§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.
§ [Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient—
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Henry Betterton)
Before we proceed I should like to ask you, Sir Dennis, for the guidance of the Committee, to give some indication as to the scope of this discussion.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Members of the Committee will be aware that it is the practice in a case of this kind where 346 there is a statutory enactment in operation which it is not proposed to interfere with that the Committee cannot discuss that particular statutory enactment. In the circumstances of this particular case, the Resolution before the Committee is one which provides for certain rules on the general question of whether the circumstances of applicants for transitional payment are such that they are in need of such payment. The statutory provision is that such payment shall only be made to unemployed persons who are in need of assistance, and the present proposal being limited to deciding how the question of need is to be determined, it would not be in order to discuss whether payment should be made without any regard to whether the applicant is in need or not. The Committee will be free to discuss how the question of whether an applicant is in need of assistance or not, should be determined, although as will be realised it is not open to any hon. Member to propose Amendments which go beyond the proposals in regard to which the King's Recommendation has been signified.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I understand, Sir Dennis, that you have laid it down that a Member cannot argue in favour of the complete abolition of a test of means, and that all he can argue is the question of the degree or nature of that test. Would it not be in order, however, for an hon. Member to endeavour to show that the administration of the means test was becoming a heavy charge on the Treasury and that on that ground it would be better to abolish it? Would he not be entitled to argue, not on the rights or wrongs of the means test, but on the fact that it was becoming a heavy charge on the Treasury?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I carefully avoided using the expression "means test" which does not appear upon the Order Paper or in these proposals. What I have ruled as being outside the scope of this discussion is the question of whether transitional payments ought to be made to persons irrespective of whether they are in need of assistance or not. That cannot be discussed. What may he discussed is the question of rules and whether the rules ought to be simplified or made so as to be less expensive in the matter of administration. That is a matter which can be discussed within my Ruling.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
I take it, in effect, that the discussion will be about as wide in its scope as the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill to which the Financial Resolution relates and that general arguments on the operation of the whole system of transitional payments will be in order.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is not for me to say what would be in order on the Second Reading of a Bill. I cannot go beyond saying what would be in order in the discussion of this Resolution, and I hope I have put the matter clearly to the Committee. I have no doubt that it would be the wish of the Committee to allow as wide a Debate as possible, but the Committee must remember that the one thing which they cannot argue—and indeed I do not imagine that any hon. Member would seriously wish to argue it—is that these payments should be made irrespective of whether the applicant was in need at all or not. That is really the only thing which is barred from the discussion.
§ Mr. LEWIS
Do I understand, then, that the first Amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury)—in line 1, to leave out from the word 'expedient,' and at the end of the Question to add instead thereof the words 'to amend the law relating to transitional payments byis out of order?
- (a) repealing the provision under which applicants for transitional payments are subjected to a means test; and
- (b) removing from the public assistance committees and restoring to courts of referees appointed under the Unemployment Insurance Acts the duty of dealing with applications for transitional payments'"—
§ The CHAIRMAN
Yes, because it would create a charge beyond that in regard to which the King's Recommendation has been signified.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think perhaps we might wait until we come to those Amendments, but I may relieve the hon. Member's mind by telling him, generally, that 348 every Amendment which would increase the charge is out of order and that apparently covers all the Amendments on page 2492 of the Order Paper and the first three Amendments on the next page. As to the remaining three Amendments, the time to consider them will be when we come to them.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
If I understood your Ruling aright, Sir Dennis, it will not be in order on this occasion to raise the question of whether there should or should not be a needs test. That question is decided by the Statute. It will be in order, however, I take it, to discuss the question of inquiring into a person's means in order to ascertain the extent of his need. As the Committee will observe, the purpose of this Financial Resolution is that a Bill may be introduced at once to provide that certain rules shall be complied with in determining the need of applicants for transitional payments and to permit the application of the same rules in the granting of out-door relief. When hon. Members examine the Bill they will see that it follows the terms of the Resolution. The Ruling which has just been given enables me to take the opportunity, which I am sure will be welcome on all sides of the Committee, of discussing the fundamental difference between us and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite on this question. As I understand it, from the Amendments which appear on the Paper and from speeches which have been made and other indications, it is the view of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that no inquiry at all should be made into means before public relief is granted by way of transitional payments. That of course, is a new attitude and a new decision to which hon. Gentlemen have come. I do not in the least complain, because each of us has the right to change his mind sometimes, and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have just as much right to do so as anybody else. This statement of policy was first announced to the House by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) on 5th April of this year when he said in that clear language which he always uses:As far as we are concerned we are for ending the means test root and branch without equivocation or qualification. That is the position which we take up with regard to the matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1932; col. 40, Vol. 264.]
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
On a point of Order. I listened to your Ruling very carefully, Sir Dennis, and if you have noted what the right hon. Gentleman has said, you will have observed that he has addressed the whole of his remarks up to now to a discussion of the desirability of a means test as such. Are we, therefore, to be allowed to follow the Minister in that line of argument?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am bound to say that I did not hear, in the circumstances, every word that the Minister said, but I think that when a Minister introduces a Resolution, as long as he does not argue a point, he is entitled to state shortly the reasons why he is introducing a Resolution to deal with some particular aspect of any matter.
§ Mr. LAWSON
As the Minister has quoted a statement that I made, which I would be very desirous of amplifying and supporting, shall we have an opportunity of meeting the viewpoint which the right hon. Gentleman has put and of dealing with that particular quotation?
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
Further to that point of Order. May I say that the argument which my right hon. Friend is now advancing appears to be contrary to the Ruling given from the Chair?
§ The CHAIRMAN
There is perhaps some confusion in the minds of hon. Members between the different expressions "means test" and "needs test." I hope I made it clear that the question of what being in need means is fully within the limits of discussion. All that is shut out is the discussion of the question whether these transitional payments should be made to persons regardless of their being in need. It is not a question of regardless of what their means are, but of regardless of their being in need.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I most certainly will not transgress the Ruling you have given, Sir Dennis, and I will not pursue what I was saying—
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I am only too anxious to do so. Upon this fundamental matter there has been a complete change of attitude on the part of hon. Members 350 opposite. I find that in September of 1931 the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), at Scarborough, raised this very question, and moved an amendment to the effect that the Labour party should pledge itself to raise the benefits under the scale endorsed by the party before the last election, and to abolish the means test to those on transitional payments. That was a perfectly clear, straightforward amendment. I observe that no answer whatever was given by the official spokesman, but the chairman, at the end of the proceedings, said:Are the Independent Labour Party pressing their amendment?There were cries of "Yes," and the amendment of the Independent Labour Party was then put to the vote and lost, on a show of hands. That apparently was the view just before the election, and therefore, both with regard to the limited question and with regard to the main question, what we are asked now, as I understand it, is that we should accept a principle which was rejected by the Labour party immediately before the General Election.
I want to proceed at once to explain who are affected by this Resolution. It is only those who have exhausted their insurance qualification, those who have no longer any claim upon the Insurance Fund, and whose claims to benefit have ceased and whose relief is provided wholly by the National Exchequer. Under the Order which was made a year ago, it was laid down that it must be assumed that an applicant had exhausted his right to insurance benefit after 26 weeks, and I cannot think that that can be regarded as an ungenerous allowance of time. If you add it up, you will find that a man and wife and three children would have received £38 benefit in 26 weeks, and if you take the contributions at 10d. a week, you will find that it would take 18 years before he would have paid in enough to meet that £38.
The claim of hon. Members opposite, as I understand it, is that he who has exhausted his claim on the fund and who then must look to the State for relief shall have that relief, whatever his means be and without any inquiry into them. Therefore, the claim is that that person should be privileged as against the in- 351 sured person in that he has exhausted his insurance rights, and that he shall be privileged as against the man who claims poor relief, in that there is to be no inquiry as to his means. We do not hold that view, and, while there may be legitimate differences of opinion as to what the standards should be, we adhere to the view that public money cannot be given to persons without regard to whether they need it or not. I will give my reasons, and the first point to which I shall refer is by way of affording an analogy. When hon. and right hon. Members opposite were in office, they passed the Anomalies Act, and they did it because they thought—and, I think, thought rightly—that there were certain abuses which required correction. We are acting on evidence of what appeared to us to be abuses at least as flagrant as, if not more flagrant than, some of those which were corrected by the Anomalies Act.
I will give one or two examples among many of actual cases which have come to my notice. There is the case, for instance, of a married man with £240 in the bank, £240 in War Savings Certificates and his wife £1,100 in the bank. He applied for transitional payment, which, of course, if granted, would be paid for by the State, and he was refused. That is the case of a man whose means did not justify him going to the State for relief. There is another case of a single man with £1,500 in the bank. He applied for transitional payment, and was refused. Hon. Members opposite may be interested to know that both those cases happened to come from Wales.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
They were refused, but they would have got payment had it not been within the power of the authorities to ascertain their means. Another case is that of a single man with £755 in the Post Office Savings Bank, £212 in Birmingham Corporation Stock and £100 in Vickers Stock, making a total of £1,067. That was an application which was made and, of course, turned down, but it would not have been turned down had this test not applied. There is the case of a single woman with £1,700 invested, producing £60 a year 352 dividends. I have many other cases of the same kind. I will give one or two cases of family income. I have a case here of a single man who has his father, brother and sister living with him in the same house. The father owns the house, and the total income of the four persons coming into the house is £13 5s. per week. The man applied, but no determination was made. In the case of a single man residing with his father and three brothers, the rent is 11s. a week and the total income of the household £14 16s. 6d. An application in this case was also refused. A single woman residing with her brother and two sisters made application. The brother and sisters were working, and the total income was £14 7s. 6d. No determination was made in that case.
We say that these and similar cases are abuses not less flagrant than those with which the Anomalies Act dealt, and they are cases to which it is clearly indefensible, in our view, to pay State relief without inquiry into the means of the applicant. There may be, on the figures I have given, two families living in the same street, one with an income twice that of the other, and yet the family with the lower income may actually be paying taxes in order to provide the dole for the family with the larger income. That is the sort of thing that causes resentment up and down the country in a way that is fully justified.
I want to put another aspect of the matter. The agricultural labourer very often, unfortunately, has a wage which is but little more than the amount received by an unemployed man with his wife and three children, and he, through his little luxuries such as tobacco and beer, is actually paying taxes to provide the dole for families whose income may be four or five times as great. That is a situation which really cannot be regarded as satisfactory. In our view, there is no shadow of doubt that the principle of inquiry into means in order to determine need is a right measure of justice to all those who have to find the money. I want to refer to the Order in Council of last year. That states, in Section I, Sub-section (4), that the Committees shall make such inquiries and otherwise deal with the cases as if they were estimating the need of an unemployed able-bodied person who had 353 applied for public assistance, but as if such assistance could only be given in money. It is inherent in that system that there should be some discrepancies and some lack of uniformity between one district and another and one part of the country and another. But, as I have often told the House, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and I have done a great deal to secure much greater uniformity than there was when this system was first put into operation.
I cannot help thinking that many of the attacks which have been made upon public assistance committees have been both unjust and ungenerous. They have, with very few exceptions, carried out their duties with fairness and sympathy. These persons who are elected by their constituents, are, we are given to understand, competent and suitable to look after the interests of agricultural labourers, clerks out of employment, shopkeepers and other uninsured persons; and they are perfectly competent apparently to organise local schemes of training for the unemployed; but the moment they begin to exercise their duties with regard to transitional payments, then we are given to understand they at once become monsters of inhumanity. I cannot help thinking that there is a good deal of cant in criticisms of that kind. There has long been a demand, not only among hon. Gentlemen opposite, but among all Members in all parts of the House, for what they call a more humane Poor Law, and I cannot understand why they seem to discredit the very instrument through which they want to achieve that end.
I have in the House during last year said—and I hope that hon. Gentlemen will believe that I meant what I said—that I was watching the working of the administration of transitional payments, and that I would give the matter my closest consideration. I have done so, and I am satisfied that there are discrepancies in principle which we can rectify at once, as we are doing in the Bill. I will give some examples. I have here some instances of discrepancies in the treatment of disability pensions. I am told that Manchester generally disregards 50 per cent. Birmingham ignores the first 5s. in every case, and larger amounts where the disability calls for more than the usual assistance. In Lancashire one-fourth of disability pen- 354 sions, or 6s., which ever is the smaller, may be disregarded. In the case of savings, Manchester ignores £5; Birmingham ignores savings of £5 for a single man and £10 for a man and wife. Leicester ignores savings up to £25, and a claim is not allowed until savings are reduced to £25. In London savings of a small amount are usually ignored, and if they exced £20 no determination is generally made. These are examples of discrepancies with which I want to deal.
This Resolution and the Bill which will be founded upon it are limited to three types of resources, namely, disability pensions, workmen's compensation, and savings, or, more properly, capital assets. Our object is to get, if we can, a uniformity of principle in dealing with these three types. There will be a minimum which will be uniform and general in its application, with discretion above the minimum to be exercised by local authorities on the merits of each individual case. May I first deal with the question of disability pensions? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) made a speech on the 17th February, 1932, in which he said:That is the whole basis of the law under which such compensation is given, whereas the disabled soldiers' 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.He was referring there to compensation cases and soldiers' disability cases. He continued:Moreover, in my judgment, the disability pension is not wholly given to support and maintain life. It is given partly as compensation to provide amenities and comforts over and above those which are ordinarily enjoyed.He said a little later: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1932; cols. 1753 and 1755, Vol. 261.]That is exactly what this Bill will do. It will give statutory recognition to what my hon. and gallant Friend asked, and it will secure absolute protection for a portion of the disability pension. My object, and my only object, in this matter 355 is to protect by statute the position of the disabled man. The Clause in the Bill accepts the principle which he urged, namely, that a portion of the pension should be deemed to be in respect of something other than maintenance. I have constantly stated in this House that I hope these men will be dealt with sympathetically, and I repeat it. There will be no change of attitude so far as we are concerned. It is not proposed to interfere with the discretion of public assistance authorities to allow more than the statutory minimum in proper cases. That means that while a man is to be entitled under statute to protection for half his pension, if the nature of his disability involves him in extra expenditure over and above that which he would ordinarily require for his maintenance, then the committees may make him a greater allowance.
It has been urged that we ought to have inserted a minimum of money, that we should have put in some words like this, "But in no case shall the amount paid be less than so much per week." I considered that point with the utmost desire to help the disabled man, and the conclusion I came to was that the insertion of a figure of so much per week might, and probably would, do more harm to him than good, because public assistance committees would be very apt to regard it as a maximum, would be very prone to regard it as an amount beyond which they ought not to go, and if that view were taken then men with a large degree of disablement might be very seriously affected indeed. It is in the interests of the men themselves that we have framed this proposal in the way we have. I may add that the proposal is in conformity with the recommendation of the Royal Commission. My hon. and gallant Friend pointed out that there was a difference between the cases of persons suffering from disablement due to the War and those suffering from an injury caused by an industrial accident. I considered that point very carefully, and have come to the conclusion that in a matter of this kind, whatever the differences may be, we ought not to distinguish between them, and, therefore, we have decided that the same rule shall apply to the money which a, man has as compensation for some industrial accident. I have not had the time to 356 read, or, indeed, to do more than glance at, the report of the Royal Commission, but I am told that in regard to industrial compensation we have gone rather further than the Royal Commission recommended. Whether that be so or not, I think we ought to go as far as we have gone, and treat these people in the same way as we treat disability cases.
The next point the Resolution deals with is savings, an extraordinary difficult matter. It must be remembered that the money for transitional payments comes from persons many of whom have no savings at all, and, indeed, very often from persons who have to call upon their savings in order to pay their taxation. That is a point of view which we cannot ignore. On the other hand, I am very much impressed by the fact that owing to the prolonged industrial depression we are getting among the applicants for transitional payments an increasing number of persons who may have had really good industrial records for perhaps 20 or 30'years, and may not have been out of work during the whole of that time until 26 weeks ago. At the end of 26 weeks of unemployment they find that their insurance rights are exhausted. As the law stands at present they might be called upon to use up the whole of their savings before they got relief. It is represented, and I think rightly, that the present system is a discouragement to those people who, with a good industrial record over a long period, have saved something, and our problem, therefore, is to secure equal justice by recognising on the one hand the claims of thrift and on the other avoiding injustice to the taxpayer. Here, again, what we propose is, I am told, recommended by the Royal Commission. It is put in rather different words, but the substance and the effect are the same.
We propose to say that the first £25 of savings shall be disregarded, and that in regard to the second £25 it shall be assumed that from that second £25 there is an income of 1s. per week. The Committee will observe that that means that it will be assumed that there is no income from the first £49 19s. 11d., because the second £25 to which I have referred must be a complete sum of £25. The first £49 19s. 11d. is not taken into account at 357 all. Then we say that every additional £25 up to £300 shall be assumed to produce an income of 1s. a week.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
May I ask whether in this respect the Resolution is equivalent to the recommendation of the Royal Commission?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Yes. I have not studied the recommendation of the Royal Commission, but I am told that this is substantially what the Royal Commission recommends. House property raises another point which has aroused a great deal of controversy. The Resolution aims at prohibiting compulsion on an applicant to sell or mortgage his house property, but the local authorities will still be required to take into account any income derived from letting off any part of the house, and also the fact that the applicant has no rent to pay. So far as workmen's compensation is concerned, the payments are to be taken into account to the extent of one-half. I am only going to say one word in conclusion.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
Before we leave that point, may I ask whether the capital assets and the savings of the other members of the family will be entirely disregarded in assessing the applicant's claim for transitional payment? Here we are dealing, I understand, with the means of the applicant himself, but I think the Committee would like to have some light upon the attitude of this Resolution to the capital assets and savings of other members of the family.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
It does not affect that at all. The fact is that local authorities will do in the future with regard to capital assets of the family exactly as they have done in the past.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
They will pursue the same rule as they have done hitherto. The point to which the hon. Member has referred, of course, raises the whole question of family income. Probably we shall be asked in the course of this Debate why we have not included that, too. I will tell the hon. Member that that question, as nobody knows better than the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), with his tremendous experience of Poor Law, raises just about the most difficult and complex questions that can be raised, and is one of the questions in considering which the Royal Commission expended two years. In a temporary Bill, 48 hours after the report has come into my hands, I am not going to give a decision on a matter which has taken nearly two years to consider, and before I came to any conclusion on this matter I shall want not only to consider what they have said, but I shall also have to read, as I shall read, the evidence on which they founded their conclusions.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I do not desire to raise the whole matter of family income, but do we now understand that as the applicant is allowed to have £49 19s. 11d., a member of the family to which the applicant belongs must be completely impoverished? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I want to understand whether the same rule applies to members of the family as applies to the applicant.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
No doubt, in the course of the Debate, that point will be developed, but it would not be very convenient to deal with a case of that kind when I am endeavouring to explain the terms of this Resolution.
In conclusion, I would draw attention to the last part of the Resolution which says that the same rules shall apply with regard to pensions, compensation and savings in the granting of outdoor relief. That is a matter for which of course my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is responsible, and he will deal with it. I would remind those who have any doubt as to whether that is right or not, of a Debate which took place in this House as long ago as 23rd May, 1817, on the Savings Banks Bill, one Clause of which proposedto allow persons to avail themselves of parochial aid, should they require it, although they might have at the time money in the banks for savings not exceeding the amount of £30.359 One hon. Gentleman, Mr. Hammersley,particularly objected to this portion of the Bill as it was so complete a deviation from the principle of the Poor Laws.But the interesting thing about it is that another hon. Member, Mr. Frankland Lewis, speaking of the operation of the Clause, said:Even under the Poor Laws, as at present administered, they did not require that an individual should be absolutely destitute of all property before assisting him. It was discretionary with the overseers, and in most cases that discretion was exercised on the side of mercy and humanity.That was 115 years ago, but what I would point out is that it is exactly that principle which is contained in the Bill which is to be founded on this Resolution. So that the principle is not a new one.
§ Mr. BRIANT
There is the word "permit" in paragraph (b) of the Resolution. Do I understand that under paragraph (a) these exemptions come under the word "shall," and that as regards paragraph (b) they are permissive?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will deal with that. I have given, I hope, a clear explanation of what is contained in the Financial Resolution, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition will do what he has told us he would do the other day, namely, help us to get the Bill through, although, of course, he is quite entitled to say that it does not go as far as he would like.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the Resolution in regard to workmen's compensation, savings and disability pensions. Can he tell me why sickness income has been left out? Under Health Insurance the first 7s. 6d. is exempt, but the right hon. Gentleman knows that the Poor Law authorities up and down the country have been ignoring that. I want to ask why nothing has been done here about sickness benefit, which seems to be as important as workmen's compensation and disability pensions, seeing that sickness is certified.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
It is quite open to hon. Gentlemen to ask why this, that and the other are not included in the Bill. I say at once that it is limited to these three points, and we are not prepared, until we come to the larger legislation next year, to go further than we have done in the Bill which will come before the House.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The right hon. Gentleman asked us to do what we could to expedite this Resolution and the Bill. Had he offered some crumbs of comfort I think we might have been prepared to have done it, but I must say that my hon. Friends and myself are profoundly disappointed with the small, restricted nature of the concessions which have been given. The Government have been driven, as a result of the pressure of public opinion, to make some kind of gesture. Ever since this test has been in operation there has been a growing public resentment, not confined to Members of the Labour party, against the operation of transitional payment. Public assistance committee after public assistance committee, local authority after local authority, irrespective of party complexion has made its protest, first against the nature of the task that has been imposed upon it by the Government, and, secondly, against the conditions under which they were being driven, willy nilly, to administer it on pain of supersession. This revolt is not a revolt against the people with £1,500 in the bank. This revolt is a revolt because decent people, whatever their political party, find that, as a result of one year's operation of transitional payment, harshness has been unavoidable, and hardships have fallen on hundreds of thousands of families. That is the truth, and there is no hon. Member attending this Committee this afternoon that has not got in his own constituency scores of cases of really serious hardship inflicted in order to save a man with £1,500 slipping through and getting payments.
Let us look at some of the terms of the proposal made by the Government. In the case of wound or disability pensions one-half is to be allowed. The right hon. Gentleman, when it suited his case, quoted the Royal Commission on Unem- 361 ployment Insurance, and said that the Government were doing better than that. Taking their proposals on the whole, they are doing worse than that. Most of us are busy men, but we have had time to look at some of the points in the report, and in the case of disability pensions their suggestion is that half of the pension should be omitted, but they say:It is in our view impossible to prescribe an absolute rule to be applied in all cases.And they suggested that in exceptional cases the local authority should have power to ignore more than 50 per cent.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The local authorities as the public assistance committees have power, but there is nothing, as I understand, in the Resolution which would permit a public assistance committee, acting as agent of the right hon. Gentleman, giving more. If I am wrong in that, I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would correct me. Then I must take the Resolution as it reads. It says 30 per cent. What is the position to day? The first 7s. 6d. of National Health Insurance benefit is already ignored. An ex-service man with a 20 per cent. disability—and that is the least for which the pension is paid—receiving 8s. per week, will have 4s. remitted. The mart who is sick and is likely to recover, is permitted a remission of 7s. 6d. There is no justice in that. There is no justice in the 50 per cent. If you were dealing with the matter purely on grounds of destitution you might say that you must take a proportion of it into account, but, if you are dealing with an unemployed man who is still in the field of insurable employment, that disability pension, if it has been accurately assessed, measures the amount by which his employability has been reduced. In those circumstances, regarding the matter from the point of view of the unemployed, the whole of the 100 per cent. ought to be remitted, because, so far as you can express it in money, it is something that has been given in order to bring that person up to the normal, and to put him into the industrial firing-line on equal terms with other people.
There is, I therefore suggest, a case for the unemployed, disabled ex-service man, an insured person who appears to have 362 lost his livelihood for the time being, to be treated as though that income were not there, because it is the compensation intended to bring him up to the efficiency level in industry. The same applies with regard to the second item, that of workmen's compensation. There, one half is to be remitted. The Minister of Labour tells us that that is better than the proposal in the Report of the Royal Commission. What is set down in that Report is that they could not lay down any rule and that this is a matter for consideration. I agree with him that the principle is the same. Whether a man has been temporarily disabled as a private in the industrial army, or permanently disabled as a member of the forces of the Crown, is immaterial. The point is that for the time being he is out of the battle. Whether it be workmen's compensation or pensions—and we are dealing, remember, not with people who have fallen by the wayside and who are being dealt with by the Poor Law, but with workers and potential workers—applicants ought to be dealt with in a way differently from assuming that 50 per cent. of the disability does not matter and is not there. They ought to be treated as though the whole of the disability, as expressed in money, were part of themselves, part of their very person, and ought therefore not to be taken into account.
