§ Mr. LANSBURY
I rise to call attention to the treatment that is given to certain persons who may be obliged to apply for relief to the boards of guardians in the Metropolis and in the country generally, and also to the proposal which I understand is being considered by the Ministry of Health to cut off or to stop relief to able-bodied men unless they are prepared in certain circumstances to leave their wives and children and to enter one or other of the labour colonies in and around London. I should be very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary if he would inform me whether it is the intention of the Department to forbid or to refuse sanction of outdoor relief to able-bodied men, whether married or unmarried, unless these men go to a colony or into an institution of some kind, and that relief outside the institution shall be given only to the wives and dependants. As far as I can gather, whether a decision has been finally taken by the Department or not, the policy that is now being pursued by the inspectors and the auditor is that able-bodied men who, for whatever reason, have been obliged to rely on Poor Law relief for a certain number of months or weeks are now being told or the boards of guardians are being told that that relief must stop.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
This is the first I have heard of the statement. Perhaps the hon. Member will be a little more definite, and will say where he has heard this statement and which boards of guardians have been told.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Certainly. It is our own board of guardians at Poplar. They have been informed that the auditor and the inspectors are taking objection to the amount of relief for certain periods to certain men and that arrangements 2166 are being proposed or suggested by which these men shall be dealt with, in effect, under a modified workhouse test order, which provides that a man may receive relief in an institution but the wife and children must receive it outside. It is because I believe that that is the policy which is going to be enforced by the auditor, I think quite illegally—I do not think it is his duty to lay down the form of relief—that I bring the matter before the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. It may be the duty of the auditor to call in question relief after it has been given, but I know that he is bringing pressure, together with the inspectors, on the boards of guardians along the lines I have mentioned. I should he very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman if he will give me his opinion on this point.
I should like further, to ask the right hon. Gentleman and I am doing this as a preliminary, whether his Department will see that a notice is posted in every casual ward, not merely at the entrance but where the men sit for their meals or where they congregate for rest, inviting the casuals to make application for medical attention in case of illness. I have never seen a special notice of that kind in a casual ward, but I have seen the long document which sets out various pains and penalties if a man does not do this, that or the other. In these days when we know that small-pox is in the country and when it is carried by these men and women who are forced to live on the road, as it were, I think they ought to be encouraged rather than discouraged to report any feeling of sickness. I should also like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will lay on the Table, or print in the OFFICIAL REPORT, a copy of the latest circular to boards of guardians in regard to casuals. I believe that one has gone out within the last week or two. I have not seen it but I have heard that such a document has gone round, and it would be of advantage if the House were made cognisant of it.
The people for whom I am appealing have no votes. They have no shares or stocks of any kind and they cannot give back anything to anyone in return for what may be done here or elsewhere on their behalf. They are people who, in the main, are at the bottom of what is called the social scale, and I do not believe that this House or the country 2167 has any idea of the number of these victims. I do not believe the House has much idea of the age of these people. We hear a great deal about the old tramp, and the middle-aged tramp, but according to the information I have been able to get the average age of these men is between 32 and 35 years, and anyone who considers the question for a moment will agree that it is a terrible thing that large numbers of young men and women should be tramping about the country or be in the workhouses as able-bodied persons. I believe the Department could give me better figures than I have got, but I have to put up with those which it chooses to give me. When I asked a question the other day as to the latest figures the answer I received was that there were 10,122 men, 538 women and 77 children on the roads and in the workhouses 40,343 able-bodied men, 18,702 women and about 42,000 children. These children are in institutions other than the workhouse, but they are all classed as indoor paupers—I use the word which is used by the Department.
The outdoor figures for the same class of people run up to nearly 500,000, very staggering figures, and you have to add to that the number of vagrancy charges which come before magistrates, nearly 24,000. These charges do not include such things as assaults on the police and other offences which are also chargeable under the Vagrancy Acts—I am dealing with the men and women you find in the casual wards of workhouses. The point about these figures, and the point I want to press upon the attention of the Department, is that during the War casual wards and workhouses were empty, there was no need for these institutions at all, and that fact disposes to some extent of the idea that these victims of our industrial system have a double dose of original sin, that some fault in their character compels them to go to the casual ward and the workhouse. My contention is strengthened by the fact that the Vagrancy Committee which was appointed in 1904 stated in their Report that the number of casual vagrants enormously increased betwen 1885 and 1895, but went down owing to the pressure which was brought to bear and the increase in trade and work throughout the country, but that immediately after the South African War they bounded up again to the 2168 highest point which had been recorded up to that time. It proves the truth of what I am saying, that these persons are not wicked or worse than the average man and woman, but that they are just the victims of economic conditions.
At the present time, if you take the figures of boards of guardians in the East End of London, including my own, you will find that during the War this class of person just went out of existence, which means that they found work in or about the Army or in some other occupation. It disposes of the idea that these people will not work when they have a chance. It also gets rid of the idea that they are persons whom society should penalise in some way or another. The Minister of Health has told us again and again what his Department wants to do and what it does not want to do. Again and again he has said that the increase of pauperism in the country—I apologise for using the word "pauper" but I use it in the official sense and as used by the Department—is due to administration. It is very likely that the administration may in individual eases be responsible; no one will deny that, or deny that in dealing with 30,000 or 40,000 people we may occasionally be misled and allow our feelings to run away with our judgment. But in the main I say that these people ought not to be penalised by the Department, but should be treated in a humane manner. Some people will say that they are the least efficient, and I admit that an employer when trade is bad will discharge those who are the least valuable. They are also the last to be taken on again. But it is equally true that if there is work to be obtained there are occupations for them.
The Minister of Labour also adds to the difficulty. Hon. Members who heard the Debates on the Unemployment Insurance Bill will remember that we were assured that the sort of thing about which I am complaining this morning would be clone away with when that Act came info operation. It has been in operation for 20 years, and we are just about the point we were in 1910 and 1911, perhaps we have gone beyond it, owing to the fact that. the Minister of Labour under the statutory conditions applying to unemployment pay is week by week squeezing out men and women who ought normally to be dealt with by the State through 2169 the Unemployment Insurance Act. The other day I asked the Minister of Labour to give me the figures for the last three months of the people who had been refused unemployment benefit for any of the statutory reasons, and the figure he gave for men, women and children was 123,297. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, and those who continually assert that the guardians have created the present situation in regard to rates and Poor Law relief through their lavish expenditure, where these 123,297 people are to go? No one denies that they are out of work and that a large percentage of them have been squeezed out of employment because of economic conditions over which as individuals they have no control. They are told that insurable employment will never be available for them again, and they have nowhere to go but to the boards of guardians. When boards of guardians, under pressure from the right hon. Gentleman's Départment, push them off, you find them committing petty offences for which they are sent to prison.
The right hon. Gentleman and his Department, in the policy that they are now pursuing, are flying in the teeth of the Poor Law Commission's Report and the Report of the Vagrancy Committee which was appointed by Mr. Walter Long, as he then was. The Ministry to-day are sanctioning a re-institution of stone-breaking as a punishment of those people who in my judgment are not responsible for the plight in which they find themselves. In doing so they are treating them in some cases a little worse than a man is treated when sent to prison on a short term for offences against the law which entitles the magistrates to put him in prison. A man who goes into the casual ward or into a workhouse, is not paid a single penny for any sort of work that he does, and he leaves the institution without a farthing in his pocket. The Home Secretary told me the other day that the ordinary prisoner who is detained for short periods, does earn a little money. He must not earn more than 5s a week while in prison. Even the convicts who are in prison for long periods and for serious offences are paid small gratuities when they leave.
Moreover, inside the prison, instead of being treated as men are in the casual ward, that is, as if they were the very scum of society, there is an effort made— 2170 I pay my tribute to the Home Secretary for having widened the Regulations so as to allow a more humanising effect to be produced by concerts, lectures and classes amongst the prisoners—there is an effort made in some way to ameliorate the lot of the man. Nothing of that kind is done in the casual ward. The cost of a convict is £1 9s. 5d. a week, and the cost of an ordinary short term prisoner is £1 0s. 6d. I call attention to those figures, because for a man in Belmont Workhouse 14s. a week is paid by the guardians for clothing and everything else required for him. But in that institution and in all similar institutions there is practically little or no effort made to treat the man as if he were the victim of circumstances. He is treated, as I have said, as if he had a double dose of original sin.
I now come back to the Metropolis, because, though I am interested in all the other places, I am mainly interested in our own little village here. In London, the Metropolitan Asylum Board was given the job of dealing with casuals. It was given that job after the Report of the Committee to which I have referred. That Report rather suggested that this should be done. If the Metropolitan Asylum Board had done this job in an intelligent way, there would be something on which we could congratulate ourselves, but up to the present this authority has dealt with casuals in exactly the same way as everyone else, except in one respect, and that is in respect of the hostel on the Thames Embankment. I asked for some information with regard to that hostel and its cost. The figures given to me showed that 42 per cent. of the eases dealt with at the hostel actually make a fresh start in life as a result of their having been taken into the hostel. If those figures are correct, I think that something more than a reinstitution of barbaric stone-breaking is called for from the Department. If it is true that 42 per cent. who go to the hostel are found work, that is a very great advantage to them, and something more than stone-breaking should come from the Metropolitan Asylum Board as a proposition for dealing with casuals needing treatment.
I would point out that of the 456 persons dealt with during the last week of January of this year, 150 were ex-service 2171 men. I think that figure shows that when we come to deal with the thousands that I have already mentioned, a similar proportion will be found to be men who served in the Forces in one way or another. That is something that the House ought to take into consideration when deciding how these people should be dealt with. Next we come from the hostel to Belmont, which is an institution to which able-bodied men of all sorts are sent. I visited the place yesterday, and was informed that there are 999 men there, and that 250 are casuals. The youngest is 16 years of age. It is a positive disgrace to this country that in a place of that kind, any boys under the age of 21 should be detained. I am sure that if Members of the House would take the trouble to visit this institution and see the men there and get an idea of the general atmosphere of the place, they would agree that there is no place on earth in which a boy would get demoralised more quickly.
I went through the institution yesterday, and I have visited several of the casual wards in London during the last two or three weeks. During the sittings of the Poor Law Commission I visited a considerable number of workhouses and institutions. No more heartbreaking experience could a man of any feeling go through than to visit Belmont Workhouse now. There are 999 men herded together there under the most hopeless and servile conditions. I am not blaming the people who are in charge. I believe that the superintendent—I met him only, yesterday—is actuated by the best motives and does his utmost for the men. But he is set an absolutely impossible task. He has thrown at him young, middle-aged and old, all kinds of temperaments, some of them mental deficients, some of them physically weak, others in good health, but all of them differing one from another.
To say to a man that he is to deal with all these people on the same lines, and do anything remedial with them, is to ask the impossible. The number is too large. There is no classification; they are all treated alike and the result is that precious little work is done there. That is accounted for by the fact that the men have no sort of incentive to 2172 work. They are not paid a farthing for the work they do, except the mere miserable maintenance given to them, which is the ordinary workhouse maintenance. I want to ask a special question in this connection. These men at Belmont are put to all sorts of occupations, such as engineering, painting, bricklaying and carpentry and some of them work on scaffolds. I put a question yesterday to the superintendent as to whether they came under the Workmen's Compensation Acts or not. I understand they do not. I think it is a monstrous thing to set these men to work in dangerous situations where they are liable to accident, and if one of them breaks a limb, or is killed, there is no recompense of any sort or kind. The least the authorities can do is to insure them, as would be done with an ordinary workman.
