§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is a very short Bill which, I hope, will receive the unanimous approval of the House. The Government take the view that it is necessary to introduce this Bill in order to meet the conditions which may soon arise, and will inevitably continue, in the period of transition from war to peace. Whatever plans we, make, and however effective our organisation may be, there is bound to be a gap, in many cases, between the displacement of people from munitions, and their resettlement in what will be their normal employment. The view we take, however, is that this will cause no more than small areas of unemployment of a temporary character. For example, many works will have to be re-tooled for peacetime production, and that will vary according to the trades with which we have to deal.
In this country we have been in the position of having to use the whole of our facilities for war work. We are not quite in the happy position of some countries where they have been able to keep large factories on a care and maintenance basis and build entirely new factories. It means, therefore, that practically the whole of our industry—particularly engineering and similar plants—will have to be re-tooled and developed. Another difficulty is that in some of our staple 1817 trades, where virtually whole towns have been based on a main industry, the machinery of production has been taken out. While it continued running it was useful, but it may have run for a very long time—I know of cases where plant was built as far back as the 'seventies and has gone on producing—and now, when we come to put it back into the factories, it will be useless because the spare parts, and so on, have not been made continuously and will not be made in the future. Therefore, we shall have to put into these industries modern machinery and the latest appliances, which will be to the advantage of the country but will delay the transition, to some extent, from war to peace, although we are, and have been considering the necessary priorities for this machinery to be developed. For war purposes whole works have been cleared under concentration schemes, of both plant and machinery, and we have used them solely for storage. All this has to be replaced.
As the Minister responsible for manpower, one of my greatest tasks will be to find the necessary, efficient maintenance staffs to get these factories in working order quickly. For the purposes of the war we have had to concentrate so much on the training of dilutees and semiskilled workers that the country is short of people like millwrights and others who are absolutely essential for re-equipping these works now that the necessity is arising. It is a matter of great anxiety to find the necessary staff for maintenance work, to enable these factories to run efficiently. Machinery has become obsolete and worn out, in some trades we have not been able to make spare parts, and old machinery has been broken up so that its parts could be used to keep other machinery going. We have, of course, to try to make that good.
In connection with re-settlement, I would ask the House, trade unions and employers to be tolerant. Before we go into the question of specialists on production we have to consider what is necessary to get factories re-tooled and plant and machinery replaced effectively. Labour displaced from munitions factories will, so far as is humanly possible, be used for urgent work, but in the interests of our national economy it is essential that we should re-establish our permanent industries as speedily as we can. An important trade union asked 1818 me the other day to ensure that dilutees go first when any munitions factories were closed. Personally, I think that is wrong in connection with the munitions industry. I think dilutees should be kept to the last and that we should use our skilled men in order to get our permanent industries restarted. Their approach, I think, was the wrong one on this matter. I should have thought that, in the interests of the men themselves, permanency of employment was a greater consideration than the loss of a temporary position in an industry which we know will peter out within a reasonable time.
I ask the House to appreciate that in facing this gap, the question cannot be separated from the intense mobilisation which has taken place. We have mobilised nearly 25,000,000 out of 46,000,000 people in this country—a fact which some other countries do not appreciate. We have sacrificed post-war considerations for the war effort. The words which a colleague of mine in the Cabinet used some time ago, were "Our sacrifices have been unlimited." I should have liked, a long time ago, to have begun training certain types of craftsmen for peace-time needs. But for war purposes, and particularly for our great D-day adventure, I had to sacrifice my ideas of that sort and owing to that sacrifice we shall be considerably handicapped in the period of re-settlement. We have paid the price, but I think victory is worth it. We must try to make that good in the best way we can.
Therefore, while we have to face the gap between re-settlement and replacement we propose to increase the rates of benefit payable under the Unemployment Insurance Act. I would like to see claims to benefit reduced to the lowest possible point, and it is, therefore, our intention, assuming we cannot put certain types of workers back into their own trades until re-tooling and the change over has taken place, to ask them to undertake other work of a reconstructional character, and not merely to go on unemployment benefit. In our devastated areas and coastal towns, which have been referred to in the Bill we have just been discussing, it is obvious that craftsmen in one trade must undertake work in other trades while transfer is taking place so that the problem of reconstruction as a whole can be tackled. Notwithsanding that, however efficient the organisation may be, 1819 there is bound to be a longer gap than there is in the transfer of labour at the present time between the cut in the munitions programme and putting the workers in other industries, wherever they have to be placed.
The Ministry of Labour's difficulty can be summarised in this form. In war, and for war purposes, we have only one customer—the State. Everything is decided on the basis that the State itself is the one customer to satisfy. When you come to reconstruction there are various demands to be met, such as export trade, and increased civilian production to satisfy the legitimate demands of the public. While the British people will submit to anything for war purposes there will come a time when they will say, "We have paid our price and we are entitled to a little let-up now." When that time comes we must, if we are to maintain the morale of our people, be in a position to supply their legitimate needs. All that involves meticulous consideration as to how and in what way we can re-distribute skilled workers in order to satisfy the demands which will be made upon us. This cannot be done with the same speed and accuracy as it can be done when meeting demands for war purposes. I assume that in some trades where I have been able to transfer people in seven days it will take probably three weeks to re-transfer. In other cases it may take a month, and in some cases two months. The Government, therefore, felt that the liability to longer unemployment should be met, and we have done it by increasing the unemployment benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Act. I would emphasize that at this stage we are dealing only with increased benefit under the insurance scheme. If those payments do not meet the situation entirely then there will have to be supplementation grants, for which the House has already made provision.
We propose that benefits shall be increased in the case of men, single women, widows, married women who are supporting invalid husbands, or who are living apart from their husbands and can obtain no financial support from them, by four shillings a week. The increase for other married women will be 2S. a week; for young men and young women 3s., for boys and girls of 17, 3s. and for boys and girls of 16. 1s. a week. In the case of 1820 dependants we propose to increase adult benefit by 6s. a week with a further 1s. a week for each of the first two children and 1s. for each additional child. That is under the main scheme. There is of course the agricultural scheme, and, there, the benefit for men will be increased by 4s. a week, for women, young men and young women by 3s. a week, for boys and girls aged 17, 3s. a week and for boys and girls aged 16, 1s. a week. In the case of dependants the benefits will be: adults, 5s. a week; each of the first two children 1s. a week; each additional child 1s. a week. Under the agricultural scheme a maximum rate of benefit is imposed. I do not know whether it was imposed because knowledge of birth control had probably not reached the agricultural areas, but, at any rate, a maximum was imposed. Therefore, automatically, this agricultural maximum will be increased by 13s.
May I now turn to the cost of making these increases? In 1940 contributions and benefits were raised. Under the main scheme the increase for men and women, and young men and young women, was 1d. for each party—employer, worker and the Exchequer. Under the agricultural scheme the increase for each party was ½d. The rates of benefit were increased at the same time. We raised the main scheme from 17s. to £1 and on this occasion we make it, for the adults, 24s. When that Bill was introduced, the calculations of the contributions and benefits were based under the usual statutory arrangements that had existed pre-war, on an average of 15 per cent. unemployment, the normal peace time conditions. I knew, when I introduced the Bill, that we were not likely to get 15 per cent. unemployment during the war, but I came to the conclusion that, if I increased the contribution during the war, no one was likely to miss it, and now it is extremely useful. It is a very effective method of saving. The State has the benefit of the money. The conditions of employment during the war have resulted in a steady increase of the Unemployment Fund, and it now stands at about £290,000,000. I am sure if Philip Snowden could come back to this Bench, his mouth would water. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Fund might be raided."]No, I think it is fairly well tied up.
It is not necessary at the moment to raise contributions, nor is it necessary to 1821 make inroads into the fund, provided that unemployment does not rise above an average of eight per cent. Notwithstanding what I have said about the difficulties of transition, with the co-operation that is going on with the Board of Trade and the Production Departments in endeavouring to synchronise the release and demand for labour, I do not believe it will rise above eight per cent. on the average over a year even in the transition period. Therefore there are two grounds upon which we take the view that there is no need to increase the contribution. The income from contributions will cover the additional cost if unemployment is maintained within that limit. But there is an additional reason which limits the possible raising of unemployment to any such figure. I believe the House and the country are conscious that long before you reach the demoralising stage of benefits running out, you must train people for work which is available. In the recommendations which will be before the House later that will have to be dealt with more fully, but it is proposed, even in the transition period, to carry on the war time training arrangements for industries that it is necessary to develop. It is no use at this stage of the war going on training dilutees for engineering if that is going to contract. I have taken the precaution recently of slowing down in that field and have given instructions to readapt training for the purpose of what will be needed in the light of advice from the Board of Trade and the new industries which we know are going to develop.
The Bill must not, and I hope will not, be taken as an instalment of the Government's proposals for general social insurance. We have tried to deal with the situation as we see it, and it must be taken in the light of an interim Measure to deal with demobilisation of industry and the Services and all the rest. We have, however, not exceeded what is proposed in the White Paper. We have not attempted to raise a single issue which will be the subject of controversy. For instance, we have not raised the question of equal rates for agriculture and equal rates for women. That is dealt with in the White Paper, and I have no doubt that Members will have their views to express on that point. I came to the conclusion that I had better avoid prejudicing hon. Members' views in their discussion of the general White Paper proposals. That caused a little 1822 difficulty, if I followed the rule strictly and worked on a basis of not less than 20 per cent. increase. I think it would be at least a 36 per cent. increase of prewar rates of benefit.
There was one case in which I could not apply this rule without impinging upon the White Paper proposals, and that is the case of the married woman who is not independent, but living with her husband and maintained by him. In this case I have limited the advance to £1 a week whereas, if I had followed the 20 per cent. rule it would have been 22S.; but I have safeguarded the woman not dependent upon her husband so that she gets 24s., the full 20 per cent. increase.