Now we come to a very difficult point, the question of capital assets. On that, we are told by the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have followed broadly the terms of the Royal Commission's report. Well, either my arithmetic is very bad or the right hon. Gentleman's is wrong. I take the case of a man with the maximum amount mentioned in the Resolution, a sum of £300. On the scale suggested by the Government, such a person would be regarded as having an income of £28 12s. per year. I have checked my arithmetic, and I believe that that can be reckoned out as equivalent to a dividend of 9½ per cent. on his capital. The report of the Royal Commission, as I estimate it in the case of the man with £300 of savings, regarded £23 8s. as income, so that the Government are not doing as well as the Royal Commission's report. The Royal Commission assumed only a mere 7⅘ per cent. return on the capital of these industrial capitalists with £300, while the 363 right hon. Gentleman assumes 9½ per cent. What justification is there for that? [Interruption.] I am not wrong about "nearly 10 per cent." It may be true that the first £25 is disregarded, but every complete £25 after that is regarded. If there is £300, it is reckoned as an income of one shilling per £25 per week, that is, 11s. per week from £300.
Hon. Members can reckon up what it means. It works out at 9½ per cent. That money is not invested at 9½ per cent. Working people do not save for the income they get on the money; they save to have a nest-egg against a rainy day. At the best, they only get 2½ per cent. in the Post Office Savings Bank. They might have a little money in War Loan, but they are certainly not getting anything like 9½ per cent. Then there is the case of the old age pension. Take the case of a man and his wife in the noncontributory class with joint resources of £300. The first £50 is disregarded, and the rest is reckoned at 5 per cent. and is regarded as an income of £12 10s. per year, which is 5 per cent. on £250. It is monstrous to suppose that because people have £200, £250, or £300, in the bank, they are getting on that, in cash which they can spend at the grocer's and the butcher's, 9½ per cent., or anything near it.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Would it not be possible for some of those who are getting 9½ per cent. to be appointed as financial advisers to the Treasury?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The suggestion might well be addressed to the Government. These concessions are very small. What are they going to cost the Treasury? What, in the aggregate, is going into the pockets of hard-pressed families with unemployed wage-earners? According to the Financial Memorandum which has been circulated, it is estimated that this is not going to cost more than £1,000,000 a year. As it is stated that transitional payments now cost £52,000,000 a year, it means a little less than 2 per cent., at the very best. My view is that the right hon. Gentleman has no foundation for that figure of £1,000,000. I should like somebody to tell us how many disabled ex-service men are to-day receiving transitional payments, or who might be eligible for transitional payments when this part of the 364 Resolution passes into law. I should like to know how many people are receiving workmen's compensation. We must know that, because otherwise there is no way of calculating this £1,000,000. We ought to know the number of people with means who have been applying in order to understand what the saving is likely to be. I repeat—because the Government must tell us a little more about the money side of this—that the Government have no evidence to support their estimate. Their words are very cloudy in the Financial Resolution. They have no real basis for their estimate that this is going to put something approaching £1,000,000 into the pockets of the unemployed.
I come to the next point. There are areas in this country where transitional payments have been administered in a little more generous spirit than the right hon. Gentleman likes, and where, in spite of the threats of the Minister of Labour, the conditions which are being operated are superior to those in this Motion. What is to happen in those areas which are among the most hard-pressed, and which have suffered longer from trade depression than any other areas in this country? What is to happen on the north-east coast, in Durham, in South Wales and in South Yorkshire? These areas are going to suffer under these new, generous concessions by the Minister of Labour. The assistance given to people who have had 10 or 12 years of industrial depression is to be less. While the right hon. Gentleman might hand out a few score thousands of pounds in some directions, he will take it from the working people in other areas. That is what this Financial Resolution amounts to, and that is what the Bill will amount to when it comes before the House.
Our objection to the Resolution, and to the Bill which is to follow it, is that they do not touch the great mass of injustice inflicted directly under the scheme and which has given rise to the volume, the growing volume, of public indignation. I have every sympathy with the abnormal case, but I am referring to the normal case of the ordinary industrial family, where there is cruel hardship because of the application of the principle that everything that comes into the house is part of the family income. It does not matter whether a son of 25 years of age is expecting to be 365 married; his earnings have all to go into the common pot, every penny of them. Not only are romances being blighted month by month, and marriages postponed, but serious hardship is growing, and people are, willy nilly, leaving home. Hon. Members may say that it is wrong, but it is perfectly natural. This process is breaking up family life. I am speaking with regard to the bulk of cases, those of the normal family.
I cannot understand the way in which the matter has been administered. I will except, if you like, the case of Rotherham, where the vast majority of people who applied received the full transitional payment. I will take areas where there are no Labour men in the ascendancy, and no wicked agitators disturbing the public mind, where no such elements exist, but where there are respectable authorities and yet where they have given full benefit in three-quarters of the cases. If they do that, believe me there is every justification for full payment in those three-quarters of the cases. What happens in Aberdeen? Full benefit is given in 11.2 per cent. of the cases? As against Southampton, which pays full benefit in 71 per cent. of the cases, grave injustice is being done to a large percentage of the applicants in the town of Aberdeen, if conditions are reasonably comparable. The Motion does not touch the problem. These are not anomalies. To-day anomalies are relatively small and unimportant compared with the mass; they are excrescences. It is the whole system which is wrong. Many hon. Members, when they talk about uniformity, mean bringing people who are a little better off down to the level of the others. We are generally accused of doing so, but, of course, this proposal will do precisely the same kind of thing. If there ought to be a measure of uniformity—and the right hon. Gentleman has pleaded his three ewe lambs of classes of case—then what about the monstrous difference of administration as between different parts of the country? There can be only one conclusion. Either millions of pounds are being flung away by Conservative and Liberal local authorities, or, in large numbers of places, honest people for whom transitional payments were intended are not getting even what the right hon. Gentleman told us he thought they ought to 366 have. But we go further than that. The right hon. Gentleman is still going to drive the disabled ex-service man to the doors of the public assistance committee; he is still going to subject the householder who has a cottage of his own to indignity by a Poor Law inquisition such as no Income Tax payer ever suffers. So long as any unemployed worker is dealt with by the Poor Law, I shall fight it. I have never in my life agreed to any unemployed worker going to the Poor Law.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It is not true. You drove them on to it. [Interruption.] You bitterly drove seasonal workers on to the Poor Law by depriving them of every penny of benefit.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government which he sometimes supported took people off the Poor Law.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
For the last 12 months we have had something in this country that we have never had since we have had unemployment insurance as a system—an association of unemployment insurance with the Poor Law. Ex-service men—
§ Lieut.-Commander AGNEW
Would the right hon. Gentleman make himself perfectly clear? Is he suggesting that during his administration unemployed agricultural labourers were not sent to the Poor Law if they were destitute?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
They are being sent there to-day. [Interruption.] Of course they were; it is perfectly true. What I said, and it still remains true, is that people were taken off the Poor Law and put on to unemployment insurance benefit. It is true that agricultural workers were not among those persons; I hope they will be included among the insured workers before very long. The point that I want to make is that we are operating now under a system whereby, 367 for the first time, unemployment insurance has been linked with the Poor Law system, and whereby Poor Law methods and Poor Law machinery are being used to assess the claims of people such as those whom the right hon. Gentleman to-day is purporting to assist. I say that that is a retrograde step. Never, since 1834, when the new Poor Law system was established, has a single new function been given to it; the whole process has been to take away from it functions which it ought not to exercise. The development of our education, our Public Health Acts, unemployment insurance itself—the whole purpose of these was to take people away from the Poor Law, and the administration which is being perpetuated now in this Financial Resolution is a reversal of the policy of a hundred years.
This is tremendously important to the unemployed. The principle of the Poor Law is deterrent. The principle of the Poor Law is that nothing can be given unless a person is destitute. The means test has been part of the Poor Law ever since we have had the Poor Law. Either through malice or through ignorance, people have accused me of inventing it, but it is inherent in the Poor Law; so long as you have destitution authorities, all means must be taken into account. But that is no reason for allying that kind of machinery with the administration of unemployment insurance. That goes back to the days when a man who was workless was regarded either as a rogue or a vagabond, when he was regarded as suffering from some personal moral defect. That is not true to-day, with 3,000,000 people out of work, including some of the most highly skilled and most reliable operatives in the land, and our objection to this mean concession is that, even as regards this small class, they still have to suffer the humiliation of the Poor Law.
I come to the further question of the inquisition as regards their means. So long—and, if there were any doubts, 12 months of administration of transitional payments has proved it up to the hilt—so long as conditions remain as they are now, the scales of justice will always be weighted against the poor, and I am prepared now to put myself with everybody who will stand against any means 368 test administered by the kind of people who are administering it to-day.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he would approve of a means test if it were administered by some other authority?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
No. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am not here this afternoon to run away from this question—
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench would either keep their ungenerous statements unsaid or say them on the Floor of the House, I should prefer it. I am saying that, under the conditions under which we are living to-day, the last 12 months have proved that the scales of justice are weighted against the poor.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
If the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) wishes to make a speech, let him rise in his place.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Every week a different statement is made by representatives of the Labour party on the means test. Will they, in justice to their supporters in the country, state quite sincerely whether they stand for or against any form of means test?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. Member will realise that that is a matter which cannot be debated now, according to my Ruling.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I am only asking the right hon. Gentleman a question which he has pretended time and again to 369 answer but which he continues to evade. I am only asking him to say in the course of his speech where his party stand. For Heaven's sake, let him give us a clear statement.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is perfectly entitled to ask that question on a proper occasion, but I cannot allow questions to be asked and answered on a matter which is shut out from this Debate.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I do not wish to go beyond your Ruling—[Interruption.] If I have done so, I am sorry.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but it is quite the contrary. I was not suggesting that he had gone beyond my Ruling. What I said was that the question asked of him was one which I could not allow to be either asked or answered.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Then it is open to me to proceed from the point where I left off. I repeat what I was saying, namely, that 12 months of administration has proved that any means test administered under the existing organisation of society is bad, and ought to be opposed. It has been proved beyond doubt within the last 12 months that, in order to catch the odd cases to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, an enormous number of people have been sacrificed. So far as I am concerned, I would rather let the few through than that the majority should be sacrificed.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am afraid that hon. Members have led me on. This question, as the right hon. Gentleman made quite clear in his opening remarks, is one on which there is a fundamental difference between us. He raised the question at the beginning. Our answer to him is, first, that his concessions are virtually worthless; that large numbers of people, as a result of these so-called concessions, will be worse off; and that, even as regards this relatively small group of 370 people, the old iniquitous principle of investigation into means by a Poor Law authority still continues. Had the right hon. Gentleman given us any real crumb of comfort, we should not have taken the step that we propose to take to-day; but we regard his concessions as empty, and, because of that, we shall be compelled to oppose them in the Division Lobby tonight.
§ Mr. BRIANT
The speech we have just heard leaves us in some doubt whether a means test administered by some other authority would meet the right hon. Gentleman's wishes. Some hon. Members opposite say rather seriously that in no conditions whatever should there be any inquiry by poor law or other authorities. Only a few days ago the Leader of the Opposition said he was against giving benefit to the individual unemployed man who had means of his own.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I certainly said that but, if you are going to quote it, kindly quote the whole statement. It is understood in this House that Members treat each other in an honourable manner and no one has any right to draw one statement from the context. I said at Shore-ditch that, whilst I was still of that opinion, because of the fearful treatment of the poor people of this country I would fight to the uttermost of my power against any means test whatever in the conditions that we are living in.
§ Mr. BRIANT
The right hon. Gentleman accuses me of deliberately misleading the House. I have given the only quotation that I have. If I had any context modifying that, I would have given it, but I must repeat that the right hon. Gentleman stated that he was against giving benefit to the individual unemployed man who had means of his own. I want to know how he is to avoid giving that benefit unless there is some form of inquiry. That is the only point I make about that. I regret that I have seemed to mislead the Committee, but I do not see how without some inquiry the right hon. Gentleman could arrive at the decision that he said that he wished to arrive at. [Interruption.] I will not pursue it any further. It is quite unnecessary. As regards pensions, I feel some alarm at the very mean suggestion that has been made, and I agree with the 371 right hon. Gentleman opposite. I can see no sanction whatever in this proposal for allowing a deduction of more than 50 per cent for a pension. If there is such a sanction, I wish someone on the Government Bench would point it out. The only sanction for a reduction of more than 50 per cent. occurs when a man applies for poor law relief for public assistance. Under this there is no such sanction whatever.
The Minister of Labour tried to persuade the Committee that the proposals with regard to savings were identical with those in the report and he said that a man who had only £49 would be exempt. I cannot quite agree. The words of the report are that account shall be taken of savings of £50 or more and a shilling per week shall be deducted for each complete £25 beyond £50. That is to say, using his own illustration that a man who is receiving just under £75 would not have anything deducted for this. If I am wrong, perhaps someone will correct me.
There is another point that I want to accentuate. It will be noticed that these provisions are mandatory as regards transitional payments but permissive for ordinary relief. Knowing something of some public assistance committees, I very much doubt whether they would make these deductions, and I am very much afraid it will mean that these men will not get this 50 per cent. deduction which is suggested and which is mandatory on those applying for transitional benefit. Why cannot it not be made mandatory in both cases? Further, the right hon. Gentleman is putting the public assistance committees in an immense difficulty. He is making them say that, if they make all these allowances, they have to raise more from the rates and the Government, as far as I understand, make no provision to meet the increase, which must come from the Poor Law authorities. That is putting a temptation in the way of local authorities to disregard altogether the deductions for pensions, for compensation and for the value of investments. I do not think it is fair to the local authorities at all. I do not think it is right that these matters should be fought out at the elections. One person will say he is in favour of deducting £50, another £100, and so on. Let the House come to a conclusion as to what is right and just and make it mandatory on public assistance 372 bodies, at any rate until some further amendment of the law is carried out.
But I go still further. These proposals do not really meet the real dangers and the real grievance of the people. My experience is that the real grievance is not so much the question of capital, or compensation, or pensions, but the general attitude of public assistance committees. You may make all these deductions, and it will still be open to a public assistance committee to take into account nearly all the money from a daughter who is employed in an office and whose very dress is as much a part of her equipment as a carpenter's tools. I have a case in hand now where the average of the whole family, after rent and insurance are paid, is 5s. per week per head. That includes two men, one 23, and the other 19. Is it reasonable, is it fair to expect those men to have no pocket-money whatever out of their earnings Yet, if they have less than 5s. a head, obviously the family cannot live. I have been engaged in Poor Law work for 27 years and I am slow in criticising it. I know the difficulty of administering the law and I know how easy it is to find special cases which seem a hardship. I have in my possession the official correspondence with one of the largest public assistance committees in. London. I asked them why only so much was allowed, and the official reply is that they regard the family as not destitute. After rent is paid the figure works out at exactly 2s. 10d. per head per week. If a family in receipt of 2s. 10d. per head per week is not destitute, I fail to understand what destitution means. It is not enough to keep body and soul together. Anyone who knows how they live knows what happens. They have to pawn goods and obtain clothes and boots which they cannot pay for.
I am not giving these as extreme cases, I could multiply them by 50. The grievance is against the attitude of the authorities, and nothing like this will ever alter it. I want to be assured that any legislation that is undertaken in the future will grapple with much more than the question of pensions. It seems to me deplorable that a young man should be put in a position where he is left practically without any pocket money. It is more than lamentable, it is a danger to drive them down to such a low standard of life. I hold very strongly that, if a family has attained to a certain standard 373 of life, there is no greater danger than to lower it. The full amount of transitional benefit is inadequate in many cases for a family to live on and they have to part with something. To use a simple illustration, if a man, by thrift, has acquired a, piano, it is a disaster if be has to part with it. He will never make another effort to improve the standard of his home. It is a simple thing, but it is by these simple things that one judges the standard of life. This, such as it is, is better than nothing. That is poor praise but it is all the praise that, it deserves.
I regret that hon. Members opposite, with whom I agree in many of their criticisms, will keep on insisting upon the humiliation and degradation of applying to the Poor Law. I know, as they know, thousands of aged people in every sense as respectable as an unemployed man, and they have to apply. I know thousands who are not insured, and they have to apply. A widow's pension, if she gets one, is not sufficient and must be supplemented from the Poor Law. I do not want to make these people think they are degraded by going to the Poor Law. The Poor Law is intended for people for whom, through sickness or unemployment or from some other cause, it has become necessary to apply for public relief, not as a shame but as a moral right. I do not want it to be insisted upon so that you shall make these people shrink from going. I know these are revolutionary suggestions, but I hope that some Government, some day will be bold enough to place all forms of public assistance, whatever they are, under one Department and avoid distinctions as between different classes of people and different forms of assistance. As long as public assistance committees are laying down, as they are in some cases, a completely false standard of life which is not fit for any human being, it is not only a hardship to the particular family, but it means that the State in future will rue its action by reason of the demoralised families which will grow up and by reason of the physical deterioration which will affect the next generation. I hope that the Minister will not only exercise his powers but his great influence to see, if this system is continued—possibly it may be necessary to continue it—that at least it is adminis- 374 tered with humanity and with an eye on the real needs and necessities of the people.
§ Mr. LEWIS
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) devoted a considerable part of his speech to expressing indignation, because, as he said, for the first time Unemployment Insurance is linked with the Poor Law. It was strange that he should put forward that case. Why is it that the Unemployment Insurance Fund is bankrupt to-day? It is precisely because the right hon. Gentleman and those who think with him have for a long time persisted in confusing Unemployment Insurance with Poor Law relief. It is one of the advantages of the institution of the means test that it definitely separates the benefits a man receives in respect of contributions which he has paid or which have been paid by the State and his employer when he was employed, and puts them into a different class from sums which he receives as Poor Law relief, call it Transitional Benefit or what you like.
We are asked this afternoon to consider certain modifications in the administration of the means test. As far as I have been able to gather from the terms of the Financial Resolution and from the speech of the Minister of Labour, the Government have been anxious to recognise the fact that the cost of living varies in different localities, and, therefore, the question of a subsistence allowance is best left to be assessed locally. They have endeavoured to recognise that principle and at the same time to lay down certain general rules to be applied by all the committees who have to administer the means test in the different localities. On the face of it that is not unreasonable, because although, for example, the cost of rent in two districts may be different, it is hard to see why, when a man's income has to be assessed, a certain proportion of his savings should be taken into consideration in the one district, and a different proportion in another district; or, again, why in one district a certain proportion of disability pensions should be considered as income and a different proportion should be taken in another district. It seems to me to be a case for laying down certain rules of universal application in respect of such matters as disability pensions, capital savings, workmen's compensation and such like 375 matters while still leaving the final assessment to the different localities concerned.
There are one or two things in the Financial Resolution which I find a little hard to understand, and, as I understand that the Minister of Health is to speak later in the Debate, I hope that he will make them clear to us. The first point is one which has already been touched upon by the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant). It is as to whether the Minister of Labour was right when he led us to understand that under the terms of the Resolution and the Bill which is to depend upon the Resolution it will be possible for a committee in any given district to take into account less than one-half of wounds or disability pensions. I confess that as I read the Resolution the Minister of Labour must have been wrong, because it reads:The following rules shall be complied with"—and goes on to say:(i) wounds or disability pensions … shall be treated as if they were reduced by one-half.That language seems to be extremely explicit, and I should be glad if we could have some further explanation from the Government Bench of what the Minister of Labour meant when he gave us to understand, as he certainly did earlier in the Debate, that there was nothing to prevent a given local committee from saying: "In this exceptional case, we shall treat the disability as reduced say by 75 per cent." That is a point on which we should have a little information. The next point is with regard to paragraph (ii) which deals with the question of workmen's compensation. The Minister of Labour contradicted his original argument on paragraph (i) a little, because he told us that wounds and disability pensions were not given simply in order to provide maintenance for the persons receiving the pension. He laid stress on the point that statutory recognition was to be given to the fact that there was something more in those pensions than that. If there is anything in the argument, it seems to me that it does not apply to paragraph (ii). Therefore, it destroys the argument to make the same allowance in the case of workmen's compensation as in the case of war pensions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member 376 for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) stated that in his view those two should be treated absolutely on all fours, but I understand the Minister of Labour takes a different view. I do not see how he can reconcile the view that it is to give statutory expression to the idea that wounds or disability pension is not simply some money provided for the maintenance of the man in question, some compensation for the suffering he has gone through, and recognition of what he has done. I cannot see how that view can be taken in compensation cases. I should have thought that some distinction might well have been made between the two.
With regard to paragraph (iii), the Minister of Labour laid stress upon the case of a man who might have been in regular employment for 15 or 20 years and who now for the first time, in the trade depression, found himself unemployed. He said how hard it was if at the end of the period of six weeks he should find that he could no longer draw from the Unemployment Insurance Fund. That is a case with which I have the greatest sympathy, but, surely, the way to treat it is not, as is done in paragraph (iii), to make those various allowances for saving. The way to do it would be to take some recognition of the number of contributions paid in the extent of benefit that might be drawn. I should not be in order in labouring that matter now, but I put it forward as a suggestion in the hope that perhaps it may be considered by those who will have to frame a wider Bill in due course. It seems to roe that in the case upon which the Minister laid stress of the man who had been in employment for a very long time and who now for the first time in his life is out of employment some recognition might be taken of the long succession of payments into the fund in considering what he is entitled to take out of the fund. There is only one other point upon which I wish to ask for information. It is the point which the Minister of Labour specifically stated would be dealt with later by the Minister of Health. It is with regard to paragraph (b) at the end of the Financial Resolution where the word "permit" occurs. If hon. Members will look at the Resolution, they will notice that, whereas in line 5, the words are:shall be complied with377 in line 25 the words areto permit the application"—and it would seem that that is a deliberate distinction, or in other words, that these rules are to be mandatory in the case of transitional payments but permissive in the case of ordinary Poor Law payments. I cannot for the life of me see why that distinction should be made. If I am right in saying that it is a distinction, I shall be grateful if someone from the Government Front Bench can give us some idea on what ground of equity or expediency it has been thought necessary to make such a distinction.
§ Captain FRASER
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) seemed to make out a case that the Resolution was mean and would not even give a crumb of comfort to those who needed comfort. I venture to think that he was making a case which was much more fitted for the platform than for this Committee, if indeed it is fitted for the platform, because it is irrelevant to the Resolution. It is a Resolution to tide over a temporary time until next June when adequate legislation covering the whole field will have to be brought forward. Moreover, he does injustice to the Resolution. I will try and examine what good it does. I may have a word to say later by way of criticism. But it is fair to see what good this thing does instead of assuming that it gives no crumb of comfort to any person.
It is strange thing that the question of a means test in the case of men receiving disablement pensions should have become a matter of strong public controversy only when that class of disabled men who had been receiving standard benefit for six months and then fallen out of it came to be considered in front of a public assistance committee. Only when the means test was applied by the Order-in-Council of a year ago to that class of disabled soldiers did the question as to whether it was right or wrong, moral or immoral, to submit ex-service men to a means test arise in the public mind. It seems to have been forgotten that right back in history, and certainly under every Government we have had back to the War, ex-service men who were not in employment and had not been in employment have been going before public assistance committees, or earlier to 378 guardians, to secure relief and have been subject to a means test. If that be so, we can observe in the Resolution, and in the Bill which will be founded upon it, a principle of singular importance to ex-service men, something which we can place wholly on the credit side, much more than a crumb of comfort. Every ex-service man who hitherto would have gone to the guardians or to the public assistance committee and whose pension might have been taken wholly into account, will now be given the assurance that only half of it will be taken into account. So there are some things that we can place to the credit side in respect of this Resolution. For that class of man, for the first time, some part of his pension has been recognised as not having been given to him for subsistence. Under no Government since the War, not even the two Labour Governments, has that been the case. As regards the men who have been in employment and are entitled to apply for transitional benefit, we can claim that the same principle has been established.
It is a matter of very great importance to disabled soldiers that statutory recognition should be given to the principle that some part of the disability pension was intended for himself, over and above subsistence. It is the first time that that has appeared in any Statute, and we must recognise that, even if in regard to these amounts it does not go as far as many of us would like, that principle is of real value. For my part I thank the Government for recognising that principle. Again, there are the provisions, which I will only touch upon very lightly, as regards workmen's compensation and savings. They are more than crumbs of comfort. They are a real effort on the part of the Government to meet anomalies and to give some assistance to these particular classes of persons. It is worth while mentioning in connection with workmen's compensation that, while I do not grudge these men any assistance that can be afforded to them, I consider that they are singularly fortunate to come in on the same terms as the ex-service men. It is well to emphasise that point just now, when the younger generation growing up are beginning to ask themselves: "Why should these ex-service men have all these special considerations?" Personally, I 379 think they should have special consideration, but there are young people to-day—who know nothing personally of the disastrous consequences of the War, and who have no particular sentiment, understanding or knowledge to fortify their imaginations—who are asking why the ex-service men are receiving special consideration. When that question is being asked it is a consolation to feel that the ex-service men who are receiving special consideration have been the means of getting the same consideration for the workmen's compensation cases. I have no doubt that if the case of the ex-service men had not been argued so strongly as it has been in the House in the last few years there would not have been to-day 50 per cent. of workmen's compensation left out of account.
