§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. MABANE
On a point of Order. May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on the following point? I understand that it is the intention to divide on the Second Reading of this Bill at 7.30 to-morrow evening, and then to proceed with the Committee stage. If the present rule is observed, that will prevent Amendments for the Committee stage from being put on the Paper, because they may not be handed in until the Division on the Second Reading has been taken. Will you kindly guide me as to how it is possible to give notice of Amendments for the Committee stage of the Bill so that they may be on the Paper and hon. Members may be informed of them?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
No Amendments to a Bill can be handed in until the Bill has received a Second Reading.
§ Mr. MABANE
My point is that, if that is the case, it will not be possible to hand in Amendments until 7.30 to-morrow evening, when the Committee stage will at once begin, and there will be no chance for hon. Members to see what the Amendments are; they will of necessity be manuscript Amendments.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is the only way in which Amendments can be handed in on an occasion of this kind—as manuscript Amendments.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Henry Betterton)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill follows the Resolution which the House has already passed. I do not propose to repeat in any detail the arguments which I presented to the House the other day, but I want to state quite shortly what the Bill does, and my reasons for commending it to the House. The object of the Bill, as I stated the other day, is to secure uniformity of principle with regard to three types of resources—first, disability pensions; secondly, payments in respect of workmen's compensation; and, thirdly, sav- 772 ings. I see that the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) is in his place, and I want to say, with regard to disability pensions, that there is no one in this House who is more entitled to speak for ex-service men than he is. He is a member of the King's Roll National Council. He expressed in the House the other day certain fears as to what would be the result of what we are doing. I believe that those fears are groundless and will not be realised, but I said that this Bill is a temporary Bill, and that, if the hon. Member's fears are realised, if the apprehension which he entertains is justified, I should certainly take the matters in question into consideration in framing the new Bill, because I believe that the hon. Member's object and mine in this respect are identical, namely, to do the very best that we can for the disabled ex-service man.
I need, perhaps, only repeat, with regard to disability pensions, that the Bill secures that half of such pensions shall in all circumstances be secured by Statute to the applicant, and I would point out that this is the first time since the War that it has been recognised that pensions are not given solely for maintenance. In my view, that is a most valuable recognition of al important principle, and I think it is a principle which the House will do well to recognise and place upon the Statute Book. A question was asked the other day as to whether this 50 per cent. is a minimum. It is certainly a minimum; there can be no question about that now that the House has the Bill before it. It has been suggested that in some respects this Bill might make worse the position of the disabled ex-service mar, but in my view there is no justification whatever for that suggestion; in no sense can the Bill be made an instrument for making the position of disabled ex-service men worse.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) was apprehensive the other day lest, in the case of the lower disability pensions, of 30 per cent. or thereabouts, it might be taken as an indication to the assessing authorities that they should not do what they have been doing—and rightly doing—in the past, and might be considered as a direction to that effect. 773 Again I say to my hon. and gallant Friend, as I said to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, that if I find that when the Bill is in operation it is acting in a way which I do not desire, and which they do not desire, in regard to disabled ex-service men, I shall be guided by the experience of the working of this Measure in framing the new Bill which I shall have to bring before the House next Session. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said the other day, in reference to this matter:Our answer to him"—that is, to me—is, first, that his concessions are virtually worthless; that large numbers of people, as a result of these so-called concessions, will he worse off.And he went on to say:We regard his concessions as empty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1932; cols.369–370, Vol. 270.]The answer to that statement of the right hon. Gentleman was given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North St. Pancras, and, quite frankly, in a matter affecting disabled ex-service men, I prefer the opinion of my hon. and gallant Friend. He said: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."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1932; col. 378, Vol. 270.]My hon. and gallant Friend also pointed out, as I have done to-day, that this is the first time that there has, appeared in any Statute a recognition of the principle that disability pensions were intended for something more than mere subsistence. Therefore, I think I am justified in saying that, so far as we can see, and so far as we believe, that is a recognition of a principle which is of great value and one, therefore, which I have no hesitation in commending to the House.
But that is not all. The Bill does more than that, because Sub-section (2) gives a permissive power in granting outdoor relief toobserve all or any of the rules required by foregoing section"—that is the one to which I have re-ferred— 774to be complied with in relation to transitional payments.I never can understand why there should appear to be what seems to be a policy of discrimination against those who are not insured persons. Why should you not do the same for the agricultural labourer or for the shopkeeper who has fallen on bad times, or for a person who is not insured? In these circumstances I think, of all people in the House, the very last who should have made this statement is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield because, when he was Minister of Health, he issued Circular No. 1069—or the Secretary to the Ministry did on his behalf—which states:I am directed by the Minister of Health to state that there are certain points in regard to the administration of the Poor Law to which he would desire to draw the special attention of guardians.It says, further down:In assessing the amount of relief to be afforded, the general principle is that income and means from every source available to' the household must be taken into account.That means, of course, that, with regard to agricultural labourers, subject to what is said, that where there is special need there should be special concessions, there is no power vested in the hands of the local authorities to give any concession at all with regard to disability pensions to those who are not insured. The right hon. Gentleman had two years and more in which to rectify this matter, about which apparently he feels so strongly. If that Circular is the best he can do after two years, he is the last person in the House to criticise us.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
3rd January, 1930. With regard to disability pensions we follow the recommendations of the majority Report of the Royal Commission. I think it is fair to say that what we propose with regard to sums payable in respect of workmen's compensation goes rather further than the Report of the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission said' it should be open to the assessing authorities to allow a proportion, but it does not specify what. We lay down that it shall be at least a half.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
It says 50 per cent., and not at least a half. The same point was made last week about ex- 775 service men. I raised the question, and we have had no reply. Am I right in saying that the Bill is mandatory as regards the 50 per cent., or is there an option to local authorities, acting as the right hon. Gentleman's agents, in administering transitional payments?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
The minimum is 50 per cent. and, if special need requires it, they may do in the future as they have done in the past and grant much more.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I really think we ought to have this point cleared up. Following the right hon. Gentleman, I put specific questions to the Parliamentary Secretary `which were not answered. It says quite clearly that a disability pension shall be treated as if it were reduced by one-half. It does not say anything about a minimum.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Is not this the position, that 50 per cent. will be allowed and, in the case of illness or some exceptional circumstances, they can make it 75 per cent., hut they will not be allowed to give 75 per cent. over the whole of their area?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I am glad to clear up what is obviously a misconception. The Bill says that at least, as a minimum, there shall be 50 per cent. and, in the future as in the past, when the need requires more than 50 per cent.—75 or 100 per cent.—it will be just as legal to give 100 per cent.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
It is not now. I hope I have made it clear. The 50 per cent. is a minimum, and, as in the past, it is still open to the authority to allow more than 50 per cent. if the needs require it.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Certainly. With regard to savings, we have said that up to the first £50 they shall be disregarded, and it shall be assumed that there is an income of a shilling per week with respect to each additional complete £25. Our recommendations with regard to that is exactly the recommendation of the Royal Commission. There is no difference whatever between what the Bill proposes and what the Royal Commission recommend. [Interruption.] Although I did not see the report, I made it my business to find out, as far as I could, what were the views of the majority.
The Amendment on the Paper proposes to reject the Bill which fails to abolish the means test itself. Whatever else this discussion has done, it has, I think, made perfectly clear what is the attitude of the Opposition in regard to the means test and, in those circumstances, I do not propose to take up time in comparing statements made in the past which seem to be wholly in conflict with the views now expressed. That would he a waste of time. But the fact remains, that the Opposition are committed to the view that there shall be no means test at all. That means that State relief is to be indiscriminate, perpetual and is to be paid whether a man needs it or not. As long as we have that perfectly clear, we know exactly where we are. The view which I hold in this matter has been more clearly expressed by the Royal Commission itself, and I can tell the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that I did not know this when I brought in the Bill because I only read it last night. The report says, on page 128:But a service based upon needs has this convincing advantage, that it at least attempts to have some serious regard to the principle of equality. It does not add equal benefit to unequal resources, but seeks to apportion the assistance available in such a way that the greater measure of help reaches those whose need is most. We doubt if, for many generations to come, any State will be prepared (or wealthy enough) to make, indefinitely, grants from public funds without inquiring whether the recipients have any need of help at all. Certainly while the resources available are as limited as they are to-day, we should think it unfortunate if payments were made to persons who were not in need, at the expense ultimately of those who are most in need.That, as far as I am concerned, sums up exactly my view with regard to the merits 777 of a means test as such. The view, as I understand it, of those who support the Amendment is that wherever there is a loss of employment there is an obligation on the State to grant relief quite apart from the needs of the applicant. In our view that is a perfectly indefensible proposition. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), again, has expressed my views as clearly as, I think, it is possible to express them, and in reading what I am going to read, I would assure the hon. Gentleman if he were here, that I do so not with any idea at all of embarrassing him, but merely to adopt what he says as my own. In a publication called the "National Insurance Gazette," of 15th October, 1932, which is, after all, only about a month ago, the hon. Member for Westhoughton—who, I am sure the House will agree with me, stands very high in the respect of this House, has himself held responsible office in the Labour Government, and, therefore is entitled to expect that some regard should be paid to the views which he holds—says in an article entitled "Doubtful Tendencies":One proposition crops up in the Labour movement like a hardy annual which annoys me. Anyone who has studied the resolutions sent in, more particularly by local Labour parties, for discussion at the 1932 Leicester Labour Party Conference, will have noticed the number of proposals covering the following suggestion:That all our present State insurance schemes should be placed on a non-contributory basis.Let us deal with this shallow proposition in detail. There is no better place to handle these doubtful tendencies than in a trade anion journal.The only comment I have to make on that is that there is one better place and that is the House of Commons. The article continues:I am anxious that our movement shall not appear foolish. Let it he made clear above all things that there can be no benefit scheme of any kind that is non-contributory; some folk have got to pay money into some fund in order that some may be able to take money out of it.…Once we leave the prescribed field of insurance and contributions a needs or a means test inevitably follows.At the end the article says:Let us have by all means better and more generous schemes, but we must avoid the soup kitchen conception of Socialism implied in the non-contributory principle.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I commend to the House those wise words of the hon. Member for Westhoughton, and I hope the view which they express will receive very wide circulation. The truth of the matter is, of course, that if insurance rights have ceased, then the payment is not benefit; it is relief. If your contractual rights no longer entitle you to benefit, then it ceases to be insurance. It is well known here, but outside there seems to be some doubt and some confusion. A means test, I need not mention to hon. Members present, does not apply to unemployment benefit, but only to those whose insurance rights have terminated, and there is no justification for payment out of taxation to a selected class whether they have need or whether they have not. Probably the House in all parts will agree with me about this. It was not until September last year that any Government whether Coalition, Conservative, or Labour faced up to this fact, that we have undoubtedly for years past been paying under the name of insurance what was, in fact, relief, and it is that which has so confused the issue and is confusing it to-day.
The demand in the Amendment that there should be an abandonment of the means test altogether really involves a demand that there should be an end of contributory unemployment insurance. That demand, up to now, has not been recognised by the official Opposition. It has always been the demand of the hon. Member for Gorbals, who, unlike the Front Opposition Bench, has been perfectly consistent in this matter, and it was a demand as long ago as the Blanesburgh Committee, when the members of the Trades Union Congress asked that there should be an end of contributory compulsory insurance. But, quite recently, just before the end of the Labour Government, I remember the Minister of Labour standing at this Box when I was sitting on the other side, and stating in definite terms that it was the policy of the Labour Government at that time that there should be a tri-partite system of contributory insurance. They have altered their minds. I do not make any complaint about that, but we want to know now where we are. We know now that what is demanded in this Amend- 779 ment is that there should be an end altogether of the system of contributory insurance. Clearly, you cannot defend the position under which a man, who has no insurance qualifications, should draw exactly the same amount under exactly the same conditions without any inquiry as to his means, when you tell another man who has been insured for years that his rights are no more than the others. It would be very unfair to the man who has contributed, to treat a man who has not contributed in exactly the same way.
The contention, of course, involves the view that insurance as a system has broken down. That would be the view of the hon. Member for Gorbals. Frankly, we do not share that view. We, on the other hand, think that the principle of insurance has a tremendous social value to which we intend to adhere, because the moment you admit that there should be no contribution, then you have to admit that anything like self-help no longer plays any part in the scheme. It is just that which the Amendment challenges. If you once accept the doctrine that, whether necessary or not, all are to get alike in future, then it is not insurance benefit at all but simply an undiluted dole. I commend this Bill to the House. I am satisfied that it does really recognise principles of very great value to those who are affected, and I would say, in conclusion, that I believe that those who go into the Division Lobby to oppose the recognition of these principles will never be forgiven by those whom we are determined to help.
§ Sir B. PETO
Will my right hon. Friend make clearer to the House the operation of Sub-section (2)? Will it throw an enormous additional burden on to the ratepayers, and will it alter the whole basis on which Poor Law relief has been given?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I will tell my hon. Friend that I purposely did not deal with that, because it was dealt with at very great length by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health when the Financial Resolution was before the House the other day, and I cannot add anything to what he said.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the statement of the Minister of Health, consider- 780 able doubts have arisen in the minds of municipal corporations which have been embodied in a communication sent to this House this morning, and is it not a matter which needs further light?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I can assure my hon. Friend that if any doubts arise in the course of the Debate on that point, my right hon. Friend will be only too happy to deal with them.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House, realising the widespread public resentment created by the injustices inherent in the present system of transitional payments, cannot consent to the Second Reading of a Bill which fails to abolish the means test and does not remove the system from all association with the Poor Law.The Minister has told us that the object of the Bill is to secure uniformity on three points. I do not think that he has been as frank as he might be. Is it pro-posed to have unity on any other points? Is it intended that uniformity shall be confined to disability pensions, work-men's compensation and income from investments of capital, or is it the intention of the Bill that, having specified the terms upon which uniformity is to be achieved on those three points, uniformity shall be imposed on all other points that come into consideration? I hope the Minister will give us a reply, because it is very important. There is another point on which, I think, the Minister should reply immediately. Much depends upon his answers to these questions. I refer to the question put by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), and other Members of the House regarding the exact implication of what he said as to the 50 per cent. of disability pension which is to be taken into account. I will submit specific figures to the Minister in order that he may give to the House a clear answer, unequivocal and definite, and I will assume that he knows well enough that certain public assistance committees do not take into account disability pensions of small degree. I will put this question to the right hon. Gentleman. I will assume that the public assistance committee do not include a disability pension of 10s. a week. Is it 781 intended that that public assistance committee who for the present exclude a disability pension of 10s. a week shall in future count 5s. as part of the income of the applicant or the applicant's family, and that therefore the assessment will be reduced by that amount Will the right hon. Gentleman answer that question? Is it intended that the amount now allowed by public assistance committees who have sympathy with disabled ex-service men, shall be reduced by one-half? I should like the right hon. Gentleman to answer that question.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Perhaps it will be more convenient if the hon. Gentleman first puts all his questions?
§ Mr. GRENFELL
It would be well if the right hon. Gentleman could answer the question straight away as I want to argue the matter further, and a great deal depends upon what he may have to say. What does he mean by "at least 50 per cent."? Does he mean that at least 50 per cent, of the disability pension must be taken into account, and that it must be added to whatever future income the applicant receives in order that the assessment may be reduced correspondingly? I could understand a statement of that kind, but I cannot understand his statement that at least 50 per cent. is to be allowed to the applicant. This is an innovation. It is a change we understand from previous practice. The Minister lays it down that the income from disability pension and from workmen's compensation shall be computed to the extent of one-half, that one-half of whatever disablement pension the applicant receives is to be taken into account, and that the remaining one-half only is to be allowed as the personal right of the disabled person.
The right hon. Gentleman has sought justification from many quarters. I was very disappointed when he failed to give a personal reason for the institution of the means test and had to seek refuge in the report of the Commission published after the Bill was introduced. The Commission was quite independent of his Department, I hope, and free from all Government authority, and yet the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Ministry of Labour who has been responsible for the administration of the means test for exactly 12 months stands up in this 782 House and says in effect: "I have no need to give an explanation. I have the Majority report as justification for the institution of the means test." It is true that he sought to obtain confirmation for his Bill by quoting something which my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) wrote in a trade union journal for the benefit of his own members. I did not think that the right hon. Gentleman would listen to curtain lectures. I hope that the next time he listens to conversations between members of a trade union or members of the Labour party he will take into account that sometimes representative men of a Labour Government are very much worried and harassed by the action. of the Government themselves.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
The hon. Gentleman does himself an injustice. It is not a case of listening. This publication may be had for the price of 4d. It is on sale.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
The right hon. Gentleman has made a bargain, and he is making full use of the indiscretion of the hon. Member for Westhoughton. I am sure it was never intended that such valuable evidence should be put into the hands of the Minister. Perhaps he will leave the hon. Member for Westhoughton to us. We know how free of speech the hon. Gentleman is and, much as we admire him, what importance to attach to some of the little asides which he makes in his own walk of life. We have an Amendment, and the Minister is surprised that we should have an Amendment couched in such terms. He will remember my saying that we realise the widespread public resentment. I am sure that that is neither news to the Minister nor to the hon. Members on the Front Bench. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman has received any communications from his constituency. He represents, I gather, the City of Nottingham.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
One of the divisions or Nottingham. [Interruption.] Not-tinghamshire, I am sorry. He may have received a more beneficent communication from the County of Nottingham than he would have received from the city itself. But is there a. city in the country, or a public assistance committee anywhere—does any right hon. Gentleman or hon. 783 Gentleman in this House represent any city or local authority in this country—which has a word of praise for the means test in its general application? I have received during the last minute or so from the hands of the Leader of the Opposition a telegram, and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) for having to bring it in. The telegram is sent to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. George Lansbury), and is in these words:The Dundee Public Assistance Committee to-day reaffirm that the basic scales of transitional benefit have brought the recipients below the subsistence level.That telegram is from Dundee, an important city in Scotland. We have already heard from leading cities in the North, in the Midlands and in South Wales.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
The hon. Member has referred to a Resolution sent from Dundee, but is he aware that in an earlier Resolution passed a few months ago the Dundee Public Assistance Committee recognised the need for some form of means test?
§ Mr. GRENFELL
I am only going on what the telegram says. I have not listened to the Debates of the Dundee Town Council. I simply have a telegram. It is an authentic document, and I ask the House to take it as it is. We have had resolutions from Newcastle, and from all parts of the Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman, first of all, should pay heed to the resentment among the unemployed themselves who arc not an unimportant part of the nation. Over 2,000,000 people have passed before the public assistance committees. Their circumstances have been inquired into and their family incomes have been subject to examination. All kinds of intimate questions have been put to them, and all kinds of inquiries have been made about them. There is not an unemployed man in the country who does not resent the whole scheme of things which the Minister now so tardily and scantily proposes to amend. There is public resentment, and our Amendment rightly calls attention to it in this House which, as the Minister has said, is the place in which to consider these things. This House should be more fully consulted. It is in this House that the arguments for legislation should be given 784 and the case argued out rather than to place dependence upon the Majority Report of a Royal Commission which does not come near this House, and, worse still, does not go near the scenes of unemployment where millions of people are suffering day by day.
Resentment was recently expressed by the hunger marchers who came to this city. Resentment against the means test has been shown in at, least half-a-dozen large cities in the country within the last two or three months, and the public resentment has only been quelled as it affects a large number of people by the ostentatious and brutal use of force by men who are themselves well fed and free from the distress of unemployment. Shopkeepers, who are not an unimportant part of the community, deplore and condemn the means test and its effects. Shopkeepers suffer very much indeed because of the curtailment of purchasing power resulting from the administration of the means test. Public assistance committees—people who are elected for the purpose of carrying on local government in the country have had this additional unpleasant duty thrust upon them under the pretence that there was a national emergency, in order to get rid of which all people were to take on additional duties and sacrifices. Now the public assistance committees. not knowing at the onset what they had to do, have found, as they have gained experience in the administration of the Order, which is now to be amended, the duty to be very unpleasant and unpalatable. They have had to strain their consciences and better natures in order to try and carry out the duty cast upon them. Public assistance committees everywhere show resentment against the action of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health in carrying out the Order.
I went to church with the Mayor in my home town yesterday and I met members of the public assistance committee who are themselves town councillors. They are not members of my party, but personal friends of mine. They had read in the newspapers that I was to have an opportunity of saying something upon the Bill to-day, and they said to me, "Grenfell, for goodness sake take this thing away from us. Whatever is to be done with this means test, we do not want to touch it." That is what was said to me by 785 more than one councillor in the town in which I reside in the presence of a colleague of mine who is Member of Parliament for the district. The Churches have had something to say about this matter. Will the Minister confide in us and tell us how many resolutions he has received from churches protecting against the abuse, suffering and hardship imposed upon members of their congregations. All denominations in all parts of the country have passed resolutions. We know that there is very strong feeling in the Churches against the way in which the means test and its administration are being carried out. There is the organisation representing the ex-service men. The British Legion have passed resolutions which they have sent to me, and I cannot believe that the British Legion is prepared to accept the concession proposed by the Minister in satisfaction of their claim on behalf of the ex-service men. Trade unions have made their protests and there have been protests in the Press. I do not expect very much sympathy from many newspapers, but one could not fail to have noticed in the Press during the last month or six weeks more sympathetic references to the conditions under which people live, and to the injury inflicted upon unemployed people by the administration of the means test.
The Minister said something about discrimination. It is because of discrimination that we protest against the means test. There is that injustice inherent in the Bill. The Bill does discriminate, and it discriminates not against the worst, not against the unthrifty, not against the idler, not against the waster, but against the industrious person, against the thrifty person. It makes thrift and industry an offence and a crime for which people have to pay a very heavy penalty. I wish the Minister and hon. Members could imagine the condition of mind of two neighbours living next to each other, working in the same mine or the same factory, earning the same wages, with the same family responsibilities, but one family having ideas of thrift, which they put into practice, by means of which they have been able to save sufficient money, perhaps, to buy their house, while the person next door lives from day to day, and thinks it a very happy way to go on, paying no heed to the future but spending as he goes along, because the Government 786 wishes that to be done and actually corn-mends him for so doing.
