§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient—
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Henry Betterton)
I am sure that it will be a relief for the Committee to be assured that this Motion is not nearly so formidable and complicated as might be gathered from reading it, because, in fact, its purpose is perfectly simple and clear. I will in a word or two explain why we ask for the Motion, why it is necessary, and what its objects are. Its objects are twofold. The first is that the power to make transitional payments to persons who have not paid 30 contributions in the past two years shall be extended to 30th June, 1933; and the second is that the cost of this extension shall be met by the Exchequer. The Bill which will be introduced after we have got this Resolution will consist of only one operative Clause, the purpose of which will he limited to the object indicated in the Resolution. As the Bill 26 is, in its main purpose, a financial Bill it is necessary, under the procedure of the House, to get this Resolution before we can introduce it.
As the Explanatory Memorandum states, there are two classes of persons who are entitled to transitional payments. The first is the class consisting of those who do not satisfy what is known as the first statutory condition, and, as the Committee know, the first statutory condition is that there shall have been 30 contributions in the last two years. The second class of those who may be entitled to transitional payments consists of those who do satisfy the first statutory condition but by reason of the fact that they have received 26 weeks of benefit in a benefit year then come on to the transitional status. It is the first only of those two classes who are affected either by the Resolution or by the Bill. The National Economy Order of last October did not place any limit at all upon the period during which time the second class might receive transitional payments, and, therefore, no legislation is necessary in respect of those. The second class are those who have become entitled to transitional payments by reason of the fact that they have already had 26 weeks of standard benefit. The first class are affected by what is known as the transitional period, and they are the persons who, before the National Economy Order, were entitled to transitional benefit.
May I remind the Committee, quite shortly, of the history of this system of transitional payments? As Members who were in the House some years ago will recollect, the first transitional period appeared in the Conservative Government's Act of 1927, and the first transitional period was from 19th April, 1928, to 18th April, 1929. The Conservative Government extended that period from April, 1929, to April, 1930. It was again extended by the Act of 1930 to April, 1931. That was an extension, so far, to 36 months. Then it was extended to October, 1931, which was another extension of six months, and after that it was again extended for a further six months to 18th April this year, making 48 months in all. That is the explanation of the statement in the Financial Resolution about a period of 48 months. I offer this as an example of the perfectly chaotic state in which the law relating to unemployment insurance now is.
27 It would appear from what I have said that the power to make transitional payments so far as concerns those who do not satisfy the first condition extends only to those persons whose benefit year commences before the 18th April of this year, and under the law as it stands no new benefit year can begin after the 18th April this year. As I need not remind the Committee, a benefit year begins to run, in the case of each individual, for a year from the date upon which he first makes application for benefit. Those who are now in receipt of transitional payments would cease to receive them so soon as their benefit years expire; and supposing there were no new legislation they would begin to run off immediately after the 18th April next. It will be observed that a man whose benefit year began, say, last May would cease to receive payments next May, whereas a man whose benefit year began this March would cease to receive payments in March of next year. If, therefore, the power to make transitional payments to such persons beyond 18th April this year is to continue, it is necessary to have this Bill before 18th April.
The Resolution and the Bill provide that the period shall be extended to 30th June, 1933, a period of one year and 10 weeks. The reason for that is that in June next year the Act—the material parts of the Act, anyhow—which was passed by the Labour Government expires, and the Anomalies Act passed by the Labour Government also expires on 30th June next year. Therefore, it is perfectly clear that before the 30th June next year we must have new legislation dealing with the whole question. The Royal Commission set up by the Labour Government are considering, under their terms of reference, which were settled by the Labour Government, what arrangements are to be made outside the insurance scheme for the able-bodied unemployed, and that, of course, includes, must include, and I have no doubt is intended to include, the whole position of those who are now affected by transitional payments. Therefore, the present Bill, the Second Reading of which will be taken on Friday, is simply a temporary carrying-over Measure pending legislation which will in any case be necessary next year.
28 With regard to the second part of the Resolution, which asks that the cost of the extension shall be met by the Exchequer, the position is this: Transitional payments are paid out of the Unemployment Fund, but they are reimbursed to the fund by the Exchequer. That provision, which we are now to continue, was first made by the Labour Government in 1930, was continued by the Labour Government in 1931, and was continued also by the present Government in the National Economy Order. The Resolution proposes that the cost of the extension should similarly be reimbursed by the Exchequer to the fund. The amount involved does not depend upon the total number of unemployed—not alone—but upon the extent to which those who are unemployed and do not satisfy the first statutory condition are included. Obviously, therefore, it does not affect those who are entitled to what we used to call standard benefit, nor does it affect those who are entitled to transitional payments by reason of the fact that their 26 weeks' standard benefit is exhausted. It is impossible, therefore, to say with any precise degree of certainty what proportion of those in receipt of transitional payments will fall within the first class, which alone are affected by this Resolution.
It is stated in the Explanatory Memorandum that it is thought that the cost may be about £20,000,000 up to 30th June, 1933. The Committee will probably like to know how that £20,000,000 is arrived at. The total sum which will be required for transitional payments, according to the estimate which we have presented to Parliament, is £41,750,000. Of this sum, it is estimated that about £14,000,000, or one-third, represents the cost of the 26 weeks' standard benefit which we are not concerned with in this Measure, and that leaves approximately £28,000,000. As I have already explained to the Committee, some, of those would be entitled to transitional payments if there were no Bill at all, and it is estimated that about half of this £28,000,000, that is £14,000,000, would be required in any case whether there is any Bill introduced or not. That accounts for £14,000,000 out of the £20,000,000, and the remaining £6,000,000 which will probably be required in 1933 will be provided in our estimates for that year. As I have already said, the 29 amount required depends upon the number of persons who do not satisfy the first statutory condition, and only indirectly on the total number employed.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say one or two sentences about some figures which have appeared in the papers this morning, from which it will he seen that there has been a reduction in the numbers unemployed of 134,000 compared with a month ago. This is the first time for over two years in which the figures have been less than they were the year before, and we have to go back as long ago as December, 1929, to find a figure which was less than the corresponding period of a year before. I must not be charged with viewing the times with a too easy complacency in view of the large numbers which are still on the register. Nothing is further from my intention, nor am I unmindful of the great difficulties and the serious position of many industries in many parts of the country, but I think these figures justify us in the hope that when world conditions improve and economic chaos is replaced by ordered progress we shall then be among the first nations of the world to take advantage of that improvement.
I hope that this Bill will be the last of its kind this House will see. It is a strictly temporary Measure, and, with the assistance of the Royal Commission which is now sitting, we hope to place our system of unemployment insurance next year on what I trust will be a permanent footing, and thus avoid the necessity for these recurrent Bills of a temporary nature. There is not the slightest doubt that these temporary Bills, coming at intervals, do not strengthen our insurance system, and only tend to confuse the public mind as to the true purpose of unemployment insurance. What the Government are now proposing will carry us over until the present Acts expire next year. It is clear that the question must be considered as a whole. That is what the Royal Commission are doing, and that is what they were asked to do. It must be assumed that when the terms of reference were settled by the Labour Government that is what they were intended to do. It is impossible to deal with this question of transitional payments in isolation in advance of the Royal Commission report, and, in order to prevent what in the circumstances would be a real and genuine hardship to a large 30 number of persons, I ask the House to give us this Resolution in order that we may proceed with the Bill.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Is there going to be any alteration in the method of dealing with the unemployed? Is there going to be any alteration in the administration of the means test, which affects all these people? Is there any alteration contemplated in the amount of benefit received by these people?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Does that mean that there will not be any alteration in the amount of the benefit, or in the principle of administering the means test under the new system which will come into operation in June next year?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Those are rather difficult questions. What I am pointing out is that it is not our intention to deal with this problem by itself. We propose to deal with the whole problem when we get the report of the Royal Commission. We think it is not to the advantage of those now getting benefit that we should attempt to deal with this question by itself, without regard to the problem as a whole. For these reasons, I ask the House to adopt this Resolution in order that we may proceed with the Bill on Friday next.
§ Mr. THORNE
Will the Minister state if there is to be any alteration in the amount of transitional payments, or in the methods adopted by the public assistance committees?
§ Mr. MAXTON
Is the estimate of £20,000,000 made on the assumption that the present scales of payments and the present method of ascertaining the means of the recipients are to remain until June, 1933?
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am sure the Committee will sympathise with any Minister who has to give an explanation such as the right hon. Gentleman has had to give this afternoon of a Measure of this description. It is one of the ironies of political history that he himself should 31 have had to admit that the present chaotic state of the law is the direct result of the legislation of the Conservative Government in 1927. Those of us who were in the House at that time will recollect that the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor introduced a Bill which separated certain classes of unemployed people from those who were entitled to benefit, and at that time, from these benches, his predecessor and he himself as Parliamentary Secretary were continually warned as to where that would lead. I well remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland), who was then Minister of Labour, based his calculations for the purposes of the Unemployment Insurance Act of that period on an average number of 600,000 unemployed, and that, when we strongly questioned his figures, we were, to use a vulgar phrase, "lambasted" with the statistics given by his staff at the Ministry of Labour.
It is another grim irony of political history that the right hon. Gentleman now, six months from the time when this Government, with its vast majority, came into office, should be asking us to extend the transitional stage for an unemployment total of something over 2,500,000. When we sat on those benches, representing little more than a third of the House of Commons and yet in office, we used to be attacked and bullied—indeed, there is no word strong enough in the English language to describe the treatment that we received from hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Gentleman, I will say, used to be rather gentle, as is his way, and the more so because he really did know something of the problem that had to be dealt with; but the Financial Secretary to the War Office, the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor), the hon. Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison), the Postmaster-General, and others who, I am sorry to say, are not here to-day, could not find language too strong in which to tell one-third of the House, or a little more, that we had not settled the whole unemployment problem in six weeks, not to mention six months.
It may be a little unkind to remind hon. Members of it, but they now have a majority of 11 to one, and yet, much as I am pleased to see the report of the 32 decrease in unemployment, I shall be able to show that after six months of their administration, with a majority of 11 to one and with all the genius and political ability of this country sitting on the Front Government Bench, the figures are as bad as they were when the present Government went into office. The Government in 1927 conceived, as I have said, that there would be an average of 600,000 unemployed. That figure was evidently ridiculous then, and time has proved only too well that it was. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) later on referred to the refractory 1,000,000—that 1,000,000 that could not be dealt with. Probably any thinking Member of this House would admit that it is a commonplace now to say that the refractory 1,000,000 has become the refractory 2,000,000, forming the hard core of a problem which will require much more revolutionary treatment than this Government seems inclined to apply.
The Government have had the benefit of the abolition of the Gold Standard, which has given us an extraordinary position in the markets of the world, and yet the unemployment position is as bad as it was six months ago, because the figure is now something like 2,600,000. When the Government went into office, the highest figure, in September, was 2,811,000, but the right hon. Gentleman admitted that allowance must, be made for those who had lost their unemployment benefit. He admitted that there were at least 145,000 people who did not register, so that, on his own showing, that number must be added in order to get a proper parallel with the figure that has been issued to-day. I think the right hon. Gentleman's own staff, if they got down to a proper method of analysis, would admit that it is a moderate statement, in view of the great number of people who have lost their unemployment benefit or transitional payments under the Anomalies Act, to say that the figures to-day are at least as bad as they were when the Government went into office.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) interjected that, although the figures were going down, they were really going up for full relief as far as the local authorities are concerned. I want to ask the Committee to note that what is really taking place is that unemployment, 33 in fact, is not decreasing but that the Government are pushing great numbers of people back upon the Poor Law. I have looked very closely into this matter and the facts are such as to give the Government cause for serious consideration. Here are figures taken from the Labour Gazette. At the end of December, 1931, the recipients of out-door relief were 530,482. That was an increase of 4 per cent. on November. It was 381 per 10,000 as against 369 per 10,000 the month before. At the end of January, the 530,000 had gone up to 569,000, an increase of 7.3 per cent. on the month and 24.2 per cent. on the year before, or from 381 per 10,000 to 405 per 10,000. At the end of February they had gone up to 584,480, an increase of 2.7 per cent.—414 per 10,000 as against 405 the previous month. Since the end of September, 1931, the numbers receiving outdoor relief have gone up from 456,000 to 584,000, or from 335 per 10,000 to 414, and the total increase in the numbers that have been pushed back upon the Poor Law since September are 128,000. The logic of that is that employment is in fact only improving in appearance.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
In order that this picture may be complete, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not fail to remind the Committee that the numbers of those actually in employment have gone up 146,000 in the last month and are 166,000 more than this time last year.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has reminded me of that point in case I missed it. As a matter of fact, I have some figures to give him on that, too. But the right hon. Gentleman does not deny that nearly 150,000 people have been pushed back by the Government on the Poor Law, and that the local authorities are now beginning to kick very hard. The Manchester Public Assistance Committee has recommended the City Council to send a delegation to the Government Department to protest against the very large increase in the local rates. We are told they are now paying out, in Manchester alone, an additional £950 per week, almost all of which they say is attributable to the operation of legislation passed by this Government. I have taken the trouble to go into the figures for other towns, and the striking thing is that the increased figures are among those very 34 towns and in those very areas which have been suffering the longest. In West Ham, in Shields, where there is a moderate majority, in Newcastle, where there is a moderate majority, in great towns in the centre of great areas where it cannot be said that there is a Socialist majority by any means, the figures of people who have been forced back upon the Poor Law are growing amazingly. It is all very well for some areas which hardly know what unemployment is, or at least have only just begun to know, but in areas such as we know and, as are well indicated in the Labour Gazette, it is quite clear that the full financial weight of these new economies is being pushed back upon those who are least able to bear the weight of the financial responsibility.
There is another side to this matter. Not only are the Government pushing this financial responsibility back upon the Poor Law but they are pushing it back upon the poorest families. Here is a letter that I have received from a man with two sons, aged 10 and eight, and a daughter, aged 18. He has an elder son and a lodger, and, because the son is contributing a certain amount for board and there is the lodger, the man loses almost the whole of his transitional payment. Apart from the son and the lodger, he has to keep his wife, himself, two young sons and a daughter out of three shillings. That is only a sample of what is going on all over the country. The hon. Member for Newcastle East (Sir R. Aske) is not here, but there are other Newcastle Members who will be able to test the truth of what I say, and I hope they will take the opportunuity of speaking. They know, from their own experience, that in an area like Newcastle the means test is inflicting upon great masses of people the most disgraceful pains and penalties, amounting almost to poverty of the worst kind. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman nods his head. I saw a letter in the newspapers that the hon. Member for Newcastle East had received from one of the chief doctors in one of the great hospitals of that city, a request to use his influence to put an end to the means test, because in his own experience he had daily proof of the fact that the means test was playing havoc with the physique and the general life of the people with whom he came in contact. 35 The means test was never put into operation in a spirit of equity; it was never conceived in that spirit. I have heard arguments in this House to the effect that a man had no right to object to investigation. But it was not a matter of right at all; it was not a matter of principle. It was a mere hand-to-mouth method on the part of the Government to get £10,000,000. That was the main object, and I am prepared to say, in the light of the effect of the means test upon the great mass of the people in this country, that if Members of this House had a free vote, they would end it, because of the disastrous effect upon the lives of the people.
The right hon. Gentleman points out that there is an increase in the number of people employed. I am just as doubtful of his figures on that point as I am of his figures as to the unemployed, because, as he knows very well, his figures are only approximate. The only way to get the real number of people who are employed is to apply to all the workshops of the country to certify the number employed. Not until you get the full cards in at the end of the year can you get something like an approximate idea of the number of people who are really employed. I was looking up some figures in the Ministry of Labour Gazette with regard to the mining industry, and I discovered that it gave, for 19th December, 840,000 men and boys employed. When I got the regular official document at the end of the quarter I learned that at the end of December—12 days after 19th December—799,000 were employed, that is, more than 40,000 fewer in the actual official figures for the industry than the figure shown in the Ministry of Labour Gazette.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the argument. I am challenging the accuracy of the figures given. The hon. Gentleman is not going to say that they lost 40,000 in the industry in 12 days. That is only one industry which goes to prove that the employment figures are only approximate, just as the unemployment figures are affected by the method of assembling them in the Department. 36 But I am not concerned as to whether the figures are right or wrong. Even if they were down 250,000, what difference does that make to the present unemployment figure? Everyone knows that in this country there are in different areas great masses of men who have been unemployed for months, and some even for years, men whose industrial value, whose moral value, whose craftsmanship no one would question. I know it is the practice in some parts of the country on the part of retired people to speak disparagingly of the unemployed. You will not get that in industrial areas.