This place was opened some years before the War broke out because it was said that the colonies at Hollesley Bay and Laindon were too soft. This place was to prove that. if you treated these men in a harder manner, they would run away and you would not get them back again. The figures for this institution do not carry out that idea. Starvation is a hard taskmaster, and a man who is starving will put up with almost anything. The admissions for the five years have been 39,803, and the discharges have been 39,282, which shows that it has been a case of "in and out" practically all the time. This view is borne out by the fact—which proves the truth of what I said at the beginning—that men who were there before the War and who went away during the War, are there again now. That is simply because they are men of the sort for whom there is no room in times of bad trade and who cannot get ordinary work. I think the Minister ought to own up that the drastic policy of semi-penal treatment for these people has failed, as utterly as all similar attempts have failed to stamp out pauperism. I pass from that to the case of Hollesley Bay. I am interested in Hollesley Bay colony, because I had something to do with starting it. I hold in my hand a confidential document supplied to the Minister by two of his assistant general inspectors. If this document were published, it would show that this place, which was instituted in order to give people a chance in life and to 2173 be a training centre, has, under the administration of the right hon. Gentleman, also been degraded into one of the worst of the mixed workhouses that you will find almost anywhere in the country. This is something of which the House and the Ministry should take account. This is a place where all the inmates are supposed to be able-bodied, but the inspectors report that a considerable number of the inmates appear to be mentally weak:Some are mentally defective though not certifiably so and none of them are dangerous for this reason.Then with regard to the training and tasking of the men the report says:It is a matter for some astonishment that an institution for London wastrels, should be in the gold medal class of fruit-growers and stock-breeders.I call attention to the words "London wastrels." They represent the spirit that is behind those who deal with these men. I must not read this report, because it is one which only members of the committee have got, and, apart from that, time would not permit. But that sentence is enough for me. It proves the spirit of those who are called upon to deal with these unhappy people. "London wastrels"—they are nothing of the kind. Some of them, as has been admitted, are people who have suffered mentally and others are physically weak, but all are in their present plight because of economic conditions over Which they have no control. That is a condemnation of the administration of the right hon. Gentleman and his Department in connection with these institutions, but when we come to the case of the casual wards, what do we find? At Question Time the right hon. Gentleman did what he nearly always does When we want information which he does not want to give and went round and round a perfectly simple question, which I now repeat. How many boards of guardians in this country to-night will impose the task of stone-breaking on the casuals who come in for a night's sleep? That is a perfectly simple question. The right hon. Gentleman sends out Circulars and is continually in touch with boards of guardians. He gave me—I will not say intentionally—a most misleading answer when he said there were 150 boards of guardians who imposed this task.
2174 I have written to several of these boards, including Bristol, which is in that list, and I find that in Bristol for a considerable period that task has not been imposed. The right hon. Gentleman should not lead me to think that 150 boards are carrying out this policy. My information is that practically none of them are carrying it out, and that this Order is like many other Orders issued by the Ministry. It mentions a task which may be imposed, but most of them impose housework or wood chopping or anything of that kind instead of stone-breaking. At least, I should be very much obliged if the right hon. Gentleman would tell me how many of these 150 boards impose that task at the present time. When one goes along a country road, and sees an old man breaking stones, one may think that it is fairly easy. It is easy when you know how to do it, but it is not easy for a starving man. I have tried to get from the right hon. Gentleman the dietary which is supplied to these men, who are almost on the verge of starvation when they go to the casual ward. What food do they get to strengthen them for this task? I have had to do stone-breaking, and I know it requires some physical strength to lift the hammer and wield it in a proper manner.
Here is what you feed them with. They get three meals. For supper and breakfast, men and boys 12 years old or over get bread, eight ounces; margarine or dripping, one ounce; tea or cocoa or broth or gruel, one pint. At night, they get bread, eight ounces; margarine or dripping, half an ounce; cheese, two ounces; potatoes, four ounces; salt, a sufficiency— [An HON. MEMBER: "Very generous!"]. It is very generous indeed. The ingredients applying to tea are: one-fifth of an ounce of tea, half an ounce of sugar, two fluid ounces of milk, and water a sufficiency. For cocoa, it is half an ounce of cocoa, half an ounce of sugar, three fluid ounces of milk, and water a sufficiency. When gruel is made—and my Scottish comrades will understand this—they get two whole ounces of oatmeal, and water and salt a sufficiency. For broth, they get two ounces of fresh vegetables, half an ounce of dripping, meat liquor—I do not know what it is—a sufficiency, or one and a-half ounces of fresh bones with water a sufficiency, 2175 and salt and pepper to taste. That is the dietary on which a man is expected to break up to 13 cwts. of stone. I do not say they always impose 13 cwts., but the Metropolitan Asylum Board impose this task, it is possible to impose it up to 13 cwts., and when the authorities want to penalise these men, they take very good care to get the worst kind of stone for breaking that it is possible to get. I am speaking of what I know. It has to be broken into pieces, so that it goes through a sieve. There is no getting over it. The man not only breaks the stone, but he has to pick it up and pass it through a, sieve to see that it is broken to the right size.
If these men were criminals, I should still object to this. The Home Secretary, in answer to a question, has told me that this task is not imposed in prison, that there is practically very little task work except during periods of rain, when the men are confined inside prisons. In this case, however, you impose a task which, as I say, is not imposed upon prisoners, and I hear that there is a proposition also, if it gets under way, to re-institute the corn-grinding machine, to grind corn by a sort of treadmill or winding arrangement. A man is put at the wheel, and, unless he keeps going, he will break his neck or legs, or get some other damage done to him. Not only is it a perfectly inhuman task to put upon starving men, but it is also a perfectly useless task. It is positively turning the hands of the clock back in regard to the treatment of these men, and I want, as energetically as I can, to enter my protest against any such treatment being set on foot against these men. As I go round, I am challenged by the authorities to say what I would do with these men. I was asked yesterday what would I do with the men who will not work. My policy with the man who will not work, when there is decent, honourable work at proper wages for him to do, is to let him go without food. I would not bother about it, but I would apply that test to all classes, and not merely to the class we are discussing. The point here is that it is not decent work you are offering men to do. You have no right to say to a man that he shall break stones or saw up wood merely for the sort of dietary I have read out. If a man is 2176 put to work, he should have that incentive which all need, and that is some payment for the results of his work, and, until that is done, I do not believe that any man ought to be penalised in this way.
I do not want to take up any more of the time of the House, though there is very much more in these figures that I would like to put before the House. I recognise that we are up against a difficult situation in London with regard to able-bodied men. We can see the situation in the Welsh and other coalfields, because it is all there in the mass; ours is more or less in patches, and therefore we do not see quite so clearly. But we have the problem on our hands just as severely, and when I am challenged to say what ought to be done with these men, I say that for the younger men it ought to be perfectly easy for the Minister, through the Unemployment Grants Committee, in conjunction with local authorities in and around London, to arrange that parties of these men should go into the country and carry out schemes of land drainage and other reclamatory work connected with the land which is crying out to be done. If the Minister says that there is no power to do that without legislation, I point out to him that if the authorities wanted to do it, they could do it under the Unemployed Workmen Act, which in London is still in being. London is the one place in the country where the Unemployed Workmen Act has been kept in operation. The Central Unemployed Body still functions, and its business is to have charge of the labour colony at Hollesley Bay. But although that is its only piece of work, there is no reason at all why it should not at this moment be carrying on the same kind of work it did in the first years of its existence.
Under that Act men were sent to various parts of Essex and Hertfordshire, and carried out very big schemes of public work, and the reports of the work that was done prove that the men, when given the chance to earn some money, when given the chance to earn their living, did rise to the occasion and earned whatever money was paid to them. The whole of the drainage, road work and railway sidings at Letchworth Garden City were carried through by unemployed men. You need not take married men out. 2177 There are plenty of single men you could take out and deal with in this way. When you want men to fight in an army, you form encampments for them and train them to fight. There is no reason why you should not allow men to go into encampments just as a contractor takes his men and finds them shelter while he is carrying out big contractual work. There is no reason at all why the Minister and his Department should fall back on these old, worn-out methods which every Commission or Committee that has ever investigated the subject has denounced as futile and puerile. There is no reason why we should go hack, except that the Government will not find the money, except that they have the notion that if only they press people on and say to them, "We have got nothing for you," in some way they will live. That policy reacts, and comes back on the nation in one form or another.
It will be quite easy for the right hon. Gentleman to brush on one side everything I and my colleagues say, but there is one thing that neither he nor his Department can brush on one side, and that is the recruiting figures, which show that six out of 10 of the young men who offered themselves for service in the Army and other forces have been rejected because of physical deterioration. That thing will go on, and it will cause a further burden on the public health expenditure, children will be enfeebled, women will be enfeebled, and it will make you spend money in the future that you will not spend to-day. But I put my case higher than that. These men, out of whom none of us can get anything, and do not want to, in the way of votes—the right hon. Gentleman will not be able to fling that in my teeth this morning—are the same flesh and blood as I am or the right hon. Gentleman is, and it is because I recognise them as the victims of this so-called civilisation that I am here to protest against the infamy of the Belmont system, against the infamy of the casual ward system, and against that further infamy which the right hon. Gentleman and his Department are going to sanction of imposing upon starving men the brutal task of stone-breaking in return for the miserable portion of food that is given them day by day.
§ Mr. J. BAKER
I wish to enter my protest against the imposition of the task of either stone-breaking or oakum-picking, if it is contemplated instituting oakum-picking as well as stone-breaking. Wood-chopping is a task of quite another description, because the men do not object to that so much as the other tasks. These tasks are purely punitive. They serve no useful purpose. The stone could be broken more cheaply and much more efficiently by machinery. It is not wise—it is barbaric to punish men for being out of work, when they have no control whatever in securing employment of the nature for which they are best equipped. This morning we have been told by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lang-bury) that unemployment decreased at the beginning of the century, but that after the Boer war it increased. He, probably, has not quite such a lively recollection of what took place during that period of increase as I have. In 1906 this House raised the load line. In 1907 that load line became operative. Prior to that, a year's output of shipbuilding in this country was from 900,000 tons to 1,000,000 tons. But this House, by sanctioning the raising of the load line, enabled the shipping then in existence to carry 1,000,000 more tons of produce. That one act of this House virtually did a year's work, closed down our shipyards, closed down our iron and steel works and our engineering works on the north-east coast.
During that period and since skilled artisans desiring work above all things have had to take to the road, and because they were decent men looking for work, but helpless and poor, they had to suffer all the indignities that have been described, to go through starvation and semi-starvation with the feeding they got in the workhouse, and to put up with the punishment meted out to them then. I have known some of these men. They have risen to the highest offices in our skilled trade unions, and one at least has held the highest position of honour in the trade union movement of this country. That is not the type of man who should be treated either as a wastrel or a criminal and punished because of his poverty. In 1902 the works in which I was employed closed down. I took a little interest in the workhouse in the town where I was born, because I had half a notion I was going to end my days 2179 there, and I wanted to see what it was like. I can assure hon. Members that I never visited that workhouse and saw my old fellow workmen sitting there in misery but their first question was, not how I was getting on, but when the works were going to open again. Those men's prayer above all things was for those works to be re-opened, so that they might go back to work and not waste their time where they were.