We have also had to consider what happened at the end of the last war. There was a very limited form of insurance covering a very small number of trades. I do not like to call them the aristocracy of labour but rather the favoured section. My section was not allowed in the sacred circle until 1920, but certain types of trades were brought within it. To day 86 per cent. of the employed civilian population is covered by Unemployment Insurance and the Government takes the view that we ought to use the Unemployment Insurance scheme to meet the conditions which will arise in the period of transition. If the circumstances of any member of the community are such that it can be held that Unemployment Insurance is inadequate, we have to fall back on supplements under other Acts which have been carried in the meantime. They have been more or less satisfactorily amended during the war and, though I represent a working class constituency, I seldom get a letter about it now.
There is one charge, however, that falls upon the Exchequer, and that is for the increased benefit which will have to be paid to ex-Servicemen and women and others for whom similar arrangements have been made. They have been kept in benefit while they have been in the war and any benefit they draw will have to be met by the Exchequer. But there is this difference between now and the end of the last war—we are paying ex-Servicemen during eight weeks' furlough to enable them to settle down in their jobs. We regard that as minimising any possible claim upon the Unemployment Fund because, if we cannot get most ex-Service- 1823 men resettled in a job in that period, we shall have failed in our machinery. [An HON. MEMBER: "At military rates?"]Yes, with allowances and all the rest of it. A man can get a job the next day following his release and still draw pay for eight weeks' furlough, but, if there is a difficulty about reinstatement or a difficulty in finding employment, we take the view that we ought to do it in that period. There are, of course, certain circumstances in which that period is extended for overseas service. Taking it by and large, we think we ought to be able to deal with the ex-Serviceman's position without a substantial additional claim upon the Exchequer.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I would point out to the Minister that at the end of the last war, I think, ex-Service men were given gratuities. Will these eight weeks in any way prejudice their claims for these gratuities?
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Would the Minister be good enough to tell us whether the ex-soldier will receive his discharge certificate before he starts paying?
§ Mr. Bevin
Of course, I cannot enter into the Command Paper discussion now. I am only using it as an illustration. The men will virtually be soldiers in the sense that they will be on the reserve for the pure convenience of receiving their pay and allowances. I think every Member understands what that means. It is only to get over a little difficulty and in order that they may receive service pay that we regard them as soldiers. But they will be free to get a job, and if they get a job the next day this money will be "bunce." I am using a vulgarism, but that is really what it means. If the worst comes to the worst, we at the Ministry of Labour think that our machinery ought to be such that, we could get the overwhelming majority of these people back into employment during this eight weeks' period, and in consequence the claim on the Exchequer will not be heavy.
The last point I want to make is about the date of operation. I would ask the House to allow the Minister of Labour 1824 to fix that date. I have no intention of delaying it, but at the moment I cannot fix a date as there are several things to be considered in conjunction with it, such as the requirements of personnel for the second stage of the war, and when cuts are likely to take effect, all of which have to be worked out. I want to synchronise the date with other events, but it is essential that the power to increase these benefits be given now. I ask the House for a unanimous endorsement of the Bill.
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
Will the Minister tell us what has been the percentage increase in the cost of living since the rates were-last increased in 1940?
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Dobbie (Rotherham)
I have listened very intently to the Minister explaining to the House this Bill dealing with unemployment insurance benefit and the increases he intends to make, and, as usual when dealing with industrial questions, or questions relative to industrial workers, he has done it pretty thoroughly and well. I should think that the House will very readily agree with the application of the increased benefit for those who are unfortunate enough to be displaced during the transition period from war to peace. The criticism that I may have to make will not be on the principle of extension of increase of benefit, but on the details concerning the amount that is going to be paid. The Minister has said that in the transition stage there is bound to be a good deal of unemployment, not only for the reason that he himself has stated, namely, the resetting of workshops and the replacing of machinery, but also because, at the moment, there does not seem to be any planned scheme for the turning over from war-time to peace-time industry. Even if there is we have not been told about it up to the moment probably for very good reasons.
For those two reasons—the lack of a plan and the resetting of workshops and machinery—there is bound to be a good deal of difficulty to face. Looking at the position of the transition period, I wonder whether we are facing it in the way that is in the best interests of all concerned, and especially in the interests of those people who will, for the moment, be 1825 thrown out of employment. I believe it will be the wish of the House and the desire of the Minister to see that the unemployment benefit which is given to those unfortunate people is such—and I believe the Minister himself has said so in different words—as to keep them in a good state of health, and in high morale, so that when the opportunity is given to them to return to industry they will be in a fit condition, and we shall be able to have the same energy in peace-time production as we have in war-time production. But I doubt whether the benefits that are now being offered to them are such as will necessarily keep them either in a state of good health or high, morale.
I was glad to hear the statement of the Minister as to the way in which those who are demobilised from the Forces will be treated. Whatever they get in the way of payments will not be too much, and I think that everyone in the House will agree. When men and women in wartime industry cease to be employed I look upon that as a form of demobilisation, and I hope it will not be long before they are able to re-enter industry for peace-time production. I wonder why it has not been possible for the Minister to say that in the demobilisation period the industrial workers will be given the same treatment as that which will be given to men and women demobilised from the Forces and that for a period they will be given something approaching their average wages. The House and the Minister have frequently eulogised the work and efforts of men and women in the munition factories and pointed out that they are an essential part of the front line in that they keep the men in the Forces supplied with the materials necessary for their work.
One would have thought that it would have been possible for the Minister to come along with some such scheme. He may have had some difficulty with the Treasury, but one would have thought that what was good for one section of the community was good for another. The Minister has intimated that there is something like £300,000,000 accumulated in the bank on account of the Unemployment Insurance Fund. I hope that he does not intend to keep it in the bank and that the money will be used for the benefit of those who are unemployed. He gave an estimate of something like 8 per cent. as what we may anticipate in un 1826 employment. In 1939 there were about 15,000,000 people, and probably many more, in insured employment. Eight per cent. of that figure will be pretty hefty and I hope that we shall not see anything like it. I would like to have seen some of these accumulated funds used for demobilisation payments to those who are thrown out of work so as to raise the benefit that will be paid to them.
I regret to see that the difference between agricultural and other workers is continued. We have brought certain amenities to the life of the agricultural worker, and for him as for other workers the cost of living has risen. We must not forget that the unemployment benefits were far too low at the beginning. The 20 per cent. increase looks reasonable if the payments were reasonable to begin with, but they were not. I should have thought that the Government would have put agricultural workers on the same basis as the rest of the workers. An agriculture worker with a wife and two children, which we may take as a typical family in the country, will get 50s. made up of 24s. for himself, 16s. for the wife and 10s. for the children. Surely, that family does not need less when the man is unemployed than it did when he was employed. If we have learned anything from the sorrow and suffering of the last five years, surely it is that our job should be to remember our people when they are out of work through no fault of their own. Our job is to keep their physique and morale as high when they are unemployed as when they are employed so that, when they get the opportunity, they can go back to work fit and well. Out of the 50s. for the agricultural worker's family, 10s. will have to go for rent and rates as a minimum, and that leaves only 40s. for a family of four people to meet all their human needs. It is not enough.
That sort of thing will cause disillusionment, disappointment, and sometimes anger in the hearts of men and women when they know that there is nearly £300,000,000 in the Unemployment Insurance Fund. They will think that this House has forgotten all the things said here about their work in the war. This is the way in which ordinary men and women will look at it. The War Service Grants Committee, in looking at the human needs of people, have said that after rent, rates and other necessities 1827 have been met, the minimum on which human beings can be expected to exist anything like decently is 22s. per unit. Two children of school age are regarded as one unit. After applying the means test, which I really ought to call the needs test, though I do not know the difference, the War Service Grants Committee give a minimum of 22s a unit. There are three full units in the family I have mentioned as an illustration. That would give them £6s. Those are the comparisons that the ordinary man and woman will make when they get to know about the Bill. When the moment comes that they are unemployed, they will make comparisons of that kind.
In view of the tremendous accumulation of funds, and in view of the promises which have been made and the eulogies showered from all sides of this House upon the industrial workers during the last five years for their efforts, I hope the Bill will be regarded only as a stop-gap Measure and that it will not be long before the Government take a further step. I do not suppose that the Minister will tell us about plans or schemes of employment, in view of what he has said, but no matter what the explanation is, the ordinary man or woman will look at the vast sums in the Fund and will remember those promises, and will look to the Government to have a well-planned scheme ready in regard to employment. They will think that a Government which could win a war like this ought to be able to arrange the affairs of the country so that unemployment will not attack us again as it has in the past. They will look upon the £290,000,000 in the Fund as sheer hoarding by the Government at a time when it is needed by the people who have made the contribution.
I therefore ask the Minister to look at the matter again between now and the Committee stage to see whether he can do anything better to raise the amount, or can induce the Treasury to give assistance in dealing with demobilised munition workers in the same way as we are doing with demobilised people from the Services. It is no use saying to those people what the Minister has said to us, and what many hon. Members thought was very good, that we should not have to attack the main fund. They will say that it does not matter whether we draw 1828 out of the main fund or not, because that is for what it was built up. They will say they are the victims of the system. The grant of 50s. a week to an unemployed man and women and two children, on the basis of the War Service Grants Committee, works out when analysed at 13s. 4d. per head. We cannot keep the spirit of the people up by treating them like that.
