Orders of the Day — New Clause. — (Waiting Period.)

– in the House of Commons on 6th April 1922.

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Sub-section (3) of Section three of Act No. 2 of 1921 is hereby repealed, and paragraph (1) of the Second Schedule to the principal Act (which provides that Unemployment Benefit shall be payable in respect of each week of any continuous perod of unemployment after the first three days of unemployment) and paragraph (b) of Subsection (2) of Section seven of the principal Act (which defines a continuous period of unemployment) shall have effect as if re-enacted in this Act.—[Mr. Sexton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr James Sexton Mr James Sexton , St Helens

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I was very pleased to hear that there is a possibility of piercing the right hon. Gentleman's armour in his official capacity. I have been endeavouring to do that for over two years and I have not succeeded. I do not know if there are subtle influences at work, but I flatter myself I put a much better case, and in the words of the right hon. Gentleman himself, a much more eloquent case, for my side of the question than that put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas). My eloquence is usually wasted on the desert air, and facts and arguments have very little influence in the Division Lobby, where ignorance is bliss and reigns supreme, but in the hope of catching here and there a stray Member who has not heard the arguments before I will put my case, which is the case of the bottom dog, a man who is compelled by law to contribute to the Insurance Act, who is idle more than 50 per cent, of his time and never receives any benefit. The irony of the whole thing is that a man who is compelled to pay and is idle more than 60 per cent, of his time is contributing to the support of men who work three weeks out of the month and because they are idle for the fourth week, having drawn three full weeks' pay, are considered short-timers under the Act and get benefit. The right hon. Gentleman in Committee yesterday endeavoured, unintentionally, to confuse the issue by making it appear that the Casual labourer, by losing a day, did not lose a week's compensation. That was not my point at all. My point is that it is not a question of the man losing a day's benefit when he is qualified, but it is a question of his never being able to qualify, and the reason of it is this. Six days are the qualifying period. They can be either six continuous days or they can be two days at the beginning of the week, two days' employment and two days idle at the end of the week, and two days unemployed in the following week. In other words, in a period of a fortnight the six days can be intermittent—two days employed and two days unemployed. I should like to show the House, as I have shown the right hon. Gentleman over and over again, the physical impossibility of a large percentage of casual labourers ever being able to qualify. Take the worst case—the case of a man who is employed half a day on Monday and is idle for the rest of the week. That one half-day prevents him qualifying during that week. He has to go over into the next week and to be idle one day in the next week. Then he gets employed en the Monday of the following week half a day and he is idle next day. He is disqualified and has to begin all over again, and, although he has only had two and a half days' employment in the 12 days, he is compelled to pay his contribution, not for one week but for two weeks. He has only been employed two and a half days, he has paid two contributions, but he is cut out and has to commence all over again.

Take the other side of the question, a case I have put over and over again, not as an isolated, but as a typical case of what is happening. A man is idle six full working days. He is idle from Friday of this week till Friday night of the following week at 5 o'clock. Under ordinary circumstances that man would have fulfilled the qualifying period of six days, but what happens? The foreman who employs him tells him there is a job at 5 o'clock. He is between the devil and the deep sea. If he does not take it he will not be employed next time. If he does take this job for a few hours—what is known as a ready-money job—when he goes to claim the following week it is pointed out to him that, although he had qualified for the six full working days, because he worked overtime for two hours the whole qualifying period is wiped out and he has to begin all over again. He has to pay his contribution out of the two hours that he has worked. The absurdity of the whole business is that Sunday does not count. A dock labourer can go to work from Sunday morning till midnight at double pay and can earn 30s. He may be idle all the next week and draw his benefit. The Gilbertian position the casual labourer is in under this Act it is absolutely impossible to conceive. I shall continue to bombard the right hon. Gentleman, as long as I have a voice to speak, with the absolutely iniquitous position in which the casual labourer is placed. A semi-permanently employed man who is in receipt of full wages for three weeks out of the month receives benefit while a man who is unemployed for most of his time does not receive any. What we are asking is that the three days' qualifying period shall be restored. If a man works now on Monday, is idle on Tuesday, works on Wednesday, is idle on Thursday, works on Friday, and is idle on Saturday, he is unemployed for 50 per cent. of his time and because there are not two days of unemployment intervening between one day and the other he has to pay his contribution and will never qualify under the six days' qualifying period. I want the right hon. Gentleman to recognise the absolute injustice of the application of these conditions to a casual labourer as compared with a semi-permanently employed man. The three days' qualifying period will give them a better chance.

6.0 P.M.

The right hon. Gentleman said upstairs that to apply that would cost something like £3,500,000 extra,. I tried to point out to him, and I repeat it now, that instead of losing money his would save it. He confesses that one of the principal reasons why he introduced the six day qualifying period was owing to the numerous applications of casual labour under the three day system. I would like him to compare the statistics for the two periods and he will find, if I am not mistaken, that the applications under the six day period, not that they are all granted, have grown simply because the men who used to take short jobs of a day or a day and a half are now refusing to take these jobs because they know that they can get more out of the unemployment benefit by being idle the full week than if they had worked a day or a half day during the week, and it is only human that having this knowledge they should act upon it.