Turning to the provisions made for men in receipt of disability pensions, I would observe that it has been argued from the other side of the House, and it has been stated many times in the country, that the whole of the disability pension ought to be left out of account. I am not going to say that in a rich and prosperous country and at a time when there was no question of considering national means, I would not like those pensions left out of account. I am not going to say that I would not like to see the country so happy, so prosperous and so generous that it need not take into account any of these small amounts, but when the country is in difficulties it is expedient that those who govern it should go into the circumstances of every case where public money is expended, and there is no justification for arguing that even ex-service men should, by some prescriptive right, contract themselves out of the community. It is proper that their case should be considered generously and it is wholly wrong that it should not be considered at all. Therefore, you have to examine whether the provisions made for ex-service men are reasonable, whether they are generous or whether they are not generous enough. No case can be made out for leaving them out of consideration or for not examining their case.
If we examine the case of the men who go to public assistance committees and apply for transitional benefit, what do we find? Let me cite a few cases to show 380 what kind of facts would be available if we were to make an inquiry. Let us imagine an ex-service man who is said to be "totally disabled." That is a phrase which the activities of a great many ex-service men belie. They are technically totally disabled. Such a man may have lost both his legs or he may have received some similar wound which renders him technically totally incapacitated. Such a man will receive a pension of £2 a week, that being the flat rate. He will receive if he was married at the time he was wounded 10s. a week additional. If he had children at the time he was wounded he will receive 7s. 6d. for the first child and 6s. for the other children. He will receive also an attendant allowance which may vary from 10s. to £1 a week. Therefore, he may be in receipt of £3 13s. 6d. or £4 3s. 6d., according to the rate of attendant allowance. He may have been trained. If he was blinded he may have been trained at St. Dunstans to act as a telephone operator.
I know personally of 150 cases where, in spite of being technically totally disabled these men have so triumphed over their difficulties that they are doing a useful job and earning a man's wages. Such a man is now employed as a telephone operator and earning a substantial wage. He comes out of work. He receives standard benefit for six months, and then the question arises: "What ought we to do for him?" I am the last to say that his pension is adequate. I should like to see it doubled or trebled. I should like to see all these men helped as much as possible. At any rate, they have been given reasonable pensions. Those men who are not able to get the kind of work that I have indicated are living on their pensions. My disabled friend whose case I have cited is now in a position in which he goes before the public assistance committee, and we have to decide what we should do for him. If his pension is to be left wholly out of account, he goes to the public assistance committee and says: "I have no money. Will you please relieve my necessity?" But in fact he has £3 13s. 6d. or £4 3s. 6d. pension. Would the ex-service men be wise if they or those who speak for them were to put themselves in that position. Could anyone who made pledges of that kind at the last Election have known the facts on which they were making them?
381 Too much attention is paid to casual statements made in the heat of election fights, when not one of us is as normal and sane as we would wish to be. I have fought three or four elections, but I have been wise enough not to be caught. Many hon. Members came to this House for the first time, and they were caught. They pledged themselves to things which in the heat of battle they had not time to go into fully. I am not one who looks lightly upon pledges, but I do think that you can only work a democratic system if you have a little sense and you discriminate between statements made by way of election manifestos, statements made after careful consideration, and statements made out of the emotion, heat and excitement of the particular time when they were made. If we are to be anything like a Council of State we must see if we cannot to some extent mitigate the awful competition which is imposed upon us in the matter of making promises at election time, and see if we cannot be sensible enough to appreciate that some of the things said at election times are not carefully thought out. Criticism on this account comes with ill grace from hon. and right hon. Members opposite. Were there ever Members of this House who indulged in promises which they had not thought out, more than they did?
To return to the merits of this matter, let me refer again to the blinded soldier or the legless soldier, getting a pension of the kind that I have described, and going to the public authority and saying: "I have no money. You must leave my pension out of account, because the amendment of the Labour party has been carried. Therefore, I have nothing. What will you do for me?" That case cannot be argued. May I examine the matter from another aspect. These pensions were given to the totally disabled men partly, as the Minister has been good enough to say, referring to an earlier remark of mine, by way of compensation and recognition of his services and to help him in his daily difficulties, and partly for subsistence. Can anyone deny that some part of such a pension was given for subsistence? It is obvious that it must have been so, because the man was said to be totally disabled. It was thought that he would be incapable of earning anything, and it is only his own exceptional courage and the train- 382 ing he has received that has created the miracle that enables him to work at all. He was expected to be a hopeless, helpless, down and out. Quite obviously, the State meant him to subsist on his pension. My friend's comrade next door—when I say "my friend" I mean the man whose case I have cited—who was also badly wounded, may have been unable to learn a trade and get work, and he has been subsisting on his pension. He has a fair existence, he leads a tolerable life, although we would like to see him better off.
You cannot place ex-service men in such a watertight compartment that cases such as I have cited can be treated in an offhand way. You cannot say that a man who has £3 or £4 a week pension has no money, and then proceed to give him more money in order that he may subsist twice. I do not think that sort of argument would hold water. A great many hon. and right hon. Members opposite put these things forward because their hearts are bigger than their heads, and they really want to do a good turn for the ex-service man. I do not believe that you do the ex-service man a good turn if you plead a bad case for him. You only do him good if you go into his case fully and thoroughly and put all your strength behind his case. I say to hon. and right hon. Friends of mine, not only on the opposite side of the House but on this side, who have made pledges, foolishly as I think, or who have committed themselves to this 100 per cent. business, that they would not have done it if they had realised the facts.
I have no complaint or grievance in respect to the Financial Resolution so far as the larger war pensions are concerned, but a different consideration arises with regard to the small pensions. My argument that part of the War pension is subsistence and part of it is given for amenities, comforts or something else does not apply in quite the same way to the very small pensions. The Committee will recall the point that the full pension must have been given for the man to live on it, but that does not apply in the case of a 20, 25 or 30 per cent. pension. Take the man getting 8s. a week, the lowest weekly pension payable. It is obvious that no large part, if any, of that pension is given as subsistence allowance; it is 383 manifestly inadequate. It is given to him as some compensation for his daily trouble in having to do without half a hand or a foot, to help him because his field of employment is much more limited than that of a normal man. It is not given as a subsistence, and certainly not as a pension upon which to maintain his wife and children. There is the point; and I think we may ask the Government to make some concession over and above what is in the Financial Resolution. Under the National Health Insurance Act of 1924, Section 105, persons who get 7s. 6d. per week are considered when they come before the authorities for relief, the whole of the 7s. 6d. is left out of account, but in the case of the ex-service man half of his 86. is included.
Let me give one or two figures as to the numbers of ex-service men and then I shall have placed before the Committee all the facts upon which I have tried to base my argument. There are 452,000 ex-service men receiving disability pensions and 42,000 who are on the unemployment register; that is about 9.8 per cent. Those on the unemployment register, of course, do not come into consideration just now because some of them are getting standard benefit and only a portion of them are relevant to the question of transitional benefit. The figure is 3.8 per cent., less than half, come on transitional benefit. The total number of 452,000 falls into these categories. Men receiving 8s. per week or 20 per cent. pension, number 127,000; men receiving 12s. per week or 30 per cent., number 84,000; men receiving 16s. per week number 54,000, and those receiving £1 or more number 162,000. That is how they are made up, and it will be seen that there are something like 200,000 men who are receiving less than £1 per week. I have had calculations made to show what it would cost to put a minimum figure into the Financial Resolution, and I find that it would cost £174,000 to insert a, minimum figure of 15s., and £100,000 to insert a minimum figure of 10s. The Committee now has all the facts which are available to me.
The question I ask is, to what conclusion can we come? Quite obviously I should like to see the Government put in a minimum figure of 15s., and by a minimum figure I mean that at any rate up 384 to 15s. of a man's disability pension should be left out of account, or 50 per cent., whichever is the greater. The Minister I thought pleaded a little speciously when he said that a public assistance committee might make my minimum a maximum. They might also make the Minister's percentage a maximum. I hope they will not do either. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are compelled."] I do not think that is so. My reading of the Resolution leads me to think that a public assistance committee, in relation to transitional benefit and to relief, may grant more than 50 per cent., they must leave out 50 per cent, but they may make any such relief provision as would in fact leave out of calculation the whole of the pension if they so wished. That is the way I read the Resolution, and I hope that is the case.
§ Captain FRASER
I see no reason why a public assistance committee should treat a minimum of 15s. as if it were a maximum any more than they should treat a percentage as if it were a maximum. Here we are with an abundance of good will towards ex-service men which is shared by hon. Members on all sides of the House, on the Government Bench as well as on the back benches. I have reason to think that the utmost good will is felt towards the case of these men by Members of the Government. I do not doubt, although I have no information upon it, that every Member of the Cabinet would like to make this concession if they could. I am convinced that it is a concession which is not merely expedient but is also based upon principle. It is thoroughly distasteful to many of us to argue about a few shillings a week in the case of disabled soldiers. But the Government cannot make this concession, and that compels one to think that there must be an over-riding reason. What can it be? It must be that the maximum concession they are prepared to make has already been put into the Resolution, that they are expending as much money as they in their judgment can afford, and we, therefore, have to judge not the merits of the ex-service man's question but the merits of the Government's financial 385 policy as a whole before we cast a vote on the Resolution.
Are we in favour of that, or are we not? For my part, the disastrous results which followed a policy of spending without consideration and care as to the amount of the spending during the past few years, during the last Conservative Government and the Labour Government, rising to a, crescendo at the end of the last Labour Government, and the dire consequences which threatened this country then, lead me to believe that the nation would he unwise to go back on its general policy of economic administration. If that is our view we must give Ministers the credit for having done something to meet our case. They have met us 50 per cent. of the way; but I should like them to look at their figures again and squeeze out if possible that extra £100,000. I do not feel justified in doing more than ask them to do this, and as they are doing their best in the matter I am prepared to abide by the answer they give.
This Financial Resolution, and the Bill which is to be founded upon it, gives a real boon, a new boon, to some scores of thousands of ex-service men who hitherto have had the whole of their pensions taken into account. Those are the men not in insurance at all, but men who have gone to the ordinary public assistance committees and previously to boards of guardians. That is a concession which is given for the first time. As far as the transitional men are concerned their position is improved, and both this class and the whole of the ex-service community gets recognition by Statute of a principle which is of great importance to it in relation to war pensions. I can see many arguments being advanced when future legislation arises. The provision in itself is not to my mind unjust or unfair as far as the larger pensions are concerned, that is the 100 per cent. and the 80 per cent. pensions; if 50 per cent. is taken into account reasonable provision is made. I have had the honour to have been in control of the largest group of disabled ex-service men in this country. There are about 2,000 of them. I know their minds, and I know that they are men who appreciate good solid facts when they are told them.
386 In concluding I would ask whether the Government cannot give way and give something to the men with small pensions; that is put in the minimum I ask of 15s. although 8s. is better by 6d. than the 7s. 6d. under the 1924 Act. I ask them to consider this point and give us their answer. For the rest may I say that the ex-service community as a whole, and the disabled men in the ex-service community, are not so foolish as not to realise that the one thing which really matters to them is that the State which pays their weekly pensions unimpaired and without a cut shall be solvent and shall be able to keep on paying them for the rest of their lives? It is of far more importance to a man living on a pension that the State should be solvent, than that it should meet this claim and that and so whittle away the very foundations of its solvency, and come so near to the brink of disaster as we did only a year ago. I really believe that the Government have taken a personal interest in this matter and have done their best to find reasons why they should meet this point. Up to now they have not come across; but will they think it over?
§ Mr. MABANE
On a point of Order. I have an Amendment to insert at the end of line 9, the words "as a minimum." It has been ruled out on the ground that it increases the charge, but in the course of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for St. Pancras North (Captain Fraser) the Minister of Pensions admitted that it was the intention of the Resolution. Will it not be competent, therefore, for me to move my Amendment?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not think that the hon. Member will have an opportunity of moving his Amendment. No doubt the course of the Debate will thrash out that question.
§ Mr. DICKIE
Are we to understand that the Minister of Pensions does not propose to vary the wording of the Resolution?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I always find it somewhat difficult to follow the hon. and gallant Member for St. Pancras North (Captain Fraser). He said that it was definitely laid down that the first 7s. 6d. should be exempt. That is true; but in actual practice it is not done and the 387 authorities throughout the length and breadth of the land are constantly ignoring it and, as I shall show, are doing so with the knowledge and cognisance of Ministers concerned. I would welcome 15s. of the total amount being exempt, and I would join with the hon. and gallant Member in any movement to secure this whether it is confined to ex-service men or not. We oppose this Resolution on wider grounds than those upon which the hon. and gallant Member has criticised it. It proposes to deal with three classes of cases; with the ex-service, man, with workmen's compensation and with those with a certain amount of capital. I regret that the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) is not in his place at the moment because when he was addressing the Committee I interrupted in what might have appeared to be a rather savage fashion. If I did, I want to say, that I had no intention of being savage in my manner. But I do want to speak quite definitely and firmly. When he made the remark, and I interrupted, a chorus of "Hear, hear!" came from the Labour party. Let me without passion or heat restate now what I mean. It is time that the Labour party learned, as I have had to learn, that when they do certain things they must bear the brunt of criticism for their acts. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had never brought anyone to the Poor Law. I want to say that he and his colleagues in the Government sat deliberately, with malice, with intention, and with forethought, despite warning after warning, and maliciously drove people on to the Poor Law. I do not want to overstate this, but it must be driven home, because they acted deliberately.
Take the Anomalies Act. Under that Act 250,000 people have been refused benefit. It was worse than the means test, for under the Anomalies Act every one of those people had insurance qualifications and every one had paid contributions. I am not going to claim that the whole of the 250,000 come under the Poor Law. I do not claim that even half of them come under the Poor Law, but I do claim that a large proportion of those people, with insurance, are put on the Poor Law. I wish they could get Poor Law relief. Take the seasonal workers. I represent a division that is 388 faced with a great deal of unemployment, and seasonal workers come into it. There are girls who have been in various kinds of factories. Along come the insurance people and they say, "You ought to take a job at the hydros or hostels." The girls do so. They have accumulated stamps. I have the case of a girl who lives in the St. Rollox Division. She accumulated 87 stamps in two years. She is refused benefit. I know it will be said that it is a matter of administration, but that is not true. It was the intention to refuse benefit to seasonal workers; it was deliberately included in the Act. Indeed, in a case that I raised the Chairman was appointed by the Labour Government, and he is a member of the Scottish Socialist party. It could not be administration. Yet this woman was refused benefit, and she could not get even Poor Law relief.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
I have listened to the hon. Member very carefully. He is discussing an Act which is on the Statute Book and which appears to me to have no relation whatever to the Resolution before the Committee.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It may be that I have gone rather far. I repeat my statement definitely and categorically, that a man who stands at that Box, a man who was responsible for the Anomalies Act, and says that he did not drive people on to the Poor Law, in my view is stating a deliberate lie. [Interruption.] It is true. I refuse to use another word. On this matter I feel strongly, and I would not have interrupted the right hon. Gentleman's speech had I not felt that the whole thing was wrong and unjust. I ask the Minister once more what he has been asked already. In the White Paper it is estimated that the Government will spend £1,000,000 on these proposals. This Resolution is different from any similar proposal that I have ever known. In almost every other Act involving expenditure the Government make some attempt to give information as to how they will spend the money. On what facts do the Government base the £1,000,000 estimate in this case? I question whether the £1,000,000 is an estimate at all. In my opinion the Bill to be founded on this Resolution will not involve a cost of anything like £1,000,000.
389 In practice some places are now dealing with applicants as generously as this Bill asks them to deal with them; in some cases they are dealing with them more generously, and in some cases not dealing with them quite as generously. What is to happen under the Government proposal is that all the authorities from one end of the country to the other will be uniformly carrying out the conditions. Of course that is the demand that has been made. Personally I feel that as long as we have a means test at all I would prefer to be without uniformity of conditions. I cannot see how the Labour party can demand uniform conditions. If we can capture a local authority and get working-class representation, naturally that local authority will be much more generous to the working people. If there must be a means test I would much sooner have its administration left in the hands of local authorities democratically elected, than have it under any form of State and bureaucratic control.
Under this Resolution it is proposed to exempt from calculation 50 per cent. of a man's pension. Then we come to the case of the man with means. In this case the Minister of Labour did something which reminded me of a Minister in the Labour Government. He read from a paper a page about someone who had £1,000, and, worse than that, the case of another man who had £2,000. One would almost think that it was a crime to have £2,000. One would almost think that if a man had money in War Loan or Government stock or savings it, was terrible. I cannot see anything wrong in it at all. I cannot see anything wrong in such a man applying for unemployment benefit. This question cropped up in the Dumbarton by-election. The Labour candidate there said that he was not in favour of paying money to a person who had thousands of pounds. I hear up and down the country statements against giving money to people who have means. It is said that such men should not receive benefit. In the first place I should have thought, that Conservatives particularly would regard with favour any person who had shown saving tendencies, and that they would say he ought not to be punished because he had saved. If a man who is compulsorily insured has saved £1,000, he has done so only by dint of terrible expense to himself. A man is 390 limited to £5 a week income at the most, and in the great mass of cases men are earning less. Let us consider what must be entailed if such a man is to save £1,000.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Inheritance hardly ever comes into it. In the great mass of cases a man has been saving over a long period of years. Take the case of a man getting £5 a week. He has saved £1,000 or £2,000, and he is made the object of criticism and sneering by the other side. I come from a stock of great savers. My mother was a great saver. She sent her children to the universities and saved money out of a joiner's wages, and not always regular wages. My mother saved about £1,000. I thought a terrible lot of her. She used to buy coal five bags instead of two at a time because it was cheaper. She went into a house that had a cellar so that she could store coal and wood, because she could get it cheaper in quantity. She made my brother into a telegraph boy and postman. I used to wear his trousers. We could not get the red stripe out of them and I went to school with it, and everyone knew what my brother's occupation was. I went out with a round cap, though everyone else had a good one. My mother used to make the telegraph boy's cap into a cap for me to wear at school. As I say, she saved. Why should she or even her son be subject to a special inquisition because she has done that? The women next door did not save because they were of a different type; their outlook was different. It was not a case of badness and goodness, but of temperament to some extent.
Why should such women be subject to an inquisition because they have saved? I confess that I cannot see the point at all. The man who has £1,000 and is unemployed ought not to be treated differently from the man who is working and has £1,000. If the £1,000 or £2,000 is wrong a man ought to be attacked not because he is unemployed but because he possesses that money. The man who is unemployed, whose relatives are unemployed, and who possesses savings of £2,000, is denied unemployment benefit, and because he is unemployed his £2,000 is the subject of a special attack by the State. I remember that when hon. Members opposite sat on this side of the House 391 they promulgated a theory which I thought was sound, and I think most of them regard it as sound yet. It was that people who held War Loan stock should be subject to a reduction on that stock, according to the fall of the cost of living. I think that that is a correct theory. The only valid argument urged against it was: "Why should a person with War Loan stock be differentiated against and attacked, as compared with the person who holds other stock?" It was difficult to answer that objection. But here is the unemployed man who has £2,000 and he is to be attacked and treated differently from any other member of the community.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
To Poor Law as well. What we are arguing to-day, however, is the means test for unemployed insured workers. I would argue the other point if this were the proper occasion but at the moment we are dealing with the insured workers. I say that the unemployed man who possesses a sum of that kind has had to pay his Income Tax on that sum. Is he then to be asked to make this contribution to the State as well? Speaking for myself, and I think for my colleagues here on this bench, I say that we have no objection to you taking his £2,000 from him, provided that you do the same to every other unemployed person in the State, including the rich unemployed. We say, "Take the £2,000 if the State is hard up," but treat all alike. I would say this about my own parents. I have no objection to you going to my mother and saying, "The State needs every penny you have because we are up against terrible difficulties." I have no objection to that, provided that you do it to every other person in the community. What we do object to is that a man, because he is unemployed and has saved, should be subject to attack and treated differently from any other unemployed person. To me the whole thing is basically wrong.
392 The question of Health Insurance has been mentioned. I want to put this point to the Parliamentary Secretary. Is there anything more unfair than what is going on at the moment in connection with Health Insurance? You have local authorities such as Rothwell, Durham and Glamorgan administering the Act much more generously than others and they are being threatened, in every case, with a dictatorship—with Commissioners who are to be sent to administer their areas just because they are more generous than others. I am sorry that there is no representative of the Scottish Office on the Treasury Bench at the moment because I wish to refer to the fact that I have given information, in writing, to the Scottish Department of Health concerning the position in the City of Glasgow where the law is being defied. In Glasgow they are taking the first 7s. 6d. into account in administering this benefit which is contrary to the law. The law says that the first 7s. 6d. is not to be taken into account in Health Insurance. That law may be good or bad but until it is changed it ought to be operated. I interviewed the Director of Public Assistance in Glasgow and asked him if he was aware that he was defying the law in this respect and he said that he was aware of it and that he would continue to defy the law and what was more that he would make Parliament bring its law into conformity with his law. [Interruption.] Yes, Mr. Reynard said so in conversation and I do not think that he would deny it. I sent a letter to the Department of Health about it but they will not intervene. I have written to the Minister about it and have sent him cases but nothing has been done and the 7s. 6d. is being taken into account. No dictatorship has been set up there. No Commissioner has been sent there to say, "You are robbing the poor of 7s. 6d.; we must see that you pay them this 7s. 6d."
I ask the Minister, fairly and squarely, if a law is on the Statute Book, why should it not be worked? Why is the Health Insurance Act not being worked in this case? I will give the reason. You can rob the poor as much as you like. All this nonsense about the law being equal as between the rich and the poor is the biggest lot of humbug ever talked. It is a contemptible low lie. If the case of this 7s. 6d. were the other way round there is not a man in any part of this 393 Committee who does not know that the whole power and force of the law would be put in motion to compel an alteration of the practice. But because it is only 7s. 6d. in the case of some poor devil, you encourage to do this, a director who, himself, has £2,000 per annum. I see the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is now in his place. He knows that I have written about this matter and have sent cases to him but nothing has been done. The answer has been, "We have no penal powers; we cannot send anybody to gaol about this." But he has this power. He could send down some person to Glasgow to carry out this administration in conformity with the law.
The point is that the Government do not want to do it. The Under-Secretary knows that the law is not being administered. As I said, I have sent the Department specific cases—including one from Greenock—but the answer is, "What can we do?" Well, if your Health Insurance Act is not to be carried out, bring in a Measure to repeal it, but do not make it a farce and at the same time come here and say that there are equitable laws as between rich and poor and that you are dealing with all the people fairly and squarely. I have come to the conclusion—and I say this quite brutally—that you just want these people to die. That is all you want. They are costing you money. You have no need for them. What is the real problem? For three days we have debated unemployment, and at the end—and I am not speaking critically of anyone—I do not think that any progress at all has been made. To me the only thing that matters now, under the present system is maintenance. Nothing else matters under the modern capitalist system.
What are we facing? We are faced with an army which is surplus, for the purposes of the present system, of 3,000,000 people. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said one thing that was true—that there were at least 1,000,000 of these who might never be employed again. The 1,000,000 cost money. The theory has already been propounded, and I will not develop this point, about the inmates of mental asylums, that they are a cost to the community and that they ought to be, by some painless method, taken from us. And the theory about the 1,000,000 seems to be the same. They are no use to us; they will never work; they 394 cannot make money, and therefore they ought to die—and this Government aids and abets any cruel method that they can get to make those people die. I want to say this about the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I think, even yet, that he is a tremendous advance upon the man who has been placed above him, because if there is a man who ought not to have been appointed Secretary of State for Scotland it is the hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins)—a cruel man and a man with no claim to the office. But I thought that when I brought to the notice of the Under-Secretary this treatment of the poor that his naturally humane principles would have got to work. I thought that the principles of the Minister of Labour would have got to work and that, when they were threatening West Ham they would at least also threaten Glasgow. But they did not do so.
