HC Deb 21 March 1957 vol 567 cc584-618

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

5.12 p.m.

Mr. Marquand

I was saying that the Minister, in the proposals contained in Clause 4, is asking the House to deprive many persons of a right to benefit which they now possess and that he has not given us any estimate of the numbers of persons likely to be affected. We have yet to be convinced that there is any problem at all here, any problem of any dimensions that is to say. Even if there were a problem of dimensions, we should have views about the way the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to tackle it. We certainly want to hear from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, if she can tell us, what the dimensions of the problem are supposed to be. How many persons are registered among this category of short-time workers, five-day week workers, or however they are described? Men who wish to claim unemployment benefit cannot do so unless they register; but even when they register they must satisfy the condition of being available for work.

That has been the accepted test for receiving unemployment benefit since 1935. Why has it become insufficient now? The trade unions, I know, have no objection whatever to applying the test of availability for unemployment benefit. They accept that well-established method of determining whether benefits should be paid and see no reason in present circumstances for any change in that situation. They see no abuse of any dimension likely to develop. In any case, they certainly do not agree to be deprived of benefit in this way unless it can be shown that the availability regulations are not a completely satisfactory way of preventing any injustice or collusion taking place.

The Government are asking power to declare that a man who normally does not work on one working day per week when employment is good shall be deemed to be not available for work on that day when times are bad, even when he is unemployed and has proved unemployment by registering. How are the Government to ascertain whether, to quote the words of the Bill, "in the normal course" a man would not work? How are they to know who these people are who "in the normal course" would not work on a particular day in the week? Who is to tell them? How are they to find out? Can they expect the individuals to tell them? Are they going to make inquiries of all the employers in the country? Are they to make some assumption based on general knowledge of existing agreements between employers and workers? Whichever way it is adopted, it seems to us that it will be administratively rather complex and administratively rather costly.

Has the Minister made an estimate of the extra administrative cost likely to be involved in applying the new regulation he proposes? Has the Ministry of Labour adequate staff in the offices which pay the benefit to find out in every detail exactly what is the position? Will there not be endless disputes between the individual concerned who is denied the benefit and the Department as to whether or not "in the normal course" he would not work on any particular day? We should like to know whether any estimate is being made, not merely of the size of the problem, but of the difficulties and costs likely to be involved in manpower in administering the proposed regulation.

Special regulations applicable to only one sort of labour are inevitably difficult to administer. They breed resentment because they discriminate. A discrimination is proposed here between the type of person who normally does not work on a certain day of the week and other types of worker. Other types are dealt with by the availability regulations and do not get the benefit if they are not available, but this type will not get the benefit because normally he does not work on one particular day. Discriminations of that kind breed resentment.

The right hon. Gentleman told us that he was doing this simply to correct an anomaly. I wonder if he realised the full significance of the word he used? I wonder if he realised what memories that word "anomaly" arouses among workpeople, especially among those old enough to remember the twenties and thirties? Trade unions undoubtedly fear that this attempt to correct a so-called anomaly—the size of which we do not know and are not told—will cause a return to the difficult, bitter and resentful days of the anomalies regulations which existed in the twenties and caused so much discontent and unhappiness. They feel, they tell us—and I am sure they have told the right hon. Gentleman —that it would be far better to rely on the broad, general and agreed rule of availability.

We dislike very much this proposed change in the existing rules, this proposed deprivation from benefit of people who at present have the right to receive it. We cannot fully understand why the Minister should feel—if he does feel—that it is in the general public interest to introduce such a regulation at this time. Is it because he believes there is some measure of collusion between employers and employed in trades where there is some diminution of employment, perhaps for the time being? Is it because in an industry where there is some diminution employers wish to hang on to the labour they have, fearing that otherwise it might disappear and that they fix up arrangements for shorter working weeks designed to give workpeople unemployment benefit and thereby keep them in the neighbourhood available for that industry at the time when its fortunes may improve?

It does not follow that every time there is a short-time working there is a surplus of labour which ought to be dispersed and encouraged into other employment. There may be occasions, of course, when a genuine surplus of labour will develop. In such a situation, one would agree that special agreements designed to keep an unnecessary amount of labour attached to an industry would be against the public interest.

Certainly agreements which have the effect of keeping a certain amount of labour attached to the industry cannot always be of that type. There must be occasions in the short term where a temporary depression in the demand for the products of an industry reasonably justifies, in the national interest, that people should remain in the industry and regard themselves as employed by the industry, working part-time in the industry and waiting until times improve and they can work full-time.

The right hon. Gentleman should distinguish between the short and long terms. If he has evidence of the existence of what appear to be long periods of surplus labour attached to particular industries, and if the Government feel that such a surplus is against the national interest, the proper way to tackle the situation is not by a change in the unemployment regulations, thus depriving people of rights which others have and of rights which they have been enjoying for some time, causing bitterness, resentment, annoyance and a sense of grievance among trade unions and their leaders, but by having the Minister of Labour and not the Minister of National Insurance approach the employers and employed in the industry.

I am not saying that such a situation exists. If it does, then the Minister of Labour should approach employers and employed in such an industry and say, "The effect of the agreement which you have made between yourselves for a five-day week, or whatever it may be, in existing circumstances is resulting in a larger volume of labour being attached to your industry than can permanently find full-time work in it. In your own interests you ought to revise these agreements, or among yourselves agree on declarations of redundancy which will allow some of the workpeople to be free to find work elsewhere."

I could not cite an industry where a surplus of labour exists, but if such a situation arose, or has arisen, then the proper approach is for the Minister of Labour to ask the employers and employees concerned to consider their agreements about short-time working and to modify them in the national interest. He should approach both sides together and put the point of view of the national interest before them. It should not be done by back-door methods by the Minister of National Insurance, so causing annoyance and resentment.

I know that some of my hon. Friends want to develop this topic and some have great experience of dealing with it as members and officials of trade unions. I shall say no more, except that although in general we like the Bill, we dislike Clause 4 very much indeed, and we shall seek in Committee to get rid of it if we can. If we cannot, we hope to persuade the Minister to modify it. I seriously suggest to the Minister that he should think again about this matter. He should give very careful consideration to the representations made to him by the Trades Union Congress.

We feel that we cannot divide the House on the Second Reading of the Bill, which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, improves the condition of two million people. It makes substantial improvements for many people and we welcome it on that account, but we very much dislike the wholly unnecessary change in the present unemployment benefit regulations which it is proposed to make in Clause 4.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)

I should like to begin in the way the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) began and refer to the immense complications of the National Insurance scheme as we have it today. Certainly, the number of regulations and different cases which can arise are such as not only to fill the postbags of Members of Parliament, but also to cause a great deal of worry to people who try to obtain their rights under the scheme. Although I sincerely welcome the Bill, it seems to me that it may have the by-effect of making yet one more complication in a situation which already defeats the understanding of many people.