We welcome the increases that are to be made. Speaking for the party to which I belong I say that we shall not vote against the Bill and shall support it, but that we have those criticisms to make. There is a probability that we may put down Amendments for the Committee stage, but we hope that the Minister will look at the Measure again before then from the standpoint of raising. the benefits or endeavouring to do something on the same lines for the demobilised munition worker as we are doing for the demobilised members of the Services.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Storey (Sunderland)
I am sorry that my hon. Friend has just put forward that argument. I think he has forgotten that this is an insurance fund and that it belongs to all the workers in the country. We should not do as he suggests, "blue" the balance on the first people to become unemployed. We must hold the balance fairly between all the workers, to see that when they are in need there is something in the Fund to provide their insurance benefits. There are four things which I want to say about the Bill. The first is that it is a thoroughly useful Measure. It will enable a great many workers to tide over those periods of unemployment during which many of them will suffer a severe diminution of income from the high earnings they are drawing now, which is bound to result from the change-over from war-time to peace-time production. The second thing is that it is a fully justified Measure. Though it proposes to raise the main benefit to the level proposed in the social insurance White Paper before we start to collect contributions at the level proposed in that White Paper, seeing that the sum included on account of unemployment insurance in the White Paper contribution is a fraction of a penny less than the workers have been paying for that purpose over the last four 1829 years, I am entitled to say that what we are doing is fully justified.
The third thing I want to say is that we should pay a tribute to the foresight of the Minister of Labour who, at a time of high wages and a high level of employment, persuaded this House to increase contributions, so that, at a later date, he would be in the position that he is in now, able to propose an increase of benefit that will tide us over difficult periods. The fourth thing is this: We are about to embark upon a wide extension of social insurance and it is very desirable that, at the earliest possible date, we should build up big reserves against future benefits proposed. I hope, therefore, that when this House has approved the proposals in the White Paper the Government will remember the success which has attended their foresight in 1940 and will consider, as it may be easier and quicker, as seems to me very probable, to build up the machinery for collecting contributions than to set up the machinery to distribute benefits, whether they cannot do as they did in 1940, start callecting contributions at the earliest possible date, even before the full scheme comes into operation.
I see my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Social Insurance-Designate sitting in his place on the Government Front Bench. I should like to offer our congratulations to him on his appointment. I hope that as soon as we are able to drop the word "Designate" from his title, he will show that he is able and willing to take quick action to bring into effect the machinery for the collecting of contributions at a date before the whole scheme comes into operation, so that he may fortify the reserves behind his Fund while unemployment and wages are at a high level. That. is all I wish to say. I hope the House will give the Bill a quick passage to the Statute Book.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has said that he would regret any discussion of this Bill as a partial instalment of the wider scheme of social security which we shall have an opportunity of discussing later. One thing I might allow myself to say in this connection is that it is a rare and refreshing thing in the history of social insurance matters to find a Measure brought here 1830 which does not add to our difficulties by creating fresh anomalies and additional difficulties in that patchwork pattern we have built up in the last 25 years. I will not anticipate anything about the forthcoming discussion which we shall have, but anything we can do by a Bill of this kind, or even by administrative action, which will relate all our transactions in the field of social security to the common scheme which we intend to have under a common authority, will be to the good. I mention that as one reason why I welcome this Bill. We have at last come to the important decision that these things are not to be left to be dealt with by the haphazard stress of some economic development or political move, but by an organised and co-ordinated plan. The time we have wasted in this House because we could, not come to this conclusion earlier has been greater by far than the time which would have been taken in making a properly co-ordinated scheme.
The Minister of Labour carries us with him, I am sure, in his account of the transitional period he foresees, and the gaps which are likely, to occur. I think we all welcome the fact that there are plans, so far as he was able to tell us about them, which he has in mind for dealing with the situation as it develops. It has been a tremendous job to mobilise this people for war. There has been nothing like it. I think he said it had not been quite realised; I agree with him, especially in regard to the part played by the women of this country. Looking at it simply as a matter of machinery, and I think perhaps we are inclined to attach too much importance to machinery sometimes, it ought to be no more difficult to remobilise this people for peace than it has been to mobilise them for war. But there will be this profound and marked difference. All this mobilisation for war has been done under the most powerful incentive of danger and the saving of our skins, as well as for other purposes we have had in view. I would venture to say that the success of the remobilisation for peace will not depend upon our concentrating our minds upon the distribution of £290,000,000, or the promises made to the people, or anything of that kind. It will depend, it is true, upon the best plans we can make, and so far as I understand them, and so far as we have been told them, I think the plans 1831 are being well made. There has been far more foresight devoted to this business than there was at the end of the first German War, vastly more. Therefore we can go forward with reasonable confidence and hope.
Whether these things are going to work or not will depend on a realisation by the people that when this war comes to an end we will have an opportunity of making this country a place fit for human habitation for everyone. We must not rely upon promises. In passing, I disagree entirely with the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie). He said he does not want to see this money left in the bank. I do not suppose it is in the bank; it is probably invested. I want to see it remain there as long as possible. I do not want to see people needing these benefits.
§ Mr. Dobbie
I hope the hon. Member does not think, or give the House the impression, that I was hoping for a great army of unemployed. I reiterate that I want to see a portion of that money spent in the interests the men and women who have contributed to it, and who need it.
§ Mr. White
Then there is not so much difference between us as I had thought. I did Hot suppose that the hon. Member wished to see unemployment. None of us want that, but that Fund lying there is a measure of the unemployment, in a sense. The longer it lies there the higher will be the level of employment in the country as a whole. It is satisfactory to have such a sum of money there. My right hon. Friend recalled the shades of Philip Snowden. In those days such a sum, or even one half of it, would have altered the whole situation, and the course of history indeed, at that time. I assure the Minister that he will have the support and the toleration for which he asks in the plans for training and the like which he brings forward. I heard with great satisfaction what he said about dilutees. I think the people who take a different view have got the matter wrong. It is right that those in an industry should be the first to return to the building up of that industry, and that that means the making of more employment. There are some items which could be criticised in the scale of benefits proposed in the Bill. There are points, of course, with 1832 regard to these benefits which one could make. I do not propose to dwell upon them. My right hon. Friend has, at this stage, left the disparity between the benefits for women and the benefits for men. He has to leave something, I suppose, to this Commission on equal pay, which we hope is to be set up. They must be allowed to have some work to do.
§ Mr. White
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. We shall, as he says, have an opportunity of discussing these matters when the question can be regarded as a whole without doing anything to create prejudice or other difficulties. Therefore, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I am very glad indeed to welcome this Bill.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
I would join with the hon. Members who preceded me in congratulating the Minister of Labour on the lucid statement he gave us on the proposals in this Bill. I also feel myself more in harmony with the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) than with the representative of the Liberal Party. I am not in the least happy about this Bill. It is an interim Measure to deal with a problem that is bound to arise, the period of transition between war and peace. I feel that the amounts proposed for those who will be unemployed during the period of transition are quite inadequate. The men and women who become unemployed during the period of transition are suffering war damage. Their unemployment is the outcome of this war and of the changeover from war to peace. For this war damage they are not to receive any adequate compensation. If a man's property is damaged by war action he receives full compensation, at 100 per cent. of its value. The property of the worker is his labour power and the opportunity to use that labour power, but all he is to get is this unemployment benefit; which means a big reduction in the income coming into his home during the period of unemployment.
The Minister of Labour said that he did not think that, ordinarily, the dilutee 1833 should first have to go when the changeover happened, but that the skilled man should go first, to prepare the way for the dilutee later, when war production ceased. But when the skilled man goes first, what is he going to? He is not going to another job, but to a period of unemployment, before the changeover takes place. If the skilled man were going out of a job into another job, there would be no complaint from the trade union movement and the organised working-class movement. He would be going from one job, where his skill is of great service to the community, to another job, where his skill would be of even greater service to the community. But the skilled man has to pass through a period in which he will have no job at all. For so many weeks he will be unemployed, and during those weeks he comes down to this small unemployment insurance allowance. That is what constitutes the unfairness of this Bill.
I agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham that there was no real Government plan for the transition from war to peace. There is this miserable little Measure, to provide a certain amount of unemployment benefit for a limited period; that is not a plan for the changeover of industry from a war footing to a peace footing. The Government are sitting down, supinely hoping that private enterprise will do the job, and that, when this war factory and that war factory are closed down, the captains of industry will have been looking ahead and considering the possibility of providing for a certain amount of production. Surely it is the responsibility of the Government to see that the whole fortunes of our working people, who have made all those sacrifices during the war, are not left to be decided by what may be done by private individuals here and there to bridge the period from war to peace. That is the job of the Government. Although I believe in the nationalisation of industry, I am not saying that the Government, in undertaking that responsibility, should necessarily put the industry of this country on a basis of nationalisation; but the Government should have a plan, under which the people who have run the industries and the other people who can be used shall be used to the best advantage, with a view to full employment.
If the Government had real confidence in their scheme, they could be much more 1834 generous during the period of transition. They have allowed, in their demobilisation plans, for full pay to the demobilised men for about a couple of months. The Minister says that if at the end of that period they cannot put them into jobs, the Government will have failed. That will be a lot of consolation to the soldier and his wife and family, if the soldier has to go on to this miserable scale of benefit and to have his income reduced in this way. Why is it that, in these difficult circumstances, it is always the worker who is called upon to make sacrifices and to have his standard of living driven lower and lower? I have not the slightest confidence that we are going to fit every one of those demobilised men into jobs during this period of eight weeks.
Even the Minister of Labour will be much cleverer than I think he is, and the Government will be a much more wonderful Government than I believe them to be, if they are able to do that, and, as I have seen them carry on so far, they have given no impression of being such a remarkable lot of people. I hear hon. Members in this House who are interested in various industrial concerns—for example those who have an interest in civil aviation—and some of them have held up their hands in despair at what they consider to be the inefficiency and lack of vision of the present Government. I have no confidence in the Government at all in this connection.
What is the position? If a person becomes unemployed in this transition period, then it is unjust to the person concerned that he should be called upon to make greater sacrifices than other members of the community, by having to suffer a reduction in his income. You are carrying the soldier on for a few weeks until you can fit him into industry. If you believe you can fit him into industry, do not give him just these few weeks. Say to him that you are going to continue him on that rate, until you can fit him into industry. When he goes out again, he should still go back on this rate, which you considered to be the only adequate rate of maintenance for a man during the period of stress and strain when you got him to fight your battles for you.