I have been appealed to by casuals in that workhouse against the workhouse master when he was there, but I had no authority. I was not a member of the board of guardians, but I was permitted to go there because of other social work in the town. I have been appealed to by a man because the master did not treat him fairly, and the master's retort to that was, "This fellow is a nuisance and only comes here when he wants a bath." I suggested to the master that it seemed a very good thing for the man to desire a bath. I knew that man when he was in the works. He was a good workman, but not mentally alert. Other workmen told him he could sing, and he believed it. Evidently the paupers in the workhouse told him he could sing, and he tried to do it. He had no ear for music and no tone, and he was a nuisance to everybody when he tried it on, but should he have been punished for that? I think that man wanted an extra dose of human sympathy rather than be the torment of his fellows and be tortured by an irritable workhouse master because of his defect.
This stonebreaking scheme empowers a workhouse master to mete out favouritism, and to award punishment to those whom he does not like, because the task is one within limits. You can give a small measure or a large measure of it. You can give a task that no man in this House, unless he had had experience at that task, could do in the time, as well fed as he is. There is a knack in it. All stone has a grain, just as coal and wood have, and if you know how to hit that stone, you can smash it into small pieces quite easily, but if you do not know how to hit it, you can hammer and hammer at it till your arms ache, and you will make very little impression on the stone. I say that that task is useless because it can be done better and more cheaply by machinery. 2180 A medical member of the Barrow Board of Guardians calculated the heat-giving power of the food given to casuals in their own institution, and he made the assertion afterwards that if a steam engine was given a quantity of coal with the same calories in it as the food given to the pauper, the steam engine could not do the task that was expected from the casual. We are expecting more from the human machine than we could get out of the mechanical machine if we only fed the mechanical appliance at the same rate as we feed the human machine. Hon. Members opposite would never dream of their motor cars being able to run if they did not give them sufficient petrol and oil, but they expect vagrants to do work that cannot be done on the amount of food given.
That did not stop boards of guardians giving impossible tasks to poor men, but public opinion did change, and those two tasks have fallen out of use all over the country. Now we are told that this Government, who would describe themselves as great, are going to reinstitute those two barbarous tasks. What is the picture? First, we as a Parliament pursue a financial and industrial policy that has the effect of throwing men out of work—that is our blundering, not theirs—and then, because they are out of work, we punish them! Now if one could prove that assertion positively and definitely, beyond dispute, to a group of fair-minded men, they would say it is we who ought to have the punishment, and not these poor folk, but we reverse the order because these men are down and out. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley drew attention to the fact that during the War period our workhouses were empty. All those wastrels then, at the call of the country left their cosy corners and came into the workshops, or, if they were able to bear arms, took arms and helped to fight for this country, and now, when capitalism and this House have failed to supply them with a reasonable job at adequate remuneration, our thanks are to turn round on those men and to want to punish them. I say that that is neither fair, nor sensible, nor reasonable, and that the wiser way to deal with this problem would be to see if we cannot find some better work for these men to do.
2181 I mentioned here the other night that in my constituency we want a sanitary scheme carried out. That scheme has been sanctioned by the Unemployment Grants Committee. Three-fourths of that scheme has been carried out, but because those in authority have altered the basis of that scheme they will not give us the grant to carry out the fourth portion of it. There is useful work. Again, we want main roads. As I go about this country, I see that roads that have been started are incomplete, and that tools are left alongside the roads, rusting, because the money has been cut off, and the job has been held up for a time in order to meet somebody's particular view or convenience. Those men, who are now idle and willing to work, who desire work above all things, could be put on to jobs like that which are really adding to the wealth and to the capital of this country. Those main roads of ours are going to be valuable assets for all time. We have men now wasting their lives—I do not know whether or not the hon. Member opposite is smiling at my argument, but the most horrible thing I could wish to him or to any hon. Member opposite is that he should be out of work and in the plight of these men. I do not mean in the sense that some of them have been out of work, with a couple of quid sewn in the lining of their waistcoat so that they knew there was no danger to them, but I mean in the sense that you have not got a fraction on earth. You believe at least that you have lost all your friends, whether or not that be true, and you do not know where your next meal is coming from. That builds up a mental picture that is so horrible to me that, though hon. Members opposite may smile, I would not wish it to come to them even though they do impose it upon my class.
First, I am charging them, through their blundering and lack of knowledge, with creating this condition, and then punishing me and mine because we have to go through it. It is not we who have closed down the mines of this country, the steelworks of this country, the shipyards of this country, but it is those people who claim to be captains of industry. Those people who claim that their one right to a continued existence of luxury is that they find us work, have failed in their jobs, and if they were reasonably minded men, they would 2182 realise that and either take the sack or help us to reorganise society on a basis that would end that kind of thing. I say that this task is useless, dangerous, and ought to be abolished, that it would be better performed by machinery, that it is barbarous, brutal, out-of-date, and ought not to be reimposed, and that it would be wiser for this House to insist upon those men being put to useful work, plenty of which is available, if the hon. Members opposite who gibe at us would be willing to pay their share of taxation. If they had been willing to sacrifice the 2s. in the £ on the Income Tax, really valuable national work could have been found for most of these men who are out of work. They say we do things to get votes, but what about the men who vote for a reduction in their own Income Tax and deprive these people of a living, and then, when they are out, want to punish them?
Last night I saw a picture near the tape machine of a group of gentlemen who looked rather miserable. It was after the Premier had made his statement on rubber, and the price had gone down by 2d. a lb. They had lost money. They had no compunction in using this House to buttress up their own fortunes and to help themselves to reduce their own taxation, but nevertheless they gibe at us. Whether they do that in order to get votes or not we will leave the next election to say, but as far as I am concerned, I took this interest in these men long before I ever dreamed of being a candidate for this House or anywhere else. I took the interest in these men then that I am taking this morning. They are fellow human beings. I have worked with hundreds of them, and I expected to have to go through the same thing. If hon. Members opposite would look at the picture from that angle, they would probably be helping us to try and institute something better.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I want for a moment to go back to the question of stone-breaking. My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley- (Mr. Lansbury) asked whether the Minister would give us the names of the boards of guardians that did or do impose stone-breaking tasks. I want to go through a little of the history of this question. I remember when I was young that I was told—it was the advice of a very wise man—I should 2183 always verify my quotations. The question which the hon. Gentleman asked the Minister was:In how many unions, outside the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Asylum Board in England and Wales, boards of guardians impose the task of stone-breaking on casuals?The answer was that the last return made in 1925—showed that a task of stone-breaking was then required when appropriate in 143 casual wards.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1928, col. 801, Vol. 215.]The impression given to the House was that 143 unions did impose the task of stone-breaking, but the 1925 Report shows quite clearly that stone-breaking is the most uncommon task in the world. The report states:The guardians have usually provided a stone-breaking yard or wood-chopping shed,and they go on to say what they really do on their premises:Thirty-four boards of guardians appeared not to require any task to be performed, and of the remainder only a few performed the full regulation task. … The general tendency was for boards of guardians to set the casuals to work of immediate utility, such as wood-chopping, carrying coals, pumping water, digging, and cleaning the wards.The 143 unions are not imposing stone-breaking at all. They received, of course, the general Order indicating that stone-breaking was one of the things that they could impose, but the general practice of boards of guardians is to set casuals to work of immediate utility. The fair inference from the inspectors' reports is that stone-breaking is not generally performed, but the Minister gives a list of 143 boards which have the general Order in which stone-breaking occurs, in answer to a question as to where stone-breaking is actually carried on. To give that answer, and to back it with a reference to the inspectors, is misleading the House. I therefore ask the Minister whether he will give us the names of the unions that do require stone-breaking. It is no answer to say that practically all the boards of guardians have had the circular allowing stone-breaking; the question I ask, to which there is no answer, is whether the Minister will give us the names of the boards of guardians outside the Metropolis which require stone-breaking.
2184 I turn to the general problem. It has already been pointed out that the number of casuals rises and falls with the general state of unemployment. That is true, but something else has happened, which makes casual work much most difficult in these days, when there is a tendency for men in unemployed districts to flock into the district where they believe employment may be found. Though the total number of men is not any worse than it was in the peak year before the War, the number of local casuals, and particularly of casuals concentrated on London, has grown tremendously. I will take the figure for Middlesex and Hertfordshire. In 1913, as a whole, the total number of casuals was a little lower than usual. If I compare the number who went through Hertfordshire and Middlesex on the way to London, the percentage increase is quite different as between the two counties. In January, 1913, 758 casuals passed through Hertfordshire, which was about the proper proportion for that county in a moderate year. In January, 1926, there were 1,950, an increase of 157 per cent. These figures appear on page 232 of the Minister's last Report. In Middlesex, there were 458 casuals in January, 1913, and 1,033 in January, 1926, an increase of 126 per cent., so that the balance has been altered. People are coming to Hertford and Middlesex, and the approaches to London, very much more than ever before. The Minister's Report further says:The class of man has changed; much younger men are now on the road. Many of them, in answer to questions, have no trade and no real probability of obtaining work other than casual jobs.Then he says that a steady drift of casual vagrants takes place towards London.Men set out aimlessly on the road in the hope of picking up some temporary and unskilled work.The inspector goes on to say what is one of the most pathetic things I have read:A statement made at a meeting in a remote Kent town that there was no local unemployment lead to a steady influx of men from the North.We have brought before the country the condition of the coal districts where single men are not getting relief, where very many of them are getting no unemployment benefit at all, and where they have no choice except either to stop in the village and starve, or to go along the road 2185 in search of work; and, when a paragraph appears in the paper that in a town in Kent there is no unemployment, the men go along the road and pass through the casual ward in order to get there. Men like that are behaving properly. Is it the part of the man to stop at home and beg from his mother's Poor Law relief, or to set out upon the road and search for work? The difficulties outside London are very great. At Eton, for instance, there is horrible overcrowding in the casual ward. You cannot very much blame the district of Eton for not having provided for this great drift of men, but the fact remains that Eton is overburdened. I have a report from Aylesbury of the horrible overcrowding, and the confusion of the guardians at the tremendous task that has been given them because of this drift of men, who mistakenly believe that London is the place where they can get jobs. We have met them, and we are continually meeting miners who have come to London looking for a job. That makes an altogether new problem in casuals, and bears out what my hon. Friend says, that these are men who are looking for work. If hon. Members want further proof of that, they can go to other places. In page 240 of the inspector's Report for the Western Division, it says:It may be said of the four Western Counties, as I imagine of the whole of England, that during the Great War the administration and the accommodation fell to pieces largely from desuetude. … Many casual wards were not required at all, and were turned to such humble uses as storing potatoes, etc.He points out that, because the men could get work, or were on service during the War, the whole casual machinery went to pieces and casual wards were dismantled. There is another proof that these men are, to a very great extent, men who are looking for work. In another place he says:A period of severe unemployment invariably gives rise to a great increase of vagrancy.The vagrant is, as all these inspectors agree, not the old tramp, The tramp exists, but the new vagrant is the unemployed man, and particularly the young man whom we have not the wit to help. What is the Minister doing to help these new vagrants? He has been sharpening up the detention laws, and forcing boards of guardians to build for the pur- 2186 pose of ensuring that everyone of these poor fellows, who starts out from his village to look for work, shall have two nights' detention in what is worse than a prison, and a job of work that the Prison Commissioners would never set. Listen to this. This is in Yorkshire, and I read from a Report of one of the inspectors:In the West Riding, out of a total of 53,294 admissions … only 22,488, or less than 50 per cent., were detained two nights. It is, however, hoped that when all the buildings or other arrangements to extend the accommodation contemplated, are completed, much more satisfactory figures will be forthcoming.There is not money to find work for these people, or to start a scheme of land reclamation or forestry, but there is money enough to build prisons for them, and to punish people who start along the road to look for work. Nothing more disgraceful to the humanity or the statesmanship of the country can be imagined. We are speaking in a desolate and empty House; it is discouraging to speak to a House where nobody is listening, but, though there may be few Members present, Debates in the House have an effect on the country. I cannot help remembering with what difficulty we laboured the question of the appointed boards of guardians. We had Prayer after Prayer and we raised the question of Bedwellty at Eleven o'clock at night; and I remember that only a month ago the right hon. Gentleman said that Poor Law relief had been cut down to nearly one-third of the total, and, I believe he said, without any real hardship. Not more than a month from that time the hardship is so great that the "Times" is full of it, and shows that people are heading subscription lists in response to the appeal from the Lord Mayor of London and the Lord Mayor of Cardiff for the relief of the hardship which the right hon. Gentleman said did not exist. We have beaten the Minister back from his statement that there is no hardship in South Wales. We will, evening by evening, morning by morning, afternoon by afternoon, force him, and force the country, to recognise the cruelty that is being clone to some of the best and most hopeful classes in the country.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CLUSE
I should like to join in the protest of the Labour party against the suggestion of the Minister of Health that stone-breaking should be instituted in the casual wards. I agree that it is 2187 impossible to affect the point of view of the party opposite, but it is possible that Conservative opinion outside this House might be affected by the arguments put forward by this side. As has been stated, quite truthfully, this increase of vagrancy is the natural and inevitable result of the increase of unemployment throughout the country. The policy of His Majesty's Government seems to be to make the statement first that the workman sponges on the Insurance Fund, then that he sponges on the board of guardians, and then that he tries to sponge in the casual ward, and so he is made to break stones. That seems to be the attitude of the Conservative party. As one who has had some experience in industrial affairs, like most of us on this side of the House, I should like to trace the history of some of those who are landed in the casual wards. In the union to which I belong, the London Society of Compositors, the members are very generous in their subscriptions. They pay a heavy subscription, and then pay the members who are out of work an amount of money much greater than is paid through the Insurance Fund. Other unions in the printing trade, owing to the fact that the wages of their men are not so high, do not ask such a big subscription, and the benefits they pay do not last so long, and therefore a percentage of their men may be forced to go to the guardians. It may be said by some who do not understand industrial conditions that unemployment in certain sections of the printing trade is due to the general strike. What has happened as the result of the general strike is that instead of non-union men being out of work it is the union men who are out of work, or there is an increased number of them out of work. Those who were non-union men and paid nothing towards relieving the State of its responsibilities are the men who arc back in the jobs, while the union men, who did pay towards relieving the State of its responsibilities, are out of work, and if the union, almost bankrupt. through paying out so much in respect of out-of-work claims, is unable to continue its benefits, they may go on to the guardians, and from the guardians they go through the country until they reach the final punishment of the Conservative party—stone-breaking.
