§ Mr. LAWSON
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Unemployment Insurance (Transitional Payments) Regulations, 1931, dated the 16th day of October, 1931, made by the Minister of Labour under Section 35 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1920, be annulled.This is the first opportunity that the House has had of discussing these Regulations, and when they are passed there will be no further opportunity of discussing this matter except to raise it on the Adjournment or in some such way as that. Therefore, as the matter is one of the utmost importance and perhaps one of the most serious that this House will have to face, I would ask, Sir, that, knowing that we are to discuss these Regulations, which are sometimes rather limited, as you are just in your judgments in the direction of this Debate, you should also be generous as far as this subject is concerned. These Regulations concern over 900,000 people. Under the Order-in-Council, this is the number that has to be transferred to the public assistance committees to have their claims investigated and what are now known as their transitional payments assessed. But when I point out that the public assistance committees this year are dealing with 800,000 out-relief cases, the House will understand that, by adding over 900,000 cases for investigation by these bodies, we are asking 552 the committees to undertake a grave and serious task. Vast as these figures are, there is an even worse aspect of the question; that is, the incidence of the greater number of these people in particular localities.
I asked the right hon. Gentleman last week for some figures as to how these 900,000 transitional cases were allotted in the different areas. We had the amazing result that in the south-eastern area some 89,000 persons are to have their claims investigated, but that in the north-eastern area, with about one-quarter of the population, the number is 192,000. To deal with 89,000 cases is a great problem for the public assistance committees, but, when that number is doubled where the population is much less, it will be realised that the problem is a very serious one for some parts of the country. I want to emphasise that we are not dealing with out-relief cases, but with transitional cases. I make that point because there is a tendency already to associate the transitional cases with the Poor Law and with public assistance. The Minister of Labour has been very careful, as I said this afternoon and as he pointed out, to give instructions to the managers of Employment Exchanges that, although these people have been transferred to the public assistance committees, they are to be treated as people who are in the employment field and are to have the same treatment as they have hitherto received; they have also to be paid at the Employment Exchanges.
We know the personnel of these people. We know that among this 900,000 are some of the finest craftsmen and skilled people in the world. The Minister of Labour in his instructions describes them as persons of varying degrees of skill and experience. We know, however—and the Minister of Labour knows it quite well, too—that the great bulk of them live in the shipbuilding, mining and engineering areas, and in this number are masses of the finest skilled workmen in the world. They have been robbed of the opportunity of exercising their skill and their craft, not because they do not want work or because there is any moral flaw in them, but because, by great economic changes, they have been prevented from exercising their craft and skill, and it is to them almost a denial of life. It is 553 very necessary that we should reiterate that the people for whom these Regulations are made are not the ordinary out-relief cases, but men and women who are in the field for employment and are open for it if they can get it.
The Minister seems to have lost sight of that fact when making these Regulations. In Regulation No. 3, which is the first of any practical importance, the right hon. Gentleman raises a point which was raised at Question Time to-day—I am very much surprised at it being raised so early—as to the kind of place where the investigations have to be made. The Regulation deals with the questions that have to be put orally or in writing, the information that has to be furnished for the purpose of determining the claim, and the place at which persons are required to attend for that purpose. The Minister says in this Regulation that:provided that a person shall not be required to attend for the said purpose at. a Poor Law institution, cave in so far as the Minister may in respect of any area expressly approve such attendance.I want to ask the Minister why he made a qualification of that kind in this Regulation. Already we have evidence that public assistance committees are prepared to take advantage of it, and that the right hon. Gentleman is willing for these cases to appear at Poor Law institutions. This may seem to he a small matter, but it is a very big matter if these Regulations have to be properly interpreted, and if the spirit of the Regulations is to be carried out, for these people have to keep their own identity. I ask the Minister of Labour the reason for this qualification and to consider the question of not putting this Regulation into operation at all.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
Can the hon. Gentleman give a case where advantage has been taken of this proviso and where there is alternative accommodation available of the character required?
§ Mr. LAWSON
The Minister this afternoon admitted at least one case. Everyone who knows Poor Law authorities knows that these are authorities which would not understand the spirit of these Regulations and would not hesitate to associate with the Poor Law people who ought not to be associated with it.
I want to draw attention to the Regulation which deals with inquiry for information and to the question of deter- 554 mination. I am not going to raise the intricate range of questions which the public assistance committees are putting to the people in the various localities. That they differ in kind, and that some public assistance committees ask questions which others do not ask, is a fact. That there are public assistance committees who even go to the extent of asking an applicant if his children received any Glaxo from the local clinic, is also a fact. I want to say on that particular point, as I shall say later in respect of other matters, that the public assistance committees are really entitled to some guidance from the Minister as to the questions that they should ask and the factors of income that should be included and those that should be left out. The right hon. Gentleman has left the public assistance committees in a quandary.
There is a tendency to criticise these committees, but, if there be any doubt about the position at all, it is not due to the committees; if any blame be attached to anyone, it is not to be attached to them. Whatever good or bad there is in this matter, the Government are responsible, because they have pushed this matter before the public assistance committees. The Minister ought to be very careful in these matters in protecting those who are co-operating with him. The public assistance committees are placed in a very invidious position. Since my name was connected with this Motion, I have had letters from public assistance committee officers and from other individuals in all parts of the country. One of them writes to say that great difficulty is felt by relief committees in arriving at the determination owing to the absence of any definite lead from the Minister of Labour as to how income is to be dealt with. He continues:It is being stated by disabled soldiers that they have been informed by Members of Parliament that disability pensions are not to be taken into account when relief sub-committees determine the allowance. These committees, however, are required to deal with applicants as if they were able-bodied men applying for assistance, and, in consequence, are bound to take pensions into account. Although a committee can take into account the extra need of a disabled person, and so increase the amount of benefit according to the need, there is lacking any suggestion as to how much of a disability pension should be ignored.555 I think the House will agree that public assistance committees have been placed in a very invidious position by the lack of instruction and guidance from the Minister. He himself knows, from what has taken place in this House during the past week or two, and even to-day, that members of his own party are confused about the position. The only circular issued by the Ministry of Labour on the subject, has darkened counsel. When he replies on these matters the right hon. Gentleman always alludes to a circular sent out by the Ministry of Labour on 10th November. I will not trouble the House with the whole of the circular, but it is important to read one or two paragraphs. It is Circular L.A.3 and the second paragraph of it says:The Minister has no power to vary the terms of the Order in Council which requires a committee or sub-committee in determining any question referred to them to make such inquiries and otherwise deal with the case as if they were estimating the need of an unemployed able-bodied person who had applied for public assistance.Then there is paragraph 5, the one in which the Minister gave his famous interpretation:There is no authority for the statement that public assistance committees are obliged to bring into account the whole amount of an ex-service pension or disability pension.I want the House to note that nowhere in this Circular, or anywhere else, does the Minister say that the committee can exclude the whole amount or any part, of the pension. In reply to a question on this point the Minister has referred to a statement made in Circular No. 1097 of 28th March, 1930, addressed to public assistance committees in England and Wales, a circular issued by Mr. Greenwood. It says there:In assessing the amount of relief to he afforded the general principle is that income and means from every source available to the household should be taken into account, subject to the statutory exceptions contained in Section 76 of the Poor Law Act, 1927. It should, however, he remembered that where certain classes of income are concerned, such for example, as disability pensions or blind pensions, the disabilities in respect of which the pension has been awarded may be such as to call for a greater measure of assistance than would normally he appropriate.556 That Circular has no relation to the transition cases under unemployment insurance which have been submitted to the public assistance committees. When he sent out that Circular in March, 1930, 18 months before these transition cases were passed over to the public assistance committees, Mr. Greenwood was dealing with the Poor Law position solely. He was up against the fact, whether he wanted to improve the Poor Law position or not, that the destitution test was in operation, and had been for the greater part of a century. He wanted to modify it on its harsher side, and took steps to do so in so far as he could do anything administratively. He was dealing there with out-relief cases, and the House must not forget that the people we are dealing with now are not out-relief cases, and so the present Minister was really asking too much of public assistance committees when he sent out his Circular. If I may be permitted to do so I should describe it as a cute and clever Circular, but hardly honest. Written all over it one sees the desire to avoid the real issue, and now the right bon. Gentleman has come up against the fact that Members of his own party are asking him to face up to this question of the exclusion of disability pensions. Here is a case which has been put into my hands within the last few minutes. This gentleman belongs to Leeds, and has been before the public assistance committee at Hunslet. He writes to a Member of this House:I had a means test with a committee at Glasshouse Street, Hunslet, last Thursday and I found to my regret that the whole of my disability pension (50 per cent.) had been taken into consideration, with the consequence that the whole of my unemployment pay was knocked off (£1 7s. 3d.). This leaves me now only my 50 per cent. pension to keep myself, wife and two children, which is a hopeless task. The Government's contract has been broken, and I still contend that not one penny of a disabled war pensioner's pension should have been taken into consideration, legally, regarding a means test. I am sure you can see how unjustly I have been treated.I think the House must agree that that man has been unjustly treated, and if he has been unjustly treated it is because the Government have handed these cases over to the public assistance committees, and that the right hon. Gentleman, in framing his Regulations, has given no guidance to those committees.
557 I want to put a straight question to the right hon. Gentleman, because he can take it from me that if this matter is not cleared up satisfactorily in this House things will happen in this country which will compel this Government or someone to take the matter up. I know of a public assistance committee who have decided that they will not, under any circumstances, count the pension of any man as part of his means for the purposes of this test, and I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman what will be the position of a committee which takes up that attitude? Is the right hon. Gentleman going to accept that position? Can he give us a guarantee that they will not be surcharged Can he give a guarantee that he will not exercise his powers under the Order in Council to dismiss such a committee on the grounds of inefficiency, and to put some commissioner or dictator in their place? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will really face up to that issue, because there is the position in a nutshell. If it is true, as he says, that these disablement pensions are to be excluded from calculations as to means, then that public assistance committee is right, and he ought to give some guarantee that they will not be victimised because they carry out what they think is the spirit of the Regulations.
These disabled men have suffered in this country's cause. Their wounds and their physical disabilities have brought suffering into their lives and their chances in industrial competition have been lessened, and I say the House dare not agree to these Regulations as they stand, because if they do agree to take into account the whole of a soldier's pension for the purpose of assessing his means, the House will place every exsoldier—and I believe there are tens of thousands of them—in exactly the same position as the man whose case I have read to the House. If there had been that attendance of hon. Members which there ought to be when we are dealing with such a subject, I should have had to put some personal questions to those of them who had served in the War with great masses of these men. It sometimes happens that such Members, casehardened, do not feel too much concern about industrial questions because they do not understand them, but their sympathy is roused when we are dealing with 558 ex-service men, because at some time or other during the War they came into direct contact with these men. I should have liked to ask the great body of ex-officers in this House whether they were not prepared to ask the Minister to hold up these Regulations until there is a decision upon this matter, which is all-important to the men who served this country well, and to whom great and sacred pledges were given when they went out into that unknown world to take the risks which they faced there.
Now I am going further. I am going to put compensation men into the same category. It was said during the War, with reference to the mining industry, "The miners are always in the trenches," and I am sorry to say we have had a fatal reminder of the perils of their calling within the last few days. I met a friend this week, and I spoke to him about some new heavy machinery that was now being used in the pits. I asked him what was the effect of the vibration of that machinery on the men working in the pit, and whether it was severe or not. My friend replied: "No, but it is very much like a machine gun in its effect." He was a man used to pit work, and he was familiar with all the things they used to handle during the War. The means of the compensation men are very small, and I want to know if this fact has been taken into consideration. This is a very serious matter. Those who understand these questions know that some of the men may have lost a hand, or something of that kind, which debars them from working. The last Parliament tried to deal with these cases, and took some steps to compel employers to consider these men as far as employment was concerned. One thing is certain, that every section in the last Parliament believed that the compensation man did not receive as much compensation as he ought to receive, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to give a satisfactory answer to that criticism.
Another case to be considered is where the public assistance committee takes into consideration the applicant's interest in a house. I understand that it is a fact that if a man possesses a house some, but not all, public assistance committees insist on him realising the value of his house. I do not know whether that is a uniform practice, or whether it is an 559 instruction, but I cannot see any reason why a man who has £50 invested in some building society should be compelled to draw that out before he is entitled to benefit. What is the difference between a person who has invested £300 or £400 in a house, and one who has invested his life savings in a co-operative society, National Savings Certificates, or something of that kind? These cases should have the serious consideration of the Minister of Labour. Justice ought to be done to these unemployed men and women, and there ought to be some guidance to secure uniformity in dealing with cases.
Some public assistance committees interpret the destitute standard in different ways. One committee will allow 15s., while another committee in an adjoining district, in similar circumstances, will only allow 10s. as the standard benefit. A number of these committees, in estimating what is necessary to maintain a decent existence, have placed the scale lower than the ordinary standard benefits. The result of the lowering of the standard of unemployment benefit has been to send these people over to the Poor Law, and in many cases the public assistance committees have taken advantage of this by applying a harsh means test. It is fatal to the best interests of this country, physically, mentally and morally, that there should be a lowering of the standards adopted by public assistance committees.
I will now take the case in which there is a determination, and the man loses the whole of his benefit, in which case the public assistance committee gives him nothing. The circumstances upon which that decision was arrived at may change, but the man is not allowed benefit on that account. I will take as an instance a colliery in my own division, working s hat is commonly known as "off and on." At any given time a man working at that colliery can be said to secure his 26 weeks' unemployment benefit, but often the pit stops, work closes down, and starts again some little time after. If a collier had what is called "a good place," in years gone by he used to be able to earn £3 a week, but he has to have a very good place indeed now before he can earn anything like £3 a week, and the average amount is nearer 30s. a 560 week. I will assume that a son in one family happens to have a good place, and he lives with his father and mother. If the pit closes the son would be entitled to standard benefit, but the father, having previously lost his benefit, appears to have no further claim whatever. I can assure the House that that is not an individual case, but it is one which applies to a vast number of people. What steps will the right hon. Gentleman take in regard to cases of that kind? In what way can all these cases come back in order to be reviewed? Under Regulation No. 6 there is to be a review of the determination cases every four weeks. Behind those regulations there is the fact that the Government want £10,000,000 out of these people during this year. The Minister has taken power under the order to add to the number of these committees if he wishes to do so, and he is going to review those cases every four weeks to see that no one gets a penny more than he is entitled to according to the standard of the public assistance committee. There is a special regulation for a Ministry of Health inspector to be present, and he has power to suspend any committee if it does not do its work efficiently.
These regulations are being applied to a community of over 900,000, and should say that, with their dependants, over 5,000,000 people are directly concerned. I do not think the Minister of Labour ought to have left this subject to the mere discretion of public assistance committees, who adopt varying standards, and whose judgment is different according to taste and upbringing. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have taken some steps to give a definite guidance upon this matter. I am sure that there is going to be a storm in the country in regard to this question. Members of this House have been misled, and the people concerned have been misled. Public assistance committees are already feeling that they have had an unjust burden placed upon them, and are forming the opinion that they have been "sold a pup."
Last night the Newcastle committee dealing with these cases met, and they divided themselves into four subcommittees, and those sub-committees were again divided into other committees. They considered cases for over five 561 hours, and the one thing upon which they were all agreed unanimously was the remarkably fine type of people they had to deal with. Mr. Leadbitter, chairman of the public assistance committee, said:Great as was the unpleasantness of the means test for the applicants, the duties of the committee members were equally unpalatable. This is going to be the most unpleasant task I have ever tackled. There is bound to he some hardship. I am afraid that the test will lead to the penalising of the thrifty poor, as the man who has something saved loses benefit, and the man who has nothing receives it.That is all due to the fact that, the Government have adopted the course of putting this administration on the public assistance committees. Sooner or later the Government will have to undo what they have done in regard to these social problems, and they will have to put all these people into a different category than that in which they are placed at the present time. To my mind the hardest thing about it all is that all the regulations work to one end, to put pressure upon the public assistance committees to get that £10,000,000. There will be no relenting on the part of the Government, the Ministry of Labour or the Ministry of Health in connection with the public assistance committees as far as that money is concerned. Their efficiency will be judged by the way in which they get their quota of that money. Those who are in this transitional position have to pay twice over. They have already paid their 10 per cent. as a contribution to the £12,800,000, and now they are asked to contribute this £10,000,000 from the transitional side. That may be equality of sacrifice, but those concerned will judge it on its merits. I am well aware that hon. Members will make nice debating points, but whatever scores are made in this Debate cannot get rid of the fact that, as a result of the work of the public assistance committees during this month and during the weeks to come, men and women will lack the elementary needs of life. They will lack clothes and boots, and little children will actually lack food, as a result of this decision. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, to consider seriously whether he cannot hold over these regulations, re-consider the whole position, and give the public 562 assistance committees some decisive lead and guidance as to how they should determine the spending of State money, in order that something like justice may be done to the categories I have mentioned. I beg to move.
§ Mr. DAVID ADAMS
I beg to second the Motion.
In craving the indulgence which this House usually gives to a new Member who is making his maiden speech, may I say that I will be as brief as possible?I represent a district which is totally industrial, with its huge docks, its wharves, its ship-repairing yards, timber yards and foundries, where there are thousands upon thousands of people unemployed. During the last few years, when unemployment has become so rife, I have had the experience of knowing exactly how these people are living even to-day; but how they will live later on, under these transitional benefit regulations, I fail to understand. We have always had a crisis in the East End of London; we have never known anything else for a good number of years; and we have seen honest, genuine men with families treated, I might say, as animals. Under the public assistance administration that is ruled to-day by the London County Council, these people have been driven from their homes. I have known men who would refuse to apply to the public assistance committee on account of the treatment that they would receive. We see honest men, trying to get work around the clocks, fighting one another and being trampled on, with blood springing from their faces, in the endeavour to get half a day's work. These people have been forced to go to the public assistance committee, and the result has been that they have been forced to go to the Belmont penal colony, or to Hollesley Bay and similar places, and spend an indefinite period away from their wives and families. These people have endeavoured to do all that they possibly could to live on the benefit they received from the Employment Exchanges, instead of applying to the public assistance committee, where at least the children could get something more to eat and more clothes to put on their backs. They would sooner keep away in many cases, so that they might not be degraded as they have been.
563 I wonder what is going to be the position of some of these men who have refused public assistance, now that they are forced, under this Measure, to face a public assistance committee. When I speak of facing a public assistance committee, I want the Minister of Health to take note of the action of the area officer in Area No. 1 under the London County Council. After members of that committee, who are members of the majority side, had given their decision, taking into consideration the very good industrial record of some of these men, on the top of that this officer said to the committee, "This will not do; I will see to it that this case is sent to a special committee, because your treatment, in my opinion, is not as it should be. "I wonder very often how a means test is going to be applied to people in this position. I have personal knowledge of the case of a, man of 80 with an only son who has been refused relief by the London Country Council. When he went up he did not understand this form, and I believe that 90 per cent. of the workers to-day could not even fill in one of these forms that are handed to them by the public assistance officer or by the Employment Exchange. The result was that the 10s. pension of this poor old person was taken into consideration. I think it is shameful that such men as these, whom I have known for years and whose needs I have had to administer, should be placed in the position in which they are to-day. Do hon. Members forget the period 1914–18, when you wanted every man jack in this country? You called upon these people to do their bit, and they did it. You fed them when they came home on furlough, you fed them when they came home wounded, and right up to the end of the War, but these people have now been forgotten except as regards degrading them by taking them to a public assistance committee from the Employment Exchanges which were had enough.
I ask, why cannot work be found for these people? There is plenty of work if the Government liked to put the schemes into operation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) knows well the Mill-wall island site in Poplar, an absolutely industrial area, where there is no outlet or inlet for the transportation even of 564 goods, and these people are suffering because employers in that area are not able to put in hand work which is absolutely necessary. The work has to go to places 200 miles away, and has to be transported back into London, when it could he done within two or three miles of the place where it is required. I ask that these considerations should be taken into account with a view to helping these people. I can only say that these people will certainly be roused by the treatment they receive from the public assistance committees and their officials. I have always been a peaceful man, but, when I see these people coming to my office and to every other local member, I feel that I cannot be responsible for what may happen, and even that I would be prepared to lead them against the action that has been forced upon them. I feel, that I cannot restrain myself when I see men who have been strong and able and willing to work forced into a position in which their spirit and their health deteriorate, when I see them without proper clothes or boots, and when I see the kiddies with their wan faces. Are they not going to be assisted to get out of the plight in which they have been put? I beg, sincerely, that at least these regulations may be amended so that these people may be given an opportunity to recover themselves.
§ Mr. CURRY
I rise with some diffidence to ask the House to extend to me that indulgence which it never fails to extend to new Members. My reason for intervening at this juncture is because I do not feel that I should be discharging my duty to the constituency which sent me here if I did not in some measure associate myself with many of the expressions which have fallen from the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). I did not understand the hon. Member to oppose the application of a means test as such—
§ Mr. LAWSON
I do not want to interrupt a maiden speech, and I apologise for doing so, but I was informed very definitely that we should not be allowed to debate that subject.
§ Mr. CURRY
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for that information, because it has cleared away a point of doubt in my mind as to what the exact position of the official Opposition is in 565 this matter, having regard to recent utterances of their Leader in this House. I wonder sometimes whether this House adequately appreciates and understands the conditions which prevail in areas such as that which I represent, and not merely in the Division of Bishop Auckland but in the whole County of Durham and all the other mining areas in the country. In these mining areas we have a problem which is slightly different in its nature from the problem which unemployment presents in other parts of the country. The industry of coal-mining inevitably, from its nature, segregates large communities, whether in villages or in towns, into areas contiguous to the collieries in which they work. When the pit closes, the bulk of the population of the town or village are left without any means of earning a livelihood, and they remain there, not, as some people seem to suggest, because they lack the initiative to seek employment in other districts, but because of the hope, which rumour daily encourages, that the pit is going to open this week, or next week, or the week after. The weeks drag their days out into months and the months, in many cases, into years. The whole of that population in the meantime is left without any visible means of sustenance other than the Unemployment Fund, upon which they have to draw.
Thus it is that we have in these mining areas an almost static population of unemployed people the great bulk of whom—it is almost true to say the whole of whom—must automatically make application for transitional payments. There can be no doubt, after what we have heard from the hon. Gentleman opposite, that confusion exists in the administration of these transitional payments and, where you have confusion in the minds of people who are responsible for administration, it follows inevitably that you have injustice suffered by the people for whom they have to administer and, with confusion on the one side and injustice on the other, you have, in the minds even of the people who have been justly dealt with, anxiety created which may be even more harassing than the actual suffering of injustice when it arises.