As this is true of the soldier, so also is it true of the general munition worker 1835 in the factory and workshop. So I say that this Bill, which the Minister presents as so much an advance on anything that happened after the last war, is not very much different as far as I can see. The principle underlying it is the same as that applied at the end of the last war, when the Government of the day made a payment of 29s. a week to the demobilised people for a certain period, until they felt that they had lost sufficient of their military ardour and the Government could take it away from them without on outbreak in the country. The same thing that is happening again. I am glad to have the opportunity of making my protest against the meanness of this Measure, and against the way in which the worker is being placed in a different position to the property-owner, in that he is not receiving 100 per cent. compensation for the loss of his employment. I want to make my protest against this Measure as being utterly inadequate to deal with the situation.
I know the hon. Member for Rotherham has suggested that, between now and the Committee stage, something more generous might be done with regard to these allowances. I do not see any very great hope of that. The measure of support that is being given by my hon. Friends above the Gangway to this Measure is one of the reasons why some of my colleagues in the House thought it unnecessary to put down a reasoned Amendment to this Bill. I do not feel that we can really change this plan which the Government have brought before us. I do not feel that there is a sufficiently great spirit of revolt in the House against the proposals. But I do feel that, afterwards, when the men come home, when the demobilisation of people from industry takes place and the number of the unemployed begins to grow—and here notice that this Bill is contemplating an 8 per cent, increase in unemployment during the transition, which is a matter of between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 people unemployed—when these circumstances arise, then we shall have a protest in the country that will mean the return to this House of Members who will see to it that, as this country passes through this period of peril, it will become the possession of the workers of the country, to be used to bring happiness and peace to all.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
I welcome this Bill, which I think is very necessary in the circumstances that are likely to arise. It is to be expected that there should be short and sharp bursts of unemployment during the transition, and it is more likely to be the case this time than it was after the last war, because a larger proportion of the national effort has been devoted to the war. Many works which were, in the last war, carrying on partly with civil work and partly with Government contracts, have been turned over wholly to Government contracts, and when these Government contracts are cancelled it means that, for a short time, a larger number of men will be unemployed. While I welcome the Minister's statement, I must confess that I was extraordinarily disappointed with the speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) and the speech which we have just heard. I think it is extraordinarily unfortunate that people should make statements that promises have been made by the Government about employment—that wonderful promises have been made by the Government —and that, when we have Debates like this, we see the falseness of those promises and how they are not being fulfilled, Before statements like that are made, we should be told when and where the promises were made, and which Minister made them. I have followed this matter very carefully, and I cannot trace any part—
§ Mr. Dobbie
Would my hon. Friend be good enough to make reference to the appropriate part of the speech which he says I made?
§ Mr. Colegate
Yes, certainly. The hon. Member said quite clearly that this Measure did not fulfil the promises made to the people of this country.
§ Mr. Colegate
First, before you can answer that, you have to see what was the promise made, and that was what my hon. Friend never told us.
§ Mr. Colegate
Neither from the Prime Minister, nor from any other responsible Minister, can I find that there has been any promise at all. On the contrary, there has been a constant warning from the 1837 members of the Government that, whilst every effort will be made to introduce a social security scheme, it would be unwise to make promises of any definite nature.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
. Does the hon. Member not agree that the Government repeatedly promised that, after this war, people in industry should be secured full employment, and, in the absence of full employment, their standard of living should not be allowed to fall below a recognised minimum?
§ Mr. Colegate
That does not mean anything at all, but the Government's statement means a great deal. It means that the policy set out in the White Paper on full employment will be applied to meet the case, and, to meet the case where there is no full employment, the Beveridge scheme will be there to assist those who are, unfortunately, displaced from industry. That is the only promise that has been made, and the statement that while £2, £3, £4, or £5 a week had been promised by some responsible member of the Government only 50s. is given for a man, wife and two children, is extremely misleading and one that ought not to be made by any responsible Member of the House. In the same way, the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) says that the effect of the withdrawal of Government contracts falls on the workers alone. That is sheer, undiluted nonsense. There is no other word for it.
I know of cases in my constituency where firms have had their war contracts cancelled. The men have, through the efforts of the Ministry of Labour, been transferred to other employment and a few have received unemployment benefit. But a firm which was earning handsome profits and is now losing thousands of pounds a week has received no compensation whatever—nor am I suggesting that it should receive it. To make out that employers are receiving 100 per cent. compensation while the workers are not is a piece of nonsense and will not stand up to the examination of the facts. In a war of this character there are bound to be very sharp and heavy dislocations. That is inevitable and, therefore, it is necessary that the provisions for unemployment insurance should be improved. I do not see, if we admit that, how we could conceive that the Minister of Labour could do other than bring in a Bill of this kind, 1838 because had he gone any further in any way he would undoubtedly have prejudiced the whole position of the social security scheme which we are to discuss shortly. Therefore, I maintain that the question, as it arises now, is a simple and temporary one and should be dealt with by the Bill.
It is no use asking the Minister of Labour, on a Bill of this kind, to produce a vast plan for the restarting of industry, especially as hon. Members who raised the question know, as well as I do, that the matter cannot be discussed while the conditions are what they are at the present time. There are a number of very serious questions arising with the United States which, with good will on both sides, will be solved, but until they are solved, to come down and claim that, on a relatively small Bill of this kind, the Government's plans for the whole restarting of British industry should be introduced is to have a totally mistaken sense of proportion I welcome this Bill and I am sure that every industrialist will. We know that, while there should be no serious unemployment at all for years and that there is an immense amount of work waiting to be done, there is bound to be heavy unemployment in these few short weeks, in particular areas, or in particular works. To meet that case it is essential, since the drop from earnings and not from wages will be heavy, that increased provision should be made for unemployment benefit. I do not see that more can be done than is done under the Bill and I extend to it, therefore, a very hearty welcome.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
I had the unfortunate experience, as had many other Members of this House, of being unemployed in years gone by when there was no such thing as unemployment benefit or unemployment insurance. I have never been happy about the use of the term "insurance" with regard to unemployment. I have walked the streets, seeking work, knowing that I was competent and willing to earn my living. In those days I frequently walked behind a banner on which was inscribed "Work or Maintenance." If the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) and some other Members of this House had had such an experience they would perhaps take a different view of the matter we are discussing. I have to ask myself, 1s 24S. 1839 a sum of money upon which an adult man can live reasonably at the present time? I say, immediately, that it is not. If I were to ask anybody to take me into their house as a lodger, board me, do all my washing and provide me with those things which are essential for my comfort, for 24s. a week, I do not believe that they would be willing to do it. In addition there is the question of clothing. How could a person clothe himself on that sum of money? He might smoke, or even like a drink, when he could get one, but he certainly would not get one on that inadequate sum.
To quote the words of the hon. Member for The Wrekin, it is "sheer nonsense" to say that an adult man or woman in this country could be maintained for 24s. a week. Such a sum is inadequate and that is a word which has been used by my hon. Friend here. I look upon a trained human being, whom we call a worker, as one who has the labour-power stored in his body which he seeks to use for the purpose of making things that are useful for himself and for other people. I put it to the Minister of Labour, who is responsible for the employment exchanges, that, if he would go to an employment exchange to-day, he would see a number of human beings who have been trained to produce useful things and seek an opportunity to use their labour-power for that purpose. If one of these human wealth-producing instruments, call them what you will, is unemployed the nation is the poorer. It follows also that if work can be found for him, the nation will be the richer. But a time comes, it always has been so, at least in my experience, and undoubtedly, it will come after the war, when a number of men and women will be unemployed. When they come back from the Services and they have no employment they will feel as bitter as I did—perhaps more so—when I was unemployed. They will be asking, "Would you, yourself, like to live on 24s. or give me the address of anybody who will enable me to live on 24s. a week?" Of course, it cannot be done, and everybody in this, House knows it cannot be done.
An effort will be made to put into the Bill that which will be adequate to maintain a person in reasonable decency during the period when the nation is unable to find employment for the worker. I hope 1840 that it will be done and that Members will remember their promises in whatever terms they may have been made. They were that a reasonable decency in life would be afforded to the men coming back from the Services, and to others too. I suggest to the Government that many of us would like to know something about the efforts that are being made to reduce the number of unemployed during that period. For instance, what is being done in regard to the development of our Colonies. I read a lecture given by a very eminent geologist a little while ago in which he said that there were only 12 geologists employed in the whole of the Colonies—
§ Mr. Speaker
I must remind the hon. Member that we are discussing unemployment insurance and not unemployment as a general problem.
§ Mr. McEntee
Very well, Mr. Speaker, I will take another opportunity of drawing attention to it, maybe in Committee when you are not in the Chair. I certainly would not in any sense, however, desire to disobey the Chair. On the actual Bill before us to-day I want to ask the Government to reconsider their policy in regard to the amount which should be given to the unemployed. Why should we have to pay insurance for this insurance benefit? We are a body of people banded together in what we call a nation because we have common interests—at least we are told so—common responsibilities and a common desire to live. I often hear the term "brother" used. I often hear that we are a hand of brothers. That has been heard often enough during the war, and I hope we shall be told it as often during the peace. I was sorry to hear the Minister say that because the workers are earning a few extra shillings a week, as they have been doing recently, it is the time to fleece them of more than we should have fleeced them had they not been earning so much money. We are charging them more for the benefits they may get from this Bill in the future because they are earning a few shillings more now. That does not appear to me to be a good reason and, frankly, I think no Government ought to put forward such a reason in an Insurance Bill. I would congratulate the Minister on a considerable advance in insurance thinking, but, at the same time, I must express my very bitter disappointment that the Minister 1841 of Labour and the Government should consider a sum to be adequate to provide a person with the ordinary necessities of life which everyone in the House knows to be inadequate.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I am very disappointed with this Bill and with the Minister of Labour. Here is a Minister who had a job to do, the biggest job ever tackled by any Minister of this country, and he tackled it in a big way. I am quite certain there is not another Member of the Government who could have done the job he has done—a very big job—and now, as part of it, he is faced with the fact that some of those he has organised are going, for a time at any rate, to be out on the streets. And what do we get? An hon. Member on the other side said that no promises were made. Why, we have had nothing but promises. Time and again we have heard it stated from the Front Bench and from the back benches that we are never going back to the old conditions and standards of life that applied in 1939. Time and time again it has been heard by the soldiers and by the workers that there would be something big and something new and something better than they have ever known before. And what do we get? Twenty-four shilling a week.
