Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House do now adjourn."—[Sir G. Hennessy.]
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I desire to raise a question of which I gave notice to-day, concerning the Govan Parish Council. To-day, I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland why he had refused to allow the parish council to increase the payment 717 to the children of able-bodied unemployed from 2s. to 3s. 6d. I wish the right hon. Gentleman were in his place to-night, because I have seldom in my Parliamentary life known of a more evasive answer than that which he gave me. It was more a trick than an answer. Instead of stating whether he favoured or disagreed with this decision, the right hon. Gentleman said he had given a certain answer on a certain date, but that answer had no relation to this matter at all, because the Govan Parish Council came to this decision on a date subsequent to the date of the question referred to being put in the House.
I will be as brief as I can, but I want to relate the history of the position. The Govan Parish Council were elected in the month of November. Shortly after the election, the Labour members of the parish council raised the question of increasing the amount which was then allowed for the children. May I briefly state the position? A few years ago the Govan Parish Council allowed the able-bodied unemployed a few shillings extra in addition to the amount allowed by the Employment Exchange. That amount was stopped owing to a circular from the Scotish Office. Now the parish council say: "After we have seen the children, and with an intimate knowledge of the conditions under which these children are living, we think it desirable, on reviewing the whole position, that the amount should be raised from 2s. to 3s. 6d."
I want to put this to the Members of this House: The average family in Govan of an applicant of this kind is three children, with the mother and father; that is to say, five all told. At the present time, the total income which the five receive is 29s. I am not exaggerating when I say that the average rent of a family of that kind is 7s. a week. That must be paid, and it leaves them 22s. out of which to find coal, clothes, and every human necessity which one can picture in one's mind. The Govan Parish Council is not a Labour body. If my memory serves me rightly, there are 31 members, or about that number, and out of the 31 only one-third are Labour members. The majority do not follow a calling at all. But so strong is the case which the Labour movement put up about the terrible distress prevalent 718 in the area that even the moderate members of that council, or most of them—I say it to their credit—decided to try to raise the standard of life by increasing the amount from 2s. to 3s. 6d.
The Under-Secretary some time ago, in a reply to the hon. Member (for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Mr. Maxton), said that he was concerned with the bodily or physical welfare of the children. I want to put this to him: Is the increase proposed by the Govan Parish Council from 29s. 6d. to 33s. 6d. for five persons an excessive increase? Does 29s. allow of the purchase of the full nourishment due to a growing family of young children? The evasion with which I met—I hope I shall not get it to-night—is this. They said: "If you will bring us a certain case of starving people, we will make inquiries." I must respectfully suggest to the Secretary of State for Scotland that that is not the issue. The issue is that the body charged with the administration of the Act, viewing the conditions of the children, seeing their physical state, seeing their degree of comfort and seeing their homes, came to the deliberate conclusion, after reviewing all that, that 2s. was not good enough to enable them to maintain physical decency or to live at anything like the standard which was desired. That is the issue. It is not whether a child is actually dying of starvation, but that a body, the majority of whom are Tories, reviewing the position, came to the decision that 29s. for a family of five did not allow sufficient to give them bodily comfort. This refusal cannot be made because the rates are going to be increased, for only yesterday we granted to 230 people a gift of £27,000. If 230 well-paid men can get that from the rates, surely it is not asking too much that poor people may get a proportionally less sum than has been given to these rich people.
To-day I understand the Glasgow Town Council have given the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland the freedom of the City. If it is not agreed to, it is certainly recommended by a committee. He is going down there to accept the freedom, and he ought to do something worthy of that great honour. I know of nothing nobler or greater that he could do to earn that freedom than to see that the children of Govan are given at least a minimum 719 of food, clothing and shelter. Is it not better that he should earn the freedom of the city by giving the decencies of life to children than by giving a grant to house factors, as occurred yesterday? I have been asked time and time again to bring forward a case that is dying of starvation; but I say that the 29s. does not allow of a decent minimum standard.
I remember that when the unemployment scale was much less than it is today, the Government of that day did not say, "Bring us a starving person before we increase it." They said, "Make out the general case that it is not enough, and we will increase it." That is the position that I put to-night, that the body entrusted with this work came to a deliberate conclusion upon the matter, and if the Secretary of State believes in the democratic liberty of local authorities, I ask him to allow the local authorities to treat the children as even his political friends want to do.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Major Elliot)
I am indebted to the hon. Member for the temperate and brief way in which he has put the case which he is advancing for the consideration of the House tonight, and I have, in the first place, to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland regrets that he is not able to be here himself to-night. As the House knows, he has only recently recovered from an illness, and it has been an exceptionally trying week with the long debates on the Rating Bill that have taken place. It is only for reasons of health that he is not here to discuss the matter across the Floor of the House with my hon. Friend. The case which the hon. Member has put seems to me to require some further explanation than the House has yet heard. It is not within the power of the Secretary of State for Scotland to limit in any way whatsoever the scales of relief given by any of the parish authorities of Scotland out of their own money. That is the first point that I would ask the hon. Member to admit.
§ Major ELLIOT
That is another point. The suggestion is that the parish of Govan is spending borrowed money in this case, but it is only in so far as it 720 borrows that it has to come to the Secretary of State or the Department of Health to ask for any sanction whatever to the scale of relief which it is paying. That is the first point in the case. Secondly, he spoke of the poor children of Glasgow, but the parish of Govan is a portion of the City of Glasgow, and not a large portion at that. The major portion of the City of Glasgow is in the parish of Glasgow, 660,000 strong. His own constituency is in the parish of Glasgow.