Whenever I try to talk in my constituency about National Insurance, the evening invariably ends with a long discussion about the earnings rule and retirement and what retirement really means. That is not helped, unfortunately, by the fact that so many of us, without thinking, still talk about "old-age pensions" instead of "retirement pensions." I hope that the extra complication which Clause 1 and Clause 2 bring into the Bill will not cause more distress to people who are considering whether or not they should retire.

I presume that the aim of Clause 1 and Clause 2 is to encourage people to stay at full-time work as long as their health and their desire enable them to do so. I presume that this is upon two grounds: first, that we have an ageing population; and, secondly, that we want children to remain at school for longer than was the case in the past. It is, therefore, essential that we should all work for as long as our health enables us to do so and that we should give every encouragement in the National Insurance scheme towards prolonging our working life.

Apart from helping us to help ourselves with the pensions increments which can be earned, the Bill gives a chance to "de-retire"—I, too, could not think of an alternative to that word; I would that I could. I should like to welcome this proposal to help those who have retired, when in had health, not having fully realised what retirement was, or, in some cases, having retired at the minimum age, because they thought that was the only thing to do—and there are still such people in the country—to go back to work.

The Bill is an improvement in the National Insurance scheme and I am very glad that so many improvements which will affect people in the first five years of their potential retirement have come from a Conservative Government, particularly from my right hon. Friend the Minister. Although, in a Private Member's Measure, we increased earnings under the earnings rule from 40s. to 50s., we had the institution of the gradual deductions from the pension, instead of the total deduction, and we are now in a position whereby a man having retired within the first five years of his pensionable age can still earn up to £5 a week without finding that his pension is no good to him. Those who wish to earn more than £5 a week—and, after all, £5 a week is not an enormous wage in these days—will find the de-retirement provisions of the Bill very useful.

While giving the Bill that welcome and bearing in mind its main purposes, it has not gone far enough. I do not think that having an earnings limit of 50s., and the possibility of de-retirement, will be enough to encourage people to stay at work after the minimum retirement age. If a person does stay at work after the minimum retirement age, and if the incentive for each complete year's extra work is to receive, when he finally retires, an extra 3s. a week for a single person and an extra 5s. a week for a married man, then, quite frankly, I do not regard that as being particularly attractive.

It is not at all attractive for anyone who can do simple arithmetic, and I do not pretend to be able to do the complicated kind of arithmetic which the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has undoubtedly done in relation to this Bill. Let us take the case of a single employed male person who works from 65 to 70. During those five years, he will sacrifice 40s. a week retirement pension, a total of £520. He will have paid 6s. 9d. a week extra for five years in National Insurance contributions, which makes a total of £87 15s. The total of these two figures is £607 15s., which he has paid to or permitted to remain in the National Insurance Fund. Then, the man retires on a pension of 55s. a week.

Until he has lived and drawn this 55s. a week for 221 weeks, which is over four years, he will not have recouped the pension which he voluntarily relinquished and the extra contributions which he paid between the ages of 65 and 70. If we start doing one of these very complicated sums, whereby we consider the £2 a week he would have been drawing throughout the 221 weeks, we find that it is virtually impossible for anybody who does not become an octogenarian to make anything on this scheme by staying at work.

The position of a married man is as bad. He forgoes five years' pension at 65s. a week, a total of £845, and pays a further £87 15s. in National Insurance contributions, and then retires on a pension of 90s. a week. He has to live for over 207 weeks to recoup himself for the pension which he voluntarily relinquished and the extra contributions he paid, whereas he would have got £2 a week during these 207 weeks anyway.

The same is true of the self-employed person, though his extra contributions are, of course, higher. They total, not £87 15s., but £109 18s. 4d. Therefore, if he is single, he has to draw an increased pension for 229 weeks, and if married for 212 weeks, to recoup himself for the pension which he voluntarily relinquished between the ages of 65 and 70 and the extra contributions which he paid during those years.

I apologise for wearying the House with these figures, but I believe that it is an essential part of this effort which we are all jointly making to encourage people to stay at work after the age of 65 that the increment should be raised from 3s. to 5s. and from 5s. to 7s. 6d. a week if it is to prove attractive financially to people to de-retire and take advantage of this Bill.

We have also to remember one other thing. The National Insurance retirement pension is not a living wage. It does not give a standard of living upon which anyone can be expected to live, and, thank God, no one is expected to live on it. This means that there is a wide range and a wide gap between the retirement pension level of 40s. a week and the total income of the person who does retire on pension, plus the maximum possible from the National Assistance Board. If the total income of a person from the two sources, of basic retirement pension and earned increment on top of it, comes in this range between the basic retirement pension and what one gets from the basic retirement pension and the National Assistance Board, then one begins to wonder what is the point of doing this work at all.

Therefore, I believe that if this scheme of de-retirement is to be as successful as my right hon. Friend hopes, we shall have to introduce a Bill to increase the increment which a person receives by working after the minimum retirement age. In so far as the de-retirement provisions stand, I heartily welcome them.

The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East came to the more contentious part of the Bill, namely, Clause 4, and wondered why my right hon. Friend had included this Clause in the Bill, when the National Insurance Advisory Committee not only did not recommend that it should be included, but by implication, suggested that it was not prepared to suggest that it should. I think that here, if I read the mind of my right hon. Friend aright, one has to consider the Bill as a whole.

I presume that when my right hon. Friend started to draw up this Bill, he had to bear in mind the very substantial annual deficits into which the National Insurance Fund will in the coming years begin to move. I presume that he therefore decided that it was essential that, in any Bill which he brought forward to ameliorate the conditions of certain people under the National Insurance scheme, the extra expense which he incurred would have to be balanced by the savings of which he could make.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

I am sure that the hon. Member will realise the danger of what he is now putting forward. To begin with, when the National Insurance scheme came into existence, we took over from the old unemployment insurance scheme several scores of millions of pounds which had been accumulated during the war, and ever since 1946, taking the unemployment part of the fund, there has been a continuing increase in the surplus of the fund. I am, therefore, asking the hon. Gentleman whether lie is now suggesting, in considering the problem of retirement pensions, that to meet that deficit we should reduce the provisions for unemployment, sickness and other benefits?

