§ Mr. LAWSON
I beg to move,That this House, recognising the increasing gravity of unemployment and of the condition of the unemployed and their families, regrets the failure of the Government to initiate effective measures for the reconstruction of the economic life of the country and the short-sighted economy of expenditure on works of public utility, especially housing, and on schemes of allotments, whereby unemployment has been increased; and is of opinion that the administration of the means test is causing grave injustice and distress and that the machinery of the Poor Law should not be used in connection with applications for unemployment benefit.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order. There is an Amendment in the name of myself and several hon. Members—In line 6, to leave out from the first word "the," to the end, and to add instead thereof the words:institution and administration of the means test are causing grave injustice and distress, and that neither the machinery of the Poor Law nor any other inquisitorial 1698 committee regarding means of applicants should be used in connection with applications for unemployment benefit.I was going to raise with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the desirability of calling our Amendment, because we think there is a point of principle which is not involved in the Motion. The Motion does not seek to censure the Government for the means test, but for the method of administering it. I was going to ask, in view of the fact that our Amendment directly challenges the whole issue of the means test, if you could not see your way to call it.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think probably it would be best if the hon. Member raised that point with Mr. Speaker when he returns to the Chair.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The House will have noticed that the unemployment figures last week were the first figures to be published monthly instead of, as hitherto, weekly. The Government have now taken a line which has been desired by many Governments in days gone by. It has been well known to those in the Departments, and to Members of the Government, that the weekly figures, which are approximately accurate, were more up-to-date than most of the figures in other countries. It has been well known to the Government that these figures have been bandied about by other countries, and used for trade and financial purposes against us. Those of us who have been in Departments and have been abroad have seen the evil of it. Now the Government have taken the step of publishing the figures monthly instead of weekly. I make that point to draw attention to the fact that there has been no objection raised to that decision, and the fact that we have not taken any step in respect of it is proof that we have no desire to raise the unemployment question merely as a tactical matter, or to use the extremity of the nation and the unfortunate position of the unemployed for Opposition purposes. Of course, the new method of publishing the figures monthly has its drawbacks, as the House has seen during the past few days. It must have come as a shock to the House to learn that the unemployed have increased by 218,000 upon fast month's figures, and I think it certainly came as a shock to the country. The right hon. Gentleman says, of course, that there are 150,000 more employed than in this month 1699 last year, but the fact also remains that there are 70,000 fewer employed than there were in October—that is almost at the beginning of the Government's term of office.
Even the 218,000 is not altogether accurate, for the right hon. Gentleman himself has told the House that during the last three months no fewer than 130,000 people have lost their unemployment benefit, or any transitional payment which they had previously received. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right when he says some of these 130,000 will be registered. They register because of getting their health cards stamped and for various reasons but, when everything is said and done, the fact remains that 218,000 does not represent the increase in unemployment. I am satisfied, however, to use 218,000 as the minimum figure. There are to-day no fewer than 2,750,000 unemployed, that is, more than 2,000,000 wholly unemployed, 500,000 temporarily unemployed and 100,000 casually employed. With the exception of a comparatively small margin, these unemployed are men and women of the highest calibre, and some of the finest craftsmen that there are in the world to-day. What is being done for these people? I have been looking at the figures. Every good citizen desires to see some system of training, some method of employing the spare time of these men and boys, even when they are unemployed. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary the other day how the question of training was progressing, and he told me there were nearly 27,000 boys and girls in juvenile training centres. That is a great improvement, and we give the right hon. Gentleman credit for that. But in the matter of adults, they have gone down from nearly 6,000 to 4,000. It was realised when the late Government were in office that it was very necessary to increase the number of boys and men who were being trained, and we realise how poverty-stricken were the attempts that were being made to meet that great need. But the fact remains that, instead of attempting to develop this kind of work, there is a slowing down and a reduction, since the present Government took office, of something like 2,000 on the adult side.
It is important that we should know exactly the measure of the problem with 1700 which we are dealing. I asked the Ministry of Labour this week for the various ages of the people who were unemployed, and I discovered that there are no fewer than 135,000 under 17, there are 224,000, roughly, between 18 and 21, and there are no fewer than 1,500,000 under 34, and over 2,000,000 under 50 years of age. It seems to me that, whatever this House agrees or disagrees upon, if there is any imagination, any understanding of the problem with which the country is faced, any care for the country's future, of whatever party Members may be, they have to see to it that this training and general educational side of unemployed youth is developed. But, as a matter of fact, practically nothing has been done. It is difficult to get the figures, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us haw many schemes have been started by the Unemployment Grants Committee and the Road Fund since this Government took office, and how many men they employ. I have been looking up the figures, and it is evident to me that the only men who are employed on schemes of roads, bridges, and all the rest of it, are the people who were started as the result of the schemes that were begun under the late Government, and practically nothing is being done by the present Government of a remedial kind to meet the needs of the unemployed. Nothing is being done and nothing is contemplated. If there were war to-morrow, masses of these people, particularly the youth, would become important people at once. It cannot be denied that they would be fanned upon, and great houses would be thrown open to them. But there is no war, and they are scantily clad, half-fed, struggling to maintain their moral, and a menace generally to the vitality of the nation. What is the position of those who are unemployed? The Government took 10 per cent. off the very meagre sum provided for the unemployed. The only prospect that one sees is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to reduce the Income Tax by 6d. I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer speak the other night about the cost of living being artificially low. I wish be could try for a week the standard of living of some of these unemployed people. He would know then that the cost of living, in proportion to the money which they receive, is very 1701 high. The right hon. Gentleman spoke lightly of the fact that the cost of living might go up a point or two. I do not know what he means by a point or two, but it will mean very much to those people to whom a penny matters a great deal. It is hoped to get, I understand, £30,000,000 of new revenue, and I also understand that the Government are considering the possibility of restoring the cuts to which the judges submitted.
I ask the Government whether it is not time that they considered restoring the 10 per cent. cut to the unemployed, to the men and women who find life very hard indeed? I was very pleased to see that Lord Melchett in another place made a very strong protest against the reduction of 10 per cent., and I think that he spoke the mind of a great mass of decent-minded, comfortably-placed people in this country. The Government—and I stress this point because it is extremely important—,have a great majority. They may even make use of the £30,000,000 by giving it to the comfortably-placed classes, but I warn them that they had better be careful what they do, in view of the state of mind of the people of this country at the present time. Actions of that kind may have the reverse effect from what they either expect or desire.
The Motion calls attention to the condition of the people who have to submit to the means test. The Minister of Labour in January of this year told us that on 21st December there were 742,222 men and 97,000 or 98,000 women with applications for transitional benefit. These figures include the wholly unemployed, the temporarily stopped, and casuals. The claims of 683,442 men and 78,000 women were authorised for payment, while the needs of 59,000 men and nearly 19,000 women were not held by local authorities to justify payment. That is, roughly, the story as it may be told of the operation of the means test. Great numbers of men and women are losing altogether the little incomes they possess, and great masses of them have had their transitional payments reduced. Members of the House almost every day put questions to the Minister of Labour. They demand that disability pensions should not be included in the calculations, and, in fact, that pensions of all kinds should be excluded. They put fierce supplementary questions, but the Minister of Labour always gives the same answer. 1702 He says that the Ministry has a great deal of sympathy with the people, but he cannot do anything in the position in which he is placed. I agree that he cannot do anything while the law remains unaltered.
As a matter of fact, we are really addressing the wrong man when we address the right hon. Gentleman. The real culprit in this matter is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is the man who is to get the £10,000,000 off the transitional payments. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has shanghaied the Ministry of Labour and is using them to do the work on board ship. The right hon. Gentleman, as I have said, is repeatedly being asked questions by Members of the House who know of the trouble. They are receiving letters. It is not a question of protest from individuals, but of complaints from people who are being deprived of assistance. It is a matter which affects large numbers of their constituents, and, therefore, they are taking whatever steps are possible to make their protests.
It is true that the people of this country, by a large majority, voted for the present Government, but it is also true that they were misled on the question of the means test. The Prime Minister, I remember well, was harassed in the Seaham Division about this matter, and generally, with that clarity which is so characteristic of the right hon. Gentleman, he created the impression that nobody was going to lose any part of the disability pension. In the last Debate which took place, Conservative Members complained openly that even they had been misled by him. The same applies, of course, to compensation. As I said in the last Debate on this matter, a man receiving compensation is in the same position as a man receiving a disability pension. Men who have been injured in the battle of industry are as much entitled to consideration in this matter as men with disability pensions. But when hon. Members put these questions, the right hon. Gentleman always refers them to a circular sent on 10th November to the Poor Law authorities. The right hon. Gentleman does not himself know what that circular means, and the public assistance committees certainly do not know. You might as well refer anyone to those strange languages inscribed on some of the Egyptian monuments, which 1703 some of the most expert linguists have not yet been able to translate, as to that particular circular.
When everything is said and done and it is all boiled down, the fact remains that the right hon. Gentleman and his Government have put nearly 1,000,000 unemployed into the same position as the paupers of this country. The right hon. Gentleman covers up the position sometimes by nice words. It may be suggested that the Minister of Health, with his characteristic brevity and incisiveness, always says what is true, as he did in the last Debate upon this matter, when he told the brutal truth. He cannot cover it up as nicely as the Minister of Labour. The Minister of Labour, and the Parliamentary Secretary say, "We are helpless in this matter. We cannot give any instructions to exclude disability pensions. We cannot give any instructions to exclude any particular thing. Everything must be dealt with upon its merits." The test is the test of destitution, and I suggest to Conservative Members, at any rate those who may make speeches tonight and who may keep on asking questions, that if they intend to vote for the Government to-night, they might as well save their speeches and questions in the future, for the simple reason that the destitution test is the standard by which these people are tested.
Let the House note the effect which this sort of thing is having upon the people in the country generally. I have here the figures for the city and county of Bristol. On 24th January, 1931, 6,578 persons were receiving out-relief, and on 23rd January, 1932, the figure had risen nearly to 12,000. That is the result of the policy of the Government in that particular area. The number of persons receiving out-relief in that locality has doubled since this scheme began to work. The cost of outdoor relief in 1931 was about £1,800, and to-day it is £2,000.
That is only a slight indication of the fact that the financial responsibility of the Government is being thrown upon the local authorities. The taxpayer has been eased, and the ratepayer is now bearing the burden. The figures tell the story of the lamentable condition of great masses of our people, and it will be a matter of shame if we allow this sort 1704 of thing to go on. We are asking tonight that this question should be taken out of the hands of the Poor Law authorities altogether. As a matter of fact, when it suits the purpose of the Ministry of Labour, they interfere with local authorities. The Ministry of Labour say they are helpless in this matter, but, when it suits their purpose, they are not helpless. I have received a letter from a very prominent member of the South Shields public assistance committee, in which he says:Some time ago two inspectors visited the committee and, in an interview, they claimed that if a man or his wife had anything like £20 to £100 saved up in a bank, a co-operative society or in War Savings, etc., such savings should be exhausted before any transitional benefits could be awarded.I would draw the Minister's attention to that statement. It is the statement of a responsible man in that town, and it is in keeping with the general line of action which has been taken. If the public assistance committee suit the right hon. Gentleman's Department or if they suit the work of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if they are paying their portion to the Chancellor of the Exchequer they are left alone; but if they are not exactly suiting that purpose, they are interfered with. There is no consistency about it at all. The law is that the recipients should be dealt with on their merits as Poor Law cases, and they must be dealt with in that way unless the law is to be departed from, but, as I have said, when it suits the Government's purpose they do interfere with the operations of the public assistance committees. They cannot have it both ways. Either the public assistance committees are responsible or they are not, and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government had better take note of the position into which they are getting over this matter.
What is the policy of the Minister of Labour and the Government on this matter? No one knows. The Minister himself does not know. The public assistance committee does not know. The most skilled and experienced Members in public life in this House do not know. What is the story of the action of the Sheffield committee? The Sheffield committee ceased to operate. They refused to go on any furthr. They told the right 1705 hon. Gentleman that they were not going to operate any longer. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not say, as he said on the last occasion, that I am attacking the public assistance committees, because I am not. I sometimes wonder how they have carried on so long. They have had the most thankless task imposed upon them by the Government that could have been imposed upon any body of public men. The Sheffield public assistance committee were sent for by the right hon. Gentleman after they had told him that they would not operate any longer. He had an interview with them. I understand that they are operating now. Is that a fact? What did the right hon. Gentleman tell them? Nothing was published in the Press. It was a sort of secret society. The Minister of Labour is turning himself and his Department into a sort of secret black-hand gang with reference to public assistance committees and transitional operations. It is said that he gave the Sheffield committee the right to do things that he does not allow other committees to do. Is that a fact? If it is not a fact, will he tell the House frankly what power he gave them and what he advised them to do in regard to the matter?
There are great masses of unemployed men who served their country well during the years of stress. They were awarded disability pensions. Is this House going to allow the attachment of those pensions for the purposes of the Government? Hon. Members who are behind the Government, Liberal and Tory alike, must realise that if they do not vote against the Government to-night they are voting that public assistance committees should take the disability pensions of ex-soldiers. That is what the public assistance committees have been empowered to do by the action of the Government. When a question was asked on the subject, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said that to disregard disability pensions would be a breach of the law. Therefore, public assistance committees cannot disregard those pensions, and if hon. Members vote for the Government to-night, they are voting for a system whereby these disability pensions have to be taken into consideration.
§ Mr. LAWSON
If any hon. Member does not believe it, will he tell me what is the reason for all the questions which appear on the Order Paper day after day in regard to this matter? What is the reason for the indignation? In the last Debate I gave particulars of the case of an ex-soldier who had lost the whole of his pension. I gave the full facts. I asked the Minister if he intended to interfere with the action of the committee, and he said, "No." Take the question of compensation. Men are injured. One of my hon. Friends raised a very important legal point in the last Debate. I understand that, legally, compensation cannot be attached, but apparently it is being attached by public assistance committees. These soldiers of industry have a right to special consideration.
Then there is the question of mothers' pensions, and there is also the question of the income that goes into a house. In an industry like mine, that of coal mining, a man may work five days and earn 30s. I know there are exceptional cases, but in 60 per cent. of the cases in the north a man will get 30s. if he works five days. If he happens to have a younger brother unemployed, he is supposed to help to keep that younger brother. How can the House justify a thing like that? But that is what is taking place all over the country. It is well known that where 30s. income is going into house for two persons, a third person in the house is refused transitional payment on the ground that something like 30s., 32s. or 33s. is enough for those persons to live on. Members of this House may be comfortable or well-to-do, and it is not for this House by their votes to justify a state of things like that.
On the ground of administration and on the ground that a great alteration is desired by every Member in this House, the whole matter should be reconsidered. The Prime Minister went to Seaham a fortnight or so ago and met with such opposition, and had such evidence of the evil working of transitional payments under the public assistance committees, that he said an alteration would have to be made. There was a time when, if a Prime Minister made a statement of 1707 that sort, it meant that action would be taken. Does the Leader of the House know anything about that? Has there been any discussion? Has there been any move made to make a change? Surely the Prime Minister cannot make a statement like that to his people without, for the credit of the Government, some step being taken. So far as we know, nothing has been done.
My hon. Friend who will wind up the Debate will deal particularly with the question of the builders who lack work. He has intimate acquaintance with that question. I should like to say a few words on the general organisation of industry. Hon. Members opposite will say that they are organising industry by putting tariffs into operation. It is not for us to-day to argue that question, upon which Members of the Cabinet cannot agree. It is a matter of life and death for this country that there should be a proper organisation of industry. It is necessary to consider matters not only from the point of view of this nation, but also in regard to the international life. I understand that Britain is losing the initiative so far as international affairs are concerned. The right hon. Gentleman now sends a civil servant to the International Labour Office instead of himself or his colleague going. They have no policy, no initiative and no intention of having an initiative. Therefore, the International Labour Office and all connected with it is left to a civil servant, who has the thankless task of telling them over there that nothing is to be done.
The Labour Government did their best to get a 7¼ hours' convention for miners. That matter is closely connected with the solution of the problem that will be before us in June of this year. So far as one can see, the coalowners do not intend to do any more organisation. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that in this great industry, as in other industries, they should have a keen eye to organisation as well as the increasing of leisure for those who are connected with them. The one thing that this country must do, if it is to keep up the moral of the great mass of its workers, is to increase leisure, to decrease the hours of labour, and to increase the standards, in order that there may be some easy passage from the old, 1708 chaotic, contradictory industrial state to a decent and organised form of society.
