§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [30th November], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Which Amendment was, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:
this House declines to assent to the Second Reading of an Unemployment Bill which fails to recognise that all the victims of the unemployment which is inherent in the modern system of industrial capitalism are entitled to equal and honourable treatment and maintenance from national funds so as to preserve intact their value to and status in the community."-[Mr. Greenwood.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
The House will perhaps pardon me if, in resuming this Debate, I offer a few general observations. I have listened, as have many other hon. Members, from time to time to many Debates on unemployment insurance and indeed upon unemployment generally, and it seems to me that the house is divided in this matter upon grounds of general principle. It is difficult to see how it is possible for the party to which I have the honour to belong to reconcile their views with those of the bulk of this House. The party to which I belong hold the view that the ideas which have inspired the Minister of Labour and the Government in drafting this Bill are entirely out of accord with the realities of society to-day and that they are founded upon assumptions which belong, not so much even to pre-War days as to the early 19th century. The Minister of Labour indeed has failed to keep pace not only with the change in society, but with the change in the views held by people in the course particularly of the last two years. The assumption upon which the Government have proceeded in this Bill is that unemployment is primarily the responsibility of the individual citizen. The assumption upon which we proceed is that unemployment is not an individual but a social act, and 1310 that over that circumstance the individual has comparatively little control.
Almost all the assumptions underlying public assistance were to the effect that, if a man became idle, he was committing a crime against society, and that the longer that crime continued, the heavier his punishment should be. Indeed, the principle which has governed the administration of the Poor Law in this country has been that an idle person was a shiftless person and that as long as he was idle it should be impressed upon him that he was an undesirable member of the community. That principle is contained in this Bill. As a matter of fact, most of this Bill has been derived from that principle. The Minister of Labour has carried over into Part II of this Bill almost all the principles of the Poor Law, and he has impressed on the unemployed person that somehow or other he must, by the use of his own resources, attempt to secure employment.
I was brought up in a mining community in South Wales, and I mention this, not because I want to influence the House by personal considerations, but simply because my circumstances are typical of those of millions of my fellow creatures in this country. I was born the son of a miner, and I went underground when I was 13 years of age, inevitably. Down the pit was the only place to go. I was as inevitably made into a collier as I would have been made into a shooter of big game if I had been born in Mayfair. I went down the colliery then because of the fact that I lived in a mining community and that there was no other way in which I could earn my livelihood. There were very few choices. I might have become a railwayman or a shop assistant, but I had to become a collier because most of the people in my district were colliers. I worked underground until I was about 21 years of age, and then I became unemployed, because society discovered that it no longer wanted the product of my labour. The eight years which I had spent serving an apprenticeship became entirely valueless, and for three years I was out of employment.
I ask the Minister of Labour, What control had I over that destiny? Could I have adopted any other course? Was there any other course available to me For practically three years—indeed for 1311 10 years—in my district steel workers and miners, living in hamlets and villages, largely cut off from the rest of the community, have been living in helplessness and despair and have no way of escape at all. Had they lived in the early 19th century and had they been craftsmen as men were in those days, they could have turned their hands to various occupations, or indeed, not having long left the soil, they might have emigrated to some other part of the world, but that resource is not available to-day. Those men are completely helpless, and the longer they are idle the more helpless they become. [An HON. MEMBER: "Unless they go in for politics."] That is the kind of observation one would expect from a product of the Oxford Union. The circumstances I have attempted to describe are the circumstances of millions of our fellow countrymen.
This House has indeed recognised in the course of the last two years that the individual has comparatively little control over the destiny of his economic enterprises. If the House has abandoned anything, if has abandoned the principles of 19th century Liberalism. It has declared that modern society has called up forces which are overwhelmingly against us. The individual can make little headway, and it is declared that so little control has the individual property owner over the destiny of his economic enterprises, that the State must come to his assistance when those enterprises fail. We hear to-day a clamour for assistance for the Lancashire cotton trade against importations from Japan. If individual enterprise, if economic exertion, is still to be carried on independently of the community, and if the individual enterpriser has no right to look to the community for support, why has this House on numberless occasions intervened on behalf of occupation after occupation? It is because the House has recognised that society has fundamentally changed, and that there is an obligation upon the State to come to the assistance of the individual when the individual is brought face to face with social circumstances over which he has no control. Why should that apply to the Lancashire cotton owner and the coalowner and not to the textile worker and the miner?
1312 The Minister of Agriculture is engaged laboriously every day, and I expect now most of his nights, in attempting to charge the community more for their foodstuffs in order to promote the welfare of the agricultural industry and, incidentally, the revenues of the landlords. He is doing that because he recognises the fact that the agricultural labourer, the farmer and the landlord are faced with circumstances which overwhelm them and that without the assistance of the State they are helpless. I submit that if this reasoning holds good for the owner of property, it holds good with respect to the owner of labour. We therefore ask the House in face of this problem of unemployment to start off on the fundamental principle that the individual worker is caught up in circumstances over which he has no control and that consequently the State should comport itself towards him as it does towards the owner of property.
Our first principle, therefore, is that the individual worker when he is unemployed is helpless, and consequently ought not to be punished for a circumstance over which he has no control. But compare the treatment in this Bill of the unemployed worker, the miner, the textile worker, and the agricultural labourer with the treatment which the Government propose to mete out next Thursday to the owner of Newfoundland bonds. Compare it with the treatment that they mete out to the owners of American stock, or to the treatment meted out to the Rothschilds in connection with the Austrian loan, or to the owners of German stock. These people have invested their money in Austria or Newfoundland or Germany or America and the Government say, "These poor creatures cannot be blamed for the fate that has overtaken their investments," and a generous State rushes to their assistance. That is characteristic of the Tory party, which never shares the point of view of the Liberals. The Liberals say that the State should hold itself aloof from economic enterprises. The Tories were never of that view. They always held the view that the State is an apparatus for the protection of the swag of the property owners. They are true to it in this House, and they instruct the Minister of Labour to punish the unemployed person, to depress his standard of livelihood, to pursue 1313 him and to whip him whenever possible by the most malignly conceived regulations, but they put the whole resources of the State behind the bondholders and the rich when they get into difficulties. Christ drove the moneychangers out of the temple, but you inscribe their title deeds on the altar cloth. The individual worker, if he wanted to have economic security, should not have invested his labour in the valleys of Wales or the looms of Lancashire; he should have invested his resources in Germany or Austria and a grateful country would have come to his rescue. The only investment which the worker made in foreign lands was his blood, and those who fought came back and dragged their tortured limbs through the streets of our towns, and they were told by a grateful country that they are still allowed to retain half the miserable compensation which they received.
The distinction in this Bill which is drawn between the man who is still drawing his insurance benefit and the man who is now to have unemployment assistance is a distinction which is founded upon a reality which has long since disappeared, and it should now be abolished. I admit that a few years ago the Minister of Labour was correct and large numbers of workers held the view that a distinction should be drawn between the man who had been out of work a long time and the man who had periods of intermittent employment, and that insurance benefit should bear some relationship to the contributions which he had paid. Among the workers, however, a great change of view has taken place. Men now regard it as a great privilege to be employed, and they no longer consider that a hardship is imposed upon them if they are asked to pay 10d. a week unemployment insurance premium. They are only too glad to pay it.
The Minister of Labour takes the view that the longer a man has been idle the more undesirable he becomes. If you are going to be equitable, you should take the opposite view, namely, that the longer a man is idle the heavier crime society has committed against him. Indeed if you are going to measure the treatment of him according to his need, the longer he is idle the snore he wants. The Minister of Labour, despite his urbanity and his kindliness of demeanour, proceeds 1314 upon a principle which is fundamentally bad, and the heavier a man's need the heavier the burden he is putting upon his shoulders. Those, hurriedly put, are the general assumptions upon which he is proceeding. This Measure does far more than that. It perpetuates the means test. Many hon. Members have defended the means test, and, indeed, the Minister did so in his opening speech, on the ground that a man should first of all be expected to look to his family for support. It makes me wonder, sometimes, whether I live in a different sort of world from other hon. Members. Did not the family cease to be the unit some long time ago? The family is no longer the unit of modern society. The unit of modern society, if it can be said to have a unit at all, is the adult individual. The family has virtually disappeared; the industrial revolution destroyed it.
In a recent Debate, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said, in answer to an hon. Friend of mine, "You will not keep your own father, but you expect other sons to keep your father." But we have had to keep his father and the fathers of most of those who are here. As a matter of fact, my own people have been keeping your fathers for generations. The point of view is absurd and ridiculous that an individual of 70 years of age, if he should happen to be in employment, should be expected to support sons of 30 or 40 years of age; that a young man of 20 or 25 years of age, who is building up a home for himself and is for the time being living under the roof of his parents, should be asked to support brothers and sisters of 30 or 40 years of age; that sisters of 17 or 18 who happen to be lucky enough to get a little domestic service should keep their brothers of 30 or 40; that aunts should keep their nephews; that nieces should keep their aunts. All that is ridiculous, and simply has no relationship to the facts of the case. That a son who happens to find employment near home, and therefore can live at home, should help to maintain the home, while a son who has gone to work in the south of England, perhaps 100 miles from home, should not make any contribution, is ridiculous. It amounts simply to making accident a basis of responsibility, and is not firmly founded on any principle of equity that this House can defend.
1315 I have made the challenge before, and I repeat it, that I will go to any hon. Member's constituency and get that principle rejected by any ordinary meeting of citizens. The Church has condemned it. The Church has said that, in so far as family life still remains, this principle is destroying it. I have actually known young men to be so oppressed by the humiliation of having to live upon the earnings of their brothers and sisters that they have contracted marriage on 23s. a week in order to avoid it. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is perpetuating the system."] No; but it may be perpetuating the race. Hon. Members, when they are not thinking as Conservative Members of Parliament, but as decent citizens, will admit that that is a principle which cannot be defended, yet the Minister in this Bill proposes that the principle shall be continued, and administered in future by a national board and not by elected representatives of the people, a point to which I shall return.
Our party ask the House to reject the Bill, first, on the ground that it assumes that the individual citizen has still some control over his economic resources, and, next, assumes that the family is still the basis of the State. I have been at some pains over the week-end to ascertain what are the views of my fellow countrymen, and I believe that the complacency with which many hon. Members have welcomed this Measure will not last for many months. A strong sense of indignation is growing up in the country, and it will increase in volume as the terms of this Measure become better known. The Minister of Labour and the Government as a whole, having decided that the distress of the unemployed is not only not to be alleviated, but intensified, will, in the course of the next few years, see themselves faced with a difficult situation. Local authorities up and down the country have found themselves exposed to the attacks of the unemployed. The prophecy has already been made that the London County Council will "go Labour," and many of the Conservative members of local authorities are saying that if those authorities still have to administer the means test the pressure of the unemployed will convert their Conservative majorities into Socialist majorities. In other words, so great is the distress among the poor people, and 1316 so strong is the feeling of the working class against the administration of the means test by public assistance committees, that those authorities are moving left.
The Minister of Labour and the Chancellor of the Exchequer say the time has come when we must take the administration of public assistance out of the hands of the local authorities. Why? In order to remove the taint of the Poor Law from the treatment of the unemployed? No; but in order to protect the local authorities from Socialist majorities. They say not only must we do that, but we must also protect the House of Commons from the pressure of the poor. In this Bill it is proposed, for the first time in British history, that a Member of Parliament shall cease to be the natural custodian of the welfare of his constituents. The Minister said in his opening speech that he would accept no individual responsibility for the treatment of individual cases. The means test is by its very nature an individual affair, because we are adjusting the amount of unemployment assistance to be given to the condition of each family; the very essence of it is an amount of money in proportion to that family's needs. If we say the Minister of Labour is not to accept Parliamentary responsibility for the individual case, we are disfranchising British citizens, taking away from the elected representative a right and a responsibility which he has enjoyed for generations. Indeed, we are cutting away the foundations from democratic representation; but, of course, that is nothing new in this country; that is an old story.
The Lord President of the Council has accused my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) of harbouring designs against the Constitution. He can harbour nothing more deadly against the Constitution than the' Minister of Labour is proposing in the Bill before the House, which will do more damage to representative government in a few short months than we could dream of doing in years. He has decided, in this Measure, that from now on there is to be no unemployment insurance legislation in this House. It finishes to-day; this Bill ends it. In future, unemployment insurance legislation, if there is to be any, is to be by Order. He has decided that, in regard to the millions of people receiving unemployment assist- 1317 ante, there shall be no legislation, except by Order. It is an attempt to take poverty out of politics. We shall have to leave it at home.