Now here is this miserable Measure and we are told that £1,000,000 is going to be spent and that the unemployed are going to get it. They are not going to get £1,000,000 at all. Assuming that you have 3,000,000 unemployed and that they were to get £1,000,000 among them, it would mean the great total of 2d. per week. But, it will be said, they are not all on transitional benefit. Roughly speaking about 1,200,000 are on transitional benefit and when you divide £1,000,000 among them it comes to about 5¼d. a week. That is the concession. That is the proposal which is brought in to allay discontent. That is the generous treatment which the Government propose. But I do not think that they are going to give £1,000,000. I am certain that at the end of the year it will not cost them anything like that sum. I am certain that generous authorities are going to be less generous and authorities which are now fairly decent are going to reduce their terms. Take the question of house property. I may say this for Glasgow that in the question of income and even the question of house property, we are dealing with the people more generously than this proposal allows. But a curious circumstance is this, as regards the £1,000 man that the Government are after. We went into the figures in Glasgow and of 64,000 applicants less than 100 were cut out because of income. I think there were about 90 who had, not 395 £1,000, but £600, out of all that number. Even £1,000 at 5 per cent. is only £1 a week and with falling rates of interest it only brings in about 16s. a week. And in Glasgow in order to catch these 90 people we set up machinery costing at least £800 a week. But the Government say, "This fellow with the £1,000 must be caught," and the chief official employed to catch these 90 men has £1,500 a year. Why hon. Members would not do it in their own private businesses.
I am the chairman of a union that has hardly a penny left but has paid out nearly all its money. Much against my will we started an investigation and we found that if we set a generous limit at all, the investigation did not pay us for its cost. If the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour combined to establish, even a half-decent level of generosity in this matter, this investigation would not pay, taking into account the cost of administration. What the Labour party and the Conservative party have to make up their minds to—and we here have made up our minds and have not changed upon it—is that if you are going to run a means test, it must be mean, because of the heavy cost of administration.
Every applicant must be personally investigated and reinvestigated at regular intervals, and you must in addition have a constant checking of figures, a constant interchange between one authority and another. The result is a costly machine. There is another thing that the Committee must remember when dealing with cost. You cannot but be aghast, on reading the paper any night, to see the terrible increase in criminal prosecutions arising from the means test. Men do not tell all their income. They hide some of it, and they get sent to prison. That, therefore, is a cost that you must offset, and to make criminals is the most costly thing you can do in a community like ours. The whole thing is contemptible. One cannot go to the Exchange, as I do every day that the House is not sitting—I am never absent—without seeing a pile of anonymous letters sent in to tell them that someone has got 1s. or 2s. more than someone else. The whole system is wrong. You can point to the young men who have left home, the women who have gone outside, and many other cruel 396 and harmful things that are happening every day.
We are going, along with the Labour party, to vote officially against this Resolution, without any qualms of conscience. This is no concession at all. When the Prime Minister made his announcement, in reply to various speakers, the other night, discontent was rife in Birkenhead, North Shields, Bristol, Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool, and London. The municipal elections were almost on, by-elections had taken place, Members had been in their constituencies. One of the things that I marvel at in connection with the means test is that on this question religion and politics in this country have become united. Yet get Orangemen in Glasgow meeting one night to denounce it and Roman Catholics meeting the next night to denounce it. All religions are united in saying that this means test is a terrible thing. The Churches have denounced it, and the Prime Minister and the Government, seeing this rising wave of discontent, decided to introduce a Bill. They said, "We will buy them off for 5¼d. a week "—£1,000,000, and a questionable £1,000,000 at that.
Those who benefit will be few in number, and we are not going to be involved in a battle between two sections of the unemployed about who is to get the 5¼d. We are out to abolish the means test entirely, not to take part in a miserable, sordid squabble as to who shall share the miserable money that is being spent. We say that ethically and morally the means test is wrong, and that financially and from the point of view of business it is unjustifiable, and we say that by this Measure you are building up a cost that in future years will take many more millions to repay.
There is one point I had almost forgotten. Where there is a son in a house, you are appealing to him to give in a certain amount of his income every week. The son says, "I am not going to give it in." You say that he has an income of £2 10s. a week and that he must give in £1 15s. of it. He says "I am not going to give it in, although I am staying in the house. I will only give in 15s." The mother is, however scaled as if she got the £1 15s., but they have no legal power to make the son give in the £1 15s. See what a terrible position the woman is placed in. The Government 397 take no steps to see that she does get the £1 15s., and yet they deal with her as if she had that £1 15s. income. I had a case recently of a man who had decided to get married. He was working, and is still working. He went to a hire purchase firm and decided that he would pay for the goods for the house by £1 a week, out of his £2 12s. a week. Almost on the eve of his marriage, the girl he was going to marry died, but he is still under contract for his furniture. He went to the public assistance committee, and he had £1 off his income, leaving him £1 12s., and yet his mother is credited with having received the whole £1 12s. The thing is shocking; it is horrible.
Would any hon. Member in this House, dealing with any other section of the population, allow that to be done? Would he credit an income coming in unless he was certain that it did come in? Under the Poor Law it is to some extent different, because they have power to compel a son to pay a certain amount.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The point is that all that is deducted from his mother's income under the Poor Law is the sum for which he is legally liable, but under this system, not the sum for which he is legally liable is kept back, but a sum far greater than any judge would give for legal maintenance. No judge would give £1 15s. out of an income of £2 10s., and yet that is what we are doing here. All that a judge would give would be 10s. at the utmost, or it might be less.
On the female side of the question, I want to say that I loathe our streets in some towns at the moment. One of the awful effects of the means test, one of the things I dread, is its effect on the female section of the population. I can see womenfolk being deprived of the things that they want. Women want to dress; they want to be neat, to be clean, to be tidy, to have at least the decencies and comforts that other girls have in the same town. It is a natural thing. You cannot keep it from them, and if you deny them 398 an income, as you are denying them, if you say to them that they shall have nothing to live on, they will live; and the choice is as to how you are going to make them live. I say to this Committee that, taking into consideration this contemptible Resolution, we should reject it, and by its rejection we should not be cutting off a single person. We should be giving an instruction to the Government to bring in another Resolution, more generous, more in keeping with the traditions on which this country is supposed to have been built, and at least in keeping with human principles and with the decent treatment of the most unfortunate section of the community.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
It might have been thought that this Resolution was introduced by the Government in order to deal with the cases of hardship which have been disclosed by a year's administration of transitional payment, but the presence of the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour on the Government Front Bench convinces me that the Resolution has been introduced merely in order to settle the private quarrels of those two right hon. Gentlemen. I am quite satisfied in my own mind—and my impression has been confirmed after reading the Resolution—that it is because they discovered that a year ago they did something very hurriedly, which cannot be carried out, that this Resolution is now introduced. It is probably introduced now, and not left until a larger Measure dealing with unemployment insurance can be brought in, because of the disturbances which have taken place outside, and the Government think it necessary to throw this sop to Cerberus.
I would like the Committee to carry their minds back to a year ago, when this economy was introduced into the House. We on these benches uttered very grave warnings as to the consequences of trying to carry out that Measure. Everyone in this House, except the Labour party, was firmly convinced that a means test would have to be applied for the purposes of economy. It was not imposed by the Government because the principles of British justice were being undermined; it was imposed in order to save money. There had been a means test in the administration of unemployment insurance before. In 1923–4 extended benefit was subject to a means test, and it was aban- 399 doned, and by a Conservative Government. This means test is not being introduced in order that the Minister of Labour might be able to refuse this aid to families having £13 or £14 a week, because for four or five years they paid benefit to families of that kind; and if it was immoral and subversive of the citizens' relationship with the State that they should be having money in circumstances of that kind, why did they not bring in a means test before?
It is no use the right hon. Gentleman throwing taunts across the Floor and saying, "You are in favour of a means test." We are not in favour of making economies at the expense of the poorest section of the community. That is our position. Having decided that you are going to save money, you could save money only by drawing an artificial distinction between insurable people and non-insurable people, or between those who should be actuarially entitled to benefit and those persons who could not be said to be in that category. I have never been able to understand that principle yet. Some hon. Members may be able to make it clear to me, but I have not been able yet to see the distinction between a person having benefit on the basis of his contributions and a person having benefit which is not attached to his contributions, because it is always possible by altering the premium to change the quantity of money in the Unemployment Insurance Fund and lessen the amounts of those who are on uncovenanted benefit or extended benefit or in receipt of transitional payments. The actuarial classification is simply a means of concealing from the unemployed man the fact that he has been made the subject of punitive State action. Having decided that a means test was necessary, you naturally had to have some sort of organisation to find out people's incomes. It was admitted by the Government that it was practically impossible to set up a vast State machine for that purpose, and so they had to make use of the local authorities. It was admitted in the House, I believe by the Prime Minister, that they hit upon the public assistance committees because of the experience of those committees, and because they existed at the moment and could be brought into immediate operation. They 400 said that it was unfortunate that transitional payments had to be associated with public assistance, but that it was a mere accident that public assistance authorities were best fitted to make the distinction between the applicants for assistance.
If you allow a local authority to assess the amount of money which an unemployed man is to have from the State, you must make the local authorities to some extent interested financially in the amount of money they assess. If you are prepared to pay from the State funds any amount of money which the local authorities say ought to be paid, the local authorities cannot be financially irresponsible, and they would, of course, assess the amount as generously as possible and no economies would have been effected. That is to say, if the Government simply said to the public assistance authorities, "We are going to have a means test and we are going to ask you to carry it out; you have great experience, you are responsible and reputable persons, you are in this work day by day and week by week, and we will accept your assessments of the amounts which ought to be paid," there would have been very little economy, because the local authorities would have been financially irresponsible. All the assessments would have had to be found by the State. The Government, therefore, had to introduce another principle, which was that the public authorities should regard an application for transitional payments as though it were an application for public assistance. Therefore, if the public assistance authorities assessed the transitional payments at a higher figure than public assistance, they would have to find more money from the local rates, and either put up their public assistance standard or bring the transitional payments down.
In that way the Government inevitably linked up the Poor Law with transitional payments. In order to protect themselves against the financial irresponsibility of the public assistance authorities, they compelled each transitional applicant to he treated as a pauper. That was the situation, and it is no use hon. Members running away from it. The local authorities got to work, and some of them in some parts of the country took a very pedantic view of their obligations. Indeed, they were legally correct. The 401 Minister of Labour has broken the law at that Box more frequently in the last year than any other Minister, because he has been continually telling the public assistance committees through the House of Commons what they might do, and the Minister of Health has been bound to contradict him through his officials all the time. The Minister of Labour has been saying that there are certain things which the local authorities could disregard, and the Minister of Health has been saying that the local authorities were not entitled to disregard them, for the Order in Council was clear that an application must be treated as if it were an application for public assistance.
In consequence of that conflict, this Resolution has been brought before the Committee, because it was discovered that even Conservative local authorities, face to face with the hardships, could not be as callous as the National Government wanted them to be. If a man goes to a local authority for transitional payments under the existing law, the position is quite clear. It is callous and inhumane, and men can be got to administer it, but, nevertheless, it is logical and consistent. You have a guide, says the law, in the way in which you ought to treat an applicant; it is the manner in which you are treating your own poor. That is the law now, and it will be the law until it is changed. That is clear, and the local authorities understand it, but they will not administer it because it is humane. The Minister of Health for a year has been laboriously attempting to bring the public assistance authorities into line with the law, and he has found the task impossible. He is naturally a humane person and I will not say that he has devoted all his incomparable gifts to the execution of his task. Nevertheless, I believe that, as far as the machine can, it has attempted to bring the local authorities to heel, and it has failed. The Minister of Health has, therefore, gone to the Minister of Labour and said: "You have to get me out of this hole. This is an impossible situation. I cannot keep on threatening to supersede these local authorities because I do not want the administration of transitional payments taken out of the hands of the democratically elected representatives of the poor and an official put in their place. It is much easier to demonstrate against 402 elected persons than against appointed officials."
It is part of the technique of the ruling class of Great Britain, the most astute and sophisticated ruling class in the world, that if an unpleasant task is to be performed, it ought to be performed by the people's own representatives, for, as long as they can be put there for stones to be thrown at them, the higher authorities escape. People who have not had a scientific education think that because water conies out of the tap it comes from it, and they often assume that many of the steps taken by their own local representatives emanate from the local authority itself, and not from Whitehall. The National Government are able to escape their responsibility in that way. This Resolution has been brought forward to save the Minister of Health from that difficulty. The hon. and gallant. Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) said that he thought the Resolution had been brought in as a consequence of the Government realising how inhumanely they were treating the ex-service men.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I know that the hon. and gallant Member did not use the word "inhumanely," but he said that those who were in receipt of workmen's compensation had received a concession as a consequence of similar concessions having been made to ex-service men. We are to understand that this Bill has not been brought in to rectify the anomaly to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred in so many eloquent speeches—
§ Captain FRASER
The hon. Gentleman is at liberty to understand what he likes, but he must not misquote me. What I said in effect was that I did not believe that the 50 per cent. concession would have been made at such a time, human nature being what it was, to victims of industrial accidents had not there been made a concession to ex-service men which caused public attention to be called to the matter.
§ Mr. BEVAN
That puts in more classical English what I was trying to put in my more proletarian fashion. I would 403 like to point out to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the treatment of ex-service men to which he referred is a consequence of the administration by local government members of the party to which he belongs, and that the Resolution proposes to give less generous treatment than the ex-service men are already having in other areas controlled by Labour authorities. If he wants to make speeches, let him make them to the Tory members of local authorities. The Ministry of Health officials have been bullying, badgering, and hectoring Labour authorities to lessen the amounts they gave to ex-service men, and for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to come to the House assuming that he and the Conservative party are doing justice to the ex-service men is to misrepresent the facts of the situation.
The situation which existed in the local authorities was chaotic. Some took a pedantic view of the law, some took a more liberal view, and it is necessary for the law to be changed in accordance with the existing situation. The proposals contained in this Resolution, however, do not touch the edge of the agitation. The agitation in the great industrial districts is not because the ex-service man is not getting his proper treatment, or because the workman in receipt of workmen's compensation is not getting proper treatment. I admit that there is resentment against those things, and the hen, and gallant Gentleman made a stronger case for workmen's compensation than for disability pensions, because compensation is paid wholly in respect of loss of wage-earning capacity; and the case which he made out, that some of the disability pension is paid for subsistence, does not exist with respect to compensation. Every point which he raised for disability pensions can be made with ten times more force for workmen's compensation, and the whole of it should be disregarded. It is not there that resentment lies, however. These are simply flags that are waved in the battle.
The real resentment lies in the fact that in the consideration of a man's application for transitional payments, all the earnings of the members of the family are taken into account. That is the real substance of the objection, I have some experience of this. I remember when 404 this was carried out in 1923. I have said before that it was clear to me when the present means test started that there would be the most bitter resentment all over the country. There were three of us in the family, my mother, sister and myself, and I was an applicant for extended benefit. I had exhausted my claim to what was then called uncovenanted benefit. I had a sister who was employed as a stenographer, and because her earnings, divided by three, came to 11s. per head per week of those in the family, benefit was disallowed for myself and my mother. Do you think I liked that? Do you think I felt very kindly towards the Government which was compelling me to live upon the earnings of my sister? It was not as though I could get employment. I was quite helpless. In my area 50 per cent. of the people were out of work, and I could not get work of any kind anywhere; and yet because my sister happened to be earning 30s. odd a week she had to keep me and my mother.
I can understand the bitterness in the breasts of people up and down the country to-day, because of my own sense of humiliation when I had to go home and tell my mother, "In future we have to live upon my sister's earnings." That is where the bitterness lies, that is the gravamen of our charge against this system—that you are saying to all the working class families in Britain "Those at work and those idle must live upon the Poor Law standard of subsistence." If a man who is at work earns more than is allowed by the Poor Law, the difference is taken to keep the brother or sister or father who is idle—yes, and even the stepfather or the aunt, if she is living in the same household. You are saying, in effect, to a man who is at work underground—six days a week if he can get it—in the most arduous and worst-paid employment in Great Britain that he must go on—indefinitely, if we are to accept the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer predicting 1,000,000 people remaining unemployed—week after week and month after month living on a Poor Law standard of existence How long do you think we are going to put up with that? Let the Minister of Labour make no mistake. The unemployed are watching this Debate very carefully. They have been led to expect that this Bill would make concessions. 405 When the demonstrators were dispersed in London and in other parts of the country the men were told: "We have brought this matter to the notice of the public, and the Government propose to bring in a Bill." This is the Bill. If you think we are going to put up with that you are making a mistake.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
This is not the promised Bill of the Government. The Government have always said their Bill would be founded on the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. BEVAN
These are the Government's proposals to modify the conditions of transitional payment. If I understand the situation correctly, the nature of the permanent Measure which they will bring in will be determined largely by the reception given to this Measure to-day. I understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman is prepared to be a rebel, but the date of his rebellion is always in the future.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I know that my hon. Friend does not wish to misunderstand me. I understood him to be representing to the Committee that this is the Bill which the dispersed demonstrators were told to expect from the Government. I say that I understand that the declaration on behalf of the Government to the demonstrators related to a Bill which will be founded on the recommendations of the Royal Commission. This is a temporary Measure.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I hope that indication from one of the loyal supporters of the Government will be borne in mind by the Minister. The hon. and learned Gentlemen ought not to utter these dire threats against the Government—that if they are not more generous in their future Measures they will receive his determined opposition. I can understand the Government resisting us, but I cannot understand them resisting him. I would like to have the attention of the Minister of Labour to this further point, because I did not quite understand the position from his speech. I gather that in the case of an applicant for transitional pay- 406 ment the first £25 of his savings is to be disregarded, and that the second £25 is to be disregarded, or, rather, if his savings total £50 then 1s. a week is to be taken into account, but if they amount to only £49 19s. 11d. nothing will be taken into account. Am I to understand that that applies only to the applicant's own means, because as the Poor Law principle is left untouched the means of the family must still be taken into account? This is very important. Do we understand that all the members of the family who are not applicants for transitional payments can be denuded of their savings, but the only person who cannot be is the applicant himself?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with this matter much more fully than I can deal with it in answer to a question; but, broadly, the answer is that the authorities will continue with their present practice in the future as in the past. The reason I cannot answer the question specifically is that different authorities have not treated this question quite the same.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The purpose of the Bill is to flatten out anomalies, to iron out the differences in administration in different parts of the country which have amounted to a scandal. This is a Resolution to remove anomalies, but look at the anomaly it creates? First of all, it is said that it is undesirable that an applicant for transitional payment should be entirely denuded of his possessions, because thrift ought to be encouraged; but that is to apply only to the savings of the applicant, because I now understand from the Minister that public assistance committees will still be required by law to apply the principle of Poor Law relief, and the principle of Poor Law relief is that all the assets and earnings of the family are to be taken into account. That will mean all the assets and earnings of all the members of the family, except the applicant's £25. It is an astonishing situation. It puts the applicant for transitional payment in a happier position than the man who is at work. The man who is at work is told: "We are not going to touch the £25 of the applicant, he is allowed to keep that, but before we give the applicant anything he must have your £25." Is not that an extraordinary position for 407 us to get into? The only way to get over the difficulty is for the Government to extend the same rule to every member of the household, to say that each of them will be entitled to have £49 19s. 11d. before any of it can be taken into account, and that if they have £50 only 1s. per week will be taken into account in assessing the family income. That is the way to make things symmetrical and well balanced. The Minister of Health has been angry with the Minister of Labour before, but if things are left in their present position I can see such a state of tension arising between them as gravely to imperil the solidarity of the National Government.
What is the astonishing position we have to face now? Hon. Members must pardon me if I keep on emphasising this aspect of the matter. It is said of the applicant for transitional payment that it is not right that he should lose all his savings, but in the case of another member of the family who is at work thrift is not to be encouraged. The product of the savings of the idle one is to be preserved, but the one who is at work is not to be encouraged to save, because if he has a little left over it is to be taken to keep his idle brother or some other idle member of the family. If it is bad, from the point of view of encouraging thrift, that the applicant should be entirely denuded of his possessions, is it not equally bad in the case of the other members of the family? Every argument advanced by the Government to protect the applicant for transitional benefit appears to me to be a far stronger argument for the abolition of the family test; and if the family test were abolished we have an idea as to how much the Government would save.
I believe there are no hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House who will dare to go on a platform in any part of the country, except where rentiers are in the majority, and defend the proposition that the family test ought to be applied in that way. If there are members of a family who by advantageous circumstances have been able to retain employment within reach of home they all live at home, and in such a case if one of them becomes an applicant for transitional payment the earnings of all the family are taken into account. On 408 the other hand, if the members of the family are dispersed and live in different parts of the country they escape having to contribute anything. I could be living in London and earning £20 a week and would not have to subscribe anything at all; but if there were living at home a young man—say a collier earning 35s. a week—some of his earnings would be taken into account to keep his brother or sister or his cousin or any other relative living at home. Is that equitable? Is that a reasonable proposition? If you inquire of public assistance authorities in my county—I have been a member of one—you will find that in consequence of this state of affairs brothers are leaving home; young men are getting married; because if they get married they can set up in apartments and have 33s. a week, whereas if they remain at home they will be called upon to contribute to the support of a brother who may be out of work.
It must not be thought for a moment that this is happening because working-class people are ungenerous and do not want to help. There would be no resentment on the part of the brother who was in work, so generous are the poor to each other, but the brother who is being kept becomes hyper-sensitive, gets into a highly neurasthenic condition, and sees offence in every domestic relationship where no offence is intended. Workingclass homes are being made veritable hells of quarrelling in consequence. I submit to the Government that they cannot allow this principle to go on untouched. If you allow this test, I solemnly warn this House that the demonstration you have had this winter will be a pup compared with those you will have next winter.
I now come to a matter which has not received any attention in this Debate, that is the last paragraph of the Resolution and one in which, I think, the Minister of Health is deeply involved. This proposes an alteration in the Poor Law itself. In the whole of the rest of the Resolution we have still a considerable part of the Poor Law applied to the applicant for transitional payment. In the last part, as I have said, we have an alteration of the Poor Law. The paragraphs says: 409to permit the application of the same rules in the granting of outdoor relief under the enactments relating to the Poor Law.This means that the Minister of Labour has again got the Minister of Health out of a difficulty, because there are lots of applicants for public assistance who are non-insurable—black-coated workers of various kinds who have never been under the insurance scheme, as well as agricultural labourers and people of that sort. They are not applicants for transitional payment, and, consequently if this paragraph were not here they would be in a very different category from the applicant for transitional payment. The applicant for transitional payment would be allowed to retain his house and £49 19s. 11d., but the man who had not been insured at all would have to be completely destitute. That is a difficulty which has already arisen, and has probably been called to the attention of the Minister of Health. The purpose is that the applicant for Poor Law aid shall be allowed to keep his house and his £49 19s. 11d. so that there will be no anomalies between the uninsured applicant and the insured applicant for transitional benefit.
We on these benches do not take exception to that, or to any alteration of the Poor Law which makes it more humane—which enables public assistance committees to aid the poor person who will receive assistance. But we do want to ask the Minister of Health what steps he proposes to take to assist local authorities to carry this additional burden. This is a serious business. The Minister of Labour says it is difficult to assess the amount of additional benefit which will be paid under this Resolution. It is even more difficult to assess the amount of money public assistance authorities will have to find. I do most earnestly assure the Committee that, if this is going through without any promise of additional help in the way of money to the authorities of this country, a very serious condition of things is going to arise in many cases. The public assistance rate in Glamorgan is 8s. 1¾d., in Durham 7s. 6d., in Monmouth 8s. 6¼d., in Montgomery 5s. 11½d. and Carmarthen 5s. 6½d. Compare these public assistance rates with those of Buckingham 1s. 8¾d., Sussex East 1s. 8½d., Westmorland 1s. 5½d., the Isle of Wight 1s. 4¼d. and Surrey 1s. 4d.
410 I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the poorer districts of the country are already carrying all they can carry. If you compare public assistance figures which have been given by the Minister of Health, you will find that in Glamorgan, Durham, Monmouth, Montgomery and Carmarthen, the product of a penny rate per 1,000 of the population ranges from £13 to £10 12s. In the other five cases the product of a penny rate is £24, £34, £23, £25 and £39. Already the Minister knows of the necessity in some of the areas which I first mentioned, where as many as two out of every five of the able-bodied population are unemployed. In districts I know, over 50 per cent. of next year's total local revenue will be used up in keeping the poor. The Minister of Health proposes that the cost of keeping our poor should be increased, in order to get the Minister of Health out of a difficulty and to enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer still to take £10,000,000 a year out of the recipients of transitional benefit.
I want to ask the Minister of Health a very sober and serious question. Does he realise the position in which he will place the county of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire if we fail to provide enough local revenue to maintain our own scale of public assistance? If we lower the scale of public assistance we have also, at the same time, to lower the scale of transitional benefit. We will not do that. Although 50 per cent. of the population in many of our districts are living upon unemployment insurance, local authorities will try to keep their local revenue as high as possible, and keep transitional payments as high as possible. They will give assistance from local funds on the most generous scale, but to do that they will have to raise the rates to a higher figure, or reduce the other services like education and public health. You are driving our districts to despair. You are forcing them to cut the social services all round in order to maintain the rate of public assistance, and the rate of transitional payment.
