Section eight of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1920 (which sets forth disqualifications for Unemployment Benefit), shall have effect as if for the words "reason of a stoppage of work which is due to," there were substituted the words "the withdrawal of his labour in order to participate in."—[Colonel Penry Williams.]
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
I do not intend to repeat the speech which I made in the Committee on this subject, but I should like to remind the House of the history of this matter. When the original Unemployment Insurance Act came before the House in 1911 it was laid before the House in a form which would have prevented the injustice we are now seeking to remedy. It stipulated that employment benefit should be refused to a man who was directly concerned in a dispute in the factory or workshop where he was engaged. As the Bill passed through
Committee, however, that provision was altered, and when it emerged from the Committee it was in such a form that if there was a dispute—either a strike or a lock-out—in the factory where a man was engaged, he was automatically disqualified from receiving unemployment benefit. Section 8 (1) of the Act of 1920 provides:
An insured contributor who has lost employment by reason of a stoppage of work which was due to a trade dispute in the factory, workshop or other premises at which he was employed shall be disqualified.
We are seeking to make that read as follows:
An insured contributor who has lost employment by the withdrawal of his labour in order to participate in a strike or lock-out shall be disqualified.
That clearly entitles the man who is thrown out of work by no fault of his own, who has not even a vote in the matter, to receive his unemployment benefit. Up to now he has been deprived of that right. It is really a stupid provision to continue to-day, because a man has only to walk across the street and go to the guardians and draw relief, and it is therefore taking the obligation off the insurance fund and putting it on to the guardians. We say this unemployment question is an Imperial question, and not a local question. A very curious situation may arise under this disqualification. I am credibly informed that in certain places in England to-day there are more men out of work than there are employed. If that is the case you may have this position arising. You may have a body of men working in a factory. There is a dispute between their employers and their trade union. There may also be men out of work and drawing unemployment benefit belonging to that society who are equally entitled to vote on the dispute with the men who are working. You may have the men who are in receipt of benefit, by their votes drawing out of work the men who are in work, and who, perhaps, do not wish to stop. The result will be that the men who are out of work will continue to draw unemployment benefit, the men who have been in work up to this point will not be entitled to unemployment benefit, but will be entitled to their trade union strike pay, while labourers and others who have no vote and no responsibility in the matter, will get neither
strike pay nor unemployment benefit. That is a situation which cannot continue. It is unjust, and in these days we cannot afford, when dealing with labour and with large bodies of men, to allow injustices to continue. Whatever the difficulties of the situation may be, we ought to get rid of this sense of injustice.
This controversy has been going on now for 11 years. We have all been engaged in it. Members of the party to which I belong, members of the Labour party, and members of the Conservative party have been engaged in it. I believe the Minister of Agriculture moved the original Amendment to rectify the wrong of which we are now complaining. The Homo Secretary was leader of the little body of Members who in 1914 sought to get rid of the disqualification. The right hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. G. Barnes) was one of the original agitators in this matter when he delivered his speech on the Second Reading of the earlier Measure. He seems to have forgotten that speech, but I can give him the reference if he cares to have it. I think at last we have got the Minister of Labour to make some real advance towards a settlement of this question. I will give the right hon. Gentleman credit for good intentions. I believe he is as anxious as we are, to get rid of this inequality and injustice and the whole difficulty with him, has been a difficulty of administration. He has agreed to set up a Committee to which this matter shall be referred. If he will make that Committee really representative I think we are in a fair way of getting this matter settled. We do not wish to have it hung up indefinitely. I do not mind about the elections. We are not doing this for electioneering purposes. As I said, Tory, Liberal, and Labour parties have all been concerned in efforts to remove this inequality. I believe, as far as the labour world is concerned, it is a matter of vital importance that it should be remedied forthwith. I would not have moved this new Clause were it not for the fact that, as an agreement has been come to on the matter, I think Members of the House who were not members of the Committee, but who have for years taken an interest in the matter, should be made fully cognisant of the whole arrangement which we have made with my right hon. Friend. Therefore, I move this new Clause formally, in order to give my right hon. Friend an opportunity of stating exactly what course of action he is going to take. I beg of him not to divest himself of the responsibility of ultimately settling it. When he sets up that Committee, I beg of him, both with regard to the labour representatives and also the employers' representatives, to select men of the highest integrity and the greatest breadth of view—men who will not look at the question from a circumscribed point of view, but who will take the broadest possible point of view, in the national interest, in order that they may arrive at some settlement of the question, and thus remedy a grievance which has now existed for 11 years.
Mr. T. THOMSON:
I beg to second the Motion.
