§ Mr. COMPTON
I beg to move,That the abnormal industrial conditions through which the country has been passing having placed upon local authorities in many areas burdens which cannot be met from local resources, and having regard to the fact that heavy local rates enter directly 296 into the cost of production and thus hamper industrial revival in the areas affected, it is in the national interest that the community as a whole should accept some responsibility for these exceptional local burdens.As the wording of the Motion indicates, we are concerned primarily with bringing this matter forward as a plea for the industries of this country. Many of us on these benches feel that the attitude of the Government on this question has changed very considerably during the past 18 months or two years. I am reminded of the speech made by the Prime Minister on 29th June, 1925, when he said:He was concerned with black spots in industry, and he was considering whether anything could be done by subsidies in specially distressed districts in aid of rates, to take that burden off those who manufacture in those districts.We are in accord with that statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and in bringing forward this Motion we wish to draw the attention of the Government to the fact that in this question of the equalisation of rates we have, especially in the industrial centres, more distress to-day than we have ever had during the whole course of many years. One has only to look even at the position of the shipbuilding and the iron and steel trades to try to visualise the position not only of those who run those particular industries, but also the position of the hundreds of thousands of men who at one period or another found employment in those great basic industries and to-day are, unfortunately, either in receipt of unemployment benefit or in receipt of Poor Law relief from the guardians. Such industrial centres as Middlesbrough, Sheffield and Manchester, to name only three, are to-day experiencing unemployment on a scale quite unprecedented in the history of those districts. We are told, on reliable authority, that in the case of Middlesbrough alone over 50 per cent. of the insured persons in the district are to-day in receipt of unemployment benefit, and that very many more whose benefit has run out are in receipt of Poor Law relief.
This question of the Government transferring the cost of unemployment from the Insurance Act to the Poor Law authorities is adding a very heavy burden to the rates of those particular districts where unemployment is very heavy. We 297 cannot do other than look around at such districts as Oxford, Bournemouth, Cheltenham, Southport or the West End of London, where we find the rates, on the average, are less than 8s, in the £. When we look to the unfortunate industrial areas we find that in Sheffield the rates are 18s. in the pound, in Birmingham, a city which supplies four Ministers to the Government, 16s. in the pound—I am sure that hon. Members opposite will not say that in the City of Birmingham, with its political colour, the Socialists have run wild and been responsible for an increase in the rates up to 16s.—Bristol, 15s. 8d.; Leeds, 16s.; Stoke, 16s. 10d., and Salford, l5s. 9d. I have only mentioned a few of the industrial areas where the rates are excessive, and very heavy for industry to bear. It is also the fact that in these particular industrial centres—one could go through a hundred of them—even in what may be termed an industrial centre of the smallest type, 500 out of every 10,000 of the population are drawing Poor Law relief; but when we come to Durham or the shipbuilding centres of the North East Coast we find that the record of those in receipt of Poor Law relief runs to almost 5,000 out of every 10,000 of the population in the area.
These are appalling facts, and they are facts which no Government can afford to ignore. They are facts which the country is facing and realising every day, and with the object of bringing pressure to hear upon the Government we have brought forward this Resolution. Another instance of the great burden which Poor Law relief means to industry can be cited in the fact that prior to the outbreak of war in Middlesbrough the local rates were equal to an amount of 1s. per ton of steel produced, and to-day those local rates amount to just over 6s. on every ton of steel produced in the area. That is a very terrible burden, and it is a burden which has increased more particularly since the issue by the Minister of Labour of his Circular in February, 1921, whereby he claimed to have given instructions for certain tightening up of the payment of benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Act. That tightening up has meant in many of the districts to which I have referred an increased burden which causes great anxiety to those responsible for the administration 298 of the districts concerned, when they have to meet their charges.
The issue of that Circular is computed by the local authorities in Sheffield to have put an additional cost on the City of Sheffield of £245,000. The current expenditure on Poor Law in Sheffield is reckoned to be about £700,000, and they are now borrowing more money in order to try to meet their liabilities. What applies to Sheffield applies to every other industrial centre throughout the country. Those responsible for local administration have been forced to write off huge sums because they are unable to collect the rates from the industrialists and workers who have not the wherewithal to pay. I can speak as a magistrate of the City of Manchester, where we have summonses by scores and scores against those who are unable to pay their rates and meet their liabilities, owing to the increasing burdens. I cannot do better than read a statement made by the chairman of the finance committee of the Manchester City Council, Alderman Goldschmidt, whose Conservatism cannot possibly be questioned, and who is well known in the North as one of the staunchest supporters of the party opposite. In introducing his Budget last year he made this very important statement with reference to the Minister of Labour's Circular:Since the regulations governing the payment of unemployment insurance benefit to insured persons were amended there seems to have been a movement of persons who have become ineligible for the payment of the cash benefits of the Employment Exchange on to the books of the guardians and the poor rate. In Manchester for the year 1925 the total number of persons registered at the Employment Exchange fell by 8,485, and for the same period the number of persons receiving poor relief from the guardians rose by 8,338: consequently the cost of providing for the immediate effects of unemployment would seem to be increasingly transferred from the Government and its taxes on to the local authority and its rates. The transfer of this financial burden will be felt in the augmented guardians' requirements from the poor rate for the current year.That is a statement made by a gentleman who is well known in the north of England. So bad had the position become in the North that not only in Lancashire and Cheshire but in all parts of the north-western area conferences were held, and the outcome of these conferences was the important deputation 299 which waited on the Prime Minister and several members of the Cabinet on the 19th February last year. The case was put to the Prime Minister by the Lord Mayor of Manchester and it was supported by other representatives from other parts of the north-western area, and in reply the Prime Minister, guarded as usual in his statements, he certainly was not in a position to pledge his Government, said:You naturally ask me what I am going to do as the result of this deputation. I think it is obvious that I cannot withdraw the circular, but I can say that I have listened with very great interest to all that has been said.That evidently was not very satisfactory to the gentlemen who were responsible for introducing the deputation. But the Prime Minister went a little further and said:From what the Lord Mayor of Manchester and other speakers have said, I have no doubt that there is a feeling that we are dealing very harshly with schemes that have been submitted up to date, that you urge that you have only prepared them at cost to yourselves under pressure from Government Departments, and that you feel that to refuse them wholesale would be to deal with you harshly, to say the least of it. Well, without having had time to examine the details, I think there is something in that view, and, when considering with my colleagues what has been so admirably represented to-day by the speakers of this deputation, I should be quite willing to look sympathetically upon a scheme which had been prepared in response to our invitations. More than that I am not prepared to say at this moment, but I am impressed by what you have said on this point, and we will take counsel together on those lines and in the light of what we have heard this morning.It was interesting to await the outcome of the counsel which the right hon. Gentleman was to take with his colleagues, and as a result of lobbying on the part of the Lord Mayor and certain members of the City Council of Manchester, the Manchester Members of this House brought pressure to bear on the Minister of Labour and the Prime Minister in order to obtain a reply to this deputation. On the 31st August last year, the Minister of Labour sent this reply on behalf of the Cabinet:I am sorry to refuse your request, but I am afraid that I cannot hold out any hope of a grant being given to the Manchester area from the Unemployed Grants Committee.300 I do not know what forces were at work inside the Cabinet which led to this decision. One can imagine the meeting in the Cabinet room at Downing Street and the opposition which was put forward to increased grants to local authorities. One can imagine a little mouse coming out from a corner, looking round, listening to the discussion in the Cabinet, and then scampering away back into its nest whispering to its mates. "Heaven help the country on a night like this!" By refusing these grants the Government are imposing an extra burden on local rates, and the position of local authorities is now well nigh unbearable. The position is gradually getting worse. Not satisfied with tills turning down of the request by the Minister of Labour, the Lancashire and Cheshire and northwestern areas, by their secretary, sent forward a further request, on the [...]i, December last year, in which he said:I would remind you that our local authorities are receiving strong representations from local chambers of commerce, or similar organisations of an entirely nonpolitical character impressing upon Them the serious burden of rates upon industry, and adducing evidence of their effect in preventing industry from successfully meeting foreign competition for orders. I believe, therefore, that, we are representing the views of the majority of all sections of the community in asking you to reconsider the matter with a view to continuing to assist local authorities to meet the present immediate emergency which is, after all, a problem of a national character.In our Motion we claim that this is a national responsibility and that in the interests of the country the industrial areas ought not to be called upon to bear the burden any longer. In our circular we point out to the Minister of Labour that in March, 1925, there were 215,000 persons registered as unemployed in the north western area, and at the last census, that is in September or October last year, that number had increased to over 250,000. Therefore, in these areas the responsibility is increasing week by week. Now I turn to the schemes which have been put forward by local authorities in their applications for grants from the National Exchequer. All the schemes that have been put forward by local authorities are sound schemes which will provide work for the unemployed and be a benefit and a boon to the particular districts in which the work is carried out. No one can say that the spending of money on roads is a waste of 301 national funds. Then there is the question of sewage. The north western area have brought forward schemes for putting down new sewage plant, refuse destroying plant, all of which will tend to the benefit of the health of the community. But all these schemes have been ruthlessly turned aside; we have been told that there is no money for them. It is admitted that in the year ending September, 1926, there was sanctioned in grants £11,000,000 as against £21,000,000 for the year previously. That also throws an extra burden on local rates. The very fact that less money has been given in grants proves that fewer people are being employed, and these people must be fed and their dependants supported; and so local rates have to bear the burden.
