brought forward to-day. It may be asked, since we discussed the matter at that time, why I have brought it forward now. In the first place, it is always permissible to appeal from one Parliament to another, and, secondly, there is a much stronger case for reforming this system than there was three years ago, for we have been and are engaged in extending the boundaries of unemployment insurance. Only last year we applied a system of unemployment insurance to farm workers, and I understand that shortly we are to have a Bill to bring within the scope of unemployment insurance black-coated workers up to a salary limit of £400 a year. Hon. Members know that both those classes are very largely unorganized—it may be unfortunate, but it is a fact which no one can deny. Therefore, the provision about allowing an appeal to be carried through by an association of employed persons is of very little use to either of those two large classes who have recently been, or soon are to be, brought within the scope of unemployment insurance.

I have discussed this matter with a large number of Members from industrial constituencies, and all of them have had the experience from time to time of coming across a case where it appeared to them that a mistake had been made or where at any rate it was a question that ought to have gone before an umpire for decision, but because for one reason or another a claimant was not a member of an association of employed persons, there was no machinery by which it could be taken to the umpire. I know that sometimes questions of that sort are raised by hon. Members with the Minister of Labour, and I think the Minister has occasionally arranged for an appeal, probably in collaboration with the insurance officer concerned in the case; but that is a very roundabout method and one which, in any case, would not be destroyed by this Bill. I am proposing by the Bill to provide some regular machinery by which these people who at present have no right of appeal against the unanimous decision of the court of referees shall have such a right in future. I ask the House for leave to introduce this Bill because it is designed to give much-needed help to the most unfortunate section of the community, that is, the unorganised unemployed.

3.56 p.m.

Mr. Shinwell

I am going to ask hon. Members on this side of the House to oppose this Bill, although that may be an unusual course to adopt on a Bill which is submitted under the Ten Minutes' Rule. It never seems to have occurred to the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) that if there is a grievance, there is a simple remedy—he can advise those persons who desire to appeal to join a trade union. Obviously that simple remedy does not appeal to his legal mind.

Earl Winterton

It is a dictatorship.

Mr. Shinwell

The Noble Lord suggests that it is a dictatorship but there are employers of labour in this country—indeed the majority of employers in the most important industries—some of whom are represented on the benches opposite, who have recognised the value of collective organisation and have advised their employés to join their respective trade unions.

Earl Winterton

This is the first time I have ever heard from either Front Bench the statement that in order to have the privilege of the law, one must necessarily be a trade unionist.

Mr. Shinwell

It appears to me that the most effective response to the Noble Lord's interruption is to remind him that the hon. Member who is responsible for the proposal is a member of a profession which is so efficiently organised that a person cannot practise unless he is a member of it.

Captain Gunston

A person who is not a member of the legal profession has a right to appeal in court.

Mr. Shinwell

It may be true that someone who is not a member of the legal profession may appeal in court, but we are speaking of unemployed persons who are directly concerned in the administration of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, and I gave as an illustration a member of the legal profession concerned in the administration of the law. The most effective response to the Noble Lord is to remind him that what we are asking is precisely what he demands himself. I am not surprised that this proposal should have come from an hon. Member below the Gangway, an individualist to the last.

Sir Percy Harris

The right of the individual against the State.

Mr. Shinwell

I need say no more than repeat the interruption made by the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris)—

Sir P. Harris

The right of the individual against everybody—liberty.

Mr. Shinwell

—the right of the individual against the State. That may have been all very well in mediaeval times, but it is not consistent with modem conditions. Moreover, it is not acceptable by the Noble Lord himself, and he would be the first to reject it; indeed he frequently opposes it when demands are made from this side of the House that individuals should be protected against State action of a vindictive kind. I submit that there is no need for this Measure. Those who claim to have a grievance may utilise the opportunity presented to them of joining an organisation of employed persons, and if the hon. Member and his friends refuse to advocate that course, we must put them down as men who are not friends of the trade union movement, net friends of industrial organisation, last, but not least, as men who demand that certain people in the community should obtain all the privileges that arise from trade union organisation without making any contribution whatever.

Question put, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend Section forty-four of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1935.

The House divided: Ayes, 146; Noes, 102.

