Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £536,100, be granted to His Majesty to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1927, for Relief arising out of Unemployment.—[Note: £610,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. LANSBURY
This is a Vote for Unemployment Relief, and we take the opportunity of raising the question of necessitous areas, and the general policy of the Government in putting the burden of the maintenance of the unemployed and their dependants on to the Poor Law guardians. I suppose most people's minds are elsewhere this afternoon, but it is necessary, even in the midst of a great upheaval such as this, that we should try to bring the Committee face to face with some of the facts in connection with the Poor Law guardians. There can be no doubt, from the answers given by the Minister of Health, that very great burdens indeed have been put on the boards of guardians, In the district, part of which I represent, the board of guardians during the half-year ending 31st March were put to the expense of at least an extra £50,000. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is aware of that fact, because the board of guardian's for the Poplar district was obliged, I think, to go to him for permission or authority for further borrowing.
In the case of Poplar, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the borough is not borrowing on the resources of the union, but on the resources of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund. But even though the major part of that extra £50,000 will be paid in this way, I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is a very extraordinary burden to be placed upon 984 one district of London owing, as we think, to the fact that the Government by the Measure passed last year have struck men off the unemployment roll and compelled them to go to the Poor Law Guardians. I think the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour will bear me out in saying that a very large number of men have been struck off in this way.
§ Mr. HADEN GUEST
On a point of Order. It is exceedingly difficult, owing to the conversation which is going on, even for those who are seated immediately behind the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) to hear what he is saying.
§ Mr. LAWSON
May I also point out that, owing to the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, we cannot hear what hon. Gentlemen opposite are saying?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The obvious moral to be drawn is that nobody but the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley should say anything.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should be very sorry to think that such self-denial was imposed upon anyone, but the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), for instance, is really interested in the question which I am trying, under great difficulties, to raise. I can understand that nobody wishes to discuss anything but the crisis, and things connected with it, but the business of Parliament and the business of the borough councils and boards of guardians has to be carried on in spite of anything. I have been trying to point out that in our district we have been mulct in a sum of £50,000, the major part of which the constituents of hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent London divisions will, in all probability, pay. That does not get rid of the fact that, in our judgment, London should not be called upon to bear this burden, but the whole nation should bear it, and not any individual town. I was about to remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour—and he can confirm the statement—that a considerable number of men have been knocked off the unemployment pay roll, and have been treated as persons not likely to get insurable employment again. A number of these men are over 50, and many other 985 men and women, for a variety of reasons, have been deprived of unemployment benefit.
It is the law of the land that no one is allowed to starve. That may be a good or a bad law, but it was passed in the time of Queen Elizabeth and there it is, and as a result—I am quite certain the right hon. Gentleman. the Minister of Health will agree with me that—in one way or another it is the duty of the boards of guardians to relieve destitute persons. Indeed, the Minister of Labour has said at that Box, that the Unemployment Insurance scheme is an insurance scheme and not a relief scheme, and persons for whom there is no employment which would come within the insurance scheme, must go to the boards of guardians. It is on that point we disagree with the policy of the Government. The man who, through no fault of his own but because he is getting old or because an industry is being reorganised, is thrown out of work, should have some future assured to him better than that which can be provided by a board of guardians. We also say that the fact that a man is so thrown out is no fault of the locality in which he happens to live. West Ham covers a very large residential area, and the part of Poplar which I represent contains a large residential area for people who work outside the district altogether. It seems to us the Government have no right to say that the people of a locality should bear the burden of economic consequences over which they have no control. For that reason we ask Parliament to make up its mind whether such burdens ought to have public assistance, and, if so, what is the proper authority to give such assistance or the proper purse out of which such assistance should be paid.
I can quite understand the proposition of the old Charity Organisation Society that you should never assist anyone unless you can see that your assistance. will put the recipients on their feet and enable them to become dependant on their own exertions. That is a position which I have always respected, but with which I profoundly disagree. Parliament has never taken up that attitude, and the result of the policy that we are now carrying on is that when the Insurance Act has failed, and when the Government grants have failed, and there is no work available, the whole burden of 986 dealing with what I regard as an insoluble problem within the present system of commerce and capitalism generally, is thrown upon the localities. The old theory was that the individual must take care of himself, and those dependant upon him. That grew into the idea of the parish, and from the idea of the parish into that of the union, and I maintain to-day that the problem is so enormous and the cost of dealing with it so great, that the only authority which can deal with it in an economic or reasonable manner is Parliament.
I would say, further, that I hold very strong views as to the form and the amount of assistance that should be given, and it is perfectly true that districts vary. The amount of assistance that a man will get depends on the district in which he happens to live. If it is board of guardians made up of Labour people, he will probably be treated, when he gets dealt with at all, rather more generously than he will be dealt with by a board made up of other classes, but I would say to the right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Members opposite—and I speak after a good deal of experience—that the average working man or woman on a board of guardians is much more careful to sort out the people who are styled undeserving than are people of the other classes. There is no one so hard as is the ordinary workman on the person whom he believes to be what is described as a waster, but it is equally true that if we do relieve, we relieve adequately, and here I think I can call in aid the Charity Organisation Society, who have laid it down as a cardinal principle that, if you do give any public assistance, it ought to be given in an adequate manner. The difficulty in which we now find ourselves is that, instead of the problem of dealing with what is called pauperism growing less, the problem increases.
It may be that there is a bad kink in my brain somewhere, but I have never been able to distinguish immorality or the wrongfulness of giving a person 5s. in outdoor relief when over 60 or 65 years of age, which is called pauperism, as compared with giving 5s., or 10s., as it is now, when a person is over 70, out of the national purse. It does not seem to me ever to have made any difference out of which purse you took it, if it was a free gift. If, in the one case, you stamp the 987 recipient a pauper, I cannot see how he is not a pauper when the money comes out of the national purse. It may be that, there is a great deal of difference, but I have never been able to see it, and the reason why I do not see any pauperism about it at all—and here very few hon. Members opposite will agree with me—is that, in my opinion, the wealth of this country is produced by the collective labour of the working people who work with their hands or their brains, so that in the end you cannot give them anything, because they have done their share in producing, in the days when they could produce, and whatever they get in old age or when economically they are no longer needed by the community is only taken out of the common pool which they themselves have helped to create. Therefore, for me the question of pauperism does not arise, but what does arise is that the system on which we are administering to-day, which is a quadruple one, if not more than that, does differentiate and in the end does put the burden, when it gets very acute, as it is now, on the shoulders of the locality.
I have said once before in this House that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health is in line with those who, long ago, sought to have dealt with this question on a much bigger and broader basis, because it was the late right honourable Joseph Chamberlain, who was the first President of the Local Government Board to break down the old tradition that only pauper relief should be at the disposal of people who were unemployed. I think the right hon. Gentleman will know that it was his father who sent out the first Circular calling upon local authorities to provide useful work for decent men who were out of employment. We have travelled a long way since then. It was also the late Joseph Chamberlain who, speaking, I think, from the back bench opposite, in the days when the Unemployment Bill was under discussion, and the question whether or not it would be passed was just in the balance—I sat under the Gallery, and heard him— made an appeal to the Government, in response to an appeal from Will Crooks on these Benches, to put the Bill through. The main part of his argument then, as it was in his Circular, was that decent, 988 honest men should not be driven to pauperism through no fault of their own.
The position that we are in to-day is that a large number of men and women—and I am quite sure the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour will agree—are being put off the unemployment insurance scheme because of economic circumstances over which they have no control, and are being driven into the arms of the Poor Law guardians. I would not mind that if it were not that the cost of dealing with them was levied on the localities. I concede to the right hon. Gentleman at once that in London it is the whole of the County of London that is bearing the cost, but even so the poorer districts bear a certain proportion of that cost all the time. Then I want to call his attention to a further fact that I do not believe this House has realised one bit. We have prided and plumed ourselves on the amount of money that we have extracted from the various Government Committees that have been set up for granting money for schemes of public work.
I did not know until a little while ago that I was to do what I am doing just now, or I would have got together the figures for my own district. We have done our level best to find men useful work. We have not made any parks, because we have no space for parks, but we have done a good deal of housing, even in that overcrowded district, we have put up baths and washhouses, and we have put electric cables down our side streets, but we have piled up a burden of debt, the interest on which is simply colossal for a district like ours, and in the end, to-day, we are in the position that, much as we would like to try to find more work, unless we dig up roads and put them down again, or unless we have power to sweep away every slum that we have got, there is nothing that we can do, and at the end of it we have got the problem still on our shoulders. The Government ought long ago to have taken this business in hand in a more effective manner.
I do not know how far I shall be in order in what I am going to say, but you, as usual, Mr. Hope, will tell me if I am out of order. I would like to say, first of all, that I am quite certain that within the lines of administration the Ministry 989 of Health could have dealt at least with the young men who are unemployed in an infinitely better manner than that in which we have been obliged to deal with them during the last few years. I ask the Minister whether he will tell the Committee anything that he can about the doings at Hollesley Bay with the single young men and others who have been sent there. The only hopeful scheme which the present Minister of Labour has evolved, other than giving people money for nothing, is a scheme the foundation of which was laid by friends of mine and myself, when, years ago, we established the Hollesley Bay and the Laindon colonies, to which young men were sent to be trained for work in this country or work abroad. The Committee may be surprised to know that that was done in 1912. You got 1,100 acres, which, I am quite certain, could have borne a very much larger number of men than has been there, and had the training been carried out on the lines laid down by the Committee which existed before the War, we might have had numbers of men working, with a very little assistance, on holdings and on farms in various parts of this country. But all that part of the activities of authorities dealing with unemployment has been shut down. I am not aware why you do not utilise the place you have at your disposal, because I suppose there is some sort of liaison between the two Ministries, and that one does know what the other is doing. But, under the right hon. Gentleman, those 1,100 acres, instead of being kept apart from the Poor Law, have now become more or less a Poor Law institution. I feel very deeply about that, because I gave a tremendous amount of my time, which I could not then very well afford, in order to get that established on lines apart from what is called the pauper taint. But even under the system to-day, it is much better than leaving men on the streets, and giving them a few shillings a week on which to live.
What I would ask the right hon. Gentleman is, whether he, in conjunction with the Minister of Labour, will not thoroughly investigate that experiment from the time it started to the time when the War began, and since the War. I went down last summer, and was amazed to find men from Shoreditch, men from Poplar, men from all over London doing 990 hard work as efficiently as any farm labourer could do it. The right hon. Gentleman and I do not agree on a good many things. I have said a good many hard things about him, and shall probably say them again under the same conditions. But he is descended from the man who first laid it down as a principle in this House, and put it on record, that decent, honest men should, as far as possible, be found decent, honest work at decent, honest wages. Now we have got in East London a great multitude of young men, and we do not know what to do with them there, except to keep them alive, and I am going to vote every time for keeping them alive, unless you give them work. I am not asking for an extension of the colonies on the lines on which you have forced Hollesley Bay. I want them to be on lines which will enable the men to be trained, and, when they are trained, to have outlets for them in this country. I believe the right hon. Gentleman has got power to do that through the Unemployed Workmen Act, which is still on the Statute Book, I believe. As a matter of fact, I know it is, because the Central Unemployment Committee still functions.