2188 Young people leaving school to-day are unable to get into skilled employment. Wherever there is a decent opening for a young man in a skilled trade, all the men working in the shop do their best to get their own sons apprenticed. There is a great desire among young men to become apprentices, but the opportunities are very small. Thousands of young men have no chance of entering into any employment which gives any security. When I was canvassing in an election recently, the number of young people to be seen at street corners was absolutely disgusting. It made you go home with what, in my old industry, they call "a number nine hump." One can see no hope for these young people, and we on this side of the House are almost prepared to beg that the Conservative party will do something to provide work for those who are likely to be demoralised to a greater extent than they are at the present time. These young people are thrown amongst those who have already been demoralised. Are these young people to be allowed to become demoralised as well? We have asked in the past that the State should organise useful and productive work in order to save these people from becoming demoralised. The State has not done that, and if they will not take that step, the least we can hope is they will do something for those who are likely to lie demoralised in the future, just as the poor veteran tramp has been demoralised in the past. Even though we have to appeal to-day to an empty House, I hope we may induce the Government to take off this punishment from those who have got to the end of the long trail of unemployment, and to do something to put them on their feet and make them responsible and decent citizens.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I have, of course, no complaint to make that the hon. Member has thought fit to introduce this subject to the House of Commons this afternoon. The problem of the casual poor, their treatment and their future, is a very human one, a very difficult one, and one which deserves the sympathy of every Member in the House, in whatever quarter he may sit. Speaking for the Government and for other Members who are not able to be here to-day, I say that we yield to no one in our anxiety and desire to approach the treatment of 2189 this matter in a humane and sympathetic spirit. At the same time, I do not disguise from myself or from the House of Commons that the subject is full of difficulty, and cannot be disposed of in the- easy fashion suggested in so many speeches that we have heard to-day. The number of casuals in receipt of Poor Law relief in England and Wales at the end of January last was 11,221. Despite the increased population and trade depression, the highest post-War figures are lower than those of the pre-War years 1905, 1906, 1909 and 1911. Those figures show the magnitude of the problem which has been raised to-day.
I have a great deal of sympathy, also, for the boards of guardians and for the workhouse masters who have to deal with this particular branch of Poor Law administration. It is not as though everyone who applied for admission to casual wards can be described in the way in winch many hon. Members have described men and women this afternoon. I agree that the great majority of people who have to go to the casual wards of this country are decent people, deserving to get on and to get work, but too often the victims of industrial depression and insane industrial disputes. Having said that, it is right that I should make the statement, holding the responsible position that I do, that about a quarter of the men seeking admission to the casual wards are undoubtedly habitual vagrants, and the task of the guardians is a very difficult and troublesome one in dealing with them.
Yesterday, one of our officers from the Department visited a casual ward and went into the history of a number of this class of men which I have just ventured to indicate to the House so far as their number is concerned, and I will give three cases, not by way of condemnation, but by way of illustration of the difficulties of the task of administration confronting anyone- who wants to give it serious and impartial consideration. In citing these three cases, I want at once to say that I do not condemn these people. One can almost say of every family, or of a good many families up and down the country, that all of us in some way or other have connected with us some people of the kind I am going to describe, and all we can say so far as ourselves is concerned is what John 2190 Wesley said of a man whom he saw walking along—a convicted criminal:There, but for the grace of God, goes John Wesley.I will give three illustrations in order to—
§ Sir K. WOOD
No, I am not going to quote direct. The hon. Member wants me to say that I am quoting from a particular document, and then he wants to say that this particular document must be put in. I am going to give three illustrations of three men simply to show the kind—?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. The right hon. Gentleman has already told us that he was going to quote from a document.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Excuse me. I understood the right hon. Gentleman—and you must decide, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—to say that one of the officials connected with the Department had visited a casual ward yesterday, and he was going to tell us from the statement that this gentleman had prepared certain cases. I suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman does give us those statements he must lay on the Table the document which contains those cases.
§ Sir K. WOOD
In order to avoid any matter of that sort, I will give to the House myself three cases for which I can vouch. I do not propose to quote from any Report, nor had I any intention of doing so. I propose to give to the House three cases which hon. Gentlemen will agree arc a fair illustration of the type of man we are speaking about.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Further to my point of Order. I want to ask you whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to be allowed to give us these three cases in the manner in which he suggests he is going to do so, after having told the House where he got the three cases from? If he gives us his word that these are three cases other than those he was going to give us, or that he himself has seen or known, then I will not raise any further objection.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
The Parliamentary Secretary said that he was going to give the cases on his own authority.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Further to my point of Order. The right hon. Gentleman previously said that he was going to give us them from the Report of one of the officials of his. Department, and I want to know whether it is really strictly in accordance with decency and the honour of this House that the right hon. Gentleman should attempt to get out of laying a document in this sort of way. I think it is perfectly disgraceful.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
No; excuse me. I want the document; I do not mind that at all, but I do object to the right hon. Gentleman quoting from a report and then refusing to lay it on the Table and getting out of doing so by a subterfuge.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I can say at once that it is not necessary to this portion of my speech to give those cases, because I think most hon. Members are aware of the type of cases to which I am referring and which have to he dealt with by boards of guardians up and down the country. I will give just a general description, without referring to any particular case, of that type of very unhappy citizen. Very often he is a man who has seen better days; often it is the case that he has been dragged down by drink.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
I do. They are dragged down by your policy of not find- 2192 ing work for the people; dragged down by your policy of not looking after people who are scarcely able, mentally, to look after themselves.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member is wholly unable to follow the case I am making. [Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman kindly allow me to proceed with my speech without interruption. I will repeat what I say, and if I cannot get the concurrence of the hon. Gentleman, may I hope that there are some other Members in the House who appreciate what I am saying and agree that it is absolutely the truth? There are a number of cases, it is perfectly true a limited number, of men who have very often seen better days, who have been dragged down by drink, who have been first to the Salvation Army, then to the Church Army, and then have been assisted by relatives again and again. [Interruption.] May I really proceed without interruption? They have been assisted by relatives and friends; everybody has done all that is possible for them. They drift from place to place, tramping up and down the country and going into one casual ward after another, and very often going to the same wards 20 or 30 times in the year, staying in for a day or so and then going out again. Again renewed efforts are made to assist them. Unhappily, what I am saying is the truth, and is within the knowledge, I think, of almost every Member in the House. They belong to a class for whom it is practically impossible to do anything that will reclaim them. If you find them employment, as has often been done, it is futile, one's efforts are wasted.
What is to be done in cases of that kind? I think I am only echoing the opinion of most Commissions and Committees that have inquired into this question when I say that there must be some task imposed in cases of that kind. That is not only my view, and I can quite understand that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not prepared to accept my opinion. I remember a question which was put to the right hon. Gentleman the. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) when he was Minister of Health, and I am sure hon. Members opposite will not question that he is a humane man. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston, having regard to his political opinions, endeavoured to govern the Department of the Ministry of Health 2193 efficiently, and he kept in close touch with such problems as those with which we are now confronted. The right hon. Gentleman was asked whether he was prepared to abolish all forms of task work in operation at that time by Poor Law authorities in order to prevent the demoralisation which it was said resulted from the imposition of task work. The inference in the question was that this kind of task work had a demoralising effect. In reply to that question, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston said that he was not prepared to take steps for the abolition of all task work, and that has been the judgment of every responsible Minister of Health who has had to deal with this problem whenever he has been put in the responsible position in which the Minister of Health and myself are placed at the present time. It is a very difficult thing to find a proper task which will meet such a situation.