My hon. Friend has put the case so clearly that there is no need for me to add more than a few words. I would remind the Minister that last year when we considered this matter in Committee we then thought we had come to an agreement. The Minister was most sympathetic as he always has been on this matter. He said if a Committee representing employers and employed came together and found a formula to get over some of the administrative difficulties which exist, he would raise no objection to its being embodied in the Bill of that year. Unfortunately agreement was not achieved. I desire on this occasion to make sure that we are going a step further than we did last time. I suggest to the Minister that this ad hoc Committee which he has promised should consist not merely of representatives of employers and employed, but of representatives of his own Department—independent men—in order that we may not get into the impassé which we got into last time. I would like also to ask him whether he will be prepared to take the finding of the majority of that Committee and not, I will not say shelter himself behind any division of opinion, but not refuse to take action in the matter. I submit that this is a matter for the House and for the Government to settle, and that no one section should be able to put a veto on action being taken., and I suggest that the Minister in the first place and House in the second place should be responsible for finding a way out, and not let one party to the dispute stand in the way of a settlement. I hope the Minister can assure us that the Com- mittee will be of a representative character, not merely of the employers and employed, but that there will be independent men on it, and that he will take the finding of the majority of the Committee, and not delay action if one section happen to stand out, as they have done up to the present. After the speech which we have heard from a large employer of labour in the North, who is representative of the great body of employers, I think the House will realise that there is no real difficulty on that side if we only get men of the right breadth of view to deal with the question. I should like to ask the Minister how soon he will set up the Committee, realising that it is impossible to embody any finding in this particular Act, hut we hope the Committee will be set up at once and that action will be taken as soon as possible after it has reported.
Before the right hon. Gentleman addresses himself to this Clause, there are two or three sentences which I would like to utter, because on the Order Paper, in my name, there is a new Clause similar in intention to the one now before the House. As my hon. and gallant Friend who moved this new Clause said, this question has been before the House and before various Committees of the House since 1911. If those who might take part in any Division upon this question could be in the House and listen to the merits of the claim which is made, and free to settle upon those merits, it is certain that a change would take place in the law as it now is, for, regardless of party and regardless of interests, the House is responsive to appeals grounded in absolute equity and in themselves so fair as to be irresistible when they are presented. The matter, as we see it, is this. The law obliges workmen, when in work, to pay for a benefit when they are out of work. There are times when certain men, who have to pay under those conditions, are unemployed, through no fault of their own, and what we suggest is that at such times, on such occasions, men should be entitled to receive their benefit, when through no fault of their own they are out of work, because when they were in work they -were compelled to pay. The whole principle of this plan of insurance in relation to the unemployed is founded upon that condition. Men who throw themselves out of work, either through giving up their job or who collectively and with their fellow workmen take a part in some industrial dispute, clearly are disqualified, and we are not making any claim on their behalf, but it is the fate of a large number of men in industry to be the victims of circumstances over which they have no control, which they cannot terminate, and which in no way they have caused. It frequently happens that such victims are the poorest of the working classes, men who earn the lowest rates of wages, but whose contributions are as high for this purpose as the contributions of the higher paid men, and all the circumstances point to the desirablity, as an act of justice, of making a change in the law.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who, I think, is seized of the equities of the question, is faced with administrative difficulties, but I suggest to him that no difficulty should be permitted permanently to stand in the way of a right being established, once that right is clearly understood. It is the function of Ministers, it is the business and special duty of administrative Departments, to overcome administrative difficulties when they are repeatedly brought before their notice, and when, in order to do so, an act of justice should be done. As other hon. Members have said, we do not desire unduly to labour questions, the arguments of which have been expanded and repeated very frequently in this House, but I wish to put to my right hon. Friend a point which has so far not been expressed. I gather that upstairs my right hon. Friend made a proposal to the effect that at some early date a Committee, no doubt an impartial and competent Committee for the purpose, should be created by him to investigate and report upon the question. I do not know how far my right hon. Friend feels that he is committed to accept the findings of that Report, but I should hope that if anything like an agreed formula can be suggested to him to meet what is claimed, founded on justice, he will have no hesitation in making it part of the law of the land. As to the question as to what is going to happen in the meantime, it may take months, it may mean that it will be impossible for Parliament in this Session to take in hand the findings of any Report and transform them into legislation, so that I think we are entitled to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman can take some steps which will provide for the interval and enable him to use his discretion, even before this Report, in relation to these claims grounded in justice, in order that no further wrong should be done to men who are compelled to pay.
I shall be very much interested to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say under that head. That is the central point, indeed, of the new Clause which stands in my name, and it is that part of it which distinguishes it from the particular Clause now before the House, and as we have not an opportunity to move a Clause in the terms of the one standing in my name, that is a point that I press on the attention of my right hon. Friend. I hope, therefore, he will be able to give us some assurance that, pending this act of justice which he desires to be taken by the Government in due course, some provisions will be made whereby no further wrong shall be done to men who may, between now and the change in the law, be thrown out of work through no fault of their own.