Mr. Freeth

I do not think that when the right hon. Gentleman reads my speech tomorrow, as I am sure he will, he will come to the conclusion that that was what I was suggesting. What I was suggesting was that, taking National Insurance as a whole, my right hon. Friend came to the conclusion that it would be improvident, unless the contributions were raised, to increase the deficit into which the fund as a whole will be moving over the next five, ten or twenty years.

I do not know whether this is one of the reasons which led him to look particularly carefully at the amount of unemployment benefit paid at present to a man working a five-day week if he is on short-time and, in fact, works for only four days a week.

I listened with special interest to the right hon. Member talking about the effects of Clause 4 upon workers who were working short-time, and upon the question whether it would encourage them to move away from the jobs in which they were working short-time to try to obtain full-time employment in other industries, or in the same industry in other places. When an industry goes on short-time, as a rule it is certainly for the good of the worker and also for the country that he begins as soon as possible to work in a full-time job again.

If there are any signs that the period of short-time is likely to be prolonged every encouragement should be given to workers on short-time to try to find full-time employment. If we are trying to encourage people to move from luxury industries to basic industries, and from industries catering purely for the home market into industries which are primarily manufacturing goods for export, it is prudent to look at the encouragements and discouragements which exist in the way in which a National Insurance Fund deals with persons on short-time.

There was an anomaly here, because a man who is on a six-day or five-and-a-half-day week has never been able to draw unemployment benefit during a week in which he lost one day's work. I fully appreciate the argument of the right hon. Gentleman that there is always the danger that people will misunderstand one's motives, and feel that in this case a benefit which they have enjoyed for some time is being taken away, and not for the highest motives. I believe, however, that it is occasionally right to run the risk of having one's motives misunderstood, or even misrepresented; indeed, I believe that there has been substantial misunderstanding about Clause 4, and in some cases I think that there has been misrepresentation, whether deliberate or otherwise I do not wish to say.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has read a Report which appeared in the Leamington, Warwick, Kenilworth and District Morning News on Monday, 4th March, during the recent by-election. It referred to a meeting of the party opposite at which one Socialist speaker told an audience, estimated at over 500, that by the Bill workers on short-time would get no unemployment benefit at all.

The report quoted the speaker as saying: What has happened is this—the Conservatives have just published a Bill amending the National Insurance Acts in which Clause 4 provides that no worker on short-time can draw any benefit at all. In fact, a person working a five-day week will find that if he is on short-time and only works a four-day week he will receive no benefit, just as, at present a person working a six-day or five-and-a-half-day working week does not receive unemployment benefit if he loses only one day's work a week.

The speaker was also reported as saying: Even if you work a single day in any one week you cannot draw benefit under the new Bill. That is certainly a misrepresentation. I do not know the motives with which it was made—it may have been a complete misunderstanding—but the effect of such a speech in an area where there is substantial short-time working must be fairly obvious, especially during a by-election campaign.

Mr. Houghton

I think that the hon. Member will agree that there can be misunderstandings even at by-elections.

Mr. Freeth

Certainly, and on this occasion I feel that it is fairly obvious that many of the electorate misunderstood many of the excellent aims of my right hon. Friend.

I should like my hon. Friend to tell me whether or not I am right in assuming that the Bill does not change the legal effect, as determined by the independent statutory authorities, of guaranteed week agreements upon the unemployment benefit rights of workers on short time, even in respect of five-day week workers with guaranteed week agreements.

I welcome the Bill because it provides an additional incentive—although I do not believe that it is nearly large enough —to people who are over the minimum retirement age, and who might be encouraged to work longer. I welcome it for another reason, which I shall not go into in detail, namely, that the wives of men on sickness benefit who wish to earn more than 20s. a week and still qualify for the dependant's increase will be able to do so. I welcome it, further, for the provision with regard to mothers of children of dissolved marriages, who will receive a special allowance under Clause 5 upon the death of their ex-husbands. All those provisions are excellent, and I believe that most hon. Members will agree with them.

Despite what the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East has said, I would still welcome the Bill as a whole. One of my reasons is that no additional expenditure is to be imposed either upon the Exchequer or upon the National Insurance Fund.

Mr. J. Griffiths

That is not correct.

Mr. Freeth

That is a cardinal principle of the Bill, and I regard it as a first-rate one. I rejoice to see that we are doing good without increasing, to any substantial extent, the claims upon the National Insurance Fund.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

If the hon. Member will read the Explanatory Memorandum he will see the financial effect of the Bill. It mentions the figure of £200,000.

Mr. Griffiths

No—£2 million.

Mr. Freeth

That is quite true. But the final words of that paragraph state that: this latter figure will be likely to be in part offset by reduced expenditure on unemployment benefit.

Mr. Hynd

In part.

Mr. Freeth

And it says that no additional charge upon the Exchequer is entailed. I agree that in regard to the National Insurance Fund I may have exaggerated a little but, by and large, the benefits of the Bill are substantially greater than the net cost to the National Insurance Fund.

5.50 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

We on this side of the House welcome, of course, what is good in this Bill, the general effect of which is to implement the recommendations of the National Insurance Advisory Committee. Clauses 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 all implement recommendations of that Committee. As the Minister pointed out, some of the recom- mendations do not require legislation and could be made by regulation. The right hon. Gentleman said that regulations were being prepared for that purpose. But in this Bill there is an "ugly duckling." It is Clause 4, which is alien to the whole tone and spirit of the Bill. I will discuss that Clause a little later.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth) referred to the inadequate encouragements to people to postpone their retirement and stay at work. There is no doubt that the encouragements are inadequate, but one of the difficulties about improving the inducement to stay at work by adding to the pension on eventual retirement is the unfairness that may be created between those insured persons who can stay at work and those who cannot.

At all events, it is very dangerous to load or weight the benefits heavily in favour of the man who stays at work to the possible disadvantage of the man who must retire. That is especially true of men in heavy industry who cannot easily extend their working life, or those who are compulsorily retired whether they want to retire or not, and who find it difficult to get any other work.

These are difficulties which are bound to engage the attention of all concerned with stocktaking after ten years of the operation of the National Insurance Scheme. Nor do I think it would be right to give more favourable inducements to re-enter employment after retirement than those given to insured persons to postpone their retirement. I think it right that the Bill should provide the same conditions in both circumstances. I do not regard Clauses 1 and 2 as any particular inducement to people to reenter employment after having retired. I think it an option made to those who probably are going back to full-time work anyway. To that extent it is welcome. How far it will be taken advantage of remains to be seen.

About the recommendations of the National Insurance Advisory Committee on adult dependants, I am bound to express a personal disappointment—I commit no one else in this—that the Committee was not able to look more favourably on the representations made regarding benefits to the unmarried wife. There is nothing inconsistent in the plea I make now and the support that I should gladly have given to the Private Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Davenport (Miss Vickers) had I not been unwell and unable to attend the House on the day when the Second Reading debate took place.