I would ask the Government to take our Motion seriously, and, if they will not do so, I would ask hon. Members to take it seriously. The living of our people depends upon it. There are children lacking shoes to-day, as a result, it is safe to say, of the present policy. Ex-soldiers are being deprived of their pensions, men are being deprived of compensation, widows and mothers are being deprived of their little allowances and people who are working hard are being punished in order to keep those towards whom the State has great responsibility.
§ Mr. TINKER
I beg to second the Motion.
This most important question of unemployment comes up again for discussion. We debated it last December, and although we put up what was a most effective case, we were defeated by 439 votes to 44. Liberal Members on that occasion voted against us, probably imagining that the policy of the Government would bring succour to the unemployed. Recent events have driven some Liberal Members from the Government, and I am expecting, now that they are satisfied as to the policy of the Government, that they will go into the Lobby in support of this Motion. I can see no hope for the unemployed under the present Government. The Motion covers three important points. The first is the gravity of the unemployment problem; and it is well to consider it from a broad point of view. Unemployment is growing, and cannot be stopped under our present system. St. Helens is a glass-making centre, but invention has produced machines which remove the making of glass from the hands to machines, and quite recently hundreds of men have been discharged because these machines can produce far more than hand labour. Consequently, more glass is produced with less people at work.
The same thing has happened in the coal-mining industry. I have figures showing that in one case in my own county six men filled 391 boxes, equal to 26 tons per man, because of the machinery which is now used, whereas the average per man at the coal face formerly was 50 cwts. This means that while hundreds of men are thrown out of work, a great deal 1709 more coal is being produced. Yesterday the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) put a question as to the number of men employed in the coal-mining industry in 1926 and in January of this year, and the figures he received in reply were that in 1926 there were 1,084,400 men employed and in January, 1932, 835,700, a reduction of 246,700, or 28 per cent.; but the production per man per shift had increased from 18⅓ cwts. per man shift in 1926 to 21¾ cwts. in December, 1931. This means that with a reduction of 28 per cent. in the number of men employed, the total amount of coal produced is only just short of that which was produced when the full number of people were at work. This is going on in every industry. More is being produced but fewer men are working.
How are we going to meet that situation? Will any ordinary method, such as tariffs, help the unemployed? It seems to me that the only way to meet the situation caused by improved machinery is to take the full value of that improvement in the way in which it was intended, that is, to reduce the hours of labour. Scientific inventions are for the purpose of benefiting mankind, and should be used in that way. If it had not been for these inventions the men would have to work the same number of hours, and there would have been work for all. It is wrong to meet such a situation by throwing men out of work, because the more unemployed you have the less is the consuming capacity of the country. It may be said that this Parliament was not elected to deal with the question of production and a decrease of hours.
That brings me to the second point in our Motion, which deals with the failure of the Government to provide work for the unemployed. Again I appeal to the Liberal party. At the election of 1929 their cry was to spend large sums of public money on public works for a temporary period in order to absorb the unemployed. The Labour party when in office tried to carry out that policy with the aid of the Liberals. We had a vast number of schemes on hand. What happened? The present Government, in their search for economy, decided to stop a number of these schemes, and I have figures to prove my point. To-day a question was put by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) to the Minister of 1710 Transport asking whether certain schemes were in operation, the Forth road-bridge, the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel, the Humber bridge, and the reply he received was that no work is proceeding on these schemes. In answer to another question it was said that it had been decided to postpone, or curtail, or close down, 1,000 schemes of the amount of £30,000,000. These schemes are situate in all parts of the country. Then, in regard to the building trade, we were told, in answer to a further question, that building has been stopped on £55,000,000 worth of schemes which were in operation. If the Government will not adopt our methods of finding work for the unemployed, they should at any rate go forward with these schemes until their tariff proposals are in operation.
The third question referred to in the Motion is that of the transitional benefit, and the way it is being administered by public assistance committees. On this point I can speak with some certainty. During the Recess I went around my Division addressing meetings, and I found a feeling prevailing among the people which I have never experienced before. It is quite true that many of them supported the present Prime Minister and the National Government, believing that something required to be done to build up the fortunes of the country, but they never expected that they would be driven, as they have been driven, nor did they ever expect that they would be deprived of their unemployment benefit, as they have been. The result is that in my constituency we have a league of action for the abolition of the means test. It is signed by a number of the unemployed and several minister of the religion, and it calls upon the Government to do away with the means test as being wrong for the genuine unemployed, a test which ought not to be applied. I have also received a resolution from the Tyldesley Urban District Council urging the Government to do something in this matter.
I should like to put one or two questions to the Minister of Labour. In regard to the payment of 156 days in the benefit year, do such cases as these come under it? Suppose a man has been unemployed for three months and gets three months unemployment benefit, then starts work again and works part time for six months. He would have drawn three 1711 months unemployment benefit, which added to the three months he had before he started work, makes six months in the insurance year. Would he then have to come under transitional benefit because he had drawn six months benefit? Take another case. Suppose a person had a number of stamps and then drew six months benefit in the insurance year. Would he require to get in the requisite number of stamps before he went on full payment again? We have a number of cases showing the great hardship which exists in different parts of the country; and one of the things upon which I feel most strongly is the lack of uniformity in the payments made under transitional benefit.
To be quite sure of my ground, I asked in a Question last week for the figures of the country generally and for Lancashire. In the reply the right hon. Gentleman said that there was a slight difference in the payments, and one can understand a slight variation in different parts of the country, but the large difference which exists shows that in one part of the country they are much more generous, or that in the other parts of the country they are much more niggardly. According to the answer, for Great Britain as a whole the figures were: payments allowed at normal benefit rate were 50 per cent.; at less than the normal rate, 35 per cent. The number of cases which did not justify any payment at all was 14 per cent. In the case of the county of Lancashire, excluding county boroughs, the figures were: payments at the normal benefit rate, 16 per cent.; the payments allowed at less than the normal rate, 52 per cent.; and here comes the big difference, whereas the disallowances for Great Britain were 14 per cent., for the county of Lancashire they were 31.3 per cent.
I would ask this question: Was it ever intended that public money should be so unevenly distributed? For a man in one part of the country to be getting almost full benefit and in another part of the country for a man to be getting little or nothing, cannot be fair. Only this morning I received a letter from a councillor of Preston. The Preston council had a meeting this week, and my correspondent says that after the examination of the figures on Monday 43 per cent. of the 1712 claims were totally disallowed. That letter shows that the figures of total disallowance are getting higher. By no stretch of imagination can it be said that the scheme is working as it ought to work. The Minister of Health on 10th December last, when the scheme had not been working very long, said that he was watching things very carefully and that in the light of what happened he would be prepared to act. The things that we are bringing forward to-night should convince the Minister that something must be done.
I have referred to isolated cases, but one could quote similar cases by the dozen to show how hard is the lot of the unemployed. An hon. Member of this House has handed me a letter giving a typical case. It is that of an engineer who has been out of work for six months, but was in full or nearly full time work before that. In his household are a widowed mother getting a pension, a girl of 11 and a brother working in the mine. That man has not been allowed anything under the transitional benefit system, and he naturally asks, is that right? He says, "Here I am, a genuine unemployed man, only temporarily unemployed and expecting any day to get work, yet I am dependent on my mother and brother." I could multiply by the dozen cases of that kind. We bring this matter before the House to see whether amongst the Conservatives and Liberals there has been any change of heart since December last. No one can look upon these cases with calmness. Ninety-nine per cent. of the cases are those of men who are just as genuine and honest as any Member of the House. These men want help and succour, and they are expecting that Debates like this will bring to light their grievance and that some help will be given to them by this House.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order. Is it your intention to call the Amendment that stands in the name of myself and other hon. Members. I would submit a reason for it being called. Besides calling attention to the question of housing and allotments and the general economic system, the Motion under discussion deals with the means test and raises the problem of its being administered by the Poor Law. It does not, I understand, denounce the means test as a 1713 means test. On the other hand our Amendment raises a direct cleavage of opinion, and would give the House an opportunity of voting for the abolition of the means test entirely. Could you not, therefore, see your way to call the Amendment?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It certainly was not my intention to call the Amendment, because I did not see that it differed very much from the Motion that has been moved. The hon. Member, if called, will be able to raise on the Motion all the points that he has mentioned.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I do not want to pursue the matter too much. The point of difference between the Motion and the Amendment is a serious one. The Motion says that the means test is causing grave injustice and distress and that the machinery of the Poor Law should not be used in connection with applications for unemployment benefit, but it does not rule out other machinery being used. Our Amendment says that no other machinery shall be used as a means test, and that the test should be abolished.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I see the point that the hon. Member has raised, but he can raise it equally well on the Motion that has been moved.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Further to that point of Order. There are three distinct points of view in the House on this matter. We on these benches have a distinct point of view. The means test is being operated just now under the Poor Law. The official Labour Opposition is not in favour of what is being operated now, but it is in favour of a means test. [HON. MEMBERS; "Who told you that?"] I am asked who told me that, and I reply that the Labour Conference at Scarborough carried that against me when I moved the abolition of the test.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It seems to me that anybody reading the Motion put down by the Labour party, the official Opposition, would come to the conclusion that they were against the means test. In that case it would be only waste of time to move the Amendment.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I do not want to get into conflict with any section of the House, or with you, Mr. Speaker, but I want to emphasise one point. We say that the Motion of the official Opposition 1714 can be read in any way that suits the reader. We say that it is time the House was allowed to give a definite opinion in no ambiguous fashion against a means test of any kind. We, therefore, ask to be allowed to move our Amendment.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There is a distinction but not sufficient difference to justify me in calling upon the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) to move the Amendment. When this question was first raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), he said that he was not going to make very much of it.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
We want to be perfectly fair with you, Mr. Speaker. We do not want to be misrepresented in the country. Our point is that there is a distinct cleavage between the Motion and the Amendment. We say that the only test should be the offer of a job to an unemployed man.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Henry Betterton)
I shall refer, in the course of my observations, to the point just raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I am very glad indeed that this Motion has been put on the Paper and that it is couched in such wide terms as to give an opportunity of dealing with the question free from the limitations necessarily imposed when we discuss such questions on Departmental estimates. I am glad also that it gives us an opportunity, as a House of Commons, to face the realities of the situation. I do not complain at all of the tone of the speech of the Mover of the Motion, nor indeed of the tone of the speech of the Seconder, but, of course, to put it quite plainly, this is a Motion of censure upon the Government. It seeks to censure the Government for putting into operation measures which were necessary in consequence of the position with which the Government found itself faced. The Mover of the Motion went into some detail, and I shall do the same.
The Motion begins by asking the House to recognise the increasing gravity of unemployment. I ask the House to believe me when I say that there is no one who recognises the seriousness of the present unemployment position more than I do, 1715 and it is because I am so mindful of it and because the Government recognises the seriousness of the position, that the Government are at present passing through the House by overwhelming majorities, with the full support of the vast majority of the people of this country, a Measure the passing of which is a condition precedent to any real improvement in employment. Let it not be said for a moment, therefore, that we do not recognise the gravity of the situation. When the hon. Gentleman who opened the discussion talked about the increasing gravity of the situation, it is at least relevant to remember that during the first seven or eight months of last year—in fact, until the hon. Gentleman and his Friends went out of office—the unemployment figures increased month by month until they reached their peak at that time. It is also undoubtedly true that, had it not been for the very heavily increased taxation which we were compelled as a Government to lay upon the shoulders of the people in this country last October there is little question but that the situation would be a great deal better than it is to-day. I am not going back upon the history of that time except to say once again that we were compelled to increase taxation in the face of the gravest financial situation in our history.
I would like to say one thing by way of parenthesis. When we are dealing with the very large numbers of those on the register I should like, if I may, to pay a tribute to my predecessor, Miss Bond-field. She did what I am trying to do. She did try to develop the placing side of the Ministry of Labour. As a result, last year, with the assistance of the Ministry of Labour, some 2,000,000 places were found.
This Motion stands in the name of six hon. Gentlemen, four of whom are connected with the coal industry and are indeed among the most trusted and experienced leaders of the miners. They are, I know, as disturbed as I am at the disclosure of figures which show that there is an increase of unemployment in that, industry. They are anxious, as I am anxious, that this House as a House of Commons and the Government as a Government should do all that they can to help the coal industry. Part of that 1716 increase is due up to a few days ago to the exceptionally mild winter. Part is due to the fact that the figures in the December return were taken about the middle of the month and those of the last return about the end. Both these causes were partly responsible for the increase, but there is a cause which is far more responsible than either, and that is that the industry has been subjected to restrictions, sometimes discriminating, which have been placed by foreign countries upon our exports of coal. I was exceedingly glad, as were other hon. Members, to hear the Foreign Secretary, in reply to a question, say that it was undoubtedly true that,since the policy of the Bill was announced, many foreign countries—I could not give an exhaustive list—have expressed a new interest in regard to their trade with this Country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1932; col. 1259, Vol. 261.]The President of the Board of Trade said yesterday:I am happy to be able to inform the House that the French Government have notified His Majesty's Government of their decision to exempt coal from the operation of the 15 per cent. Surtax; the question of the application of this Surtax to other goods remains over for further discussion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1932; col. 1439, Vol. 261.]
§ Mr. GRENFELL
But the French have not increased their licences; they have only taken off the Surtax.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
The hon. Gentleman has anticipated a point that I was going to make. The fact that they have not increased their licences makes it more necessary that we in this country should obtain power to reinforce our protests by appropriate action if necessary. For this reason, in the interest of the miners, I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will give us all the help that they can to facilitate and expedite the passage of the Import Duties Bill through the House. Both hon. Gentlemen regretted,the failure of the Government to initiate effective measures for the reconstruction of the economic life of the country.I confess I have not the slightest idea what that means, nor did either hon. Gentleman do the slightest thing to 1717 illuminate the House or to tell us exactly what he had in mind. This I do know, that when they and their friends were in office for two years, the result of their efforts to reconstruct the economic life of the country was to bring the country to the verge of bankruptcy. During that period unemployment increased by 136 per cent. or by 1,500,000. If that is their idea of reconstructing the economic life of the country, it is indeed a lesson and a warning.
Then the hon. Gentleman went on to refer to expenditure on works of public utility. I would remind the House of what has happened in the last few years with regard to the expenditure on works of public utility. I have had some figures got out, and their magnitude will surprise and indeed startle the House. Since December, 1920, the capital value of works assisted by what is known as the St. Davids Committee is £191,000,000 and of that sum just on £80,000,000 was incurred since the 1st June, 1929. So, during the last two or three years, we have to an increasing extent adopted this method of public utility grants in order to alleviate and help unemployment. Since 1924 the amount spent on public works to relieve unemployment, including road improvements and subsidised housing, amounts to more than £700,000,000. These are perfectly staggering figures. In addition to that the local authorities have in the last nine or 10 years increased their total indebtedness from just over £650,000,000 to over £1,200,000,00, an increase of £565,000,000. Local authorities have been asked, cajoled, bribed and almost forced into these schemes, which are reflected in increased rates. What has been the result? The result is that, in those areas most distressed and which you most want to help, you have a burden of rates which makes it almost impossible for industry to revive in those areas. What is the next step? My right hon. Friend in a previous Government, realising the truth of what I am saying, transferred from industry a large part of that great burden on to other shoulders.