I have much sympathy with the criticisms which have been made as to the difficulty of finding a suitable task for these people, but it is only fair to say, on behalf of the boards of guardians in the country who have imposed this task, that they are dealing with a very difficult body of men, and their difficulties would be greatly increased if they had not available some means of distinguishing the habitual able-bodied vagrant from the more deserving class who have to seek admission to the casual wards. I now come to the allegations which have been made—many of them without any foundation—as to the treatment of this particular class of men since the present Minister of Health took office. Hon. Members opposite have spoken as if the Conservative Government had imposed the stone-breaking task. Surely they could not have made themselves acquainted with the facts. The task of stone-breaking has been permitted under Orders for a great number of years. So far as my information goes I am informed that in 1925, 143 boards of guardians were in fact using stone-breaking as a task—
§ Sir K. WOOD
Yes, they were. In the week ending the 9th May, 1925, the following numbers were set to perform one of the following three tasks. Oakum-picking 1,258 men and 13 women; stone-breaking 1,656 men; stone pounding, 254. 2194 That was the state of things when the present Minister of Health came into office. I need not discuss the facts. Stone-breaking has been going on—
§ Sir K. WOOD
I said that in 1925, 143 boards of guardians were in fact using stone-breaking as a task. In order to satisfy hon. Members opposite, I have actually given the numbers who were stone-breaking at that time. On the 9th May, 1925, 1,656 men were engaged in stone-breaking as a task. Let me now proceed with the further allegations—which I think are of a very irresponsible character and cannot be justified by hon. Members opposite—as to what the present Administration has done in regard to this matter. We found, when we came into office, that oakum-picking and stone-breaking were tasks in operation and I would remind hon. Members that they were continued during the term of office of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston, who was the first Labour Minister of Health. To hear hon. Members opposite talk, one might imagine that those tasks were not imposed during the time of the Labour Administration. In fairness to this House and to the country, I think those facts ought to have been stated, perhaps not by hon. Gentlemen opposite who are not so much acquainted with this matter, but certainly by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). As a matter of fact, the Government have endeavoured to bring about a much more humane administration in connection with this matter than any other Government has done before, and I think that fact might have been stated by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley. I find, for instance, that under the 1925 Order oakum-picking has been abandoned altogether. I thought in fairness that statement should have been made this afternoon.
May I point out that by that same Order those engaged in grinding corn, pumping and the cutting of wood have had their hours reduced from nine to eight. Besides this, the women's task of washing, scrubbing, cleaning, and needlework has been reduced from nine hours to eight hours per day. I think anyone 2195 who wished to be fair to the Government would have considered that was a proper matter to be brought before the House. Far from complaining of what has been done, I hope that it will now be agreed that, at any rate, some steps have been taken by the Government in the direction hon. Members have been urging. Again, on the 31st March, 1925, a communication was sent from the Ministry of Health to the boards of guardians which I think shows the spirit in which the Ministry have endeavoured to administer this very difficult question of tasks. In that communication, the Ministry said:There are many defects"—in the present situation—which the Minister is advised still remain to be remedied, and he is satisfied that further substantial improvements could be effected without any considerable expenditure.That is a statement of a man who is supposed to be hard-hearted. The same communication goes on to say:Every opportunity should be afforded to a casual to alter his mode of life, especially if he is an elderly man by entering the institution. Similarly, it is important that children should not be allowed to grow up to a life of vagrancy.I do not think anyone could have asked for a more sympathetic treatment of these eases, and what I have stated shows how reckless and careless are the charges which have been made in regard to this question. To hear the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley talk upon this subject, one would imagine that he is the only person who sympathises with these people, but he has no right at all to say that he possesses any more sympathy for them than men like myself who have to administer the law on these questions. The real objection to stone-breaking is that it is not in any way educative, and its product is of very little market. value indeed. That is the real reason why stone-breaking for some time has not been practised in the great majority of the workhouses of this country. It is one thing to find work for persons who are permanently in institutions, and who can be trained and become accustomed to particular tasks of some mental value, but it is quite another thing to provide a task that is broadly speaking appropriate for anyone, and can be undertaken by people who are only in one casual ward for less than 48 hours at a time.
2196 Experiments are in progress under which at the present time casuals are being set to mat-making or the manufacture of concrete slabs, but I want to say at once that it is much too early to suggest that either of these alternatives is suitable for general adoption. I would remind the House of the type and class of men with which we are dealing, and I would say to any hon. Member who can suggest to us any simple task which he thinks would meet the needs of the situation—and when I say that I must emphasise the difficulties, as I have already done—that we shall be very glad to receive any such suggestion, and to give it the most careful consideration. There is no particular delight on the part of the Minister of Health or myself to set men to stone-breaking or stone-pounding or oakum-picking, any more than it would be a delight to a Labour Minister of Health. and I think we might be credited with ordinary humane and decent feelings in matters of this kind, where we are dealing with a very difficult and peculiar problem.
Objections have been taken and criticisms have been made as to the equipment and capacity of several of the casual wards in the country, but here again it is very easy to point out that on a particular night in a particular month a certain number of casuals were not provided for, when it is a known fact that this is a class of people who may be off somewhere else the next day, perhaps crowding into another district. In order to show the difficulties of a situation of that kind, I may refer to one report which has been published, and which the hon. Gentleman can read. In that report, which is for the year 1927, he will find that one of our inspectors pointed out that there are in fact unions in which the number of vagrants requiring relief on a particular night may exceed the number of ordinary inhabitants—aged, able-bodied and children—who are receiving institutional relief, and there are very many unions in which the weekly roll of vagrants is far in excess of the average population of the Poor Law institution. These facts should be known and stated when criticisms of this kind are made—
§ Sir K. WOOD
The only facts that the hon. Gentleman stated were those that would support his present case. I should have thought that, in dealing with a problem of this kind, he would have desired to do his best in the interests of everyone concerned. In connection with the structure and equipment of these institutions, an expenditure of over £50,000 for casual wards has been approved during the present financial year.
Before finally dealing with some of the detailed questions which have been put to me, I want to make one further general statement upon the criticisms that have been put forward. The hon. Gentleman actually had the audacity to suggest that the present Ministry of Health was starving people in these institutions, that people talked of starving men being put to stone-breaking and stone-pounding. What are the facts? I suppose that the hon. Gentleman and his friends will agree that, in the year of grace 1924, when the Labour Government were in office, at any rate the dietary for the casuals of this country received the attention of the Minister of Health, and that, if anything required to be done, he at any rate did not have to come to this House or get a majority for any Resolution that was proposed, but could by an Order, by a stroke of the pen, have Ordered it and improved upon it. I say again that, much as I have often criticised the Labour Minister of Health, I have always recognised that he was a careful and humane Minister, who gave a great deal of attention to his Department and to his work; and what, in fact, has happened? So far from there being grounds for complaint of the attitude of the present Minister of Health with regard to the diet of casuals, a considerable improvement has been made on the dietary that was in force in the year 1924, and I think that that fact might have been mentioned this afternoon by people who wanted to be fair.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I simply read out the dietary that the right hon. Gentleman supplied to me. If I had read out any other dietary I should have been open to censure; I could only read out what he gave me.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Then I take it that the hon. Gentleman himself is satisfied. What I want to say is this: Prior to the 2198 issue of the 1925 Order, the Casual Poor (Relief) Order, 1914, governed the dietary of casual paupers, and in 1925 alterations were made by the addition of tea to the list of alternative beverages and the substitution of cocoa for shell cocoa. if I wanted to adopt the methods of the hon. Gentleman, I should say that shell cocoa was good enough in the Labour Government's year of administration, while tea and cocoa were added by the Conservative Government. If I adopted the hon. Gentleman's methods, that is the sort of argument that I should be putting before the House of Commons at the present time. I may also mention, while we are dealing with items of this kind, that two ounces of cheese were substituted for 1½ ounce in the dietary of females over 12 years of age.
We have also heard a great deal about children. If hon. Gentlemen are anxious about children in casual wards, I should have thought that attention might have been called to the fact that children under 12 are given such meals as may, subject to the approval of the guardians, be prescribed by the medical officer. In the 1924 Order, dietaries for children were prescribed, so that under the present administration the children are being much better cared for, and are being put much more under the direct observation and care of the medical officer, than has ever been the case in the history of Poor Law administration in this country. Really, I have not heard a more unfounded case, supported by more reckless charges, than I have heard in connection with this matter this afternoon. This Government has nothing to be ashamed of in regard to its action, and I need only add that the whole of the alterations that have been made have been made in the most humane and sympathetic spirit, and considerable improvements have been made in the lot of these unhappy and unfortunate people.
I had better, I suppose, say a few words about one or two of the direct questions that have been put to me. I am afraid I have already trespassed too long upon the House, and I have no doubt that hon. Members are wanting to get away for the Vacation, but I do not want to lay myself open to the charge that I have omitted to answer some at any rate of the questions that have been put to me. At the beginning of the hon. 2199 Gentleman's speech, he put forward, in a very vague and unsatisfactory fashion, some questions about instructions having been given at Poplar in connection with the action of the inspectors there. So far as my inquiries enable me to give a reply to these questions at short notice, I can say that no special instructions at all have been given in the case of Poplar. What has happened, however, is that the inspectors have instructions, not only in Poplar but elsewhere, to discourage the giving of unconditional outdoor relief to people who are able-bodied. Emigration has always been regarded as the best way of affording a suitable man a new chance, but the emigration of a man without his family has never been encouraged by my Department. In a large number of cases in the London area there is, as hon. Members know, a certain proportion of people with whom we have to deal very vigorously, and it is in relation to those who, we think, are getting relief unduly—cases of which I have many times given illustrations in this House—that the guardians are being pressed, in Poplar and elsewhere, to deal more effectively with the situation.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether we were issuing a new circular to boards of guardians, and he, again, showed an anxiety that that should be placed on the Table of the House. The only new circular that I know of is one that has recently been issued in connection with re-examination for small-pox. Perhaps I may here answer the hon. Gentleman's question about the position of casuals in these institutions in regard to medical relief. In the first place, it is my belief that casuals are generally very well aware of their rights in that matter, and, secondly, the regulations as to their right to see a doctor are exhibited in a conspicuous place in the ward. Moreover, I may say that all casuals have for the last few months been medically inspected, having regard to the presence of small-pox, and that inspection will continue at any rate until the 30th June next; so that, during the next few months at any rate, no one need feel any anxiety that casuals are not being looked after even better than Members of this House in being subject to constant medical inspection.
Then the hon. Gentleman raised the question of Belmont, which receives able- 2200 bodied men and is managed by the local board of guardians. That institution was opened in 1908, and for some time it did good work, but it is not now largely used for its original purpose, and the treatment of men received there is, in effect, neither deterrent nor educative. The retention of Belmont has been the subject of recent conferences between the guardians and the Minister, who is now awaiting proposals for the improvement of the institution, to the need for which I think the guardians are very much alive. Having regard to the criticisms which have been made concerning this institution, I think it is only right, for the credit of the guardians, to say that for some 12 months now a welfare officer has been specially engaged by them, and this appointment has certainly met with some measure of success.
In regard to Hollesley Bay—and the hon. Gentleman hardly ever makes a speech on this subject without mentioning Hollesley Bay—it has been virtually used as a workhouse by London boards of guardians. The measure of success that has attended that is certainly not great, and I think that this is largely to be ascribed to the unwillingness of boards of guardians to send better men, who would get some advantage from the training there. That institution is, of course, the property of the Central Unemployed Body for London. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Laindon, which was originally a farm colony belonging to the Poplar Board of Guardians, but has since been converted, and this rather shows the fate of some of these institutions which were first started as farm colonies—it has been converted into a workhouse for old men; and I am afraid, much as I regret to have to say so, that there is very little chance of replacing such men in industry or on the land. I think I have now dealt with practically every important question, at any rate, that has been put to me. If I have omitted any, perhaps hon. Members will allow me to go through the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I will communicate with them on any matter on which I can give any useful information.