We have to be fair as between different claimants in different circumstances. But representations were made by the General Council of the T.U.C. that widows' benefit should be given to a female person living with the insured person as his wife. I am bound to copy that description for the sake of precedent from the regulations made during the war when married allowances were given to women who were in this position. There is a conventional objection to the use of the term "unmarried wife".

I know the difficulties about rival claims for benefit which would arise in some circumstances, if the dependency benefits were extended to cover this class of person. But some very hard cases can arise regarding both widows' benefit and dependants' allowances for a retired man. There was a particularly grievous case recently in my constituency. It involved a man who had last seen his wife over thirty years ago and had not heard from her since. He entered into a form of marriage with another woman and brought up a family. Long ago he had regarded himself as legally married to the person with whom he was living, and his children looked upon them as mother and father legally married. When this man reached the age of 65 the wife to whom he was legally married, who had at least kept a record of his birthday if nothing else, thought it time to write to the Ministry of National Insurance and state her claim for the wife's dependent benefit when the man drew his retirement pension.

As a matter of fact, by the time this matter was investigated the man had drawn some benefit and I pay tribute to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance for not asking for the money back. I think that that was generous in the circumstances, because the man had no legal claim under the Act as it now stands. It would have been a grievously hard case had the Ministry demanded a refund of the money. I am sure that the essentials of that case are reproduced up and down the country.

It is very likely that the Ministry would not wish to be too heavily involved in these "judgments of Solomon" between rival claimants to benefit or a share of benefit. But it is already taking something on under the provisions of Clause 1, which come very near to adjudicating between man and wife. In any case, the Inland Revenue is confronted every day with these complexities and it does not shrink from them. There are rival claims for child allowance, separations, claims to be regarded as married or single, and so on. I am sure that the Ministry need not worry too much about the administrative complications.

I am not, of course, complaining about the Ministry. These proposals were decided against by the National Insurance Advisory Committee. I have said my word on that. I leave entirely aside—as did the Committee—the moral considerations in this matter, and try to deal with life as it is and to see how far they can meet the requirements of the situation. Apparently it was decided that it could not be done, at least not without a more radical review of the scope of dependency benefits than the Committee considered it was its duty to carry out.

Now I come to Clause 4, the "ugly duckling." I am sure that every Minister must be a little worried when one of his hon. Friends presumes to read his mind, because it is always almost certain that the reading will be wrong. I think that the hon. Member for Basingstoke credited his right hon. Friend with being more of an administrator and less of a politician than he really is. The truth is that Clause 4 was put into this Bill at the point of a gun, the gun being the threat of electoral abstension by Conservative Voters. Those were the people who got upset at what they saw going on last year, the short-time working, particularly in the motor industry, and the existing rule for unemployment benefit.

The National Insurance Advisory Committee considered this matter twice before, and the last time, before we were faced with serious short-time working in five-day week industries, so that it was reviewing the matter at an early stage, I admit under less pressure, let us say, than would be the case today. The National Insurance Advisory Committee found no satisfactory solution to this matter, at least not one commanding overwhelming support in the Committee.

I would digress to say that recently I had my first experience of making representations to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, on matters not within the scope of the Bill and not before the House. I came away with a distinct impression of the care with which the Committee considers these complex matters. I have no doubt that it weighed up very carefully indeed, and spent a long time in looking at, this difficult problem of the complexities of unemployment benefit involved in a change from a five-and-a-half-day week to a five-day week arrangement.

It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman did not consult the T.U.C. about it. He may think that he knows the views of the T.U.C. He had already had the benefit of reviewing the differences of opinion in the National Insurance Advisory Committee on two occasions. He may think that this was a matter on which Her Majesty's Government had to make up their minds and announce a decision to the House of Commons.

Was it quite as clear as that? Could not the right hon. Gentleman have approached the T.U.C. and said, "In present circumstances, more attention must be given to this matter. I want you to consider whether there are alternatives to the present arrangements. Can we see whether any of them is acceptable?" The right hon. Gentleman did not do that. The first that the T.U.C. heard about this was when the Bill was published. I am not saying that the Minister is under any obligation to consult the T.U.C. every time about everything, but here was a matter which was bound to come very close to trade union interests and to the interests of the workers. Since it had been the subject of consideration by the National Insurance Advisory Committee in the past it would have been better had the right hon. Gentleman taken that step. He might not have got any agreeable response, but he would have given the T.U.C. an opportunity of seeing whether something different might be done in the problem between the five-and-a-half day and the five-day working week.

The unfairness of the proposal in the Bill is that many workers on a five-day week do just as many hours of work as they did in the five-and-a-half-day week. I have had some connection with this matter; in the case I have in mind, there is not the slightest doubt that we got a five-day week on condition that the hours of work in the five-and-a-half days were spread over five days. That means that each of the five days carries a higher factor in the week's wages than each day did under the five-and-a-half-day week arrangement; yet for unemployment benefit purposes the Bill proposes that if a man on a five-day week is unemployed for the Friday of the week he will get no unemployment benefit, even though he lost more than a day's wages, calculated on a five-and-a-half-day basis. This is an anomaly which is bound to be felt acutely.

The National Insurance Advisory Committee felt unable to recommend a departure from the present arrangements which fix unemployment benefit by the day. Of course, there is another factor which can be taken. I am not saying that it is free from difficulty. The fair thing would be to give unemployment benefit by reference to the proportion of the working week lost. That is the mathematics and the equity of the matter. It involves a departure from the traditional arrangement of unemployment benefit paid by the day. That I admit.

I only throw it out as a personal suggestion that the matter could have been looked at more carefully. If the Minister had it in mind to do something he could have asked the T.U.C. to find a satisfactory answer to the problem. He did not give it a chance to do so. When we come to the Committee I hope that the Minister will give further consideration to this matter and see whether he can find a different and fairer way out.

I know that, just looked at in the news, papers, or by "Pro Bono Publico" writing his letter to the newspapers, it seems wasteful to pay unemployment benefit for a day on which a person does not normally work, but unless unemployment benefit is adjusted to the distribution of hours a week over five days instead of five-and-a-half we cannot solve the problem by the method proposed by the Bill.

I hope that we shall find other ways of meeting this situation later. Even at its worst, even if the Minister were concerned about the short-time working arrangements in the motor industry at a particular time, to save redundancy or a four-day week for some workers and complete unemployment for others, and to overcome a temporary situation, is there anything wrong about the existing method? Is it so lamentable? Was it not an attempt to meet special circumstances for a temporary period? After all, what is unemployment benefit for if not to meet unemployment and short-time working? It is to support the worker when his capacity for full earning is impaired by unemployment; that is the principle of it.