I do not know how far I should be allowed to go, Sir Dennis, in respect to the general problem, although I rather think it does come within the four corners of this Financial Resolution if I express the hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he finds that he has anything to spare, is going to give the unemployed the benefit of it. I met a man, a good friend of mine, whom I bad not seen for some time. He used to work at one of the pits where I worked. He served five years in the Army, is a good craftsman and is living on 15s. 3d. a week. That is the reward a grateful country is giving to a man of that description! The same thing is taking place with regard to a great mass of people. It is true to say that the rich, the comfortable and the well-to-do, who owe their culture, their well-to-do-ness and their benefits in life to these men—
§ Mr. LAWSON
When I have finished the sentence, I will tell the hon. and learned Member about their own exertions. I say that the rich and the comfortable in this country have become absolutely callous with regard to the great mass of the people who are suffering.
§ Major BEAUMONT THOMAS
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether his own Government were equally callous during the two years they were in office?
§ The CHAIRMAN (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I am afraid that these interjections lead the Debate beyond the object of the Resolution to which it should be confined. The hon. Member himself, in some words he used just now, realised the 37 confines beyond which he cannot proceed, and I do not think that I can allow him to answer interruptions of that kind.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I claim that my statement came within the limits of Parliamentary Debate. I am not surprised at the objections to the statement I made, but I repeat that the great bulk of the comfortable class in this country owe what they have to these men who are suffering, and they are absolutely callous in allowing this thing to go on. [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Member asked me, "What about their own exertions?" I know men, and other Members know men in every division, men who are goad workmen, good craftsmen, proud of their craft, men of intelligence, who would give their right hand to get work, who have suffered, scraped and denied themselves—
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The hon. Member misunderstood me. I did not mean that the men out of work had not exerted themselves. What I objected to was that I and others who have made our way in life should have no credit for our exertions. We are in the position we occupy through the strength of our own right hands and brains.
§ Mr. LAWSON
If we make a claim for personal exertions we might all put our claims down, but I have seen a good many men laid low in my time who are better men than I. What makes this controversy all the more unpalatable is that we are told that to any surplus there may be from the Budget the people who pay Income Tax and are almost bankrupt—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think that the hon. Member now is definitely going beyond the Resolution. The Resolution, may I point out to the hon. Gentleman, is one which merely deals with the question of whether certain existing legislation should have its term extended or not.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On that point, is it not within order to say that, instead of bringing this Resolution forward, the Government ought to have brought forward something much more comprehensive so as to give better conditions to the people who are under the means test or transitional benefit?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Gentleman seems rather fond of putting hypothetical questions to me, but I will answer to the best of my ability. It is in order for hon. Members in this Debate to say that they think some other course should be adopted than that which the Government are adopting, but there are limits to the extent to which they can discuss alternative courses. The only course at present open to discussion is that proposed by the Government.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am sorry to be a nuisance to you, Sir Dennis, but we must preserve the right of Debate. This is a Resolution to carry on certain legislation, and in the discussion of this proposal are we not entitled to say that, instead of doing it in this fashion, the Government should make provision so that when the Budget comes on the Chancellor of the Exchequer can provide for better conditions and better treatment of the people with whom this Resolution has to deal?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must definitely Rule that it is out of order to discuss what should or should not be done in the Budget.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
May I put this point of Order, which I think is one of substance? The Resolution seeks to carry on until a date in 1933. Is it not in order for a Member to argue that it is possible for the Government, by the Budget in April, to alter unemployment benefit scales, or the administration of the means test or its abolition?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. Member, if he will allow me to say so, is now tending towards making the speech which he may, perhaps, wish to make later in the Debate. When that time comes, I shall allow him to go on as long as I think he is in order, and if he is not in order, I shall tell him so.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
May I suggest that it is perfectly in order for a Member to argue that this Measure ought to apply only until April, and as the Measure means, in effect, going on until June, 1933, the rich are callous to the suffering by allowing it to continue? Therefore, he could argue that any surplus that might arise from the Budget should first of all be devoted to the interests of the unemployed. Consequently, I 39 suggest that it is in order for a Member to argue that in effect the rich, from his point of view, are callous, because the Budget surplus accruing in April ought to be devoted to the unemployed.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member, I think, has been developing an argument which, as I said just now, perhaps might be better developed in the speech which I have no doubt he intends to make later, but it is not in the same form as the words which were being used by the hon. Member when I pulled him up the first time.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I was taking about the condition of the great masses of people affected by the Financial Resolution, and I thought that I was well within bounds in making comparisons of their position with the position of other people in this country. Those who know me know that I have always given credit for the great kindness of people generally, but I say deliberately that, whether they mean it or not, a great section of the well-to-do in this country have been callous concerning the application of the means test to the conditions of the great mass of the people. That is all the more outstanding when one sees that for every pound asked for on the money market it is possible to get £50 from those desirous of subscribing. After all, what is the real problem which the Government have to face? The present Government, or some other Government, will have to do it. It is the problem of getting rid of unemployment. There is nobody in this Committee, even behind the Government, who believes that tariffs are going to solve the unemployment problem. Some hon. Members believe that tariffs will take 100,000 or so off the unemployment register and make things a little better, but no one dare say that they are going to the root of the unemployment problem. The unemployment problem goes much deeper than that.
I have taken up rather too much time already to allow me to go into the general question of how to meet this problem, but sooner or later some Government will have to realise that there must be a general reduction of hours and a general absorption of the unemployed, and that leisure must be 40 shared. That cannot be done merely nationally; it will have to be done upon an international scale. The right hon. Gentleman himself admitted that we are part of a world system and that we are conditioned by that system. The right hon. Gentleman may get his Bill to extend the transitional period until June, 1933, but, as far as we are concerned, we are for ending the means test, root and branch, without equivocation or qualification. That is the position which we take up with regard to this matter. In view of the administration and its effect, and of the contradictions which have taken place up and down the country, it is time the system was ended. It is also time that the Government realise clearly that if men cannot get work it is their duty to maintain them in an adequate and decent way. That is the root of the whole problem. The Labour Government placed the transitional period upon the Treasury, and it was applauded in every part of the House at the time. The view taken was that the Treasury should maintain the great bulk of those people who were outside ordinary benefit means. Whether the Government get the Financial Resolution or not, I hope that it will be shown in various parts of the Committee that the means test must be ended.
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
The sole object of the Financial Resolution is to carry on regulations governing transitional payments up to June, 1933, and before that time, I understand, it is the intention of the Government to present new proposals to deal with the whole problem of unemployment insurance and to ask the House to pass them into law. I have listened with great attention to the Debate which has so far proceeded, and particularly to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). The part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman which was not devoted to deploring the hardships of the late Government when confronted with the Conservative Opposition was devoted to deploring the hardships of the unemployed. We are all conscious of the hardships of the unemployed. We were sent here to try and do something to end the circumstances which had made those hardships necessary but when we are, as we are to-day, in the middle of a barren and waterless desert it is not very comforting to have to listen to a dis- 41 course on thirst. Such a discourse may be very eloquent, but it cannot be relevant and it can be very irritating. Equally irrelevant though very tempting would be an inquiry into the conditions under which we got into these difficulties. Such an inquiry would throw, I think, some suspicion upon the claims of those who now would aspire once more to the role of Moses.
Perhaps we may be forgiven if we doubt the wisdom of those who would advise us to drink up all our water now because they say we shall find plenty of running water over the crest of the hill. We took that advice when they were in charge of the expedition, but we never found the eternal stream; we found nothing but an empty water hole. I hope that it will not be regarded as unduly sceptical if I say that, in spite of his patriarchal appearance, I have no faith in the capacity of the Leader of the Opposition to repeat the miracle of striking the rock. The maintenance of the unemployed has to be carried through on economical lines now and in the future, not because any Member of this House thinks that 15s. 3d. is a sufficient sum for a man to live upon—Heaven forbid—but because too great a strain upon public expenditure may make us unable to pay him any sum at all. Nevertheless, it is true, whoever may be responsible for our present difficulties, that a Government which asks the people to be patient under hardships must satisfy them that every step is being taken to deal with the conditions and circumstances which have made those hardships necessary.
I think that the Government have made a good start. We have a National Government which has arisen out of our trouble applying a policy with courage and determination, and, after the fumbling efforts of recent years, it is a very welcome change to all of us. But the only real justification of these insurance economies is an assurance that the moneys which can be saved by that means will be applied to one single objective—the recovery of industry and the return to normal employment. That is the sole object to which the saving should be applied. It should not be disbursed in petty relief or in minor payments to far less needy sections of the community, but should be applied to the relief of industry, 42 because from industry alone, all of us get whatever livelihood we may enjoy.
With regard to the consideration of any relief from public funds (whether those funds are raised locally or nationally) as distinct from benefit which has been raised partly by the contributions of the recipient himself—I am speaking of standard benefit—and wholly paid for by contributions made in respect of them, every party in the House of Commons, including the Opposition, has accepted the principle that assistance should be given in accordance with need. Any other principle in respect of public funds would be absurd unless your policy was a purely revolutionary policy. As to how those needs should be assessed, by what authority they should be scrutinised, and upon what standard of living they should be based—upon all those questions—opinion may probably differ and debate may legitimately arise, and it is to some of those questions I wish to devote what I have to say. First, what authority should assess the needs of an applicant far transitional benefit.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not think that we can go into a discussion or an illustration of the means test in detail. The only question before the Committee is whether certain payments administered in a certain way, the alteration or otherwise of which is not now under consideration, should be continued or not.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that I must decline to answer those hypothetical questions of order. I have called the hon. Member's attention to the fact that he was going beyond the bounds of order, and I think that hon. Members must allow those who are in possession of the Floor of the House to continue.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is one of the questions which, I said, I am not prepared to answer. If the hon. Member wishes to speak later in the Debate and makes a transgression, I shall, of course, call him to order, but I am afraid that it is only wasting the time of the Committee to allow hon. Members who are not in possession of the Floor of the House to get up and raise hypothetical questions as to whether something which they might want to say later on would be in order or not.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Further to that point of Order. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) was making a point about the administration of the means test, and I understood you ruled him out of order for doing so. If we have misunderstood you, we shall be very glad to be corrected and to apologise for having misunderstood you.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
We want to know, because of the course that the discussion may take. If we are not allowed to say that we think the present method is wrong, we shall know how to conduct our speeches. The hon. Member has taken a certain line and I understood you to rule him out of order.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the right hon. Gentleman had asked me a general question earlier in the Debate as to what I thought was the scope within which the Debate should be allowed, I might have given some general indication at once. If he now wishes me to do so, I will do so as far as possible. This is a Resolution to authorise the extension of the period during which certain Statutory enactments are to remain operative. It is open to hon. Members to say that they do not think that those arrangements should remain operative, because they consider that they are bad. It is also open to them to say in what respects they consider they are bad, but it is not open to them to discuss in detail proposals for the reform of that legislation, when the only question before the Committee is whether or not 44 that legislation should he extended. It is a little difficult in a sentence in a Ruling from the Chair to say everything that will be in order and everything that will not be in order. I have tried to give guidance, and I think that the only way in which we can conduct the Debate satisfactorily is by my trying to guide it from time to time as occasion arises.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The point, as I understand it now, is that hon. Members will be able to take their stand on the argument that the method by which transitional benefit is being administered ought to be improved and changed. That is the point.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That may be so, but I am too old a hand at the job to commit myself as to whether certain things will or will not be in order. I will wait until the time arrives.
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
In your Ruling you have said that we are entitled, since the proposal of the Government is to continue the existing system, to make some criticism of the operation of the system but we are not entitled, as I well recognise, to urge in detail any alternative proposals. Within your Ruling I shall try to say that I wish to say. Under the present system of administration the authority that assesses the need is the public assistance committees of the county councils and the county boroughs. In view of the circumstances of emergency there was no other course before the Government except to use those authorities. To create a national authority through the Employment Exchanges could scarcely have been done during the emergency. During the period of crisis it seemed a very reasonable thing to use the other machinery that existed up and down the country. But grave difficulties may follow a prolonged departure from the very sound and very old constitutional rule that the authority that raises the money should govern its distribution. I do not object to a temporary departure from that rule and, therefore, I support the Resolution prolonging it for another 15 months, but I do hope that the Government in framing any permanent scheme will try, either by reviving the rota committees or by some other means, to bring about a system whereby a national authority shall administer what is now a wholly national fund.
45 The money which goes to transitional payments comes from the Exchequer. The Exchequer raises the whole of that money, and I do not think the importance of that fact has been altogether recognised. It raises that money to the extent of £40,000,000 a year. There is no question of putting men off the dole on to the Poor Law. On the contrary, the transitional payments system puts them off the fund, which is contributed to by their fellow workers, on to the Exchequer. That is a much more beneficial thing for the men who are in work, because it reduces the potential charge upon the Fund. I am a little surprised that the importance of that principle has not been more recognised. Henceforward the Government and not the local authority is to bear the financial responsibility for maintaining those men who have exhausted their right to standard benefit. That is a great landmark in the history of our social services. It is the official—and I have no doubt a permanent—recognition of the principle of work or maintenance. I should have expected at least a tribute of gratitude and respect from the Opposition. No? Well, they may be sullen and curmudgeonly if they will. I will pay my tribute of gratitude. During the period of the last Conservative Government many of us pleaded for the recognition of the principle that the able-bodied unemployed should be a purely national charge, and I for one am grateful that the National Government have made this principle a cardinal point of their policy.
I hope that I shall be able within your Ruling to comment upon some of the difficulties under the present system. The main objection to the present system is the lack of uniformity either in the determination of means or in the amount of earnings or other income which are taken into account. However resolute we may be in trying to cut down expenditure, I think most people will agree that it should not be a question of the accident of geographical situation that should determine how generously or otherwise a family's need should be relieved. The British people are prepared to put up with sacrifices so long as they think that those sacrifices are equitable, and particularly so long as they think that the sacrifices are equally 46 imposed as between man and man; but I do not think that we can say that by a system which determines the amount of sacrifice by the mere chance of what public assistance authority one may live under, we are carrying out the principle of equality of hardship.
Apart from the consideration of pensions and earnings and other family income, I think the first thing under the present system which is not wholly satisfactory is that there is no clear answer to the question as to what is the needs or subsistence level. What is to be the transitional payment to the man who has no income of any kind? Reading through the various orders and instructions which have been issued from time to time, one might have supposed that, all else being equal, where a man has no income coming into his home he should receive in transitional payment the standard rate, the ordinary rate of insurance benefit. The Home Secretary went so far as to say during the election that unless the committees are satisfied that the full amounts are not needed, the payments will not be less than the ordinary unemployment allowances. It may be argued, as was argued by the Parliamentary Secretary just before the Adjournment, that you cannot have an absolutely flat rate, because of variations either in local Poor Law administration or the variations in local conditions—variations in regard to rents, cost of living and the like. He said that you cannot lay down a general scale upon which transitional benefit should be paid in the event of there being no other income available. I want to answer that point, and I think there are several answers to it.
In the first place, ordinary standard benefit is at a flat rate. It always has been at a flat rate. The Minister will say that standard benefit is insurance and that transitional payment is in the nature of relief, and that what is right for standard benefit is not right for transitional payment. But the Government have never pursued so far the full rigour of that doctrine. First of all, in the Regulations governing transitional benefit, the Regulations lay it down that the men are not to be interviewed on premises which are used for any Poor Law purposes. Secondly, in the circulars that have been sent round, LA 3 and others, 47 they have done their best to mitigate the full effect of the Orders by suggesting that the capital value of house property and the like is not to be taken wholly into account; that the capital value shall not be taken into account. Finally, by the very words "transitional benefit," unless the words "transitional benefit are used purely in the Pickwickian sense, the Government have meant to imply that men on transitional benefit are still to be regarded in the great ordered army of insured workers and not as men who have definitely joined the rabble of outcasts who are unemployable.
