The Minister has told us that the main purpose of this Bill is to make administrative changes, and he assures us that, as far as he can see, there is no possibility of hardship to any applicant. As that is his intention, I have no doubt that if it can be shown that there is a possibility of hardship, that can be remedied in Committee. I think it is rather a pity that there should have been mixed up with a Bill which is intended to correct administrative defects, one very considerable benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Act, and to deal with that at this particular time. I refer, of course, to Section 2, which deals with the refund of unexhausted contributions at the age of sixty years. It is asserted that that introduces a principle which is not insurance, that it is not an insurance principle, that it is outside the scheme of insurance. I am not convinced of that. I think it is fairly well known that within the schemes of insurance you have benefits within certain periods and in the case of death in the meantime a certain sum payable over at death. Or you have benefits of a kind which are dealing with accidents and the like, terminating at the period when if there is any accumulated credits on reaching a certain age, the insured person will be paid that sum. But I think that that principle is one involved in this provision of the Insurance Acts relating to the refund to unemployed insured persons of their unexhausted contributions. Whether it is paralleled by other insurance schemes or not is not of very great moment, if we can maintain the position that the scheme itself was a desirable one. I believe that it is a desirable provision to have continued. I think it is unsatisfactory to be attempting to deprive insured persons of that benefit in the present circumstances. The proposition that on reaching the age of sixty the unexhausted contributions would be refunded with interest, has had attractions for a very considerable number of men since it was introduced, and it has been put forward frequently by myself and by others as an argument why men should pay into this fund; why they should encourage their fellows to pay into the fund, and why they should not succumb to the temptation held out to them by employers and others to evade payments into the fund. I think I may have mentioned it before, in other circumstances, that a few years ago when there was a fairly widespread agitation against recognising British legislation, there were people in the country, acting without direction, no doubt, but stimulated by the prevailing feelings, who pressed upon trade unionists all over the country to refuse to allow their employers to deduct unemployment insurance contributions. Employers in these cases were very desirous of falling in with that advocacy at the time. We were often appealed to as to what should be done in such a matter. I may say the appeal very often came from men who felt that they were secure in their employment, and that there was very little likelihood of their ever having to draw unemployment insurance benefit. It was a great temptation to that particular class of worker to endeavour to evade the payment of insurance contributions in respect of unemployment.
We advised the men in all these circumstances to bear in mind the fact that there was this provision for the return of unexhausted contributions at the age of sixty, and that they were, by the provisions of the Act, by the payment of their weekly contributions, really paying into a thrift fund which would come to their benefit at a time when they would need it probably much more than they would feel the loss of a few pence a week.
I believe it is a valuable provision in the Act, and one that should be continued rather than abolished. I know it may be said that the abolition of this scheme was brought about in England during the régime of the Labour Government. Well, everything they did was not good, and I think it is particularly useful to us in this country to have such a fund. I want to direct attention, apart from the general principle, to the undesirability of introducing a deprivatory scheme of this kind in this administrative Bill, and to draw attention to the difference between the method adopted here and the method adopted in Great Britain. There the Bill which contained this provision for the abolition of the deferred pay fund extended widely, in many directions, the benefits in the Unemployment Insurance Act. In many ways there were extensions of benefits. There was an increase in the amount of insurance paid in respect of a man and his wife and their children. There was a continuance of uncovenanted benefits and a considerable number of improvements in the scheme from the workman's point of view. This particular provision was one which might be argued as not being desired by the workman or as not in conformity with the general scheme of insurance, but there was a difference in the presentation of this proposal, inasmuch as it might be said to be the balancing of increased benefits with the deprivation of this particular benefit that is in question.
What we are asked to do here to-day is to agree to the proposition that this deferred pay, the refund of contributions, should be abolished of itself without any question of any rearrangement of the insurance scheme as far as benefit is concerned. From that point of view I think it is a mistake psychologically, that it is a mistake in tactics, and that there is no necessity for it at this time even if it could be argued as desirable in the future when you are dealing with the revision of the whole scheme of unemployment insurance benefit. If that has ever to be dealt with, if there has to be a readjustment of it or an alteration in any general way, then it might be desirable to consider this question, and to consider it on its merits, but I think it is most unfortunate that we should be asked in a scheme which is intended to correct merely minor administrative errors to make this change in the scheme of benefits that has been handed down to us. On their merits, I think, and very many think with me, they are desirable benefits. I will not pretend at this stage to argue the merits of any further extension of the scheme, whether it is sound or unsound from an insurance point of view or any other argument of that kind, but I direct special attention to the unwisdom of introducing into a Bill which is a Bill dealing mainly with administrative defects a provision of this kind, which deprives a man of benefit, and benefit which very many men have looked forward to as worthy of their consideration. The Minister, in answer to a question yesterday regarding the number of persons who have made claims for repayment of contributions on reaching the age of 60 years in the Saorstát, stated that "the sum of £14,432 was paid during the period from the 1st April, 1922, to the 31st March, 1926, to persons resident in the Saorstát who lodged claims for the repayment of the excess value of their contributions over benefits."
That is a considerable sum, and it represents something of importance to the recipients. The Minister can argue quite fairly that there are provisions in the Bill so that, coming on to the age of 60, people may get certain repayment and so on. But the fact that there have been 2,800 claims lodged between April, 1922, and March, 1926, shows that there is considerable interest in this matter. These people may not know that the refund is waiting for them. I submit it is unwise to make this provision in this Bill at this time. There are no compensating advantages in the Bill, and it is merely a case of depriving large numbers of men of something that they were induced to look forward to.
Now in respect to the other portions of the Bill, I think it may be found on examination that the effect of Section 1 may bring hardship and mean loss in respect to unemployed insured persons. As the Minister has pointed out, the effect of the proposal is to make the opening of the benefit year what might be called a movable feast rather than a fixed date, and it can be shown, I think, that in cases there would be an actual loss of benefit due to a change in the course of, say, this current year, but as that is rather a Committee point I shall not enlarge upon it. There is also another Committee point that I might draw attention to. It is—Would the Minister consider whether there is any objection to the suggestion that is in Section 5: that any regulations which may in future be made under that section should be laid upon the Table and get the sanction of the House before they become operative? Section 8 deals with the question of soldiers. I think, as a matter of principle, we have to assume that men who reattested and are now by the operation of this section to be deprived of certain benefits, should be assumed to have been aware of this advantage when they reattested. If they had that in their minds when they consented to reattest, I think there should be no deprivation of that benefit unless they had given personal adhesion to the changed conditions.
I recognise that the greater portion of the Bill is acceptable, and will make desirable corrections in the present law, but I would press upon the Minister the proposition that Section 2 should not be proceeded with, and it is not fitting that it should be embodied in this Bill as it is a deprivation of benefits under the scheme. Consideration of it ought to be deferred until there has been, if there is to be at any time, a rearrangement of the whole scheme of unemployment insurance. That is the time when a proposal such as this ought to be brought forward, and not now, in a scheme which deals merely with administrative defects.