I want to recognise, as I feel sure the House recognises, that, however much these things may be the case, the Minister has made an honest attempt to re- 566 move that confusion and to avoid that injustice, but my whole plea is that his attempt does not seem to me to be quite incapable of further development. If we take the latest Circular to which the hon. Member referred, we find that reference is made to the capital value of a house or of invested savings, but there is nothing in the Circular that makes any attempt to define what are invested savings. It is this omission to give a definite statement which has led to a great deal of inconsistency in the administration as between one district and another. But I want to go further than that. When we talk about invested savings, it is well to remember that, when working people can save at all, which in the post-War years has been very rarely, they save in small amounts and they invest their savings in either the Post Office Savings Bank or, more usually in my part of the country, in the various co-operative stores. When the working people invest their savings in the Post Office or in the stores and they eventually appear before the public assistance committee, these savings, being readily realisable investments, are apt to be taken by the public assistance committee as something that should be realised before transitional payments can be made. It may be that the instructions that have been issued lead public assistance committees fairly to draw that conclusion but I am certain, from my knowledge of these people, that they regard savings put into the stores and into the Post Office as being "invested savings", and thus it is that, as the result of the public assistance committee's awards, they begin to say, in no uncertain voice and with some degree of justification, that the National Government are failing to keep their word.
But the point upon which I feel most strongly is that which has arisen upon disability pensions. Here, again, if I turn to the Circular, I find words which the House will know very well by now, that the Minister has no authority under the Order-in-Council to give instructions as to the manner in which the resources of an applicant represented by capital values should be taken into account. Then it says:There is no authority for the statement that public assistance committees are obliged to bring into account the whole 567 amount of an ex-service pension or disability pension.I do not know, except for the statement of the hon. Gentleman opposite, of any case in which the whole amount has been brought into account. My grievance is not that. My grievance is that there should be any doubt about the matter at all, and that at this stage we are still left in some degree of doubt as to what the authorities desire the public assistance committees to do. I want to draw attention to an award made the day before yesterday by the court of referees at Blyth, who ruled that a disabled person in receipt of an 80 per cent. pension is not to have to apply for transitional payment, because his lack of stamps is due to disability, and it may be that, if courts of referees in various places take that as a precedent, it may save Members of the House a very great deal of anxiety in the future. I feel that we are not treating these people who are in receipt of disability pensions fairly. Imagine the position of these men. For 12 years now every possible means has been adopted to reduce both the numbers and the amounts of the pensions. These men have been taken before medical board after medical board, and now we have at long last, as the result of 12 years of constant investigation, re-investigation and examination, pensions fixed which are a measure of the permanent disability under which these people suffer, and the amounts that are now fixed are the agreed minimum monetary compensation which the State dare offer in open day for the permanent disadvantage under which these men are now condemned to go through life.
I feel very strongly that, when a public assistance committee takes into account it may be 30, 40, 50 per cent., or any percentage at all, of disability pension, it is in effect reducing the pension below the minimum amount at which it has been fixed by the competent authority in its investigation. I think that this is a contemptible way for a great nation to treat the people who, in the hour of their country's need, offered to make the supreme sacrifice, and who walk about to-day, in some cases with the marks visible—walking memories of the great struggle through which we passed. Surely this country, even in this crisis, is not so poor that it cannot honour its 568 bond, which was made in the most sacred circumstances.
I wish to make that appeal. It is the only appeal I make to the Government. It is an appeal to dispel the confusion that exists, for I feel strongly that this confusion and this injustice will continue until the Minister is able to indicate to the public assistance committees that the real percentage of disability pension which they should take into account is nil, and nothing more than nil. I cannot see a very great deal of difference between the man who was injured in the field of military warfare and the man who is injured in the field of industry. It has been truly said that the miners are constantly in the trenches and, as I represent a mining constituency, I place both these disability pensions into the one category. I appeal to the Government to do something now to give consideration to the fact and, if they do that, they will at one and the same time remove from the minds of many of their supporters a great sense of misgiving, and they will send a message of good will and good cheer on the eve of the festive season into the homes of thousands of our most deserving poor.
§ Mr. TINKER
I should like to compliment the hon. Member on his maiden effort, the more so because these are points on which the House is in general agreement with him. I want to follow on the lines of the speaker on our side. I want to let the House know that a great feeling is coming over the country in regard to the regulations which we have to administer. There is a storm breaking in various parts of the country against the method of dealing with transitional payments, and it is well that the Government should know what is happening. They appealed to the country before it was fully realised what transitional payment meant. I dare say there was an object in that because, had we known what we know now, the Government would not have anything like the majority they have.
Many meetings have been held and the public assistance committees have had to deal with the matter. I come from a locality in which as recently as Monday last a public meeting was held. It was called together by a minister of religion and was attended, not only by supporters of the Labour party, but by 569 supporters of the National candidate. One man who spoke at the meeting was one of the chief supporters of the National candidate in my division. He is on the public assistance committee. He declared that the method by which they had to deal with people who came forward in respect of transitional benefit was wrong, and said that at the last meeting he left the committee and refused to carry on the work. He was present at the public meeting in order to raise his voice in protest. On all sides at that meeting the same kind of protest was made. It is not merely one section of the political parties who are dealing with the matter. The feeling is general that something ought to be done to make the position with regard to transitional payments different from what it is at the present time.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Curry) said that we had got to bedrock. The last statement issued from the Ministry of Pensions showed a gradual falling off in payments. Believing that these disabled inert have done great service for the State and having fixed a certain amount of pension in respect of that service which was carried out in a time of great stress, is it right to take advantage of the position by saying to them, "All right, if you had not had a pension, you would have been entitled to what is called transitional benefit, but because you receive a pension, we cannot see our way to give you transitional benefit; what you receive as pension must be taken into account? "I do not think that anyone in this House could defend such a position. Honestly, I do not think that there is a Tory Member in the House who would agree with that kind of thing. But it is actually taking place at all the public assistance committees. It is true that the regulations give a certain amount of latitude, but even with such latitude, pensions are being taken into account in balancing the amount these men receive as transitional benefit. The matter must be dealt with; it cannot be allowed to go on as it is at the present time. One of the reasons for bringing forward this Prayer is to let the country know what is happening. Credit ought to go to the Labour party for bringing the matter before the attention of the Government. We are here for the purpose of voicing 570 public opinion, and to the Labour party belongs the credit on this occasion for having done something to call the attention of the House and the country to what is happening. That is one feature of the situation.
The question of compensation has been mentioned. I do not wish the House to think that we are asking that a mail receiving full compensation should have full transitional benefit. But there are a vast number of workmen—I speak chiefly for the miners—who are suffering from some injury as a result of which they cannot obtain employment again. One prevailing disability is nystagmus. Many of our men are suffering from nystagmus. Employers will not take them on again when once they contract nystagmus. These men are put off with a few shillings as compensation. They receive varying amounts, but not full compensation. They are fit to do certain kinds of work. These men, when they come before the public assistance committee, will have to state the amount of money they are receiving, and following the practice which obtains in regard to pensions cases, the amount they are receiving as compensation will also be taken into account and their transitional benefit reduced accordingly.
These two features ought to be dealt with by the House of Commons, and I hope that as a result of the Debate to-night the Minister of Labour will realise the position he did not appear to realise when the Order was made. There are certain cases which, we all agree, ought to be excluded from what is called the means test. If the right hon. Gentleman receives a general concensus of opinion from the House that such cases as these ought to be excluded, I claim that it comes within his discretion when he issues his Orders to tell the public assistance committees to keep certain considerations clear of their assessments. They should not take into account pensions received in consequence of the Great War and partial compensation payments. If the Minister acted on those lines in order to see how the matter worked, it might help us somewhat towards getting the transitional business altered. We have brought forward this Prayer to-night with a desire to get something different from that which at present obtains.
571 I have received a number of letters on various points. One letter shows the great hardship which obtains. A miner, 60 years of age, has been told that he is unfit for work. He has been on unemployment benefit for 12 months. His married daughter is living with him. Her husband is working, and they have four children. The total amount of money which is being brought into the household is just over 50s. per week. The married daughter and her husband have to keep the father. I do not know whether this sort of case comes within the province of public assistance committees in reference to transitional benefit, but it appears to me to be wrong altogether that a married daughter living with her father should have to bear the burden of keeping him. This is one of the points I am bringing forward for the purpose of trying to find out from the Minister if this is really the sort of thing they have to do. If it is, we must accept it, but if something can be done to alter the position, we appeal to the Minister to take all those points into consideration, believing that there is a big opening for him to do something towards amending the transitional conditions or regulations in order to make things much better than they are at the present time.
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
In rising to take part in this Debate, I feel at a double disadvantage. It has been the practice of Prime Ministers during recent years to appoint to the rather thankless task of Ministers of Labour hon. and right hon. Members of this House who bring to that work a charming and a disarming personality, and we have always felt ourselves in some difficulty in criticising the administration either of the present Minister or of his predecessor in the Parliaments from 1924 to 1929. I should like to take the further opportunity of adding my personal congratulations to the Parliamentary Secretary. Nobody could be more fitted, with the great knowledge he possesses on this subject, for the post he occupies, and I am sure he carries the good wishes of all his fellow Members in what we hope and believe will be a long and successful official career. It is true that in the Parliament in which I had the honour to sit before we were able occasionally to resist the charm of the present Minister and his predecessor, and sometimes in that work the present 572 Parliamentary Secretary was my co-adjutor in the criticisms we ventured sometimes to make upon the conduct of affairs of the Ministry of Labour. Like some of my friends, he worked with me in that Parliament, and though he is now one of those poachers who has turned keeper, yet I do not despair of being able to recruit others to carry on the good work of the guerilla warfare against the Ministry of Labour in which he took so important and conspicuous a part.
The second difficulty under which I labour is that I am a little uncertain how far the Rules of Order will allow me to go in this Debate. At present you, Sir, and Mr. Deputy-Speaker have not shown any harsh or pedantic rigidity, but rather have given us some elasticity of discussion. Of course, I realise that we are precluded from discussing here the_policy of the Economy Act or of the Order in Council, and that we are really allowed in this Debate only to discuss how far the Regulations properly carry out the policy laid down by the Orders in Council under the Act. At the same time, I hope that the Government realise that the much larger issues of public policy which arise are causing great anxiety to many of their supporters as well as to the official Opposition, and it will be necessary, and I hope convenient, either in this Session or early in the next Session, to arrange a Debate in which a far, wider scope can be given to the discussion—of what really will need to be reconsidered—of the whole relations of the Poor Law to the future of the National Insurance Scheme.
Meanwhile, I think that, without going beyond the Rules of Order, I am entitled to discuss how far the Regulations carry out the interpretation of the Order in Council, and how far, in particular, they carry out the interpretation given to the Order in Council by leading Ministers in the Cabinet during the course of the election. Statements were made in the course of the election upon which I and, I am sure, very many other Members supporting the Government relied to the full. Statements were made by the Prime Minister in particular, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and by the present Home Secretary. Realising the conditions of the election and that it was difficult for Members to pursue in detail all the changing Rules, Regulations or Orders that might be promulgated from day to day, we naturally bad to rely upon 573 the public statements of Ministers holding high office in the National Government.
The Prime Minister made some statements in the course of the election campaign with regard to disability pensions of ex-service men, and although after careful re-reading of what he said, I observe that his statements are, as is not unusual with him, somewhat carefully guarded, yet I feel certain that he would be the last man to wish that there should be any obscurity in the final decision given upon this matter. I am sure he would not like it to be thought that any false impression had been left upon the minds of any of us, and that he will give the most serious consideration to the points which have been freely put forward in this Debate and which, I am sure, will be put. forward in further detail by those specifically empowered to represent the ex-service men's point of view in this House. I would only say on that point that I do not find the letter L.A.3 to which reference has been made is altogether illuminating. It is, of course, true that men who have total disability pension—100 per cent. disability—are outside or ought to be outside, the field of unemployment insurance. I am informed that there are a few cases in which, in fact, in spite of their being granted a 100 per cent. disability pension, they have for one reason or another been able to re-enter the field of employment. I think we should be prepared to congratulate those individuals upon their good fortune, and not pry too closely into the reasons for their recovery. The broad question arises in regard to the men who have partial disability. I do not think that the actual terms of the circular make it very clear to the public assistance committees exactly how they are to operate the new system of transitional benefit in these cases. I hope that the Minister of Labour will see his way to issue far more definite instructions and interpretations of the Order in Council.
The Minister who made much more definite statements, which have attracted a great deal of public attention, was the Home Secretary. I recognise his courtesy in being present to-day, because I informed him that I intended to make some reference to his speeches. He was a member of what was then the Cabinet of 10—a much more important position then than in the enlarged 574 Cabinet, where the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility may be slightly reduced by the larger composition of the Cabinet. He was more than that. He was one of the triumvirate, representing one of the three great parties of the State which formed jointly the National Government. He is a statesman of whom no one could say that he was not most careful—sometimes he might be suspected of even pedantic, and meticulous scrupulosity—with regard to matters of public importance. His Cobdenite virtue is supposed to be unaffected by the subtle seductions of the Safeguarders, and certainly to have remained intact in face of the more vigorous assaults of the full-blooded Protectionists. Indeed, many people question how far his fiscal chastity will enable him to remain in his present position, and whether he will seek a purer atmosphere elsewhere. The point that I am making is that no one chooses his words more carefully or is more precise in his views on matters of public policy than the right hon. Gentleman. Speaking at Darwen during the election he made this statement:The local authorities will be asked to inquire into cases on behalf of the Government. Those inquiries will have absolutely no connection with the Poor Law. The two matters will be kept entirely separate.That I believe to have been the original intention of the Government. I only press the comparatively small point that in the regulations issued, on page 2, paragraph 3, the Minister reserves the right to arrange for the public assistance committee to interview applicants for transitional benefit. at Poor Law institutions, if he so wishes to arrange it. I do not think that is in complete conformity with the pledge given by the Home Secretary. That may refer only to the place. If the Home Secretary referred to the tests and the conditions which were to be applied, then, I think, he could not have read carefully the Order-in-Council, because the Order-in-Council makes it clear, on page 3, paragraph 4, thatA committee or sub-committee in determining any question … shall make such inquiries and otherwise deal with the case as if they were estimating the need of an unemployed able-bodied person who had applied for public assistance.Therefore, the conditions apply to the estimating of the need of a person asking 575 for public assistance in the ordinary way. The Home Secretary went on to say:Unless the committees are satisfied that the full amounts are not needed, the payments will hot be less than the ordinary unemployment allowance.I regarded that as a very important statement, because it says that the onus of proof is to rest upon the committees. That clearly indicated that the onus of proof is not upon the man to make good his case, but upon the committee to prove that he does not require the amount of benefit that he is claiming. Under Article I, paragraph 2 (b) of the Regulations, it is clear that that is not the case, and that the onus of proof lies upon the man to make good his case, and not upon the committees to disprove it. The Home Secretary also made another statement which carried a great deal of weight. I am not saying that the Government do not intend to carry out these pledges—I feel sure that they do—but I am calling attention to the pledges and to what appears in the Order-in-Council and the Regulations that have been made. The right hon. Gentleman said:The statement has been made that if a man has been thrifty and owns his own house, the committee will not be allowed to give him any unemployment pay, unless he sells or mortgages his house. I say, speaking not merely in a personal capacity but as a Member of the Government, that that statement is untrue.The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking at Darlington, went further and used stronger language. He said that the statement was a calculated lie. Those were very clear statements, and in the case of the Chancellor of the Exchequer it was a very strong statement. I cannot help asking the House to relate these clear statements to the letter to the public assistance committees, L.A.3. That letter reposed for a time in the prim obscurity of the Library, but was eventually published at the instance of myself and other honourable Members. It is almost a masterpiece of that method of writing which can only be described as officialese, because it bears little relation to English. Its object is mainly to obscure the issue rather than to clarify it. I would ask hon. Members to compare the very clear statements made by Ministers on this matter with the langu- 576 age in paragraph 4 of L.A.3 letter on transitional payments issued by the Ministry of Labour:The Minister has no authority under the Order in Council to give instructions as to the manner in which the resources of an applicant represented by the capital value of a house or of invested savings should be taken into account, nor indeed would such instructions be appropriate to the individual treatment of each case on its merits. In general it would be right to take account of these resources to some extent at least before transitional payments at the expense of the National Exchequer could be authorised.That would tend to indicate that the committees are to take account of these particular resources, and to say to a man, "You must mortgage your house, or you must liquidate your assets, whether they are frozen or fixed assets." In a later paragraph this official letter says:… in those cases it would not be improper for the public assistance committees, while taking full account of the income value of such resources, to recommend the grant of transitional payment for the time being.I admit that the Minister in that paragraph rather hints to the committees that they are not to take too stringent a view and that they may grant benefit without requiring the grave course to be taken for the enforced realisation of assets. I would, however, ask the House to compare the very clear and definite statements of the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the much more obscure and almost fumbling recommendations contained in this document, L.A. 3. I very much hope that the Minister of Labour will not think that I have tried to make an attack upon his administration. What I have said has been in a purely friendly and constructive spirit. I recognise, and I think the House recognises, that the Minister has done his best in a very difficult situation. What has really happened is that the Government have tied themselves up in their own Order-in-Council. They are unable to amend it under the Economy Act. They cannot alter it except by legislation. The Minister has done us at least this immense benefit that he has written a circular which, if I may paraphrase it, recommends the committees not to stick to the strict letter, but suggests that they will 577 have his support if they go beyond the strict letter of the Order-in-Council and operate the system in a fair and generous spirit. I recognise that at the present time the right hon. Gentleman can do no more than that. Without legislation it is impossible to amend the Order-in-Council.
I recognise, further, that the whole system that is laid down here is of a transitory and impermanent kind. It is experimental. It was brought about by a crisis, and was admittedly only meant to operate in the crisis. I do not go further than to press upon the Government, having regard especially to their clear pledges on this matter, the advisability of making the experimental period as short as possible, and as rapidly as possible, in the light of the experience of the system, to bring before the House a well-thought-out new scheme under which the National Insurance system shall operate, to lay down what is to be the function of a reformed Poor Law and what is to be the function of a new National Unemployment Insurance plan. We are bound to come to that sooner or later, and I press the point now because I feel certain that the Minister regards this as a purely experimental period unfortunately forced upon the country through a crisis. Although there are immense benefits in what has been done, by the division into groups of the unemployed, which I have always thought to be right, and there are steps of real advance in the plans put forward, hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be content and that the Government will redeem their pledges, which were accepted by many of their supporters who were elected to this House, and by a great number of the voters, and that they will amend the system governing transitional benefit and bring it into proper relation with the Poor Law itself.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Henry Betterton)
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) on his return to this House. I am quite sure that his return will be welcomed by Members of all parties. The hon. Member who opened the Debate suffers, I think, from one or two misapprehensions which it is my intention, if I can, to remove. His object and mine in these matters 578 are precisely the same. We are anxious to ensure, and every Member of this House is anxious to ensure, that these matters shall be administered fairly and sympathetically. Neither he nor I nor any one else would wish that there should be unnecessary hardship in the administration. The greater part, of the hon. Member's speech was devoted to the question as to whether there should be a needs test at all for transitional benefit. That is the first point to which the House should address itself. I am not going to refer to what was done in the last Parliament, and I am not going to quote statements as to whether there was general agreement that the needs test should be made, but I do recollect that the Leader of the Opposition, even within the last two or three days, seemed to state that in his view, in certain circumstances and conditions, a needs test should be imposed upon those claiming transitional benefit.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
May I put a point of Order on this matter? I saw you, Mr. Speaker, last night on this matter, and I have had a discussion with the Clerks at the Table. I got the definite impression that, in no circumstances, would I be allowed to deal with the Order-in-Council which is the expression of the National Economy Act, and that, therefore, I should not be allowed to discuss the principle of the means test in my speech; but that I should have to adhere to the Regulations which express that test. Otherwise, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, I should have been very pleased to deal with the matter, because I could have disposed of it decisively, both for myself and for my party.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. May we have a Ruling on that, because, if we are to discuss the meaning of the words "means test," we are perfectly prepared to discuss it all night?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The question as to whether there should be a means test or not, would not be in order.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I think you were in the Chair, Sir, during the whale of the time I was speaking. I think the House will agree with me, and the right hon. 579 Gentleman practically agrees, that I very carefully kept off the means test, because I could not deal with it under the Rules of the House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman would not be in order to discuss the rights or wrongs of the means test.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not think I lack courage to defend anything that I have said, or that I stand for. The right hon. Gentleman is raising the question of what has been said on another day. I want to say that that statement of mine can be twisted in all kinds of ways. I resent that very much. If the means test is to he discussed to-night, I welcome that, but I object strongly to the right hon. Gentleman making any statement as to what I said, without my being able fully to discuss that. That is the point.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I must say at once, with regard to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), that I had no intention whatever of discussing the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I did not mean, and never have meant, the destitution test.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order. I did not understand your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I understood that we were discussing to-day the means test and the Regulations governing the means test. I want to ask you this: Is anything to be allowed to be discussed which may cover statements made in the past regarding the means test?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
What I said was, that the question whether the means test should be applied or not could not be discussed to-day. That does not come under the Regulations, which only deal with the administration of the Act.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I confess that I find myself in rather a difficult situation. If I understood the speech of the 580 hon. Gentleman the Member for Chesterle-Street (Mr. Lawson), who opened this Debate, that he was criticising the public assistance committees in their carrying out of the duties put upon them in the administration of the means test. I am prepared to defend what the public assistance committees have done.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Criticism could not be allowed of the public assistance committees. We can criticise the Regulations under which the public assistance committees operate.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I am sorry to have to intervene again, but, supposing the Prayer moved by my hon. Friends to abolish the Regulations were effective, that would mean, I understand, that there would be no means test. Seeing that the success of the Motion would mean that there would he no means test, is the whole subject of the means test not therefore involved in this Debate?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I find myself in a difficulty in answering the speech which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has made. He was complaining, first of all, that there was a means test, and, secondly, of the administration of the public assistance committees in carrying out the duties imposed upon them. If these Regulations be annulled, as he asks, and if the public assistance committees are not to be allowed to carry out the duties which have been imposed upon them, the first question which I am entitled to put to the House and to him is: "If they are not to do it, what authority is to do it?" The only authority, excepting the public assistance committees, that can carry out these duties, is the Ministry of Labour. Speaking for myself, and I am sure for every Member of the Government, I should oppose, to the utmost of my power, that duty being passed to the Ministry of Labour. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I will tell you why. In the first place, to take a small point, the Ministry of Labour has not the premises or the accommodation at which these tests could be carried out. It has not the staff qualified by experience and by training for carrying them out.
