§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Miss Bondfield)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Perhaps it is not necessary again to point out that this Bill is solely an interim 131 Measure; that it is not intended to provide any permanent solution of financial difficulties, but is merely to tide us over an interim period. Clause 1 was very fully explained during the discussion of the Money Resolution, and Clause 2, Subsection (3) is the only part of the Bill which requires any further explanation. This Sub-section repeals the existing provisions as to Exchequer contributions which are inconsistent with the proposals of the Bill. The first of the provisions in question (part of Section 4 (2) of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1925) provides for the Exchequer Contribution after the deficiency period. The remaining provisions mentioned in the Sub-Section (viz. Section 8 and corresponding Schedule of the Economy [Miscellaneous Provisions] Act, 1926, and Section 2 (i, 6) and corresponding Schedule of the Act of 1927) provide for the present Exchequer Contributions. This is another illustration of that rather horrible method of legislation by reference, which is unavoidable in the circumstances, but which none of us likes.
The criticism in the Debate on the Financial Resolution rather suggested that this Bill would be the Government's first, last and only word on Unemployment Insurance, that I had done nothing and proposed to do nothing; in short that I was content to allow things to go on as before. I do not think it even necessary to deny such charges as that. I followed the constitutional practice which requires that a Money Resolution should be presented to the House, and I intended, and do intend, to make a wider statement upon the Bill to-night. It is perhaps appropriate and for the convenience of the House, and particularly of those Members who are not quite as familiar as some of us with Unemployment Insurance administration, that I should refer to some points in the working of the Unemployment Insurance Acts which will continue to be in operation after this Bill is passed. On this Bill we are, of course, precluded entirely from discussing those questions which might involve legislation affecting other matters, and we are also precluded from discussing any question of a permanent solution of the financial difficulties, but I think I am in order in dealing with some purely administrative points in relation to the problems which confront us.
132 On the second day that I was in office I began my review of the existing situation. I have covered a considerable amount of ground and I shall continue, during the Recess, to follow up personally the work of the Department in every one of its branches. I propose to visit the various divisions and to discuss on the spot the difficulties which are undoubtedly there to be solved. But there are certain administrative steps which I have taken and which I propose to take and about which the House may be interested to hear something. The criticism that has been made seems to suggest that a little more clear thinking is required about the nature of the problem. There must be in any State unemployment scheme some kind of test of genuineness. This is proved if you state the obverse side of the case. My experience of working-class organisation and the general attitude of the insured contributors leads me to be quite certain, as the present Secretary of State for War was certain in 1924, that in the administration of a scheme of this kind, those administering the scheme must be satisfied as to the genuineness of the applicants.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Lady is now going beyond her own Bill on which it would not be in order to deal with the administration of the Unemployment Insurance Act.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
I accept your Ruling, Sir. I was merely going to take that as an illustration of the difference between what might be regarded as the principles of the Bill and the procedure adopted in carrying out those principles. It seemed to me that many of the criticisms directed against the proposal in the Money Resolution were due in large part, to mixing up procedure with the principles which have to underlie any legislation. The question of the degree of administrative responsibility resting on the Exchange official is one on which I should like to say something, and I hope in doing so I am not out of order.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am sorry to say the right hon. Lady would be quite out of order in doing so. She must realise that this would lead us into a general discussion on Insurance administration, because, if I allowed her to proceed with 133 that matter, I could not possibly prevent other hon. Members from taking the same course.
§ Mr. TOM SMITH
May I suggest, Sir, that it would be helpful, particularly to new Members, if we had some indication of the limitations to be placed upon the Debate.
§ Sir HENRY BETTERTON
I was about to ask the same question. Might we have some Ruling, Sir, as to the scope of the Debate and the extent to which we may go in discussing these matters. For instance, will it be in order to discuss the whole question of transfer, which is a matter upon which I should like to say something?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The discussion must be limited to a rather narrow field. The discussion upon this Bill cannot go beyond the Money Resolution upon which it is founded. After all, that is what governs the Second Reading of the Bill. The only point that would be in order would be the point that the amount by which the Government propose to increase the contribution is inadequate, or some point of that kind, but we certainly cannot go into the administration of the general Insurance scheme or into any other parts of it.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I respectfully submit that the question of transfer would be in order because part of the cost of transfer—the advances to the men transferred—is a charge on the Fund or may be paid for out of the Fund. It follows that the amount of the provision now to be made would be very material in this connection and that the question would arise as to whether it is sufficient for the purposes for which it is being asked.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
This Bill allows of a certain increase in the amount of the State contribution. I submit that it would be in order to argue that that sum should he used for a definite and specific purpose. Would it not be in order to argue that the increased contribution by the State should be used for a particular purpose within the meaning of the Act—that is to say that this extra sum should be applied to particular purposes and not for the Fund in general. I would ask your ruling, Sir, on the point as to whether it would not be in order 134 to discuss whether the £3,500,000 which the Money Resolution has already voted, should be spent in abolishing or minimising a particular administrative hardship arising under the Act.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that this would be the time for earmarking the contribution of the State towards the Fund. As I understand it, the Money Resolution has been introduced because the Fund was more or less bankrupt, if I may use that term. The proposal in the Money Resolution is that the State instead of contributing two-fifths, should contribute one-half of the contribution of the employer and employed, and the only thing which would be in order in a discussion of this kind would be an argument on the necessity for the increased grant, or, otherwise, that the amount was inadequate to put the Fund into a solvent condition.