That is a vicious change, and only the Ministry of Health can help us out. Unless the Minister of Health can tell us that the Government are going to reconsider this, amend the population formula before 1933, and pump additional supplies of money into these areas, the rate 411 poundage will go up, or our services will be cut. In Lanarkshire, Durham, parts of Montgomeryshire, parts of the North-East Coast, and parts of Wales you are segregating a considerable proportion of unemployed population. You are segregating them in circumstances in which the local authorities will have heavier and heavier Poor Law charges. You will have a falling revenue to meet them. You are increasing the desperation of these people in these districts. I solemnly warn the Committee that if trouble comes from the dissatisfaction caused by unemployment it will be disciplined and organised, and much more formidable than it has been. It is not in London or in Liverpool that you are going to have trouble. You will get sporadic outbursts and resentment there, but it is in these other districts, unless the House makes some movement, that you will have disciplined and determined demonstration. That will be because you are segregating these people, because you are driving us in upon ourselves. Unless the Government come to our relief in a much more substantial way than in this Resolution, it will create such vengeance in these districts as this society will not be able to survive.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) has got an eye like a hawk for points which others cannot see. He can see a state of strain in the relations between myself and the Minister of Labour of which the Minister of Labour and I have not yet become aware. He can discern a history and policy of action of the Ministry of Health during the past year which have got no relation to the more visible facts. His charming exercise, I should say, was an exercise rather in the romance of the shocker type. He used the phrase that the inspectors of the Ministry of Health are "bullying, badgering and hectoring" public assistance committees to reduce the amount payable to ex-service men. There is not a word of truth in that suggestion. It has always been within the law for public assistance committees to make special allowances to disabled ex-service men in relation to the special needs of their case. It has been their duty to do so, and in no case has an inspector of the Ministry of Health ever interfered to prevent them from exercising that discretion in a proper way. They are faithful 412 servants of the public, and do their duty in difficult conditions. If the hon. Member in saying they are "bullying, badgering and hectoring" is only making use of blunt proletarian phraseology I hope that, on a later occasion, he will do justice to them as he has done wrong.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
It is the duty of His Majesty's inspectors to compel local authorities to carry out the law, and they are doing it most faithfully. It is because they have been unable to do it without being inhuman that this Resolution has been introduced.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
If when he says they are "bullying, badgering and hectoring" he only means they are carrying out the law, I will assume that he is only using "blunt proletarian language." His hawklike eye has not succeeded in discerning many difficulties in the actual Resolution before us. That, surely, has been the general course of to-day's Debate. We have heard much argument and even declamation. We have heard a demand that the Resolution should go further, but I do not think we have heard anything in the way of destructive criticism of the actual proposals themselves. That is very encouraging. [Interruption.] I interpret that laughter as coming from hon. Members who intend to deliver such criticisms, because no hon. Member has yet any cause for deriding his own efforts in destructibility.
As explained by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, this is a temporary Measure designed to remove the more obvious defects, pending the introduction of a more permanent Measure. It is in the nature of the case that such criticisms as those to which I have referred should urge that the Measure should go farther. My purpose is not to reply upon the Debate in general, which will be done by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour at a later stage, when the whole field of criticism will be dealt with. My purpose is only to give the explanation to which the Committee is entitled of a single provision of this Resolution, relating to the sphere of administration of the Ministry of Health. That is the provision contained in paragraph (b). My purpose, as the Committee will see, is a very limited and minor one. In any case it would be so, because there is 413 nothing which I can add to the very clear explanation of the Resolution as a whole given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.
Let me turn to paragraph (b). The explanation of it is that it is at present illegal for public assistance committees to make any allowance, such as is referred to in this paragraph, to those who are in receipt of public assistance. The purpose of the provision is to make it lawful, in granting outdoor relief by way of public assistance, to observe the same rules as are required by the rest of the Resolution to be applied in relation to transitional benefit. What is the general necessity for the extension of the Resolution from transitional payments to outdoor relief? It is that, if we did not make this extension, the authorities would be forced to discriminate between classes of case where it is impossible to discriminate upon the merits of the cases. The Committee will see that unless we made this extension, the allowances could only be applied to those who are entitled to transitional benefit owing to their having been once in insurance. The provision would apply only to the insurable unemployed, and would rule out altogether all possibility of making these allowances to the unemployed whose former occupations were not insurable. It would discriminate according to the nature of the employment, and not according to the intrinsic merits of the case, and that would be indefensible.
In order to make quite clear to the Committee the absolute necessity of this provision, I would ask the Committee to follow me for a moment, away from class theories and historical principles and so on, to the actual facts of the case and to consider the matter with me from the point of view of the absurdities that could result, if we did not make this alteration to enable the same allowance to be made in the case of outdoor relief as will be made in the case of transitional payments. If we did not have paragraph (b) in the Resolution, giving power to local authorities to make the allowances in the case of outdoor relief, we might have two men living along side each other in two houses in the same street. We may call them John and Giles. They served together in France. They were wounded, and they both received a disability pension. They came back and 414 settled in adjoining houses. John went to work in a factory, and Giles went to work in a field. They both fell out of employment, and upon evil days, and they both went to the same public assistance committee. John is given the allowance of half his disability pension, while Giles is told that it cannot be allowed. That would be an absolute absurdity. Public assistance committees being sensible people, the committee would probably make the allowance to Giles, and it would be my duty to communicate with them and tell them that they could not do it.
Let me give another instance. Take the case of savings. You have again two men living next door to each other, in adjoining houses in the same street. One of them works in a factory and the other earns a hard living by keeping a little shop, where he sells sweets and newspapers. Both have managed to save, shall we say, £45. Then they both fall on evil days. They both go to the public assistance committee, and the man who works in the factory is told to keep his £45, while the man who owned the shop is told that he, must spend his, because he was not in insurable employment. That is ark absurdity and is an absolutely indefensible result. I will give another instance, which does not deal with two persons, but applies to the life history of one person. Suppose you have a factory-hand who is in receipt of workmen's compensation allowance, and who falls out of employment. He goes to the committee, and the referees decide that he is not normally in an insurable employment. He is put out of transitional benefit and on to public assistance. What would be the result, if we did not have this paragraph? It would be that as soon as the referee had put him out of transitional benefit and on to public assistance, the allowance which had been permitted, owing to his workmen's compensation, would cease. He would be dealt with more hardly than he was before. We should be absolutely unable to justify that consequence.
Let me give a few more instances of unjustifiable distinctions that we should have to make if we did not introduce this assimilation of outdoor relief grants to transitional payments. We should have to distinguish between an unemployed tool-maker and an unemployed gardener, because gardeners are not insured. We 415 should have to distinguish between a clerk whose salary was under £250 a year and who fell on evil days and got his allowance because he was in insurance, and a clerk whose salary was over £250 a year, and who, when he fell on evil days, got no allowance because he was not in insurable employment. That would be a perfectly absurd position. An even more striking instance of the necessity of keeping a reasonable uniformity is the distinction between a waiter in a hotel, who would get the allowance, and a waiter at a club who would not get the allowance. A motor omnibus driver would get it, but a private chauffeur would not. A shop assistant would get it, but a small shopkeeper would not.
I think I have quoted enough instances to show that there is a large class of case at present in receipt of public assistance which is indistinguishable on its merits from another class which is receiving transitional payments. The Committee will recognise the necessity of giving the same treatment to the two classes, because we should otherwise be introducing a provision so full of anomalies and injustices, as between case and case, as would bring the law into disrepute. In making the change in transitional payments you must make the change in respect of the same sort of people who are on Poor Law relief.
§ Mr. BRIANT
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman to ask him why paragraph (b) is being made optional and paragraph (a) mandatory?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I am coming to that point. As I have explained, my task is only to account for the extension of the terms of the main body of the Resolution to the Poor Law practice. The cases I have quoted would, I think, satisfy any practical administrator that it is essential that we should make that extension to the Poor Law practice. I am now asked by the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant) why paragraph (b) is made optional, whereas in the case of the transitional payments the provision is mandatory. There are some reasons which do not leap to the eye in the case of public assistance as compared with that of transitional payments. The first is that in the present Resolution we are making a change which is temporary and 416 which, in the intention of the Government and in the knowledge of the Committee, is to be succeeded before long by a more comprehensive scheme. In those circumstances, it appeals to reason that one should make the changes in the existing basis of public assistance as small as possible; there is the strongest possible presumption that you should not make a bigger change than you have to, because to do so would be to prejudice the free field for the final bigger scheme. That is the first reason, that for a temporary Measure you must reduce your changes to a minimum. The second reason is that very deep in our ideas of the administration of public assistance is the preservation of the discretion of the local authority. There is the strongest possible presumption against reduction of that discretion further than is absolutely necessary. If you can avoid such unjustifiable inequalities as those to which I have referred, by trusting to the discretionary power of the local authorities, it would be in accordance with our history and our basic ideas to make the power a discretionary one and not a mandatory one.
Now I come to the reason which will leap to the eye of every practical administrator. That reason is that while there is a wide area over which those who are in receipt of outdoor relief are indistinguishable, on the merits of their cases, from those who are in receipt of transitional payments, that is not the whole area of those who are in receipt of outdoor relief and who are relieved by public assistance. The public assistance authority has other cases to deal with, cases quite frankly of wasters, so that there is a part of the volume of cases who are in receipt of outdoor relief which is quite distinguishable on the merits of the cases from the people with transitional payments. In order that those who are undeserving may not benefit by the concessions, it is essential that the administration of outdoor relief should be left to the reasonable discretion of the local authorities to make discrimination. It has been said that it is better to have uniformity, and that to make the power optional will not secure the uniformity that is desired. I do not think that that is so. In practice it will secure the uniformity that is desired, over the field where uniformity is right, namely, those 417 cases which cannot be distinguished on their merits. It is only as regards the cases which can be distinguished on their merits as cases not deserving of an allowance that you get an absence of uniformity, and in those cases you ought not to have uniformity. I believe that practical administrators will recognise that this is a necessary elasticity in the administration of the law.
I now come to the point that was put to me both by my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant) and by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), namely, the financial aspect of this question. It is said that this proposal may, and indeed must, impose a fresh charge on the local authorities. Suppose that it, does—and I am quite prepared to admit that it has the tendency of increasing the charge upon local authorities; it would be stupid not to recognise that fact—let us think what the amount would be. Some very exaggerated language has been used about the order of the charge. On the other hand, if any hon. Member asks me to estimate what the charge is, I cannot do it; there is no statistical basis for an estimate; but there is a basis on which a judgment can be formed. Those who are acquainted with the administration of outdoor relief all over the country can form a judgment, and I can give to the Committee the benefit of a judgment based upon a mass of expert knowledge. That judgment is that the amount of money involved in this proposal from the point of view of the local authorities is very small indeed. The question may be asked, "If the amount is very small, why make a, change?" But, although the amount may be small, the injustice in the actual case is obviously great, and a change must be made because of that—
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
It has been brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman that, as a consequence of the administration of the Unemployment Insurance Act, a large number of persons have had their benefit disallowed and have become the recipients of Poor Law relief—there are 1,200 of them in the county of Monmouthshire alone—and most of these claims would be affected by this provision.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
The extent to which, in certain areas, the charge has been increased by decisions of the courts of referees, to which I imagine the hon. Member refers, is very well known, but I do not see what it has to do with the present subject. I was pointing out that, in the judgment of those who are best qualified, the amount of the charge will be very small, and I think that that will be confirmed by practical administrators. The number of those who apply for outdoor relief and who possess assets is very small. The number of those who apply for outdoor relief and who are in receipt of workmen's compensation allowances is very small also. The number of applicants who have disability pensions may be greater, but still, in relation to the total charges for outdoor relief, it is almost negligible. As I have said, I am giving the Committee the benefit of the best available advice on the subject, and very good advice it is; and I say that the amount of the charges involved from the point of view of the local authorities is small—I might almost say negligible. Nevertheless, I recognise that some increase of charge is possible, and I recognise also that human judgment is always liable to be mistaken, and that it may turn out to be more than I suppose, though I do not think it will. If that be so, what is the appropriate remedy?
I agree that one cannot throw fresh charges on overburdened local authorities in distressed areas; it would be very bad practice to do so. What is the appropriate remedy? Let me remind the Committee that the Exchequer has never undertaken any responsibility for the support of those maintained in destitution, otherwise than in respect of these transitional payments, except in one way, and that is in the weight that is given, in the calculation of the block grant under the Local Government Act, to unemployment in the areas concerned. That is the appropriate way in which to take into consideration this small additional charge upon local authorities to which my hon. Friends have been referring. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has asked for an undertaking that the basis would be reconsidered. I would remind him that in the last Session of Parliament I undertook to reconsider the basis of the block grant to local authorities in distressed areas, with a 419 view to its revision in the second grant period. That reconsideration is now well under way. I explained to the House on a previous occasion why it must take time, but the necessary processes are being gone through with the greatest possible speed. I have now to add that, when the reconsideration of the unemployment factor in that block grant is completed, this factor which we are introducing to-day, of a possible additional charge on the local authorities under this Resolution, is a factor which is relevant to and ought to be taken into consideration in our estimate of the basis of the block grant. I extend, if I may put it in that way, the undertaking that I gave last Session as to a reconsideration of the grant, to include the estimation of this new factor in estimating whether any additional allowance ought to be made.
I think I have dealt with the principal points which I had to take up by way of explanation of this extension of the Resolution. I say that it is justified on the cases. I agree that it is a novelty in public assistance practice, but, goodness knows, there is enough novelty in the conditions under which we have to operate at the present time. I think, however, that I shall have satisfied the Committee that, under these novel conditions, if we are going to make, as we are, this concession as to transitional payment to those who are receiving it, it is literally impossible to refuse to make it to these other classes as well.
§ Mr. JAMES REID
My main object in rising to address the Committee is to deal with the point with which the Minister of Health has just been dealing, namely, the transfer of additional liability to the Poor Law. As I understand the proposal of the Resolution, it will entitle Poor Law authorities not only to give additional money to able-bodied unemployed, who, it is true, are in a very similar position to those who are receiving transitional benefit, but it will also entitle them, as I read the Resolution, to alter the basis of awards of out-door relief to ordinary paupers who have always been on the Poor Law, and, I suppose, will always remain there.
So far as we in Scotland are concerned, there was no such thing as an able-bodied pauper before 1921. The Poor Law of Scotland was not passed to deal 420 with able-bodied men, and able-bodied men who were put on to it as a temporary measure in 1921 ought to be taken off again. That is a burden on the local authorities which they ought not to be called upon to bear. If the genesis of this proposal was the idea of equilibrating the position of those in receipt of transitional benefit, on the one hand, and able-bodied poor on the other, then the obvious remedy is, not to change the Poor Law, but to take those able-bodied people off the Poor Law and put them where they properly belong, namely, in a new class of relief such as is advocated by the Royal Commission. While the Royal Commission have reported in favour of taking these people off the Poor Law, the whole justification that the Minister has put forward is limited to the statement that these people are at present on the Poor Law. It is a monstrous proposal to alter the whole permanent Poor Law of both countries when all the people that matter are going to be transferred from the Poor Law to some other method of relief within a few months. I beg the Government to consider whether it is not possible to postpone dealing with this matter, as so many other matters are postponed, until the permanent Bill is brought in.
I agree with what has been said from the other side, that by far the most important thing to be dealt with is the family income, which is completely omitted from this proposal. If we are going to omit three-fourths of the people who are awarded less than standard benefit, or are refused benefit altogether, cannot we also omit those whose omission or inclusion, on the Minister's own showing, would only mean a few thousand pounds one way or the other? It seems to me to be a strange inversion that we are going to bother at this time to deal with a few cases in which, if there has been injustice, it has been going on unnoticed for 12 months, a few months before they will be dealt with naturally, and yet are leaving undealt with the very big problem of the family income. Surely, any such injustice either ought to have been discovered by the Minister of Health a year ago or it might remain for a short time.
But there is a via media, if the Government will take it. If the change in the Poor Law were to be limited so as to affect only the able-boded poor, that 421 would satisfy the Scottish position, because it would provide a separate method of dealing with what is really an entirely separate class. The able-bodied poor are shown separately in all the returns that appear in the Report of the Department of Health, and there would be no administrative difficulty whatever in applying to the able-bodied poor a different scale from that applied to the ordinary poor, just as there has been no administrative difficulty in applying a different scale to transitional benefit from that which has been applied under the Poor Law. I can see no difficulty in limiting this provision in words, as I imagine it is intended to be limited in effect, to the able-bodied poor. Then, when the able-bodied poor are taken off the Poor Law, this provision will fall, and will no longer trouble those who administer the Poor Law. If it remains permissive, as it is at present then what has been welcomed from the other side will happen; the whole basis of the Poor Law will be overturned, and for the first time there will be introduced into the Poor Law a test other than destitution. That may or may not be a good thing; I am not going to argue the question now; but it is obviously not a thing that should be done by a side wind in a temporary Bill which has nothing to do with the Poor Law. It should be done straightforwardly by a Bill which refers to the Poor Law, and is intended to have permanent effect. Unless it is done in that way, it seems to me that it will lead to results which cannot be foreseen or properly tested in Debate on the Floor of the House. For all these reasons, I beg the Minister to reconsider this matter, and to think whether the result at which he aims cannot be achieved in a less revolutionary manner than that which is now proposed. If we make it permissive to Poor Law authorities to adopt this new system not only for the able-bodied poor but also for the ordinary poor, some authorities will adopt it and some will not, and we shall be back in exactly the same position as that in which we are now as regards transitional payments.
We heard from the Minister of Labour a year ago exactly the same argument about transitional payments as we have heard from the Minister of Health, that diversity is a good thing but that it should not go too far. It has gone too 422 far in the administration of transitional payments and it will go too far in the Poor Law unless it is checked. It seems to me that the one way out is to limit it to those for whom it was primarily intended, namely, the able-bodied poor. Far from the treatment of these two classes under different regulations having caused injustice in past years, in Scotland at least—I take this from the Department of Health's own report—the able-bodied poor have received more generous treatment, as poor, and without these regulations, than has been the custom in past times. I do not know whether the Minister of Health has more eagle-eyed inspectors than we have in Scotland. It may be that he is harder on the local authorities than we are, but the Scottish local authorities and public assistance committees have been able to alleviate the lot of these people, who should not be on the Poor Law at all, and I think we ought to wait until next year when we can take all these people off the Poor Law and we shall be able to devise a self-contained and a satisfactory system, which it seems to me might very well be on the lines of the Royal Commission's Report as far as I have been able to digest it. If that were done, this provision is from the beginning unnecessary.
I think we all feel that the first part of the Resolution is a great improvement, but it is an improvement which does not, cover the whole ground, and the criticism that has been offered is not that the proposal is bad, but that it does not go far enough. If this were a permanent Measure, I should support that criticism, because it is obvious that there are other matters that require to be dealt with in the permanent Bill when it is brought before the House. I think we may fairly accept this as a very valuable instalment. There is one thing that I had some doubt about when I came down to the House, and that is whether we were not to some extent making the lot of the man in receipt of a disability pension worse than it is to-day in some cases, but I understood the Minister of Labour to indicate that the Bill will not result in a reduction of payment being made to any man who is at present receiving an allowance in respect of disability pension. If that is so—and I take it to be so—any criticism in that direction is beside the point. I think there are numerous cases at 423 present where more generous treatment is given than is given under the Resolution. There are even authorities which as a general rule give more generous treatment than is given under the Resolution, and, if I am assured that the present practice of those authorities will not be disturbed, I think there can be no criticism whatever of that part of the Resolution.
There are three things which also require to be cleared up and which, if there had been more time, might have been included in the Bill, but I realise that that would have meant delay in carrying out the necessary reforms. There is the question whether the applicant is to be allowed to keep any part of the money that he might earn casually. That is a small question beside the question of the family earnings. There is the question of making the law of Scotland the same as that in England so far as friendly society payments are concerned, and there is the question as to what allowance is to be made in respect of rent. Perhaps the Under-Secretary might be able to clear this matter up. In many cases, a man who becomes unemployed is the owner of a house larger than the ordinary unemployed man inhabits. The rent might be, say, 14s. whereas the normal allowance for rent would be, say, 10s. When fixing the amount of payment to be made, is the whole 14s. to be deducted or is the deduction only to be, let us say, 10s.? If you deduct the whole of the rent, you are undoubtedly leaving a very small sum on which the family can live. I have heard of difficulties arising in that way, and the point might perhaps be cleared up. On the whole, apart from those sections of the Poor Law, on which I feel very strongly, I think the Government are to be congratulated on having introduced at this early period the first instalment of their reforms instead of delaying until the whole reforms could be brought forward together.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
We were delighted to hear the statement of the Minister of Health with regard to reconsideration of the block grants. I can recollect having occasion, before the last vacation, to stress the condition of the depressed areas, particularly South Wales. I then adduced figures very comparable to those that have been men- 424 tioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). The Minister gave an undertaking to consider the matter, and I am very pleased to hear that it is being considered. We are opposed to this Resolution mainly because it disappoints the unemployed throughout the length and breadth of the country. I do not think there can be any doubt, when the Prime Minister made a statement about a fortnight ago, at the time that the demonstrations were taking place, that Members were led to believe that we should have something substantially more than is contained in this Resolution and that there will be grave disappointment and dissatisfaction when it becomes known precisely what the Government propose to do. I have had some years experience of the administration of public assistance, and during the last 12 months I have endeavoured to administer what is now known as the means test. I have been opposed to it from the very commencement.
I trust that hon. Members below the Gangway will endeavour to appreciate that there are a large number of persons attached to this party who upon matters of Socialistic principle do not differ from them at all. I trust that we are not going to have the gibes that we continually get in the House from them, as if we were nothing but simple Simons and that they themselves possess the conscience of the Socialist movement. Some of us have been in the movement for more than 20 years and have put up with all the hardships that the unemployed are going through to-day. I will leave it at that. I should perhaps be out of order if I tried to express precisely what I had occasion to do at our party meeting upstairs when Labour was in office. I then supported my hon. Friends in many things, but once the vote went against us I intended to be loyal to the party, as they would expect in their group loyalty to any decision. I am making that explanation, because there is no reason why we should get this feeling on matters where there should be common agreement concerning the unemployed.
The majority of Members attached to this party have been violently and bitterly opposed to any means test whatever. I have found in the administration of public assistance and, during the last 12 months, of the means test itself that 425 there could be little complaint advanced, particularly in Glamorganshire, with regard to pensions, health benefits, and, for that matter, workmen's compensation. In fact, all that is contained in this Bill will tend to lower the standard of assistance that is now being given in Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire. In other words, if the other municipalities throughout the country had been as progressive as those two counties in the administration of transitional payments, this Resolution would not have been necessary, except perhaps for the reasons that were adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, that the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health might be able to synchronise their administration and not, as at present, get into conflict. As far as Glamorganshire is concerned, this certainly will prejudice even persons who are in receipt of pensions. It will stabilise upon a lower basis. In other words, it will be a levelling down instead of a levelling up. We have had no occasion to receive complaints from disabled soldiers in respect of disablement pensions in that county. The gravamen of the complaint is attributable to the fact that we have been obliged to take, as has been mentioned by other hon. Members, the income of the other members of the family in assessing the amount or the measure of destitution, because destitution, after all, has been the ruling factor in this matter. The able-bodied persons have been classified in the same category as persons normally entitled to Poor Law relief or public assistance. The complaint throughout the whole of the country is comparable to the complaint which we have received in our own county where you had the family income definitely taken into account in order to assess whether a certain member of the family who was unemployed was entitled to transitional payments at all. The Resolution does not purport to deal with that matter, which is the main cause of all the grievance and dissatisfaction, and, in fact, the cause of the whole of the contempt shown throughout the length and breadth of the Kingdom. I was hoping, after the Prime Minister had made his statement in reply to the hon. Member who offered his services to present a deputation on behalf of the unemployed, that he would endeavour to honour his word in that regard and do 426 all he possibly could to allay dissatisfaction by abolishing the means test, or, in any case, endeavour to place the members of a family who might be in receipt of an income in at least a well considered position.
There are certain anomalies in the Resolution itself, but we have had a promise that when the Parliamentary Secretary rises to reply he will endeavour to explain whether, in the assessment of capital assets, it is to include each member of the family or merely to the applicant himself. That matter was treated cogently by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), and I do not propose to waste the time of the Committee upon it, except to say that I sincerely trust the Parliamentary Secretary will endeavour to reply to each of the points which were advanced on that score. Obviously, it will create a number of anomalies. I should have liked the Government to have appreciated, and, if possible—I do not perceive it now possible certainly in the light of this Resolution—to have embodied in their Bill something to prevent the large number of young men and young women from continuously being driven from their homes because their earnings are taken into calculation in assessing whether a member of the family is entitled to transitional payment.
