§ Mr. A. GREENWOOD
I regret that two days ago, when the Vote which has given rise to this Bill was under the consideration of the House, I was not able to take part in the Debate, the more so because the Minister of Health, in order to score a point against his opponents, referred to a speech of mine Made in this House two and a-quarter years ago on the question of necessitous areas. It is true that I did say during the term of office of the Labour Government thatThere has not been a Minister of Health since the War who was not favourably disposed towards some special treatment of that kind, and who, having examined the problem, has come to the conclusion that the practical difficulties in the way of any formula are almost insuperable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th August, 1924; col. 2601, Vol. 176.]That was a statement of fact. What the right hon. Gentleman did not say to the House was that I went on to explain why it was impossible to deal with that question as a narrow separate question, and I said, following upon the statement which the right hon. Gentleman quoted:One reason—I do not say the only reason—is the present rating and valuation system. In fact, the question of necessitous areas raises the whole problem of the relations between national and local finance. Until that problem is overhauled it is quite hopeless to expect that we could deal with necessitous areas as necessitous areas. Therefore the Government has pursued the policy of extending the grants that it makes to all local authorities in whose area there is unemployment. The announcement made by the Minister of Labour will be of very substantial assistance to local authorities, more particularly when that is reinforced by the new rates of benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Act. While those benefits will not relieve the municipalities, they will relieve the rates levied by the hoard of guardians, and, therefore, will relieve the local ratepayers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th August, 1924; col. 2602, Vol. 176.]1988 From which it is clear that although they had no power to deal with necessitous areas as necessitous areas there was a sincere attempt made by the late Government to lighten the burden by enlarging the resources of the local authorities. That policy has since been reversed by the present Government. They have reduced the grants from the Unemployment Grants Committee, and they have made it increasingly difficult for any local authority to get any assistance. They have through their administration of the Unemployment Insurance Act flung back on to the Poor Law workers who previously had been in receipt of unemployment benefit. Our view is that this problem necessitates some administrative and far-reaching changes between national and local finance. The Minister of Health has proposed block grants, and I would like to ask him a question on this point because the Debate two days ago ended in an atmosphere of doubt as to what was the precise position of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman said that he felt that this problem of necessitous areas could be dealt with only by the establishment of a system of block grants. He was asked if that principle had received the approval of the Cabinet, but he gave no answer. I would like the Minister of Health to tell us whether this is a Cabinet decision, whether it is in accordance with the evidence which was submitted to the Meston Committee which considered this question, and whose subsequent history has been "wropt in mystr'y"; and whether it is the intention of the Government to proceed with the system of block grants. As I understand the right hon. Gentleman's proposal for block grants, it appears to me to be a proposal to limit State expenditure. Some block grants may be good if they are large enough, but a block grant may be too small, and, if the block grant is going to be strictly limited and shared out, so to speak, the only effect of the policy will be to relieve the necessitous arras at the expense of others which are not, perhaps, quite so necessitous. Our view is that that is not a satisfactory way of dealing with a great problem such as that which has arisen during the years of trade depression. I wish now to come to another statement made by 1989 the right hon. Gentleman in the course of his speech:The second feature of the Debate that impressed itself upon me is the extraordinary unanimity with which hon. Members opposite have avoided the whole subject which was really before the Committee today. If they had been ordered by sonic superior authority to adopt every device to avoid a. discussion of the coal stoppage and try to lead the House off on some extraneous subjects, they could not have done so with greater determination than they have shown.That is a charge which I rise this afternoon to accept. I am going to charge the Government with using its administrative power deliberately against the miners during the stoppage. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech praised the boards of guardians. He said:On the whole, I feel that boards of guardians deserve the highest possible credit for the manner in which they have handled a very difficult situation.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I expected that hon. Members would approve of that sentiment. I charge the Government. on the second day of the general strike, with putting into operation part of its war plan against the miners in Circular 703.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That would seem to be a matter which should come on the Vote for the salary of the Minister, and not on this Vete. I cannot see that a Supplementary Estimate such as is contained in this Bill gives an opening for that discussion; it could only be taken on the salary of the Minister. The money here is for Grants for the Relief of Unemployment.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
My point, Sir, is that, arising from that Circular and from the circumstances which gave rise to that Circular, the boards of guardians ultimately were driven to apply for loans which to-day are under discussion. That was how I understood the Supplementary Estimate.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that would give an opening to the hon. Member to raise the much wider question of the action of the Minister to which he was referring.
§ Mr. CLYNES
On that point of Order. May we conclude that the Minister of Health on Tuesday was not justified in reproaching the Opposition with not having discussed the mining dispute?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I cannot see how hon. Members could have brought that into the present discussion. I think I should have been bound not to allow it.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
If I may quote the words of the Minister on this point, following upon what I have already quoted, he went on to say:But, whatever views hon. Members opposite may take about the desirability of avoiding discussion of the coal stoppage, I must make it clear to the Committee that, had it not been for the stoppage in the coal industry, we should not have been here this afternoon asking for this Estimate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1926; cols. 1815–1816, Vol. 199.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that affords any claim for an argument on the whole question. It would have been my duty to stop the Minister, as well as members of the Opposition, from going into that.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Of course, I bow to your ruling. It is clear that, when the known resources of the boards of guardians were exhausted, they had to have recourse to loans. Those loans are the matter which has been under discussion, and it is to the policy in relation to those loans that I wish to refer. Many boards of guardians, faced with exceptional expenditure arising from a state of affairs that they could not foresee, applied to the Minister of Health for power to borrow money. The right hon. Gentleman had in his Circular laid down what he regarded as desirable maximum scales of relief. Those scales of relief were lower in many cases than were being given by boards of guardians, and, although it was not within his power to enforce those maximum scales, yet, when local authorities sought his approval for loans to carry on their day-to-day work, he, in a large number of cases, used that power to compel local authorities to reduce their scales of relief down to his maximum level, and, I believe, in some cases even below it. That was, no doubt, within his legal powers. I am not accusing the right hon. Gentleman of having broken the law, but I do suggest that he has administered the Poor Law of 1834 in the spirit of 1834—that there has been an implication in the administration of his Department that the miners' wives and dependants, and all those concerned with the coal stoppage, 1991 were to be treated, if not as criminals, at least as bordering upon the criminal class.
There has also been the implication, and it was found, I think, in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary on Tuesday, that in recent years, and particularly during this present dispute, the miners have acted somehow or another in a way which was a fraud upon the public. The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) some little time ago asked a question with regard to the numbers of miners in receipt of out-relief in 1893, in 1921 and in 1926, and those figures were used in the discussion on the Estimate by the Parliamentary Secretary. What was the implication? The implication was that the miners were deliberately allowing themselves to be pauperised. The fact that the 1893 stoppage was not a national stoppage was conveniently brushed aside by the Parliamentary Secretary. The fact that the circumstances of 1921 and 1926 were entirely different was also ignored. In 1921, the unions had much larger funds than they had in 1926, and were able, therefore, to do much more to sustain their own members. Moreover, the stoppage was not nearly so long; it did not endure for half the time that the present stoppage has been in existence; and it was, therefore, perfectly natural that, in the stoppage of 1921, there should not be so large a call upon the boards of guardians as there has been during the present stoppage. In the intervening years, the unions have been paying off the debts that they accumulated, and the miners themselves have been paying off the personal debts they contracted during the stoppage of 1921; and during this present stoppage, with less resources behind them, they were inevitably driven to seek the aid of the Poor Law authorities. I would point out also that, in 1921, as the Parliamentary Secretary reminded us, the relief that was given was on loan, and those loans to miners have since been under repayment. That, of course, has crippled the miners when they found themselves placed in the circumstances of another great trade dispute. If we look at the total volume of Poor Law expenditure, what does it amount to? You "have about 1,100,000 miners in Great Britain. Those by the 1992 terms of the Merthyr Tydvil judgment, except in cases of dire necessity, have not been receiving relief. Those miners have perhaps with their wives and children something like 3,000,000 dependants. The Parliamentary Secretary gave the number of persons on the coalfields relieved up-to-date. That number, 1,162,592, he said, quite rightly, was a terrible figure. But I put this point to the House. Large as that figure is, it is not nearly half the total number of miners' wives and children in the country. In other words, it does not appear as though there has been an excessive amount of out-relief given to the dependants of those who are engaged in the present stoppage.
If we measure it in terms of money, then, according to the Parliamentary Secretary, £250,000 per week has been devoted to the relief of miners' dependants and others affected by the stoppage. If you exclude the miners as having been outside the scope of the Poor Law and consider it as an expenditure per head in respect of miners' wives and children during the last seven months, it amounts to the magnificent sum of 3d. per day per head. It might have been rather larger, if the right hon. Gentleman had not imposed conditions, such as he has done, in the granting of loans. But is anyone to assume from that, as apparently the Parliamentary Secretary assumed, that because miners' wives and children during this stoppage have on the average been receiving in out-relief 3d. per person per day, there is some grave moral defect in the coalfields and that the sums distributed have been excessive? According to the figures given the other day, during the first six months of the stoppage, to the period ending 31st October, the total amount of out-relief disbursed in the mining areas was only, and I use the word "only" quite advisedly, £5,800,000. That means that for six months the public maintenance of the whole of the dependants of the miners in the coalfields of Great Britain was equivalent to a penny on the Income Tax. It is perfectly true that that may be a serious burden to the local authorities, and we know that a considerable number of local authorities have urged upon the Minister the policy that we from these benches have urged upon him time and time again, that national difficulties should be the subject of national treatment; but, if you look at that figure and have regard to the large 1993 number of people employed and the poverty of those people when they began this dispute, the remarkable thing is not the large amount of money which has had to be borrowed by boards of guardians, but the extremely reasonable sum which they have borrowed for the purpose.
The only other important source of public money is that expended on school meals, and that, of course, has eked out the Poor Law expenditure. But, according to an answer given in this House, during the first 12 weeks of the dispute the total amount spent on school meals was £225,000, which amounts to 2d. per week per child in the coalfields; and, as during the summer holidays many local authorities, no doubt with the approval or at all events with the connivance of the Government, suspended the school meals, and as all of them have not carried them on to the same extent since, the average expenditure has been less than 2d. per child per week. The reason it has been possible to carry on the dispute with so small a call upon public funds has been the extraordinary amount of assistance which has come to the miners from other quarters both at home and abroad.