There is another and much more serious objection which I should have to placing 581 this duty upon the Ministry of Labour, and that is that I should be most unwilling that any duty should be cast upon the Ministry of Labour which would interfere with what I regard as the Ministry of Labour's principal and primary duty, that of administering labour legislation. I want to develop that side of the Ministry of Labour which deals with such duties as placing men in work, which is exceedingly important, and with the industrial guidance of juveniles, which is equally important. I want, if I can, to remove from the Ministry of Labour the stigma which has been too often attached to it, that our organisation is nothing more than a collection of bureaux up and down the country for paying out the dole. If we can remove that reproach from the Ministry of Labour, we shall be doing a very great service to the Ministry, and to the country.
Therefore, I would say that if this duty is to be carried out, the only authorities to do it are the public assistance committees. The hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate said that there was a tendency in these Regulations, and of course it will be found in the Order-in-Council, to use his own words, "to associate this examination with the Poor Law." It is to obtain precisely the opposite result that we have striven. It is our object, so far as the transitional payments are concerned, to avoid that association with the Poor Law which he fears. I would remind him of one or two differences between the Poor Law administration and the administration which he now criticises. In the first place, the Regulations do not provide that there should be, for instance, payments in kind, which is a feature of the Poor Law. There is no question of a loan, which is a feature of the Poor Law. The money which the applicant obtains is not paid at the Poor Law premises; it is paid at the Employment Exchange, over exactly the same counter at which the man on standard benefit receives it and all the facilities which the Ministry can place at the disposal of any man who is out of work are available to these men also. That part of his charge, that we are associating this with the Poor Law, is not only false, but is exactly the thing that we are trying to avoid. He referred to a paragraph in the Regulations which provide that a person 582shall not be required to attend for the said purpose at a Poor Law institution, save in so far as the Minister may in respect of any area expressly approve such attendance.That Regulation was put in, I am told, at the express request of many Members of the House just before the General Election, in order further to achieve the purpose that we have in mind, which is to avoid the tendency to association with the Poor Law. Now he says, if I understand him rightly, that he does not like the wordssave in so far as the Minister may in respect of any area expressly approve such attendance.The instructions which I have given to the divisional controllers states that during the initial pressure of work they are authorised to approve, on behalf of the Minister, a departure from the Regulations in rural and semi-rural areas in the following cases: First, where the offices which it is proposed to use, though within the institution, are not used solely for public assistance purposes, but are also used normally for other work done by the local authority; secondly, where alternative accommodation is not available, or involves disproportionate cost, or can only be obtained at a place inconvenient of access to a majority of applicants; and, thirdly, where the number of applications to be interviewed is so small that they can be considered at the same normal session at which the public assistance authority is considering the cases of applicants for public assistance. I can assure the hon. Member that the purpose that we have in mind is perfectly clear. It is intended, as indicated by the Regulations, that persons shall not be required to attend at a Poor Law institution if any other arrangement can reasonably be made.
This Regulation can be altered, and if after experience, I find that this Regulation is not carrying out the desire which I have, and which he has, then I will certainly consider an alternation of it in such a way as to achieve the end which both of us have in view. The second point that was objected to was Regulation No. 6:A determination shall have effect as from the beginning of the benefit period in which the determination is received by the Minister, and shall remain in force until the date as from which a new determination 583 made after review takes effect, or for a period of four weeks, whichever period is the shorter. …The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in thinking that that Regulation is intended to have, or might have, a harsh effect upon the applicant or recipient. It was drawn up for precisely the opposite purpose. I am told that in Poor Law administration the usual time for review is one or two weeks. That period we thought to be too short. So we made it four weeks. The hon. Member thinks the period still too short, but I can assure him that there is another side to the question. If the period was made as long as 13 weeks it might well be that the needs of the applicant would have increased. The applicant might have further claims to consideration. I cannot say anything fairer to the hon. Gentleman regarding this Regulation than that, if it does not work in the manner in which it is designed to work, and if I find that it is causing unnecessary hardship on those who are affected by it, I shall not hesitate to alter it, and so remove any harshness which might arise. The hon. Member may be satisfied that we are bearing in mind the point that he has raised.
Another point has been put constantly in the discussion to-day, and has been put very often in questions during the last two weeks. It is as to uniformity of action by the various public assistance committees. I have been asked by almost every speaker to-day to give instructions to the local authorities that this or that deduction should or should not be made. My first answer, of course, is the answer given by my hon. and gallant Friend who spoke just before I got up; it is that I have no power whatever to give instructions to public assistance committees. I ask hon. Members to consider whether, even if I could give instructions, such a thing would be desirable. Public assistance authorities are elected, as we are, by constituents, and they are responsible to their constituents. Even if one could do so, it seems to me that to attempt to give definite instructions on any point to public assistance committees would strike at the very root of the responsibility which they ought to feel and do feel, and I am certain that they would 584 be the very first to resent any sort of dictation as to how they could act.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
The Regulations which are annexed to the Order in Council are, in effect, Regulations governing machinery. They do not at all give instructions, nor is it open to me to give instructions, even if I wanted to do so. It is for the committees themselves to act in each individual case as they think fit. There are a great many of these bodies up and down the country. To their service many men and women in the country and in this House have devoted long years, and have done it from no motive except a desire for public service. I cannot believe that these elected bodies are going to act as harshly and unfairly as hon. Members fear. In almost every speech I have been asked the question whether this or that resource which the applicant might have should be automatically deducted or automatically allowed, or partly one and partly the other. The instance to which repeated reference has been made is the disability pension. In a circular which I have issued I have shown as clearly as it is possible to show the considerations that might properly be borne in mind by public assistance committees in considering these cases. But I would warn the House that it is dangerous to attempt to clear one anomaly unless you are certain that you are not going to create another.
It is said by some hon. Members that disability pensions should not be taken into account at all. Let me put this to hon. Members: There served in the War many battalions recruited from men who are not insured at all. There are those engaged in agriculture, not an insured occupation, and they would not be affected by the question of the allowance or disallowance of disability pension on transitional payments. Then there is a large class of people like the small shopkeepers, many of whom may have been wounded in the War. They do not belong to the insured class and are not entitled to transitional payments, and I could give no instruction that their pension should not be taken into account if and when they apply for public assistance. Therefore the moment you lay 585 down or attempt to lay down a hard-and-fast rule, by the very same process you may be doing a most grievous injustice to those who are not insured. One hon. Gentleman even said that in his view the same claim should be made in the case of industrial disability.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Does the right hon. Gentleman justify a public assistance committee knocking off the whole of the unemployment benefit of a man who has a wife and two children, that is £1 7s. 3d., and receiving a disability pension of 50 per cent.?
§ Mr. LUNN
I gave the right hon. Gentleman the case of a public assistance committee that had expressly determined by resolution that it would not include disability pensions, that it would definitely exclude them and not take them into calculation. What would be the position of that public assistance committee I Would there be any interference by the Minister of Health and would the authority be surcharged?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Whether or not there would be a surcharge by the Minister of Health, of course I cannot say, as the question is one for my right hon. Friend. So far as the Ministry of Labour is concerned the only obligation is that there should be no discrimination between the one class of case and the other, and that is clearly laid down in an order which I am not now entitled to discuss. With regard to the specific case put, I, of course, cannot give any opinion when I have not see the details. If they are as stated by the hon. Gentleman and there are no other facts, and if he asks me on that bare statement whether I think that such is a reasonable assessment to make, I reply that I should have great difficulty in believing that it was, but again I would make it clear that this is a matter for the public assistance committee and not for me. There may be other facts. I want to assure the House again that I think the apprehensions of Members with regard to the working of this scheme are unfounded. I believe it will be worked fairly and not harshly by those who are entrusted with the administration, and so far as I as Minister of Labour am concerned I would point again to the circular I have issued, which is the strongest indication that I can give, without issuing any directions, that I 586 hope these cases will be considered fairly and sympathetically by those who are concerned with the administration.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman a question on a legal point regarding his power to make Regulations. I understand he has said that he has not power under the Order-in-Council to make a Regulation which would insist upon the public assistance committee not taking pensions into account. Under the Order-in-Council powers for making Regulations are given in these words:The power of the Minister to make regulations under Section 35 of the principal Act as amended by this order shall extend to …certain purposes. That is to say, it leaves his power under Section 35 unaltered. The interpretation Clause says:This order and the Unemployment Insurance Acts, 1920 to 1931, shall be construed together and any reference in any Act or other documents to those Acts, or to the enactments relating to unemployment insurance, shall be deemed to include a reference to this order.This Order has become one of the bundle of Unemployment Insurance Acts and the power to make Regulations under those Acts is the power under Section 35 of the Act of 1920, which is in these words:The Minister may make regulations for any other purposes for which regulations may be made under this Act, or the Schedules thereto, and for prescribing any: thing under this Act or any Schedule is to be prescribed.It sets out certain specific matters, the second of which is this:For prescribing the evidence to he required as to the fulfilment of the conditions and the absence of the disqualifications for receiving or continuing to receive unemployment benefit.Under that power the Minister can make a regulation saying that the public assistance authorities under the Order-in-Council shall not take into account evidence of disablement pension, and therefore that that shall not be counted and taken off the benefit. In my submission to the House he has ample power under that to make the regulation that is required. It could have been put into these Regulations if he had wanted to put it in.
§ Mr. SOPER
In rising to make my maiden speech in this House, I am sure I shall receive the sympathy which is usually extended to new Members. The opponents of the Order which imposes on local authorities the duty of determining the need for transitional payment under the Unemployment Insurance Regulations may be divided into two main classes. In the first class are those who object not only to the limitation of the period for which standard benefit may be paid, but also to any form of inquiry into the financial circumstances of the recipients. The second group of critics are those people who recognise or admit the necessity for an investigation of means, but who object to the inquiries being made by the public assistance committee. Nobody on this side of the House would quarrel with the proposition that insured persons should be entitled to draw benefit for so long a period as the financial stability of the Insurance Fund may permit. If the House adhered to that proposition, benefit for everybody would have ceased long ago. We have arrived at a position where large sums of money are paid to workers out of public funds which have no relation at all to the merits of the insurance scheme. Is it seriously suggested that public funds should be disbursed without ascertaining the financial position of the people to whom they are granted?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. Member in his maiden speech, but I have just ruled that we cannot discuss whether there shall be a means test or not. I am afraid he cannot address his speech to that point, but must confined himself to the Regulations now under discussion.
§ Mr. SOPER
Granted that there must be an inquiry, why is exception taken to the work being done by the public assistance committee? The first cry that is raised is that there is some taint attached to the public assistance committee. The men who raise that cry, in my opinion, are flinging an insult to the people whom they profess to represent. There are thousands of worthy citizens in this country in recepit of public assistance, and it is most insulting for the Labour party to say that these people have been tainted.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Again I am sorry to intervene, but, if the hon. Member were to go on those lines, I should have to allow somebody to reply. He must confine himself to the Regulations of the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. SOPER
Then I would like to mention the case of disability pensions, and to refer to the public assistance committee of the borough from which I have come as a Member, namely, Barnsley. There, I am pleased to inform the House, the public assistance committees are not taking into account any amount received by the applicant as a disability pension, I think for the reason that they feel that after what these men have done for the country that amount should not be brought into account when they are transferred for additional benefit. I would like also to state that applicants to that committee do not appear before the committee for interviews if they have no other income, and applicants who are asked to appear before the committee are interviewed in the administrative block of the public assistance offices and do not enter the relief department for any purpose whatever. Further, if an applicant has invested savings, a sum equivalent to 5 per cent, interest is regarded only as income. In considering the circumstances of applicants who are in receipt of a disability pension, each case is dealt with on its merits. The income of the household is taken into account in such a manner that it does not discourage industry. I think the wages earned by the members of the family are ascertained, and the committee only regard as income to the household that sum which remains after personal allowances have been deducted for the benefit of the wage earner. I am sure this Act can be worked to advantage in districts like Barnsley and those surrounding it, and I have never heard one complaint of the way in which public assistance committees are doing their work.
§ Mr. CAPE
First, I would like to congratulate the hon. Member who has just sat down on his attempt to address the 589 House and for the way in which he tried to put the ease of the Barnsley public assistance committee. May I also sympathise with him kindly in regard to his being brought to order by Mr. Speaker. He may take it from me, because I have been brought to order on a number of occasions, that Mr. Speaker only Intended to put him on the right way so that it would be of some use to him In the future. The hon. Member only made a mistake often made by new Members. I am sorry the Minister of Labour has gone, because I wanted to say this at the outset. I think everybody in the House, on whatever side, holds the Minister in very high respect, and has high regard for him. I think I am right in saying that we are all very much disappointed with the reply which he has made to-night. It seems to me that he either did not grasp the real situation or was trying to evade the real point raised in this Debate. He said that the endeavour of the Minister had been to keep separate the transitional benefit men from the work of the public assistance committee. May I draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the letter of the Department, L.A.3, paragraphs 2 and 3, of which paragraph 2 says:The Minister has no power to vary the terms of the Order-in-Council which requires a committee or sub-committee in determining any question referred to them … as if they were estimating the need of an unemployed able-bodied person who had applied for public assistance.That is evidence that the Regulations of the Ministry do bring all the transitional benefit applicants into the region of Poor Law administration. Further, if these men qualify under the means test they are subject to receiving the amount paid to an able-bodied person under the public assistance committee's regulations. It is true they receive that money at the employment exchange, but the money is only the same amount as if they were receiving Poor Law assistance. He referred to the large number of agricultural labourers and people from like districts who went through the Great War and who were unfortunate enough to suffer some disability in that War. He said that these people were in the position that their pensions were taken into certain consideration, by which I expect he meant to imply that, if these men had occasion to apply for Poor Law relief, their pensions were taken into considera- 590 tion. That is exactly our point. We say that this transitional benefit means that they have to apply to the public assistance committee, that they have to be assessed on the same lines as an able-bodied man who is applying for Poor Law assistance, and that if their disability pension be taken into consideration it will bring these men into the same region as the Minister referred to. We object to that in these Regulations.
The Minister said that he had not power to dictate to the public assistance committee how to do their business, bat surely he has the power or the right to tell them what income or resources of the applicants should be kept out of consideration when they are assessed. We should all be horrified if a man who had suffered a disability in the War was asked by an employer when he applied for work "Have you a pension?" "Yes, sir." "How much?" "15s. a week." "Very well, if you have 15s. pension, instead of paying you £2 10s., which I usually pay to my employés, I shall only pay you £2." If a man's disability pension is not to be taken into account in connection with his earning capacity, it ought not to be considered when he comes up for transitional benefit. I want next to raise the question of partial disablement, the man who receives part payment as compensation for an industrial disability. We have thousands of cases in the mining areas of men who are practically down and out. When a man has nystagmus, it is a standing rule throughout the country that if it is certified by the medical officer that the nystagmus is severe, no colliery owner or manager will restart that man down the mines. Therefore, the man's opportunities of employment are restricted. He has to go through life with a certain disability which narrows down his chances of employment, because of a disease acquired in the mine. In such cases men are very often put on part payment and that part payment may be anything from 2s. to 15s. a week. When a man goes to the public assistance committee to undergo the means test the amount received in respect of his disability is taken into account against him. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look at Section 40, of the Workmen's Compensation Act. If my interpretation of that Section is right, the Minister would be within his powers in telling the public assistance committees 591 that amounts of that sort cannot be taken into consideration in assessing means. The Section provides:Weekly payments payable under this Act or any scheme certified under this Act or a sum paid by way of redemption thereof shall not be capable of being assigned, charged or attached, and shall not pass to any other person by operation of law, nor shall any claim be set up against the same.My interpretation of that Section is that once money is assigned to a workman under the Act, that money cannot be attached for any purpose whatever, and that being so I suggest that the hon. Gentleman's Department, if it has no other power, has the power to tell these committees that they must not interfere with or abrogate the Workmen's Compensation Act in that respect. I agree very largely with the speech of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan). It is true that when the election campaign was in progress we were assured by three very eminent members of the Government of that time that these Regulations had a certain meaning. I believe that the major portion of the Members on the Government side honestly believed those statements to represent the real intention of the Government. In my Division the statements of these three eminent men were placarded all round the place, giving people the assurance that none of the things which we said were going to happen would, in fact, happen. But, apparently, we were right and they were wrong, because these things are happening now. We were right when we said what would happen as soon as the Order-in-Council came into operation.
With the latter part of the hon. Member's very able speech I am not so much in agreement. He must be an optimist if he believes that these Regulations are only going to be of a temporary character. Our experience has been that once these things get into operation it is a considerable time before they are repealed. In supporting the Motion moved by my hon. Friend I appeal to the Minister of Labour to take back these Regulations and reconsider them. If there is to be a means test, surely more humanity could be put into these Regulations than is in them now. It is not good enough to tell the House that we cannot do this or we cannot do that. Surely a letter from the Ministry expressing their 592 desire that certain things should be done would be taken notice of and given effect to by the committees.
I am not one of those who blame the public assistance committees. I am not going to say that the members of those committees are people without any humanity. I believe that there are as humane and sympathetic men and women on those committees as are to be found anywhere, but the people on the committees are, themselves, confused. They do not know which way they have to go, because the instructions and Regulations are too vague, and the way to meet the difficulty is a Government instruction of the kind I suggest. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) mentioned the fact that it was possible to find two public assistance committees alongside each other laying down different regulations. It can be even narrower than that. There is such a lack of uniformity that you can have two guardians committees under the one public assistance committee and in the one county, putting different constructions on Regulations. In my own district, there are several guardians committees all under the one public assistance committee, and I understand that there is a difference of opinion among these several committees as to how this Order should be applied. Thus we are going to find ourselves in serious difficulties, and the public assistance committees are going to find themselves in serious difficulties, unless this Prayer is acceded to and these Regulations taken back, and more humane Regulations issued to the various public authorities so that there will be some uniformity and equality in this matter.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
If there is a public assistance committee for the county, surely it is a simple matter for the public assistance committee of the county to issue instructions to its sub-committees, so as to ensure uniformity within the county area.
§ Sir ARTHUR STEEL-MAITLAND
In intervening in this Debate, the last thing I wish to do is to embarrass or criticise the Minister of Labour. I waited until I had heard his speech, and I am compelled to rise to speak upon a subject which many of us have at heart, and about which we have been somewhat concerned during the period of office of both of the present Government and of their predecessors. That is the case of the disabled ex-service men, and the treatment which is given to them in regard to their pensions. I am well aware that the Minister of Labour has as sympathetic a character as anyone in this House, and I am sure the last thing he would wish to do would be to inflict any hardship upon a class of that kind. At the same time, possibly by mistake, possibly against his will, I think he has reversed, in spirit, the administration with regard to ex-service men which has prevailed during the last seven or eight years.
The Minister quoted the circular letter L.A. 3, with which we are becoming familiar, and he said that in that letter he had tried to give as clearly as possible guidance to the public assistance committees. I am not certain about the success of the letter as an attempt at clarity of expression. It seemed to me more like one of the ancient utterances of the Delphic Oracle, which were carefully balanced, first on one side and then on the other, with the result that in the end you might take either of two interpretations but the person who would go unscathed, would be the priestess who gave utterance to the words of the oracle. From the circular letter it seems to me to be extraordinarily difficult to comprehend what the Minister really thinks ought to be done, and unless he wished to convey his idea of what ought to be done, by way of guidance if not of instruction, there was no reason for sending out that letter. Paragraph 5 begins with these words:There is no authority for the statement that public assistance committees are obliged to bring into account the whole amount of an ex-service pension or a disability pension.Anyone reading those words would believe that the local authorities were being advised definitely to disregard, in whole or in part, disability pensions, but later in the circular, one finds this passage: 594It should, however, be remembered that where certain classes of income are concerned, such as for example disability pensions or blind pensions, the disability in respect of which the pension has been awarded may he such as to call for a greater measure of assistance than would normally be appropriate.If that means anything, it means that the ordinary procedure of applying the means test is to be followed. The means of the person are naturally examined and some applicants are given a larger sum, and other applicants are given a smaller sum. No doubt an applicant would be given the larger sum as a total if he was a disabled ex-service man. But, if I read those words aright, they do not mean that any portion of his disability pension is to be disregarded. They mean that it is all taken into account in deciding on the measure of assistance which is to be given to him. That is the conclusion to which a careful and fair construction of that circular letter would lead.
The Minister deprecated the sending out of instructions. I think that if these things can be done without sending out definite instructions, so much the better, but I want the right lion. Gentleman to see that fairness is done to disabled ex-service men. I want to see special regard paid to them. I cannot estimate that the objections to instructions being given by the Minister have such weight as he apparently thinks they possess. I do not think that a local authority would consider that it was being dictated to, if it was told quite clearly the most suitable course for it to take with regard to disregarding, either in whole or in part, a disability pension. If I were a member of a, local authority I should be thankful to have some clear guidance. I would then know what in the opinion of the authority best able to judge the facts, namely the Ministry of Labour, would be the right course. Not only so, but I would then recognise that some uniformity of practice was being introduced throughout the country. In a matter of this kind, under a central Government Department, it is only right that there should be some uniformity of practice with regard to the general principles or a great question like this. Moreover, when we are told that members of a public assistance committee are elected by their own 595 constituents and that, therefore, it would not be right to interfere with them, I would call the Minister's attention to the fact, of which, of course, he is fully aware, that the money which they award is money provided by the Government, and if a payment is out of Government funds, surely there is some locus standi for the Minister to give some fairly clear guidance as to the principles which he thinks should be carried into effect.
Supposing a general principle was adopted that some part of a disability pension should be disregarded in estimating the amount of public assistance that should be given, I do not believe for a moment that it would create an awkward precedent. So far as that is concerned, the precedent already exists under the Local Government Act of 1927—I think it is under Section 76—where for certain purposes the first 5s. of payment by a friendly society is not to be taken into account, and under a further part of that Section the Payment of 7s. 6d. from health society funds is not to be taken into account, but is to be disregarded.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I will refer to that in a. moment. I am dealing at present with the precedent for disregarding a definite amount of money. Therefore, no new precedent is created. Indeed, in so far as this would form any example for what might come after, only a small body of men is affected. It is not a very large number. The disabled ex-service men are dwindling rapidly in numbers. Any body of men does, but from the very fact of their disablement, their expectation of life is less than that of other men, and it is not a practice in their case that would last for many years. But I would make this appeal to the Minister in this particular case: Stripped of all technicalities, what we really ask is that there should be some special regard paid to their case. They have a quite peculiar claim upon us. I recognise the strength of some of the arguments with regard to other classes which have been mentioned already this afternoon, but they 596 none of them have so strong a claim as the disabled ex-service man.