I remember, long before I came to this House, Conservative propagandists up and dawn the country charging Socialists in particular with being responsible for breaking up family life. I knew that it was nothing less than sheer propaganda. They were prepared at all costs to do anything in order to place the Socialist movement in a position of disrepute. But I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary—and I think that it could be confirmed by every Member of the Committee—that during the last 12 months more men have been driven from their homes arising from the administration of the means test than for any other reason at any time, except during the War period. Recently I have addressed meetings in my constituency. I wish to stress this point. In fact, I am going to make it the major point of my remarks. At each of the meetings which I have addressed in my constituency during the last few months the questions I had put to me were by parents whose sons had been obliged to leave home in order that the earnings of the father could be retained so that the 427 rest of the family, in many instances small children, might receive their daily necessaries. I was asked whether it would not be possible to place the injustices before this House, for there can be no doubt that ultimately it will tend to great immorality. I said that when the opportunity arose I would endeavour to stress the point in the House, and I sincerely trust that it may be possible, when the Bill is presented, for something to be done to prevent the recurrence of the very dreadful situation which now obtains throughout the whole of the country.
I perceive that the attitude of the Government in promoting the Bill which is to be founded upon the Resolution is to lower the general subsistence level of the whole of the working people of this country. I know that it would not perhaps be strictly in order if one reviewed some of the Debates which have taken place in the House during the last week or so, but we have beard from a large number of Members of the necessity for increasing purchasing capacity, of questions of reflation, or inflation, of increasing the volume of trade and creating new markets. It would be impossible for the Government to create any market comparable to the market which could be made if the unemployed were given a decent income and if the persons who are working in industry were not deprived of part of their incomes in order that it should go to persons in the way of transitional payment.
The general policy of the Government is that of reducing the general standard of life of the mass of the people. They are making the employed, though perhaps only working part-time in very many of the staple industries carry the unemployed upon their backs. The means test was really for a double purpose. First, to save money, and, second, when apparently employers are reducing wages, to place the unemployed upon the shoulders of the employed, thus bringing down the general standard of life of the mass of the people of the country. I would not like to assume that the Government possess sufficient pre-vision coldly to calculate this prospect as a matter of policy, but the effect of these measures is to lower the purchasing capacity of the people in this country. The general 428 effect is to create more unemployment by putting impediments in the way of trade.
It is impossible for trade to revive internally unless the people in this country have sufficient means to purchase the things which are produced. It is not a question of over-production. It becomes a problem of under-consumption, but there is nothing in what the Government are doing to help to ameliorate or alleviate the position. In fact, the Resolution will tend to aggravate the problem. Instead of carrying, in round figures, 3,000,000 unemployed, we shall find that the number will tend to increase substantially as the months go by. One cannot deal with the statements which have been made with regard to currency, exchange, inflation and things of that kind, but, frankly, most of those things could be alleviated if the unemployed were considered as an aggregation of people suffering from something over which they have no control. They should not be put into the category of paupers and wasters. Such a statement was made by the Minister of Health. I presume that he was referring to a very small percentage of the people, but, in any case, the statement was made. They should not be put into the category of the untouchables of Britain.
Those who to-day possess substantial incomes and live in areas where rateable values are comparatively low—in places like Blackpool where the amount which has to be expended on the Poor Law is something like 10d. in the £, and in Bournemouth where it is about the same figure—ought at least to be pleased to carry part of the burden which fall upon areas like Monmouthshire to the extent of 13s. 6d. in the pound and Glamorgan to the extent of 8s. 1¾d. in the pound. If Members of the House were as considerate of the people of Britain as they are apparently of the populace of the Dominions, they would readily come to the help of the people who are in this precarious plight, not because they do not want work, but because the present system has failed to provide adequate employment in order that their skill might be absorbed into industry.
We oppose the Resolution root and branch, and I hope that the Government will reflect again and that in the Bill which is to be founded upon it they 429 will appreciate some of the injustices to which reference has been made by the hon. Members on all sides of the Committee, and endeavour to fulfil the promises that were made by the Prime Minister to my hon. Friend, when he endeavoured on behalf of the unemployed to present a petition as a manifestation of discontent and dissatisfaction.
§ Mr. SMEDLEY CROOKE
As one who has taken a share in badgering and worrying the Government for some time to give a lead to the country in the administration of the means test, and especially with regard to uniformity in the country, I am very pleased that at last the Government have decided to bring in a Bill which will be applicable at once and which will give uniformity throughout the country in administering the means test. I congratulate the Government on coming to that decision and I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary, because I know that it meets his desires. My congratulations go to the Government especially with regard to that part of the Bill dealing with savings and workmen's compensation, but I cannot say that I am entirely satisfied with respect to disability pensions. I had hoped that when the Government were considering this matter they would have decided that the public assistance committees should ignore altogether the war disability pension in arriving at a decision as to the allowance to be made in transitional payment under the means test. I am afraid that we are not to have that desirable thing at the present time, but I hope that it is not too late for the Government to reconsider this particular point.
One hon. Member stated recently that some public assistance committees are now ignoring entirely the disability pension. If the Bill now proposed is carried into law those committees will have to alter their mode of procedure and to deny the privileges that they have already given. The House is well aware why disability pensions are granted—loss of limb, destruction of the constitution, and the fact that the men are handicapped in the labour market on account of their disability. I am a member of the National Executive Council of the British Legion, and I know the feelings of the British Legion throughout the country. It is their considered view that in the ad- 430 ministration of the means test the Government should ignore entirely the war disability pension. It is well known and has been stated by the Minister of Pensions that as years go on the country is spending less money on war pensions. On that score alone the Government should consider whether it cannot decide that war disability pensions should be ignored.
I realise as much as anyone our financial and economical position and I know very well as a taxpayer how highly we are taxed, but I have never met a taxpayer who grudged what is paid to the ex-service men who served their country in time of need. The Minister of Health in his speech to-day suggested that we should not make a great change just now in view of the fact that a more comprehensive Bill is to be introduced next Session. I am not pleading for a great change; it is a question of degree. The Government have gone far in improving the position as to disability pensions, and I plead that they should reconsider this point, and, if possible, in this Bill provide that the question of the disability pension should be ignored entirely by public assistance committees.
§ Mr. BATEY
My colleague, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams) and I have this in common, that we both come from distressed areas. He comes from one part of the country where the means test is abhorred, although the public assistance committee is as humane as it is possible for a public assistance committee to be. I come from a part of the country where the means test is loathed, although our public assistance committee is under the ban of the Minister of Labour because they have gone too far. I have never found such a bitter feling against anything as I have found against the means test. Therefore, we are taking this opportunity to make our protest against the means test and to urge upon the Government to deal with the question effectively, and not in this small petty way.
The hon. Member for Deritend (Mr. Smedley Crooke) congratulated the Government upon this Resolution. I fail to see where they can be congratulated. What they ought to have done, after 12 months experience, was to have dealt in a big way with the question of imemploy- 431 ment and not to have been content to deal with one or two small matters. We welcome the small step that the Government have taken in regard to workmen's compensation and war pensions, but we feel that they ought not to have dealt with the matter in the way proposed. If they were only going to deal with those two matters, they should have been prepared to wipe out war pensions from any calculation in regard to the means test, and they ought also to have wiped out of account any question of workmen's compensation. We had a right to expect that that would be done in regard to war pensions. I would remind hon Members of what was said by the Prime Minister during the election in his Division. There had been a statement made in the "Daily Herald," and in reply the Prime Minister said:There was a statement in that newspaper to the effect that an unemployed man drawing war pension for wounds or disablement will have his unemployment pay cut by the amount of his pension. I have taken the trouble to telephone this afternoon to the Ministry of Labour, and they tell me that that statement is not correct.The Prime Minister won votes on that statement. He made the people in his Division believe that war pensions would not be taken into account. Therefore, we had a right to expect that when the Government proposed to deal with war pensions they would go to the full extent and sweep them away altogether in regard to the means test.
I was interested this afternoon in some arguments advanced by the Minister of Labour. I was dismayed by his speech. I am sorry that he is not here, because there are a few fatherly things that I would have liked to say to him had he been here. However, I will keep them until next week, but I feel that it would not be wise to leave some of his arguments unanswered until next week.
The impression I had to-night was that the Minister of Labour considers that unemployed men getting transitional payments are getting public money and that there should, therefore, be a means test applied. There is a difference between the conditions to-day and those of 12 months ago. Twelve months ago we were borrowing money for the Unemployment Fund, but to-day the Treasury is paying transitional payments, and because the 432 Treasury is paying transitional payments the Minister of Labour calls it public money. But that is no argument for saying that a means test should be applied to those drawing transitional payments. If a means test is to be applied to an unemployed man because he is drawing public money then it should be applied to everybody who is drawing public money. The unemployed man is not the only unemployed man who is drawing money paid by the Treasury. There are a vast number of people in this country drawing public money paid by the Treasury who can much better afford a means test than the unemployed man. Our objection is that the Government, while applying a. means test to the unemployed man, are not applying it to anybody else. We say apply a means test first to those people who are drawing money paid by the Treasury and then we may perhaps be inclined to listen to the argument that it should be applied to the unemployed man. In his case it is just a bare subsistence living, while other people who are getting public money have far more than they need upon which to live.
The Minister of Labour also argued that if there was no means test it would put the unemployed man in a privileged position as against the man applying for Poor Law relief. These two people are in a different category, the man who is receiving transitional payment is not on the same basis as the man who is applying for Poor Law relief. And in objecting to the unemployed man having to go to the Poor Law we are not in any way reflecting on the administration of the Poor Law. We have had too long an experience of its administration to cast the slightest reflection on it; all we say is that the unemployed man should not be put on the same basis as a man applying for Poor Law relief. He may be unemployed to-day and forced to go to the Public Assistance Committee for his transitional payment, but he may be working to-morrow, and in that case he will be paying contributions to the Fund. Nor is it any use the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that there may be a million unemployed men who will never be employed again, because in the coming weeks and months they may be re-employed again and will contribute to the 433 fund. In that sense, therefore, they are in a different category altogether to men applying for Poor Law relief. We believe that the men would be employed and might be employed and might remain on the fund but for the present policy of the Government.
The speech of the Minister of Labour seemed to be coloured by the abuses. He gave four instances of abuses of the fund. How any sensible man can expect to have a fund where there are 3,000,000 people drawing benefit and have no abuses at all beats me. Naturally there are going to be abuses, but all the abuses are not on one side. The Minister of Labour cited cases against the fund which suited his purpose, but he did not cite any cases on the other side, and those who have come into contact with the people know the very hard cases there are and how many abuses there are on the other side. Let me give one example which came under my own notice. A man applied to a public assistance committee in the North of England. He had a son in the house who was doing fairly well. The son's earnings were taken into consideration in assessing the man's transitional payment, with the result that he was paid 5s. per week. Then after that was done the Income Tax collector sent the son a demand for Income Tax; that is after his father's benefit had been reduced because of his income. That is what I call a hard case. I could give case after case. For every case which the Minister of Labour can give of abuses of the fund we on this side could cite scores of cases on the other side, which have made the means test so obnoxious to people.
The right hon. Gentleman said that some unfair attacks had been made on public assistance committees who were doing their best. The unfair attacks have not been all on one side. The public assistance committee in Durham have spent a lot of time in paying transitional payments, and they have had attacks made upon them not by working people, not by Socialists, but by the Ministry. I submit that in the case of a public assistance committee which has been giving much time and attention to the administration of this Act the Ministry ought to avoid making attacks upon it. The Minister has told us that 434 he was guided in this policy of halving war pensions, halving workmen's compensation, and the proposal for 1s. in every £25, by the recommendations of the Royal Commission. In my opinion he is standing on very unsafe ground because everyone knows that in acting upon the interim report of the Royal Commission the Government have brought the fund to the condition in which it is to-day. If, instead, the Government had acted upon the minority report of that Commission they would have been on much safer ground and we should not have the trouble in the country that we have to-day.
I want to stress what was put by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), that we ought to be told how this £1,000,000 is to be made up. We ought to know how much will be due to the halving of war pensions and workmen's compensation in the calculations. The White Paper put before us is one of the strangest White Papers I have ever seen. It seems to me that officials of the Ministry of Labour think that Members of this House will accept any statement which is put before them. They say plainly that the extra expenditure will be something like £1,000,000. They ought to have been prepared to state how this £1,000,000 is made up. It would have made all the difference in the world if Members had had before them all these details. In addition to that we are entitled to know what is going to be the additional cost of the machinery of the public assistance committees.
I am glad that the Minister of Labour has now entered the Chamber. I was on the point of complaining that one was advancing arguments and asking for explanations and that no one representing the Ministry was present. I was dismayed by the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon. As a matter of fact, when one links that speech with the speech that he delivered last Friday one realises how far he has fallen from grace. When he was appointed Minister of Labour many of us wished him well. We were then fain to believe that he would do better than any of his predecessors. We believed that he had an immense sympathy with the unemployed, and that he would stand by the unemployed. His speech to-day and his speech on Friday last clearly show that he is no better than any of his predecessors. He should 435 learn from what has happened to his predecessors. Only one is a Member of the House to-day. Every one of his predecessors at the Ministry of Labour has gone, and only one is now a Member, and he is sitting on the back benches. The right hon. Gentleman should take warning that if he does not want to have the same fate as they have had, he must not deliver speeches so unsympathetic as his speeches of to-day and Friday last.
We have not yet been told what the additional cost will be for putting the administration of transitional payments on the public assistance committees. I hope the Minister will give us that information to-night. If he does not we will press the same questions to-morrow night, and next week on the Bill. We want to know what it has cost in the last 12 months to work transitional payments under the public assistance committees. Under these proposals will there be any addition to that cost? The cost of administration of the Unemployment Insurance Fund is certainly exorbitant. The figure is £7,000,000, and such a sum cannot be justified. It was the Conservatives who in 1927 increased the cost.
We speak strongly on these questions because we come from a distressed area of the country. I was looking at the unemployment index figures as issued by the Ministry of Labour on Monday. I noticed that Seaham Harbour, in the Prime Minister's division, heads the list with an increase of unemployed of 13.8 per cent., and 30.4 per cent. more than a year ago. The unemployment in the north of England simply staggers one. Here are Bishop Auckland with 60 per cent. of the insured population, unemployed; Sunderland with 48.6 per cent.; South Shields with 46.7 per cent. The Prime Minister should have been here this evening. His speech on Monday meant little, and while it was being delivered these figures were being issued with regard to the chief town in his own division. I am certain that if the Prime Minister had addressed a public meeting, as he promised to do, in his own constituency at the beginning of November, he would have had to face this question of the increase of unemployed, the huge number of people in that county who are out of employment, and the large numbers who have to apply for transitional payments with the means test applied.
436 If these proposals are carried, as they will be carried by the Government's majority, what are the Government going to do with the Durham Public Assistance Committee? Already the Government have given notice of their intention to supplant that committee and to send a Commissioner to take over the work. Is that still their intention? I hope that the Durham Public Assistance Committee will not alter their policy. I hope they will continue to carry out the policy which the Government have condemned but which we believe to be a humane policy. I feel so strongly on the means test that I take this position—that no Labour man or woman should sit upon a public assistance committee after this Bill has been passed, and administer the means test. If the Government are determined to go on with this kind of policy; if we are to have nothing from them but this small and petty way of dealing with the question, then Labour men and women ought to leave the Government to do their own dirty work and refuse to have anything to do with it.
I hope that Labour men and women will take up that position. I do so for this reason. The Minister of Labour has spoken about causes of unrest and I am going to tell him one of the causes of unrest in our colliery villages. Members of public assistance committees live in the same villages as the people who have to appear before them under the means test. The members of a committee listen to the applicants for transitional benefit telling of their means, telling, perhaps, the amount which a daughter is earning. Members of a committee are not under any vow of secrecy. One member will tell a neighbour that John Smith has been before the committee and that John Smith's daughter is working in a shop and is earning so much money. That neighbour will tell somebody else and the whole story as to that girl's earnings is soon around the village. It is that kind of thing—and it can be prevented—which is making the means test so unpopular in our colliery villages.
I do not agree with the Minister that the cause of unrest is that people with smaller incomes than the applicants for transitional benefit have to pay rates. The cause of unrest to-day is that the men who have to apply for transitional benefit feel that they are being called upon to answer questions which ought 437 not to be put to them and that a stigma is being placed upon them which ought not to be placed upon them. I thought that the Government were going to produce a Measure to deal with this matter because of the unrest which had been created in the country. I thought that the Government had learned a lesson from the hunger marchers. But it seems that all that has been wasted on them. The Government, however, had better beware. There is a very ugly frame of mind existing to-day among working men and, instead of dealing with the question in this petty, paltering and insignificant way, I urge upon them to deal with it properly and not merely from the point of view of saving money, but from the point of view of helping the unemployed.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL-JOHNSTON
I am astounded when I hear one hon. Member after another on the Labour benches object to the principle of the transitional relief people being classified with the public assistance people. Do they know, and if not may I inform them, that at the present moment in London we have 2,300 applicants who find transitional relief insufficient for themselves and their families in their destitution, and who have applied to the London public assistance authorities for supplementary relief and that those 2,000 people have 10,000 dependents? Those people in London are not ashamed to do that, and there is no stigma that I can see involved in people who are under the transitional relief system going to the public assistance authorities. I go further and say that we of the London County Council gave evidence before the Royal Commission to the effect that we were prepared to take the transitional relief people on public assistance, provided that we got a Government grant.
That, however, is not what I rose to say. Some reference has already been made to war pensions, but I feel that this is a matter which cannot be too much emphasised. I speak as an ex-service man and as one who has pleaded often for the ex-service man. I do not take any credit to myself in that respect but I wish to plead with the Government to see if they could not possibly allow for a larger percentage than one-half in the case of low-grade disability pensions, say those from 8s. to 15s. I do not wholly agree with the hon. and gallant Member for North 438 St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) in regard to these pensions. I do not regard the pensions as being given altogether for wounds or for the loss of a hand or an arm or whatever the injury may be. I regard the disability pension as being given to a man, not only for his actual wounds, but also for the diminution in his capacity to perform what other people can perform, and for what be loses thereby in the labour market. That, I think, is the right way of looking at it. I am glad to see the Minister in his place and to be able to make that appeal to him personally. He would be doing a great thing and a thing which would be much appreciated not only by ex-service men themselves but by all who are interested in what affects ex-service men, if he were to make that little concession.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I wish to say at the outset that the White Paper on transitional payments and this Financial Resolution are not in the slightest degree disappointing to me. Those who do not expect much, are not usually disappointed. But this Measure has been heralded as a Bill to deal with the serious anomalies which have arisen for some time past throughout the country in connection with the application of the means test. Local authorities have protested in many cases against those anomalies. Churches of various denominations have drawn attention to them. Newspapers have sent journalists through the length and breadth of the land to accumulate evidence of the meannesses and the tragic effects associated with this test.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said the Government were going to deal with the hardships that had accrued as a result of the means test. The employed and the unemployed, the trade unions, and even, as the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said, representative Conservative associations in the country, for the first time in their history, have been protesting against the application of this tragic test. Then we had the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), who said he had repeatedly drawn the attention of the Cabinet, either in the Cabinet or by letter, to the effects of this test, which he said were bound to be rectified in order to deal justly with the people of this country who were the worst sufferers. I sometimes go, when I am absent from 439 this House and have spare moments, to the "talkies"—when I am absent from the "talkies" here—and my wife says, "If any picture is greatly boomed, never go near it, as it is never any use, and the advertisement is the best part of it." The same is true of this Bill. The advertisement it has received in the newspapers throughout the country and from various speakers in the Conservative and Liberal parties is the best part of it, and the Bill will certainly disappoint even their own supporters in the country.
Let me say in a friendly way to my hon. Friend on the Labour benches above the Gangway who hoped it would be possible for us to concentrate on the real thing against the effects of these hardships, that I also desire to do that. I think the lack of common agreement in this country among all the forces opposed to the means test and its ill effects is responsible for allowing the Government to ride on their high horse and get away with it as they have done so easily up to the present. But, if I may put it bluntly, we must be united in our ideas before there can be any unity or concentration on this question, and when we had to-day a verbal duel between right hon. Members on the benches above the Gangway and our side, it was not because of a desire to be antagonistic. It was from a desire to get a clear understanding in this country as to where we really stand in connection with the abuses which are taking place.
This Bill has been brought in, and the Labour party have been asked to define their attitude to the means test. We have raised the question time and again in this House, because we are met in the country with conflicting statements as to where the party really stand; and, reading the reports of speeches from all the prominent statesmen on the Labour benches, I have never been able to follow exactly what they do stand for in relation to this test. With the most honest and honourable desire to get an understanding, I have said there has been shuffling and evasion of every description. I know that hon. Members on the back benches have made their position plain, but they have never been able to force the Front Opposition Bench to make a complete and honest declaration of policy in regard to the means test.
There is going to be an allowance of 50 per cent. on disability pensions, but 440 I cannot see that that is going to cost the Government a great deal. In some parts of the country they have been totally disregarding pensions, in others they have been allowing 80 per cent., some 60 per cent., others 50 per cent., and down probably to 20 per cent.; but if you are going to strike a levelling figure of 50 per cent., in my estimation, the Government will not seriously be out of pocket, if at all, because they are simply compelling the authorities which are allowing a high scale to reduce it, and they are levelling up the authorities which are at the bottom of the scale. On the other hand, disability pensions every year are becoming less and less, because it is now nearly 20 years since the beginning of the last war, and many of these people, either from the effects of their wounds or from disease or general ill-health, have passed away, and that expenditure will decrease month by month and year by year as time goes on. I cannot see that there will be any serious financial responsibility attached to the Exchequer in that connection.
Take compensation cases. If a man is suffering from the effects of an injury due to an industrial accident, and he is paid certain compensation, then, if he is certified as unable to work, he does not go on transitional payment, but he goes to the ordinary Poor Law and is treated according to the rules and regulations of the Poor Law. Only if he is partially incapacitated, and he is certified as fit for light work, will he go on to transitional payment, and that would be, so far as I know, from weekly contact with cases on the Poor Law in an industrial area, a very small number indeed.
With regard to the owning of capital assets, this is a very cute and cunning method of dealing with the question. With £25, there is to be no reduction; with £50, 1s. a week is to be deducted; and up to £300, 1s. extra for every £25, which will make 11s. per week for the man with £300. If I understand it properly, you will take 11s. a week from the family income of the man with £300, and what is the basis for that calculation? When is a man going to get £28 12s. for his £300? I know plenty of people with £300 or £400 who will be prepared to invest at that rate of interest. Many cooperative societies offer 4 per cent. It is a sound concern for the workers, and 441 they would draw £12 a year on £300. The Government, however, are going to take £28 12s. It is a cunning method of taking capital and interest combined. If the Government want to take interest into account in a business-like fashion, there should be a common figure, say 4 or 5 per cent., and the capital should be allowed to be held in reserve.
There may be two tradesmen, one of whom has saved £300 and has put his family out to work, and the other of whom has a son or daughter and has invested his £300 in the education of his child. The child eventually gets to the stage when he becomes a teacher and earns £4 a week after a period. We thus have one man with £300 in the bank and another with £300 invested in his child's education. The Government are going to take 11s. a week from the father who has £300 capital in reserve, but in the other case they will take £3 5s. a week from the daughter. It all depends on how the applicants use their reserve capital or their earnings. There was a case in my area which the public assistance committee regarded as so serious that they decided to submit it to the rotary committee for decision. There was the case of a man out of work, his wife, two adult sons and an adult daughter who were also unemployed, and one daughter, a teacher, earning £4 5s. a week. The unemployed members of the family applied for transitional payment. The decision of the public assistance committee and of the rotary committee was that the daughter must contribute £3 10s. of her income to the upkeep of the family, and they refused benefit of any kind to the other members of the family. That girl has, in addition, to pay Income Tax, and there is no redress even for a grievance of that kind. It may be said that that is an extreme case. Even if it is, I submit that the public assistance committee should have some power of elasticity in dealing with cases of that kind.
We are opposed root and branch to the application of any form of means test. The Government, however, have made up their minds to continue the test, and they should see that it is not used to drive people out of their homes, to break up family life, and to drive people to despair. Last Sunday evening I ad- 442 dressed a meeting in the Division of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), and I told the people of that area how this Bill was going to operate. They listened with mixed feelings of anger and laughter as I described to them this puny Measure, this most contemptible way of dealing with a serious problem which affects the lives of millions of people. When I announced to them that those who owned their own houses would not be required to sell them under the Bill, I said it in a sarcastic manner, and they laughed. Do the Government know exactly how many of the working class in Glasgow own their houses? Only 1½ per cent. of the unemployed do so. This Measure is simply a gigantic game of bluff. The Government go through the country telling what a great Bill they are going to produce, and they produce only a mouse of a Bill. People come to London on hunger marches and demonstrate in the country against the means test, and I suggest that if the Government desire to teach the working class to be constitutional, they should pay heed to the real grievances and try to mitigate the hardships, even if their hearts are set on the continued operation of the means test.