I want to draw attention to the Amendment, standing in the names of the hon. Member for Beading (Mr. H. Williams) and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Berner). I am waiting to hear them make a reasoned case against this Motion. I believe the country is heartily sick of all this anti-Socialist nonsense and wants something more reasoned and reasonable. If the hon. Members opposite want any further proof of the feelings of the country they have had it in the last few days in the by-elections which have taken place. We often hear stories in this House about the abuses of the Unemployment Insurance Act and the Poor Law, but we have not yet been called upon to face any actual charges in connection with the Unemployment Insurance Act or of the work of boards of guardians. I cannot do better than quote from the Blanes-burgh Committee's Report and their very definite answer to this charge. They said:Throughout the inquiry we have constantly had brought to our notice the conviction held by many that the system of unemployment insurance is subject to widespread abuses. It has, accordingly, been one of our principal preoccupations to ascertain how far this belief is justified. It is convenient to state at once the conclusion we have reached in this matter. It is true that a certain number out of lit millions of insured persons have received relief to which they had no claim. But it is equally true that these cases are relatively few.302 The Committee add:We are confirmed in this favourable conclusion by the result of inquiries made by us in different quarters where it seemed likely that abuses, if they existed generally, would be notorious. The Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society very candidly says that he began by thinking the abuses serious, but on inquiry he had been unable to find them.I expect the good anti-Socialist Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society would have his word accepted by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Since the Armistice we have spent £360,000,000 on unemployment benefit and in relief of able-bodied men by boards of guardians —money for which actually no service was rendered to the country. There is no more wasteful way of spending money. It is a wise move to spend money on work, and the local authorities have been wise in their day and generation in putting forward their claims to the Government. We hope that as a result of this Motion the Government will have a further incentive to do something for these people. One is reminded of the statement made by an illustrious statesman who for many years adorned the Front Bench in this House. The late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain might well claim to have given a new charter to local authorities. He issued the first Circular to local authorities urging them to find honest work for the unemployed to do in their districts, and not to drive them to the workhouse or to seek Poor Law relief. One can remember the time when Mr. Chamberlain made something of a slogan of the statement, "Do not, for Heaven's sake, drive men to the poor house."
We feel that the position to-day is such, that not only are men driven to seek Poor Law relief, but there is in the country to-day a greater number of men and women, tired men and broken-hearted women with underfed children, who do not come out into the open to advertise their poverty, who keep their poverty hidden in their poor homes and slum dwellings. On behalf of these people, and of industry generally, we appeal to the Government to try to do something. In addition to these men and women there are hundreds of thousands of ex-service men—men who served their country in the time of their country's need, men who were told by 303 politicians of all ranks during the War period that a grateful country would never desert them and that they would always be remembered. These men made a human wall between this country and destruction, and I say it is a scandal that they should to-day be in receipt of Poor Law relief, and an even greater scandal that they should be found selling matches or turning piano organs in the streets, or should he seen on the way to the workhouse with the gates staring them in the face. I appeal to the Government to do something on behalf of distressed and necessitous areas. If that appeal be answered, I feel sure that the Government will be amply repaid by the thanks of grateful people who to-day cannot find work though they are only too anxious to get it.
§ Mr. CHARLES EDWARDS
I beg to second the Motion.
Once again we are dealing with the question of necessitous areas. We have dealt with it on many occasions before, but we have not got very far with it yet. I suppose the term "necessitous areas" is one that was not heard before 1921, although since then it has become one of the common terms in daily use. Many reasons could be given for the present state of some necessitous areas. Sometimes management is blamed for it, or mismanagement, whichever way you care to put it. We have heard much of the negligence and the irregularity of certain areas, but the Minister, when he comes to reply, will no doubt tell us that those areas which have come in for the most severe blame are only an infinitesimal part of the total number of necessitous areas. The reason for the difficulties of many areas is unemployment and unemployment alone. Before 1921 these areas were scarcely ever heard of; at any rate, they were not as notorious as they are to-day. They were known, of course, but they selected their guardians, the guardians sent out their precepts and the money was collected, the work of administration was carried on, and all was done satisfactorily. In 1921 we came into contact with unemployment as we had never known it before, and Poor Law authorities were called upon to deal with matters with which they were never intended to deal and which they should never have dealt with from the beginning.
304 We have contended all along, and, I think, rightly, that this ought to have been a national charge from the start. Unemployment has hit certain districts, while others have gone free. There are district; which, as far as rates are concerned, know nothing about unemployment, because it does not exist there. The whole system of rating and taxation ought to be overhauled. The Poor Law system, outside unemployment, is unfair as between one district and another. Highly industrialised districts have their poor more than others have. When we last discussed this subject, I think it was the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) who suggested as a remedy larger areas, and he indicated county areas or something even larger. We say that the whole country ought to be the area, and that nothing less than a nationalised system will be fair either to ordinary Poor Law relief or to unemployment relief.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
The Motion does not say so.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
The Motion does not go as far as I would like it to go. It does not go as far as the proposal made from this side on the Scottish Poor Law (Emergency Provisions) Bill the other day. On that Bill the Minister agreed to a payment of 40 per cent. by the State, and, though that was something, it was not as much as I would have liked. I was delighted at the fight the Scotsmen made for the assumption of the whole burden by the State. Our case is much stronger than that. The Scottish case was a case for dealing with money that had been spent in last year's industrial dispute. Our case to-night is very different. The Scottish side of the case was not beard of until last year, but these necessitous areas and their problem have existed since 1921, and the problem has been acute during the whole of that period. It is unemployment and that alone which is responsible for the present position of necessitous local authorities. I have here the Bedwellty case. I suppose I had better deal with my own district. I represent Bedwelity, but, of course, only part of the Poor Law area of Bedwellty. I happen to live in the Newport union and part of my constituency is in that union, but 305 I also represent part of Bedwellty union, which, I suppose, gave the name to my constituency. I propose to give a few figures in regard to that area, because this board of guardians has come under the very severe ban of the Ministry of Health. Whether they have done so deservedly or not I will not say, though I think their action may not be as deserving of this punishment as some people seem to think. The rates called for by overseers during the year ending 31st March, 1914, amounted to £96,985, and the whole of that sum was collected. In the year ending March, 1921, the amount called for was £345,462, and the same amount was collected.
So, in this terribly bad area, during those years when things were normal and before we knew unemployment, every penny of the rates was collected, but in 1927 the amount called for was £278,879, of which only £132,968 was collected, leaving a balance of uncollected rates in one single year of £145,911. The total amount of rates uncollected is £226,047. The average poor and district rate for the half year ended 30th September, 1914, was 5s. 4d. For the half year ending 31st March, 1927, it is 9s, 8d. The half-yearly poor rate, over the whole union since the War shows an average of 13s. 8d. per half year, and the poor and district rate 18s 4d. per half year. All this is due to unemployment and to nothing else. In the parish of Aberystwyth which includes our district—we have heard many times in this House of Nantyglo and Elaine—the poor rate is 15s. per half year and the district rate no less than 21s. per half year. Nearly everybody was living on the rates in that district, and they are largely doing the same thing to-day. In 1914 those in receipt of relief represented only 1.9 per cent. of the total population, but now the figure is 12.5 per cent., and that is excluding the unemployed miners and their dependants. If they were included, the figure would be very different indeed. The amount of out-relief given as a result of unemployment from 1921 to 19th February, 1927, excluding relief given to miners and their families during the last year was £676,737, or getting on towards £1,000,000, all of which is directly attributable to unemployment in this one area. The loans raised since 1921 amount to £1,109,000, and they have repaid only £97,575. It is estimated that 306 £600 a week is paid to those who for various reasons have been cut off from the Employment Exchanges.
This is another matter which has hit these districts very hard indeed. Every time the rules have been tightened up, people have been turned from the unemployment fund on to poor relief. They have nowhere else to go if there is no work in the locality. To go back again to the particular case of Nantyglo and Blaina, I wish to show the House how difficult is the position of these unions when they have not only to meet requirements for increased relief, but when their sources of income are affected. The two things operate together against these districts. The assessable value of the collieries in this district in 1920 was £20,916. By September, 1922, or in about a year and a half that was reduced to £4,818. Since then four or five of these collieries have been struck off the valuation lists altogether. I suppose they are idle, and so far as one can see, they will remain idle. Collieries are assessed on the basis of output, and when their rating capacity is at its lowest the guardians' expenditure in relief is at its highest.
The hon. Gentleman who is representing the Government to-night spoke boastingly the other day of the improvement which he claimed had been made by the Commissioners appointed to carry on the administration ion in West Ham, and he said the union had ceased borrowing. That might be a very sad thing if we knew all the truth about it, and if we could see into some of these homes and realise the hardship and poverty brought about by this course. The cessation of borrowing is achieved by hitting the very poorest of the poor, and I have no doubt, if we could sec all the results of it, we should find them enough to make angels weep. Great poverty must have been caused by these reductions both in West Ham and in Bedwellty. In Bedwellty the Commissioners have reduced the number of recipients from 16,561 to 11,572. I dare say the hon. Members whose names appear on the Paper as Mover and Seconder of an Amendment to this Motion will say that this is splendid work. It may be splendid work from their point of view just now, but it may turn out to be very bad work, and work which would make us ashamed of ourselves if we could see all its results. 307 Since they have been put in office they claim to have reduced the payments by, I think, £500 in one week, and they have compelled people to walk five miles in order to receive relief. People living in Rhymney have to walk down to New Tredegar, a matter of five miles, and these are people who have been living for years in the direst poverty, who scarcely have shoes to their feet. The maximum payment that the guardians in this area were making was 38s. 6d. a week. That is not a great amount, and I think it was arrived at by agreement with the Ministry of Health. Every time the guardians had a new loan, conditions were imposed to which they agreed with the Ministry, so that their crime could not have been a very had one. This maximum payment only represents 22s. 3d. per week in pre-War value, and it applies to families of any size, no matter how large. It is not much to gloat over that the Government have reduced that sum. It is certainly nothing to boast about.
I have particulars here of another union, the Merthyr Tydvil Union which has been very hardly hit indeed. Every industry in Merthyr Tydvil was stopped for a long time. I think there is one pit going at last. All the collieries were stopped and the men were idle. They had to live either on relief or on unemployment benefit, whichever was forthcoming, and they were mostly on the rates. In the week ended 5th February the number of persons in receipt of relief there as a result of unemployment was 10,462 at a weekly cost of £2,121. It is estimated that the expenditure under this head will amount to over £100,000 a year with only one colliery working in the whole district. This without cost of administration represents a rate of 3s. in the £, a much higher rate than some unions know of or have ever experienced. Between the years 1921 and 1926 nearly £700,000 has been raised for the relief of unemployment in this area. Why should this area and other industrial areas be penalised in this manner, when other districts go free of such expenditure altogether. I think we have the strongest possible case, not merely for an Exchequer grant in relief of these areas, but for the Exchequer taking over the whole burden. That can easily be done, 308 and it would be much fairer and more just to all concerned. It is easy to ascertain the amount which has been paid in these areas owing to unemployment.