Imagine the state of mind of the thrifty person when his case comes up for consideration. The thrifty person has paid his contributions, has helped to build up the fund and has been no more responsible for the failure of the fund than the man next door, who is not thrifty and who spends his money as he goes along. A discrimination comes in at the point when it is discovered that one of the two has been industrious and thrifty. In respect of that person, when this legislation has been passed, if he owns the house that he lives in, if, after 30 years' work, he has saved £10 or £12 a year to purchase his house which may be worth £350, he is not to be given one penny piece in unemployment benefit, because he has been guilty of saving more than £300. If his money is invested in the Post Office, the same condition applies to him. In that case there is discrimination against the thrifty person. He is penalised to the extent of being deprived of benefit. That will leave a very large number of people without any hope of unemployment benefit when the public assistance committee considers their case.
The Minister referred to the self-help principle in insurance. He penalises the idea of self-help. He pours contempt upon Samuel Smiles and all his works. I did not think that I should live to see the day when a British Government would tell the ordinary working people whom they persuaded to save, by establishing War Savings Committees and other committees, that they would be penalised for their savings. I was invited to use my eloquence in my native tongue to appeal to people who knew that language, and to assist the organisers of the War Savings Committee who were not blessed with two languages in which to address their fellow countrymen. I was invited to address meetings and to encourage people to be thrifty and help the nation. I wonder what those people who were induced to begin saving in that way, who were urged to put away part of their earnings, are now saying when they find that, having been persuaded to save, they are told by a Government representing the same national interest: "Because you listened to the words of seduction by Grenfell and the rest of them, and you were thrifty, we are going 787 to punish you very severely for having taken that advice in those days."
What is the family position? The Minister has not been frank with the Committee? What is intended? Is it intended that, having found out the applicant's means and the applicant's capital investments, when the case comes up for examination the savings as well as the income of every member of the family is to be taken into account? Let us assume that in a family there are three or four persona of various ages. Is the property of the head of the family only to be taken into account, or are the capital savings of every member of the family to be taken into account in dealing with the concession now proposed? With regard to disability pensions, I am surprised that the House is content, or the majority are apparently content, to permit the Minister to take half the disability pension, because that is what it means. An award was made by the Minister of Pensions 12, 14 or 16 years ago to the extent of, say, 20, 30 or 40 per cent. disability, to a person disabled by war ser-vice. Now another Minister says: "I make no medical examination, I make no inquiry into the history of your case, I make no inquiry into your war service, but I give instructions that your pension of 20, 30 or 40 per cent. is to be reduced by exactly one-half, for the purpose of transitional benefit, if you happen to have been unfortunate enough to have been disabled in your country's service and have not been able to get employment after 26 weeks standard benefit.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Member, but I feel that that statement cannot go unchallenged. What he has just said is a complete misconception of what the Bill says.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
I do not want to do an injustice. Suppose a disabled soldier has a pension of 40 per cent., which is 16s. a week. That disabled soldier becomes an applicant for transitional benefit. If he has an income over a certain scale, and he has the 16s. war pension, which has been given to him in consequence of his disability and as a reward for his services to his country, 8s. of that is to be taken away. [Interruption.] I shall not give way. I give way for the Minister, who has told us that it is not so. It is taken away. 788 It is taking away from the disabled ex-service man what the Pensions Minister gave to him as a right. If a private employer did that, what would be said about him? What about workmen's compensation? I have hundreds of men in my Division who are receiving small sums in workmen's compensation and who will probably never be able to get work at full wages again. The Minister is taking away half the workmen's compensation. He has instructed the public assistance committees, in cases where they do not take it away at the present time, to take the workmen's compensation into account and reduce the unemployment benefit accordingly. Let me assume a case. It is possible that a man may be a disabled ex-service man in receipt of a disability pension, a workman in receipt of workmen's compensation and a claimant for unemployment transitional benefit. That disabled ex-service man may have gone back to work after the War and have contracted a disability at work for which he receives some small disability compensation, in addition to his disability pension. In addition, the Minister may say that he has been guilty of saving money, and on all these counts there is to be taken away what does not belong to the Minister but what belongs to the man himself.
A most shameful and most disgraceful thing is taking place in many parts of the country. There are children in our distressed areas in South Wales, Durham and other areas of industrial depression who have received meals at school. They have been fed because those responsible for their education knew that they could not obtain proper food at home. In order to maintain the physique and health of boys and girls meals have been given to them at school, but the public assistance committees have taken the value of the meals into account and have said: "To the extent that the school meals help your children to be fed, the allowance to the family will be reduced." What has the Minister to say to that? The Bill says nothing about it. We protest against it. It is not a small thing. I find that of the initial applicants for transitional benefit, 19 per cent. out of every 100 people are sent away without anything, lower rates are paid to 41 per cent. and only 50 per cent. get the full unemployment 789 payment of 15s. 3d. for a man, 8s. for the wife and 2s. for each child.
It does not end there. Those who come away from the initial applicants appear again, it may be at their own request, and we find that of the renewed applications a further 5 per cent. have been struck off and sent away with nil determinations, 40 per cent. at lower rates, and 55 per cent. only get the full rate. When an applicant for transitional benefit has gone through the first test, how far is he liable to find himself likely to have his claim more and more harshly considered, with the possibility of more and more people who have passed the first test being reduced either in the amount allowed or being denied any assistance whatever? There is a growing number of people who will get nothing at all. Where are these people to go? Are they to be fed entirely out of their small savings? Must they use up all their savings before their ease is considered? Is it the intention of the Minister to pauperise all people who have means above the figure contained in the Bill? Does the Minister propose to pauperise 1,000,000 of these persons this year and next year 2,000,000? What proportion of the population of this country have to be pauperised by this Measure before the Government are fully satisfied?
We refuse to give our consent to a Bill of this nature because it does not remove injustices to individuals and because it is thoroughly bad not only for the country but for the individual workman and for the masses of the people. The cream of the people, those who have been thrifty, are to be singled out for punishment by this Bill. The Bill is also inconsistent. The other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the intention of what had been done at Ottawa was to increase the purchasing power of the people in Australia, in South Africa, in Canada, and, at the same time, his two colleagues opposite, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health, are reducing the purchasing power of the people of this country. If it is a good thing to increase the purchasing power of the Australian farmer and fruit grower in order to induce him to buy greater quantities of our goods is it not equally a good thing to increase the purchasing power of the people at home, who are only waiting for the chance to enter our 790 home markets in order to buy goods? They will exercise their purchasing power the day after it is given.
We also think that it is a bad national policy, because it is bringing contempt upon us in the eyes of other people. It is a very dangerous precept to declare that in this country thrift is not to be encouraged. There are large masses of people in all parts of the world who band themselves together in order to safeguard themselves by mutual thrift. I agree with that, and one is dismayed to find His Majesty's Government declaring that thrift and industry are an offence and are to be penalised. It is dangerous to apply a means test. If it is right to apply it before people get transitional benefit is it wrong to apply it before giving relief from rates by the Derating Act? Is it right to give £30,000,000 by the derating proposals without the institution of a means test? Is it right to pay for the services of the National Debt £300,000,000 a year without a means test? I feel sure that the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not know what ideas are turning in the minds of men, and how catching these ideas are becoming. They will be dismayed when they find the number of converts they have made by the establishment of this means test.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
We want the abolition of the means test altogether. We believe it is an injustice to the individual and wrong from the point of view of the nation.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
I am talking about this Bill. The Minister expects this concession to cost £1,000,000. I do not think his arithmetic is reliable, or his information. It may be that if no portion of the disablement pension or workmen's compensation awards or property below £300 are taken into account the Bill might cost him £1,000,000. But he knows that public assistance committees are much more generous than he is himself and at the present time they are making full allowance in respect of these items and, therefore, while he may lose £1,000,000 on the swings he is going to 791 gain—if he counts it gain—£2,000,000 or £3,000,000 on the roundabouts. It is no concession to the unemployed. When this Bill becomes law millions of pounds will be taken away from the working people of this country by its-proposals. I come from Glamorganshire, and I am prouder than ever to belong to that part of the country. We have refused to starve our people, to take the butter off the bread of the unemployed. We try to keep them in a decent state of physical fitness. The Minister of Health has censored us, but for the moment we are holding firm and we shall not give in without a further fight. We shall try to preserve the decencies of life for our people as long as we can. If the Minister of Labour gets his way the transitional benefit claimant will get less than he has been getting, and many more people will be struck off the register.
I am prepared to make this charge, which I think is well founded, that this Bill is intended not only to save money at the expense of men claiming transitional payments but is intended as an attack on the scales of relief given by public assistance committees. The Minister knows that whatever may be the needs of a family there is to be no more generous treatment by public assistance committees than the standard rate of unemployment benefit. If not, why does the Minister limit an award to the standard of unemployment benefit? If it is to be a real examination of need and the public assistance committee feels that the needs of a family are £2 5s. per week, why are they not to be allowed to pay that sum? They are only to be allowed to pay the rates of unemployment benefit, and it is therefore intended, and must become the practice, to pay unemployment rates of benefit to all people claiming transitional payment and to pay no larger sum to those applying for Poor Law relief. Therefore the more generous scales of Poor Law relief will be reduced and less and less generous will be the payments made by public assistance committees to people who are unfortunate enough to want public relief.
There are a good many victims of unemployment who rue the day when the means test became law. This Bill will not help them. It is passed at the behest of reactionary people. The worst product 792 of industrial depression and political confusion in this country is a, snob, of whom there are many occupying high places, who enjoy all the luxuries of their clubs, who when they dine can call for this and for that, for the choicest fruits, and who when they are drinking their sparkling wine, which tickles their palates and warms their stomachs, are filled with venom against the unemployed man, look upon him with contempt, although it is he who has built up the wealth of this nation. I beg the Government when they are considering public opinion, that they will rule these people out. They should not have a say in this matter. They are selfish people who think only of their own comfort and luxury. Let the Government listen to the great masses of the unemployed with their grey, pallid faces, their shabby clothes, and their look of hopelessness and grief. Let the Government look at these people and stand up to the problem of maintaining the citizens of this country in the best possible condition. The strength of Great Britain is the strength of all her people not of a few. I ask the Government to withdraw this thing; it is not worthy of the Government. Let them give fresh consideration to the problem of maintaining our unfortunate unemployed. Let them speak to the unemployed man as man to man and I feel sure that they will be convinced that this is not only a means test but a mean attack on people who deserve much better.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I had not intended to take part in this Debate, but after having listened to the hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat there did appear to be one or two points that might have been cleared up earlier. In the first place I speak, of course, entirely without any possibility of having consulted the Government, but so far as the Clause and the paragraph to which the hon. Gentleman referred are concerned, there can be no doubt whatever what they mean. They mean that a local authority which does take into account any wound or disablement benefit may only take that pension into account to the extent of 50 per cent. That is not to say by any means, as the hon. Member suggested, that a local authority or public assistance committee must take 50 per cent. into account. The hon. Gentleman was dealing with the Bill 793 before the House and he was putting upon the words of the Bill an interpretation which they cannot possibly bear. Under the Bill there is no obligation imposed upon local authorities to take any part of the disability pension into account. The same remark applies to the Workmen's Compensation Act. If the local authority took these pensions into account before, they may do so still. If they did not take them into account before there is still no obligation upon them to do so. I have no doubt that any responsible spokesman of the Government who speaks later will be bound to give the same interpretation.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
While I know the hon. and learned Gentleman to be a legal authority of eminence, two Ministers are present and we have asked them questions on the same point.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I have no doubt that this question will be answered authoritatively on behalf of the Government, but so far as my interpretation is of any service to hon. Gentlemen opposite, there it is.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
It is worth while to clear up this matter. There are certain areas in the country, in Glamorgan, in some parts of South Yorkshire, and I think in West Ham, where they do not take into account '75 per cent. of income, and some of them do not take into account 100 per cent. The Minister has said to-clay that the authorities will have power in individual cases to take into account more than 50 per cent. But what will happen if this Bill passes is that Glamorgan, Durham, 'South Yorkshire and other places that already are not taking into account the 100 per cent., will be forced to take into account only 50 per cent. for the bulk of their cases.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Of course, I am not responsible for and could not answer on any question of administration. All I can say is that the Minister would have no power to do any such thing under this sill, All that the Bill does is to force upon local authorities a limitation of the amount which they make take into account.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Under the other Act the Minister has great powers, and the Minister is arguing that certain authorities exercise their powers in the direc- 794 tion I have indicated. The Minister can now say to these authorities, "You must not in a general sense take into account more than 50 per cent., but you may take into account, in special cases, 75 per cent. or 100 per cent." That is what the Minister told us at Question Time.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
So far as the Bill is concerned, what it says is diametrically opposite to what the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) suggested.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain the meaning of the paragraph in Clause 1, which says:The following rules shall be complied with, that is to say—(a) any wounds or disability pension taken into account shall be treated as if it were reduced by one half.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
What I am pointing out is that there are the governing words "taken into account." The governing words are not that you shall treat the disability pension at 50 per cent. of its value, but there is a direction to the public assistance committees that if they do take those pensions into account, so far as they do so it shall not be to a greater extent than 50 per cent. The same thing applies to weekly payments of workmen's compensation. Whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite may say, there is and can be no conceivable doubt that both those matters are a very considerable extension. They give to public assistance committees a wide discretion, so that in proper cases they can extend the limits to 100 or 75 per cent.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
The obligation is already imposed upon the public assistance committees in the National Economy (No. 2) Order to take into account disability pensions and any other means of an applicant. I put it that "taken into account" means that already they have to be taken into account; they must be taken into account in future, and when they are taken into account they shall be considered as though reduced by one half. That is the position.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I do not accept that interpretation at all. In my view it would be perfectly open to any public assistance committee to consider, according to the needs of each case, the disability pension, and to make the same deduction as previously, provided there is a limit of 50 per cent. below which the 795 assistance committee may not go. The hon. Member for Gower made what some of us felt was an extremely provocative and intemperate speech, quite contrary to the reasoned and careful arguments which he usually addresses to the House. It is right that something should be said from these Benches in defence of the means test. The time will come before long when the official Opposition will be extremely embarrassed by having, in an unguarded moment, accepted as a principle the abolition of the means test. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, although it may be beyond the bounds of probability that some day some of them may find themselves governing once again. They have taken the plunge, beginning with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition himself, not like a shrinking plunger from the banks of the Serpentine, but they have gone in boldly after having broken the ice. Each time that this matter comes up in future it will become more difficult and more embarrassing.
There is an old saying that many a man dates his downfall from a murder of which he thought very little at the time. Hon. Members and right hon. Members may find some day that acceptance of the view that there should be no means test with regard to transitional payments may be one of the most disconcerting plunges they have ever taken. How far are they going to carry the principle? Are they prepared to say that there is to be no need test in regard to the Poor Law, in regard to out-relief, in regard to old age pensions? If not, why not? On what principle can they justify the abolition of a need test in regard to unemployed persons applying for transitional payment, and not in regard to unemployed or disabled persons or old persons or sick persons who are applying for any other kind of State relief under some different name?
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) complained that the means test involved a great deal of intimate questions, and that people did not like it. How about the people who have to find the money? Have they not to submit to most intimate questions concerning every conceivable penny that they scrape together as income? Has the hon. Mem- 796 ber forgotten that the taxpayer himself is subject to a very searching, and indeed a very unfair means test, a family test? Does he forget that in assessing a man to Income Tax or Surtax the whole income of himself and his wife is brought together, and that he is taxed often at a grossly unfair rate on the family income and not on the individual income. There is not only a searching inquiry as to means in the case of Income Tax and Surtax payers, but also an aggregation of income in order to provide these large sums of money which are afterwards distributed in this form.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
But the difference is that in the case of the means test the whole family income is taken into account, but in the case of Income Tax only the incomes of husband and wife are taken into account.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
There is an aggregation of means when the State is demanding Income Tax, and I can see no reason why the State should not at any rate consider some of the family income in arriving at a means test for the purpose of these payments. The hon. Gentleman dismissed this Bill as being a penalty upon thrift. But it is the first recognition we have had at law of the advantages of thrift, and a recognition that those who have behaved thriftily in the past should have some consideration given in the assessment of their means in that regard. Do not let the hon. Gentleman run away with the idea that everyone who is possessed of £50 or £100 or £300 has acquired it by means of thrift. There are such things as Irish Sweepstakes and football competitions and the like. Would the hon. Gentleman say that if a man had a sum of £200 or £300 at the bank as the result of a newspaper competition, that man was entitled to go to the public assistance committee and demand, at the expense of his fellow taxpayers, his neighbours next door who are in work, that the public assistance committee should entirely disregard what his winnings are, and that he should have no deduction made from the amount of his public relief? Such a proposition is absurd.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
If people would only mind their own business as I would have them do, that would not arise.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
If everyone minded his own business as the hon. Member suggested the State would not know my income and would not get the correct Income Tax. It is obvious that both in the collection of national revenue and in the expenditure of it you must have a close scrutiny both of the sources and method of expenditure. I took some initiative last year in pressing upon the Government that some steps in the direction indicated in this Bill should be taken. I was moved to do so by what, I had satisfied myself, was taking place in different parts of the country, where people were being forced to dissolve small capital savings and to bring them completely into income account. I thought that that was not only an improper procedure, but a procedure that did not commend itself to the principles of the party to which I belong. For that reason I spoke and made representations to the Minister during the Session before July that steps should be taken to treat capital sums according to their income value.
I, therefore, appreciate the Bill and am grateful for it as going a considerable way in that direction. I think the Bill has made a very effective and rather clever compromise. It takes into account capital sums up to this limited amount at their income value, and also, to a certain extent, at their capital value, although not anything like their full capital value and that is right. The whole argument of the hon. Gentleman opposite was that thrift ought to be encouraged because people were thus encouraged to put a little aside for a rainy day. But when they are drawing transitional payments they have reached their rainy day. This is the rainy day.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
They are not entitled to put money into a stocking and keep it for ever. Like every other class of the community they have to be prepared for emergencies, and this is one of the emergencies of life towards meeting which in so far as he can do so without damaging his personal stability, every self-respecting citizen would justly like to contribute to the hest of his ability. There is one other matter to which I desire to refer. Considerable misapprehension or fear appears to exist among large municipal authorities as to the effect of Sub-section
798 (2) of Clause 1 upon local rates. It has been represented to me by the Association of Municipal Corporations and by the local authority of the great city which I have the honour to represent that this Clause is going to throw a heavy burden upon the rates. In other words, these responsible bodies do not take the view of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. They take the view that the relaxations which are made in the Bill, in so far as transitional payments are concerned, if applied to outdoor relief are going to have a serious effect on local rates.
I understand that the Minister of Health intends to speak before the close of the Debate, and it would be for the convenience of the House if the right hon. Gentleman intervened as early as possible in order that we may have some authoritative information as to the anticipated effect of this provision upon the finances of local authorities. At first sight, there would appear to be a great deal of point in the submission of the local authorities that it is a little unfortunate that these matters should have been linked in the temporary scheme provided for in the Bill, at the very moment when the views of the authorities as to the general administration of the Poor Law are being taken and when revisions of the Poor Law are in contemplation. I content myself for the present with expressing the hope that the Minister will take this opportunity of reassuring local authorities as to their position under the Bill and of explaining the financial burdens which are likely to be cast upon them.
The worst possible service that could be done to our common object, which is to relieve the unemployed, would be for the Minister to be as successful as the hon. Gentleman opposite has been in Glamorgan, in so penalising his neighbours that nobody will establish businesses there at all—[Interruption]—because the burden is impossible of acceptance by any new industry. The long range view must always be in the direction of prudent administration. I welcome the Bill, limited though it is, for the reasons which I have given. I welcome it for another reason. Last year in my judgment there was no single element which did more to save this country and put it back into its position of undoubted prestige among the nations of the world than the wide distribution of small say- 799 ings among the people. It was that element of stability in our national life which enabled us to weather the storm and emerge with a Government more powerful than any Government in the world to-day. It is because this Bill does something to recognise the value and the stabilising influence of the small savings of the people that I heartily welcome it.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
In dealing with this question, I suggest that it is of importance to consider the scope of the means test and the area which its operation covers. I believe that at present, in round figures, about 1,200,000 people are living either in whole or in part upon transitional payments but about half of that number are receiving, at the full determination, except in a very few areas where the amount of transitional payment falls a little short of the amount of unemployment benefit. The fact that the test is in operation does not make any difference to those people and therefore I think it would be a correct estimate to say that about 600,000 people, at the present time are worse off as a result of the operation of the test. But the point which I wish to make is that the discontent aroused by the operation of the means test is by no means confined to 600,000 people. It goes much wider than that and I suggest that the area of indignation is very much wider than the area of actual grievance. Indignation at the working of the means test is not confined to those who take the view which we have just heard expressed by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell). I think there are millions of people in the country who are not against a means test but are very definitely against this means test or at any rate against the means test which we have had up to the present.
The hon. Member for Gower referred to the attitude of the Churches. Last summer the three great Methodist Churches met in their three conferences —the last separate conferences held before they were joined together in one Church—and each of the three passed a very strong resolution expressing grave concern as to the results of the working of the means test. There we had three organisations, which are religious rather than political, three organisations not 800 concerned with politics as such, three organisations drawing their membership very largely from the working class in all parts of the country—and each of those organisations, on its own separate initiative passed a resolution expressing grave concern as to the results of the operation of the means test.
What we have to consider this afternoon is, how far the Bill goes towards remedying the legitimate grievances that have arisen in the operation of the test. Some of us on these benches who represent industrial constituencies must say, frankly, that this Bill does not go nearly as far as we would wish. Some of us are gravely disappointed that it only deals with certain grievances under the means test and entirely fails to deal with other grievances which are probably a much greater cause of discontent. The Bill may be described as a minimum. It draws a line below which no public assistance committee shall in future be allowed to fall, but I suggest to the Opposition that that is not a reason for voting against the Bill. The Bill is not all we should like in the industrial areas and especially in the depressed areas, but, in a case like this, surely the proper course is not to go into the Lobby against it but to accept what we can get and to go on asking for more. That is the course which some of us on these benches propose to pursue.
I wish to deal now with one or two features of the Bill. First, there is the provision with regard to disability pensions. The hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) referred last week to the younger generation in this country who had had no actual experience of the War. He said they were asking why ex-service men should receive special consideration. I can claim to speak as one of the younger generation to which he referred, because I was only 14 years of age when the War ended. But far from taking the attitude which the hon. and gallant Member indicated, I think I am expressing the views both of myself and of all my contemporaries with whom I am acquainted when I say that we would associate ourselves rather with the proposal of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) that in future disability pensions should be left out of account altogether.