We are all familiar with the great interest displayed in this question on every occasion that any Unemployment Insurance Bill has been before the House, or in Committee, upstairs or downstairs. My hon. Friend has quoted to us the original form of the Bill, and he is quite right. As it was first introduced in 1911, it said:
A workman who loses employment by reason of a trade dispute involving a strike or lockout by which he is directly affected shall be disqualified from receiving Unemployment Benefit so long as the strike or lock-out continues.
That was the original form of the Bill, but it was not considered to be equitable, and by way of Parliamentary compromise we got the longer Clause 8 (1), which has been a part of all insurance Acts from 1911 onwards. I know there are hard cases. I admit it, but my difficulty is to find the line of equity. My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) says, "We will leave that to you." That is what his Amendment says. That is a pretty considerable responsibility, and I wonder if he has any idea of the number of complaints I get of the findings of Courts of Referees and Umpires, independent people, who are right
outside my authority. If I tried to solve this problem myself, I fancy those complaints would multiply many times. My right hon. Friend says it is no good talking like that, and that the functions of Ministers are to remove difficulties. All I can say is that you can say that with much greater emphasis on that side of the House than you can on this. That is my experience, at any rate, and I think my right hon. Friend has had reason to share in that view in his time. Therefore what I said, in 1920, I think, when this particular feature was before us, was that if I can have submitted to me a proposal which is acceptable to the main parties, the employers and the employed persons—an agreed proposition—and it is workable, I will not put any undue obstacle in the way; but I have not got that.
I do not think, however, I can rest on that any longer. It is up to me to do something, or it might be said, "You made a proposition which you knew would never be able to be implemented, and you are riding off on that." That is not my intention. I thought I would like the three parties interested, namely, the employers, the employed persons, and the State, to sit down together and see if they can come to a concordat upon this question. Upstairs I undertook this, and I think I must now take it up, for it will be a long time, I am afraid, before the two parties immediately concerned will of their own volition get together to solve this, if it can be solved. Therefore, I will appoint a Committee ad hoc, representative of both employers and employed persons really representative, as my hon. Friends wish, of the highest integrity, and the greatest breadth of view, to examine the working of Clause 8 (1) and report to me, and if I can get anything like an agreed formula—and I use the term deliberately, accepting my hon. Friend's phrase; I do not want to shelter myself behind any question of complete unanimity—if I can get anything like an agreed formula, I will certainly recommend it to my colleagues for insertion in the permanent structure of our insurance legislation in the future, when we come to build up that structure. I cannot undertake to do anything, in this emergency Measure, which would pretend to solve the problem at the present time, and I cannot undertake in the meantime to be the person who shall of his own discretion, such as he has, solve this problem, but I will undertake to appoint a Committee.
Certainly, and I am very glad indeed to hear one hon. Member at least say a good word for the Labour Ministry. It is quite refreshing. I will do my best to secure that it forms part of our permanent provision, but the hon. Member must not demand that I should undertake to do anything in the way of legislation for the rest of this Session. I do not know that I can do that, but at any rate, when we come to the end of this emergency period, and at that time set out to build up a permanent scheme of insurance, I shall hope to be able to put something into such a Bill as will remove this long standing trouble.
I am very disappointed with the reply of the Minister to the Leader of the Labour party. I thought something would be done in the meantime to meet the grievances of those who are at present suffering on account of this inequality and injustice. The Minister has admitted that if a man is thrown out of employment through no fault of his own he is entitled to benefit, but the view he puts forward now is that because two parties, employers and representatives of the men, have failed to come to an agreement, and to submit a proposal that will be acceptable to himself, he is not prepared to accept this Clause. That is monstrous. If I have paid for a certain benefit and that benefit is not paid me because two outside parties fail to submit a satisfactory proposal to the Minister, that makes the injustice and inequality greater still. In the opening stages of this Debate one of my hon. Friends was discussing the question of the money for administering this Bill, and he made the complaint that the Minister was taking too much power, because the State did not make the same contribution as the employer and the workman. The Minister now has the power to administer this Bill, and to give justice and equality to these people w-ho are entitled to the benefit, yet he, throws the responsibility on another two parties who are not affected in any way. We ought to have had a more satisfactory reply from him than we have received, because we are in it every day.
I will give one illustration. I will take—and the hon. Members for Middlesbrough will understand this—a steel works with half a dozen fitters employed, or, if you like, a dozen operative bricklayers. They have a dispute, perhaps not a strike. They may be kicking over the traces themselves. I have a thousand men employed in that steel works, and because those men stop work and my thousand members are employed in that particular department, they get no benefit at all according to this Bill. On the other side of the road is a works to which this steel works supplies tin plate bars, and because these people are on strike that works cannot get tin plate bars. Those people on the other side of the road are entitled to the benefit. Well! I do not understand Acts of Parliament, and I do not understand why the Minister could not settle a little question like that himself, why he could not go to South Wales, see the employer himself, and ask whether these members of the Steel Smelters' Union were implicated in the dispute. The employer would say at once, "No." If they were implicated he would be only too glad to tell the right hon. Gentleman. I do not understand why he does not come forward and settle this himself at once. I am very dissatisfied, and if I have anything to do with the Amendment I will force it to a division owing to the unsatisfactory reply of the Minister.