The hon. Member for West Waltham-stow (Mr. McEntee) asked if any Members on the other side could live on 24s. a week. Why, it would not do them for one dinner, never mind for a week. What does that sum represent? It represents the spirit of 1939. It represents the attitude to the workers employed or unemployed that existed before 1939. Oh, there are some great philosophers on the other side—it is amazing to sit here and listen to them. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) said there would have to be an arrangement to tide over men who would suffer a serious loss of income, and the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) said that there will be short and sharp bursts of unemployment. What did we hear from these philosophical gentlemen last week? Why was it, when there were short and sharp bursts of bombs, that hon. Members on the other side were so anxious, even prepared to wreck a Bill, that they forced the Prime Minister to come down here in order to ensure that those who had their 1842 property blasted by the war would not suffer any drop in income? Why is it that men who have their property blasted by the war must get every penny returned and maybe a bit more, but that men who have their jobs blasted by peace—not by war—skilled men, anxious and willing to work, ready to serve their country but denied that right, get 24s.? I ask the Minister how he can possibly square it—a big man capable of doing a big job, yet what a pitiful little production this is. The Minister cannot justify it.
There is no use in saying that the Minister is tied down by national unemployment insurance and so on and so forth. Nothing was allowed to stand in his way when taking these men from one factory and putting them into another, and taking them from the factories into the Army. Nothing would stand in the way if the Government were prepared to treat these men as they are entitled to be treated. Not the Minister, not a Member on the Front Bench, not a Member on the other side, could go to any part of the country and justify this 24s. a week. I will tell hon. Members why. I had a letter last week from some Civil Defence workers which I took up with the Home Office. When they moved from their home to another district, what did they get? They received 24s. bd. lodging allowance —not 24s.—and there was not one of them who could get lodgings under 30s. a week. What did the Ministry do in order to try and overcome their difficulty? It gave the Civil Defence workers a free meal each day. Say this cost 2s. per meal, that meant another 14s. Then the meals were stopped and that is why they protested.
The Minister has said that we must keep the dilutees working and take out the skilled men in order that they can be ready for work in other directions. These men are being penalised not because they are not capable of doing their job, but because it is to the advantage of the Minister and the Government and the country that they should be taken out of the factories and retained for work elsewhere. Recently this House accepted a decision that 12s. 6d. per week was the lowest that could be allowed for the maintenance of a child if it was to grow into healthy man or womanhood. Now the Minister comes forward with these 1939 proposals. The Government will try to argue that the percentage increase is a little higher than 1843 the increase percentage in the cost of living. Is that the spirit in which we are approaching this matter? Are all the evil conditions of the pre-war days to be maintained? The men in the Fighting Forces and munitions factories will have fought, will have toiled and striven in vain if the spirit behind this Bill is to be the spirit which will meet them when the days of war are over and the days of peace have come.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I would first like to deal with a point made twice during this Debate, once by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) and again by another hon. Member opposite, who said that property owners would be repaid 100 per cent. for any losses they have suffered. I would like to remind them that in the case of many property owners, especially small property owners, that is not so. They will not necessarily be paid 100 per cent. Further, many of them have suffered heavily during the war, and have lost their properties, and are now receiving public assistance at a lower rate than is proposed by the present Bill.
§ Mr. Stephen
I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said in the case of the small property owners, but it is because they are working class people that they will get less. All the big property owners will get 100 per cent. and more.
§ Dr. Thomas
I would not admit that all the small property owners are working class people; many are in a different sphere of life. However, in the short time at my disposal I want to allude to some of the remarks made by the Minister. He said that the unemployment which he expects in the immediate future would be on a very small level, that it would be scattered up and down the country, in this trade or in that, and that a period of time would be required for re-tooling and reconditioning factories, during which there will be unemployment which, he thought, would not reach more than 8 per cent. That, as an hon. Member pointed out, is a considerable figure. The Minister did not say how he would regulate the figure at 8 per cent. Would it be regulated by the rate of demobilisation?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
My hon. Friend does not want demobilisation into unemployment?
§ Dr. Thomas
No, but does the Minister intend to stabilise the figure of 8 per cent. by the rate of demobilisation? I am merely asking the question. How long will this transition period last? We are told that factories will be reconditioned and so on, and that during that time unemployment will begin to fall, but the Minister did not say that it was not only a question of putting facories right for producion, by re-tooling and reconditioning them, but also a question of recapturing our foreign markets and our export trade. That is the point I want to make. Until we can recapture that trade this period of transition may be very long indeed. I ask the Government, as complementary to what the Minister has said, to produce a policy aimed at recapturing our world trade and markets. We cannot depend solely on home industries. We cannot get rid of unemployment solely by rebuilding one another's houses. Unless we can enter the big markets of the world and recapture those we have lost—and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that our post-war exports must be 50 per cent. in volume above our pre-war figure—then this transitional stage will be very prolonged, and the unemployment figure, I suggest, will be rather higher than the Minister suggested.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
Presumably the hon. Member means the foreign markets we had before the war. We had at one time about 1,500,000 unemployed, even though we had those markets.
§ Mr. Gallacher
When the hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. Thomas) says, "We must recapture our foreign markets," is he in favour of the workers getting the profits or representatives of those on the other side of the House getting them?
§ Dr. Thomas
I do not want to follow that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) said, I believe, that the number of people employed in export trade was limited—
§ Mr. Bowles
No, the hon. Member was saying that we must recapture our foreign markets before we can look to full em- 1845 ployment in this country. Presumably he means the markets we had between the two wars, during which time we had as many as 1,500,000 unemployed at one time.
§ Dr. Thomas
Yes, and that is a sinister warning. If we had 1,500,000 unemployed when we possessed large foreign markets that shows the magnitude of the problem we have to face now, when we have very few foreign markets left.
§ Dr. Thomas
No, I will not give way again. I ask the Government to consider in conjunction with the proposition they have brought to us to-day—
§ Mr. Speaker
There have been so many interruptions that I have found it difficult to gather the point. As a matter of fact I think I ought to have interrupted the hon. Member, and I ought to have interrupted the hon. Member below the Gangway, as he was getting very far away from unemployment insurance.
§ Dr. Thomas
I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker. I think I have made my point. I have come to the end of what I wished to say. We have been told that there is going to be a short transition stage. Unless the Government produce some such measures and guidance as I have suggested, I think this stage will be very prolonged indeed.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
If we had any confidence that the Government were tackling the problem of demobilisation and the transferring of workers from war to peace industries, we should not be so much concerned about the rates laid down in the Bill. But we are left in this pretty helpless position, that we have not been able to discover that the Government has even the capacity to tackle these admittedly very difficult problems. We have heard speeches from supporters of the Government in every one of whom I could see at least a sort of budding Minister, and I could find no reason why most of them could not fill such a position in a capitalist Government. I have naturally taken as much interest in this great prob- 1846 lem which will confront us at the end of the war as anyone in the House and I cannot be persuaded, either that the Government has plans or is capable of planning to prevent a situation which will be as bad, if not worse, in terms of unemployment after the war. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) has assumed that we shall only have short and sharp bursts of unemployment, but gave us absolutely no grounds for that opinion. He is not in possession of more information on the problem than Members on this side, and he is interested in an industry which put more than 500,000 workers in the ranks of the unemployed after the last war. I do not think speeches such as we have heard can inspire us with the least confidence that there is anything awaiting our workers after the war, and the millions who will be demobilised, but to join another huge army of unemployed. When we have a Bill of this kind, laying down the conditions and the amount of income on which these unemployed will have to live, we are compelled to think in terms not of a few weeks or months but possibly years of unemployment, and that applies to many hundreds of thousands of men and women.
We have been driven to this conviction by the Government, which has shown such inability to face up to these problems. It passes my comprehension that the Minister of Labour should tell us that, if a man were transferred to a job a considerable distance from where he lived, he would have 24s. 6d. a week allowed for lodgings. To our amazement he tried to justify such an allowance for a man to live and to retain some measure of self respect and pride. He knows that it cannot be done. It is an unqualified insult to men and women who have done the grandest job of work that has ever been done in our history. It is contemptible in the extreme. He has had to discriminate again between the rural and urban worker and between men and women who probably have worked side by side in factories, performing precisely the same kind of work with equal skill and producing an equal output. With all the reactionary instincts of the most high bound Tory he carries on distinctions and discriminations of that kind. He has had even to distinguish between boys and girls the moment they have reached the age of 16. I regret that he has been 1847 forced to handle such a miserable, contemptible rag of a little Bill. I am confident that in the comparatively near future his stated opinion will have to change. What an anti-climax to the great work that he has done during the war!