801 I now come to a more obscure part of the Bill and one which has caused great confusion especially in Scotland. That is the part of the Bill which deals with savings. I believe that on Monday of last week, a day or two before the Financial 'Resolution was put down, representatives of the Scottish local authorities had an interview with the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I am sorry to say that that interview does not seem to have dissipated the confusion which exists particularly with regard to this provision affecting savings. Yesterday I was in my constituency and I was called to attend an emergency meeting of the public assistance committee. The holding of such a meeting on a Sunday was a proceeding quite unprecedented in Dundee but the meeting was held because of apprehension and as I think misunderstanding, arising from this part of the Bill. The impression is abroad in Scotland that this part of the Bill leaves no discretion to the public assistance committees. As I read the Bill Clause 1 (1c) must be taken in the same sense as the provision which deals with disability pensions and that view is borne out by what was said by the Minister of Labour during the Debate on the Financial Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman said, speaking of the three objectives of the Bill:There will be a minimum which will be uniform and general in its application with a discretion above the minimum to be exercised by local authorities on the merits of each individual case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1932; col. 354, Vol. 270.]5.30 p.m.
It would be a real service if the Minister would reaffirm that, and if he would allay the fears that have been so generally aroused by construing this paragraph over again. It would also be a real service ii the Minister would make it clear that public assistance committees still have what might be called an upward discretion, and that in suitable cases they can be more generous than is actually indicated in the terms of the Bill.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I thought I had already done so, but my hon. Friend who will wind up the Debate will then make that perfectly clear.
§ Mr. FOOT
I apologise if I have not quite understood the right hon. Gentleman, but I want it to be quite clearly understood, as there is very grave aprpre- 802 pension on the point in many parts of Scotland. I am grateful to the Minister for his statement. Then there is the Clause, to which reference has been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor), which deals with Poor Law relief. Already there is very great resentment, especially in the depressed areas, at the fact that this Bill, instead of bringing the looked-for relief with regard to the able-bodied unemployed, will add a, fresh burden on the shoulders of the depressed areas, a burden which is already unfair and too heavy for them to carry. I agree that this is not likely to be a very heavy additional burden. Nevertheless it is an additional burden placed on areas which have been carrying for a long time far more than their fair share of the burden of the able-bodied unemployed. Last July, before the House rose, representations were made, both upstairs and across the Floor, to the Minister of Health by Members from various depressed industrial areas, asking that some action should be taken; and in the Debate on the Adjournment on the 13th July the Minister of Health promised to examine the question of the reallocation of grants so as to give some relief to the depressed areas. That is four months ago, and is that too short a time to enable the Minister to examine this question and to give us some relief?
I have given my views on the provisions that are actually inserted in the Bill, and I will now say a word about the omissions from the Bill, which are in some respects more important than the provisions in it. I agree with what was said the other day by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) that the real grievance under the means test is the family contribution. The provisions as to disability pensions and savings are no doubt real hardships, but the trouble, the disaffection, the discontent that have been aroused are mainly the outcome of the family contribution. Only yesterday I was speaking to the convener of the Dundee Public Assistance Committee, and also to the public assistance officer in Dundee. For the last year they have had to discharge a very difficult and thankless task, in a city where the number of those on transitional payment is not far short of 20,000 in an adult population of about 110,000, and in the last 803 12 months they have had to make no fewer than 121,000 determinations. I asked them their view as to the main grievance under the means test. They did not favour abolishing the household test, but their view was that if only the personal allowance could be raised as much as £1, so that each wage-earner in a family should get at least out of his own earnings, very few complaints would be heard in future as to the operation of the means test.
That is one way in which this question might be dealt with. Then there is the plan advanced by the Royal Commission in its Report published a few days ago, where they suggest, on page 289:An illustration of the application of this principle is a rule whereby if the income earned by a member of a household a minimum sum, and in addition a proportion, say a quarter, of earnings in excess of that minimum, should be allowed as 'personal' income, the balance only being brought into the estimate of the income of the household of which he is a member.Just before that they say:One of the normal inducements to earn is the power to spend some part at least of wages in satisfaction of personal inclination.With this very small personal allowance of 15s. or 17s. 6d., very little indeed is left to be spent "in satisfaction of personal inclination." I would suggest a third possible way of approach to this question. At present a member of a family who is in work is told that the whole of his wages must go into the family pool, except for this small personal allowance of 12s. 6d., 15s. or 17s. 6d. I suggest that we might with advantage adopt an entirely different principle and approach the matter as it were from the other end. We might say to the member of the family, whether parent or child, who happens to be in work while the rest of the family are employed, "We recognise that you have an obligation towards the rest of your family, but we will try to fix that obligation in terms of money." You might say that if a member of a family was in work and earning 30s. a week, he should be expected to contribute 10s. in discharge of his obligations to the family; if he was earning 40s., he might be expected to contribute 15s.; and you might have a, scale on those lines.
804 We have been told—and I think every Member of this House, to whatever party he belongs, was very glad to hear it—that there is to be a much more comprehensive Bill introduced next Session, in which the Government propose to overhaul the whole question of unemployment relief and insurance. I want to press upon the Government the extreme urgency of overhauling unemployment relief in this country. We have had an example, only a week or two ago, of the danger of delay in dealing with this matter. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, speaking last week on the Financial Resolution in connection with this Bill, emphatically denied the suggestion that this was panic action due to the recent disorders. I think everyone in this House will readily accept his assurance, but how many people outside will accept it? How many people outside must have got the impression that this Bill has simply been introduced as a kind of concession to violence?
Whatever assurances the Minister may give, and whatever the facts of the case, it is inevitable that a very large number of people outside should have got that extremely unfortunate and lamentable impression; and I suggest that the Government should take warning. What a pity it is that this Bill was not introduced before the recent disorders, instead of after. What a different impression it would have made, if only it had been introduced last summer instead of this autumn. We realise that when the Government are arranging their programme for next Session, first consideration must be given to those Measures which they think likely to increase the volume of employment, but I suggest that the next most urgent thing is this question of overhauling our whole system of unemployment relief, by dealing with the grievances under the means test which have not been dealt with in this Bill, so that we may be able in this House, at the earliest possible opportunity, to pass into law methods of dealing with the means test which shall be rational, uniform, and humane.
§ Sir ARTHUR STEEL-MAITLAND
I should not have risen except for some of the words which were used by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) in opening the Debate from that side to-day. 805 I listened to his speech, and there were some sentences in it that I do not think ought to be allowed to pass without challenge from this side of the House. He spoke about people whose opinion was taken as to the proper means of dealing with the unemployed, and as to the nature of the unemployed, as people themselves living a comfortable life, having very ample means, taking their sparkling wine which tickles their palate, and that this was the kind of careless, easy folk—and unfeeling was insinuated—to whom the Minister of Labour would go for advice as to how to deal with the unemployed and as to what the unemployed were like. It is just that kind of speech—and I wish the hon. Member were now in his place—which seems to me to be an insinuation of a particularly mean, contemptible, and unworthy kind.
Those of us who know the hon. Member for Gower know quite well that he would not want naturally, under ordinary conditions, to make insinuations of that character. Outside this House, when he has not been lashing himself into a certain amount of rage against a Bill and in favour of an Amendment, which I think by now he is probably rather sorry he has put on the Paper—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"]— I will deal with that in a moment, but I should think that under normal circumstances that would be the last kind of insinuation he would wish to make. I would add that everyone who knows the present Minister of Labour knows perfectly well that that would be the last kind of advice that he would wish to take in dealing with these questions was the last kind of advice that I would ever have taken myself in previous days. I know the present Minister infinitely too well to believe that he would do anything of the kind; and the sooner that kind of insinuation is stopped, the better it will be even for the people who let themselves, in rash moments, make them.
There was another charge which the hon. Member made against this Government and the National party, and that was the charge of inconsistency. I am bound to say that for anyone from the benches opposite to make the charge of inconsistency with regard to the means test against any of us seems to me to be one of the boldest ways of carrying 806 out a defensive-offensive which anybody could possibly take. I see hon. Members opposite smiling, because they know very well what an absurd charge it is for them to make, to say: "You have been inconsistent with regard to the means test." I rather think the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was not in his place to have the pleasure of hearing that observation from his hon. Friend beside him.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I quite agree. I was not reflecting, as I am quite sure the Leader of the Opposition knows, on his not being often in this House. We all know that he is, but I was saying that he did not happen to be here at that moment, when he would have heard that peculiar charge levelled against this side. Nor was the former Minister of Health. But those of us who heard his previous statement in support of the means test, when we hear hon. Members opposite rising in righteous indignation against anything of the kind, in the mitigated form presented to-day, can only think what a well disciplined party they must be. They are converted by platoons and baptized in battalions; they turn round in a thoroughly well regimented way. When they are told that they are to pass the Anomalies Act, they pass it; when they are told that they are to have a means test, they support it. When they are told they have to turn round against the means test, they turn round, and we hear all this righteous indignation against it. That kind of charge does not convince anyone.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
For sheer consistency, I make a noble exception of the party below the Gangway. I watched them through that long night's Debate when they consistently objected to the Anomalies Act, just as they are objecting now. I am sure that the hon. Member will agree with my description of most of the Members of the other Labour party above the Gangway.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Perhaps we shall be able to hear the hon. Gentleman's own characterisation of them. It will not be wanting in substance. Let me put this to hon. Members opposite. Their Amendment seems a strange way in which to greet a Bill which, if it does not go the whole distance that they want, goes a considerable way. We were told by the hon. Member for Gower that what was wanted was purchasing power. I do not want to discuss the economics of providing purchasing power, but this Bill gives distinctly more of the purchasing power which he would like to see given than has been given previously. It goes part of the way; yet the hon. Member and his friends are going to vote against the Bill.
It is always a matter of great difficulty to decide real need on the one hand, and to take action which will not discourage thrift on the other. A year ago I asked the Minister of Labour if he would consider disregarding a portion of the disability pension. I was criticised for that, but now the Minister is introducing a Measure in which half of the disability pension is to be disregarded for the purpose of calculating need. I want to say freely how fully I recognise what he has done, and how glad I am that he has done it. I think, on the whole, that this is a very just and fair compromise—if "compromise" be a proper term to use—in a case in which it is difficult to draw a just line. Beyond a certain point it is not really fair that the disability pension or other means should be disregarded. It is not fair on the taxpayer of the country who has to pay the bill, but up to that point we have now at least full consideration shown to the man who draws a disability pension.
The hon. Member for Gower poured scorn upon the Royal Commission. For what are Royal Commissions appointed? Here we have a commission appointed by the party opposite when they were in power coming to certain conclusions after long consideration. If, as the hon. Member for Gower said, we should not go to a Royal Commission for advice, why on earth, when they were in power, did they appoint the very Royal Commission which the hon. Member scorns to-day? Theirs is purely factious opposition, and the whole record of the party shows it to be so. This Measure makes a substantial advance in the direction that they them- 808 selves would like. It regularises a position that needed regularising badly. Matters were chaotic before, and this Bill brings them into something like order. It enacts that one-half of a disability pension shall be disregarded, and it does not prevent a further portion of a disability pension being disregarded if a local committee considers there is need for it. When a Bill to this extent restores order where there was chaos before there are few people in the country at large, whether among disabled soldiers or anyone else, who will feel any gratitude to the party opposite for moving an Amendment which would wreck the Bill if they were able to carry it.
§ Mr. TINKER
There has sprung up in the House a new form of address to the Speaker. Many hon. Members, like the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland), begin their speeches by saying that they never intended to speak but for the remarks of another hon. Member. When there are a large number of Members jumping up and wishing to speak, having put their names down, I cannot understand another Member beginning his speech by saying that he had never intended to intervene. That sort of thing takes me out of my depth. The right hon. Member for Tamworth said that he never intended to speak until he heard the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) but I can hardly swallow that. After hearing the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) in his well-reasoned speech, I am curious to know where he stands on this question. He is not altogether in favour of the Measure but he is going to support it because he says there must be some kind of means test. Then he went on to tell us what he would exclude from it. I would like to know from the Liberal party to what extent they support the means test. We are saving £8,000,000 by the operation of the test at a cost of £400,000 in administration. If we accepted the Liberal position and excluded what they say ought to be excluded, we should save that £400,000. What is the use of having a means test at all, and having officials and public assistance committees to administer it, if so many things are to be excluded from the test? The whole value of the test as laid down by the Conservative party would be done away with. I would like the Liberal party to make clear where they stand on this matter, and not 809 have a foot in both camps as they have had on so many occasions.
I am not one of those who says that there is not some good in this Bill, but I cannot support it because it does not go as far as I want to go, and I am strongly opposed to any means test at all. At the same time, I am bound to say that there are in it certain principles which I have advocated should, be adopted if there is to be a means test at all. In Lancashire, we have not been treated as well as other parts of the country, although we have been very hard hit. The disability pension and workmen's compensation have not been taken into consideration as generously as in other parts of the country. I admit that the Bill goes some part of the way to meet us in that direction and to equalise matters as between these two items. It is a definite advance to recognise workmen's compensation in this connection, for it has never before been treated on the same footing as the disability pension. I have fought all my life for industrial compensation to be recognised like the disability pension. A man on the industrial field who is maimed in his occupation is just as much entitled to con sideration as a man who is injured on the battlefield in fighting for his country. Therefore, I am not going to say that on this point there bas not been some advance by the Government. We have a definite advance which I hope later will he improved upon.
On the question of capital assets, I do not think that the Government have gone far enough; and on the question of the family income, there has been no step forward at all. The treatment of that item has caused the (most hardship. In my constituency of Leigh the people, have been more hard hit than anyone else. At a recent meeting of the Lancashire County Council it was stated that it had been ascertained that 522 single persons seeking transitional payment had left home. These young people have left home because they were disallowed benefit in view of the earnings coming into the family. We have to realise what this means in breaking up homes. I do not think that any other part of the country can show this tendency to the same extent as Leigh, because of the harshness of the determinations in respect of transitional payments.
810 6.0 p.m.
Surely the Government have had protests enough from all over the country to make them realise the seriousness of the position. I have a ease which came under my personal notice. After one of any meetings in Leigh, a young man asked me if I could help him. He was 22 years of age and had just finished his time at a foundry. He was a fully qualified man and was discharged because he would be entitled to full pay. He drew unemployment benefit for six months. At the end of that time he was examined for transitional payment. His father was earning 38s. a week. There were five children besides himself in the family, and he was allowed 3s., so that the full total of the household income was £2 is. Here is a young man entering on manhood's estate, and he, his five sisters and brothers have to live on the earnings of their father. I told him that nothing could be done under the conditions laid down, and he said, "There is only one thing for me to do. I shall leave home." I admire that lad for taking that stand. It was something I would have done myself to bring to the notice of the public the position I was in. This Bill does nothing to remedy that state of affairs. It, therefore allows the breaking up of family life to go on. The Minister of Labour said this afternoon that this Bill is only the first step towards a larger Bill. If the Government intend to hold to the means test—and they seem very determined about it—I would urge that when they bring in their larger Measure they should pay greater attention to the question of the family income, and not leave things as they are at present. This afternoon there has been much talk about whether there are protests against the means test in different parts of the country—I mean whether there has been any emphatic protest against any kind of means test. I spent a considerable time addressing meetings during the Recess in order to find out what the people think about the position. At every meeting which I attended, even though there were questions about the extreme cases in which applicants have been found to be in possession of funds, the feeling has been that it would be much better to do away with the means test altogether. Further, there have been protests from public 811 bodies. One urban district council, which is a Labour body, passed a resolution asking me to protest against any kind of means test. From another part of my division a district council which is not wholly Labour, but composed of Liberals, Tories and Labour men—the majority being against Labour—sent me a resolution protesting against the means test as not being fair, and as one which could not be carried out properly in a way to satisfy the people. In view of these protests, I think I have a right to ask Conservative Members to tell us what has been their experience in their constituencies, because I am inclined to think it would be very much the same as my own.
§ Mr. PIKE
The only protests on that special point that have been made have been directed through the official machine operating in one trade union branch or another known as the National Minority Unemployed Movement. [Interruption.] Speaking on behalf of Attercliffe, Sheffield, I can say that they are the only representations which have been made to me.
§ Mr. TINKER
I was thinking that the hon. Member did as we do—went about addressing meetings in local market places. If so, he must have noticed some feeling shown by the people. I know that trade unions do pass resolutions, but that is not the feeling that I was referring to. I want to ask hon. Members whether they have been round their divisions during the Recess and addressed open-air meetings and learned from the people in that way what they think about the means test. If they say that they have, and that the people are in favour of the means test, I shall accept their statements, though it shows a different feeling from that which I have met with in my part of the country. I am a little sorry that the point should have been made to-night about people taking money from the State to which they are not entitled. The insurance scheme is built up on payments from three sources—from the Government, the workmen and the employers. One third of the money is given by the State. That being so, I cannot understand how it can be argued that people are taking money from the State to which they are not entitled. The 812 country has said that there must be an insurance scheme and has contributed money towards it. As to the argument about the Poor Law, my view is that the Poor Law is designed for the destitute and for those who cannot work, whereas the insurance scheme is for men and women able to work; and so when these people have exhausted 26 weeks benefit it is not right to say that the State bas then no longer any right to give money to them.
The argument we put forward against the abolition of the means test is quite sound in principle in the case of the genuine unemployed man, and we on these benches claim that by securing recognition of that position we shall get the State to understand that it is the duty of the State to put these men and women into employment. That is what we are driving at. Our people do not want unemployed benefit, they want work, but when they are unemployed and cannot get work it is not right for the State to say, "We are going to bring in a means test." That is why I take strong opposition to this Bill. There are certain good features in it—every Bill has certain good features—but I should be glad if they had gone further, and as they do not meet what we want, and as the Bill embodies the means test, I am satisfied in my own conscience that I am doing right in going into the Lobby against it.
§ Captain ARTHUR HOPE
I hope it will relieve the feelings of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) if I say that I had every intention of speaking this afternoon, and that it is not his words that have brought me to my feet. Ever since the means test was introduced 12 months or more ago it has seemed to me that the problem divided itself into two parts; first, whether there should be a means test at all, and, second, how it should be administered. I am emphatic in saying there should be a means test of some kind or another. It is all very well to say that the State should pay out money—maybe it should; but the taxpayers who provide that money ought to have some idea of whether it is going into the right pockets or not. The hon. Member for Leigh asked whether Conservative Members had heard any protests in their constituencies against the means test. I took part in the local municipal elections in Birmingham which concluded 813 a fortnight ago, and addressed many public meetings, some of them extremely noisy and rowdy. The questions put were largely concerned with the means test, but nearly all of them dealt with the administration of the means test, and not with the point whether there should be a means test or not. I said to my wife and my agent and to other people as I came away from meetings: "It does strike me as extraordinary that the people who are asking the most pertinent and the most violent questions, the people who have interrupted me snore than anyone else, nearly always preface their questions by saying, 'We agree that there should be a means test in some form or another, but we object to the way in which it is being administered.'" That is the experience which I had as an industrial Member during the last few weeks. I am not going to argue about the rights or wrongs of the means test. I believe it is right, and I believe that view is shared by the great majority of thinking people in all parts of this House and of the country. It has been admitted by ex-Labour Ministers, and I cannot help feeling that if the hon. Gentlemen below me were on the other side of the House they would be saying very much what the Parliamentary Secretary is going to say to us in his winding-up speech.
As regards administration, there is not the slightest doubt that this Bill is called for. The great fault of the original Bill was that it gave too much latitude to the public assistance committees. The Ministry had not the power under that Bill to lay clown certain rules which they are now taking in this Bill. I think that the great majority of the grievances, and they are undoubted and legitimate grievances, against the administration of the Act have been due to the fact that different parts of the country administered it in different ways, and that there was no sort of uniformity on the three points which are now dealt with in this amending Bill. The Minister says that the present Bill will do away with certain of those anomalies, and lays it down that 50 per cent. of disability pensions should be ignored. I entirely agree with him, and would also like to echo what the hon. Member for Leigh said about workmen's compensation cases being put on the same level as ex-service men's cases.
814 I would ask the Minister, however, whether he does not think that by introducing this rule about ignoring 50 per cent. of the disability pension he will be laying up a store of trouble for himself in the future, because if it is admitted that 50 per cent. is to be ignored can it be argued that 60, 70 or 100 per cent. should not be ignored? We shall find one district ignoring 75 per cent. of the allowance in the great majority of special cases, and they may go right up to 100 per cent., and although we know this Bill is only a temporary one and will be succeeded by a far more outstanding Measure next year, I do hope the Minister will bear in mind that this is not going to be the end of this question of disability pensions or of workmen's compensation awards. I very much wish the Minister had taken courage and got a little more out of the pocket of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so that he might have been able to say to the Committee that the whole of the disability pensions and the workmen's compensation awards were to be excluded from consideration in the administration of the means test.
I know that that would cost a certain sum of money, but these disability pensions and workmen's compensation awards are not given for subsistence alone, but as compensation for injuries received and for loss of earning power. A man may have a 75 per cent. disability pension for the loss of an arm or a leg, or a 100 per cent. disability pension for the loss of two arms or two legs, but that is not given to him merely in order to feed himself and to house himself. It is given to try to make up in some way for the disability he is suffering in the ordinary daily life he has to lead. I do not want to appeal for ex-service men on sentimental grounds, but those who know disabled men know that as they get older their disabilities do not grow less. As they get older it is more difficult for them to work or to live with one leg or with one arm than it was at an earlier stage, and although I know nothing can be done in the present Bill I would ask the Minister, before the next Bill is presented, to see to it that disability pensions and workmen's compensation awards are treated in the same way and ignored up to 100 per cent., because in that way, I think, we shall remove one 815 of the greatest grievances against the means test in all parts of the country.
§ Mr. LECKIE
I cannot understand the attitude of the Opposition in this Debate to-night. When the Government announced a week or two ago that they intended to bring in this emergency Measure I heard the Leader of the Opposition welcome the idea, and say that he would do what he could to get it passed into law. To-night the attitude of the Opposition is very different, and I regret it very much indeed. It must be remembered that this is solely an emergency Measure. It does not purport to deal with the means test in a thorough way, but only to abolish some of the special hardships which experience has shown that it is very desirable to remove. This Measure ought to have been welcomed by the Opposition. I have had representations from those in my own constituency who are in a special position to speak for, the unemployed, and have passed them on to the Minister of Labour. Some of the points in those representations will be met by this Bill and others will not, though those will no doubt be considered very carefully when the new Bill is brought in. This Measure will tide us over a month or two and enable the Government to deal with the question of the unemployed as a whole.