§ Sir ASSHETON POWNALL
The Financial Memorandum which has been issued on this matter states:The present proposal in the absence of unforeseen circumstances, will be sufficient to enable the Fund to discharge its liabilities until the early part of next year.I suggest that the administrative changes, which were mentioned last week and of which the Minister wishes to tell us today, are "unforeseen circumstances" which of themselves may mean that the Fund will not have sufficient money with which to carry on until we meet again after the Recess. I suggest that that vitiates the whole of the premises that have been put forward and that we should be in order in discussing it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The necessity for the increased grant would undoubtedly be in order, but I do not know what the hon. Member would regard as coming within that definition, and I should have to know what he proposed to say on that point before deciding whether he was in order or not.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
As this sum of £3,500,000 is for the general purposes of unemployment insurance I suggest that the Debate might be allowed to cover all those administrative points to which the money should be applied.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
I shall obey your Killing, Sir, and shall merely direct attention to the need for this proposal. The borrowing powers obtained by the last Ministry have been practically exhausted and the present borrowing powers would be insufficient. We consider it would be a vicious thing to increase the borrowing powers, anyhow for this Fund, thus placing an added burden of interest upon it, and therefore the Government propose this increase of the Exchequer contribution as an interim measure to meet the present emergency and give us some margin of security to the end of the year. In view of your Ruling, Sir, I leave it at that and move the Second Reading of the Bill, explaining, as I did at the beginning, that its sole object is to prevent the whole system of unemployment insurance from coming to and end for want of money.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Will the right hon. Lady tell us how long will this extra sum enable the Fund to carry on without further borrowing?
§ Miss BONDFIELD
It is anticipated that this sum will make the Fund secure from bankruptcy until the end of the year.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I do not mean secure from bankruptcy. There is, roughly, a sum of £3,500,000 still to borrow. Is this sum to carry on with, plus the £3,500,000?
§ Miss BONDFIELD
Yes, we may exhaust the borrowing powers. I think we may probably use the greater part of the £3,500,000.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
May I ask if, at the end of this year, it may be necessary to come to the House again for a further grant?
§ Miss BONDFIELD
That, of course, depends on the curve of employment and the degree to which the number of unemployed persons can be reduced by their absorption into employment. I have to go on the assumption that we cannot count upon that. I hope we shall be able to show at the end of the year that my fears are unnecessary, but I have stated the position frankly to the House.
§ Sir A. POWNALL
I have been very closely into the finances of this Measure, and I have been at some pains to compare the present unemployment figure 136 with what may reasonably be expected to be the average in the course of the next few months. There has been an increase in round figures of 200,000 between June and October in previous years, and that increase also took place in 1924 when there was a Socialist Government. I sincerely hope we shall not have that big increase, but, even assuming that there is an increase of 200,000, I agree with the right hon. Lady that there should be enough—anyhow on my calculations—to see us through until the House meets again, probably in the latter part of October. What seems to me may arise, however, are the "unforeseen circumstances" suggested in the Memorandum. When the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) raised the question of the operation of the Unemployment Insurance Act he asked whether on this side of the Recess there would be any alteration of the Unemployment Insurance Act, and the Prime Minister said:An alteration so far as I have indicated, but no more.Then the hon. Member asked:Am I to take it that all the iniquities of not genuinely seeking work will continue it to afflict the unemployed?and the Prime Minister said:So far as these are administrative, no; so far as they were legislative, that is so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1929; col. 874, Vol. 229.]8.0 p.m.
In other words, administrative changes were contemplated, or are contemplated, by the Ministry of Labour, and my contention is that those changes, about which the right hon. Lady wished to tell us, are such as may well throw the finances of the Fund out of gear. We have a right to know before we separate for the Recess what changes are contemplated. We must remember that the present Bill, founded on the Report of the Blanesburgh Committee, of which the right hon. Lady was a co-signatory, has made this question of a statutory nature. We have set up a body of 'a legal kind, with an appeal to the Court of Referees and to the Umpire, and, as I understand the Act of 1927, the right hon. Lady has no power of herself whatever—the Prime Minister says without further legislation—to alter the Measure which we passed in 1927, unless she is going to do something in the nature of again setting up Ministerial discretion. That has been demolished. I am trying 137 to keep within the Ruling of Mr. Speaker, but it is very difficult to do it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is suggesting that we should treat this Money Resolution as if it was introduced to deal with some circumstances that may possibly arise, but, so far as I understand this Money Resolution, it is to deal with circumstances which have already arisen.
§ Sir A. POWNALL
Surely, Sir, if the administration is to be altered, as the Prime Minister definitely stated last week, that will of itself throw out the finances of the Measure to such an extent that the House is entitled to an explanation as to how the matter stands.
§ Mr. JOHN BAKER
I wish to congratulate the right bon. Lady the Minister of Labour on the way in which she is tackling her job. We on this side have never been satisfied with the finances of this Fund. When I was making speeches in 1927 and showing the anxiety expressed to-night by the hon. Member for East Lewisham (Sir A. Pownall), those speeches were met with a stony silence. It has been pointed out repeatedly that the Government of that day were paying no regard whatever either to the Blanesburgh Report or to the Actuaries' Report, and it has been pointed out that the actuaries based contributions upon the assumption of a normal unemployment amounting to 600,000 workpeople. It was well known to every hon. Member interested in the subject that the contribution made by the Government was totally inadequate to meet the benefits that were laid down in the Act. The Government of that day had to admit that inadequacy, but preferred to accept the stigma of incapacity rather than to admit an error of judgment, and within a year of the passing of the Act they had to come to this House for increased borrowing powers and to raise the amount that they might borrow for the purpose of lending to the Unemployment Insurance Fund from £30,000,000 to £40,000,000. At the same time they took power to borrow £5,000,000 to keep the Fund running on. That, to say the least of it, was not a businesslike proceeding. Hon. Members opposite claim that they are busi- 138 ness men. Well might the country be in the rotten position in which it finds itself if they conduct business on the same lines as they conducted the finance of the Unemployment Insurance Act.