§ Mr. Davies
The right hon. Gentleman has hurt my sensibilities enough in this Bill, and I hope he will at least leave my native language alone. Circumstances have compelled me to talk in this strain this afternoon, for we have to think in terms of the consequences of the horrible dislocation that will confront us at the end of this war. I am satisfied that the Government have neither the brains nor the desire to cope with the changes. The only changes they will attempt to bring about will be changes within capitalist economy, which will lead us to the same disaster and destruction that took place in the inter-war period. I cannot possibly support this Bill, and if an opportunity presents itself to us to improve it I shall do all I can to help the right hon. Gentleman so that he may not be reminded in the near future of this most miserable of all the Bills that he has brought before the House.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest (Plymouth, Drake)
I welcome this Bill wholeheartedly, and I want to do my part in refuting the attack which has been made by the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) on the Minister of Labour. I have been associated with factory work during the whole of the past four or five years, and I have not found any Ministry more human, more sympathetic and more willing to take care of the workers than the Ministry of the right hon. Gentleman and his officials. In every way they have been helpful to the industry and have looked after the interests of the working people, and I would like to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the Minister and his Ministry.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman prepared to tell the House that these splendid workers, in whom he has been personally interested during the war, and who may be walking the streets in the, near future, should be asked to live on 24s. a week?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Guest
It is because I know that people have unfortunately to be put off work that I welcome this increase in unemployment benefit, and I welcome the fact that the large fund which has been collected from the contributions of the workers themselves should be made available for this increase. I am glad that the Minister is making use of the fund in this way. There is no denial of the fact that there must be a period of broken employment when we pass from war to peace, and if that transitional stage can be eased by an improved benefit for unemployment, I am entirely sympathetic and support it wholeheartedly. I am glad to say that the working people with whom I have had the opportunity of associating have been able during this period to put by considerable savings. The savings in some of the industrial savings funds are very remarkable. That means that they will have something to fall back on in their times of difficulty.
Our most important task will be to try and prevent unemployment occurring for long periods during the transition stage, and the Government can do a great deal in that respect. That task will fall largely on that great Department the Board of Trade, and we shall have to look to it for guidance as to what freedom manufacture and industry are to have and in what directions we shall be able to devote our energies for the export and home trades. I hope that the Departments associated with the Board of Trade will do their best to be as flexible as possible so as to allow peacetime operations to get going in the direction in which we shall have to go. We know the time it takes to prepare tools and machinery and to get plans drawn for all the things we want to make after the war, and we must have as much freedom as we can get to devote our energies in that direction provided we do not interfere with the war effort. The two Ministries which after the war will be the most important in the development of our export and home trades are the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Trade.
We have in this country a great chance for the future. Luckily the plants in this country are almost immune from damage. Other countries with whom we may have to compete have suffered heavy losses in their plants. Admittedly, of course, 1849 America is in a better position still. There is a great opportunity for British industrialists, and if we are given freedom and as much help, flexibility and release of controls as possible, the periods of unemployment will not exist for a very long time. They can be largely governed by Government policy. I support the Bill because it will help in the transition stage by doing something for the people who, unfortunately, through the closing of war production, are compelled to report as redundant to the Ministry of Labour before they can be placed in other work.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
I know that the Minister will think we are ungrateful in not accepting this Measure with open arms, but whenever the question of unemployment comes before the House, we on this side must make it a big issue because we ought to know what it means. We have all been looking forward to the time when unemployment will to a large extent be done away with. Some alarm was created in my mind when the Minister dealt with this question because he gave the impression that there will be large patches of unemployment. I asked myself whether the war had been fought for the purpose of large numbers of people being thrown out of work in the period between the cessation of hostilities and getting them back to regular employment. I understood it was the intention that, when the war ceased, people would be kept in work, even at Government expense, until there was some other avenue open for them. The Minister said that somebody had argued that it would be better to take out the dilutees before the skilled men. I take it that what was meant was that it would be better to put the dilutees out of employment and keep the skilled men at work. The Minister said that he was going to take skilled men out of munitions and put them to other work immediately. On that line of argument, why should there be any thought of any substantial number being out of work at any time? I hoped we had arrived at a stage when, whatever happened, there would be no large volume of unemployment. When the Minister spoke of 8 per cent. unemployment I do not think he had in mind what it could mean.
§ Mr. Tinker
When the figure of 8 per cent. gets abroad and people read this Debate, their minds will go back to the serious plight in which we were between 1923 and the war. I want to remove from the minds of the munition workers that there is any idea in our minds of a period of unemployment for those who have rendered such valuable services to the community. The Minister has come forward with a proposal for some slight increase. He might have said to himself that if he had not come forward with it nobody else would have bothered, but, as he has come forward with the increase, we have to examine it. I am trying to prove that there ought not to be a big volume of unemployment while conditions are controlled by the State. If there should happen to be such a volume of unemployment, could not the State step in and say to the people concerned: "It is not your fault. We are prepared to give you a decent standard while you are unemployed." If the unemployment is the fault of the State, why cannot the State say, at least for a period: "We will give you money equivalent to full wages until industry becomes settled"? Every hon. Member who spoke from this side of the House has proved that 24s. a week is not sufficient to provide board and lodging. It means that those who are out of work will have to dig into their reserves in order to carry on until work can be found for them by the State or some other body. The issue before us is whether we ought not to do something which is worthy of a great nation in a time like this. Nothing less than the average wage of a worker in munitions should be provided, until the State can provide the unemployed with work. It is not the fault of the unemployed that they are out of work. As to the training scheme, would it not be better if the Minister of Labour set out on those lines immediately?
§ Mr. Bevin
I am trying to help my hon. Friend. In a war period, when contracts are going on, you can transfer people in a few days. When you are 1851 going in reverse, you must get skilled men in first, and get your machine plant in, and it takes a longer time. If my hon. Friend had heard my statement he would appreciate that what I can do in a week when it is one way, takes me at least three or four weeks when it is in the other.
§ Mr. Tinker
I see the strength of that argument, but I would ask my hon. Friend, should the unemployment exceed a certain length of time, say, four weeks, whether the Government have it in mind to give something more than 24s. per week. This is the first attempt to deal with the unemployment problem and insurance benefit since the war started, and we have to meet the situation now. The trouble has not arisen before. The unemployed man always had a chance of work, if he was 100 per cent. capable. We have had difficulty in arguing that men must be found work because of their disability, but the men we are now talking of will be 100 per cent. qualified to do their work. It will get round among the munition workers that, when the war ceases, we shall go back to the bondage of unemployment and lower rates of pay. I hope that when the Minister winds up the Debate he will make it clear that the unemployment will be for a week or two only.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
The essential, basic proposal of the Bill is that the standard rate of benefit for unemployment shall be increased from the pre-war figure of 20S. to the figure of 24s. In the course of the Debate, a great deal of praise has been given to the Minister and a great deal of disappointment and criticism have been expressed. I direct the attention of my right hon. Friend especially to the consideration that all the praise and satisfaction have come from the benches behind him and all the disappointment from the benches in front of him. If that does not give him pause I suppose there is nothing in the world that will.
An advance from 20S. to 24s. represents no substantial increase, indeed no measurable increase at all, in the rate of benefit. The advance in the cost of living that has taken place between the time when the figure was raised to 20s. and to-day when it is being raised to 24s. 1852 is far greater than the proportionate increase that is now proposed. I do not understand the basis of the argument which says that this represents a substantial advance, though not enough. Even an hon. Friend beside me apparently fell for it. It does not represent any substantial advance at all. What it does is to keep the unemployed worker on a Poor Law standard. It gives him no more, and conceivably less, than the Poor Law authorities would have to give him if there were no unemployment insurance scheme at all. In other words, what the Government are making him do under the scheme is to pay an insurance premium in order to get Poor Law relief. That, it is said, represents an advance. That is a fulfilment of promises that have been made. That is the generous gesture made by the Government, as an earnest and token of the new world they hope to build, on the ruins of the old, when victory has been won at the cost of so much sacrifice and so much blood.
Hon. Members have sought to justify this proposal, on the basis that it does not affect many people. Surely, we have long departed from the days when you could justify an intolerable oppression and injustice on the ground that not many people suffered by it. If the argument as to the number of people affected being small is relevant at all, it is an argument in favour of higher payment rather than of lower payment. If the number of people is small, it would not cost very much. The truth is that the argument is entirely irrelevant. The question is whether what the State is doing to the man and for the man represents an equitable way of dealing with the man, and whether the numbers are small or big has nothing to do with the matter at all. It has been said—I heard the interruption made by my right hon. Friend just now and I cannot help saying this—that when you are gearing up for higher production for war purposes and you have to make transfers, you can do so quickly, and when the wheels of industry are being allowed to run down, because production is no longer so necessary as it was before, you cannot transfer so quickly. I do not know whether that is so or not. I am perfectly prepared to take the word of the Minister of Labour for it.
What I would like him to tell the House is this: Here is a situation where a man 1853 ceases to be employed through no fault of his; here you have a situation where a man ceases to be employed through no fault of yours. Here, therefore, is a man who ceases to be employed through no fault of anybody's. It is proposed in these circumstances to reduce his earnings substantially below the minimum subsistence level. It is proposed to reduce his earnings below, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, a lodging allowance. How can that be justified? How can it be right, fair, just or equitable? How can it hold out any hope to the workers of this country that they are to gain anything by all the toil and suffering and the blood that has been shed, that they have shed, in these five long years? What earnest does it give them, what proof does it give them, of the sincerity of the Government's repeated promises that we are not going back to the old world of between 1918 and 1939?
This proposal is callous, it is cynical; it is almost blasphemy to say at this time of day that because you no longer need this man's services, because you cannot adapt your machinery quickly enough, and he has therefore to cease work and be thrown out on to the streets, you are to reduce his earnings, his income, his standard of living, below that at which it is possible to live at all. Hon. Members on the other side have said, "Do not trouble much about this. This is something for the transition period." We are entitled to ask, transition from what to what? Transition from war to peace? During the war we have been able to use everybody's services. Are we then facing a period of transition to a time of peace when we shall not be able to use people's services? Is this the plan for the treatment of unemployed after the war, on the basis that after the war there is to be the same kind of unemployment there was before?
If that is so, it is a dreary prospect indeed for the men, a dreary, dusty answer to the question my right hon. Friend once asked himself, "What are they coming home to?" If not, if the suggestion is that this is only a transition period in another sense, that plans are under way, constructive plans, real plans, plans that can be applied with reasonable speed and full effectiveness, to make sure that there shall be full employment in the future, and 1854 that unfortunately these cannot be applied just yet but it will only be a short time before they are applied, I ask, as my hon. Friend behind me did, What justification is there for not maintaining, for that short period, the small number of men affected on a standard of benefit which makes it possible for them to maintain a reasonable standard of existence in the meantime?