Goodness knows, the Insurance Fund has benefited to the tune of hundreds and hundreds of million of pounds on account of insurance contributions from the unemployment element being put much higher for a long time than actual unemployment warranted. In fact, benefits have been paid to every nationally insured person out of the favourable state of the funds created by the low unemployment ratio as compared with the actuarial computation of the unemployment factor in the total contribution. I do not think that any of these workers is asking for something that he has not paid in for, even in the arrangement, about which the Minister no doubt complains privately although he has not said so today, for short-time working.

That is the indictment against Clause 4. We shall want to examine the Clause critically in Committee. It would have been much better, in present circumstances, for the Minister to have left well alone. If there is any widespread extension of the kind of arrangement to which I have referred, the whole employment situation will be grave and other measures might have to be taken to deal with the social and economic consequences. There was nothing in this to give the Minister or the Insurance Fund any ground for concern, because it was purely temporary and transitional. If it had become more permanent the Minister might have thought something should be done about it.

All in all, the right hon. Gentleman would do better to withdraw the Clause altogether and to let things continue as they are. If he must go on with it and if he persists in his refusal to leave things as they are, he must expect that we shall give critical attention to the detail to see whether we can find an alternative.

6.10 p.m.

Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

It has rightly been said that the whole business of National Insurance as it concerns the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance today is very complex. This Bill certainly adds to the complexity. I felt that rather than speak in the debate I should like to put down the Bill, wave goodbye to my right hon. Friend and say, "See you later, legislator."

I congratulate my right hon. Friend upon inserting the controversial Clause 4 in the Bill. It could be another grasping of a nettle. It is obvious that people have been drawing unemployment pay for days on which they were not unemployed and for days on which they do not normally work. While some of us may not wish to be niggardly and quarrel about it, the problem is not the amount of money involved but the inequality as between individual workers.

Many of us know workers, normally working six or even seven days a week, who have been unable to draw unemployment pay, whereas a five-day week worker who works only four days is able to draw unemployment pay for the fifth day. The man who works six or seven days a week very often earns less money —perhaps in the Post Office; certainly in the dairy trade—than five-day week workers in the motor trade. That is very unfair.

It is extremely unfair when such people see Austin workers going home with £14 or £15 in their pockets after working four days and then being able to draw unemployment pay for the fifth day. "Unemployment pay" obviously means money given to prevent hardship during unemployment. If we are to pay unemployment benefit for days on which such people as I have mentioned do not work, why should we not pay it to a lot of other people who never work anyway?

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

Surely the logical conclusion to the hon. Gentleman's argument must be that if a man makes sufficient money in two days at work he does not need any unemployment benefit at all in respect of the rest of the week.

Mr. Gurden

The hon. Lady is taking me a little further than I intended to go, and I am not going with her. All I say is that it is unreasonable and unfair that this situation should exist. What I have described is against the whole idea of the Act.

Mr. H. Hynd

I represent not motor car workers but textile workers, who have a very low minimum wage. Would the hon. Gentleman apply the same argument to them? Will he remember that when they receive unemployment benefit in future it will be on the basis of one-sixth of a week and not one-fifth, so that they will lose it both ways?

Mr. Gurden

The hon. Gentleman has helped my argument. Surely the textile worker who is paid less than the motor trade worker does not like to think that the motor trade worker can go home with £15 in his pocket and also draw unemployment benefit. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have seen the anomaly. I see it, although I do not know whether I should have seen it so easily had it not been drawn to my attention by constituents of mine who do not like the motor trade workers to take advantage of money which they themselves have paid into the fund through working six days a week all the year round. I should have thought that the Clause was a reasonable one.

I turn now to the subject of retirement pensions. If we were doing our job properly here, I suppose we should feel very much like increasing the old-age pension. I think that at heart we should all like to do so, although they are at a higher level than they have ever been, even taking into account the higher cost of living. I propose to take the facts as they are, and I accept the official figures.

The problem for any Government has always been where to obtain the money to pay increased retirement pensions. It is no use saying that the Government will supply the money. It is the people of the country who have to find it by some means or other. That brings us back to the problem of what is the highest level of retirement pension that we can provide.

We ought to look to the future. Thanks to the tremendous strides made in the medical world and in improved nutrition, people are living longer. I should like the retirement pension to be raised at once. I should like the ages at which the pension is paid raised by six months, making them 60½ and 65½ years respec- tively. In another two years those ages could be raised by another six months perhaps. All the money so saved, and perhaps a little more, should be added to the retirement pension. None of it should be taken away; it should be given to those who draw pensions. I make this suggestion because it is obvious to anyone who realises how the average age of the population is increasing that some day it will have to happen, and the sooner it happens the better.

People are now living longer. In respect of the payment of old-age pensions, can we say that a person is now old at 60 or 65? People in my constituency have come to me in tears because they have had to retire at 65 from a job which they loved. Many say they are fit to continue at work, and one must admit that many of them look fit enough. I admit that there are types of employment which bear heavily upon people and in which they age more quickly than in others.

Sooner or later a Minister will have to face this problem of increasing the minimum age. Surely that is the obvious solution to the problem, which will be an ever-growing problem. The number of industries and the number of workers in industry, with the amount of money which they pay into the Exchequer, will not be able to pay decent pensions in thirty or forty years' time for the increased number of old people who will be on the books.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at this problem. I congratulate him again on the Bill. Indeed, I think he was rather too modest in his presentation of it, because I think it is more important than he made it out to be.

6.21 p.m.

Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)

I certainly cannot follow the hon. Member for Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) in congratulating the Minister on including the iniquitous Clause 4 in the Bill.

If I heard correctly the hon. Member's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), he seemed to be advancing the extraordinary thesis that people with low wages should receive unemployment benefit but that people who earned higher wages should not. That, I should have thought, was the logical conclusion to be drawn from his argument.

The hon. Member does not represent a motor car constituency. I do, and I can assure him that, however good they may be, employers in a motor car constituency are not philanthropists and that everything the men receive is a result of work done. I do not think that the point the hon. Member made was worth very much, because it does not seem to lead us anywhere.