I have always felt that a great difference should be made between ex-service men who are disabled and those who came through the War able-bodied. As regards the latter, let them keep up their British Legion branches and every other form of activity that brings some added richness, for want of a better word, into their lives, but otherwise let them merge themselves, in the whole body of the civil population to-day. With the disabled men, however, it is inherently different. They cannot get away from their disability. The ordinary pleasures which ordinary men may enjoy are curtailed for them. The amenities of life which other people may possess in greater or less degree are less in their case. As those of us who have gone into the Lord Roberts' Memorial Workshops and into the other institutions know quite well, they put up a very gallant struggle indeed in order to put a brave face upon circumstances. They are really a special case. They gained their disability by going out and facing the possibility of it in the service of their country; and I do not see why their country should not, in return, pay very special regard to their case.
I have risen to say this, not with any wish to criticise, or quarrel with, or embarrass the Minister of Labour, but that is the principle on which we acted during the whole of the five years of the last Unionist Administration. When it came to ordinary standard benefit, we realised that special regard deserved to be paid to disabled men, and we required in their case fewer contributions than in the case of the ordinary person. When it came to transitional benefit, again it was the same. We recognised that some special regard ought to be paid in their case, and I remember, when I was Minister there, going to try to encourage works like the Lord Roberts' Memorial Workshops. I went up and down the country making addresses to branches of the King's Roll and other bodies in different municipalities in order to try to get different bodies of people voluntarily to assist disabled men to overcome the results of their disability by getting them work.
597 Just in the way that we did pay special regard to them then, I most sincerely hope that the Minister will endeavour to pay some special regard to them now. As we all know, whether we agree with him or not, he is as kindly a person as anyone in this House, and I am sure that if he realises what the feeling is, how it is that this constitutes a very special case, if he can, as the ex-Solicitor-General tells him he can, apply powers under the provisions of the Act—I am not so sure myself, from my memory of that Act, that he can—I am sure he will use those powers. I am not in order in saying much with regard to the Order-in-Council to-day, but at any rate it is not quite right to shelter oneself behind an Order-in-Council and to say that one has no power because of it. It is the Minister who passed the Order-in-Council, and if he is not able to repeal it, it is only because he took away his own ability to do so. What is the good of having a Government so strong that it can deal with these questions, and deal with them quickly, unless, in a matter in regard to which some of us do feel deeply, and have shown by our past records that we genuinely feel deeply, it can give the right hon. Gentleman power to do what we consider a small act of justice to people who deserve it more than any other class in the Kingdom?
§ Dr. SALTER
I wish to say how extremely disappointed I was at the speech of the Minister of Labour. I do not think he has grasped in the least the deep sense of injustice which is growing up among applicants for transitional benefit on account of the gross inequalities and lack of uniformity in administration. You have one committee in a particular area definitely deciding to ignore altogether the possession by an applicant of a disability pension, and to take no notice of that pension, whatever its amount; in an adjacent area—we can give the right hon. Gentleman actual facts and details—you have the Committee concerned definitely deciding to take into account every single penny so received; and in a third area you have the committee deciding to be guided by the standard set up by the National Health Insurance Act and ignoring the first 7s. 6d. and taking into account everything thereover.
598 Unequal administration of that description is bound to breed gross dissatisfaction, and that dissatisfaction will grow as time goes on. Then there is indignation growing up on the question of the penalisation of thrift, owing again to the lack of uniformity in administration. In one area the committee decided to take notice of the possession of a house by an applicant, whether the house was wholly bought and paid for or whether it was only partially paid for and in process of being bought through a building society; and in the next area the committee decided to take no notice whatever of the possession of a house and even praised men for attempting to provide for themselves and their family in that respect.
I know of one extraordinary case of two women living in the same street. One of them a single woman, aged about 48, is entirely dependent upon her own exertions for her livelihood, and she some time ago met with an accident, as a result of which she lost her employment as a clerk. A woman of 48 finds it very difficult to find a new situation as a clerk. She received £85 as workmen's compensation in respect of that accident, and she invested it in savings certificates. She is now told that she must live on the £85 and that she will not be recommended for any transitional benefit. In the same street, only a few doors away, is another woman, also a single woman, who received a legacy of £250 some 18 months ago. She immediately decided with that money to visit relatives in America. She spent the whole amount in two or three months, and returned home to renew her work, and thereafter she was thrown out of work. She is recommended for benefit. She spent every penny of the much larger sum that she received, but the thrifty woman, who took great care of the smaller sum which she obtained, is penalised.
Injustices of that sort are bound to create resentment against the administration, and this inequality of treatment as between applicants very largely arises out of the ambiguity of the Circular issued by the Minister of Labour. In this House a little while ago, in reply to the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor), the Prime Minister said, "I gave you an answer which I did not intend you to understand." I am bound to say that on 599 reading that Circular myself I should have thought that was also the intention of the Minister in drafting it in its present form. I defy anybody to say what that Circular really means; and as a matter of fact it has been the subject of discussion between members of public assistance committees, and it is being differently interpreted by different bodies.
The divergence of administration is so great that even in the County of London, where there is one central public assistance committee which is supposed to conduct the affairs of the whole county, you have, in the 10 districts into which London is divided, quite different decisions by the different committees. We can give the Minister particulars on that head too. You have different decisions by different districts within the one area as to the actual meaning of the Circular and as to whether or not they are entitled to take into account certain sources of income or certain resources which the applicant possesses. I suggest that the present position is extraordinarily unsatisfactory and that it ought to be regularised and put on a better footing by the right hon. Gentleman withdrawing these Regulations and issuing a circular very much less ambiguous than the one to which reference has been made.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)
The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) raised a question which is one of legal interpretation, and I only rise to make a few observations in answer to that question. It is one which must be answered as a legal question, and I must not be expected to go into the topics which my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Labour has discussed, or which the hon. Gentleman who last spoke has mentioned. The Minister, no doubt, will consider those matters. My only province is to express my opinion about the strict legal position. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol suggested that the Minister had power under the Order-in-Council as applying to Section 35 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1920, to prescribe the evidence to be required as to the fulfilment of the conditions, and that the Minister may directly or indirectly, by prescribing certain evidence to be required which 600 should not include any reference to the disability pension, permit public assistance committees to be satisfied with evidence on this point without going further into the question of the existence of a disability pension.
The Order-in-Council requires that proof must be given by a man that he is in need of assistance. The fact which has to be proved is one thing; the evidence in proof of the fact is another thing. The Minister has no power to cut down the obligation that the fact must be proved that the man is in need of assistance, but what he has power to do is to prescribe the evidence which must be furnished on certain facts to establish that position. I think that it will be a misuse of language to suppose that the Minister's power to prescribe the evidence to be required would include the power of the Minister to direct the committee to shut its eyes to certain facts if such facts came to their knowledge. I entirely agree—if I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman aright—that the Minister may say that evidence must be furnished with regard to facts A, B, C and D, and that they need contain no reference to a disability pension. Beyond that, I think, the Minister has no power to go so far as that passage is concerned to which I have referred, but it must be remembered that the Order-in-Council continues in paragraph 1 (4) to say that the committeeshall make such inquiries and otherwise deal with the case as if they were estimating the need of an unemployed able-bodied person who had applied for public assistance.The Minister has no power to dispense a committee from the duty of making that investigation, and, if they in the course of that investigation ascertain certain facts with regard to a disability pension, the fact that the Minister has prescribed certain minimum requirements as to the evidence to be furnished for other points will not justify them in disregarding the evidence which has come to them in the course of the performance of their prescribed duties. I understand that a circular which has been issued by the Minister in correspondence with the terms of a letter issued to public assistance committees, deals with this matter.
Whether the Minister will be able to give other directions is not for me to consider or to express an opinion, but it 601 must be remembered,, as I understand has been said more than once this afternoon, that where there are certain classes of income such as disability pensions, the case may be regarded as one that calls for a greater measure of assistance than would normally, that is, in the absence of a disability pension, be appropriate. I should have thought that that gave a great deal of latitude to public assistance committees, but on this matter I speak, not as a lawyer, for it is a matter which is primarily for the Ministers concerned to consider. I hope that the hon. and learned Member, whose observations I had not the advantage of hearing, will feel that I have tried to deal with the point that he raised, and I should like to express the Minister's obligations to him for calling his attention to a suggestion which no doubt will be borne in mind upon the assumption that the advice which my right hon. Friend is bound to follow must be the right advice.
§ Captain Sir WILLIAM BRASS
Having been elected by a very large number of unemployed people in my constituency, I feel that I must say something on this question. I have agreed with a large part of the speeches that have been made in all parts of the House, but I would remind the leaders of the Labour party that the means test was unanimously agreed to by the late Socialist Cabinet, as we were told by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not care what the late Government agreed to or what am responsible for, but whenever that statement is made, I want to have time to deal with it.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I want to deal with the question before us, and to appeal to the Minister to do anything he can to assist the unfortunate people in the cotton industry who are unemployed and who have been unemployed for many years. I have read Circular L.A. 3; I consider that it is extremely vague and 602 gives very little help, if any, to public assistance committees. The circular says that the Minister has no authority under the Order-in-Council to give instructions as to the manner in which the resources of an applicant should be taken into account. On that point I would like to refer to the Order which says that the power of the Minister to make regulations under Section 35 of the principal Act, as amended by the 1931 Act shall extend to the making of regulations on certain things. These are the points on which the Minister of Labour, apparently according to this Order, is able to make regulations, and I cannot understand why he puts in one document that he has no power and in the other says that he can make regulations with respect to the methods to be adopted by committees and sub-committees in dealing with applications and with respect to information to be furnished either orally or in writing in support of applications for transitional payment.
I should have thought that if the Minister had power to ask for certain information, he could instruct the public assistance committees either to ask for certain things or not to ask for certain things. For instance, if he did not want the disability pension to be taken into account, he could leave out of his instructions to the public assistance committees the request that they should ask the applicant whether they had disability pensions or not. During the election, certain cases were illustrated with regard to transitional benefit, and I want to ask the Minister of Labour whether there is any truth in the suggestions put up by the Labour party. In one case, the public assistance officer is supposed to ask the applicant: "What amount of money have you in the bank or the 'co-op.'?" Answer: "I have £2 in the 'co-op.'" The reply of the officer was: "You have means and are not entitled to the dole." In another case, the question supposed to be asked was: "What family have you?" Answer: "Three children, self and wife." "Any working?" "One girt, getting 30s. a week." The reply was: "If you have so much, you are not entitled to the dole."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This seems to be a criticism of the methods by which the 603 public assistance committees are carrying out their work. That would not be in order in this Debate.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I am asking my right hon. Friend whether these questions which are being asked are the sort of questions that ought to be asked by the public assistance committees over which he has control under this Order.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Is it not really a question whether the Regulations are such as would allow these questions to be properly put?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That may be so, but we are discussing the Regulations that have been issued. Hon. Members can suggest that they should be rectified by putting something in that is not there, but beyond that I do not think we can go.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I have listened to the whole of this Debate, and I have heard a lot of remarks about how public assistance committees have administered these Regulations. Possibly it was when you were not in the Chair, but that is why, possibly, I have transgressed your Ruling.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There may have been references to how public assistance committees do their work, but they have always been with reference to the Regulations issued by the Ministry of Labour.
§ Sir W. BRASS
The point that I was trying to make is that the Minister might alter these Regulations so as to help people—
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I want to find out whether the Minister cannot help these very deserving people, and to appeal to him to look at the question of the disability pension from a point of view that has not been put. I want the Minister to realise that disability pensions were given for the disability of the persons who receive them, and I do not see any reason why the pension which is given for a disability should be taken into account in the family budget. A dis- 604 ability pension is a personal matter, given to an individual because he is disabled, and I see no reason why it should be taken into account in assessing the income, not of himself, but of the household. That point has not been put forward up to the present, and I appeal to the Minister to take it into consideration. If a man has £2 or £2 10s. a week as a disability pension I can quite understand that, as far as he personally is concerned, it would not be right that he should get benefit from public funds, but that is a personal matter to himself, and I want the Minister to think of it from that point of view. I have a letter which has been sent to me from my constituency, and I am going to read it:At Great Harwood I find a case in point where an ex-soldier has a pension of 14s. This is taken as income in the house. In two cases I know of they have been refused any further assistance from the unemployment fund. This, as you will see, is distinctly penalising these men.I think so too; I do not think that is fair or right; and I hope that the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary will give a satisfactory reply to this point as to a disability pension which has been given to an individual not being taken into account in reckoning the income of the household. Next I would appeal to the Minister to make that vague circular L.A. 3 which he has issued understandable by public assistance committees, especially the paragraph which says:There is no authority for the statement that Public Assistance Committees are obliged to bring into account the whole amount of an ex-service pension or disability pension.What does that mean? I do not know whether they are to take into account a third, or a half, or a quarter, or none at all. Cannot the Minister give us a more definite statement about it? After all, these men did fight for their country, they were wounded, and were given pensions for what they suffered, and we ought to do everything we possibly can to help them. I am sure the Minister will do all he can to help. I understand that up to the present very few cases have been brought forward, because the public assistance committees have only been occupied with this problem for a short while. I appeal to the Minister, if any cases are brought to his notice 605 where it is obvious there is any degree of hardship, to take up the cases himself and look into the matter, so that hardship may be avoided in the operation of this means test for the unemployed.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I have heard the pleas put forward from all sides of the House for more sympathetic treatment under these Regulations, and I shall be prepared to believe that those pleas are genuine if I hear of the Minister annulling the Regulations or if, when a Division is called, I find myself associated with those who are making these protests on behalf of ex-service men. What amount of sympathy is felt with the ex-service men and others will be shown by the amount of pressure which is applied to the Government. That will be the test. I know it is not generally in order for back benchers to dissociate themselves entirely from the action of their own Front Bench in issuing Regulations and Orders. Hon. Members put forward their pleas in order to show their constituents that they are doing their best to get more sympathetic treatment for them, but the real test is whether those Members will apply pressure to the Government to the extent of dissociating themselves from the Regulations. Much has been made of existing hardships, or of hardships that are likely to be caused, and continual appeals are being made to the Minister to show sympathy and consideration if such cases are brought to his notice, but the Regulations were brought in to cause hardship and suffering to the working class, and if consideration is to be shown we ought to annul the Regulations entirely, because that would end the hardship.
I had not the privilege of voting in this House against these Regulations—my enforced absence prevented me from going into the Division Lobby—but I am pleased to say that a complete exposition of these Regulations in my own constituency, a. tearing aside of the veil, enabled me to get back to the House, whereas many hon. Members who defended the Regulations or were prepared to apply them are left outside the House. We are told from all sides that we are dealing with a very sympathetic Minister. I am not interested in whether he is sympathetic or unsympathetic. To me, all Ministers are the same; they are 606 Members of an unsympathetic Government; they are simply the messenger boys of the wealthy classes, to carry out Orders and Regulations in response to the pressure which is applied to them. I do not plead with the Minister to annul these Regulations with any hope that he will respond to that appeal, because I recognise that he is here to carry out orders and to defend the Orders that are put through. I recognise that the Government have an over-whelming majority in this House to support them in carrying out these Orders, and that that majority was gained with the votes of a large number of people who will be affected by them, but I think I can say fairly that they got those votes by pretending continually, on platforms throughout the country that the Regulations would not apply in the manner in which they are applying.
The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said in one of his speeches, which I read at the fireside, that if we wait for six months it will not be the Labour Government who are in the dock but the present National Government. I am preapred to wait six months to see the effect of these Regulations, and then to see whether the relationships that existed during the election between Members of the National Government and their constituents are still in operation. I regard the bouquets that have been handed to the Minister from a late Minister of Labour and from Front Bench Members on all sides as being part of the ordinary freemasonry which exists between past and present Front Bench Members. They seek to protect one another. To me that freemasonry has been in evidence for a long time. One of the things which is impressed upon anyone coming to the House is that duty to the Front Bench, allegiance to the few men who form themselves into a dictatorship over the other elected Members of the party, is more important than even the needs and desires of our constituents. I for one am not prepared to pay allegiance to any Front Bench which departs from my principles in any shape or form.
I have witnessed what looked like growing into a contest between Members of the two Front Benches over whether the past Government stood for the same Regulations as the present Government 607 are trying to enforce. I can only say that the discussions and repudiations since the election and before the election among Front Bench men of the Labour party remind me of a burglar who has been seized by the police while carrying out a job in the dead of the night. One of the most important things the police have to do in such a case is to see that the burglar does not attempt to get rid of the evidence which is in his possession. After what we have heard, I think it would be better if we had from any Government in this House a signed statement of what they are in favour of; then we should not have any denials and repudiations of policies they refuse to be saddled with. As to these Regulations, it would be better if we could have a complete statement of all that has taken place, but, of course, oaths of allegiance prevent divulgence, and are possibly as much a protection to individuals who do not wish to be exposed as they are supposed to be a hardship.
The Regulations will involve grave hardships on the people, and I am prepared to believe that they will lead to a political movement in this country which may not be to the liking of the various parties in this House. It may be that when the avalanche does take place, and the wind begins to blow the other way, that it will even blow past the Labour party and help to form a revolutionary movement in this country such as may not be to the liking of certain hon. Members. I warn the Government to be careful how they use the power which has been entrusted to them in the matter of these Regulations. I heard the Minister of Labour say that in carrying out these Regulations they will dissociate them from any taint of the Poor Law. Surely he did not intend that to be taken seriously by any of us who have the power of analysis? I am prepared to be contradicted if I am wrong, but is it not true that the scale of payments has to be the Poor Law scale of the area where the person resides? If that be true, surely the Poor Law taint is there in ruthless rigidity! I am not interested in whether a man goes to the public assistance committee's offices or to the Employment Exchange to draw his money. Like the 608 men in the workshop, I believe that what counts is the sum that is paid to a man to enable him to purchase the means of life, and not exactly how it is paid.
The way the Government are applying these Regulations reminds me of a man who was unemployed in London and who was down and out. He went into a restaurant and ordered a very fine diner. After having consumed it and ordering a glass of whiskey and a cigar, the waiter presented to him a bill for 25s. The man said to the waiter, "I have no money; you can do what you like with me. I do not intend to pay." The waiter went for the proprietor, who came and threatened to send for the police and presented a revolver, with the result that the man fell off the seat. The proprietor then realised that if he sent for the police he might get into trouble for presenting a revolver, and he then told the man that he could go, and that he did not propose to prosecute him. The man replied: "Good God! Was it only a revolver? I thought it was a stomach pump." On this question, the Government are in that position.
I am prepared to say that ex-service men are in a special category. Hon. Members supporting the Government should pay special regard to them, because they made certain pledges and promises to these men before they enlisted, and one of those promises was that they would look after them for the remainder of their life. In Glasgow a deputation representing the ex-service men went before the public assistance committee, and the spokesman for that deputation said some very hard things. He said to that committee: "If you are going to treat us in this way, you had better put us in the public square and turn your machine guns on us." Those ex-service men enlisted to perform a national duty to the capitalist class, and they are entitled to be rewarded by that class for the services which they rendered. This is a testing time for them. We have heard a good deal about the guaranteeing of certain pensions, that these men were going to be protected, and that their pensions would he immune from these cuts. After using these men to do your dirty work, you say to them: "That time has passed, and now we must take into consideration the pensions which we gave you for your services in the past."
609 In different, parts of the country different amounts are being stopped. If public assistance committees in any part of the country determined that they would pay a man and his wife 30s. instead of 23s. per week, the Minister would stop them:, although he would be prepared to allow them to go on if they fixed an amount which was lower than the scale. In some cases it has been decided to pay no attention to disability pensions, but on the borders of Lanarkshire and in Glasgow, where the amount of a disability pension is 20s., those amounts are being reduced, and in some other areas varying percentages are being deducted. Why cannot we have some uniformity both as regards the scales paid to these men and the scales paid to the ordinary member of the household? Is there any uniform scale paid at the Employment Exchanges? The scale ought to be the same for every man, woman, or child wherever they come from, and we are entitled to expect uniformity. These 'committees ask applicants about co-operative money, and we find that, according to the Regulations, they are taking into consideration every part of the income of the household.
Under these Regulations we are going to penalise the honest applicant and give advantage to the dishonest one. In that way, we are going to develop a nation of first-rate liars in every part of the country, because they recognise that every time they are able to lie successfully to the public assistance committee they are going to escape the ruthless hand of the Minister of Labour. In this way, we are developing a type of informers. We know the class of people who write letters to the papers and sign themselves "Honest Citizen" or "Decent Citizen" and point out those who conceal some part of their income. We are developing not only a nation of informers, but by the concealment of petty amounts we are going to establish a system that will recoil upon the Government and the Minister associated with it.
I say quite frankly that the men who went out to fight the Germans have come back here, and they have now to fight the capitalists. I should have more hope of success in this House with the great army of poor people behind us if we had the power of Lord Beaverbrook behind 610 us as well. Then we could make the Government move. When the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) speak in this House, with their great newspapers behind them, they make the Government tremble in their places, but I am confident that the poor people who are protesting against these Regulations and hardships which are now being imposed upon them will one day develop a power that will compel the Government to move in the opposite direction.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who made, as he always does, a fairly good working-class speech, said that over 900,000 people were going to be affected by these Regulations. I believe that to be an under-estimate, but, taking that figure, it means, as the hon. Member said, that probably 5,000,000 souls in this country are going to be affected by the means test. In Scotland we are told on reliable authority that 120,000 applicants will he affected by the means test. That means that in Glasgow alone, where we have already 50,000 cases, there will be 90,000. Under these Regulations large numbers of people—householders, fathers, mothers and young families—are deprived almost of every penny they have because of the fact that members of their household are in employment. They are being compelled to leave the house. The sanctity of the home is being broken up, family life is being destroyed, and added lines of suffering are going to be caused to every mother in this country who is going to be deprived of benefit under this the meanest of all tests that has ever been applied in the history of this country.