This is a petty Bill, a frightening and depressing Bill. It would go far, if this is all the Government have to say, to disillusion and disappoint the returning soldiers; it would go far to persuade the masses of people in this country of what many of us on this side of the House, some of us reluctantly, and some not, have long believed, that there is nothing for the people of this country, nothing for the workers of this country, to be got out of this Coalition Government, and that the presence of Labour Ministers in it merely prevents the organised Labour movement of this country from getting that elementary portion of social justice they could otherwise get. My right hon. Friend is a hostage in the Government. [Interruption.] Does he say he has real power?
§ Mr. Silverman
If he says he has real power, and that his mind really goes with this Bill, that is a bigger charge than I am making against him. I am endeavouring to suggest to him that perhaps he does not really believe that this is just and equitable. If he says he does, that is a much worse charge than any I am making.
§ Mr. Silverman
If there is any statement in the few remarks I have made that is not accurate, perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell me which it is. If I have stated the facts correctly the facts themselves make the charge. The right hon. Gentleman must not say that I am making it; he is accusing himself. I say again this Bill either represents, in his mind, a fair and just scheme, or it does not. If it does, he has abdicated; if it does, he has resigned; if it does, he has given the lie to the whole of a long and useful life.
§ Mr. Silverman
If it does not—[Interruption]—I cannot hear the right hon. Gentleman. It is not a bit of good sitting there and muttering.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman would address the Chair.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am doing my best to do at the moment. I happen to be in possession, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and while I arm in Order, no doubt I can go on addressing the Chair. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to say anything I will give way. The muttering will come from outside. Mutterings are rising in the streets and in our factories.
§ Mr. Reakes (Wallasey)
May I ask the hon. Member, why not be more charitable, when he knows there is a Coalition which has kept him in this House for five years longer than he should have been?
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman who interrupted me ought to be careful. He came into this House on false pretences. He used to be a member of my party.
§ Mr. Silverman
I think it is the case in this House that if a Member is attacked, he has the right to reply.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
It is not, in my respectful submission, out of Order for one hon. Member to reply to another in this way. If it is so we shall soon be reduced to the muted accents of a Sunday-school class.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I never suggested that we should be muted, but I suggest that, when we are discussing a very serious matter as we are doing now, it is better 1856 to address the Chair, and to keep our minds strictly on the Bill, rather than to get into what seem to me to be becoming personalities. I did not intervene to stop interruptions until I thought they had gone too far.
§ Mr. Silverman
Perhaps you will do me the justice, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to remember that I had the courtesy to give way to my hon. Friend, in order that he should make what was, no doubt, intended to be a helpful and charitable contribution to the Debate. What he said was that the existence of a Coalition Government accounted for my presence here. That, of course, is not so; but it does account for his presence here, because he got in by opposing it. He was opposed by every party in the Coalition. He was elected by his constituents in a by-election because he opposed the Coalition Government.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This is going too far. Obviously we cannot on a Bill of this kind discuss on what basis a particular Member was elected.
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not propose to discuss that. I only ask the hon. Member, before he makes such charges, to remember that he left this party because he supported Munich, and this party opposed it.
§ Mr. Silverman
I gladly agree. I have gone just as far as I think I ought to go; and perhaps as far as I need to go. If the hon. Gentleman now thinks that he has gone too far, I am satisfied. What I said to my right hon. Friend—and it was said in all charity—was that I knew that, as Minister of Labour in a Coalition Government, where the Tories are in a very great majority, I did not expect him to get everything that we on these benches would like. Nobody on these benches would be disappointed because he did not get all we want. What does disappoint us is that, when he gets a puny little Bill like this, he lends his great authority in this country to defend it as being a good Bill.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Most of what I would have liked to say has been 1857 said by a number of other Members. I have, I suppose, made more speeches on unemployment insurance in this House than almost any other Member. After listening to what has been said this afternoon, I think that one more note ought to be added. The Minister of Labour probably looked on this Bill as a pedestrian departmental Measure, made necessary by evanescent circumstances. It is obviously not a great Measure. We are not blaming him for not having revolutionised the whole social insurance system of this country in a page and a half; but, as we are going on later—not to-day—to the consideration of very much more important Measures, we ought to inquire what is behind the figure stated in the Bill; because that is going to have a great bearing on what is going to happen in regard to those later Measures.
I am puzzled. We used to be told, When we discussed the rates of benefit before, that the benefits were related to the actuarial conditions of the Fund. That is not the case to-day. The Minister of Labour has told us that unemployment will have to reach eight per cent. before the present rates of benefit will render the Fund insolvent, and that he did not anticipate that we would reach eight per cent.—he said that, in reply to an interruption. So that 24s. a week is not related to any actuarial calculation of the state of health of the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The 24s. can be disregarded from that angle. It cannot be said that it is based on the general condition of trade in the country; because the country is severely rationed, so there will be no great call on our resources if the amount is made greater. What then is the basis of the 24s. per week? It is not based upon any economic consideration, obviously; because, only a few months ago, the right hon. Gentleman made a very excellent speech, in introducing what I thought was a very bad White Paper, the White Paper on Employment Policy. In that White Paper the right hon. Gentleman said that the reason why unemployment occurs in the country is that people's purchasing power does not keep up with the rise in production. But, obviously, you cannot argue that way, and at the same time, when a man loses his work, reduce his purchasing power from his original wages to 24s. a week, and expect all the factors that make for production to be main- 1858 tained. That is the way to make more unemployment still, So the 24s. benefit cannot be based on any economic factors that the Government have in mind. I admit that that is not strictly relevant to the present situation, because we are living in a time of scarcity; but are we to assume that when a time of plenty comes the 24s. will be raised to a much higher figure, to keep employment going? Otherwise, we still have to seek a reason for the 24s.
It is not based on any desire to keep the unemployed man, because he has paid contributions into the Fund, in a position superior to those who have not paid contributions; because the man would get the same amount from public assistance. [An HON. MEMBER: "He would get more."]He would get more from public assistance. So, in fact, the unemployed man, who has built up an enormous aggregate figure in the Unemployment Insurance Fund, is being put in a worse position than if he had paid no contributions at all, provided that his domestic position entitle him to receive public assistance. I do not want to put it on a too acrimonious level, because I admit that the Bill is not a big Measure, and, therefore, perhaps, we could not expect great principles to animate it; but I think we are entitled to ask the Government to take these matters into consideration, because they are worrying us. We ought to have some explanation as to why the figure is fixed at 24s. We have not had that explanation, and I know that the Minister is not going to give it.
§ Mr. Stephen
The hon. Gentleman is stressing the fact that this is not a big Measure, but does he realise that this might be the only Measure for years which will stand between the unemployed and destitution?
§ Mr. Bevan
But I am taking the Government at their word, and believing that before long these White Papers which have been coming down on us like a shower of confetti in recent months will be harvested in Bills. If anybody in my constituency asks me why there is to be 24s. a week benefit, I shall want to be able to give a reasonable reply; and at the moment, I frankly confess, one does not occur to me, except that the Minister of Labour is merely following in 1859 the traditions of the office of Minister of Labour in this regard. Why not, as my hon. Friend suggested, continue the payment of wages? There is no reason against it. There is no reason why, if the State is unable at the moment to use the services of men, those men should be thrown on an income of 24s. a week. A soldier would not be, and these men are all industrial soldiers. We have not even had the orthodox reasoning of Conservatives, which used to put with such ponderous detail many years ago. It is not a question of putting a man on the labour market, and, by reducing his income, forcing him to seek work. That is not the situation. These men are all at the orders of the Ministry of Labour. The Essential Work Orders are in full operation, and these men are members of the industrial army. If a soldier is not fighting battles, are you going to reduce his Pay?
I must confess that I am still searching for this will-o'the-wisp explanation of why this figure of 245. has been arrived at, and I cannot find it. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that he is going to cause a lot of ill-feeling. Some people say that you ought not to pay wages, because some men will be Idle and those in work will be angry, because those who are idle will receive the same for doing nothing. That is what is happening in the country. A good many employers are taking men back to work, though the men themselves are doing very little for it. Excess profits conceal a great deal of under-employment. That is happening in many industries at this moment, and these men, who are turned out of work and get 245. a week, will be perfectly well aware that, in some industries, men who are practically idle are receiving wages. I should have thought it would have been much more imaginative at this period to have decided to keep these men on the pay roll, not on the employer's pay roll, perhaps, but for them to be paid average wages at the employment exchange, until the redistribution of labour in the country is brought about. Nobody complains that these men will be idle because, obviously, there must be great dislocation in the change-over in production, but, if we are to have these payments of benefit on this rate, as a precedent for future economic policy, then, indeed, it is going to be a 1860 very grave and sombre outlook for the people of Great Britain.
The Prime Minister said last Friday that there are many bloody battles ahead of us. I am sure there are. Germany is not yet beaten, and the conquest of Japan has still to take place. Are we to send a message across to France, to Burma and India, that, when these men come home, for reasons over which they have no control, they are to be reduced to a standard of living of 24s. a week? That is not the way in which we are going to hearten them for their battles. I think it is a very great mistake for the House of Commons to pass this Measure without taking all these factors into consideration, and I agree very much that it is the Minister of Labour who is called upon to defend what I consider to be an indefensible proposition.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
I had resolved not to intervene in this Debate, but I think it is extremely unfortunate that, for the first time for a very long time, unemployment benefit should be the occasion of a display of differences in feeling on this problem, between the two sides in this House. This problem was brought home to me very forcibly last week. A lieutenant in the Army, discharged with a wound, came to see me last Monday. He had been to the employment exchange a week before, and he wanted to know what the country was going to give to him. He had experienced it on the previous Friday, when he had received £1 unemployment benefit, and he was extremely disturbed. I want to put it to every hon. Member in this House that, if an unemployed discharged soldier, a single man, came to his door and told him that he was expected to live on £1, he would find himself terribly disturbed, too.