I, like my hon. Friend who represents Pontypool (Mr. Griffiths), am highly dissatisfied with the reply of the Minister in charge of the Bill. This is a vexed question, as the House knows. I have raised it in questions and Debates time and time again, and I want to remind the Minister of Labour of what happened during the joiners' dispute on the Clyde. He is perfectly well aware that I made representations to him regarding that matter. He knows what happened there under this Section. Because the joiners declined to accept a reduction of 12s. a week, they were put out on the streets, and others were put out as well—boiler-makers, red-leaders, and men who had never handled wood inside the yard, except to light their pipes. Yet they were refused benefit because the joiners were on strike. As a result of representations, the umpire, who was deciding all the cases, said that, owing to the depression in trade now existing, there was no evidence to show that, had there been no dispute in the yard, the men who were out would be working, and he granted them benefit, dating it back to February. That was a wise decision, but it ought to have been given earlier. These men were not implicated in the dispute. They had not a right to vote; they could not turn up at their branch meetings and say: "We will not strike"; and because the joiners refused to accept a reduction, boilermakers, red-leaders, and engineers of all classes, as well as labourers in the yard, who were not members of any trade union at all, and who, therefore, could not get lock-out benefit, who were not in receipt of unemployment donation, were walking the streets without getting anything at all, except what their friends were willing to supply them with.
That is detestable, when these men have been paying into a fund of the Government every week by compulsion. They would not get employment unless they paid. It is deducted from their wages at the pay-box every week or fortnight, and when they are unemployed, through no fault of their own, because of some dispute in another part of the yard, and are out of work because of these disputes in some departments with which they have no connection, men working on some class of material that they do not handle, those men are unable to draw the benefits to which they have been paying for many years, without drawing, in many cases, a halfpenny of the benefit to which they have contributed all that time. That is unjust. My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) has asked for a Committee, and that may be good so far as it goes. But what about the individuals in this dispute now prevailing in the engineering shops who are being locked out? What of the labourers who have had no word in the dispute, who had no ballot paper sent to them, and are not affected? They are on the street, and the reading of the umpire will be that they are on the street because of a trade dispute, and are not entitled to benefit.
The Labourers' Union will be unable to pay the benefit according to the rules of the union, and they and their families will be without anything. Those people have to throw themselves on charity. They have to accept parochial relief, go to the boards of guardians, and apply for relief there. They are men and women who at any time in their lives would look upon it as bringing a stigma on their names to accept parish or board of guardians relief. The Government, by the operation of this Bill, are compelling these people to bring upon themselves what they consider to be disgrace. What are you going to do in the present dispute, with thousands of men on the streets at the present moment who have had no say in the dispute, and who are unable to draw Benefit because of this rule? Many of them are unable to draw trade union benefit because of the circumstances in which the unions have been placed all through the long period of unemployment that has been going on for the past year and a half. You are going to set up a committee. What is going to happen if that committee comes before you again with a decision that is not an agreed one—if they do not agree as to a formula? The right hon. Gentleman is remitting to this committee the task of common agreement on a formula or set of words that you can embody in the Bill. He has already told the House several times that he has placed this matter before employers and workers to try to arrive at an agreed set of words which he can accept. Why does he throw it on the employers and men? Did he put this Bill before them and ask them to agree on forms of words for each of its Clauses? He did not.
This is a Government Bill, drafted by Government draftsmen. The Government representatives tell us poor laymen when we put down Amendments that they will accept Amendments which will strengthen the Bill, but that they will frame the set of words that will make them technically correct. We are not draftsmen to draft words to suit your legal experts. You have the finest draftsmen for drafting public or private Bills in the employment of the Government. Why, therefore, do you throw on the employers and the men the onus of putting forward a set of words you can accept? Why not tell the draftsman to draft a form of words which you, as a Government, will submit to employers and men for their acceptance. That is the commonsense way of looking at it, but it is evidently not the Government's way. They go round and round, circling all the time, and then at the end, when failure stares them in the face, they turn round and say it is the fault of the employers and trade unionists, that they cannot agree, and that, therefore, the Government cannot do anything in the matter. Bring before us a form of words drafted by your draftsman, and we will tell you if we will accept them or not. Then, and only then, will the blame of not having a suitable set of words incorporated in the Bill rest on the men and on the employers.