The statement was made in the House by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary that the children now were better fed and healthier than when their fathers were at work. The Prime Minister himself, in his quite improper letter to America on this question, made the same point. The Minister gave some explanation of that statement the other day, but it was not a very convincing explanation. Are we from this statement to draw the conclusion that the policy of the Government is low wages and healthier children? Are we to assume that if the miners were to be perpetually poorer than they were before the stoppage began the children would be healthier Even if we assume that which is open to the gravest doubt, that the school population is healthier and better fed, it is to the credit of the local authorities rather than to the credit of the Government. But, even if that be true, no one—neither the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health nor the Parliamentary Secretary—has ever said that the miners' wives and the miners' children under school age are healthier and better fed than when the bread-winners were at work, and I say 1994 that in limiting the resources of the boards of guardians—in attempting to curtail their expenditure when they needed loans —the right hon. Gentleman has, however unwillingly, really been depressing the standard of life of the miners' wives and the youngest of the miners' children.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman says that his reports tell him that all is well, but the personal experience of many Members on these benches, and I include myself among them, is that there has been and is the most serious hardship among mothers and young children, and that very largely because the boards of guardians have been driven to reduce their scales of relief under pressure of financial necessity, and because some boards of guardians have gone so far as to suspend entirely out-relief to miners' dependants. According to the Parliamentary Secretary, there are 24 cases in which boards of guardians have resolved that out-relief shall not ordinarily be given to dependants of miners. As 78 boards of guardians account for 80 per cent. of the mining population of this country, it seems pretty clear that something like one-third of the boards of guardians in the mining areas have suspended out-relief. The Parliamentary Secretary went on to explain that that had had really beneficial results. His words, which I think I ought to quote, because I do not wish to misrepresent him, were that where this policy of abolishing out-relief and offering miners' wives and families only the workhouse, had been adopted,there has been a substantial reduction in the number of genuine applications for relief in an institution."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1926; cols. 1718–19, Vol. 199.]What does that mean? It means that, in the hon. Gentleman's view, those who refused to go into institutions were immoral, dishonest people who had been sponging on the Poor Law, and that therefore, some of the money which had been granted on loan had been granted to this particularly vicious class of people" who, when faced with the alternative of the workhouse, refused it, because no doubt they could live in greater comfort in their own homes. I do not say that the right hon. Gentleman has encouraged boards of guardians to limit relief to indoor relief, but I do say that he has permitted it to be done with too little opposition from him. It was not because the miners' wives and 1995 children were well off that they refused to go into institutions. There were more reasons than one. In the first place, it meant a separation of the breadwinner from his wife and children or from his brothers and sisters, and it is perfectly natural that a miner's wife, faced with the prospect of leaving her husband and her sons who are pit boys at home alone, preferred to stay with them rather than enter the institution. They refused it, because" although their pride had been sufficiently broken for them to receive out-relief, they could not stomach the further test of making it so public as to go into the workhouse. I think, further, that when a flood of people did go the accommodation was such that decent people naturally came out of the workhouse as quickly as they could. I think we ought here to ask if the offer of the workhouse is the Conservative policy. Is it the policy that they would be willing to adopt in normal times, or is it a policy only to be adopted in order to crush a body of workers who are engaged in a dispute? If the workhouse be their general policy, then they are back to 1834 or earlier. If it be not their policy, why has the right hon. Gentleman in these days permitted something like one-third of the boards of guardians on the coalfields to refuse out-relief?
Another point to which I wish to refer is the statement made by the Minister in which he said he had stated it publicly and would repeat it in the House, that the present stoppage had been financed by the boards of guardians. I want to view that in the light of the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary that in the great majority of cases relief to individuals has been granted on loan and will be recovered when the borrowers have returned to work. So far from this enormous sum of money which has been borrowed by guardians being a drain either on the State or the local authorities, apparently it is to be recovered from the miners after the end of the present stoppage. Therefore, it seems to me that the Government can claim no credit for their generosity in granting loans to boards of guardians, because it appears that the boards of guardians, having borrowed this money, are merely lending it to the miners who will be responsible for repayment after the settlement of the dispute. It has used these loans merely 1996 as an instrument in its campaign against the miners, as an opportunity of limiting still further the assistance which could be given to the miners' wives and children, as an incitement to boards of guardians to offer miners' wives and children the workhouse, with the knowledge that large numbers of them would prefer to starve outside; and so far from us admitting the case of the right hon. Gentleman, as he appeared to think, we challenge the whole of his policy in the administration of these loans. When the history of this unfortunate Government comes to be written, in the long record of somewhat mean measures, the most disgraceful chapter will be the abuse of its financial power by using its influence to strike at those engaged in the dispute through their wives and children. Our Poor Law system in a great national stoppage or during a period of severe unemployment is in the nature of an industrial Red Cross. It ought to have been kept outside the present dispute. There is high authority for saying that starvation should not have been the weapon with which to beat the miners. The Government's policy in relation to loans to boards of guardians and its general administration of the Poor Law is frankly that of firing on the Bed Cross. That may make hon. Members smile—I hope their consciences are comfortable—but I can think of no nearer simile than that the Government in a great industrial dispute have tried to sabotage the Red Cross, and when they could not sabotage it they fired upon it, and of all the mean things this Government has done this is by far the meanest.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
I wish to put to the Minister a question to which he did not condescend to reply last night with regard to remarks as to grants to necessitous areas which indicated that the Government were possibly changing their non possumus attitude and were going to adopt some scheme for their relief. He said that by the system of block grants it might he possible to get. a scheme which would bring relief to those necessitous areas without doing injustice to any other part of the country. That was a permanent policy to which he looked forward for a solution of the problem. How soon can he put this permanent policy into operation? The urgency of the question is beyond 1997 dispute. Several years ago the Minister himself was the spokesman of a deputation to the Coalition Government pleading the case of these necessitous areas. The arguments which he used then apply tenfold to-day. If the question was urgent then, it is infinitely more urgent now. The burden due to abnormal unemployment should be a national and not a local charge. It is not the fault of the employers or the employed in any particular district that trade is bad and unemployment severe. It is due to national and international causes and should be met from a national fund. Why should residential areas such as Bourne- mouth, Blackpool and Southport escape with a rate of 5s. in the pound when industrial areas have to bear double and treble that amount? To give an illustration from my own district of the way in which these burdens are being piled up compared with pre- war days, the out-relief for a week in Middlesbrough for the year ending March, 1914, averaged £326 per week. To-day it averages £4,200 a week, an increase of 13 times, making a smashing burden on industry. If trade is to revive these excessive burdens must be reduced. Rates, unlike taxes, fall whether profits are made or not, and are a first charge on industry. It is impossible to compete in the markets of the world if you have these heavy rates on the producers, and I hope the Minister can say something which will give some ray of hope to those in these areas. I should like to ask him in regard to the policy he is going to adopt with regard to loans to local authorities. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that the present advances were made on a purely temporary basis. What is going to be the permanent basis for these loans? Is he going to allow them to have a five years' period for repayment, or is he going to insist on payment within a year or two? Surely he could give us some information on that score so that the Guardians may know where they stand in these terrible times.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I represent a constituency part of which may be described, at present at any rate, as a necessitous area, and therefore I feel I must intervene for a, few moments in the Debate. I am always asked, both in public and in private, in Durham, by 1998 eager questioners whether I consider it fair that our rates in Durham should be so high when other parts of the country are paying considerably less. My answer is always this. If you ask me as a ratepayer of the county of Durham whether I agree with you or not, my answer is in the affirmative. It seems to me monstrous that I should have to pay, I do not like to say how many shillings in the £, when people who live in the south of England are apparently so much better off. But supposing you asked me as a resident of Bournemouth, or any such place, I should naturally ask you why are your rates so high, and the answer would be that we are an industrial area and we are extremely hard pressed, and as an industrial area we consider we are working not only for ourselves but for the country as a whole, and therefore that we should not have to pay more and this should be a national burden when times are bad. To which, I think, the gentleman from Bournemouth would reply: "Is it not true that you in Durham have a local authority which is extremely extravagant? Is it not true that they are demanding a much higher rate than should be necessary and are asking too much of the ratepayer?" and I should find it somewhat difficult to answer in the negative. That is a question 'which we who live in the industrial north always have to consider. We know we are in a particularly difficult time. Times may be better later on, but why should we suppose that the rest of the country should have to share in our extravagance? I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson (Mr. Greenwood) and it struck me that all the time he was trying to make out that the attitude of the Government in the present crisis has been against the miners and that their whole effort has been to reduce the amount of relief. I speak on behalf of a constituency which is largely mining but which contains a great number of other people who are not miners. Those people are ratepayers and it is fair to suppose that the Government, in looking after the interests of the community as a whole, has to consider the interests of the ratepayers whether they are miners or not. I am amazed at the way the small shopkeepers and small ratepayers in my own 1999 part of the world manage to carry on at all. They are not interested in this dispute. It is doing them untold damage and yet they are called upon to carry on and to support them. I heard it said that up to a certain period in the strike the estimated amount for the feeding of school children throughout the mining areas was only some £250,000. All I know is that the estimate for Durham to the end of December alone is £300,000. That all has to come out of the rates. Do not suppose for a moment that I do not consider school children should be fed. I believe it is right. I am only mentioning the fact to show the burden the ratepayer has to bear in the counties that are affected. "Interruption.] I am not saying it is extravagant. I am saying that is the burden the ratepayer has to bear, and the ratepayer is essentially the man upon whom the future of the country largely depends. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the children?"] The children are being fed, but the ratepayer has to bear the burden, and it is a burden upon industry.
We have to get back to work. That is the great point we all have to remember. It is the duty of the Government to supervise the grants that are made by local authorities. I do not say the time may not come when it may be necessary to go into the whole question of this matter of rates. I believe certain burdens are national burdens, and that sooner or later it will be the duty of the country as a whole to shoulder them, but for the time being, they are not national burdens. The people in the coal area or any other area affected by the strike are not all miners. You have to consider the small shopkeepers, small landed proprietors, and small farmers. They are all being ground down by the burden of rates, and it is absurd to suppose that they are interested in the success either of the miners or the mineowners. They are outside this business altogether, and yet they have to pay these exorbitant rates in order to carry on an industrial dispute. The thing is obviously grossly unfair, and the sooner you all realise it the better. What alarms me, and I think depresses me, more than anything else is the knowledge that there is a body of opinion which will not face facts. I allude especially to a speech made a night 2000 or two ago by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), in which he said it was the duty of the State to make people happy and comfortable. That is a policy which is represented in the House and very largely in the country, and in theory it is perfectly understandable and very desirable. But is it the policy of the Government to make people happy and comfortable? Has it ever been the policy of the State to make people happy and comfortable? Advocates of that school of thought appear to forget a great truth. Man can only live by work. He cannot be kept. It is not and never will be the duty of the State to make people happy and comfortable unless they work. I listened attentively to the hon. Member's speech and the word "work," the idea that a man had a duty to the State, was never for a moment mentioned.
