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Poor Law (Amendment)

Volume 349: debated on Tuesday 4 July 1939

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I beg to move,

"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give discretionary powers to public assistance committees to disregard payments made in respect of holidays when assessing relief to applicants for public assistance; and for purposes connected therewith."
On this particular afternoon it would be unseemly for an English Member of Parliament to take up very much of the time of the House, particularly when she represents that constituency which erected the great wall against the onslaught of the Scots, and I propose to be, I hope, com-mendably brief. The extension of the system of holidays with pay under voluntary agreements stimulated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and supported by all parties in the House, has been regarded as eminently satisfactory. A number of agreements have been reached, and not unnaturally they are in widely varying terms. For instance, the agreement with the miners is such that miners are paid a basic rate according, I think, to the age group in which they are; and those engaged in the shipbuilding and the engineering industries have a percentage of their wages put aside by the employers and given out by them to the employes when the annual holiday approaches. Every new industrial practice creates its problems, and this holidays with pay system has created a problem in the case of the unemployed man who by his own work has earned a holiday credit but finds himself unemployed at the time when that holiday credit is payable. We have managed by legislation to provide a fairly satisfactory solution for the man who is on standard benefit and the man who is receiving unemployment assistance gets a certain amount of consideration, though I am bound to say that the present position is not entirely satisfactory, I was glad, therefore, to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour say the other day that he would look into the position of these men again. But, without doubt, the man who has earned a holiday credit and at the time when it is payable finds himself dependent on Poor Law relief has no legal protection whatever. As the law stands public assistance committees are obliged, when assessing the needs of applicants for relief, to take into consideration any holiday credits which may be payable to them.

I think I am right in saying that we should all agree that a man's enjoyment of the holiday credit which he has earned by his own work should not depend on "whether at the time of its payment he is employed or unemployed, and the purpose of my Bill is to give discretionary powers to public assistance committees to disregard any holiday credit which had become payable to an applicant applying for relief. I think I am also justified in saying that this power would be welcomed by, at any rate, some public assistance committees within my own knowledge. I feel that the House will be generous enough to accord me its permission to bring in my Bill to-day, but there is one point which I would like to put to the responsible Minister. I am very well aware that the Bill will make no progress unless I can get the support and the co-operation of the Minister of Health. If the Minister of Labour, representing the Government Department, asks employers to grant these holiday payments as a matter of national policy I think I am logical when I ask the Minister of Health to present the case for co-operation to the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils Association on the basis that their co-operation in the working of the Bill would be welcomed by the Government, and I hope this is the way in which the Minister will present the case for cooperation on this Bill. I have briefly outlined the purpose of my Bill, and I hope that I may be given permission to introduce it.

I am going to say one or two words in opposition to it, although I am not going to carry any opposition I feel to it to a Division. I wish to say a word or two on the shortcomings of the Bill. The hon. Lady is asking that holiday pay should not be taken into consideration by public assistance committees and with that we agree, but why stop there? Holiday pay is taken into consideration by the Unemployment Assistance Board. Public assistance committees are dealing only with one or two cases, and why the hon. Lady should not include in her Bill—

The hon. Member is taking advantage of the opportunity to oppose the Bill in order to discuss Amendments that he would like to make to it, and that is out of order.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Miss Ward, Mr. Storey, Mr. Magnay, Sir Alexander Russell, Mr. Denville, and Brigadier-General Spears.