The Government have not said what they are going to do if the Committee does not agree. Are they going to throw it back again on the shoulders of the Committee? There are to be employers and men on the Committee, with certain officials of the Ministry of Labour. If the employers and the men disagree again, what is to happen? Are the representatives of the Ministry of Labour who will sit on the Committee to take the responsibility of framing the words, or will the Minister, if he is still Minister of Labour—I hope he will see promotion before then. I say so sincerely, so long, of course, as there is not a general election before then, and some of us are in his place. It will be easy then to draft a form of words, because we shall have control of the draftsmen, of whom he, evidently, is in fear, and is not going to instruct to draft this form of words. What is going to happen if the Minister of Labour is still in his present position? Is he coming to this House to tell it that this matter has been remitted to a Committee to find a set of words that will be acceptable to the Ministry of Labour, to the employers and to the men; that the men and the employers again have failed to come to a common agreement, and that he, the Minister, as the third party, cannot do anything in the matter, and this obnoxious Clause must still remain in the Bill? Is that the position which the Ministry is going to take up? [An HON. MEMBER: "Wait and see."] I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with the policy of "wait and see," since he no longer follows its spokesman. Will the right hon. Gentleman come to this House and ask for power, or will he take the responsibility upon himself and his colleagues in the Government to draft a set of words? I think that is the common-sense position. It is no use throwing upon us the responsibility.
As I have said already, the right hon. Gentleman did not invite us into a conference and did not invite the employers into a conference when drafting this Bill. That was done by the right hon. Gentleman's own draftsman in a Bill which was submitted to be debated and amended by this House. Why, then, should he not have had in this Bill a form of words drafted by his own draftsman, knowing, as the Minister does, the controversy that has arisen over this obnoxious Section, knowing of the disputes that have arisen in every part of the country, and knowing, as he certainly must do, the great amount of distress that has been caused in many homes because of the operation of the Section. I submit it is time we received some explanation in the matter. At the present time, in Glasgow and in various parts of the country, men who have been working short-time are being told that their unemployment donation for the week they were not working is suspended, and has been suspended for the past six weeks, because of the impending dispute and possible lock-out at that time in the engineering trades. Those men are to be taken before boards and referees and umpires, and in the meantime the unemployed donation is withheld from them.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting put a straightforward question to the Minister, which he has not answered. The right hon. Gentleman is standing by the Section in the Act. That is not a straightforward answer, especially when he has told this House that he is so dissatisfied with it that he is prepared to set up a Committee to try to find a set of words to get over the difficulty. The Minister in charge of the Bill is not satisfied, and yet, when he is asked a question as to what he is prepared to do to meet cases of suffering at the present time, he shelters himself behind the old Act. That, surely, is not a straightforward way to meet a question. What is he going to do? Those cases are already on the street. Men have already been turned down by the Employment Exchanges up and down the country. They are told that they are not entitled to receive unemployment benefit. What is going to happen? Throw them upon the rates, tell them to go to the parish council in Scotland, or to the board of guardians in England? That is the only thing left open to those people. Although the Committee is satisfactory so far as it goes, I am not content with the Committee. I submit it is the duty of the Government to find a set of words, and not to put the responsibility upon the Members of this House or the employers of labour or trade unions. While I am prepared to accept the Committee as a means of getting over the difficulty, because of the unsatisfactory reply of the Minister in sheltering himself behind the Section in the Act, I shall press this to a Division to let him know we are dissatisfied with his statement.
I want to second the appeal made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), in order that we may be in a position to deal with the cases that will arise before the Committee about to be appointed reports. Upstairs, when the right hon. Gentleman gave the promise to set up a Committee, I felt that we were then getting somewhere near a point of definiteness that would remove the injustice that prevails under the present wording of the Act. I am not one who thinks—and I could not say it in face of my previous utterances and beliefs—that the Ministry should find words for every Act of Parliament, and that those words should be accepted by us. They have found certain words. Those words are before us for our criticism. We desire to see them altered. In my opinion, it is for this House to alter them, and bring them more into line with the condition of things. It is quite evident that the House, if it were left free, thoroughly appreciates the difficulties and hardships which are imposed by the present wording of the Act.
What I rose particularly to say was this. The right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors have continually pleaded with us that, no matter how keen was the hardship of the cases cited, they had no power to grant benefit, because the facilities were not given them in the Act of Parliament. We suggest that the Minister himself, while the Committee is sitting inquiring into the matter, should accept responsibility, and this House should give him the responsibility of determining cases that might occur in the interval between the report and the inclusion of any findings of that Committee of Inquiry into some subsequent Act. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider that. I feel that the responsibility is not so great that a Minister of the Crown could not cope with it. Whatever a Minister of the Crown does is bound to be subject to some criticism from some quarter or another. That is continually happening. But surely, at the risk of having criticism from disappointed applicants, it would be as well to put in the balance the approbation and approval of the many who would undoubtedly be admitted by the Minister if he had the power to admit them.