What is the State? We talk glibly about the State and about the Government. The State and the Government are only the whole total of us. How can the whole total of us be expected to keep the individual? It seems to me that so long as hon. Members, or any number of hon. Members, opposite go about the country with the idea that it is the duty of the State to keep the rest of the population happy and comfortable, we shall never get to a better state of things.. It is all bound up in this particular matter. Here are hard-working and would-be workers taxed in the way of rates to an enormous extent, and the Government are blamed for not allowing the rate of taxation to be increased indefinitely, because there is a great industrial dispute in progress. It may be that the ratepayers of the county of Durham or the majority of them who are not miners would very likely like to have this dispute brought to an end. Meanwhile, they are called on indefinitely to pay for the expenses of the strike. What is the result? The situation grows worse and worse, the condition of the country grows worse and the stoppage goes on, and all that hon. Members opposite can say is that the Government are to blame because the rates are not made larger still; because there is some control over them. If this thing goes on in this way, there can only be one possible end to it all. In the old days when Rome was a declining Empire the Government of 2001 the day, the State, decided that the only way to appease and keep happy an enormous population was to give them bread and games. There was no question of work and no question of duty to the State. Rome perished, and all countries will perish so long as it is thought that any great bulk of the community have a right to demand to be supported by the great body of workers in the country.
§ Mr. BATEY
The last speaker and I are near neighbours. We represent divisions which touch each other, and I have listened with interest to his speech. One of his arguments was that the small ratepayers are suffering during this dispute. They are. Why are they suffering'? Because the bulk of the small ratepayers voted for the Tory party. We told them two years ago at the General Election what to expect if they put a Tory Government into power. They have had two years' experience, and now they are beginning to realise the sad mistake they made two years ago. They will find that so long as a Tory Government is in power it will not be in their interests that such a Government will pursue their policy, but it will be against the interests of the small ratepayers as well as against the interest of the miners. The hon. And gallant Member also said that some local 6 authorities in Durham are extravagant. I wish he had told us which local authorities in Durham had been extravagant. Our complaint is that the present Minister of Health has been so reactionary that he will not allow the local authorities in Durham to carry out their functions. He has prevented them from doing what they had a right to do. If any responsibility rests upon anyone for any extravagance in the County of Durham, it rests upon the Minister of Health and this Tory Government, and not upon the elected people on the various councils in the County of Durham. The hon. and gallant Member seemed to be upset because one of my hon. Friends had said that the working classes ought to be happy and comfortable.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I did not say that. I said that an hon. Member opposite had stated that it was the duty of the Government to make them happy and comfortable.
§ Mr. BATEY
I am going to repeat that. It is the duty of this Government and 2002 it is the duty of every Government to try to make everyone happy and comfortable. This Tory Government seems to think that only the rich should be happy and comfortable. [HON. MEMBERS: "Whether they work or not I"] They consider that the less work they do the happier they should be. We believe that it is the duty of the State to see that every man and woman should be happy and comfortable. I listened on Tuesday night to speeches delivered by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and by the Minister of Health. I have had two days reflection upon those speeches, and I ask the House to look at two or three of the arguments used, especially by the Minister of Health. He said that he had no regrets. He actually declared that he had nothing to regret for anything that he had done or anything that he had left undone. It is amazing to me that any man in the position of the Minister of Health should look back upon the past seven months and say that he had no regrets. The last man to say that is the present Minister of Health, because he has by no means a clean slate. During the past seven months he has abolished two boards of guardians, one in my own county, elected by the people, serving the people and carrying out the mandate which they received from the people. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to abolish that board of guardians. If it were possible for the father of the present Minister of Health to look down from the spirit world, influenced by his own republican ideals, and see his son following this reactionary policy, one could imagine that he would regret that he had ever been the cause of bringing the Minister of Health into the world. It is a very reactionary policy for the Minister of Health, in these days, to say to the people who have elected boards of guardians, "You are not fit to elect these guardians. I am going to take the power away from you and to appoint my own people to manage the work of the board." In selecting his own people to carry on the work of the board, he has selected as chairman one of the most reactionary men in the North of England. He seems to have said to himself:
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This Vote is for loans to boards of guardians. I do not think that any other question comes in.
§ Mr. BATEY
The Minister of Health said on Tuesday, with a white sheet about him and a halo around his head, that he had no regrets for anything he had done. Surely, we are entitled to reply to that and to show that he ought to have regrets, and that if he has no regrets, at least the mining classes every hour of the day are regretting the fact that ever he was appointed Minister of Health.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The regret must be connected with the Vote which we are discussing. We cannot go further.
§ Mr. PALING
On a point of Order. Where boards of guardians have been superseded because in the opinion of the Minister they are not carrying out their duties in a proper manner, and other people have been put in to discharge the duties, is it not within the purview of any hon. Member to mention it in this Debate?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Not further than it is connected with the conditions which the Minister has imposed in granting the loan. If it is connected with that, it is relevant to this Debate.
§ Mr. BATEY
I will leave that aspect of the question. I wanted to remind the Minister of Health of his sins during the past seven months, and he has many, but if I cannot pursue that line of debate, I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I may get another chance of reminding the hon. Gentleman of these things. He said on Tuesday that it had been rather astonishing to him to read in the newspapers from time to time suggestions that the Minister of Health had been responsible for the policy of starvation. He resented our suggestion that he was starving the mining classes. In a Circular which he issued on 5th May he laid it down that boards of guardians should only give to a married woman 12s. a week and 4s. for a child. Nothing was allowed for the husband or the sons. In many mining families there are two or three sons. Whatever the size of the family, they had only 12s. for the mother and 4s. for a child. I ask the Minister of Health whether that is not starvation.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)
On a point of Order. As various questions are being 2004 addressed to me, Mr. Speaker, I ought to know whether I shall be in order in replying to them?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member is not the authority on the subject. The Circular to which the hon. Member is referring is not connected with loans to guardians. I wish to know whether it is in order to refer to it?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must be guided by the scope of the Debate on Tuesday. I do not think I am justified in drawing it more narrowly on the present occasion, but everything must be connected with the terms and conditions on which these loans are granted by the Minister.
§ Mr. BATEY
Then I am entitled to submit that when the Minister of Health in this Circular laid it down that boards of guardians should be restricted to 12s. for a wife and 4s. for a child, he was instituting, so far as these miners' families were concerned, starvation. For 20 years I was a member of a board of guardians, and I was always taught that when a board of guardians gave relief it should be adequate relief. I submit that 12s. for a wife and 4s. for a child and nothing for the husband and nothing for the sons simply means starvation for the families of the miners. The Minister of Health attempted to justify his policy by referring to the disputes that took place in the mining industry in 1893, 1898, 1921 and the present dispute. The Parliamentary Secretary made the same comparison. The Minister of Health made a mistake when he answered a question by an hon. Member opposite. He resented the idea when we reminded him that in 1893 and 1898 the disputes were not national disputes and, therefore, it was unfair to give figures for 1893 and 1898 and compare them with the figures for the present year. In the dispute in 1893 only one district was out on strike. In 1898 only one district was on strike. 2005 The right hon. Gentleman cannot compare 1893 or 1898 with 1921 or 1926. The Minister of Health made that mistake on Tuesday. He compared the expenditure in 1921 with the expenditure during the present dispute. He cannot compare 1921 with the present dispute. We commenced the struggle in 1921 with funds belonging to all our trade union organisations, and our people were in a much better position to fight than in 1926.
Since 1921 my own trade union, the Durham Miners' Association, has spent no less than £2,000,000 in relief, and at the start of the present dispute we had practically no funds. The Minister also justified his policy by saying that the children were better fed. What he said was:We have had repeated reports that the children are actually better fed than they were when their fathers were in work." -[0FFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1926; col. 1818, Vol. 199.]I should like him to have gone a little further and have produced some of those reports. I think he should tell us the districts where the "children are better fed than they were when their fathers were in work." I agree with the interjection last Tuesday, that if it be so—I do not believe it is—it reflects no credit on the coalowners as to the rate of wages which were paid before the stoppage took place. In my opinion it is not true that the children are better fed to-day than when their fathers were in work. In those places in the County of Durham where our men and women were wise enough to appoint a Labour majority on the Council at the last election we have been fortunate enough in having our children fed; but that again is no credit to the Minister of Health. What he has done is to encourage boards of guardians to reduce the 4s. a week paid for a child simply because the child was being fed at school.
Another result of the policy of the Minister of Health has been this. Through the impoverishment of our people by the action of this Tory Government we have had an epidemic of small-pox in Durham the like of which we have never seen before. I put it down to the impoverishment of our people. In one village in my constituency there have been over 300 cases of small-pox since the 19th October, and I unhesitatingly put it down to the fact, 2006 not that the children have not been vaccinated but to the fact that they have not been fed, and were in such a condition of starvation, so weak, that the epidemic made them its victims. The Minister also referred to the fact that the guardans have had to apply to him for loans owing to the coal stoppage. No doubt the coal stoppage may have compelled boards of guardians to apply for loans for the purposes of outdoor relief. But some boards of guardians, especially those in the north of England, will have to continue to apply for loans. They will not be out of the wood when the stoppage ends. I have a letter here from the Bishop Auckland Board of Guardians, dated 22nd October, 1926, to the following effect:By the direction of the Board of Guardians of this Union, I send hereunder a written copy of a resolution passed by them at their meeting yesterday, and I am to express the hope that you will be able to see your way to support the same.This is the Resolution passed by this board of guardians:That owing to the abnormal distress and the great charge on the local rates, and the fact that the present conditions in the industrial world are a national and not a parochial liability, representation be made to the Government to introduce legislation which will so amend the existing law that emergency relief granted during an industrial dispute shall become a national charge instead of being a local charge on local rates.I agree with that Resolution. During a time like the present, when emergency relief compels boards of guardians to apply for a loan, it ought to be a national and not a local charge. The troubles of boards of guardians will not end when the stoppage ends, and I urge the Minister of Health to do something which will make this emergency relief a national and not a local charge. On Tuesday night the right hon. Gentleman referred to a block grant. I do not care whether it is in the nature of a block grant, or any other way, the money that is given to boards of guardians in order to keep our people alive should not be a burden on local rates. Then on Tuesday night the Minister also said that during the discussion we on these benches had carefully avoided any reference to the coal stoppage. What he said was a challenge to us on these benches, and I hope, Mr. Speaker, you will allow me to deal with the coal stoppage.
§ Mr. BATEY
I will try to connect it. I do not want the Minister to think that we are afraid of dealing with the coal stoppage. Right from the start we have been talking about nothing else. Whenever we have had a chance, we have dealt with it in this House, and we have never neglected a chance on the platform of telling the people what we thought of this Government. We lay all the blame for this stoppage on the Prime Minister. Make no mistake about that. We believe that it would never have started if the present Prime Minister had not been a coalowner.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member must keep to questions which are connected with these loans. He cannot roam over the whole field of the coal stoppage.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I really cannot allow the hon. Member to pursue that line. The subject must be connected with the money proposed to be granted in this Bill.