The right hon. Gentleman, by a stroke of the pen, could set this Committee going, apart from the Poor Law, and apart from any vexatious regulations, and he could get land in all parts of the country, certainly all round London. Within 50 miles of London there are thousands of acres, north, south, east and west, which could be taken, and instead of these men being dealt with merely by doles, they could be trained for agriculture, or for other purposes. I am sure this Committee does not know the amount of training which was done at Hollesley Bay before the War, and I do not think it understands the number of men who were found employment after that training. If the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour Minister would put their heads together, I believe they could carry out the original scheme laid down for Hollesley Bay, and that is that, first of all, at that place, and places similar to it, you should train men and at the same time be preparing other places for small holdings, or for cooperative farming, or for farming in one way or another. Why I am interested in this is, first, for the sake of the unemployed men, which I think is most 991 important, but, secondly, and equally important, I am certain, sooner or later, a proportion of the industrial population of this country will either have to go out of the country or be found work on the vacant land in this country. I want them to be found work on the vacant land in this country, but I put it to the right hon. Gentleman, supposing at the end you were only able to find work for a small percentage of the men in the way I am suggesting, sooner or later there would be openings somewhere else, and is it not much better worth while that what money we do spend on these men should be spent in giving them a chance to keep themselves in health and strength, to keep their bodies fit and their minds fit, so that when opportunity arises they can fall into whatever work is available?
I have said—and I shall not go back on it—that if you do not find them work I want to feed them, clothe them, house them, and so on. But it is a demoralising thing, whether in the West End or the East End of London, that anybody should have something for nothing. I do not take that back at all, but no one, as far as I can see, in either of the Departments really settles down to this business of work, and it is because I think that this would prove a very considerable opening to the right hon. Gentleman that I have put it up to him this afternoon. It is no use putting up schemes of public work through various Committees. Nearly every authority, I believe, has got to the end of its tether, and when you have reached that point, you have nothing to do but simply to give people money to keep them alive.
There is here a whole pile of figures which, I expect, one of my colleagues will use in the course of the Debate. This, however, is not so much a question of figures as of something else. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) once when I went to him in the days when I was Mayor of Poplar on a matter of this sort saying, "Look at what it cost for these people, for these men, their wives, and children; look at what it is going to cost to do what you ask." He also said: "Look at what it costs for every single man," and so on. But you have to remember that there is a cost which is not measured 992 in pounds, shillings, and pence, and that is the cost in the loss of moral and character which comes to the young men and women, and to the old men and women too, who get their living without any sort of work. As I say, you may juggle with these figures. You may juggle with these costs. You may juggle and quarrel as to whether 100,000 more have been got off the unemployment pay roll or not. We may juggle as to whether the men who have been knocked off the unemployment pay roll still continue to register, and when we have done all that, at the end, you have to look the fact fair and square in the face that the number on pauper relief has considerably increased and the number living on unemployment pay is still somewhere about 1,000,000. I am saying all this in no spirit of antagonism. But let me tell the Committee, as an instance of the sort of thing which we wish to see better, of one man in an East End division, who, after four years of unemployment, has at last become lucky and because of the crisis has become a special constable! There you are. You have to face the resentment of the people of this country, both the young, the middle-aged, and the old for whom there is no employment whatever. I could put other propositions before the Committee, but I have contented myself by putting this one case.
I have put the case to the Minister of Health because I know he has the power. Here may I say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, for the Minister of Labour has imitated what I myself and a few others on the Central Unemployment Committee before the War brought into being when we were upon that body. It is the experience that we gathered then which has taught us. That experience has taught us that there was always a percentage of men who came to London and, after a few years, perhaps one generation, got out of the work, lost their aptitude for work on the land though they had not lost their love for the country. Those who think that Londoners are people who do not care anything for a garden or anything for the land would do well to remember what London people did, old men, too, during the War. They cultivated what was really bricks and mortar up and down this Metropolis, and produced no end of really good food. If they could do that in the sporadic manner they did 993 then, if you could only take the young men and deal with them in the way I propose, and in the way some of them have been dealt with—I must safeguard myself by saying that I want them dealt with in a proper manner—as they were dealt with at Hollesley Bay, and under present conditions; if you do, under any reasonably decent conditions, deal with the young men who are at present getting unemployment pay or poor law relief and whom you are merely keeping alive, you would do much to preserve their moral, and they would be producing something in return for what they were receiving.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I am glad to have the opportunity to take part again in a Debate dealing with the necessitous areas, and its allied subject really, Poor Law reform. When we discussed this subject some weeks ago on a private Member's Motion at 8.15 o'clock I had the opportunity of putting forward certain views, but I had not the opportunity of saying one or two things that I want to say this afternoon. I am certain that all of us who have listened to the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) appreciate and sympathise with the spirit in which he has made his speech, although we may disagree with some of the arguments he has used. May I just for a moment deal with two of the points he raised? He did not, said the hon. Gentleman, see any fundamental difference between old-age pensions and assistance from the Poor Law guardians, as they both came out of the public purse. Therefore, he said, there is no difference. I think there is a difference. Broadly speaking, old age pensions are a right. I agree there are still certain limitations, but provided these limitations are fulfilled, the pension is a right. On the other hand, Poor Law relief is not a right. It depends entirely upon the circumstances, and it does involve inquisition. There is, of course, a prejudice against Poor Law relief which does not exist in respect of old age pensions. No one is ever injured in their pride because they are in receipt of an old age pension. Nine-tenths are injured in their pride if they have to seek the assistance of the guardians. We may say that is only prejudice, but it is so deeply worked into the souls of the people that we cannot ignore but must recognise it. 994 The other point was that the hon. Gentleman referred to economic circumstances over which the locality had no control. I must differ from that. Some of the conditions prevailing in some of the necessitous areas have arisen partially from causes over which the local authority did possess control. There is extravagant local administration, which has resulted in an appalling burden of rates, which has added so much to the cost of production, and has definitely driven trade out of these districts. It is notorious that Poplar has suffered peculiarly in that respect. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] I have to have known the district intimately for many years. [An HON. MEMBER: "I have known it longer!"] I quite agree, but the hon. Gentleman doss not suggest that I am wrong when I say that part of the unemployment is clearly because, in certain areas on Thames side, the rates have been forced up abnormally owing to the extravagant local administration. Contrast the attitude there with the attitude of a board of guardians in the Midlands, the members of which were pressed by local members who happened to be Socialists, to indulge in the same extravagant scale of relief as that at Poplar. I well remember mentioning this previously in the House. The attitude of the chairman of that board of guardians, who was a member of the local Labour party, was that he said he was not going to ruin the trade of that district by imposing an undue burden upon the manufacturers. I have always admired the courage of that individual, and if more courage of the kind had been shown I am certain that in many respects there would not have been the suffering there has been, however difficult the position.
That, however, does not alter the fact that mistakes have been made in certain places; nor alter the sympathy we all feel with the districts under peculiar difficulties. I well remember the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley and some of his colleagues taking what they regarded as direct action, and in consequence spending some time as guests of His Majesty in Brixton Prison, in order to induce this House—in which they were successful—to pass legislation imposing on the Metropolitan Poor Law Fund certain charges in respect of out door relief which up to that time had 995 never been imposed upon that Fund. I thought at that time—I was not a Member of the House, but I had taken part in many discussions—that the Bill at that time was a mistake in the way it proposed to assist the guardians in the various parts of London where the burden was heavy. It gave them, in practice, an unlimited call upon that fund, it encouraged local extravagance in a way that was deplorable, it made it, in the long run, better worth the while of some people not to work than to work, and I have always thought that the evils in Poor Law administration which have developed in certain parts of London would not have grown up if Parliament had been wiser in 1921, and had framed the conditions on which it gave help to necessitous areas in such a way that the amount of help was fixed instead of being, as it has been in practice, almost unlimited.
But let us not blind our eyes to the fact that the position of necessitous areas to-day is very much more favourable than it was 20 years ago. The Liberal Government, by introducing old age pensions and unemployment insurance, the action of subsequent Governments in extending those systems of aid and insurance, and the action of the present Government in introducing the system of widows' and orphans' pensions and modifying the conditions attached to old age pensions—I should say, rather, introducing modifications which will shortly become operative—have given a great deal of help to necessitous areas; because it is obviously the case that those districts have a larger proportion of their population drawing upon these various funds than have the better-placed districts. They are, in fact, getting a very wide measure of assistance from central funds—the funds are not, strictly speaking, from the Treasury, although the Exchequer contribute to them.
Some hon. Members may remember the inquiry carried through recently by a body of persons, among whom Professor Bowley took a very active part, into the conditions under which people were living in certain representative towns. The investigation was based on an examination of the circumstances of, I think, one house in every ten. It happened that the town I represent was one of those which was surveyed. In all, 996 eight towns, I think, were surveyed, and they were selected so as to be representative of the conditions throughout the country. The conclusions of those inquirers were rather remarkable. The last occasion on which a full investigation had been made was in a year of good trade, I think 1907, whereas 1924 was certainly not a year of good trade, yet it was found, in fact, that the standard of living, even in the distressed towns, during a year of bad trade, was better than it had been some 15 years previously, and the explanation of the improvement, even in the necessitous areas, was found in the wide schemes of social legislation which had been passed in the interval. That legislation has eased their burdens enormously, and it would be wrong of us to ignore that fact in any consideration of the problem this afternoon.
When last year we discussed Poor Law reform on a Motion submitted at 8.15 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb), I expressed doubts as to the desirability of having boards of guardians, or whatever they may be called in the future, operating over very wide areas. I still think some of those dangers exist, but if the boards of guardians or the local authorities, or the county councils, or whatever new body may be responsible for Poor Law relief after the Poor Law is reformed, operate over a very much wider area than do existing boards of guardians, then quite clearly many of the problems of the necessitous areas will be automatically relieved, because the better-to-do parts of a large town will be able to help the worse-off parts in a way that they cannot help them to-day. Also, there will not be the evils we now have in London, where there is a centralisation system in operation through the Metropolitan Common Poor Law Fund, but where the actual decision as to what is to be paid and to whom it is to be paid rests with those who have only a limited responsibility for raising the money.
In discussing this problem of the necessitous areas we are discussing the problem of the relationship of national finance to local finance. I think I am correct in saying that the Exchequer in this country is more generous to local authorities than is the case in, perhaps, any other country in the world. Such 997 investigations as I made recently when trying to find out the relationship between national and local finance in the matter of education—I am debarred from discussing education, though it would arise on any question of the reform of the relationship of national and local finance—showed that in no country in the world is such a large proportion of the local expenditure borne on national funds as in this country.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
In the case of Denmark it is the fact, I think, that 99 per cent. of the cost falls upon the local units.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am talking of money received for education, and in Denmark, I believe, it is the case that education is almost wholly a local charge, and not a national charge, though some portion of the burden may be borne by the national exchequer. These interruptions have come unexpectedly, and I have not fortified myself on that point, but I think that, broadly speaking, I am right.
This is not a problem arising out of the period of bad trade. It is a permanent problem, and if it is to be solved it must be solved on permanent lines to suit conditions when trade is good, and not be made the subject of panic legislation to suit conditions when trade happens to be bad. The expenditure which falls upon any local authority tends, roughly speaking, to be in proportion to the population of the area. I say roughly speaking; as a matter of fact, in the poorer districts the tendency is for the burden to be rather greater in relation to population than in richer districts, became the proportion of those who attend public elementary schools, the proportion of those who ask for poor law relief, and the proportion who receive the various health benefits to which the Ministry of Health contributes, is larger in the poorer districts; but broadly speaking there is a tendency for those expenses to bear a relation to the population.