A case which brings it right home is, perhaps, the present engineering dispute. At the moment there are many thousands of engineers' labourers who have no dispute, who are thrown idle because of the dispute between the engineers and their employers. That is a case quite clear and definite, and I feel sure a Minister would most readily accept the responsibility of admitting them to benefit. I know of no clearer case. Take the position from the point of view of three groups who are no longer in dispute with their employers. If one group is in a position to stultify the industry, and thereby throw idle the other three groups, surely no one would pretend that the members of those three groups have no claim upon the fund. I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way clear to admit some responsibility, and agree to accept the suggestion that while the Committee is inquiring, or, if their report is delayed, and until such time as some permanent Section is inserted in the Act to cover these cases, he will ac- cept the responsibility of determining them for himself.
There is one other point I would like to put. It seems to me to be not quite so difficult. It is that if the Committee is set up with something like decent rapidity, and its findings are agreed to within a very short space of time, could not the Minister then present a one-clause Bill? Facilities, I am sure, under those circumstances, would willingly be granted by the House. There is no earthly reason to wait until July, 1923, when the whole of these four or five Unemployment Acts that we have had will be put into the melting-pot and emerge into one permanent Unemployment Act. I see no reason why we should wait till that time, because the periods become less, the payments restricted, the hardships for ever increasing, and if the hardships are increasing for those admitted to benefit, how much greater is the hardship to those who can have no hope or prospect of ever being admitted to benefit so long as the Section remains as it is? I can well imagine that some other supplementary Bill or amending Bill may be necessary even before 1923. Is it not possible for some real step to be made? The promise is good, but you cannot live on promises. It is some hope, but it is a long distance to expect the victims of this Clause to go on hoping with a drab outlook until July, 1923. If large masses are thrown out on to the stones, they are not only the victims of other people's troubles, but they are the victims of a Government who, through their inertia, have not made any provision for them at all, and they become really sufferers of a double hardship. You say to them, "Hold out until July, 1923. If you can do that, then we will see what can be done to include in any further Measure some Clause that will give you a right we admit is yours, but which, under the present wording of the Act of Parliament, it is not possible to meet." I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider these points, further: First, that you get a quick and agreed Report from the Committee, so that you can prepare a one-clause Bill and ask for facilities to pass it through the House in order that its advantages may be embodied then, and accrue before July, 1923; and second, I follow the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) in urging that you should accept re- sponsibility in these matters, because I feel they are not so complicated as suggested by the Minister.
One does not like to intervene for long, but I want to state definitely that I am altogether dissatisfied with the withdrawal of this suggested new Clause and the promise of a Committee to sit and report at some time, for we have not had any statement made as to what that time is likely to be. The Minister of Labour has known about this question for months. [HON. MEMBERS: "Years."] He has had ample opportunity in this Bill to make provision for this class of case. Let me cite a case or two. At several collieries in Yorkshire notice has been given to the workmen, not because they have refused to abide by any agreement contained in the monthly adjustment, but notices have been posted up that unless a reduction beyond that given by the accountants be accepted by certain classes of workmen the collieries would be closed down.
The people in these cases have gone before the umpire, who has turned the whole of the men down, stating it was a dispute. But I should like to point out that the employers want something more than an agreement. Look at the unfairness of the whole question. A reduction was asked for from what we call the "contract" men, that is, men working on piece. The strange and ironical aspect of the matter is this: that in some of these cases the men were earning decent wages and that was the reason given by the manager for asking for a reduction. The whole tendency of these men was in keeping with the view expressed in this House more than once of late to get that greater production that is urged, being paid for what they work. The contract men declined to agree to a reduction. The men were turned down by the umpire who termed the thing a trade dispute. Personally, I think it was wrong to term this affair a trade dispute, seeing that the employers were asking for something above the honest monthly adjustment. Still, seeing the men were out one would have thought that the men, not contract men, should have been entitled to unemployment benefit. The reduction asked for ranged from 40 to 10 per cent, and the men now out, the day-wage labour men, the men in the pit-hill, the banks- men and the screen-men, are not parties to the dispute. They have no grievance. They are thrown out of employment because the contract men will not agree to suffer this injustice which they believe would be in the reduction.
I say, firstly, that the decision of the umpire was in favour of the employers, and was helping them to bring about indirect reductions contrary to the agreement. Secondly, after they had been turned down, at least those not affected by the dispute should have been entitled to unemployment benefit. This is at present the case in three or four collieries in Yorkshire. I first complain of the way the dispute has been defined. This was an injustice to the men, and, secondly, those unaffected should, as I say, have been entitled to unemployment benefit. When I was on the Committee that dealt with the last Bill, I mentioned a case like this to the Minister, but I received no answer. "Supposing," I said, "the engine-winders had a dispute, it would be limited to a very few men, but yet it would have the effect, if at a large colliery, of throwing some 1,500 to 2,000 men out of work. Would these men," I asked, "be entitled to the benefit?" I received no reply. Of course, we know now they would not be so entitled. We ought to force this Amendment and not be satisfied without a Division. It would not, perhaps, do to say that these men were being robbed. "Bobbed" is not a Parliamentary word. [An HON. MEMBER: "It may be true."] But, certainly, they have been unfairly dealt with, for they are not receiving that for which they have paid.