I know of numerous cases that could have been brought under this Measure. They must be evident to every Member. I know a case of two brothers living in the same house. I have discovered two such eases in the last three weeks, and some before that. They live in separate rooms as lodgers, and for the purposes of the Act the public assistance committee say that they have to be treated as a married couple and be given 23s. 3d. per week. These brothers have no obligations to one another. Treated like this, they receive 11s. 7½d. each, out of that they have to pay 7s. 6d. each for their rooms leaving them 4s. 1½d. each with which to clothe and feed themselves and to provide themselves with amusement. Then the Government say that there are no real grievances and no genuine hardships in the application of the means test. It is teeming with cruelty of every description. I have dealt with hundreds of cases at my home where people come at the weekends. When we go home to Glasgow, we do not go home for recreation. We go home for more deadly and serious work than we ever get in this Chamber. I hear 443 heartbreaking stories of the effects of the means test. The Government have, in co-operation with the local authorities in Glasgow, tried to suppress the figures of the sons and daughters who have left home, but I can give the official figures that have been denied us. Between 900 and 1,000 sons and daughters in the Glasgow area have left home. We have been told by an hon. Member that the Socialist movement would destroy the home. The National Government are more completely destroying home life and family life in this country.
What are you intending to do in parallel cases of men who are out of employment? You are giving 23s. 3d. transitional payment to a man and a woman who are paying 4s. rent, and you are paying 23s. 3d. to a man with 15s. rent. Has the man who is paying 15s. rent to go back to the slum, to go to the poor house? By years of sacrifice he has built up a home for himself which is his temple, his holy of holies, and then you come along and say, "You have been a good father, a good husband, a good citizen, but the present system cannot employ you, because it is breaking down. We cannot afford to give you the decencies and comforts you are entitled to. You have got to come out of that home. You have got to go down into the slums. We are going to demoralise you and degrade you."
What do the Government intend to do about this? Do they imagine they will sit there high and dry and safe during the coming winter? The spirit of the people is developing as I have never seen it develop before. Since I was 17 years of age I have been in the Labour and Socialist movement, I have never known any other movement, have never contributed to any other party than the working class party, and I say there is an ugly spirit developing in this country, and the greatest opponent of constitutionalism is the person who tries to grind the faces of the poor into the gutter. There is seriousness, there is determination, there is a cold, calculated desire on the part of the people to rectify their wrongs. They are not going to be put off with a miserable Bill of this description. That should not be imagined for a moment. They are knocking at your door. You went down to them last October and, as commercial travellers for 444 the National Government, you took payment from them for the delivery of jobs and for the delivery of maintenance. Now they are knocking at the door and asking for the delivery of the goods. You received the payments, but you have absconded without delivering the goods for which you booked the orders at the polls last October. There is a serious spirit developing in the country, and any person who has any love of constitutional measures ought at least to be honest and attempt to rectify the present state of things.
The Prime Minister is the head of a Government who are imposing all these cruelties on the working class. In the years from 1914 to 1913, when we defended him with iron pipes in Glasgow because he was standing by the working classes, at a time when Members of this House and the supporters of the Tory and Liberal parties in the country were threatening his life, we never thought to see this gross, base and brutal betrayal of them by him. They were simple folk, who worshipped him. Some of them even had his picture in their homes and worshipped him as the Creator. He has let them down. He has gone off with the cheers and the encouragements of those who are crushing them into the gutter. He has forsaken all the principles he ever professed to believe in. All right! You are determined to go on, you are determined that you will not rectify these wrongs. You can take it from me that the reckoning is coming! There will be a reckoning! No one can deny that who analyses the position or puts his ears to the ground and hears the rumblings in every part of the country.
People are developing the opinion that nothing can be gained except by force. I have addressed nearly 80 meetings since last July, and everywhere I meet this view: "Parliament is no use. It is only a talking shop. It is a great bluff assembly. You have got to have faith in your power to drag things from Governments." They have been taught the lesson that a loaf inside the door is worth two in the store, and they want the delivery of the goods.
I do not intend to say much more to-night, because I think I have said enough from our party point of view. I would willingly make any sacrifice that would give to those in the gutter a little 445 nourishment or sustenance, or would better their position in any way. No one need tell me that the country cannot afford more than £1,000,000 to rectify these wrongs. Nobody says it is even going to cost a million, and personally I am convinced that it will not cost anything like that sum.
I went up into London to-day to see for the first time the Lord Mayor's circus. I think it is a scandal to have a show of that description in 1932 while people are starving and dying for want of the essentials of life. It is an outrage to employ such an antiquated method of bringing before the public of this city some person who has been elected to a public position. If we cannot afford to give to the men and women in the gutter, we cannot afford tomfoolery of that kind. You are against the hunger marchers. You were against the unemployed demonstrating because of the cost. A question was asked to-day as to what it cost. What does it cost for a parade of the kind that took place to-day? You talk about "equality of sacrifice." The Prime Minister, with his £80 a week, says that a man with 15s. 3d. is not to get any more. The Duke of Northumberland, with his £11 an hour paid to him for allowing men to go down into the bowels of the earth, says: "Ah, I cannot bear increased taxation." We are told that there is plenty of capital in the banks, but that is unpaid labour stolen from the working class in days of prosperity. Why should it not be returned to them in days of adversity?
The glut in the world was created by the working class, but they are not entitled to participate in the good things they have created. Those who never did anything to create them are to enjoy the comforts and luxuries of life, and they say to the workers, "You have got to go dawn and down and down into the gutter." The Prime Minister and every Member of the Government says there will he a million and a quarter or a million and a half who will never again get employment. You are expecting them to live in that state of permanent distress, with children being born in homes in industrial areas with not a sheet or a blanket on the bed, the gas cut off because they are unable to pay and eviction 446 notices coming in to turn them out of their homes.
You say the country cannot give them more. If it cannot give them more, let us all be rationed, put on the same level and on the same basis. Then I will believe that there is a desire for equality of sacrifice. Let us put every person on the same level. Let us say to one another, "We are brothers and sisters in the ship of distress, and we cannot afford to give anything more than three square meals a day to every human being and a certain standard of life," and I will accept it. I will accept 30s. or £2 tomorrow. I have no vicious habits and I do not spend money in an extravagant fashion, and I am prepared to accept this spirit of equality of sacrifice, but are hon. Members on the Front Bench prepared to accept it? If they are not, then it is all hypocrisy to tell us they are in favour of equality of sacrifice. I stand in this House to-night, and give them a serious warning that when the working classes come to the hour of reckoning they may in a spirit of passion do things to them that they will not like. They may do things to your class that I do not like as a human being, but I warn you that unless you take the hint and lift them up a little out of the gutter there is going to be serious trouble, because they are looking upon you as true beasts of the jungle in your desire to crush their young. Prove to them that you are different. You can only prove that not by treating this position in the miserable fashion you are doing by this Resolution, but by coming out courageously, humanely and in a really civilised fashion and dealing with them as human beings and not as beasts and swine.
§ Mr. MABANE
It is perfectly obvious that the means test provides a heaven-sent opportunity for the demagogue.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
If you were damned well suffering from it you would know all about it. Fancy a damned well-fed man talking like that!
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I am damned well not going to be insulted. I will not take it from him, and if he insults me I will have him out of that seat in two minutes.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must ask the hon. Member not only not to interrupt in a disorderly way, but not to use unparliamentary language.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I will accept that rebuke if you will also rebuke the hon. Member who used insulting language to me.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is making a complaint which really he is not justified in making. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) did not address his remarks, as far as I can make out, to any particular Member.
§ Mr. MABANE
I did not mean it only for one person, but for all people who use this unpopular Measure to acquire popularity. There can be no question that it is easy to acquire popularity by opposing the means test. Equally there can be no sort of doubt that this Government was elected with unpopular tasks before it, and if it was frightened of unpopularity it would fail in its task. The Minister of Labour has been taunted by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), who said that every Minister of Labour, with one exception, bad by reason of his policy been forced out of this House. I do sincerely hope that the present Minister will take no account of that, and that if his duty demands these unpopular things he will do them without regard to such taunts. Clearly this is a difficult matter for anyone to administer. I am prepared at any time to justify the necessity for a test of this kind not only on economic grounds but on moral grounds, for if Liberalism means anything it means that the initiative and sense of responsibility of the people should be developed, and I believe that a good deal of recent legislation has tended to undermine that sense of responsibility. It is certain that its administration has been the cause of great difficulty both to the local authorities and to the Minister of Labour.
I have been asking myself, as I have listened to hon. Members opposite, whether they have been serving their constituents in the last year by trying to make this test not work, or by trying to make it work. It is my belief that a Member has been serving his constituency better by doing his best to ensure that the 448 test does work. It is my belief that, in spite of the difficulties, it has been possible to secure that a local authority working in close collaboration with the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour should be able to operate this test with a degree of humaneness quite different from the account given by the other side. As far as my own experience is concerned, there has been no sort of badgering of public assistance authorities either by the Ministry of Labour or the Ministry of Health, in such a way that the work of those authorities has been made difficult, as has been suggested from the other side. It may have been due to the fact that Huddersfield is fortunate in that it is controlled by a predominantly Liberal town council but, be that as it may, in Huddersfield we have been able to build up, on the substratum of the instructions issued to us by the Order in Council, a method of administration which, while it has not given everyone all that they wanted—and that is admitted—has nevertheless been able to distribute the money available by means of transitional benefit in such a way that there is very little discontent on that particular point. I believe it has been possible in that way, even with the difficulties which have existed in the past year, to work the means test in a manner which has been far better than has been suggested by hon. Members opposite.
I wish very briefly to suggest that there are still one or two anomalies and I wish to ask the Minister of Labour to do his best to mitigate the difficulties caused by some of the anomalies which I shall mention. The particular anomalies and hardships to which I refer are those in connection with War pensions. The Minister of Labour, in his opening remarks, and in reply to a question by the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) told the Committee that paragraph (a, i) of this Resolution was intended to indicate that wounds or disability pensions which are taken into account shall be treated as if reduced by one-half as a minimum. I do hope that in the final reply to this Debate it will be made perfectly clear that that is the intention of this Resolution. I am put in some doubt because I, myself, have on the Order Paper an Amendment to insert the words "as a minimum." I 449 was informed that that Amendment was out of order because it would increase the charge. If that be so, it is difficult to reconcile such a ruling with the intention of the Minister of Labour. I should be satisfied if it were accepted as a minimum.
For my part, I should be much happier if war and disability pensions were not taken into account at all. The hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras has suggested that some of us who definitely said at the election that we desired that that should be so, had made that statement in the heat of the election. I wish to make it perfectly clear that I did nothing of the sort. It is my profound conviction, and a matter on which I feel very strongly, that war pensions ought not to be taken into account at all. It is impossible to determine whether war pensions were given for subsistence or for compensation, or in what proportion they were given for either. My view is rather different from that of those people who divide war pensions into so much for subsistence and so much for compensation. My view is that war pensions were given as a definite compensation to a man for the wounds he received, and in order to make up to him in some degree the loss which he was bound to sustain throughout the rest of his life in the daily enjoyment of his life.
There is one other consideration which I would suggest. Many people who received disabilities during the War were given pensions for those disabilities, and to all intents and purposes to-day they are in no way disabled in the prosecution of their ordinary occupation. There is an unfortunate chance that many of those men when they reach middle age will begin to contract ailments that otherwise they would not have contracted. Many of them will find that their lives are shortened. They might be regarded, therefore, as being in receipt of pensions as some compensation for two or three years being cut off their lives. I appeal to the Minister of Labour to give us the complete exemption of war pensions or to promise, at least, that he will insert the words "as a minimum" in line 12 of the Financial Resolution.
I would like to say a word or two about family incomes. I notice from the Resolution that there is no sort of guidance to public assistance committees as to how they are to assess the family income. 450 Nothing has provided such difficulties for public assistance committees as the determination of family income, and it would be a valuable addition to the Bill, when it is produced, if some indication were given to public assistance committees as to how they were to determine that income. I suggest that there should be given this instruction, because I have found it to be a matter of great difficulty. There are, in many families, cases where boys, girls, sons or fathers are working, and their income is taken into account in the computation of the total family income. The very conditions of their employment make it necessary that they should expend, in the pursuit of their employment, or in maintaining themselves in efficiency for the pursuit of that employment, a great deal more than is allowed to them by the normal determination of the public assistance committees.
I am thinking of one case where the family is supported by two daughters, one of whom is a typist and the other of whom is a shop assistant. These two girls have to spend two or three shillings each week in family expenses, and they have to dress in such a way that they can follow their employment properly. If they were to go untidily they might lose their employment. It is impossible for them to maintain themselves in a proper condition of smartness without the expenditure of a few shillings per week. That is the sort of expense that ought to be taken into account in computing family income. There is something valuable in this Resolution if we regard it as a minimum instruction on which local public assistance committees can build up flexibility of practice.
I am astonished at the Amendment that stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. It seems a denial of Democracy. He has apparently abandoned his democratic faith. He wants to take the administration of the means test out of the hands of the public assistance committees. I am a democrat, unlike him.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I suppose that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the public assistance committees in London are very largely composed of nominated persons who have never been elected by anyone.
§ Mr. MABANE
I was aware that London is, in general, very much behind 451 the provinces, where the public assistance committees are composed of elected persons.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
This must be made clear. No one knows better than the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour that in London there is not a single committee administering public assistance that has on it an elected member.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) was not referring to London; he was referring to the provinces.
§ Mr. MABANE
The right hon. Gentleman should therefore preach democracy in London in order to see that public assistance committees are elected by the people. He will find, in the case of the provinces, that they are elected by the people and are responsible to them. I would regard it as a very retrograde step—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I must point out that there is nothing in this Resolution which raises the constitution of public assistance committees in one way or the other.
§ Mr. MABANE
I am extremely glad, and it is a matter of some gratification to me, to discover that there is no reference to public assistance committees in this Resolution. Some of us were fearful that the administration might have been taken out of the hands of the public assistance committees. I mention points that are of particular concern to the north of England. Perhaps the provision in regard to capital assets is not entirely satisfactory. We might have been better 452 pleased had we seen the limit placed at £500 instead of £300. But there is no difficulty in getting over that. If anybody is possessed of £500 and will invest it in a single-premium insurance, he can take advantage of the provisions of the Poor Law. I discovered that some time ago, and I give it to hon. Members for what it is worth.
In conclusion, may I ask that we may be given the assurance that war pensions will not be taken into account and that there shall be some instruction to public assistance committees as to how they are to assess family incomes. It is not wrong, notwithstanding what hon. Members on the other side have said, to regard this Resolution as an advance. The needs test is here; let me appeal to hon. Members to try to make it work as well as they can while it is here. We have been led to suppose by some of their speeches that they would rather see it work badly than well.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
It is very refreshing to hear the Minister of Labour warned as to his own future. The hon. Member who warned him was once young, and he sang a little hymn, "Dare to be a Daniel." He was also told by his mother, I believe, to "tell the truth and shame the Devil"; and yet we hear the Minister instructed in plain English to do an act with some regard to what might happen to him. He was enjoined by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) to do an act not because it was right or wrong. Politics are at a rather low level when Ministers are warned to act with an eye solely to their personal future. The unemployed are with us, and we are political doctors discussing this disease in the body politic. It is not customary among ordinary doctors to let the patient know of any violent disagreement of opinion between his doctors, for, if he comes to the conclusion that neither of his doctors is quite certain about his disease, he is apt to die of fright, and I am sure that the shock to the unemployed, if they heard one doctor addressing the other doctor in terms such as "dirty dog" and "dirty work" would be such that they would be apt to lose faith in doctors altogether, political or otherwise. We have also heard an almost ecclesiastical fulmination against such Labour Members as would dare to sit upon these public 453 assistance committees. They have been anathematised and excommunicated, and told to wash their hands of it and get away from this evil thing. The reason that followed was a strange one. It was that those who sat upon public assistance committees known personally to the hon. Member in question were gossips and unreliable—that they gossiped in the village about the incomes—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I must point out, as I did just now, that this Resolution has nothing to do with the composition of public assistance committees.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
Of course, I accept your Ruling, but the work of these public assistance committees is gravely impeded if it is suggested, outside certain particular constituencies, that the work is done by gossips and irresponsible people, and I think that we back-benchers who know the work which is done by these committees, and which will be continued under the Government's Bill, should pay tribute to their selfless and untiring devotion to very dull and tiring work. There is unrest in the country, but that unrest is not due to any parsimony on the part of the National Government. It is due to one simple cause, the want of work; and that unrest will be found in all classes, whether the want of work be due to too much money and too little parental training, or to the shutting up of the factories. A healthy man unemployed is ripe for mischief, and he can be misled by any party that will trade upon his sad state. It is true that those who scavenge the country, whether they be human or black birds from the sky, have a useful purpose, but there are greater things in life than to concentrate upon troubles and disabilities and despair, and a political party which attributes to itself a monopoly of interest in and knowledge of the distress of the poor is a little like the Pharisee, who thanks God that he is not like other men, an extortioner and unjust; and Pharisees are not generally looked upon as the best friends of the poor.
It is strange, too, that those who oppose the Bill have the antique type of mind recorded in the pages of Charles Dickens, for we are told that the poor should not be put in the category of paupers; and yet it was said by King David: 454Ego vero egenus et pauper sum, Deus adjuva me.But even the party that objects to the poor being called poor has never in this House said one word in opposition to the bankruptcy court that is turning out official paupers in these hard days at a rate above the speed limit. We have been told by a Member of the House this evening that his party are bitterly and violently opposed to every form of means test, yet I have never heard a member of the party object to those who would sell sewing machines asking the wife what are the means of her husband; while, when a member of any party goes courting, it is customary for the girl's mother to subject the suitor to a rigid means test. If ever, Captain Bourne, you should be invited to go into the county court, and should be waiting to give evidence, you would spend a sad hour listening to judgment summonses which are nothing but public means tests upon the poor and unfortunate; and, if all means tests are to be abolished, thank goodness, the Income Tax will go too.
I have noticed in this Debate, as in others, two forms of attack upon His Majesty's Ministers that might, as it were, be said to be common form to the Opposition. The first is to assume that the Front Bench is peopled by expert murderers—by expert, continued and chronic murderers; and I myself, although I am only most remotely associated with the Front Bench, have, nevertheless, been accused, when that association was very nebulous indeed, of being a baby starver, a murderer, and a mother-killer; while in this House I have heard it stated in plain words that strong miners would die because the Government put up the price of tomatoes, and that consumptives would all die owing to some dirty work by the Front Bench on the question of cod liver oil. If tomatoes, cod liver oil and babies do not make enough murderers, the means test will be that last little piece of evidence that will make a very blind public realise what foul men we have in our midst. It is strange, however, that, when motor cars are murdering the King's subjects on the highway, we can tolerate that without political fuss, but the political murderers are not allowed 10 minutes' licence.
We are told—also in common form—that the Government are going to produce 455 immorality. When I was young, I was told to beware of the deceitfulness of riches, and that with riches you would be inveigled into immorality. I find now that the poorer you get the greater is the chance that you may lead an immoral life. This Government, we are told in all seriousness, is going to produce immorality through the breaking up of homes. I have worked among the poor all my life, and I hope it will never be necessary for me again to say that the purity and chastity of the poor has always been to me a matter of admiration and reverence, and I have yet to believe that the daughters of Englishmen and Englishwomen to-day have suddenly decided that morality is a virtue of the past, to be discarded the more easily when poverty knocks at the door. If that be an argument, it is an unworthy one, but I have heard it. I have been told that, owing to the action of this Government, if men were even sent away from their wives for training purposes, those wives would be driven on to the streets and would become immoral through their husbands' absence. That charge of murder and immorality is, to me, a Member for a working-class constituency, a little stale.
The opposite action to the Government's Bill is worth considering. It is the issue to the poor in unlimited numbers of promissory notes. That was tried during the time of the last Government, and the result was a shaking of the world's belief in the integrity of this country. For our food to come here, foreign countries must trust us, and, if we are rashly to do big things in a big way, the ships with food will cease to come into the Port of London, and, instead of means tests, we shall have promissory notes in abundance, and no food in the national cupboard to redeem those notes. It is true that many people loathe means tests, but all Governments, when they do things, walk with an elephantine tread. There is nothing that any Government does that is done with the kindly touch and the sweet bedside manner that a Socialist Government shows. Government acts are done by Government servants and officials and Government representatives and, if the poor feel that heavy elephantine touch of the Government when it comes close to them, what will they feel when we 456 have a Socialist Government which is not a little elephant, but a mammoth treading on them?
The poor believe in the ancient virtues, and they love a thrifty Government as they love a thrifty wife, and they look to the Government for work and not for promises. They see by the riverside the empty docks; they see on the roads that the trucks are not laden with goods; they see in the farmyard the daily auctions which show that the countryside is dying, and they realise that, if there were no means test, they would be reduced, not to poverty, not to inquisitions, but to dire famine, and the poor have faith in the National Government. They have hope in the integrity of His Majesty's Ministers and they believe that, if the Government are supported by all men of good will, in time this awful crisis through which we are living will be surmounted, and, if the poor in Russia can starve for 15 years for the Socialist millennium, I am certain that our English poor can put up with hardships for a couple of years in faith and hope for a better England.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am sure the Committee has appreciated the hon. Member's humour and wit, his proverbs and his aphorisms, but what they have to do with the subject I fail to understand. This Government is now doing, after 12 months' bitter experience in the country, what it refused to do 12 months ago. It was my duty on behalf of the Opposition in the very first week that this Parliament met to deal with the regulations that were issued under the Economy Act. We said there would undoubtedly be a storm in the country as the result of the operation of this test. It became clear what was happening, for day after day and week after week Members behind the Government put questions in which they expressed dissatisfaction concerning the working of the needs test in one form or another. Indeed, it could not be otherwise in the nature of things. I have noticed the tendency in the House and in the Press—I think it was intended when this was laid down—to assume that, once you lay down the 26 weeks limit for an unemployed man, that man is in a doubtful class. Once you link him up with the Poor Law it almost seems as though he is not the same virile, first-class workman that he was. We are 457 dealing with a third of the unemployed. There are 41 per cent. of the people on the register who are now subject to this needs test. There are 18 per cent. of the people on the register who have been off work for 12 months or more. That is round about 500,000. I think the Minister of Labour will agree with me that the number who are getting into the category of 12 months and over is increasing. It is more now than last year, and it is increasing. There is another fact which is very relevant to the discussion of this question. There was a time when we could get a certain portion of the people in the great industrial areas, where the heavy industries are centred, to move about the country. In all those great areas where the unemployed are concentrated labour is getting more and more frozen. It is not as easy to move now as it was a year or two years ago. Many hon. Members do not know those areas intimately. We do not doubt their sympathy. We do not doubt that the average Member here knows the unemployed question intimately. But a great many who vote and speak do not know at first hand those areas where men and boys have been out of work for years, their savings undermined, generally by long unemployment, centred there, trapped into a kind of do nothingness.
There is only one class of men in a worse position than these men, and it consists of the men in great cities like London. In an area like mine, and in similar areas in Wales, Scotland, Yorkshire and other parts of the country men can sometimes obtain a bit of garden. The townsman to that extent is somewhat worse off. In those areas people have been out of work for years, and I repeat what I have often said in this House, that it is worth while paying a tribute to those people. Their resistance to the corroding influence of unemployment has almost been beyond belief, and the way they have maintained their patience and, to some extent, their freshness of outlook, and kept themselves in bodily condition as well as they have, makes us proud of them. Those are the people with whom we are dealing. The Poor Law was not designed to deal with people of that description. The Poor Law was introduced as a 19th century device to meet the needs of people who 458 were aged and sick, but not to meet a 20th century problem such as we have with us now.
The difference between the Poor Law and public assistance to the unemployed, and the question of the means test and its abolition are matters of fundamental importance. If we do not take thought of those matters bad will become worse, and we shall get ourselves into a hopeless muddle which will almost defy the efforts of statesmen either in the present or in the future. Mark the trouble into which we have already got ourselves. In many areas which are represented in the main by Labour, there has not been any trouble. Take, for instance, Glamorgan and Durham, which have been two of the most peaceful areas as far as administration is concerned during the last 12 months. It is a very strange thing that Glamorgan has had the commissioners there questioning, and that Durham has been threatened. I do not care what answer the Parliamentary Secretary can give, or whether he can do this or that, but I ask the Committee to note that in the midst of the bitterness existing from one end of the country to another the Government have taken action in one of the most peaceful areas and, from the point of view of administration, one of the most successful areas. Has he taken any action against people who have not done what they ought to have done? That is a significant fact.