I have the Newport Guardians' figures here, and I suppose my lion. Friend opposite would call that a good union. They have not sought any loans, and that is a great thing. They are, of course, a mixed union, both industrial and agricultural, but I find that they have got into debt with the bank to the amount of £200,000, and that they have to find £45,000 by the 25th of this month, and I am told that that £45,000 means a 10d. rate for Newport, which would be, I suppose, about half the rate of many unions in this country, but is in this case simply for this one repayment to the bank. There are other repayments that the Ministry has ordered, and they are to pay £55,000 further, by three half-yearly instalments. It only shows that what would be called the best conducted and best administered unions are suffering in this way. I have some figures relating to London, showing how differently this rating applies to different districts. At Bethnal Green a 1d. rate brings in £2,285, but at Kensington a 1d. rate brings in £10,540; in Poplar it brings in £3,749, but in Westminster no less than £33,970. It only shows how unequal things are and how the whole system ought to be gone into and put on some better, fairer, and more just basis. I have also some comparisons of rateable value per head of population. At Bournemouth it is £11 7s. 3d., but at Barnsley it is only £3 19s. 6d.; at Bexhill it is £12 9s. 2d., but at Merthyr Tydvil £3 10s. 3d., and so we could go on with a long list 3f that sort. In 10 selected areas unemployment was 58 per cent. of the total population, and in 10 other selected areas it was only 1–6 per cent.: those are the two extremes.
In December, 1925, which is the latest figure available, the average unemployment in insured trades for the whole country was 11.4 per cent., but in the shipbuilding industry on the North-East Coast it was 51 per cent., in marine engineering 39.5 per cent., and in iron and steel 26.6 per cent. A question was put last week in this House asking whether it was not a fact that £241,000 had been paid to men whose names had been struck 309 off the unemployment register in Sheffield, from February, 1925, to January, 1927, and the reply was in the affirmative. That is the sum for one city alone. In South Wales a fortnight ago there were 74,000 miners idle, and I suppose it would be said to-day that we can expect from 40,000 to 50,000 men will be permanently displaced in South Wales as miners. That shows how serious unemployment is in these districts. The Minister has great powers. The power to grant loans gives him great power, because when the local authorities come for money, they have to comply with the conditions which he imposes. Not content with that, the right hon. Gentleman sought other powers, and got them, and he now has the right to displace properly appointed men. All I have to say on that is that I am not sure it is not a good thing. It is a good precedent. There are a lot of guardians in this country whom we do not like, guardians who think more of the rates than of the poor, and now we need not take the initiative in dealing with such guardians, because we have a precedent to go upon. I am not sure it is not a good thing from that standpoint, but there is another good precedent, and that is that we have asked many times for the out-of-pocket expenses of men attending the meetings of local authorities. We have been refused. Now, however, they not only get these expenses, but a good salary in addition, so that we have another thing which I think we might be proud of, another precedent to go upon, which, if the Labour party are worth their salt, they will not forget when they come into power.
We hear a lot about Russia to-day, and nothing can happen without it being said that the great danger is Russia, or Moscow. It is the silliest thing I have ever heard. The great danger to this country is unemployment. We have thousands of boys in this country who have grown up into men and have never done a day's work yet. That is the serious part of it. We have thousands of others living on what we call the "dole," or living on their wits, which is a very serious thing for this country indeed. I must confess that if unemployment cannot be tackled, I do not look with any pleasure on the future. What we want is work, and not unemployment benefit. I wish we could do away with 310 unemployment and that work could be found for every man. Then I should have some hope of our country again, but if men are to loaf at street corners, with nothing to do, living how they can, it is a very serious position of affairs and one that we greatly deplore. Unless work can be found, men must he kept, but the great thing is work, after all. I look upon unemployment, and not that nonsense about Russia, as the great danger to this country and one that ought to be very seriously tackled. I have here the Report of what is called the Goschen Committee. I do not know what it was appointed for, unless to look into the different suggestions that had been made to deal with unemployment and to find out the weaknesses of them and report those weaknesses to the Minister. They say:We have to report that none of the schemes placed before us can he regarded as providing a fair and equitable basis of distribution of special assistance from the Exchequer. The terms of our reference necessarily restricted us to an examination and report upon the schemes submitted. Certain members of the Committee wish, however, to record their opinion that it is not impossible to adopt some of the principles embodied in those schemes, so as to give a basis of assistance to areas which are suffering severely from the heavy burdens due to post-War conditions.I feel that this Motion does not go far enough. The whole of this burden ought to be taken over, and it will never be fair, one district as against another, unless it is taken over. However, whatever offers may be made would, of course, be welcome, because it would ease the burden, but it can never be fair unless the whole cost of this unemployment is taken over by the Exchequer.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsthis House deprecates any increase in the grants by the Exchequer to local authorities except under conditions which involve local authorities being responsible for the results of extravagant expenditure incurred by them, and considers that the method of giving Exchequer subventions to local authorities should be reviewed under a general reconsideration of the relations of national and local taxation with a view to assistance being given to the more heavily burdened areas.I think we have all listened with interest and pleasure to the two speeches which 311 have been made so far, but if I may say so with deep respect to the two hon. Members, interesting as their speeches were, their connection with the Motion was a little difficult to find, I endeavoured, however, to make a few notes while they were speaking, and I want, for the moment, to emphasise points of difference rather than points of agreement, because, frankly, there were substantial points of agreement between myself and the hon. Members. I want, however, to draw attention to one or two things where I find myself in disagreement. The hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Compton), who moved the Motion, said that the Government were transferring the burden from the insurance fund to the Poor Law. That is a rather serious statement. I have before me the "Labour Gazette" for February, and on page 67 is given the usual monthly statement. During the period from the 14th December to the 10th January, the Committees admitted for benefit 257,407 persons. They refused under one general classification 29,509. That general classification was the classification of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1924, for which the party opposite was responsible. There were also refused under another classification, for which the Insurance Act of 1925 was responsible, 15,564. I would like to point out that, under the first classification, the; whole of the people who were rejected for benefit would be, I think, compelled to seek assistance from the Poor Law, that is those refused benefit under the Act passed by the late Labour Government. A right hon. Gentleman opposite says, "Nonsense!" What are these conditions?General conditions. Not normally insurable and not seeking to obtain a livelihood by means of insurable employment.Obviously, no one is going to look after him.Insurable employment not likely to be available.I cannot see anyone looking after him outside the Poor Law.Not a reasonable period of insurable employment during the preceding two years. Not making every reasonable effort to obtain suitable employment or not willing to accept suitable employment.In all those four disqualifications there is no one who can help the people except 312 the Poor Law. But when we come to the next five classes, the five classes disqualified under the Act passed in 1925 by the present Government, which affected, roughly, half the number affected by the Act passed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, we find "single persons residing with relatives." Where relatives are in a position to maintain them, quite obviously in that case there is no need for recourse to the Poor Law. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The "special conditions" only relate to single persons whose relatives are in a position to maintain them. That is the statutory Regulation.Married women who could look for support from their husbands.Married men who could look for support from their wives.Persons working short time, but earning sufficient for maintenance.All these four classes are classes where real hardship is not involved, and recourse to the Poor Law is not involved by disqualification. The only people who might be thrown on the Poor Law were aliens. There were 16. These special disqualifications apply only to extended benefit. It is quite clear that out of, roughly, 45,000 people disqualified from benefit, two-thirds were disqualified under the Act for which the right hon. Gentleman opposite was responsible. I mention that because the hon. Member for Gorton spoke of the present Government transferring the burden from the Insurance Fund to the Poor Law. So far as it is being transferred, it is being transferred under an Act of Parliament for which the Party opposite was responsible.
Some reference was made by the hon. Member for Gorton to the Manchester district, where, he said, there had been a drop of 8,000 in the live register and an increase of 8,000 seeking Poor Law relief. I am not in a position to deal with those particular figures, but I may point out that a disqualification from benefit does not remove anybody from the live register. They are only removed by their own act, and there is, therefore, no connection between the facts. He also said that in the north-west area conditions were getting worse week by week. I have in front of me the same document, which shows that on the 31st January, 1927, there were 259,293 persons in the northwest area on the live registers—a decrease of 17,804 as compared with the 313 24th December, 1926, which does not look like an increase week by week. And that period covers the period of the Christmas dismissals. [HON. MEMBERS: "What Christmas dismissals?"] I say quite deliberately "Christmas dismissals," because everyone is aware that there is a large number of seasonal trades, both manufacturing and distributing, and that following Christmas in every year since we have had these statistics collected, there has been an increase in the register of unemployed in the fortnight or so after Christmas of anything from 100,000 to 200,000 persons. In spite of that fact, the figures for the north-west area show a decrease, and, taking into account the figures shown on the tape to-night of a diminution in unemployment last week of 74,000, following on the figures of previous weeks, I do not think the north-west district can be so badly placed as the hon. Member suggests. I want to express one cordial agreement with the hon. Gentleman. I hate the cheap references made to the dole. I have always refused to use that word except in inverted commas. It is an offensive word. The great majority of those drawing benefit have paid for that benefit and are as much entitled to it as any person insured in an ordinary insurance company.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. C. Edwards) suggested that the whole country ought to be the Poor Law area. That sounds an attractive phrase, particularly in reference to a district in some difficulties. But does the hon. Gentleman really believe in local administration? Does he really believe in local autonomy? In what conceivable way can you continue local government if the local people are not to have financial responsibility? It is an issue upon which, in connection with London politics, I have often made speeches when discussing the relationship of the London County Council with borough councils. There are people who urge, for instance, that London ought to have a flat rate. A flat rate would mean at once the complete destruction of the borough councils. Equally, if the country is to be responsible for local burdens, does it not mean the destruction of local autonomy?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I would point out to the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wallhead) that, as far as education is concerned, the country does not assume the whole responsibility. With regard to the general bulk of the expenditure, the country pays a grant which is 50 per cent. of the approved expenditure. The local authority are still free to spend more than the approved expenditure if they wish, and there are certain classes of education which get 75 and some 25 per cent. The whole thing is complicated, and I do not profess to be an expert as regards details. But when you speak of the whole country as one area, you destroy local autonomy. As the areas of the hon. Member for Bedwellty come under the temporary ban of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, I hope later this evening we may hear more about what has happened in Bedwellty.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am very glad, but I should like to hear other comments. I would also like to know something about Chester-le-Street. We know something about West Ham, because in the monthly table published in the "Labour Gazette" there are some figures about West Ham. I know a little about West Ham, though not so much as I should like, and I know a little about Bedwellty. I am not in a position to deal with the description of the distressing conditions which prevail in Bedwellty as a result of the alleged autocratic behaviour of that board of guardians, but I am satisfied of this, that in West Ham there has been no distress caused by the action of the Commissioners who have been sent to supersede the board of guardians. It is perfectly evident there has been no hardship; there is no agitation amongst the people of West Ham on the subject. The hon. Member for Bedwellty gave us certain comparisons—[Interruption]. I am sorry I have been led aside by an argument as to the correct pronunciation of the name of the constituency, but as a Welshman I believe I have been correct up to now.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty raised a point as to the rateable value per head of certain areas and the yield of a penny rate. There is no particular point in comparing the yield of a penny rate in 315 London, or any particular part of London, with some other area, without having full information as to the population and other circumstances; but I would point out that it is notorious that an accommodation of identically the same size will be rated very much higher in Westminster, for example, than in Poplar. No doubt there are excellent reasons for that; but comparisons of rateable value per head, taken by themselves, are not conclusive. The practice in regard to valuation varies very much in different parts of the country, and it was for that reason that in 1925 we passed a Rating and Valuation Act for the purpose of putting rating and valuation on a more satisfactory basis; that being, quite obviously, only the first step in a general scheme of reform of the relationship of local to national taxation.