This is a Bill to make the poor dumb. Indeed, that very point is emphasised in the language of the Bill. I believe that it is in Clause 38 that the Minister of Labour protects himself against appeal. Local appeal tribunals are to be established to hear the appeal of an aggrieved applicant for unemployment assistance. The chairman of the local tribunal is to decide whether an applicant is to have the right to appeal. The Minister of Labour not only refuses to accept responsibility in this Chamber, and abolishes the natural representatives of the unemployed man, the local council, but he is also suffocating and stifling that man by saying that he has to be satisfied with a paid lawyer—because lawyers are usually the persons appointed before whom one has to make a grievance articulate.
The only recourse that an unemployed man will have, in order to attract public attention to his grievances, will be to throw a stone through a shop window. Unless he does that, no one will know that he has a grievance. At the moment, the public assistance committee can be approached, or individual councillors can be spoken to. An unemployed man can knock upon the door of his alderman, or he can hold his meeting and pass his resolution for submission to the local council. He can make his grievance articulate; but he will not be able to de so from now on. If this Bill is passed, it will be an attempt to suffocate the cries of the unemployed man in the mazes of bureaucratic machinery. This Bill is going to do, for this Conservative majority what the not-genuinely-seeking work Clause did for the Conservative majority in 1929—abolish it.
I have listened to hon. Friends of mine in this House pointing out that the character of the Parliamentary machinery is unsuited to the new tasks which have to be discharged, and that, now that the State is interfering more and more in the economic process, our Constitution has to be adapted. With that point of view I have every sympathy. The Parliamentary machinery that we have here was constructed at a time when the Government had no economic obligations 1318 of importance, but now that the State is taking on new duties of providing economic services some adaptation must be made in the machinery. There is, however, one subject with which we must ever deal, and which lies at the very root of representative government, and that is the subject known as "the condition of the people." This subject must always be dealt with here on the Floor of this House, if this House is to remain healthy. It is the very core of Parliamentary representation. The Bill seeks to destroy that, because this House, unable to face up to the problem of unemployment and of poverty, must, if it possibly can, put wadding in its ears. That is what this Bill does.
I hope I may be allowed, not to digress but to illustrate my argument by saying that I was looking the other day at the Clarke Papers. I was reading an account of the meeting between Oliver Cromwell and Colonel Rainborow in Putney in 1647. At that meeting Colonel Rainborow, representing the Levellers, was asking for adult suffrage and for the new Parliament to be elected on the basis of one man one vote. Oliver Cromwell was arguing that the Parliament ought to be elected by the people who had property. Colonel Rainborow said that there was nothing in the law of God or of nature to warrant any Englishman living under the law of another Englishman, and that if an Englishman was to be asked to obey the law he should have a share in the making of it. Oliver Cromwell replied that if those who had no goods and chattels were to be allowed to make laws equally with those who had goods and chattels, they would make laws to take away the goods and chattels of the others. It has taken a few centuries to reach that position.
Democracy, poverty and property can live quite amicably side by side, in circumstances of alleviating poverty, and, so long as progress is made, property is not in serious danger. To-day, this House says that 2,500,000 of our people are to be unable to relieve their distress, and this House therefore has to choose whether it will make inroads upon the rights of property or of Democracy. It has chosen to destroy Democracy, being helpless to destroy property. When this comes to be looked at in retrospect, it will be regarded as a milestone upon the 1319 road to Fascism in Great Britain. Fascism is, in its very essence, the destruction of democratic government. Democracy is increasing its pressure upon property and privilege. This is the modern way. The Lord President of the Council, like the Japanese, makes war in the name of peace; in the name of liberty he puts chains on the limbs of the people, and takes away their democratic liberties.
I would say one or two things about the financial provisions of this Bill, because I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to deal with that part of it. I do not understand why that is, because I should have thought that a more appropriate time would have been upon the Money Resolution. I suppose he will try to make an answer to the growing volume of resentment among local authorities. During the Recess, we were informed that the Minister of Labour was having a tug-of-war with the Minister of Health, as to who should take over the responsibility for this problem. The Minister of Labour won, but he has lost to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as usual. The Treasury has won. I remember, in the beginning of this year, that Members representing Northern constituencies, and some in the West, were making a protest against local authorities having to carry the burden of the able-bodied poor, but I have not heard those protests this time. Where are they to-day? Those Members were loud in their denunciations. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has won, and has decided that the cost of maintaining the able-bodied poor must devolve upon the local authorities.
§ Mr. BEVAN
That is not unusual. It was the complaint of those who represented local governing bodies that the cost of maintaining the able-bodied poor should not be borne by the local authorities, for two reasons. One reason was that it simply added to the distress in areas made distressful by unemployment, and the second was that the local authorities did not possess the means of relieving their own difficulties. This House has the means. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to take 1320 the year 1932–33 as the standard year, and to make the local authorities contribute according to the payment they made to the able-bodied poor that year. First, it was thought that the distressed districts were not going to have the benefit of the allowance of £440,000 which is made this year. Since then that has been adjusted, but it leaves some of the most distressed districts in precisely the same position as they are now. Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire will pay exactly the same for the cost of the maintenance of the able-bodied poor as they are paying this year.
We understood that the most that could be claimed for it was that it put those local authorities in the same relative position as the rest of the country. That means that at the moment they are worse off than the other authorities, because if the payment of the £440,000 puts them in the same relative position, and the receipt of their share wipes out the whole of their relief under this Bill, then the distressed districts are the only districts not having relief. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will have his opportunity of replying, but will he admit that the payment of £440,000 was to try to take the edge off the distress of the distressed districts? If that be so, after they have received the money their position remains the same as the rest of the local authorities, and they ought to be less accountable for the maintenance of the able-bodied poor. Glamorganshire should be paid £224,000 a year, and so with Monmouthshire and Carmarthenshire.
I submit to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he has at his disposal a very convenient way of settling this matter. I admit it will cost him a little more money, but not very much. Some of the difficulties which have been experienced in dealing with districts arise through the difficulty of abstracting them from the rest of the structure of local government. It has always been found difficult to find a formula to define a necessitous area from one not necessitous, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer managed to find a formula for the distribution of the £440,000, by which a number of authorities benefited, such as Cumberland, Durham, Norfolk, Carmarthen, Pembroke, Gateshead and Grimsby, the figures varying from £94,000 to £1,000. I submit that, in the apportionment of the £440,000, the necessitous areas were, 1321 in fact, isolated from the other local authorities. He, ought to have said, "Those authorities which are able to attract money under the £440,000 scheme are necessitous, and, because they are necessitous, ought not to be called upon to bear the burden of carrying any of the able-bodied poor and I will wipe out their obligation." That is a reasonable request, and should commend itself to Conservative Members in this House. If that is too high a claim to make upon him, is it not reasonable to ask him that he should take the contribution towards the maintenance of the able-bodied poor of those authorities after provision has been made for the £440,000, and then three-fifths of the remainder? That, surely, is reasonable, instead of leaving Glamorganshire, Monmouthshire, Carmarthenshire, Merthyr, and places like that, with some in the same position, and some only slightly better off than at present. I suggest that that is a reasonable proposition, which the right hon. Gentleman ought to take into consideration.
There is one other point I would like to make with respect to the financial provisions. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer take the House into his confidence this afternoon and tell us what were the rates of interest that were paid on the £115,000,000 advanced? We were informed that some of it was borrowed at less than 1 per cent. Will he tell us why the Unemployment Insurance Fund should pay 3 per cent.? Next, I would ask him whether he would justify to the House the burden of the £115,000,000 on the fund at all? The Chancellor of the Exchequer in this Bill holds that the transitional payments should be a charge upon the Exchequer. If it is a good principle, why not make it retrospective? This debt was accumulated at a time when the cost of transitional payments was a charge on the Insurance Fund. Had the present provision been in existence then, that debt would not have been incurred. Is it not, therefore, reasonable to say that the State was belated in its treatment of this matter, and that the cost of transitional payments should have been an Exchequer burden earlier? In that case, as I say, the debt would not have been incurred. If he tells me that this was part of the misbehaviour of the Labour Government, I tell him it was the finance of Lord Snowden, and I always thought he was a rotten Chancellor of the Ex- 1322 chequer, but hon. and right hon. Members opposite thought he was so good that they took him over. The Chancellor of the Exchequer should explain to us why people 30 and 40 years hence should be called upon to pay for moneys received, say, between 1928 and 1931.
Then I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, is it not unreasonable to indicate to the board the way in which it is to use any future surplus The interest charges, it is said, are to be a first charge on the fund; that the bondholder must get his money first, and the poor afterwards. As usual, the Tory comes to the rescue of the banker. The bondholder must get his money first, but the Government have done more than that. They have indicated that if any surplus accumulates in the fund, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to get most of the benefit of it. The period of insurance benefit is extended. That takes men off the Chancellor of the Exchequer and puts them on to the fund. It is quite true that those men get a little more benefit—the difference between insurance benefit and the means test. That is the sugar on the pill, but there is very little sugar for the big pill, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets more benefit than the unemployed worker, as every time you extend the period of benefit, the number of men chargeable to the Chancellor of the Exchequer is reduced, and he gets the full benefit. The way is therefore indicated to the board in which it is to use every future surplus that arises.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)
The Board has nothing at all to do with surpluses.
§ Mr. BEVAN
That is quite right. I accept the correction. It is the Statutory Committee. It is merely a matter of nomenclature. The respective functions were quite clear in my mind. The Statutory Advisory Committee has charge of the Insurance Fund, while the board has charge of unemployment assistance. Nevertheless, the Statutory Advisory Committee has had indicated to it the way in which it is to use every future surplus that arises, because you have said now that the existing surplus is to be used to extend the insurance period. Therefore, if a deficit accumulates, the 1323 committee will contract the area of insurance benefits. If it accumulates, it will extend the area of insurance benefit, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will get the benefit. It is an admirable self-balancing scheme, but it is a scheme to which the unemployed worker can look forward with no satisfaction at all.
Then I would like to say a word to the Minister of Labour. He tried, on Thursday, by a peculiar argument, to justify taking the unemployment assistance from the local authorities and putting it on a national basis. His important reason for this was that the guardians at the moment were a sort of whispering gallery, that unemployed people who go to them for assistance do not like to make their situation known because the guardians gossip, because they tell their neighbours about it. This is an unwarranted attack upon a very fine body of men who have given many years to the work. But I would like to point out to the Minister that he is not removing the abuse in this Bill. The Advisory Committee, according to the Minister, will advise the local officer upon the assessment of individual cases. Will they not know the facts just as well then as now? Will not the whispering gallery be in existence then as now? The Minister of Labour over-stated his case. He is, of course, a very wise person; he did not want to tell the House why this was being done, and he, therefore, advanced that argument, which will not bear examination. Then, again, the Minister of Labour has not made any provision at all for the men over £250 a year. If I understand the psychology of the British middle-class at all, that is the very class to raise most objection to making their situation known to the local public assistance officer; but they will still have to go to the Poor Law, and still have to whisper in the whispering gallery. The Minister of Labour makes no provision at all for them; in fact, as I said, he overstated his case.
I apologise to the House for having taken so long, but the Bill is an extremely complicated one with very many provisions, and I was anxious to cover one or two of the main points. I should like to say, in conclusion, that in my judgment the Bill as presented to the House 1324 outlines a scheme entirely unworthy of the opportunities and the powers of this Government. They could have done something really comprehensive and statesmanlike, but they have done nothing of the kind. They have missed the best opportunity any Government ever had of dealing with this problem. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been niggardly and parsimonious; he has carried on the worst traditions of the Treasury. His attitude towards the local authorities is one that has caused universal resentment, and will cause more resentment as the situation develops, because the sinister feature of the Bill consists, not only in its outward lineaments, but in what its administration will do as the years go on.