§ Mr. BATEY
I will leave it there. We may get another chance of telling the Minister of Health just what we think about this coal stoppage, and who we regard as being responsible for it. The Government have pursued the policy of trying to starve our people into surrender. It is a wrong policy. They should give boards of guardians sufficient money for outdoor relief without attaching obnoxious conditions to the loans. The fact that the Minister of Health is able to loan money to boards of guardians has made him into a sort of Mussolini. When boards of guardians go to him and ask for loans he attaches his own terms, and he will only give them the relief provided they do what he thinks they ought to do. That is a wrong policy. The policy of the Minister of Health could not be worse, and I hope he will he induced to change it. You will never be able to starve our people into submission. If the Prime Minister has learnt anything he should have learnt that the policy of the Government ought to be to see that these 2008 people have at least sufficient to keep body and soul together.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The last speaker has given us a very good insight as to what is at the real bottom of all the trouble we have had in the coal industry. He spoke contemptuously of the small ratepayers and said that they were suffering because they voted for a Tory Government two years ago. That is to say, that the miners do not accept the franchise of the people and say: "We will take our revenge on you for voting for a Tory Government two years ago." Everybody knows that when Labour gets a majority on the local council the small ratepayer suffers abominably worse. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] West Ham, and everywhere else. Wherever you get the local paid politicians drawing time and line for their work on local bodies, you will always find that they have to do something for their money, and they sweat the rest of the ratepayers. The hon. Member who has just spoken has described this Government as being mean. I take quite an opposite view. He said that it was a mean Government because they had not given more money. I think they have done a great deal of harm by their action in connection with parochial relief to the miners and their families in this strike, this lock-out, or stoppage. I do not think they have been mean. I think they have been guilty of a great deal of folly, and I object to the granting of any more money. It is the greatest possible folly to give men money in order to enable them to carry on a hopeless dispute against an economic law. You are doing the greatest possible harm by such a policy. You are not helping them; you are hurting them. It does them no good. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the economic law?"] The. economic law that you cannot take more out of an industry than the industry will yield. That is the position of the coal trade.
I agree with the hon. Member that the Prime Minister may he partly responsible; but not for the reason he gave. I think the subsidy was a mistake. It encouraged the miners to go on, and I am perfectly sure that if there had been a Labour Government in power they would never have granted that subsidy. If men are to refuse work when it is offered to them, 2009 they should refuse it at their own expense and not at the expense of the general body of citizens. I have many people in my own constituency, where there is no peat to be had, and they are consumed with indignation against His Majesty's Government for handing over money, at the expense of the general taxpayer, to men who can earn far more than the people in that part of the country. Then they see the money coming from Russia—I wish it had all come from Russia, but it should have been taken possession of at once by the Home Secretary and handed over to the boards of guardians to see that it would reach the miners instead of being spent on Communist agitators. There will be no balance-sheet to show how that money was spent. I would like very much to know how much of it reached the working miner, and the same with the money that has come from America, if any has come at all.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It should be included, but I daresay no one can find out where it is. The Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said it was the duty of the Government to keep people happy and cheerful. What happiness is to come to them from the other side of the House? You have only to look at their newspapers; there is nothing more melancholy than they are. They are as melancholy as their tune, "The Red Flag." My Scottish friends ought to know their Burns, who said:If happiness bath not her seat and centre in the breast,Ye may he wise and rich or great, but never can be blest,Nae pleasures, nae treasures can mak us happy lang,The heart's aye the part aye that maks us richt or wrang.It is not wealth that brings happiness, as these men, with their sordid material views of life, say. Happiness is a matter of natural good health and heredity. If you have had the luck to choose strong and vigorous ancestors, then you have good and vigorous health, but if you have chosen ancestors who are not strong and vigorous, then you will be weak and puny and discontented.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
The Minister of Health has said that it is public money that has kept the coal strike going. On the question of the feeding of school children, I will admit at once that in those particular districts where the Labour party are in the majority the treatment of the children and the women has been more generous during this dispute than in any other previous dispute of which I have cognisance. I do not think the Minister should complain very much about that. In those districts where the Conservative party is in the majority, the law has been twisted to suit the coalowners. In so far as there has been a breakdown among the men, they have been driven hack to work by sheer starvation where the Tory boards of guardians have twisted the law in such a way as to refuse relief of any description, even to the most obvious cases of destitution. This is a clear indication of the class character of this struggle. If you compare the difference between what is going on in South Wales and what is happening in Derbyshire and Warwick shire, you are driven to the conclusion that the Conservative party are participating in what is a class war. Where Labour has a majority, we are doing our best to protect the women and children, and that comes as a revelation to the members of the Conservative party. It is a new ordering of power, a new use of power. In the past, power has always been on the side of the employer and it has always been used on the side of the employer against the poor and against the workers. In those district's power is changing hands, and, as far as the Minister of Health has allowed it, where the workers have got the power they have done their best to help their own crowd, and good luck to them.
§ Mrs. PHILIPSON
The hon. Member has referred to those districts where there are Labour majorities on the boards of guardians. Is he not aware that in certain districts the people who did not vote Labour at the last General Election have not received help? I am speaking as a Member for a mining area and I have had it proved that people who voted for the Conservative party at the last General Election had been refused help. Is that introducing the human element? These people are miners and their wives, and 2011 is it right and fair that these people should suffer because they did not vote for the Labour party at the last election?
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I said nothing of the kind. What I said was that the workers had been helped, and I said workers without distinction as to politics at all. Mrs. PHILIPSON: Hon. Members on that side know full well that in most of the mining areas, and in a good many other areas where the workers have been in want, people have helped to run soup kitchens and they have done other work on behalf of the workers, all quite irrespective of party. It has not been made a party matter at all.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
The hon. Lady will have an opportunity of putting her case. I said nothing about political distinctions. I was speaking of the power exercised by boards of guardians towards the families of men who are engaged in this dispute. I say that, to their honour, those boards have helped their own people. You have starved people indiscriminately in the Midlands, and there the boards of guardians made no distinction as to whether the people are Labour or Conservative. They have put the screw on them all. Their cry is not that the people are Labour or Conservative; their cry is that the people are attacking the profits of the employing classes and demanding a living wage, as they have a right to do. Wherever there is a Tory board of guardians, it is doing its best to drive the people back to conditions that are a disgrace in order to protect their own class. Over two years ago, the Prime Minister himself, dealing with unemployment, said that we had to to make up our minds whether it was endemic or epidemic. The Conservative party has done nothing to deal with unemployment, which is worse now than it was when they came in. It was worse before this dispute than when they came in. They have never sought to find the causes of unemployment in national conditions or in international conditions. Our troubles in districts such as I represent did not begin when this dispute began; they began two or three years ago when the steel trade went wrong and when the coal trade went wrong, and I say that unemployment depends almost entirely upon the policies which are pursued in this House. I say, and my 2012 party says, that because unemployment to a large extent depends upon the policies pursued by this House that this House should accept its responsibility and give some aid to those districts.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam) talked about the extravagance of local authorities in industrial areas. If he were here I would like to ask him what he means by extravagance. He spoke about the feeding of school children and what that has cost during the last six or seven months. I asked him whether he thought the feeding of starving school children was extravagance, and he answered, "I do not say so." If you have a large working-class population, such as in Merthyr Tydvil, where we have no other industries but coal and steel, and where for years before this dispute there were thousands of men unemployed, what are the boards of guardians to do? They cannot allow these people to starve, and if they pay out relief they must put the charge upon the rates. If that charge comes continually upon the rates, year after year, then the rates must go up, particularly if the pits are stopped and the rateable value gets less. Are they not justified in saying that the Ministry of Health should take its share of responsibility for the burdens upon those localities? What is called extravagance is the mere claim of humanity, and, so far as I can see, there are no other means of meeting the conditions that exist in those places. The Conservative party regard poverty as part of the divine ordination. It is part of a system, and it is held that poverty cannot be obviated, that it is here and that we cannot get away from it. You say that, although we have poor, we must not let them get too poor. I say that poverty is a criminal disgrace to a society like ours, that it is only here because of human stupidity, and that human reason can obviate it.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I do not care whose stupidity it is. Poverty is no part of any law, human or divine. It is merely part of a system whereby the powers of men to create wealth are not sufficient to meet their natural demands. That is 2013 so in this country at the present time. In this country there are at the disposal of modern society, powers for producing wealth undreamed of. All this misery that we have around us—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
The hon. Member is travelling rather wide of the subject before the House.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Yes, but there has been a fair amount of width, or it may he of that sort of dialectical road-making of which Chesterton speaks, before the Romans came to Rye. I want to urge that the Ministry of Health should be rather more generous than it has been in the pmt. The Government should begin to alter their policy towards the whole problem of poverty and should regard it from a different point of view. The Minister says that there has been a Committee sitting, and that it has reported on the question of necessitous areas. Their terms of reference were that they were to report upon schemes that were submitted to them. I want to ask the Minister what were the schemes submitted and who submitted them? Did the Government submit a scheme, and if not, why not? Is it true that they are at their wit's end and do not know which way to turn? Here they are confronted with tremendous possibilities, with a luxurious society, with wealth abounding on every hand, with science extending, and yet they come here with their miserable plea for an additional grant of £3,250,000, to go on paying miserable doles of 8s. or 9s. a week to starving people, with 2s. or 3s. for a child. If I were going on a holiday, or the hon. Lady who interrupted me just now, were going on a holiday, and she sent her dog to be kept at a dogs' home while she was away, it would cost her 10s. 6d. a week at least. Yet, the Tory party thinks that 4s. a week for a child is quite enough. It is a disgrace, and it is time the whole thing was stopped.
§ Captain BOURNE
It is quite obvious from the ruling recently given that I should not be in order in following the hon. Member who has just spoken. But I do think that the House owes a debt of gratitude to hon. Members opposite for the statement of their view. It is quite obvious to anyone who has listened to the discussion that the real grievance 2014 against the Minister of Health is that he has imposed conditions on the making of loans. It must be remembered, in the first place, that these loans are made out of the taxpayers' pockets; and, secondly, that it is universally admitted that the reason why the Minister has had to come to this House and ask for this Supplementary Estimate is the continuance of the coal stoppage. I do not share the opinion expressed by hon. Members opposite that the localities which had the decision in these matters in their own hands, should not bear the burden. It is the consequence of their own action. I fail to see why my constituents, who are 'not interested in coal in any way whatever, except as consumers, who have no part in this battle and who are suffering and have suffered very great inconvenience and loss because of the stoppage—I do not see why money should be taken from our pockets because the two sides choose to prolong the struggle to a perfectly unnecessary extent, thereby inflicting great damage on the country. It has been admitted by hon. Members who have spoken that the effect of the stoppage is very damaging to the country's trade and is putting up rates in many areas. I suggest that those who are responsible for leading both sides should take these matters into consideration before they wantonly launch the country upon a disastrous stoppage of this kind. They should not take that action and then come and whine to this House for money for those whom they have injured by their action. That is all I wish to say.