Therefore, I have to congratulate the right hon. Lady in coming here with a business proposition to put the finances of this Act in order. I believe that the amount asked for will turn out to be inadequate, but I believe that the principle adopted is a sound and right principle. We have more unemployed now than we had in 1927. In that year the average unemployment was less than 10 per cent., but in 1928 the average was greater than 10 per cent.; in other words, that took place which the men in this House with experience of this matter anticipated would take place, but the business men in the House said that unemployment was going to decrease and that we should not need the funds to pay out benefits, because the people would be at work. We complained of another point. We had a tripartite agreement, one of the parties refusing to pay anything like an adequate share. The employer paid so much, and the workmen slightly less, but the Government claimed to get off with less still. We objected to that principle then, and I am glad that that principle is going to be rectified by the Government paying a sum of money amounting, roughly, to one-third of the contributions payable under the Act. That seems to me to be fairer, for many reasons.
Owing to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I am doubtful whether I am at liberty to draw attention to what we pointed out at that time, namely, that the action of the Government was going to place such a burden on local authorities that they were not going to help the trade and industry of the country, but were actually going to hinder its restoration. It may be that there are many contributory causes, but trade has not improved at the rate we were assured it would improve, and the unemployed have not been absorbed at the rate we were assured would be the case. Consequently, the present Government, at the earliest opportunity, have had to turn their attention to finding money to make this scheme financially sound, and I think they are wise in doing that as a first step. I do not intend to go into details about the hardships of administration, but I believe that many 139 of those hardships have been caused, first of all, by the late Government cramping the amount of money that could possibly be expended. That required the strictest economy in administration and compelled men to do things in administration which, as ordinary citizens, they would not have done, because they felt that if they did give anybody the benefit of the doubt in a particular case—and there are many cases of hardship—they would be imperilling the solvency of the Fund and probably preventing some other and, as they thought more worthy, objects getting benefit should they fall on the Fund. Therefore, I have to congratulate the Government for bringing in this Bill as a first step and to thank them for their promise that we are going to get a Bill later on to review the whole situation and try to correct some of the hardships about which we have complained hitherto.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I shall not speak at any length, because I recognise that the Financial Resolution went through this House and that your ruling, Mr. Speaker, was inevitable when this Bill came up, and that no other ruling, once that Money Resolution was disposed of, was possible. Let me, at the same time, raise one or two points which might be in order now. I do not take the view of the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. J. Baker), who has just spoken, but let me say, first, that if what he says be correct, it possibly backs up my indictment of the officials the other day more strongly than I was capable of doing myself. He stated that the Minister of Labour intends to increase the sum by £3,600,000, thus making more money available and giving the officials the financial power to be more liberal than they formerly were; in other words, that the officials were not guided by the Act, and did not watch the Act, but only took cognisance, or part cognisance, of the amount of money available. If that be the case, if any official took cognisance, not of the Act as it was, but of the amount of money available, it makes my charge against the officials much graver and stronger than I thought, namely, that an official, in the discharge of his duties laid down by Act of Parliament, did not consider the Act, or at least only partly considered the Act, but partly considered things that were outside his purview and control. 140 That is a tremendously strong charge to make against the officials, that they did not entirely carry out the Act, but preferred to carry out a Government (economy in its place. If that be the charge, they should be dismissed, and dismissed early, if the hon. Gentleman's speech be correct, because, be an official good or bad, the theory of past Governments has been that it was his duty to carry out the Act. The question of raising the money for it was the Government's business, and any person going beyond that, if the hon. Gentleman's statement be correct, should be dismissed at the earliest possible moment.
We are constantly told that this is an attempt to put the Act on a proper basis. The hon. Member for Bilston said that this was based on the Blanesburgh Report, but may I be excused if I reiterate that the last Act passed by the Conservative Government was not based on the Blanesburgh Report? That is perfectly true, and it is a good job for the unemployed that it was not based on that Report. Let the House remember that while the theory of the Blanesburgh Committee was a contribution of one-third from the employer, one-third from the workman, and one-third from the State, it was also their theory that the contribution of the employers would be £9,500,000, the contribution of the workmen the same, and the contribution of the State the same, but even under the system of the last Government the State contributed £12,500,000, or £3,000,000 more than the Blanesburgh Committee asked them to contribute; and while it might be a less proportion, it was a less proportion of a much larger sum than the Blanesburgh Committee ever asked them to raise.
I believe that the financial requirements are, as stated by the right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), the keynote of every possible Measure. I have come to the conclusion in this House that whether you discuss housing, unemployment in relation to exchange matters, or unemployment in relation to getting work, you are always dominated by one consideration, and one consideration only, namely, Where can you get the money? We talk about the raising of the school age, and the only thing that has to be considered in that question is the money with which to do it. All these problems are constantly dominated by the financial consideration. The 141 present proposal is designed to make the Government contribution £3,600,000 more, and to that extent it will better the Government relationship to the other contributors.
My case, however, is that this Measure ought not to have been introduced just now, but ought to have been substituted by a Measure which took a much fuller, broader, and bigger outlook of the financial provisions of the administration of the Unemployment Insurance Act. The right hon. Lady told us that this amount, plus the power to borrow extra a similar amount, would possibly last us until the end of this year. That, however, is very problematical, because to-day there is being discussed in the Press a state of affairs that is tremendously grave. Anyone who looks at the Lancashire cotton trade cannot escape the significant fact that any day might see that big industry flung into a big trade dispute. It will occur when the House of Commons is not meeting, and any person, who has had experience of trade union affairs, as the right hon. Lady must have had, knows that if the million workers in the cotton trade are thrown out by a lock-out—it will not be a strike—the administration costs of unemployment insurance will rapidly mount up. We have had to borrow £7,000,000 during the last seven months when there was no dispute worth talking about; and we are now faced with the possibility of one of the greatest trade disputes, and only a similar amount is being provided.