Therefore, you are not entitled, on the ground that transitional payment is in effect Poor Law assistance, to argue that if there is no other income there ought not to be a flat rate of benefit or subsistence level. That should be at least the amount given in ordinary insurance benefit. Moreover, I do not think the Minister of Labour or the Parliamentary Secretary can seriously maintain the importance of taking varying local conditions and local Poor Law practice into account, in view of the fact that more than two-thirds of the people who get transitional payment get it at the full rate. If hon. Members will look at the figures they will see that of 2,200,000 applications for transitional payment made up to 23rd January, 1932, 1,115,000 were granted benefit at the maximum benefit rates. What about all the local variations there? What about the local variations of Poor Law practice? What about the different rents and the different costs of living, the cost of travelling to look for work, and so on? That did not apply to two-thirds of the determinations. Some 223,000 were thrown off benefit altogether. That leaves 764,000 who received something less than the total rate of benefit. In practically all those cases the reason that the benefit was reduced was not because there were varying local conditions but because there were some other earnings or some other money going into the house. That is to say, that the reason for the smaller amount of benefit in those determinations was the varying individual conditions and not the varying local conditions.
When it is remembered that in respect of more than two-thirds of the total 48 determinations where transitional payment was given it was given at the full rate, and that of the 760,000 who received reduced benefits at least 80 or 90 per cent. of the reductions must have been because of earnings and other sources of money coming into the house, it is hardly worth while maintaining the difference. It would be far wiser to lay it down that, all other things being equal, the standard benefit should be always given if there is no other income of any kind available for the man. Apart from that there has been great difficulty with regard to the assessment of family and personal income. Here again I think it would be wiser to have a more precise ruling from the Government. In the case of such income as compensation allowances and income from house property or investments, it is reasonable that the assessment of the net income available should be made by the investigating authority, whatever it might be, but I do regret the absence of clear instructions as to the principles upon which such assessment should be made.
Take the question of capital savings. I do not think there is any hon. Member of the party supporting the Government who desires to see this scheme which may tend to discourage thrift or force poor people to part with the little capital they may have saved, but, unquestionably the Order in Council would have that effect if it was adhered to strictly, and the Minister of Labour has tried to avoid the worst consequences of that Order by the circulation of L.A.3 and other memoranda. Would it not be much better to lay down quite clearly that whilst income from investments of this kind is to be taken into account the capital value should be altogether ruled out. We cannot maintain the fiction that the Order in Council and L.A.3 are compatible. They are not. L.A.3 is a hint; nay more, it is almost an instruction to public assistance committees to break the law. It is the Minister of Labour's "racket," and for a time I wished it well as a temporary Measure; but it would now be better for him to drop the role of Al Capone and to take Solon as his model. I am sorry if I am wearying the Committee but there are certain questions which seem to me to be of great importance. There is the question of war pensions. I will not go into this in detail, 49 but it is one upon which the personal honour of a great number of private Members and some leading Cabinet Ministers is deeply involved. It must be remembered that these pensions were awarded not wholly in respect of loss of earning power but in respect of the hardship of the disability itself, and it would be generous and popular, and not very expensive, to lay down that a definite amount in terms of money, or a definite fixed proportion of these pensions, should be disregarded in assessing the claims of the men for transitional benefit.
Finally, there is the question which has created some difficulty—the family earnings. Here again some definite guidance should be introduced into their proposals by the Government as to the principles upon which public assistance committees are to work. However high we assess the duty of an individual towards his family, and I assess it very high, he must be allowed to retain some of his own rights. He ought to be at least a little better off when he is in work than when he is out of work. However high you put the duty and obligation of those who are in work to maintain those who are out of work, some proportion of a man's earnings should be definitely earmarked for his own support and comfort. I am not complaining of the work of public assistance committees, but it would be more satisfactory if this liability were clearly defined. It should not vary as between one part of the country and another in accordance as to whether one public assistance committee happens to be rather severe and another public assistance committee rather lenient. If the Government could do these four simple things—that is, lay down a uniform standard or basic rate maintenance, where no other money is coming into the house; that income value only of all securities, such as invested money and house property, should be taken into account and not the capital value; that a definite proportion of the war pension, either an amount in terms of money or a definite proportion of the pension, should be automatically disregarded in assessing the need for transitional benefit; and that a definite minimum amount of a wage earner's earnings is to be regarded as reserved to the man's own use, apart from his family—it would be well worth doing even 50 during the temporary period before final and complete legislation comes before this House.
I am afraid that I have trespassed rather long upon the patience of the Committee, but my excuse must be that these are matters of the gravest importance, to which I have tried to pay some little attention during the period I have been interested in politics; and, at any rate, I think they claim precedence over such questions as the protection of grey seals, the second Order on the Paper. I hope that I have not seemed unduly critical of the Government's policy. I have not meant to be so; and certainly I have not meant it in any hostile spirit. The suggestions I have made are constructive, and I hope the Minister will see his way to adopt them even during the temporary period. The Minister may say that the scheme is working far more easily and smoothly than he would have thought possible. That is true. Partly it is due to his own tact and sympathy, but it is due much more to the good will, good sense and good humour which the British people bring to the administration of any scheme. With these qualities there is hardly any system which we cannot work in this country. We make capitalism work. We might even make socialism work; but it is not fair to rely altogether on the inherent British good sense. It is better to have a scheme which has few anomalies and which is as perfect as possible. I hope that the Minister of Labour will correct some of these anomalies during the 15 months before the complete system of insurance comes into being.
I hope that this Resolution and the Bill will be the last of a long series of tinkering pieces of legislation by which the problem of unemployment insurance has been handled in recent years. We all recognise the difficulties before the right hon. Gentleman and hope that the Government's final scheme will lay a permanent basis for dealing with this problem. The difficulties before the Government are great. They have a stupendous task. Some might be jealous of the opportunity, but very few would envy so great a responsibility. The Minister of Labour can be certain of this; that when he brings his permanent scheme before the House he will get the construc- 51 tive support of every hon. Member because upon the character of that permanent system will depend for good or ill, for a generation or more the material and spiritual conditions governing the daily lives of the great mass of our working population.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I agree with the last remark of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) that any proposal dealing with this problem will affect large masses of our people in their spiritual and moral well being. As I listened to the hon. Member I envied him one thing, and that was the intellectual way in which he said things that have been said many times before. For instance, he said that he was surprised that this had not been recognised as a great constitutional problem. He said that it was the nation's money that was being spent and the nation should retain control. I thought we were going to be told something new, but that point was taken up before the last election and has been raised not once but tens of times. I resent the intellectual snobbery of the hon. Member who comes down to-day and says that he has discovered this and pays no respect to what has been said in previous Debates by hon. Members, who perhaps are more humble. He asks the Government to modify the means test. He puts forward four points upon which the Government might act. He wants the Government to bring in a new scheme, and says that it is not right there should be a difference between one local authority and another. I expected to hear from the hon. Member some alternative. It is true that in passing he said that we might go back to the old rota committees. Everyone who knew the rota committees by actual attendance, not by reading text books, knows that there were anomalies and differences just as there are in the present method of administration.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Take the hon. Member's four points. Take the case of a man with a sum of money. The hon. Member says that only the actual income from investments should be taken into account. That is to say, if a man has £5,000 upon which he is getting 5 per cent. interest, that only the £250 interest 52 should be taken into account, not the capital sum of £5,000. If he has £1,000, £50 should be taken into account, but not the £1,000. But assume that the man does not invest the money. Suppose that he decides to spend it. Is the hon. Member coming along to say, if the man decides to spend the money at the rate of £1 per week, that that will not be taken into account?
The real kernel of the means test is this: The test is applied for one purpose and one purpose only. It is not a question of good insurance or bad insurance. It is not a question whether a man has 30 stamps or not 30 stamps. It is not a question whether a man has had 26 weeks' work or not had 26 weeks' work. The real kernel of the matter, as most Members of the Government in their saner moments admit, and as most of the Government economists who are not in the House admit, is that the country is faced with a financial crisis, that they say we are spending more than our income will allow, and that we must see that the nation does not crash. The idea is that we must save. If the means test is to gain the object that the Government have in view it must be mean. Let me here digress to congratulate the official Opposition on their decision to abolish the means test. If a Member on this side had voted or spoken that way a month ago, he would have broken the standing orders of his party and would not have been allowed within the party. Now a Member is allowed to oppose the means test without breaking the party's standing orders. It is a very revolutionary decision.
I repeat that a means test must be mean to attain the desired object of saving money. The Government cannot run a means test that is to save money without that means test being mean and miserable. Otherwise the Government would be faced with a means test, the cost of administering which would be greater than or as great as the sum that the test saved. Let me illustrate what I mean. Assume that the Government became generous. Assume that it did what has been suggested and gave instructions that there should be a flat rate income for each person in the country. Assume that the Government said, "Only the income from capital sums should be touched; ex-service 53 men's pensions should be immune, the incomes of people with workmen's compensation should be largely immune." Assume that the Government did all those things and raised the income of each person. It must be remembered that here we are dealing with the mass of the people, the bulk of whom are very poor. If the income of these people was raised by even 5s. a week, that would eliminate millions of savings.
There is another thing to be remembered. If this scheme is to be carried through, there must be investigation. We all know what was said by the Labour candidate in the Dumbartonshire by-election recently about the man with the War Loan. There was also the case mentioned by the late hon. Member for Burnley of the dentist's wife under the Anomalies Act. Cases of that kind are infinitesimally small in numbers and matter nothing. But yet if you are to have an investigation to find out such cases you must have the machinery, you must have the questionnaires, you must have investigations in the homes of the workers. Otherwise you cannot find out such cases. Elaborate machinery would be necessary, and its cost would far outweigh any savings that would result. Are these the types of people that the Labour party were really after? It was not playing the game. Is it the War Loan man who is to be searched out? If so, investigation will not be worth while, because the cost of it will equal any savings effected.
Hon. Members must come down on one side or the other. If they try to work the means test benevolently, if they try to set up decent incomes and decent methods of treatment, if they say that there shall be a national scale of income to be taken into account, the main purpose in view will not be achieved by the Government. It must be remembered that nearly all the people affected are in the most depressed industries, and that their relatives are similarly affected. It will not be denied that cotton, iron and steel, coal and shipbuilding and engineering are the four most depressed industries at the moment. The wages in those industries are low and miserable on an average. The hon. Member for Stockton suggested that the Government should allow an income that would give a man some comforts. The moment the Government do that they 54 might as well give a man his wage. The issue which we have to decide is this: It is no good thinking of some benevolent way of making a speech; it is no good raising a fiction about the War Loan man, as was done by the Labour candidate in Dumbartonshire. The issue is either the means test, which by its nature must be miserable and contemptible, or the abolition of the means test. The hon. Member for Stockton spoke with an intellectual air, and one of his intellectual points was that the principle of work or maintenance has now been accepted. He said that the Labour party should have complimented the Government on the acceptance of that principle. But would he show me how the present Government have accepted the principle?
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
During all the discussions on the legislation between 1924 and 1928, when the regulations were being tightened up and men were thrown off benefit and on to the Poor Law, a good deal of the argument was in favour of work or maintenance. My argument today was that the present system was a definite recognition of the principle that when a man ceased to have any definite claim for insurance he should still be maintained out of national funds and not out of the local rates.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I run a class for poor people on unemployment insurance, and I wish that the hon. Member would attend it, for he needs to be told about the working of the Acts. The position to-day is no different from what it was after the passage of the 1927 Act, based on the Blanesburgh Report. The conditions are these: A person having 30 stamps in two years must either get standard benefit or transitional benefit, taking the family means into account. At the end of the 30 stamps period a man has to prove that he is normally in insurable employment, and the court of referees determines that to-day, as it did in 1929 and 1927. If the court of referees determines that a man is not normally in insurable employment, he becomes a charge on the Poor Law to-day, the same as in 1927. There is no alteration in practice in fact or in regulation. The "work or maintenance" principle which the hon. Member talked of as something new is nothing new. This is the same Act and the same law.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) made a point about people 55 going on to the Poor Law. I agree that quite a number are going on the Poor Law but I do not think that this accounts entirely for the figures from the angle which the hon. Gentleman took. The great mass of those who become chargeable on the Poor Law in any case must be contained in those figures because it is a condition under the Poor Law that the man must sign at the Exchange. Therefore practically all the Poor Law cases must be in those figures which have been given. I do not know of a single Poor Law authority in Britain where it is not a condition of Poor Law relief to sign at the Exchange.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I was pointing out the total number who had been pushed back on to the Poor Law since September and I was saying that that fact must be taken along with the right hon. Gentleman's figure of 146,000 more in employment.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. Member went on to argue about the increase in the Poor Law figures, and I took him to mean that, coincident with that increase, there was a decrease in the unemployment figures. Let me say that there is some connection, part of which is associated with the present Government and part with the previous Government. I do not think that there is a diminution of unemployment, or an increase in the employment, in the ratio which the right hon. Gentleman maintains. There is, of course, a diminution of unemployment, but let it be borne in mind that these are the March figures. This is the Spring of the year. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, went back two years, but if he goes back 10 years, he will find that in every other year there was a diminution at this time.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. What I pointed out was that this is the first time in just over two years that there has been a diminution as compared with the year before. I agree that this is the period when a seasonal improvement is to be expected.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Therefore the diminution is not due to the Government so much as to the season. There is another point. The means test has the result of knocking off members of a family and they stop signing. The Poor Law is 56 not there to compel them. Remember also that there are 170,000 who are being refused benefit under the Anomalies Act. As to the increase in the Poor Law figures, hon. Members on this side above the Gangway must take a share of the blame for that. They increased the Poor Law figures. The fishermen in the North of Scotland cannot get benefit. They are completely chargeable to the Poor Law by the act of certain hon. Members above the Gangway, done deliberately and with malice. When they stand up at that Box they cannot escape their share of responsibility for the increase in the Poor Law figures. Let them remember the servant girls whom they refused. Those people are included in these human, figures. The hon. Member who spoke from those benches must take his share of the responsibility. When I hear about the means test, I look at the Members who deliberately and callously refused those people to whom I have referred, and I wonder which is the more callous of the two.
Under the Anomalies Act large numbers have been cut off and under the means test large numbers have been cut off and the figures which we have been given, are, possibly, not the full figures. There is a point in this connection which I raised at Question Time and which I wish to emphasise. The group with which I am associated, and members of the Labour party and even some Conservatives feel very keenly on this question. I wish to say that I, personally, would welcome even the most miserable and tiny increase given to the unemployed in the present conditions. For that reason I welcome the speech made by the Lord Privy Seal in another place to this extent—that he said that any alteration made in the forthcoming Budget for the benefit of certain classes must be accompanied by corresponding alterations for the benefit of the unemployed and others. I welcomed that speech as far as it went. We were told that a surplus was coming in the Budget. It is no secret now that there is a surplus. It is no secret that the Government have money to play with and I think the most criminal thing about the proposal now before us is that it means that for 12 months there is to be no improvement in the condition of the unemployed.
57 The right hon. Gentleman says that there is to be no legislation between this and the main Act. The Unemployment Commission are to sit, but when is their Report likely to be forthcoming How long will the Government take to consider that report, and how long will it take Parliament to pass a Measure? During all that time the Government will have a surplus. The Government will have the money. We are told that other sections have to be relieved, that Income Tax, Super-tax and Death Duties have to be remitted in April. Some sections will get relief—it may be this section or that—but the one section which is not to be relieved is the section whose need is greatest. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister has been credited in the past with kindly characteristics but the question will now arise whether characteristics of that kind are not a mere veneer. The right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the unemployed who went through hell last winter. Does he propose to make them go through another such winter? Can he not see his responsibility for those voiceless masses—because they have practically nobody to represent them? They have long since passed out of their unions, or most of them have. They have long since lost contact with political representation. Why cannot the Minister go to the Cabinet and say, "These folk must be the first charge on any surplus millions which are available in April?"