Proposal after proposal in this Bill depends, not on what can be seen on the surface, but on what will be done administratively, and our experience of the administration of the Ministry of Labour is that throughout that Department, at least in its higher reaches, there is the most unsympathetic attitude towards the unemployed. Indeed, that attitude is indicated by the revival of a Clause which is quite unnecessary unless you mean to be cruel. No complaint at all has been heard in this House against the way in which the statutory conditions have been operated. It is an absolutely unnecessary change, and simply indicates the hard-faced character of the Ministry of Labour, because I cannot believe that that provision has been resurrected at the request of the Minister of Labour; it must have been at the request of the people who have been making these regulations. Government by regulation might protect Conservative Members from the consequences of not meeting the problem with which they have to deal, but they will have to meet it. They will meet it in the country; they will meet it in the constituencies, and, so far as we are concerned, we shall fight this Bill in Committee and in the country, knowing very well that, when the opportunity comes, the country will drive from power the people responsible for this outrage upon its welfare.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Captain HEILGERS
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) has gone through the same tale that has been told about this Bill by the Labour party 1325 right from the beginning, but I think that the criticism they have put forward has been largely discounted by the fact that they announced, even before they knew the contents of the Bill, that they would oppose the Bill tooth and nail. The hon. Member attempts to make capital by saying that the Bill is an attempt to take poverty out of politics but to leave it in the family. I myself take a different view of the matter. I believe that this Bill will do much to raise the condition of those who are so unfortunate as to be unemployed. I confess that I speak with considerable trepidation, inasmuch as I am a. rural Member, and only one Member has intervened so far in the Debate who can be regarded as in any way representing a rural constituency. An hon. Member for one of the distressed areas said only last week that he felt that no Member for a rural area would appreciate the immensity of the seriousness of this problem. Perhaps that may be true, but I submit that, be the amount of unemployment large or be it small, the same individual human problem is there. Moreover, speaking, as I do, of a rural area, I would point out that hitherto we have had a great number of rural unemployed who have never figured on the register. Thank goodness, justice is going to be done to these men, and they are to be removed from the stigma of the Poor Law.
The Minister has done a big thing in changing the whole responsibility for the able-bodied unemployed from a local to a national responsibility; he has done a big thing in making the whole charge really national. I am afraid that, from my experience of local government, lasting over some 10 years, I have become, perhaps, rather a "last-ditcher." I cannot feel that I can entirely agree with the Minister's taking the entire responsibility out of the hands of local administrators and local people who know the circumstances. I know Tat the Minister paid tribute to those people who have devoted their lives and services to helping in this work of relieving the distress of unemployment, but he is making very little provision for making exceptions. It may be that the advisory committees are going to play some part, but their part is not executive.
Some provision for exceptions seems to me to be essential in counties like my 1326 own, where the administration of the relief of distress and unemployment has been satisfactory in the past—satisfactory to the Minister, to the taxpayer, and to the unemployed as well. I say that advisedly. The leader of our Unemployed Workers' Association has publicly stated that, barring his fundamental objection to the means test as such, in our county the needs test has been administered with sympathy, fairness and justice. I fear that, if we have officials of the Ministry administering the system in counties such as West Suffolk, we shall lose that human touch and local knowledge which are so essential. Therefore, I would ask the Minister very earnestly whether, during the Committee stage, he cannot make provision for making exceptions in the case of counties where the administration of relief and assistance has been successfully carried out, allowing at any rate the advisory committees to become executive local committees, and to function as a. local administration under central regulation.
The thought of unemployed agricultural workers brings me to the question of unemployment insurance for the agricultural worker. I agree that the Minister is right to refer this matter to a statutory committee. Nothing else can be done, because agriculture must have a special scheme of its own; the farm worker cannot afford to pay the contributions that are paid by the industrial worker. But I regret that the Minister saw fit, in his opening speech last week, to compare us with Germany. Surely it is not a fair comparison. Agriculture in Germany is a very different matter from agriculture, here. It is a matter of peasant holdings and family farms, and I should think that the number of non-family workers per holding in Germany must be infinitesimal as compared with this country. I believe that the opinion of farmers is changing with regard to unemployment insurance for the agricultural worker. On Saturday night I was talking to a well known farmer about this question, and I said to him, "May I say that the farmers are against unemployment insurance?" He replied, "Yes, it is in the Royal Commission's report that they are against it; and," he continued, "I was the man who gave that evidence on behalf of the Farmers' Union. But," he went on, "if 1327 I had to give that evidence to-day, I would not be at all sure that it would be the same."
I believe that farmers have realised that unemployment insurance is something that has got to come. They realise that the unemployment in agricultural areas has increased enormously, and I think they are willing to adopt a much more favourable attitude towards its introduction than they were only a year or two ago. I think that the agricultural worker himself is, in the majority of cases, entirely in favour of insurance. Except, perhaps, in the case of just a few of the higher-paid and more skilled workers, such as shepherds, horsemen, stockmen and so forth, he fells that he wants some sense of security; he feels that at present he is denied rights that are given to the industrial worker; and, if the clamour for unemployment insurance is greater, perhaps, in the East than in the West, surely the answer is that the number of agricultural workers in the East of England is much greater than it is in the West or elsewhere. There is need for hurry, and I hope that the reference to the statutory committee will be done quickly, because any scheme of unemployment insurance for agricultural workers must start in the spring; we must have time to get any scheme solvent by raising contributions during the good times in order to make it workable before winter comes.
Everyone agrees that the Minister has done a great thing by his enthusiasm and his determination to provide instructional centres for juveniles, and everyone, I. think, will also agree in principle that the camps for the restoration of men to fitness are extremely useful. I went over one of these camps recently and found it excellent in every way as regards the graduation of training, social facilities provided by the Young Men's Christian Association, and so forth, and, as regards the condition and happiness of the men, nothing could be better, but when we come to the work side a difficulty arises. In this camp, they were learning to make trenches for drainage, and there was a demand for men who were semiskilled at that work. What work can he done by these men normally? I am not very clear what is going to happen as the result of Clause 36. There is intense local feeling of jealousy in my part of the world 1328 against the possibility of men from the Tyneside or the Mersey coming to these camps and doing work that could be done by the local unemployed. I realise that the Minister wants to secure an entire change of atmosphere for these workers from the distressed areas, but I beg him to consider very hard before he plants more of these camps in Norfolk and Suffolk. I desire to make one more constructive suggestion. Very shortly conditions will be better in the Dominions. There are large undeveloped territories there. The men in these camps might, without displacing local labour, be employed in clearing land in similar conditions to those that they would experience in Canada or Western Australia. Some of them may emigrate later and it may be of very great value to them to learn something about the way to clear land. The Minister told us the other day that he felt a very special responsibility in introducing a Bill which would affect, for good or ill, many milions of people. He felt that responsibility particularly, because those who faced us on the opposite benches were few in number. I watched their faces while the Minister was speaking, and they became glummer and glummer. I could tell from their faces that in their hearts they knew that the Bill marks a great amelioration in the treatment of those in distress. I claim that the contention of the Lord President of the Council that the Bill means more humane treatment for the unemployed is justified up to the hilt.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. CURRY
The hon. Member has told the House that he was the first Member to speak for the rural areas. I come from a district which is mainly industrial, or rather which was mainly industrial but which for some years now has lived under a cloud of depression which has to be actually experienced to be realised. Those of us who come from these distressed areas are conscious that the Bill is so tremendous in its ramifications as to mark the beginning, for good or ill, of a new epoch in this sort of legislation. It is so large that I think it might well have been put before the House in the form of two separate Bills. It would have been a convenience for Members of all parties if we could have had an opportunity of examining the two separate parts as dealing with two dis- 1329 tinct problems. I should like to repeat the conviction that I have expressed before that the first thing to do in approaching the problem of insurance against unemployment is to reduce the actual number of people as far as possible, and it seems to me that the best approach that we can make in that matter is to prevent, or retard, the outflow from the schools into the industrial and commercial world by raising the school-leaving age. It seems to me that, if we can only do that, we shall prevent a certain amount of unemployment. Because the Bill begins to deal with the juvenile when he leaves school we have to be grateful, but sooner or later, as part of the solution of our unemployment problem, we shall have to face up to the raising of the school-leaving age and the development on a large scale of the technical educational system.
I think Clause 5 might very well have been omitted. It will lead in administration to a great deal of confusion, and it will cause a sense of grievance to a large number of insured people. In my view, it violates the principle of insurance when, a man is out of work to say that you will deduct from his insurance benefits that portion which is applicable to a general holiday in the trade. When I come to Clause 6, I am filled with apprehension. No one desires to return to the conditions that prevailed under the genuinely-seeking-work Clause. Administratively it is not what we in the House desire, but what the people who are going to administer the Act will regard as having been the meaning and intention of the House. It seems to me that once we put the onus of proof on to the applicant we have in fact returned to the condition of "genuinely seeking work." These words "but unable to obtain suitable employment" are not put in accidentally. They are put in for some purpose, and they must be put in with the intention of throwing on to the applicant the onus of proof that he is seeking work. I hope before the Bill becomes law that the Minister will very seriously reconsider the wording of that Clause.
I want to come to Clause 18, where we are faced with the problem of the repayment of a debt of something like £115,000,000. We were told the other day that to repay money that you owe is a Liberal principle. I hope it goes much beyond the philosophy of Liberalism. I 1330 know it is sometimes good finance to write off a debt as irrecoverable, and debts are generally written off as irrecoverable when it is found that they cannot be recovered. This attempt to saddle the fund at its recommencement with a burden of debt of this sort is an attempt to treat as an entity the unemployed people of succeeding decades in a way that cannot be done. It means that we are going to impose upon new factories in the future, upon new people some of whom are not yet born but who will come eventually into our insurance scheme, a burden of debt which has been incurred not inside the field of insurance at all but outside it by uncovenanted benefit.
The Bill primarily, as far as Part I is concerned, is one to render solvent the Unemployment Insurance Fund. It contemplates the cessation of borrowing for that purpose, and indeed it has been the policy, I think quite rightly, of the Government to avoid borrowing in order to finance unemployment insurance, but under this Clause power is taken to borrow if the fund is rendered insolvent for the purpose of repaying the debt. It seems to me that the only way that the fund will ever get into debt again in the contemplation of those who have drawn the scheme will be by repaying, or having the liability to repay, more than the fund can carry. It is equivalent to asking the unemployed of the future to pay back the money which the unemployed of the past received. I hoped when the Bill came before the House that we should see in it some indication that the cuts in unemployment benefit would be restored. There is no man or woman who can contemplate with an easy mind the benefits paid in respect of dependent children. No one can say that an allowance of 2s. a week is sufficient to give children the nutriment that they require, and it is common for mothers to make sacrifices of their own health and their own constitution in order that the children may not suffer by the inadequacy of this Measure.
But there is another aspect of it. At the last election great emphasis was laid upon the principle of equality of sacrifice, and a general impression was created that the sacrifices that we were asking, not only of the unemployed but of those who drew their remuneration from the public funds, were temporary sacrifices 1331 rendered necessary by the circumstances of the time and that they would be restored immediately it was possible to restore them. There was also a general feeling that the first of these benefits to be restored would be the benefit to the unemployed people. I confess that I stated over and over again that, in my opinion, the reduction falling upon unemployed people was a temporary reduction. When I look at this Bill I see in it the provision to repay £115,000,000 out of funds subscribed by the working people and their employers and the State, and I contemplate in juxtaposition to that all that happened at the last election about the restoration of those cuts. I feel that if I voted for a Bill in which those two proposals were contained side by side I should be conscious that I had previously misled those poor people. It is because I feel a personal responsibility in this matter—which is shared, I submit, by every hon. Member in this House—that I take the attitude which I do. At all events, I can look the people whom I faced then in the face again and say that I, at least, have done my best.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
Does the hon. Member contemplate the payment of this debt on the insurance fund, and, if so, how is it to be done except as a charge on the fund?
§ Mr. CURRY
I am sure that we need not bandy words on that matter. It is one of personal conviction which we all understand. I regard Clause 37 of the Bill as one of the central portions of our controversy. Let me say at once that I cannot see how a fund of these dimensions—I am now talking about the other fund to be managed by the board—can be properly or efficiently administered, unless you give to the people who are responsible for the fund statutory authority to make inquiries. That means a test—a means test if you care to call it such. It is an integral part of the administration of such a fund. When we 1332 look at the Bill and see repeated the means test as we have known it, it would appear that we have not learnt anything from the experience of the last two years. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Thompson)—I am sorry he is not in his place; I would not have mentioned him if I had noticed his absence—gave unqualified support to the Bill, and then asked how far the responsibility of a family was to be carried. It is not the responsibility of the family which is in the means test as we know it. It is the responsibility of the household. I submit that that experience has proved that the household is not a convenient unit upon which to base inquiries. We in the county of Durham, to whichever party we belong, would say to the Minister that none of us is satisfied that the means test worked on the basis of the household is working equitably, and without serious injustice.