The Minister ought to be told, if he does not know it already, that there is grave dissatisfaction, added to the other dissatisfaction which the Government have given, among the unions in Coventry over this Bill. As I understand—and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—before the war benefit was paid only to those who were out of work for three days in six. That meant that the short-time worker on a four-day week was automatically excluded. In 1940, Mr. Ernest Bevin changed this rule to two days out of six.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said, in 1953 the National Insurance Advisory Committee was asked to consider the provisions governing short spells of unemployment or sickness, particularly where a claimant was already receiving payments from his employer. Even though it was asked to do this, I believe it is correct to say that the Committee was unable to give any advice to clear up a very difficult situation, and that it proposed no change in the existing arrangements. If that background is correct, then I gather that the present position, before this Bill becomes law, is that a worker who wishes to claim unemployment benefit is required to prove that he is unemployed on two days within a period of six days.

We have a good deal of unemployment and short-time working in Coventry today. As recently as 11th March, as was revealed at Question Time in the House this week, we had 2,826 men and women wholly unemployed, with only 618 vacancies registered at employment Exchanges. My reason for making the point is that there is a widespread suspicion in Coventry, which I certainly share, that all this unemployment and short-time working— itself a result of direct Government policy, for they have deliberately brought it about— is causing the Government to consider the whole question of the redeployment of labour.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth) spoke of workers moving from job to job. We on these benches have repeatedly asked a question which might now be put to the present Minister, because the problem concerns him as well as the Minister of Labour. The question is: are the Government prepared to discuss with the unions and the employers adequate guarantees for the maintenance and rehousing, under redeployment conditions, of redundant workers? I ask that because we believe that Clause 4 is brought forward as some means of achieving that end and as a means to prevent the Government from having to suggest remedies which would be more acceptable to the workers involved.

The Coventry District Committee of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions is very strongly of the opinion that the Government feel that if unemployment benefit continues to be paid as at present to men on short-time in certain industries, it will make them less mobile because they will be reluctant to change their jobs. The unions in Coventry see Clause 4 as a method of adding persuasion in order to force these men to change their jobs, and they feel very strongly about it.

As I expect the hon. Lady, the Parliamentary Secretary knows, for a number of years workers in the engineering industry have been disqualified from claiming benefit due to the wording of a guaranteed week agreement which operated in the industry. Mr. Harry Urwin, who is Secretary of the Coventry District Committee of the Confederation of Engineering and Shipbuilding Unions, said on 16th February that the unions had been working for years to devise a form of words which would ensure that short-time workers would qualify for unemployment benefit, within the framework of the present legislation, for odd days of unemployment.

At present, we have a great deal of industrial unrest in the country and we hear repeated requests from the benches opposite that the unions should be prepared to negotiate on industrial matters. In the case of the present dispute, we should obviously use the words "submit to arbitration" rather than "negotiate", because the unions are already willing to negotiate.

This is a point which may not have struck right hon. and hon. Members opposite. As recently as 25th February, the Confederation resolved this very thorny problem of claiming for unemployment benefit with the Employers' Federation and workers in the engineering industry can now claim this benefit. The Government are asking unions to negotiate with employers. The unions have spent a long time doing so, and at last an amicable agreement has been reached. The moment the amicable agreement has been reached, if we can call 25th February "the moment", the Government step in and torpedo what is being done by introducing Clause 4.

I should be glad if the hon. Lady, in her reply, will state whether the unions are correct about this. They believe that Clause 4 will partly nullify the effects of the agreement which they have negotiated wtih the employers. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I hope that we shall have a very clear statement from his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary tonight.

The hon. Lady may not like this, but I must say it: we in Coventry feel that she does not entirely understand the position of the workers who are redundant in the motor car industry. I have brought with me a copy of HANSARD for 20th March, 1956. The debate on that day followed immediately on a speech made in Birmingham by the hon. Lady, in which she took very strong objection to the fact that people in the motor car industry were not prepared to move to other jobs at less pay. She thought they should go—just like that.

Reference to column 1065 of HANSARD of 20th March, 1956, will show this and that I mentioned it again in column 1091. The workers in the motor car industry took strong exception to these remarks, so, if the hon. Lady is to reply to this debate, as I gather she is, I hope that she will bear it in mind when addressing herself to the question of redundant workers.

At present, a worker on short time can regard Saturday as a day of unemployment and can add it to any other day within a period of six days on which he may be out of work. We believe that Clause 4 removes that right. Perhaps we could have some comment on that. I believe that the workers have had that right ever since unemployment insurance was introduced in 1911.

The Coventry District Committee stressed another point and asked me to get an answer from the Minister on it. The Committee says that a man can be employed for only one day in each week yet still be refused benefit for the other days of unemployment, because he is said to be covered by his guaranteed week agreement for four days of the week. This may all sound very complicated in the matter of detail, but the important point is that here is a problem that has been causing difficulty for a good many years.

As we see it in Coventry, at the very moment when an amicable agreement has been reached between the employers and the unions on a method by which short-time workers may receive unemployment benefit, the Government interferes by this legislation. The Confederation is afraid that by the passing of this Bill we will be cutting the benfit entitlement of the applicant by at least half, and will make it much more difficult for him to establish his claim to benefit. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, in common, I think, with all my colleagues on this side, I wish to protest most strongly against Clause 4, and express the hope that the Minister will have second thoughts about it.

Mr. Gurden

Does not the hon. Lady think that the recent habit of negotiating for short time from a five-day to a four-day week in some parts of this highly-paid industry has become popular because of this very fact that the workers would still be entitled to draw unemployment pay for a day on which they never worked and would do so rather than move to other jobs?

Miss Burton

That raises a whole host of issues. I can only say to the hon. Gentleman that I believe that the whole matter of the four-day and the five-day week should be settled by negotiations between the unions and the employers, and not by Government legislation.

6.35 p.m.

Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)

If I do not follow the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) it is because when I am confronted by one with such a clear mastery of her own industry I know that I should be tackling an expert in a subject of which, unfortunately, I know nothing—the employer-union arrangements in the motor car industry. I sometimes wish that we had some motor car factories near my own constituency, so that the people there could earn the high wages which, I believe, have been common for many years in Coventry.

Before I leave the complications of Clause 4 of the Bill, I believe that the views on the other side of the House might well be expressed by the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). They can, I think, be reasonably summarised as saying that Clause 4 produces a marked change which he did not like. I shall leave it at that.

Mr. Houghton

That is a perfectly good reason for objecting to something, is it not?

Mr. Fort

I want to welcome Clauses and 2 of the Bill and to put to the Minister what I, fear, he might not accept: an alternative to the word "de-retirement", which we all detest. I would substitute "back to insurance". It is true that that phrase would add to the number of letters, but at least they would be English words, which "de-retirement" is not.