Let me finally say that, so far as regards the main charges which have been made this afternoon, I welcome the opportunity of, I hope, effectually rebutting them. I do not regret the fact that this discussion has taken place, because, after all, these men should receive con- 2201 sideration from this House, and it is quite right that from time to time their position, and the attitude which my Department has taken, should be the subject of such a discussion. I certainly feel that, at any rate so far as they are concerned, we are doing our best to deal with a very difficult problem. I include the guardians as well as my Department, because, after all, this administration is a matter of great difficulty, and we must not forget their work, although it has been so severely criticised this afternoon. I hope that hon. Members will go away for their holidays feeling that, so far as regards the unfortunate people in question, we are all doing our utmost to deal with a very difficult problem.
§ Mr. GROVES
I cannot be responsible for moving a vote of thanks to the Parliamentary Secretary, though he has rather been asking for it. I know his kindly interest in the casuals. I always retain the letters he sends me, and I found one this morning, dating back to 1925, in which he says:As regards the statement by you that casuals sleep on the floor, the Minister is informed that the casuals themselves sometimes prefer sleeping on the floor to making use of the hammocks provided for them.—Yours faithfully, Kingsley Wood.My purpose in getting in on the Adjournment is to try to get more satisfaction from the hon. Gentleman than I obtained at Question Time last Thursday. I put three questions connected with the Government lymph establishment at Hendon, and I asked them for information. The reply I got was to remind me that I had already had full facilities to inspect the establishment, and that, therefore, it was scarcely necessary to ask for further information involving considerable time and labour on matters of detail. The right hon. Gentleman reminded me that my previous question entailed the services of a clerk for two days, or two clerks for one day. It was a great day in my life when I visited the institution, in the company of some hon. Friends of mine. With regard to the Minister's suggestion that if I want any further information I should go again, I cannot do it. The institution is not appetising. It is not the sort of place to which I should like to pay a second visit. Belmont and Hollesley Bay and the other institutions 2202 we have been referred to fade into insignificance.
§ Mr. GROVES
Because when people like Ministers have information at their disposal they keep it discreetly to themselves and want to keep the general public in ignorance of what they do. We went to see, because we had heard so many claims on behalf of the general application of Government lymph, and we believe the Registrar-General has published statistics to prove that the case for vaccination is not as secure as the public vaccinator would lead the public to believe. I am sure if Members on the Front Government Bench went to the institution and saw what we saw they would be indignant. The calves are not strapped on the table. They are manacled and bolted down. They could not possibly move their legs a sixteenth of an inch. This is in order to provide some presumed protection against disease. The calves are put on to the tables, their bellies are cleanly shaved, a surgeon comes along and makes some incisions, the openings are filled with poison, and the calf is left so many days. When it is what we might call ripe it is brought back, and another surgeon scrapes what we would call the festers. The pus is taken away to a laboratory and goes through certain performances.
I asked the Minister of Health what becomes of these calves. I am told because I paid a visit to the institution that I should not trouble the House nor let the country know that they are hired from a local butcher, and that after they have been inoculated with cowpox—that is what it means—they are sent back to the butcher and sold for human food. I want to know whether the butchers who sell the meat exhibit in their window a notice to the public that the veal they are going to buy is from calves that have been inoculated at the Government lymph factory. We are too prone to accept the general statement of medical people that vaccination is a preventive of small-pox. [Interruption.] Whether it happened under a Labour Government or not, apparently Governments, whether Liberal, Labour or Tory, are worked by the civil servants behind them. The information given me comes through the Education Department, from Sir George 2203 Newman as a matter of fact, and it is put across the Table to me here. I want the public to know that the calves that are inoculated at Hendon, instead of being destroyed and buried, are sent back to the butchers and sold for human consumption. If you do not think that is a public scandal, I do. I suggest that the Kitchen Committee should have a fair share of this veal.
Then I asked a question with regard to rabbits. People will smile about this. They may wonder why I am troubled about the rabbits at Hendon. They exhibited these rabbits to us. Their backs were shaven and these poisonous germs put in. It is a sort of repository of disease in order that we should not let our stock get too low. I wanted to know whether these rabbits are destroyed or sold. I was informed by the Minister that I had been, and I ought to know. They are not the people to go and ask for information. They are officers. I have no more right to get information from the people at the lymph factory than I have to ask a police constable for information that the Home Secretary ought to impart to the House.
We have not had much opportunity lately, except in the form of a Prayer to His Majesty, of dealing with the question of the hardships under the West Ham Guardians. When the hon. Gentleman was piloting the Boards of Guardians (Default) Bill through the House I had a good deal to do with the opposition. He said that if we would bring to his notice cases of hardship, not the ordinary propaganda stuff but cases of real hardship, he would very soon put things right. That has put the hon. Gentleman into an awkward corner. Cases of real hardship did exist, so they had a new notice printed, and all the people who write to the Minister about cases of real hardship in West Ham receive this:Sir or Madam, I am directed by the Minister of Health to refer to your letter and to state that, subject to the Regulations in force, it rests with the guardians to decide whether relief is needed in any particular case and, if so, the amount and extent of such relief and whether it should be given in or cut of the institution. The Minister, therefore, cannot interfere with the discretion of the guardians in these matters.2.0 p.m.
Why did the hon. Gentleman lead the House to believe that when the Act be- 2204 came operative he and the Minister could and would deal with cases of real hardship if the real and actual fact was that once the thing became an Act of Parliament the whole power rested with the local guardians? A circular has been issued in my district by the party to which the right hon. Gentleman belongs calling attention to the Government's record. It says that the waste of public money has been stopped in West Ham, where the expenditure of the Socialist board of guardians had been brought down, without inflicting hardship on deserving cases. This circular has been issued by the Stratford Conservative Association. They are going to back the right hon. Gentleman's record with regard to the West Ham Guardians. This piece of paper which I hold in my hand is a letter received from the West Ham Board of Guardians that the original decision of the board cannot in any way be reversed or amended in favour of the applicant. When I spoke on the Prayer a few weeks ago I gave three instances of cases that the Ministry of Health should have dealt with, but no reply has been forthcoming. My hon. Friend has spoken of migration. I am aware that there are many parts of the Empire and the Dominions which are suitable for young men willing to go there, but to order a man to migrate merely because he is poor is not a thing that this great British Parliament should defend. On the 22nd of February, when this matter was before the House, I read a letter which had been sent on behalf of the chairman of the West Ham Board of Guardians to a man who had been out of work for three years. Three years is a long time, I admit.
§ Mr. GROVES
The right hon. Gentleman was present and must know about it. He cannot have it both ways. He either knows about it or he does not. Details are in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the 22nd February, when we moved a Prayer asking His Majesty to annul the Order made by the Minister of Health. Has the right hon. Gentleman not read the OFFICIAL REPORT?
§ Mr. GROVES
Then you do know. I want to know why nothing has been done, and why this man is still under the ban of the West Ham Board of Guardians, because he has not obtained work. This is the letter which I read on that occasion:I am desired by the chairman of the board to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 24th ultimo and to state that the only assistance that the guardians can afford you in the future is in the matter of emigration.—Your obedient Servant, L. E. FRAQUET."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 22nd February, 1928; col. 1744, Vol. 213.]He is the Clerk to the board. Has anything been done to help that man. Has he to go to Australia because work cannot be offered to him in England? Because the man will not go to Australia and cannot find work in England, the right hon. Gentleman's Department, through the West Ham Guardians, deny him any relief except institutional relief. On that occasion, I also raised the case of a young woman of 23. This is the letter from the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Heart and Lungs, which was written to this girl, and which I read to the House on the 22nd of February:In reply to your letter, I wrote to Mr. Mullcady (the relieving officer) last Friday, and had a letter from him on Monday in answer to it. He therefore has the doctor's full report informing him that Dr. Burton Wood considers that Georgina is suffering from chronic epilepsy. I am afraid that we cannot do more than this, as she is not a suitable case for this hospital."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1928; col. 1744, Vol. 213.]Although her mother is a widow, the guardians are offering this girl, certified as suffering from chronic epilepsy, 5s. a week in tickets, not in money. As I gave this information on the 22nd February, surely the right hon. Gentleman, through his Department, should have made some inquiry as to the accuracy of the statements I made. He cannot accuse me of having used violent language, or of exaggerating the case. I usually send on the letters I receive on these matters to his Department. I want to protest that, although when the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Boards of Guardians (Default) Bill he led the House to believe that he and the Minister would do their best to right wrongs and to deal with cases of proven hardship, they have done nothing. That, I contend, is really something upon which we should condemn 2206 the right hon. Gentleman. Another point with which I wish to deal has reference to the manner in which the guardians collect repayments. I will explain what I mean. We had a discussion in the House about a year ago, and the matter has never been settled between us. The right hon. Gentleman and I had a little tussle which has never been brought to a head because the people on his side refused to allow me to have access to certain books.
§ Mr. GROVES
You are not the person who refused me, Sir. I offered certain information provided I was given certain facilities. The point that I want to make is that in the ordinary collection of the money, presumably due to the guardians, no humanity is shown. There is no justice, there is no mercy, and further there is no wisdom. A schoolboy, aged 10, was taken on the local doctor's orders to the Whipps Cross Infirmary—I do not wish to make any condemnation of the Whipps Cross Infirmary, because it is a wonderful institution—and he was there about 10 days. How much do you think the West Ham Guardians wanted to charge for his maintenance for a week?—£2 9s. It was too bad to charge 49s. a week for the maintenance of a boy who was suddenly taken ill in the West Ham Poor Law Infirmary. The Parliamentary Secretary, may say: "Oh, that is only the general charge we ask people to pay." There was a condition existing under the old guardians that the cost of maintenance should be 39s. a week, and the patient was asked, "What proportion can you afford to give?" If persons stated truthfully their economic circumstances and proved that their income was so low and the obligations so great in proportion that they could not afford any contribution, the payment was not enforced. The name of this boy was William Gale, of 14, West Street, Stratford. He died in Whipps Cross Infirmary, and the inefficiency of the West Ham Guardians was such that the demand for the maintenance of this lad in the Whipps Cross Hospital arrived at the house on the same day as the same authority acquainted the mother that the boy had passed away. I think that that is abominable.
2207 I would also mention the case of a man who, during the general strike, received some money from the guardians, and, like the majority of working men, felt that if he could afford to repay the money he would do so. This man had 27s., and he paid it back at the rate of two shillings a week. As a matter of fact, I have seen all the vouchers and have checked them. I wrote to the guardians and told them that the man had paid his whack, and yet they demanded one shilling from him. They have written eight times, using a 1½d. stamp on each occasion, for that one shilling. The reply I received from the official concerned was that the account showed, according to his ledger, that the payment of a shilling only was required, and that as it was stated that the man held receipts for the amount in full, no doubt, by a clerical error, the payment of one shilling had been credited to some other account. He said he was asking the man to let him have all the dates to enable him to trace the error and correct it. I have seen the vouchers. I went to the guardians and told them that I had seen all the vouchers for the payments made by this man. They led me to believe at the beginning that there had been an error, but in order to assure themselves they have written to the man asking him to show them all his receipts. If they have not copies of those receipts, I think it proves the first allegation that I made against them with regard to bookkeeping.