I did not intend to speak generally on the Bill, but I am specially interested in Sub-section (2) of Clause 1. This is a very valuable Clause and one which lays down a new principle, as it were, in connection with Poor Law out-relief. Reference has been made in a speech this evening to a circular sent out to, I suppose, all hon. Members, by the Secretary of the Association of Municipal Corporations with regard to this Clause. I would like to point out that the circular has not been before the Council of the Association and has not the Council's authority. The circular says that a resolution was passed calling upon the Government to withdraw that portion of the Bill which relates to public assistance, that is Subsection (2) of Clause 1. I hope that the Government will do nothing of the kind. The Sub-section lays down a principle which ought to be accepted.
Possibly the Association are afraid of the additional cost which may be put 816 upon the local authorities or upon local public assistance committees. That cost may be very heavy, especially in depressed areas such as the one I represent. I understood from the Minister of Health last week—and I hope that he will repeat that statement to-night—that he was making provision to deal with the point next Session. I hope that that promise will be kept. The provision which has been made is a valuable one, and I should be very sorry to see it struck out of the Bill. I hope that the Second Reading of this Bill will be carried by a very large majority. I hope also that the Government will stick to their guns in respect of Sub-section (2) of Clause 1. I wish to emphasise the temporary character of this Measure. It does not give us all that we want, and I agree with a good deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot). The Bill, however, gives very valuable relief which we ought to welcome. I welcome it, and thank the Government for it.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Without speaking authoritatively, I can guarantee to the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that his wish that the Second Reading of the Bill may be carried by a large majority is extremely likely to be granted. The Government will get the Second Reading. I shall be extremely sorry to see it, because I believe that in the areas where the best work, from my point of view, is being done, very much good work will be undone. I believe that those local authorities who fear that this Bill will place upon them an increased burden are likely to be correct. I represent a very distressed area that has borne the brunt of industrial depression for the last 10 years. It has struggled manfully against terrific difficulties. They believe, in that area, that the difficulties will be increased by the operation of this Bill. It is, of course, very easy to assume that, in same areas, some little good may be done. Reactionary public assistance committees that have gone to the extreme limit in penalising those who have appeared before them, may find that their powers are curtailed. I am very much afraid that under this Bill many authorities who have treated the unemployed generously are going to be penalised and their policies reversed.
The Minister of Labour, in his opening speech, said that no Government had 817 faced the situation with regard to unemployment and unemployment insurance, until last September. I do not know what is called "facing the, situation." I have heard many Governments and many Ministers attempting to deal with the difficulties of unemployment. They have always been wrong. They have never had a correct estimate of the difficulties confronting them. It is evident from the Prime Minister's speech, on the "thinking aloud" occasion, that it was not till about 12 months ago, or a little more, that he came to the conclusion, along with other colleagues, that the idea of looking for a revival of trade to correct the difference between employment and unemployment was quite fallacious, and that they had to approach the problem from an entirely different point of view. What is the point of view? What is it going to he? Is this condition of unemployment to be alleviated or not? Is the country to be permanently burdened with between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 unemployed? If so, the sooner the Government face the situation the better. You are not going to face it by juggling with unemployment insurance, or the means test, or anything like that. That is not the way to approach the matter.
What is the Government's point of view with regard to the aggregate amount of unemployment with which they are likely to have to deal? I think the Government arc totally wrong. The Prime Minister himself, in that doleful speech, held out no hope. When dealing with the Government's latest policy of tariffs, the Lord President of the Council held out very little hope, either. We were told to wait and see. He does not believe that much can be done, but he hopes that something will be done. That is not a. very hopeful way of dealing with this problem. This Bill is based upon the assumption that we are going to have a very large amount of unemployment as a permanent factor in our social life. How is it going to he dealt with? You are not going to deal with it along these lines. The people outside will not stand it indefinitely, nor will the public authorities stand it indefinitely. When my hon. Friend, the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), spoke last week, he was reproached by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mahane) because he spoke with some heat and passion. It 818 appears that if anybody speaks strongly about this matter he becomes a demagogue.
We had almost the same suggestion from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) when he replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) this afternoon. It just depends upon the subject under discussion as to whether one exhibits signs of demagogy or not. We on this side of the House are inclined to become indignant about the continued misery and the destitution which confront millions of our people. We are sick of this witches' cauldron of economic iniquity which engulfs so many of the population. If we are charged with becoming demagogues because we think strongly about that, we shall not attempt to repudiate the charge, but we would retort that there are matters about which hon. Members on that side of the House become demagogues. It is not many years ago since many of them were demagogues. Then we were engaged in a war against Germany. It is astonishing to remember the emotions which they expressed then. We are engaged in a war now, and, so far as the people who are suffering are concerned, it is just as deadly as the war against Germany. It is the war of poverty. It is the war against poverty, and we feel particularly strongly about it.
There have been references this afternoon to the question of transitional payments. Surprise has been expressed at the point of view that I and my colleagues take on that matter. Transitional payments were part of the law, until a very short time ago. There was no problem about a means test until unemployment was approaching 3,000,000. No question of morality was involved when unemployment stood at 1,500,000, 2,000,000 or 2,250,000. It was when the cost became great that the question of a means test arose. Even when there were only 1,000,000 unemployed there was a percentage who were doing precisely what is charged against a small minority now. No claim arose then for the establishment of a means test. It was when unemployment became so menacing and the cost became so great that that claim was made.
819 6.30 p.m.
What is the cost The Royal Commission tells us that from 1921 to 1932 the Unemployment Insurance Fund cost the State £115,000,000. They do not give up hope of getting it back again by amortisation. The Treasury is to be reimbursed. £115,000,000 was spent to deal with unemployment over 11 years, and in that same period this country parted with anything up to £4,000,000,000 in interest alone. What an amount of indignation has been wasted in regard to that paltry £115,000,000, an average of £11,000,000 per annum for 11 years, while the country has poured out, in the same time, thousands of millions of pounds in interest on War Loan I Let us get some sense of proportion in indignation about national expenses which have to be raised by the taxpayer. The taxpayer has to find the lot. Let me put another point with regard to transitional benefit. The production of wealth is a social affair. It is not a question of Dick, Tom or Harry; it is the outcome of the combined operations of the whole of society. It is not a question of particular pockets or channels; it is entirely a social process. Unemployment is the outcome of social processes. The man who is unemployed is quite unable to help himself. It is not his fault that he is unemployed; it is not his crime that he is unemployed; it is his sheer misfortune.
I was talking recently to a gentleman who is a constituent of mine, though he is not on my side by a long way—he generally fights me as strongly as he possibly can. He has a very intimate acquaintance with the industrial life of South Wales and with the coal trade, and he said to me, "All this talk about men who do not want to work is to my mind sheer nonsense. I believe there may be 5 per cent. who could be put under that head, but I am sure that at the very outside there are not more, and that 95 per cent. at least of the men who are now condemned to unemployment would cheerfully take work if they could possibly get it." My point, indeed, is that they are too eager to take work. They will take work at almost any wage that may be offered; they will take work at a wage which it is an economic crime to offer. It is not a question of criminality; it is not a question of fault; it is a ques- 820 tion entirely of misfortune; and, if the State finds itself in the position of being compelled to see millions of its people condemned to undeserved poverty, what on earth is the use of talking about fine shades of opinion as to how they should be relieved? Something has to be done, and, surely, it is mean and paltry to cut them down, as we are attempting to do in this House, to the very last possible penny. It is to that that I and my hon. Friends object.
I object to the means test entirely. I do not think it can be put into operation without establishing a reign of economic cruelty such as I would not accept for one man or woman. I would rather that a few people should wriggle through who are quite unworthy and unsocial in their outlook than that large numbers of people should be condemned, as they are being condemned, to this undeserved inquisition which entails so much cruelty upon those who have to undergo it. I protest with all the power at my command against this thing, and I say that, if the Government were doing their duty, they would be attempting to deal with this matter from a statesmanlike point of view, instead of the point of view from which they arc dealing with it at the present moment. This Bill is a preliminary Measure, and 1 sincerely hope that when the Government follow it up they will do so in a different manner.
I do not believe that this Bill has been produced as a result of the complications of the last few months, and people outside do not believe that either. It is the outcome of continued representations from those who have had to administer the present Act, and their protests began almost as soon as the Bill was introduced. As soon as its implications became known, protests began to roll in. I would not say for one moment that the Government yielded to the pressure during the last week or two so far as the hunger-marchers were concerned. They were not really concerned with this Bill at all; they were concerned to exhibit their general conditions and the extent of the calamity under which they were all suffering. So far as we are concerned, we shall go into the Lobby on every possible occasion we can to oppose this Measure, means test or no means test. I should like to say to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, who was not here when I 821 mentioned him a few moments ago, that, while he may think that I am speaking more strongly than I ought, it is not always easy to retain the calm and cool front that is assumed by hon. Gentlemen on those benches over, as I said before, certain questions. I believe that I could ruffle even the hon. Member for Huddersfield on certain questions if I chose to introduce them.
In conclusion, I want to say that, so far as we are concerned, we shall stir up all the animosity and antagonism that we possibly can to the working of this Measure, or of the means test in any circumstances whatever. We shall not accept it. Hon. Members must not judge us from their own point of view; we take an entirely different point of view from them. We regard wealth production from a different point of view; we regard its processes from a different point of view; and the point of view that they think we are so keen about is a part of our philosophy. It is that we are all members of the same family, that we ought to regard ourselves as such, and that men ought not to be penalised for things which are not their fault or for which they cannot be blamed. They should not be punished for something that is outside their reach and outside their control.
§ Major PROCTER
I should like to ask the hon. Member how, in carrying out his policy of despoiling the rich, it is possible to know who are the rich unless there is a means test?
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
There is no question of despoiling the rich; it is a question of stopping the rich from despoiling the poor.
Sir ADRIAN BA ILLIE
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) may have been right in asserting that the Liberal party refused to clarify their position regarding the means test, but the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) at least made a definite suggestion to the Minister of Labour with regard to the question of family contributions, and I should like in a few words to support that suggestion. The hon. Member for Leigh asked Unionist or Conservative Members of the House to let him know their experience in their constituencies, and what was the feeling of their constituents with regard to the means test. I cannot say more on that question than 822 that in my experience the objections are largely those of administration. There is no doubt in my mind that, from the strictly practical point of view, under the means test as it is at present administered there is in a great many cases no incentive for men, and especially young men, to go and seek work. In my constituency I understand that, in assessing the family income in accordance with the regulations of the means test, a flat-rate deduction of 10s. is made from the wages of every breadwinner in the household, and that only the remainder of his income is taken into consideration as going into the family fund. At the same time a fiat-rate deduction. of 10s. is made from the transitional benefit of the unemployed man; and, while it is obvious that the expenses of a man following his trade or occupation must be greater than those of a man who is merely receiving transitional benefit, it seems to me that no allowance is made for that fact.
A case has been brought to my notice of a family, one of whose members, a young man, went out for a week's work, and at the end of the week the family balance was hardly any greater than, if as great as, when he stayed at home and did not work. That may be a border-line case, but I suggest that you can go a long way from that border and still find the same tendency in connection with the assessment of family income—the same tendency to reduce the incentive to work. I should be grateful, therefore, if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour would bear in mind this point to which I have referred, and which was made by the hon. Member for Dundee, in the comprehensive Bill which we understand is to be introduced into the House next Session. I should like to go a little further in support of the hon. Member for Dundee, and to suggest that, in connection with these allowances, there should be not only a higher scale of allowances and deductions, but also a sliding scale, if you like in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Dundee. I think that only in that way will it be possible to restore the incentive to the unemployed to seek work rather than to remain totally Chargeable to public funds.
§ Mr. McENTEE
If the Minister of Labour had been present, I should have liked to remind him of a statement that 823 I made in this House in the early days of the present Government. I protested on behalf of ratepayers in my own and other constituencies that they were having to keep a number of people—both men and women, but particularly men—who had been thrown off benefit as a consequence of the form of administration by the public assistance committees. The Minister replied to me on that occasion that it was impossible for any increase in the rates to occur, because, he said, the same public assistance committee or subcommittee who were administering relief to the unemployed were also administering the relief sought by those who came under the Poor Law; and he said that it seemed to him to be inconceivable that, if a man seeking transitional benefit was turned down by a committee or subcommittee, the same committee should give to the same man any relief under the Poor Law. Therefore, said the Minister, it could not be true, and was not true, that any increase in the rates could occur as a consequence of people being turned down when seeking transitional benefit.
I wonder if the Minister would say that to-day? If he would, I can give him figures and facts from scores of public assistance committees in scores of areas where young men particularly, and others too, who have been turned down as regards transitional benefit, leave home and, as other speakers have said, go into lodgings. When they apply, not for transitional benefit, which has been refused, but for Poor Law relief, they get it, and in the Poor Law area in which I live there are hundreds, probably thousands, who are receiving Poor Law relief who have been denied by the same committee transitional benefit. I am prepared to give figures in the borough of West Ham certified by the Essex Public Assistance Committee. I can give the names and addresses of scores of people in my constituency who have been denied transitional benefit but are receiving Poor Law relief from the same committee. They are, consequently, becoming a charge on the rates, and there are probably hundreds of thousands of them in various parts of England.
I shall vote against the Bill because of its meanness and its generally disappointing character. When the Leader 824 of the Opposition promised to support any Measure which would ease the position, as no doubt others of us did, we hoped that we should get some kind of generous Bill, but this is one of the meanest Bills with which it has ever been my experience to come in contact. I have here two cases from my own society. One has been reported publicly in the Press and has received quite a lot of notice. It is the case of an ex-service man in receipt of a pension. He went to a hospital and gave over a pint of his blood to try to save the life of some poor devil whom he did not know at all. He appeared before the public assistance committee later to seek transitional benefit. The lady chairman told him he ought to be ashamed of himself and ought to be in prison, and she asked him what he meant by giving his blood and gadding about in the hospital when he ought to have been seeking work. His transitional benefit was reduced from 6s. to 3s. That is the type of administration that is making people feel so bitter, as many hundreds of thousands of them are.
§ Mr. McENTEE
The fact remains that he was reduced from 6s. to 3s., and the only reason given for the reduction is that he was at the hospital when he ought to have been seeking work. It was only after the protest of some of the male members of the committee that he even got the 3s. He is a reputable man whose word I, at any rate, am prepared to believe. I have another case from Lancashire of an applicant who was turned down because he had two daughters who were weavers. There was a strike, and it was said they were receiving 15s. a week each. The committee said they could give no benefit because, if they did, it would have the effect of prolonging the strike. An officer of my union went to the public assistance committee and was received with insult by the officials, who told him it w as quite right and they intended to do it. A delegate of the man's union went to a higher authority, and it is to the credit of the area officer that he said that obviously a mistake had been made, and the man got the 825 benefit that he had been getting before. If it had not been for the fact that he had a good strong union and an active delegate behind him, he also would have been turned down. A week ago yester-day a young fellow aged 28, whom I had not seen since he was a little boy, came to my house. He was in a Sunday school with which I was associated at that time. He is a furrier by trade and has been two years out of work. He is a, straight, honest, decent young man who does not drink. His father died recently and his mother went to live with some relatives at Birmingham. He has a sister whose husband is out of work. He cannot get transitional benefit, and the only thing they offered him was to go into the house. Be said to me, "If the house is my only end, I will commit suicide outside the door of the house." I have a letter here which I am prepared to show to anyone. It is not signed and there is no address, but it appears to me to be a genuine letter. It is from a lady who lives in my constituency, and she says she and her husband are 56 years of age.My husband received benefit for six months and was then transferred to transitional benefit at 15s. a week for eight weeks. Since then he gets nothing at all—no allowance of any kind.He has paid into the fund ever since the original Insurance Act was passed. They get nothing, and the reason is that there are three daughters who are earning a very small wage, and who must support them. She says:If only my husband was to die, they would give me 10s. as widow's pension. As there are two of us, we must live on until the Almighty takes us, and I hope it will be soon. My husband, and even myself, would accept any sort of work at any sort of wage rather than be entirely dependent on our children. My reason for not disclosing my address is because my children are shouldering the burden so heroically that not for the world would I have them know how bitter my feelings are. I see daily the sacrifices that are made, and it breaks my heart and my spirit. We are all playing a game of pretending. We sit at home fireless and foodless all day pretending, so that we can make everything appear to he the same when they come home at night. Meanwhile I have not noticed that their old clothes are made to do. Pretending! If they go to the pictures it is sure to give them a 'headache. Pretending! A holiday spent at home is much better than a holiday at the seaside. Pretending! Sausages at 4d. a lb. taste just as good, in their opinion, as those at 1s. 4d. Pretending! With all this, my husband and myself know quite well that the only thing we can do to help our 826 children is to be dead. My husband knows that the gas-oven will at least open the door to a 10s. pension for me.I want to know what this Bill is going to do for these people. Will it give them any hope in life? Do the Government contemplate doing anything which will relieve the condition of these decent people, who are being starved to death by the act of the Government and the people who are responsible for this system? I have felt bitter all my life because I have experienced something like that which is being experienced by these people. If I thought it was any good, I would plead with the Government for better treatment for those who are suffering as a consequence of the means test. It is an iniquitous thing. It is compelling decent people, as good as any in this House, to feel the bitterness expressed in that letter. I will make my protest against it here and in the country in the hope that, joined with the protest that is being made by many others, it will ultimately shift this Government altogether and at least give some more generous and humane treatment to people who are as good as they.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
It cannot be questioned that the administration of the means test has excited indignation throughout the country and the feeling of agreement even in the House is far greater than some hon. Members think. I want to return to a question which was raised by my colleague in the representation of Nottingham and which has been repeated by other Members. I want particularly to call attention to the concern that is felt by municipal authorities as to the effect of extending to the Poor Law the provisions of this Bill. The hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. Leckie) has made some statements with regard to the origin of the document which most of us received this morning. I have had some conversation since with the writer, who is the extremely able secretary of the Association of Municipal Corporations. The letter has been sent out, I understand, because of the concern that is felt by these authorities. They do not accept—they have not the material before them—the suggestion of the Minister of Health the other day that this is going to impose a negligible charge. It would be an advantage if these large public authorities could be quieted by a repetition of the statement that the Minister 827 of Health made last Wednesday and which, I have reason to think, has not reached many of them. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the extension is being made because otherwise there would be uncertainty and injustice in the administration of the Bill. Further, this extension to local authorities is optional whereas the other part of the Bill is mandatory. But the Minister held out the prospect to the distressed areas that these additional charges would be added to the block grant. Some of the areas, however, are not distressed areas within the strict meaning of that definition, and they want to know whether they are to be helped by the Government to discharge this responsibility which is to be cast upon them. They point out that the circumstances of the municipalities are such that they cannot afford to undertake additional expenditure. They want some assurance that the undertaking with regard to the distressed areas also carries over to the other areas which have to contemplate additional expenditure under this Bill.
I want to make some general observations on this Bill, and, in doing so, I desire to say that on all sides of the House there is genuine feeling as to the way this means test has worked out. But why was the means test imposed? It was originally set up by the right hon. Gentleman who has been returned to this House as the representative of Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). It was set up because such was the financial burden of insurance that some sort of inquiry had to be made into cases in order to discriminate as to the amount of benefit to be given. This Bill is required because of the effect of the means test in certain cases during the last 12 months. There has been an accumulation of similar difficulties, discrepancies, and abuses such as occurred under the previous Statute. I have here some evidence which was placed before the Government Committee on Local Expenditure. It is drawn from official records of public authorities in the South Wales area. I have no personal knowledge of these matters, but, in view of the things said in this discussion, I think I should call attention to two particular items. A complaint was made by an hon. Gentleman oppo- 828 site that the milk allowance for children was taken into account.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
That meals were taken into account in the assessment of means. I am going to trouble the House with these words which have been circulated among hon. Members:Whilst feeling in sympathy with the pro- vision of meals for necessitous children, the Public Economy Association has reason to believe that this very valuable service is in some cases being grossly abused. A careful investigation of one area has been made and an astounding state of affairs has been revealed. In many cases parents are in regular employment, and are earning wages much above the average for the district. In one case reported recently the family income was £5 17s. 4d., and four children were being fed in the schools.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I admit it. I simply quote this to show that there is concern in the distressed areas of the country, and other areas, as to the carrying out of this system, and it is because of these discrepancies that the Government have been forced to take action pending the report of the Commission. I take another case which has a more direct bearing on some of the matters which have been raised. Here is a case drawn from official documents in the South Wales area regarding the administration of the means test. It is a case in which the father was earning 45s. —
§ Mr. KNIGHT
The hon. Member may bluff his constituency, but he will not bluff the House of Commons. I have put the matter perfectly fairly before the House. I am referring to a document founded upon official records in the South Wales area. I am going on with this case although the hon. Member does not like it. The father was earning 45s., one brother 45s., a second brother 45s., and a sister 6s. 6d. A son applied and was given the maximum allowance of 15s. 3d., making a total income for that house of 829 158s. 9d. per week. The father's investments amounted to £1,370. He owned his house and was paying until the end of July £2 per week for the training of a girl in London. In face of that, is it not obvious that there should be some further inquiry into the means of people. I understand it is suggested by hon. Members opposite that where money from public sources is required for assistance there should be no inquiry into the circumstances of the applicant. I have never yet met any responsible person who would undertake to support that claim. It is entirely new in public business; it is not the view acted upon by the Labour Government; it is not the view which the general mass of people support, and it is not a view upon which any Administration dare act. It is true, I admit, that there are serious complaints about administration. The complaints are against the application of the test in many cases. The administration has led to numbers of local authorities showing the curious psychology which is to he expected in the areas in which they are located. Who would expect to find a public authority in Lancashire showing the same generosity in handing out public money as in Nottingham?
I am sure these variations are largely due to the curious psychology of particular areas. I think the moral is that we should transfer these duties from the local authorities to some sort of commission. In a supplementary question the other day I ventured to ask the Minister of Labour whether he had reviewed the procedure set up during the war and known as the Civil Liabilities Commission. Those who found themselves in financial difficulties then were able to place their claims before this Commission which was appointed by the Government to investigate them. I think these variations should be ended, and I make the suggestion to my right hon. Friend of a commission. The contrast between affluence and distress was never greater than it is at this moment. The Government must bear in mind that social fact which is affecting millions of our people. [Interruption.] I am speaking what I think. When I cannot do so, I shall not stand for this House. But I am bound to say that when I state my own views respectfully (as I always endeavour to 830 do) I receive sympathetic and friendly attention from all sides of the House.