That is why I say that wise, prudent, and capable finance would not have introduced this Measure, but would have recast the whole financial basis of unemployment insurance. We are not facing up to the financial position. I differed—although I must say that they had a case—from my colleagues in the Trade Union Congress, who, at the time of the Blanesburgh Committee, advocated a reduction in the contribution of employers and employed. I wish this Fund were not remaining contributory—I would make it the Labour party's idea to have a non-contributory Fund—but as long as it remains contributory, I would keep the contribution of the employers and employed as they are now. I have been in this House seven years and I think that even my keenest critic—and I often think my enemies sometimes number more than my friends— 142 would admit that I take an interest in this question. I think that I do know something about it. So long as I have been in the House, I have never yet had from a single constituent—and this is to the credit of the working people—a request for a reduction in the contribution from the working people. Therefore, I would keep the contributions of the workpeople and employers as they are. I charge the Government with insufficiency in relation to this Fund, for there is an absolutely unanswerable case for the Government at this stage contributing not, 50 per cent. of what the employers and employed contribute, but an amount equal to that which they contribute.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bilston says that the officials were limited by the amount of money at their disposal. Does he think that raising £13,500,000, when you have already borrowed £7,000,000 in the last seven months, is raising it anything like adequate enough even to allow the officials that leniency which they want? The workmen and the employers contribute between them about £32,000,000 or £33,000,000. We now ask that the State should contribute about £16,000,000. If the Labour party's theory of a non-contributory system be sound—and I think their case is unanswerable, it is the soundest case I know—and if we are sincere, if we want the officials to have the power that we desire them to have, if we wish to see more human administration, if we wish to see the Act extended so that hardship would be almost if not entirely eliminated, why do we not raise the State's contribution from the figure which is now proposed, which is half the combined contributions of the employers and the employed, to a sum equal to the joint contributions of the employers and the employed?
I think something like 11,000,000 people are covered by the Insurance Fund, but it does not cover anything like the whole of the population. There are outside this insurance scheme large masses of the population Who only contribute to it as members of the State, but there are also large masses of workmen who contribute not only as citizens of the State but as workmen towards what, in my view, ought to be solely a State charge. If there be a case for relieving necessitous areas of the rating burdens upon them, there is an equally strong case against asking the necessitous trades 143 We are asking the steel smelters, the engineers, the men in the building to carry the burden of this insurance, trades, the miners, and those in the cotton trade, every one of them necessitous trades, trades living on the verge of starvation, to carry the financial burden of this Fund, with the State contributing only half the combined contributions of the other two parties to the Fund. Is there a single hon. Member, be he Tory, Liberal or Labour, who thinks that a fair division—that the powerful State, which includes the Rothschilds, which includes millionaires, should contribute no more than that? I contend that we are not making anything like decent financial arrangements under the insurance scheme.
I do not want to go beyond the ruling of the Chair, and I cannot raise what I would have liked to bring forward tonight, and that is to suggest what administrative changes could be made in order to abolish hardships. Perhaps I may be permitted to digress for only a sentence or two—well, I will not do even that, but I will use an illustration to make my point. I did not come here to-night to bring forward criticisms in a cantankerous spirit, but I thought I could have made a constructive speech telling my colleagues how the Act could be improved administratively, and I am sorry that I cannot make that speech. But inside the terms of Mr. Speaker's ruling, I want to remind the House that we have been promised administrative changes within the next few months, and every one on this side of the House hopes those changes will be big and sweeping. What I wish to ask is how the Government can make big and sweeping administrative changes when the money derived from this addition and the sum they are to be allowed to borrow, about £7,000,000, will be almost all eaten up at the end of the year under the present administrative system, apart altogether from what may happen following the changes which they may introduce? I want someone from the Treasury bench to tell me to-night if the Government intend to improve the administration of the Act in a big, bold, and generous fashion in order to deal with the misfortunes of our unfortunate people under the capitalist system? If 144 they intend to do that, and to bring into benefit numbers of people who are at present outside, how can they say that £7,000,000 will suffice, when under the administrative persecutions of the last Government £7,000,000 covered only seven months?
§ The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Mr. Lansbury)
On a point of Order. The Minister tried very hard to make a statement on this specific subject, and the Speaker ruled it out, and said that it could not be discussed. I want to ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether my hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, will be allowed to make that statement.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
I wish to submit that the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is quite entitled, within the ruling, to point to the inadequacy of this sum as a means of giving expression to the well-known policy and pledges of the Front Bench.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Mr. Speaker ruled that the Minister could not make a statement as to what her policy would be in alleviating or altering administration, and, if she is not to be allowed to do that, or if her colleagues are not to be allowed to do that, how can we answer the questions which are being put by my hon. Friend?
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
Further to that point of Order, I submit that the hon. Member for Gorbals is merely arguing that the inadequacy of the sum demonstrates quite cearly that there is no intention of improving the administration of the Employment Exchanges.