One reason I welcome this Bill has not often been referred to. It will give an additional chance to those who feel they want to start work again and so keep themselves in better health. We do not need doctors to tell us that retirement is an important cause of people's physical condition gradually deteriorating. A few months after they have retired, thinking that that will enjoy retirement, they do not find it at all to their liking, and they begin to go to pieces physically. Yet, as things have been since 1948, they have not been able to return to work and do what they themselves know would be good for them. I strongly welcome giving this additional chance to those who want to do what is helpful to their health.

The de-retirement proposal has rather more significance than has been made out generally this afternoon. It seems to me to be another step in the direction of moving away from the strict retirement conditions which Lord Beveridge proposed in his Report, and the Coalition Government accepted in a White Paper, and was incorporated in the 1946 Act. We started shuffling from the retirement pension with the loosening-up of conditions for occasional earnings on a graduated scale, introduced by a Private Member's Bill last year.

With this Bill we take another shuffle forward. By doing so, we show that after a practical experience of the problems of retirement now for over ten years we feel that the last word was still very far from being said in the 1946 Act. I hope that the Government will note this tendency, and encourage us to think more about these problems by allowing a debate on the Phillips Report.

One further small point which I wish to raise with my right hon. Friend is that, when he issues the regulations, I hope that he will not start off immediately by saying that there can be only one de-retirement followed by final retirement. I have never been to the Ministry's Newcastle office to see what is involved, administratively, but if it is practical to allow a fair number of retirements and de-retirements that would certainly help those who would like to work, and also be of great value not only in the seaside industries, which is an obvious example, but also in farming, where there is so much extra work required at certain times of the year.

6.40 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Edith Pitt)

As my right hon. Friend said, this Bill is a very intricate one and forms part of a very intricate subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) said that it is difficult to understand, and I sympathise with that view. The Bill is, indeed, technical and complicated.

All the comments which have been made in the debate this afternoon have been favourable towards the general provisions of the Bill, with reservations about Clause 4, which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) called the "ugly duckling". Since no questions have been asked of me about the other provisions, I do not propose to take up the time of the House by referring to them, although I am well aware that hon. Members have made the reservation that they will want to discuss them further in Committee.

The Bill seeks to effect improvements and adjustments in the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries schemes. It arises mainly from the recommendations of the National Insurance Advisory Committee in its Reports, and many of those recommendations have already been implemented. With this Bill we shall have legislated for all recommendations which require legislation except death grant, the subject of the latest report which is under consideration.

As hon. Members will know, many recommendations of the Committee can be implemented by regulations; some are already in operation, and others we shall be submitting in draft to the Committee shortly. I hope that this answers the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough. East. For the two recommendations he particularly had in mind, Numbers 3 and 4 of the Report on Dependency Provisions, draft regulations are now in preparation.

As regards de-retirement, there is one point which I must mention. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth) said that he hoped this would not add to the difficulties of those who must make up their minds whether they wish to retire or not. I hope that the provisions of the Bill will make it easier for people to understand both the retirement principle and the earnings rule. If they make up their minds and then find that they have made them up in the wrong way, the Bill gives them a second chance.

Both my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby referred to the amount of pension the retirement pensioner would lose because of his return to work by pension forgone and by contributions he had to pay. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby really had his tongue in his cheek. His argument was fallacious, because he chose, very carefully, to count in the pension. In fact, the man he is thinking of is foregoing pension because he is no longer retired; he has given up retirement for the moment and is earning full wages.

That, I hope, answers my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke also, who was concerned that a man would have to live for so many years after 70, if in the meantime he had foregone pension and paid contributions, to recoup himself on increments.

Mr. Freeth

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. This is really not just an academic exercise. The point has been put to me very strongly by a sub-postmaster in my constituency who tells me that many people come to him and say, "It is just not worth while doing all this work. I may die and I shall not get my money's worth from the National Insurance scheme".

Miss Pitt

That is a risk which we all take with insurance. In particular, the expectation of life of a man of 65 is just about twelve years. The calculation which the hon. Member for Sowerby made was incorrect inasmuch as a man might expect to recoup nearly six times his stake in the years he would normally expect to live above minimum pension age. I hope that I have made that clear.

There is another point which occurs to me, which is of some importance. The man who forfeits pension, goes on working and earns himself increments, will enjoy these increments for himself, and perhaps for his wife, too, at the time when his age is rising and he will be most in need of any additional income for which he will have been able to insure.

I come now to Clause 4, which is the matter on which we have had argument. The purpose of the Clause is to remedy an anomaly. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East mentioned the word "anomaly," and said that there had been many difficulties in the past; but I wonder whether he would answer me this question. What is wrong with trying to put right something which is anomalous?

It is, I think, agreed that this particular provision is anomalous; it was not visualised when the 1946 National Insurance Act was passed, because the five-day week was only just beginning then. The adoption of the five-day week has increased enormously in the years since 1946, until we have arrived at a stage when, as my right hon. Friend said, roughly half the employed population is on a five-day week.

Miss Herbison

Has any inquiry been made into this mater, which I should like to put to the hon. Lady? I have in mind workers who worked a five-and-a-half-day week, five clays and the half day on Saturday. They decided that they would rather go on to a five-day week. They arranged it by working longer on each of the five days. How many workers are in that position? If such a thing is general, it seems to me that this is not an anomaly which the Minister is trying to clear away. He will be doing a grave injustice to those people who are doing exactly the same hours of work, divided between five days instead of five and a half.

Miss Pitt

With respect, I really do not think that that has any bearing on our debate, although I can add, from my own experience, that in 1946, when a five-day week was introduced into the engineering factory in Birmingham where I earned my living, the number of hours for everybody concerned was reduced from 47 to 44. But even if it still continued at 47, it is the working week accomplished in five days.

The present "two in six" rule was introduced in 1940, as the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) reminded us, and assumed a working week of six or five-and-a-half days. It is important to bear in mind that, despite all the discussion about the effects of Clause 4, there remains the other half of the population still on a six-day or five-and-a-half-day week; such people are unable to claim for one day of unemployment. At present, when working four days or less, the five-day week worker can claim for Saturday although it is not a normal working day. The result is that he gets two days' benefit— tax free, incidentally— for the loss of one day's work. This has been much criticised because it is unfair to other contributors, the other workers who are themselves still on a five-and-a-half or six-day week.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East, argued that if a man now working a five-day week is on short time and is available for work, it is very difficult to test. I agree, but the information we have in the Ministry is that very few, if any, of these workers not entitled to benefit, because perhaps of the agreement referred to by the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South, bother to register at the employment exchange.