This is the second debate on this subject we have had this Session. The Liberal Amendment to the Address raised certain questions as to the taxation of land values, but actually the debate became one on necessitous areas. I made certain comments then which I do not want to repeat precisely, but I wish to say a little about them to expand them somewhat. In 1914–15, a year which began before the Great War broke out, £82,000,000 was raised in rates in Great Britain. During the current year, ending 25th March, there will have been raised approximately, £166,000,000, slightly more than double. The Exchequer grant during 1914–15, including Road Fund grants, amounted to £27,400,000, or a sum equal to, roughly, one-third of the amount raised in local rates. During the present year, according to the Estimates presented to Parliament in the last Budget—again including the Road Fund grants—£101,000,000 was provided in the form of grants of one kind or another to local authorities, representing a percentage of 61 per cent. In other words, Parliament is to-day providing four times as much in absolute amount, and practically twice as much in percentage, as in 1914–15. It is very pleasant to be in a position to distribute largesse to one's constituency at the expense of someone else who has the unpleasant responsibility of raising the money, and when I hear these debates I always think there is a feeling, if we can only hand 316 out enough public money to the recipients of Poor Law relief, and to the recipients of something else, and can force on the Chancellor of the Exchequer the unpleasant obligation of providing that money, then we shall be in a position to secure our seats in Parliament for ever.
I am inclined to believe that some of the necessitous areas have inflicted their unfortunate condition on themselves. I am going to quote certain statistics which I think will he of some interest. The Ministry of Labour divides the country into a certain number of divisions for administration purposes. The London division contains a little over 2,000,000 insured persons. It is not coterminous with the County of London; it includes, broadly speaking, I imagine, Greater London. I mention that because the Poor Law statistics I am going to quote cover the County of London, and there is some measure of error in comparing the two, and I do not want to misrepresent anything. In the London division at the end of January there were 7.4 per cent. of unemployed insured persons, and in the rest of England and Wales there were 12.7 per cent., nearly double. When I come to look at the Poor Law returns—I am getting all my statistics from the same document, the "Ministry of Labour Gazette"—I find that, per 10,000 of the population in London, 528 were in receipt of Poor Law relief on the selected day, the 29th January. If I take the rest of England and Wales, I find the figure was 401. It is really rather remarkable that the Metropolis shows up so badly on Poor Law matters as compared with the rest of England and Wales—the figures these relating to the principal urban areas—and shows us so well so far as unemployment is concerned. Why is it that in relation to the number of persons who are unemployed, there are, broadly speaking, twice as many relieved by the Poor Law guardians in London as are relieved in the rest of England and Wales?
I go a little further. Let us take the North-Eastern district of England, a district which has been more heavily afflicted by unemployment than any other part. In the eight principle urban districts in that area the proportion per 10,000 in receipt of poor relief at the end of January was 456, as compared with 528 in London, but if you come to 317 look at the unemployment statistics the North-Eastern area shows 16.8 per cent. of unemployed and the London division only 7.4. Why is it that London shows up so badly? I think it is perfectly evident if one examines London's figures in detail. They are: West district, 216 per 10,000; North district, 332; Central district, 408; East district, 1,251; South district, 532. In other words, one in eight of the population of the Eastern district of the Metropolis were in receipt of Poor Law relief. That figure is not justified by the unemployment which prevails in that area. The unemployment in that area is substantially less than in the district represented by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson).
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Would the hon. Member give us the unemployment figures for the East area separately? I rather think he is lumping in Mayfair and Westminster in respect of unemployment and giving the relief in Poplar and Stepney separately.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am perfectly aware that the figures I am giving of unemployment relate to the whole area, and I was careful at the beginning to point out that the London division for Employment Exchange purposes was not co-terminous with the County of London, but I must use the statistics at my disposal.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I think the hon. Member has misunderstood me. I say he is lumping together for unemployment purposes Westminster, Mayfair and the rest of the Western districts and for Poor Law statistics he is giving them separately.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
May I again point out to the hon. Lady that at the beginning I remarked on the limitation of my statistics because they do not split up London districts into these details. I did compare, first of all, the whole of London with the whole of the rest of England and Wales, which was a reasonable and fair comparison. I also compared the whole of London with the north-eastern district, and no one is going to suggest to me that unemployment has prevailed in any part of London at all comparable to that in certain parts of South Wales and the north-east coast. It is perfectly obvious that is the case. No one is going to suggest that the unemployment in the 318 eastern districts of the metropolis is materially worse than in the West Ham Union. Nobody is going to suggest that unemployment is profoundly worse in Stepney, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green than in the area of the West Ham Union, yet in the area of the West Ham Union, the number of persons per 10,000 on the same date was 639 as compared with 1,251 in the eastern districts of London. The 639 is 307 less than it was a year ago because there is now operating in West Ham Union a board of guardians which is prepared to do its duty, and is not in the position of spending public money for the purpose of gaining popularity for itself. I would have supplied the precise comparative figures if they had been available. I took the nearest and fairest comparison I could. I made qualifications so that it should not be said I was indulging in misrepresentation. I hope possibly as a result of this Debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour may be able to compile some statement showing the relationship of Poor Law relief to unemployment in various areas so that we may find out their precise position. There are many things in the Motion with which I agree. I agree absolutely that local rates are a burden on industry and an element in the cost of production. That point was made in the Debate a fortnight last Friday on the Liberal Amendment to the Address. I am not prepared to see public money handed over without check to local authorities. Why is it that the Poplar Board of Guardians are in a position to relieve that abnormal proportion of persons? There is no justification for it. Conditions in a large area in South London are more difficult than in the East End. There is a popular idea that since the days of Jack the Ripper there is something terrible about the East of London. East London compares favourably with provincial cities. It is not the district of horror we are asked to believe. I know most parts of it very well. Abnormal expenditure in the East End is largely the result of the operation of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund under an Act of Parliament passed in 1921. If I remember the provisions of that Act correctly, Poplar is in a position to draw without limit on the rest of the Metropolis.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
In this respect, so far as the number of persons relieved are concerned. There is a fixed grant in relation to each person's relief. They can draw, and have drawn, immense sums into Poplar from the rest of London. It is popular. Tradesmen and all classes of the community have enjoyed a sort of prosperity at the expense of other boroughs in London suffering difficulties just as profound as Poplar, because it has been possible, under the system of the Act of 1921, by the operation of the Common Poor Fund to demoralise and debauch the people of Poplar. I use the word "debauch," not in the sense of drunkenness but in the sense of responsibility towards public funds.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
In the way in which it was used I see nothing unparliamentary in it.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Mitchell Banks) tells me it means, "To corrupt with profligate expenditure." I was using exactly the word I meant to use. On the other hand I believe that the relationship of national to local finance is unsatisfactory. I am glad the Minister of Education has come in. He administers a great variety of grants to local authorities, depending on a variety of percentages and those grants are in respect of proved expenditure. There is exchanged between the Department of the Minister of Education and local education authorities up and down the country, a volume of correspondence which represent an immense public burden. The Minister of Health administers grants like the tuberculosis grants, the grants for maternity homes, grants for venereal disease, grants to the Poor Law, and all those things have their own special formula to involve endless correspondence between headquarters in London and the municipalities. When we were discussing this matter on the 13th May last, when the bulk of us were preoccupied with other matters and when it was my privilege to say a few words in reply to the hon. Member for Poplar, I expressed the hope that some day we would discover a formula expressing the relationship of national to local taxation. 320 That formula ought to take into account the population of each local area. Also it should take into account whether the area is rich or poor. There should therefore be an element in the grant which would be in inverse proportion to the rateable value per head. It might also take into account the percentage of unemployment prevailing in any area during a particular year, but I think that if we could find cut a formula which would satisfactorily represent the grants from the National Exchequer to the local authorities and eliminate all the arguments between Ministries in London and local authorities, we would reduce costs and do something to remove the necessity for having Debates on this subject. I move the Amendment standing in my name, and express regret that I have taken so long a time.
§ Mr. REMER
I beg to second the Amendment, which has been moved in such able fashion by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams). The valuable information he has given to the House will be of much value to those of us who have met with abuse and misrepresentation from hon. Members opposite. The Resolution and the Amendment correctly disclose a fundamental difference between hon. Members opposite and members who sit on these Benches. We of the Conservative party have been brought up on principles which are not new principles. They are old principles. They were given to us by a very great Statesman, Benjamin Disraeli, and speaking for myself, the whole basis of my political faith is founded on what that great Statesman gave to the Conservative party. I am going to remind hon. Members opposite, in case they do not know, that the principles of Benjamin Disraeli were the principles of self-help. That famous Statesman said in a classic phrase, which I believe gives the whole basis of the policy of the Conservative party:I will help those who make efforts to help themselves.During the last half century the Conserative party has been built up on a policy of social progress which has been a great advantage to the working classes of this country. The Socialist policy is in direct opposition to those principles, because they say, "We will help those 321 who are making no effort whatever to help themselves. We will help the idle; we will help the lazy, and the indolent." I would go further and say that the Socialists encourage the people of this country to be idle, lazy, and indolent.