I want to protest in the interest of these people against this hardship and suffering, and this indignity of investigators coming to the poor and asking about every penny they possess, or whether they have a boy going round with newspapers or milk. Every penny that goes into these unfortunate homes is to be taken into account, and this ruthless regulation is to be applied with its full force. I should he prepared to believe that national economy ought to be carried out if I saw any evidence of the crisis that we are told was the means of bringing about these Regulations; but I move around London, and I move 611 around this House, and I see no evidence in Members in any part of this House of that necessity for economy. I saw an advertisement after the election about victory balls and victory socials, at prices from a guinea to five guineas, promoted by Unionist associations to celebrate the great victory—the great victory over the common people, over the poverty-stricken men who are appealing for the means to live. You are using that power remorselessly and tyrannously over those who have put you in the places which you now occupy, and have created the wealth that you enjoy. You are handing these people to the wolves to be destroyed for lack of nourishment and the common decencies of life. I protest in this House against that system, which is operating against the poorest section of society.
If there be a desire to give real evidence of economy, let Members on the Front Bench surrender three-fourths of their salaries. That is the way to show that there is a desire for real economy in this House; it is not shown by saying, "We have to apply the regulations because of economy; I will go down from £100 to £80 a week; but we will crush the men and women with only a few shillings a week out of those few shillings." You have played the three-card trick on them; you have played the economy cuts on them; you are playing the means test on them; and you are playing your tariffs on them; but I tell you quite frankly that the hour will dawn when the working class will demand retribution for the wrongs that have been inflicted upon them during your period of office. I took part before the election in a protest of the people in the streets of Glasgow against these regulations. They were deprived, by the authority and power which you possess, of even that legitimate and constitutional protest against these Regulations. It took us all our time to prevent disorder from taking place, but the police created the disorder when they were—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
The hon. Member is now going a very long way from the Prayer before the House.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I am prepared to accept your Ruling, and merely to say in conclusion that the protest against 612 these regulations will go on. I cannot move the hearts of Members on the Front Bench or of the Cabinet, because their hearts are made of granite. I can only say that, although they put forward these exactions under the regulations against the working class, the working class will develop manhood and intelligence and courage yet, and will demand from them an equal share of all the things of life.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I rise mainly for the purpose of saying a few words on behalf of the unfortunate ex-service men who find their disability pensions taken into consideration when their income is being calculated for the purpose of assessing transitional benefit. Before I do so however, I should like to say a word or two on the general position. The first thing I have to say is that we Members of the House who come here representing great industrial constituencies in the North-Eastern corner of England are in complete agreement—and I think I can say that I speak on behalf of all parties in this House—that the present unsatisfactory position as regards the means test cannot be allowed to continue.
We are not concerned with the question whether the regulations were issued by the late Socialist Government, by the late National Government, or by the present National Government, nor are we concerned with the question whether the regulations should be administered by the Minister of Health or by the Minister of Labour. What concerns us is the fact that we are determined to see that justice shall be given to those unfortunate citizens who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in the position in which they are to-day. We are well aware that the difficulties are great, that the conditions differ in different areas, and that almost each case must be considered on its merits; but we do say to the Government and to the Minister that there ought, surely, to be some uniformity so far as the regulations are concerned, and we find it difficult to understand that the Minister's Department cannot find some means of establishing some uniformity and of giving more explicit guidance than is laid down in this very vague Circular L.A. 3, or in the letter issued by the Minister of Labour to the Secretary of the British Legion 613 just prior to the election, which also was very vague. It speaks of sympathetic consideration, and we find it difficult to believe that it is beyond the power of the Department to give some more explicit guidance to the public assistance authorities in the administration of the Department's regulations. As showing the need for guidance, I should like to read to the House a letter which I have received from a very capable, earnest and disinterested member of a public assistance authority in the County of Durham. He writes:I have just come from our first meeting concerning the means test for transitional benefit, and I have never seen such a chaotic condition of affairs in any public work. Some put every obstacle in the way of administration, and in the absence of any ruling it is impossible to get consistency of treatment. The only hope of squaring up things in the County of Durham is to have a ruling. In 75 per cent. of the cases to-day there are heaps of anomalies which could he righted, but, so long as it is a matter of opinion as to treatment, nothing will be done.That will show what the condition of things is in the county of Durham, and I have no doubt that many Members of the House are receiving letters from every part of the country, and in particular from those parts which, like the county of Durham, are characterised as distressed areas. We ask the Government to realise that the matter cannot be left where it is until February, and we ask the Minister of Labour to give us an assurance, before the House rises, that he will introduce some Measure unifying and clarifying these regulations, in order to facilitate the work of these very sadly harassed bodies who are charged with the difficult and thankless task of administering the regulations issued by his Department. For my part, I make bold to say that, if the Minister replies that he has not the necessary powers, it is his duty to come to the House and ask for those powers, and, if I am any judge of the concensus of opinion in this House, I have not the slightest doubt that the House would speedily and willingly give him power to deal with these anomalies.
So far as the county of Durham is concerned, we ask for a further assurance. We ask that, in any necessary adjustment which may be made, care shall be taken to see that any additional payments which may be necessary shall not fall 614 upon the rates of the county. We ask that they shall be made a national charge. We do so because the county of Durham is a distressed area. It is a county where the volume of unemployment in mining, in the iron and steel industry, in shipbuilding and in engineering—the industries by which we live—is higher than in any other part of Great Britain, with the possible exception of South Wales. Not only that, but Durham is the highest rated county in England and super-imposed upon the depressed state of industry and high rates, we have the misfortune to be governed by a Socialist body, the Durham County Council.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I pass, then, to the case of the ex-service men. I should like to supplement the plea that has been made for liberal and sympathetic treatment of these men, who left everything at their country's call, who made heavy sacrifices, and who are now called upon to make even greater sacrifices in the interest of economy. As an ex-service man myself, I have had appeals from every part of the County of Durham. I should like to read a letter from the wife of an ex-service man, because when the income, generally a meagre one, of the head of a household who has been injured by his war service is reduced or depleted, it is not only the man himself who suffers, but the wife and the children, and they in most cases suffer the most. This letter from the women's section of the British Legion, is typical of thousands of cases in the distressed areas in the north-eastern corner of England:We, the members of the above section, which is mostly composed of the mothers and wives of ex-service men, wish to draw your attention to our plight now that our husbands' pension is brought into the means test. Our men are handicapped in the labour market when placed alongside able-bodied men, and, since their discharge, we have had to struggle to make ends meet. In nearly all cases they need a great deal of care and a great deal of attention and nourishment, and the pension was granted to compensate for those necessities. We trust you will make your best endeavours to get justice for the men who have given their best for the country,These men are in a double sense broken men. They are the victims of that accursed militarism which swept over 615 Europe from 1914 to 1918, which drenched the world in blood, and they are, moreover, the victims of what we hope will only be a temporary breakdown in the machinery of international commerce. They are in that respect also the broken soldiers of industry. I should like to join in the appeal to the Minister to ask, not for sympathetic consideration for these men, hut that the disability pension shall be ignored entirely. I understand that appeal has been made to the Minister before, and I make it once more on behalf of thousands of disabled men in the north-east corner of England. Looking round the House, I see the empty benches. I have been told that this is the age of youth. I have been told that this is a young man's House. I should like to appeal to the young men to join us in an appeal to the Minister of Labour. It is to the men who made these sacrifices that the youth of to-day owes the freedom and the liberty which they enjoy, and it is because of that that I should like to appeal to them, had the young men been here, to join us in appealing to the Minister in the hope that they would have supported us and brought sufficient pressure to bear on the Minister, and through him on the Government, to accede to what we consider to be a very reasonable request indeed, having regard to the sufferings and hardships endured by these men and to the fact that they rallied to their country's call and made these great sacrifices, and that now, in the hour of their need they are being called upon to make greater sacrifices still. I trust before the House rises we shall receive an assurance that the Cabinet has agreed entirely to ignore the disability pension, when taking into consideration the amount of income under the transitional benefit scheme.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member on his maiden speech, but he wants to express his appeal for assistance in demanding an alteration of these regulations not to these benches, but to Members of his own party, who are supporting this National Government. I wish to express very definitely my protest against the Regulations governing this transitional benefit and also the way they are being administered in many parts of the country. I am not putting any blame 616 on the public assistance committees, which have been called upon to do a very delicate piece of work. I am making my protest against the Regulations issued by the Minister himself. As a member of a board of guardians for over 17 years, I have never seen regulations for dealing with the administration of the Poor Law so rigid or so despicable as these dealing with transitional payment. I was very much surprised to hear the Minister of Labour take exception to the suggestion that this duty of dealing with transitional payment ought to be the duty of the Department which he controls. What is his Department for? I have never seen, since the regulation was issued, any reason to turn these men over to the Poor Law at all.
The Minister of Labour suggested, in his reply to questions put by the Leader of the Opposition, that he was anxious to transfer the question of dealing with transitional payments to the Poor Law authorities so that he could get on with the more important work of finding work for unemployed men. But is that happening? The same National Government, who were responsible for these Regulations, in turning these men over to the Poor Law, have, owing to their anxiety for economy, withdrawn millions of pounds worth of work which should have been put into operation so as to provide work for the unemployed. The Minister of Labour is not attempting to find them work, and he refuses to deal with them as far as their claims for unemployment benefit is concerned, and transfers them to the Poor Law authorities. The Regulation he recently issued on which, obviously, the various Poor Law authorities are acting definitely stated that they must take into account the income of the household. Not only is the ex-service man having his pension taken into consideration—which, I thoroughly agree, is a shame and ought not to be considered—but the old age pensioner is in the same position, the widow's pension is being taken into consideration, as are also allowances to children paid in respect of compensation for the death of their father where a claim has been made for transitional benefit by a brother. I seriously suggest that the Regulations ought to be altered transferring these men back to the authority which ought to deal with them.
617 The Poor Law should not be applied to the unemployed man at all. Able-bodied men ought not to be subject to a Poor Law test. The only right test to which to put a man who is unemployed, if you propose to refuse him full benefit, is to offer him a job. That is the best test to which you can put the unemployed man. I have been a member of a court of referees ever since the Act of Parliament was passed, and I have also been the member of a court of assessors, and have seen thousands of men passed through those courts. I have seen them come and go month in and month out, but I have never seen a man among them who would not have taken a job the next morning if we had had a job to offer him. That is the only valuable test to offer Britishers, and you would never find that there were many defaulters if such an offer were made. In my own district, when I arrived home last Sunday, I had a case put to me where an old collier, thrown out of work like thousands of others in the county of Yorkshire, had been before the committee and had to submit himself to a means test. He said he had two sons working, and the result was that their wages were taken into account, and he was told that there was no transitional payment benefit for him, and that his two sons must keep hint. I suggest that this sort of thing will break up the family life of many homes. Is it right to expect sons or daughters or relatives to maintain the unemployed men of this country simply because those men are unemployed It is the duty of the State to maintain men who are unemployed, or find them a job—one thing or the other.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member, I am afraid, is now going far beyond the Motion before the House. If the Motion were carried, it would not affect the question of the means test.
I suggest that the Regulations which have been issued by the Minister, and which are now being operated by the various public assistance committees, ought to be altered at once. We find from the report of the Royal Commission which was issued in January, 1931, that there were a fair number of Poor Law authorities at that time which, in dealing with ordinary Poor Law cases, were spending less on allowances than the amount of unemployment benefit being 618 paid at that time. Therefore, we suggest that the Minister ought. to alter these Regulations at. once, try to get some uniformity and make it perfectly clear that the disability pensions of the ex-service men ought not to be taken into account, nor the old age pension, the widow's pension, or any allowances in respect of the loss of a father when unemployment pay is being taken into consideration. Many important Ministers taking part in the General Election made it perfectly clear in their public statements that these things would not apply as far as the means test was concerned. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) ought to appeal to his friends on his side of the House, but he can depend upon us not only joining in a protest but in urging an alteration of the Regulations. We are very anxious to alter the law entirely as far as unemployment pay is concerned, and to give these men transitional benefit as their right, or find them work.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I have listened with the deepest attention to the various statements which have been made to the House to-night. The peculiar thing which struck me was the ambiguity of the Minister in respect of this particular aspect of the case. I am very sorry that the National party show their intelligence by their absence from this Debate to-night. I believe, in view of the many speeches which have been made on this occasion, more especially from their own benches, that if they had been present they would have been converted to the opinion that it was necessary to annul these Regulations. Before the late Government dissolved, the Ministers were asked what they meant by the Regulations they were about to issue. I distinctly asked the Ministers before we broke up for the Recess what they meant, and I could not get a definite answer. [An HON. MEMBER: "They did not know!"] Their ignorance on that occasion is commensurate with their knowledge to-night. When a definite question was put to-night, the Minister of Health refused to get rid of subtlety and to be candid with the House. He must think that we on this side of the House have lost our intelligence. When an appeal is made to the Minister of Labour, he has no knowledge whatever. We have a right to ask the two Ministers 619 who are responsible what they mean by the Regulations, and to receive an answer. Is it not nonsensical to talk of a national crisis and then to come to the House of Commons to find that you can get no definite answer from Ministers of the Crown duly appointed to deal with regulations operating in regard to such critical things as those with which we are dealing to-night?
Ambiguity seems to be the order of the day. An hon. Member on the opposite side of the House said that this is supposed to be the age of the young men, but before he has been much longer in this House he will find that it is a place of senile decay. I have been here for 23 months, and I can assure those who have just come into the House that they will find their Front Benches and back benches the biggest puzzle they have ever had to contend with. I take it that as Members of the National Government hon. Members have come into this House to decide matters, and, if that be so, I would advise hon. Members to come to decisions, and not consider that the Members on the Front Bench hold the destiny of this country in their hands. They did not win the election for them. They won it as a result of the cries they made; they won it under false pretences. Now hon. Members are discovering that the Regulations placed before them in this House are not the Regulations to which they thought they were subscribing.
It is amusing to note the pleasure that I give to some hon. Members on the Front Benches, responsible Ministers of the Crown, when we are dealing with Regulations which no one in the House understands. The Ministers themselves are afraid to give an opinion in regard to the Regulations, lest they make a mistake. When they are appealed to to explain the Regulations, they do not seem to know what to say. We were told an hour ago that there is no power vested in a Minister of the Crown to vary the Regulations. A few minutes later, we found the late Solicitor-General handing over a law book which points out the matter quite definitely. The Solicitor-General was fetched and the book was handed to him, He disappeared behind the Speaker's chair with the book in his 620 hand, and he has not returned. [HON. MEMBERS: "He has!"] I am sorry, I thought he had not. It requires a, committee or a sub-committee to determine this matter.
I remember that in the City of Liverpool when we were dealing with the administration of poor relief representations were made to us by Ministers that we must take proper account of what we were doing, or they would control us. They did that in other parts of the country. They surcharged the guardians in respect of their administration, and they sent others to replace the guardians. If I understand the spirit of Ministers aright, they know in their hearts that they do not want anyone to work by these Regulations. Their only object in issuing the Regulations is to gull the public, to frighten the Members of the public assistance committees and make them believe that they want them to do certain things, although really they do not want them to act in that way. Ministers really want the committees to interpret, as they have the power to interpret as duly elected bodies, the duty that devolves upon them. The Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health know that they have no power over the boards of guardians or the public assistance committees. If the committees wish to assess they have the power of assessment, but only the power of Assessment in this case which is issued in the regulations. Is it fair for Ministers of the Crown to come to the House of Commons to gull their own National Members They cannot gull us, because we cannot be gulled by them. I am proud to be able to say that there are some young men in the House who have some common sense. It is a good job that they are not old men.
Certain statements have been made by Ministers with regard to disability pensions. I have had 10 or 11 years experience of the work of a board of guardians and I have met most of the members of the Liverpool Public Assistance Committee, and I know that the interpretation that they are placing upon the Regulations is that income will certainly be taken into consideration. I go further and say that disability pensions are being considered as income. 621 It was never intended that that should be so, but the thing is being so manipulated that the Government can take advantage of the pensions which were given to men for having served their country. A more dishonourable and more discreditable thing was never initiated by any Government. It is worthy only of a so-called National Government dealing with a crisis such as the present. In the industrial fields of labour many of these men have been ruined for life and have no power to carry on in the great industrial field. Is their pension to be considered as income for the purpose of the assessment of unemployment benefit? If so, nothing more inhuman, more immoral could ever be tolerated by a British House of Commons. I do not wonder at the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) talking about 100,000 people being affected in Glasgow. There is no redress for them. If the British House of Commons cannot do justice to these people, it is a great shame, but the fact remains that when we appeal on moral grounds, on Christian and equitable grounds, we are not listened to; our appeal falls on deaf ears.
How can Ministers sit opposite and not reply to the questions that are put to them from the point of view of justice? Why not get rid of this damnable thing which they have issued under false pretences. There is no language too fierce or too strong to use in condemnation of the action of the Government in treating their fellow citizens so inhumanly. I would ask Ministers to get rid of the obscurantism which has affected them so long, to throw off their subtlety of language, to get down to hard matter of facts and to recognise that this is a Parliament which has a duty to the nation. Let us have honesty and clear expressions of opinion, and not so much ambiguity. Let both the Ministers get up like men and say that they are prepared to issue fresh Regulations.
§ Mr. BRIANT
I have had some experience of Poor Law guardians. The hon. Member says that he has had 10 or 11 years experience of the Poor Law. I have had 27 years such experience. If I have not his juvenile impetuosity, I hope that I have not reached the stage of senile decay. It is suggested that the 622 unemployed man suffers humiliation when he applies for the necessary help, from whatever source it may be obtained. We want the unemployed man to retain his self-respect, which is a delicate thing and is easily lost, with disastrous consequences to himself and the nation. To-night we have to consider the Regulations and to see how far they enable a man to get the necessary assistance without in any way suffering in that psychological way in which a man may easily suffer. There is not nearly the difference which hon. Members opposite suggest between having an inquiry made by the public assistance committee and having an inquiry made by some other body set up for the purpose.
There is one thing that I most strongly resent, and I regret very much that hon. Members opposite insist so much upon it. They will keep on inferring that there is some humiliation involved in applying for public assistance, or in coming before public assistance committees. If that is so, hon. Members opposite are condemning to humiliation hundreds of thousands of aged and sick people, and widows. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are not!"] Excuse me, but if you keep on insisting that it is humiliating to go before these bodies you are doing what I say you are. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I say you are doing a great hardship to those people by adding, I was going to say, to the amount of insult to them. A late Member of this House said, in another place, that the unemployed are being treated like criminals, because they have to appear before a public assistance committee. If that is so, those other people are also being treated like criminals. [Interruption.] Hon Members opposite may have had some experience, but I have also had a good many years' experience. [HON. MEMBERS: "So have we."] I dare say you have. I have reason to think that the people who have come before me at the board of guardians have never been treated by me as criminals or by any member of my board.
I agree with hon. Members who criticise the Regulations. I think a clearer indication is required. It should not be in the hands of a committee, for instance, to deprive a man of such part of his income as is necessary to him, not only to obtain the necessities of life, but also to obtain some of the amenities necessary 623 to him. There is nothing more disastrous, to a man or to a State, than to allow the standard of life to be reduced. If a man, by striving and thrift, has got to a certain position, or it may be that he has got certain furniture, a piano if you like, the worst thing in the world to do is to put that man in such a position that he has to part with something that he needed in order to maintain his self-respect and his standard of life. That makes it difficult to make distinctions and to make regulations, because what may be essential for one man may not he essential for another man.
I want to deal with another point, on which I think hon. Members opposite will agree with me. I want to save these people from anything that is humiliating, but hon. Members will insist upon suggesting that the unemployed in this country who require assistance are divided into watertight compartments, those who are getting relief at the public assistance committees, and those who are receiving unemployment benefit. That is not true. At the present moment, and long before this, thousands of people have been receiving unemployment benefit and public assistance. They have been receiving both. Under the new Regulations, the same thing will obtain People will be receiving unemployment benefit, and then, as everyone of us knows, because a man with a wife and a large family, burdened with high rates which he cannot help paying, cannot maintain them properly on the unemployment benefit, in many cases, that benefit must be supplemented by public assistance.
If hon. Members opposite had their way, what would happen? Here is a man who has already been before the public assistance committee, and has already had every fact of his life inquired into—the rent, the amount received from members of the family, and so on. If he wanted transitional benefit, he would be sent to a body who would make all those inquiries over again. I think that that would be humiliating. If those inquiries are to be made another body is set up for the purpose, and if, as often happens, the man finds that the benefit he has received is not sufficient, he will have to go to the public assistance committee. That twill mean that that unfortunate man will be put 624 through two inquiries, where precisely the same items will have to be inquired into, and he will be humilated by having twice to go through this very unpleasant inquisition, to say the least, into his means. Hon. Members, in their desire to save him humiliation in the inquiry, are trying to get a method which will inevitably produce a condition of things which, for that man, will be, to use a mild phrase, extremely unpleasant. I urge that they should reconsider their position. I agree with some of their criticisms, and that it is a fact that there are public assistance committees who are harsh and hard, and some who try to prevent a man who may be just at the edge of poverty getting some addition to his income.
There is nothing more debasing for the best of men than that he should be made to feel that he is only just existing, and that every 6d. spent beyond a certain amount puts him into a condition in which he knows that his wife and children will have to suffer. I want to prevent that, as much as anybody in this House. Hon. Members opposite say that they speak for the working-classes. I know the working-classes as much as they do, because I have spent my life among them, and I am proud to remember them as my friends. On the very numerous occasions on which I have been returned to public bodies I have always been returned by working-class votes and none other. The Minister might very well listen to some of the criticisms made by hon. Members opposite, but, on the other hand, I would urge him not to give way to the plea that a special committee should be formed to make inquiry into each case. I have already shown that that will only lead to fresh hardship to the unfortunate people. I am sorry to have had to intervene, and I hope I have not occupied the time of the House too long.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
The hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House appears to speak sweet reasonable words to the working-classes in his constituency, and then to give his vote to the Tories. We are so accustomed now to listening to pseudo-Liberals expressing Radical principles and then going into the Lobby for a most reactionary purpose, that we are tired of listening to them. The hon. Gentleman told us that public assistance committees, if what we 625 require to have done, is done, would have to apply two tests for the applicants for transitional benefit, and that the applicant would have, first of all, to satisfy the test under transitional conditions, and then have to go along to the public assistance committee for additional relief. If the applicant had to have the benefit supplemented by Poor Law relief, that is an indictment of the scale of transitional benefit. The hon. Member delivered what he thought was a javelin. It is a boomerang.