What we are asked to do now is to continue this vicious circle of increased expenditure, increased rates, and increased national expenditure. If we do that, that vicious circle will go on revolving and revolving to the greatest possible detriment of employment. That is not 1718 at all the policy which we seek. What I am saying was pointed out as a certainty as long ago as July, 1926, in the report of the St. Davids Committee, which has been entrusted with the business and duty of making these grants. In this report it says:This scheme has largely passed the period of its greatest utility, and, if pursued indefinitely to the same extent as in the past, it will be difficult to avoid subsidising work properly undertaken by local authorities in the normal course of their business, and in such a case but little could be added to the sum total of work performed in the country. In so far as special schemes might continue to be evolved, there is the further objection that they might well have the tendency to divert capital from the normal trade developments which are now to be looked for and would thus hinder rather than assist the relief of unemployment through the proper channel of trade recovery.This process of spending the money of the ratepayer or the taxpayer for the relief of unemployment not only fulfils no useful purpose, but will add the greatest possible hindrance to trade recovery in every part of the country. If you manage by your policy to get trade going to the extent that even a dozen factories or a few collieries are open which were formerly closed, you do more in a week to help to solve unemployment than you will by all these relief schemes.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Can you tell me any place where this has taken place, where work has started in factories?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Oh yes, I can certainly tell the hon. Gentleman that. Within the last few months in my own district in Nottinghamshire hosiery factories, which were formerly working short time, have resumed working, and in Lancashire there is a very marked and considerable movement in the cotton trade. What we shall be prepared to do is to consider the extension of the Development (Loan Guarantees and Grants) Act for three years, such grants to be restricted to developments calculated to increase the national revenue.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
Will the Minister explain a little more fully what he means by "developments calculated to increase the national revenue"
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Where any particular scheme is likely to increase the national income, that will be a matter for the committee to consider in dealing with applications.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Is this to be considered as a kind of subsidy for private employers or is it a new decision concerning local authorities?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
It is a decision to help public utility companies in such of their enterprises as are calculated to increase the national revenue. The last part of the Motion deals with the needs test. It says:The administration of the means test is causing grave injustice and distress and that the machinery of the Poor Law should not be used in connection with applications for unemployment benefit.It is not used in connection with applications for unemployment benefit. Unemployment benefit has nothing to do with the machinery of the Poor Law in any shape or form. What we have done has been to call in aid the public assistance committees to assess the needs of those applying for transitional payments, which is a wholly different thing from unemployment benefit. Much of the criticism which has been levelled against the needs test in this House and in the country is due to a very imperfect appreciation of the fact that transitional payments are not insurance benefit but State maintenance paid to those who have exhausted their insurance rights. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion asked about the 26 weeks. In our view, if a man has had 26 weeks' benefit in an insurance year, he has exhausted his insurance rights for that year. That was the limit imposed by Statute up to 1927. A man with a wife and two children who has drawn benefit for 26 weeks has drawn as much as his accumulated contributions would pay for in seven years. That is the limit which any insurance scheme can stand. I am speaking in the presence of many trade union representatives and I doubt if there is any trade union in the country where the limit is more generous.
1720 The truth of the matter is that no insurance scheme will stand an unlimited charge upon it if it is to remain sound. You must enormously increase the amount of contributions and limit the amount of benefit or else you must place a limit upon the period for which benefit is paid. As an example of what has happened when no limit is imposed I give two cases. These cases are probably known to the hon. Member who moved the Motion because they have been in the possession of the Ministry of Labour for the last two years. There is the case of a man who paid eight contributions amounting to 5s. 4d. and who received benefit amounting to £58 7s. 4d. Another case is that of a man who paid contributions amounting to £1 7s. 4d. and received in benefit £210 4s. 8d. If you multiply cases of that kind, and there are a great many, it will be seen at once that there must be some limit if the scheme is to work at all. To my mind a limit is an essential.
I ask the House for the reasons which I have given to assert that, if insurance rights have been exhausted, there is no more justification for paying State moneys, without inquiring into the needs of the applicants, than there is for paying the ratepayers' moneys without similar inquiry. There should be no right to pay away public money to people who have no insurance claims, without inquiry as to whether they need it or whether they do not, and 99 per cent. of the confusion which has arisen in this matter has been due to the fact that for years we have been paying in the name of benefit what is, in fact, relief and nothing more. I put this point to the House. Suppose that you go on paying, without inquiry into the needs of the applicants, money to which those applicants have no insurance right, what answer are you to make to all the hundreds of small Income Tax payers who have shown such a splendid and spontaneous response to the demands made upon them and whose incomes as we know from figures already published are in many cases very little above those of some of the people who were claiming and drawing benefit? The comparatively small amounts which these small Income Tax payers paid in January last, £10 or £15, or whatever it may have been, to them may be a serious embarrassment 1721 throughout the whole year. If for no other reason, we have no right to pay out public money without inquiry into the needs of persons who have no insurance rights.
I now want to ask the very question which was put a moment ago by the hon. Member for Gorbals and I hope that the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) who is, I understand, to reply, will give me an answer on this point. I ask the leaders of the Labour party whether we are to understand that it is their contention that State relief should be given, without any insurance qualification and without any consideration as to the means of the applicants. That is a question to which I understand the hon. Member for Gorbals and the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) want an answer. It is a question to which the House and the country would like an answer. It is the question which I now put, in the hope of getting a reply from the hon. Member for East Woolwich.
The next point which has been taken with regard to the needs test relates to the question of administration. I wish to meet every point which has been raised. I would remind the House that the assessment of need was deliberately placed by the Government in the hands of those who in our view were best qualified by experience to perform what has been rightly described as a very disagreeable and thankless task. There were three alternatives. The first was to ask the Ministry of Labour to perform this task and I ruled out that alternative at once for reasons which I have already given, namely, that the Department had not the experience and had not the necessary officials to undertake it. The second alternative was to hand all over to the public assistance committees. The third, which was adopted by us, was to ask the public assistance committees to assess the needs on our behalf. When the needs of the applicants are assessed they are paid their transitional payment at the Employment Exchange. We have taken every means in our power to ensure that what is sometimes called the stigma of the Poor Law does not affect them at all.
When this matter was first considered I attended a conference at the Ministry of Health, the present Chancellor of the 1722 Exchequer being then Minister of Health. We met representatives of the public assistance committees from all over the country and they told us that they would undertake the task. We were told afterwards in the House that the public assistance committees, having undertaken the task, would not go on, but would throw in their hands. As a matter of fact, at this moment there is not one public assistance committee in the whole country which is not carrying out the task which has been entrusted to it. I say, quite plainly, that looking at the matter generally, this administration is working far better than might have been expected. Of course there has been criticism of lack of uniformity, but some lack of uniformity is inevitable where there are different bodies administering this test in different areas. On the other hand, it is only right that there should be some lack of uniformity, because it may be that in some districts rents are higher and cost of living is higher, and it is impossible to compare one district exactly with another. I have endeavoured to the best of my ability in answer to deputations and in the circular which I have issued to make it clear that we have no desire that the needs test should be worked harshly or unconscionably or unfairly. I am glad to be able to inform the House, as a result of those deputations and as a result of the advice and efforts of inspectors of the Ministry of Health, these discrepancies have now been largely minimised.
There are, however, discrepancies on both sides. There are cases, I have reason to believe, in which local authorities are not properly carrying out their obligations, which are really trustee obligations. It must not be forgotten that, as the Seconder of this Motion has pointed out, the money involved is taxpayers' money. If the elected representatives of the people are not to be relied upon to act reasonably, the only possible alternative is to replace them. That is the very last thing that I want to do, because we want, if we can, to trust the local people, who know the local circumstances and conditions.
There are still some discrepancies arising from a difference in Poor Law conditions and practice, but I have reason to think that my right hon. Friend the 1723 Minister of Health, who sits beside me, is considering the summoning of a conference of public assistance authorities from the difficult areas and asking them to consider jointly how to avoid variations in practice for which no justification can be proved. I think that, by this means and by the effort of the Ministries both of Health and of Labour, these discrepancies are being very fast reduced, and the criticism which, I say quite frankly, some months ago was, I think, in many respects very well founded is a criticism which should not now be made.
The hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution referred to the question of disability pensions. Of course, that is a question which has received much publicity, and I have said over and over again that I have every desire that it should be treated both humanely and sympathetically. One difficulty that has already been mentioned by the Mover of the Resolution is that you cannot consider this question of disability in isolation. The moment you start considering disability, you must inevitably be driven to consider industrial compensation for accidents and such matters. I have been asked now to make another Order in regard to this matter. I say quite frankly that I cannot do that, because the Act under which I was empowered to make the Order last October only gave me power to make Orders for one month, and so my right under that Act, even if it was desirable for other reasons, has now gone.
Then I have been asked to issue instructions, and I say again that I have no power to issue instructions, but even if I had the power to issue instructions with regard to transitional payments to disabled men, let me remind the House of two injustices which might at once arise. Take three men who went to the War, one perhaps an engineer, one a farm labourer, and one perhaps engaged in some small business. They may have all gone from the same village, they may all have joined the same regiment, and they may all have received the same degree of hurt in the War. You cannot say to the agricultural labourer, "Your disability shall be taken into account for the purpose of the relief that you get"—he is not entitled to transitional payments at all, not being an insured person, 1724 so that at once, if you do that, you raise a distinction and create another anomaly between the engineer and the agricultural labourer. Precisely the same thing applies to the small shopkeeper or the man of small means, perhaps, who does not belong to any insured trade at all.
I have satisfied myself, after the most careful consideration that I have been able to give to this matter, that in the interests of the disabled men themselves justice can best be done by individual and sympathetic treatment of cases on their merits, and the public assistance committees have the necessary discretion to take into account extra needs of a disabled man. I have received several—in fact, many—deputations on this subject. I received the other day a deputation from the British Legion in England, and I received another from the British Legion in Scotland, and I am very glad to hear that they are submitting to the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, which is still sitting, their views and their evidence on this very matter. The terms of reference to the Royal Commission are quite wide enough to cover it, and, as I have reason to know, it is just one of those questions, with all its difficulties and anomalies, on which we can expect to get guidance from the Royal Commission. Therefore, I ask the House to believe me when I say that, even if one could do it, it would not be in the interests of the disabled men themselves if I at this moment promised the legislation which would be necessary in advance of the Report, which I expect to receive about Easter.
I think it was the hon. Member who seconded the Resolution who referred to the last election. We, on this side of the House, have an immense majority, and to my mind that very fact places an additional responsibility on the Government and a special responsibility on the Minister of Labour, and of that responsibility I am very conscious. But I cannot agree with the hon. Member who seconded the Motion that the electorate were misled.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Then there is certainly no justification for the statement, because now there is a personal 1725 responsibility in the matter. The Order under which this means test was to be imposed was issued to the public on the 19th October, and the election took place, I think, on the 27th October, and all over the country this question of the means test was one of the principal issues which was fought. Furthermore, in order that we might not render ourselves liable to a charge of having deceived the people, we actually put into operation the cuts which we found it necessary to impose about 10 days before polling day, so that it is clear that those who voted for us in such large numbers did so—
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
On a point of Order. The means test was not put into operation until after the election, though, it is true, the Anomalies Act was.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I can answer the hon. Member. The Order was issued on the 19th October, and it stated that there would be a means test. It is true that the means test did not begin to operate till afterwards, but none the less it was brought to the notice of the country. Surely the deduction that we may draw is this, that the people of this country were thinking far less of means tests, doles, and benefits than they were looking to a party and to a Government which would restore that confidence which is absolutely essential if trade is to recover at all, and they were looking to the Government to take such legislative measures as would be necessary to that end.
Some of the figures in support of what I say are really very remarkable. In several of the large towns in England the numbers of those on the unemployed lists last October were considerably higher than the whole vote polled in favour of the opponents of the National Government. Take Blackburn. There were 33,700 on the unemployment register at that date, and the total number of votes polled for the opponent of the National Government was 25,643. Take Oldham, with 38,000 on the register, and the vote polled for the opponent of the National Government was 28,629; and so on at South Shields and Sunderland. That, to my mind, conclusively 1726 points to the fact that it was that to which the people were looking, namely, a Government which would restore confidence and give them a chance in their own industry to earn wages at their own trade.
Now I will say a word in conclusion. I am not going to put this case too high, because I do not believe in doing so, but I believe there are signs at this moment of a returning confidence, and I get that impression from such symptoms as an increasing inquiry by foreign firms to set up factories in this country. But I do say this, that if you regard the position as it was last August and consider what our prospects are to-day, it is clear that we are gradually, painfully, and very slowly surmounting some of those difficulties which last August seemed absolutely overwhelming, and with a balanced Budget, and with the determination of all sections of the community to face up to realities, the failure to do which in the past has been so largely the cause of our troubles, we can look forward to the future with a good deal more confidence than at that time seemed possible.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that, having heard the Minister, at least you will be able to reconsider your decision not to call the Amendment on the Paper. We are discussing a Motion in the names of six Members of the Labour party, and that Motion, to me, shows three different points of view, or rather, in reality, only two. One point may be sub-divided into two, and there is another point in direct cleavage from the other. This Motion seems to me to be remarkably worded. I should have thought that those who occupy the Labour benches would have thought that the means test itself was so grave, was so important, was so above almost every other human issue that their Motion would have dealt with the means test and faced up to that issue alone. Instead of that, we are not faced in this short Debate with a Debate on the means test, but with a Debate on housing, on allotments, on roads, and on the reconstruction of our economic life, in addition to the operation of the means test. What is the reason? The last part of the Motion says that 1727the means test is causing grave injustice and distress and that the machinery of the Poor Law should not be used in connection with applications for unemployment benefit.Let the House note that the Motion does not say that the means test is bad. It is causing great distress, but why mix it up in the Motion with other things? The Labour party—and it is time that this was said—are doing what has already mislead thousands, this is, clothing their language and using phrases so as to leave people wondering so that later on they may say that something else was meant. That is what is intended by the form of this Motion. Do the Labour party intend to abolish the means test entirely? Do they want to take it away in every conceivable respect? I ask the right hon. Gentleman who leads the party if he wants to do that? I think that I do him no injustice when I say that he says that if a man who had drawn his insurance benefit came to him—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The hon. Member had better quote what I said. I said nothing about unemployment benefit.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
If he had exhausted his right—that is what I intended to say. If he had exhausted his right to insurance benefit, and if it could be proved that he had a personal income, the right hon. Gentleman said he would be no party to paying him benefit from the State. That is not, I think, an unfair interpretation of what the right hon. Gentleman said. That is a means test. Hon Members may sneer at it, but it is a means test. Does the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who made such an able speech, deny that that is a means test? Is it not a fact that after I asked a question at the party's secret meeting upstairs, some Members were annoyed at it but that the majority defeated them because they want a means test? Will the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister who is to reply tell me, if that be the test for the individual, what is to be the individual's income before he gets benefit when he has exhausted his right? Is it to be £2 a week, £3 or £1? Will they tell the country, because the country is entitled to know. The Labour party, when I asked a question about it, indignantly denied the means test, but that is the means test. In the Education Bill 1728 dealing with children they tried to force through the House a miserable, contemptible means test.
According to this Motion, the Poor Law is to be taken away. Who is, then, to administer the means test and to do the investigating? Until the present Government took office, the Employment Exchanges never possessed the right to investigate the incomes of people. Am I to understand that what is to be done now is to take the power away from the Poor Law and to give power to the members of a Government Department to investigate the means of other people? That is what this Motion says. If you do not have the Poor Law, you must have a, Government Department, and you are now wanting to turn the exchange authorities into Poor Law authorities. If I have to choose between a Government servant and a local man subject to election, who has to face the electors, who has a shop in the division, or who is a trade union official, or who works and lives in the locality, I would choose the local man, although it would be a miserable and shocking choice. The language of the Motion is contemptible because it is misleading to the poorer section of the community. It is similar language to that of the Anomalies Act. That Act was intended to get at the dentist's wife, the £7 a week week-end worker and such classes, but it actually hit others. What is being done under the Anomalies Act is worse than the means test. Take the treatment of the servant girls. Under the means test a man gets his benefit, but what do they do with the servant girls? Such a girl pays every week, and you give her benefit under the Labour Government Act during the season when she does not need it and when she can get a job. Then, when the season is finished and she needs it, you do not give her benefit, although she has no means and she has paid her insurance. I know that you will tell the old lie that it is due to administration.
In the Division of the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) is the case of a woman who had 87 stamps in two years and three months. I took the case to the umpire and she was turned down under the Labour Government Act. You say that it is the administration of the Act. I always think that they have more of the burglar mind than the burglar; 1729 they are always looking for a way out. Although she has 87 stamps, the means test is not even given to this girl. She is just refused benefit. She belongs to the type of servant girl who goes to the seaside—decent, clean, prim and honest, and yet you deprive her of an income entirely under this Act. If the Labour party mean a means test, why do they not say so? The country and every section of the community have a right to know how they would deal with it and administer it. It may be said that I want to run it on a family basis. Under the Anomalies Act, 165,000 persons were dismissed from benefit, yet each one had stamps to his credit; and yet it was said that that Act was only intended for the £7 a week person.
