Amendment of Provisions for Determining Amount of Supplementary Benefit
Orders of the Day — Social Security Bill
Mr Thomas Price (Westhoughton)
I have not intervened previously on this matter, neither did I have the privilege of serving on the Committee, but I have listened with interest to the arguments advanced by my hon. Friends, particularly on the question of industrial misconduct. I approach this matter not from a theoretical point of view but with a lifetime's knowledge of situations in which so-called industrial misconduct is committed. These are often questions of subjective judgment by people who are not without a vested interest in applying such labels to a man's conduct at work.
I should be the last to defend the kind of gross misconduct constituted by a serious breach of contract of service by any man, whether a union man or a non-union man. I still have some respect for the sanctity of contract. For example, a man who involves himself in a violent physical fight on the floor of a factory where there is dangerous machinery is a menace not only to his employer but to his workmates. The pages of the law books are full of cases in which claims for damages have been brought by injured workmen as a result of fighting in factories where machinery exposes men to hazard. I do not make much comment about a man getting his cards for that kind of conduct.
The same goes for a gross breach of some reasonable order given to a man by his employer or foreman. I should not object, either, if a man wilfully and defiantly refused to carry out a reasonable request falling within the sphere of his employment.
Let me take the case of a 100 per cent.-organised trade union workshop, where the union is powerful and has competent stewards and officials who will handle the men's interests if there is a challenge. In such a workshop it might be dangerous for the employers to give a man his cards on a paltry excuse, such as wearing a tie the colour of which was not to their liking. So where there is an employee who may be a bit of a thorn in the flesh of his employer, and it is known that the shop would react quickly to an arbitrary dismissal, very often a process of niggling sets in. The man is constantly frustrated. He is asked to do things which may infringe his dignity, such as a menial task that he should not be expected to do, or to carry out an unreasonable order. Those are not flights of fancy but matters of which people in workshops have had experience. Such a man is marked down not to be dismissed but to be so chivvied and harassed in the conduct of his daily employment that if he has any dignity he will walk out one day. He would rightly complain if in that situation he found himself deprived of his benefits for six weeks. He would feel that he had been victimised by the system and that the National Insurance Act had been operated in favour of the employer and not in his own interests.
A very dangerous atmosphere is creeping into all debates on this matter. We have just had a debate on another aspect, the six waiting days for short-time working, which is linked with this matter in some ways. I was amazed when I heard the Secretary of State, whose reputation for humanity is considerable and who is looked upon as a humane person, talking about using the taxpayer's money to subsidise such people. I do not wish to be unfair to him, but I hope that that kind of language will stop. We are talking about an insurance scheme, a contract of insurance between the contributor, the employer and the State under which benefits are offered in respect of certain contributions. It is wrong to regard a man who is unemployed as qualifying for a benefit at the will and pleasure of the State.