My hon. Friends on the other side will be well advised not to push this question to a, Division. When we discussed this matter upstairs the Minister offered to set up an ad hoc Committee. There is an undoubted grievance. They and the employers must subscribe towards the scheme, which is a compulsory one, and many men may be involved in a trade dispute through no fault of their own; they may be taking no-active part in the dispute itself, are thrown out of work, and are denied unemployment benefit. That sort of grievance is calculated, if it continues, to bring our Parliamentary action into disrepute, and to tend to the increase of that social unsettlement which prevails to such a large extent at the present time. It is not to the interest of the general community or to society as a whole that such a grievance should remain unremedied. But the Minister of Labour has said that if representatives of the employers and the workmen can get together and draw up a formula which he could accept, he would accept it. The Minister of Labour has admitted the grievance of my hon. Friends opposite, but they should not think that it is such a simple matter that it will be easily arranged. The whole problem bristles with difficulties. It would be an intolerable position if a Government Department under the unemployment scheme should grant benefit under which it might be supposed that the Government, acting through one of its Departments, was taking sides in an industrial quarrel, and by subscribing out-of-work benefit was helping to defeat one side or the other in a dispute. That is the point. The Government must be impartial in this matter and hold the balance even. Therefore, it is, in my view, extremely desirable that this valuable offer—because it is that—of the Minister to set up this ad hoc Committee should be accepted so that the Committee will get to work and report.
It is quite possible that a Committee of the sort might fail to make any recommendations. They may not agree. We are always faced with the possibility that the Committee may sit for a long time and not come to any final determination. But if so, I think it would be the duty of the Minister, after a time, to assume responsibility, to take the matter in his own hands, and bring forward a form of words which would put an end to this grevious injustice of men being thrown upon the street and deprived of benefit to which they have subscribed. No man can rest satisfied with an intolerable injustice of that sort. My hon. Friend opposite half-described it as "robbery," and I do not know that it needs a great stretch of the imagination to determine that it is so, for it is entirely depriving men of benefit for which they were compelled to subscribe.
It is a grave reflection upon an Act of Parliament, and upon our work here, that provision has not been made earlier to bring that grievance to an end. The Minister, as I say, may ultimately have to assume responsibility, but I do not think he should bring forward such an Amendment in a temporary Measure such as that before us. I think my hon. Friends must be prepared to recognise that it will be 1923 before a remedy is found. In view of the decisions that have been given as to the terms of the original Act, I do not think the Minister can act on his own responsibility without having the force of law behind him, and that, I am afraid, could not be obtained much earlier than next year. The Committee to be set up will not be able to come to a quick decision, and when it docs, it might take some time to approve the form of words required. My hon. Friends opposite have underestimated the difficulties that face the Minister in this case. The whole matter will have to be very carefully thought out, else in remedying one side of the grievance you may put the weight of grievance on the other side. That must be avoided. We must have a statement of the case that will be fair to both sides, and that will have within its four corners the element of impartiality and of final settlement. Therefore I should strongly advise my hon. Friends to withdraw their Amendment, and to rely upon the offer of the Minister, and we may, I think, take it that if such a Committee as promised, reports, legislation will be brought forward at the earliest possible moment to give effect to their report.
The hon. Member has expressed the hope that this Amendment will not be pressed to a Division. I sincerely hope that there will be a Division upon it. In the case of the last Bill we had before us upstairs, the Minister of Labour made an offer to both sides that if we could find some distinct formula he was prepared to accept it. It is not enough to throw the onus upon either side of finding a formula of this kind. As has already been indicated in previous speeches, it is the duty of the Government to find a formula. The basis of our claim is well founded. We have sustained the hypothesis of this argument, not only to-night, but upon many previous occasions, namely, that every subscriber who is thrown out of employment through no fault of his own is entitled to the benefits of the unemployment fund. In so far as we have sought to achieve this principle, the right hon. Gentleman, more or less, is at least inclined to our point of view, but he has constantly said that there are those fatal words in the principal Act, namely, "if the stoppage is due to a trade dispute." If it is due to a trade dispute, then the man is immediately disqualified.
So far as the principal Act is concerned, no discretionary powers are given either to the referees or to the Umpire. If the case is brought before the referees, and they themselves are fully impressed by the hardships of the case, they have no discretionary power to allow the applicant unemployment pay. Surely if three men are sitting as a Court of Referees, and they are at least impressed with the justice of the claim of the applicant, some discretionary power should be given to them. The principal Act invests them with no power whatever in this connection, and the same applies with regard to the Umpire, because he has no discretionary power. Very often, when you have an application for unemployment pay, one finds there is a written statement put in by the employer, who may attend the Court and he may not attend, and the written application of the employer under circumstances of this character is actually given more weight to than is ever given to the word or testimony of the applicant.