These figures, also, are important and, I hope, answer one of the right hon. Gentleman's points: when the general engineering agreement which previously prevented benefit was changed in February, about 20,000 workers came to the exchange and declared themselves available for work and claimed benefit because they could now claim for two days. But before, when they knew there was no hope of benefit, they did not bother to register at all.

The Advisory Committee was asked as long ago as June, 1953, to review the question of short-time working. I emphasise this, because there have been suggestions from hon. Members opposite that my right hon. Friend had some Machiavellian intention in introducing Clause 4 in the last few weeks to counteract the change in the agreement concerning the working week. That is not so. The matter was referred to the Advisory Committee in June, 1953, to review the question of short-time working. The Advisory Committee discussed it fully and, as the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East has reminded us, its members were almost equally divided. "Equally" is the operative word. The Advisory Committee's Report was published in November, 1955, but it made no recommendation.

When the hon. Member for Sowerby stressed that in its Report the Advisory Committee said that it felt that it should not recommend except by a substantial majority of opinion, the point surely is that as a Committee its members felt that they should not make any recommendations unless there was a majority in favour of them. The Government of the day, however, are in a different position and they have come to the conclusion that payment for a day not normally worked, when men do not intend or expect to work, is an abuse which must be remedied.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said that he assumed that the Bill would not change the legal effect of agreements now in operation. That ties up with the point raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South. The answer is that the Bill does not change the effects of those agreements, nor would we wish to try to do that. The effect will be that the five-day week worker, when on short time, will not be able to claim for Saturday. When he loses one day in a week, however, the question of whether he can claim benefit will depend on the pattern of his short-time working.

The five-day week worker is not necessarily debarred, although, I may add, the Government have been urged in some quarters to secure this. He is in the same position as the six-day worker, and will have to lose two days in six to qualify for benefit. If he loses two or more days in a week, he will be able to draw benefit. If he is unemployed for the full week, he will get a full week's unemployment benefit.

The new rule will not apply when the employment is terminated nor will it apply to the six-day week worker. That answers the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, who raised the question of wrong reports and mis-statements which have been made in the Press concerning the possible effect of Clause 4.

I was asked a question concerning the size of the problem and how much we hope to save. The answer is that we hope to save very little, because we hope there will not be any short-time working. I was asked how many short-time workers were at present registered. As the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East will appreciate, that is the concern of the Minister of Labour. I am, however, advised that at the beginning of the year about 155,000 people were on short-time, and that by the middle of March the figure had declined to 100,000, in the manufacturing industries.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what extra administrative cost would be involved. The answer is that there will be very little extra. Although there may be difficulties and fringe problems to be solved, we do not expect to be involved in very much additional administrative cost, nor do we need any extra staff to deal with the changes. That answers another of the questions he asked.

The right hon. Gentleman made the point that Clause 4 would breed resentment because, he said, it would make for discrimination among workers. There is, however, already discrimination between the six-day and the five-day worker. I should have thought that if there was resentment, it would be on the side of the existing six-day worker, who contributes for the five-day week man who draws benefit when on short time. In fairness to both classes of men, I think that the Clause has much to commend it.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why we should introduce the Clause at this particular time. The short answer is that we had no previous opportunity. There has been no opportunity for legislation, through our Department, to introduce the Clause.

Mr. Marquand

What about last year?

Miss Pitt

The right hon. Gentleman interjects, "What about last year?" May I refresh his memory?

At the beginning of last year, my right hon. Friend, in putting the Report on Widow's Benefits before the House, said he was afraid that there was no possibility of legislation. Subsequently, in the Budget, the announcement was made of an increase in family allowances. So we were able to introduce a Bill. Because the matter was urgent and desirable, we introduced into that Bill the provisions to benefit widows. It was the right hon. Gentleman himself who assured us that he would co-operate in giving the Bill a speedy passage through the House, because we all wanted these things to be done; but we could not then introduce any other legislation which might delay it.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman now understands the position.

Mr. Houghton

That shows how wrong was the hon. Lady's hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth) when he attempted to read the Minister's mind. He has had this rod in pickle for a long time and has been awaiting an opportunity to use it. He has now brought it in alongside beneficent gestures to widows, dependants, children and the rest. That is the explanation of Clause 4. I hope that I have now shattered the hon. Member's illusions about his right hon. Friend.

Mr. Freeth

Even pickles can be very charming.

Miss Pitt

I should hate to speculate on my right hon. Friend's mind.

I hope, however, that that intervention removes any suspicions and doubts, some of which have been voiced, that in introducing the Clause into the Bill my right hon. Friend had in mind any action directed against the motor car workers. That is not the case. I assure the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South, who said that the unions in Coventry saw Clause 4 as a means of causing their members to become mobile, that that is certainly no part of the intention behind the Bill. The question of mobility is one not for our Department, but for the Ministry of Labour.

The hon. Lady asked about agreements and their effect. Agreements are a matter for industry itself, for the employers and the employees to negotiate. Certainly, we would not wish to do anything that would preclude the introduction or extension of agreements, which are a very good thing in industrial relations. I think that the hon. Lady really answered herself when she said that the Confederation had resolved its thorny problem by altering the wording of its agreement to enable its members to benefit from unemployment pay when they really were unemployed. All that happens under the Bill is that the amount of unemployment pay by which they will benefit will be reduced directly in relation to those days of unemployment when they are not, and would not expect to be, at work.

Miss Burton

That is the whole point. That is what they are objecting to.

Miss Pitt

But it does not frustrate the agreement. Nothing upsets the agree- ment. If the men are unemployed on days when they would normally work, they will get benefit. That is quite clear.

Hon. Members will wish to know when we hope to bring the Bill into operation. We shall need to make appointed days for almost every part of it. The dependency benefit for the wife whose earnings do not exceed 40s. can be dealt with, we think, within a week or two of the Bill receiving the Royal Assent. We shall need time to make an order and notify our offices of the operation of the date, but that aspect will come into operation first.

The other provisions cannot come into operation until the regulations are made. As hon. Members know, they must be submitted to our National Insurance Advisory Committee. Although the Bill mainly implements the Advisory Committee's recommendations, those were in broad terms and it would be an advantage to have the Committee's views on detailed provisions. We intend, however, to submit the regulations to the Advisory Committee soon after the Bill receives the Royal Assent.

It is expected that we can bring some regulations into operation within six to eight weeks after the Royal Assent is given to the Bill. It may be two or three months before the Advisory Committee is able to report on the remaining regulations, but we hope that we shall have all the provisions of the Bill in operation within six months of its receiving the Royal Assent.

As my right hon. Friend said, this is a modest Measure. The majority of its recommendations benefit the minorities amongst us. That is its main intention. I am very glad that it is to have a Second Reading today.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).