The capacity of a district to pay depends upon the rateable value per head of the population, assuming that the basis of valuation is uniform throughout the 998 country. It was impossible to carry through any reform of the relationship of national to local finance until there was some uniformity of valuation, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health took a great step towards clearing the ground by passing last year that very contentious Measure—as it was at the time—the Rating and Valuation Bill. One has only to contrast the rateable value of houses just behind Victoria Street in Westminster with the rateable value of houses in Poplar, taking houses of equal size. The citizen of Westminster who lives in a small house bears a very much heavier burden of taxation than the citizen of Poplar, and a very large proportion of the extra taxation the citizen of Westminster bears is not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the workmen in Poplar, though both may be workmen employed in the same occupation and in receipt of the same wages. At the moment, the rateable value per head is the only measure we have of the relative prosperity of two districts. When we get a better valuation it will be a very much more valuable index than it is at the present time. I am one of those who wish we could discover the ideal formula for all local grants. The whole of the grants from the Exchequer to local authorities ought to be consolidated in one grant, irrespective of the purpose for which it is to he spent. I should like to see that; it is an ideal, but I very much doubt whether it is realisable. It would enormously simplify the problem of central and local administration, because there is an enormous amount spent every year in Whitehall and in every town hall in the country, in settling the relationship of local and national finance. If we could only consolidate on this matter and discover some proper formula, which contained an element of the population of the area and another element which made the grant depend not upon the rateable value—
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I have not spoken very often upon Supply days, but I know there is a rule which debars me from pursuing my argument on the lines I desired. I hope, however, I shall be able to proceed and keep within the rules of Order. The 999 existing basis is certainly a confused one, and there are a great many grants administered by my right hon. Friend under the various Health Acts for maternity homes, and grants to assist the guardians and the police, although the latter come under another Vote. If the Rating and Valuation Bill leads in the future to any kind of reformation in regard to these matters, I am certain that the problem of the necessitous areas will be solved in a way it has never been solved in the past.
I am convinced that any kind of percentage grants lead to unnecessary extravagance. We often hear of a meeting of a local authority or a local committee where some proposal is brought forward involving additional expenditure, and all of them may be agreed as to the desirability of the proposal, when someone draws attention to the fact that the rates are very high, that such expenditure is a very serious matter, and some doubt is aroused as to the advisability of going on with the scheme. Then, someone says, "After all, we must remember that for every pound we spend in this way we have only got to find 10s." The hon. Gentleman who opened this discussion made some comment upon the relationship of poor law relief to unemployment benefit, and he raised the point as to the extent of overlapping between the two services. It is by no means conclusive that an increase in the number of those in receipt of poor law relief is any proof of the state of unemployment in the district. If there has been disqualification of benefits, a large number of people may continue to register for unemployment benefit, but because they are not in receipt of that benefit, they will often go to the Poor Law guardians and receive help in that way, and then the statistics will show an increase in pauperism. At the same time, there may be a substantial decrease in the total number out of employment in that district.
The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley mentioned that point, and that is why I thought it wise to put forward the same point again. It is not necessarily the case that a decline in unemployment statistics and an increase in the Poor Law statistics indicate that the unemployment figures are inaccurate, because I believe 1000 the unemployment statistics are the most accurate we have ever had.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I represent a necessitous area, and this is a matter which is causing the greatest possible distress in that locality which I represent. In the borough the total rates are over 23s. in the£while in the borough of Westminster the rates are something like 9s. 9d. in the £ This difference is largely due to the heavy burden of the poor in boroughs like East Ham, and it is a burden which nobody can possibly remove. My district is almost wholly a residential district. In it there are few places of work, there are no great public buildings or railway stations, but the borough consists mainly of residential houses occupied by very poor people. On the other hand, at Westminster we have only to look about us to see the enormous number of magnificent buildings contributing to the rates, and they do not make any appreciable contribution towards the maintenance of the poor. I know the administration of the Poor Law is a great burden upon the people of East and West Ham, but if you took away the Poor Law altogether the discrepancy would still be enormous and you would find that it arises from the cause I have already mentioned. Owing to the fact that the borough of East Ham is full of moderate-sized houses, a penny rate only produces about £2,000 a year, and altogether the rateable value of the borough is about £4 or £5 per head of the population. The result is that no amount of prudence, economy or good management can prevent the rate in such a district being two or three times as high as the rates in boroughs which are more happily situated.
There are many other towns which, owing to their initial poverty, are necessarily places where very high rates must obtain, and therefore prudence and economy have very little to do with the matter. In such districts the inhabitants have to pay two or three times more rates than those in some of the rich districts. That is an intolerable burden. In some of those districts the rates are altogether beyond comparison. What is more, a rate like ours of 23s. in the £ makes the rents of working class dwellings almost impossible for the people to pay. This has led to the taking in of lodgers, and 1001 this practice has increased to a perfectly frightful extent. I do not think that in this respect there is any borough in the Kingdom more overcrowded than East Ham where I have seen as many as four, five and six living in one room, and I know one place where there were no less than seven people living in one room.
This overcrowding arises because it is almost impossible for an ordinary working man to pay the high rent of a house and keep it for his family alone. Even the new houses which have recently been erected are already heavily sub-let and as regards the local shops there is something like ruin facing the small shopkeepers on account of the rising rents. These men cannot increase their prices in order to meet the rates. Everybody knows that in many branches of trade— tobacco, sweets, newspapers, and the smaller trades—the amounts charged are regulated, and even in the case of the drapery trades, where the amounts are not so regulated, customers have only to take a penny omnibus to get to the large shopping centres. These unfortunate shopkeepers find themselves planted in these districts with rising rates, and they are absolutely helpless. I know that this is greatly due to the Poor Law, but it is not wholly due to the Poor Law. My constituents have made the great mistake of living next to poor people. At my Election this matter was thrust upon me by every class of inhabitants, from our richest people, the shopkeepers, down to the very poor people who are paying rents which they cannot possibly afford, and I say that nothing can be done for these people unless the Government recognise the principle that it is unfair to call upon people in a certain locality to pay three and four times as much towards absolutely essential services as persons living in a richer locality—unless, indeed, the Government recognise what has been brought before them by successive Royal Commissions, the fact that necessitous areas need special help. I would define necessitous areas as areas where there is less than £6 rateable value behind each individual.
It is indeed a very gross injustice that merely on account of the accident of your locality you should have to pay not only in your taxes, where you pay equally, but in your rates excessive sums out of all 1002 proportion for the mere necessities of national life. It is a thing to which successive Royal Commissions have drawn attention, and a thing which cannot be remedied by any change in local grants. The question of proportional grants or block grants does not touch the question of necessitous areas. They need some special subsidy in order to place them more on a footing of equality with the ratepayers in happier and richer districts. These rates have been borne with grumbles for many years. The grievance was brought forward in 1914, when it was admitted by the Royal Commission on Local Taxation. People will bear injustice until that injustice becomes overwhelmingly too great to be borne, and the crisis for ratepayers has been reached on account of the present general unemployment and the present general demands of the Poor Law, which especially hit the poorer districts.
I ask the Minister to give the matter his serious attention, because it not only leads to those evils of which I have spoken, but it means the starvation of all local services. No borough can do justice to its inhabitants when it is faced with a rate of more than in the £1 in the £. It means reduced lighting and that the health services and every necessity and amenity of local life are starved. I therefore say that, if local government as a whole is to be carried on and the services of local government are to be administered equally, we must have some special assistance for the districts who, through no fault of their own, are so unfortunately placed. The remedy is some special assistance based upon poverty, and I would define a necessitous area as an area where the rateabl e value behind each individual is something between £5 and£6. I do ask the Minister to give this matter his most urgent attention. It is something which is driving ratepayers into the greatest possible distress, and even honest traders into financial bankruptcy.
§ Mr. LUKE THOMPSON
We have listened with a great deal of interest to the speech which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for East Ham (Miss Laurence). If I understood part of her speech correctly, it was that, if the element of unemployment were eliminated, it would make an appreciable difference to the rates of the borough.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The hon. Member misunderstood me. I said that even if we got rid of the Poor Rate there would still be a disparity in the rate for other services as between district and district.
§ Mr. THOMPSON
Still it must bear some proportionate relationship to the rate that is levied. I wish to address the Committee in another direction and to refer to a matter which was raised, I think, by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), although, owing to the confusion in the House, it was somewhat difficult to hear the early part of his speech. He raised once more, I think, the question of the relation between the administration of the Unemployment Acts and guardians' relief, and I think he made a direct reference to the 1925 Act. If he did not, it has been done time and again in this House and also outside, with the endeavour to show that nearly all the increase in Poor Law relief had been due to the legislation of this Government. I want to see whether that is true or not. The Committee will bear in mind that I was one of the Members who viewed the 1925 Act with some disfavour, and the Amendment I put up was the only Amendment accepted by the Government. I have therefore watched with great interest the operation of that Act, and I must say that I have come definitely to the conclusion that it is not responsible in any large degree for the increase in Guardians' Relief during the past six months. I want as far as possible to give my reasons, because I have paid some considerable amount of care and attention to the matter.
It is interesting to note that the 1924 and 1925 Acts were administered, in the first place, under statutory conditions, and then under the discretionary power of the Minister. The first of the four statutory conditions under the 1924 Act that regulated the disallowance of unemployment benefit was "Not normally employed in an insurable occupation," and of the total disallowances that accounts for only 1.2 per cent. Under the second condition, "Insurable employment not likely to be available," we have a still less percentage, namely, .07 per cent. The two statutory conditions under which the disallowance of unemployment benefit has been heaviest are "not a reasonable period of employment within 1004 the last two years," which account for 5.9 per cent., and "not making reasonable efforts to find employment" which accounts for 3.6 per cent. Therefore, the disallowances under the statutory conditions of the 1924 Act total 11.4 per cent.
When you come to the 1925 Act, you find that it is responsible for only 5.6 per cent. of the disallowances. It is interesting to analyse that 5.6 per cent., because the Committee will remember that the discretionary power of the Minister was divided. Of the 5.6 per cent., 3.8 per cent. are disallowances under the head "Single persons residing with their relatives," and I think the Committee will admit, inasmuch as there is a certain income coming into the house, that a large proportion of those who have been disallowed under that head, have never come on to guardians' relief. We have left 2 per cent. under the other headings allowed for, and it is very evident that of the disallowances which would react on guardians' relief only a very small proportion can come out of the 1925 Act.
I have been trying to find out how far the other Act is responsible. I want to be entirely fair, because the Committee will admit that the longer unemployment exists in any industrial area the disposition or tendency is for an increase of disallowances due to the working of the 1924 Act. It is due exactly to the prolongation of unemployment that a larger number of men have been thrown on to guardians' relief.
I want to raise another point, which, possibly, will interest the Minister. A year or a little more ago, the expectation was that unemployment would gradually decrease, but in certain industrial areas at a certain given period it increased, with the result that a larger proportion of men were thrown on to unemployment benefit and guardians' relief. I believe it is because in those specific areas they did not make provision for this increased unemployment that we have suffered within the last few months, an increase which should have been distributed over a previous period. In confirmation of that, I tried to get information regarding my own constituency. I find, taking the returns for 12th October, 1924, that we had 14,404 unemployment persons, and that a year after, in October, 1925, there was an increase of 5,000, bringing 1005 the number up to 19,242. It will be very evident to the Committee that a proportion of that extra 5,000 that was flung out of employment must necessarily have fallen on to guardians' relief, due to the natural operation of the Act. I think that is one of the reasons why guardians' relief has increased.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
Will the hon. Gentleman give us the experience of the Chairman of the Sunderland Board of Guardians after the 1925 Act came into operation?
§ Mr. THOMPSON
I think it is scarcely fair to discuss the position of the chairman of the Sunderland Guardians, but I may say that I have raised this question with the chairman of the guardians, and he is satisfied that it is not entirely due to the 1925 Act. As a matter of fact, I was coming to that point. The truth is that in that area and in other areas there has been, I believe, in many directions an extension of benefit of guardians' relief to persons of 16 years and over.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
May I again interrupt the hon. Gentleman, because I know that, like myself, he wishes to be correct? Did not the chairman of the guardians say at the annual meeting that because of the coming into operation of the Act of 1925 he would have to ask for £700 odd per week, as against £70 during 1924?
§ Mr. THOMPSON
That is a very interesting point. I raised the whole question with the chairman, and he made a statement to me somewhat similar to that immediately the Act came in, but the curious thing is that the increased numbers thrown on the guardians practically correspond with the number of young persons under the Act of 1925, and it is evident that those whose benefit has been disallowed under the Act of 1925 would not come on the guardians. Although, therefore, it is a moot question how far and in what proportion they have come on the guardians, my own opinion is—I am not discussing whether it is right or wrong—that there has been a generous extension by many boards of guardians in including persons of 16 and over for relief in their various areas. The question has been raised by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley of the method of training young men and of 1006 dealing with this question of unemployment.