§ Major ELLIOT
I apologise to the hon. Member, but constituencies in which there is as great distress as there is in any portion of the City lie in Glasgow Parish.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
But to the miners' children in Glasgow, through the Miners' Relief Fund, you are allowing this scale.
§ Major ELLIOT
The hon. Member knows that it is out of no brutality or carelessness or hardheartccness—
§ Major ELLIOT
Let me develop my argument. The parish of Glasgow, 660,000 strong, has also a democratic parish council, which council is spending its own money and is under no restraint whatever by the Secretary of State. That parish council is there to determine what scale of relief it pleases, and it has not asked that this increase should be made. That seems to me to knock the bottom out of the case advanced by the hon. Member. There are two portions of Glasgow, the larger and the smaller—the larger portion spending its own money and the smaller portion desiring to spend borrowed money. The larger portion covers the major part of the city, including distressed areas where it is just as necessary to keep up the health of the poor children as it is in the areas in the parish of Govan. That parish council, democratically elected, 721 would have no difficulty in suggesting an increase in the scale of relief, but suggested no such increase.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It has never been raised in the Committee since the Election. The chaps are waiting to get a chance.
§ Major ELLIOT
The hon. Member agrees with me that the subject of increasing the scale in Glasgow parish has not been brought forward. He must not attempt to ride off on the point that it has not been brought forward yet. This matter has not arisen since the Election. It has been within the power of the Glasgow Parish Council to raise it for months and, indeed, for years past. The hon. Member says, what is the justification for the scale laid down by the Secretary of State? I would not attempt-to justify it on any other ground except simply this ground—that it is a scale similar to the scale which, across an imaginary line, is being administered by a democratically elected body without the suggestion of a shadow of control from the central department.
To follow out the history of the scheme very briefly. The suggested scheme was brought forward for the consideration of the local authorities because there had been a reduction in the cost-of-living figure of 24 per cent., and a reduction in the scale amounting to no more than 12 per cent. was suggested by the Board of Health. That scale is not a driving scale imposed upon poor authorities by the ipse dixit of the Secretary of State. That is a scale which in one great city after another is laid down without any suggestion of compulsion by the Board of Health. It is the scale in Glasgow, and in many of the adjacent industrial parishes, and the scale for Dundee and for Aberdeen. When all those authorities are administering that scale, there is at least a prima facie case for saying it is not an unreasonable one for Govan Parish Council. But I am far from suggesting that that is a desirable scale on which to expect any Scots family to exist, and the numbers on poor relief are undoubtedly one of the great blots upon 722 our civilisation, but we have to deal with the facts as we find them and with the scales laid down by the democratically-elected bodies dealing with this specific problem.
These people have an equal regard for the relief of the poor as those bodies across the imaginary line. The difficulty of dealing with the scale of relief is undoubted. You have to consider a great number of factors. I would not say that this scale was adequate. I say that we must investigate the circumstances of the case, and if you have an authority covering 660,000 persons laying down a certain scale of relief, we are entitled to say that the adjacent authority which desires a higher scale of relief ought to bring forward some suggestion to the central department to show why that scale, which is admitted by the authority for the parish of Glasgow, is not enough for the parish of Govan.
The position in Scotland is different from that in England. In Scotland a poor person has an appeal to the Department if the relief he or she is receiving is inadequate. They can bring up their dependants in order to show that the relief is inadequate. A person has the right to go before the central department and show that the scale of relief is inadequate. I quite agree that these factors have caused many hard cases. We have on more than one occasion examined and revised the circumstances in which this relief was being given. We have not had any cases of this kind brought to our notice; I do not say cases of starvation, but where there is serious deficiency in the nutrition of families on these scales.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I object very strongly to my hon. and gallant Friend's argument. I want to ask him if he has not been conducting an experiment as to the improvement of physique by the addition of one pint of milk per day to the ordinary diet? That is a very interesting experiment, from which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been getting wonderful results. I would only point out that what he is approving for Govan parish would give one pint of milk a day as the whole diet.
§ Major ELLIOT
The question there was not merely one of persons on poor relief receiving an inadequate diet. Our investigations seemed to show, with 723 respect to this extra milk feeding, that, as far as one could see, the whole school population of Scotland would be improved by the increased diet, but there is no suggestion here that the whole population of Scotland should be dealt with under these relief scales. The facts are simply these: A reduction of 24 per cent. in the cost of living led to the Department introducing a scale representing a reduction of 12 per cent., and that reduction was enforced only in the case of authorities which were borrowing. That scale is not less than the scale given by adjacent authorities, which are perfectly free to increase it if necessary. On these facts we say the onus on those desiring the higher scale is to prove that that higher scale is necessary, and neither from the hon. Member nor any other hon. Member, nor the parish council themselves, nor from our own investigations on the subject has the Department had the evidence that would be necessary if it were desirable to bring about the result the hon. Member requires, namely an increase in the scale from 2s. to 3s. 6d.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
If the right hon. Gentleman's Department has made the investigation which he says justifies them in taking up the attitude they are doing with regard to Govan parish, why is it that he has taken up several minutes in making his statement and has never anything from the investigations they have made into specific cases? I know Govan. I was born and brought up in it. I have lived in it practically all my life and I represent the Govan Division myself. I want to put this to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The reason why Govan parish is spending borrowed money to-day is that the unemployment which struck Glasgow hit the Parish of Govan first, in the shipbuilding centres on the Clyde, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, or ought to know, very well, and, consequently, he is not making any point by trying to suggest—
§ It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.