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Robert Young)
I heard Mr. Speaker give his Ruling that administration could not be discussed. So far as the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is concerned), I take it that he is not going into the administration, but pointing out that he thinks the amount now proposed is insufficient to enable them to do anything.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Yes, that is my point; and I want to say further that I think the White Paper does not meet the situation at all. I think the advisers who drafted the Financial Resolution have not faced up to the financial requirements. 145 I have somewhat lost the thread of my argument by the interruption of the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench, but this is a point which I wish to emphasise. In my view this sum is hardly calculated to enable us to carry on with the present administration; without changing the administration, without taking into consideration the possibility of the Lancashire lock-out, the sum we are asked to vote is barely adequate, and I wish to ask the Minister seriously to reconsider her position. In her answer to me, delivered fairly and courteously, she said that she intended to use not only the £3,500,000 being granted, but the other £3,500,000 which is to be borrowed. In other words, she is going to put up the borrowed money to £40,000,000 as well as increase the grant. We are told that this is putting things on a financial basis, but how can that claim be made when things are put into a worse position? The only difference is this, that instead of raising the borrowed capital from £36,500,000 to £45,000,000 we stop it at £40,000,000.
All the workmen engaged in the steel trade, all the miners digging coal, will have to pay more in interest because we are not increasing this sum of £3,500,000 to at least the £16,000,000 which I have suggested; in fact, we ought to be increasing it to £19,500,000. If the Government had done that, they could have made their administrative changes, but they prefer to allow this debt to accumulate, allow it to come on to the backs of industries and of the toiling masses, while taking good care to provide for the financiers, who are going to get their interest. My charge against the Government is that the sum proposed is fundamentally too small. By no stretch of the imagination can it be argued that it is large enough. I plead earnestly and anxiously with the Minister to reconsider her decision. She is taking to-night a big step, a step which will fetter her action for months to come. Decent men and decent women, just as good as any in the land, are calling on us to-night to alter the present system, and I ask the Minister in charge whether it is yet too late for her to respond to that appeal. If I cared I think I could be—though I do not want to be—the slightest bit offensive to-night, but I feel that I would be failing in my duty if I were to allow this pro- 146 posal to go through unopposed, because I think it is a shockingly inadequate grant, it is mean, it is not worthy of its proposers and it ought to be treated with the utmost contempt by a party which professes to hold the great ideals we hold.
§ Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE
I wish, first of all, to congratulate the Minister of Labour upon being the first woman to become a member of a British Cabinet. I am sure that the Government will be materially strengthened by the accession of a woman to the councils of our Cabinet. The various Departments of the Government under the direction of the Lord Privy Seal are concerned with attacking the fundamental causes of unemployment. The business of the Minister of Labour is to deal with the causes of unemployment so long as they exist, and it is her duty to concentrate her efforts on humanising the Act so that the victims of unemployment will suffer as little as possible so long as the scourge of unemployment prevails in the land. I should be out of order if I discussed the question as to whether the Government intend to bring in a Bill to raise the benefits, because we all know that a raised scale of benefits was approved by the joint conference of the Labour party and the trade unionists and that-appeared in our election manifesto last month. The unemployed are entitled to know when it is the intention of the Government to raise the benefits to the scale approved by all sections of the Labour movement. I think I shall be in order in discussing whether the £3,600,000 provided in this Bill is adequate or not to deal with the various anomalies still existing in the administration of our unemployment system. The removal of those anomalies was dealt with in our election manifesto, in which it was stated that it was the intention of the Government at the earliest possible date to remove the disqualification which deprived unemployed men of the payments to which they were entitled. I hope the Minister of Labour will consider the advisability of including in this proposal, or in a later Bill, a very short Amendment leaving out the word "genuinely"—
The hon. Member will not be in order in dealing with that Amendment at this stage.
§ Mr. MALONE
I was going to argue that the sum we are dealing with ought to be larger if it is intended to carry out all the improvements which we would like to see carried out.
Mr. Speaker informed the House that that was the very thing hon. Members could not discuss on this Measure.
§ Mr. MALONE
Of course, I how to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I would like to make this general remark. There has been some hesitation in introducing Amendments to the Act that we would like to have seen included in this short Bill. I would rather see the benefits given to a few people who are not entitled to them than see, as we see at the present moment, benefits not being given to some people who ought to have them. I should like to see an alteration in the time occupied between the carrying out of the appeal and the unemployed man or woman appearing at the Employment Exchange—
I must call the hon. Member's attention to the fact that the points which he is raising are not in order.
§ Mr. MALONE
Should I be in order in stating that in my opinion this sum of money is quite inadequate to cover the administrative improvements which are necessary in Courts of Referees?
The sum of money now being asked for is intended to enable the Government to carry out the Act as it is now in force.
§ Mr. MALONE
I will leave those points and raise them at the earliest opportunity. The speeches which hon. Members have made or have tried to make on this side have shown that there is a strong feeling on this point, and I hope an opportunity will be given before the Autumn Recess to bring out these important administrative details, and for the Minister of Labour to explain what she is doing. I am inclined to believe that every effort is being made to meet these disabilities and all these questions ought to be discussed. The Minister of Labour has the distinction of being the first woman to sit as a Member of the British Cabinet, and it is a distinction which has been earned by her by years 148 of service given to the cause of men and women in this country. I am sure it is a distinction which has been appreciated by Members of every party in this House. I should like to see that distinction crowned by the achievement of having brought humanity and justice into the administration of the laws dealing with unemployed men and women in this country.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
In view of the Ruling of Mr. Speaker, I do not propose to say anything about the Bill, nor do I desire to delay its passage for one moment. I only rise for the purpose of saying one word about the remarks of the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. J. Baker). As I was one of the two Ministers to whom the officials referred to by the hon. Member were responsible, I want to say that, if he thinks that the officials to whom he refers take cognisance, in their administration of the Act, of the amount of money available, he is totally mistaken.
