§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY)
My Lords, I desire to move the Second Reading of the Unemployment Insurance (Transitional Provisions Amendment) Bill, and I hope that it will be regarded as non-controversial. In another place there was a discussion on the Second Reading but the Committee stage and Third Reading stage passed without discussion. Your Lordships will remember that no one has attacked the principle of this Bill. Only the optimism of the Government in regard to the improvement of the state of unemployment when they fixed the duration of the operation of the transitional provisions of the Act of 1927 at twelve months has been attacked. Those hopes, unfortunately, have not been realised. Your Lordships are familiar, I think, with the history of these various Acts of which the present amending Act is the last. 832 Your Lordships are also familiar with what is known as the thirty contributions rule. This is the first statutory condition for drawing unemployment benefit. Under this rule the worker must have paid thirty contributions within the two years immediately preceding the date of drawing benefit for a new benefit period.
The Unemployment Insurance Act, 1927, contains transitional provisions under which the thirty contributions rule was not to come into force until twelve months after the operation of the Act had commenced, and the following conditions were substituted for that rule—(1), Payment of eight contributions during two years immediately preceding taking benefit or thirty contributions in all; (2), the worker is normally in insurable employment; and (3), the worker has reasonably been employed during the previous two years in insurable employment, considering all circumstances. These transitional provisions, as I have said, were to operate at any time within twelve months of the commencement of the Act; that is to say, twelve months from April 19, 1928. The present Bill merely substitutes twenty-four months for the twelve in the section of the principal Act which covers the duration of the transitional provisions, and prolongs their operation for a further period of twelve months. Your Lordships, I think, will understand that by reason of unemployment not having diminished to the extent to which we should have liked to see it diminish, it is necessary for the purpose of preventing hardship that the operation of the Act of 1927 should be prolonged for another twelve months. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, the noble Marquess in opening his speech said this Bill would be non-controversial. That is true in a sense, but it is net non-discussable, and I propose to say a few words about- it. I think the noble Marquess skated somewhat lightly over what he knows very well is the weak point of his case. I refer to the optimism of the Government in 1927 when they passed the Act of that year governing this very matter. It is not very much satisfaction to us in the Labour Party to say how right we were and how wrong 833 the Government have been, because we have been able to do that so often, but it has rarely been more to the point than in connection with this Bill. Most absurd expectations were held out by the Ministry of Labour about this matter, and the Bill is only another indication that the Government are incapable either of dealing with the problem of unemployment or of estimating what has to be done about unemployment.
In 1927 when the Bill was brought in the case of the Government was that probably unemployment would be reduced by the time this provision came into operation by one-fifth. Let us look at that. At the time the number of unemployed was about 1,200,000. Take one-fifth away and you get 960,000. Instead of that we have 1,268,000. As a matter of fact the Government calculation is about 30 per cent. wrong. We now have a debt on the Unemployment Fund of £35,000,000 at least. We do not oppose the Bill. It is inevitable what would happen if this Bill were not passed. At the time the original Bill was discussed the case of the Government was that if the provision went unamended possibly 30,000 men would be thrown out of benefit. As a matter of fact unless this Bill were passed 120,000 would be thrown out of benefit—four times as many as the Government estimated. There again the Government was wrong to the extent of about 100,000, yet this is the problem of unemployment upon which they obtained a great many votes in 1924 by saying it was their duty to deal with it and so on. It is not surprising in these circumstances, this being their record, that they are losing by-elections at a record rate. In nine by-elections this year their vote has fallen from 122,000 to 78,000—a drop of from 30 to 40 per cent. There has never been anything like it in the history of by-elections. It is not surprising that a large number of Unionist members are not standing again and do not wish to go before the electors when the time comes.
This Bill does nothing whatever to deal with the problem of unemployment. It is the negation of statesmanship. You will not find under this Bill a single job for a single man. All you do is to continue a state of things which is extremely unsatisfactory. This is apparently the last contribution this Government have 834 to make to the unemployment problem. There it is. We agree to it. We said it would be necessary; in fact, it does not really go far enough. We have suggested that all along. It is another commentary on the Government's mess, muddle and mismanagement of the last four and a half years. Happily the end is in sight, and as far as can be seen it is humanly certain that in a few weeks their place will be taken by another Government which will deal with these things in a more successful way.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I know the noble Lord does not like making a speech to which a reply is not given; in fact, the other evening he criticised my noble friend who sits behind me because he did not reply to him. I hardly think there is any reply necessary to the speech the noble Lord has just made. When he speaks of unemployment I would suggest to him that a great deal of the unemployment which now exists is due to the General Strike of 1926, to which the noble Lord did not object and of which those whom he calls his leaders were the leaders. They are the same individuals who are calling upon the country to return them to govern and control the destinies of this country. The noble Lord has ventured to make a prophecy and I also will make a prophecy. Although these by-elections are perhaps an index in some form or another, I venture to say that when we come to the General Election, which after all is the most important test, the noble Lord will find that those measures which were taken by his colleagues and leaders two years ago will be well remembered by the people of this country. The people of this country will realise that the figures of unemployment which my right hon. friend in another place has not been fortunate in bringing down are mainly attributable to the steps taken by the noble Lord and his colleagues and leaders two years ago.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I certainly do not want to embark at this stage on prophecies as to the effect of the General Election. The noble Marquess opposite may well take one view and I may well take another; but there is one point upon which I should like to say a word. It may be that the difficulties at the time of the General Lock-out or Strike, whichever you call 835 it—I call it a General Lock-out; certainly in the collieries of which I was cognisant it was a lock-out—arose from this cause: The Government themselves appointed a Committee or Commission to deal with the coal question generally, and after that Commission had reported, instead of implementing the Report by making it a matter of legislation, nothing was done. It was said sometimes that one party or the other did not agree to it. I dare say that may be so, but the duty of a Government is to do what they think right and it is a very strong thing to throw over the Report of a Commission which they themselves had appointed, and which most carefully had come to definite conclusions. I think that was a mistake. I do not want to go further into the matter and I should not have said so much if the noble Marquess opposite had not gone into ancient history, the effect of which no doubt may be found when the General Election comes along. All that I desire to do is to express a different opinion from that which he has uttered this afternoon.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.