The Commissioners, after having taken evidence from public assistance committees and representative men, draw attention, in their report, to the fact that the Minister has the power to make well-conducted areas and the more generous areas reduce their standard, but he does not take any action—I question if he has any power—to make areas where the standard is low to raise their standard. What is the effect of it all? Although in areas like Durham and Glamorgan, and others, there has been more generous treatment of the men, there are areas where men in a like position are getting lower rates, and there has been a good deal of dissatisfaction about it. How are we to know whether that sort of thing is to be dealt with? It is stated that a certain minimum standard is laid down, and I should be very much obliged if the Parliamentary Secretary will say whether the conditions laid down in the 459 White Paper are minimum conditions or whether they are stereotyped. I wish to have a clear answer to that question. Will the areas which are now paying more be allowed to continue to do so, and will the Bill be framed on those lines? This is a very important point. Still you will have contradictions as between the good areas and the bad. I, therefore, ask whether, if an area on one side of a river continues its standard just above the minimum standard as laid down, the Minister will give a guarantee that he will not interfere with such a standard? Take the cases of Birkenhead and Liverpool. Suppose Birkenhead agreed to work to the standard laid down in these conditions, 50 per cent. for ex-service men and for compensation and so on, and that Liverpool adopted a higher standard and excused the ex-soldier possibly and the compensation allowance, thus leaving Liverpool in a superior position to Birkenhead, which is the situation, I believe, which caused the recent trouble. If the conditions of the Minister are in operation in Birkenhead and the conditions in Liverpool are better, will the Minister give a guarantee?
§ Mr. LAWSON
This is really an important matter. I am asking if it is to be a minimum standard or whether it is to be stereotyped. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to reply to the following question: If Liverpool is on a higher standard of its own volition, because its public assistance committee is differently constituted from that of Birkenhead, will the Government give a guarantee that they will not compel Liverpool to lower their standard? The Government do not really appear to be curing the discrepancies at all. They are going to leave many open sores, and the position will be further intensified. The Minister of Health now says that the White Paper makes clear the conditions to be put into operation in connection with public assistance. Let the House assume that at one side of a river a public assistance committee applies strictly the scales laid down, but pays poor relief on another scale. The Government proposals will make the conditions apply to poor relief. They must see, therefore, that the further they go in this matter the worse they are going 460 to get, because they are extending the possibility of trouble into the Poor Law.
I want to raise also the question of why the Government have simple limited themselves to 50 per cent. of the ex-service disability pensions and workmen's compensation? When the Prime Minister made his announcement the other day that the Government were going to do something, I felt inclined to cheer. I thought we were going to get something done, but I have sat here nearly the whole of to-day and I do not think that even the Government forces are cheering as a result of these proposals. I never knew of proposals accepted so coolly and coldly since I came to this House. I did think that the Government were going to make a really material change. They have not really touched the question of the family income, which is a much more serious matter than most people think. I would ask `hon. Members not to dismiss the question of the family income along the old-fashioned lines of doing one's duty. It is not that question at all. Before the War we would not have minded keeping our brothers who were unemployed, because it was once a fundamental principle to do so, but that was when there was not any unemployment worth speaking of.
One does not mind keeping an unemployed brother if he is going to get work next week, or the week after, or some week that we can name, but if he has been idle month after month and year after year, if the pits are closed and there is no prospect of his getting employment even the most dutiful relative has the right to some consideration. In these circumstances the young people say: "We are not going to rely upon our people to keep us. We are going to leave home." That is exactly what is happening. I met a large group of young men tramping, this year. They made no bones about it. They said that they had left home and that they were going into lodgings. They were not going to live upon their people any longer. It was a high sense of duty that impelled them to refrain from living upon their own people, because they could not get work. Sooner or later the House will have to face up to the question of the family income.
I want to direct the attention of the House to the speech of my hon. Friend 461 the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) one of the most thorough speeches that I have ever heard him make. He gave some striking figures about rates. The experience of the last 12 months has been that large numbers of people have lost their benefit and been thrown on to the Poor Law in every industrial area, whether you take the Midlands, the North, the South, the East or the West. The authorities are complaining that people are being thrown upon the Poor Law. The other day the Minister of Labour said that there were about 170,000 who had ceased to register, and the fact that they did not register was a proof that they were not seeking work. The fact is that there are about 200,000 more on the Poor Law than there were last year. [An HON. MEMBER: "More!"] I am putting it at a, moderate estimate, probably 250,000 is nearer the truth. People are being pushed on to the Poor Law, and it is in those areas where the great mass of the people have suffered unemployment for years where there are accumulated debts and where the poor rate has gone up by leaps and bounds. In an answer given to a question yesterday I gather that in 1928 about 4d. per ton was paid in rates on each ton of coal drawn from pits, now it is 1¼d., and the grave difference has to be made up by the householders and shopkeepers in these areas in the North of England. De-rating, which was supposed to help, has in effect actually added to the burden of the people living there. The Government's policy in regard to the means test may save £10,000,000 for the State but it robs the individual, undermines family life and lays a further burden on the localities. I say that if the means test does not go now it will go later on in the interests of good administration and in the best interests of the people of the country.
I repeat what I said on a previous occasion, and I say it with the authority of members of the Labour party in this House, of the Labour party conference, of congress and of the working class forces in this country, that as far as we are concerned that we stand for ending the means test root and branch, without any qualifications or equivocations. That is the position we take up on this matter. I say to the Government, as I told them 12 months ago, that they will land them- 462 selves in a quagmire by using machinery which was never designed to be used in this way, and that this further attempt to rivet it will inevitably lead to a worsening of the position in dealing with the problem of unemployment. It will make bad worse. We can only hope at the best that this is temporary, but Governments are apt to extend laws and enactments. We make no apology for having attempted to put a Motion on the Paper on this matter and we shall go into the Lobby against this Resolution in the interests of the unemployed themselves and in the interests of good administration and, as this House will discover from experience, in the best interests of good government in this country.
§ Mr. HUDSON
We have listened to a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), and I propose to deal with a number of the arguments that he advanced. A great deal of what he said was not really relevant to the Resolution that is under discussion. I think it would not be unfair to sum up the whole of his speech as being a condemnation of it. In spite of the fact that he and his party have been pressing us to take some action for the last 12 months, when we do take action we are urged not to persist with it in case we produce greater anomalies than those which we seek to remedy. A good deal of the rest of the criticism to which we have listened was equally irrelevant. It proceeds from the assumption, only recently adopted by the Labour party, that a needs test is both unnecessary and undesirable. I do not propose to go into that at any length, because it would be out of order, but I may be allowed to say that that same assumption seems to underlie the recently issued Minority Report of the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance. I have not had time to give that report the full consideration that it deserves, but the impression I have gained from reading it through is that on most of the subjects it deals with its authors have begged the question, that on a great number of important points the facts they produce are inaccurate, and consequently that the conclusions they draw are misleading.
If by any chance hon. Members opposite were to-morrow to be put into 463 the position of being the Government of this country, I wonder whether they would introduce a Bill based either on the report of the minority of that Commission or still more on the proposals of the Trades Union Congress? I suggest that that would be the last Bill they would bring in. It will perhaps be understood why I am so confident about that when I tell the Committee that the majority of the Royal Commission, having analysed the proposals of the Trades Union Congress, find that they would involve an annual expenditure of no less than £182,000,000, of which only £15,000,000 would be drawn from contributions, leaving £167,000,000 to be paid direct by the Exchequer; and, when it is remembered that the present total yield of Income Tax and Surtax amount to about £326,000,000, it will be seen that the proposals of the Trades Union Congress would involve at least 50 per cent. increase in those taxes.
But let me return to the Resolution. The object of the Resolution, unlike what a great number of hon. Members opposite seem to believe, is not to enable us to secure absolute equality of payment to the persons concerned, but is merely to try to secure greater uniformity of principle in assessing that payment in respect of three particular classes of income and assets. Such valid criticism as we have heard to-day can be classed under three heads. In the first place, we have been criticised for not having introduced our Bill earlier. Then we have been criticized for not including more in the Bill; and we have been criticised for the specific provisions that we are inserting in the Bill. I would like to deal with those three criticisms in their order. First, we are criticised for not having done this sooner. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street made that one of his chief causes of complaint. Many hon. Members on the Committee no doubt find themselves in the pleasant position of being able to say, "I told you so," and my right hon. Friend and myself are the very last persons who would begrudge them any legitimate satisfaction they can get therefrom. But I ask the Committee to remember the history of this proposal. The Royal Commission state that they are not satisfied with the present financial 464 arrangements between the central and local authorities, but they are forced to admit that those financial arrangements were probably the best expedient that could be devised in the emergency situation of last year. I would remind the Committee that we on these benches never claimed anything more for them than that. We never defended them on any other ground than that and we have always said that one of the first and earliest tasks of this Parliament would be to bring in and pass a comprehensive scheme to deal with the whole question of the able-bodied unemployed. We never believed that the present scheme was more than a purely temporary one, which would have to be amended and possibly scrapped at the earliest opportunity.
When this Government was formed and when the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street made the speech to which he has referred, we had reasonable hopes that the Commission which our predecessors had appointed would report by Christmas. Those hopes were not fulfilled. Then we were told that they were going to report by Easter; next it was to be in May, then in July. But on each of those occasions we were disappointed and the last disappointment was the most serious of all, because we had hoped to have the Commission's Report published before the House of Commons adjourned for the Summer Recess, so that we would have had time to digest its recommendations and probably bring in a Bill in time, at all events, for a Second Reading before this Christmas.
I have delayed some time over the history of this question in order to deal with a specific accusation made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and very generally repeated outside, that the action we are taking now is panic action due to recent disorder. I want to assure the Committee, and I trust the Committee will believe me, that that accusation is completely untrue. All through the summer my right hon. Friend and myself, as a result of pledges given by him and by the Minister of Health, were endeavouring to secure, by exercising persuasion over local authorities, some greater uniformity in practice. We made our best endeavour but I am sorry to say that on the whole our efforts were not as successful as we had hoped. We were 465 fairly successful in securing a considerable measure of uniformity inside the areas of individual authorities, more especially the larger county authorities. But we were not so successful when we came to the more difficult task of trying to eliminate discrepancies between neighbouring authorities. In particular, a series of rules which had been agreed upon at a meeting of delegates from authorities on the North East coast were rejected when they came to be considered by the authorities themselves.
Therefore, soon after the House of Commons rose for the Summer Recess it became clear to us that it would be necessary to ask Parliament for some form of power to issue regulations to deal with the worst of the anomalies. That action was being considered by us long before there was any question of disorder and anyone who knows the Minister must be aware that he would be the last person to yield to such forms of threats and that on the contrary the only thing that moved him was the consideration of what was in the best interests of the unemployed who were under his charge. The only point at issue during August and September was the particular form of the regulations, and I am violating no confidence when I say that we intended at first to ask the House to give us general powers to issue such regulations as we thought fit, but while we were discussing the actual form of the Bill, we heard, quite unexpectedly, that the Commission, instead of being likely to take a considerable further time for their report, had very nearly reached their conclusions, and that we should get their views at a very early date.
We thereupon decided that, instead of asking the House to give us general powers, we would ask the House to approve the specific proposals which are contained in this Resolution, which reproduces the recommendations of the Royal Commission's Report. It is very easy indeed to be wise after the event, and to say that legislation of this nature would have been necessary sooner or later, and that it would better to have been done sooner than later. It remains true, nevertheless, that we wasted no time whatever in asking the House for remedial legislation as soon as we were convinced that that legislation was necessary and was the only way out of our difficulties.
466 Now let me deal with the second criticism, namely, that we ought to have included very much more in this Bill than we actually have done. I confess at once that to have done so would have met with a great deal of sympathy on our part. It was only the insuperable difficulties in the way of adopting any other course that drove us, reluctantly, to the conclusion that we must limit the Bill to the form in which it will be presented. I have already reminded the Committee that one of the earliest tasks before us is to bring in and pass a comprehensive Measure dealing with the whole of the able-bodied unemployed, and I am certain that the Committee will agree that it would have been in the highest degree undesirable to pass now any hasty legislation that would have made our task later on, next Session, more difficult.
In earlier Debates in this House I ventured to express a, personal doubt as to whether you could really secure uniformity by the issue of precise rules and regulations. I said that you might secure some superficial uniformity, but it would be at the cost of securing that real equality of payment and of treatment between the applicants which we all desire. I am glad to see that the majority of the Royal Commission express the same view. But there was in the country a certain number of glaring anomalies. There was a great deal of criticism of lack of uniformity, some of it well founded, and we considered that it was possible, out of all that mass of lack of uniformity, to select three particular classes where we thought that, by issuing regulations or by passing a Bill of this nature, we should be able to secure substantial uniformity of principle in assessing the payments to be made to the applicants for transitional payment.
We accordingly adopted those three items—war disability pensions, savings, and workmen's compensation—and that is the reason for their inclusion in the Bill. There was certainly a, large number of other items that we could have included. We could have included widows' pensions, trade union benefit, household income, and a number of other items that have been mentioned by individual Members in the course of this Debate. Some of those do not cause any particular discrepancy in practice, particularly widows' pensions. Others, such as household in- 467 come, were the subject of acute controversy, and it was idle to think that we could pass a Bill during the remainder of this Session if we had included them in it. In addition to that, the Royal Commission has made a number of recommendations on this point, and it would not have been fair to the House to ask it in the short time that the Commission's report has been out, to digest the whole of those recommendations and decide which of them are valid and which of them ought possibly to be rejected. The Commission, moreover, doubted whether you could secure uniformity in the matter of household income merely by regulation. They say thatuniformity of administration does not mean the application of identical rules and procedure to all parts of the country, but rather that whatever variations there are should be rationally grounded.On the particular issue of household income, they go on to say:The types of household and of relationships within a household are so various as to preclude the possibility of exact definition and classification, while any rigid definition of the household must result in anomalies and hardship to the individual claimant.I venture to think that they are entirely right when they say that. While, therefore, it would have been tempting to include some provision dealing with the de facto household group, that is, a group of individuals living together as a unit and each contributing in his or her own way to the support of that household, such an attempt would have involved the inclusion of a definition Clause and a schedule of different and varying degrees of relationship, so intricate and so contentious, that it would have been impossible in the Parliamentary time available to have got it through the Committee. We decided, therefore, not to include this particular subject. I realise as well as every hon. Member who is in touch with this subject that there are still considerable discrepancies in practice. I hope that local authorities will read the recommendations of the Majority Report of the Royal Commission—[HON. MEMBERS: "And the Minority Report."] I have given my reasons for entirely rejecting the Minority Report. A great number of its facts are inaccurate, and its conclusions are misleading. I hope that the local 468 authorities will read the recommendations of the Majority Report. I venture to think that those recommendations are based on sound reason and common sense, and I am certain that if their recommendations are adopted in practice by local authorities, a great number of the discrepancies and much of the lack of uniformity will disappear.
I now turn to the final and third class of criticism, namely, the criticisms on the particular provisions which are included in the Bill. First, I should like to deal with disability pensions. The right hon. Member for Wakefield had a good deal to say about disability pensions and what he thought we ought to do. The main observation which I should like to make about that is that he had the opportunity of doing it while he was in power and did not do it. It does not lie in his mouth to come and tell us what we ought to do. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street talked about the number of people who had been thrust on to the Poor Law. He implied that the 200,000 he mentioned were the result of persons having been thrown off benefit. I do not admit that for one moment. In the first place the 200,000 persons thrown off benefit are 200,000 heads of households. The 200.000 increase on the Poor Law, if I am rightly informed, includes members of the household, but even if the facts were as he stated this 200,000 includes 90,000 disallowed by the Anomalies Act, a point made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), and that part is to be imputed to the right hon. Member for Wakefield.
As regards disability pensions I am sure that every hon. Member who heard the speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) must have listened with great admiration to his moving speech, his statesmanlike speech and very courageous speech. I think he put the arguments which destroyed those of the right hon. Member for Wakefield far better than I could hope to do it. I will only add this. As regards the particular point he raised as to whether it would not be possible to alter this Resolution so as to disregard the whole amount of a pension below 8s., or some definite figure, whether 8s. or 15s., I would only say that my right hon. Friend and I will consider that point, but it 469 would be quite impossible to include it in this Bill. It would increase the charge, and would involve withdrawing this Resolution and starting the whole procedure over again. We will, however, without in any way committing the Government, bear his point in mind, turn it over, and see whether, when the Bill which we hope to introduce next Session is under discussion, we can do anything to meet his point. There is one other point about disability pensions which was raised by several Members, including the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane). He said that his Amendment to insert the words "as a minimum" had been ruled out of order on the ground that they would increase the charge. He may rest assured that the 50 per cent. is a minimum.
§ Mr. HUDSON
Certainly it is. The disregard of at least 50 per cent. of the disabled ex-service man's pension is mandatory on every local authority, and my right hon. Friend says that in proper cases local authorities will continue to have their existing power of disregarding the whole of a man's pension providing there is any valid ground for their doing so. I hope with that explanation I may pass from that subject, after having relieved the minds of most hon. Members.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I put a question with regard to the minimum in the case of ex-soldier's pensions and compensation. There are certain local authorities who now are excluding the whole of the ex-soldier's disabled pension. Do we under stand that they are not going to be interfered with?
§ Mr. HUDSON
The practice of the Department will not be altered. Where they have made representations in the past as to illegalities, those representations will continue, but apart from that the existing practice of the Department will not be altered.
There is the third point as to the treatment of savings. This is probably one of the most difficult of all the questions. On the one hand, as the Commission say, it is paradoxical to ask the community to make payments to a man who has resources of his own to fall back upon. There are to-day great numbers of the community, who, as Income Tax payers, have to help to maintain the individual, 470 who would be very pleased indeed to have a few hundred pounds or so invested. Many of them had these funds invested and have had to raid them in order to pay last year's Income Tax—let alone this year's. Then, again, hon. Members opposite have said that it was demoralising and was destroying thrift to ask a man to use his own resources for his own maintenance or that of his family. I would ask, what is the virtue of thrift if it is to be exercised at the expense of the community Moreover, not all the so-called savings are necessarily the result of self-denial and thrift. Many of them are in the nature of deferred pay and legacies, and some of them are windfalls. Then, again, are the savings of a young unmarried man to be regarded in the same way as, perhaps, the savings of a married couple who are denying themselves every day in order to enable their children to be educated? At what particular figure are you to state that a man is not in need? Is it to be £50, £100, or £500?
I merely suggest these questions as indicating some of the difficulties which are ignored very often by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who demand that something must be done. On the other hand, it is no doubt true, as the hon. Member for Gorbals said, that it is much more difficult to save £100 than to spend it. There is no doubt at all that the accumulation of savings involves in the majority of cases a great deal of hardship and self-denial. I think the general consensus of public opinion in the country is that thrift on social grounds ought to be encouraged, and that some safeguard for small savings ought to be set up. The only question really left is at what particular figure that safeguard should be set. There are strong arguments in favour and against any figure you like to mention. Therefore, we have adopted the equivalent of the figures suggested by the Royal Commission, namely, that the first £25 of savings should be disregarded, and that a man should be regarded as having 1s. a week for each successive £25 up to the limit of £300. We think that is the most generous figure that we can concede that is not, wholly inappropriate to any test of need. The right hon. Member for Wakefield suggested that the figure of 1s. for each £25 represented 9½ per cent., and asked how could anyone expect to get interest at 471 that rate. We do not expect it either. It is not meant to be interest. It is meant to provide that over a period of 10 years or more a man's savings will be used when a rainy day comes. The right hon. Member for Wakefield said poor people saved in order to have a nest-egg against a rainy day. Well, we are providing for 10 years or more of rainy days.
Then some people ask whether this scheme was to apply merely to the individual savings or to the savings of the household. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) made a very long speech on the subject. If he will allow me to say so, he got all his facts wrong. It is perfectly simple. Under the law as it will be after this Bill is passed, local authorities who, at present, take the whole resources of a household into account, will have to treat the whole of those resources in accordance with this scale. If they only take the resources of the applicant into account, they will treat those resources also in accordance with this scale. The one other purpose that we have in view is to enable us, by subsequent circular and by administrative methods, to take steps to see that local
§ authorities who are at present committing grave illegalities are brought to heel. [Interruption.] It only remains for me to remind the Committee that this is a purely temporary Measure which does not set out to do more than deal with three particular classes. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that he was going to help this Bill. We are now told that he is against it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I ask the Committee to realise what the action of the Opposition in voting against this Bill will mean. For the first time in the history of this country, statutory protection is being given to 50 per cent. of the ex-service man's pension. The Opposition are going to vote against that. [Interruption.] There will be protection for 50 per cent. of workmen's compensation, a thing that not even the Labour party—[Interruption.] The Labour party are going to vote against that. It is a good thing that when the country realises what the Labour party are doing to-night, the Labour party will cease to be trusted.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 267; Noes, 43.473
|Division No. 358.]||AYES.||[10.58 p.m.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Castlereagh, Viscount||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Castle Stewart, Earl||Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)|
|Albery, Irving James||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Greene, William P. C.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Chalmers, John Rutherford||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro',W.)|
|Anstrather-Gray, W. J.||Clarke, Frank||Grimston, R. V.|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Clarry, Reginald George||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.|
|Apsley, Lord||Clayton, Dr. George C.||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Guy, J. C. Morrison|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Colfox, Major William Philip||Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon)|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Hanley, Dennis A.|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Cook, Thomas A.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Balniel, Lord||Cranborne, Viscount||Harbord, Arthur|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Crooke, J. Smedley||Harris, Sir Percy|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Hartland, George A.|
|Bernays, Robert||Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Curry, A. C.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset,Yeovil)||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Bird, Sir Robert B.(Wolverh'pton W.)||Davison, Sir William Henry||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)|
|Borodale, Viscount||Dickle, John P.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Donner, P. W.||Hepworth, Joseph|
|Boulton, W. W.||Drewe, Cedric||Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division)|
|Bracken, Brendan||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Aston)|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)|
|Briant, Frank||Dunglass, Lord||Hore-Belisha, Leslie|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Hornby, Frank|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Horobin, Ian M.|
|Browns, Captain A. C.||Elmley, Viscount||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Buchan, John||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Howard, Tom Forrest|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.|
|Burghley, Lord||Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)|
|Burnett, John George||Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Hume, Sir George Hopwood|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Fraser, Captain Ian||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.|
|Caine, G. R. Hall||Fremantle, Sir Francis||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romf'd)|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.|
|Campbell, Rear-Adml. G. (Burnley)||Gledhill, Gilbert||Janner, Barnett|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcoim||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Jesson, Major Thomas E.|
|Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)||Newton, Sir Douglas George C.||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||North, Captain Edward T.||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-In-F.)|
|Jonas, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Nunn, William||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Kimball, Lawrence||Ormiston, Thomas||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.||Paimer, Francis Noel||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Patrick, Colin M.||Soper, Richard|
|Law, Sir Alfred||Peake, Captain Osbert||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Pearson, William G.||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Leckie, J. A.||Penny, Sir George||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Perkins, Walter R. D.||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Lewis, Oswald||Peters, Dr. Sidney John||Stones, James|
|Liddall, Walter S.||Petherick, M.||Storey, Samuel|
|Lindsay, Noel Ker||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n,Bliston)||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Llewellin, Major John J.||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton|
|Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd.Gr'n)||Power, Sir John Cecil||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'ndsw'th)||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Thompson, Luke|
|Mabane, William||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G.(Partick)||Ramsden, E.||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Rankin, Robert||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|McConnell, Sir Joseph||Rea, Walter Russell||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|McKie, John Hamilton||Remer, John R.||Train, John|
|Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Robinson, John Roland||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Ropner, Colonel L.||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Magnay, Thomas||Rosbotham, S. T.||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Ross, Ronald D.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Mallalieu, Edward Lanceiot||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Rothschild, James A. de||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.||Runge, Norah Cecil||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Marsden, Commander Arthur||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Martin, Thomas B.||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tsilde)||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo||White, Henry Graham|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Salmon, Major Isidore||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Milne, Charles||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Mitcheson, G. G.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Moreing, Adrian C.||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Morrison, William Shephard||Savery, Samuel Servington||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Moss, Captain H. J.||Scone, Lord||Womersley, Walter James|
|Muirhead, Major A. J.||Selley, Harry R.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Murray-Philipson, Hylton Ralph||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Nall, Sir Joseph||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Nathan, Major H. L.||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Unv., Belfast)||Mr. Blindell and Commander Southby.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Maxton, James|
|Banfield, John William||Grundy, Thomas W.||Milner, Major James|
|Batey, Joseph||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Price, Gabriel|
|Buchanan, George||Jenkins, Sir William||Thorne, William James|
|Cape, Thomas||Kirkwood, David||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Cove, William G.||Lawson, John James||Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. David|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Leonard, William||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Dagger, George||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lunn, William||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Edwards, Charles||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||McGovern, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. D. Graham and Mr. John.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.