We have been told that there are certain charges which must be met. Are these folk not a charge which must be met? Have they no human rights? The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees said that 15s. 3d. a week was not an income on which people could live and that nobody in the House ever said it was. But these people are living on it, and have been living on it for years, and this proposal is that we should pass legislation to make them continue to live on it for another year or 15 months while other sections of the community are getting relief. I am not going further into the question of the administration of the means test. The right hon. Gentleman says that British tact and patience have been responsible for carrying on the administration of the test and for the fact that it has been acceptable. My own view is that it has only been possible 58 to carry it on because the unemployed people, the masses, have lost faith. They have seen a great trade union movement do little or nothing for them. They have seen a Labour party in power and forming a Government. They have never seen the Independent Labour party a Government—[Interruption.] May I say that when the heads of the late Government were leaders we never could say a word about them without being censured and practically thrown out of the Labour party? When a few of us voted against them it was almost a case of excommunication, but these poor people have seen the Labour party in power or in office and they have lost faith.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Yes, that may have been so, and in that sense they were responsible, but none of them came with us. They preferred to go with the hon. Member. They preferred to take the road of keeping in with those who were robbing the unemployed rather than that of coming with us and fighting it. They preferred their election expenses and their emoluments every year from their unions, rather than the unemployed people. We get no emoluments and never did. We could have taken the easier road, but instead of that we fought the Anomalies Act and the Economy Act. We fought against the robbing of the unemployed but the hon. Member would not take the risk. He preferred to remain in. I only say this, that the masses have lost faith in the Labour party, they have lost faith in me, they have lost faith in politics; they have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in men or in parties, anywhere, for them. That is why the means test has gone on. It is because these people have no hope of any kind. I ask the Minister if he, as the custodian of the rights of these poor people, has not a duty to them to see that they get a decent income. Surely the Minister's first duty is to see that these people are decently treated and properly fed. You may have coal quotas and cotton quotas and re-organisation schemes, but you can have no revival in Britain without a prosperous and decently fed population. I ask the Government to 59 make these poor people who are on transitional benefit the first charge on the Budget and to see that their income is the first that is raised to a decent standard, of which none of us need be ashamed.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
We cannot help having a great deal of sympathy with the point of view of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and what he has said about the unfortunate unemployed, but after all the man who designed the means test is Mr. Arthur Greenwood, the present candidate for Wakefield.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Yes, when the National Government was in, but there is no doubt whatever that that test was admitted, and, of course, it is a most disagreeable and uncomfortable thing. We are all subjected to the means test—every one of us. They come, and they go into our pockets with a microscope, and if there is any money in, they take it out, or a large proportion of it, but as for the unfortunate unemployed, they go into their pockets and if they find that there is nothing in them, they put some money in; and I leave hon. Members to judge who is likely to feel the hardest used in these matters.
There is nothing more unfortunate and more unhappy than the position of the unemployed men. I agree with the hon. Member for Gorbals that they are apt to lose hope, to lose spirit, to lose heart, to lose physique, and to lose their skill. Yet I have been in this House for a dozen years and have listened to many Debates on unemployment, and they all seem to go on in the same way, in at the door and out again at the same door, and I have not once heard a single constructive proposal how to avoid unemployment. We have had the proposal of the hon. Member for Gorbals—and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has often made it—to give everybody an income, but how can we give people a satisfactory income if they have not earned it? I have been completely puzzled with the state that society is getting into.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
If I may interrupt the hon. and learned Member, he said we 60 had never put forward any constructive arguments. I am sure that, as a lawyer, he likes to be precise and accurate, and I would like him, for the sake of his future reputation, to be accurate in this matter. He knows that the Government set up a commission to inquire into this problem and to accept evidence and constructive ideas. The then hon. Member for Camlachie, Mr. Campbell Stephen, and myself went to that Royal Commission and for a full day gave them constructive ideas how to deal with unemployment. If the hon. and learned Member likes, I will see that a copy of those constructive ideas is sent to him.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It shows how poor back benchers like myself can overlook some of the great events of history, because I have never heard of these constructive proposals. It shows too the crass want of public enlightenment, that the Press did not immediately broadcast them, and I think Lord Beaverbrook must have been asleep, or he would have seen to it and put them abroad. The difficulty that I see is that with the machinery that we have now got in manufacture and in industry there can be overproduction of almost any commodity at any moment, and there are bound then to be men out of employment. There has been no solution of that difficulty suggested for this unemployment business. Insurance is a mere palliative and never can be a radical cure. The radical cure is to a very considerable extent in the hands of the employers of labour themselves. If they would be quit of the psychology that the workmen are mere parts of the machinery and that when they part with them at the works gate they have nothing more to do with them, and if they would get back to the old principle that we used to have in the Highlands, with people of the same name, that the workers employed by them were their clansmen, and that it was their business to see them through, how simply that could be done.
It has already been done in two places, by some employers. I heard of one case when I was out in Rhodesia, from the agent of an English engineering firm where every workman in an engineering works lived in his cottage and produced all his own food, from his own pigs and hens and vegetables, and was comfortably fed. While his money wage was small, 61 he was infinitely better off than a man with two or three times his wage in a town, where he has to go into a shop to buy food which with all the costs and profits cause him to feed 20 or 30 people before he can get a bite for himself or his family. Again, on the River Trent, there is a small shipbuilding yard, and a friend of mine asked the owner, "What are you doing with all those small holdings?" He replied, "They belong to my workpeople."
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I am watching that. Those workpeople are all well fed. I know myself of a concern that has mines in the South of Spain, and those miners are far too wise to trust in any limited company to supply them with their daily bread. In the spring and autumn they are away during sowing time and at harvest looking after their little farms. There is a solution which with road transport, the Minister of Transport might take into consideration and that all employers of labour might consider. Now that they have road transport, employers should take their works and factories and their men to the country areas and settle them round about with something to do when the factories are shut down. As hours of labour shorten what are men to do with their leisure time? They cannot go to the pictures or the greyhound races all the time. They must have something to do. There is a remedy waiting for the employers of labour, without any Government interference at all; and, mark you, other countries are taking that up. I was talking the other day to an eminent German professor, and he said to me that that is how Germany is proposing to solve the problem.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I was rather addressing the employers of labour in the hope that they would see the light and take advantage of the modern development of transport to see that the conditions of their men were permanently improved and that there need be no further fear of unemployment. In the coal industry, what is to hinder the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) from—
§ The CHAIRMAN
Order. I have allowed the hon. and learned Member some latitude, but when he gets to the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Coal Mines he is getting rather wide of the mark.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I was not speaking of the Minister of Coal Mines; I was speaking of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, who, I have no doubt, will be Minister of Coal Mines in the Labour Government, but I hope perhaps on another occasion to develop these ideas. It is the only scheme that will ever abate the unemployment trouble and try to meet the threat of the machine, to meet over-production, to put men in a solid position, to put an end to underfeeding, which is one of the great causes of distress among the working classes. We ought to get them into a position in which they can look after themselves, so that idleness will have no terror for them, and a man with a large family can feed them with unlimited supplies, the product of his own leisure hours. That is the use to make of the lesson, and that is the use to make of land, which has no commercial value in many places. I am not speaking of commercial but of subsistence farming which is a wholly different thing. It is all profit.
These are the constructive lines on which to deal with unemployment, and unless some scheme of that kind is adopted, I fear that, year after year, Minister after Minister and party after party will come to this House and will say to one another, "When you were in power, unemployment was so much, and we diminished it by 100,000 or so!" It is not Parliament, it is not legislation, that must make these alterations. What is required is an alteration of the methods of conducting industry and to take advantage of new scientific developments. These are the methods with which these stupid discussions about unemployment will be brought to an end. We have these discussions as if we in Parliament, by legislation, could make people buy commodities which they do not want or increase occupations in different industries when there are not markets for them. It is no use one party blaming another party. The last Government undoubtedly—and I say it with all respect to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street—did increase unemployment, because they 63 frightened people capable of giving employment. People were afraid. I remember a man saying during the election that he bought majorities because if he won he would get his money but if the Labour Government came back the whole country would go crash and he would not pay. A lot of their own people thought the Labour Government believed in their principles, but those who knew them knew that they did not believe in the principles which they enunciated. But those who did were afraid to develop industry.
A Government can do a great deal to injure trade, or it can give facilities for carrying it on by giving a protected market; it can help, by giving tariffs to captains of industry, to start new industries, but it cannot create business and markets when the markets are not there. The present Government have done a great deal. The cotton industry is very materially improving, and that improvement began last autumn. Given confidence, much good may follow, and we may have another boom and another time when all classes will be very fully employed, but that will not meet the fundamental issue of recurring slumps. The system of doles or insurance is no good at all. The working classes and the trade unions never wanted it—they loathe it—and we must get back to something more elemental, to something more fundamental. We must see that the working man in this world has something to fall back upon, something with which to employ his leisure time. The means are at our disposal, and they are at the disposal of all employers of labour. The land is there, thousands of acres, lying practically fallow. I have been offered a good farm in close vicinity to London. It is idle and wasting. It just needs the spirit and the imagination of employers of labour to take up land and develop their industries with their men secured in their homes on the land.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
I should like to bring the discussion back to its primary purpose, although I listened to the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) with great interest. He interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) by telling him that he, the hon. and learned Member, and his friends had won their way to affluence by the power of their 64 brains and their energy. If that were so, judging by the speech he has just made, he must be either very poor, like myself, or have had a very generous employer. The purpose of the discussion is to give the Minister of Labour an extension of transitional benefit powers for some 15 months, and the limits of the discussion, I understand, are confined to the question as to whether that money should be devoted to the same purpose as that to which it has been devoted formerly, and whether the manner in which the Minister has carried out his powers in the past justifies a continuation of those powers. We have had one or two very interesting speeches. We have had one speech in particular, interesting as his speeches always are, from the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I wish, however, that when he addresses the House on unemployment in the future, he will have more regard to unemployment and a little less regard for the family quarrel with us. There are massed battalions opposite against whom the hon. Member might direct his bullets, but to kill poor wounded animals like ourselves—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
May I ask before that is done that the hon. Member will get his massed battalions outside to stop doing massed battalion work on as?
§ Mr. BEVAN
The hon. Member knows what my views are concerning these matters, but I do regret that our combined efforts cannot be used to cause dismay among our common enemies. If the hon. Member is seeking reconciliation with his past comrades he is taking a very peculiar road. I would remind him of the dictum that in order to cast your enemy out you must first embrace him. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) directed a pertinent question to the Minister of Labour when he asked whether the right hon. Gentleman under the Royal Warrant has the right to issue any instructions to local public assistance committees. The Royal Warrant lays it down that a public assistance committee, in considering claims for transitional payments, shall consider those claims as though they are applications for public assistance. As we understand the interpretation of the Poor Law, cases must be dealt with upon their merits and the individual circumstances taken into ac- 65 count, and persons must be destitute before a public assistance committee has the right to give any relief. I would like to know precisely where the Minister of Labour is taking his stand. Is he telling public assistance committees that they must carry out the duties imposed upon them by the Royal Warrant, or has he taken to himself, without the consent of Parliament, the right to tell committees how they are to interpret the Royal Warrant and to carry out certain instructions of the Minister of Health as well? I ask this question because it is at the foundation of the administration of transitional payments.
I am a member of a public assistance committee, and we have had correspondence with the Ministers of Labour and Health in the last few months. We really are in a difficulty to know precisely where we are. When hon. Members have urged upon the Government the relaxation of some of the conditions of payment, the Minister of Labour has said that it is not in his power to interfere with public assistance committees. The public assistance committees, therefore, are charged with the responsibility of interpreting the Royal Warrant. Does the Minister now take the position that the public assistance committee is the authority and the law for interpreting the Royal Warrant, or is the responsibility that of the Minister of Labour or the Minister of Health? We are in great difficulties, for we do not know where we are. When hon. Members, actuated by humanitarian sentiment, direct the attention of the House to the hardships which have been inflicted upon innocent people, the Minister of Labour gets up and urbanely says that it is impossible for him to influence the public assistance committees at all. Nevertheless, behind the back of the House, he conspires with the Minister of Health to impose lower conditions of payment. We on this side are raising this matter because we believe that unless it is tackled, serious trouble will arise before very long.
The Prime Minister said in his constituency the other day that steps would be taken immediately to remedy the harsh measures which have been adopted with regard to transitional payments, and we are asking when that promise is to be 66 honoured. We want to know precisely what will be done, because at the moment we bitterly resent that the House should be told that the Royal Warrant has rendered it completely helpless to ameliorate these conditions until new legislation is passed, and that the Minister of Labour should then send instructions to the local authorities to the opposite effect. I have here a letter written by the Minister of Labour to the Monmouthshire County Council Public Assistance Committee in which the Minister informs the committee that he has consulted with the Minister of Health. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the date?"] It is the end of last month; this is a copy of the letter and the date has been omitted, but there was a further letter dated 30th March directing the attention of the authority to this letter. Here the Minister of Health takes the line that the public assistance committee, in laying down certain conditions to be operated uniformly throughout the county for the administration of claims for transitional payments, are taking an illegal step. The statement is specific:The Minister cannot contemplate the continuance of a position in which funds provided by the Exchequer are being disbursed in accordance with determinations which he is advised are illegal. I am accordingly to desire that your council will forthwith take these matters into consideration and inform me immediately what steps they propose to take to bring their practice in dealing with applications for transitional payments into conformity with the law.As far as we understand from communications which have passed, the stand which the Minister is taking is that a public assistance committee has no right to lay down a scale of allowances for the guidance of the local committees. That is to say, with respect to Monmouthshire—and Glamorganshire also, I am informed—the Ministers of Health and Labour together are taking up the position that not only is it impossible far this House to lay down conditions, but that it is impossible for the public assistance committees themselves to lay down conditions, and that each relieving officer and each local committee must take the individual circumstances of the applicants into consideration. Despite that, two circulars to which reference has been made have been issued from the Ministry of Labour interpreting the 67 Royal Warrant and telling the public assistance committees that they need not take capital sums, fixed assets or a large proportion of pensions into consideration. I suggest that this is a serious complication. After all, it should be possible to know what the law is. If this is the consequence of legislating by Order in Council, the sooner the practice is abolished the better. The Order in Council was a very sparse document; it was the most terse and lucid document with which the Prime Minister has ever been associated. It laid down the conditions in very simple language.
May I ask this simple question? It is important that we should have a reply. Is exception taken only to the fact that the county council has laid down a scale of allowances? The county council has not made that scale of allowances compulsory upon each local relief committee, but has issued the scale for the guidance of the local committees. If a public assistance committee in administering transitional payments can do so only in the same manner as when administering public assistance, and if that committee for five years has had a county scale of Poor Law relief, I would like to know, if the Government take exception to the scale of allowances for transitional payments, why they did not take exception five years ago to the scale of Poor Law relief? Poor Law authorities find it practically impossible to carry out their complicated duties unless local relief committees are given instructions and guidance.
It has been urged against our system of Poor Law relief that the recipients hold the vote, and that they threaten to turn out, and do in fact turn out of their positions, people who do not give them adequate standards of relief. If the local administrator, the man on the local committee, is to be charged with the responsibility of determining in each individual case what relief is to be given, it exposes the elected representative to a direct attack. In order that he might be relieved from pressure of that kind, public assistance committees have thought it desirable and expedient to lay down scales of relief for the guidance of those committees. In doing that for transitional payments, they are doing precisely what they do for Poor Law relief, 68 and have done for four or five years. So that, unless the conclusion is reached that the Minister of Health has awakened to a sense of his responsibility and has found that public assistance committees are committing a crime which should have been discovered before, we are to assume that committees are having exception taken, not to the fact of their having a scale of allowances, but to the fact that the allowances are too high. That does not appear in correspondence, but it appears in the personal communications of the inspector to the committees. If the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour have any thing to say to the county council, why do they not put it in writing in an honourable and a courageous way? Why send an inspector along to bully the committees? Inspectors are attending the committees and telling them that the scale is too high. If we are to assume that a scale is illegal, that a standard which is uniform throughout a county does not comply with the law, what is it the inspector has in mind when he says that an allowance is too high? I will press my question if the conversation opposite is now almost finished. If an inspector tells a committee that the relief it is giving is too high, and if a standard is not permitted by law, by what standard is the inspector acting when he declares the relief to be too high Are these committees to be left to interpret the law themselves, or are they to be given specific instructions as to what the law means? The present system is only making the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, committees are assuming that they have power to interpret the law, and, on the other hand, they are bullied by inspectors.
One public assistance committee, and its proceedings, if not typical of the whole country are typical of many counties, are saying that the first 32s. of wages of the first wage-earner in the house shall be disregarded in calculating the family income for transitional payments; in the case of the second wage-earner, the first 25s. is to be disregarded; and in the case of the third wage-earner, the first £1. If there are three persons in that house who are in work an average of 25s. 6d. is allowed to each of them before his money can be touched for the maintenance of the rest of the family. Is 69 there an hon. Lady or other hon. Member of the House who will say that £1 or 25s. a week is too high a standard upon which a collier working six days a week ought to exist? A man of 25 or 30 years of age is working under ground in the most arduous and difficult occupation in Great Britain, and yet the Ministry of Health say that a standard of living represented by 32s. a week is too high, and that a greater proportion of his wage must be taken into account in calculating the family income. Such administration has created a great deal of bitterness in my county, and young men are leaving their families and going to live elsewhere. There is no more effective instrument for breaking up the homes of industrial workers.