§ Mr. BRIANT
May I suggest, whatever I may think about transitional benefit, that that is the existing state of affairs.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I shall be only too happy, and my regard for hon. Members will be raised, if they will go into the Lobby with the Opposition this evening. We have to judge by past experience in this matter, and our experience has been that hon. Members are always giving soft words to the workers and support to the Tories in this House. They represent exactly the same party as cast its votes before the election in favour of the reduction of unemployment benefit. I press my point, because the hon. Member's view may be considered weighty on the ground that for a large number of years he was a guardian. The House might think that what he has said is accurate. Perhaps he has not learned that as a consequence of these Regulations and the Order in Council which they implement, public assistance committees have had to reduce their scales of relief. The scale of relief of one county council was higher than transitional benefit, and had that scale been maintained it would have meant such a drain upon the local funds that they would have been bankrupt in less than a month. So the first effect of these Orders was to reduce the standard of living of all the people who were dependent upon public assistance in that 626 county. Therefore this scheme has already operated as a lever, not only against unemployed men, but against the poorest members of the community. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour shakes his head, but will he deny the statement that that has happened.
§ Mr. R. S. HUDSON
I certainly deny the statement that the difference in rates of relief has any connection at all with disability pensions.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The hon. Gentleman is not well briefed. My statement was that the transitional rates of benefit under the Regulations, having been reduced by 10 per cent., bring the rate of benefit below the standard scale of relief in the county, that every single man transferred to transitional benefit would have been entitled to the difference between his benefit and the scale of relief, and that the consequence would have been that the county council funds would have been exhausted in less than a fortnight. The county council would then have been compelled to come to the Ministry for a loan, which would not have been granted because the county council would be told that they had to reduce their scales of benefit to meet their own financial resources. The hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant) must realise that the persons for whom he was supposed to speak have already had their standards of living gravely reduced as a consequence of the provisions that we are now discussing. I cannot understand why the humiliation is not that these men should have to go along to the Poor Law authority, but the humiliation is that we should call it a humiliation. The hon. Member considered it perfectly normal and natural and right that people should be driven to such a, state of destitution that they should have to go along to the public assistance committee, but that we are insulting and outraging common humanity in pointing out that they have to do so. Never was there such an astonishing point of view. What we desire to do in this matter is to secure that people shall be able to receive decent sustenance at the hands of the State and at the same time retain their self-respect.
The House is discussing, for the last time before the winter, unemployment insurance conditions. What happens in this 627 House to-night may have the gravest possible influence on the maintenance of peace and order in this country in the months that are to come. We have tried to persuade the Minister of Labour that a very grave situation may arise, and that unless some attention is paid to our observations he may find himself faced with such a tide of indignation, expressing itself in a most unfortunate manner, that before the end of the winter all the economies he will have achieved will be wiped out by the expense of maintaining order. That statement is not intended as a threat at all; it is merely intended to try to bring from our side of the House a pressure analagous to that, to which the Government has already succumbed in another direction.
I ask hon. Members, what are we to do? This evening for over an hour and a-half there have been only 10 Members on the Government benches. Immediately it had been notified that the Government had surrendered to the Protectionists the House emptied. Everyone was so delighted that the Government had yielded to pressure over the wheat quota, that no Members were left to consider the desolate condition of hundreds of thousands of people. Liberals as well as Tories, anxious to discuss the latest fiscal development, had no concern with and no consideration at all for the poverty that is to be inflicted upon the people, particularly in the necessitous areas. I understand that in another part of the House this evening a dinner is being given in celebration of the surrender of the last vestige of Liberal opinion ever held by hon. Members opposite. Let me remind the House of what has been said in the past. Ex-service men were told that they would not have their disability pensions cut. The Prime Minister said, "In no circumstances whatever will we allow the purchasing power of the workmen's wages to be reduced." Yet we are now considering the Regulations which in many parts of the country will drive people to a standard of living that is below the level of destitution.
Hon. Members have lost whatever respect and regard they had from British working-class people. If Englishmen have still the courage and the relf-respect that have been extolled from benches 628 opposite, they may be driven by desperation to seek some remedy for this distress before the end of the winter. I warn hon. Members not to leave this House this evening until some concession has been wrested from the Minister of Labour, not to leave until the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister has promised that before the end of the Session new Regulations will be issued to make things a little easier for men who will be dependent on unemployment insurance benefit. All this time has elapsed, and yet the Ministry of Labour have been unaware of the powers which have been conferred upon them. Not until this evening did the Minister and his officials, or the Solicitor-General, become aware of the fact that they have power to issue Regulations determining the conditions upon which this benefit should be paid. Is it not a commentary upon their sinister disregard for working class claimants that the did not have that information before this evening? They are not so ignorant about wheat quotas or protecting manufacturers, but when it comes to determining whether the Minister of Labour has power to prevent disability pensions from being taken into consideration in assessing benefit, they have not even enough concern for the ex-service men as to acquire knowledge as to whether they have the power or not.
It has been pointed out by the ex-Solicitor-General that such powers are in their possession, and that it is possible for them to send out Regulations in place of the existing one, determining what is to be taken into account in assessing the needs of the family. It is not possible for us to discuss whether there should be a means test or not, but it is possible to ask the Minister of Labour to withdraw the Regulations now before the House, and to issue much more humane Regulations in their place. Hon. Members who go into the Lobby and vote against the Prayer which is on the Paper will be voting—let there be no misunderstanding—for ex-service men's pensions to be taken into consideration, for workmen's compensation to be taken into consideration, for old age pensions to be taken into consideration and for what was called blood pension to be taken into consideration—voting for every item of income that comes into a home to be taken into consideration in assessing the need of appli- 629 cants for transitional benefit. Do not let Us hear it said that they did not know what it means, and that they relied upon the assurance of the Minister of Labour. Do not let us have what we have heard from the benches here before, that they had complete confidence in the promises made by Members of the Cabinet. If the Labour Minister gets up and says he will have some regard for this matter, that he will take account of what has been said, that he will consider what his powers are, and leaves it at that, and then lets the House adjourn and the Session come to an end, hon. Members will find themselves exposed to charges in the country that they had an opportunity of bringing in legislation but they were too cowardly to do so.
I suggest that hon. Members do not lose this opportunity of influencing the course of legislation. It has been suggested that the House of Commons has embarked in the course of the last, two months upon a very extraordinary manner of passing new legislation. In the past it was possible for us to consider a Bill Clause by Clause, and be able to represent our constituents and to alter the Bill. This new procedure by Orders-in-Council and of issuing Regulations deprives the House of the opportunity it formerly enjoyed. We have now to discuss Regulations after they have been issued, and in a very limited form indeed. If hon. Members do not exercise to the full the opportunity in Debates like this, they are throwing up entirely any control the House of Commons had over administration.
The Minister of Labour this evening declared that it was his intention not to associate men in receipt of transitional benefit with the Poor Law taint at all. He assured us that it was his desire that that association should be as remote as it possibly could be made. As we understand the position at the moment, the public assistance committees have specific instructions under the Order-in-Council to assess the needs of the family in precisely the same way as in the case of an applicant for Poor Law relief. There is no doubt about that. After all, the committees are instructed under the Order-in-Council, and it is only upon that that they can proceed, to assess the need of applicants for transitional benefit 630 upon harsher terms than ordinary Poor Law relief, because they are instructed in paragraph 4 on page 3 to deal with a case as if they were assessing the need of an unemployed able-bodied person who had applied for public assistance, but as if such assistance could be given only in cash. The public assistance committees always assess the claim of a person for public assistance more generously in terms of kind than in terms of cash, and yet the Order-in-Council has instructed those committees to assess the needs as though they were assessing the application of a Poor Law person in terms of cash. If the Poor Law authorities in the country literally interpret this power, and say that all they can do in the absence of specific instructions from the Minister of Labour is to consider these applicants as if they were Poor Law applicants, no one can blame them at all. After all, no regulations of any kind have vet been issued from the Ministry of Labour asking them to consider these cases in any other way.
Therefore, in presenting this Prayer, we are urging hon. Members to withdraw these Regulations, and to issue Regulations in their place stating in specific terms what are the categories of income which should be taken into consideration, and to give the House an opportunity before it rises to consider whether those categories are too expensive or too limited. The House is entitled to know—and indeed if it is not entitled, it has abrogated all its functions—how these men are to be treated in the course of the coming winter. We desire that these men on transitional benefit shall be able to claim that benefit without family income being taken into account at all. There is nothing in the Order-in-Council, or in the pledges that have been given, that makes it necessary for the Minister of Labour, in taking into consideration the need of an applicant for transitional benefit, to consider the earnings of the sister, the brother, or the father. There is nothing in the powers that have been given to the Minister which make it incumbent on him to take the family income into consideration at all. He need only take into consideration the means of the applicant for benefit. I think that point should be emphasised. The suggestion has been that working 631 class means should be assessed in terms of the working class income of the family. It should be assessed, as the need is assessed of members of the richer families in the community, not in terms of the income of the family, but in terms of the income of the individual.
§ Mr. HUDSON
On a point of Order. I hope that when I come to reply I shall be allowed to deal with these points which the hon. Member is making.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I understood that the hon. Member was not arguing against a means test but as to whether in a means test you should take the question of family income into consideration. I do not think that goes outside the Order-in-Council.
§ Mr. BEVAN
It will not do for the hon. Gentleman to try to protect himself as others have sought to do under the assumption that there is a limitation of powers in this respect. We hope that he will not do so. We hope that he will tell the House whether it is necessary or incumbent upon him, under the powers which he has, to take the family income into consideration. I have read the Order-in-Council and the Regulations carefully and I see nothing in them which makes it incumbent upon the hon. Gentleman to do so and I suggest that if the incomes of sisters and brothers are to be taken into consideration in this matter it will undermine the foundations of home life in this country, as nothing else could do. [Laughter.] The Noble Lord opposite laughs. Let me give a personal experience. I speak feelingly on this subject because I have had some experience. I was unemployed in 1923 and, as an applicant for extended benefit, had to submit to an income test. I was keeping a widowed mother and I had a sister at home. My sister's earnings as a typist were taken into account and divided by three—in relation to herself, my mother, and myself—and because her earnings came to more than 11s. per head per week, I was deprived of my unemployment insurance benefit. I do not want to threaten the Noble Lord but had he been nearer to me at that time I should have wiped the grin off his face. We know that the Noble Lord has no need to pass a means test. He and his 632 family have thriven upon the proceeds of banditry for centuries.
§ Mr. MAXTON
On a point of Order. It is important that we should understand exactly the nature of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I always understood that it was well within the powers of a Member of this House to use language of the sort used by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not think that it is suitable in this House to make remarks, either about an hon. Member or about his family, which would give the impression that he had obtained his property by theft.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
May I, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, respectfully call your attention to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) on one occasion in this House charged the Cecils with having—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I know that hon. Members opposite do not want to hear it and I know that it is a long time ago since it was said, but all I want to say is that we are only following a very good example in this respect.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I did not make allowance for the sensitiveness of hon. Members opposite, but I do not want to direct attention to the skeletons in their cupboards. I dare say that their pasts and their families' pasts—[An HON. MEMBER: "Stick to your own past!"] I shall stick to my own past and I am not ashamed of it. All I desire to point out to hon. Members is that before the House parts with this subject some attempt ought to be made to convey to the House the feelings of hundreds of thousands of men as to what they will have to suffer in the course of the coming winter. It would be a disaster and it would be a disservice to the House if the feelings of those men were not allowed to find an echo within these walls.
633 I submit to hon. Members in all parts of the House that they are this evening handling the biggest human problem that this Parliament has ever handled. We shall witness, almost certainly, a rise in the price level of commodities. We are to consider food taxes. Surely it is relevant and proper that an attempt should be made to warn hon. Members against the social disaster which will follow from inflicting starvation upon a large number of their fellow citizens. It is not possible for us at this moment to influence the course of legislation because we are not able to send formidable and influential deputations to the Prime Minister. It is not possible for us to bring subterranean pressure to bear upon him. It is not possible for us even to inflict upon the Government any fear of a defeat in the Division Lobbies. All we desire to do is to warn them that if they persist in the course which they have adopted, if they continue to inflict injury upon the poorest members of the community, then not even their swollen and monstrous majority will protect them from the Nemesis to come.
§ Captain FRASER
It has been well said in another connection that the last Election was an acid test of democracy. It was a question whether the electors could be persuaded to vote for what appeared, on short sight, to be something which was against their interests. I venture to suggest that this Debate, early in the first Session of this National Government is an acid test of the common sense of the Members returned to support that Government. Are they to be persuaded by the kind of argument to which we have just listened, that their duty lies in the direction of supporting this Prayer? Are they to be persuaded because they are called cowards, because they are told that they are voting for the Tories out of callous indifference, to do something which is not merely contrary to their judgment but contrary to the mandate which they secured at the election? It may be unpopular to say so, but is it not true that one of the reasons why this great majority was returned was to stand up against the very policy which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has just been putting before us. He says that we on this side are out to do what we can to lower 634 the level at which the working class may live, that our policy is one of callous indifference and that we are doing what we can to hurt the people. By what right does he say that? What we believe is that the policy which the hon. Member and his friends are advocating and the policy which they would have pursued had they been returned to power would have been one which would have so destroyed the financial position of this land that there would have been, not merely poverty and distress, but hunger and starvation.
This attempt to alter these Regulations is the House of Commons method of putting forward the plea that by spending more State money you can make people better off. The electors have learned that that is untrue. They have sent us here by way of demonstrating that it is untrue. What they wish from us is, first Hat we shall put our finances in order, and, that we may do so, they have empowered us to make reasonable laws and regulations and to support the reasonable laws and regulations made by the last National Government, which will have the effect of reducing public expenditure. It is very hard on people with small means to have those means reduced, but it would be much harder if the general financial structure of the country were to crash, and if they were to be left without the power to purchase anything at all. Surely that is the reality, and these hon. Members, with the best will in the world, are heating the air.
Then there is the threat, which the hon. Gentleman said was not a threat, or the statement that if these measures were persisted in, there would be trouble. He hinted at riots. He said it was not a threat. I dare hope that it was not a hope, but there are among his friends some who hope for not and revolution. They hope for that by creating discontent, by pouring out constantly this abuse of the Tories and the class they are supposed to represent, but the electors know well whom they represent, and two out of three of the working-classes of this land sent us here to stop Socialism. I affirm that these Regulations are one of the means, one of the painful, difficult means, whereby in this difficult time our Budget may be balanced, whereby our financial system may be kept in good 635 order, whereby our money may have the power to buy something that is worth buying. In these circumstances, it seems to me to be the duty of the supporters of the National Government to support the National Government. It is difficult, I know, but these are early days for my hon. Friends on this side to be thinking about the next election. Let those waverers not worry. The next election will not be won or lost by any decision that we take now, unless we let clown the National Government so early in its history.
Having said that, stirred to say something that I never meant to say, by the nonsense spoken by the last hon. Member —I hope the hon. Member who is the Leader of the party below the Gangway opposite will not call me to order for saying something unparliamentary—may I say one word about a particular aspect of this matter, namely, that relating to disabled ex-service men? A great deal of sentiment has been brought to bear upon that subject to-day, and I am glad that there is sentiment for ex-service men—I hope it will long persist, and particularly for disabled men—but I like to base an argument upon something stronger than sentiment. I like to fortify sentiment by reason, and I am going, if I can, to try to persuade the Minister by a reasonable argument that there is something more that he must do in this matter before his supporters will be entirely satisfied.
By that, I do not mean that we shall vote against him. Everybody knows perfectly well that Parliamentary procedure is such that you often cannot secure a point with a limited objective without being compelled by the devices of the Opposition to vote against something much greater, but let the right hon. Gentleman beware that if he does not make some concession to those who feel strongly about relatively small financial matters, he may meet with trouble later on. Not that I venture to say that so humble a supporter as myself has power to make trouble, but I believe that there are in this House a large number of hon. Members who would like to see disabled soldiers better treated in this matter and who, if the occasion arose when they could reasonably press the Minister in 636 the matter, would press him as far as ever they could.
Let me try to persuade him of what is, I believe, the logical, the just, way of looking at this thing. First of all, let me examine what is a disablement pension. It is a payment by the State, to a man who is disabled, for certain purposes. These purposes are varying. One of them is to an extent to provide him with subsistence, which, in view of his disability, he cannot now so readily obtain himself, but subsistence is only one of the purposes for which the pension is paid. There are others. It is paid by way of compensation for loss, for suffering, which may very likely be endured throughout life. It is paid by way of giving him, so far as is possible, some additional amenities and enjoyments. It is paid by way of making up to the handicapped person to some extent for the handicap which he has suffered in the service of the country. In short, it is partly by way of providing him with subsistence and partly by way of providing him with what I may generally call amenities and considerations.
I lay down this principle as one to which all reasonable men in the House will agree. I doubt if hon. Members opposite will entirely agree to it, but I think the majority of hon. Members will. It is not reasonable to ask the State to pay twice for the same thing. If that be conceded, it is not reasonable to ask the State to pay twice for a man's subsistence, and in so far as the transitional benefit is wholly for subsistence—and some part of the disability pension is admittedly for subsistence—it cannot reasonably, in logic, be claimed that the whole of the disability pension shall be set aside in these considerations. Sentiment may dictate otherwise, but ex-service men have some logic and sense apart from sentiment and sentimentality, and I am convinced that my immediate friends, who are mostly men in the category of totally disabled persons receiving the maximum pension, who may possibly find themselves out of a job, having been in one—for, strangely enough, some of these persons who are totally disabled have been found capable of working—then going on to unemployment benefit, and later having to apply to committees—my friends would not be advised by me, nor would they wish, to claim that in addition to the total dis- 637 ability pension which they now receive they should receive full consideration from a public assistance committee as if they had no pension whatever.
If I may illustrate that to the House by an example, I myself receive a pension, substantial, having regard to the miserable amount of money given to unhappy people who are unemployed; very inadequate by way of compensation to me, no doubt, but no State could compensate entirely for certain kinds of disabilities. Were I to be employed in an insurable employment, and then to find myself out of work, it would not be monstrous for me, having to some extent paid for it, to take my unemployment benefit. I would be entitled to that, but when that period was over, it would be monstrous for me to claim that my pension, which is substantial in relation to the money which unemployed persons are used to having, must not be taken into account at all, and that I must have he whole sum which would be paid to a person who was receiving no pension whatever. As I say, a principle against which no reasonable man can vote is this, that the State cannot be asked to pay twice for the same thing, and if there is subsistence provided by a pension, the State cannot be asked to pay for subsistence over again in a need allowance. To that extent, the Minister may be right to reserve himself from stating that these pensions must be wholly left out of consideration.
But now I want to put another point to him. We have argued that the pension is partly subsistence and partly provided to give amenities and comforts and some compensation and consideration. What part of it is substance and what part of it is the other thing, it is very difficult to assess, but I submit this to the right hon. Gentleman, that where the total pension that is given is small in amount, say, 10s. a week, or £1 for a man who has lost a leg, it cannot reasonably be argued that any very large proportion of that was given to him by the State in order that he might subsist on it. He would not have been able to subsist on it, and if that was the intention, then it was grossly inadequate; but as a fact it was not given him with any such idea, nor is it related by Ministry of Pensions procedure to the question of his employment. It is a fundamental principle in 638 the Ministry of Pensions that pensions are paid in relation to the disability and not to employment. Then I suggest that that pension of £1 a week, given to a man who has lost a leg, was given mainly to make up to him for the fact that he was a handicapped fellow. It was not given to him mainly in order that he might subsist on it, and there is no duplication if you give him an allowance for need in addition quite apart from it.
I wonder whether I have possibly persuaded the Minister or, at any rate, the House, that there is a principle which he might accept, namely, that a substantial part of this pension—I suggest as much as £1 a week—might be left out of account. The principle upon which I would leave it out of account is that it was not given in order to provide subsistence. It was not given to meet need; it was given primarily to supply comfort and amenities and to make up to a handicapped man for the fact that for the rest of his life he would otherwise be at a disadvantage compared with his fellows. I hope that upon that ground, quite apart from any question of sentiment, the Minister may be able to indicate to us that he is able to make some concession to us to-night.
May I put it to him in another way? Here perhaps we have approached somewhat near a legal point. It has been suggested by the remarks and the counter-remarks of the ex-Solicitor-General and the present Solicitor-General that the Minister has no power. I wonder if that is true. It depends on the way you look at the disability pension. May I suggest this analogy to the right hon. Gentleman? Suppose that a trust were made by him and myself under which we would provide £1 a week for a man who lost a leg in order that it might be a source of consolation to him for the loss he had sustained, a constant reminder of our gratitude to him for the service he rendered when he sustained the loss, and also a means of making up to him for the handicap he suffered both in getting a job and in keeping it. Suppose that we had made such a trust and had declared that the money should not be available for his subsistence—an absurd hypothetical case, but if we had done that, it would be agreed that no committee in this country would come along and say that this money must be 639 used for subsistence. It would be a trust for a purpose other than subsistence.
Therefore, it is not incumbent on these authorities nor upon the Minister to say that they have not power to set aside these pensions. It depends on the way they look at it, and the Minister has conceded that the public assistance committees may use their discretion. He sent out a chit on 10th November explaining to them that they need not take the whole of the pension into account. Cannot he go a little further? He has admitted by the words of his Circular of 10th November that, the persons receiving disablement pensions may have a slightly greater need. I ask him to admit another principle; that the greater part of these pensions were never paid for subsistence at all, but that they welt paid for the other purposes, such as consideration and amenity, to which I have referred. Let him admit that and say frankly to the public assistance committees, not that they need not take the whole into consideration, but that he would regard it as reasonable if they were to set aside, say, out, of the possible maximum as the sum which they would not take into account. In another section, where he is dealing with the question of property owned by an unemployed person, the Minister says that, it would not be reasonable"—those are his words. If he has power to advise them as to what is and what, is not reasonable, he has certainly power to advise them on the lines which I ask him to do. I do not believe for a moment that public assistance committees would be averse to advice from him. I am convinced, from my knowledge of people who work upon these committees, that they would be delighted, not merely to have his guidance, but his authority, and, if he has not the authority, I consider it his duty to get. it. I ask him earnestly to consider the matter, not on sentimental grounds—I would rather leave that to others—but on reasonable grounds; not on grounds of mercy, but on grounds of justice—a great many people who say they do not want mercy but justice, really mean that they want mercy. On this occasion I am asking him to consider the matter on reasonable grounds, and I hope that in consideration of the fact that, though some of us do not like what 640 he is doing, we are going to support him in the Division Lobby, he will do what we want.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I have sat here practically throughout the Debate, and I have often wished that I could get the thousands of voters who voted for this Government to see the interest that has been taken by the Government supporters on this momentous question so far as the working classes are concerned. The benches have been practically empty all day, and now Members are coming in alter having given Lord Beaverbrook a dinner. I do not grudge him that so long as they do not now vote away another man's dinner. I would like to say a word in reply to the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser), who usually speaks authoritatively for the ex-service men. I do not think, however, that he is speaking for the ex-service man to-night, and I am sure that he has not. a mandate for what he has said. He said that those benches were not to be afraid of certain things that were said to them from the Labour Benches, that they would not be cowards and run away. He surely forgets that only last Tuesday they ran away. He forgets the Statute of Westminster. They ran away then. He further said that the Government were sent here to carry out this mandate. That is not true.