As a matter of fact, once you start a means test, you cannot draw a dividing line. You cannot say that the individual is to be treated apart from his family. If a man has £2,000 in the bank, it brings him in £2 a week, and he is to get nothing. Another man, however, has four sons working earning £3 a week, and he is to get it because the means test is not on a family basis. One man puts his money in the bank and another may have invested money in the education of his family. They are both investors, and you cannot differ between them. Take the soldier's pension. The man with a pension of £2 a week, I understand, is to be exempt, but what about the poor devil who does not get a pension, but who fought in the War for four years and came out battered and bruised and should have a pension and does not get it? What about him. The case for the means test is no case at all. Let the Labour party stand in their place and say what they would not say at Scarborough, that they are not in favour of a means test. Let them turn it down deliberately, and say that they speak the mind of Arthur Henderson and of Mr. Greenwood. Let them say that that is what they stand for. If it is not what they stand for, let us know definitely for the sake of the millions who contribute to the Labour movement. I am chairman of a trade union. My union contribute to the movement, and they have a right to know. Let Members on the Labour benches drop their phrases about what they mean and what they do 1730 not mean and come down to definite facts. What is the charge against the colleagues for whom I am speaking? That we are visionaries—not definite enough—that our heads are in the clouds. What do they themselves mean? Let them get down to it and tell us what their means test means. Let them tell us they are for a means test, if they are for it, tell us their scales, who will administer it and the type of relief to be given.
I want to deal with the Government. In my view there is no defence of this means test. An hon. Member spoke of a man who had paid in £1 and drew out £200. Good God, that is nothing! I expected he would find something worse. Does not the criminal crack cribs and cost the country £500? Do not things of that kind run through the whole strata of society? One person dies and never draws a penny of Poor Law relief while another person draws thousands of pounds in Poor Law relief. In the dreadful social conditions we have got things like that do not matter greatly, if they enter into the account at all. I want to consider the means test from a point of view with which the Minister did not deal. I am not going to deal with ex-soldiers' pensions. I think the ex-soldier ought to draw his pension and his unemployment benefit. I want to deal with it from its most cruel aspect—the family life of our people. It may be said by the Minister "We must do this in order to save money." Let me remind my colleagues on the Labour Benches that under their plan they intended to save £8,000,000 on transitional benefit. Over in Transport House, when I questioned the then leader of the party, he said that different conditions would have to apply when men came on to transitional benefit. I want to know what the different conditions are.
We are told there is to be a saving of £10,000,000, and that it is necessary, but I would put it to the Minister that it is not all saving. Alongside of it there is a debit balance that may not show itself at the moment but will show itself sooner or later. Take the case of an ordinary family, with the father out of work, and a son, who is earning, living at home. I have such a case in my pocket now, where the son earns 30s. and there is a sister and there is a child of the sister. The father and the daughter are assessed 1731 to receive 23s. 3d. a, week and the child 2s., making 25s. 3d., the son earns 30s. and they get 10s. 3d. a week on his 30s. Out of his 30s. he has to pay his card, his insurance, in addition to his own cost of living. What happens to that fellow? He throws in his hand. He refuses to stay at home. He says: "Good God, I cannot live; I am going out," and he leaves his parents. "Ah," says the Minister, "if he does it, then we will take Steps, maybe, to stop him," but, in effect, they cannot stop him. If he is mean, if he leaves his parents, then instead of their receiving 10s. 3d. per week they will receive from the Poor Law authority 25s. 3d.
Is there any defence for a system which so penalises a man who lives at home with his parents? After all, a young working-class man has a right to save to be married, and it is a good social law that when he is married he should make provision for his wife and children. One would think that under this Bill it was held to be possible to stop the ordinary social movements of life. This Bill does not stop marriage. The young man sets out on his married life, and if he comes from poor people he does so without a single penny piece to provide for his future wife and child. This means test, looked at from any angle, is a fearful attack on the family life of the poor. In the old days, when they were up against it, they used to crowd together, live in crowded homes in order to save the extra shilling or two of rent, but even that has been stolen from them here. And now the most ghastly thing of all. A dozen of my constituents are at Shanghai, in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, every one of them ready to die for this country. Not one of them is related to me or to any man on the Labour benches, and they are terribly poor people, but there they are, fighting for us, dying for us; and while they are out there you are pinching the few "bobs" they send home to mother and father. Is there anything more cowardly and contemptible? A constituent of mine now in Shanghai is sending to his grandmother 5s. a week, and it is all taken off her—and he might die for this country tomorrow! That is your means test! He would be a dirty hound if he did not send the 5s., but if he kept it the grandmother 1732 would get 5s. That is what we are bought down to.
An hon. Member on the Labour benches pleaded with the Liberals to vote with them. They will not. They are united—only differing from the Government on problems which do not affect the workers in vital details. Whenever it comes to a lowering of standards they are united. I look with amazement on the action of the Prime Minister, the Lord Privy Seal and the Colonial Secretary. Everything they have got came from these poor people, and to-day they repay them with a cowardly and contemptible standard of life. I wish I could get the Minister of Labour to see into the homes which he is doing down—I wish he could see inside, into the hearts of the people. The doctoring profession, to their credit, are being sweated without payment. They must attend the children, yet they cannot get money. That is the sorry pass to which Britain has come. It is said that these people voted for the present Government. Why did they vote for the National Government and against Labour? There are two outstanding reasons. One, they wanted work, and thought that if they put the present Government in power it would give them what the other Government did not give them, a job. At the end of four months their jobs are further away than before. Even the Home Secretary says the policy of the Government will not bring more jobs. That is the Home Secretary—on tariffs! Therefore, they are not getting what the Government promised them—a job. Instead they are being attacked by this other method.
The other reason why they voted for the National Government was disillusionment about the Labour party, which had not fulfilled their expectations. Those were the reasons why this Government were elected, but I say to the Minister of Labour that he is getting no credit in his post. He is responsible to-day for debt, for disease, for ill-health. People cannot live without food and without clothes. In a bad winter you have deprived men, women and children of the necessaries of life. You will carry your vote. You have got behind you a great galaxy of talent, and associated with you are men who have sold the working people. But I will not wish you joy. You have the office and you have the distinction, but alongside of that you will have 1733 a record of brutality, cruelty and death never borne by a Cabinet Minister before.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
In rising to discuss this Motion I propose to confine myself, mainly, to the latter part of it. As hon. Members have pointed out, it is really in three parts. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), in his very eloquent and forceful speech, wished to know whether the Opposition are in favour of continuing the means test in any form or to do away with it entirely. A great deal of his speech seemed to be devoted rather to the censure of the Opposition than the censure of the Government. I am not clear whether the third part of the Motion is merely a condemnation of the means test as a whole, or whether it is the administration of the means test which is being condemned. It says the House is of opinionthat the machinery of the Poor Law should not be used in connection with applications for unemployment benefit.There are only two alternatives—either to use in the main the machinery of the Poor Law for assessing means or that the Ministry of Labour should assess means. This Government, of which I am a supporter, was returned to deal with the general financial situation of the country. One of the worst and most dangerous aspects of the financial situation was the terrific debt on the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and the fact that it was running into debt at the rate of an enormous sum every week. The last Socialist Government brought in a modest Measure to correct some of the anomalies, but it was merely a drop in the ocean. The National Government, when they were returned, were determined that the existing situation could not and should not be allowed to continue. They decided that it was absolutely necessary to separate the Unemployment Insurance Fund from the transitional payment scheme. It is obvious that if an insurance fund is to remain solvent, it can only provide benefits up to a limited extent, and when the people have exhausted the benefits to which they are legally entitled under the Acts, it is impossible to continue to pay benefits without the fund becoming completely bankrupt, as it in fact was, and has been for many months.
The suggestion has been made that the Ministry of Labour should be responsible for the administration and the assessing of the needs under the recent Act. I 1734 believe that if the Ministry of Labour had arrogated to itself the assessing of the means test, it would have been subjected to criticism as violent, if not more violent, than has arisen because of the present system, by Which the public assistance committees all over the country assess the means test. It would have been said that the Ministry of Labour was too hidebound, and was endeavouring to obtain what, perhaps, I may call a super-unity all over the country, and that therefore the individual needs of certain districts which were more needy than others, were being ignored, in the endeavour to get some form of complete and soulless form of bureaucratic uniformity. I think we should have had it, if the other system had not been adopted. There was another reason why the Ministry of Labour was not solely responsible for the assessing of the needs, and that is the very important question of staff. Undoubtedly, if the Ministry had decided to take over those functions, an enormous increase of staff would have been necessary, a practically duplicated staff. One of the main functions which the National Government were returned to carry out, was the reduction of expenditure and staff wherever possible, while obtaining the maximum of efficiency.
I believe that the public assistance committees have a very wide experience, extending over many years. I believe that those committees consist, in the main, of very loyal, public-spirited and hard-working men and women, who are determined to do their utmost to see that hard cases are not too unfairly dealt with, and to do the best they can to administer the Act as it stands, with the utmost fairness. There are undoubtedly, and there are bound to be, inequalities. As the Minister pointed out just now, each district varies from the next district, because of the cost of living and so on; not only each family, but each individual case varies from the next case. No two cases are exactly alike. There are bound to be inequalities, and a certain number of injustices, even. One must look at the main operation of the scheme. It is not fair to level at the Minister, or at the public assistance committees, accusations that the Act is being unfairly administered, because of a comparatively small number of admittedly hard cases, when the mass of evidence shows that the Act is being very fairly administered, and that 1735 the public assistance committees are carrying out their functions extremely well, as one understands, in spite of many reports to the contrary.
We have heard a great deal on the subject of the disability pension, and remarks that have been made from the other side are indications that hon. Members opposite think that we on this side have not the cause of the ex-service man at heart. Judging from one's own personal experience, I think there is at least as much sympathy with the ex-service man on this side of the House as on the opposite side, if not more.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
What is sympathy worth? You have to do your utmost to try to administer the Acts which are in existence, so that the ex-service man, wherever possible, has, as he should have in my opinion, a preference, but, taking the broad principle, it is absolutely necessary that we put the national interest paramount and the good of the whole of the country first, while the good of any section, however important that section may be, must be subordinated to the general considerations which are of such enormous importance at the present time.
An Amendment was put forward and was not permitted, but the hon. Member for Gorbals gave utterance to his opinions in a speech. It was the usual argument for work or maintenance. There are two main extreme views on that. You have the laissez faire policy of simply letting every individual look after himself and the devil take the hindmost, and you have the other school of thought, represented by the views of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. The true function of the State is something between the two. It is impossible to maintain seriously that the State's function is to provide work or maintenance at the full rate of wages. It is not fair to the men who are in employment, and it is absolutely and totally impossible under the present conditions. It is equally unwise and inhumane to maintain, in accordance with the system which has been adopted in America, that the State should do nothing.
1736 The truth is between the two. The State should do everything in its power, not to make employment by an enormous extension of public works, but to help employment; and, particularly, it should do nothing to hinder employment by unwise and extreme expenditure or rash actions which will cause the industrial community of the country to lose confidence in the Government. If there is, as there is bound to be at the present time, a great deal of unemployment in the country, the State has to help, to the extent which it considers wise, to mitigate that unemployment, but it cannot go beyond a certain measure. It must absolutely restrict its intervention in helping the unemployed to the means that it has at its disposal, and it is quite clear that the Government which is now in power was returned in order to stop, once and for all, that system which had been getting worse and worse, more and more pronounced, during the last few years—the system of providing doles for everybody, irrespective of the insurance scheme or anything else, or, in other words, providing State relief on a large scale.
It is essential to distinguish between the Unemployment Insurance Fund and State relief, and to see, when unemployment benefits are exhausted, that every possible care is taken to examine into the actual needs of applicants for insurance benefit, to see that they really need it. That does not mean that we are in the least unsympathetic towards the very serious and hard cases which are at present being dealt with, but we have to remember that, if we are to remain solvent as a State, we can only go so far and no further, and that, therefore, we must see to it that we cut our coat according to our cloth. This country is now, and has been for some years, in the position of an old firm. We all know the kind of firm which has a big capital, which has had large reserve funds which it has built up during prosperous years, which is efficient up to a point, but which is old-fashioned in its methods. Sooner or later such a firm comes up against increasingly severe foreign competition, and, when the pinch comes, it finds that it can no longer carry on its old prosperity. It begins to dismiss staff, it begins then to live on its reserve funds, and, when the reserve funds are exhausted, it starts to live on its capital, 1737 or, in other words, to live on its fat. That is precisely what this country has been doing for several years. There has been severe competition from the foreigner, and we would not take steps to protect ourselves. We have, in short, been living on the capital we have invested abroad, which has been accumulating as the result of years of prosperity and the efforts of our ancestors. The pinch has now come, and we have to meet modern competition with modern methods. This Government was returned to meet that competition. Other countries protect themselves, and we have passed two Measures of extreme importance in order to protect our industries. What we want to do is to substitute work for doles, and it is for that object that we have passed those two Measures, which are already beginning to show their effects. It is with that object, also, that the Measure which is at present before the House of Commons has been brought in. I feel convinced that the supporters of the National Government should do everything in their power to carry it through at the earliest possible moment, and to carry out, also, the mandate with which we were returned, namely, to prevent and stop unconsidered expenditure, which lowers not only our power of resistance to the present depression, but the determination of our people.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
We on these benches have been invited by Members of the Labour party to join them in the Lobby to-night, for the peculiar reason that they carried out our unemployment policy when they were in office. Our whole quarrel with them is that they failed to carry out our unemployment policy, and that is why they suffered the great crash at the last election. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the sentence in this Motion which condemns the Government for not having produced plans to restore the economic life of the nation. There is a danger of our eyes and ears becoming dimmed and dulled to this problem of unemployment. When the unemployment figures were round about 1,000,000, Members in all quarters of this House were seriously alarmed about it. They said that such a situation could not go on; they produced programmes and made pronouncements; and they even got angry with one another in this House. But, as the figures have 1738 mounted, 100,000 upon 100,000, there seems to have been a growing atmosphere of unreality about our debates, a creeping paralysis of hopelessness. We begin to look back to the time when we had 1,000,000 unemployed as a sort of golden age. We look back to 1929 and call it a boom year. We look back upon 1,000,000 unemployed almost as incredulously as, during the carnage of the Somme battles, we looked upon the losses in the South African War. Unemployment in the last three years has increased two and a-half times, but I wonder whether we are two and a-half times as much concerned about it as we were then.
I rise to ask the Government, as scores of Members have asked them in the past in dozens of debates, what is their long-term policy on unemployment? I know that I shall be told, as we have been told by the Minister of Labour to-night, that it is the Tariff Bill. But some of the chief sponsors of that Bill from that bench have been careful to tell us that the primary object of the Bill is not employment, but revenue. How many men is it expected to put into employment? We have been told that it will bring £30,000,000 into the Treasury, but we have not been told how many men it will take off the dole. The results of the Abnormal Importations Bill give us cold comfort in this matter. We Free Trade supporters voted for the Abnormal Importations Bill. Admittedly the bulk of this post-Christmas unemployment is seasonal, but it is a little alarming that the seasonal increase in unemployment this year is greater than in the last two previous years. I have taken the trouble to compile the figures. In the corresponding period in 1930 it was 187,000, in 1931 it was a trifle less—184,000—this year the increase is 218,000–34,000 more than last year. I do not want to press these figures. It is not the time to approve or condemn the Abnormal Importations Bill, because it has not been given a chance, but I suggest that these figures support the thesis that, if imports are restricted, the volume of trade is restricted and, if the volume of trade is restricted, unemployment increases. We Liberals have been told that we do not move with the times, nor apparently do the laws of arithmetic.
But, even supposing the Protectionists are right—and we Free Traders from the 1739 bottom of our hearts hope they are—and this Bill is an important contribution to unemployment, what are the Government going to do next? After Protection what next? Surely Protectionists do not hold the view that, once they put a tax on imports, they can leave the rest to fate. We Free Traders have tried to act up to the belief that Free Trade is not enough. Is it not equally important that Protectionists should make it their axiom that Protection is not enough? The Prime Minister promised any and every Measure, including tariffs, to deal with the emergency. We have had tariffs. When are we going to have "any and every measure," and what are they going to consist of?
At present we are engaged in giving out-relief to industry on a gigantic scale. Our postbags are full of letters about pensions and unemployment insurance in one form or another. Now, in addition, we are getting letters from industry asking for just the same kind of treatment. Ever since this Parliament began every conceivable industry, by letter, by telegram, by memorandum, by corporeal presence has asked the Government, What are you going to do for us? Is it not time the Government said to industry, What are you going to do for yourselves? When individuals are given relief, they have to satisfy the authorities that they are genuinely seeking work. Is it not reasonable to expect that industries, when they are given relief out of taxation, should have to satisfy the Government that they are genuinely seeking reorganisation in return for tariffs and that it should be an undertaking on the part of industry to spring clean itself in an effort to substitute co-operation for the old outworn practices of individualism, a greater expenditure on research, and the establishment wherever possible of industrial councils?