This House has been commissioned by the nation to review the business of the country, and to adjust our system on more intelligent and sympathetic grounds. That is the general commission we have received. It is a commission not given to half-a-dozen particular men; it is given to the general body of Members of this House, and the general body of Members of this House is called upon to review matters of this sort. They have to use their best judgment in the light of the feelings and claims of the rest of the community. I believe in all sincerity—and I appreciate the feelings of hon. Gentlemen opposite who have personal acquaintance, as I have had, with these financial difficulties—that they are most anxious to do all they can to help. But I believe hon. Gentlemen opposite are not representing the opinion of the country in denouncing the means test. 1 think they are helping, however, to express public opinion in bringing to the attention of this House hard cases under its administration.
I am satisfied the country wants the means test, but it looks to the Government to provide humane administration of it. I believe the Government would be much helped to that end by removing from the control of local authorities the means test and setting up some special commission. Many serious difficulties would be avoided if that were done. Believing the Bill to be a necessary step in the review of this large and difficult matter, I shall certainly give it my support.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
The Members upon Chew benches and my hon. Friends on he Bench below the Gangway have been accused, of inconsistency here, and demagoguery there. I propose to accuse both the Conservative and the Liberal Members of the House of Commons of hypocrisy and humbug with respect to this Bill, and I propose further to offend them by proving it. The whole of the discussion this afternoon has shown that in all parts of the House there is disagreement with the means test on its administrative side. Conservative and Liberal Members, one after another, as also has the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight), the 831 representative of the National Labour forces, have all said that they are in favour of a means test in the abstract but of no means test in the particular, because they have not told us yet what alterations would make the means test attractive to them. They have got out of the difficulty by saying, "We are not in favour of State money being given to persons who are not in need," but they have carefully avoided until now defining whom they regard as a person in need.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will exclude me from that criticism. While I have accepted the means test, I believe that the provisions of the Bill are a just and temporary step towards the revision of the whole matter.
§ Mr. BEVAN
Of course, I will exclude the hon. and learned Member, because I was not going to do him the disservice of examining the speech which he has made. It was so extraordinary that I thought that I had better let it pass in silence. The Liberal and Conservative Members of the House who have favoured us with their speeches hitherto have been having the best of both worlds. They are led to express their indignation against this particular means test and still give lip service to a means test in the abstract. I regard that as humbug and cant. If you want to have a means test stand or fall by your definition of it, and do not try to swell the chorus of indignation against the means test of the Government.
The particular proposal now before the House of Commons was examined on the Financial Resolution, and I confess that I have never known a Bill so weakly defended as the present one. We are informed that as a consequence of the year's administration, it has been revealed that certain difficulties and hardships exist, and the Bill proposes to do away with them. I prophesy that before the Bill has been an Act of Parliament for six months more grievous anomalies will have been revealed as a consequence of its administration than are in existence at the present time. I suggested upon the Financial Resolution that there is consistency and clarity in the operation of the principle of destitution in the Poor Law. The local authorities know where they are, and the Tory local 832 authorities are carrying out the law. They say that a person has to be destitute before he can get Poor Law relief, and he has to be destitute before he can get transitional payment. There is no difficulty about that matter. The full weight of public indignation is being brought against that principle of administration. You say: "But you cannot go on without that." That means that persons have to give up all their savings or that there must be an alteration; a new principle must be introduced.
Hon. Members must remember—and it cannot be said too often—that the purpose of the means test has never been, and is not now, to discover a handful of people receiving public money when they have means to supply themselves. The purpose of the means test was to compel a large number of working-class people to keep idle working-class people. Its purpose was to balance the Budget by taking some £8,000,000 to £10,000,000 from unemployed people. If hon. Members who sit on the Liberal benches say that the means test is merely to find a handful of people who are having State money when they are not in need, they must face the consequence that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to find from £8,000,000 to £10,000,000. They cannot have it both ways. Let hon. Members get up in the House of Commons and defend the means test as a means of saving the Exchequer from £8,000,000 to £10,000,000, and not get up one after another and quote isolated examples of people who are having transitional payment at the moment, or would be having it if the family basis was removed, or if all income was disregarded and all savings were not taken into account. The question was put to hon. Members on the Liberal benches from the Front Bench in respect of another Bill: "If you want to save money in this direction, how would you find it?" That is a question they will not answer. It. does not lie in the mouths of hon. Members sitting upon the Liberal benches to fling reproaches across the Floor of the House on this matter.
The position has become impossible in the districts. Poor Law authorities are obviously giving different interpretations of the principle of destitution and some change in the law has to be made. What is the change which has to be made? 833 The Bill says that with respect to the applicants for public assistance the first £25 shall be disregarded, and that the second £25 shall be taken into account to the extent of 1s. a week. It says that 50 per cent. of disability pension and compensation shall be disregarded in calculating the income. I will put this point to the Minister of Labour, because it has been put before and has not yet been answered. The allowances which are extended to the applicant for transitional payment are not extended to the members of his family. I have inquired from public assistance authorities as to whether or not the income from savings is taken into account in calculating the family income. If I have £25, or £50, or £100, and my brother is unemployed, not only are my earnings taken into account, but the income from my savings too. So that you are exempting the applicant's savings, and you are taking into account the savings of the person who is not the applicant. This point was put to the Minister of Labour twice on the Financial Resolution. He promised that the Parliamentary Secretary would reply, and he has not yet replied.
Will he please tell the House—it is a very simple question—whether the allowances which are extended to the applicant for transitional payment are to be extended also to all the other members of the applicant's household. At the moment it is not contained in the Bill, so that the applicant still remains in the position of having the income of the family calculated upon the basis of the Poor Law test. The Poor Law requires that the whole of the income of the family shall be taken into account. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman running away from the position now, because he will have to meet it later on. An anomaly will he created in the country, and it is far better for the Minister of Labour to put the difficulty before the House of Commons now than to face the indignation and the difficulties which will be created later on when the Act of Parliament is on the Statute Book.
There is another point. The Bill will make an actual reduction in the income of disabled ex-soldiers. I wish the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) were in the House at the moment. What is the purpose of the Bill 1 This is a 'Conservative House of 834 Commons attempting to protect the ex-service man from Conservative local authorities. At the moment Labour local authorities are in many cases disregarding the disability pensions. In many cases they have already disregarded 50 and 75 per cent. of them, but there are areas where Conservative local authorities are taking the whole of the disability pension into account. The purpose of the Bill is to try and protect the ex-service man against the Conservative local authorities to the extent of 50 per cent. of his pension. But the Minister has informed us that it is now to be obligatory upon all public assistance committees where application is made for transitional payment to disregard 50 per cent. of the disability pension and of workmen's compensation.
He does not say that the local authority is entitled to disregard the whole of it except in exceptional cases. I assure the House of Commons that if the term "exceptional cases" is used—and I speak with some years' experience of the administration of public assistance—it is being deceived. Unless the public assistance authority in a county is entitled to make a scale of allowances the treatment of individual cases will actually result in allowances not being granted, because the county council dare not allow sub-committees in different parts of the county to compete one with another in assessing individual claims. For the efficiency of their own administration, they have to law down scales of payments to govern their own local committees. If they allow the local committees to consider each case upon its merits chaos results inside the county itself. Consequently the county council lays down certain scales of allowances. What scale of allowances will the Act permit them to lay down? Fifty per cent. One-half of the disability pension or compensation. The Ministry of Labour is trying to conceal the point by saying that they have discretion in individual cases.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
Pardon me, in my county we already allow 15s. of every disability pension, and the actual amount of money comes to 100 or 75 per cent. The first 15s. is allowed. A man will now have to have a 30s. disability pension 835 before we shall be able to allow him 15s. under our scale of allowances. That has been made clear over and over again. The Minister of Labour, in reply to a question, said that the allowance of 50 per cent. is obligatory. The Bill goes on to say:Notwithstanding anything in paragraph (4) of Article one of the Unemployment Insurance (National Economy) (No. 2) Order, 1931, in determining any question arising under paragraph (2) of that Article, as to whether the circumstances of an applicant for transitional payments are such that, whilst unemployed, he is in need of assistance by way of such payments the following rules shall be complied with, that is to say—
The question was asked whether that meant the maximum as well as the minimum. The Minister replied: "No. It is not the maximum, it is the minimum. The public assistance committees still have the power and will be able to take any additional amount into consideration in special cases." I have already pointed out that the public assistance committee for the purposes of the efficiency of its own domestic administration requires a scale. In our county they will have to substitute the words "fifty per cent." for our "fifteen shillings," and give instructions that only in exceptional cases shall there be any additional amount. The consequence, I can assure hon. Members, will be that in practice it will mean a real reduction in the allowances to ex-service men and those in receipt of workmen's compensation.
- (a) any wounds or disability pension taken into account shall be treated as if it were reduced by one-half;
- (b) any weekly payment by way of compensation under the enactments relating to workmen's compensation taken into account shall be treated as if it were reduced by one-half."
§ Mr. BEVAN
No. The public assistance committee dare not lay down any criteria except that which is contained in the Act. Each committee will have to consider the application on the basis of the merits of the applicant for relief and on the basis of the merits in relation to the Poor Law test. Hon. Members opposite shake their heads. It is obvious they have had no experience of the administration of these Acts, otherwise they would 836 realise that that is the difficulty which confronts us all the time. The individual applicant would be allowed an additional allowance only if upon the application of the Poor Law test it could be shown that, even after making the 50 per cent. allowance, he still remained destitute. The principle of destitution is amended at the moment only by saying that 50 per cent. of the pension is to be taken into account. After that 50 per cent. has been allowed the applicant if he is to get more has to show that the allowance of 50 per cent. has not removed his destitution. That is the way the law officers of local authorities will apply the rule, and unless the Minister of Labour is prepared to allow the public assistance committee to retain the particular scales of more generous treatment for ex-service men there will be a real reduction of benefit to them. I will leave that matter now, for I think it has been sufficiently discussed.
A very good principle is contained in the Bill, a principle which has been attacked by the hon. Member for South Nottingham. That principle is, that in the case of an able-bodied man who is not an applicant for transitional payment but for public assistance, the proposed allowances shall be extended to him; but there is no obligation upon the local authorities to extend them. How is the Minister of Labour going to secure uniformity of administration any more under that provision than he secures it now? The local authorities, under the pressure of their own financial circumstances, will operate that provision in the way they think fit. There will be the same disparity of administration as exists now. There are ex-service men, for example, who were never in insured occupations, who cannot be applicants for transitional benefit, but they will be applicants for public assistance, and will still, if the local authorities like, have to be destitute, although brother ex-service men, applicants for transitional payment, will be able to receive their allowances. It may be said that the local authority will not be so unreasonable and that they will extend the allowances in such a case. Why have they not extended the allowance now while they have the power and have not to pay for it themselves? Will they be more inclined to extend it when they have to pay for it out of their own local funds?
837 A most interesting situation will exist when this Act comes into operation. There are large numbers of able-bodied unemployed persons who have been disallowed benefit under the Insurance Acts. Week after week such people are being thrown off benefit and put on to the Poor Law. In my own county there are 1,200 already. In other parts of the country there are increasing numbers of able-bodied people who cease to become applicants for transitional payments and become applicants for public assistance. These people will be entitled to receive the benefit of these allowances, but the local authority, having to make the allowances out of their own local resources, will refuse to make them. Then we shall have demonstrations, because the sluice gates will have been opened. At the moment, a local authority can take shelter under the excuse that it is illegal to make the allowance, but it will no longer be able to make that excuse. The law will be permissive. The Minister of Labour in a Conservative Administration will have informed the public assistance committees of Great Britain that they have the power to modify the principle of destitution and that they now have the power to make allowances in respect of disability pensions and workmen's compensation, and people will have to demonstrate in sufficient force against their own local authority to be able to secure benefit. I hope they will demonstrate up and down the country, and get from every local authority what they have already got in Birkenhead. It will be the Minister of Labour's fault if they do so act. If he wanted an intelligent Act of Parliament he would make allowances which are obligatory in respect of transitional payments and obligatory also in respect of public assistance. The system would then be uniform. Lack of uniformity will exist in the future more than in the past, because the local authorities will consider that an unfair burden is being placed upon the local rates.
No attempt has been made, except by the opponents of the Bill, to deal with a central feature of the means test, and that is the taking into account of the family income. I should like to challenge hon. and right hon. Members to go to any industrial constituency in Great Britain and attempt before a working-class audience to defend the family basis of calculation. That is the centre of 838 agitation. You are driving away from industrial districts in the north and the west thousands of young men, who are to be found destitute lying about the shelter houses of London. You are creating a seething mass of resentment which is bound to break out in some way or another. After giving the allowances which are proposed in this Bill, the unemployed will only be able to attract an additional £1,000,000, even on a generous estimate. That means that the actual saving of £8,000,000 to £10:000,000 must be derived on account not of the applicant but the applicant's family. If it were the means of the applicants themselves that were the principal consideration, the unemployed would be able to attract far more money from the Exchequer in allowances. The fact that £1,000,000 is the utmost that the unemployed will be able to attract under these allowances is evidence that the vast bulk of the money must be saved at the expense of the family. These families take exception to the operation of the means test. If you eliminate the family and allow the applicant to keep his savings, the Minister will not have saved enough money under the means test to justify the maintenance of the apparatus.
By passing this Bill the House has by no means finished with the matter. Before the end of the winter resentment will have increased in volume. The National Government came in to save the savings of the poor. We are now informed what they consider to be the bulwark, the savings of the poor, which they must protect. It amounts to 49 19s. 11d. That is their idea of the shelter that a working-class family ought to have put up between itself and the hazards of life. Those are the savings that the Government propose to protect. If they have savings beyond that amount, the Government will reduce them. This National Government which came in on no demagogic principles have become so demagogic that we on this side have not even learned the A.B.C. of demagogy. The last election was the best example of demagogy. The Government now say that £49 19s. 11d, savings will be protected, but if in the family of any applicant for transitional payment there are members who are idle, then they are not allowed to save one halfpenny. If he has anything left over after keeping himself in food and clothing that must be 839 taken to keep an idle father, or sister. Only those who have already saved £49 19s. 11d. can have it; those who have not saved £49 19s. 11d. must never be allowed to save it. That is the conclusion to which we are driven by the logic of the right hon. Gentleman who conceals the vicious nature of these proposals behind a suave and urbane exterior. The purpose of the means test was not to find the parasites. The purpose of the means test was threefold, first, to save money, to save the taxpayer at the expense of the unemployed man, secondly, to throw the main burden of the maintenance of poor people on to the shoulders of their families, and, thirdly, to enable the employing classes of Great Britain to drive the unemployed to such a condition of destitution as will make it easier to reduce the standards of life for the working classes of this country.
§ Mr. BURNETT
We have heard a great deal about the faults of administration in connection with the means test. There are good local committees and bad local committees, but if we go over the whole of the country we shall find that as a rule those local authorities which are elected and are responsible for their actions have administered the means test conscientiously and humanely. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) has said that the chief matter in the means test is the family allowance. I have here the printed regulations of the public assistance committee for the area I represent, and in regard to able-bodied men unemployed who ask for relief and for transitional payments the regulations say:When there are adult sons and daughters the working scale for them is 12s. 6d. per week.I have not heard of any complaints in my area that families are being broken up.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
Does the hon. Member consider that a man or woman can live upon an income of 12s. 6d. a week?
§ Mr. BURNETT
I think the sum of 12s. 6d. is a fair amount in the circumstances when you are counting the income of the whole household, and I should not be prepared to go beyond it. It has been said by the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) that the remedy for poor administration on the 840 part of local authorities is to take these matters out of their jurisdiction, but I do not think that quite meets the case. After all, it is the local authority which alone can decide as to the circumstances in its own locality. A body which has no connection cannot know what the peculiar conditions of the district may be. The Commission in their report say:Local authorities must take into consideration such factors as the local level of rent, the cost of food, the cost of transport to work, and the level of wages in any predominant form of employment. These factors produce an appreciable difference in the cost of relieving need.It has been said that there are wide divergences between the operations of different authorities, and speaking in these Debates last Wednesday the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that certain authorities were giving full benefit, that is at exchange rates in three-quarters of the cases. And he said that as they were Tory authorities they were probably right, but he went on to say: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1932; Col. 365, Vol. 270.]But the conditions are not comparable. The question is one largely of the cost of living; whether an area is a distressed area or not. In Aberdeen the rates are low, 7s. 8d. in the £, whereas in the majority of those authorities which are given in the table of determinations as giving up to 75 per cent. the rates are in some cases two and three times as heavy as they are in Aberdeen. That means a heavy burden on industry, and the cost of living is considerably greater than it is in those areas where the rates are much lower. The Commission recommend that the scales should be not too large and not too small. Earlier in the evening the Minister of Labour said that the question is one of comparison with the insurance scale. In their report the Commission say:Psychologically it would be difficult to maintain for long an insurance scheme unless its benefits were actually greater than the amount normally payable on a relief basis. The true inference is that wherever possible the conditions of the insurance scheme should be adjusted to yield benefit at a higher rate than relief.841 Elsewhere they stated that local authorities dealing with the matter should conform to the general desire that the standards should be as high as is consistent with this principle. In the area I represent the amount of transitional payment is the same as that which is given in the case of the able-bodied poor and which is given in Poor Law relief. It amounts to 3d. below the ordinary exchange rate, that is the rate of insurance benefit. It may be said that we are not erring on the side of economy in that direction. Our authority is considering sympathetically these claims. Passing to the question of disablement and disability pensions may I say that it is regrettable that definite regulations were not issued a year ago. It would have saved a great deal of trouble. A good many incongruities still arise in the methods in which different authorities deal with it. When they were in difficulties the Scottish authorities consulted together, and as an outcome of the conference it was decided to adopt a percentage system by which a man who had a disability pension of 20 per cent. would receive at transitional rates the balance of 80 per cent., and if he had a disability pension of 50 per cent. he would receive 50 per cent. at transitional rates. This system has proved satisfactory, it has worked well, and there has not been much complaint about it. Now a difficulty arises. We have this new Measure. I have worked it out for pensions from 20 per cent. up to 100 per cent. in the case of a single man, a man with a wife, and a man with a wife and two dependants and I find that in each case the allowances to be given will be lower than the allowances given in the past.
I am anxious to know how we stand in this matter. Will it be necessary to cut down the allowances to these men? The Minister of Labour has said that the condition of a disabled man will not in any ease be made worse, and that if it was not operating in the way he intended, and in a way which he did not desire, he would frame a new Measure. He was speaking then about whether 50 per cent. should be taken or not. I should like to know whether in those cases where a percentage system has been in use the new system will mean a reduction I want to know whether men will be saved from a reduction in that case. I hope the Minister of Labour will give us an ex- 842 planation on that point. Hon. Members have stressed the point as to the able bodied poor and the grave burden placed on the rates since the Act of 1921. It is a very serious matter, especially in distressed areas, and local authorities are very anxious as to their future. There have been a good many communications on the subject, and I hope that when the Minister is considering his Bill of next year he will consider whether in the best interests of industry and the rates it would not be advisable to shift those payments for the able-bodied poor so as to make them a charge on the State and not on the rates. These are the chief points which I am anxious to mention, and, in regard to the position of disabled men, I hope the Minister will make it clear, so that we shall know whether this Measure represents, as far as they are concerned, a, benefit, or whether there will be any reduction in the income which they are receiving.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
Earlier in the Debate an hon. Member said that the over-whelming proportion of the unemployed were unemployed through no fault of their own and were exceedingly anxious to find work at the earliest possible moment. I entirely agree with that statement, and I think that arguments on this Bill should be based upon that assumption. This Bill is the old question of half a loaf, and hon. Members opposite who are now re-fusing half a loaf have not a great baking record of their own. It is not for me, however, to harass them; the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) did it very efficiently. I would ask them to look up the first of the great English plays, "The Jew of Malta," and read the first words of the Jew in Act III, scene 2, when he decided that the only method of saving his skin was to change his faith. I hope hon. Members opposite will do that. I hope also that throughout the country it will be realized that the effect of defeating this Bill will be to continue that lack of uniformity between man and man, between district and district, and between local authority and local authority, which has been the principal cause of grievance, and often just grievance, under the means test. I come from a constituency which has one man in every three unemployed. But it has also a reputation unexcelled for thrift. 843 The great industry around which it grew became prosperous on low wages, and now that it is in its decline, now that a great portion of that industry is derelict, it cannot be said that the main cause of that dereliction is that wage rates are too high. That is not the principal cause. But in spite of low wages we have a reputation for thrift. You can see it in the amount of money saved every year for the annual wakes holiday. It is testified every year in the strength and expansion of the co-operative societies. Again, the proportion of the people who own their own houses bears witness to the strength and the consistency of the thrift of the inhabitants of that part of Lancashire. No one can say that that is not a splendid thing. No one can say that it is not a good thing to give a man a vested interest in the stability of the country. If a man has that, he will not listen to the wild, inept high-flown, fly-blown utterances of those who have a vested interest in agitation, like most of those who recently led the hunger marchers.
But here we have the Government quite definitely realising that savings are not a suitable object for unlimited local discretion. I for one am thankful for that realisation. I have watched the savings of my people not only being destroyed but I watched the will to save being destroyed, too. That will now cease. This provision in the Bill will be received throughout Lancashire as at once both just and provident for the future. I am not a believer in general local discretion in administering relief of any kind. You have a good analogy in music. A musician or composer has to keep certain rules. Others he may discard if the purpose for which he would discard them is a justifiable purpose. It is the same in national relief. There are certain rules which you must keep and certain rules which must vary from district to district, and if the object of discarding them is justifiable they should be set aside.
Let me say a few words on the subject of disability pensions. I always thought that a disability pension was given mainly in respect of the loss of ability to do something that a perfectly whole man could do, but partly also in respect of the future loss of earning power. Although that was my personal opinion, during the election there was a speech 844 made by a right hon. Gentleman who was at that time a Minister in the Cabinet, which certainly gave me the impression that disability pensions were to be left out of account altogether. My colleague and I used that speech. In our innocence we thought that Cabinet Ministers were always right, or rather I should say were never mistaken. We know better now. Nevertheless I for one wholeheartedly thank the Government for realising that a great proportion of the disability pensions ought to be left out of account, and for applying the same principle to workmen's compensation. I believe, with many hon. Members opposite, that that is a great step forward, and that there is no difference in kind between an injury received in war and an injury received in an industrial accident.