This business was one of the most despicable things that were done during a dirty Tory election. These Regulations did not come into operation until after the election. This was kept back. Many things that the Government put into operation with regard to the various cuts were known to the working class, but the working class did not know about this. We did what we possibly could to explain what this needs test means, but it was kept in the background by the animal cunning of the individuals who were in charge of the election. I say that advisedly, because I know some of the individuals who were responsible for the election, and they are famed in our movement for having a good deal of animal sagacity—and they used it. To-night we are trying to get as many of the Tories as possible to go into the Lobby with us, because Tories from all parts of the country have been rising from those benches to tell us that they 641 have pledged themselves against this means test. I hope the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Curry) will stand to his guns.
§ Mr. CURRY
May I correct the hon. Member I never said that I was against the means test. I appealed to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterle-Street (Mr. Lawson) to try to get him to say whether or not he was in favour of the means test, but I was ruled out of order. I never said that I was opposed to a means test. I said that in the consideration of the question of means I was opposed to some of the things being taken into account which the public assistance committees are taking into account. As for a means test, I agree with every word that the Leader of the Opposition said.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I must leave it with the hon. Member's conscience. I accept the explanation. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) set up the same case. Then we had the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant). I cannot have regard for him in the part he plays—to the best of his ability—when he sets himself up as a judge of working-class conditions from the pedestal of a chairman of a board of guardians or a public assistance committee, and says he acts generously towards the workers who come before him. That position can give him absolutely no idea of how humiliating it is to members of the working class to have to appear before those committees and explain and expose everything they have got before they can secure a subsistence allowance. It is a most unmanly thing, and I am astonished if the hon. Member applies that method when he has people before him under the means test.
Under the means test a young man in the house who is working will have to support everyone in that house. The parent will have to support the entire family. Everything is taken into account—not how much the individual may have, but the income of the whole family. You are going to introduce among the working class a state of affairs that will be detrimental to the best interests of the people of this country, because they will become suspicious of one another and will inform on one another. Discontent such as we have never seen in this country is bound to be prevalent. I appeal to the Minister 642 to send out national instructions and not leave it to every petty public assistance committee to decide what is to be the allowance. If he sends out a national circular, we shall be able to challenge him on it here on the Floor of the House of Commons. As a Minister of the Crown here at the headquarters of the British Empire he has an opportunity to give a lead in easing the conditions which will prevail among poor people during the oncoming winter.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who opened the discussion this afternoon, gave us an example of how to maintain the Debate within the limits of order, an example which the majority of speakers have tried to emulate. It is very difficult to debate the whole problem without transgressing the Rules of Order, but I shall endeavour to follow the example which has been set, and shall not be tempted to turn aside by the remarks made by hon. Members, and particularly the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser), who during the greater part of his speech had the unenviable distinction of being the only Member who was in full support of the Government's instructions. It was strange that he, a man with whom we sympathise very much on account of his war experiences, and the consequences of his war experiences, should find it very difficult to come down on the side of the disabled ex-service men who are the object of our special consideration to-night.
§ Captain FRASER
If my hon. Friend will allow me to say so, surely it is within the recollection of the House that I made a most earnest appeal to the Government to give consideration to ex-service men. My hon. Friend quite unwittingly maligns me.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
Not unwittingly, and certainly not wittingly. The words used by the hon. Member are fresh in the memory of everyone in the House. He said that a man who receives a disability pension from the State, although he may be an injured person, although he may have claims on the grounds of his insurance equal to those of any other person not disabled, should not get any consideration on the grounds of his disability.
§ Captain FRASER
With all respect, I said nothing of the kind. In a sentence, what I said was that at this early stage in the life of the National Government we must support them upon a matter of general policy, namely, the question of economy or Socialism; but as far as these ex-service men are concerned I venture to think I Was the only speaker in the Debate who made a practical proposal, and that was that up to £1 the disability pension ought not to be taken into account.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
The hon. Member was so long in making up his mind that I am not quite certain he has made up his mind yet. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I have no wish to quarrel with the hon. and gallant Member. What I declare is that there is no Member in any part of this House who, in his speeches during the election or in his election address gave any declaration that he was going to support instructions and regulations like those which we are now discussing. I remember stating in one of my speeches during the last election that I expected that the means test would be interpreted in the sense which it is now being interpreted. I remember that my opponent at the election, the Prime Minister, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the country distinctly that the private means of any individual would not be taken into consideration, and that houses would not enter into the consideration of any of these claims. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that with him that was a definite and confirmed line. Every Member sitting on this side of the House put the position on this question fairly and squarely before the electors, but a great majority of those who have been returned as supporters of the Government either deliberately, wittingly, or unwittingly concealed the purpose which has now been revealed in the Circular issued by the Minister of Labour They do not trust democracy.
I listened with pleasure to the speech made by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) who gave us some hope that he represented the new generation of Conservatives, and who, at the last election, was interested in social problems. The hon. Member always im- 644 presses us with his sincerity, and his love for his country and national institutions. The hon. Member spoke to-night in a sympathetic mood, and he referred to a statement which had been made in a speech by the Home Secretary, which he said was a challenge to the Government. In order to test whether the allegation made against the Home Secretary is a right one I will read the following quotation from the Circular which is to be found in paragraph 4:The Minister has no authority under the Order-in-Council to give instructions as to the manner in which the resources of an applicant, represented by the capital value of the house, or of invested savings should be taken into account, nor indeed would such instructions be appropriate to the individual treatment of each case on its merits.Can the Home Secretary deny that the Minister has power to give to the public assistance committees authority to take into account the capital value of a house owned by an applicant for transitional benefit, and because of the capital value of that house to deny him the whole or part of his transitional benefit? Is not that the reading of this instruction, which was issued by the Minister and signed by one of his principal secretaries?
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees argued part of the case, but the whole argument has not been put. I represent, perhaps, the most thrifty and independent section of working people in this country. They are people in West Wales, of whom a large proportion have endeavoured for generations to retain that independence which the possession of a house gives, and I believe I am right in saying that in that portion of West Wales there is a larger proportion of workpeople owning their own houses than in any other part of the country. There has been wide unemployment for the last eight or nine years in the district that I represent. More than half the pits have been closed down in the last 10 years, and the number of miners in employment has gone down from 10,000 to 4,000. A large proportion of those people have toiled for years, patiently and doggedly, working and striving and stinting in order to own their own houses. A large number of them have been successful in preserving their own roof over their families, and have gained self-respect and dignity 645 because they were not subject to the whim and caprice of an unscrupulous landlord, and liable to be thrown out of their homes at any time.
A large number of them have been unemployed, and during the election I made it clear to them that the value of the houses which they had built up brick by brick would be counted in the assessment by the public assistance committee, and that the public assistance committee would be empowered to take into consideration the full capital value of the house, so that, because they owned bricks and mortar to the value of £100, or £200, or £300, that capital value might be taken as justification for refusing them one penny piece of transitional benefit. No one in this House to-night has denied that. The Minister is there, the Parliamentary Secretary is there, the Home Secretary is there. Will any of them tell me that I am wrong when I say that a public assistance committee has the power to deny, to any workman in this country who owns a house worth £200, a single penny piece of transitional benefit until every pennyworth of that building has been eaten up and used up by the family?
Suppose that it is said that, although there may be a theoretical power, it is not the intention to exercise it in that way. Suppose that it is said that only the income value of the house may be taken into consideration. Then my first statement is equally true. If the income value of the house is taken into consideration and the transitional benefit is reduced in proportion it will be found that with the low standard of unemployment benefit laid down in the Economy Act if you take 8s. or 10s. as the income value of the house, and if that is taken from 21s. 3d. or 27s. 3d., the capital value of the house will be diminished week by week, and in a very short time, because of the needs of the family owing to their being thrown back on their own resources, the capital value of the house will entirely disappear. The same thing applies to savings in the Post Office, to shares in the co-operative movement, and to all kinds of savings.
At the election I bad to fight very hard in my own constituency, where everyone knows me and trusts my word, to convince my people that I was not the person who was making that attack upon 646 their savings, that I was not a member of a party that was going to attack the working people's savings. I saw day by day on the hoardings in the streets and on the buildings in my Division the features of the Prime Minister, and by his portrait the portrait of an elderly lady, for electoral purposes in the garb of a woman of the working-class wearing an apron. This beautiful sight that an elderly woman presents to any man, the work of a skilful artist, was shown side by side with the Prime Minister's portrait and underneath were words spoken by the lady in contemplation of what would happen to her savings if the National Government were not returned.
I said to the people in my Division, "It is you who will have to run the risks of your savings, not from the Labour party but from the present Home Secretary and the Minister of Labour and every other Member of the Government responsible for policy." Do not let the rank and file of the ex-Liberal party and this National Government take too much responsibility on themselves. Their sole responsibility is following blindly where these people lead them. On these gentlemen lies the responsibility of robbing the working-class who may be subject to the misfortune of unemployment for a period longer than 26 weeks. It is these people who are planning the attack upon their savings, an attack which will yield, in the interest of the richer classes, a sum of no less than £10,000,000 a year, all to be extracted from the slender savings of the working people. The President of the Board of Trade has won a very great popularity in certain sections of the country by his wonderful arithmetic, showing that the working people have capital investments of all kinds running into a total of £1,200,000,000. That represents an income value of between £50,000,000 and £60,000,000 a year. The right hon. Gentleman has now joined them in the plan to take away from the poorest of the industrial classes a sum which will soon exhaust the few hundred millions that belong to the working-classes, and which they have been able to build up by patient years of work.
I have endeavoured to show that I hays grounds for criticising this circular and the instructions because, if the means test is to be applied, it will leave nothing at all, and there will be no 647 prospect but wholesale pauperisation for the millions of working people. It is estimated that there are nearly 1,000,000 people who will have to undergo this test in the next month or so. The figure is growing. Some people will go off when they are completely fleeced. They will be lucky to get employment again. Others drawing their standard benefit will go into transitional benefit. I do not know how long this Government is going to stay in office. I do not know how long this circular is to last. If we go on a year or two, it is possible that 1,500,000 or 2,000,000 people may have been subjected to this process by which ail their savings are to be extracted from them. You will then find that 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 men, women or children will have become virtually paupers. I wish to examine circular L.A.3 of 10th November in some detail, and to make a few remarks upon the method of arriving at the knowledge it is designed to obtain for public assistance committees. L.A.3 is addressed to county councils and county borough councils of England and Wales, and councils of large burghs in Scotland, and the object is to determine the needs of applicants who are in possession of assets such as house property, invested savings, or in receipt of certain classes of income. My criticism against the method is that the standard of means has been taken so low that people will be left with nothing at all in the nature of personal possessions.
We find that there is a variety of treatment as between district and district. The standards laid down by public assistance committees vary very much from district to district and the tendency, I am afraid, will be to make the standard as low as possible. The Minister of Labour says, "I have no powers. I do not want powers. I leave power to lie with somebody else." He hopes that responsibility will be thrown upon somebody else. The Minister of Labour says that there may be variations in scales and different estimates made from time to time, and that he does not mind. I make this prediction, that in a district where there may be 10 different authorities giving different awards on similar evidence, as time goes on, if the working people of this country are patient, and 648 this House is as indifferent as it has been this afternoon, the area paying the lowest scale of relief will become the example to the others, and that the measure of relief will tend to be reduced until an even lower standard is reached.
It should be known that the investigation which is taking place on behalf of the public assistance committees is very much resented by our people. The questions put to the people, the method of investigation and the evidence are very much resented. I find from forms which have come into my possession that information is required on the following points. Particulars of family income is required in detail. The first question put to the applicant is, "Present weekly earnings of the applicant," below that, "Present weekly earnings of husband or wife of the applicant," and below that "Present weekly earnings of dependants of the applicant." In a whole list of ancillary questions we find questions put as to the amount of National Health Insurance benefit received, the income from trades unions and clubs, the income from pensions, ex-service or other pensions, specifying same, the income from workmen's compensation, incomes from money in funds or the Post Office, interest and dividends from companies, particulars as to ownership of houses and property, assistance from public assistance committees, maternity or child welfare. In regard to other details of family circumstances, there are such questions as profits from lodgers, the number of rooms occupied and the rates paid per week for occupation of rooms, the number of rooms sub-let and the amount obtained for sub-letting per week, the number of lodgers kept, if residing with relative, the name of the relative and the degree of relationship. That is the list of questions put to self-respecting people all over the country. The questions in regard to Income Tax do not enter into these intimate matters.
I should like to express my utter abhorrence of the circular that has been issued. One of the questions put is: "Have you pawned any of your belongings?" I represent a district where there is not much pawning; where the people have been able to live above that standard, but in the large cities and in many other parts of the country there are people who have to resort to the 649 pawnshop every week of their lives. They have to produce their pawn tickets to show that the meagre personal assets sheltered in their homes are their personal possessions. It is a scandalous thing. These are questions affecting the morality of the family and they are to be put by the public assistance committees. I would appeal to hon. Members in all parts of the House, to men who call themselves Liberals, to men who call themselves Conservatives and, most of all, to those who are members of the National party. Are not these people part of the nation? Are not the work-people who are unfortunate enough to he unemployed, part of the nation? Have they not the right to protection at the hands of those who call themselves a National party?
I ask the Government before they thrust this last indignity, this injustice upon the most deserving body of people in the country, the men who have given their services willingly, who have spent themselves in toil and have had very little back for the services they have given, to withdraw this circular. If there is to be a means test—I cannot argue against that to-night and I would not argue in theory against it—before they impose such a test let them see that all the necessary means of subsistence have been taken into consideration and that the men, women and children affected have a decent chance of living.
§ Mr. R. S. HUDSON
May I begin by claiming the indulgence of the House for a task which in any case would he difficult and which is made more difficult seeing that this is the first occasion on which I have addressed the House from this Box? I should like to express a word of appreciation of the very fair and temperate way in which the Debate has been conducted from the benches opposite, and especially for the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) spoke. Before I proceed further, may I set my hon. Friend's mind at rest regarding the ease he mentioned, of the father who is unemployed, who has two sons who are employed and who is dependent upon the sons. As soon as the sons become unemployed it is quite clear that the father becomes again immediately entitled to apply for tran- 650 sitional payment. He is enabled straight away to go to the public assistance committee and to ask for his weekly payments to be assessed. The four weeks is not in any way a limit. It is not that he has only to be assessed every four weeks. That is not a disqualification. It is merely a statement to the effect that those people who continue to be in the same position shall come up for review every four weeks. There is nothing to prevent a man whose family circumstances change from going before the committee as soon as his circumstances have changed.
§ Mr. LAWSON
May I ask, because this is rather an important point, if instructions to that effect have been sent out, informing public assistance committees?
§ Mr. HUDSON
I cannot say that without notice, but I can assure the hon. Member that, if those instructions have not been sent, they will be. In any case, that is the position. If there is any difficulty, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me know, and the Minister will see that any hardship will be put right.
I have a little difficulty in replying to this Debate owing to your Ruling, Sir, on the question of the extent to which the discussion may range. The discussion has ranged very widely. I hope I shall have your indulgence and the indulgence of the House if I try and bring home to hon. Members the real reason for these Regulations, without going into the merits of the case. Let me remind the House that the May Committee reported that the cost of unemployment insurance was rising by tens of millions of pounds this year compared with last year. Let me also remind them that, for some time prior to the publication of the May Committee Report, it had become increasingly clear that the Unemployment Fund was becoming nothing more nor less than a glorified system of State relief, and that it was felt, and indeed decided, after long and very full discussion in the last Parliament, that the state of affairs could no longer be allowed to continue. Therefore, this distinction was made, so far as one could make a distinction, between insurance proper, that is, the standard benefit that was to be drawn by men who were entitled to it by virtue of their 651 contributions, and the benefit of the men who were no longer so entitled, having exhausted their right to benefit, and who came under the terms of the transitional payment scheme.
The necessity for some step of this kind had been apprehended by the late Labour Government. If proof be needed, it is to be found in the terms of reference of the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, which says that the Commission was invited to report on the means by which the fund might be made solvent and self-supporting, and also on what arrangements should be made outside the scheme for the unemployed who are capable of and available for work. That involves, if I may repeat what I said, and necessarily implies, what is admitted by all who have studied the subject, that a distinction must be drawn between the two different classes of people. Benefit, as I see it, is a sum of money to which, in a certain contingency, and as a result of a prior contract, a man, by virtue of his past contributions, is entitled. Whenever you go beyond that, whenever that contract is exhausted, and whenever you give him something outside that insurance contract, something to which ex-hypothesi, he has no right, you inevitably, whether you like it or not, come into the realm of public relief, and, once you get there, you are up against some form of inquiry into needs.
I do not want to incur your displeasure, Sir, so I will not go, tempting as it might be to do so, into a justification for a means test in which I might use words that were said in this House by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The members of the party opposite have made their objection to this test as being applied by the public assistance committees one of the main points in this Debate. On that I would only remark that the question was very fully gone into by the last Parliament. The pros and cons were discussed, but I should be out of order if I repeated those arguments to-night. The House by a considerable majority then decided that it would adopt the recommendations of the May Committee, and for the reasons set out in the May Committee report. I will read paragraph 381 of that report:Government Departments have not the machinery for inquiring into personal circumstances, and to set up special machinery 652 for this purpose would he a wasteful duplication of the reconstructed machinery now operating under the county and county borough councils as public assistance authorities.For that reason it was laid down that the persons who had fallen out of insurance should go, for the purpose of having their needs assessed, to the public assistance committees, but should be paid in other respects exactly like persons still entitled to ordinary standard benefit. In the Debate to-day some hon. Members have criticised the public assistance committees. Though I had not the honour of being in the last Parliament, I was in the House in 1924, when the Local Government Act was being discussed, and if there was in that Act one provision of which there was unanimous approval on all sides of the House, and especially from hon. Members opposite, it was the provision which set up public assistance committees, and on the ground, as I understood it, that by abolishing the old Poor Law guardians—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. I do not want to interfere with the very able speech that the hon. Member is making, but I think, Mr. Speaker, you will agree that it is a little unfair that we should have the whole of this business right at the end of the Debate. [Interruption.] It was ruled earlier that we should not discuss the origin of this Order. My only reason for rising is that I shall have to ask you to allow me to reply to the hon. Gentleman, because he has just made a statement which is contrary to the facts. When the Act referred to was being discussed an Amendment was moved—I think I moved it myself—that the unemployed should be taken out of the Poor Law altogether, but we were defeated by the hon. Gentleman and his friends.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It would not be in order to discuss an Act of Parliament which has been passed by this House and is not under consideration at the moment. As far as I understood the hon. Gentleman he was giving the history up to the time these Regulations were issued, so as to justify their issue. That was his argument. He has a right to do so, but I hope that he will cut short that part of his speech.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Further to my point of Order. I have sat here and I made 653 no movement to interfere or to ask for your Ruling until the hon. Gentleman again did what other right hon. Members have tried to do to-night, that is, justify their policy by reference to what someone else has done. I have no objection to discussing the matter, but if we do discuss it, it should be on a proper occasion and under conditions which will allow us all to say what we have to say.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman if he thinks I have said anything that went beyond the fair bounds of debate. It is very difficult to deal with the matter within these narrow confines. I was only trying to give the House an idea of the historical perspective, because a great number of hon. Members in this House are not like the right hon. Gentleman who has been here for a long time, for it is their first Parliament, and they will not, perhaps, be able to apprehend the whole setting in which these particular Regulations are being discussed. Hon. Members opposite have criticised the public assistance committees, and I am quite entitled to defend those committees. If the right hon. Gentleman says he objected to public assistance committees being set up in the past, I withdraw my statement. I do not want to have any dispute about that.
§ Mr. HUDSON
Whatever may have been the past history of the setting up of public assistance committees, I think I am entitled to point to the fact that during the last two years when Mr. Greenwood was Minister of Health he defended the action of those committees. As far as I am aware, throughout the country there have been no complaints of the way they have behaved; indeed, these committees are committees of the county councils and county borough councils which have been deliberately appointed in place of the old guardians, very largely in order to get rid of the old idea of the Poor Law spirit. They are committees to whom the Legislature in its wisdom has confided all sorts of very important duties, for instance, in connection with hospitals, maternity and so forth, and I fail to see why we should assume that they are fit to conduct all these other operations of local admini- 654 stration but are not capable of taking a sane, humane and sympathetic view of the requirements of disabled ex-service men or, indeed, of anyone who goes for transitional payment.
Another point of complaint was that if these functions were entrusted to these various local authorities all over the country, there would be a great lack of uniformity. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) was unwise enough to quote the case of London. He said that you had in London 10 different areas with local assistance authorities, and you were bound to get great diversity, but in actual practice what has happened? I speak in this matter with considerable personal knowledge, because for the last two years I have been a member and a chairman of a public assistance committee in the East End of London. What has actually happened in London as a result of the Local Government Act is that in five of the areas where the average was highest the average amount given per head has gone down, and in the other five areas where the average was lowest it has gone up, so that since w3 have had this administration under the new Act the public assistance committees are tending to be more uniform instead of less, and if that has happened in London, presumably it has happened in other parts of the country. This system of transitional payments has been in operation for a bare fortnight. We are only just beginning to see the results, and I submit it is only reasonable to wait and see what the results are before coming along and complaining that they are bound to be bad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) was good enough to twit me in a good-humoured way about my past record in the House on this question of Unemployment insurance and he congratulated my right hon. Friend on having now got as gamekeeper an ex-poacher. I still have feelings of great kindliness towards my fellow-poachers and any criticisms in which they may indulge I shall receive in the spirit in which they are meant. But I would ask my hon. Friend when he criticises and expresses apprehension in this matter, can he point to a single case in which a public assistance authority has insisted on a man selling his house; can he point to a 655 single case under this new transitional payments scheme, in which a public assistance authority has insisted upon a man mortgaging his house? I venture to suggest that until the hon. Member and his friends can point to a concrete case they have no right to say that this is bound to happen or that that is likely to happen.