I do not know whether I should be permitted to branch out into the subject of shipbuilding in my own constituency. It is all very well to talk about training young men, and I entirely agree with it, but what we really want is work of a specific type—not simply work of an extraneous character, but work that is suited to the needs and abilities of people in the heavy industries. It is because we have not enough shipbuilding in certain areas that we have the unexampled unemployment that is in our midst, and I think the House of Commons should very carefully look into the question of the heavy industries to-day. British shipbuilding is reduced to 45.9 per cent. of the world's output, due largely to the fact that there was an over-production of ships during a certain part of the War period, and also to the fact that during that period no scrapping was going on. Today, therefore, we have an excess of shipping over and above what is required for the carrying needs of the world, and we have to face this question of unemployment until, through natural processes of wastage, we come to a state of normality, unless the Government would be prepared to anticipate that state of normality in a certain direction. I would be the last man, to advocate a subsidy at the present day, but it might be worth while looking at the capital cost that would be involved in judiciously withdrawing the extra tonnage held in this country and restoring a state of normality in the shipbuilding industry fairly quickly, so as to place the industry on an economic basis and enable shipowners to place orders in the ordinary way, thereby relieving unemployment. I do not know how far such a proposal would commend itself to the House or to the Government, but we shall have to tackle the heavy industries of this country, the depression in which is responsible for the greater part of the unemployment that exists, and one of the most important of those industries is, undoubtedly, shipbuilding. If shipbuilding once regained its position, it would react on the iron industry and on the mining industry, enabling them in turn to find employment for many who are now out of employment, and it would affect the distributing trades as well.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that, under the terms of this Vote, it would not be in order to discuss a subsidy to industry rather than a Grant-in-Aid to an authority.
§ Mr. THOMPSON
I am much obliged, Mr. Hope. I was careful to say that I did not advocate, a subsidy, but, anyhow, I think the House will be prepared to consider the question of the heavy industries of this country, and I trust that, when we get over the difficulties with which we are just now faced, we shall seriously contemplate an endeavour to place those industries on a firm and abiding footing.
§ Mr. SCURR
I should not have intervened in this Debate, but I had occasion just now to take exception to a statement of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams), in which he followed what seems to be a favourite practice of his, namely, to select Poplar as an example of extravagance and bad administration. I do not think we are going to get along with any solution to our troubles by simply selecting this or that particular area, because it happens to be controlled by persons whose political views are opposite to our own, as being a place to be held up to contumely. The problem of Poplar is not a problem which has arisen during the last year or two. It has not arisen since Socialists and Labour men were in control of the local authority, because, if hon Members like to go into the Library of the House, and refer to those monumental volumes of Mr. Charles Booth on "The Life and Labour of the People of London," they will find from those volumes that the problem of Poplar was in existence as far back as 1887. Mr. Booth's investigations, which will be within the memory of all hon. Members of the House, were undertaken in order to prove that the statements made as to the Socialists of that day were wildly exaggerated. Mr. Booth, who was both a Conservative and a shipowner, undertook a most magnificent investigation into the life and labour of the people of London, and the result was to show that practically two-thirds of the people of what is now the borough of Poplar were living in a state of poverty, the poverty line being fixed at that time by Mr. Booth at £1 1s. per week.
1008 Our great problem, and the great problem of the neighbouring boroughs of Stepney, West Ham and East Ham, is bound up, not in the extravagance of local administration, but in the fact that we are a dock area, and that we still have casual labour. No serious attempt has as yet been made to tackle this problem of casual labour. It attracts people to the area, and yet, while attracting people to the area, it throws upon the local authority the responsibility of having to feed these labourers and their wives and children. The consequence is that everyone connected with the administration of the Poor Law there is simply appalled by the problem that we have to face. I submit that the whole question of unemployment and under-employment has got to be taken into consideration more seriously, if I may say so, by His Majesty's Government than it is at the present time, and that we have got to devise some means whereby the whole charge of unemployment is thrown on the country as a whole, and not on the local authorities.
§ Mr. SCURR
I thought that possibly I might make a suggestion to the Minister which he might think of some value. When we come to the question of administration in these East-end boroughs, and the question that was raised by the hon. Member for Reading in regard to the different houses and the question of rateable values and assessments, I can assure the hon. Member that, so far as Stepney and Poplar are concerned, they can take equal credit with the borough of Westminster—which is probably the best in regard to rating—in regard to assessing their properties up to the very highest possible amount. It would be impossible for us to increase the assessments any further, and the burden, therefore, is being borne to the highest possible degree. It is not due to wrong assessments so far as Poplar is concerned, and I am speaking with knowledge, because I have been in the borough since I was six months old, and have lived in the same street during the whole of that time. Therefore, I know it, and have seen it throughout all its fortunes and misfortunes. When the hon. Member for Reading says that today there is bad trade there, he is abso- 1009 lutely wrong. So far as regards the great industries that can be carried on in the district, we have in Poplar, despite these high rates, not a single factory to let at the present time, and yet I remember that in 1892, when I first went out into the world, working in an office in Poplar, right round the whole district at that time there was factory after factory empty, and wharf after wharf empty, because of trade depression. To-day that is not so. Despite Socialist administration and high rates, I only know of about a dozen shops in all the area at the present time that are empty, and some of these could be let, but their landlords insist on offering them for sale.
There is no depression in trade so far as employers of labour are concerned; the problem is the conglomeration of a large number of people of practically the same social position, without any people of higher social position at all. At the present time in the borough of Poplar, wit h 71 schools administered by the London County Council, of all their enormous teaching staff only six persons live in the borough of Poplar itself, while of its municipal staff only one, the Deputy Town Clerk, lives in the borough. Everyone else clears out as soon as they can in order to get better houses. Even the Nonconformist clergy do not live in the borough now; they come in and minister to their flocks, and go away either to Greenwich or Wanstead. I do not blame them; those are much better places to live in than Poplar. The shopkeepers do exactly the same thing, and go away very largely to Wanstead, which includes what used formerly to be the higher society of Poplar. It is amusing in a way, and I do not blame them, but it continues to throw upon the borough of Poplar, in whatever way it is regarded—whether from the point of view of those who possess the factories or of the people who live in the area—a greater and greater burden, because we are left simply with the residue of the poorest section of the population. I must not go into what the legislation should be in regard to this matter on the present occasion; I only rose because I do resent very strongly anyone getting up in this Chamber and simply talking about municipal extravagance. A few years ago, the Municipal Reform party in Poplar, led by a very distinguished gentleman, went on to the 1010 board of guardians and the council determined to show that we had been wrong, but they found that they could only carry out exactly the same policy as the Labour party had been carrying out. Despite all their investigations, they found that they were simply faced with a problem which overwhelmed us and overwhelmed them, and until Parliament comes to the rescue of areas like this, we shall have an increasingly higher burden and a greater responsibility thrown on the authority, and our people will get deeper and deeper into the mire.
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
I wanted to make one or two comments on the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) and the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (M. Lansbury). Those of us who have been intensely concerned and interested, both municipally and nationally, with the great question of industrial areas which, by reason of their unemployment, are not able to function to the best degree, feel that the problem has become so acute that the decision of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet that nothing is to be done in this matter calls forth from those of us who represent some of these areas a very distinct call for duty—I use the word deliberately—not only of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, but of the Government and those of us who claim for ourselves to he democratic representatives of the working people. Let us be perfectly frank and plain in these matters. For the moment there has been no solution brought forth from any section or centre of opinion, either Socialistic, Conservative or Liberal. Five schemes were put before the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and a third Minister—I am not sure whether it was the Minister of Labour or the, Minister of Health. We waited upon the Prime Minister and his two colleagues in the Prime Minister's room and put the said five schemes before them. They were debated by the hon Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr T. Thomson), by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockton (Captain MacMillan), and one or two others of us. Quite a powerful and sympathetic consideration was assured us from these three Ministers, but we waited, and waited, and waited, and our people—let us be perfectly frank—starved, and now at the end of a few 1011 weeks we get a non-committal and abrupt reply without any assurance that anything is going to be done in the matter.
Let us all understand that this is a non-political question. We say we have put before you, Sir, five schemes. We are quite prepared to admit that they may not stand the perfectly critical, economic survey that they perhaps should but has it been proved that no section of public opinion has been able correctly to diagnose and understand the application of finance by a proper and equitable system of taxation—the correct equipose between direct and indirect? So to give the answer that it cannot be proved economically sound, to my mind is not a sufficient answer for us to go before those of our people who to-day are in a position of poverty. I shall quote figures presently and shall not apologise for so doing, for in these matters the quality of word production in this Chamber does not always prove that the words are presented to the best purpose of proof of case. We next had a conference on the North Eastern Coast, which the Lord Mayor of Newcastle called, representative of every section of industry in the North, both organised and unorganised, and such ladies and gentlemen as considered they had specialised experience in these economic and social questions. There for several hours we debated pro and con how and in what fashion this matter should be dealt with and some of the thoughts considered I include in this speech.
Let me at this stage present a few figures bearing on this question so that hon. Members may get some concrete view of what a necessitous area stands for and means, what is its bearing per head of the population in cost, what is its bearing in respect to industry and the acquirement and the progression of coordinated commerce and craftsmanship so that we can get really a clear viewpoint of the matter. Let us, first of all, take the consideration of what are the unemployed at the present moment in these great industrial areas. I give you the figures taken from the Minister of Labour's report from some of these areas. In respect of my own constituency of West Hartlepool 87.5 out of every 1,000 of population are out of work. In Hartlepool itself, another section of the constituency, 124.7 per 1,000 of insured people 1012 are out of work. That means to say that there are in these two boroughs that I represent nearly 9,000 unemployed insured people. Those are craftsmen. If one takes in comparison some other boroughs of a similar type—I shall give you these figures so that when we consider the monetary value on the rates it will have its bearing—Scarborough has 29.1 per 1,000 unemployed; Harrogate, 14.7; Blackpool, 29.6; and Brighton, 21.4. If it is suggested that I am including only delightful seaside areas, Coventry has only 11.4.
Let us see how these figures bear in respect to rateable value and relief works that are put into operation, and how such relief works are bearing on local rates and killing the opportunity of getting work in the great shipyards and rolling mills of not only my constituency but also that of my hon. Friend the senior Member for Sunderland (Mr. Thompson). Let us take Hartlepool, which is generally in my thoughts in these matters. I find that the assessable value of Hartlepool is £419,439. I find that relief expended during the year from April 1st, 1925, to April 1st, 1926, amounted to £11,930. I made it my business to inquire how it was spent, in view of the need of the township and the corporation finding work for these unemployed I also had in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Reading seemed to question, that such unemployed relief work was vitally essential for the well-being and the social amelioration of the town itself and was not spent in any profligate manner for the mere matter of spending and giving money to people who could work but would not. What was the result of this £11,930 which was spent last year in relief of able-bodied unemployed? It had the result of putting on the rates 7d. in the £ and when I tell you that iron masters in my constituency are prepared to book orders for plates for only 3d. a ton profit in order to find employment for their workers, you can well understand that that alone means that there is a huge bulk of unemployed that need not be if some other areas which are well placed in respect to their "unemployed cost" contributed in some agreed manner, which I am not able at the moment to suggest and were I able to do so I should probably be called to order for suggest- 1013 ing legislation. But it does not absolve the Government from the responsibility of dealing with the question, for they must legislate for the well-being of all; we have put forward our proposals planning to them.