There is one thing in our national life which I deplore, and that is the tendency of modern politics. We see this frequently in what is brought forward from the benches opposite. The speeches we have heard from hon. Members opposite to-night are completely demoralising to the whole of our race. Hon Members opposite are engaged in the kind of auction for the votes of the people. In the 1923 Election they promised everything to everyone, and when the Labour party came into office in 1924 and formed a Government, they found that none of those promises were capable of fulfilment. In the Resolution which has been moved to-night there is a promise to the necessitous areas of untold gold being poured out, and the Treasury chest is to come to the aid of all these necessitous areas. We on these benches are content to give some consideration to the real necessities of the so-called necessitous areas, and we are as anxious as anyone else to alleviate real suffering. We intend to give all the assistance which has been given in the past in this respect, and which we think is reasonable, I would remind hon. Members that many millions have been given and many millions have been lent to these necessitous areas, but there must he some limit to the amount which can be provided for this purpose by the taxpayer.
We cannot agree that the scandals which have taken place in West Ham and other places shall be repeated in other directions. We cannot agree that payment should be made to men in idleness in excess of what they would receive when in full employment. The hon. Member for Gorton referred to people being taken off the dole and put, on the pour rate. If a man has been found to be ineligible for the dole, or if he has been found to be an undesirable person, is it not obvious that a local authority should take a long time before that man is placed on the poor rate and allowed to receive relief? May I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that in my opinion 322 the greatest need of our country to-day is some form of liaison between the Poor Law and unemployment insurance. I would remind the House that these necessitous areas are almost entirely situated in those parts of the country which in previous days were used as munition areas. I refer to such places as the Clyde, and the North-East Coast, and Sheffield, and the distress has almost, entirely been caused by the policy of the cutting down of armaments and munitions of war.
§ Major CRAWFURD
Does the hon. Member suggest that the conditions which he is now outlining do not apply to the East End of London?
§ Major CRAWFURD
Does he hon. Member not realise that the conditions which apply to Barrow, Sheffield and other places also apply to the East End of London?
§ Mr. REMER
I was pointing out that side by side with the distress which is taking place in the munition areas, we find the same distress amongst the shareholders and capitalists who have invested their money in such firms as Vickers. Limited, and Armstrong Whitworth and Company, and invariably in such districts we find terrible suffering amongst the working classes. This is another instance of my argument that the interests of capital and labour are identical. I would remind the House that the dividends, profits, and interest accruing to capital provide the vast bulk of the revenue of this country, and if we are to encourage capitalists to be enterprising and progressive, then there must be a reduction of the taxation of this country, and we must give some consideration to the vital needs of the taxpayers.
It is very easy for hon. Members opposite to promise help for these necessitous areas, and for anybody else who comes along, but it is much more difficult to pay for the expenditure which they are advocating. We of the Conservative party have, in the past, helped the necessitous areas very largely. We have always helped those who are deserving of help, but local authorities must learn to he economical, and far too many of 323 them are trying to secure votes by means of money which the Government provide. It is very easy to be generous at the expense of someone else, or as a famous comedian once said, there are a great many people in this country who are generous when it does not cost them anything. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are always promising this and that, but they do not consider the means by which they are to find the money in order to pay for the expenditure which they are advocating. I commend this Amendment to the House. We of the Conservative party desire to help all those who are genuinely suffering, but we must remember the overburdened taxpayer, and we must take care not to demoralise our race by making payments to those who are not deserving of support from the Government.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) referred complacently to the reduction which has taken place in the number of unemployed, but, even with that reduction, the average number still remains at 12 per cent., and, as has been already pointed out, that is an average number, so that you have in some districts a very much smaller number, and in others a very much larger number. You have the tragic position of the North-East Coast, where there are, not 12 per cent., but 17 per cent. unemployed. That, again, is an average figure. If you take certain industries, such as shipbuilding, you find that the unemployment is 49.1 per cent. at the present moment in the shipbuilding trade, and in marine engineering 34.2 per cent. In face of these figures, the ordinary means for dealing with unemployment break down. To take the case of my own town, in Middlesbrough, where there are 38,000 insured male workers at the present time, over 6,660 are unemployed; that is to say, 18 per cent. of the total insured population are out of work. Owing to the tightening up of the administration of the Unemployment Insurance Act, many of these have been turned on to the board of guardians, and the result is an appalling state of things. Whereas the average out-relief in Middlesbrough in 1914 was £326 per week, to-day it is £3,604, an increase of 324 more than ten-fold; while the Poor Rate, which was 1s. 2d. in 1914, is now 6s. 10d., and the total rates have advanced from 8s. to nearly 20s. in the £. Similar results can be given for other towns in the same neighbourhood Why should these industrial areas bear rates of 20s. and 30s. in the £, while residential areas get off with 7s. or 8s?. You have Bournemouth, where the rates are 8s. 2d.; in Blackpool they are 7s. 6d.; in Southport 8s. 4d., and in Oxford 7s. 8d. It is not the fault of the industrial areas that their rates are 20s. or 30s. in the £, nor is it the fault of the employers or of the employed; it is entirely an aftermath of the War. It is due to a national cause, and should be borne by national grants.
This claim to equalisation is no new one. As far back as 1901, the Royal Commission on Local Taxation reported that certain services should he regarded as national. Those were poor relief, asylums, police, main roads and education. They recommended that an increased contribution from the Exchequer should be given, and that the amount paid would be better based on taxes than on rating. The Departmental Committee on Local Taxation, in March, 1914, recommended that a considerable increase in the amount of State subvention to local authorities was justifiable and necessary, and they advocated larger grants for these semi-national services. It is worthy of note that the terms of reference to that Committee were that they shouldmake recommendations with a view to legislation at an early date.That was in 1914, and we are still waiting for legislation to give effect to the recommendations of that Departmental Committee. No new principle is involved in this claim for relief to necessitous areas. Already education grants are given to necessitous areas; where the number of children is larger in proportion, and the rates are higher, correspondingly higher grants are given. In other directions the same principle is recognised, as in the case of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund and the Local Authorities Financial Assistance Act, whereby wealthy Westminster and St. George's help poverty-stricken Shoreditch and Whitechapel. In the same way, why should not wealthy 325 residential areas in different parts of the country help to bear the industrial burdens of these necessitous areas?
Apart from the injustice of this rating, these heavy rates are a very severe tax on industry, and they retard that recovery of industry which is the only cure for unemployment. Rates, unlike taxes, are a first charge on production Taxes are levied on profits made or income received, whereas rates are levied irrespectively of whether there is any profit or income. An illustration from my own district will show how the tremendous increase in local rates is a burden on industry. In the case of a shipyard on the Tees, in 1914 the total rates were £400, equivalent to 7d. per ton launched. Last year, in 1926, the total rates were £3,027, equivalent to 4s. 5d. per ton launched, the tonnage launched in both years being practically the same. There you have an increase of nearly eight-fold, and it is a very serious handicap in meeting foreign competition. The Committee on Trade and Industry, which recently reported, give some interesting figures bearing on this question. They point out that in Sheffield the local rates per ton of steel m 1914 amounted to 3s., whereas in 1924 they amounted to 21s. So far, the Government have done nothing to assist us in regard to necessitous areas. In fact, instead of having assistance, we have had the reverse. The Government have sought to shift the responsibility of the burden from the State to the local authorities. They have raided the Road Find, and the local authorities are receiving £7,000,000 less than they otherwise would. Education grants have been cut down by Circular No. 1371 and Memorandum No. 44, and grants from the Unemployment Fund were seriously reduced last year, while harsher administration of the Unemployment Insurance Act has transferred the burden to the Poor Rate.
I want to appeal to the Government to-night particularly with regard to Unemployment Grants. Unemployment is increasing, and yet the grants are reduced. Unemployment Grants have been reduced very considerably during the, last year. In January of last year, 33,000 men were employed on schemes assisted by Unemployment Grants, but in January of this year the number has fallen to 14,000. 326 On schemes assisted out of the Road Fund the number employed a year ago was 18,508, while to-day it is 14,121. That shows a very serious reduction in the number of men employed on useful productive work. We contend that there should be new schemes of work, and not reduced grants. Reference has already been made to the amount spent since the Armistice on out-of-work donation, unemployment benefit, and Poor Law relief. Something like £380,000,000 has been paid away without any services rendered whatever. Surely, it would be infinitely better to spend that sum of money in doing useful work of a productive kind, which would give valuable assets to the nation. Are we prepared to go on as we have done, spending £75,000,000 per year with no services rendered whatever? If the Government have not the vision and foresight to deal with the matter themselves, surely they might allow the local authorities to carry out schemes which they are prepared to carry out, but which have been turned down and refused by the Government. The Government have assisted local authorities to the extent of one-third of the total cost, but that is not enough. When rates are 20s. and 30s. in the £, the local authorities cannot go on.
In my own town of Middlesbrough we have spent over £1,000,000 in work of a useful nature and a productive character, but as our rates are 20s. in the £ we cannot go on spending money in that way. Yet people have to be kept, and if you do not pay them from the Unemployment Grants Committee you have to pay them from the guardians. I appeal to the Government not to leave the distressed areas to carry on alone. They have made a great fight, but they have got to the end of their resources. At any rate the Government might do for local authorities in England what they are doing in Scotland. Surely the grants should be given on exactly the same terms and conditions Similar services and similar payments ought to be made, and yet so far they have refused it. It cannot be that unemployment is not as bad in England as in Scotland. It is worse. Last December, when the grant was made, the figure for engineering in Scotland was 22.6, for the North-East Coast 23.3, and in Wales 26.7. For shipbuilding the figure in Scotland was 51.6, and for the North-East 327 Coast 59.7. There we have worse unemployment and more poor relief, and yet we get no assistance. Not only are we refused assistance but we are called upon to contribute in taxes for the relief of necessitous areas. You have steel works on the Tees competing with steel works on the Clyde. The steel works on the Clyde get relief from the rates. They get their share of the money that the Government are paying. Our works on the Tees get no relief to the rates and they have to pay taxes to help the necessitous areas in Scotland. Surely that is a monstrous injustice. I cannot understand how the Minister of Health can possibly have allowed the Secretary for Scotland to steal a march on him in that way.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir K. WOOD
We have during the last 12 months had many discussions on this question of necessitous areas. I think most hon. Members who have heard this Debate will agree that the Mover and Seconder of the Motion and the other speakers have certainly provided very interesting new material. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) certainly made a very valuable contribution to this subject from his point of view. I am sure the whole House has been glad once again to hear the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) on this matter. None of us feel that a Debate on necessitous areas would be complete unless he made his contribution. He rightly once again referred to the fact that undoubtedly heavy local rates bear, unfortunately, a a very important part in hampering industrial revival, and I think everyone, wherever he sits, would desire to find some complete and scientific means of adjusting the present position. But I want to cheer the hon. Member up a little, if I can. It must not be inferred that the rates in England and Wales, for instance, have increased continuously during recent years. In 1921–22 the amount of local rates collected in this country was about £170,000,000, which was an average amount per head of the population of £4 10s. 2d. If you take the year 1924–25, which is a vital year, the amount of local rates was £142,000,000, which gives an average amount per head of the population of £3 13s. 11d. In 1925–26 the figure 328 went up slightly and the average per head of the population was £3 16s. 5d. So compared with the year 1921–22 there has been a reduction per head of the population of 13s. 9d.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
But in that period the weekly wage earners had lost. £400,000,000 a year in wages.