§ Mr. MALONE
On a point of Order. You have just ruled, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the question of administration by officials cannot now be discussed, and I would ask whether the hon. Baronet is in order in pursuing that point? If he is, other hon. Members would be very glad to follow up that question.
I do not think that the hon. Baronet was going to discuss the administration of officials. He was only going to say, as I understood, that a charge which had been made against officials was not correct.
§ Mr. J. BAKER
May I ask the hon. Baronet not to ask me any questions, because I shall not be able to reply to them?
§ Mr. MALONE
On that point of Order. I asked your Ruling just now on the question of discussing, not charges, but the Courts of Referees, which affect the work of the officials, and you ruled that out of order.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I am replying to the statement, which I cook down, made 149 by the hon. Member for Bilston, that officials took cognisance of the amount of money available, his inference being that their administration was influenced by that fact.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Whatever be the interpretation put upon it, what I desire to say is that the officials responsible to myself and to Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland carried out with complete fidelity the obligations put upon them by Acts of this House, and anyone who knows the British Civil Service will know that they will carry out with equal faithfulness their duties to the present Government.
§ Mr. MANSFIELD
As a new Member of this House, and one who has come direct from administration connected with the practical life of our people, I want to say that it is a tragedy to me that the late Government left this fund in its present position. I support the principle contained in the Money Resolution, because we have all to realise that we are living in a scientific world. Everywhere we find machinery displacing labour power, with the result that we have now, as a nation, to try to find some ways and means of maintaining our unemployed during this period of transition. At one quarry where I have had to deal with various questions affecting the men, there were, less than two years ago, over 80 men employed in the production of limestone, but, because of the introduction of machinery, only 30 men are employed there to-day. That means—
I do not want to rule too strictly during a maiden speech, but the real purpose of this Bill is to increase an Exchequer grant, and the discussion must be confined to the adequacy or inadequacy of the amount, or the reasons for its being granted.
§ Mr. MANSFIELD
That was my point, namely, that, unless the Government transfer more money for the maintenance of our unemployed, where they are being displaced by machinery, our local ratepayers will have to maintain them, and, if I understand aright the movement with 150 which I am connected, the policy of that movement is, and I hope it will be the policy of every Government, to do what they can to transfer the maintenance of our unemployed from a local to a national burden. Further, there has been a great deal of economy on this question of unemployment insurance. Because of this economy, because we have been told that there was not the money, men whom I have had to represent have had to travel 25 miles each way to have their cases heard before the Court of Referees. I have had notice of a similar case to-day. Therefore, I hope that more money will be made available. I am strongly in favour of the present proposal, although I realise that it is only a stop-gap, and I hope that, whatever Government may be in power, they will in future concentrate their attention on getting more money into a national fund so that our unemployed may be maintained from that source and not be forced on to the local authorities. We have as a nation been able to provide the money to pay interest on War Debt, but we have many men to-day—miners, blastfurnacemen, iron and steel workers, and so on—who, because of their War service, are not able to follow their arduous occupations, and who are left to be maintained by boards of guardians because they cannot get maintenance from some national fund. I say that it is a tragedy that things have been allowed to get into this position, and I hope and trust that our Government will have a chance, after the first Recess is over, to do something to improve the position of the unemployed.
§ Mr. REMER
I am sure the whole House will desire to congratulate the hon. Member on his maiden speech, and to welcome him as a contributor to our Debates. My object in intervening is to refer to a subject which I am afraid will weary the right hon. Lady, though I have no intention of doing so, namely, that of the finances of the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Last week she was courteous enough to refer me to a book of which I was already in possession, and which I had spent some time in studying, namely, the Report of the Ministry of Labour. I know that the right hon. Lady is not responsible for that particular Report, but I think that Members of Parliament are entitled to 151 see some form of balance-sheet showing how the deficit is reached which this Bill discloses. We see a table on page 27 dealing with contributions, and we see on other pages particulars as to the outgoings, if I may use that term. I would suggest to the right hon. Lady that, if these figures could be all put together, so that in each financial year we could see a definite balance-sheet showing the debit and credit sides of the Fund, it would be of considerable assistance to the House.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
May I ask, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether in your opinion this is a Supply day or otherwise?
I think the hon. Member is in order in dealing with the finance of the Fund, because that is what is under discussion.
§ Mr. REMER
That is all I have to say on the Second Reading of the Bill. My suggestion is entirely for the convenience of Members and is of a constructive nature, and I think that, if it were adopted, it would be of value to the whole House in enabling them to ascertain the exact condition of the finances of the Unemployment Insurance Fund.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
In my view we might have had, during the two or three weeks that remain of the present part of the Session, a Measure introduced that would have done something to alleviate the injustices of which so many of us have complained in the administration of the Unemployment Insurance Act. I hope, although I am doubtful about it, that the money now asked for will be adequate for the task to which it is to be devoted, but I think it would have been better if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) suggested, the Government had come boldly forward and asked for a really adequate grant to put the Fund on a sound financial basis. I do not see much real hope of any great modification in the vast number of unemployed. Even when the schemes proposed are put into operation, it will be some time before the Unemployed Insurance Fund begins to feel the benefit. It appears to me that the sum asked for is not adequate to the task to be accomplished. We should not dispose of the matter before we have 152 had at least laid at the door of the Conservative party some of the blame for the position in which the Fund finds itself. I remember, when the late Government's Bills were going through, we discussed the assumptions upon which their finances were based. I remember taking the point of view that the Government were altogether too optimistic and that, instead of the numbers decreasing, they might increase. Their assumption was that 600,000 was about the normal figure to which they expected unemployment to be reduced. The fact is that the Conservative party never have understood and do not yet understand this problem of unemployment. They do not understand the working of their own system, they do not understand its implications, and they did not understand them in the Bill, and the consequence was that their finance was totally inadequate. The result is that debt has mounted up.