These men know that no two hatches of a ship are alike, that the fore hatch is smaller than the main hatch, and so on. Therefore a man knows if he goes to a job, where a machine is pumping grain out of a hold, how long the job is going to last. He sums it up: "This means a half day, and if I take this job for half a day and am idle all the week I shall have to pay my contribution and get no benefit this week or the following week." The right hon. Gentleman will find that, if a better opportunity is given to these men to qualify, there will be fewer applications than there are now, and that the £3,500,000 will not be required. The right hon. Gentleman led us to believe yesterday that some modification of the existing system was already in his mind. If he can convince me that that can be done and that some means may be created whereby the man will not be disqualified by being idle one day and working the next day it will go very far to reconcile me, and help the poor unfortunate men who are compelled to pay contribution and get no benefit. But the existing law is responsible for this mischief, and unless I get an assurance of some modification of the present condition I shall be reluctantly compelled, despite the regard which I have for the right hon. Gentleman, to force this question to a division.

Photo of Mr Frank Rose Mr Frank Rose , Aberdeen North

I beg to second the Motion.

Photo of Mr Thomas Macnamara Mr Thomas Macnamara , Camberwell North West

My hon. Friend has expressed regret for having to bring forward this Clause again to-day, and he has been good enough to say that his regret is based on his regard for me. But it is the other way around. I have the greatest regard for him, and it distresses me very much for that reason that I am not able to accept his Amendment. But he wants us to go back to the three-day waiting period instead of the six-day waiting period. There was a six-day waiting period in the Act of 1911 and that continued down to November, 1920.

Photo of Mr James Sexton Mr James Sexton , St Helens

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the fact that in 1911 we were not in? We did not come in until 1920.

Photo of Mr Thomas Macnamara Mr Thomas Macnamara , Camberwell North West

That is so. The dockers did not come in until 1920. I am stating in a few sentences the history of this waiting period. It was six days under the Act of 1911, and it remained six days down to November, 1920, when, I agree, those whom my hon. Friend represents so eloquently did come in for the first time, and we made it three days from November, 1920, to July, 1921, when it went back to six days, and I propose to perpetuate the six days. My hon. Friend says that it will be more advantageous from the point of view of casual labour of all kinds, including those whom he represents, to go back to the three days. His difficulty is the hard cases which arise as a result of, he says, this rule of a six-day waiting period. I shall not weary the House with a very wide variation of combinations of days on and days off under which a man can get benefit. I gave it in Committee in detail, and it is on record. The combinations are very wide, and cover all except the rarest cases. Take the case which my hon. Friend represents. I gave the figure upstairs of the benefit which they have drawn in the Liverpool docks from this scheme. I gave a week in July, and my hon. Friend at once said that that was not a fair week to take, because there was then a dispute in the coal industry. I recognised the force of that, and therefore I made further inquiries, and will give the result of my further inquiry. I take the 13 weeks ending 14th March, 1922, which cover the latest figures available. Under this scheme, which has been referred to so harshly, the total contributions from the Liverpool docks in the period mentioned was £14,000, and the total benefit paid to unemployed workers at the Liverpool docks during the same period was £76,000.

It cannot be quite such a bad scheme which even in these cases produces this result, but undoubtedly there is the extreme case which my hon. Friend has put with such force, the case of the man who works half a day and then has five and a-half days off, and then has work for a day or a half-day which breaks up the waiting period. I have many times sat down with my officers and endeavoured to frame something which would meet that case and similar cases, which are extremely rare, and I have invariably failed to produce auything which would not create hardship in other directions or open the door far wider than my hon. Friend would ask, and in such a way as to destroy all vestige of anything like an insurance principle. I tried so lately as yesterday, in view of the Report stage to-day, but we could not frame anything that we could safely put down and that would not create all sorts of difficulties in other directions. But this is not the end of the matter. We are making an investigation in my offices, in view of the permanent structure which we shall build hereafter when we are out of the present emergency, and my hon. Friend knows further that I am getting into touch with the Transport Workers Committee. We have got the names of the employés, and I hope to have the names of the employers, and we will get them to meet together and examine this matter to see if anything can be done—under the existing law I do not think that very much can—in the direction which my hon. Friend urges, and I shall be glad to take counsel together with the members of my own Committee in view of the preparation of a permanent scheme so as to try and place it upon lines which will cover all just and reasonable claims.

Photo of Mr James Sexton Mr James Sexton , St Helens

That Committee is to deal with maintenance and unemployment grants.

Photo of Mr Thomas Macnamara Mr Thomas Macnamara , Camberwell North West

Yes. Though they have got the wider reference they are covering this point as well. I cannot at this moment prepare a Clause which would meet my hon. Friend without doing considerable harm in other directions. Therefore I would ask him not to press this new Clause now, but to let us do our best to prepare something for the time when we are arranging a permanent scheme, which would cover these few cases.

Photo of Mr James Sexton Mr James Sexton , St Helens

With that assurance, I would ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.