Let us take some of these salubrious areas that I mentioned. Let us take Scarborough. Scarborough has an assessable value of £308,463. They have the enormous number of 181 unemployed. The cost of their relief work is nothing at all. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland speaks with great clearness and splendid sincerity for his borough the cost of his unemployment relief amounts to not more than 2¾d. in the £ assessable value. We say in the Hartlepools that we have a greater claim than many boroughs which at the present moment do not, feel the necessity of stressing this matter. But I want to compare figures again from another standpoint. I want to compare the rates heavy unemployment. I find that in Hartlepool our rates have risen since 1913–14 from 9s. to 15s. 4d. Where in my constituency in respect to either ship-building, making of munitions of war or distinct war service the public spirit of masters in industry and craftsmen and employés in certain industries led them to take up shares in firms which expanded to meet the national call they now are left in the lurch with these huge ship-building plant, and iron rolling establishments, risen some of them as a result of heavy contributions by employers of labour, in other cases by shares taken up in those times, the workers themselves now are being penalized in respect of these matters by cost by cost of upkeep, etc. Some of the residential areas of the great cities and towns of this country which have expanded nothing for these purposes are so advantageously placed that these high rates due to unemployment relief schemes do not rest upon them. It may be held in some quarters of the House that a formula should be drafted, a sort of cast-iron method should be adopted to cover the country generally without differentiation, but I contend that that would not be fair and equitable, and that we should remember the position of the great necessitous areas.
The Ministers of Health very correctly and public-spiritedly have brought his trained and municipalized experienced 1014 mind to bear upon this problem, and has given to his House and the country magnificent housing schemes. He has also done much in support of schemes of town planning without schemes. He has also done much in support of schemes of town planning without which housing cannot proceed to its best and uttermost application. If it be that certain towns and cities in this country have taken their courage in both hands and have proceeded courageously with schemes of housing and town planning, are they to be penalized because others have not been so public spirited? I say without hesitation that I would put an extra rate upon those towns who have lagged behind, and I would make those people who have lagged behind pay to assist those communities who have displayed public spirit from the standpoint of housing of housing and other social amenities, and have thereby increased their local rating. You cannot have good health in a district unless you have good housing and proper health provision for the people.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
I, like others, err in regard to points of order. I suggest that a community should not be penalized for this public spirit in regard to town planning and housing by having to bear the excessive burden of rates. There can be no question that this problem must be dealt with. We have heard nothing in this House as to what is going to be done, for instance, with those industries which have received aid under the Government Trade Facilities Schemes. These schemes have penalised unaided firms in industries which on their own merits could have carried their responsibilities efficiently and well, but by reason of the competition which has resulted from the undue assistance given to their competitors in the same industry, they have been compelled to put out of employment men who have worked for them a score of years.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is now discussing the Trade Facilities Act. I do not think is in Order on this Vote.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
I accept your ruling, but I must suggest that the necessitous areas have to some extent been brought to their present position as a result of that Act. However, I will leave that 1015 matter where it stands. On the broader issue, may I say that I have read with great pleasure in the Sixth Annual Report of the Ministry of Health, of the magnificent work that is being done in the Department in regard to the treatment of the blind. Here, again, I must point out that we are being penalised. In my constituency we are well ahead in respect of the treatment of the blind. It was my privilege in 1920 with the assistance of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy), Mr. Devlin—whom we miss very much—and other hon. Members, to have enacted and placed on the Statute Book a Measure which has done something to help the blind in a way which every self-respecting blind person has a right to demand. Boroughs which one could enumerate who have been well forward in respect of the institutional treatment of the blind in comparison with certain places where in some cases there were more people attending the blind in the institutions than there were blind inmates. Those of us who have been well forward in the matter of the institutional treatment of the blind are to be penalised compared with those who have not been so forward. In some of the northern towns we have also been progressive in regard to the treatment of tuberculosis. I am sorry to read that the deaths from tuberculosis have increased in 1924 over those in 1923, which are the latest official comparative figures I can procure. In this and other matters I maintain that the time has come when the great industrial areas should receive special consideration. This country has accepted its position as a great. industrial nation rather than an agricultural one, and those of us who are in the very centre of speed-lusted industrialism and are giving our flesh and blood for the production of industrial competitive power in the nation, have a right to demand special treatment above the residential, aristocratic districts who are not faced with the problems of health and distress which are so pressing in the industrial areas, particularly the necessitous areas. The well-favoured residential districts should help to pay for the treatment which is required as a result of our speed-lusted industrialism. Some of us who represent these great industrial areas are not 1016 satisfied with and do not intend to accept willy nilly the announcement of the Prime Minister that this matter is finished. The hon. Member for Reading suggested that we should spend some of the money which we now use for the relief of unemployment in a less profligate fashion. On that point I would draw attention to the fact that according to the Report of the Ministry, the average amount spent in the country for a standard type of house is £495, whereas in the Hartlepools we provide houses for an amount varying from £300 to 350, and we make good jobs of them. Yet we are a necessitous area. There is nothing profligate in our district. I challenge any hon. Member to bring forward any figures of any scheme of housing that would compare with the Hartlepools scheme in economy, efficiency, excellence and suitability of designs.
I appeal to the Minister of Health and to the Government that they should give their very serious attention to this problem. Many of us who represent industrial areas have a. very intimate knowledge of industrialism in all its phases, and have been cradled in the work, and have worked with the men "at the bench." We know the wonderful heroism of these men who, by their craftsmanship, have made us the greatest producing nation in the world. I see men struggling to keep body and soul together. Employers, faced with underpaid labour abroad, taking orders without profit to keep their workers together. I well know that the extended benefit has been refused, and that work cannot be got. I feel very strongly that there musty be equipoise of consideration between these men and those who have retired to the surburban areas and beautiful townships, and are living in comfort. If there is to be no differentiation in adopting a formula of treatment between one community and another, then I say this matter must not rest where it is. There is no man who has greater knowledge of municipalities than the Minister of Health. I was very proud when he was put into his present office, and I do appeal to him that, while we are doing, and continue to do, our best to help him, he should help us and the poor folk who cannot help themselves.
§ Mr. MARCH
I, like other speakers, represent a distressed and necessitous area. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. L. Thompson) made reference to 1017 averages. I do not think the averages will be very much use to the necessitous areas. We must have regard to the numbers who have been turned off the unemployment register in respect to the receipt of unemployment pay, and who have become chargeable to the guardians. In reply to a letter which I sent to the clerk of the Poplar Board of Guardians in March last asking him for particulars of the number of men who have been taken off the unemployment register and have become chargeable to the guardians, I am informed that, from 5th September to 24th October, 1925, eight weeks, the number was 828, an average of over 100 a week. To 21st November, four weeks the number was 298; from 21st November to 25th December, 153; from 5th December to 6th January, 316, and from 23rd January to 13th February, 251, a total in six months of 1,846 able-bodied men taken off the unemployment register and placed under the board of guardians. That meant an increase of the numbers already in recipt of poor law relief of nearly 2,000. It is all very well to talk about averages, but averages will not help an area like that very much.
For many years in that area there has been a good deal of under-employment and casual employment. There has been much casual employment owing to the loss of shipping work in the docks and we are continually having men getting relief from the guardians, with the result that in the period 5th September to 24th October there were 4,829 able-bodied men not receiving unemployment pay who were chargeable to the guardians, whereas on 13th February there were 4,722, a reduction of only 127 in that period. That is an evidence of what is happening in our necessitous areas. Poplar has done its level best to provide schemes for the relief of unemployment, and our expenses have gone up accordingly. There is a considerably increased charge placed upon the district by the interest on repayment of loans. The relief of the unemployed which has been placed on the guardians has caused an increase in our rater of 2s. in the £
They are now 25s. as against 23s., and that is being handed oil to the ratepayers. The result is that they often find considerable difficulty in their paying their rents. We have done all we can to increase our housing accommodation. We have 1018 built some houses, and have done our best to get them occupied, but it is very difficult to get the rents, because the occupiers have been accustomed to paying low rents in overcrowded areas. An attempt has been made to get the permission of the local authority to sub-let. Up to the present that has been refused, but it means that many of these people are paying rents which they can ill afford. So many are receiving low wages as the result of casual employment that they are bound to come to the board of guardians. The Minister of Health knows all about this, because he gets the returns from the clerk to the board of guardians, but the figures I have given proves the fact that these people are going on to the board of guardians. I hope he will take this into account and will include the area as a necessitous area.
§ Commander WILLIAMS
Although we have had a considerable number of really interesting speeches, the most interesting in this Debate so far is that of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). This afternoon he has suggested, as he has done before, that the best way of dealing with overcrowded necessitous areas is to try and get the younger people in these areas to go into the country districts. If that is possible, it would be a very great help, but, unfortunately, like many sentimentalists, the hon. Member has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. What is wanted is not only to get. the people who are already in the towns out into the country —do that if you can—but what is much better, and far more likely to succeed, is to keep the people, and especially the younger generation, in the country districts and not let them crowd into the towns. This is a point worth consideration by the Minister of Health. While he knows the town subject inside out, he still takes a great interest in the country districts as well, and I think some country Members taught him a good deal about country affairs during the course of a Bill last year when it was in Committee upstairs.
I would suggest to him, in dealing with these necessitous areas, that he should tarn his attention more closely to the housing conditions which orevail in many of our country villages. It would be well to develop not only small holdings but also very considerable building schemes. 1019 Many of the older houses in the villages could he rebuilt, and rebuilt much cheaper and more efficiently than is possible in the townships. If this could be done it would do a great deal to keep the people in the country districts, There is another point to which I should like to call his attention. You cannot deal with a congested area, whether it is a small one in a little county town, or a big urea in one of the large cities, or in the East End of London, by the action of the Ministry of Health alone or the Ministry of Labour alone. These Ministries should co-operate together, and should call in other Departments as well—the Board of Education. I should not be in order in going any further into this proposition at the moment, but if you are to keep people in the country districts it is essential that education should be developed in such a way that the people in the various localities will be led to take an interest in their own district, and will, therefore, be less attracted by the glaring lights of the towns. This is a way in which I think closer Government co-operation might be of great advantage. Let me deal with the question of necessitous areas. The hon. Member for West Hartlepool (Sir W. Sugden) told us that West Hartlepool as time goes on, and as they have the good fortune of having a thoroughly efficient and capable Member, will be one of the most prosperous villages on the East Coast of England.
§ Commander WILLIAMS
That is what I say. I entirely disagree with the idea that where you get a necessitous area you must widen that area, if it is a part of London by taking in the whole of London, and that you must finally come to the nation and ask the nation to receive these areas. I do not agree with that position. It is not the right way of dealing with the subject. It is utterly and absolutely wrong. The nation is bearing an immense burden of taxation at the moment. I believe the national burden of taxation—in this I disagree entirely with many of the leading economists of the day—is having a far more direct effect in creating unemployment than the rates. If a factory is to be built then it will naturally be built in a place where the rates are low rather than where they are high. 1020 We all know that, and we can understand it. What we do not know and what we do not sufficiently realise is the appalling burden of direct taxation, which is pressing on the development of the whole industries of the country, and the tendency to widen the area of these distressed and necessitous areas is in my opinion the wrong policy.
The Government through unemployment insurance, through relief to local rates, is doing its share, and I think it is absolutely essential that the Ministry should press on local authorities the need for the closest possible economy in administration, should see that they are developing their localities properly, and should certainly not allow them to do what they are doing in many places, grossly over-borrow and pay out far too much in this or that form of almost needless expenditure. They should reserve and conserve their forces, and put their administration on the soundest possible basis. I know it is difficult, in some cases almost impossible, but until you get the soundest and most thrifty form of local administration this trouble will grow, this evil will expand. If you want to do away with the evil, with the trouble, you will have to have the closest administration in local areas, the closest administration of Government funds, and in addition the natural development of the district, by which alone you will do away with the terrible burden of unemployment.