The Minister will say that he has increased this rate from £1 to 24s., but is that an adequate answer to this discharged officer? This country can give him 24s. a week on which to live after experiencing all the hardships he has endured; is that to be the position? I know my right hon. Friend is in this difficulty. He is endeavouring to improve something which has been determined by the House on previous occasions, and he is limited by statutory provision. I do not think that is an adequate answer, because we are still puzzled about this 24s. Does the 1861 Minister want to keep his £295,000,000 surplus, and let these returning men live on an inadequate standard? Why cannot that fund be raided for these men to maintain themselves, until a permanent scheme is devised? I can see no answer to that, and I must say that the reasons given by the Minister in his opening speech seem to be an inadequate explanation to give to the discharged officer who came to see me last Monday.
But there is something bigger in this Debate to-day. It is the general apprehension in the minds of the hon. Members on this side of the House that unemployment will not be limited to 8 per cent. after the war. If they were satisfied that unemployment was going to be negligible, unemployment benefit would not be a subject for major discussion in this House, but we are not satisfied. I have tremendous faith in my right hon. Friend, and I know his reputation and the work he has done in this country. But, nothing that I see satisfies my mind that we have no reason to be apprehensive about the position of our people in this country once war production is terminated.
My suspicions are heightened by another point in this Bill, to which the Minister jocularly referred —the wages stop Clause in the case of the agricultural worker. What on earth is the reason for the wages stop Clause there? I know the Minister has raised the amount by 13s., but do we not understand that we are to have a prosperous agriculture and there is to be employment for all? If so, why this need for a stop Clause? If it is not to be so, are we to take it that it is the Minister's view that an agricultural labourer with sufficient children to take him over the £2 13s., must be cut off at that and be penalised because of the Clause in this Bill? The Minister has probably done more for the agricultural workers of this country than any other person. Why has he done this in this Bill? These are questions which I should like him to consider in the reply he makes to the House.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I will not detain the House for more than a minute or two, but several hon. Gentlemen behind me have been asking a very specific question and I should like to press it a little further. What was it that 1862 induced the Government to increase the amount of benefit by 4s. instead of, say, 2s., 6s., 8s. or 10s.? There cannot be any actuarial calculations here at all. There is no actuary who will offer any opinion on the Unemployment Insurance Fund unless the Government can assure him that the rate of unemployment will not exceed, say, 8 or 10 per cent. He will then give his actuarial calculations on that basis. But what Government is there that can decide that unemployment will not go beyond 8 or 10 per cent.? No one, of course, will object to an increase in unemployment insurance benefit.
The people in my division will be affected very intimately by what the right hon. Gentleman is doing in this Measure. It might impress the House if I told them that at one period of time between the two wars, in one part of my constituency there was an unemployment rate among women of 93 per cent. Only seven women out of every 100 of the insured women population in one area were employed. I have said before, and I repeat it again, that in spite of all the promises of a new Jerusalem and the glorious State that is to emerge and what the Government are going to do after the war, I can see nothing that any Government can do to alter the situation in some of the districts that I happen to have the honour to represent. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) asked the Government what they were going to do about employment when peace is restored. What does he expect to get at the end of a disastrous war like this? What can the nation expect when it has spent its substance on war for five years, with £20,000,000,000 of debt hanging over its head?
§ Mr. Tinker
I expect that the resources in the country will be used for these purposes as they have been used for war purposes.
§ Mr. Davies
My hon. Friend is surely too intelligent to assume that the present Government will use the nation's resources as he suggests. He may remember a statement made by an eminent statesman that political parties join coalitions in ignorance and separate in disgrace. This Coalition is in disgrace before the parties begin to think of separating. I hope, however, that the right hon. Gentleman will listen favourably when some of my hon. Friends put down 1863 Amendments to the Measure and that he will be kind enough to agree to them.
I and some of my friends worked for wages before any of our social services came into being at all. There was no workmen's compensation, unemployment, health insurance, old age pensions or widows' pensions when I started working in the pit; and I am very proud of our achievements in this country in the way of social legislation. I think, therefore, that this meagre increase of only 4s. is a serious blemish on the whole system of social insurance. It cannot be related to the cost of living. If it were so related, then the right hon. Gentlman is not fair to the unemployed; 24s. in 1944 will not meet the increased cost of living by comparison with 17s. in 1939.
Finally, I am hoping, of course, that there will be no unemployment in this country. I am satisfied of one thing, however, that unless we change our attitude towards the fundamental economic and financial problems of society unemployment will come upon us as before. Right hon. Gentlemen stand at that box from time to time and make glowing promises to the poor people of a grand time when the war is ended. I wonder how many of them will be in power at all to carry out their promises. I hope, however, once again, that the right hon. Gentleman, having listened to some very strong criticisms 'of the Bill, will also listen favourably to some of the Amendments to the Measure which may be put forward in due course.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. McCorquodale)
I think that on the whole we have had a good, and sometimes hard-hitting, Debate, which the House has enjoyed, though I personally must say that I regretted one or two rather personal attacks on my right hon. Friend. Fortunately, I believe that the esteem in which he is regarded throughout the whole length and breadth of this land is far too well-founded for it to be damaged in any way by attacks of that sort. I do not believe they do any harm except to those who make them. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) did sugar his pill a little by some almost extravagant praise of the Minister in the opening of his remarks. Some brick-bats followed after, hut he at any rate has the excuse of a general com- 1864 plimentary regard for my right hon. Friend.
I have wondered at times if some hon. Gentlemen were not labouring under a misapprehension with regard to this Bill. A visitor from outside, listening to some of the speeches, might have thought that the Government were proposing a reduction. The facts are, of course, quite otherwise. The Government are proposing that the benefit rates should be increased at least 20 per cent., and more in certain cases, while increased contributions are not being demanded at the present time. That will take place in this interim period while the change-over, the reconversion of industry is taking place and until our full social security plans can take legislative shape and become law. Some Members have criticised as totally inadequate the 20 per cent. increase. That for a man, wife and two children, the average family, is 12s. a week increase, and I do not know any responsible trade union leader who, having negotiated a 12s. a week increase, would not think that he had done rather well and would not expect to be blamed by everybody on that account.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
He has not been negotiating. The Government came along and put this forward without any demand at all by the House of Commons up to now. I appreciate the anxiety of hon. Members in all parts of the House for the unemployed man who has been serving his country so well on the field of battle or in industry during the war—it is an anxiety we all feel and we all want to do the best we can. But this Bill is an Unemployment Insurance Bill. Insurance benefit rates, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) pointed out, are based on the insurance principle and are dependent on the contributions and on the expectation of unemployment. Now the Minister has said that these rates can be afforded provided unemployment does not go above 8 per cent., and that is the actuarial basis for this Bill, because we are confident that unemployment during the next two years will not exceed 8 per cent. on an average.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
Could the hon. Member inform the House what 8 per cent. would involve in terms of unemployment?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
In 1939, before the war, there were 15,000,000 odd insured workers; 8 per cent. of that would be—
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I have not said, nor has my right hon. Friend said or suggested, that 8 per cent. should be regarded as the normal unemployment rate, but it would be quite wrong for us to come down to the House and say, "There will be no unemployment." There are bound to be pockets of unemployment and, on an actuarial basis, we must take that as an outside figure beyond which we do not think average unemployment will go under any circumstances over the next two years. We hope, and confidently expect, that it will be very much less.
§ Mr. Silverman
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the average unemployment between the wars was 1,500,000, so that when he is contemplating even a maximum of 1,250,000 he is getting very near to the figure between the two wars?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The hon. Member suggests that I have contemplated a rate of unemployment of 8 per cent. If he would only listen to what I have endeavoured to say, he would realise that I never suggested such a thing.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I took 8 per cent. as the outside. We confidentely expect that the figure will be much below that, but we must obviously pay proper regard to financial principles when dealing with money which belongs to the Unemployment Fund.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
May I proceed with my argument, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]It'is directly in line with the point the hon. Gentleman wishes to make. We are in the position at the present time of having presented to the country a vast scheme for social insurance. It would hardly, I think, be wise to propose, in a small interim Measure of this sort, rates of unemployment benefit higher than those proposed 1866 in this Social Insurance scheme. I would remind hon. Members in all parts of the House that it was the unanimous demand of this House that the Government implement the Beveridge Scheme to the best of their ability, and this is an implementation of part of that. That was what was asked for by the House, and insistently by hon. Members opposite. Now, when we come down to give some small instalment of that, we hear nothing but criticism.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The hon. Gentleman is quite right, and perhaps in my argument I used the wrong word. This is an amount which comes up to—shall I put it that way—the figure proposed in the social security scheme.
We have had a Debate lasting for four and a half hours but there have been very few questions asked of the Government to which I might reply. There is one point which the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) raised about which I would like to say one word. He said, and I think other hon. Gentlemen said, that there is no plan for the change-over period, that the Government have no plan for proper reconversion back to civilian employment. On the contrary, the Government have been hard at work on the most careful and complete plans, to the very best of their ability, and with all the data at their disposal, so as to make this change-over, when it comes—and the time is not yet—as easy as possible so that it causes as little disturbance and unemployment as possible. I would like, quite seriously, to suggest to hon. Members that I believe it does not do any good constantly to suggest that the Government are making no plans for this at all; it merely creates unhappiness and anxiety in the minds of millions, unhappiness and anxiety which we confidently believe is quite unjustified. It merely makes them unhappy when there is no reason for them to be. I suggest to hon. Members, therefore, that they are not serving the best interests of the happiness and welfare of those who have done so well by their country by suggesting what simply is not true, that the Government are making no plans for such an obvious occasion. 1867 This, as I said, is a small interim Measure. We are asking the House to agree to a rise of approximately 20 per cent. in the benefits under the Unemployment Insurance Act, with no increased contributions to pay. For this small but, I believe, valuable Measure which I believe will be welcomed throughout the country, I ask the overwhelming support of the House.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Captain McEwen.]
Committee upon Friday.