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Unemployment Benefit

Oral Answers to Questions — Pensions and National Insurance – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th April 1957.

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Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow 12:00 am, 15th April 1957

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance why the hon. Member for Jarrow was refuted permission to be present at the tribunal held at South Shields on 4th April, when a test case, affecting the rights of some scores of his constituents to unemployment benefit, was heard.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

Under the present Regulations (S.I. 1144 of 1948) the question of the presence of the hon. Member was a matter for the tribunal itself. As the House will be aware, the question of the rules governing tribunals of this kind is at present before the Committee on Administrative Tribunals under the chairmanship of Sir Oliver Franks.

Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, having regard to the fact that some scores of my constituents were having their right to benefit decided on a test case, it was quite reasonable for me to be present and unreasonable for the tribunal not to permit it? Does not he think that in circumstances like this it would be helpful if he sent out a general instruction indicating that the spirit of the Regulations should be met, because it is obvious from what is laid down in Regulation 13 that the tribunal may allow an interested party to be present? Does the Minister agree that a Member of Parliament who has been approached by scores of his constituents who are contesting a regulation is a very interested party indeed?

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I am not without sympathy, but I must not be led to comment on a matter which by law is within the discretion of the independent tribunal. So far as the future is concerned, I think it is clear that I should be quite wrong to take any steps such as that which the hon. Gentleman himself suggests, at least until we have the Report of the Franks Committee, to whose attention the question of the admission of people to these tribunals has been specifically drawn.

Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will give the occasion and dates, over the last twelve years, when unemployed workers on Tyneside were denied unemployment benefit under circumstances similar to those under which workers have recently had their unemployment benefit suspended, particulars of which have already been brought to his attention by the hon. Member for Jarrow.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I am afraid that the records of my Department and of that of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service are not kept in such form as to make this information available.

Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have the information, if he has not, and that these men were denied benefit on the decisions made by the umpire over twenty years ago? Does he not think it is time that the Regulations were amended so as to avoid decisions such as those which occurred in this case, where men who were not connected with the shipbuilding industry but employed outside were denied unemployment benefit because they fell out of work within twelve days of the strike?

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

If the hon. Gentleman is speaking of the same decisions as those which I have in mind, they have been decided in the sense of disallowance by the local tribunal; but as any party concerned can, if it so wishes, go on appeal to the Commissioner, I think I should be very ill advised to comment on the decisions.

Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance by what authority some hundreds of men on Tyneside, who were dismissed from their employment within twelve days of the commencement of the recent strike in the shipbuilding and engineering industries, have been refused unemployment benefit.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

By reason of decisions given by the independent statutory authorities who decide all claims for benefit under the National Insurance Acts.

Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when the blanket instruction was sent from London to all the exchanges covering the shipyards that any men who signed on within twelve days of the ending of the strike should have their benefit suspended, the immediate reaction of men in the shipyards and those unemployed in that area was that the Government were taking sides in the strike to starve the men back to work?

Does he not think it is desirable, if we are to avoid a feeling of that kind arising in any similar dispute which may occur in future, that amending legislation should be introduced so that only those pay the penalty who are actually involved in the strike?

Is he aware that the men who were signing on were told at the employment exchange that they could not get benefit because they were connected with the strike, and that the trade unions to which they belonged, because they had not called them out and because they were not part and parcel of the strike, denied them strike benefit? [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] Is he aware that these men got neither unemployment benefit nor—

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I do not think the hon. Member fully appreciates the position of the independent statutory authorities which determine these matters and which determined them up to this stage in this case. As, however, this is a case in which an appeal is open, I must decline to be drawn into making any comments on the merits of the decision, which may well again becomesub judice

Photo of Mr Hilary Marquand Mr Hilary Marquand , Middlesbrough East

Can the right hon. Gentleman please clear up one point? Is the statutory authority in this case the insurance officer on the spot, and was it correct for my hon. Friend to say that blanket instructions were sent to him from London?

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

The insurance officer on the spot is the independent statutory authority. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, advice is sometimes given by the chief insurance officer, who is also an independent statutory authority and the most senior of the insurance officers, Whether in this case the chief insurance officer, who would have been within his rights in doing so, did so, is not a matter for which I have responsibility or of which I am aware; but as the matter has been determined in the normal way thus far under the Act of 1948 and, as I have said to the House, further stages are possible, I must not comment on the merits or demerits of this or any other decision of the tribunal.

Photo of Mr Hilary Marquand Mr Hilary Marquand , Middlesbrough East

It is a very important matter as to how far the insurance officer may receive what may be described as guidance, but which may be taken as instructions, from London. Will the right hon. Gentleman circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the guidance which was sent by London to this insurance officer?

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I have already said that, if any guidance was given, it was given by the chief insurance officer, who in this respect is not subject to me. I would have thought therefore that I should be going completely beyond my powers to circulate such advice as he, as an independent statutory authority, gave to his colleagues, who are independent of the Ministry in this respect.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) is raising this matter on the Adjournment on Wednesday. I think that that is enough.