Those of us who believe in a test at all —and hon. Members below the Gangway have long since departed from that very sensible and just attitude—should try to co-operate in order to find a test which would operate with the minimum of friction and of injustice. We have two better units to work upon than the household—either in the family, or in the individual Speaking for myself alone, I should prefer to see the test applied to the means of the individual applicant without reference to his relations or to his household. It is certain that, under the household. test, even family responsibility does not carry through, because a person may leave the household of his father and escape all the responsibility of a family. In that respect, we should try to co-operate in finding a means test which would be equitable.
In making a passing reference to Clause 44 dealing with contributions of local authorities, I am not going to charge any right hon. Gentleman on the bench opposite with a breach of pledges, and least of all the Minster of Health, who is always so meticulous in the words which he uses at that Box. But I think I shall carry most people with me when I say that the legislation proposed in this Bill does not follow the reasonable expectations which were aroused by the statements made in April last. I have always declared that I believed that the whole cost of maintaining able-bodied unemployed people should be borne as a charge 1333 upon the national funds. As long as you adhere to the principle which is laid down in this Bill that it shall be a percentage contribution, no matter how large is the percentage, it will still leave untouched the inequalities of those areas which carry the heaviest burdens, and leave unadjusted the tremendous inequalities and injustices as between one local authority and another. This proposal is bound to come as a great disappointment to those who have endeavoured to establish the argument that, as unemployment springs from a national condition, it should be alleviated from a fund drawn from taxation and not by the rates. As long as that is so, it will be a disappointment and a grievance.
I will say a few words about what I believe to be the fundamental error in the Bill, which is in the appointment of the board itself. It is no good our trying to get round the principle involved here by talking about removing this great problem from politics. We cannot remove a matter which affects directly over a million people, and which may affect great numbers more, in their daily life and in the quantity of their sustenance, out of politics by any means at all. You may remove it from the power of this House to deal with it, and remove from the purview of Parliament the duty of grappling with grievances which spring from it, but you do that at the peril of Parliament. You do not grapple with the situation by simply saying, "We take it out of politics." You can only grapple with it by removing it at its source.
I ask the House in all sincerity to consider whether it is really a wise thing to attempt to hand over the control of matters of this sort affecting over a million people to an unelected and an uncontrollable—for there is no really effective Parliamentary control over the new board—board and give it powers to destroy the responsibility of the Minister to the House, and, thereby, to the electorate at one fell swoop. It is an error of a fundamental nature. Parliament in the very nature of things is a safety valve through which you relieve popular indignation. Close down that safety valve, and create for the first time the position of a Member of Parliament meeting his electorate who have grievances relating to the management of the fund and to the control of policies which affect their home life and saying, "This has nothing 1334 to do with us in Parliament; we have no power to intervene." You tend to force every person so affected to inquire, "What is the use of Parliament?" You strike a blow at popular democratic Government. You do something infinitely more; you jeopardise the continuation of civil peace in this country, which only a year ago we were priding ourselves had lasted for over 100 years.
I do riot blame the Government for taking the responsibility of making such a suggestion. It is a tendency of our time. In 1929, in the Local Government Act, we abolished the boards of guardians, which was an attempt to take out of the hands of the people matters which related very directly to their affairs. We have had a less important experiment in the same way in regard to tariff boards. But this is a matter which affects so many people in so many areas, and I think that we are going too far in the direction of abrogating the powers of the House of Commons in favour of the bureaucracy. It is high time that we called a halt in the best interests of our country and of the masses of the people, and, most of all, in the interest of the system of government of which we pride ourselves to be the pioneers in the world, and called at once for a halt in this retreat from democracy.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mrs. TATE
I fully agreed with the Minister when he told us that he considered this Measure to be a very great Measure of social progress, if only because under the Bill, for the first time we take upon ourselves such an increased measure of responsibility for those young people who are now leaving school; young people, in the majority of cases, who are educated by the State but who, until this Measure passes into law, have been at the mercy, at a very impressionable age, of the chances and mischances of a disordered world, and of a very unstable labour market. In his speech when introducing the Bill on Thursday last the Minister said:The Bill makes provision enabling me to require employers to notify the discharge of juvenile labour. Unless we have that information, it is impossible for us to carry out the duties imposed upon us by the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1933; col. 1086, Vol. 283.]1335 But in the Bill on page 14, Clause 16, I read:The Minister may make regulations requiring employers to notify to the Minister.I doubt whether there is at this time one person in every thousand living in London who would care to embark on a list of the powers which, in certain circumstances, Ministers of the Crown or local authorities "may" use. Many of those powers might be described in the words of Swinburne as being:Out of the world's way, out of the light,Forgotten of all men, altogether.The Minister himself told us that the information with regard to the question of juvenile labour was incomplete. This subject is one of such importance that we cannot afford to allow the information upon it to be incomplete. Therefore, I propose to move an Amendment, after the Second Reading of the Bill, to amend Clause 16 in order that it shall read: "The Minister shall make regulations."
I should now like to touch on the courses of instruction for juveniles to be provided by the local authorities where the need arises. That can only mean where there is much juvenile unemployment, and that, of course, must mean in the depressed areas. That scheme is certainly going to cost a very considerable amount of money. In many parts of the country—and we have to face the position —there will for the next few years be a large number of juveniles leaving school for whom there will not be much chance of employment. These juveniles are to go—and we are thankful for it—to training centres and have the advantage of training. Therefore, one cannot too greatly stress the importance of the training which they are to have in those centres. If they are to have, as many of them will have, practically continuous training from the ages of 14 to 18, we should be able to turn out from those centres, if they are run properly, and kept in close contact with the needs of the labour market, a fairly skilled boy or girl at the and of the four years.
It would be best for us to face the situation courageously and honestly, and to arrange that a certain number of these training centres should have a curriculum which would last for four years, and thereby be able to turn out skilled people at the end of that period because, 1336 terrible as are the unemployment figures, it is nevertheless true to-day to say that in certain industries there is still a lack of really skilled labour. In many industries there is even a lack of semiskilled labour, although the labour market is flooded with the unemployed. I believe it would be better to send a smaller number of people to undertake a really full course of training, and to turn them out as trained men, capable of earning good wages, than to send a larger number there and again flood the market with people who are not fully trained. I believe that if we spend the money, which we are going to spend, in that way, we shall not thereby have impoverished our country but, on the contrary, we shall have enriched it.
I wish also to speak of training centres for older people. This is a matter which particularly interests me because I have in my constituency the Government training centre of Park Royal. I have visited that training centre on more than one occasion. We have men there drawn almost entirely from the distressed areas of Wales, with a few from the northern parts of England. They are trained in motor engineering, hairdressing, and acetylene welding. There is another branch of very recent development, which has only been in operation for the last year, and it is a matter of interest that that branch has been far the most successful. It is devoted to the training of young men from distressed areas as waiters. The men who go to be trained as waiters only do a 15 weeks' course, and they are then placed in positions in London as "commis" waiters, that is, apprentice waiters. It is interesting to know that of all the men who have completed the training at Park Royal as waiters in the past year, and they number over 130, not one who has completed his course has failed to find a position.
I was told that the men had found positions at, among other places, the Dorchester, the Savoy, and the Carlton Hotels. I like to have my information first-hand, and therefore I wrote to those hotels to ask for confidential reports as to their opinions on the men they had taken on from the Park Royal Training Centre, and in all eases they told me that I could make the information public. Thirty of the men went to the Savoy Hotel, and the management have 1337 been delighted with them and said that they were most anxious to take British men to be trained as waiters. I think there is no hon. Member of this House who will not admit that the catering trade in London, especially as regards male waiters, has been in the past and is even now far too much in the hands of foreigners. The Carlton Hotel informed me that sometimes boys who, until they had been to the training centre, had never done work since leaving school, had at first found it a little hard to settle down to regulated discipline, but after a few months in the hotel they proved entirely satisfactory.
But you cannot consider a training centre wholly satisfactory unless you look at it from many different points of view. First, you must have the men anxious to enter the training centre, and appreciative of the training which they get there. Secondly, you must have the conditions around the training centre satisfactory and, thirdly, you must have the training in the training centre satisfactory. I think I have proved that the training centre at Park Royal is satisfactory, and now I come to the conditions surrounding the training centre, and they are not so satisfactory. In my constituency, the housing conditions are appalling. The rents are very high and the congestion is very great. There is little space left upon which to build houses, even if people could afford to build working-class dwellings, where land ranges in cost from between £1,000 to over £2,000 an acre. There is in any case a constant drift of unemployed to London, and now in addition the Government bring to the outskirts of London these men from distressed areas, to the training centre, making an already congested area more congested.
I want to ask the Minister to consider the point of view of the local people in this connection. Although my area cannot claim to be a distressed area, nevertheless we have a terrible unemployment problem. I would ask the Minister seriously to consider the point of view of the local unemployed man who has seen works built up in his vicinity where he had a right to hope that he in his turn might obtain work. That man goes to the Employment Exchange week after week, month after month, and over and over again he is refused a job, while over 1338 and over again he sees a man from a distressed area being given a job over his head, because that man has been given a chance of training in the local training centre which the local man, in spite of constant application, has been denied.
If the Minister is going to increase the number of these training centres, which he must obviously do under the Bill, I would ask him that he should ensure, for the contentment of the people who surround the training centre, wherever a training centre is set up, at any rate in a congested area, at least 50 per cent. of the local people to have an opportunity of entering the training centre if they apply to do so. I feel convinced that those who run the training centre in my constituency would support this view, because they must agree that where the men who enter are anxious and keen really to do so, and where there is competition about becoming a trainee then the training centre will be of greater value and those men will do best. The Bill is so wide in its scope, and so many hon. Members wish to speak on it, that it does not permit of one going into greater detail, much as one would like to do, but I do beg the Minister to give the matter of the training centres his very serious consideration.
§ 5.11 p.m.
Mr. GURNEY BRAITHWAITE
The hon. Lady who has just spoken has dealt with the question of training centres with her usual lucidity, and has touched upon a, question which is of great interest to all of us. I desire to deal with a matter affecting the city of Sheffield, which I have the honour to represent, arising out of the Debate on Thursday last and from the speech of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). I gave the right hon. Gentleman notice that I intended to raise the matter, and may I now express my regret in seeing him arrive as a casualty. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's injury is not serious, and that he will soon recover from it. It was not, however, that injury of which I wish to speak so much as the injury he has done to my constituency by his speech of last Thursday. When he was addressing the House he used these words:In a city like Sheffield, according to the latest returns, as they will be affected by the Bill they will still be left with an out-relief burden, primarily for the unem- 1339 ployed and their dependants, of 3s. 10d. in the £, and certainly over 3s. of that will be devoted to dealing with able-bodied unemployed who do not come under Part II.At that point I rose and asked the right hon. Gentleman if he would give us his authority for the statement. The right hon. Gentleman passed on to the next point of his speech, and I again rose and put the same question, until I was told by you, Sir, quite correctly, that I was out of order because the right hon. Gentleman had not given way. He did, however, proceed to say this:It is an official document emanating from the City Treasurer's Office."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1933; col. 1,109, Vol. 283.]My intervention and my astonishment were due to the fact that no document on the subject of this Bill had reached me from the City Treasurer of Sheffield or anyone else in authority in the City of Sheffield. I immediately put inquiries in train by telegram and by post and also also during the week-end when I was in Sheffield. I pursued my investigations and the situation would appear to be this, indeed the situation is this, that when the first Bill, containing 56 Clauses, was printed, and before the present Bill appeared, certain calculations were made in the City Treasurer's office as to the effect upon the rates of the proposals contained in the first Bill. A few copies of that statement, which were marked "private and confidential," were circulated to certain members of the council, 'who were coming to London to attend a meeting last Wednesday of the Association of Municipal Corporations. The Chairman of the Public Assistance Committee was asked by the right hon. Member for Wakefield what would be the effect of the Bill upon Sheffield and I am informed that he handed to the right hon. Gentleman one of the copies of the statement referred to. A copy of the same document reached me on Saturday morning, also marked "Private and Confidential."