§ Sir K. WOOD
That is another matter. I do not want to enter into controversy with the hon. Member, but it does not destroy in any way the very considerable reduction which has undoubtedly been made and which ought to be stated in the course of a Debate of this kind. I wish could continue that story up to the present time, but obviously I cannot, because of the general strike and the coal stoppage which have undoubtedly caused a very considerable increase in rates during the current financial year.
Another point I want to deal with is the complaint—and one can well understand it—that the National Exchequer has dealt very hardly so far as the relationship between the National Exchequer and the local exchequer is concerned. Again, if one looks at the figures from the official statistics, that certainly is not-borne out. I have before mc a statement showing the percentage of the rate and tax-borne expenditure of the local authorities comparing the year 1917–18 with the Year 1923–24, and I find that so far as rates are concerned, their contribution to elementary and higher education in 1917 was 49.9 per cent. and the contribution from taxes was 50.1 per cent., while in 1923–24 the percentage from rates was reduced to 43.7 and the tax contribution has gone up to 56.3. So you could pursue that comparison in connection with highways, with the police and with the health services. To the health services for the year 1917–18 the rates made a contribution of 91.1 per cent, and taxes only 8.9 per cent. In 1923–24 the rate contribution was 71.6 per cent. while the tax contribution has gone up to 28.4 per cent. Therefore, without any attempt to-unduly minimise the position, it is only fair to say that a very considerable alteration has been made in both those very important matters.
I only want to make one further observation on the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Middlesbrough. He mentioned, as I expected. 329 he would do to-night, the question of the grant for Poor Law expenditure in Scotland. I need hardly say that that grant is certainly in no way connected with a necessitous areas grant. I think the hon. Member appreciates that. Had it been in any way an attempt to deal with the question of necessitous areas, it would certainly have been a most highly unsatisfactory method to adopt. The grant was simply made as a recognition of the action which the Scottish Office took in advising parish councils to make certain payments, some of which the Court subsequently determined to be illegal. A good deal has been said to-night, and quite properly, in regard to the position of certain of the so-called necessitous areas. But the House should remember that there has been a considerable improvement so far as the position of many necessitous areas are concerned during the last two months. I find, for instance, that in November, 1926, there were 106 boards of guardians which were in possession of authority to borrow various amounts for various periods. It was necessary for them to do so. On 31st January, so great was the improvement, that that number had been reduced to 98 and, of the 98, 21, having made adequate calls in October, will not require any further borrowing powers after 31st March next. With regard to 38 more of those authorities, they have already agreed terms of repayment with my Department which are certainly not regarded by them as involving very considerable hardship. Notwithstanding the arrangements necessary for the repayment of debt and the fall of assessable value in the coal mining areas which has resulted from the strike, a number of unions will, I am glad to say, be in a position 1;o reduce their rates during the coming half year, as they will require to budget only for normal expenditure. I think that every hon. Member, to whatever party he belongs, will agree that that is certainly not an unsatisfactory position, and that it is one which everyone, without in any way minimising the necessity of dealing with the situation, is glad to see.
Now I come to a part of the Amendment which has been emphasised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Reading and by the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment, in which reference is 330 made to the fact that in any arrangements made in connection with endeavours to solve the problem of the necessitous areas we should see that local authorities were responsible for the result of any extravagant expenditure incurred by them. I think that, without, examining or referring to any particular case, most hon. Members will agree with that suggestion as a general proposition, It is a fact, and I think that most hon. Members will agree also with this, that, in the cases of a number of unions, the policy of the guardians, unfortunately, whatever their intention may have been, has been instrumental, in a good many areas at least, in destroying the incentive to work and in bringing on relief large numbers who found it more profitable to receive relief than to work. Three eases have been cited to the House to-night which are pretty well known. They arc the cases of West Ham, of Bedwellty, and of Chester-le-Street. I do not propose to say anything further tonight on the case of West Ham, because the facts are pretty well known. So far as the case of Bedwellty is concerned, the hon. Member who seconded this Motion (Mr. C. Edwards) knows very well that the situation in that particular part of the country is a most unfortunate and unhappy one. From the point or view of the Ministry of Health, from January, 1926, to November, 1926, no less than 14 advances were made under what is called the Goschen Committee, which brought up the total amount of indebtdeness of that particular area to no less a sum than £979,000. So far as the administration of Poor Law relief in that area is concerned, out-relief was certainly given without any regard to the resultant cost, and during the coal dispute relief was granted on a large scale to men who, in fact, were legally debarred from relief by reason of the Merthyr Tydvil judgment. There are very many other instances of waste and extravagance which I think the hon. Member knows full well. There are many evidences of them. So far as that particular area is concerned, since the appointment of the new guardians—they have only held office for a very short period indeed— substantial economies have already been effected without any undue hardship or unfairness to any person involved.
331 I would like to say a little more about Chester-le-Street, because the report on Chester-le-Street of the newly-appointed guardians will be available to Members of this House in a very few days. We have just received the report which covers the period from 30th August, 1926, to 31st December, 1926, and if certainly reveals a very remarkable state of affairs. The old board or guardians of Chesterle-Street consisted of some 59 members. Of these, 39 were either miners or miners' officials or miners' wives. When the new guardians took over the administration, there were no less than 37,643 persons in receipt of out-relief and they Were receiving each week £8,986 in kind and £809 in money, making a total of £9,796 per week. I think it may be said without exaggeration that practically the whole of the mining population was in receipt of relief during the months of July and August. That number has been reduced since the new guardians have been appointed to 29,136, on December 4th, and the sum which is payable in relief is approximately £4,870, a saving of £4,926 per week.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member can give that as one of the reasons for the reduction, but I am afraid that is not the only explanation that can be given.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Members will find that in this Report the proceedings of the guardians themselves were certainly of a very remarkable character. In the first place, so far as their methods of granting relief were concerned, they appointed an emergency committee to deal with the whole question, upon which they at first appointed five members; but on the following day they resolved to appoint the whole of the remainder of the Labour members as the official members of the emergency committee to grant relief. The result, of course, by the addition of those members was that the independent members had practically no possibility of intervening in the matter at all. They came to the conclusion that they would not ask the people who applied for Poor Law relief to produce their co-operative pass books, in order to see exactly what their position was. The guardians themselves, I 332 understand, arranged that on the occasion and at the time when people received Poor Law relief a collection should be taken up for the Poor Law guardians themselves.
Another very remarkable fact that has come to light is that, I think about the middle of the period, they resolved that any applicant for relief who was what was called "unfinancial" in their union, which I understand means in arrears as far as their union Is concerned, was not to be granted relief according to scale, but the relieving officers were to relieve him according to the state of his destitution. That is certainly a very remarkable state of affairs. I understand that following that particular resolution of the guardians, actually the, Poor Law officers had to go round to find out what was the position of these people.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Is this Report merely a report by the guardians themselves or is it a report by the persons who are charging these things? Has the hon. Member any report about the recent incident when the guardians got messed up in their accounts and the Ministry of Labour had to go in to put them right?
§ Sir K. WOOD
All the matters which I have quoted are quotations from the official minute books of the old board of guardians.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The hon. Member has made statements of opinions expressed by guardians which have nothing to do with the minute books.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I do not think the hon. Member can have understood me. The quotations which I have made to-night in connection with the position of men in relation to their unions, and matters of that kind—
§ Sir K. WOOD
Will the hon. Member allow me to finish my sentence? They are quotations from the minute books of the old hoard of guardians.
§ Mr. LAWSON
It is all very comforting to hon. Members opposite. It would be all right if you were starving like some of the people in the area. What about the women and children who are getting nothing?