Division No. 125.] AYES. [4.0 p.m.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)
Albery, Sir Irving Grant-Ferris, R. Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)
Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W. Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Morgan, R. H.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd) Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Grimston, R. V. Nicolson, Hon. H. G.
Atholl, Duchess of Gritten, W. G. Howard Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Baldwin-Webb, Col. J. Gunston, Capt. D. W. Peake, O.
Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M. Guy, J. C. M. Peat, C. U.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Hannah, I. C. Pow hall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton
Bennett, Sir E. N. Hannon, Sir P. J. H. Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)
Bernays, R. H. Harbord, A. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Birchall, Sir J. D. Harris, Sir P. A. Remer, J. R.
Blair, Sir R. Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Blindell, Sir J. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W. Hepworth, J. Ropner, Colonel L.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.) Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Rothschild, J. A. de
Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham) Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon) Rowlands, G.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.) Home, Rt. Hon. Sir R. S. Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)
Bull, B. B. Horsbrugh, Florence Salmon, Sir I.
Campbell, Sir E. T. Hunter, T. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Cartland, J. R. H. James, Wing-Commander A. W. H. Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Cary, R. A. Jones, L. (Swansea W.) Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.
Channon, H. Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Christie, J. A. Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R. Spens, W. P.
Clarke, F. E. (Dartford) Kimball, L. Stephen, C.
Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead) Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F. Stourton, Major Hon. J. J
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Latham, Sir P. Strauss. E. A. (Southwark N.)
Crooke, J. S. Leech, Dr. J. W. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Croom-Johnson, R. P. Lees-Jones, J. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Cross, R. H. Leighton, Major B. E. P. Tate, Mavis C.
Crossley, A. C. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Crowder, J. F. E. Liddall, W. S. Tryon, Major Rt. Hon, G. C.
Culverwell, C. T. Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Turton, R. H.
Davison, Sir W. H. Looker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
De la Bère, R. Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Warrender, Sir V.
Dorman-Smith, Major R. H. MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Duggan, H. J. McGhee, H. G. Watt, G. S. H.
Duncan, J. A. L. McKie, J. H. Wayland, Sir W. A
Ellis, Sir G. Maclay, Hon. J. P. Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Elliston, Capt. G. S. Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J. White, H. Graham
Elmley, Viscount Magnay, T. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Emmott, C. E. G. C. Maltland, A. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Errington, E. Mander, G, le M. Womersley, Sir W. J.
Erskine-Hill, A. G. Manningham-Buller, Sir M
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales) Maxton, J. Mr. Foot and Sir Hugh Seely.
Fremantle, Sir F. E. Maxwell, Hon. S. A.
Adams, D. (Consett) Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) McEntee, V. La T.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. MacNeill, Weir, L.
Adamson, W. M. Frankel, D. Marshall, F.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Gardner, B. W. Mathers, G.
Ammon, C. G. Garro Jones, G. M. Milner, Major J.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Montague, F.
Aske, Sir R. W. Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Groves, T. E. Muff, G.
Barr, J. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Noel-Baker, P. J.
Batey, J. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Paling, W.
Bellenger, F. J. Hardie, G. D. Parker, J.
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Hayday, A. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Benson, G. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Potts, J.
Broad, F. A. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Price, M. P.
Bromfield, W. Hollins, A. Pritt, D. N.
Brooke, W. Hopkin, D. Quibell, D. J. K.
Burke. W. A. Jagger, J. Ridley, G.
Cape, T. John, W. Riley, B.
Cassells, T. Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)
Chater, D. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Rowson, G.
Cluse, W. S. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Sanders, W. S.
Cove, W. G. Kirby, B. V. Sexton, T. M.
Daggar, G. Lathan, G. Shinwell, E.
Dalton, H. Lawson, J. J. Short, A.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Leach, W. Simpson, F. B.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Lee, F. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Leslie, J. R. Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Leas- (K'ly)
Day, H. Logan, D. G. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Dobbie, W. Maedonald, C. (Ince) Sorensen, R. W.
Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Watson, W. McL, Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Thorne, W. Welsh, J. C. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Thurtle, E. Whiteley, W. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Viant, S. P. Wilkinson, Ellen
Walker, J. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Watkine, F. C. Williams, T. (Don Valley) Mr. Tinker and Mr. Ellis Smith.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Foot, Miss Ward, Mr. Bernays, Mr. Guy, and Mr. Kingsley Griffith.