It is unreasonable to expect young men, who, naturally, have their ambitions, and who may want to get married, to live in perfect poverty—because this system means that a man who is living at home is expected to work upon a bare margin of subsistence. It has now been declared by the National Government that a manual worker must work for the price of Poor Law relief, because if he gets more than the equivalent of Poor Law relief it is to be taken from him for the benefit of the rest of the family. The Government have declared, in effect, that a man must work six days in a pit, or a shipyard or a steel works for the equivalent of the Poor Law scale of relief, though I submit that there is hardly an hon. Member who would dare to go on a platform and support that action. If we are to do things honourably, we ought to say that any person over 18 years of age is entitled to the full enjoyment of what he earns. [Interruption.] That is a quite reasonable proposition. Hon. Members seem to forget that we are living in the twentieth century and not the thirteenth. We have long ago left the system of domestic husbandry. The family is no longer the unit in industry. Wages are no longer family wages. If family wages were paid, we could take the family income into account, but the worker to-day is paid upon the basis of his individual work and not upon the number in his family. Why then, should his membership of a family be taken into account? We ought not to keep these hundreds of thousands of people upon this poverty line of subsistence.
70 What has been the effect of these provisions? Some time ago a medical investigation was conducted in the county of Monmouth, and all the children in 10 schools were examined for malnutrition. They were examined as regards weight, for age and height, anaemia, poor, toneless skin, lack of subcutaneous tissue, dry hair lacking lustre, tired expression and listless attitude. I would emphasise the fact that the outstanding problem is not merely that we have a large number of men existing on transitional payments, but that most of those men are congregated in certain places. They belong to the coal, iron and steel, textile, shipbuilding and engineering industries, where unemployment has been continuous for seven, eight or 10 years, and in those areas all the local reserves, financial and otherwise, have been exhausted. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was Minister of Health, recognised that it was impossible to expect those areas to bear the ordinary burdens of local government. We are now told that we are transferring the burden of the transitional payment people from local funds to the National Exchequer. We are doing no such thing. We are putting the burden upon the family funds. That is precisely what is being done.
There are three areas in my county in which unemployment has been continuous, and where no one dares suggest that the men out of work could find work. The Ministry of Labour themselves have attempted to take men from those areas and put them in employment in other parts of the country, and have failed, because they are coming back as quickly as they went away. Those three areas are Blaenavon, Rhymney-Abertysswg and Nantyglo-Blaina—coal and steel centres. The children in those areas have been compared with other children—not with high-class children, not with the West End child, but with the children in the rural areas of the county; and I would remind hon. Members that we have repeatedly been told that agriculture is the most depressed of all industries. There is no difference of race between the children in those three areas and in agricultural Monmouthshire. They are all more or less of Iberian stock. We cannot say that in the rural parts of the country we find the Saxon child and in the industrial parts the Iberian.
71 The graph for each age-group of children shows a downward curve in the schools situated in areas where unemployment has been continuous as compared with the graph of the children in the rural areas. In the age group 11–12 years the children are on the average 4 lb. lighter in weight, in the age group 12–13 the average weight is nearly 6 lb. lighter. In the age group 13–14—children who were born when the industrial depression started—the difference in weight is 7¾ lb. In every case the weight of the child is infinitely lower than the average weight for the whole country. In the matter of height the same story is told. The medical officers' report is open for public inspection, and the facts speak for themselves. The difference in height is in some cases half an inch, three-quarters of an inch, five inches, three inches, and four inches. In weight and in height the standard in a school in an area where transitional payments comprise almost entirely the unemployment insurance benefit is much lower than in the rest of the country; yet the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour are saying that those children are too fat, are too plump! The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour are declaring to the Monmouthshire County Council that under their interpretation of the means test a child in Blaenavon, Nantyglo-Blaina and Rhymney-Abertysswg is too fat, that it must sacrifice another few pounds weight in order to keep the National Government in office!
Hon. Members may say that that is an exaggeration, but those are the facts, and if we take more away from the income of their homes, will it not be true to say that the under-nourished child will be still less well nourished? It is not a caricature that I have drawn, but a faithful representation of the position, and I plead with the Committee not to allow the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour to impose such conditions upon our people. They will not be lightly tolerated. We cannot set aside public assistance committees in 1932 as we did in 1925 and expect that nothing will happen. We shall merely shift resentment from the Floor of the House of Commons to another area. I plead with Parliament not to try to build Great Britain on the basis of under-nourished babies. Try to do the decent thing. 72 Leave the public assistance committees alone, because they have a very difficult task to discharge. Let them administer the Act in a reasonable way which I am sure would meet with the approval of every fair-minded Member of this House. If the Government pursue their present policy, people will say that it is impossible to have fat babies and fat bankers. The National Government are on the side of the fat banker, and I hope that before this discussion closes we shall receive some further indication of what is the policy animating the officials of the Labour Department, and some further justification for the interpretation of their duties which has been given by the Minister of Labour.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I rise to make one or two suggestions in connection with the Resolution, which is a proposal to vote an additional £20,000,000 in order to carry on until June, 1933. I suggest that, instead of asking for £20,000,000 without knowing the circumstances that may arise, and the necessities of the unemployed, either a much larger sum should have been asked for, or else the period should have been shortened to April or May of this year. The contributions to this Debate have all been of a critical nature, no matter from which side they have come. No one can reasonably defend the conditions imposed upon the people even during a period of national emergency. The criticisms which have been made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) were true in every detail in regard to the effect of the policy of the Government upon the workers and their families.
Two disclosures have been made to-day which, to me, have a very special significance. One of them is very appalling, but I was rather delighted to hear the other disclosure. I do not intervene in this Debate in the spirit of a critical individual who desires to hammer out certain arguments, or widen differences which already exist, but I welcome the declaration made by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), that the Labour party have thrown over the means test without equivocation. Any party born of the working classes was bound to repudiate any form of a means test applied to the family incomes of those suffering from unemployment. The declaration made by the Minister of 73 Labour was that this Vote for £20,000,000 is required to carry on transitional payments and the means test until June of next year. [Interruption.] If this had been a question of tariffs, and a case of the wolves wanting to get their share, there would have been a much larger attendance of Members in the House.
The Minister of Labour, in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), told the Committee that no change was contemplated in the scale of allowances or the means test before June of next year. I was appalled by that declaration, as I believed that modification of the sufferings of the workers would have come in a shorter period, but in face of that declaration I shall reserve my energy for action outside the House in order to stimulate the working classes not to endure all their hardships and sufferings until June of next year. If I were faced, as a member of the working classes, with the conditions which they are now enduring under the means test; if I had a wife and family and was expected to bear all these hardships, I say, quite frankly, that I would go out and steal from society in order to procure for my wife and children the succour to which they are absolutely entitled. It is my belief that during the coming 12 months the Government of this country will have to adopt a different attitude towards the sufferings of the poor.
We have been told that you do not stop in the middle of a desert to deal in a drastic fashion with a water-hole. One section of society is being driven right down into the abyss of poverty and despair, and no attempt is to be made to lift that section out of the gutter. During the last election we were told that the reduction in benefits and allowances, and the application of the means test were to last only for a period of national emergency, and that as soon as the emergency had come to an end, those conditions would be eased, and the old rates of benefit paid to the workers. Are we now to take it, from the policy adopted by the National Government, that their declaration is that a permanent state of emergency has been declared in this country for the lifetime of the National Government?
I remember on one occasion, when dealing with the question of votes for women 74 —I do not intend to pursue that subject and I use it only as an illustration—my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) said that in pursuance of the desire of getting votes for women there was a kind of holy war, and that the women were entitled to destroy property in order to give publicity to their opinions. In order to secure the necessaries of life the unemployed would be justified in taking any action to bring home to the Government the necessity for a complete change in their policy. Public assistance committees are given powers which are denied to hon. Members of this House. Money is being voted to be handed out to outside sources. When I go to the meetings of the Glasgow Corporation I hear fierce discussions taking place as to what the scale of benefit or relief should be, but I as an individual Member of this House have to go to hear other people belonging to an outside body discussing what scales of benefit and relief should be given to the workers of this country.
Even from the point of view of the unemployed there is no equity, justice, or decency in the Government's treatment of the unemployed. Take the case of a man who may be a bad father and a bad husband. He will probably draw the full transitional benefit, although he may be a man who has never attempted to raise his family out of the mire, and has been unable to do so owing to his vicious habits. On the other hand, you may have a father who attempts to raise his children out of the mire and give them a chance in life, and he is given an allowance of 15s. per week. The good father and the bad father are allowed the same benefit. The good father who attempts to raise his family from the gutter and give them a chance to build up and mould their character and their mental powers is made to leave a decent house and go back to the slums or starve during the period of emergency while the National Government are in office. Some of these men receive 29s. 3d. per week out of which they pay 15s. rent, and the cost of gas, electric light, and coal added to the rent, absorbs £1 of the 29s. 3d.
In face of this, same hon. Members resent the suggestion of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street that they are 75 callous in the indifference they show to the sufferings of the poor. The reason hon. Members resent that suggestion is that they know it is true. I see on the Front Bench in this House Members of the Government who come here with the smug complacency of well-fed families, and they say, "We have a difference in the Cabinet about Free Trade and Tariff Reform. We believe that Free Trade is essential and that tariffs would injure the trade of the country, and lower the standard of life." Where is the Home Secretary to-night? Where is the Secretary of State for Scotland? Where are the minority Members of the Cabinet while the working class are being robbed and plundered? I have seen many Members adopt a callous attitude, but, compared with the attitude adopted by the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Health in this House is the most callous-minded individual I have ever seen since I entered public life. His attitude is the attitude of a man who comes down here and "Does his stuff" and moves off satisfied that he has poured out what has been given to him by the officials in his Department. But you cannot go on in that manner. If you are going to pay transitional benefit to the working classes of this country, they surely have a right to live; they have a right to expect a guarantee of the essentials of life. I could name many sections of unemployables in this country to whom you give very substantial incomes. I have no objection to reductions, even for myself If you say to me, "You have to surrender £1 a week to give to the man at the bottom of the social ladder," I have not the slightest objection in the world; but if you say to me, "You have to surrender in order to fill the bank balances of another section of society," I have the utmost disagreement with that. I am pleading now for the man and woman at the bottom of the social ladder. You are engaged in a crusade to-day, just as Herod was in his day—in a massacre of innocents. These children cannot voice their feelings here; they cannot voice their sufferings at the present moment. We are here to plead for them. You may say that you have hearts as well as we have, but I can only say that, so far as the evidence is concerned, the hearts of 76 the Members of the Government on the Front Bench are made of marble—they are absolutely beyond penetration. They are simply the envoys of the bankers of this country, carrying out the bankers' mandate.The landlord calls it rent, as he winks his other eye;The merchant calls it profit, as he heaves a heavy high.The banker calls it interest, as he puts it in a bag;But honest Bill, the burglar, simply calls it swag.You are carrying out the mandate of the bankers of this country, and you are expecting that the mass of human beings at the bottom are going to suffer under it without protesting in any way. I should not be worthy of the name of a human being if I did not raise my voice in protest against that indignity and suffering and degradation. Your public assistance committees, behind which you shelter, are carrying out the dirty work, the mean and contemptible and low functions that have been imposed upon them by you. They are carrying out that work in a manner that would befit any gangster in America who was robbing his victim. I want to point out, also, that you are undermining what has been a very stable thing in this country. You are undermining parental control. A father who has worked during the whole of his life may be thrown 3n evil days. He may be unemployed for one, two, three, four and five years, with very little hope of getting employment again, because your system is going into decay; it is simply passing from stage to stage, and there is no hope of employment for these people. Then, if his family have earnings, you take into consideration the earnings of the family, and you allow in some cases 7s. 6d. to a healthy able-bodied man or woman for clothing, food, entertainment, shelter, and everything that is required by human beings. These public assistance committees, in carrying out that work, are undermining parental control in the home. The father takes a back seat; he has got to tolerate his family because of their earning capacity and of what they are bringing into the home. The first Government in this country to carry out that process are undermining parental control, destroying the love and peace and happiness that exist in many homes, and driving children 77 out of the home in order to get the allowances that are otherwise denied. The National Government have been successful in uniting the Liberal and Tory parties, but they are disuniting and destroying family life in this country. Before God and man they stand condemned for a lack of respect for human beings.
If we are going to have a shortage, let us have a shortage for all. Let us attempt to cut our coat according to the amount of cloth, if you like, but do not allow certain individuals to enjoy the right to a thousand dinners while another man has no right to a dinner at all. These little children of the workers are calling aloud for succour at the moment, and you have had, up to now, a great deal of toleration on the part of the unemployed, buoyed up with the hope that changes and modifications were imminent. They have gained that idea from your newspapers and from your Prime Minister, although I do not attach much importance to what he says. He is one of the greatest Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes that I have ever known. He will say one thing to-day and tell you to-morrow that it meant something different.
They have been buoyed up with the hope that changes were going to take place. The Minister of Health announced here that there were going to be changes. All sorts of area conferences of public assistance committees were going to be called, and there was going to be a levelling of scales of relief. We know what that means. It means that the authority which is paying a high scale is going to have pressure applied to it to come down to the lowest possible level; that is the next change that is foreshadowed. If that is all that you have to offer to the working classes in the shape of transitional benefit changes, my belief is that there is a stormy time in front of you. I would like to see the whole progressive forces of this country united outside this House in one gigantic effort to show to you that a change must come. I live in the very heart of my division, and when I go there at the week-and, on Friday or Saturday, from then until I leave on the Monday I am surrounded by men and women coming to my door—your victims, the victims of your policy, the victims of your brutality and cruelty. For the first time in my life I have seen, within the last few months, able-bodied men crying, 78 with tears running down their cheeks, not knowing what to do, pleading for rent, for nourishment for their children; and I have seen children ragged and naked, suffering from a lack of the essentials of life.
I say to you that in my estimation you are hypocrites of the deepest dye, a gang of murderous brigands that the working class ought not to tolerate. Your victims can be counted by tens of thousands in this country. They are suffering and enduring tragedy after tragedy—evictions from their homes, ordered by the Sheriff Court to pay 10s. and 12s. rent out of a mere pittance of 23s. or 24s. Do you know the suffering that is abroad in this country, or are you like the ostrich, digging your heads in the sand and making yourselves believe that prosperity and plenty is the order of the day? I will go from this House to convey to the working classes outside your message of sympathy as a National Government. You are drawing your own salaries, and a gang of lawyers here talks of honest toil. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) talks of honest toil. If it were not a tragedy, it would be a huge joke. I am a self-made man, which reminds me of Jimmy Thomas when he goes on to a public platform and says, "Look what I have risen to, from the engine on to the Front Bench." I will convey that message to the workers—that, until June, 1933, there is to be no change in the continual poverty and continual degradation; that their women are to be crushed into the gutter without a decent garment; that their children are to be crushed into early graves or into consumptive homes; that their women are to be forced into mental institutions by the degradation and the struggle that they have to undergo. That is what you as a National Government have to offer to the working class.
Go down into your constituencies. If the workers develop real power and stamina, they will make it impossible for you to go on to a public platform—you who defend conditions such as that. The Minister of Labour may be a kindly soul as an individual, but, as a Member of this Government, he is carrying out a policy that I would be ashamed to carry out in any shape or form. I would go to-night from this House and put my head in a gas oven before I would carry it out. [Interruption.] Yes, I would destroy the life that is in me rather than degrade myself and 79 demoralise the people outside, as he is doing with the policy of the National Government. It is a national fraud. It has imposed on a credulous, long-suffering people. I say to-night that I do not hope for modifications from this House, but I look forward to the time when the working class will come and take from you every ounce of suffering that they have endured, when they will tear you out of those seats of power to make way for honourable and decent beings who will carry out a policy of humanity and equity for every section of the people of this country.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
I feel that in this Resolution to continue transitional payments until next June we have another illustration of the hopeless attitude that not only this Government, but the preceding Government, have taken towards this problem of unemployment. I think everyone is well aware that more than half the registered unemployed are now in receipt of transitional payments, and, as far as my observation goes in the county where I am a member of a public assistance committee, the number of new cases coming on to transitional benefit is something like 1,000 a month, in a not very thickly populated county. Obviously, therefore, an increasing number of helpless victims of the economic system under which we live are being subjected to the means test.