In a case of this character where men have made contributions I say that there should be one of two things. First, discretionary power might have been given long enough ago to either the Court of Referees or the Umpire; and secondly, that when any statement is made by an employer it should have no validity whatever unless he comes to the Court and allows the applicant to question his statement. There is no opportunity of cross-examination or of arriving at the real facts of the case. It is purely a case of misconduct, and the statement of the employers is taken as almost the final word. I submit that is not fair to the applicant. After the workmen had been and presented their case in one instance which came to my notice a written statement had been presented to the Umpire who heard their case, and then I am informed that he sent for the owners or managers of the works and heard their statement again without sending for the representatives of the workmen. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that statement, but I am informed that it is correct. If that is so it is a gross injustice to the applicant, and whenever a case is to be heard, whether it is the case of an individual or a body of men, and a large number are involved, I maintain that the men have a right to be there to hear whatever evidence the owners have to submit because if they are not there to hear it they are in a position to rebut such evidence.
I also want to say that in regard to this question a very wide interpretation has been given to the term "trade dispute," and I wish to deal with that point. One illustration has already been given of this point, and I will give another. The first question I want to ask is what is the real definition and limitation of the term "trade dispute"? Suppose you have a trade dispute, or a lock-out, and the works are stopped and the time arrives when the lock-out notices are withdrawn and the parties have come to an arrangement in regard to terms and resume work, does the trade dispute end then? The Ministry of Labour, through their servants and even through the Umpire, have declared that the stoppage does not end when the parties come to terms, and while there exists any impediment to their return to work which is due to that stoppage, the men are treated as though the lock-out notices were continuing. This has happened in thousands of cases as far as the miners are concerned.
It would be bad enough if they were always to be made to suffer for actions of their own. That is to say if they gave notice themselves and stopped the pits and there were causes which prevented them from returning to work when the strike was ended and they were to suffer through the disaster, that would be bad enough; but when notice to stop work has been given by the employers who are seeking to impose their own terms, and the workmen are made to suffer on account of such stoppages, I say you are inflicting a gross injustice upon those men who are not primarily responsible. That has actually happened, and that is one of the applications of this term "trade dispute," and consequently there have been thousands of men in the mining world who, when there was a general resumption of work, were unable to draw out-of-work pay simply because they could not return to work owing to stoppages which had taken place through that lock-out. I submit that is a gross injustice as far as the workmen are concerned, and we are seeking to avoid that injustice by putting in this Amendment, which would limit the application of those words. Unless some provision of this kind is put into the Bill it will follow that you will have other cases of this description where men, through no fault of their own, are either thrown out of work or the period of unemployment is lengthened, and under those circumstances the men would not be entitled to out-of-work pay.
I want to further illustrate that point. One of the statements made in this House, and constantly repeated, is that the men ought to observe and honour any agreement which has been arrived at between them and their employers. I subscribe to that doctrine. In the mining community we have a national agreement. The owners, through the Mining Association, have subscribed to that agreement, and the Miners' Federation have also subscribed to it. Besides this the Government have put their seal thereto as a sign and seal of this agreement being binding between the parties. But what has happened since? There are a number of cases where the owner has stated—
That is precisely what I am dealing with. I am dealing with what is the interpretation of a trade dispute, and I am showing that if the interpretation put upon it now is the right one it is essential that we should have this Amendment carried. I may not be capable of putting my argument as cogently as it should be put, but really I am attempting to do the very thing which you, Mr. Speaker, are asking me to do, and I am giving this illustration to show that there is put upon these words such an interpretation that precludes men from obtaining unemployment pay. I am one of the members of the Executive of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and we are constantly having—
I do not want to transgress your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but the point is what is the true interpretation of the term "trade dispute"? I am trying to point out that there is put upon these words such an interpretation as precludes these men from getting benefit. I submit that under the circumstances these men certainly are entitled to out-of-work pay and if the principal Act precludes them from obtaining unemployment pay then it is high time the principal Act was amended to bring it into line with the principles of common justice.
There are other reasons why we should have this Amendment. In the first place, this is looked upon by myself as analogous to the reserves that an employer builds up his business. It is always considered sound business to do that. Surely it is sound for the workman to do the same thing. When the employer gets a strike he is entitled to take what he likes out of the reserve. I submit that if we get a lock-out we should be entitled to draw out of the reserves we have built up. I urged the Mover of the new Clause not to withdraw, but to force it to a Division.
I would like to make one more appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to let this new Clause go through, and let justice be done though the heavens fall; but if he cannot agree to that, then I would ask leave to withdraw the Clause, relying upon him to set up this Committee at the earliest possible moment, and relying upon his good intentions.
The next two new Clauses on the Paper, standing in the names of the hon. Member for the Dud-deston Division (Mr. Hallas) and others (Outworkers), and in the names of the hon. Member for the Newton Division (Mr. R. Young) and others (Amendment of Section 17 (6), of principal Act) raise a charge, and therefore cannot be taken. That brings us to the first Amendment on Clause 1.