Most of all, I should like to see accompanying this Tariff Committee a Development Commission on the lines that the Liberal party laid down in Britain's Industrial Future. The Attorney-General laughs, but I think there is a great deal of support for the recommendations of that book in all parties. When I was listening to the speech of the Home Secretary a week ago, I heard among the older Members of the House a continuous 1740 muttering: "He is living in 1852." What we should like to see is some indication that those who interrupted are living in 1932. It would, of course, be absurd to censure the Government for not having reconstructed Great Britain in five minutes. The official Opposition have least right of all. For years they have been saying the capitalist system is done for. Some of them, particularly those who sit below the Gangway, have been trying, by piling on to it doles and pensions so that it creaked and groaned under the strain, to hasten the collapse of the capitalist system. Last August the capitalist system was threatened with collapse, and then hon. Members opposite discovered that they had nothing whatever to put in its place and they ran away and left office. They talk now about the reconstruction of industry. In the election, the chief item of their programme was bigger and brighter doles.
§ Mr. LANSBURY indicated dissent.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
I can only point to the posters in my constituency; I expect they were in other constituencies as well. I think they were issued by the Labour Central Office. My opponent placarded the hoardings with, "Vote for Labour. You may be unemployed yourself one day." In the language that we use in this House, I should like to have moved after the word "Labour" to insert the word "and," and then I should agree.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
I will try to explain it to the right hon. Gentleman when we meet again in the Lobbies. I have faith in the National Government because I believe, once this wretched tariff is out of the way, it will return to the task for which it was given this enormous majority, and I am fortified in that belief by the recent speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who has a power second only to the Lord President of the Council of interpreting the spirit and the ideals of the younger men in the House and, through them, of the electors who sent us here. This is what he said in his first speech on the Tariff Bill:The House is hungry and longing to get on to the greater problems before us."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1932; col.392, Vol. 261.]1741 It is hungry to get on with far more important problems than tariffs. We are hungry. Can the Government tell us how soon and to what extent our hunger will be appeased?
§ Mr. LOGAN
I have listened with amazement, and not a little amusement, to the speech of the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays), who reminded us on this side of the House that the Labour party in their years of office had done nothing whatever in regard to the problems of the day. We had two years as a minority party, with the most uncertain quantity of a Liberal party of misnomers sitting on those benches who were as fickle as a mistress in regard to the questions of the clay. Now we find, when we come forward with a Vote of Censure in regard to unemployment, that from the Liberal party, of all parties, small though they may be, and with that effrontery that can only be shown by Members of the Liberal party in the National Government, we have to receive abuse. The hon. Member for North Bristol told us that he has received communications, and that his mail-bag is full of circulars and memoranda, and that, in fact, corporal punishment is likely to be administered. I do not know whether there is any alliance or association between corporal punishment and corporeal works of mercy. Whatever may be said about the National party—God knows that it has a name, and I will not take it from it; I am not able to interpret or define what is meant by it—I hope that the hon. Member for North Bristol will remember the corporeal works of mercy. I believe that it can be said in regard to the corporeal works of mercy that "Feed the hungry," "Clothe the naked," "Visit the sick" and "Bury the dead" are essential attributes in all good society. Are they the only class who believe in administration under the four heads which I have just enumerated?
You are back to the old system of the Poor Law. You are back in the Eliza bethan period of 1601, and you talk about being progressive in the year 1932. Let me deal with your system and analyse it. I know that the language of Members on the Front Bench opposite may be subtle, but I wish to be clear in regard to my definition of the means test as referred 1742 to by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I say quite distinctly that men who are unemployed are entitled to all the benefits, of Unemployment Insurance. There is no necessity to state the reason why, for, surely, those of an analytical mind are confronted with this difficulty. If you are not prepared to feed, clothe, and maintain living bodies, you must be prepared to kill. You must recognise your responsibility in regard to this great question.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I think that the hon. Member is making his speech so emphatic that he had better follow the usual rule, and address the Chair.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I beg your pardon, Sir Dennis. With all respect, my remarks were really meant to be addressed to you. I wish to point out to the House that in this Vote of Censure there is honesty of expression from the Labour benches. We feel sincerely, honestly and truly that the great Government party, vested, as they are, with great responsibility, have not assumed all the responsibility appertaining to the high office which they hold. You are neglecting your duty, and the same can be said—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I am trying to do my duty. I must again ask the hon. Member, to address the Deputy-Speaker.
§ Mr. LOGAN
Perhaps I am being carried away a little, but, in my humble opinion, this House would be well advised to carry the Vote of Censure to-night. I am convinced, as far as the Opposition is concerned, that we are, at the turning point, and that we—all Members of this House—have to face a new era and deal with things in a far different way from the way they have been dealt with before. Let us ask ourselves collectively whether we are rational in the affairs of State in regard to the method we are applying to the difficulties which present themselves. It is distinctly stated that after the period of 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefit has passed, the question of transitional benefit has to be decided by the members of a public assistance committee. I repudiate any assertion that the Labour party are willing to assent to the poor of the country being compelled to go there at 1743 all. We have objected to it. It is wrong in principle. You are taking from the Employment Exchanges the right of dealing with this matter, and placing it in the hands of a Poor Law authority. You have no right to do so. Supposing you agree that it is the right and proper thing to do, how is it to be applied?
The Vote of Censure deals with the question of administration. Surely, if you do not carry out the matter properly, we have a right to criticise and to condemn the Members of the Government in respect of the administration, and that is what we are doing. From the point of view of economy, the system adopted by the Ministry is wrong. It is entirely uneconomic and not beneficial to the nation. I put it to hon. Members opposite, is there anyone who dare say in his constituency that Members of the Government should have the right to debar them from getting the means of existence. I contend that, under the Poor Law system, you must give adequate relief and the right of maintenance to every able-bodied man. If you do not give food, clothing and shelter you are hindering life. It is encumbent upon the State to maintain the efficiency of the individual. That is of primary importance to the welfare of the nation. We find that in regard to an allowance of 15s. 3d., 8s. for a wife, 2s. for a child, or 27s. 3d. for a family of four children, out of which they have to pay the rent, the public assistance committee have power to say that the means test must be applied. If you happen to have a, daughter or a sun working and the amount of the income exceeds 27s. 3d. in that home, they say that no money must be given for the upkeep of that family.
Does the hon. Member for North Bristol in his condemnation of the Labour party, agree with that kind of system? Will he or any other Member of the National party be prepared to justify that treatment to the breadwinner, to those who went to the Great War in 1914. The nation is practically out of its difficulty so far as the War is concerned—having poured out millions in the War, in respect of which we are paying £1,000,000 a day interest—and when it comes to the question of keeping together the body and soul of the unemployed man, even when he is disabled, economy must step in. 1744 With all your great National Government, with all the great unity that is to be found in your ranks—what a wonderful unity you are in the House of Commons—with the game of bluff that you played outside, you come here and you profess to extend your sympathy to the disabled soldier.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I have several times called the hon. Member to order for breaking a rule, the existence of which must be known to him. He is not entitled to accuse hon. Members directly of want of sympathy. He must address his remarks to the Chair.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. I have been accused by hon. Members opposite, and my friends have been accused, of almost every crime in the decalogue, but no one interfered.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman knows the rules well enough to address his remarks to the Chair when he is attributing crimes to hon. Members.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
May I explain to the hon. Member that I am not complaining of his language, but of the way in which he addresses it direct to Members of the House. He knows that he has no right to do that. He must address his remarks to the Chair.
§ Mr. LOGAN
There is one particular item in regard to the Vote of Censure to which, through you, Sir, I would call the attention of the House. The amount of 27s. 3d. per week would have to be paid in bona fide cases by the public assistance committees in respect of a man, a wife and four children. I am asked what has the Labour party done to bring about better conditions.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I am reminded that if we put these people into Poor Law institutions it would mean that, instead of 1745 the 27s. 3d. per week paid for the upkeep of such a family in their own homes, it would cost for the man, wife and four children £3 10s. per week. We must maintain the unemployed. If they have no home a home must be found for them. It would be inhuman to allow them to lie in the street. To domicile, feed and clothe them in an institution would cost the nation £3 10s. I am told by hon. Members that extravagance can be charged against the Labour party. I am proud to belong to a party which was so humane that even a sum of £100,000,000 was used to keep the down-and-out and the unemployed and to give them food and shelter. Life has been kept in many children simply and solely because of the humanitarian way in which the position was handled. I do not want to be too personal, but I want to strike a personal note. I want to ask hon. and right hon. Members opposite what justification there can be for a Government dealing with disablement pensions in the way in which they are being dealt with to-day. Before the Recess there was an ambiguity, which was unexplained by the Minister of Labour or the Minister of Health, when we were dealing with the question of the unemployed girl who was a seasonal worker, and also the question of the disabled soldier. In my home, as in thousands of homes, we suffered through the Great War. We were not sorry that such sacrifice had to be made in the national interests, but the nation is entitled to demand in the days of peace, seeing that sacrifices were made in the time of national extremity, that the people should have full right to the things of life. What do we find?
I have given a case to the Minister of Labour respecting a servant girl who is described as a seasonal worker. Members of the National party say: "We must have economy. We must be careful that we do not spend too much money." They did not say that during the Great War. They spent as much money as they could. All parties in the Great War came along, and if you had sons they demanded them as fodder for cannon. To-day they treat the disabled man in the way that I have described. What of the seasonal worker? The girl to whom I have referred is 24 years of age. She was engaged for four years in a canning factory. She had 46 stamps one year and 1746 39 stamps in the next year. She lost her employment because the firm closed down through slackness of trade. When she went to the Employment Exchange they said to her: "What are you doing?" and she told them. They said: "You must take seasonal employment." She did so, and because she took seasonal employment and afterwards came back home and could not get work at the factory the Ministry decided, the umpire decided and the committee decided that she is not entitled to any benefit. Through no fault of her own this girl is denied benefit because she cannot find work in an occupation in which she has been working since she was 16 years of age.
We have a right to say that in our opinion these matters are not being honestly and sincerely administered. Seasonal workers are not being treated properly, disabled soldiers are not being treated properly, the reckoning up of the family income is a great scandal, and, reviewing the whole position since the great fiasco of this new Government coming into power, I say quite candidly that there is not a Member of the present Government who could stand before an audience and give an explanation of what they are doing to-day. [Interruption.] With all due respect to hon. Members opposite we are right in our contention. This Government has failed in its duty and I shall be pleased to vote against it in the Lobby to-night.
§ Mr. SUMMERSBY
No new Member has risen to speak in this Parliament with a greater respect for the House than I, and no man needs the sympathy, if not the prayers, of his colleagues more than I in making my first speech. I have hesitated on previous occasions to interrupt the very important matters which have been discussed, but in view of the fact that there are so many unemployed in the division which I represent in this House, I felt that on this occasion I must raise my voice. May I say in passing that with a good deal that has been said on the question of transitional benefit I am in entire agreement. I was spellbound by the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I see so much of the distress of unemployment in my own division that I should indeed be a man with a hard heart if I did not feel some sympathy with those who are 1747 placed in such a position. I do not propose to detain the House very long and anything I may say will not be in the form of an attack upon anyone, but rather an attempt to make a suggestion by which employment might be created. Hon. Members have already touched upon the subject of my remarks, that is to say, the unemployment caused by the cessation of large works by public and local authorities. In saying this I am not referring to extra work and additional schemes, but to the ordinary business which they would carry on in normal circumstances.
In September the whole country was in a state of panic because of what was said to be the extravagance of local authorities. It may be that there was ground for the complaint in some cases. The Minister of Health in a perfectly worded circular asked for the cutting down of expenses. In the ordinary way that would have done no harm and could not fail to have done a considerable amount of good, but the psychological effect of it just at that moment was that all spending authorities, all local authorities, became panic stricken and went to very extreme measures. There are at least 150,000 people unemployed who would have had jobs in the ordinary course of events, not because local authorities adopted expensive plans involving any increase in rates. In one eastern county alone 1,000 men were dismissed by the county authority. In that county there are towns which do not come under the county authority, and where it is true to say that 1,000 more men were dismissed. That, I think, will give us a total of at least 100,000 men for the whole of England.
In the part of the country with which I am intimately associated 100 men were dismissed, a North London district, where 400 men would normally have been taken on. If this is multiplied 28 times by the number of Metropolitan boroughs it would bring the total to 114,000, leaving out the London County Council which, of course, is affected in a similar way. I am not including in my remarks any works which might be called extravagant. I pay heavy rates in my business and I am the last man to suggest extravagance on the part of local authorities, but I do suggest that in this 1748 as in other things we have gone from one extreme to the other. My suggestion to cure this would be that another carefully worded circular should be sent to local authorities asking them to carry on business as usual. I believe that we could reckon on 100,000 of the unemployed being absorbed. I would like to refer briefly to what I believe has been very largely the cause of the undermining of our industrial position and, as it affects the question of unemployment, I trust that the House will forgive me if I refer to the action of this country in 1920 in adopting a course of deflation. That meant that industrialists who had fixed overhead charges at the then rate of currency were bound to find that their goods and produce were not paying the overhead charges fixed at the old rate of currency, and in addition it had the effect of subsidising Free Trade, bringing in vast amounts of imports, and increasing dumping, about which we have heard so much. A manufacturer who made a shilling article was told that as the pound was worth more his shilling article must be sold at 9d., that he must be satisfied with that because his 9d. was worth 1s.
Theorists will say that that was quite in order, but unless the manufacturer has his capital reduced by 25 per cent. or the same amount returns to him, instead of increasing his works and taking on new hands in the ordinary way, he was more likely to dismiss his staff and in some cases to close down his works altogether. That has been carried on right away through to such an extent that the only safe thing for people to do has been to put their money into gilt-edged securities or something with a fixed dividend. That, of course, has benefited one class of people at the expense of another, and I maintain that while we have been dreadfully frightened of the pound falling, we are in an equally great danger of the pound rising. I was in the Argentine some time ago and saw Englishmen who were competing with Americans in selling English goods. So long as the pound was under the dollar Englishmen found it quite easy to sell their merchandise, but they said to me, "You will see that before long the Americans will take care that their rate of exchange is under ours." What they said happened, with the result that no more English goods could be sold to employ English people, 1749 and everyone wanted American goods in terms of dollars. With all the talks on tariffs—I believe in tariffs and am supporting them—I wonder that we have not heard more of what may happen if foreigners do that again and arrange that the value of their currency falls to such an extent that a 10 or 15 per cent. tariff on their goods would still make them cheaper than ours in their currency. This question has had a tremendous bearing on our past and it will have on our future.
In order that the early point of my speech may not be overlooked may I respectfully suggest that the Minister of Health considers my suggestion of sending out a new circular to local authorities indicating that they should carry on business as usual?
§ Mr. TEMPLETON
Before I say the very few words I intend to say, I would like to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken on a most excellent maiden speech—one that I am sure, in the opinion of all who heard it, in no way justified the very diffident manner in which he introduced it. Most of us feel that we would like to hear the hon. Member's, voice in this House again. I am not making a maiden speech, but it is so seldom that I address the House that I am not at all surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) should have been so surprised when I rose. But I have the opinion that it would be unwise on my part, representing an industrial constituency and being a member of the working class, to give a silent vote in this matter. I should imagine that there has never been, certainly there has seldom been, any Government in this country which after a few weeks in office has not been subject, and very properly subject, to a good deal of criticism. We have our expectations raised very highly at election times. I have done my part in raising high expectations, and I hope to do so again. Expectations are not realised to the full, and consequently it is, perhaps, the duty of the Opposition to put down a Vote of Censure. We are now having the second of these in the short time that the present Government have been in office.
I am an exceedingly diffident and modest man by nature. When I have undertaken to do somewhat and have 1750 made a hopeless bungle and terrible mess of the job, and some other body takes it on and endeavours by other means than mine to carry it through to a better issue than mine, I am very loth indeed to rise upon my hind legs and cry out upon the man who has undertaken the job of which I have made a mess. That is exactly the position in which we are to-night. Part of the Vote of Censure is based on the suggestion that the present Government are not dealing properly with the problem of unemployment. When I was last a Member of this House, and until I was butchered to make a Liberal holiday in 1929, I went to my constituency somewhat shamefacedly confessing that there were still 1,000,000 unemployed. We then had a change of Government. There came into power a party who, according to the statement of one who became a Member of the Government, would be able to cure unemployment. At any rate they said they could bring to an end the want of boots and milk and all the general misery within three weeks without the necessity of passing an Act of Parliament at all. That Government came into office, and when it had been in office for 2½ years we found that the number of unemployed, so far from being less, had more than doubled; and now we find that those same people bring an accusation against the present Government that the unemployment figure is pretty much where they left it, and they ask us to chase the Government out of office because the Government have not done what they themselves so hopelessly failed to do.