I hope that no hon. Member regards those who have to apply either for statutory benefit or for transitional benefit, or, at any rate, any very considerable number of them, as people who do not want to work. Do let us remember all the time that the vast majority of these people who have to apply for transitional payment, or who receive statutory benefit, are not work-shy, are not ne'er-do-wells, but are people who in the main want nothing so much and so badly as they want a job. That is the thing that they want most of all, and that fact ought largely to determine our attitude towards them. Because of it, the more I learn about them, the more I feel the inequity of the tests which are being imposed in some cases upon people who have to apply for these transitional payments.
I very much resent the attitude both of the Ministry of Labour and of the 80 Ministry of Health to what is being done by the committees in some parts of the country. I can refer with definite knowledge only to the area in which I reside. There we have had two small guardians committees working in mining areas, one in a village in my division and one in a small town outside, which had given 100 per cent. favourable determination in regard to applicants for transitional benefit. Here, as elsewhere, the inspectors of the Ministry of Health are busily at work watching the operations of the relief committees, and in some cases attending those committees. In these two instances the matter was duly reported to the Ministry of Labour by the Ministry of Health inspector. That was followed by the sending of a letter to the county council asking them to do something in regard to these guardians' relief committees. The county council loyally tried to carry out the request of the Minister of Labour, although some of us protested. They adopted the method suggested to them of asking the public assistance committee itself to review determinations which are considered to be unsatisfactory, by some official, of course. That matter has been before the public assistance committee, and they found they could not do that as a whole, so there was evolved the suggestion that a special committee should be formed to review the cases Which it was thought were not being dealt with satisfactorily. It reached the stage at the last meeting of the public assistance committee when no one would sit at all, as far as I was able to judge, upon the committee which is to review the decisions which officials think wrong. I can well understand members of public assistance committees not wanting to sit in judgment on what their colleagues in other parts of the county may have done, nor do I think they should be requested to follow out a procedure of that kind.
There come to us all instances where we run up against the real facts that we ought to have in our minds in discussing a matter of this kind, and I came across one on Saturday last. This is an illustration that shows the attitude of the independent man who all his life has tried honestly to earn his living, and has always been ready to take a job when it has been there. He came to me asking for advice. It is, indeed, a tragic story. He told me, "I spent 40 years in the mines and I came out with nystagmus. I re- 81 ceived a lump sum as compensation and, wanting still to retain my independence, I attempted to work a small holding. I bought some pigs and poultry, but I did not know the business, and I lost my money. I am living with my son, and I want to know what is going to happen to me and to him. I do not want him to keep me. He has five kids of his own to keep." That is the attitude of many of these people who are being subjected to this test. I am firmly convinced, from my knowledge of what is happening, that the inquisition that is being carried on into the affairs of many of these people is most despicable. I have seen forms on the back of which have been written particulars by officials of the Ministry of Labour which have revealed the fact that they have inquired into the minutest details of family life. I have seen a form on which reference was made to the condition of a bedroom.
§ Mr. R. S. HUDSON indicated dissent.
§ Mr. BROWN
I shall be able to obtain the form, and I will show it to the hon. Gentleman. If he says these officials of whom I am speaking are persons loaned by the Ministry of Labour to the public assistance committees, well and good, but they are the people who go round making the investigations. I have seen another form in which reference was made to the condition of the man's feet when the investigator went into the house, and this was the case of a miner. It only shows the ignorance of some of these officials in regard to working-class conditions. An inquisition is being carried on in some areas in regard to the lives of people who have applied for transitional benefit. There cannot have been anything of the kind since the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. It is manifestly unfair and unjust that people who are the victims of an economic system for which they are not responsible should be treated in this way. I appeal to the Ministry of Labour, who may be using Ministry of Health inspectors for a certain purpose, not to carry on these inquisitions into the family lives and circumstances of applicants for transitional benefit.
§ Mr. R. S. HUDSON
I find myself in some slight difficulty in replying to this Debate, because the subject that is nominally under discussion is a Resolution to prolong the power to make 82 transitional payments in certain cases, and hardly any of the speeches that I have heard have had any connection at all with the nominal subject of Debate. If I understand the position of hon. Members opposite, it is that they do not intend to oppose the passage of the Resolution. Indeed, I can hardly conceive anyone desiring to refuse us the Resolution, because the obvious result of such action would be that some 500,000 people, after 18th April, would lose any right they may have had to transitional payments. I hope I may take it, therefore, that we shall get our Resolution. But a number of other points have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) urged that the Government should take action on four points. In the first place, he thought a uniform scale ought to be brought into operation. He suggested that an argument that I used just before we adjourned to explain the reasons for existing discrepancies was unsound, and he adduced the fact, as he said, that over two-thirds of the actual determinations of local public assistance committees were at full rates. I think his arithmetic was slightly at fault, because the percentage is not 66 but round about 50, but the mere fact that 50 per cent. of the persons who have applied have been given assessment at full rates surely does not invalidate my argument. It merely shows that in the areas where these persons reside the Poor Law relief scales are the same as the scales of unemployment benefit. I am afraid my hon. and gallant Friend cannot use that argument to support his contention.
He went on to suggest that a definite percentage of War pensions should be in all cases disregarded but, as I pointed out as long ago as November last, the only result of laying down some such general rule would be that the whole of the rest of the pension would be taken into account, and the last state of the pensioner would be infinitely worse than the first because, although in many cases possibly the whole of the War pension is taken into account, in the huge majority of cases a percentage is disregarded, and in a number of cases the whole of the pension is disregarded.
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
Surely the result of laying down by Statute that a certain portion must be disregarded would still 83 leave exactly the same right to public assistance committees to take all the rest into account? It would not have at all the effect the hon. Gentleman says.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I am afraid my hon. Friend is talking without that knowledge of local government and of what actually happens that some of us possess. I need only instance the case of National Health payments. There there is a statutory instruction to public assistance authorities to disregard the first 7s. 6d., and the result is that the whole of the rest is always taken into account, and that is what would happen in the case of War pensions. In any case, as the result of an interview which the British Legion had with the Minister of Labour, they have laid their case fully before the Royal Commission, and I have no doubt that when we get the Commission's report we shall have the benefit of their observations on the point.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
Supposing the Royal Commission report in favour of pensions being disregarded altogether in calculations of the means test, would there be any means by which the Government can give effect to that before June next year?
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HUDSON
Before June next year, as my right hon. Friend said, we shall have time to bring in and pass the full and comprehensive legislation on the whole subject which will be necessary in view of the fact that existing legislation runs out in June of next year. My hon. and gallant Friend went on to base his argument on the use of the words "transitional benefit." I will only suggest to him that, as the Government abandoned the use of the words "transitional benefit" and substituted the words "transitional payments" to describe the payments to those particular persons from the Exchequer, the whole argument founded on these words falls to the ground. It was in view of the possibility of such an argument being used that the Government advisedly abandoned the word "benefit" and substituted the word "payments" in order to make quite clear that this was a payment ex gratia from the Exchequer to which those persons had no longer any right by virtue 84 of prior contribution. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) spoke about the representations which we have addressed to Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire. One reason why we addressed representations to Glamorganshire was due to the fact that the Glamorganshire authority had acted illegally in setting up and adopting two scales, one scale for persons applying for transitional payments and the other scale for persons applying for Poor Law relief. As the Order in Council definitely said they are to be treated the same, and there are not to be two different scales, obviously the Glamorganshire authority were acting illegally, and it is for that reason that we addressed remonstrances to them, which we hope they are taking into account and as a result of which we hope they will amend their ways.
With regard to the position of Monmouthshire, the scale to which we took exception was not a scale which, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale suggested, had been in operation for many years, but a scale adopted by the Monmouthshire authority subsequent to the issue of the Order in Council. Although nominally it was a scale which applied both to transitional payments and to Poor Law relief, it was a scale which applied in the case of transitional payments, but not, in actual practice, to persons seeking relief from the Monmouthshire rates. I may, perhaps, be allowed to give to the Committee some instances of the actual results since the adoption of the scale. In one case a family was earning £7 8s. 6d. a week, and, in spite of that, the father and mother were given the full rate of 23s. 3d. We found in another case a single man with no less than £550 in the Post Office Savings Bank was given 10s. 3d. a week. These are two cases from Monmouthshire which have occurred since the adoption of the scale. I have here a large number of similar cases, but those two will be quite sufficient to indicate to the Committee the sort of thing to which we object.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
On the major point, is it not within the hon. Gentleman's knowledge that the Monmouthshire County Council reduced their scale of public relief at the time of the introduction of transitional payments because had 85 they continued the county would have been bankrupt in a fortnight? They did have a scale before which they had to reduce but which is indeed the same as the scale for transitional payments. We have exception taken to Glamorganshire because they have two scales, but the hon. Member has not yet made it clear why exception is taken to Monmouthshire when they only have one.
§ Mr. HUDSON
Because in actual practice there are two scales, although nominally there is only one. It is administered much more strictly in one case than the other. Therefore, we object to the scale which Monmouthshire is applying with results as shown in the samples I have given, which obviously do not really take into account the need of the applicant. I will give another case of the result of the same sort of thing in Glamorgan. We found a man there with a wife, two adult children and one dependant child. He owned five houses bringing him in rents of £2 18s. a week and had a daughter earning £1 2s. At first he stated that he paid 15s. a week for his own house, but later, on inquiry, he said that he owned the house. In spite of the fact that he owned all these houses and had this income coming in, he was given the full amount of 25s. 3d. There are dozens of similar cases which show that, in actual fact, the public assistance committees are not carrying out the duty laid on them.
I come, finally, to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterle-Street (Mr. Lawson). In spite of his various experiences, he still seems anxious to buttress his case with figures. The last time we met across this Table he used a series of figures, and I was able to produce others which rendered his original set completely valueless. Let me give him a few more as regards the question of the coal trade. He tried to make out that the figures published by the Ministry of Labour with regard to the number of miners employed were entirely inaccurate by comparison with the figures given by the colliery owners. No one ought to know better than he that the bases of the two sets of figures are entirely different. The set we give are figures of persons in insurable occupations. The figures of persons on the colliery books include, for example, boys below the age of 16 and persons who are working short time 86 although on the particular day they may be out of work. For our figures they may be out of work whereas on the same day on the colliery books they may be shown as employed.
§ Mr. LAWSON
On that basis the official figures of the Ministry of Mines should be higher than the figures of the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. HUDSON
The official figures given by the Ministry of Mines are in effect higher than those given by the Ministry of Labour. The men on the colliery books in December, 1931, were 840,500, while the figures of insured persons in the coal mining industry less the unemployed were 789,700. In January the figures were 839,700 and 757,400 and in February the figures were 833,800 and 752,100. In every case our figures were less for the reason I have given, but, if you compare one month with another in both sets of figures, you will find that there is a very close correspondence. If, for example, you take the difference between the numbers on the colliery books for January and February you find in February a decrease of 5,900, while in our figures you will find a decrease of 5,300, which means that there is a very complete correspondence, although the actual totals do not exactly tally for the reason I have given.
§ Mr. LAWSON
This is an important point which ought to be cleared up. As far as I can see, the Ministry of Labour figures are in conflict with the actual figures from the Mines Department. The official figures of the Ministry of Labour are that there were 840,000 engaged in the industry in December. The hon. Member says they are only insured persons but, if the boys under 16 are included in the figures from the Mines Department, then those figures ought to be higher than those of the Ministry of Labour. The fact is that for December they were 799,374, whereas the figures for the same month for the Ministry of Labour were 840,000, so there is some contradiction somewhere.
§ Mr. HUDSON
It is really very difficult to compare two sets of figures when they are calculated on entirely different bases. For example, the colliery books do not include persons employed in coke ovens, but the Ministry of Labour do include them in the mining industry. Really, mining includes persons employed 87 in coke ovens, but they are not included by the Mines Department as persons on the colliery books.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
The hon. Gentleman has just told us that there were very good reasons why the Ministry of Labour figures should be less than the Ministry of Mines figures. Now he is giving us a good reason why they should be more.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I said that you cannot compare figures based on entirely different calculations, and that on some days we show a man as unemployed whereas on the same day he is shown on the colliery books as employed. Therefore, if you are going to talk about the total number of persons employed in coal mining on a particular day, you have got to remember those differences. I suggested that the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street might be expected to know that from his position in the mining industry, and not to compare figures which were entirely different. He went on to say that it was the irony of fate that, six months after the formation of the National Government, my right hon. Friend should have to bring in a Bill to continue the power to pay persons transitional payments. I would ask him who is responsible for the rise of the numbers to the figure at which they stand to-day, and to remember the position last year when he is talking about persons in employment and unemployed?
If the hon. Gentleman will cast his mind back to the figures at this time last year he will find that between the 29th September, 1930, and the 23rd March, 1931, when the hon. Member was in office, the number of unemployed increased by 419,000, whereas in the corresponding period, since we have been in office, the total of the unemployed has decreased by 258,000. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street went on to try and explain that drop in the figures by saying that although he admitted that the numbers had gone down on the register, the only result had been an increase of 128,000 in the Poor Law. But he forgets three things. First of all, he forgets that every winter the figures of persons in receipt of out-door relief increase between September and February. He forgets, 88 in the second place, that the figure of 128,000 he quoted relates to individuals and not to heads of families, whereas the number of persons on the register are heads of families. He forgets the most important thing of all, which is, that it is practically the universal rule among all public assistance authorities in this country to insist, as a 'condition of receipt of poor relief, that the persons concerned shall register at the exchange. Therefore, you may say that for all practical purposes none of that 128,000 increase was due to the action, at all events, of the means test.
As a matter of fact, one of the main reasons for the increase in Manchester, to which he referred, was the fact that, for reasons that appear good evidently to the local authorities of Manchester, the poor relief scale happens to be higher than the rate of standard benefit, and a great deal of the increase is due to the fact that persons in receipt of standard benefit go to the local assistance authority and get supplementary grants from local funds. That has nothing whatever to do with the institution of the means test.
Perhaps I should go back to where the hon. Member twitted my right hon. Friend with being responsible for the increase of persons in respect of transitional payment, and before I sit down I should like to give him one other set of figures. As those hon. Members of the House who were in the 1927 Parliament will remember, when the Unemployment Insurance Act of that year was going through, a calculation was made that the number of persons in receipt of transitional benefit would amount to some 56,000. Although I and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees had occasion then to doubt whether those figures were not an under-statement, at all events, they met with general acceptance, and formed the basis of the estimate. Even, however, if you admit that they ought to have been 100,000 instead of 56,000, the fact remains that persons in receipt of transitional benefit in March, 1930, were only 140,000, but by September of that year they had risen to 352,000, and by March of the following year they had risen to 418,000, and when we took office they had reached a total of 519,000. Therefore, it does not lie in the 89 mouth of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street to twit us for having to come and ask for an increase during the period during which payment may be made. The increase is a matter of some 30,000 since we took office, compared with 430,000 during the time he was in office.
I observe with some surprise that the hon. Member said that he was in favour of the total abolition of the means test. Does that represent the official view of his party? Has he entirely forgotten the statement of the leader of the Opposition on the 13th November of last year? He will remember that the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) said:I am not prepared to give people money year after year without knowing what is their own personal position; that is to say that if a person has gone out of ordinary benefit and has means of his own to maintain himself, I am not prepared to give him State money."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1931; col. 446, Vol. 259.]Is that still the opinion of the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley and of his party, or does he now say that he is prepared to agree, if a person has gone out of ordinary benefit and has means of his own to maintain himself, to pay money to him? That is the only conclusion to he drawn from what the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street has said. I venture to state that if he thinks it over he will agree that he went further than he intended.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I take note of that, and I hope the Committee will take note of it too, and of all its implications. I think that I have dealt with the points raised in the Debate, and I now hope that the Committee will agree to let us have the Resolution.