§ Mr. J. JONES
It is very interesting, while listening to this debate, to find that the youngest Members of the House seem to know all about the problem. When one finds an hon. Member like the hon. Member for BOW and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who has spent the who la of his life in the administration of one of the most difficult districts in Great Britain, and who has spent many years in Parliament as a representative of that district, being lectured by the hon. Member who has just sat down, it only makes one feel tired of public life. For 30 years the borough I have had the honour to represent have been pointing out their position. It is not a new one, and places which used to sneer at us 30 years ago now find themselves in exactly the same position as West Ham. We deny that we are careless in our administration, and I would suggest to the hon. 1021 and gallant Member for Torquay (Commander Williams) that we cannot borrow money recklessly. We have to go to the Government for permission to borrow money, and the Government Department sends down an inspector to inquire as to the justification for the loan. What we object to is being called upon to shoulder burdens which the nation ought to shoulder.
What is the history of London during the past 35 years? The City has become more and more a place of offices and warehouses. The people who used to live close to the City have been forced out to the outer ring of London, and West Ham has had to bear its share. Whenever we have had any industrial depression or any industrial crisis, what has happened? The men who were skilled mechanics, and unable to find employment, gravitated to the docks, because there was a possible chance of an occasional day's work. Not only did they gravitate to the docks, but they came into our ordinary dwelling-houses, and the result was overcrowding and an intensification of the problems of overcrowding and casual labour. We also had to feed and keep these people; and I say we ought not to be called upon to do this. There are 80 other boroughs in the same position as West Ham, though, perhaps, not so badly placed as we are. Are we not therefore entitled to come to this House and say that problems of this character ought not to be the burden of a particular locality because of the fortune of industrial circumstances.
We are not responsible for the economic position, or for the fact that trade and commerce compels certain circumstances to arise. Our rates are 25s. in the £. We do not know what they may be next year. All we know is that the tendency has been for the rates to increase year by year. I do not care who have the administration; they will be faced with the same problem. During local elections I have seen playcards posted "Vote for So-and-So and reduce the rates." They did vote for So-and-So, but the rates went up in spite of So-and-So, because he was not the master of his own destiny any more than we are. We have to carry on our administration. All that we have ever done was to say that in the employment of labour we would lay down a decent minimum wage. If that is extravagance 1022 I hope that hon. Members will go to their constituents and explain what they mean by economy. We want to know where we stand in this connection. As a result of this industrial trouble we have, not the men on strike, but people who have had their work stopped because of the strike, people who because of the cutting down of the power ration have been compelled to apply to the guardians. During the past week we have had 5,000 fresh applications. The thing is not settled yet. Places like Brighton and Bournemouth and the more wealthy parts of the country have not these troubles, although some of those who make their money in the congested areas live in Bournemouth and such places in order to escape responsibility. Always the poor must keep the poor.
The Minister of Health knows this subject from A to Z. Birmingham is in almost the same position as West Ham, although it is much richer than we ever hope to be. We are "cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd"; we cannot build any snore houses because there is not room to build. The last speaker said that boys and girls should be dissuaded from leaving the country for the towns. When he and his party are prepared to solve the agricultural problem, he will have a right to talk to us. His party is in power and it has the majority. Men do not leave their homes because they want to do so. The average workman would like to stay at home, if he could. Thousands go into the Army, not because they want to, but because hunger is a good recruiting sergeant; not because they are military men, but because economic circumstances compel. We say that England wants re-organising. We want to know why it is that we have been turned down after all the appeals that have been made. Why should not taxation be more equally borne? Is there any reason why the people living in West Ham should pay 25s. in the £ and those in Westminster pay only about 10s. in the £? Westminster can even afford to sell us a workhouse, if we want one. The City of London sold us an infirmary a short time ago. It is, getting rid of its burden of outdoor and indoor relief, and asks us to pay £40,000 for one of its old institutions. We have not only to keep the poor that it sends down to us, but also its derelict institutions. Instead of the rich bearing their own burdens, they are transferring 1023 them day by day to the shoulders of those least able to bear them. The Government say the nation is in great difficulty. What difficulty? We are only asking you to equalise the burden. West Ham has a low rate able value. If it were as high as that of Westminster, our rates would be lower than Westminster's, in spite of our so-called extravagance. Their rates in the £ are higher than ours if value for value is taken into consideration.
For nearly 30 years we have been taking part in this movement, and the only pleasure we have received has been in finding that other places are placed now where we have been so long. This is not a party matter, I am pleased to note. On deputations to Ministers all parties are represented because constituencies of various kinds are faced with exactly the same problem. The Government should give consideration to the subject. There has been appeal after appeal. Committees have reported on the problem, but, in spite of everything, we can get nothing. Who bears the biggest burden of national taxation? Those people in districts where the greatest industries are conducted bear the biggest share of local and national taxation. They are the mainstay of the revenue of the country. We ask, not for favours, but for equality. My friends in Poplar are better placed than we are in West Ham. We are just outside the ring, but Poplar shares in the Common Poor Fund. We have had to borrow £2,000,000 since this industrial depression set in. The time will come when someone will say "Halt!" What are we to do then? We shall have thousands and thousands of people thrown on oar hands and fared with starvation. I would then like those who talk glibly about each place looking after itself to come down and administer the affairs of West Ham. The problem is not local, but national, and the localities are breaking under the strain.
§ Sir JOHN PENNEFATHER
Representing as I do a constituency which is included in a necessitous area, I naturally feel a great deal of sympathy with the arguments brought forward in favour of something being done to relieve the exceptionally high rates in such areas. The Minister of Health may remember that I was one of many who 1024 went with a deputation to him on that subject, not many months ago. I certainly would be in favour of any fair and reasonable proposal which would be effective and help to relieve the burden upon necessitous areas. But having said that much, I must add that I have pondered this question very carefully for a very long time, and I have never yet seen my way through the difficulties which arise in connection with the application of that principle. First of all, there is the difficulty as to which areas should be regarded as necessitous and which should not. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken mentioned that there were something like 80 areas which could be classed as necessitous. But in addition to those, there are many more areas which would say that they were necessitous.
It would be a very difficult task for any Government to lay down hard and fast rules and to say "All on one side of this line must be assisted because they are necessitous, and all on the other side not only will get no assistance, but they will have an additional burden put on them because they are non-necessitous areas." There is the additional fact that even in necessitous areas the rates are not the same. In some cases they run up to 25s. in the £; in other cases they may be only 22s. or 20s. or 18s. But still they are high. I cannot see how it is to be arranged to draw a line and to say that if the rates in a certain district are over a certain amount, then they are necessitous, but if below that amount they are not to be relieved. That would at once give an impetus to extravagant expenditure, a competitive extravagance in an area, in order that the rates might rise above a certain level and secure the relief which would then become automatically theirs.
There are further difficulties of a technical nature, which would occupy more time than the House would like me to devote to them. One difficulty which does not seem to have been fully recognised in this Debate, although it has been recognised on previous occasions, is this: How can you combine the free administration by local hoards of guardians with money paid to them by the Treasury? There is an old saying that "he who pays the piper calls the tune." It seems almost inevitable that if the Treasury collected from the general body of tax 1025 payers sums of money and handed them over to the local bodies to administer them, the Treasury must couple with the transfer of those sums conditions which would prevent the boards of guardians from exceeding certain scales of relief. That really is a most serious point. It is practically impossible to combine local administration with a free grant of that kind. I have put it to friends of mine who are connected with boards of guardians, "Are you prepared to relinquish your local control and submit to the dictation by rules and regulations of the central body if you get this grant?" and they have said, "No, if that is the alternative, we prefer our freedom to administer our own rates, unhampered by any new and extra regulations imposed upon us."
Suppose that all these difficulties could be got rid of, suppose that it were possible to draw these lines and spread this expenditure on the rates more widely, or transfer it from the ratepayer to the taxpayer. That does not help the country as a whole. The ratepayer and the taxpayer are all concerned with national prosperity, and to relieve one at the expense of the other, though it may help individuals, would do nothing to restore the country to prosperity. The great remedy for all the unemployment which we deplore, and which is the main cause of high rates, is better trade. I believe that any policy which will assist in making trade better will be a sound policy for relieving the cause which creates these high rates. I hope the Government will do their utmost, and that Members on both sides of the House will do their utmost to create that confidence which engenders the spirit of enterprise, which enables the people of this country to put their backs into their work, and which enables the captains of industry in this country to go forward adventurously in the work of bringing prosperity to this country. In that way, by avoiding any hindrance to trade and by giving every encouragement to trade, we can all do something to relieve the state of affairs which we now deplore.
May I touch upon one other point which was brought forward by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury)? We might do much to relieve the causes of these high rates in this country by assisted migration. I wonder whether 1026 anybody in this House has made a calculation as to the position which will have to be faced in certain of these localities in a few years' time. Let me put it in this way. If our population continues to increase at the present rate, if our emigration or migration does not increase materially, unless we have an immense revival of trade giving employment to a great many more people than we have now the right to anticipate, then within a period of it may be five years or it may be 10, but within a very short time we shall be confronted with the problem of how to find the means of subsistence for an extra million or so of population. That is a point which I submit to the consideration of hon. Gentlemen opposite who are, like myself, so distressed at the present high rates. What will the rates be in the future? What will be the position of the necessitous areas in the future, if we have to find employment or subsistence for another million people. I am not proposing any new legislation, but I would again draw attention to the fact that under legislation which was passed in 1922—the Empire Settlement Act—£9,000,000 was authorised by the House of Commons to be spent for the purposes of overseas settlement, and it has not been spent. The House of Commons authorised the spending of £3,000,000 a year in connection with overseas settlement, and only a fraction of that sum has been spent. Therefore I hope I am not out of order if I suggest as one means of assisting to reduce the size of the problem with which we are confronted to-day and, still further, to reduce the size of the problem in regard to rates which we may have to face three years hence, that we might to unite, Government and Opposition, to do everything that can be done to help our people to get better opportunities in the less-peopled portions of our Empire overseas.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Most members of the Committee will agree that we are discussing this subject with a Minister who is fully aware of all the difficulties attendant on the problem. The right hon. Gentleman himself, on one occasion, headed a deputation relative to the same problem and, therefore, we are in one sense, carrying coals to Newcastle when discussing this subject with him. The fact, however, that he is to be found on the Treasury Bench as the Minister 1027 in charge of this Debate encourages us to anticipate a more hopeful reply than we have been able to extract from him on previous occasions. It has been repeatedly remarked in the course of the Debate that there are some 80 local authorities whose areas may be regarded as necessitous areas in the usual acceptance of that term. That calculation, I think, is perfectly correct, but it is interesting to observe, according to the Report of the Ministry of Health for 1924–25, that the number of Poor Law authorities which were authorised to borrow under the Local Authorities (Financial Provisions) Act, 1921, was 24, a number which has since been increased to about 33. These 24 authorities between them, were authorised to borrow something like £6,907,500 in the year 1924–25 as compared with £6,676,500 in the year 1923–24. Of those 24 Poor Law unions, eight alone account for some £6,000,000 in loans out of the £6,900,000, and that fact seems to indicate that the problem pertains particularly to a relatively small number of Poor Law authorities. Commenting upon that circumstance, the Report of the Ministry of Health states:It will thus be seen that while the area affected by financial difficulties is being restricted, the intensity of those difficulties is not being reduced, and the tendency is for a definite line of cleavage to manifest itself between those unions which have been able to weather the storm and the few which have not yet done so. It is satisfactory that nearly all the unions which have suffered financial difficulties are now improving their position, but the financial position of two or three of those unions is becoming more acute.Those are the observations of the experts of the Ministry in the Report for the year 1924–25. Perhaps I can better direct attention to the contrast between necessitous areas and what may be called non-necessitous areas, if I give one or two figures. My own constituency happens to lie in the Merthyr Tydvil Poor Law Union, and I have compared the incidence of this problem of unemployment and Poor Law burdens in the Merthyr Tydvil Union, which is an industrial area, with that in an agricultural area such as Cardiganshire. On 29th March, 1924, in the Merthyr Tydvil Union the number of persons per 10,000 in receipt of Poor Law relief was 612. The corresponding number in the Cardiganshire Union, which is 1028 purely agricultural, on the same date, was 187. On 28th March, 1925, in the Merthyr Tydvil Union the figure was 894 per 10,000, and in the Cardiganshire Union it was 180 per 10,000. On 26th September, in the Merthyr Tydvil Union, the number of persons in receipt of Poor Law relief per 10,000 of the population was 1,037, and in Cardiganshire the number had gone back to 187. It will be seen that in the agricultural area the figure is practically stationary, but in the industrial area, part of which I have the honour to represent, it has risen to almost double what it was on 29th March, 1924.