As one who has advocated fair protection during most of my manhood, I am delighted that the Government have taken a step in the only direction in which we can solve the great problem of unemployment. I would be loth indeed to oppose a Government that comes forward with the only practical proposals of the last seven years for dealing with the problem. But what I want to speak about mainly is what has occupied the time of most speeches to-night—the means test for unemployment benefit. I have in my own lifetime, and not so very long ago, known what it is to be out of work. I have known what it is to go from factory gate to factory gate, asking for employment and meeting with the unctuous snobbery that every little pettifogging foreman seems to have, as though I belonged to a 1751 lower order of creation than him—meeting with the contempt and contumely that comes to everyone. I know the unemployed. I do not believe there are 1 per cent. of unemployed men in Scotland who would not be willing to take a job at little more than the amount of the dole if it were offered to them, though it would be a shame if an offer on such terms were made.
But when we come to consider this question I think we ought to pay due regard to what it is that we are considering. For many years we had National Insurance based on actuarial calculations in order to secure certain benefits for certain payments. It was easily understood. I understood it, and it must have been easy to understand, therefore. I understood that for the payment of certain premiums a certain benefit was received for a certain number of weeks or months. The scheme followed the lines of the old trade union system. At the end of six weeks it did not matter a tinker's curse to the officials of the trade union whether you had a bedridden wife or whether you wer destitute, the payment of benefit stopped. We understand that. That is what the trade unions did, and they did it as part of the working of an insurance scheme. No one complained; no one thought that he had a right to complain. Then the Government took over unemployment insurance. It was restricted to a few trades at first and then expanded. There came the great slump in industry. The great army of unemployed steadily increased, and after two years of so-called Labour Government we found that the Insurance Fund was running into debt in the payment of benefit, including transitional benefit, to the extent of £1,000,000 a week.
It was discussed by all sections of the community, and the general consensus of opinion was, rightly or wrongly, that an endeavour should be made to make the Insurance Fund solvent, and that to do that it would be necessary to put a time limit to the period during which unemployment benefit would be paid. The time limit was not six weeks, as in the case of my trade union, but six months, and at the end of six months to make the thing solvent it was argued we would have to stop payment. It was pointed out, 1752 then, and I was one who humbly did so, that here would be a great grievance. There were many people who, through no fault of their own, were still unemployed at the end of six months, and who had no means or possibility of living unless they could obtain something. There was a natural and very admirable reluctance to appeal to the parish authority for Poor Law relief. We pointed out that it would be a great hardship to such people.
Then I was told, time and time again, to look at this person here or that one there who, it was said, having sufficient income, surely ought not to be a burden on the State at the end of the insurance period. It was said that we ought to give to those who really needed the payment under transitional benefit, and to do that you must have a means test, as it was impossible to get the knowledge without it. Then comes the real hardship. We can argue as we like—and I have argued it as a matter of mere discussion—that all payment of public money can be justified only on the ground of destitution, and that nobody except those who were destitute had any right to look for it, or to demand it. We can argue that in cold blood and in logic, and I do not think it can be answered.
I have in my mind the case of two families, in both of which the breadwinner is unemployed. The one breadwinner, who is not a bad fellow, when he got his wages counted out so much to go home to his wife and so much to spend on his own pleasure. When the time of unemployment came, after years of employment, he was dependent upon his unemployment benefit. He had wasted his substance in riotous living, or any way you like to put it. His neighbour, under exactly the same conditions, had a nest-egg. He has put by some money and invested it in the cooperative store, or some other form of saving, and he had a little income when it came to unemployment. These two men, having come to the end of their insurance, appeal for transitional benefit. The one gets the benefit in full because he has nothing. The other, because he was thrifty and saved, is penalised to some extent on account of his thrift. I submit that while it is right, proper and just that consideration should be given to those who are in actual need, even when the insurance benefit has been exhausted, there 1753 should be far greater consideration insisted upon by the Government on the part of local authorities for those whose thrift has been the means of their being penalised under this Measure. I intend to vote against the Motion of Censure, but, in voting, I want not to demand but to request that there shall be an easing of the restrictions in order that thrift may not be penalised, and that the little nest-egg shall not be the means of a reduction of the standard of life of these people.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Captain FRASER
The Mover and Seconder of this Motion of censure made speeches which, if I may say so, were moderate in tone and calculated to impress the House with the fact that they were genuinely anxious to put forward the case of the men whom they represent. The Minister made a speech which was conciliatory and helpful. There was one small point in the speeches of the Mover and Seconder to which I take exception, and to which I should like to call attention. Both made reference to the case of the disabled soldier whose disability had been taken into account by public assistance committees. Both claimed, though from very different points of view in their arguments, that there was not very much difference between the claim of the disabled soldier and the person who was graphically described by the hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Front Bench as the "soldier of industry." Such men, he said, should be given the same consideration. I do not want it to be thought that I desire to give such a person less consideration than he should have. His disability may be the same as that of the soldier, but there are two facts about the matter which, I think, it is fair to mention in this House. One fact is that the compensation afforded to the soldier of industry is, in fact, based upon the extent to which he is deprived of earning capacity. That is the whole basis of the law under which such compensation is given, whereas the disabled soldier's benefit bears no relation whatever to his earning capacity or to the earning capacity of which he has been deprived. There is, therefore, not a strict parallel between these two cases. Moreover, in my judgment, the disability pension is not wholly given to support and maintain life. It is given partly as compensation 1754 to provide amenities and comforts over and above those which are ordinarily enjoyed, and therefore there is quite definitely a reason in logic and sentiment why you should distinguish between the soldier disabled in war and the so-called soldier of industry.
It is fitting that Members of this House should on all possible occasions have an opportunity of stressing the differentiation which this House has time and time again made in respect of men who were disabled in the country's service. I welcome the Minister's remarks regarding the deputation which he received from the British Legion. I congratulate the British Legion on having taken the matter to him, and I hope that they will be able to go forward to the Royal Commission to whom the Minister advised them to apply and give evidence which will substantiate the case for special consideration. I regret rather that the disabled men were not given special consideration under the law from the beginning, but the fact is they were not, and they will be the first to realise the immense rush and hurry in which this legislation was prepared and had to be carried through. Believe me, disabled soldiers are not all fools, and a great many of them realise that there are times when the nation's needs are greater even than their own needs. Should it be shown that they have made out a, case to the Royal Commission and should the report of the Commission be received by Easter I hope that the Government will not be unwilling to introduce legislation on their behalf.
Having said that may I briefly refer to my experience during the last few weeks in relation to this subject? I earnestly hope it will give the House pleasure to know, from the experience of one Member who happens to be in touch with a great many ex-service men, that the anomalies, discrepancies and hardships among these men are not so great as some of us feared they would be. It is easy for hon. Members opposite to seek trouble and ensue it and to be delighted when they find it, but it is wise to look at the facts. There are still anomalies and discrepancies, and more effort is required on the part of Ministers, such as was suggested when we were told that the Minister of Health was going to get 1755 the public assistance committees together and discuss these anomalies with them. But there is not, as far as I have been able to ascertain, any widespread or serious lack of consideration for the disabled ex-soldier. I cannot speak for other sections of the community, but that is my experience as regards that section.
I venture, humbly, to suggest to Members of the House how they can best help these disabled men in the present circumstances. If they ask disabled men who apply to them to go to the public assistance committees, and tell those committees all the facts, and if they themselves then write to the public assistance committees that they have so advised their friends, I am certain there is not a public assistance committee which will not give special consideration to those cases. It is worth commenting on the fact that I have had six cases brought to my notice since we last discussed this subject in the House. That is not a great number. I know of many other cases, but I have only had these six referred to me, and I have a very wide circle of contacts among ex-service men and I represent a London constituency which is not one of the wealthiest. In every case I have written to the public assistance committee informing them that I have advised the applicants to tell the whole facts and to point out that they are disabled ex-soldiers. In each case the applicant has got what he was entitled to and in each case the pension was taken into account on one side but compensated for on another.
I am not going to say that I like a system under which men are compelled to do this. I am not going to say that I should not prefer the particular status of these men and the particular nature of the disablement pension to be recognised by statute. When the appropriate time comes I shall press for some Amendment in the Bill which the Minister says he will have to bring in after the Royal Commission's report, giving statutory recognition to the fact that a disabled man's pension is not given to him solely for maintenance. But may we not recognise what are the facts at the present time and may we not help these men best, not by making political capital out of their misfortunes, but by representing 1756 their cases to the appropriate local authorities where I believe they will receive abundant and reasonable sympathy?
On the general position of the Unemployment Fund, it has been argued on the Opposition side that there should be no means test. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Not only hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, whose downrightness I greatly admire, but other hon. Members above the Gangway with less fervour have argued that there should be no means test. I cannot believe that they really subscribe to that doctrine. Do they really affirm that it is fair for a person to receive relief, either from the State or a local authority, no matter what his income may be? Is there to be no limit whatever? [Interruption.] I am told by an hon. Member "if he is of an insurable class." Surely it does not matter to what class he belongs? The question is not to what class he belongs but whether he is insured or not, and when his benefit has actuarially run out, he is no longer insured. I suggest that the House is in the position of a trustee, not only for the people who are now benefiting out of the Unemployment Fund but for the people who have a right to believe that that fund will be solvent to pay them benefit should they fall out of work.
There are doubtless many who have not suffered unemployment until the last few months. They paid their contributions in the expectation that, should they fall out of work, they would receive 17s. 6d. a week during six months unemployment. That was a reasonable expectation. I go so far as to say that it was a right to which they were entitled. It was almost a contract between them and the State. But what has happened? They are receiving 15s. 3d. instead of the 17s. 6d. which they had a right to expect. Why has their contract been broken? Because the trustees of that fund during the period of Labour Government were so feckless that they spent money in extended benefit for which there was no justification. Those who are in an insurance scheme have a right to demand that there shall only be paid out of the scheme what is actuarially justified, in order that their rights may be safeguarded.
It is not merely sound logic to keep this insurance scheme pure and actuari- 1757 ally sound. I may remind hon. Members opposite that we on this side have no less sympathy with the unemployed or understanding of the difficulties of the unemployed than they have. There is no monopoly of understanding or sympathy. I do not think that we need quarrel with each other about motives. It is the method and the method only which is worthy of discussion. We have reached a stage now when we have a definite plan of economy. We all know that it will impose hardships. The Government did not say that there would be no hardships. We deliberately adopted the plan although it will mean hardships. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Shame!"] I do not think it is a shame. It is a long-sighted policy and it is better than the ruin with which we were threatened. The hon. Member opposite says, "Shame" because he is so incapable of thinking that he must always be emotional. We want a Government that will think—one that has got head as well as heart. We have in this Government one which has a plan and the plan is, by economies to make British credit better, and by tariffs to make British trade safer for British factories and British working men and women.
Surely hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot affirm that they are perfectly certain that that plan is wrong. I have never met an intelligent educated scientist or other person who was absolutely sure that he was always right. I cannot believe that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are dead sure that we are wrong and in view of the mess which they made of things may I ask them to wait a little and see? May I ask them if they cannot take the view that the country's interest lies in the direction of giving this plan a chance, because it is a definite plan and it is being pursued with vigour and courage? While they must do their duty as an Opposition, while they must be able to go back to their divisions with a record of speeches and votes, I am certain that in their hearts most of them agree with the plan which we are pursuing and, if they had had a majority Government when faced with the circumstances of last year, they might even have had the courage to do more drastic things than we have done. May I beg hon. Members opposite to try to help us in this plan rather than to hinder us, and 1758 may I ask them one thing in particular, and that is to try to help ex-service men by keeping their unfortunate position out of party politics
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
The hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) has assured the House that at last we have a Government with a plan. Well, we on these benches profoundly hope that with this plan we shall get out of our difficulties, but we have our doubts. I listened to-day with a good deal of interest, as I always do, to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour. On the general question, I think he merely tried to make two points. First, he expressed, with childlike simplicity, his faith in the policy of Protection as a solution of the problem of unemployment. I can only hope that the event will justify his faith, but I am rather inclined to think that time will disillusion him completely in regard to that matter. The other observation which I will not say he took pleasure in making, but which he seemed pleased that he had to use as a debating point, was that the policy of subsidising public utility works as a solution of the problem of unemployment had completely failed. I am prepared to agree that that policy scarcely touched the fringe of the problem, and, that being so, and the policy of Protection not being yet in operation, we have to deal with the unemployed.
A good deal has been said about the policy of those of us who sit on these benches in regard to unemployment. Our policy is very plain, simple, and easy to understand, and we have always been consistent about this. It is work or maintenance, and as I always, when I listen to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), appreciate the sincerity and the eloquence with which he addresses the House, I wish that he would sometimes give credit to other people for being equally sincere. There are some of us on these benches who feel as keenly and as strongly as he does with regard to the injustices which are being perpetrated by the application of the means test.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
All that I want to ask the hon. Member again is this: Does he, on behalf of his Leaders, guarantee 1759 to me that the party is for or against the means test?
§ Mr. BROWN
I am not in a position, as the hon. Member knows quite well—and he has phrased his question accordingly—to give any guarantee on behalf of any Leaders. The policy of the Labour party is set by the Labour party as a whole, and he knows very well that our policy is that of work or maintenance. The point that I want to put to the Minister of Labour arises out of what I consider to be a new inquisition which is beginning. I did not like the first inquisition, the first methods which have been employed to deal with the unemployed, by examining, in the minutest detail, their means and circumstances, but I am far more disturbed at the new inquisition which is beginning.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has told us on more than one occasion that he considers the best bodies to which to transfer this duty are the public assistance committees, and he has paid his tribute to the ability of those committees. He did it again to-day, and he said that the task of dealing with transitional benefit cases had been deliberately transferred to these bodies because, in his judgment, they were the best bodies to deal with them. He has gone out of his way more than once, in answering questions, to pay a tribute to their ability, and I am rather disturbed by the fact that there is beginning a process of interfering with these public assistance committees. I am a member of a public assistance committee, and the specific reference that I have to make has to do with a sub-committee that functions in my own division.
The Minister to-day told us quite frankly that it was extraordinarily difficult to get uniformity. He, like myself, sits for a constituency in Nottinghamshire. I have had the opportunity of looking at the determinations which have been made by the various sub-committees of the Nottinghamshire public assistance committee, which functions for the entire county except the City of Nottingham, and between those determinations there are very great discrepancies. In agricultural Nottinghamshire as many as 40 per cent. of the applications for transitional benefit which come before the committees are receiving cuts, but in industrial 1760 Nottinghamshire the percentages are not so great.
There are in Nottinghamshire two committees—and I want to impress this on the right hon. Gentleman, because he himself stressed the fact that conditions may vary from area to area—which have made 100 per cent. favourable determinations in regard to the claims for transitional benefit that have come before them, and the outcome of that is, as the Minister of Health will probably know, that, just as in the case of the old boards of guardians the inspectors of the Ministry frequently attended those guardians, they now attend the gatherings of the guardians area committee under the public assistance committee and they attend the subcommittees themselves, which are the relief committees administering transitional benefit; and one of these inspectors has reported the action of these two committees to the Ministry of Labour, with the result that the Ministry of Labour has written a letter to the public assistance committee of the County of Nottingham asking them to deal with these committees.
Has the right hon. Gentleman lost his faith in the public assistance committees, in these people who have had experience in the administration, first, of Poor Law and now of transitional benefit? Having said so frequently in this House that he was prepared to leave these matters to the discrimination of these committees, surely he is not now going to interfere with them, but if he does, it will be only for this reason, that whatever the consequences may be, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour between them have made up their minds that in dealing with these claims for transitional benefit they w ill extract at any rate a certain sum of money from the unemployed.
§ Captain LUMLEY
The House needs no reminder that this is by no means the first Motion of its kind that has been moved on this subject by the party opposite. This question has been before every Parliament since the War. It is a question which, above all others, has haunted the back benches and baited the Front Benches of this House. It is no surprise, therefore, that once again it is brought to our attention, but what I have found surprising is that, after all their experience of the past two or three years, 1761 the party opposite has so little that is new to suggest on this subject. This question naturally divides itself into two parts. There is the question of the administration and of the payments, and the question of the policy which is being pursued to substitute work for those payments. I should like to deal with two of the criticisms which have been made about the administration of the means test. There are those who object to the principle of that test. I thought that the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) was right when he claimed that he and his friends are the only Members who object to the principle. Some Members in the Labour party did not make their position very clear. I hope that the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), who is to wind up to-night, will confine himself to the specific question which the Minister of Labour put. I should like to remind him of what the Leader of the Opposition said in the Debate on the Address:As to the means test ….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 pay him State money.