§ Mr. HICKS
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, in replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), said that on the last occasion on which we engaged in a discussion figures were advanced from this side and that figures were also advanced from the other side which neutralised the figures put forward by the Opposition. I hope that he will pardon me if I refrain from using figures and deal with the matter in a broader aspect than by merely quoting figures, which, apparently, can be made to fit 90 almost any position. I should like, before proceeding further, to refer to the last point which the hon. Member made regarding the statement of the Leader of the Opposition in respect of the means test. I listened with great care to the statement which he used, and I think that the hon. Gentleman will remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) said that he was not prepared to give people money year after year without knowing what was their own personal position; that if a person had gone out of ordinary benefit and had means of his own to maintain himself, he was not prepared to pay him State money. It will be observed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley did not say anything about the means of a man's wife, his son, his uncle, his aunt, his niece, his nephew, or of the whole family. It was not a question of the means of the whole family being taken into consideration as to the family income. He said, if a man had means of his own.
There is a distinction between the deduction to be drawn from that observation and the deduction which it, apparently, suits the Government representative to draw. There are people who have been drawing money from the State for a long time, such as the relatives of the late Lord Nelson, who have means of their own, and if the means test were applied to-day there would be no need for them to draw any further public money. I submit with all seriousness that too much political capital has been made out of the observation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley which was not intended to apply to the whole family in the manner in which means tests are generally applied.
The transitional payments—and this is where we are going to wind up, because we do not propose to divide upon this matter—are, in our opinion, woefully inadequate and made in a very slipshod fashion. The Parliamentary Secretary did not reply to the many irregularities which exist regarding the question of the amounts which are being paid and the different methods employed to assess the particular amount to be given to a recipient. Not only are we pauperising hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens, but, most tragic of all, thousands 91 of youngsters. It is typical that in these days we have experts in poverty. Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, when he made his investigation into poverty, laid down a minimum standard of life below which no person ought to go. We regarded that standard as the minimum, but, unfortunately, the dole, as it is known, is much below that minimum. If it is hard for the unemployed to exist below the poverty line during the 26 weeks they are receiving unemployment pay, how much harder must it be at the end of 26 weeks? It is at the end of 26 weeks when they have exhausted their statutory benefit that they come to the public assistance committee and ask for some assistance. The unemployed are the innocent victims of our present social system.
The Parliamentary Secretary asked, Who was responsible for the rising figures in regard to unemployment? Who is responsible? Who is running industry? We must at some stage or other definitely fix responsibility for unemployment. There is not an employer in this country to-day—I cannot mention one—who will accept responsibility for the unemployed. Someone will have to accept responsibility. The workers do not ask to be unemployed. They are willing to work. If they were not willing to work, I could understand some sort of test being placed upon them and some penalties being imposed. When you ask who is responsible for the rise in the figures of unemployment, the answer is, those who are running industry. We are not unmindful that there is a set of world conditions influencing the problem, and that it is not merely a question of the caprice of any political party. We have a picture of innocent unemployed persons losing their skill and everything else owing to the unfortunate position in which they find themselves. What your secret instructions are to the committees, we do not know—they have been mentioned in the Debates several times to-day by people who are assisting in the localities in the administration of public assistance—but we do know of the inquisition that goes on into the lives of respectable men and women, an inquisition which hon. Members opposite would resent very much if it was made into the lives of their own families or of anyone 92 for whom they are responsible. The inquirers probe into the past history, the family connections, the domestic life, the doings, comings and goings of the victim. They inquire into the circumstances of the wife, the children, the father, the mother, the brothers, the sisters, the aunts, the nieces and the nephews. They want to know where they live and what they do—I am not speaking about something that is imaginary, because I have made extensive inquiries into the sort of investigations that are taking place in the borough where I live—where they work, what is their work, their means, their beliefs, their sins, their debts, their borrowings, what rent they pay, what wages they receive, what are their savings, their insurances, their trade union benefits. All these things are taken into account by the public assistance committees when they are assessing transitional payments. There is nothing that really escapes the eagle eyes of the representatives of the public assistance committees who are going round making inquiries.
In homes overshadowed at the present time by want, poverty and tragedy, these people who are going round—I call them not representatives but spies and informers—peer into cupboards, make mental inventories of the furniture, examine rent books and cross-examine the people and bully them to their heart's content. Not only so but they make the relatives unfold their private lives. All these things are being done by the representatives of the public assistance committees who are going into the homes of decent, respectable people in this country. The men who have some standard of decency and some sort of British feeling about them and who do not want the whole of their domestic lives revealed before the committee, have to pay the penalty for their reticence. Because they do not unfold their private lives to the satisfaction of the inquirers, their case is not considered with the same degree of assistance as some others. Under these conditions the liberty of our people is becoming almost farcical. The Englishman's home is no longer his castle. It is becoming the camping ground of the beetle-browed Bumbles of the public assistance committees. The Englishman's home which we have boasted was the Englishman's castle is no longer his home, no longer sacred to himself and his family, 93 but is being made a centre of inquiry which makes the private lives of our people matters for public display, and all because they are in the unpardonable position of being unemployed.
What are the Government going to do in regard to finding employment for the people? What industry is available for them? If anyone can tell the men or women who are seeking this relief where they can find employment they will be grateful, for that is what they want. The amount of relief that they are getting is ridiculously low. I suppose the average wages of the workers of this country is about £2 12s. a week. What is the position of a man earning £2 12s. a week in regard to maintaining himself, his wife and family and putting away something for a rainy day? What housing accommodation can be obtained in these days of rack rents? With the high cost of living and other things which ordinarily enter into the life of the people of this country, is it possible for such men to make provision for a rainy day? Let them live as carefully as they can and make what provision they can, they are always within a fortnight of having to ask for one form of assistance or another. Let us consider those who are on standard benefit, as against those who are receiving transitional benefit.
I must point out to the hon. Member that no question of standard benefit arises on this Resolution.
§ Mr. HICKS
I am only using it for the purpose of attempting to show that it is bad enough for those who are on standard benefit and that when they come to transitional payment their position is much worse. Only 2s. a week is allowed for a child, but we find that Dr. Barnardo's Homes in advertising and asking for public assistance in order to maintain children state that a child can be maintained 10 days for 10s. With all their great organisation and with bulk purchasing of food and systematised feeding they say that 10s. is required to maintain a child in such an institution for 10 days, but those in receipt of transitional payment are only able to get 2s. as the full allowance for the maintenance of a child per week. In other words, the wife has to maintain a child 94 for five weeks on a sum which Dr. Barnardo's Homes say is only sufficient to keep a child for 10 days.
These things must be obvious to all of us and we must be searching our minds as to what we are going to do in regard to it. Instead of being able to offer them a higher standard of life we are constantly saying to them, "This is all that we are able to give you." The unemployed have to live. They must live somehow. If we are not able to maintain them from some fund or other we shall have the alternative of crime and immorality developing as a consequence of our not being able adequately to meet their physical requirements. I am sure that everyone must appreciate that position. The Government must regard themselves as the guardians of the people. If there is no industry available in which employment can be found for these people, then the Government must accept the responsibility for them and must regard themselves as responsible guardians for the conduct and behaviour of the people. I submit very seriously that, with the present means of relief through the public assistance committees, we are not making it possible for the boys and girls to grow up as worthy, decent, moral citizens. They will develop into crime and immorality. What is the position of a girl in these circumstances? She must live. She must be able to pay for her lodgings and clothe herself respectably. If not, she must become affected by crime, and must become a thief, or a pickpocket, or a prostitute. These people simply cannot be left to die. The conditions are certainly of such a character that we say that if there are any funds available from the State they ought to be the first to receive them, and that the highest amount of benefit we can possibly grant to them should be given.
Take any industry you like and you will find that there is unemployment. In the coal-mining industry there are between 250,000 and 300,000 men unemployed. In the cotton and textile industry from 30 to 40 per cent. are unemployed, and we all know of the great contraction that is still taking place in that industry. In the woollen textile industry there is the same condition of things. It is the same in the iron and steel industry and in the shipbuilding 95 industry. When I speak of the building industry, I would say that in consequence of the malign determination of the present Government we are being driven to rack and ruin. We have over 32 per cent. of our people to-day begging, praying and clamouring for work, who are denied the opportunity of useful employment. We are spending millions of pounds to-day in keeping people in idleness, instead of harnessing their skill to industry so that they may be able to render some useful service to society.
The means test was not introduced by the late Minister of Health but was initiated by two big organisations of employers, the Confederation of Employers and the Federation of British Industries, who published their pamphlets last year, which are easily available for anyone who cares to inquire into the matter. They made a demand that the means test should be applied, and this Government, which is their tool, their instrument, has very faithfully and effectively carried it out. I want to assess and to fix responsibility in the right place. They would not be desirous of avoiding the charge, because they were particularly anxious to utilise that agency in order to weaken the power of the trade unions to maintain their standards of living. I would like to give an instance of what the trade unions are doing to help in this great problem. We are paying out thousands of pounds in order to assist the Government. My own organisation is doing that. The Amalgamated Engineering Union in 1930 paid out over £250,000 to their unemployed, and in 1931 they paid over £327,000. One of the unions in my own industry last year paid over £130,000 to its members. If it was only a transitional period with which we had to deal and that we could look forward to a time when we should be able to have our people in full employment, we would not mind, but every day we find our unemployment figures mounting up. We feel that whatever is done in this matter, if there is a revival in industry the people who are under-employed will be able to meet whatever national or international demands there may be by their being put on full time, let alone making any inroads into the number of people who are unemployed.
The unemployed are human beings like ourselves. They are people with needs 96 and desires like ourselves. They are citizens or youngsters growing up to be citizens. They have the same inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as ourselves, and it is the imperative duty of the State to ensure that they live in decency, self-respect, dignity, health and happiness. There are 2,500,000 reasons why the State should undertake that duty. Every one of those at present unemployed represents a tragedy. They have the same emotions as ourselves. They provide 2,500,000 reasons why we should tackle this problem seriously and see what we can do to provide them with something like a decent opportunity of a livelihood. The unemployed are entitled to proper maintenance and not to be treated as supplicants for miserly charity. They ought not to be treated as beggars for relief but as the reserves of industry. Men and women with skill and brains, willingness and physical capacity to respond to our needs, ought not to he regarded as beggars or supplicants for miserable charity but as very valuable assets and reserves of industry, as something which we ought very jealously to regard, whose tender emotions we ought to protect and develop so that they may bring out the very best that is in them. We must do that if we are to take our place properly in the organisation and planning of industry.
We have no desire to-night to prevent those who are in receipt of transitional payments from continuing to receive them. We have no desire to impede any resolution going through this House for the purpose of maintaining transitional payment, but we have the desire, and we are justified in making the appeal, that those who have had the 10 per cent. cut should have it reinstated, if there is any surplus available. We protest against minute scrutinising and probing into the sacred precincts of family life, and examining every item for the purpose of bringing it before a public committee and into the light of day. We say that those who are responsible for administering unemployment benefit in this country should take the earliest opportunity of consulting with their colleagues in order that the cuts may be reinstated and that those who are applicants for transitional payment shall have their examination taken in hand by a body removed from Bumbledom.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not want to continue this discussion as I understand the House is anxious to get on to the consideration of the Grey Seals Protection Bill. I will reserve what I have to say on unemployment to the Second Reading of the Bill. I want to ask the Minister of Labour to tell us precisely what the Government's intentions are with reference to the future of unemployment insurance legislation. The right hon. Gentleman is asking the Committee to extend this temporary legislation until June, 1933, and he tells us that the 15s. 3d. scale is to be stabilised until June, 1933; that we can offer no hope of relief to the unemployed man before that date. I would remind him and the Lord President of the Council that when the National Government went to the country one of the strongest points in every industrial constituency was the temporary nature of the sacrifice that was being asked, and I understood, and every ordinary elector understood, that as soon as the nation got out of the state of serious crisis the sacrifice would be wiped out and the cuts restored. Now we are told through the mouth of the Minister of Labour that the confidence of the Government in the success of their own policy to deal with the situation is so slight that they do not anticipate the passing of the crisis before June, 1933. Is that the definite view of the Government? I would prefer to have an answer from the Lord President of the Council, as the Leader of the House, rather than from the Minister of Labour as the head of a particular Department. Is it the definite view of the Government that the unemployed of this country must expect the sacrifice, which was called for from them some months ago, to be maintained until June, 1933, and that this represents the Government's hopes of the industrial situation for the next 15 months?
The other point is this. The Minister of Labour says that this temporary legislation will continue until 1933 and will then be replaced by legislation based upon the report of the Royal Commission that is now sitting. The Minister of Labour is expecting the report of the Royal Commission to be pretty disagreeable from the unemployed man's point of view, judging by the emphasis he placed on the Labour Government's responsibility for setting it up and for its terms of reference. If he was going to 98 produce a generous Measure on the basis of this report then the responsibility would be on the Government, but the right hon. Gentleman emphasised very strongly the point that the Royal Commission was set up by the late Labour Government and that its terms of reference were also settled by them. He has indicated that legislation on this report will not be ready until June, 1933; that there will be no attempt on the part of the Government to get away from the temporary nature of our present unemployment insurance legislation until that time, when certain Acts expire.
I put it to him that this Royal Commission has now been sitting for 12 months. It has made an interim report, and we are now entitled to ask for a final report from the Commission, which was, as a matter of fact, set up as an urgency Commission to report very speedily. It was set up in response to an agitation from the Opposition of those days and from the newspapers, because they objected to the Government coming again and again to the House for an extension of borrowing powers. They said that we could not go on doing this indefinitely and that we must get on to some permanent basis. The Minister of Labour is now doing exactly the same as previous Labour Ministers of Labour; he is asking for an extension of borrowing powers. [Interruption.] The appeal to-day is tike same in essence as it was in the days of the Labour Government. It is the same in essence as asking for an additional loan, but I am glad that the Government have given up the hope that the fund is going to repay. I hope we shall also come to the conclusion that the fund is not going to repay the deficit which already exists. But we have a right to ask the Minister of Labour to get their final report from the Royal Commission set up to meet an urgent situation, which was to do its work speedily and to report speedily. It has now been in operation for more than a year and the Minister tells us that we shall have to wait another 15 months before we can get a report and make it effective legislatively.
Hon. Members will remember the great rush with which the National Government came into power. They were going to be a Government of action, there was to be none of the old-fashioned Parlia- 99 mentary Debates lasting days and days. They were going to do things, and do them at once. It was a Government of strong men, no setting up of commissions to delay things. The Government were going to take their own decisions and shoulder their own responsibilities; and were to act quickly. Now we are told that we shall have to wait until 1933 before they can put into operation legislation which they condemned more than two years ago as being unsatisfactory. I ask the Minister of Labour or the Lord President of the Council whether all this original vigour, this Government of action by strong men has all evaporated. Bas the National Government dropped back into the old traditional attitude of letting things drift along, hoping that things will work towards betterment because it is the nature of things to work towards betterment. I ask these two questions. First, is the cut imposed upon the unemployed by the National Government to be stabilised until June, 1933? Whatever the budgetary position may be, whatever rich and refreshing fruits may flow to the nation from the application of tariffs, are the unemployed to remain on the 15s. 3d. level for another 15 months? The second question is this. Is this permanent legislation, which is going to get rid of the temporary scraps which go to make up our present unemployment insurance legislation, to be expected at a reasonable time, or have we to wait until June, 1933, before anything is going to be done to regularise the position?
§ Mr. BRIANT
I desire to ask the Minister whether, considering the fact that the present position has to remain for another 15 months, it is not possible to issue some regulations which, while not affecting the general administration of the fund, will assist its smoother operation. I believe that the means test is justified, but in practice it is often found to be carried out extremely unfairly. Is it not possible to issue some regulations which might assist local assistance committees in this matter I am rather uneasy in regard to one particular matter. The reduction of the transitional benefit amongst some of the young may be justified logically, but there is this one point which I think should be considered. There has been an increase in the number of juvenile 100 criminals and there are some who believe that the reduction in the transitional payment has some relation to this increase in juvenile crime.