§ Sir K. WOOD
With respect to the reference in the Amendment which says that the local authorities should be responsible for the results of the extravagant expenditure incurred by them, I should like to direct the attention of the House to the exact terms of the Motion and the Amendment because very little has been said about them this evening. It will be observed that the suggestion in the Motion is that it is in the national interest that the community as a whole should accept some responsibility for exceptional local burdens That has been discussed again and again in this House, and the difficulty has always been, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite who is to follow me knows, to get a fair formula in relation to this particular matter. I need only read to the House a statement, which was made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in the Labour Government which puts the matter concisely and really disposes of the terms of the Motion. He said:The case for necessitous areas has been put very strongly by Members on both sides. There is no Member in the House who does not feel very considerable sympathy with those particular black spots which, during the long trade depression, have suffered very acutely. It is true that many of us on this side of the House"—That is on the Labour side of the House—believe in some special treatment for necessitous areas. It is an open secret that there 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 not come to the conclusion that the practical difficulties in the way of any formula are almost insuperable. The right hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Hope) admitted the difficulties of discrimination, and urged that it should be possible for the Government to agree upon a formula which, without laying local authorities open to the temptation of extravagance, would bring relief to areas which were really necessitous. It is not because this Government"—That is, the Labour Government—and previous Governments have not tried that this question has not been solved by a formula. I am convinced that it is quite impossible to devise a formula which would be in the best interests of the areas. I have seen more than one formula which, when worked out and applied to a particular place, yielded the most fantastic results in the way of special public assistance. It would seem, therefore, that that 334 is not the way to deal with the problem"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th August, I924; col. 2601, Vol. 176.]There is another way of dealing with this problem. It is referred to in the terms of the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Reading. In the later part of the Amendment the hon. Member refers to the necessity of reviewing all the relations of national and local taxation with a view to assistance being given to the more heavily burdened areas. It is on those lines that the Minister of Health proposes to proceed and it should I think specially commend itself to the right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb), because the Government having passed its Eating and Valuation Bill, propose to proceed to put before the House proposals in regard to Poor Law reform, and they feel that a review, if it is possible, should be taken of the relations of national and local taxation. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman, because I hope he will vote for the Amendment, that on the 27th May, 1925, he moved a resolution in this House, which was carried without a division, and after referring to the overlapping of services said that:As a necessary preliminary to the much-needed revision of the grants-in-aid in relief of the burdens now pressing so heavily on local authorities and on industry, it is essential that"—certain proposals in relation to Poor Law reform should he carried.He says it is the necessary preliminary to any relief being given to necessitous areas.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The right hon. Gentleman says that very quickly. I will read to him the statement that he made on that occasion. I will not read the whole speech. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that I am not giving a fair quotation, I will hand him the volume and he can read it all. This is what he said:Any relief to the local ratepayer, any reform in the system of local taxation has been prevented for a quarter of a century, partly, of course, by that inertia which inevitably comes over Governments when they have any difficult problem to tackle, but also because it has been absolutely beyond the power of any Government to deal adequately with local finance while you have this overlapping, this continuance of separate authorities all dealing with the same set of people and each clamouring for Government grants.335 That is grants such as we have demanded to-night. Then the right hon. Gentleman goes on:You could not do it. Consequently you will not get any relief for the overburdened districts. I have told them this over and over again"—That was his own party—until you can manage to bring about unity and system in local government"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 1925; col. 1497, Vol. 184.]In other words it is not by a proposal such as that of the Mover of this Motion, by giving a little assistance here and there from the National Exchequer to local authorities.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The Motion says:The community as a whole should accept some responsibility for these exceptional local burdens.That is not the solution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb). He said that he had told his party again and again that that is not the direction in which they must look, but that they must look to a new system, so far as local government is concerned. It is on those lines that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading has framed his Amendment, and I hope that one of the first persons to follow us into the Lobby in support of the Amendment will be the right hon. Member for Seaham himself. The right hon. Gentleman has a scientific mind. He has given great study to this problem, and he knows full well that in the first place, as was stated again and again by the Labour Government when they were in office, it is impossible to find a reasonable formula for any contribution from the National Exchequer; and, secondly, as he himself stated only a short time ago and as he put it very plainly indeed, the only real way of tackling this matter is to bring about some unity and a new system, so far as local government is concerned. That is the policy of the present Government. We have already taken more practical steps than any Government has taken in that direction. We have circulated our proposals for Poor Law reform. We have had the statement of the Prime Minister so far as the intentions in the new Session are concerned. In these circumstances I confidently invite not only the House but the right hon. Member for Seaham 336 to support the Amendment, feeling, as I do, that the best assistance to the necessitous areas of the country can be given on the lines indicated in the Amendment.
§ Mr. WEBB
Whenever we deal with the problem of necessitous areas I am afraid the House is always bandied to and fro between one kind of necessitous area and another. Anyone who listened to the Debate to-night would have thought that the necessitous areas complained of were the areas of the town councils in relation to the work undertaken at Middlesbrough and elsewhere by the town councils in the relief of unemployment. That is one kind of necessitous area. The hon. Member who has just spoken on behalf of the Government switched the Debate to what I should have thought was a more natural field, namely, the boards of guardians and their necessities, which are registered not only in very high poor rates but still more seriously in enormous overdrafts and loans which the hon. Member's Department has sanctioned. I will return to that point later. It is true that I have repeatedly said in this House and outside that we want a complete revision of our local government and a complete review of our local government finance, and I have also always held that you could not get any proper solution of the, problem of local finance without that complete review and reorganisation. But I do not think I have ever said that the necessitous areas with exceptional burdens could not get relief in the meantime. As a matter of fact they have had relief in the meantime to an insufficient extent. Therefore, if the hon. Member tries to make out that because I said you could not have a complete solution of the problem of local finance without complete reorganisation, it is inconsistent to ask for relief in exceptional circumstances for necessitous areas, pending such complete review and reorganisation, I suggest that he is really taking an unfair dialectical position. He knows perfectly well that it has been quite possible to give exceptional relief to necessitous areas in exceptional circumstances. It has been done year after year to a comparatively small extent, and it is obviously not impossible.
I ask the House to notice the date of this quotation. The quotation with which 337 he sought to condemn me was from a speech in 1924. I was then saying that we wanted a more complete solution, and it was then already about a quarter of a century overdue. Now we are in 1927 and we are still asked to wait for this future review and general reorganisation which is to bring relief to the ratepayers in the necessitous areas. Therefore, I take the hon. Member as meaning that, when we do get this vaunted Measure of Poor Law reorganisation, which is to give unity of administration and help to make possible the solution of the problem of local finance, as it is to relieve ratepayers in the necessitous areas, it will be accompanied by a very substantial additional grant-in-aid from the Exchequer. It is quite clear that no amount of reorganisation and review—and "review" is a beautiful word—of the relations of local finance and central finance, will bring any relief to any ratepayer unless accompanied by a large increase in the grant-in-aid. I call the House to witness that the hon. Member speaking for the Government has, in effect, premised this large increase in the grant-in-aid which is going to accompany the Measure of Poor Law reform which is to give this unity and which his right hon. Friend has already proposed to I he country.
First, on the question of delay. We were promised this Measure last year. We were to have had it this year; we are now not to have it this Session and we are promised it for next Session, but next Session, its the hon. Member knows very well, is one coming near to the critical period in the life of a Government. Does anyone really imagine that at such a period hon. Members opposite are going to fight through such a contentious and difficult Measure, objected to by more than half of their own party? Does anyone suppose that that is going to be carried through in the last Session before the dissolution of Parliament? Really, the ratepayers of Middlesbrough must have great credulity if they are to be told that they are going to get relief in that necessitous area because there is going to be a Measure of Poor Law reform which is going to abolish the guardians and throw the expense, outside the county boroughs, on the county council. Middlesbrough, being a county borough, will receive no prospect of get- 338 ting a single penny out of Poor Law reform, nor will Gateshead, nor Newcastle, nor Sheffield, nor any other of the county boroughs, which are, on the whole, the necessitous areas. There is not a glimmer of a sixpence for them in a Measure of Poor Law reform unless the Government are prepared to give them large increased grants-in-aid, which is the only way, it is clear, in which the rates of the ratepayers can be reduced. I agree with the hon. Member that that is the right line for the Government to take, to pass this Measure of Poor Law reform, and I hope they are going to take it. While I could find some opportunity for criticising in detail, I am afraid, many of the points of the Measure of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, yet in spirit, in general, I am hound to say that I hope it will pass, with such Amendments. I only say I hope it will pass, but if I were to be asked on my honour whether believe it will be passed, that would be quite another matter.
To come back to the particular point of to-night's debate, the very hard necessities of these exceptionally burdened necessitous areas, I am not going to say a word now with regard to the trouble of the town councils. The town councils in the large county boroughs have done their very utmost, with a certain amount of Government assistance, to find work for the unemployed, and they have incurred a very heavy indebtedness for that purpose, but, on the other hand, you have the boards of guardians, who have had thrown on their hands—I cannot help saying, because of the stringent administration and the more stringent law of the unemployment insurance fund—a very considerable number in the aggregate of those persons who would otherwise have got unemployment, benefit, but who, on being struck off have had to go to the guardians. An hon. Member told us that the rates had been falling since 1920–21, but he would not say that about the poor rate. The poor rate has gone up enormously since that time, and I consider the position of the Poor Law at this moment, the administration and the finance, is very comparable to the situation in 1834, on another plane, but really quite as serious, and that reform is quite as urgent, but at the moment I want only to deal with indebtedness.
339 I have not the exact figures, but I suppose the indebtedness of the boards of guardians at this moment must be somewhere between £16,000,000 and £20,000,000. I mean their indebtedness on current account, not for capital expenditure, but their overdrafts and loans which they have incurred owing to not being able to get enough revenue actually to pay the outdoor relief and other actual costs. They have incurred an indebtedness on what ought to be their revenue account quite irrespective of capital charges, of somewhere between £16,000,000 and £18,000,000. That is a very grave state of things, and I want to point out that if the guardians may be criticised for that, they have had the sanction of the Minister of Health. They have not been able to get any one of these loans, or to incur any one of these overdrafts, except with the express sanction of the Minister of Health. As a matter of fact, the Minister—I do not grumble at all—has come to their assistance by giving them a grant in many cases out of the public funds, and not compelling them to go to the bankers, or in other ways to get a loan, and there has been this relatively enormous debt incurred in a hundred cases or so merely on current account.
That is quite contrary to the principles of accounting. It is quite contrary to all the law and requirements with regard to local rating, because it means that the expenditure of the ratepayers of this year is being thrown on the ratepayers of next year, and the year after, and the year after that, when they have no responsibility for it. What are the Government going to do about that? My complaint to-night is not that the Government have prevented these boards of guardians from borrowing, but my complaint is, what are the Government going to do in this terrible financial situation into which these boards of guardians, with the express sanction of the Government, have been landed? It is easy to say that the guardians, having incurred this indebtedness, must raise their rates locally to a sufficient height to enable them to pay it off with interest. As a matter of fact, I understand the Minister of Health has allowed the new guardians whom he has put in at West Ham as salaried officials to defer repayment. I do not grumble at 340 that, but if he can do that with the West Ham Guardians, ought he not to do it with other boards of guardians? It is very easy to show a reduction in the poor rate of West Ham under the administration of these new guardians, when these new guardians have been granted the exceptional favour that they are not required to pay the overdraft for the indebtedness the guardians have incurred, and are not required even to pay interest on it. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why he has granted that particular favour, and is the policy of the Government with regard to this £16,000,000 of loan going to be, as has been shown in West Ham, to allow the payment to be deferred and the interest to be excused?