The Chairman of the Public Assistance Committee assures me that had he known that the document was going to be used in this House for the purposes of debate he would not have parted with it, particularly in view of the fact that the figures are already out of date and inaccurate owing to the addition of the 1340 new Clause to the Bill. I take this the first opportunity of correcting an inaccurate account of the effect of the Bill upon the City of Sheffield. That is all I wish to say, but in conclusion may I reiterate these facts. In the first place, the document was marked "Private and Confidential," and as it was confidential I submit it should never have been disclosed in this House at that time. In the second place, the calculations were based on the Bill not in its present form but in its original form, and I am assured that the right hon. Gentleman had no authority to speak on behalf of the Sheffield City Council. May I suggest with the greatest respect that until such time as Wakefield obtains powers from this House to include Sheffield within the boundaries of Wakefield matters affecting Sheffield are best dealt with by representatives of that City.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
It is a well-known Rule of this House that a Member who has spoken once in a Debate cannot address the House a second time in the same Debate, but there is an exception to that Rule, and that is when a matter is raised in the Debate affecting the conduct or observations made by an hon. Member in an earlier speech. But the second speech of the hon. Member must be strictly confined to that subject.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
By the leave of the House I should like to reply to the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Braithwaite). I am sorry to have to appear in a somewhat damaged condition. I did not speak last week with the authority of the city of Sheffield, and I do not understand the hon. Member's gibe about Sheffield being included in Wakefield. I spoke from information which came to my hand, and it is a new Rule to me that no Member of this House should refer to any constituency but his own. Nor do I know any Ride which requires a local authority, necessarily, to communicate documents to those who happen for the time being to be Members of Parliament for that particular area. If the hon. Member for Hillsborough did not see the document until Saturday that is not my fault. I understand that the 1341 hon. Member now complains that the document was one which was published before certain changes had been made in the Bill. I shall not argue that matter now; and I do not understand that the hon. Member accuses me of inaccuracy in the statement I made. The whole point, as I understand it, is the propriety of my mentioning figures relating to Sheffield which were regarded as private and confidential. If I have committed any impropriety my apologies are due to the city of Sheffield, and I am prepared to tender them now.
The document I received, it is true, was marked "Private" and "Confidential," but I understood that at least one of the Members for Sheffield had received it the day before. Many documents come to this House—and this is perhaps where I failed — marked "Private and Confidential" of general publication up to the point. I was under the impression, and I apologise to the city authorities in Sheffield if I was wrong, that the document had then ceased to be private and confidential and that it was common knowledge, because it is clear that documents of this kind must become common knowledge sooner or later. If I have in any way acted improperly in regard to Sheffield, let me say that I tender my humble apologies. I understand that no apology is required to this House; one apology is sufficient for any normal person to make, but if I have disclosed any facts which were not intended to be disclosed at that time for public information, let me say that I am very sorry.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
The right hon. Gentleman in introducing this Bill explained its provisions in a way which I think afforded great satisfaction to every hon. Member. He is always courteous and kind. He said that above everyone else he realised the responsibility that. lay upon him. We also recognise his kindness of heart. He always put me in mind of Byron's pirate, the kindest hearted man that ever cut a throat or scuttled a ship. Our objections to the Bill are fundamental. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters are going down into the country to explain its provisions and tell the unemployed and employed of the benefits which the 1342 Bill confers upon the unemployed man. I do not envy them their job. It might be easy to show the tremendous benefits of the Bill on paper, but I suggest that when it comes into full operation, when the unemployed are actually under its administration, in spite of all the nice things they will hear from the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters in excellent speeches in various town halls, the unemployed will then know that the Bill, instead of bringing relief and comfort into the homes of the unemployed, will make their condition considerably worse.
Hon. Members opposite have expressed the satisfaction that the Bill takes the unemployed man out of the Poor Law. It does nothing of the sort. It continues the system of Poor Law administration under another name. Technically they may be out of the Poor Law but really it is nothing but a reproduction of that system. The applicant for unemployment assistance outside the insurance scheme will be treated in exactly the same way as the able bodied applicant. for Poor Law relief, and not being an expert he will be unable to tell the difference. A committee will assess his needs, but he will not be able to distinguish between the new kind of official and the old. It will be interesting to see how many new officials will be required to work Part II of this scheme, how much duplication of officials will take place, and how much of what is saved out of the pockets of the unemployed will be spent in the extra number of officials who will be required.
There must be some uneasy consciences in this House. We heard one this afternoon. At the last General Election the hon. Member, like many more Members of this House, in explaining away the cuts in unemployment benefit said that it was only a temporary measure. They asked the people in the spirit of self-sacrifice to submit to a cut of 2s. 9d. as a temporary measure, and said that they would be able to restore it to them in due course. It will be extremely difficult for the Government and hon. Members opposite to look their constituents in the face and say, "We have brought in a new Unemployment Insurance Bill and treated this matter in a big way. We have brought in a permanent Bill which will settle this matter once and for all, or at least until possibly a wicked Socialist Government comes in." The unemployed 1343 man to that will say, "I understood that my 2s. 9d. was to be restored." The Government will have some considerable difficulty in explaining this position and why they have not been able to restore the cut of 2s. 9d.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
No, 2s. 9d. These men will feel that in some way they have been deceived. Only the other week a Measure was passed in this House on the understanding that it was to be temporary, the two-shift system for young persons. As time goes on it is to be made permanent. In the same way this cut of 2s. 9d. is being made permanent. The Bill definitely establishes a means test as a permanent feature of our legislation. I know that there is a difference of opinion as to the means test, but I should have thought that every Member of this House, irrespective of party, would have come to the conclusion that the working of the means test has undoubtedly led to a great deal of dissatisfaction, discontent and injustice. Even Conservative Members must be aware of this, but the hill makes not the slightest alteration. If anything, it makes the position tighter, and whatever opinions one may have as to a modification or abolition of the means test some modification at any rate is desired by hon. Members on this side and, I should have thought, by hon. Members opposite, who will have to face their constituents in due course.
I have heard hon. Members opposite say that people have to be subjected to a means test so far as Income Tax is concerned. If the unemployed man was subjected to the same kind of test as we are for Income Tax purposes, we should not have had one-half of the trouble and discontent. The Income Tax return is a personal income return. The difference, of course, is that under the means test you compel a sister to keep a brother, compel the children to keep a father, compel a father to keep the children; you break up family homes; you cause dissatisfaction and strife inside the homes of the people. It is all very well for the Minister to say, "After all members of the family should support one another." I reply that working people have always had big hearts so far 1344 as their own families are concerned. They have always put their hands in their pockets, even when they had very little indeed, for brother or sister or mother or father. There must be within the recollection of many hon. Members cases of working people who had very little indeed but had always been willing to recognise their obligations to their families. But this is a different matter. This proposal makes odious a thing which in many instances has been a gesture of generosity and love. It makes the iron enter the soul of the men or women who receive the money. They feel that in some measure they are not wanted in the house. Brotherly love and sisterly love disappear. On this matter something else might have been done. The system has been condemned not only by Members on this side, but by men and women of good will up and down the country.
I am afraid that this Bill, not only for what it contains, hut because of the spirit of the administration behind it, will make matters worse. It is all very well to take out of the hands of local people the duty of making local inquiries into unemployment, and to take out of their hands also the local administration, but I fear very much that if this scheme is to be administered by paid officials who get thousands of pounds a year in salaries, it may be administered in a very narrow way indeed, and probably in a way which would not appeal to the Minister of Labour. One knows that in administering this kind of thing from a central office, with no knowledge of local circumstances or the peculiarities of an individual man or woman, however much injustice may have been done up to now, still more injustice will be done in future under this Bill. It is this question of administration that makes me more against the Bill even than do the things that are in the Bill.
Take the penal Clauses of the Bill. I know it is necessary to have penal Clauses to deal with a very small minority of unemployed people with whom it is extremely difficult to deal. I speak as a former member of a board of guardians who quite understands the difficulties; but I am very much afraid that if this matter is dealt with by people who do not understand the individual and the local circumstances, these penal Clauses may be used in a very harsh way and may 1345 result in very grave injustices, which in turn may react on public conduct and public life. When right hon. and hon. Gentlemen go down to the country to explain the Bill one of the big points they will make will be, "You see that we are increasing the number of weeks of benefit. Some of the wicked Socialist people, like the 'hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield), were very much afraid that we would reduce the number of weeks of statutory benefit, but instead of that see what fine fellows we are." That may be so, but it will apply only to a comparatively small number in the first place. I fear that under the alteration of the statutory conditions, under the Clause which in effect brings back the old "not genuinely seeking work" provision, the effect may be to exclude from benefit a great number of people. By that means it may be possible to pay the 52 weeks statutory benefit. My point that it is no use right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite talking about what they think is to happen under the Bill. That can only be proved by the operation of the Bill. I am satisfied that the condition of the unemployed people will be considerably worsened.
I want to say something about the provision of works schemes. I have had a little experience of this just recently. I asked the Minister of Labour something about the Bilston scheme. He said that this was work not being done as a commercial enterprise or for an immediate return. Let me give the history of this scheme to show what I fear may happen under these training proposals. I have here minutes of the Bilston Town Council. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will be interested in these facts. On 10th April the town council bad a circular from the Ministry of Health stating that the Government wished the council to do something in slum clearance. It was consequently agreed on that date that the council would build 100 houses on land in a certain area, and the Estates Committee was asked to surrender the land. On the same day the Estates Committee surrendered the land. On 11th May the council had a report from their architect showing the position of the scheme, the site and the roads. This the council adopted. It was proposed that the scheme should be proceeded with. On 20th July the surveyor made a report. 1346 He told the council that preliminary work on the ground for this slum clearance had been proceeded with. This preliminary work had been done under a so-called voluntary training system by unemployed men, drawn not from Bilston but from surrounding towns. The surveyor said that the preliminary work had been commenced, including the shaping of an approach road, the erection of a main hut, and arrangements had been made for water supply and a temporary weather shelter.
Surely in a slum clearance scheme it can never be intended that the labour of men on transitional benefit should be employed. Surely this was work which should have been done in the ordinary way. A great part of this scheme had been developed before, when the preliminary work of clearing the land had been done by men employed at trade union rates with trade union conditions. This council took advantage of the so-called instructional centres to get this ground prepared for this slum clearance and the building of another 100 houses. hope that under Clause 36 that kind of thing is not to be repeated all over the country. Surely the Minister will agree that there must be something wrong in an instructional scheme of that kind.
There is another point. In all these training schemes, these instructional centres, for adult labour at any rate, I find plenty of provision for men with the pick and shovel. Is there some class distinction in these centres? Does the scheme apply only to pick and shovel men? What provision is to be made for the black-coated worker who has been out of employment for two or three years? Is it only the unskilled or the semi-skilled man who is to be found work at these centres? In spite of the good intentions of the Minister, in spite of the hopes that are founded on this Bill, I am afraid that in practice the condition of the unemployed will be made worse. It seems to me that up to now they have been chastised with whips, but that under this Bill they will be chastised with scorpions. I am satisfied that the purpose underlying the Bill, not necessarily the purpose of the Minister but the purpose of those responsible for drafting the Bill, is in some way to save money at the expense of unemployed men and women.
1347 Hon. Members know as well as I do the misery and poverty of the unemployed. They are sympathetic with the unemployed. Sympathy does not lie only on this side of the House; it is in the hearts of men who represent constituencies all over the country. I appeal to the Minister, irrespective of party politics. I say to him, "Do not do anything wilfully or wantonly to make the lot of the unemployed man or woman worse than it is now. Very carefully consider the Bill." I ask hon. Members opposite individually to use their judgment and conscience, and to see whether they are satisfied that the lot of the unemployed will be made better by the Bill. If they come to the conclusion that it will not, which is the conclusion that I have reached, surely there is enough manhood in men for them to stand up in this House, and in spite of the fact that they may be supporters of the Government, to declare that they find themselves unable to accept the Bill.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I sincerely hope that all Members of the House will follow the advice which has just been given by the hon. Member opposite and will consider this Bill carefully. I am certain that, if they do so, the majority of them will, unlike the hon. Member, come to the conclusion that the inevitable result of the provisions of the Bill must be greatly to improve the lot of the unemployed. The hon. Member himself had to say that it was not so much what was in the Bill that he was afraid of as the way in which the Bill might be administered; but, in face of all the evidence which appears in the Bill itself, he was quite determined to be of the opinion and to remain of the opinion that the unemployed are going to be seriously injured by its provisions. I do not propose this afternoon to repeat any part of the complete and admirable exposition of the provisions of the Bill given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour last week. He has received many deserved compliments, not only upon his clear explanation of its provisions, but also upon the good intentions with which he is universally credited even by those who do not believe that his intentions will be carried out in practice. Now that the Second Reading Debate has proceded a certain distance and a number of com- 1348 ments and criticisms have been offered, I think it would be convenient if I were to make some observations upon those criticisms and, in particular, devote myself to the financial provisions of the Bill on which, it appears to me, a great amount of misapprehension exists.