I speak with a little knowledge of the particular class who are in great danger of becoming criminals. They have been able to have enough money just to get along and even indulge in some slight recreation like going to the pictures, and a little money for a smoke. They have been content with that; but if you are going to put off lads of between 18 and 21 years without a farthing in their pockets, then I say that there are thousands who will be in grave danger of becoming criminals. I am not justifying their weakness. They are just reaching a stage which is called scrounging or pinching, and that is the way to become a criminal. During the last two months I have been somewhat frightened at this prospect. I do not think it is true that men have been penalised because they are frequenters of cinemas. It is not true that their benefit has been cut because of that. There is no truth in that statement but, nevertheless, it is true that many young people have absolutely no money because the figures have been cut down to the last halfpenny. I am not defending the attitude of these people. I am saying that it is a real danger to the State. I have been informed by some people, and not by those who are by any means considered to be too sympathetic, that this is the fact. The Charity Organisation Society is considered by some to be rather hard, but my information from many of its most experienced members is that there is beginning to be a distinct reduction in the balance which is available for even the ordinary care of the children. I have been told of numbers of cases where there is distinct evidence of deterioration in the children's health. I am sure that that is not the wish of the Minister or of the Government. But it is happening. I have had complaints from private organisations of people who have certain funds, that they are having to expend those funds for such things as additional milk. It is difficult enough for them to collect funds in the ordinary way, but the funds ought never to be used for such purposes. This is a very serious thing.
101 Further than that the action of some public assistance committees is such as to lead the men in a district to believe—it is so in my district—that if they get the maximum transitional benefit, in no circumstances will they get Poor Law relief as well. The maximum is 32s. 3d. for a man and his wife and five children, and no human being can live on that sum. This condition of things will result in a dreadful deterioration in the health and physique and moral of the country, and in the end the State will have to pay for that. I hope that in the meantime something may be done to relieve the responsibility of decision of some of the committees, who do not seem to be quite certain where they are. I hope that steps will be taken to urge some committees who are entirely unsympathetic to deal with this matter not only from a humane point of view, but from the point of view of the benefit of the State. That could be done without waiting 15 months for the report which has been promised.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I would not have intervened but for several things that have happened. I apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour for not being able to be present when he spoke. As on a previous occasion, the hon. Member has rested his case partly on something that I am supposed to have said, or on some particular views of mine regarding the means test. My hon. Friend who opened this Debate stated the view of the whole of his colleagues on that subject this afternoon. Therefore there is no need of another argument about it.
§ Mr. MAXTON
This is of interest to others besides the right hon. Gentleman and the Government. Does my right hon. Friend say that the attitude of the Labour party now is unitedly one of condemnation of a means test?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Yes, he did, and he qualified it in explaining something that I had been charged with, and that I am going to try to clear up. This is the 102 usual sort of semi-pantomime that takes place when the means test is discussed. Apparently the Government cannot defend their position without calling me in aid. I suppose that I am the last person that they would want to call in aid in support of any portion of their policy, but always when the means test is discussed I am dragged in like King Charles's Head. But I have my body still. The Parliamentary Secretary discussed my attitude on this question in relation to the present means test. It happens that I spoke when the National Economy Bill was brought in, and if the Committee will allow me I would like to read what I then said:I, too, have a big post bag. It comes from widows, and from ex-service men.Then I said something about the Liberals.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Yes, I will read that, too. This is what I said:Do you Liberals who are here remember Dr. Macnamara pleading in this House for those who formed what he called the living wall in France and Belgium? Again and again he appealed to us to do their memory justice, and we have failed them. To-day you are going to crush their children and their grandchildren further down. This mean miserable destitution test means that the children are to keep the parents, and the parents are to keep the children. The right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) once said that this business of making the family take care of the unemployed meant that individuals had to bear what was a national responsibility."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th September, 1931; col. 634, Vol. 256.]That has been my position all the way through; I have never budged from it. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) interrupted me one night on this subject, and I repeated almost word for word what I said last September. Therefore Ministers cannot call me in aid when they want to defend this detestable and miserable Poor Law means test. Reference has been made to the resolution passed. by the Labour party at Scarborough. The interpretation has been put upon it that it meant "no means test." I shall abide by the decision of my colleagues on this subject. They will find a means of discovering if they are being swindled by anyone who is wanting to get public money for nothing; but they will not do it in the mean and miserable manner 103 that the Labour Minister and his colleague are doing now. I hope, that after to-night the right hon. Gentleman and his colleague will have the decency and courtesy not to charge me with being a supporter of the detestable means test that they are offering.
They cannot deny that 250 of us went into the Lobby against the National Economy Bill, and we voted against the imposition of this means test, and whenever the question has come up in this House in a straightforward manner when it can be voted upon, we have voted against it on every occasion. We voted against it in September and after the General Election, and if we could have done so to-night, if it had been practicable, if we could have got a straightforward vote on the means test, we would have voted against this Resolution. On the general question I have never held the view that it is the business of the children in a family to maintain the unemployed persons in that family, that it is the duty of parents to maintain the able-bodied adults of the family who are thrown out of work through no fault of their own. It is an entirely new doctrine under the Poor Law even to impose upon the family the duty of maintaining the able-bodied members of a family.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows a very great deal about law, but I shall not give way to him on the question of the Poor Law.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The hon. and learned Gentleman should have patience. He is a Recorder and ought to know how to sit and hear evidence. I repeat that the 43rd of Elizabeth, on which all Poor Law administration is based, only imposes a charge for the persons who are not able-bodied, and on relatives, and you cannot, under the ordinary Poor Law, take the son of an able-bodied father to court and make that son contribute to the support of his father. That is the law of the country.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
You cannot. The hon. and learned Gentleman is simply not speaking what is legally true.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am not talking about practice. Practice sometimes makes very bad law, and the law at this moment is—I challenge any lawyer to contradict me—only that a person is liable for the maintenance of relatives who are not able-bodied. It may be a matter of great amusement to people who have always plenty of money in their pockets, but it is certain that no father can be called upon to maintain an able-bodied son under the Poor Law. No magistrate can legally make an order on him. But it is possible to do what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, namely, that persons who come up before public assistance committees may be told, "You are living at home; there is so much coming into the home and the people who are earning that money must maintain you, because you are living together." The committee can say to that person, "If they do not do that the only assistance we will give you is the workhouse." That is what the hon. and learned Gentleman means.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I merely contested the point which I understood the right hon. Gentleman to make, that under the old Poor Law it was not legal for a son to be called upon to contribute to the maintenance of his father.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I said an able-bodied father, and I repeat that statement. The only reason why it is important is that it is the essence of all this controversy. It is very easy for those who have an income to think that when a son is earning £2 a week and a daughter earning £2 a week, when there is a father out of work and there are two or three younger children, some of that £4 a week should be used for the maintenance of the father or the mother or the younger children. That is a gross imposition on these young people. These young people who are earning £4 or £5 a week between them have duties to themselves and to those connected with them outside. A girl or a young man may want to marry. It is easy for those who have means, who may marry when they like, to sneer at the working-class boy or girl who hopes some day to be able to have a home of his or her own, but there is another point.
105 The hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) knows that if these people did not live under the same roof the guardians would not be able to bring this pressure to bear on them at all. This policy is leading to the breakup of homes. The hon. Gentleman opposite said the other day that here in London this system was working smoothly and all the rest of it. I happen to live in an area which I think he had something to do with, and I know from personal experience that it is not working in that way. It is simply starving the people. No one has contraverted the figures given about the lowering of the standard of life of little children in the Welsh valleys. Every day you are lowering the standard of life of little children in Poplar through this starvation policy. Anyone who went through the schools five or six years ago, and who goes through them to-day, can see the deterioration which is taking place. The children have not proper boots or clothes or proper flesh on their bones. They are being partially starved all the time.
Then there is the other question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant), the question of crime. It may be of no importance to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite but for years during the War, and immediately after the War, Poplar had the lowest crime record of any of the boroughs within the Metropolis. I am sure that we are not going to keep that place because the boys and young men refuse to be burdens on their families. They refuse to "scrounge" and to exist on the scanty money going into their homes. I can give the hon. Gentleman opposite, if he denies my statement, chapter and verse as to what is going on. In London you are taking into account widows' pensions, children's pensions, the whole income of a family, and then you are assessing what you call need. Most of the young people will not submit to that kind of thing. They will not stop in the homes; they go out and thieve. For the first time for years there was a robbery with violence on the Bow Road the other night, and I am sure that it was simply because the young follows who probably did it are being treated in this way by the public assistance committees.
When people talk about the duty of the family to help the members of the 106 family, I would remind them that no people are so good to the poor as the poor themselves—and they do not want any law about it. The paltry amount which you give when you do give your public assistance or your unemployment pay is not enough for anybody. As the hon. Member for North Lambeth has pointed out, you are putting the whole burden on the family. Anyone who has been in this House for the last 10 years knows that again and again those who sat on these benches charged various Governments with not dealing with the problem of the depressed areas. I hope that one day the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be present when this matter is discussed, because he led a campaign for State grants, national grants, for depressed areas. Birmingham was looked upon as a depressed area at that time. The late Mr. Trevelyan Thompson made, I should think, hundreds of speeches raising this question. All, without a dissentient voice, then said: "Of course, you ought not to make the depressed areas bear the cost of unemployment. You ought not to make these stricken areas sustain the burden which society has imposed upon them." Something was done by the late Government and by the Government of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to ease, as they thought, the burden, and everybody agreed that the borough, the county, the parish, ought not to be called upon to bear this cost—that the nation ought to bear it.
What is being done to-day? My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) raised the point, and I want an answer to it. We are now told that the nation cannot bear the burden of unemployment; that the localities cannot bear it, and that the family must bear it. The poor people who earn weekly wages are to sustain this burden. When Lord Snowden sat on these benches he protested against that policy. It is no use the hon. Gentleman opposite trying to twist out of it. He said the other day that the income of the working-class family must be shared among those out of work, us well as those in work. If that is not putting the burden on to the workers, I do not know what it is. There is no escape from that dilemma for hon. Gentlemen opposite. They are saying to the unemployed person: "Your family must keep you." The hon. Gentleman 107 opposite tried to defend the policy by saying that those responsible for this situation were those who had told the unemployed that they ought to be dealt with in some other way. He suggested that we had encouraged people to believe that the nation would bear the burden, and he said now that the nation could not do so, these people had to bear the disappointment. I never heard such a ridiculous argument. We told them then what we believed to be true. We are telling them to-day what we believe to be true—that the nation can better afford to maintain the unemployed than Vie family can afford to do so.
The argument is that because there are so many of these people their standard must be brought down. But the amount which an individual needs is just the same, whether it is one individual, or a million individuals. The number makes no difference. We do not say to Members of Parliament: "Because there are 615 of you, you need less." Each individual man and woman needs daily sustenance. The problem of unemployment is colossal, and it is something which has come upon the nations of the world, not through the fault of individual men and women, but through circumstances over which no individual man or woman has had any control. When it is said to us, as it has been said to me many a time, "How would you raise this money?" if the nation is in a terrible plight, if it is so terribly hard pressed that it cannot pay out this money, and the rest of us get what we do get, whether it is £360 a year, or £3,600 a year, or whatever it is, I say that in a time of national crisis the whole of the people of the nation, not a few only, ought to bear the burden and to go without.
I did not intend to speak to-night, but I felt bound to do so on these two or three questions, first, as to the means test, but mainly about this shoving of the burden on to the family. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite contradicted me just now, but one of my hon. Friends has brought me the statement of Lord Halsbury, who was supposed to be one of the best lawyers of the day. At any rate, I have a greater respect for his legal opinion than I have for that of the hon. and learned Member. I commend this to the Parliamentary Secretary, because he has invented a piece of law made by administration, and he has worked that 108 administration so that you are forcing the family to do something which you are not legally entitled to do. Here is what Lord Halsbury said:The Statute of Elizabeth, which originated our system of poor relief, provides that the father and grandfather, the mother and grandmother, and the children of every poor, old, blind, lame, or impotent person, or other poor person, not able to work, being of sufficient ability, must at their own charges relieve and maintain every such poor person.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I am speaking from personal experience, as an old Poor Law guardian in the metropolitan area, when I say that that principle has been extended to these cases. Where a board of guardians has been put to the expense of maintaining or assisting a person, it has been common practice for years to put an assessment on the son or other near relative.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
All that I have to say is that there is an hon. Member behind the hon. and learned Member who has been as long a Poor Law guardian as I have myself—I have been a guardian for 40 years—and I think he will agree with me that Poor Law guardians do not assess relatives for able-bodied people. They carry out the law as it is, but I know that under the public assistance committees pressure is brought to bear on the family, and the only alternative, if the family do not respond in that way, is that the applicant can go to the workhouse. It is rather a satire on the House of Commons that tonight, when we have been discussing this question, so very little interest should be displayed, and it should be taken for granted that the discussion should finish now; and apparently we have made up our minds that we are going to muddle along until 1933. The Parliamentary Secretary points his finger at our benches; there are 50 of us, and I am quite sure that our percentage is bigger than that of the party opposite. The thing that makes a difference is, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said, that we are now told that we are to wait until 1933 before we get any relief from this; but we shall go on. I am certain that there is growing up in the country a profound disgust, not from Socialists only, but from decent men and women. [Laughter.] I am sorry if I 109 have libelled the National Government. I am so accustomed to hearing ourselves described as people who are extremists or who do not know, that I thought, if I called you decent people and said there were decent people outside, meaning people whom you think are decent, who are disgusted with your policy, it might have appealed to you a little, but, if you like, I will call church workers and others indecent people, and say that they, that social workers, people whom you all look upon as the salt of the earth, are filled with disgust at the manner in which this business is being administered. Although you are quite confident and sure, with your 565 against 50, mark my words, when the time comes, after another few months of this Government that has done nothing, and done it more thoroughly than any other Government of modern times, and when the people have had a little longer experience of you, they will do with you what has been done to similar people in the past, and that is just sweep you out and be done with you.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I would ask the Government to give some reply to one point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). Do the Government intend to make any alteration in the scales of benefit or in the method of assessment or administration of the means test otherwise than by the legislation which they have introduced? I would also ask, on the point raised by the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant), about cinema frequenters. Some of us were concerned, because there was a publication in a Sunday newspaper—I think it was "Reynolds"—that a large number of unemployed went to a picture house, and a certain notice was put on the screen, and their names were taken and their benefit was all stopped, understand that the truth of that is denied. As I have said, I would like the Minister to tell us if this Measure definitely closes the door to any improvement in the scales of benefit or the means test until the major Measure is introduced.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I rise, not to make another speech, but just to answer three questions which have been put to me. With regard to the last point to which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) referred, that matter was 110 brought to my notice in a letter, not in a Sunday newspaper, but, I think, in "John Bull." There is absolutely no truth whatever in the suggestion made in that statement. The hon. Gentleman who sits behind me wrote me upon it, and I gave a specific denial of the allegation. With regard to the other two questions which were raised by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), he asked whether these rates are stabilised for a definite period, up to June next year. Of course, the answer to that is perfectly simple. I am not in a position to say, nor is anyone else, how long this cut or any other cuts which were found necessary last September will have to continue. I am not prepared to pick out this or any other cut and say that it will or will not be stabilised. Neither I nor anybody else can say how long these very severe sacrifices will have to be borne by every section of the community.
The hon. Member asked whether anything will be done before June, 1933, and whether I cannot hurry up the Royal Commission. The Commission has had imposed upon it the most difficult task that could possibly be put upon any body of men. I say what is a historical truth, that this Royal Commission was set up, not by us, but by the last Government, and the terms of reference were imposed by the last Government. [Interruption.] Surely the hon. Gentleman is not regretting that it was set up? What I wish to point out is that the second term of reference asked the Royal Commission to deal with the very difficult question of what we are to do with the able-bodied unemployed who are not in insurance. I want, just as much as any Member of the Committee, the Report of that Commission as soon as we can get it. When that Report will come out is not within my control. I have from time to time said what I believe to be the truth, that we might expect it shortly. When it will come I cannot say, but I hope that it will not be very long now. It rests with the Commission, however, and not with us.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton asked if we are to take it that this situation is going on until June, 1933? The position is this. Clearly we cannot legislate, and it will be wrong to attempt to legislate, until we see the Report and the Commission's recommendations and until we have seen what guidance they can give us. 111 Having seen it, we have to make up our minds whether we accept it or whether we do not. I am just as anxious as the hon. Gentleman that this legislation should not be delayed one minute longer than is avoidable. I consider the present position so unsatisfactory and so chaotic that, as the Minister responsible, I naturally want the matter regularised as soon as possible. Therefore, it is not true to say that the position will necessarily go on until June, 1933. What is true is that we cannot legislate until we have the Report of the Royal Commission and until we have had an opportunity of considering what they recommend. I can only say that when we get the Report we shall legislate as soon as we can. It is not true to say that that will not necessarily be before June, 1933. That is really the most complete answer that I can give to the hon. Gentleman, who asked a question which he was perfectly justified in asking, and which I have answered to the best of my ability.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.