On this question of the regulations and uniformity, may I, without infringing the Rules of Order, be allowed to point out that uniformity was definitely discussed by the last House of Commons and was gone into very fully. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) will no doubt remember that he put a definite question to my right hon. Friend, whether he proposed to issue any regulations which would make the position uniform throughout the country and my right hon. Friend replied quite definitely that it was not his intention to do so. Therefore it is rather late in the day for hon. Members to say that something is being done now which they did not know was going to be done. It was quite clearly discussed and laid down in the last House of Commons.
§ 11 0. p.m.
§ Mr. HUDSON
Then I am delighted that the question has been raised so that new Members behind me may know what happened in the House when they were not here. My right hon. Friend went on to say that it was the intention of the Government that public assistance committees should follow the same practice and procedure as now and take into account exactly the same matters as they do now. That is what he said in the last Parliament and it is only reasonable. I remember that during a discussion on Safeguarding the then Member for Wallasey was asked to define a blank and after considerable thought he said "a blank is a blank." In the same way, with regard to this question of the public assistance committees and the means test, a means test is a test of means—otherwise it has no possible meaning. I suggest to hon. Members below the Gangway in answer to the points which they have made that it is absurd and indeed unfair to have two different kinds of means test, according to whether a man happens to have had the luck to 656 have been employed at some time in the past in insurable employment or according to whether he happened to be in an uninsured trade—possibly even a shopkeeper who had contributed to the rates or an ex-service man who had set up in business. It would be manifestly unfair that when you attain to the position that a man comes along not claiming benefit in return for past contributions, but coming along and saying to the State "I require assistance"—it would be unfair that you should have a different means test, for different men. It would be absolutely indefensible. We have hitherto gone on the principle, in our local administration, of setting up local bodies of persons who knew the district and the conditions, who could be trusted to know far better, we believe, than any inspectors or any permanent officials sitting in London what are the needs of particular individuals in those districts, in the light of their particular circumstances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) has said that, in spite of the fact that the sub-committees for public assistance were all sub-committees of the same body, nevertheless there were very different conditions of relief prevailing in different parts of the country. Again I can speak from personal experience, because I used to be the Member for an adjoining constituency and of course it is reasonable that there should be different circumstances prevailing in different parts of the country. Rents are not uniform throughout the country, the conditions of life of the individuals are not the same, the standards of life of the people are not uniform, their needs are not uniform throughout the country.
§ Mr. HUDSON
That is a different matter. That is really not material. Unemployment benefit is a sum to which a man is entitled by virtue of previous contributions, but we are now dealing with a different set of circumstances. We are dealing with a man who, ex hypothesi, has no contributions on which to fall back, and therefore he comes to the State for assistance. The question is: Are the Regulations that we are dis- 657 cussing fair Regulations, and will they carry out the purposes of the Order-in-Council? The question of unemployment benefit has really nothing to do with the subject at all. I am sure, in my own mind, that although as a result of these Regulations there may be a certain lack of uniformity between one area and another in the actual moneys paid to the individual men, there will be much greater uniformity in the satisfaction of the various men's needs, and that, after all, is the main problem with which we are faced. The fact that a man gets 20s. in one area and 18s. in another does not mean that those two men are being treated unfairly or unjustly. The needs of the men are the crucial matter, and if the needs of the men are satisfactorily met by 18s. in one area and by 20s. in another, no one has any ground for complaint.
I think my right hon. Friend and I have dealt with most of the points raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street. Might I turn now to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland)? I must say that I was a little surprised at my right hon. Friend's speech, because I think he went a little too far in attacking the Ministry for which he had previously been responsible, and he attacked it in the particular circumstances of this Debate, if I may be allowed to say so, in rather an unfair way, because he set up as the champion of the ex-service men, and he rather implied that my right hon. Friend did not take as much care of, and had not so much regard for, the ex-service men under the present regime as he had had when he was in charge of the Department.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member must allow me to differ from that. I did pay a tribute at once, as I always would do, to the sympathetic way in which the Minister of Labour regards any of these questions, but what I did complaint about was that under the actual administration the same consideration is not being shown.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I think that I am in the recollection of the hon. Members who heard the speech in the general impression it left upon the House. All I want to say is that any accusation of that nature comes rather ill from the right 658 hon. Gentleman, because he seems to forget that in the period round about 1925, when, as Minister, lie had full discretion to make any regulations he liked, he actually sanctioned a practice in which the whole of the disability pension was taken into account in assessing a man's need. He must have overlooked that fact in his past career when he was attacking my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) made a very good speech, with a great portion of which I agree. He raised the question of men with light-rate compensation. I fully agree with him that the case of such men is a very hard one in many circumstances; it is a very complicated case and one which obviously will have to be dealt with. No doubt the hon. Member has followed the proceedings and the evidence that has been given before the Royal Commission, which deals very fully with the difficulties involved in the case of a man with light-rate compensation, the difficulties he has in getting work, and the various anomalies that arise. I am sure that the hon. Member will take my word for it that the ease of these men will receive the fullest and the most sympathetic consideration when we get the report of the Royal Commission. The same point was raised by the hon. Member for Workington.
I should like to thank the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Curry) on behalf of my right hon. Friend for the handsome tribute he paid to him on the way he is attempting to carry out these Regulations. He quoted a case decided by a referee, but I think that his correspondent must have got mixed up. I only refer to this in detail because some hon. Members may have heard it and not realised the real facts. According to my hon. Friend, the referee said that the inability of the man to get stamps was due to his disability, and he implied that the result of that decision of the referee was that the man was refused transitional benefit, or that the referee refused to allow him to go up for the assessment of his claim for transitional benefit. What is actually the case is that if the referee had given such a decision that by itself would have been sufficient to justify the man being put up for transitional payment, because it would have brought him in the terms of Note (2) of circular T.P.L. 18, which lays 659 down that if a man's inability to provide the necessary stamps is due to War disability, the condition about having the necessary number of stamps is waived.
§ Mr. CURRY
I am sorry to have so many re-echoes on the occasion of a maiden speech, but this is an important matter. I quoted from the same paper as my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). It says there:The clause on which the case was decided states that a person who during the two years mentioned has been in receipt of a disability pension for a disability contracted in the late war may satisfy the first statutory condition if he proves that he has had 10 contributions paid in respect of him in the two years, and that his failure to obtain more contributions is due to his disability. Under the new ruling by which the man is allowed full benefit regardless of the amount of his pension his income is just more than £3 a week.That decision is reported in the "Evening World," published at Newcastle, a decision given by the Court of Referees.
§ Mr. HUDSON
All I can say is that I withdraw any reflection upon my hon. Friend for having misquoted something. The newspaper is at fault. It is quite clear, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the 30 contributions' rule, taking the two years preceding the claim, is not required in the case of a person who during those two years has been in receipt of a disability pension for a disability contracted in the late War if he proves that his failure to satisfy the conditions is due to his disability.
§ Mr. HUDSON
The speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) was one to which I listened with the greatest interest and the greatest admiration, and he can be quite certain that my right hon. Friend will consider everything he says with the most sympathetic attention. As to his suggestion, if I understood it aright, that the first 20s. of a man's disability pension should be disregarded, apart from the purely technical point that that would require new legislation—upon which I do not base myself—I think he and the House have not fully realised the 660 difficulties involved by that course. For every anomaly cured by such an instruction two other, and probably greater anomalies, would be created. If public assistance committees are to be instructed to disregard the first 20s. of a pension it is quite clear that, by implication, they are to take the whole of the rest of it into account. [Interruption.] An hon. Member says they have to take it into account now, but the difference lies in the fact that, although they take it into account now, what happens in actual practice is that they make full allowance for it when they are deciding what they will give the man. [HON. MEMBER: "No!"] My hon. and learned Friend the late Solicitor-General shakes his head, but I understand he has not been a member of a public assistance committee.
§ Mr. HUDSON
May I finish this particular point? Up to a short time ago I was a member of a public assistance committee, and I know that in actual practice that committee does carry it out.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The law is that if they are administering the Poor Law they are bound to make a deduction of the disability pension—there can be no question about that being the legal position—and if they do not obey the law they are liable to surcharge.
§ Mr. HUDSON
At the risk of venturing very respectfully to differ from so great and learned an authority as my hon. and learned Friend, the actual facts of the case are as I have stated. I invite him to go through the list and he will find that what he says is wrong. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) quoted a letter from a constituent as follows:We have had to struggle to make ends meet. In nearly all cases they need a great deal of care, attention and nourishment and the pension was granted to compensate for those necessities.In so far as they are necessities, and the pension is merely to provide for those necessities, as far as I am aware, every public assistance authority in the Kingdom does make this allowance, or, if it does not do that, it would certainly be entitled to do so, and any reasonable public assistance committee would do it. I suggest that that is the real solution 661 of this very grave difficulty in which so many hon. Members find themselves.
§ Captain FRASER
On the point of the £1 a week to which I made reference, may I submit that the fact that the Minister makes a Regulation that £1 shall be excluded is no reason why the public assistance authority should assume that any amount above £1 must be taken into consideration? They will still have that discretion.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I apologise to the House for quoting these instances, but the same thing occurs under the National Health Insurance. The point is not what they ought to do but that they do it. Under the Poor Law the first 7s. 6d. is by Statute disregarded, and what is the result?
§ Mr. HUDSON
Precisely. That is one of the real objections to having regulations, because that course only increases the anomalies. After making the deduction of 7s. 6d. the public assistance committees take the whole of the rest into account and the result is that a man suffering from neurasthenia, gastric trouble or gas poisoning would under that procedure be liable to find himself in a very much worse position than he will be in present circumstances. I suggest to the House that the picture I have drawn is really a true one, and one which is applicable to the huge majority of public assistance committees in this country. It may be possible to quote individual cases where it is not so, but I am certain that over the whole country the picture I have drawn is a true one.
I should like to refer, in conclusion, to one aspect of the case which was dealt with by three hon. Members—the hon. Member for Workington, the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras. That is the question of what was said at the last election. However many issues there were before the electorate at the last election, in every constituency where there was a Socialist candidate this issue was pre-eminent above all. I have had the opportunity of seeing some of the publications and pamphlets that were issued by Socialist candidates, describing in lurid terms the 662 awful things that would happen to unemployed persons if the National Government were returned. I venture to think that in no industrial constituency was there a single voter who was not aware of these allegations. III many such constituencies thousands of unemployed were already in receipt of transitional benefit, and knew that they would come under these Regulations. They knew the terms of the Order-in-Council, because it had been issued well before the election; and they probably had seen in the papers the terms of the circular letter of the 17th October to the local authorities, explaining what was going to happen; while thousands of men who were at work were apprehensive, possibly, that even they might in their time have to satisfy these same Regulations. And yet, in overwhelming numbers, to their eternal credit, they disregarded these statements, and decided that the interests of the country must come before the interests of the individual.
I do think that the fact that that happened in so many constituencies imposes upon us a special responsibility to see that that faith is justified. It is not in the interests of the Ministry of Labour or of anyone else that the scheme of transitional benefit should be administered harshly. Indeed, many people have talked about the desirability of getting the whole of this unemployment insurance problem outside party politics. But there is only one way in which that can be done, and that is by making sure that the pendulum does not swing violently from one side to the other in successive Governments. It has been and will continue to be our aim to pursue a middle course, taking care to see that the national funds are not used laxly, and at the same time, as far as we can, that such regulations as we do issue will be capable of being and likely to be interpreted in the sympathetic manner which we intend. Knowing and believing that public assistance committees are composed of ordinary Englishmen and Englishwomen, filled with common sense and humanity, I believe that these committees will carry out the onerous task which we have imposed upon them in accordance with the intention of my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should not have risen but for the fact that the hon. Gentleman entered into the historical survey that he did in order to enable new Members to see the background of the picture that he wished to put before the House. The hon. Gentleman has made it clear, and I congratulate him on having done so, that men and women who come under transitional benefit are to go to the Poor Law, and be treated by the Poor Law exactly as paupers, and nothing but paupers. The hon. Gentleman has answered certain questions, but he has not answered a tithe of the questions that were put to him. If he has been administering the Poor Law, he knows that every one of the criticisms that have been made is correct. The need pension of the mother of a soldier who died in the War is taken into consideration in assessing the need of the family. In the case of an unemployed man living with a widowed mother whose husband was killed in the War and who is in receipt of a pension, and perhaps an old age pension, the two pensions are taken into account in assessing how much the man shall receive. I will sit down and let the hon. Gentleman contradict it if he can do so.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
That is just the point I made, you spoke about the disability pension, but you never mentioned the other questions which have been raised, and one of them is the one I am raising now. Does any hon. Member think the need or any other pension of the widow of a man who died in France should he taken, into account in assessing what should be paid to her unemployed son for benefit? That is one of the most scandalous things that are being done to-day. The hon. Gentleman says he knows about London. It happens that I know about London. It is a piece of pedantry on his part to say my hon. Friend was wrong when he said there were ten districts in London. He knows there are ten districts, and he knows the amount of relief differs in each district. The only equalising that has been done is to bring down the scales of relief. The amount that is being 664 paid now in every Labour borough has been cut ruthlessly, not by men and women collected from the district, but in the poorer districts they bring people from the West End to administer the law. The London County Council is administering this business in the most harsh and brutal manner possible. [Interruption.] I should not have thought it a matter of glee when you are talking about the destitution of anyone. It seems to me that it is not a matter to joke about that people are semi-starved in this great Metropolis.
I admit that, if these people are turned on to the Poor Law in order to find out their means, or have to answer questions when you come along, I say the public assistance committees must administer the Poor Law. That is our fundamental objection to it, because under the Poor Law you are obliged to take into account all the things I have been saying. That is why I think the hon. Gentleman was not quite as true to himself as he should have been in dealing with this matter. We only want them to admit that those who administer the Poor Law must make all these enquiries. When I was helping to administer the Poor Law, the auditor from the County of London definitely, and in writing, insisted that we should take the 7s. 6d. Health Insurance into account. By statute we were not supposed to take it into account. The Auditor for the County of London definitely compelled us to take it into account, because he threatened that, if we did not do so, we should be surcharged. Under the Audit Act, we should have been made bankrupt for whatever amount we were surcharged, and therefore we dare not take the 7s. 6d. into account. [Interruption.] It is no use telling me that that is not so, because I went to the Auditor and argued it with him. And I say that to-day, in the No. 1 Area of the County of London, the public assistance committee does not make allowance for the 7s. 6d. in a large number of cases. It is no use the hon. Gentleman standing up—I readily admit that he did it in a very able manner—and thinking that he is going to get away with it when he talks 665 about the ex-service man. The ex-service man will be treated by the guardians as a pauper. That is the reward you are giving him for his services. The children of the ex-service man are being treated as paupers by you, the patriotic party in the country. You cannot get away from that. You have made that fact abundantly clear. What is our position? What is the background, as the hon. Member said, of all this? We fought the De-rating Bill, and, if he will tax his memory, he will remember—[AN HON. MEMBER: "He was not there."]—Yes, he was—that he, the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan), and, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) believed in the breaking up of the Poor Law.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
We all said—and this party says it to-day—that the whole of this public assistance ought to be removed from the realm of pauperism.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
No, the destitution test still remains. The destitution test puts the cost of maintaining the unemployed on to the family, on to the widowed mother with a pension, and on to the ex-service man who may have a pension and a son out of work. It puts all the cost of dealing with unemployment outside the statutory benefit where-ever possible on to the family. We object to that, root and branch. We maintain—and this is what I want to put to the new Members here if they wish to understand what we stand for in this matter—that the local authorities have the power to deal with the sick, and that all the sick should be treated by the one authority and not by the Poor Law.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I should not be acting fairly to the House if I did not tell the right hon. Gentleman that he is getting far beyond the terms of the Motion.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I think you will remember, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Member definitely said that I and my 666 friends, in the discussions upon the De-rating Bill, supported the public assistance committees. I only want to make it clear that through those Debates, as the bon. Member, if he will tax his memory, knows, and as the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon will know, we stood all the time for the policy of taking the whole of public assistance away from the Poor Law and treating the unemployed as a national problem. Therefore, we are not going to have any responsibility thrust upon us for putting those people on to the Poor Law. We fought it when the Bill was before the House to set up the public assistance committees, and we fight it now. These Regulations are designed definitely to bring in the Poor Law test, the destitution tests. It really and truly tries to make the family bear the cost of unemployment. Nothing in the world can get away from that. It does it for the ex-service man, the wife and children of the ex-service man and the widows of the ex-service men whose bodies are in Flanders and elsewhere. I hope that those who support that scheme are very proud of what they are doing.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I cannot join with the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on his handling of the case. I cannot say that he handled it very successfully. At least, he might have done his predecessor elementary justice. When he learns more about Unemployment Insurance he may be better informed. Most of his facts were either partially true or entirely wrong. Even when he was dealing with the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) he was only partially correct. Take the question of what happened in 1925. The hon. Member was in the House then, but I do not think that he sat on the 1925 Committee. I sat on that committee. Any member of that committee will tell him that so far as men were concerned they limited the test to persons of 25 and under. With regard to ex-service men, he said that the public assistance committee were practically speaking exempting ex-service men. Everybody knows that they do not do that. Take what happens in Scotland. The largest centre in Scotland is Glasgow, which covers more than a quarter of the population of Scotland. Glasgow 667 has a population of nearly 1,100,000. There, they take into account at least three-fourths and in some cases 100 per cent. of a man's pension. In the case of needs pension they take in the whole 100 per cent. We are asked to believe that because a man sat for two years on a public assistance committee in London, what happens there happens all over the country. We are told that local authorities must treat all persons equitably. If the hon. Member knew the facts, he would not say what he has done. Take the case of Glasgow. There is great difference within Glasgow itself, even greater than there is between places outside Glasgow and Glasgow, in regard to treatment. Differentiation is not covered by home needs, but by other facts, such as how many Labour representatives they can get on to the public assistance committee, or the type of Tory that is on. I have sat with Tories that can be kind and decent.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I submit that I am replying to the statements made by the hon. Member, to which I am entitled to claim the right of reply. He said that the differentiation between one place and
§ and another was because of human needs, and I am saying, in reply, that that is not so, and that human needs do not enter into the matter at all. We feel that it is wrong for men to be left to the type of local authority that has been set up, and we shall oppose it. It might be true that at the General Election these matters were pointed out, but hon. Members should face the fact that people who voted for the National Government voted for the Prime Minister, whom they had known as a Socialist, and they did not dream that he would be capable of this.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Yes, but the hon. Member said that the matter had been put before the country. I am saying, in reply, and I do not wish to develop this—that people voted for the Prime Minister, never dreaming that, after he had been bred by our movement, he could turn so callous and cruel as he has done.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Unemployment Insurance (Transitional Payments) Regulations, 1931, dated the 16th day of October, 1931, made by the Minister of Labour under Section 35 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1920, be annulled.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 41; Noes, 248.669
|Division No. 21.]||AYES.||[11.43 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||McGovern, John|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hicks, Ernest George||Maxton, James|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Hirst, George Henry||Milner, Major James|
|Buchanan, George||Jenkins, Sir William||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Price, Gabriel|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cove, William G.||Kirkwood, David||Thorne, William James|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Daggar, George||Lawson, John James||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Leonard, William||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Lunn, William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Mr. Edwards and Mr. Groves.|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut-Colonel||Bateman, A. L.||Brocklebank, C. E. R.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Beaumont, R. E. B.(Portsm'th, Centr'l)||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Belt, Sir Alfred L.||Burghley, Lord|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Butler, Richard Austen|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Butt, Sir Alfred|
|Allen, Maj. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd, W)||Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Calne, G. R. Hall|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh)||Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Bird Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.)||Caporn, Arthur Cecil|
|Apsley, Lord||Blindell, James||Cassels, James Dale|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Boyce, H. Leslie||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Bracken, Brendan||Chotzner, Alfred James|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Briant, Frank||Clarry, Reginald George|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Broadbent, Colonel John||Clayton, Dr. George C.|
|Colville, Major David John||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Rankin, Robert|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Ker, J. Campbell||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Cooke, James D.||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Copeland, Ida||Kimball, Lawrence||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Craven-Ellis, William||Kirkpatrick, William M.||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Remer, John R.|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Galnsb'ro)||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Cross, R. H.||Levy, Thomas||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Liddall, Walter S.||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Donner, P. W.||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Doran, Edward||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo|
|Drewe, Cedric||Lymington, Viscount||Salmon, Major Isidore|
|Duggan, Hubert John||Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Salt, Edward W.|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||MacAndrew, Maj. C. G. (Partick)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Eastwood, John Francis||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||McConnell, Sir Joseph||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Elmley, Viscount||McCorquodale, M. S.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Selley, Harry R.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||McEwen, J. H. F.||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||McKie, John Hamilton||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||McLean, Major Alan||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Unv., Belfast)|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-ln-F.)|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.||Somerset, Thomas|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Marjoribanks, Edward||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Soper, Richard|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Gledhill, Gilbert||Millar, James Duncan||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||Mills, Sir Frederick||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)|
|Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Mitcheson, G. G.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. C. (Westmorland)|
|Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Molson, A. Harold Elsdale||Stewart, William J.|
|Greene, William P. C.||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Stones, James|
|Grimston, R. V.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Storey, Samuel|
|Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Moreing, Adrian C.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon, Douglas H.||Munro, Patrick||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Nail-Cain, Arthur Ronald N.||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Templeton, William P.|
|Hartland, George A,||North, Captain Edward T.||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Nunn, William||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||O'Connor, Terence James||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Hepworth, Joseph||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Herbert, George (Rotherham)||Ormiston, Thomas||Train, John|
|Hillman, Dr. George B.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Palmer, Francis Noel||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Holdsworth, Herbert||Patrick, Colin M.||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Aston)||Pearson, William G.||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Penny, Sir George||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Hornby, Frank||Percy, Lord Eustace||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Horobin, Ian M.||Perkins, Walter R. D.||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||Petherick, M.||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||Pickering, Ernest H.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Pike, Cecil F.||Womersley, Walter James|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Wood, Major M. McKenzie (Banff)|
|Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Power, Sir John Cecil||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romford)||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Ralkes, Hector Victor Alpin|
|James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Lieut.-Colonel Sir Lambert Ward|
|Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Ramsden, E.||and Commander Southby.|