I had hoped that the Labour party would find means to put the Fund on a sound foundation and stop the necessity for the continual borrowing of money. I do not think this £3,500,000 will do away with the necessity for borrowing. Further borrowing powers will have to be sought, and, instead of the indebtedness of the Fund being £40,000,000, it may go to £45,000,000, or even £50,000,000. The piling up of debt to that extent actually takes £2,000,000 a year from the contributions of the men for the purpose of paying interest which might otherwise be used in the payment of benefits. That is the evil of this continual borrowing, and that is why I think that even at this point the Government might accept an Amendment to increase the amount and place the Insurance Act upon a financially sound basis. Then, when they come forward with their Bill to amend the administration of the Act, the finances will be in such a position as to enable them to carry out the new proposals with justice to all concerned. I regret the line that has been taken, because of the conditions that obtain among the poor people whom I represent. The instances of injustice are incalculable. It is appalling when one thinks of the conditions that exist and the necessity for money to administer this terrible machine which is grinding men to powder. It is time it ceased. I hope 153 even yet, before the House disperses for the vacation, some measure will be taken to avert the terrible consequences of the Act of 1927—go further back if you like to the Act of 1921 with its Clause about genuinely seeking work—and will take away the necessity for the court of referees acting in the way that they do and bring the unemployed Acts into line with the common decency that ought to characterise the Government of the country.
§ Mr. A. A. SOMERVILLE
The hon. Member says attention ought to be called to the fact that indebtedness of the Fund is largely due to the Conservative Government. I think it is only fair to say that at least £15,000,000 of that indebtedness is due to the events of 1926, and those events were largely due to the action of members of the present Government.
§ Mr. TINKER
May I point out what happened last year. We had borrowing powers of £30,000,000. The Government of the day came forward and obtained power to increase them to £40,000,000. I remember on that occasion we pressed that they would require £100,000,000. What does this Bill mean? The Minister of Labour has made it clear that she is not going to use any more borrowing powers and that extra grants will be made by the Government. If that be the case, no one can object to it. We are paying £2,000,000 per annum by way of interest. This Bill is for the purpose of checking that. It is to put a stop to any more borrowing powers. If the Minister is not in a position to explain fully what she would like to do, it is not her fault. She made an attempt to meet the attacks that have been made upon her, but the Speaker ruled it out of order. I take it she wanted to tell us that the accompanying Bill would meet all requirements. It is hardly fair, therefore, at this juncture to hurl attacks upon her when she is doing her best to improve the position. Let us give our side a bit of a chance. It is not fair or right after three or four weeks to set out to pull them down, because they have not accomplished miracles. The Bill is going some part of the way to help us by getting more from the State instead of exercising borrowing powers. If we have that pledge, that no more borrowing will take place, we may take the 154 assurance that the point will be met. I welcome what the Minister has done in bringing in this small concession, and I am looking forward to a bigger Bill which will meet many of the requirements that we think ought to be met. If it does not, then will be the time to tell our people that they have fallen short of their pledges. At the moment, let us give them our confidence. Let us help them all we can. I thank the right hon. Lady for having done something.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Lawson)
There is very little for me to add to this Debate, for the simple reason that Mr. Speaker has ruled out of order the points which the right hon. Lady the Minister, wished to raise. If I were to attempt to answer the questions that have been asked, I should at once be ruled out of order. It is worth while reminding the House of a fact which seems to have been overlooked in previous discussions, namely, that in this Bill we are laying down a principle which has been long contested with regard to the Unemployment Fund. The history of the contribution of one-third has been a varied one. When we have appeared to be on the point of getting the Exchequer to admit responsibility, somehow or other something has turned up, and we have failed to get what we wanted. On this occasion, the principle is definitely laid down in this Bill. Before we can deal with the things that hon. Members would like to see dealt with we have to come to this House owing to the bankrupt condition of the Fund. I think it is fair to say that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who introduced the previous Measure are responsible for the present position. An hon. Gentleman opposite said that the events of 1926 were responsible for a great part of that debt. All that I can say about that is that the people of this country have had an opportunity of judging us on the events of 1926, and they are certainly under no misapprehension. There has been £34,000,000 taken away from the Fund during the past few years, the Economy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act which was severely contested by us when we were on the opposite benches, having, as has been pointed out by the Minister, taken £15,500,000 from it. I have no hesitation in saying that when the State contribution was reduced it was a dread- 155 ful thing so to deprive a Fund on which the poorest part of our population depends. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) raised the point that proper accounts ought to be published concerning the Insurance Fund. As a matter of fact, that is already done. I have in my hand the accounts of the Unemployment Fund published on 18th December of last year.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The hon. Member will be able to obtain a copy of it from the Vote Office. Similar particulars are also published in the "Labour Gazette." I think that that meets the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. Hon. Friends behind have made some very passionate and sincere speeches. I come from one of the most hardly hit areas in this country. I do not think that my hon. Friends would say that because one has become a Minister he is less of a miner. The people that I represent are not only trusting the present Ministry, but they believe that the present Ministry will carry out their promises with regard to this Department and the administration of the Unemployment Fund. I have declared personally my willingness to submit myself to them on the result of this work in the execution of which I am so glad to be associated with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I should like to say, before we pass from the Second Reading of this Bill, that, as far as I and my colleagues are concerned, there has been no desire on our part to indulge in any carping criticism of the Ministry, and I want to resent very much the suggestion that there has been any carping criticism. The fact remains that the country has been looking for great things to happen with regard to Unemployment Insurance before we rise for the Summer Recess, and there has been no suggestion so far that there are going to be any such happenings.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Yes, it is friendly criticism; the friendly criticism of the people whom we represent.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
It would seem from the interruption of the hon. Member that the Government can depend upon him for a defence of that sort of policy. We have been looking for a change of policy. I do not think in dealing with the finance at the present time there has been a satisfactory treatment of the position as far as our people are concerned. It is true that we have been given to understand that there will be another Measure some time, but at the present time there is much hardship and suffering. Some time in the future you will have to take account of how long the Fund is going to run on the basis of the Acts from 1920 to 1927. We have to go on what appeared in the White Paper, which is very indefinite as to the future amendment of the Unemployment Insurance Acts. When we had the Financial Resolution before us, I picked out one of the paragraphs in the Memorandum, because I thought it suggested that there was not to be so much of what has since been described as the humanising of the present administration. We were told that there Was nothing like that in the Memorandum at all, and therefore we have to look at the question on the basis of the facts which have been put before us.