The principal reason why I rose was to express in, I hope, a constructive spirit, the disappointment I felt when I found that the Bill omitted one consideration. I had hoped that on grounds of principle and, what is much more important, on grounds of practice, this Bill would have made some radical change in the method of administration of the means test. I feel bound now to raise the point in justice to my own public assistance committee in Oldham. The Socialists there, rightly or wrongly, have refused to join in, and the other parties are at the present time only sticking to a thoroughly unpleasant task because they realise that between the time when a commissioner could be appointed and the time when they threw up their jobs, not a single case that came up for determination or re-determination would get a penny of transitional payment. My public assistance committee is between the hammer and the anvil. They have all lost their seats at the local election. I believe the Parliamentary Secretary has seen samples of the literature which was sent out at that election. They are not a credit to the Labour party in my division. I am referring to the local municipal election. It is within my knowledge that the Labour agent in the constituency asked for the withdrawal of some portions of that literature. Nevertheless that is what has happened.
I have always deplored the attitude of hon. Members in criticising the good will and the hard work, the unpleasant work, of the public assistance committees. My public assistance committee has tried in 845 all generosity to administer the means test fairly and equitably. It has tried to do so in keeping with the wishes of the Government and in keeping with the spirit of public obligation. There is only one thing wrong with it, and that is its name. After all, the name, "public assistance committee," is deeply associated with a certain task. We have given these committees an entirely separate and extraneous task. The people have been encouraged not to regard it entirely as a separate task. In framing the larger Measure which is to come forward next spring I hope that the Minister of Labour will take the onus off the public assistance committees and put it on to commissioners. After all, the principle also is a great one. It has been most carefully and elaborately argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan), with great force and clarity, that public money should be spent by public servants who have at their head a Minister responsible to this House. But it is mainly on the ground of the practice, mainly on the ground of the effect it has in corrupting local government, that I would ask the Minister to take into consideration the relieving of public assistance committees of this duty at the earliest possible moment. That, I believe, would be better for our distressed areas, better for the smooth working of local government and better for our own tranquility of mind.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
One of the most interesting features of the Debate has been the effort made by hon. Members opposite to reconcile themselves to the paltry character of this Bill in removing what they knew to be widespread and deep-seated grievances. The hon. Member who has just spoken is apparently afraid of the electoral consequences of continuous administration of the means test along the present lines.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
I have no fear whatever of the electoral consequences, but great fear of corruption and for the smooth running and honest carrying on of our local government, which is quite a different thing.
§ Mr. BROWN
Obviously, the thoughts running through the hon. Member's subconscious mind protruded into his consciousness for a moment while he was speaking. The hon. Member seemed to express very serious concern about the 846 electoral consequences if the administration of the means test continued on present lines. He characterised this Bill as half a loaf, and said that half a loaf was better than nothing at all. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Lord Winterton) a few nights ago talked about the Ottawa Agreements as half a loaf. At the present rate of progress the party opposite will soon be known as the half-loaf party, in more sense than one. They are prepared to take from the Government Measures which they describe as half a loaf, and they do not bring pressure to bear on the Government to deal with things more drastically than this Bill deals with them.
Incidentally we get strange revelations of the attitude of mind of hon. Members opposite towards this general problem. The Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett) stated categorically, in reply to an interjection, that he considered 12s. 6d. sufficient to maintain an adult person in food, shelter and clothing in modern England. That is a rather striking admission to come from an hon. Member of the party opposite in this Debate. Other hon. Members talk of this Bill as being just an emergency Measure. They hope for something better in the not far distant future. The hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) has characterised the Bill as a stage in a process of revision. He reconciles his conscience to it on those grounds. To me one of the most interesting features of this Debate has been the rather lame effort of hon. Members opposite to reconcile themselves to the Government's proposals.
The Bill itself is an admission that in the view of the Government for some considerable time large numbers of people in this country will be doomed to long periods of unemployment. That is the admission which one necessarily takes from the introduction of the Bill. That being so, it seems to me that hon. Members opposite ought to recognise straight away that the great bulk of the unemployed are not unemployed through any fault of their own. If we can take hon. Members with us as far as that, surely we are entitled to go further and say that the great hulk of the unemployed are unemployed because of the economic system in which we live. Hon. Members opposite, practically without exception, are more or less passionate defenders of 847 the present economic system. They defend that system on every occasion with all the eloquence that they can commano and with all the argumentative resources at their disposal. If hon. Members agree that the bulk of the unemployed are not unemployed through any fault of their own but because they happen to be living within an economic system which will not allow them to find work, hon. Members must surely go still further. These people do not own land or the tools of production. They are denied access to land and to the tools of production by the existing economic system. The fact that they are unemployed drives those of us who sit on these benches to say that if, within the present economic system, you cannot find work for these people, if you deny them access to the land and the tools of production, if you cannot manage your economic system so that they can find employment under it, then the least you can do is to maintain them in some kind of decency and comfort. That is the gravamen of our charge against the Bill.
Look at what the Bill means. We are prepared to admit that the State does carry part of the burden of unemployment, but we say that the measures taken during the last 12 months have cast an increasing proportion of the burden on to the local authorities and the rates. Incidentally—and this is a point I wish to stress—the Government have made the family increasingly carry the burden of unemployment. But the full force of the criticism against what has been done lies in the fact of unemployment benefit having been associated with the Poor Law at all. I do not care whether you call it statutory benefit or transitional payment. The grievances which have sprung up are due to the fact that it has become associated with the Poor Law. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Crossley) is anxious for some sort of dissociation of transitional payments from Poor Law relief. Speaking from some experience of a public assistance committee I wish to put a particular point to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. I take it that the Bill is drafted in this way because under the National Economy Orders you cannot apply a principle to transitional payments until you first apply that principle to Poor 848 Law relief. I think the hon. Gentleman agrees with that. I have discovered in my experience of its administration that many hardships arise from one or two causes which I shall indicate. Take the case of a single man who has been on transitional payment for some time and then gets the 15s. 3d. reduced to 12s. 6d. or 10s. or less, when he has no other resources whatever. That causes a good deal of grievance in my area. I should say that in Nottinghamshire, in a general sense we have no scales of relief. Public assistance in Nottinghamshire has been mainly dealt with on the merits of individual cases rather than on the lines of scales of relief.
§ Mr. BROWN
Yes, the individual merits and needs of the cases rather than on the lines of scales of relief. I, personally, do not want to introduce scales of relief in Nottinghamshire. I was a member of a board of guardians before the Local Government Act of 1929 began to work and I prefer the other way. To return to the point with which I was dealing, I got the public assistance committee to carry a resolution to the effect that in the case of an individual or family, where there were no other resources, the transitional payment granted should not be less than the statutory benefits for the same category for unemployed. The committee were, however, advised by the clerk to the county council, for whose knowledge of the law I have a great respect, that the resolution was out of order because you must first apply your principle to the Poor Law before you can apply to transitional payment. I followed that up by a notice of motion at the county council in the same terms and the clerk then advised the county council that unless it was a matter of urgency it must be brought as a, recommendation from the public assistance committee to the county council first.
This kind of case is causing a real grievance and surely the House will agree that when, owing to the demand for sacrifices from everybody on the ground of the need for national economy, statutory benefits were reduced, a sum of 15s. 3d. for the individual was as low as we could go in the then existing circumstances. Surely, 23s. 3d. was as low as we could 849 go, for a man and wife—far lower than we ought to have gone. When we reach another stage in the process where committees are giving individuals, without any other resources, less than 15s. 3d. and men and their wives without other resources less than 23s. 3d., I think we have got to a point at which the Government ought to make it impossible in cases where there are no other resources, for payments to be less than the statutory benefits in the same category of unemployed. In this Bill you do something about disability pensions for which I am grateful. You do something in respect of workmen's compensation and savings for which I am also grateful. I am grateful for all the concessions, but outside these things there are other real grievances. Why not put in some provision to prevent public assistance committees, in cases where individuals and families have, no other resources, giving less than the statutory benefits for the same categories of unemployed.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
I do not quite follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. Is it a fact that the ordinary practice of the Nottinghamshire Public Assistance Committee when dealing with Poor Law cases is to pay always 15s. 3d. or 12s. 6d. or 10s.?
§ Mr. BROWN
My argument is that before I could get the point which I am now asking the hon. Gentleman to consider applied to transitional payment, as the law now stands, it would have first to be applied to Poor Law relief, but I am not asking for that. I am asking that this principle should operate, so far as transitional payments are concerned, so that where the individual or the family have no other resources, they should not be granted less than the statutory benefit for the same categories of the unemployed.
§ Mr. HUDSON
Then perhaps the hon. Member will explain why, in the same village in Nottinghamshire, in the area in which he is a member of the public assistance committee, he thinks it is adequate to give an unemployed agricultural single labourer, say, 12s. 6d., and an unemployed building operative who has exhausted all rights to benefit 15s. 3d.
§ Mr. BROWN
I do not think that is right at all. Obviously, if the thing was 850 done along the lines which I am suggesting, it would have applied to Poor Law relief as well as to transitional payments. Apparently, it is very difficult to get it done along those lines, and I only suggest that it should be incorporated in this Bill. I know that the question of agricultural labourers has often been brought to our notice, but I would remind the hon. Member that many of us on this side have long wanted them to be included in the unemployment insurance scheme, so he cannot bring that as a serious charge against us. At any rate, I hope he will give some consideration to the point that I have raised, because, if in some way it could be incorporated in the Bill, it would remove very many grievances.
§ Mr. SOPER
I rise to support the Second Reading of the Bill, and I am very sorry that an Amendment for its rejection should have been moved by the Opposition. Those who, like myself, are or have been members of local authorities know that the means test has been applied for years in this country, and there is not a single form of public assistance, whether it be meals for children, scholarships, outdoor relief, or old age pensions, which is not subject to a means test in some way or other. It is not even new in trade unionism. In the district from which I come there is a pensions scheme in the trade union, and if one of those pensioners gets work, perhaps on the roads, and his pension is of a certain amount, the means test is applied to him. The means test is not a test to see whether a man should be allowed to draw unemployment benefit for which he has paid contributions—that is his by right—but it is a test to see that when he has exhausted that benefit, he should not continue to receive public money when he is not in distress. I know of a married woman whose husband was in regular employment for 10 years, and she bad received the dole for 10 years and only worked about 10 days during that period. The total contributions were 1s. 5d., and she had drawn out nearly £400. Does anyone in this House justify the continuance of unemployment benefit to such a woman? Of course, no one here would think of doing so; and how can such cases be discovered without a means test?
851 I will quote a few more cases from my own constituency, which, as hon. Members opposite know, is a mining constituency such as they themselves represent. A single man paid in 17s. 6d. and drew £150; a widower paid in £1 7s. 6d. and drew 2115; a single man paid in £1 17s. and drew 260; a married man with wife and three children paid in £2 3s. 4d. and drew £195; a single man paid in £15 and drew 235; a widower paid in £1 15s. and drew 2150; a single man paid in £1 7s. 6d. and drew £101.
Will the hon. Member quote the large number of cases of men who have paid in contributions since the unemployment insurance scheme came in and drawn nothing at all?
§ Mr. C. BROWN
Might not a man insure to-day and die to-morrow and his relatives get the insurance money?
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. SOPER
I am giving cases of which I know, from serving on a public assistance committee, and the only justification for continuing such payments must be the need of the recipients. In Barnsley more than 5,600 applications have been dealt with during the last 12 months; less than 7 per cent. of those cases were refused, and in 18 per cent. reduced determinations were made, but the remaining 77 per cent. have been granted allowances equal to the full statutory rates of benefit. I think that shows that the public assistance committee of Barnsley have done their work well. If the means test had been harshly applied, it would have created one or more of the following conditions: First, it would have encouraged working members of families to leave work and throw themselves on the insurance fund. The second thing which might have happened would have been the breaking-up of homes, of which we have heard much to-day; and the third thing might have been the imposition of other hardships, such as compelling people to sell their houses or to cancel their insurances. The public assistance committee of Barnsley have not known a single case among the 5,600 applications received in which one of those conditions has been created.
Much has been said of the effect of the means test on capital assets, but there is 852 something to be said on the other side, where a sympathetic public assistance committee have tried to assist an applicant to conserve his capital. We had a case of a man in Barnsley who had an accident, for which he received £374 compensation six months ago. He was granted the full rate of transitional payment, to enable him to conserve that capital for the purpose of purchasing a business at the right time, when the opportunity arose. Would hon. Members believe that a week or two ago this man came before the Barnsley public assistance committee and declared that he had spent the whole of the £374 on ordinary living expenses 7 In this particular instance the recipient, who was normally a labourer, had lived at the rate of more than £800 a year in six months, and during the whole of that time the public assistance committee had paid him his transitional payment, in the hope that, through the compensation which he had received, he would at the right time be able to set himself up in business and he able to be a decent citizen. That is the other side of the question, and it is well that the House should know that the public assistance committees do their best in cases of that kind to help a man who has been unfortunate. I want to state—and I think that I have a right to state—how the Barnsley Public Assistance Committee have worked the means test during the last 12 months.
§ Mr. SOPER
Hon. Members have given illustrations from their districts to show that everything is wrong, and if I can show that in a similar district the public assistance committee try sympathetically to carry out the Act, I ought to be allowed to do it. No fixed rule is laid down in Barnsley as a guiding principle to deal with the disability pension. We have ignored the first 10s. and deducted one-half of the remaining amount. In the case of a large family of young children, we ignore 100 per cent. If a man has been gassed and requires other things to keep him fairly well, we give the full 100 per cent. to meet the extra expense which he has to incur. I am glad to have the assurance of the Minister that the allowance of half the pension is the minimum, and the House and the people in the country will be grateful for 853 that. The practice that we have adopted in Barnsley in the past can be said to approximate closely to the real intention of the Government and of the Royal Commission.
With regard to savings, we have in Barnsley regarded as income only the amount yielded by investments, and no deduction is made in the case of large families or of men in bad health. We have taken 5 per cent. of the savings as income. Less than 3 per cent, of the applicants have possessed means of over £200, so that the country has not suffered and the people who are out of work have certainly benefited. I am a supporter of the Government, and I shall continue to support them, but I should like to see in the Bill savings of £100 disregarded. I am thinking of the man who, earning £3 or £4 a week, has through a long life: saved £100. Anyone who has saved £100 knows that the first 100 is the most difficult to get and is the most precious. There is genuine regret that the Government have not defined what is perhaps the most thorny problem, namely, the extent to which wages in a family should be taken into account. The Royal Commission's Report states definitely that industry must be rewarded.
I will give an illustration to show how we in Barnsley have dealt with a family composed of father, mother and son. The son only was working and earning £2 a week in a colliery. His stoppages amounted to 1s. 10d., and a further 2s. for "paddy," that is, his fare from home to the pit. That left the man with £1 16s. practically. We made him a personal allowance of 10s., leaving an income available to the home of 11 Gs. Then we said that the cost of keeping that son and his proportion of overheads, which we have a right to consider, is 18s., leaving 8s. as profit in the home. That 8s, was taken from the transitional payment of 23s. 3d., leaving 15s. 3d. as the award. It would appear that the practice which we have followed in Barnsley closely follows the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Barnsley Public Assistance Committee have worked in a most sympathetic and humane mariner, and very little complaint has been made by those who have had to apply for benefit. This year the Act has been worked by what is termed the independent members of the Barnsley Town Council. The 854 members of the Labour party refused last year to serve, but I am glad to tell the House that the Labour party, who are now in office on Barnsley Town Council, are going to carry on the work of the public assistance committee along with the Independent member. I have every reason to believe that it will be carried out in the same spirit as that in which we have carried it out during the present year. I would like to congratulate the chairman of the Barnsley public assistance committee for his work during the year.
§ Mr. SLATER
Speeches from all sides of the House have indicated that the Bill is unsatisfactory to those who will receive benefit from it and to those who will be called upon to administer it. The hon. Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) made a point about the circular issued by the Association of Municipal Corporations, which definitely states that the Bill will add seriously to local taxation. I want particularly to address myself to certain words which the Minister of Health used in the Debate on the 9th November. He said:The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has asked for an undertaking that the basis would be reconsidered.He was referring to the question of the incidence of the increase of the burden of local taxation.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 view to its revision in the second grant period. That reconsideration is now well under way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1932; cols. 418–9, Vol. 270.]I want to ask the Minister of Health if the imposition of further burdens on specific local authorities is likely to be the outcome of this revision. I am assuming that in the present state of the national finances the aggregate amount available for block grant is not likely to be increased, and that he is going to re-weight various areas and impose additional burdens. In my own constituency of Eastbourne we suffered recently in this way in the grant for education. We have a very high rateable value, and the proceeds of a sevenpenny rate produce an amount which brought about a reduction from 45s. to 22s. 6d. in the allowance from the National Exchequer in respect of every child educated in Eastbourne. 855 I view with considerable alarm the prospect that we may suffer a second dose of what we underwent in the matter of education, and I would ask the Minister to give me some reassurance that if there are burdens to be borne which are national in character the Government will not pick out certain areas which they think are peculiarly fortunate as compared with others and impose on them a burden not comparable with that borne by other districts. If I can get a satisfactory reply from him I feel that I shall have been successful with the point which I specially wish to bring forward in this Debate.
I have only one general observation to make. It has been clearly demonstrated in the speeches from all sides of the House that there has been considerable anxiety over the administration of the means test, and the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham has been led to suggest that it would be better to take the administration of the present Act out of the hands of the local authorities. The argument in favour of retaining the local authorities is that they know local conditions, but there is another side to the question. Public assistance committees often include co-opted members who are not there to administer public money frugally and prudently, but with their sympathy for applicants are out to obtain for them the largest amount which can be got. That is not the way in which public money ought to be spent in my view; and I would say to the Opposition, with a great sense of responsibility, that if they desire to see the unemployed of this country put back into work and given a chance to earn their own living, instead of having to make appeals for public assistance, they should co-operate in ensuring that the burden of taxation is kept clown to the lowest point. That is a highly important matter, and all ought, to co-operate to that end. If they would direct all their energies towards such cooperation, if they would take out of the hands of the Government and out of the hands of local authorities a good deal of the money which is now spent publicly in all kinds of ways and put it into the pockets of the people generally, they would be taking the greatest step towards creating a larger volume of employment for the working class.
§ Mr. JAMIESON
In so far as this Bill carries out the purpose set forth in its short Title, namely, to determine the need of applicants for transitional payments, I have little to say regarding it. It aims at securing uniformity in these payments, and to a very large extent it will do so. I had hoped that a more generous view might be taken of disability pensions, and that they might be disregarded altogether, but I understand the position of the Minister of Labour is that in appropriate cases a disabled man may have the whole of his disability pension disregarded and that complete discretion is to be given to local authorities in assessing the amount to be paid in such cases. On to the main purpose of the Bill there has been grafted a provision to enable the rules which govern transitional payments to be applied also by public assistance authorities in the case of poor relief. That provision is contained in Subsection (2) of Clause 1. It is being rushed through without consultation with the local authorities, without giving them a proper chance to state their views, and without any proper inquiry to ascertain whether it will impose an additional burden on ratepayers already hopelessly overburdened. So far as Scotland is concerned, it is introducing a complete innovation into the Poor Law. What I have said generally about the Clause is equally applicable to England, but I want to approach this matter from the point of view of Scotland, because in the matter of the Poor Law England and Scotland have until recently been run, and are still running, on very different lines.
Originally, an able-bodied man was not entitled to any poor relief in Scotland. The old Scots Act, which is the foundation of poor relief in Scotland, and which made provision for relief being given to "poor, aged, and impotent" people, was as much concerned with imposing penalties on the able-bodied who were idle and who were beggars. In fact, they were described as vagabonds and idle beggars. The Act contained a comprehensive category of the persons who fell under that definition, and it is not, perhaps, uninteresting to know that amongst them were minstrels and singers unless they happened to be in the service of lords of Parliament or were minstrels employed 857 by cities. The point I want to make is that until 1921 an able-bodied man had no place in the Poor Law system of Scotland. In 1921, owing to the circumstances of the times, it was necessary to admit him to poor relief. That was done as a temporary measure. But circumstances not having improved that temporary measure has been continued from time to time, and is now renewed every year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. In administering poor relief, the public authorities have all along distinguished, not only in the relief which is given but in their returns, between what are called in Scotland the legal poor who have always been entitled to relief, and the able-bodied poor, who have become entitled to it as a temporary measure, owing to the depressed condition of the industries of Scotland during the last 10 years or so.
It is important to know, when one comes to consider the effect of this Clause in Scotland, that of the persons entitled to poor relief only just a little more than one-quarter are able-bodied unemployed, and that something like three-quarters are what are known as the legal poor who have always been entitled to receive relief at the hands of the authorities. The test in Scotland—and I suppose that it is the same in England—of being entitled to claim relief is that of having no means of one's own; that is to say, that destitution is the test. Relief which can be afforded has always been such an amount as, in the discretion of the authority, is needed to sustain the applicant. This Bill is introducing a revolutionary change with regard to that. In the first place, it is bringing for the first time within the category of persons entitled to claim poor relief, people who have never been so entitled before. Under this Clause, a person who has saved anything up to £300 perhaps for his old age, and who has meant to use the sum when no longer able to work, will be, by this Bill, entitled to go to a public assistance committee and say, "Under the Act I am a person who is entitled to claim public assistance, because this £300 is only to be taken into account as if I had an income of 11s. per week."
By the Bill you are introducing into the category of paupers in Scotland persons who were never entitled to claim relief before, and who certainly could never come under the category of 858 vagabonds and beggars, because they have anything up to £300 in their possession. You are entitling the public assistance committee to award to any applicant not merely the needful sustenance sufficient to maintain him, but something over and above. That applies to cases under every one of the rules in the Bill. I may say that as soon as we had an opportunity of examining this Measure we got into touch with the local authorities and met their representatives.
I turn now from the legal position to the question of how poor relief is being administered in Scotland. The first thing that I find is that, as regards the class which has been introduced into poor relief temporarily, namely, the able-bodied unemployed, there is, to all intents and purposes, no difference between the amount which they are receiving from the public assistance committees and the amount to which men entitled and receiving transitional payments are getting. The same scale is being applied, the amount as regards pensions is the same, and though I believe that there is some difference in the way in which workmen's compensation is treated, for all intents and purposes the two scales are exactly the same, and the two classes of people are being treated in the same way. So far as the able-bodied unemployed are concerned in Scotland, it is unnecessary that Sub-section (2) should be introduced into this Bill.