Two things seem to impress themselves upon local authorities in these necessitous areas. In the first place they live laid down what I regard as a just claim, namely that the special problem which has made their areas necessitous is a problem for which they are not primarily responsible. They say that unemployment has come upon them, not because of any lack of good administration in their own areas, but because of the depreciation of trade with which local authorities have very little concern and over which they have no control. The other thing which alarms them is that not only is their present position extremely alarming, but their prospective position is even worse. I daresay the Minister will not subscribe to what I am about to say, but I feel that time will justify the statement that the tendency of some of the legislation which has received the approval of this House within the last six months, has been to increase in some measure the burden upon the local authorities. I think that statement cannot be controverted, but I take one illustration to make good my point. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman has, in some measure, relieved the burden of the Poor Law authorities by taking from their books, as it were, a certain number of people because of the operation of the Pensions Act. It is also true, however, that by the operation of the Unemployment Insurance Act a large number of people have been deprived of unemployment benefit and have gone on to the Poor Law, and figures which I have seen in recent times indicate that the ultimate balance, as between the benefit on the one side and the further burdens on the other, is against the local authorities rather than in their favour. 1029 Therefore not only is the present position extremely grave but the prospects are graver still.
I put another proposition to the Minister on behalf of these authorities. The last speaker, in quite general terms, said the remedy for this problem is increase of trade. We can all say that but the people in these areas find themselves in a vicious circle. I take my own constituency which is a mining area. There has been for two years or longer a phase of extreme and acute depression in those areas which has meant the closing of collieries. In those areas when collieries are closed it means a direct loss on the rateable value of the area, because the rateable value depends upon output in some of those places. When the output of the pits has been reduced, it means that an extra burden falls upon those who have to pay the rates. What is the experience of these local authorities? Not only are the manual workers themselves very heavily hit by the incidence of this problem, but even business people now are applying in hundreds and thousands to the overseers, begging and praying that they may be relieved of their half year's rates. That means that, with the increased call upon the local residents because of the removal of the call from the colliery companies, it makes it extremely difficult for them to maintain their business intact. Reduction of business facilities and heavy local rating create unemployment, more unemployment creates higher rates, and so we go on in a vicious circle, round and round and round, until at last these local authorities are sucked down in the vortex of industrial and financial depression. Not only that, but I would like to put this further proposition. I will not discuss it, but I wish just to make an allusion to it.
In the Memorandum presented yesterday. relative to the industrial crisis and its solution, there is a paragraph dealing with housing. The rates of my local authority are at this moment, not the happy figure of 20s. or 21s., but 28s. 2d. It has heavy calls for local government progress, it has demands for new roads, it has demands for maternity centres, and its has demands for all sorts of elements in social progress to be provided. I am not saying that the Minister is not entitled to take these things into considera- 1030 tion, but we ask the Minister to allow us to build a certain number of houses for our people, and he, in the execution, as he thinks, of his proper duty, tunas to these local authorities and says: "Oh, no; I cannot lend money to you, nor can I give you authority to build houses, because your rates are too high." The consequence is that the industrial problem, itself the creation of the unemployment problem, has landed these very authorities in a condition of affairs where social unrest is bound to develop by reason of the unjust and harsh social conditions prevailing there.
I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman does not feel, having regard to all that has been said this afternoon, that a good case has been made out for special consideration. At one time be told us there was a case, and I wonder what has caused him to change. These problems are more intense than they were when he headed the famous deputation. I think that we are at this moment discussing a problem which lends itself more than anything else to the creation of social unrest. We have been discussing recently, on both sides, the great question of loyalty to democratic institutions, and, after all, the democratic institution which is nearest to these people is the local government machine. We are far removed from it. They see their district councils and their county councils in operation, and if these people feel, and have it borne in upon them repeatedly, that the local authorities which they know so intimately, can do nothing for them, does not that, of itself, tend to weaken the confidence of these people in the efficacy of democratic institutions? Personally, I have every faith in democratic institutions and would like to see that faith developed among other people as well, but I feel that this is a great menace to the confidence of the people in the efficacy of these institutions.
I know that the right hon. Gentlemen's Department is in touch with and knows these local conditions in various parts of the country fairly intimately, but I rather suspect—I may be wrong, and I am open to correction—that the Ministry itself rarely expresses a view upon a particular proposition from a local authority until that proposition is put up to it by the local authority itself. Would it not be a good thing if the Ministry itself, of its own free will, 1031 voluntarily undertook some sort of survey in these particular areas? I know there has been a sort of survey done by the Committee recently sitting, but, after all, that is not as intimate a thing as can be undertaken by officials on behalf of the Ministry on the spot, and if such a survey were undertaken, I think the Ministry would feel far more strongly than is now the case that there is an overwhelming case for special consideration for these exceptionally hard-hit areas.
An hon. Member for one of the South of England divisions made a point, with which I cordially agree, to the effect that there ought to be some sort of co-ordination of effort between the Ministry of Health and other Ministries in regard to this problem of meeting the heavy burden that falls on the local authorities. For instance, is there any reason why the Ministry of Health, in co-operation with the Department of Woods and Forests, should not make a survey of an area like my own, where there are thousands of acres of common land absolutely unused and running absolutely derelict? Is there any reason why they should not survey that area with a view, let us say, to providing useful work in planting and in various other forms of activity, so that this heavy burden which the local authorities are called upon to bear alone may be mitigated by the provision of useful and productive labour? I beg the Minister not to repeat the somewhat discouraging reply which we had from the Prime Minister the other day. The local authorities which appeared before the Committee did not do so without suggestions. Some five or six proposals were put before the Committee, the West Ham scheme and other schemes were adumbrated, and surely all those schemes cannot be absolutely futile, utterly and absolutely useless. There must be some common element of good in them. Anyway, can we hear from the Minister this afternoon some word of comfort or encouragement for these local authorities, which are called upon to bear a burden, which they are bearing right courageously, on behalf of the nation, and which national politics has thrown upon their shoulders?
§ Mr. HARNEY
I wish to say a few words, because I represent what I sup- 1032 pose should be regarded as a necessitous area, by which phrase I understand a place where the rates are higher than the rates would average if spread over the whole of England. I am sure there is an answer, though I have never heard it, but why should an area like mine, with coal-miners and ship builders, suffer particularly when they are thrown out of employment, not by reason of any lack of administration or anything peculiar to that area, but because the export trade in coal has fallen, because substitutes have sprung up, because oil and lignite and so on are used? South Shields is no more responsible for that than is London, and it does seem pretty hard that the shopkeepers and the householders there should have to carry on their backs a financial burden for which they are in no respect specially responsible. I can understand in the olden times bow this placing of the poor of the district upon the rates arose. It was quite natural that, when the towns in this country were very isolated from one another, and when they all lived a particular life, the persons in an area who became destitute should be looked after by the authority of that area, but that time has completely gone. The large increase of unemployment and the interconnection that has sprung up between all the industries of the country really make the maintenance of the unemployed in the form of Poor Law relief a matter of national concern. While the hon. Member for the Kirk-dale Division of Liverpool (Sir J. Penne-father) was speaking, I came in, and I did not intend speaking myself, but I do so in order that my constituents may know that I do enter my protest as well as others. The hon. Member said the objection to the Government helping is that, if the Government does give a grant to these areas, it will have to exercise control. I think that is quite reasonable, but does it not exercise control already in many cases? In education does it not exercise control? If money is wanted for any of the requirements of health, has not application to be made to the Ministry? I am sure there would be no objection at all to allowing a control to be extended that was commensurate to the grant given. The thing seems to me so very obvious that really I feel there must be some answer that I. have failed to appreciate. The right hon. Gentle- 1033 man probably knows it, but we have not so far heard it, and in the absence of an answer I do ask with confidence why it should be that industrial areas in this country should bear the burden of unemployment that is not characteristic of those areas, but that is due to the general depression which has fallen upon the whole country. If the burden falls upon the whole country, why should it not be borne by the taxpayer?
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)
I have listened to a great many debates in this House upon this subject of necessitous areas. In fact, I should have supposed that the ground had been so thoroughly worked that it would have been almost impossible for any new arguments or expositions to have been put before us, and I must say that, when I observed that my hon. and melancholy Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Trevelyan Thomson), who has ploughed this furrow with so much persistency and with such barren results for so many years, had given up the struggle, I realised that the case must be in a hopeless condition. Nevertheless, I must say that I think the Debate this afternoon has ranged over a wider field and has been remarkable for an absence of party spirit, a moderation in statement, and an evident desire to make constructive suggestions, which have made it rather remarkable and have afforded me, at any rate, a great deal of interest.
What is the general argument which has been put forward? I say the "general argument," because some of the speeches to which I listened put the argument in slightly different form. I would like to put it in the form in which, I think, it is generally understood, and I suppose I have as good a right to put it as anybody, as I myself have been among the advocates, as hon. Members opposite remind me on these occasions. It is said that the unemployment, from which we have suffered since 1921, although it has varied in intensity from time to time, sometimes being more and sometimes less, nevertheless, all through that period has been of a totally abnormal and exceptional character. The exceptional severity of unemployment, while it is due to causes which are national, and, perhaps, even international, has nevertheless been felt with exceptional hardship 1034 in certain particular areas which have not contributed in any way to that situation. Then, it is said, these areas are industrial areas, and the very fact that the rates have been raised in consequence of this exceptional unemployment, has handicapped the industries in those areas, so that they are less able to withstand the competition of other places, whether in this country or abroad. Consequently, again, unemployment is increased, and that again raises the rates once more, and so you get the vicious circle.
Now, what is the remedy proposed? The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who opened the debate, took rather a different line from that which is generally taken on this subject, and he said that what he wanted to see was work found for the workers, and with great sincerity he dwelt upon the disadvantage of allowing men to slip back into pauperism and to become demoralised, contrasting that with the more profitable method of finding useful work for them, and their consequent reintroduction into the ranks of the self-respecting and independent artisan. I think everyone of us will agree with that in theory. It is when you come to try to put it into practice in times like these, that you run up against difficulties which are not confined to the present Government, but which have been experienced by every Government that has been in office since these difficulties began. Then the hon. Member gave us an instance, the Hollesley Bay colony and the colony at Laindon, and he seemed to attribute to me the change which he said had taken place in the conditions under which the Hollesley Bay colony was carried on. He said he felt very keenly about my conduct in this matter, because he himself had given a good deal of time, and taken a good deal of trouble in the establishment of that colony. But I have made no change whatever in the administration of the colony, which is carried on upon precisely the same lines as it was being carried on under the Government of 1924.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I think the right hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. The colony was started under the Central Unemployment Committee, and no man had to go near the guardians to get there. The men have to be sent 1035 through the guardians, and questions arising such as clothes, allowances, and other little things—pinpricks—make all the difference from what it was under the central body.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
That may be so. I agree there has been a change, but what I said was that I did not make the change.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member must not put down everything which he does not like to me. The colony was carried on by my predecessor on exactly the same lines as it is being carried on to-day. I, personally, have made no change whatever. I may, perhaps, remind the hon. Gentleman that the colony was established under the Poplar Board of Guardians, but the Poplar Board of Guardians put an end to it as a colony, and turned it into a workhouse for old people, and so, undoubtedly, the Board of Guardians themselves are responsible for the change which the hon. Member so much deplores.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am speaking within the recollection of everyone who heard me when I say that I did not lay any blame on the right hon. Gentleman with regard to Laindon, and did not, in fact, put Laindon on the same footing as Hollesley Bay. I should not be so foolish as to say that Hollesley Bay was not started by the guardians, but it was turned into what it is now by an Order of one of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors, and that mainly because of the period of the War.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not think we need handy words about who is responsible. The point I want to make is that in the case of Laindon, it was quite evident the guardians themselves thought it was not satisfactory to carry on that colony on the original plans, and with regard to Hollesley Bay, the difficulty found there by my predecessor, as well as by myself, was the difficulty, not merely to get men trained there, but to find men jobs when trained, and only a small proportion of men trained there have been able to find employment in agricultural pursuits. At this particular colony I believe there are about 350 persons employed at a time. It really is, I think, obvious that although you 1036 might multiply colonies of that kind, you could not find in institutions of that sort a sufficient outlet for all the people who are unemployed in the great centres of which we have been hearing to-day, and you have to look somewhere else to find a remedy.