I will finish my remarks to-day by calling the attention of the Minister to the obvious effect that the administration of the West Ham Board of Guardians is having. I have some figures here issued by the Registrar-General. About six months ago the Parliamentary Secretary bowled me over, and perhaps knocked my stumps down. I had not the Registrar-General's figures then, but I have them now. The figures of the Registrar-General usually deal with mortality. I have given up juggling with that question because the ins and outs, the people who come to West Ham and die in West Ham, are so considerable that we never get a state of equilibrium. Therefore, the medical officer of health has gone to the trouble to provide certain statistics which I should be glad to send to the Ministry. West Ham is the seventh largest borough in the kingdom—no mean 2208 city. The population is, I think, 309,000 and, like the nation, we are split up into a poor area and a non-poor area. Hon. Members will be surprised to hear that in West Ham we have a non-poor district. It is a good job that we have a non-poor district, because our rates are 24s. in the pound, and if we had not a non-poor district we should be broken entirely. The figures which I intend to quote have been prepared by the medical officer of health and have been issued from his department and sent out from the Town Hall, Stratford. They show the actual effect of the administration of the newly-appointed board of guardians.
From 1910 to 1914, the death rate of the children in the non-poor area was 84 per 1,000 and in the poor wards, 116 per 1,000. In the years 1922 to 1926 because of our health services, our clinics, the maternity and child welfare centres, our propaganda and the untiring work of the doctors in the borough—I have great pleasure in making this statement in the presence of the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies)—we reduced the mortality in the non-poor area from 84 to 54 per 1,000 and in the very poor districts from 116 to 71 per 1,000. The House will see that in the years. 1910–14, the disparity in the number of deaths between the non-poor and the poor areas was 32 against the poor districts; but owing to the development of hygiene and our propaganda in respect to social services, the disparity was reduced to 17, which was good work. In the 10 months from October, 1926, to July, 1927—I am allowing three months of life to the newly-elected guardians to pass before it has any effect—the figures in the non-poor area, which had been reduced to 54 per 1,000 and in the very poor districts to 84 per 1,000, so that the disparity had been reduced from 32 per 1,000 to 17 per 1,000, have gone back to 30 per 1,000. Here we have a set of figures produced by the medical officer of health from the Town Hall, Stratford, and we in West Ham would like the Ministry of Health to take note of the figures. I am not using them for mere propaganda. If the Ministry of Health see any good in the figures, they will be handed over with very great pleasure.
We have taken an analysis of the attack rate since 1910 on the infant life in the borough in regard to scarlet fever, measles, diphtheria and so on. Where 2209 children are poorly fed, poorly clothed and poorly housed they are more likely to become subject to attacks of disease such as measles or diphtheria than if they are decently housed, well fed and warmly clothed. I will give the figures, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not rise in indignation with regard to them, as he did in connection with the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). These figures are not provided by the Labour Research Department.
§ Mr. GROVES
They are given by the medical officer of health and, therefore, they can stand their ground.
§ Mr. GROVES
The attack rate on the children in the county borough of West Ham under the old board of guardians was 4 per cent., on the average. The attack rate from October, 1926, to July, 1927, has risen from 4 per cent, to 10 per cent. If the Parliamentary Secretary intends to defend the work of the present West Ham Board of Guardians, is he prepared to defend the results of the work which I have indicated? I thank the House for its kind attention, and I trust that the Minister will do his best to meet my questions and not to give a factitious reply. I have no doubt he will be readily helped by the hon. Member for Royton, who is going to put one or two points against me in connection with the vaccination stakes.
The hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) has made a deliberate challenge across the Floor of the House and I have pleasure in rising to try to deal with it. Before attempting to reply to the challenge with respect to the question of vaccination and smallpox, I would like, with courtesy and respect, to offer a word of advice to my hon. Friend, and that is to beware of statistics. When he knows a little more about them, he will not weary the House with some of the figures and deductions which he has given to-day. Statistics are very dangerous for people who do not know how to use them. The hon. Member opened his remarks by referring to a very harrowing visit which he made to the Government lymph establishment. He has a very unhealthy and morbid desire to know things about medical sub- 2210 jects, particularly on the subject of vaccination. For some time he has been asking questions in this House in regard to vaccination, with a very inquiring mind, but, unfortunately, as very often happens, pressure of his other engagements has prevented him from being here to ask the Questions, with the result that we have not been able to ask Supplementary Questions. Therefore, the answers appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and we have no chance of dealing with them.
After asking questions for a very long time in regard to vaccination, smallpox and lymph, the hon. Member was given an opportunity to visit the Government lymph establishment, and in company with some of his colleagues and friends he went there. I understand that he was shown everything, and he now comes to the House, when we want to go home for our holidays, and tries to harrow our feelings with descriptions of some of the horrible sights that he saw when he was there. Why did he go? Possibly he thought that he might see something which was new to him. He went, not with a real desire for knowledge, but from an unhealthy curiosity, as a result of which he could come to the House and give some of the descriptions which he has given to-day, and get his remarks published throughout the country as propaganda work against vaccination. If the hon. Member is so anxious for knowledge, he will surely agree that experiments are necessary for the advancement of knowledge and that for the purpose of training for the medical profession one has to go through certain definite processes. I feel quite sure that the hon. Member has no real animus against doctors, and that he is probably prepared to agree that doctors should be adequately and thoroughly trained for the work they are called upon to do when they go into practice. One of the first things which a doctor has to do is to learn to dissect. I would like to take my hon. Friend to a dissecting room.
I should like to leave the hon. Member there all night and then, perhaps, he would not be so unhealthily curious. I would like to take him to the operating theatre of a hospital. Things are done there for the good of 2211 humanity and for the sake of saving life, and yet anybody going there with a morbid curiosity, could come to this House and give a description of things which happened there which would harrow the feelings of the House and the country, but that would not be a legitimate thing to do. What happened at the Government lymph department? The hon. Member saw a calf, and he said that this poor inoffensive animal was shackled.
He said that it was manacled and could not move in any shape or form, giving the impression that something horrible was going to be done, and that to prevent this poor animal running round the district it had to be so heavily manacled that it could not move. This very horrible purpose which had to be carried out was to make a scratch or, if you like, a cut along the side of the animal. The essential point about manacling the animal and keeping it quiet was to be sure that the cut did not go too deep. If you have a kicking calf and you make a cut with a knife, you may find the knife has gone too deep. That is the reason why you keep the calf perfectly quiet. When you are vaccinating a baby you do not allow it to throw its arm about when you are trying to put on the lymph. You hold it firmly in your arm, for the simple purpose that when you are making the scratch you will be certain that you do not go too deep, and do unnecessary damage. Therefore, the shackling of the calf was to keep it quiet, for the protection of the animal, in order that the cut should not go too deep.
The hon. Member said that some filthy stuff was put into the cut and that after a certain time had elapsed and the cut had festered, somebody came along and scraped the cut, and the lymph was sent away to be purified, and subsequently sent out to the public vaccinators. That is a rough and ready description with a certain amount of truth in it, but it might have been put a little more elegantly.
Let me take the question in my own way. I believe the object- 2212 tion of the hon. Member is that during this process of festering, or ripening, certain deleterious substances are circulating through the body of the calf, that after the lymph has been collected the calf is sent to the butcher and killed, generally by bleeding, and then sold for human consumption. His argument is that because there are festering wounds on the outside of the calf that the calf for all time is therefore contaminated and not fit for human consumption. Is that his objection?
At any rate the hon. Member does not contradict me. I wonder if he ever had a cut finger, or boil, where there has been a little festering; most people have at some time or other. During the time of festering some deleterious substances were possibly circulating through his body. Does he say that therefore he is contaminated from now until the Day of Judgment?
Animals sometimes get disease. They may got pneumonia, or a little fever. Do you say that when that animal recovers it should not be slaughtered and used for human food? If that is the argument it simply means that animals in this country which are killed for human consumption must have a certificate of health to show that they have never had a day's sickness from the time they were born till the time they were slaughtered. That is an impossible situation. It is quite a usual thing in the case of male calves to perform a certain operation which interferes with certain glandular secretions in the body and affects the growth and development of the calf. Is that to be allowed Take it another way. A cow has a, calf, or is going to have a calf. Certain changes take place in the blood of the cow, certain deleterious substances are circulating in the body of the cow. Does the hon. Member say that that cow is never to be used for human consumption? The hon. Member is simply chasing a fallacy. He has raised a mare's nest, purely for the sake of propaganda. He wants to come to this House with the definite hope that his remarks will be extensively published in some anti-vaccination journal 2213 so that he can appeal to a larger public by making statements which create a false impression. The animal, the calf, which has been vaccinated suffers no harm. Any deleterious substances which you may find in a calf after being vaccinated are no more deleterious than any substances you may find after a long illness in an animal or human being, and to suggest that because an animal has once had certain deleterious substances going through the blood, that they have a deleterious effect on the flesh of that animal is absolutely ridiculous.
It is to be regretted that the hon. Member, for purposes of anti-vaccination propaganda, knowing nothing of medical subjects, knowing nothing of vaccination, simply for the sake of spreading this propaganda, should waste the time of the House. It is not creditable to the hon. Member. What is the result of this propaganda? We have now an epidemic of small-pox in the country. It has been gradually increasing. It is a very mild epidemic, I admit, but there is no one in this House who can say that it may not become a very serious and fatal epidemic. Through the activities, the wicked activities, of people like the hon. Member, this country is running an extremely grave risk, and, apart from the grave risk to the health of the community, look at the financial loss. It has cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds, and the only satisfaction I have is, as I ascertained by means of a question to the Minister of Health the other day, that the cost of these epidemics is borne locally, and if any board of guardians or public authority is so unmindful of its duties to the public that they are willing to have a serious epidemic of small-pox, then the ratepayers of that community should know that they are paying for the folly of their so-called leaders. I hope the hon. Member, with his inquisitiveness, will go back again to this lymph factory and have another look at these calves, afterwards follow them to the butcher, and eat some of their meat, then perhaps certain deleterious substances may circulate in his blood—
No, we do not recruit members for the Conservative party in that way. If the hon. Member will do 2214 this it might be that the so-called deleterious substances will circulate in his blood, he would be vaccinated, and cured of some of his extraordinary ideas. It would, at the same time, prevent him exercising his morbid curiosity by inquiring into things with which he has no possible connection, and may perhaps prevent him wearying the House of Commons with irrelevant matter, as he has done this afternoon.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The Debate has wandered somewhat from the subject with which we started. We appear now to be dealing with propaganda, and in that connection I should like to remind the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies), who has accused my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) of being a propagandist, that he himself is also a propagandist because he has been speaking as the representative of the British Medical Association.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I am not dealing with what is in the speech of the hon. Member for Royton or the hon. Member for Stratford. The hon. Member for Royton accused my hon. Friend of speaking purely for the sake of advertising the anti-vaccination propaganda, and I say that the hon. Member for Royton is himself a propagandist on behalf of the British Medical Association. Indeed, let me remind him that he is speaking for one of the strongest trade unions in Great Britain.
§ 'Mr. GROVES
The hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) has used an expression which, when it is read in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, will appear as offensive as it was; if not more so. He said that he was speaking with knowledge and that I was not. That is a very offensive term. The knowledge I have, and the figures I have given to the House, I get from the books which I read on the subject, and I am prepared to quote my authorities. Therefore, for the hon. Member for Royton to insult me in that way is quite out of place.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
If the hon. Member for Royton has used an offensive phrase, I am sure the hon. Member for Royton will explain it away.