§ Captain LUMLEY
If the right hon. Gentleman wants me to go on reading it, I will, because it supports what he said in the passage I am quoting. There was an interruption by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) who said, "That is new." The right hon. Gentleman continued:That is not new. At any rate, whether it is new or old, I am stating it.Does the right hon. Gentleman want me to go on?
§ Captain LUMLEY
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:The question put to me was whether we are in favour of a means test, and I was asked what means test the late Minister of Health referred to when he spoke at this Box. It had nothing to do with the Anomalies Bill; it has to do with the transitional benefit of people going to the public assistance committees."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1931; col. 446, Vol. 259.]Shall I read the rest of the speech?
§ Captain LUMLEY
If the right hon. Gentleman refers again to his speech, he will see that he by no means qualified that first statement. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who replies will say definitely whether or not that statement of the Leader of the Opposition is repudiated.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether, in his judgment, the statement which he has just read bears any relation to the Poor Law destitution test, with which I dealt afterwards, and which is what we are discussing to-night?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
But we are discussing the means test as applied by the Poor Law authorities. [Interruption.] Certainly, and that is the destitution test.
§ Captain LUMLEY
I will read again what the Leader of the Opposition said:It had nothing to do with the Anomalies Bill; it has to do with the transitional benefit of people going to the public assistance committees.10.0 p.m.
That is what I was discussing, and I understood that to be one of the subjects raised on this Motion. I should like to know, therefore, whether or not the Labour party are still in favour of the principle of the means test. There is one criticism of the administration with which I should like to deal. It is said that the public assistance committee should not be the body to deal with this administration. Once you accept the principle of the means test, it is obvious that there must be some form of machinery to administer it, and if you do not have the public assistance committee, there is only one alternative. That is to set up a new bureaucratic machinery. Who will benefit by that? Are the applicants for this relief going to benefit by it I do not think so at all. We have an example which may be familiar to a good many hon. Members. No doubt many of them were connected with the first setting up of the war pensions machinery during the War, and they will bear me out when I say that when it began to function, it entailed delay after delay before the right pensions went to the right men. Very often it was months and sometimes even years before it got put right. Therefore, 1763 if you want to set up completely new machinery to deal with the means test cases, you will only add, by the mistakes which a new machine is bound to make, to the hardships which are already suffered by the unemployed. You will never reach a solution of the hundred and one administrative problems on this question which will be satisfactory to all. There is only one perfect solution, and that is to substitute work and wages. What surprised me about the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite was that they had nothing new to suggest in the way of providing work. All they could do was once again to produce, not with so much enthusiasm as before, but still to produce, that old catalogue which used to come up every time a similar Motion was moved in the Parliament of 1924, and roll off all the old schemes which they said they had ready to put into operation—road, drains, bridges, telephones and so on.
§ Captain LUMLEY
All that old catalogue was once again brought up. They remind us that there are 2,750,000 people unemployed, but they can only suggest the fag end of an already discredited programme. We were reminded that over a million of the unemployed were young men at the beginning of their industrial career, and yet when we on this side put forward new proposals for great new changes of policy, such as are going through the House this month, hon. Gentlemen opposite can only oppose them. The unemployed are suffering, but under this Government great changes of policy are being put through. At least, therefore, there springs the hope from this Government that these changes will bring better times. Hon. Members opposite have made their criticism, but they have given no hope of permanent work for a single one of the unemployed.
§ Mr. HICKS
In rising to contribute to this Debate on behalf of the Labour party I quite realise that everything that could be said about unemployment has been said in this House during the past 10 or 12 years. Members of all parties, approaching the problem from different angles, have made their contributions towards alleviating unemployment, if not 1764 to solving the problem. In such circumstances it may not be possible for me to say anything new or original, but there are certain things which I would particularly like to emphasise. No doubt we shall have reply from the Minister of Health telling us, as did the Minister of Labour, of the contributions made by his Department—of the various committees set up from time to time who have made recommendations for grants and so on, to be given to public assistance committees, but in view of the size of the problem there will be an absence of reality about our Debate if we merely confine ourselves to what the Ministry of Labour have done or what the Ministry of Health will be able to do. This is a problem which is larger than the Department of the Ministry of Labour and larger than the Department of the Ministry of Health, and therefore it should be the responsibility of the Government, and particularly of the present Government, which has an unexampled number of supporters and would find very little impediment in its way if it set about tackling the problem.
I hope the Government will tackle the problem in a bold and courageous way, and not leave their Ministers subject from time to time to hostile criticism directed against a particular Department, because the problem of unemployment is becoming so vast that, it overtakes any departmental contribution—any scheme on an insurance basis, or anything of that sort. We talk sometimes of how industry in this country will be able to help our unemployed if we get our share of world trade, but the problem of the moment is to get full time employment for the workers who are on short time, apart altogether from the question of making any inroads into the 2,750,000 or 3,000,000 people who are unemployed. We hear of someone who has been refused benefit here or there, but sad as it is, wrong as it is, and immoral as it is to concentrate on such points is not tackling the problem. The problem is getting to be a bigger one than the present system can cope with.
It is absolutely ridiculous to have any unemployment in an intelligent community where the production of wealth is necessary and the means for its production are available. Why should we have unemployment? The workers want work. Every impartial inquiry there has 1765 been has revealed that truth to impartial investigators. That is the only thing the unemployed ask for. In past years they have been subjected to all sorts of vile insults, called "loafers," "workshies" and "dole drawers," but that is not generally said of them to-day. If there is ever a demand for labour there are countless individuals rushing to apply for the job. There is no question that the people want work. Why cannot they have it?
§ Mr. HICKS
It is fortunate that we have here some Columbus who can make such a great new discovery. Trade unions did a great deal for the wreckage of humanity long before the State ever thought of introducing unemployment pay or of giving sickness benefit, old age pensions, or superannuation benefit. Trade unions are now spending thousands of pounds in that direction. I do not want to introduce a personal note, but my own union is spending thousands of pounds in supplementing unemployment benefit. We have unemployment not because there is no necessary work to be done in the community, not, because there are no slums, not because the people do not want better houses, not because we do not want more schools or other buildings, but because of the positive ineptitude of private enterprise and capitalism.
Men want work—men with patiently acquired skill. I have seen them in my Own industry—bricklayers, masons, joiners; the men whose work is so much admired when we go round this House with visitors pointing out to them the lovely joinery work and masonry. Year after year I have seen these men scrambling for work and the opportunities for work becoming fewer and fewer, the periods of unemployment longer and longer. Those men go down the social ladder rung by rung until they are in a desperate position. There are over 340,000 of them unemployed—in one industry. When housewives are crying out against rack renting landlords, when slumdom is in the position it is to-day, when there are bridges and schools to be built, there is all this waste of labour. What is the position of manufacturers themselves? Cheap gibes are often thrown at those engaged in the manufacture of 1766 materials, but they are as much victims of the present day uncertainty and absence of planning as are other people. They have put down expensive plant to meet the general requirements of the community, but by reason of the vacillating, intermittent and irregular policy of Governments from time to time they find themselves in the position of not being able to dispose of their commodities and are having to discharge men by the hundreds of thousands. Therefore, I would say to the hon. Member who speaks of trade unionism as being responsible for the present state of affairs that I hope he will think a second time before he gives utterance to such a statement again. It makes no contribution to our understanding of the problem, and only provokes a little ill-instructed hilarity.
When hon. Members on the other side consider this problem of unemployment, there is none of them I am sure who does not feel some sort of mental anguish, some sort of pain, to know of the human tragedy, represented not by hundreds of thousands, but counted in millions. There are, when reckoned by our present registered unemployed, at least 2,750,000 reasons, if we want reasons, why the House of Commons should tackle this problem. If we want reasons, we know that the dependants upon those people go into many more millions. There have been discussions and Debates upon unemployment in this House and inquiries and commissions upon the subject; vast inquiries have been entered upon and much literature published, but the application of the remedy is not at the moment within the range of practical politics.
A moment or two ago when I was thinking of industry generally and the problem of the unemployed man, I remembered the proposal that has been put to this House on many occasions for the ratification of the Washington Hours Convention. So far as I am concerned, I say that nothing like that can be applied, because industry and economic conditions have marched past that. A 48-hour week is too long altogether. Unemployment is the Frankenstein of Capitalism, and it is also the Frankenstein of the present social system. It has broken Governments, as it has broken the hearts of men and women who are seeking for work. It will ultimately destroy this 1767 Government, unless the problem is tackled, and it will destroy the present social system of society too.
Every unemployed man has been made unemployed, by whom? By the employers. [Interruption.] Who gives the individual the sack? It is the employer, who says: "I have no longer any work for you." This House is full of bankers, employers and capitalists—[Interruption.] Oh. yes. If the employers who have discharged these men are here in their numbers, as representing the system that is responsible for the discharge of those men, what contribution are they going to make? I want to ask them that. They have discharged those unfortunate people. It is all very well for them to disguise their incompetence with high-sounding phrases such as "trade depression," "currency trouble," and "international competition." It may be very easy for them to defend themselves, or to try and shield themselves behind those high-sounding phrases, but, if they are responsible for unemployment and for the system, what steps are they going to take to put into industry those people whom they have put out of employment?
Before I sit down I want in the very short time that remains to me to deal with one or two points on the building industry. The Minister of Health is going to reply. He kindly gave us recently the opportunity to send a deputation to him to talk about certain features of the building industry. I desire to refer to the relationship of the building industry with the House of Commons, through the Government, particularly since 1924. Before that time, much representation was made to the building industry. I myself was occupying the position of President, and, consequently, came into direct negotiation with the representatives of the Government in order to deal with what was then called the shortage of labour in the industry, so as to meet the needs of the nation in regard to housing. Much propaganda was engaged upon, and an attempt was made to get the building trade unions to agree to relax what were called trade union restrictions for the purpose of increasing the personnel. Most of the statements made at that time originated, as, unfortunately, many do 1768 to-day, in very ill-instructed emotions, and were more emotional than reasonable.
The industry was subjected at that time to a very close examination in regard to its personnel, the materials available to it, and the demand for its labour, and a committee was set up to inquire into the possibilities of meeting the nation's needs by a general progressive programme of house building. The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) last night was inclined to agree to something like the policy of ordered planning. He said that, unless the country was able to get a measure of its needs and of the market that would be available for commodities when they were produced, he was afraid that, whatever was done, even under the present proposals for the protection of industry, very little progress would be made. I think I might use the same kind of illustration with regard to the building industry, and its unfortunate experience in connection with the repudiation by successive Governments of the policy of the previous Government.
I may say that I am speaking now, not on behalf of the operatives only, but on behalf of the whole industry. The industry was organised with a view to finding out its capabilities of responding to the national call for its services. Employers, manufacturers of materials, surveyors, architects, operatives—all phases of the industry were brought into consultation for the purpose of measuring its strength and seeing how far it was capable of responding to the demand which was then put up. I will give some figures for the past four years, showing the numbers of houses generally agreed upon and the numbers built. In 1928, the number should have been at least 120,000 houses a year—houses that would have received some State subsidy. The number built was 102,000. In 1929, there should have been 135,000 houses; the number actually completed was 123,931. In 1930, the number should have been 150,000, but, instead of that, the number completed was 51,571. [Interruption.] In 1931, the agreed number was 170,000, and the number completed was 63,607.
I know I shall be asked what the Labour Government did when they were in office. The Labour Government was unable to move without the sanction of the Tory party. The people who opposed 1769 the Labour Government in every one of their progressive Measures were the representatives of the other parties in the House to-night. At the instigation of the Liberal party very largely a big agricultural housing policy was carried through the House of Commons last year. It was my privilege to be in at the latter end of last year to take part in it. 40,000 houses were going to be built this year. The number they have authorised is 2,000 out of the 40,000. The Minister of Health told us, when a deputation went to him, that the circular that he sent round to municipal authorities was not intended to slow them down, but I am sure those reactionary authorities that wanted to stop did stop. We have, as the result of certain inquiries, proved to our own satisfaction that over £50,000,000 worth of work which was contemplated or planned has either been abandoned or suspended as the result of the national economy campaign— £50,000,000 worth of building work, housing, schools and work of that character. Over 7,000 road bridges in the country have been shown by the Minister of Transport to be unsafe for our traffic as the result of the National Government working on roads. A reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) to-day by the Minister of Transport says:I refer the hon. Gentleman to a question asked in the House of Commons on 10th February with regard to discontinued road work. The review of the commitments of the Road Fund in view of schemes of road and bridge improvement and new construction which has been undertaken in the interests of economy has not yet been completed. Up to the present it has been decided to postpone or curtail just over 1,000 schemes. The estimated cost of the deferred work is £30,000,000.
§ Mr. HICKS
I do not know what that means to the people who would ordinarily get employment. I should imagine there are very few on the opposite side who have experienced the reprieve which has come when the pay envelope on a Saturday has not been accompanied by notice of dismissal. That has to he experienced to be understood. Therefore the "Hear, hear" to the dropping of a thousand schemes does not spell any serious attempt to assist our people to get employment. It is almost blasphemous to speak in this House, the temple of 1770 capitalism as it were, to the gods of private enterprise. We have had experience of your system not for a year or for 20 or for 50 years and have seen its sumulative effects. Side by side with every step that you take, the power to produce outstrips your capacity to employ people. You are not going to have a reduced personnel of unemployed. There is no joy in it. There is sadness in it. There is a terrible inquisition in the home. Men and women have gone to the public assistance committees for help, and they know that the public assistance committees hold them in their hands. The ameliorative measures which have been employed are small things compared with the big job of tackling the whole problem of industrial life, of labour, of raw material, of everything that is necessary to give us happiness and comfort. I am satisfied that, however long it takes hon. Members opposite to get to it, there will be only one solution, and that is when the whole of the resources of the country and the world are taken into calculation, collectively owned and distributed, and that will be the day when Socialism will arrive.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)
When the leaders of the Opposition wake up to-morrow morning, I am sure that they will agree with us that the Debate upon the Vote of Censure has not been a success, in spite of the sincere effort of the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks). I think that they are entitled to our sympathy. The field was set for a general attack upon the means test, and the ranks of the Opposition were opposed to the ranks of the Government, as if it were supposed to be the case of a civilized army attacking an uncivilised army, but in a comparatively short time they were blown into complete confusion by the attack of the aborigines from the rear. Indeed, the confusion into which they threw the official Opposition finds an echo in my mind owing to the fact that throughout this Debate the official Opposition have been almost completely concerned in a desperate attempt to conceal their hard past from their all too knowing friends from the Clyde. Owing to that circumstance nothing has really been developed on the lines of what is usually 1771 considered a Vote of Censure to which the Government have to make a reply. Really, in future, and, let us hope, for the sake of that dosage of ginger which is so essential to the health even of a National Government, hon. Members opposite must compose their own differences before they pick differences with us.
Although the Debate may not have been a success as a Vote of Censure, nevertheless I think that it has served a useful purpose in another way by providing an opportunity for bringing out various matters which now need discussion, and criticisms which certainly need replying to upon a matter of such intimate, deep and tragic concern to the country as the unemployment question. Let me, in the first place, say a word in reply to the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) in regard to the matter of disabled ex-service men. I am confident that he will misinterpret my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour if he supposes that we do not recognise the decided prominence of the claims to consideration of our disabled men. But I warmly welcome the statement of my hon. and gallant Friend which, if I may say so, confirms what is my own profound conviction, that in the treatment of disabled men, consideration, generosity and sympathy would be shown by the public assistance authorities throughout the country. We welcome that view warmly as confirming what we believe to be the case.