Of the three parts into which the Bill is divided, the third part deals only with transitory provisions, and I do not think it necessary to say anything now upon that aspect of the Bill. With regard to the other two parts, I would like to deal with them separately, because they relate to entirely different subjects, and already I seem to have discerned a certain confusion, sometimes of speech and sometimes also of mind, as between Parts I and II of the Bill. I would, therefore, remind the House that Part I comprises an amended and improved insurance scheme which is not only to be begun upon a self-supporting basis, but is to be maintained in the future in that position, on the advice of an independent Statutory Committee. Part II, on the other hand, deals with those persons who, for whatever reason, are outside the insurance scheme, and it entrusts the administration of the relief which will be given to them to an Unemployment. Assistance Board, upon whom will lie the duty of ascertaining and meeting, so far as is possible, the physical and mental needs of those persons. I say physical and mental needs, because the Bill clearly and specifically states that in, particular it will be the duty of this Board to attend to the mental condition of the unemployed work-people and to put in the very forefront of their duties the necessity for trying to preserve a condition of mind in which those people will always retain the hope that work in time sill come their way, and the determination that when it comes they are going to be ready for it.
I do not think I need take up the time of the House in arguing the case against the view of the party opposite upon Part I of the Bill. As we have been told by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), there is a fundamental difference between us in regard to this question but that is not a difference as regards the attitude which we take towards the unemployed people. I repudiate absolutely the description which he gave of the attitude of the Government 1349 and of their supporters towards the unemployed. This Bill is an illustration of the exact reverse, inasmuch as it means that something over £100,000,000 a year is going to be paid out to those who, as he said, through no fault of their own and owing to circumstances entirely beyond their control, are unable to find work. But there is, I agree, a fundamental difference between us as to the method by which the problem should be approached. The party opposite reject altogether the idea of insurance. Now after some meanderings and wanderings to and fro between different views, they have finally come down and crystallised upon the view that if it cannot be proved against a man that he has refused an offer of suitable work, he is entitled to have handed out to him relief presumably at the same sort of rate as he would have received if he had been at work, and entirely independent of what his private resources may be. That is the view of the party opposite, but I think it will be time enough to discuss that view when proposals to that effect are brought before the House by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. In the meantime, I say that it is not our view, and that in our opinion, not only would it be disastrous to the finances of the country, but entirely contrary to the real interest of those for whom it is intended.
It seems rather illogical on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that having put forward this view and having denounced a system of insurance for the unemployed, he should next complain because we had not extended the system further than it at present extends. He asked why we had not brought in agricultural labourers and domestic servants. If he has read the report of the Royal Commission he will recognise that we have followed the recommendations of the Commission on these two points. Everybody knows that in all probability it would be quite impossible to bring the agricultural industry into the present scheme of unemployment insurance. The conditions in that industry are so different that some special scheme would have to be devised in order to bring in the agricultural labourer and in our Bill we have proposed to remit this question to the statutory advisory committee. If hon. Members will observe the terms in 1350 which this subject is dealt with in the Bill they will see that the provision betokens not merely a fishing inquiry as to whether such a scheme can be found or not, but is a direction to find the best scheme that can be made suitable to the particular conditions of the industry.
As for domestic servants, the Royal Commission considered the subject carefully, and came to the conclusion that it would not be right to recommend that domestic servants should be brought into the scheme. It was pointed out that there was very little evidence of any general desire on the part of the servants themselves to be brought in, while undoubtedly there would be considerable hostility on the part of their employers. It was also pointed out that there were almost as many employers as employés in the case of domestic servants, and that considerable administrative difficulties would certainly accompany any such attempt. If the right hon. Gentleman has still any doubt on this matter, I refer him to paragraphs 364, 365 and 366 of the report of the Royal Commission, where he will find excellent reasons why domestic servants should not be brought into the scheme for unemployment insurance.
There is, however, another criticism of this part of the scheme which I think has rather more substance in it. That is the suggestion made by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) that it would have been a good thing if the income limit which at present prevails in the case of non-manual workers could have been raised. He expressed the view that the £250 which now forms that limit should be raised higher. I think we ought to distinguish in this matter between unemployment insurance and health insurance. The real demand for the raising of the limit applies not so much to the question of unemployment insurance. There, the rate of benefit is too low to be really attractive to this class of worker, and moreover, in all probability, the contributions would be greater than the benefits.
What these people really would like would be a health insurance scheme with an accompanying contributory pensions scheme. There is where the shoe pinches. There is where they would like to be brought in, and those hon. Members who have studied the report of the Royal Com- 1351 mission will recall that the commission recommended that if and when it is found possible to raise the limit in the case of health insurance and pensions, then it might well be raised for unemployment insurance at the same time. But this is not a Bill to amend the Acts governing health insurance, and I warn the House that when you get into the field of health and pensions the financial difficulties at once become formidable. In the case of pensions, the capital liability which would be incurred by bringing in these extra pensions would, at the commencement of the scheme, amount probably to about £28,000,000, and the annual charge upon the Exchequer would probably rise in the course of the next 20 or 25 years to somewhere in the neighbourhood of £3,000,000 a year. Thus the House will see that there are serious difficulties in this matter, and though, for my part, I recognise and sympathise with the desire of these people to come into a scheme which would confer so much benefit upon them, I think the time has not yet arrived when that can be considered to be practical politics.
I would like to say a few words about the finance of the scheme which affects juveniles. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield recognised that this was one of the strong points of the Bill.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
No, the right hon. Gentleman did not say so, but he indicated his view by his attempt to belittle the scheme, and to suggest that the juveniles were being brought into insurance in order to assist in restoring the solvency of the scheme.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman will be sorry he said that in a moment. The only result of his reaffirmation of that statement is to show that he has not studied the figures which were given in the Actuary's Report published with the first copies of the Bill. For the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman and also to remind other hon. Members who no doubt already have the figures in their minds, let me point out what the actual position is in regard to the finance of the new provisions for juveniles. I need hardly say that the 1352 real object of this provision is not financial at all; it is to get some control over these children in order that we may be sure that they take advantage of the courses of instruction which we are going to provide.
How does this affect the fund? As a consequence of the scheme, the fund will bear half the net extra cost of instruction centres, which is estimated at £425,000 a year. Then we have to debit the fund with the benefits which will accrue to the juveniles owing to their coming into benefit at 16 instead of 16½, and that will cost an extra £230,000. Then there is again a debit to the fund because of the dependants' allowance that will be paid to the unemployed parent of the unemployed child, and that means another £75,000. Finally, there is the cost of the administration of the scheme, which is estimated by the actuary to be £95,000. Altogether, therefore, the extra annual expense which will be placed upon the fund by reason of this provision comes to £825,000. The extra income which is derived from the 2d. a week to be paid by each of the three contributors amounts to £760,000, and therefore the fund will on the whole be worse off, not better off, every year by an amount of £65,000. May I add, since many attacks are being made on the Exchequer, which is represented to be a sort of financial bloodsucker in all these matters of insurance, that the Exchequer too is going to be considerably worse off by reason of this scheme for juveniles, for the Exchequer bears the other half of the net cost of the instruction centres, £425,000, and also bears in contributions a sum which is estimated at £253,000 a year, so that it will cost the Exchequer altogether £678,000 a year in addition to what it is already paying.
Now I would like to come to the question of the debt on the fund, which has been the subject of criticisms from a number of those who have addressed the House. This is one of those matters which is surrounded by misapprehensions, and the number of inaccuracies which have been expressed about the figures of the fund is so large that I do not think I shall be able to remember every single case, but I hope to correct a fair proportion of them. First of all, the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) said that this debt had been accumulated, I think, to the extent 1353 of about half by the Conservative party during their period of office. I do not wish at this particular moment to be making accusations against one Government or another. I think all Governments lo some extent are to blame for what has happened, but, as a matter of actual fact, the Government which was most to blame was the one before the National Government came into office, because, according to the Royal Commission, no less than £76,000,000 of the debt was accumulated in the years 1930–31 and 1931–32.
The next point which I want to correct is the suggestion that this debt of £115,000,000 contains a large element of unpaid interest. Let me assure the House that there is not a single penny of unpaid interest in this total amount of £115,000,000. It has been suggested that a great part of this debt was borrowed at very low rates of interest. I think the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale suggested that a good deal had been borrowed at something below 1 per cent., and he wanted to know why we were going to charge as much as 3½ per cent. in funding the debt. I can tell him that interest rates in 1921–22 were from 5 to 6 per cent., and since then they have varied from 5¼ to 3½ per cent., but 3½per cent: is the lowest rate. Therefore, it will be seen that the rate of interest which has been applied to the instalments which are to be paid in the future is the lowest rate of any at which this money has been borrowed, and it is very much lower than the highest rate.
Mr. A. BEYAN
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that the £76,000,000 which he says was borrowed by the Labour Government was borrowed at approximately 3½ per cent. I
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I think the hon. Member may be sure that whatever Government was in office at the time, the money was borrowed at the lowest rate possible at that time. I do not think there is any criticism to be made on that score. The only criticism that can be made is that the rate I am now suggest- 1354 ing, of 3½ per cent., is too high or too low in present circumstances. The next point that I want to make is that, owing to the fact that we were able to bring about the conversion operation, the rate of interest has been brought to such a figure that to-day the sum required to pay, not only interest but also sinking fund, amounting altogether to £5,500,000, is only the same as 18 months ago was necessary to pay interest alone. Therefore the fund is not bearing an undue burden in respect of this interest.
A number of hon. Members have complained that it was very unfair or even unreasonable that the fund should be saddled with this debt. I should like to examine what their reasons are for that contention. Why is it unreasonable that a fund which has incurred this debt should also be asked to repay it? The first reason which has been given—and I think the last hon. Member who gave it was the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Curry)—was that this debt was incurred for a purpose the cost of which ought never to have been debited to the fund at all, that it was incurred to pay transitional payments or transitional benefits which have now been transferred to the Exchequer, and that if only this transference had taken place a little sooner, the debt would have been so much smaller.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Again I hear the right hon. Gentleman say "Hear, hear," but again he is founding himself upon a misapprehension. If only he had read the Royal Commission's Report before he made a statement of that kind, he would have seen that on page 345 they point out that the Exchequer has now for a number of years taken over complete responsibility for these transitional payments, and that it is just during the time when the Exchequer has taken over that burden that the great increase in the debt has taken place. That is at the bottom of page 345, where they say:The increase of £76,000,000 in the debt in the two years following 1st April, 1930, it attributable wholly to insurance benefit.I want the House particularly to understand that practically the whole of this debt is in respect of insurance benefit proper, not in respect of transitional payment or transitional benefit. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing in the argu- 1355 ment that it was only because the Exchequer was so long taking over this responsibility that the sum became so big.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member, and I accept at once what he says, but I heard his speech, and at the time I was under the impression that he was using the same argument, that he was repeating the argument of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. What is the next point? It was put rhetorically by the right hon. Member for Wakefield, who said that workers yet unborn will have to contribute to a debt made years and years ago. What happens when we put on the National Debt expenditure incurred beforehand? It is only a soapbox way of stating the common practice. If it is wrong to put upon future generations expenses which have been incurred in current times, what is the difference in principle, whether it is workers or anybody else?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
That is another point. The hon. Member has entirely misunderstood the point of his leader's criticism, which was that people yet unborn have to pay towards a debt contracted, not by them, but by people who preceded them in time. I say, What would the right hon. Gentleman propose to do with this debt? When they have decided that the fund is not going to pay the debt, who is going to pay it? They propose to put it on the National Debt. Then workers yet unborn will still have to pay it. I object altogether to the proposal to transfer this debt from the fund to the Exchequer, which is already bearing £70,000,000 out of some £100,000,000 to £110,000,000, which is the total cost of unemployment, because it seems to me to encourage that slovenly sort of idea that if you put a charge on the State, nobody is going to have to pay it. I cannot conceive a worse way of starting a new fund on a self-supporting basis than to suggest that it does not matter what money the fund runs up in the way 1356 of debts, because in the end the State will bear it.