As regards the country districts, we were given some figures for the north of Scotland. I am told that the weekly wages of a shepherd are from 25s. to 27s. per week, and that when he gets out of employment and is on poor relief, he receives an allowance of from 20s. to 25s. That is to say, he receives very nearly the full amount of the wage that he would be receiving if he were actually in work. As regards the able-bodied man in Scotland, no case has been made out for any interference with the work that the public assistance committees are doing. It is unnecessary to introduce a provision to enable the public assistance committees to do anything other, or to direct that they should do anything other, than they are now doing. They are carrying on—in this respect I think we differ from England—with a discretion unfettered by anything that may be said by the 859 Minister of Health or by his Department. The only statutory provision which applies to them is that which relates to the payment of 7s. 6d. per week under the National Health Insurance Acts.
§ Mr. JAMIESON
In some cases that may be. They have a complete discretion, and they may modify the amount given. That is the only fetter which in any way binds them in their discretion with regard to the administration that is placed upon them.
I turn to the question of the other poor, who constitute something like three-quarters of the whole, and I find that, certainly as regards Glasgow, and I think probably as regards most of the rest of the country, they are being treated in an even more generous manner than the able-bodied unemployed. While, in Glasgow at any rate, the scale of allowance for an unemployed man and his wife is 23s. 3d. per week, a disabled man, or rather, I should say, a man who is not capable of employment, receives 30s. a week. But the real test of the matter is that in Scotland there is a right of appeal to the Board of Health for Scotland by any person who is dissatisfied with the amount of relief that he has received, and an appeal against the amount is practically unknown. Therefore, in Scotland there is no reason for making any change, and I say that there is no justification for making any change.
What effect is this going to have on the rates? Is it going to place an increased burden on the ratepayers? I take the position of Glasgow, with which I am better acquainted than the rest of the country as regards this matter, but I take it, not only for that reason, but because in Glasgow the percentage of poor to the population is larger than in any of the large cities in Scotland or England, with, I think, the exception of Sheffield. It is something like 869 per 10,000 of the population. In Scotland, during the 12 months up to May of this year, there was expended on outdoor relief, in round figures, £748,000, and on the able-bodied unemployed £487,000. These amounts were expended in a city where the rates are something like 11s. 6d. in the £ under our Scottish method of rating, which, put into 860 its English equivalent, would be somewhere in the region of 21s. in the 2; or, putting it in another way, it represents £5 12s. 8d. per head of the population. If the proposals contained in this Bill are to put an increased burden on the ratepayer, surely this is not the time to do it unless it can be shown that there is an absolute necessity for carrying out such proposals.
What did the Minister say on that subject when he spoke on the Financial Resolution? He admitted that there would be some additional charge, but he said that he could not estimate what that additional charge would be—that there was no statistical basis for an estimate, but that he had consulted with certain local authorities, and it would be very small. That is not the opinion of the Scottish local authorities. They did not come here to-night to tell us that; they came to tell us that, according to the best estimate—and it is an estimate, and not simply a guess—in Glasgow alone these provisions would cost an additional £75,000 a year, and that additional amount would have to be paid in respect of those people who are already receiving relief.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
May I ask whether this deputation from Glasgow—I do not know who they were; evidently they did not come near me—definitely opposed these proposals on the ground that they were going to give to the people 275,000; and were the deputation unanimously opposed to any change that would grant this extra sum?
§ Mr. JAMIESON
The fact that £75,000 would be added to the expenditure of Glasgow was only one of the reasons given by the deputation for their opposition to this Measure. A much more important reason was the one with which I have just dealt—that there was no need for making any change, because the public assistance authorities were dealing with the matter in a most liberal fashion. That £75,000, as I have said, is an estimate of the additional sum that would have to be paid to those prsons who are already in receipt of relief. It takes no account whatever of what must necessarily be a very considerable influx, although it is not capable of being accurately estimated, of additional people claiming public assistance. There must be many people, perhaps more especially in Scotland, where 861 we have always been a thrifty race, who have laid by, it may be weekly or monthly, small sums which now amount to as much as £200, or perhaps even £250, as a provision for their old age, simply to prevent the necessity, when they were no longer able to work of coming to the parish for Poor Law relief. These people, who would never have thought up to the present of coming forward and asking for relief, will now come forward if this Measure becomes law. It is impossible to estimate what the number will be; it may be large or it may not; but there may be some considerable increase on the rates from that cause.
It is suggested in justification, or, perhaps, in palliation, of any increased burden which may be placed on the ratepayers, that the block grant is being reconsidered, and that, where there is unemployment on a large scale, the allowance in the case of distressed areas will be further weighted in their favour. Admittedly, however, the figures for that purpose are not ready; they are being worked out; and, even if they were ready, there can be no doubt that the additional weighting of the allowance will never make up the whole amount; there is bound to be a very large sum that will have to be found by the ratepayers. Again, coming back to the Glasgow figures, I find that out of the whole amount which is disbursed annually by the city something like 56 per cent. has to be met out of the consolidated rate so that, however much you may weight the block grant in favour of a distressed area, you never really relieve the ratepayers of the additional burden that is placed upon them. That is the position in Scotland.
What is the justification that is put forward for this Measure? The right hon. Gentleman said, perfectly rightly, that there were at present anomalies existing, and it is not fair that there should be a difference between a man who has once been insured and a man who has never been insured. It is true that there are anomalies, and many of them, but these anomalies apply only to the unemployed. They do not touch three-quarters of the whole of the persons who are on the Poor Law in Scotland. They deal only with one-quarter. The right hon. Gentleman made the matter clear, because he said: 862In 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.If that is what the right hon. Gentleman intended to do, why does he make the change in respect of another sort of people altogether, in whose case there are no anomalies and about whose treatment there has been no complaint? The application of the Act is a great deal wider than the people with whom the Minister seeks to deal. He deals with the sort of people who are outside that altogether, and I ask him seriously to consider, if he cannot see his way to, delete entirely a Clause for which there is no need in Scotland, amending it so as to make it apply only to the able-bodied unemployed for whom the provision was introduced. I think the proper course would be to delete the Clause altogether. In his speech last week the right hon. Gentleman said:In those circumstances, it appeals to reason that one should make the changes in the existing basis of public assistance as small as possible, on 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."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 9th November, 1932; col. 416, Vol. 270.]This is only a temporary Measure. If we once introduce in a temporary Measure a provision which is going radically to alter the Poor Law of Scotland, it is going to be very difficult to get back to where we were and for that reason, if for no other, I ask that this Clause should be carefully considered.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Is the hon. and learned Member suggesting as the reason for the deletion of the Clause that the amount is going to be increased to the recipient and that extra cost will be thrown on the local rates in consequence?
§ Mr. JAMIESON
I do not think the, hon. Member was in when I was dealing with that matter. I do riot want to take up time by repeating what I have already said. He will be able to read it to-morrow. This introduces a change which will affect a class of people other than those to whom it was intended to apply, and it will prejudice the permanent scheme when it comes into being. I am not leaving out of account that the provision is permissive and not mandatory, but how is it going to be con- 863 strued by the various local authorities, and how are they going to act? It will be very difficult for any local authority, when they see that it is going to be lawful to do something, to resist the temptation to do it if pressure is put upon them. You will find one local authority giving effect to it and another not giving effect to it, with the result that, in the attempt to prevent anomalies and to secure uniformity, you will simply have created disparities, and you will make the present confusion worse confounded.
§ Mr. SUTCLIFFE
First let me say how much I welcome the Government proposals, especially those with regard to ex-service men's pensions. I only wish they could go further, but at the moment that is not possible. This Bill deals only with three classes of cases. It will certainly do considerable good in these classes of cases in lightening some of the hardships and making them more easy to bear. I only wish it went further and dealt with family allowances and the obtaining of some more uniformity in that matter, and also with the payments made by different authorities in different parts of the country. There is in my division a very real and genuine grievance in the matter of this differentiation in the amount of payments made. The Borough of Oldham adjoins one end, of my division, and in Oldham higher scales are being paid and higher rates for family allowances granted. The conditions under which the people are living are the same, the rents are in most cases identical and the cost of living, and so on, is the same. It is extremely annoying for people who live so close together to have these different rates paid to them.
Let me give one or two figures. For a single man over 21 living with his parents, the Lancashire county scale is 7s. 6d. and the Oldham scale is 10s. 6d. When we come to family allowances, the Lancashire County Public Assistance Committee allow 25 per cent. of the total earnings of a wife and children or 6s., whichever is the smaller, whereas Oldham allows one-third of the total earnings without any restrictions, and no maximum sum is laid down. Take the case of a man with a wife and with two sons, both over 21. The scale for the county would be 37s. Suppose each son was earn- 864 ing £1 1s. per week, the net income of that family would therefore be 36s., namely, 42s. less 6s., and the father would thus be entitled under that scale to 1s. Then consider the Oldham scale for the same family with the two sons each earning one guinea per week. The Oldham scale is 44s. for that same family. You deduct one-third of the total earnings of £2 2s., which amounts to 14s. and therefore the net income under the same conditions would be 28s. and the father would be entitled to 16s. instead of the 1s. as in the previous case. Then there is a difference, too, in the case of the children. The county scale for boys and girls between 16 and 21 is 5s. and under 16 2s., whereas the borough scale for boys between 18 and 21 is 7s. and for girls between 18 and 21 6s. 6d. They make more difference in the ages and the rates are higher in these cases, though under 16 it is 2s.
That has been creating a great grievance for many months and I only regret that nothing can be done to mitigate it in this Bill. I can only hope that the matter will be adjusted by the Minister of Labour next spring when his Bill is introduced, for, of course, we know that this is only a temporary Measure. Meanwhile, I should like to ask my right hon. Friend if he could by some means go some way in the meantime towards remedying this state of affairs. Could he not call a conference of all the authorities concerned, say in Lancashire or merely in that part of Lancashire and try to come to some agreement round the table together. I believe he has done the same thing on the North-East Coast, where he called a conference, though, as he told us on Wednesday last, it had not turned out as successful as he hoped because some of the authorities had later gone back upon the figures which had been agreed to. I suggest that would be a most welcome course to take in this case pending further legislation. I am sure that all those who are unemployed would be extremely grateful if some such arrangement could be come to, for it must be extraordinarily galling and annoying to look across the road and see your neighbour receiving a very different rate of payment from what you have. Far more ill-feeling has resulted from that than from any other matter arising out of the means test. I do ask the Minister 865 either by a conference or in some other way to try to remedy the position.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
To anyone who has listened to this Debate and to the Debates on the Money Resolution last week, it must be one of the most absurd and annoying things to listen to the smug assumption of the Socialist Members in trying to make us believe that they are the only party and the only people who understand the sufferings of the poor, or who are intimately concerned with their welfare and well-being. I must admit I was surprised at the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) who has always struck ma as one of the most level-headed, sane and balanced Members of his party indulging in exaggeration and well-nigh wilful misunderstanding; he has certainly lost much of his claim to my respect. Of course, one looks for a certain amount of hyperbole from that section of the Opposition below the Gangway who have so lately divided themselves from the parent parties and one does not blame them for losing the language of exaggeration, for they are accustomed to it. We also expect from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who has disappeared, a certain amount of provocativeness, self-assertion and dogmatism, some of which is justified but most of which is open to considerable argument.
When I hear all that smug self-assumption of knowledge and close intimacy with the working classes I should like to remind hon. Members that this great majority which the Conservative party have in the National Government to-day was elected by the working classes and the wage-earning people in this country, who certainly put their wellbeing and security in the hands of those who really understand and care for it, rather than in the hands of those who pretend to look after them by lip-service.
Perhaps I may reply to a query put by hon. Members, which has been answered by other hon. Members, and that is to what extent we, as Tory Members, receive complaints from our constituents, either in addressing them in the constituencies or by letter. I want to reassure them—and I have kept in as close contact with my constituents as any hon. Member in front of me—that I have not actually received one complaint against 866 the principle of the means test. But let me qualify that. I have received one from a body calling itself the Independent Labour Party who demanded that should resist the principle of the means test, root and branch. I responded, with a, certain amount of justification, that I understood their late leader the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and Mr. Shillaker, an ex-Member of this House, who wrote an article in "Forward," a paper which has given a great amount of support to hon. Gentlemen in this House—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. Gentleman may say anything he likes, but he must really draw the line somewhere. Will he tell us when the "Forward" gave us any support? All any evidence is rather the other way. I shall be very grateful if he will tell us, because we have not noticed it in a single paragraph.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
I am happy to assist by telling the hon. Member that I read the "Forward" some few weeks ago in the Carlton Club where, of course, it is always kept. I had the pleasure of reading an article by Mr. Shillaker, an ex-Member of this House and of the Labour party, defending the principle of the application of the means test.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I do not want to interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman again, but may I say quite seriously that that article was written partly as an attack on us in connection with the Anomalies Bill and other matters, and was meant to be a reply to us 4 The article was headed by an offensive attack on the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), and was supposed to put the blame on us. We take all the blame we deserve, but do not blame us for that.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
I am not blaming the hon. Member for anything, but I have no means of looking into the brain of Mr. Shillaker when writing these articles, and, therefore, I cannot visualise whether he is actually making an attack upon the hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. I am sorry if I have offended the hon. Gentleman in this matter. [Interruption.] As to the extent to which any complaint is received as to the principle of the means test, I imagine that the reason for it is twofold. I 867 think that possibly it is due to the fact that both employed and unemployed look upon the means test as a matter of justice. But in some cases with regard to the application of the means test they have different minds. No doubt they have been educated up to the recognition of the principle of the means test because they belong to the trade unions. That, no doubt, has a lot to do with it. Also the public assistance committees in my constituency, and, indeed, all over Scotland, carry out their difficult duties with extraordinary sympathy, understanding and conspicuous ability, so that naturally I should not possibly receive so many complaints as some of the unfortunate Members who represent constituencies South of the Border.
There is one point I wish to suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour in regard to the Bill. I do not intend to criticise the Bill, because it has so many good parts that one can almost ignore the more criticisable parts. I think that even though public assistance committees are most expert and sympathetic in carrying out their job, it is really placing an unfair burden upon the local authorities, who, after all, are elected by the people into whose circumstances they have to inquire. It makes the position somewhat difficult. We have also to treat the money with which they deal as Imperial taxation. It is not a question of local rates. It would perhaps be better on the whole to adopt the suggestion made by one or two hon. Members in the House, that a commissioner might do the work, not better, but possibly with less trouble of mind to the local people generally. I would not remove the public assistance committees from their job, but I would re-form them into advisory committees so that, with their local knowledge and sympathies, they could advise the commissioner as to the extent to which relief might or might not be given.
It might also be considered advisable for public assistance officers to be made commissioners in this case directly under the Ministry of Health, and that they should have the wise counsel and guidance of the public assistance committees. I think that it would be easier to obtain general uniformity throughout the country by having such commissioners. One of the reasons for advancing the argument 868 is that there are a great many recipients of relief who are neither in receipt of 50 per cent. disability pension nor workmen's compensation, nor of any savings, and the needs of these people will still have to be administered by public assistance committees without any guidance from the Minister such as is given in the Bill. If you had a number of commissioners all over the country guided by the same instructions and dependent upon the same advice received from the right hon. Gentleman, there would be complete uniformity, and it would probably do away with many of the troubles which now exist in the minds of people receiving relief.
I congratulate the Minister upon taking a definite step towards giving statutory recognition to disability pensions and workmen's compensation. This is what we have all desired and something for which many of us have fought for many years. It is a concession to ex-service men and workers in industry as well, and we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Minister. I should, of course, like to criticise the percentage. It should be larger in the interests of ex-service men and the workers in industry. If you give, say, 40 per cent. or 16s., as a disability pension to a man for the loss of an arm, the pension is given, so to speak, to replace his arm, and to bring him up to the standard at which he can take his place in the labour market. If you take off even 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. let alone 50 per cent., of the original pension, it is like taking two or three fingers away from the arm which you have restored, and it lessens the capacity of the man to take his place in the labour market. That is why I should have liked to have seen the Minister take a further step in regard to pensions. At the same time, I realise, as he has told us, that this is purely a temporary Measure—almost an experimental Measureߞand that it is upon its working during the next four or five months that a comprehensive and larger Bill will be framed.
The Minister has dealt with the question of savings in the Bill, and again we must thank him because it is a great step forward. It seems to me rather complicated, and that it will require a good deal of watching and many forms to be filled in, and forms are always anathema 869 to those who try to get that to which they think they are entitled. Of course, we understand that the capital sum of any savings is not being considered. I should like to see only the interest on savings whatever they might be, without any limit, small or large, taken into consideration at 3½ per cent. interest, as obtains on the Conversion Loan. Interest at the rate of 32 per cent, on all savings from £10 upwards should be taken into consideration in assessing the test. I think that possibly that would appeal to the country as a whole. The holders of the Conversion Loan receive 3½ per cent., and the unemployed would be receiving per cent. on their savings. It would appeal to the country as a fair, just and legally sound method of assessing their wealth. I hope that when the time comes for my right hon. Friend to review the matter, he will perhaps bear these points in mind, and see whether be can fit them into the structure of his new and comprehensive Measure.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)
The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) has delivered an interesting and helpful speech, one of several consecutive speeches in support of the Bill to which the House has listened with great attention. If one is to find the attack upon the Bill of the Official Opposition one has to go as far back as the first speech of the day delivered by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), and I wish, in very few words, to reply lest there should be any suspicion of discourtesy on the part of the Government in ignoring the principal attack upon the Bill. It seemed to me that the hon. Member found himself in a difficulty. According to the plain meaning of the Bill, it makes three concessions to those in receipt of transitional payments. There was, of course, nothing in the Bill but what he and his friends would welcome; nevertheless he desired to vote against the Bill. What then had he to do? He had to assert, in round terms, that the Bill contained many things that it did not contain at all. That was the sub-stance of his speech. Never have I heard language stretched to greater length in the House of Commons. He went so far as roundly to assert that the effect of the Bill was precisely the contrary to that which any reasonable 870 mortal would conceive it to be. He attempted to show that the Bill leaves the recipients of transitional payments worse off than they were before, and he actually used the phrase that the Bill takes away half the disability pension.
Is that the misrepresentation we are to hear on the platforms in the country? If so, I believe the people of the country have too much common sense to be deceived by so gross a misrepresentation. The matter is perfectly easy to follow for those who have even the most elementary acquaintance with practical administration. At the present time a local authority must take into account the means and the needs of any applicant with a disability pension. They must take into account as means the whole of his disability pension. They must then consider his special needs, assess them at so much and bring that into account against the whole of his disability pension. In future what will be the process? They will assess his special needs and bring them into account against only half of his disability pension. Therefore, he will be 50 per cent. better off than he was before as regards his disability pension.
But the hon. Member stretched language even further to misrepresent the intentions of the Bill. He said that it was a Bill to punish thrift, and he repeated the phrase that it singles the thrifty out for punishment. I do not know what may or may not be said about the means test as a whole, but that sort of argument would be wrong even in its application to the means test as a whole. It cannot be maintained—there is no exaggeration of language by which it can be maintained—against this Bill, because the effect of the Bill is to advantage the thrifty by giving to those who have saved these special concessions, which have been specified and clearly explained by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. There are direct advantages to the man in possession of savings and direct incentives to thrift in this Bill.
The hon. Member tried to induce the House to believe that the Bill would effect a saving. It is riot so. It will effect no saving. The estimate of the money which it will cost has been put at a maximum sum of £1,000,000. The House has been warned that in passing this Bill it is contemplated that there 871 may be fresh expenditure, or rather the avoidance of a reduction of expenditure, of a maximum of £1,000,000 in order to grant these concessions in respect of the means test. I will say one word further in reply to the hon. Member. He has referred to resentment and discontent on the part of the public assistance committees. I am, perhaps, in a position to know something of that. I know nothing of that resentment. I know of a grave sense on the part of the public assistance committees of the difficulty of their task. We all recognise the extreme difficulty of the task of the administration of the means test, but what I would ask the House to consider to-night, in order to do justice to a large body of those who voluntarily render such high assistance to the State, is the vast majority of the silent, assiduous, hard-working public assistance committees who, without a word of complaint, without a word of self-advertisement, and with nothing but an eager desire to fulfil the terms of the law as laid down by the Legislature, have most faithfully done their duty to the public in the administration of this most difficult service.
I remind myself that I did not rise to reply generally to the Debate, because the time for that will be when the Debate draws to its end to-morrow. I rise for the specific purpose of discharging my duty to the House by giving a further explanation of Clause 1 (2), which has attracted a certain amount of attention to-day. The purport of Sub-section (2) is to extend to the administration of public assistance the same concessions which are made in respect of transitional payments by the body of the Bill. Let me point out, in the first place, that that Sub-section does not stand by itself. This is not a Bill simply to introduce these concessions into public assistance. If this were a Bill simply to introduce these concessions into public assistance, many of the arguments which we have heard to-day would be completely relevant and justified, but that is not so. The body of the Bill having made concessions in respect of transitional payments, this Sub-section extends them to public assistance.
The position that I have to establish before the House is this that, having made those concessions to those in receipt 872 of transitional payments, it would be an absolute impossibility not to make them also to large classes of those who are in receipt of public assistance. I will not apologise, though perhaps I ought, for laying this matter again before the House, because once it is fully apprehended by the House, it must commend itself to everybody who looks upon the matter as a practical question of good government. The Bill says that those in receipt of transitional payments shall have a concession in respect of half their disability pension and half their workmen's compensation allowance, and also a concession in respect of their assets, their savings. If we refused to extend these concessions to those in receipt of public assistance what would be the effect? Take two ex-service men, both in receipt of disability pensions, one working in a factory and the other working in the fields as an agricultural labourer. They would go to the same public assistance committee and that public assistance committee would be able to make a concession to the factory worker in respect of his disability pension, but would have to deny it to the agricultural labourer. That would be absurd. What would be the result? Of course, they would not deny it to the agriculture labourer. They would have more common sense.
If the House of Commons were to force such a law on the country, what would happen? The Minister of Health would have to send his inspectors round to harry and bully the public assistance committee, and say, "You have broken the law. You ought to have refused these concessions in one case." It would bring the law into absolute contempt if you imposed upon the country a law which could not be administered. There is no greater danger to society than that you should enact laws which cannot be administered. I would ask the House to turn its attention to a recent Presidential election as showing the result of trying to impose upon a country a law which cannot be administered.