That was the hon. Member's proposal, but, of course, the more usual suggestion that comes to us is the one which was put forward by the hon. Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence), who wants a special subsidy for necessitous areas. That is a suggestion which has been put to successive Governments, and each Government, in turn, has found it impossible to comply, first, because it was not a remedy which the Governments themselves thought was likely to effect a cure, and, secondly, because of the extraordinary difficulties of finding anyway of making any sort of fair application of a national subsidy. Let me quote a passage from a speech made by the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Miss Bondfield), on the 10th March, 1924. I am not quoting this in order to make any party point of it, but merely to indicate what is very much the position in which this Government is. This is what the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said:A very interesting point was raised by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) in relation to the grants made to necessitous areas, and I should like to give him a definite statement of our policy on that point. The hon. Member dealt with a deputation which went to the Ministry of Health with a proposal that special assistance should be given to necessitous areas by means of a grant based on a complex formula.As a matter of fact, this particular formula was that known as the West Ham scheme.After careful consideration, the Government has not been able to accept this. The formula, if applied, would give rise to the most grotesque differences in the grants to the various necessitous areas. It is very difficult to find a formula which would be fair. The general policy of the Government is to extend the unemployment programme, and in this way greatly to relieve the local authorities of some of their burden. That is definitely the policy of the Government on that point.Then the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough asked in that Debate:To what extent is the Government prepared to increase the grants to local author- 1037 rities in these necessitous areas with regard to unemployment work?To that, Miss Bondfield replied:I think I must stick to the reply I have given, that it is very difficult to find a formula which will be fair. I cannot go beyond that.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1924; cols. 2086–7, Vol. 170.]The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) and the hon. Member for the Hartlepools (Sir W. Sugden) have referred to this formula. They have said there was not only one scheme, but no less than five schemes mentioned in the course of a deputation which came to see the present Prime Minister. What was the Prime Minister's reply to that deputation? He said that the Ministers responsible, particularly myself, had hitherto not been able to find in those schemes any practicable solution of the difficulty, but that, as there seemed to be some sort of idea that the Departments were prejudiced against them, he would set up a Committee to inquire into those schemes and see whether they could be made to work. That Committee has now reported. I understand that the Report is not now in the Vote Office, and I very much regret it, because, obviously, it is of importance, and I had hoped that all hon. Members could have had the Report in their hands before we discussed this question this afternoon. But they will understand that, owing to the difficulties, into which I do not propose to enter at this moment, printing has not been going on as usual, with the result that the Report is not generally available. I have here the Report of the Committee, the Chairman of which was Sir Harry Goschen, and it contains a careful and exhaustive examination of every one of these five schemes. The hon. Member for Caerphilly did not believe that you could have as many as five schemes, and not one of them any good. Surely there was something good common to them all? I am sorry to say the Report of the Committee shows that the only thing that is common to them all is that they are all bad. All of them, on examination, turned out to be either inequitable or impracticable. Although I am not, of course, going to weary the Committee by reading long extracts from this Report, I think I ought to give an indication of the sort of thing the Committee say about the various schemes.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
The Report says:Certain Members of the Committee wish, however, to record their opinion that it is not impossible to adopt some of the principles embodied in these schemes.So that there is some good in them, anyhow.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I will come to that later on. The most elaborate scheme, the one to which the Committee gave most attention, and the one which has been most often put forward, was a scheme prepared by the Borough Treasurer of West Ham, and it is based upon a rather complex formula. I do not think it would be advantageous to attempt to explain to the Committee now exactly what this formula is, or how it would work. My hon. Friend the Member for the Hartlepools (Sir W. Sugden) said that ho did not want a formula at all, but something that would satisfy the Hartlepools, and provided that was done, he did not see why the Government should be tied up with cast-iron formula; but in considering the expenditure of public money we have to look over rather a wider area than that. When we are going to put a new burden upon the taxpayer, the taxpayer ought to be satisfied that, at any rate, his money is going to be spent upon some established and defensible principle, and that it will not go to people who are not deserving of it, that, it is not to be handed out to authorities who have no greater claim upon it than any other authority. Again, the taxpayer is also a ratepayer, and in any relief of the rates we want to be certain that the relief is going to be fairly placed. In paragraph 66 of the Report, the Committee sum up their conclusions upon the particular scheme which is known as the West Ham Scheme. They say:We have, therefore, to report that in our opinion this scheme cannot be recommended as a basis for the distribution of Exchequer assistance to necessitous areas. We would only add that we have throughout our deliberations paid special attention to the possibility of introducing into the scheme any Amendments that might render it acceptable.And I would call the attention of hon. Members particularly to this:Regarding, as we must, the system of excess numbers as the essential feature of the scheme, we see no possibility of meeting by Amendments or safeguards the objec- 1039 tions to which we have called attention in this Report.There is another scheme referred to in Paragraph 78, put forward by the guardians of West Bromwich, and they say:In our view, therefore, this scheme, apart from the impossibility of obtaining the basic data necessary, fails in its main tests to provide a satisfactory basis for the allocation of any measure of State assistance.There is the scheme put on record as that of the City of London Union. In regard to this the Committee say:We are unable to regard it as at all adequate for the purpose of distributing assistance to necessitous areas, and in these circumstances we do not propose to enter into any discussion of the proposal to levy an equalisation rate.Again, there is the scheme put forward in the name of the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Cecil Wilson), and of this the Committee say:We are unable to see any opportunity of founding an equitable scheme upon the basis proposed by Mr. Wilson.Finally, there is the scheme submitted on behalf of the parish councils of Scotland. In relation to this the Committee say:After careful consideration of this scheme as a whole, we are unable to recommend it as providing an adequate basis for the distribution of Exchequer assistance to necessitous areas.It would seem to me that these five schemes have all been condemned by the Committee either as inequitable or impracticable.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
But will the right hon. Gentleman note the conclusion of the Report, in which the Committee said:We would only add that if our detailed Report inclines to stress the defects of the schemes to the exclusion of their merits, this arises from the scope of our inquiry.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am coming to that point; it is true those words occur in the last paragraph, and that it is stated that certain members of the Committee wish to record their opinion that it is not impossible to adopt some of the principles embodied in some of the schemes; but. I wish to call the attention of the Committee to two points in the Report which have to some extent this afternoon been dealt with in several speeches, and which appear to me to require more attention on the part of 1040 hon. Members than has hitherto been given. I refer to the question of the relationship between national and local taxation which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale Division of Liverpool (Sir J. Pennefather) touched upon. In paragraph 55 of the Report of the Departmental Committee it is pointed out:Other than through the district auditors, there was at present no effective central check upon the expenditure of the respective areas in each case, Mr. Johnson thought it would almost be a necessity for a Government Department to fix scales of relief varying with the class of area, and he agreed that such a step should be a condition precedent to the bringing into operation of any scheme of assistance. It is only fair to add in this connection that he emphasised the urgency of the need for interim assistance ….That is significant and very important. In this matter it is suggested there is the necessity for a most carefully thought out scheme before giving assistance to necessitous areas.And he himself is of opinion before the scheme can come into operation that it will be necessary for the Minister of Health to arrange scales of relief for every area in the country before any relief can be given.Personally, I should deprecate very seriously a policy of that kind; it would be directly contrary to the past practice of boards of guardians. It would mean depriving boards of guardians of the power of exercising their own discretion and initiative which has been in the past, in my judgment, to the good, and would go in an exactly opposite direction to that I desire to see. If we are to encourage pride in local government we want, not to increase centralised control, but, if possible, to diminish it. I want to decentralise responsibility, and to give greater and not less power to local authorities in the general understanding and control of these matters. The other point to which attention has been called, and which is in the earlier stages of the Report, is one in which the Committee point out that this subject is brought up almost entirely from the point of view of Poor Relief. They say, and they justly say, that when you are considering the position of these so-called necessitous areas you cannot deal with poor relief quite apart from the other burdens of expenditure. You must consider the expenditure of the areas as a whole, and in relation the general policy. That seems to me to be another principle which 1041 ought to be borne in mind when you are trying to devise any scheme for dealing with what I admit is a problem. The Committee, I think, will see where I am coming to now.
Last year we passed an Act, the Rating and Valuation Act, which was designed to establish a uniform valuation throughout the country. At the present time there is no such uniformity. We cannot compare the rates in one area with the rates in another area because the system of valuation may be entirely different in the two areas, and cast an entirely different burden upon the individual because of the difference in valuation. I hope that will gradually right itself, or come right, under the operations of the Act passed last year. It is not permitted to discuss future legislation, but there are proposals before the country which in future may have the effect of the transferring the functions and duties of the board of guardians to the local authorities. When that has been done we will then be equipped for undertaking a scheme which, I believe, will be equitable and fair, and which will have the double effect of taking into account the whole of the expenditure in the whole of the area, the whole burden of expenditure of the area qualified by the policy to be pursued, and at the same time by a system of block grants release the local authorities from the detailed control now necessary. That appears to me to be the proper policy, and it appears to me, in dealing with this question of necessitous areas, it would be a mistake in view of the fact that we are rapidly approaching the time when it will be possible to carry out a policy of that kind now to initiate any different policy in a contrary direction.
After all, whatever difficulty the situation may present to some of these necessitous areas, there are many, many things to show that, so far from getting worse, the situation is really less acute than, in fact, it has been in any of the previous periods since 1921. The number of persons in receipt of domiciliary relief has gone down by over 80,000 during the first three months of this year. On the other hand, the number of persons in employment this year, as compared with last year, has increased by 180,000. Do not let us forget figures of that kind. But I think there is no 1042 danger of bankruptcy, or the falling to pieces of the areas concerned. I quite agree that there are a certain number of cases where the Minister of Health is nursing the authorities and making it possible to carry on. It is true that the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Hartlepools, in a moment of enthusiasm, said they were sick of formulae, for the constituencies where the people were starving. I beg to differ from him, and to say that no one is starving.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
I give the right hon. Gentleman an invitation to come to the Hartlepools and see for himself.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I desire no one to starve. The Ministry of Health is giving careful attention to all these cases. What has happened in the case of some boards of guardians and local authorities is that they are having considerable sums under the recommendations of the Goschen Committee, or in other ways. The Ministry of Health is giving careful consideration to all these cases, and in some instances, where we have thought it necessary, we have eased the situation in the matter of the payment of interest. I believe that our policy, although it is only a temporary one, is the best policy to pursue in the present circumstances. I have indicated what I believe to be a, permanent policy. I hope it may not be very long before arrangements for that permanent policy will be able to be made.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. Chamberlain.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.