§ Mr. BARNES
Every time this question of the necessitous areas comes before the House, it is apparent that the problem grows graver and graver. If the speech of the last speaker is the contribution of the Universities to this problem, then I feel that the sooner that kind of attitude of mind is blotted out the better.
§ Mr. BARNES
One would at least think that the amount of University influence in Oxford would influence Oxford's representative to a greater extent than that. Anyway, the hon. and gallant Member cannot speak in any sense for his Government, because every Government that is responsible for the administration of the Ministry of 2015 Health, knows that the question of necessitous areas is becoming one of the gravest in local government. It is true that to-night we are considering this problem in a limited sense, because the Estimate before us arises from the coal stoppage. But surely it is apparent, even to hon. Members opposite, that the sum of £3,250,000 does not represent the difference between prosperity and bankruptcy to all the local areas concerned. All that the coal stoppage has done has been to aggravate and to bring out in a more dramatic way the steady development of the bankruptcy that faces local authorities in these areas. After a moment's consideration, one cannot argue that it is clue to the extravagance, the maladministration or the lack of administrative ability, in the various areas. The Government have their appointed guardians in West Ham, the district from which I come. Our poor rates there are still 9s. in the pound, and that is so after all the cutting down of relief scales to the barest possible measure. The appointed guardians in West Ham are slowly starving hundreds of people who have been unemployed for many years.
If there is anything in the arguments of hon. Members opposite, why cannot the appointed guardians in West Ham—not the elected guardians and not Labour representatives—why cannot the nominees of the Government bring down the poor rate in that area? They have certainly stopped some of the borrowing, but of the total burden of the rates—23s. and 24s. in the £—over 9s. is due to the Poor Law. It is due entirely to unemployment. The reason why many of these local authorities have had to come. to the Ministry for additional loans during the coal stoppage is not that the coal stoppage of itself has bankrupted their finance, but- because it represents an additional strain after six years of unemployment, when their resources have been exhausted. Take the statement issued by the Minister of Health himself on 2nd August last. What do his own charts display? They show that from 1920, when we had the beginning of this industrial and financial stoppage in this country, the only period in which there has been an easement in the charge for destitution was the period when we had a Labour 2016 Government in office. That is shown in statistics submitted by the Ministry.
The Estimate before us is for £3,250,000. Again it is to be advanced in the form of loans to the various necessitous areas. That means that the loans represent additional liabilities on the industries in those areas; it means that once more we are penalising in a two-fold sense those factors that go to make up production in this country. It is not areas like Bournemouth, which represent a permanent source of wealth in this country. You get your Bournemouth's, rich residential areas, because people get their incomes in industrial centres and spend them in areas like Bournemouth. There is no wealth created in Bournemouth. That is not where the industrial supremacy of Great Britain comes from; it comes from our industrial areas. If you undermine for a long period the industrial resilience of this country, eventually the disease will spread throughout the country. That is what has been happening in the last six years. No speech from the opposite side of the House appears to be cognisant of what is developing under the term "necessitous areas." It started six years ago in one or two localities like West Ham and Poplar, at which hon. Members think they have only to point the finger of scorn and they have used all the arguments that- are necessary. It started in West Ham and Poplar because they represent the very bottom of the industrial system.
There are West Ham and Poplar, Bedwelty, Middlesbrough and areas of that sort. The vast mass of the people resident there are of one kind of wage, living in one type of house and engaged in the same type of industry. Immediately you get a great amount of unemployment over a long period, a large percentage of the people come under the term "unemployed," and are forced on the guardians. The people living there are less fitted than any other community to bear the burden, for they are casual and low-paid workers. But workers and industries go together. Where there are workers there are workshops. Working men cannot afford to live away from the workshops. It is only Income Tax paying people who can afford to live away from the workshops. The financial policy of Conservatism, in placing the burden of poverty on the shoulders of the 2017 workers in the form of rents and rates has the effect ultimately of placing a charge on industry. The factories bear charges that they should not bear. It leads to a restriction of the production of necessities, and to the encouragement of expenditure or extravagance. That is all the argument that the hon. and gallant Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam) represented here tonight. His argument went to prove, as did that of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), that the people of Oxford and Bournemouth and other residential areas have no responsibility to the necessitous areas, the great factory and industrial centres, where are the people who produce the wealth. That was the whole burden of their argument. If that is to be the position of the party opposite, it is - their policy which will ultimately bring about a worsening of the situation and an undermining of the effectiveness of British industry.
I will illustrate this point by quoting the experience of my own locality in order to point out to hon. Members opposite that the necessitous areas difficulty in its origin and development has nothing to do with the coal stoppage. It is much deeper rooted, and it represents a problem much graver than any industrial dispute. In March, 1920, the amount which we had to pay for Poor Law purposes in the borough of East Ham was £85,000. In 1921 that sum had increased to £134,000; in 1922 to 0228,000, and in 1923 to £263,000. All these increases, I may add, took place when we had a Conservative administration on our board of guardians. In 1924 the amount had increased to £264,000; in 1925 to £268,000, and in 1926 to £280,000. For the year 1927, even though our board of guardians has been superseded, and nominees of the Ministry have been made responsible for the administration, the charge that our local rates will have to bear will be approximately the same as in 1926. One can understand representatives of the Press while serving the policy of certain interests, carrying on a campaign of derision and sneers against boards of guardians of this sort. But one would expect Members of Parliament to look at this problem from the standpoint of national life, and the stability of 2018 local government, and to give more serious consideration to facts and figures of this description.
Our problem is, perhaps, best illustrated by the next comparison which I propose to give. The amount of rates collected per head in the Borough of East Ham is £4 17s., and yet our assessable rate per head is only £4 16s., so that we are actually getting from our people lls. per head more than they are entitled to 'Pear. I turn to another aspect of this problem. Hon. Members have argued that these difficulties have developed in the course of the coal dispute. Industrial disputes arise when workers like the miners are fighting for a reasonable standard of living, and if hon. Members wish to avoid industrial disputes, there is an easy way of doing so. They have only to pay reasonable wages to the people who perform tasks in life such as the miners? task. No one can argue that the getting of coal is of less importance to this country than other services.
§ Mr. BARNES
It is not my intention to do so, but as statements have been made laying the blame for this expenditure on the miners I do not think we should be prevented from stating our side of the case. There has been little in the speeches made from the Government side except attempts to lay the whole burden of blame on the coal stoppage. The Press of this country, Members of this House, and the Minister himself, 1 think, have referred to the fact that 141,000,000 working days have been lost by the coal stoppage, and have said that this loss has meant a burden on the local authorities which necessitates this Supplementary Vote. It is suggested that this stoppage has involved the payment of £3,000,000 in the form of grants. No consideration is ever paid by the Minister or hon. Members opposite, or their Press, to the other causes for the development of this problem. This £3,000,000 in itself does not represent the problem of the local authorities. That problem has been developed during six years of heavy financial obligations which have had to be met half-year after half-year.
For something like six years we have had over 1,000,000 unemployed. Why is 2019 not the attention of the people directed to the waste involved in that circumstance? If hon. Members are anxious for the miners to work, why are they not equally anxious to secure work for this other multitude of people who are out of employment and who are only too anxious to work 1 If you have 1,000,000 persons unemployed for five days a week during 52 weeks, it represents a loss of 260,000,000 working days in a year, whereas the coal stoppage has only been responsible for a. loss of 141,000,000 working days. But this unemployment of 1,00,000 persons has been continued for six years and the total loss of working days, taking a minimum figure of 1,000,000 unemployed, is 1,560,000,000 working days. Why cannot the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford use his eloquence in directing attention to matters of that sort? The hon. and gallant Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam), and others, complained that the burden of our remarks was to the effect that the problem of government ought to be to make people happy and comfortable, and said that this was merely a sentimental expression of opinion not Sounded on an understanding of the facts of life. I retort by asking what is the problem of government if it is not to produce a satisfied community?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I must again ask the hon. Member to keep to the question which is before the House. The problem of government is a very big question to debate.
§ Mr. BARNES
I submit that this Vote arises from the burden to be placed on local authorities in the form of loans. We are considering the problem of necessitous areas, and my argument is that the reason why these particular boards have had to apply for loans is because they have experienced six years of unemployment. I suggest that had it not been for the six years of unemployment no board would have applied for these loans, and I submit that argument is germane to the subject under discussion. Therefore I propose to emphasise the point that the loss of working time which this period of unemployment represents is the real problem of necessitous areas. Yet the State -by its unemployment insurance, its Grants-in-Aid and its Poor Law reform proposals, is merely continuing the problem instead 2020 of endeavouring to settle it. Speakers on the other side have admitted that this a burden which must be shared, but I am not satisfied merely with the policy of sharing the burden. That is equitable from the standpoint of necessitous areas. but I wish to direct the attention of the House to the importance of solving the problem of unemployment.
The sooner the Government and the country begin to capitalise the expenditure that we are making year after year in this connection, so as to promote useful schemes of work and create assets for our expenditure, the better it will be for all. The policy of the Ministry, as it is working out in West Ham and Chester-le-Street, is, first, to develop a system of loans which places the local board of guardians in pawn to Whitehall; then, when the local authority is helpless in their financial grasp, the Government use that weapon to undermine two fundamental things in the Constitution of the country. First, they abolish the right of the people in a particular area to elect their local authority, and, having abolished the right of the franchise, they proceed to impose rates, which means imposing taxation. That is the situation which is developing under Tory policy. Yet, with all they have done in places like West Ham, the Government cannot point to any saving in actual rates. They are saving on the loans. They are preventing the piling up of loans because they are becoming afraid of their interest, and doubtful as to whether or not it will be ultimately repaid. They are making this saving by what I describe deliberately as the semi-starvation of hundreds of families in poor areas. They first produce the victims; and then they have not the decency to maintain their own victims.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
I take this opportunity of emphasising the point which was made the other day regarding the duration of loans to boards of guardians. It is very important in the interests of all concerned in the coal industry that the loan period should be as long as possible, because the short loan period has been very unsatisfactory. I would remind the House of some of the consequences of these short period loans in face of the present abnormal situation in the coal industry. The burden of rates in most mining areas was very heavy before the stoppage, and owing to the loss of output 2021 in the last, 10 months there will be no rate revenue to speak of from the collieries for some time to come. That means a loss of at least one-third of the revenue in mining districts, and that loss will have to be made up by an increase of from 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. in the rating burden of all the other ratepayers. That will be a serious burden to the collieries in the cost of production, to the miners in their wages—because cost of production is a vital factor in wage ascertainment—and to the tradespeople who will suffer materially. We hope the Government will revise their policy with regard to the duration of these loans. They ought to make the terms at least five years, so that we may tide over what is probably the most difficult period the industry has ever faced. In addition to a longer period, the repayment should be made on a sliding scale, so that during the first two or three half-years the repayment may he as low as possible, gradually increasing until the whole amount is repaid within the allotted period.