There is the third reason which has been adduced, directly or indirectly, and I shall not attempt at this time to say who it was who brought forward the argument, which has been advanced by several hon. Members, and that is that under the Bill benefits are going to be stereotyped, that it will be impossible in consequence of saddling the fund with this debt to restore benefits to a higher level. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale went further. He said that in the Bill we have already decided to use an estimated surplus of over £8,000,000 in a particular way, and, said he, that is equivalent to saying to the Statutory Committee, "In future if you should have any surplus you must always use it in exactly the same way as we have used it in the Bill." That is a mis-statement, and absolutely contrary to what the Bill says. If hon. Members will look at Clause 17, which deals with the functions of the Statutory Committee, they will see in Sub-section (3) that if the Committee are of opinion that there is going to be either a deficit upon the fund or a surplus upon the fund, they are to make recommendations to the Minister for alterations, and the alterations which they may recommend are contained in a long Schedule which excited the wrath of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). It is the Second Schedule, and it shows all the ways in which the Committee may recommend alterations in the arrangements in order either to fill up a deficiency, or to ensure that the fund is not more than reasonably sufficient to discharge its liabilities.
Among the various things which the Committee may recommend, are alterations in the rates of contributions and alterations in the rates of unemployment benefit. Therefore, it is a misapprehension to suppose that the rates of benefit are stereotyped. If there is a surplus—and I am not saying at the moment that there is likely to be a surplus, but I ask hon. Members to remember that the Bill is constructed on the assumption that the average rate of unemployment is 2,500,000—if there is a surplus, nothing can prevent the Committee making a recommendation, not after a year as somebody said, but at such times as they think fit, to increase the rate of benefits or to give equivalent value in another way.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member can form his own opinion whether there is likely to be a deficiency or a surplus on the fund in present circumstances.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
The right hon. Gentleman, I know, does not want to make a misrepresentation. I will stand by what the OFFICIAL REPORT says to-morrow. I said that the manner in which the Government had decided to use the existing surplus indicated to the Advisory Committee the manner in which future surpluses could similarly be used.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
And the conclusion the hon. Member drew from that was that the Statutory Committee would never be able to make any recommendations other than—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
That completely destroys the hon. Member's argument. I come to another misapprehension of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield. That has reference to the extended weeks of benefit. The right hon. Gentleman said:What it means is that 167,000 people out of an enormous army of people will get something additional to the 26 weeks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1933; col. 1105, Vol. 283.]That was not what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour said. He said that 690,000 men and 100,000 women would benefit in a year by this proposal, making an average of 167,000 extra persons in receipt of benefit on any particular day in the year. I would add that the effect of this proposal will be that with an unemployment level of 2,500,000, it will add 21 per cent. to the males and 8 per cent. to the females who are drawing benefit at one time. I may mention again with regard to the finances, that while that will cost the fund £8,350,000, the relief which is actually accorded to the Exchequer is not so large, and probably will not exceed £6,250,000, as hon. Members will find in paragraph 15 of the Financial Memorandum attached to the Bill.
May I say a word about the future finance of the Unemployment Insurance Scheme? Under Section 5 of the Unem- 1358 ployment Insurance Act, 1921, power was given for the fund to borrow from the Exchequer up to a total of £115,000,000. That is now repealed. Under Article 8 (4) of the Order of 1931, power was given to make grants to the fund in order to make up deficiencies. That is also repealed by the Bill. The fund, however, is not left entirely without the possibility of Exchequer assistance. We expect that there may come from time to time occasions when there is a financial stringency. Both the income and the expenditure of the fund are, to some extent, seasonal in their operations. Moreover, there may come times of exceptional stress when a great strain is put on the fund which it is not intended in ordinary times to bear; and if the level of unemployment were to rise permanently again to a higher figure, that would have a more serious and important effect on the fund. It may, therefore, be that in future the fund may be required to borrow further from the Exchequer, and that is provided for in Clause 18 of the Bill. Hon. Members will see that advances to be made in future are to be short-term advances, and that if they cannot be repaid within the financial year in which they are contracted, they will all be brought together in a bulk and laid before Parliament, in order to show Parliament what amount of assistance is required in that year. Sums which are advanced by such Votes as that are to be made repayable in the two financial years, which we think is a reasonable period to take.
I should like to comment upon the criticisms, which particularly appeared in the Amendment from the Liberal benches, that there is no adequate Parliamentary control over the operations to be carried on by the Unemployment Assistance Board. I do not really know what hon. Members who sit on those benches would regard as adequate Parliamentary control. I can hardly think that they would desire or expect the Minister to be personally responsible for every individual decision of the board, but it seems to me that the Parliamentary control which is provided for in the Bill is really of a very exhaustive and complete character short of that. Let me remind the House-of one or two items. What is the most. important part of the work of this board? It is the determination and assessment of the needs of each applicant, including the 1359 needs of his household, and the taking into account of the resources of the individual and of the members of his household. Before they start upon this most important part of their work, the board have, under Clause 51, to make regulations laying down the general principles that will govern their work. Those regulations have to be submitted to the Minister, who may make draft regulations comprising either those which have been submitted to him or regulations modified according to his own view.
After making the draft regulations, he has to submit them to the House, together with a report, if he differs from the board showing why he differs from them and what the board's original proposals were. Those regulations can only become operative if an affirmative resolution approving of them is passed by this House and also by another place. That seems to me to be a very complete Parliainentary control over the general principles which will govern the most important part of the board's work. Then under Clause 34 it is necessary for the board to produce an annual report upon the whole of its work, which will again be laid before Parliament and may be the subject of debate. Under Clause 46 there is an annual vote of the money required for the purpose of the Unemployment Assistance Fund, and that, of course, again will be the subject of debate in this House in the usual way in which estimates can be debated. Finally, I would point out that under Clause 43, the accounts of the board have to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General and he has to submit the accounts and his report upon them to the House.
Another subject which has been of great interest to hon. Members is that of the contribution of local authorities. I am rather astonished at the charge which is made in the Liberal Amendment and which was repeated by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead when he said that the Government had given a pledge which had not been carried out. I challenge any hon. Member to name or to point to any pledge which has been given in this respect by any Member of the Government which has not been more than carried out by what we have put into this Bill. [An HON. MEMBER "The Minister of Health !"] I do not want to read again the quotation, but what 1360 the Minister of Health said on 12th April has generally only been partly quoted. Hon. Members have taken out a particular part of the quotation which suited the interpretation they wished to put upon it, and have dropped out the qualifying words. If the whole passage be read it will be seen that what the Minister of Health had in mind was that the local authorities should make a contribution towards the cost of which they had been relieved, but there would be a rebate to them which would be devoted to the distressed areas in particular.
The actual sum which we at that time had in mind as being the amount of relief to be given was about £1,500,000. That has been increased under the present proposals to £2,600,000, so that we have done more—by the slight alterations in the method which was found more convenient on further consideration—for the local authorities than we had in our minds to do for them when the statement was made by the Minister of Health. It is said that it is entirely a new principle to ask the local authorities to make a contribution towards work which has to be carried out by the central authority. There is no new principle at all in that. There is a novelty in taking out of the hands of the local authorities the administration of relief to the able-bodied unemployed. The general principles involved are, first, that administration and financial responsibility in this matter ought to go together, and, secondly, that the relief of those who are now a local liability—the able-bodied unemployed who are not in any insurable occupation—should be administered by the same hand as administers transitional benefit, which is a national liability.
Putting these two principles together what we really had to consider was this, Should we administer locally with a contribution from the centre, or administer centrally with a contribution from the locality? That was the simple choice we had to make, and we decided, for reasons which seemed to us good, that it was best to administer centrally, and to ask the locality for this contribution. Hon. Members have said that as the local authorities have no control over the administration therefore they ought not to contribute, but the contribution of the local authorities is not to vary with the cost, 1361 it is to be a fixed contribution, fixed once and for all, or at any rate for a period, and, therefore, if the administration over which they have no control is extravagant, that does not in the least affect the amount of the contribution they will have to make.
There is another misapprehension, and a very serious one indeed, about the local authorities' contribution. It has been said to-day by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that the local authorities are being asked to contribute 60 per cent. of the cost of the relief of the poor. I know the hon. Member thinks it is quite clear in his mind as to what they are really asked to do, but, of course, it is not the poor but the able-bodied poor.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN indicated assent.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member says "yes," that they are asked to contribute 60 per cent. of the cost of the relief of the able-bodied poor.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Well, that is absolutely and entirely wrong. The hon. Member has entirely forgotten a vital point, that the Exchequer already bears the whole cost of transitional payments to the able-bodied unemployed.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The right hon. Gentleman has not given way. Mr. Chamberlain.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I certainly did not think I was misrepresenting the hon. Member, because I put the question to him first. The cost of transitional payments is £51,000,000. The charge to the local authorities for the classes in respect of which they will be relieved under the Bill is estimated at £6,500,000. That is a total of £57,500,000. Under the Bill they are asked to pay a contribution of £3,900,000, but they already get a block grant, which means that they are relieved of about 23 per cent. of their total expenditure, namely, £1,500,000. We are left, therefore, with these figures: that 1362 of the total present cost of relief to the able-bodied unemployed the Exchequer pays £55,100,000 and the local authorities will be asked under the Bill to pay out of rates £2,400,000. That means that the Exchequer does not pay merely 40 per cent. in comparison with the local authorities' 60 per cent.. of the cost of the relief to the able-bodied unemployed, but that the Exchequer pays 95 per cent. and the local authorities only 5 per cent.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
In addition to that it must be remembered that the Exchequer also pays £20,000,000 as a contribution to the Unemployment Insurance scheme, so it will be seen that, really, there is an even greater disparity than that which I have mentioned between the percentage paid by the Exchequer and by the local authorities. In spite of these figures, which, I think, the local authorities have not sufficiently considered, it is suggested that in some way or another the distressed areas have been unfairly treated and have not got what they were led to expect. Under these proposals it is probable that they will get in total—I cannot say definitely, but I should say more than double what they are getting under the special provisional grant. I would like to remind the House, because this is another of the inaccuracies of the right hon. Member for Wakefield, that the block grant under the Act of 1929 was so designed as to give special assistance to those very areas which are known as distressed areas. For example, if we put the block grant in the form of the equivalent of a rate in the pound, then the average grant to the counties, excepting London, under the block grant is equivalent to 4s. 9d. in the pound. Here are the figures for the eight counties which were in receipt of a special grant as distressed areas this year: Monmouth 10s. 4d. in the pound, Norfolk 10s. 9d., Glamorgan 10s. 11d., Durham 11s. ld., Cumberland 11s. 8d., Anglesey 11s. 8d., Pembroke 13s. 9d., and Carmarthen no less than 14s. 10d. When we compare those figures with the average of 4s. 9d., it will be seen how heavily the block grant was weighted to give special assistance to the distressed areas. When the right hon. Member for Wakefield was apologising to-day for an unauthorised 1363 use of certain figures with regard to Sheffield, I noticed he remarked that at any rate his figures were not inaccurate; but they were inaccurate.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Well, I do challenge them. The right hon. Gentleman has no doubt had a copy of the document which, I think, has probably been circulated to many hon. Members, which was prepared for the use of the Association of Municipal Corporations. That document contains a figure of 3s. 10d. for the out-relief left to be paid by the City of Sheffield, the figure quoted by the right hon. Gentleman; but there is a note attached to these figures, which points out that no account is taken of relief given by the block grant. Therefore, when calculating the relief which is left to be made up by a local authority out of its rates, you must first of all take account of the share of the block grant.
