HL Deb 22 July 1935 vol 98 cc642-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill it will not be necessary to crave more than a very few minutes of your Lordships' time. It is a short Bill; a little technical, but very simple. It seeks to amend in one particular the Unemployment Act of last year which has since been incorporated in the Unemployment Consolidation Act of this year. When I moved on behalf of the Government the Second Reading of last year's Bill in your Lordships' House I said that "the Bill makes the terms of insurance much more generous," and I added inter alia: It wipes out the present gap between the school-leaving age and the beginning of the insurance age. Later in the same debate I used these words: Provision is made by which juveniles under sixteen who continue in whole-time education voluntarily, for at least a year, may receive a free credit of contributions. I ask your Lordships to notice specially those last few words.

Again on the following day, on the resumed debate in your Lordships' House on the same Bill, my noble friend Lord Sankey, speaking from beside the Woolsack, said: The problem of unemployment is one which, it is to be feared, will engage not only many Governments but many countries and for many years to come. In such circumstances it is best to endeavour to settle a structure which will stand the test of time, but to be quite prepared to fill in or alter details according to needs and situations which may arise. Such a course therefore as we are pursuing now is almost foreshadowed in those words. I think it is common knowledge that previous to the introduction of last year's Unemployment Bill, when proposals for lowering the insurance age to the school-leaving age were under discussion, it was the general view, and one held particularly strongly by the local education authorities, that if the age were to be lowered there ought to be a "credit" of contributions for attendance at school beyond the school-leaving age of fourteen years. As your Lordships are aware, this was conceded and the concession is represented by Section 75 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1935, under which regulations have to be made for crediting with contributions juveniles who voluntarily continue their education after reaching the school-leaving age.

The Act provides that the regulations shall not come into force until September 3, 1935, but as from that date shall apply to persons who, having previously (whether before or after the commencement of this Act) attained the age aforesaid, have continued and are then continuing to receive whole-time education. That provision was in a slightly different form when the 1934 Bill, which first contained the provision in question—the 1935 Act, as I have said, is a consolidating Statute—was going through the House. The relevant clause provided that the regulations about crediting contributions should not come into force until the expiration of twelve months after the coming into operation of the provision lowering the age of entry into insurance, and the date fixed for this latter provision to come into operation was September 3, 1934, or such earlier date as the Minister might by order direct.

When the Bill was going through Parliament, in response to an appeal made by the Party represented by my noble friends opposite, an undertaking was given in another place on behalf of the Government in the following words: Children who leave school in July, 1935, will have the advantage of this particular section of the Act. In spite of the fact that they will not have been in school for two years, but only one year, after the coming into force of the Bill, they will become entitled to the full credit of contributions. At that time it was hoped that the lowering of the age of entry would be effected at the beginning of July, 1934. Had that been the case the regulations about crediting contributions would have applied to children who, twelve months from that date—that is, early in July this year—were continuing their education. Subsequent events, however, resulted in the date for the lowering of the age of entry becoming September 3, 1934, instead of the first week in July, 1934. A consequence was that the regulations about crediting contributions could not come into operation until the corresponding date in 1935, and accordingly, on a strict interpretation, those children who finish their continued education at the end of the 1935 school year—that is, in July, 1935—would not be covered. I may say in parenthesis that actually schools in the West of Scotland close down in June. These children would not have been covered even had the earlier date been possible. The present Bill covers them as well as the others, so that noble Lords from Scotland will appreciate that there is no injustice to Scotland here.

It has been suggested that by a generous interpretation of the words of the Statute the making of a regulation would cover the children in question. That, we are advised, is impossible. Benefit is not payable before the age of sixteen and, moreover, in order to qualify for benefit boys and girls must pay actual contributions—ten or more—sufficient to bring their total of contributions up to thirty. But some of them will have reached sixteen before leaving school this summer, others will be approaching that age, and it is certain that unless the law is altered the pledge will have been broken by the early autumn in some cases, and in an increasing number of cases in succeeding months. With that explanation I am sure your Lordships would desire the appropriate credits to be given to boys and girls leaving school this summer. In all the circumstances it has been decided to put the matter right by a brief Bill which is obviously uncontentious.

Perhaps I should just say a word in explanation of the expression used in lines 14 and 15—namely, "the period of four months ending with the said third day of September." It has been thought desirable on the whole to include in the scope of the Bill all children who have been at school at all during the summer term of this year. The expression "term" or "school term" is not regarded as sufficiently established to be used for this purpose. An alternative would have been to mention a fixed date, say, June 1, but on the whole it was thought that the expression actually used in the Bill would have a less arbitrary appearance, and consequently it has been adopted. I would only add that the Bill involves no Exchequer charge. Any expenditure which may arise from its provisions will fall upon the Unemployment Fund and such expenditure, while it cannot be precisely estimated, will certainly be quite inconsiderable. I am glad to have the opportunity of submitting this Bill to your Lordships before the difficulty which it seeks to remedy has caused any hardship to the boys and girls concerned. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Rochester.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.