It is not only the agricultural labourer. There are other classes which it is impossible to distinguish on their merits from those who are entitled to these concessions. There is the clerk who has been earning a salary over £250 a year but has lost his job as many clerks have done; he would be refused the concession, 873 but a clerk who is insurable because his salary was under £250 would receive the concession. That is absolutely unjustifiable. The whole class of domestic servants would be denied these concessions if they fell on bad times and came for public assistance. But there is a class for whom I appeal for special consideration, those who have been in a better position in life, the little shopkeeper, the man who has had a small business, members, shall I call them, of the lower middle class, who have fallen into insolvency, penury and destitution through bad times. You will deny them these concessions unless you make this reasonable extension of the Bill to those who are in receipt of public assistance. But last, and, most convincing, there is the mechanic himself, the man who has hitherto been in employment but has fallen out. He loses his insurance benefit and goes on transitional payment. As long as he is there he gets this allowance. Time goes on and he grows old, and his chances of re-employment become more remote. Presently his case is considered by the referee and it is decided that he is no longer eligible for insurable employment and he goes on public assistance. Unless we pass this Clause we deny him this concession because he is old and unfortunate. That will not, commend itself to the common sense or humanity of this House.
There are other provisions of the Clause which I should like to explain. This Clause, in distinction from the body of the Bill which refers to transitional payments, is optional. It gives power to a local authority to say whether they will or will not make these concessions in respect of public assistance; those administering transitional payments must give them automatically. Why is that done? It is done for two reasons; and I think they will be very clear to those who have a practical knowledge of the administration of the Poor Law. The first is this. I have argued that there is a big class of those in receipt of public assistance who are indistinguishable on the merits of their cases from those who are in receipt of transitional payments. They ought to receive the concessions, but we have to recognise that there is another class of those who are in receipt of Poor Law relief from public assistance committees who are not on all fours 874 with those receiving transitional payments. How shall I describe them? I will describe them as a class which has among them an element of wasters, those who will not work, those with whom the Poor Law should deal with deterrence. You must have this optional power on the part of public assistance committees to refuse these concessions as a means of preventing abuses of the concessions by undeserving people of that sort.
In the second place it has always been a bed rock principle of our Poor Law to retain discretion in the hands of local authorities so as to enable them in a proper ease to use their power as a deterrent against wasters who will not look after themselves; and I submit that it would be going a great deal too far at this time entirely to deprive public assistance committees of power in a proper case to prevent an extension of these concessions to cases which do not deserve them on their merits. One or two special arguments, on a somewhat narrower front, have been used in the Debate against this Clause. Let me indicate what I think is the answer. It has been said that under this Clause, by which you allow a man applying for public assistance to retain some of his assets, you may be calling upon a ratepayer to help to support one who has more money than the ratepayer himself, that the ratepayer may be in a worse position than the man he supports. It is possible to imagine an extreme case of that kind, but I ask the House to remember that what is being established is that if you do it for those in receipt of transitional payments you should do it for those who seek public assistance; and it is, of course, equally true that it may apply to one who is in receipt of transitional payment.
There is one point of misconception which I should like to clear up. It is a principle of our Poor Law that when public assistance is given by way of a loan it can be recovered. Sometimes that is done, and it is a very useful power in the hands of public assistance committees. Sometimes they make their assistance in the form of a loan which can be recovered if and when the recipient is able to pay it back. It is said that the provision in the Clause to which I am now addressing myself will have the effect of depriving a local authority 875 of the power to recover in a case where they have made an allowance in respect of assets. I have to assure the House that that is not the case. It is a misconception. Every power to recover which a local authority has at present in respect of public assistance given by way of loan will continue and will be exercisable in future as it has been in the past.
Let me now deal with a proposal made by the hon. and learned Member for Maryhill (Mr. Jamieson). He was struck by the undesirability of allowing these concessions in respect of assets to those who are in receipt of public assistance and are not comparable in their circumstances and on the merits of their cases with those who are in receipt of transitional payments. He said that these concessions in respect of assets should not be allowed to what I think in the Scottish language are described as "legal poor." The remedy he proposed was this: That you should allow these concessions in the case of public assistance, but that you should confine them to the able-bodied destitute. The intention, I understood, was to confine them to those who were in similar circumstances to those in receipt of transitional payments. I sympathise with the basis of the hon. Member's argument. I sympathise with the intention; but I can only say that there are two reasons against the proposal, and that they appear to be overwhelmingly strong. The first is a reason which appeals to common sense and humanity. Why, if you give a concession to those who are able-bodied, should you refuse it to those who are old and sick? If you adopted this proposal of limiting the concession to the able-bodied poor, you would have to refuse it to one who was in receipt of outdoor relief and was too old to work. What reason could there be in that? Again you would have to refuse it to one who was not only too old to work but whose state of health would not allow him to work. I suggest that on examination it will be found that that method of distinction cannot possibly commend itself. It does not accord with the intention which we all have in our minds, of working equal justice.
But there is a second reason. It would be impossible as an administrative matter, to make a distinction between the able- 876 bodied poor in receipt of outdoor relief and those who are not able-bodied. In my opinion, and in the opinion of those with far more experience than I possess, it would be impossible to draw that line between those who are able-bodied and those who are not. If you laid down a distinction in the Statute you would be at once confronted by a morass of borderline cases which are the kind of cases that make a law so difficult and, indeed, impossible to administer. What is more, they are the kind of cases which create that sense of injustice and unfairness in the working of the law which we all particularly want to avoid.
§ Mr. JAMIESON
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that that distinction has been made in the administration of the Poor Law in Scotland for the last 11 years?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I have already said that I should approach any matter of Scottish experience with the most profound diffidence, but I can only say that it has not been made in the laws of England, and that those who know far more about it than I do say that in the administration of the Poor Law it is a matter of impossibility to distinguish with justice and equity between the two classes, and to draw a line between those who are able-bodied and those who are not. That would be just the way to create those cases which rankle with a sense of injustice, cases which we want to avoid. There is only one other particular with which I shall deal before I come to the final and principal matter. It is said that the Clause will tend to create anomalies. That argument can be advanced only by those who have not realised, or who for a moment have forgotten, the present state of the law in the matter. There are already anomalies in the administration of public assistance in this matter. The principal difficulty with which we have to contend now is the variety in the standards of administration in respect of disability pensions and assets, even amongst those who are administering public assistance. There are extreme anomalies with which we have to deal now.
What I claim on behalf of the Bill is that if it is passed it will give us a law which is reasonable in its basis, which it 877 is possible to administer, and which will clarify the situation. We shall have removed the unjustifiable anomalies—the differences between cases which no one can justify because there is no difference in the merits of the cases. We shall still certainly have differences. Let us recognise the distinction between differences and anomalies. We shall still have differences. We shall have differences of the sort that are justified by differences of local conditions, by differences between case and ease, and because the needs of the cases differ, but we shall have succeeded in removing anomalies by establishing a law which it is possible to administer.
§ Mr. CAPORN
Has the Minister power to make regulations and give general directions as to the circumstances in which Sub-section (2) should and should not apply, in the manner which he has explained to the House, and, if not, would it not be advisable to take such powers?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
The Minister has no power to make regulations which would in any way affect or alter the provisions of the Bill or add anything to them. He can guide, but he cannot introduce fresh concessions or allowances. That is the distinction.
Now for the financial aspect of the Clause. The question is asked, Will the Clause impose a large or substantial further burden on local authorities? I said on a previous occasion that it was impossible to form an estimate. I might have produced an estimate, but I should have known that I was not giving the House safe guidance in doing so. So I thought my duty would be fulfilled by explaining quite frankly that I could not give an estimate which was really an estimate based on statistics. It is not possible to do so. I do not mean to say that it is not possible to form a fairly accurate judgment of the approximate size of the burden. I think it is possible to do so, but I feel that the apprehensions expressed to-day as to the size of the burden which would be cast on local authorities are unjustified.
I will give the House my reasons for thinking so. Those who come for public assistance and are in possession of assets or savings, which would bring them under the concession in the Bill, may be said, with certainty, to be a comparatively 878 insignificant and negligible number. But to put the argument as its worst, it may be said that the mere fact that we are giving this concession may bring in lots of fresh applications from people with assets who would otherwise not have come to the Poor Law. Yes, but that is the very reason why we are making this concession optional—in order that the applications of those who apply for public assistance without merits may be refused. For that reason it is essential to keep the optional nature of the Clause and the optional nature of the Clause is an adequate, indeed a full, safeguard against its abuse in that way.
As regards those in receipt of public assistance who would enjoy the benefits of the concessions in respect of disability pensions and workmen's compensation allowances, that, it may be said again with certainty, is a very small matter. If there is any money involved in this at all, it is in respect of the disability pensions. That is probably the most costly item from the point of view of public assistance. But I suggest to the House that that is also the very strongest item on the merits, and that you cannot contemplate a differentiation of treatment in the case of the disabled men simply by reason of the nature of their occupation. That, indeed, would be falsifying the attitude which this country has taken towards disabled men ever since it began to deal with them by way of recompense after the War.
Let me remind the House of another consideration in order that we may get a just view of the magnitude of the financial burden involved. I have already mentioned that there are anomalies in the present administration of public assistance. What I meant was this—that there are already what I may term extra-legal practises in respect of concessions to those in receipt of public assistance in regard to disability pensions and assets. In other words, to put it quite frankly and plainly, in a very large number of cases the law is already being broken in these matters. The concessions are being made and what is suggested in this Bill is simply to bring the law of the land into accordance with the practice which has commended itself to the public assistance committees and also to many Members of this House. I mention that fact in that extremely frank 879 manner in order to assist the House to get a fair view of the extent of the financial burden, because, if these concessions are already being made, as all practical men know they are, then there is nothing to fear in that respect from the financial point of view.
One calculation I can make which may possibly assist the House to get a view of the order of the amount involved. I said that I could make no estimate, but I think this may be of assistance. The Bill allows a maximum of £1,000,000 sterling as the cost of the concessions to persons receiving transitional payments. Approximately 1,100,000 persons are in receipt of transitional payments. There are less than 1,000,000 persons altogether in receipt of public assistance—the category to which we are now referring. In order to get a comparison we must divide that number by the recognised factor, 4, in order to get the number of heads of families because the total number of persons includes wives and children and other dependants. In that way we get 250,000 for public assistance as the comparable figure to the 1,100,000 persons whom you are taking into account in respect of transitional payments. That is a maximum of 250,000 persons and comparing that with the amount of £1,000,000 allowed for the transitional payments, we arrive at the conclusion that the very largest amount which this could possibly cost, on the basis I have indicated, in respect of public assistance, distributed over the whole country would be £250,000.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
Distributed all over. I will repeat on this occasion, what I have said on a previous occasion, that it is recognised that there is a charge, although it is almost with certainty a very much less considerable charge than some hon. Members might think. That being so, you have here a, matter which is appropriate to consider in a certain relation, and that relation is a re-estimation or recalculation of the block grant in respect of the distressed areas. It is only in respect of the distressed areas that the charge could possibly amount to a considerable charge on the local authorities. They are the people 880 on whom any burden would fall, if considerable burden there is, and in re-estimating their block grant this matter will come in for consideration.
I would lift this matter on to a little different plane for the consideration of the House before I finally leave it. If this is a right thing to do, it cannot be a. wrong thing to do because it might cast a burden on the local authorities. Under this Bill you are accepting a burden of £1,000,000 on the Exchequer, because it is the right thing to do, and I say without hesitation that it will commend itself to the sense of justice of the House that if it is right to make the extension of the concession, it is right to do it even though it may cast a proportionate charge upon the local authorities in respect of the rates.
Some reference has been made to the absence of consultation with the local authorities upon this matter. The Government and the Ministry of Health will always lay the greatest stress on the value and the importance of close, frequent, and frank consultation with the local authorities and with their representatives on all matters of general principle and the relations of administration. But, after all, the final decision, in such a matter as this, of what proposals are to be presented to the House must rest with the Cabinet. It is impossible to shirk that decision and place the responsibility on to the shoulders of others. I would remind the House in this connection that this is a temporary Measure, which is only to run for some nine months before it comes to an end, and this particular provision is simply a minor part of the proposals which is an adaptation of the major part of the proposals relating to transitional payments.
Finally, the arguments which have been adduced against this particular Clause can be appropriately dealt with in Committee of the House when we come to consider the Clause. This Clause is not a major recommendation of the Bill; it is only an auxiliary recommendation, and it will be my duty to give the most particular attention to any detailed criticism of the Clause which may be advanced when we come to the Committee stage. The great principle stands, and is readily established, that you have here a wide class of those who are unemployed whom it is impossible to dis- 881 tinguish on merits, particularly the agricultural labourers, and since their merits cannot be distinguished, there should also be no distinction in the treatment meted out to them.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I was intending to speak, not upon the point which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has been discussing, but rather on a point which was raised at the beginning of this afternoon's Debate, as to how Clause 1 applies with respect to the reduction of compensation and disability pensions by one-half. I did not quite follow the Minister of Labour in his statement this afternoon, because in the Debate the other day the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary flatly contradicted each other as to the meaning of the reduction by one-half; and I think the House is entitled to a clear statement on that point before the Bill becomes law. There is not the slightest doubt that there is much misapprehension on the point, and while that exists we are entitled to ask the Minister to make clear to the House the real meaning of the point. I am dealing with Sub-section (1, a) of Clause 1, which I take it to be the pivot on which the Clause rests. It says:Any wounds or disability pension taken into account shall be treated as if it were reduced by one-half.Does "taken into account" mean that those districts which are disregarding this pension will not be asked to bring it within the scope of this paragraph, or will the paragraph be a kind of mandate to them to take it into account in their calculations? I should like to read what the Minister said last week: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.Following that, he stated: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 882 public assistance committees would he very apt to regard it as a maximum."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1932; col. 355, Vol. 270.]They certainly would regard it as the maximum; that is the eventual tendency in matters of this kind. In the same Debate the Parliamentary Secretary said: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 pensions 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1932; col. 469, Vol. 270.]10.30 p.m.
I do not know whether he cleared it up for some hon. Members, but I am not clear whether that is to be a mandate or whether it is to be left to the discretion of the public assistance committees, either to carry on as they are carrying on now, or, in districts where they have not regarded disability pensions or compensation, to be compelled to bring them within the scope of their calculations. I have here a statement from a northern area where they have never taken either compensations or disability pensions into their calculations. In cases like that, where they have been carrying on this system from the beginning, they ought not to be asked now to alter it. In this area there are in receipt of transitional payments, 144 people who are receiving disability pensions of 20s. a, week, and 105 men receiving compensation payments of under 20s. a week. Does it mean that the new Bill will compel the public assistance committee to take into calculation those pensions and allow only 50 per cent. of them, because really I do not know how it has been calculated hitherto? In my opinion the disability pension ought not to be taken into account at all. It is a disability pension for war service, and compensation awards are in the same category, except that the one case has been created by war and the other by action in the industrial war. The pensions themselves are inadequate in very many cases. A 20 per cent. pension at 8s. per week is a matter of small concern, but if the calculation by which they are getting their means is to be deliberately cut in two, it means 4s. less on the calculation. I would like to 883 ask if the right hon. Gentleman can answer this question: In a district where they have not taken these things into consideration, if they are to be compelled to consider them, will they be allowed to make a greater contribution towards the man's income in view of the loss of the 50 per cent. calculation?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I am most anxious to follow the hon. Gentleman, but would he kindly amplify that point, as I do not follow it?
§ Mr. PARKINSON
Putting it in a few words, would the public assistance committee be allowed to make up the difference which would be the loss to this particular applicant? Supposing a man has £1 a week pension, and it has not been taken into the calculation at all, but now it has to be taken into the calculation, and only 10s. is allowed, in such a case the man is going to lose a certain sum of money in the total payment which he receives from the public assistance committee. If he was receiving 30s., that is 10s. plus 20s., would they be allowed under the new calculation to pay him the aggregate sum of 30s., or would he have to lose that portion? Well, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will reply tomorrow. I have already pointed out that in my opinion the disability pension ought not to be taken into consideration because, in many cases, it is inadequate. Such pensions have been in operation for a period of 14 years, and they were given for loss of physical and mental capacity. Nearly everyone in receipt of such a pension has had to take up a different occupation from that which he formerly followed, and has had to take a less rate of pay, and what he has received as a disability pension has not made up for the difference between his physical ability before the War and after the War.
I have read with interest a statement made by the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser). He states that there are 452,000 persons receiving disability pensions, and that something like 200,000 of them are getting less than 20s. per week. As in the case of disability pensions, I urge that compensation awards ought not to be taken into the calculation, and I could probably deal with compensation cases much better than with disability pension cases, 884 because I have a certain knowledge of a large number of compensation awards. I would also like to put before the right hon. Gentleman for his consideration the case of a man who served in the War but came through without being injured, so that he does not get a disability pension. He goes back to his old employment as a miner in the pit, but after a few years contracts the industrial disease called nystagmus. That means that his work underground is at an end, because no employer will allow a man suffering from nystagmus to go underground. That man has been through both wars, he has been in the actual Great War and he has lost part of his sight in the industrial war. That man becomes fit only for light employment and is compelled to take light work at a rate of wages which is 3s. per day less than that for a collier underground. He is losing that amount of money so long as he lives. A man like that, who has been losing money week after week and year after year, because of an incapacity over the origin of which he had no control, is neither recompensed for his mental disability and physical disability, nor for the money he is losing by being separated from his ordinary occupation. The man is being penalised in two ways. A man in that position who becomes unemployed after working a certain period ought not to have his compensation cut down. The partial compensation in cases of this kind is, generally speaking, somewhere in the region of 10s. or 12s. a week. In many cases it is less. That man ought not to have his pension reckoned as one-half or even as three-quarters it ought to be left entirely free from any interference.
On the question of savings, I have a list here relating to a particular area in the north of England. In that area they have a scheme by which they calculate a per tentage of the savings of applicants. From £1 to £100 there is no charge. From £100 to £200 they charge 5 per cent., and if the sum represented by savings is over £200 they make a charge of 7½ per cent. I think that is a reasonable proportion. It is more than would be got by a mortgage or a loan. They are allowing a reasonably fair proportion, which is certainly much better than what is suggested in the Bill. It is a scheme with uniform rates which are by no means unreasonable, and 885 which gives people an opportunity to understand exactly what they have to pay.
The Amendment uses the words "widespread public resentment." There is not the slightest doubt about the resentment. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour is quite aware that there is strong resentment in the minds of a large number of people. If this policy is to be pursued, that resentment can only be intensified. It will not be modified or eased, and the resentment will result in a large amount of trouble in the long run. It may mean greater difficulties to be met. It is certainly affecting the minds of our people. They are not as stable as they have been. Perhaps I do not need to mention the unrest that we have seen during the last two or three weeks. I am sure that unless some attempt is made to deal properly with this question, the difficulties will be intensified to a very much greater extent. I am speaking of my own observations among people whom I have known all my life, a, really good class of working people. I want the Government to try to ease the situation. I do not believe that this Bill will ease it, but that it will make the situation more obnoxious to our people.
I cannot point out the direction in which the right hon. Gentleman should ease this matter. I can only say that I would do away at once with the means test. It is not necessary to have the means test. We can probably do something better. If we have a needs test, based upon the physical ability of the people to perform their own employment, that would be quite a different proposition. Something in that line might be done. We have had a large number of cases under review by the public assistance committees all over the country. Probably, by the end of the present winter, we should have had about 2,000,000 cases under review. I would like the Minister to say that the question of the physical basis which means much more human administration on the principle that people shall at least be fed, is more in keeping with, and more acceptable to, our people, than the means test. It may be that among the unemployed there are a certain number who are workshy. It has been said, I think by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett), that 12s. 6d. per week was suffi- 886 cient for any able-bodied man to exist upon—[Interruption.] I do not want to misinterpret the hon. Member—
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I understood the hon. Member to say that, and I thought that there was something wrong with his mentality. I am sure that anyone who thinks that an able-bodied man can live on a sum like that is not looking at the matter from a reasonable point of view. We have this large number of people unemployed. They cannot help themselves; they are, as everyone knows, the victims of a vicious system. We do not need to apologise for their being unemployed. It is as easy for a man to become unemployed in any line of life now as ever it has been, and I am sure that there are more people unemployed in occupations where unemployment was formerly unknown than there have been in any previous time in history. What are we going to do I If the system under which we are living—capitalism, commercialism, or whatever it may be called—will not provide employment for our people, is it not right that the system should make provision for their maintenance? That is all that we ask. We want our people to be kept in a state of life which will give them physical efficiency, so that, when the country returns to its ordinary line of progress and prosperity, we shall find our people able and willing to take their part.
This Bill does not meet the case, and cannot give satisfaction to anyone. I do not think there has been any speaker in the Debate to-night who has not found some fault with Many have said that they would whole-heartedly support it, but, as they proceeded, they found some point or other on which they thought it was not quite the thing. A Bill of that kind does not give satisfaction to anyone. If I had to give a judgment as to the mind of the Minister of Labour and of the Minister of Health, I should not think that either right hon. Gentleman could say that he was whole-heartedly in favour of the Bill as it stands. Really, I think the Government and the Cabinet might consider the withdrawal of the Bill and the introduction of a more humane and comprehensive Measure. There is no reason why it should be hurried through; there is plenty of time; and I would say 887 to them: "Do it well while you are doing it. Do not take every opportunity of lowering the standard of life of our people, of lowering their purchasing power, and of lowering their opportunity to live the life which they ought to live." A Government, no matter how strong it may be, can only go so far. Public opinion must sooner or later decide its course. The other night, in the Debate on foreign affairs, we had a remarkable speech from the Lord President of the Council. The concluding remarks of that speech might well be applied to the industrial condition of this country and to the people who are unemployed. The Lord President of the Council, on Thursday night, said:If the conscience of the young men should ever come to feel with regard to this one instrument that it is evil and should go, the thing will be done; but if they do not feel like that—well, as I say, the future is in their hands."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 10th November, 1932; col. 638, Vol. 270.]That would be just as true applied to the Poor Law administration of to-day. The young men will feel that the Poor Law, as applied, is an evil and should go. Conscience will not permit it to remain. It will be swept away in a forward movement the end of which no man can see. I want the Government, if they will, to take what I believe to be a word of warning, and I want them to heed the warning, that they cannot play with the conscience and well-being of a community without coming to the breaking point sooner or later, and when the breaking point comes no one knows where it is going to end.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Commander Southby.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.