§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)
411 I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is the first of two Bills of somewhat similar nature dealing with emergency powers with regard to Unemployment Insurance and Unemployment Assistance. This Bill deals with Unemployment Insurance. The object is to take powers to simplify the scheme during the war. Many new tasks have already been thrown upon Employment Exchanges throughout the country, and there will be greater tasks still ahead dealing with National Service, refugees and many other subjects. These by themselves will demand some modification of the Insurance Scheme in time of war, and the further reason why a modification is inevitable is that we cannot in war time run a big central register as we have done for a long time at the Ministry's Claims and Record Office.
This Bill gives my right hon. Friend power to modify the scheme by regulations, and these regulations must be laid before Parliament, and either House can annul the regulations with an Address within 20 days. Certain provisions of the principal Act are expressly excluded from the powers we are now asking for my right hon. Friend. It is not proposed to modify by regulation the rates of benefit, the rates of contribution, the equal thirds contribution from the Exchequer, or the provision in the principal Act relating to the Treasury and the Unemployment Fund. The Bill expressly excludes any such modification. The changes we have in mind as being inevitable deal with matters like these—the suspension of certificates excepting or exempting persons from liability to insurance, and the temporary suspension of provisions for return of contributions paid in error. These matters arise owing to difficulties caused by the impossibility of running a central register. Another question is the adjustment of benefit periods in view of the fact that these records will be unavailable.
There is one other major change which will be necessary, namely, the relaxation of benefit conditions in favour of persons taking in refugees and in favour of those claiming dependants benefit. I give the House the assurance of my right hon. Friend that in general it is in no way intended to worsen the position of those 412 who are entitled to unemployment insurance. These provisions are rendered inevitable by war. Clause I gives the necessary powers and there is in Subsection (2) of Clause 1 provision for financial adjustment between the Unemployment Fund and the two special insurance schemes relating to insurance and banking. Otherwise, save for Clause 3, which deals with Northern Ireland, all the other Clauses are consequential and formal.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
Do we understand that the real change in the extension is to be dealt with by regulations? The provisions of the Bill are clearly set out, but the details of application will be made known to the House in regulations from time to time. We have no objection at all to this, because we are given to understand clearly, that in regard to any objection there may be to regulations there will be ample opportunity to deal with them in any period of emergency that may come upon us. This is a very necessary provision. The labour market must be in a state of flux for a considerable time. Many people will lose their occupations because of changes in the supply and demand under war conditions, and many of them will necessarily have to be embodied in the Insurance Scheme. There is nothing that I can think of to-day to which we can object in this Bill. We understand that everything that is laid down will be administered under the regulations, and Members on this side of the House have no objection to the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
We, also, have no objection to the Second Reading of the Bill. I was very glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that it was not intended in any way to worsen the position of men in receipt of unemployment benefit. I would ask him whether he will expand that assurance and assure us specifically —not because I doubt anything he has said—that it is not intended to make any change to the detriment of the unemployed man as regards the number of contributions which are needed in order to bring him into benefit, that it is not intended to make any change to his detriment with regard to the period of time for which he is entitled to draw benefit. 413 and that nothing is to be done to cut down his rights of appeal, in the first place, to the court of referees, and, in the second place, to the umpire. It would be useful if we could have an assurance on these three points.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)
As to the first point—the question of contributions—the position is rather the other way. It is clear that if you cannot keep a central register, there is no possibility of insisting on 30 contributions in two years. That will be in favour of the man, and not against him. With regard to the second point raised by the hon. Member, the number of extra days a man may have under the present law may be affected. Subject to that reservation, I can give the assurance for which the hon. Member asks.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Captain Dugdale.]