There has been another policy. A grant of 40 per cent has been made for all the exceptional expenditure owing to the relief of miners' dependants. The hon. Gentleman said that that had nothing to do with necessitous areas. No, but it so happens that those places where there has been this large amount of unemployment owing to the coal stoppage, and so on, coincide with the necessitous areas to a large extent. The Scottish Board of Health issued a Circular recommending the parish councils strongly to grant Poor Law relief to the wives and children of miners who lost their employment in the dispute. The English Ministry of Health issued a Circular in almost identical terms practically recommending the grant of outdoor relief to an extent which I never remember a Minister of Health recommending before. He went to the limit of what is permitted in positively recommending boards of guardians to grant outdoor relief.
What would have I been thought 20 or 30 years ago of the President of the Local Government. Board of that day sending out a Circular recommending the grant of outdoor relief to 1.000,000 people? However, that is what the right hon. Gentleman did in the first days of May, and I am not blaming him. He did absolutely the same as his colleague the Scottish Minister. Now the parish councils in Scotland are to get a subvention of 40 per cent. of the relief they gave in consequence of that Circular, but the English boards of guardians are not to get any subvention towards the exactly similar relief given to people in exactly 341 similar circumstances on exactly the same recommendation from the English Minister.
That inequality cannot stand. Even this Government, which has such a large majority, will not be able to stand the hammering it will get in all these areas up and down the country. The ironworks on the Tyne, which have been finding the burden of the rates a terrific handicap in the cost of production, see the ironworks on the Clyde relieved of their heavy burden to the extent of 40 per cent. The people of Barrow, where they have been suffering as much as anywhere, have got no relief whatsoever towards their outlay, whereas their competitors on the other side of the border are to receive this subvention. I venture to prophesy that even this Government with its docile majority going gradually slipping down towards the dissolution, will not be able to maintain that inequality, and that just as 40 per cent. has been given to the parish councils of Scotland so the English Minister will find that the Government will have to give 40 per cent. to the English Poor Law authorities.
§ Mr. WEBB
That will only add to the difficulty; and the indignation will not be less if there is inequality of treatment added to the heaviness of the burden. What are the Government going to do with regard to the £16,000,000 which is the debt of the Poor Law authorities? It is practically impossible to require all those areas to repay that indebtedness. A large number of them have an indebtedness which runs into millions. There are some which have more than £1,000,000 of debt, and there are large numbers with more than £500,000. It is practically impossible for them to pay off that indebtedness except on terms. What is the hon. Gentleman going to do? We are told that we are to have legislation to abolish boards of guardians and in the rural areas to merge them, to put it briefly, in the county councils. Are the boards of guardians going to carry this debt to the county councils? Are the county councils to be asked to accept as a charge on the whole county the indebtedness of boards of guardians in industrial parts of the county? Rural county councils are up in arms already about 342 this proposal. If you are going to ask these rural councils, as the price of taking over the Poor Law duties, to pile up on the shoulders of the whole county rural and mining parts, this permanent Poor Law indebtedness the Bill will be kicked out of the House by Conservative Members. It is quite impossible for county councils to undertake, out of the rates of the county council, to repay the debt which boards of guardians in the industrial parts of the county have incurred.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Cumberland happens to be here. Cockermouth and Whitehaven Boards of Guardians have both incurred considerable indebtedness, and are bound to be taken over by the Cumberland County Council. What will the Cumberland County Council say if their ratepayers are to bear this charge? Nottinghamshire is a county in which there are coal mines and also beautiful forests. What will Nottingham County Council say if it is asked to take over the indebtedness of the board of guardians at Mansfield or Workshop? It is not a feasible proposition. I submit to the hon. Member that they cannot intend to ask the county council to take over the burden of indebtedness of these hoards of guardians. It cannot be done. Not even this Government could possibly do that. The Government will have, in some way or other, to wipe out this indebtedness of the boards of guardians. If they think they are going to get £2,900,000 from the West Ham Union, and £1,800,000 from Sheffield Union, and £994,000 from the Bedwellty Union, or whether they are giving grants to Monmouth, will they give it to the county council of Monmouthshire to take over the indebtedness of the whole county? The thing is impossible. Therefore, I suggest that when this Bill of Poor Law reform is brought forward it must include some plan for wiping out this indebtedness of boards of guardians, and, that being so, would it not be better for the Government to come to grips with this problem? It will require to give some further financial assistance to these necessitous areas, not because they are necessitous areas, but because they are communities which have had to incur large burdens with the sanction of the Minister of Health at every step. He has had complete control over them. 343 Every action they have carried out must have been in accordance with the law, because otherwise the auditors would have surcharged them.
From all these necessitous areas there has been coming, week after week, to the Minister of Health cases in which relief has been granted contrary to the order of the Minister, and yet he has sanctioned those cases week by week. Consequently, he cannot turn round now and complain about extravagance. But even in all these cases it is the fault of the Minister of Health. While all this extravagance was going on, what were the right hon. Gentleman's auditors and inspectors doing? The Minister of Health knew what was going on in places like Chester-le-Street and Bedwellty because he had the reports of the auditors and clerks before him, and he sanctioned the expenditure week by week. Surely it is not right for the right hon. Gentleman to turn round now on those bodies.
Nobody suggests that the necessities of the necessitous areas are due to extravagance. I think we ought to ask the Government to consider whether they ought not even now to come to the assistance
§ ance of those areas in the interests of the community by granting some assistance to the rates. In some of those areas the income Tax is a mere trifle compared with the local rates, because the man who is struggling to get a contract and take it on at next to no profit has very little Income Tax to pay, but he cannot escape the rates which are charged to the fullest extent on his factory. I ask the Government to come at once to the help of the necessitous areas because their present position is standing in the way of trade revival. The Government could do this by assuming responsibility to the extent of 40 per cent. of those exceptional claims, or they could do it by increasing the grants-in-aid for that particular service. They may not be able to take over the unemployed, but they ought, at any rate, to deal with them equally all over the country without adopting the sternness but with all the Rhadamanthine purity of the Minister of Health.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 128; Noes, 221.347
|Division No. 28.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Greenall, T.||March, S.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Montague, Frederick|
|Ammon, Charles George||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bllston)||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Mosley, Oswald|
|Baker, Walter||Groves, T.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Grundy, T. W.||Oliver, George Harold|
|Barnes, A.||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Palin, John Henry|
|Barr, J.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvll)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Batey, Joseph||Hardie, George D.||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Potts, John S.|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Hayday, Arthur||Purcell, A. A.|
|Broad, F, A.||Hayes, John Henry||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Bromfield, William||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Riley, Ben|
|Bromley, J||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Ritson, J.|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Hirst, G. H.||Robinson,W. C. (Yorks, W.R., Elland)|
|Buchanan, G.||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Rose, Frank H.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Clowes, S.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Scurr, John|
|Cluse, W. S.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Sexton, J mes|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Compton, Joseph||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Connolly, M.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Kelly, W. T.||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Kennedy, T.||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lansbury, George||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Lawrence, Susan||Smith, H. E. Lees (Keighley)|
|Dennison, R.||Lawson, John James||Snell, Harry|
|Duncan, C.||Lee, F.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Dunnico, H.||Lindley, F. W.||Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles|
|Fenby, T. D.||Lowth, T.||Stamford, T, W.|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Lunn, William||Stephen, Campbell|
|Gibbins, Joseph||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J R.(Aberavon)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Gillett, George M.||Mackinder, W.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||MacLaren, Andrew||Sullivan, J.|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro, W.)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Thurtle, Ernest||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Tinker, John Joseph||Wellock, Wilfred||Wright, W.|
|Townend, A. E.||Welsh, J. C.||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.||Westwood, J.|
|Varley, Frank B.||Whiteley, W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Viant, S. P.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr.|
|Wallhead, Richard C.||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)||Charles Edwards.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Mason, Lieut.-Colonel Glyn K.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Merriman, F. B.|
|Ainsworth, Major Charles||Fermoy, Lord||Meyer, Sir Frank|
|Albery, Irving James||Fielden, E. B.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Ford, Sir P. J.||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Forrest, W.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Moore, Sir Newt-n J.|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Fraser, Captain Ian||Moreing, Captain A. H.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive|
|Barnett, Major Sir R.||Gates, Percy||Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Nelson, Sir Frank|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Goff, Sir Park||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Gower, Sir Robert||Nuttall, Ellis|
|Bethel, A.||Grace, John||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Grant, Sir J. A.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Grattan Doyle, Sir N.||Penny, Frederick George|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Blundell, F. N.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Grotrian, H. Brent||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Braithwaite, Major A N.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Radford, E. A.|
|Brass, Captain W.||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Raine, W.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Hammersley, S. S||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Rees, Sir Beddoe|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Harland, A.||Remer, J. R.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Harrison, G. J. C.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Hartington, Marquess of||Ropner, Major L.|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Ruggies-Brise, Major E. A.|
|Brown, Maj. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Hawke, John Anthony||Rye, F. G.|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Salmon, Major I.|
|Burman, J. B.||Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxfd,Henley)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur p.||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Holland, Sir Arthur||Sandon, Lord|
|Campbell, E. T.||Holt, Capt. H. P.||Savery, S. S.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)|
|Cassels, J. D.||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Cayzer,Maj.Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Colonel C. K.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney,N.)||Smith, R. W.(Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Hume, Sir G. H.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Huntingfield, Lord||Smithers, Waldron|
|Chilcott, Sir Warden||Hutchison,G.A. Clark (Midl'n & P'bl's)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Christie, J. A.||Iliffe, Sir Edward M.||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F.(Will'sden, E)|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir G. K.||Jacob, A. E.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Jephcott, A. R.||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Cope, Major William||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Couper, J. B.||Lamb, J Q.||Styles, Captain H. Walter|
|Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Lister, Cunliffe, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Loder, J. de V.||Tasker, R. Inigo.|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Crookshank,Cpt.H.(Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir John H.||Lumley, L. R.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||MacAndrew Major Charles Glen||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||McLean, Major A.||Waddington. R.|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Macmillan, Captain H.||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Dixey, A. C.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Ward, Lt.-Col.A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Watts, Dr. T.|
|England, Colonel A.||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Wells, S. R.|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Margesson, Captain D.||White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple-|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)||Winterton, Ht. Hon. Earl||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.).|
|Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Wilson, M. J. (York, N. R., Richm'd)||Withers, John James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgewater)||Mr. Herbert Williams and Mr.|
|Windsor-Clive, Lieut-Colonel George||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)||Mitchell Banks.|
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ It being after Eleven Debate stood adjourned.348
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.