The Parliamentary Secretary says that there has been this gain, that there has been definitely stated our adherence to the principle of the State contributing one-half of the total contributed by the employers and the employed. In the present state of the Fund, I do not think that that principle is of tremendous importance. Looking at the volume of unemployment at the present time and the possibility of unemployment in the months that are to come, I do not think that anyone, taking a survey of even two or three years from now, would say that we can get an unemployment insurance scheme on a satisfactory basis, so far as the workpeople are concerned, with the State contributing only one-half of the total amount contributed by employers and employed. We cannot, on the basis of one-half contributed by the State, provide anything like those benefits that have been put forward by Members of the Labour party as the minimum that should operate. Therefore, we have not gained very much by the assertion of the principle of a one-half contribution.
157 There is nothing in the Government's proposal which makes an essential difference to a single unemployed man or woman. Not one penny piece more will be paid to a man or woman because of this Measure. I think the Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary will agree with that view. In this Measure they are simply taking into account the bankrupt condition of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and seeking to make this financial rearrangement. Does any one here suggest that if we do not pass this Bill that some time during the Recess we shall cease paying unemployment benefit to some people at the Exchanges? That would be an awkward position for the Ministry. Do not let anyone suggest that there will be more people getting benefit because we pass this Bill. We are simply making an alteration in the amount of the indebtedness of the Unemployment Insurance Fund to the State. If there is anything more in it, I shall be very glad to hear of it. When the Financial Resolution was before the House I said that it was a book-keeping business, and that is what it amounts to. If, as I hope may be the case, the Minister intends to come forward with a real Measure in accordance with the ideals and pledges of our party, then the policy which has produced the indebtedness will have to be scrapped.
Our pledges amount to a very much heavier expenditure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes. Our pledges, I calculate, would possibly mean the raising of the expenditure to somewhere about £85,000,000 per annum. That is what the people on these benches believe in. They believe in giving the people work or maintenance. That is what our party stands for. Consequently, it is a matter of supreme importance and it is imperative at this time that our people in the country, the unemployed men and women who are undergoing hardship, should have words of hope given to them. They should have an assurance that before the House rises for the Summer Recess there will be an improvement in their condition, and that this House of Commons will not be like the last House of Commons. Many Members of the last House of Commons are not in this House.
Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Mr. Dunnico)
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that he is now going outside the Ruling laid down by Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I will not quarrel with the Ruling. Perhaps I was a little drawn by the cheers of hon. Members opposite at the suggestion that we were going to spend more money. There has been no wish on the part of hon. Members on these benches to indulge in any carping criticism in regard to the financial arrangements. All that we have been seeking is an opportunity to offer constructive suggestions for an improvement of the conditions, and I hope that before the House rises for the Summer Recess there will be an opportunity, by some means or other, whereby hon. Members will be able to contribute something towards a solution of this problem.
§ Mr. SIMMONS
I should like to know whether the Vote which is covered by this Bill will enable the Minister of Labour to repay to the Lord Mayor's Fund the sum of £45,000 which has been taken out of that Fund by her predecessor in aid of the transfer of labour scheme. If it is not possible to repay that money, I hope that no further calls will be made upon a charitable fund for the purpose of carrying out the work of a public Department. We ought to be told whether the Vote of money which this Bill covers will enable that matter to be dealt with in a satisfactory mariner. I do not think that any hon. Member would like to think that the fund—
The hon. Member is not entitled to raise that matter. It does not arise on the question before the House.
§ Mr. SIMMONS
I want to know, and I think I am entitled to know, how the money will be disbursed, and whether the Vote will enable us to rectify the wrong that has been done and prevent a similar wrong from being perpetrated again. Unless I can say what the wrong is, it is difficult for the Minister to say whether it is covered by the Vote. The fact is, that £45,000 has been taken—
§ Mr. SIMMONS
On a point of Order. I submit that we have a right to know what this money Bill covers, and whether any of the money will be used to repay a debt which was incurred by the predecessor of the present Minister. It was incurred for the purpose of helping the 159 transfer of miners, which I suggest should be a charge on the taxes of this country and not upon a charitable fund. I want that principle firmly established in this House, namely, that the working of the Departments shall not be dependant on grants from charitable funds, as has been the case under the previous Ministry where grants were made to transfer miners to wages of 18s. or with lodgings 14s.—
The hon. Member is not entitled to discuss the administration of the Fund. All he is entitled to discuss is the adequacy or inadequacy of the amount. If I have to call him to order again I must ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. SIMMONS
I bow to your ruling, and I only want to know if the Fund will be adequate to enable that £45,000 to be repaid and—
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Miss Bond field.]