That will have a very great advantage so far as the industry and all its interests are concerned, but I want to bring before the House, not so much the financial aspect, as the effect on the health of school children of their being fed in school under the education authorities. I have taken some interest in this matter, and it may interest the House to have my personal impressions of a personal visit which I paid to one of the schools in my own division two months ago. I went to a typical mining school in the heart of my division, which is in the heart of the South Wales coalfield, and there were 600 children present—infants, boys and girls—and I spent three hours in that school, going round with the headmaster and with each of the teachers of the respective classes, examining every child as far as one could in that period, and seeing the children for myself. I saw the children being fed during the meal-time, and I am pleased to say that in the town of Pontyprid the children are being fed three meals per day, Saturdays and Sundays included, and the general appearance of the children was quite satisfactory. They appeared fairly healthy, at least as healthy as one would normally expect such children, living in such a district, to be, and it was the opinion of all the 2022 teachers, the headmaster and all his staff, men and women, that on the whole a certain type of child was in a better state of health now than previous to the stoppage. I also discovered—and this school is typical of the rest of the coalfield, generally speaking—that about 50 per cent. of the children were being so fed and about 50 per cent, were still being fed at home by their parents.
I think the explanation of the condition of the children can be put down to this, that in the nature of things the type of child needing to be fed in school because of the poverty of its parents would come, as one would expect, in the main from the overcrowded homes, where there are very few facilities for proper cooking, with cramped room, and without air and everything else necessary to health. In this particular district the shortage of houses is very acute, so that there is abnormal overcrowding of two, three, and even four families in one small cottage, which was never intended for more than one family. These children were being fed regularly, at a fixed hour each day, seven days per week, not in the cramped atmosphere of overcrowded homes where there are many men, women, and other children to disturb them, but under the supervision of the teachers, where they were disciplined and regularity was observed. Although the food is not as good as the children get generally when at home during times of work, the fact that it was of a good standard and clean, well prepared and properly cooked, had that result on the health of the children. That, I think, explains the reports which the Minister has had, because this is typical, I think, of most parts of the country, and it explains why the health of children has been better than one would expect because of this experience. Having been satisfied with the feeding of the children, I want to pay this tribute to the teachers. The teaching profession in all the mining districts has clone simply splendidly in this matter in organising the work for the feeding of the children.
Now I come to something which distressed me very much. I paid some attention next to the clothing and the hoots of these same children, and here I had a. shock. I had expected to find some bad cases, but I had never realised 2023 that it was so general as I discovered it to be. I found that in that one school there were 14 boys absent that afternoon solely because they had no boots with which to come to school, and for a child in the South Wales coalfield, at any rate, to be without boots is a thing almost unheard of. There were 20 boys in that school that day who had no boots at all, but had come in spite of the lack of boots, which is also a new experience for children in a mining district. We have practically the same percentage of children here in need of boots as have been in need of being fed in school. Roughly speaking, 50 per cent. have to be fed in school on account of the destitution of their parents, and about 50 per cent., roughly, but not necessarily in all cases the same children, are also badly off for boots.
Their hoots were really shocking. Most of them had old boots, which had been cast off by their parents or by neighbours, patched up anyhow, and a large number of the children had not what we call boots at all, but what are locally known as claps, little canvas shoes with rubber bottoms, which were very largely in use because they were so cheap. They could be bought for 1s., and the very prevalence of these daps proved that the parents were very hard up indeed to have, to pay is. a pair on daps instead of spending money on boots to enable their children to go to school at all. These daps might be all right in summer weather, while they lasted, but they would be worn out in a few weeks at- roost, and I want to point out that T was so shocked with this situation that I thought, as we were going to the Ministry to appeal for grants, I would take the opportunity of taking two photographs of some of the worst cases in that school, and I should like to hand those photographs to the Minister, so that he can see for himself the actual condition of the children. These photographs were taken on the 15th September last, that is to say, two months ago, and if the condition of the children was such two months ago, what roust it be now? That was the 15th September, towards the end of the summer period, but we are now in the thick of the autumn and winter period, and the condition to-day is obviously very much worse.
2024 As a result of our representations to the Ministry, they were good enough to make a grant of £200 a month to the Pontypridd Board of Guardians to provide the raw material, leather, so that voluntary associations in the district could repair the boots as best they could and use the £200 to the best advantage The reason given by the Ministry for it magnanimity in giving them this £200 month for this particular purpose was that Pontypridd had been so obedient to the policy of the Ministry in keeping down the scale of relief and had not even kept up to the Circular 703 limit of 12s. an 4s., but had kept it down to 10s. and 2s and on the margin of saving that the had made in this way they were to be granted this £200 per month. There are at least 75,000 children in the area of this one union, and it is safe to say that a this moment anything from a third to half of the school children are in serious need of boots. If we take this grant of £200 a month and assume that they Can repair boots at a cost of an average of is. a pair, it means that the grant will benefit the repairing of boots for 4,00 children per month out of at least 30,00 who are in serious need of boots. Many of the boots are beyond repair, and there ought to be new boots granted in the most deserving and obvious cases.
I bring this to the attention of the Minister, in the hope that he will be much more liberal, when our next request come in that way, than to give us a mere £20, a month for this purpose. I understand that the Board of Education have no authority to make grants for boots or clothing. The boards of guardians have authority, and the Ministry's policy up to now—I speak subject to correction—is that if the board of guardians can save in the actual relief they give on the poor relief scale, they can use that saving in that direction, but what saving can any board of guardians make on 10s. a week to a woman and 2s. a week to a child. who are destitute in this way? I hope the Minister will personally realise that whether this stoppage is going to end shortly, or whether it is going to drag on, there will be serious destitution, even with an early settlement, in the coalfields of this country for months to come. We are going through the hard rigours of winter, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be amenable to the appeal to make grants as such, irrespective of the 2025 existing poor relief scale, for boots and even for clothing in the worst cases that are brought to his notice.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I think perhaps at this stage of the Debate it would be onvenient if I were to rise and reply to he very limited number of new points that have been brought out in the case of the somewhat ragged Debate that we have had this afternoon. First, I would like to say a word or two about the subject of necessitous areas in general and on further explanation of what I said the other night about the Government's policy. I am not at all sure that hon. Members who questioned me about what I said then have done me the honour to read what I said on a previous occasion on this House, so long ago as May last, because. if they had, they would see that what I alluded to the other night was no new policy but merely a re-statement of an expression of the views which I have myself for some time past held as to the direction in which we should seek for a permanent solution of this very difficult problem. The question of block grants has not arrived yet at that point when it can be presented to this House, but want it to be clearly understood that in what I said I was not thinking of block grants to be given to necessitous areas, irrespective of any other grants; was thinking of a substitution of the system of block grants for the present system of grants which depend upon a percentage basis.
I understand, from what you, Mr. speaker, said as a ruling, that the only subject relevant to this Debate is the amount of the Vote for which we are asking and any conditions that may have been imposed by the Minister of Health upon local authorities who have applied to him for a loan. I certainly thought that some of the observations of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) hardly could be said to come within that limitation, but while I understand that hon. Members opposite use words rather to illustrate than to express their thoughts, that they believe in the policy of the broad brush, and that they are more concerned to paint a vivid picture than to concern themselves with accuracy, I must say that I thought the hon. Member, when he said that I had treated women and children, if not as belonging to the 2026 criminal class, at least as verging tip-On that class, was going rather beyond even the legitimate limits of caricature. 1 venture to suggest to him that the strength of a case does not depend on the strength of the language with which you present it, and if he would pay more attention to the evidence and less attention to the finding of words which clearly are not in consonance with his own natural characteristics, he will carry more conviction in this House.
In the speeches of various Members in this Debate, there has occurred over and over again one idea which is indicative of their attitude of mind towards this whole question. They have, if not in so many words, in substance, at least, accused me of deliberately having brought about a state of affairs in which guardians have to come to me for a loan in order that, in giving them that loan, I might exercise dictatorial powers. Really, that is a travesty of the actual facts. Can any hon. Member opposite seriously suggest that I have sought for or desired this necessity for lending money to boards of guardians? Can they suggest any other way the work of the guardians can be carried on if those guardians, in order to meet the demands upon them, have exhausted all the resources available to them, first from the rates, and afterwards from such assistance as they are able to get through the usual channels? What other course is there for the guardians but to come to the Ministry, and what other course is open to the Ministry of Health than to grant them money by way of loan when they are in that necessitous condition?
If one were really to take seriously the speech of the hon. Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes), one would suppose that the duty of the Minister was to lend to the boards of guardians any sums of money for which they come and ask, without imposing any condition of any kind whatsoever upon them. How could any reasonable Minister take a course of that kind? He is responsible for the money of the taxpayers, and surely must satisfy himself that the money is going to be expended in a reasonably economic manner, and if, by comparison with what is being done by other boards of guardians, he has reason to suppose that the policy of the particular board which makes an application 2027 to him has been in any way responsible for the condition in which it finds itself, he must require it to exercise that care and economy in expenditure which has been exercised by other boards of guardians. So that it is not at all true to say that boards of guardians would in any case have been in the condition in which they find themselves to-day whether there had been a coal stoppage or not.
My hon. Friend quoted figures, I think in his speech the other night, which showed how enormously the borrowing of the guardians had increased since the 1st May, namely, by over £7,000,000. Of course they were borrowing before, but those figures were very largely, in fact, I think I may say, mostly what one might call normal borrowings by boards of guardians who borrow money pending the collection of the rates. It is a regular, normal procedure to borrow a certain amount of money for carrying on the expenditure of the guardians before the rates can be collected. There were only, I think, quite a small number of guardians, and those in rather notorious localities which had to come to me for loans. Therefore, I think one can say quite directly, as I do say, that had it not been for the coal stoppage, it would not have been necessary for us to ask the House for this Vote.
The prospects before local authorities are certainly very alarming. They have these great sums for which they are indebted, and I am afraid the ratepayers in the several localities must anticipate that the burdens upon them are going to he heavy for some time to come. That is the price which the ratepayers will have to pay for the stoppage which has paralysed our industries. [An HON. MEMBER: "The miners are ratepayers; they will take their responsibility ! "] The miners, too, certainly. They do not think about that always at the time. I am afraid they, too, will feel part of the burden, which means not merely an increase of rates, but what follows from that—an increase of unemployment, because an increase of rates handicaps the industries of the neighbourhood, and that, again, increases unemployment.