I say that the attack on the means test as a whole failed because of certain distractions to which the official Opposition was subjected. Let me turn from the attack upon the means test in principle, to the various criticisms of the means test in practice, which certainly should be matters of substantial concern. It has always been recognised that there would be local variations in this sphere of administration which would cause concern for a time. Some of those variations are not inequitable, and are not bad administration, but simply the result of the state of the case.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), I think, showed a certain lack of apprehension of the fact that this is 1772 a matter in which one must expect to see wide variations between the manner in which the adjudications are made in various districts. We must expect in different districts wide differences between the percentages of those who receive full payment, those who receive part payment, and those who receive no payment at all. These variations are not evidence of difference of standard or of bad administration, but simply the result of the difference in the history of the particular neighbourhood. In a neighbourhood where employment has been bad far a long time and private means have been exhausted, one would expect to find a high percentage of those who receive full transitional payments. In a neighbourhood where employment has been comparatively good, one would expect to find a lower percentage of payments. These variations are to be expected. With the experience which we have obtained of the method prescribed, we have evidnce of the astonishing success with which the administration has been carried out.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I know that the fact that this administration has been a success is unwelcome to the hon. Member.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
Let me pay a tribute, first, to the stalwart common sense of the nation as a whole, which has faced up to this great and necessary reform, in spite of its unpleasant and painful side. Let me, secondly, pay a tribute to the administrative authorities who have so successfully carried out the administration. I will take a single instance, the administration in London. I do not take it because it is a big instance, and I would not let it be thought that because it is the case of London it is outstanding in contrast to other parts of the country. I take it because it is an instance of a thoroughly good bit of administration. The administration of this new and difficult piece of work in the London area has been very strikingly successful. Here, as elsewhere throughout the country, 95 per cent. of the adjudications passed without any question at 1773 all, and only 1 per cent. of the adjudications made by the public assistance subcommittees go to appeal. Is not that a very striking testimony to the success of the actual administration?
One further figure. The administration has not been a light matter in such a district as London, and one must not think that it has not imposed a heavy strain on the forbearance of the unemployed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes. One fully recognises that. Out of 61,000 cases adjudged here, full payment has been accorded only in 30,000 cases. That shows two things. It shows how well this great reform has been received and how necessary this great reform was.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour made reference to the advance in administration which we contemplate. I am not pretending that in a moment, in a few weeks, you can achieve perfect administration for so difficult and painful a subject of administration as this. It is to be expected that there will be found not only necessary and essential variations to which I have referred, due to different circumstances and different histories, but that there will be unnecessary variations in some parts of the country owing to such difficult questions as the amount of family income to be taken into consideration and the weight to be given to assets in calculating the means test. Our administrators would be more than human if there were not variations of this sort, and it is the function of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health to smooth out these variations. We are engaged in doing so from day to day through the staff of inspectors available for the purpose.
It seems to us that something rather more is necessary, and there is an opportunity now of bringing about a more definite co-ordination, which I will briefly specify to the House. Where there is an area in which the line taken by the public assistance committee shows unnecessary and needless variations, variations which ought to be smoothed out, it is proposed, not to call a great central conference in London, that would be only a matter of talk not of work, but to call a conference of the public assistance authorities themselves in the area where there is a need of co-ordination, and that they shall be asked to put their heads 1774 together and arrange to bring their administration into harmony on this matter of transitional payments, so far as is necessary or practicable in accordance with the terms of the Order-in-Council. I propose, therefore, in order to make sure that there shall be an even wider co-operation between areas to call a conference with what I may call a special commission, or departmental commission, of the most experienced inspectors of the Ministry of Health, who shall attend these area conferences and spread the light of information and co-ordination from one part of the country to another. In that way we shall be able by the natural processes of administration to get rid of those variations which are unnecessary and unnatural.
Before taking any step of that kind it will be necessary, as the House will apprehend, to wait until we have all the information as to the way public assistance committees are actually working. I know one area where it would be useful to have such a conference, and that is the north-eastern area of the County of Durham and the southern part of the County of Northumberland.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
To smooth out as far as it is necessary and practicable unnecessary differences in practice between public assistance committees.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
Let me pass from the question of the means test to the wider aspect of the Vote of Censure. The Government is to be censured under this Motion for its failure to initiate effective measures for the reconstruction of our economic life; and the censure has been passed by the remaining representatives of the last Government on the benches opposite. Am I right in suggesting that the leaders of the Opposition had their tongues in their cheeks when they framed this Motion, or did they really want at once to provoke such a contest with their own friends below the Gangway? Where are we to look for a monument to the effective measures for the reconstruction 1775 of our economic life which were taken by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has suggested that we should look for it in the number of unemployed when they took office compared with the number when they left office. I propose that we should look for it in an even more stately structure, the structure of the debt of the Unemployment Insurance fund—£37,000,000 when they took office and £97,000,000 when they left office.
The Government is to be censured for its economy on works of public utility. There is a certain amount of misapprehension about what the actual policy of the Government is, and as to what we call the economy campaign on capital account, and I would like to say a few words to point out what that policy really is. As specifically stated in the circular sent out to all local authorities, which is the text, the Magna Charta of the policy of economy, the policy of the Government is not a panic reduction of expenditure in all conceivable circumstances and in every possible way. Let me read what the actual recommendation given is:His Majesty's Government do not contemplate a local authority embarking on a wholesale and ill-considered course of cutting down expenditure, whatever be its character or its purpose. Such a policy seems to them neither necessary nor advisable.That is the basis of the policy. Let us look at the facts, as to what it is that has actually been done in the way of economy by the Government in administration. I will deal first with the loans sanctioned for purposes other than housing by my Department during this winter. That is a very wide field of public activity, as the House knows. The loans sanctioned for purposes other than housing during this winter were £9,300,000, and that total compares with £12,800,000 in the year before, a reduction of one quarter, or £3,000,000. There has been a substantial reduction, such a substantial reduction, as, I suggest, is required by the general conditions of our national finance, but not such a reduction as suggests in any way a panic or reckless reduction of expenditure upon necessary purposes. In that £9,300,000 there has been an actual increase of the amount to be borrowed for trading purposes, that is remunerative purposes, and a reduction in the case of loans for purposes of what I might call non-productive work. That 1776 is precisely the policy which this country requires at the present time, that we should still be courageous—courage in this matter is common sense—in increasing our capital account where there is to be an immediate responding increase in our national income—a good investment—but that at the present time it is absolutely essential that for the sake of the recovery of our industries we should cease all expenditure which is not either directly remunerative or necessary for any essential public purpose, such as health services, and that we should reduce and cease for the time being any expenditure that is expenditure merely of convenience or merely of amenity.
Let us see what the actual course of the Government's policy has been. Let me turn to a matter raised by the hon. Member for East Woolwich who has addressed severe criticism against the Government on the ground that it has been needlessly creating unemployment by an unwise reduction in the housing policy of the country. That is a complete misapprehension of the actual course of Government policy. Take, in the first place, the assisted housing policy. That is the region of building activities in which the Government are most directly concerned. What has been done there is an adaptation of policy in regard to the needs of the times, not simply with a view to reduction for reduction's own sake, but in order to obtain the sort of houses that the country wants. The adaptation of policy has been to call off, as it were, the activities of building the larger type of subsidised house of which we now have a sufficiency and to concentrate on building the small house to let at a rent which the wage-earner can pay. It is not a blind economic policy, but a policy of the adaptation of our housing to the needs of the day, so as to make sure that in the present stringent financial conditions we shall get good social value and good housing value for every penny of public money spent. There will be no check on the housing activities where the need for these small houses can be shown and as a matter of fact there will be more assisted houses in progress in the course of this winter than in the course of last winter.
I fully recognise that the building trade is at the present time subject to the most 1777 severe depression. I deplore the unemployment in the building trade to which the hon. Member has referred. We recognise that its difficulties are as great as in any trade of the country, and we look forward to the relief which will be given to that trade, among all others, by such general measures for the restoration of the country's industries as the Government are at the present time taking. On this, I would point out that it is a complete misapprehension of the actual state of things to suppose that the difficulties of the building trade are due to restrictions by Government. The difficulties are due to the general limitation of the building activities of the whole industrial community of the country. For reasons which are well understood by the whole House, private building is a very much more important thing for the country than public assisted building. Last year up to 30th November there were two houses built by private enterprise to every one built with the assistance of the public subsidy. If we look at the fourth quarter of last year we see from the figures in the Labour Gazette that the building plans approved had dropped in that last quarter from £17,750,000 to £12,750,000. That is the measure of the drop in private building and that figure demonstrates that it is a general decline in this activity in the country as a whole and not to any Government policy that the present admitted severe hardships and misfortune of the building trade are due.
The measures to promote employment which the Government are taking are certainly of a totally different character from those taken by our predecessors, the Members of the present Opposition. Nevertheless, at the present time until the clouds break it will be unwise not to watch for every possible opportunity of promoting useful work of that kind defined by the Minister of Labour—work which will increase the national income—and the Government will continue to watch for any opportunity of promoting work of that sort, subject to the two conditions: first that it is work which will be definitely remunerative, and, secondly, that it is not work which might just as well be undertaken by private enterprise, or, in other words, work which would be advanced and brought to fruition without 1778 any form of Government assistance. The sphere for such openings is practically only the sphere of the great public utility enterprises. That is the field of opportunity for promoting employment in a manner which will be positively beneficial and not definitely harmful to the country. But it is a field of opportunity which necessarily is becoming more and more exhausted as time goes on. For eleven years successive Governments have been sweeping that field to find work which will increase the resources of the country and provide employment, and we cannot hope at this time of day to find anything but very small gleanings where quite substantial harvests have already been gathered.
I have pointed out the extent and the limitations of the Government's policy of economy particularly on this matter. If I may put it in a word, the policy is that all works which will be definitely remunerative, promoted by public authorities, such as housing works and so on, shall follow their normal course and shall not be restricted; that other works which are essential such as health services and so on shall continue, but that works which are not essential to the community must give way for the present. We desire to turn, once and for all, away from that policy which was followed like a will-'o the-wisp by hon. Members opposite for two years and which brought the country to the brink of disaster—the policy that the country can be made richer by continually increasing public at the expense of private expenditure. From that policy we desire to turn to the policy which we believe is essential to the welfare of the country and to the finding of employment.—the policy of diminishing public expenditure in order give private expenditure and private enterprise its chance. Too long have the resources of the country been frittered away in the form of unremunerative expenditure. Let us turn back to the traditional policy of accumulating the resources of the country, according to the expansion of the trade of the country, for the employment of the people of the country. In that direction only I believe shall we find the solution for those evils which we are called upon to face to-day including the great evil of unemployment.
That this House, recognising the increasing gravity of unemployment and of the condition of the unemployed and their families, regrets the failure of the Government to initiate effective measures for the reconstruction of the economic life of the country and the short-sighted economy of expenditure on works of public utility, especially housing, and on schemes of allot-
§ ments, whereby unemployment has been increased; and is of opinion that the administration of the means test is causing grave injustice and distress and that the machinery of the Poor Law should not be used in connection with applications for unemployment benefit."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 39; Noes, 415.1781
|Division No. 64.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||McGovern, John|
|Batey, Joseph||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Hicks, Ernest George||Maxton, James|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Hirst, George Henry||Parkinson, John Alien|
|Buchanan, George||Jenkins, Sir William||Price, Gabriel|
|Cape, Thomas||John, William||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Thorne, William James|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Kirkwood, David||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Daggar, George||Lanebury, Rt. Hon. George||Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. David|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lawson, John James||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Lunn, William|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||McEntee, Valentine L.||Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. Groves.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Burghley, Lord||Dawson, Sir Philip|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Burnett, John George||Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Butt, Sir Alfred||Dickie, John P.|
|Albery, Irving James||Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Dixey, Arthur C. N.|
|Alien, Sir. J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Caine, G. R. Hall-||Donner, P. W.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Doran, Edward|
|Anstruther-Gray. W. J.||Campbell, Rear-Adml. G. (Burnley)||Dower, Captain A. V. G.|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Campbel-Johnston, Malcolm||Duckworth, George A. V.|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe||Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Duggan, Hubert John|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Carver, Major William H.||Duncan. James A.L. (Kensington, N.)|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Cassels, James Dale||Dunglass, Lord|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Castlereagh, Viscount||Eales, John Frederick|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Castle Stewart, Earl||Eastwood, John Francis|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Eden, Robert Anthony|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Edge, Sir William|
|Balniel, Lord||Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Edmondson, Major A. J.|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Ednam, Viscount|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord Hugh||Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E.|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar||Chalmers, John Rutherford||Ellis, Robert Geoffrey|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. Sir. J.A.(Birm.,W)||Elliston, Captain George Sampson|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Elmley, Viscount|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Chapman, Col. R.(Houghton le-Spring)||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Chotzner, Alfred James||Entwistle, Cyril Fullard|
|Bernays, Robert||Christie, James Archibald||Erskine, Lord (Weston super-Mare)|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Clarry, Reginald George||Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)|
|Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Clayton Dr. George C.||Essenhigh, Reginald Clare|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Clydesdale, Marquess of||Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)|
|Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.)||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Colfax, Major William Philip||Falle, Sir Bertram G.|
|Blindell, James||Colman, N. C. D.||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst|
|Boothby, Robert John Graham||Colville, Major David John||Foot, Dingle (Dundee)|
|Borodale, Viscount||Conant, R. J. E.||Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Cook, Thomas A.||Ford, Sir Patrick J.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Cooke, James D.||Fraser, Captain Ian|
|Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Cooper, A. Duff||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Copeland, Ida||Galbraith, James Francis Wallace|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Bracken, Brendan||Craven-Ellis, William||Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Crooke, J. Smedley||Gibson, Charles Granville|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Gillett, Sir George Masterman|
|Briant, Frank||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Glossop, C. W. H.|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Cross, R. H.||Gluckstein, Louis Halle|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Crossley, A. C.||Glyn, Major Ralph G. C.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'I'd., Hexham)||Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Goff, Sir Park|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Dalkeith, Earl of||Goldie, Noel B.|
|Browne, Captain A. C.||Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.|
|Buchan, John||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P G. T.||Davison, Sir William Henry||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland N.)|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)|
|Graves, Marjorie||Lymington, Viscount||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)|
|Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Robinson, John Roland|
|Greene, William P. C.||MacAndrew, Maj. C. G. (Partick)||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Grenfell, E. C. (City of London)||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro',W.)||McCorquodale, M. S.||Rosbotham, S. T.|
|Grimston, R. V.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Ross Taylor, Waiter (Woodbridge)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||McEwen, J. H. F.||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Hales, Harold K.||McKie, John Hamilton||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside)|
|Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon)||McLean, Major Alan||Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)|
|Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Corn'll N.)||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo|
|Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd)||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Salmon, Major Isidore|
|Hammersley, Samuel S.||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Salt, Edward W.|
|Hanbury, Cecil||Magnay, Thomas||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Hanley, Dennis A.||Maitland, Adam||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Harbord, Arthur||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Harris, Sir Percy||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Scone, Lord|
|Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)||Marjoribanks, Edward||Selley, Harry R.|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Martin, Thomas B.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Hepworth, Joseph||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Hillman, Dr. George B.||Meller, Richard James||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Millar, Sir James Duncan||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Holdsworth, Herbert||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-In-F.)|
|Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Aston)||Mills, Sir Frederick (Layton, E.)||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Milne, Charles||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Hopkinson, Austin||Milne, John Sydney Wardlaw-||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Hornby, Frank||Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Mitcheson, G. G.||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Soper, Richard|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Moreing, Adrian C.||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Morrison, William Shephard||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Moss, Captain H. J.||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)|
|Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)|
|Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romford)||Munro, Patrick||Stewart, William J.|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Nail, Sir Joseph||Stones, James|
|Iveagh, Countess of||Nathan, Major H. L.||Storey, Samuel|
|Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Janner, Barnett||Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Jennings, Roland||North, Captain Edward T.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Jesson, Major Thomas E.||O'Connor, Terence James||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.(Pd'gt'n, S.)|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Ormiston, Thomas||Templeton, William P.|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Palmer, Francis Noel||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Patrick, Colin M.||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Ken, J. Campbell||Peake, Captain Osbert||Thompson, Luke|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||Pearson, William G.||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Kimball, Lawrence||Peat, Charles U.||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.||Penny, Sir George||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Knebworth, Viscount||Perkins, Walter R. D.||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Knox, Sir Alfred||Petherick, M.||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bliston)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Pickering, Ernest H.||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Law, Sir Alfred||Potter, John||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Leckie, J. A.||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Wallace, John (Dunfermllne)|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Less-Jones, John||Pybus, Percy John||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Leigh, Sir John||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Levy, Thomas||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Lewis, Oswald||Ramsbotham, Herwald||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-|
|Liddall, Walter S.||Ramsden, E.||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Lindsay, Noel Ker||Rankin, Robert||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Ratcliffe, Arthur||White, Henry Graham|
|Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest||Rea, Walter Russell||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Lloyd, Geoffrey||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd. G'n)||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'ndsw'th)||Remer, John R.||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Renwick, Major Gustav A.||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Lockwood, Capt. J. H. (Shipley)||Reynolds, Col. Sir James Philip||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Wise, Alfred R.||Worthington, Dr. John V.||Captain Margesson and Mr. Shakespeare.|
|Withers, Sir John James||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Womersley, Walter James|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.