I am quite sure the hon. Member for Stratford will know that I did not wish to insult him in any shape or form. I did not wish to cast any reflection upon him. I only wanted to point out that I am a medical man and have studied the subject for many years; therefore, presumably, I know something about it. He is a layman; he has not studied medicine, and he gets his knowledge from the books and literature which he reads. Therefore, with no desire to be offensive, or meaning to be offensive, I say that I know because of my training and he does not know—
The hon. Member has not been trained. I am trained; he is untrained. If he thinks there is any cause for offence, I will withdraw the remark absolutely.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Let me point out to the hon. Member for Royton that, while his remarks regarding vaccination may be true, there are many other medical men who differ from him entirely and say that, so far as they are concerned, they are anti-vaccinationists. It is most unfair for one hon. Member to accuse another hon. Member of lack of knowledge. One of the essential qualities of a gentleman, either in this House or outside, when he finds anyone lacking knowledge on a subject is to educate the other hon. Member without making him feel his lack of education. The question I desire to bring before the House is a matter relating to Scotland. I asked the Secretary of State if he could be present, but he has informed me that he has an appointment which prevents him being here. I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will bring this subject to the attention of his right hon. Friend. I want to show that England is not the only place where tests are being applied. I am not going to try and score off the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary because he is not familiar with Scottish business, but I hope he will report the Debate to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
In Glasgow we have decent working men—I am not talking about those who are called tramps, I exclude them from my argument altogether—married and unmarried men, who through no fault 2216 of their own are thrown out of work. They come on to the Employment Exchange and, having exhausted their rights, have to go to the parish council, which is equivalent to the board of guardians in England. Until recently we were dealing with these cases by means of outdoor relief, but recently there has been a change. A great many people have got the idea that all those who are now out of employment are people who do not want to work, but want to get paid for doing no work at all. That statement is absolutely false.
In order to speak from first-hand knowledge I paid a surprise visit to the centre in Glasgow on Monday, 25th April, before 10 o'clock in the morning. There I found men with every capacity for work but denied work. They were facing the first step towards degradation. When a man has gone through the test he is transferred to Barnhill Poorhouse. He is in no sense a pauper. The pauper is someone who lives without doing any service for what he receives, and on that basis there are many paupers at both ends of the social scale in these days. I found at this place men who had no faults recorded against them other than that they were unable to find employment. It is very nice to think of Members of this House, especially the Minister of Health, in a most sarcastic way—a sarcasm that only he with his Mephistophelian features can express—saying in regard to certain things that have happened, that as soon as you cut men off everything else they get work. That is the vilest form of insinuating untruth that I have ever listened to. Hon. Gentlemen who speak like that in this House have never had any personal experience of being out of work. We have just heard a Member of the House protesting about others not having the knowledge that he himself has. I should say that the only basis on which the Minister of Health can criticise that type of unemployed man is his ignorance of the subject, for he has never known what it was to want a meal. I deny the right of any man to take up such a superior attitude.
Let me return to my visit to this institution on the morning of the 26th. The second man I met was a man whom I had known since I was 16 years of age. He is not a shirker, not an unskilled man, but a man of my own physique and just as keen mentally. Why has he been com- 2217 pelled to go into this place? The moment I recognised him I saw that the man was feeling his degradation. Yet we are told in this House time after time that the people we were dealing with were the wastrels, the tramps and the gangrels. The type of politician that I detest is the one who wants to skate away from the centre of argument and to talk of something that has no application. We know that the present system has produced wastrels and gangrels. But why do not hon. Members face my argument? What about the men who would take a job if they could get it? We sometimes have the Minister of Labour saying that the reason why a case was turned down was that "the applicant had not proved to the satisfaction of the Committee that he had been genuinely seeking employment." I would like to see some Members of this House get up at 5 o'clock in the morning, and, because they had not money for a tram fare walk five miles to the yards for a job, and then to be told to "Go to hell." If hon. Members went through that experience we would get some reason introduced into their arguments. The one way to knowledge is through experience. If I were a dictator I would see that all those who make speeches on this subject went through what I have gone through, and I would take care that they had not anything sewn up in their waistcoats to save them in an extremity.
What takes place at Barnhill? It has been made into a place for honest people whose only fault is that they cannot find a job. I visited the place in which they slept. A sunk flat had been filled with beds in order to accommodate, not the pauper, not the "in" and "out," but able-bodied and skilled men for whom the captains of industry have failed to find work. If the problem had came upon us suddenly I could understand the necessity for using sunk flats in this way. But the problem has not arisen suddenly at all; it has been with us since the War. The captains of industry and finance arranged for the bursting of the coal trade in 1919, because they thought that they were going to get a general reduction of wages. The problem of unemployment has been with us since those days, and there was never any need to think about using sunk flats for people to sleep in, unless it was desired to give them disease and get rid of them in that way and so save the rates. That is a 2218 possibility; you never know how that kind of mind works. If this arrangement had been made on the score of economy, I could debate it with anyone, but it has never been suggested that there is any economy in putting a married man on one side of a wall in an institution and his wife and children on the other side of the wall.
We have often been told that as Socialists we were out to destroy homes and to knock the bottom out of civilisation. We are not breaking up homes; that is being done by the Poor Law authorities. This is said to be a great Christian nation. There are hundreds of preachers who from pulpits say that the great foundation of British life is home life, and yet home life is being destroyed by putting people into the poorhouses and separating the man from his wife and children. This is called Easter, and it is supposed to have certain Christian associations. These things have no use for me unless I see the results in the works of the people who speak these things. I judge an individual by what he does and not by what he says. We were told this morning about the curriculum of the institutions and the table of diet. One item in the table was two ounces of oatmeal and a sufficiency of water. We are told in the old Book that "Your bread will be certain and your water shall be sure." Now we are told that it is to be two ounces of oatmeal. Someone said that perhaps a Scottish Member would translate what that meant. I can translate what it means.
I am not going to say anything against oatmeal. It has its uses. It can be used as a poultice. It is a good fond that can be applied outside and inside with good effect. But when you combine raw oatmeal with water there is a great difference. If you only half boil the oatmeal and do not burst every particle of it, it becomes a serious business inside the body. The two ounces of oatmeal and the water are only part of the Scottish receipt for an ordinary chafin bowl of brose. A Scotsman never mixes oatmeal and water without a third ingredient. He uses some form of nutrition beside the meal, and the common practice is to use butter. The butter becomes a lubricant. The horse's stomach is so arranged that it can deal with raw oatmeal and water, but the human stomach calls for something different.
2219 3.0 p.m.
If we are going to have anything done to improve the administration of Poor Law relief we must have some definite line drawn between the wastrel and the man who, though able-bodied and willing, cannot find work. We must distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving. Surely if a man can show that it is through no fault of his own that he is unemployed—that is hard enough to do at the Employment Exchanges nowadays—he should have some special consideration. We are treating the man who has unsuccessfully sought work just as we would treat a criminal. He is assumed to be something less than an ordinary man, when he is put under a test of any kind, and, personally, I would rather break stones than answer some of the questions which are put to these men. My moral sense rises so high that I might strike the man who put such questions to me. If I had walked about Clyde side for five hours looking for work without success, and if I went into an Employment Exchange and a man said to me, "Do you expect us to believe that you have have been genuinely seeking employment" it would take a lot to make me keep my fist by my side. A cross-examination like that would make me want to use all my strength and to leave my impression upon the crossexaminer. I regret, indeed, that one thing which is being lost in this country is that kind of independence. That is due to the kind of pauperisation which is being imposed upon decent people. Members of the Conservative party may think they are doing a good thing in trying to destroy the independence of the working class, but no sin can escape punishment and the sooner they take cognisance of that fact the better.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I will convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the questions which have been put in regard to his Department, and ask him to communicate with the hon. Member who has put those questions. The hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) mentioned two subjects. First he dealt with the question of vaccination, arising out of a series of questions which he put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health on 29th March. Those questions were the 2220 successors to a large number of other questions, and the hon. Gentleman has certainly been industrious during the past two months in addressing questions to my Department in relation to vaccination. Some of these questions involve a great deal of research, and he will not think I am offensive if I suggest that he should, in future—as I know he will—have regard to that fact. Researches of this kind occupy a great deal of time and attention on the part of Government officials, and I hope the hon. Member, whenever possible, will pay a personal visit to the Government establishment and see what is the situation. My right hon. Friend the Minister replied to the three questions of the hon. Member and I have made some endeavour since then to obtain such of the information required by the hon. Member as does not involve a great expenditure of time and money, and as regards the details of the questions I will address some reply to him during the next few days.
I must take exception to the statement which he made with regard to calves which have been used by the Government establishment. The hon. Member pictured a very unfortunate case of calves being sold, and indicated that all sorts of tragedies might happen as a result. I think the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) has pretty well disposed of that allegation. I must say, however, as representing the Ministry of Health, that before a carcase is sold, after it has been used in this way, it is examined by a veterinary surgeon, and, only in the event of the calf being passed by the veterinary surgeon, is it permitted to be sold. No one need be under any apprehension that the necessary work which is done in connection with the Government establishment in any way endangers public health. Every precaution—perhaps, indeed, excessive precaution—is taken in having these calves passed by the veterinary surgeon, and I want the House and the public to know that there is no danger to health in that respect.
The hon. Member also raised the question of West Ham on which I feel inclined to make some observations, but I think this is hardly the appropriate occasion to deal with the administration of the West Ham board of guardians. I would like, however, in courtesy, to reply to the bon. Member as he is represent- 2221 ing here the views of his constituents many of whom I have no doubt have communicated with him on this matter. He referred to three cases mentioned in the last Debate, and asked what had happened about them. I must confess that as the hon. Member put these cases in the Debate, I thought they were more for the purposes of the Debate than anything else. If the hon. Member really wanted an inquiry into these cases, I think he would have sent me particulars of them previously so that I could have had them investigated.
§ Mr. GROVES
The right hon. Gentleman has fallen into the same fallacy as the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies). I do not raise these matters here for propaganda, but for information and for cure.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I will not quarrel with the hon. Member. I would be the last to do so, but I suggest that when raising these questions in Debate he should give me some notice of the particular cases which he is going to mention, so that I shall be in a position to deal more effectively with them. If the hon. Member raises the case of John Jones and I know nothing about it, and have not been informed of it beforehand, I cannot deal with it properly. If he sends particulars of any case to me, he knows that I will have inquiry made into it. The only other observation I want to make 2222 concerns his statement with regard to the health of the district under the new board of guardians. I have figures, so far as infantile mortality is concerned, which do not bear out the statement of the hon. Member. I find that in the last six months for which figures are available—from 1st July, 1927, to 31st December, 1927—the average deaths of infants under one year, per thousand births, in England and Wales was 58, in the great towns 62, and in the West Ham Union 47.
§ Sir K. WOOD
It is a very good test, however, and I think it shows that the district is not suffering as the hon. Member seems to think. He can rest assured that as regards my Department and the board of guardians there, they will not be unmindful of this important side of the matter. I will look carefully into the speech which he has made to-day, and to which I have no doubt he has given a great deal of time and attention, and if there are any further facts which I can give him, I shall communicate with him as soon as possible.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Ten minutes after Three o'Clock until Tuesday, 17th April, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.