I have been asked a question by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Mardy Jones), to whom, by the way, I 2028 am indebted for giving me an account of his own experience as to the feeding of children, the more so, as it entirely confirms what I said the other night that children were, as a matter of fact, in many cases better fed than when their fathers were in work, and I commend hon. Members, who were so indignant with that statement, to consult the hon. Member for Pontypridd and accept the personal observation which he has made. The hon. Member asked me a question about the length of time during which these loans would be allowed to run before repayment. I think the House will see that that is a question which has- got to be very carefully considered by the Ministry of Health, but I do not think the time has come when the Ministry could wisely take a decision upon it. What we have said is, that we will review all the circumstances of the case so as to come to a decision, and inform the local authorities of our decision at the end of the financial year. I think it is clear that the stoppage itself has not yet come to an end, that we do not know when work is resumed what the rate of resumption will be, and that we do not know what difficulties the overseers may have in collecting the rates. Seeing that there are so many unknown factors in the case, it would be unwise for us now to lay down a limit of time, and it would be far more convenient for the. local authorities themselves if we wait until we know all the circumstances, as far as they can be known, and then, perhaps, we shall be able to temper the wind to the shorn lamb.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should like, first, to say that the right hon. Gentleman has, I think, quite rightly, as, no doubt, anyone would have done in his place, taken the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Mardy Jones) as justification for the statement he made the other night. But I think both my hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman will agree that where the condition of the children has been good during this dispute, it is due entirely to the fact that Labour majorities rule those local authorities. I do not think even the right hon. Gentleman, with all his hardihood, will deny that many local authorities are not carrying out the provisions of school-feeding to the extent 2029 that they are being carried out in Ponty-pridd. I would like the Minister of Education, who shakes his head, to tell me if he knows how many education authorities are feeding school children seven days a week, because I am quite certain that only in very exceptional cases is that being done. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman can get very poor comfort from the statement of my hon. Friend.
I want, also, to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that, either intentionally or unintentionally, he always misrepresents and distorts the arguments of those who speak on this side of the House. He took the statement of the hon. Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes) as though my hon. Friend had charged him with being responsible for the unemployment which causes boards of guardians to want loans. He did nothing of the kind, and the right hon. Gentleman knows he did nothing of the kind. My hon. Friend said, and tried to make the House understand, that it was the neglect of Parliament, and the neglect of the Government, which had left untouched this problem, which is not a new one in West Ham, and not at all dependant on the coal stoppage. There have been Royal Commission after Royal Commission, and committee after committee, to deal with the question of casual labour as it affects the waterside district, and the right hon. Gentleman, like every other Minister, and the members of every proceding Government, must take the responsibility for not having dealt with that question long ago. It is because of the failure of Governments to deal with that question that local bodies like the West Ham Guardians and the West Ham Town Council find themselves in the position they are in to-day.
The right hon. Gentleman said also that certain areas had to come to him far loans. He seems to forget that his own boards of guardians in Birmingham have had to come to him for loans. He knows perfectly well that he would not have dared to lay down any conditions to his city fathers as to how they should administer relief, or not administer relief. I know perfectly well you did not do anything of the kind. I am afraid that I am committing my usual error of talking to the right hon. Gentleman instead of 2030 to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he laid down no conditions, and our complaint against the right hon. Gentleman, from which he rides off every time, is that because of conditions prevailing, which we do not charge him with having created, but which arise out of conditions the guardians do not create and for which they are not responsible, is that he takes advantages of those conditions to interfere with the discretion of the boards of guardians in administering relief.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest, then, that I should give loans to boards of guardians without any conditions?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
If the right hon. Gentleman had waited a little time, he would have heard what I was going to say. On every occasion the right hon. Gentleman puts what he thinks is a poser to us—Would you give them anything they ask for? I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what I would do if I sat on that side, and was a member of a Government. I would never sit in a Government and impose this burden upon local authorities, and leave them, as it were, to stew in their own juice, as the present Government are leaving them to do.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I will give an answer—do not be impatient. The right Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is no answer to West Ham, to Poplar, to Sheffield or to Chester-le-Street to say to them, "You have a problem here which cost so much money, and because of that you are to semi-starve the people who are the victims of it." That is what the right hon. Gentleman says in effect, and I say he has no right to carry that policy out. I say it is an inhuman policy, and the responsibility for the health of every widow and child in West Ham whose relief has been cut down by 6d., 1s. or 2s, and the responsibility for the death of many of those old people in this severe weather, will lie at the doors of the Ministry of Health, and nowhere else. The right hon. Gentleman may say to me there are no deaths. He knows from the records of his Depart- 2031 ment—it may be a very amusing thing to the Noble Lord the Minister of Education that old people should die in this sort of weather—that one can find ease after case of aged people dying during this weather from privation and from pneumonia accelerated by privation. He, as well as every Member of this House, knows perfectly well that a shilling knocked off an old person's outdoor relief means a shilling's worth less nourishment.
It is the meanest and most despicable thing for the Government, through the Minister of Health, to be. taking advantage of the poverty in places like West Ham to starve people as he is doing to-night, to starve them literally, men, women and children, not men who are on strike not women who are on strike, and children who are orphans, whose breadwinners are dead, who have no one to rely on but their mothers, and whose mothers have nothing to rely on but the Poor Law. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Would you give the guardians anything they ask?" I say that before he replaced any board of guardians, before he, by a stroke of the pen, shifted the elected representatives and put in his own nominees to carry out this detestable policy, there ought to have been a public inquiry into the conditions of the locality and into the methods by which relief was granted. [Interruption.] No, you have made no investigation worth the paper it is written on. I would have had the public investigation first. [Interruption.] The hon. Member is as impatient as his chief.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The question of the relief given in West Ham does not. arise on the particular question now before the House.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
But the right hon. Gentleman challenged us to say whether he would be entitled to grant a board of guardians any loans they asked for, and I am answering that challenge. [Interruption.] You are so impatient.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member wishes to ride off on the question of West Ham. I want him to answer this simple, plain question. Would he suggest that the Minister of Health should give loans to any board of guardians that ask for them without any conditions whatsoever?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I say that the Minister himself has no right to lay down the scale of relief. That is the first thing. [Interruption.] Let me answer it in my own way. I have not come to make a set speech, so you cannot upset me in the least. The point put to me is as to what. I should do if I were faced with the same situation that the Minister has to face. [Interruption.] Certainly it is. He puts to me what he thinks is a poser—what would I do if a board of guardians should come for a loan? Would I give them the loan without any conditions whatsoever? No, I should not. I have only been putting my answer the other way round, and I am entitled to say now what I wanted to say first. I object to the conditions. I say your conditions are impossible conditions from any Poor Law point of view, and that the right hon. Gentleman is the first Minister who has attempted to lay down a scale of Poor Law relief. The other night he said he had not done anything of the kind. He knows perfectly well that he has. He has said that unless guardians reduce their expenditure he would not grant a loan, and I say that is entirely the wrong way to do it, and that the proper way would have been to have made an investigation, the results of which could have been put before this House, showing how the relief has been administered, what was the condition of trade and of employment, and what were the conditions of poverty, and then he could have made up his mind whether to grant a loan or not. For him to say the only alternative between his policy and ours is that he should just pour out money for the asking is sheer, undiluted nonsense, and he knows it.
We are barred from discussing the causes that have brought about the need for this Estimate, but I think I may be permitted to say, in conclusion, that in our opinion it is the gross mismanagement of affairs connected with the coal industry by His Majesty's Government which has brought us to the state we are in to-day. If His Majesty's Government had been willing to treat the coal-miners in the same spirit as they treated them when they wanted them to fight in France and Flanders, a different situation would have arisen. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) told the right hon. Gentleman that he had been treating 2033 women and children worse than criminals. Last night we were told something about stables for heroes. To-night we can say to you that you are treating men who fought in the late War by leaving them to the tender mercies of the workhouse—rather worse than criminals are treated.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I wish to take op the remarks made by the Minister of Health in reply to the speech of the hon. Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes). The Minister has been very much misrepresenting our case. It is not argument argument that the Minister of Health is responsible for the unemployment in West Ham and East Ham. The argument we have tried to develop was that the state of unemployment, the neglect of the Government to deal with unemployment, and so forth, have placed in the hands of the Minister of Health powers which Parliament never gave him; and our first point has been that the Minister was, therefore, placed in an altogether exceptional position, unlike that of any other Minister. Then we went on to consider the manner in which the Minister used his powers. Having had many cases in my own district brought to my attention, and having looked into the circumstances of those cases as well as I can, I say that the amount of additional suffering caused in West Ham and East Ham by the policy of the guardians appointed by the Minister is extremely distressing to any persons with human feelings. The Minister has said in the House that he is not responsible for the guardians he has appointed in West Ham. When he supplies the funds out of which relief is made possible, when he supplies the salaries of the persons who administer it, and when he appoints those persons, surely he is what one may call the Elector of West Ham—to give him the title of one of the German princes. When our electors are unanimous in desiring a certain thing we pay some attention to them, and the three guardians of West Ham pay the same sort of attention to their single elector as we pay to our constituents, and the Minister is therefore responsible, directly responsible, for the misery in East and West Ham.
I will give one case. It was not a case of starvation, but something worse than that. There was a man, a costermonger, 2034 who could get no relief. He went on for a long time without applying to the guardians. He went round to. the relieving officer, but he had left the thing to the last minute—he went on a Saturday, and, I understand, could not explain himself properly. He did not get relief, and he went home and turned on the gas. At the inquest the coroner said it was a strange thing when so much money was being given in out-relief that a person should be left in that state. That was one case. I have another case of a costermonger who was only delivered from the same state after strong representations from local people and the signature of a Magistrate. The man came to me and my agent saying he was perfectly destitute and could get no relief. He was certainly extremely hungry when we saw him. He was a man who had lived in the borough for 17 years and had paid his rates during the whole of that time. He was out of employment on account of the re-arrangement of costermongers' stalls and went to the guardians absolutely destitute, but was refused. We took him back again and again, and he is now, on account of local representations, and on account of a local magistrate's representations, geting 10s. a week in kind. He has no money with which to pay his rent. He has large arrears of rent, and we think he is giving food he gets to the landlord as a substitute for rent. There he is, without a penny of cash to pay his rent, and with nothing whatever but 10s. worth of food a week. For many years that man has been a thoroughly respectable citizen, paying his share of the heavy burdens, and never before has he been to the Poor Law.
I have case after case in West Ham where, after the rent is paid, 6s. a head is all the family gets—case after case of families who, after they have paid the rent, have only 6s. to 7s. per head for food, clothing and everything else. I have heard of that in connection with the aged poor and in regard to families. People say that to speak of starvation is an exaggeration, but in those cases it is starvation and nothing else, and in other eases there is long under-feeding and under-warmth. That is the condition of affairs in my constituency. I am not exaggerating. The Members for West Ham, the other Members for East. Ham, 2035 and the Members for Leyton and Walthamstow have all had similar cases. We are not scaremongers. I do not think I am a person who exaggerates. We all may make mistakes, but 1 have never exaggerated intentionally, and I tell the House that the state of the people in my district and in the neighbouring districts is such as to make any human person unhappy. I am quite sure that some of the old people will have their lives shortened by having to live on so small an amount and being able to purchase only so little coal, and these are things for which the Minister of Health is responsible. It is nonsense to tell me that when hoards of guardians depend upon loans, are appointed by the Minister and are paid by the Minister, as is the case in my district, they are not susceptible, to pressure.
There are other things which are very bad and which I believe to be illegal. There, has been a lock-out, a real lock-out, at an important local firm. This big firm has discharged a large number of workmen and those men are now out of employment and destitute. Those men come to the board of guardians for relief and the board insist upon those men signing a document that the employer is entitled to deduct the amount of the loan from his wages. I think that is quite new in Poor Law matters. The law at present is that you can go to a magistrate and obtain an attachment on a man's wages, and that is all right. That is exactly what happens when private people run into debt and you have a remedy in the County Court, but for a hoard of guardians to instruct an employer in this way is as wrong as it would be if any one of us ran into debt and the debtor had the power to make our employer to deduct the loan from the wages paid by him. I believe this practice to be illegal. I am aware that the Minister of Health says that this is not contrary to the Truck Act, but I am advised that it is contrary to that Act which prescribes that you may not deduct anything from wages except for fines and materials and other matters specified in the Act. There is a very strong and competent body of opinion which confirms my view on this point, and I daresay we shall take an early opportunity of testing in the Courts whether the obiter dictum of the Minister is right or not. It is a 2036 new practice and I think it is quite contrary to the law.
Another change has also taken place and we now have the blessing of a 56-hours' week for nurses instead of 48 hours. This is what has taken place in regard to our Central Hospital, where, unlike London, we treat cancer and venereal diseases. [AN HON. MEMBER: "The Minister of Health is not listening!"] I do not care whether the Minister of Health is listening or not because that to me is a matter of perfect indifference. I do not mind if he is not listening to me because I am addressing the House and the public outside, and I know the right hon. Gentleman will do nothing in regard to this matter. Again I say that in our infirmary the nurses have to nurse people with cancer and venereal diseases, and anybody knows what a dreadful business it is for those nurses who have to lift and move people dying from these horrible diseases and how necessary this is if those patients are to have a Mile relief from their pain during their last few days. We have now had the hours of these nurses lengthened to 10 hours per day instead of 48 hours per week, and I think that is a cruel and a very unjust thing to do. This would be bad enough if the cases in the infirmary with which they had to deal were light cases, but for nurses who have to nurse cancer and cases of venereal disease, even a 48-hours' week is much too long. We have brought this matter to the attention of the Minister of Health, but nothing has yet been done to alter it. I know it is quite useless to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman for a modification of the hours of nurses. I believe that in the infirmary to which I have referred, the patients are not getting that alleviation from suffering which they ought to have when they are dying.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Yes, I do; and it must be so if you work the nurses more than 48 hours a week, because they cannot nurse such cases.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
This is quite a new point which has been raised by the hon. Member for North East Ham. I would like to point out to the House that it is not a question of the length of the 2037 day, but a question as to how many days' holiday in the month the nurses shall get.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I have made a speech before on this question, and I have gone into this question of the hours of the nurses with the unions concerted, and I state in this House that it is not only a question of shortening the hours of nurses but also one of employing more nurses. In the case I have been referring to 11 nurses have been dismissed. I have this statement from the unions concerned, and it has not been challenged. If what the Minister says is true, then there is really a mistake on this point. But if the Minister does not know the facts I have just stated I am only too glad to know and I will bring the case out and tell the unions that there has been some misunderstanding and will bring it before the right hon. Gentleman again. It is quite true that the holidays have been cut short, but the nurses and the secretaries have had their hours lengthened, and I assure the House that what I have said on this point is true. I assert that the reduction of relief and the lengthening of the hours of work of the nurses inflict a great hardship on the poor and the sick, and the conditions prevailing in West Ham have been worsened very much under the recent administration, so much so that hon. Members of this House would not believe it unless actual cases were brought forward.
§ Mr. LAWSON
On the point which has been raised by the last speaker, I want to be quite fair. As far as my own county of Durham is concerned, I think that if, looking after the women and children during this crisis had not been done well, it would have been a reflection upon the councils and the guardians in my constituency. I certainly do say that in those areas, to the credit of our public men and women who have been co-operating in this work, the children could not have been better looked after. I would like to tell the Minister of Health that this is not the case in those areas where he has appointed guardians to act instead of the ordinary Boards, because they have reduced the scale in some instances from 12s. to 8s. and they have reduced the scale of 4s. allowed for a child to 2s. That is what is actually taking place. In the districts to which I am alluding, if it had not been for the generosity of other 2038 people and in most cases the generosity of the working-classes of this country, there are many children who would have gone not only without clothes and boots but without food. Even when all this has been done, it is most lamentable and sad to see children on these wet wintry days going along the streets with little more than brown paper tied round their feet, with scarcely anything on that can be called boots. I would like hon. Members to see the delight of a child when it gets a pair of ordinary decent boots to keep out the wet.
Even in those areas where there is a Labour majority, if there be not absolute starvation there is very great misery and suffering among the children, to say nothing of the sufferings of the women and men. I wish we could be supplied with the figures of infantile mortality, because I am certain from what I know that the right hon. Gentleman would he appalled by them. I have had myself some startling facts placed before me from people who are doing welfare work in my own district, and, if that be the condition of affairs in my district, what must it be in some of the other districts which are far worse. I can tell hon. Members of this House that if the Midland miners have gone back to work in large numbers, it is not because they are satisfied with the hours and wages which have been offered to them, and they did not want to go back while their comrades remained locked out. The Midland miners went hack to work simply on account of want and starvation amongst their families. I have seen cases where the parents were only able to feed the children once every other day in the week or once every 48 hours, and even then they were not sure that the money would be forthcoming to enable them to do that. If anybody says that that is not starvation then I do not know what starvation means. The Minister of Health must not take credit for what is being done in a few areas by the Education Committees. I asked the right hon. Gentleman the other night what he was going to do in the case of his own appointed guardians. In my own division they have reduced the allowance from 12s, to 8s. and there has been some talk of reducing it still further. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to stand aside while the guardians continue to act in that way? The Minister says he 2039 has no responsibility in the matter, but I would like to ask if he will tell us to whom these guardians are responsible. Are they responsible to the ratepayers? The right hon. Gentleman has himself admitted that the miners are ratepayers.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam) said not long ago that the miners were simply making the poor shopkeepers keep them. Of course, when it suits the case of the Minister, he admits that the miners are ratepayers. To whom are the appointed guardians responsible? They are the people who are drastically cutting down the amount of relief which the guardians are supposed to give. Who is responsible for seeing that they carry out their duty according to the law? Some of these people have gone to the extent of appealing to the Vagrancy Act, and they have declared vagrants some of the men who have fought for their country. I think I have a right to deal with this side of the question when I remember 300,000 out of 900,000 miners went to the War in 1914 and 1915, and they went from my district at such a rate that the country became short of coal, and some of the miners had to be sent back in order to get coal. When I think of the enthusiasm displayed by those men in order to save the country and contrast it with the fact that they are now fighting for a decent standard of living to hear them being declared vagrants is simply appalling. When these men came back from the War, they were told that the country could never repay them for saving the country.
What is the position to-day? We have gone through seven months' struggle, not because the men wanted better conditions, but because they wanted to save their people from going on to Poor Law relief even when they were working. The right. hon. Gentleman knows that one of his problems before the stoppage was that, in mining area after mining area, men, after they had done their week's work, or as much as they could get, had to go and ask for relief in order to help them out with their wages. The men in my county were getting 6s. 8d. a day, and, even if they got the average of five days a week stated by the owners, that would bring them about 35s. a week on which to keep their families; and when they got 2040 only three or four days' work a week, as they very often did, what else could they do but ask for relief in order to maintain themselves and their children? I say, all honour to the men who have stood out for these 28 weeks—the best paid men standing by the worst paid, the good districts, which stood to lose nothing, standing by districts where the men were suffering, practically a million men standing by the men who had to be pushed back in wages, and were finally compelled to go to the guardians and ask the ratepayers to maintain them and supplement the wages they were getting. I know that the right hon. Gentleman, in his nice way, sometimes skims round this problem, but I should like an answer from him to-night as to what he is going to do about these appointed guardians in Chester-le-Street, and whether he is going to continue—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That seems to me to come under the Act passed earlier in the year. I do not see how it comes under the present Bill.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I wanted to ask if the right hon. Gentleman is going to deal with these people who reduce the amount of relief from the standard which he himself set, namely, 12s. for women and 4s. for children, to 8s. and 2s., respectively. If they are not responsible to the people in the area, they must be responsible to the Minister, and he must have some influence which would enable him to deal with a matter of this kind, especially when we have had the threat that there was, perhaps, going to be another reduction. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to use what influence he can over these people. When he talks about the situation being created by the mining dispute, I would ask him to remember, at any rate, that it is to the eternal credit of the great mass of the workers that they have made this effort in order to protect their people and prevent them from having to seek relief in years to come.
Mr. W. M. ADAMSON
I want to put one point of view to the Minister of Health with regard to the action of a particular board of guardians in the Midlands, who, since the inception of this dispute in the mining industry, have definitely laid it down, with or without the right hon. Gentleman's authority, that they can only grant relief on loan, 2041 and that every recipient of relief, on behalf of his dependants, must first of all sign a guarantee that it can be deducted from future wages. This point has been raised from other districts as well. If the Minister has seen fit, in his wisdom, to supersede the representatives of certain areas on the ground that they have exceeded their duty, is it not just as reasonable that guardians who fail to give legitimate relief should also be replaced, and that the right hon. Gentleman should take into his hands the power to see that relief is given to destitute people without its becoming a loan and without its having to be repaid? This is not the first occasion on which this practice has been in operation. Following the 1921 dispute, guardians, even up to 1924 and 1925, were putting scores of men into the Courts because they had not repaid these debts which they had contracted at that time. Surely, it is not the statutory obligation of guardians, the representatives of the ratepayers, to deny relief in cases of destitution, except on the condition that it should be repaid. The men who have been forced back to work through starvation in the Midlands are having deductions made from their wages to-day to repay a portion of the relief that they have received, and they will be asked to continue to pay their poor rate—for what specific purpose? If they have to repay whatever relief they have gained during this period, I would advise that they pay no poor rate whatever, and I believe they would be justified in taking that action. These men were entitled to claim for their dependants, if not for themselves, that they should have something, and in the Midlands these Conservative boards of guardians have been failing to carry out their legitimate duty, while, on the other hand, many education authorities have also failed to carry out their duty in this direction. I only wish that we, like Durham and some other counties, had been able to establish for ourselves the power to see to the feeding of the children. It would have saved the necessity for the repayment of anything borrowed from the guardians, and it would not have been necessary, as, I believe, has been the case with the Cannock Guardians, that the Minister of Health should be asked to give them an extra amount so that they might pay it out for repayment in future.