I was accused of having come down to the House with a Bill dealing with the contributions of local authorities before I had completed negotiations with them. That is not correct. I had completed negotiations with the local authorities, so far as it is possible to negotiate. I have had a number of meetings with them, and, in consequence of those meetings, I have been able in a number of respects to meet the objections which were put to me by the representatives of the local authorities. For example, the period during which the first determination of the contribution is to last has been reduced from the original period, to two and a-half years, under Clause 44 (2). Under Clause 44 (4) again, the local authorities are protected as to their liability, if the liability for all the charges under Clauses 39 and 40 exceeds 5 per cent. of the total contribution; and, again under Clause 44, it is specially provided that in no case shall the relief to any local authority be less than the amount of the special grant which it may have received during the current year. Finally, I agreed that I would make no adjustment of the block grant, in spite of the fact that if I do not make such an adjustment the local authorities would be relieved of 23 per cent. not only of a contribution they make but of a contribution of which they have been relieved. 1364 The effect of that is to make the rate contribution asked for from the local authorities not 60 per cent. of the cost borne by rates in the standard year, but only 50 per cent.
§ Mr. THORNE
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain whet-her this 60 per cent. to be paid by the local authorities is to be on the average, or in accordance with the number of able bodied men out of work?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
A standard year is taken for each local authority, and the amount of the cost to that local authority in that year of relief to these classes will be ascertained and 60 per cent. of that amount will be the amount which they will be asked to contribute. I apologise to the House for the length of time I have occupied, but I thought that it would be helpful to hon. Members if I intervened in this way, and took the opportunity of correcting the large number of mistakes and misapprehensions which have been expressed about the financial provisions of the Bill.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
Although the right hon. Gentleman claimed that he proposed to explain the provisions of the Bill in an unprejudiced manner, we could not fail to detect throughout the whole of his speech indications of prejudice which were possibly inseparable from the effect he was trying to produce. It has been said that this Insurance Bill effects an improvement in the position. I want to ask in what direction we can find improvement. Is there an improvement in connection with the position of the children? Is it improved by introducing the household means? Is it improved by re-introducing the statutory conditions under which men have to prove unemployment? Is it improved by making the repayment of debt the first call upon the Insurance Fund? Those are one or two points which the Chancellor might think over, and then, I think, he will agree that instead of effecting an improvement the Bill will probably have an opposite effect. He said also that it would affect the physical and mental welfare of the unemployed. I was wondering what he meant by the mental welfare of the unemployed. A different interpretation has been placed upon this Bill by different individuals, including Ministers and Members of Parliament, and there is 1365 quite a difference in the mental outlook of the Members of this House. I was wondering whether there was not some mental aberration which ought to be explained away.
I am sure that the Board will do nothing else than take care of the people, but will that care be sufficient to maintain the physical and mental condition of the people? The Chancellor of the Exchequer went on to say that the Bill was built upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission. We are all aware what that means. When a. Royal Commission, or any other Commission, have the approval of the Government, a Bill is built upon their recommendations, but how many commissions have reported whose recommendations have not been accepted? There have been quite a number of commissions of that character, and it is not much use for the Government to take credit for having based their Bill upon the recommendations of a Royal Commission unless they are prepared to bring the recommendations of each commission before the House for consideration.
The question of the agricultural workers is one which will brook no delay. It ought to be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. There are a large number of unemployed people in that industry, and we are aware of the poverty of the conditions under which they live and labour. The Government should take responsibility for dealing with that matter at once. With respect to the sum of £250, I do not think that that leaves anything like a reasonable margin, and I think that it ought to be doubled. Nobody is sure of continued employment in these days for more than a week or a fortnight, and people receiving, say, £300 or £400 per year, and who have, in many instances, been living to the full extent of their means, have to go, immediately they are thrown out of employment, to the Poor Law, or they have to begin selling their household furniture. That is a situation with which the Minister of Labour, in conjunction with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, ought to deal, and I appeal to the Prime Minister to look at this problem from the point of view of the ordinary man-in-the-street. Fixing the sum at £250 or £500 is no guarantee that a man's employment is in any way secure, and it ought to 1366 be raised to a much higher sum than is now in the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of juveniles being a charge upon the Exchequer, and I think he said that control was necessary, if for nothing else than to carry through the courses of instruction. I am riot taking any exception to the instruction which is to be given to a young individual, because I think that the more instruction the better, provided the individuals are healthy. He said that it was going to cost the Department £825,000, and £75,000 in dependants' allowances. I do not consider that the dependants' allowances which is being paid to the children is sufficient to meet their requirements, now that they are being brought into insurance. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was a large amount of misapprehension among hon. Members as to the provisions of the Bill. I want to reply that there is a great deal of misunderstanding on the part of the Government as to the conditions under which people are living in the slum areas. People have been living in those conditions for years, from hand to mouth, under-nourished, under-clothed and underfed. I am afraid that the Government are not looking as they ought at those people who are entitled to more humane consideration than is given to them in the Bill. If the Bill is to help the country, it must help the people who are the basis of the country.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the National Debt, and with percentages and that kind of thing, and he played game with the question of the children yet unborn having to repay the debt. I wonder if he realises the differences between the Unemployment Insurance Debt and the National Debt. The Unemployment Insurance Debt will have to be paid by the poor people, but the National Debt is a. charge upon every individual in the State. That is a differentiation of which the right hon. Gentleman ought to have taken note. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is quite satisfied with the financial side of the Bill. I do not profess thoroughly to understand it, but I suppose that he will have gone deeply into it, and will understand exactly the meaning of every part of it. It is for him to see that those parts of the Bill which are essential are carried out in the 1367 proper way. I do not think that the debt ought to be repaid. It ought to be for the relief of the people, and it ought not to be the first charge upon the Insurance Fund. In the alteration of benefits, that debt should not stand in the way of the readjustment. We know something about that in the mining industry. A large sum has to be paid before we can secure any increase in wages.
I want now to leave what the Chancellor has said although I do not agree with much of his speech which, I hope, will not have that influence on the House that so many people think it will have. The Bill is divided into two parts. The first class of people dealt with draw insurance benefit as of right, and under statutory conditions. The second class is of those who receive unemployment relief on the grounds of need. I ask the Minister of Labour whether this meets present-day requirements. Is he satisfied that the Bill will improve the condition of the people who depend upon unemployment insurance? I, for one, think that it will not. The Bill is taking responsible legislation out of the hands of local people who really know the needs of those with whom they are dealing. To impose upon a district, to carry out what the Minister thinks, those who are not in touch with the people, and do not know their customs and habits, means that they are a glaring misfit, causing more trouble than they are worth. They become a burden upon everybody, and may become a fear to many people. The Bill appoints a Statutory Committee with very wide powers, and they can only know the requirements of areas from reports. That is a thing which ought to be further considered. The Statutory Committee, when it is formed, will only have the reports of areas, and will not be in touch with the districts or know the requirements of each area.
Then there is the lowering of the age from 16 to 14 years for insurance. This is welcomed by many people, and I am one of them, although this has a very limited application and does not go anything like so far as it should. At 14 years of age, a boy begins to work, and immediately becomes an insured person. Sixpence per week is paid for him. Eventually, perhaps, he falls out of employment, say, after he has been in insur- 1368 ance for one year, or 18 months. His father may also be unemployed, which will mean that the whole amount that that child can get in be refit is 2s. per week. After a boy or a girl has been insured for 12 months, the amount of benefit ought to be more than 2s. per week. I suggest that this question be reconsidered, and the amount doubled. Where the father and the children are unemployed, poverty is rampant. I suggest that, if children have been insured for 52 weeks, they should have higher grants from 15 years of age than the ordinary dependant's allowance.
Then there is the question of bringing many other workers into insurance. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was under a very great misapprehension when he spoke of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) making a certain statement. My mind runs back to the statement which my right hon. Friend made, and I think that hi argument was that, if unemployment insurance is to be continued, everybody should come into it, and the Government should not keep large classes out. Those are, the words which, I think, my right hon. Friend used on the opening day of this Debate. There are a large number of small traders, apart from the black-coated workers, who are earning £250 a year, or slightly over. They are working, in their own businesses, not a regulated number of hours, but probably all the hours that they possibly can, but they are precluded from becoming insured persons. That preclusion is a very great hardship. I have been dealing with cases in which applicants have been having trouble because they are not insured persons, and they are earning even higher salaries than £ a year. This is not only a question of clerks, but, at the other end of the scale, of agricultural labourers, of whom there are a great number throughout the land who would like to come into insurance, if it were more comprehensive. It is a practical Measure to extend the application of unemployment insurance.
It has been said that this is not an insurance scheme. Hon. Members may call it what they like, but it ought to embrace all the workers of this country. The more comprehensive the scheme is, the 1369 better it is for the organisation and the better for the people. It would give more assurance to the people and more satisfaction to the Government. People who are receiving high salaries are wondering when they may get their discharge. They know when their business is sinking, and when circumstances inside their business are causing things to go the wrong way. They know when the staff are to be reduced, and the large number of such people are suffering torture because they know that, when that time comes, they dill not have assistance from unemployment insurance. I appeal to the Government not to allow these matters to slide as they have been sliding all these years. A bold step has to be taken some day, and I appeal to the Minister of Labour to persuade the Government to take that bold step now, and to give greater satisfaction to a greater number of people. The obligation on the Government may be heavier for some time, but surely things will right themselves. Of course, we expect that the amount of the finances in connection with this Measure will also rectify itself.
The next matter about which I wish to speak is the alteration in the statutory provisions. Our Amendment refers to "all the victims of unemployment." No one knows how soon his job will go. Provision ought to be made now, while the Bill is before the House, by the Government. I do not think that this provision ought to be left to the Statutory Committee, but the Government should take full charge of it in order to make it workable. The local education authorities are to be required to submit to the Minister proposals for providing courses of instruction for workless young people. I noticed in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman a few minutes ago that he never mentioned whether the local authorities are to be paid the expenses incurred in preparing schemes to submit to the Government. Perhaps the Minister would make it clear to the House. He is aware, as we all are aware, that local authorities which have to prepare schemes must be put to a certain amount of expense in their preparation and they ought to be reimbursed what they spend. If it is not indicated that the Insurance Fund or some other fund in connection with this Bill will pay the cost incurred by local authorities, it 1370 only means that a further burden will be placed upon the ratepayers, who are sufficiently burdened all through the country, particularly in the depressed and industrial areas.
In Clause 3 (2, a) there is a provision concerning the extra benefits which are given to people after a full five years' contribution. I want to know why the period of five years has been selected. In the mining industry I do not think that one in a thousand persons would qualify. During the period of short-time work that they have had, they have been drawing benefit although they have never been unemployed. I want to suggest to the Minister that he ought to shorten the period of five years to three and after three years give them an extra 15 weeks' benefit and after four years, if they are qualified, an extra 20 weeks' benefit, and carry them on to the five-year period when they will get the further extension. Surely a large number of people are in this position. Short time has been rife; everybody has been left on short time and has been drawing more or less benefit. Even if workers have been drawing only one or two weeks' partial benefit they are excluded from the opportunity of qualifying for the five years' extension.
The third statutory condition is to be altered to read:(iii) that he proves that he is capable of, and available for, work but unable to obtain suitable employment.I should like to ask whether there are any hon. Members of this House representing industrial constituencies who have had enough of this kind of thing; whether they do not know the hardships of the people who are seeking employment; whether they have not been troubled by a large number of people in their constituencies with stories of wrong decisions. I believe this proposal to be both reactionary and unnecessary, placing, as it does, the onus of proof on a man that he has been seeking employment. Take my own industry, the mining industry: a man goes out to a colliery and asks for work; the employer says he has no work for him, and the man asks the employer—I know that this has been done—"Will you give me a signed paper to say that I have asked for employment, and you have refused?" The employer replies: "Not at all: I have no time to write out papers or to give 1371 signatures of any kind." The result is that the man goes to the Court of Referees to plead his case, but, as he has no authority to show that he has been to a place seeking employment and has been refused, he does not prove it. I am quite sure that we ought to place a Title more faith in the applicant. We are not placing any faith in him at all. Many chairmen on these Courts of Referees are rather peculiar people. I do not say that they are awkward for the sake of being awkward, but they have very different views on certain circumstances. I wish to appeal to the Minister not to make this alteration, because I am sure that if he does it will probably increase the number of workers who are denied benefit. Judging from past experience, it is almost sure to do so. I want the Minister to consider whether he will impose a condition upon the workers which has been tried, with which there has been nothing but trouble and dissatisfaction, which has proved unsatisfactory in every way and which, if it is imposed again, will be merely another unsuccessful attempt of the same kind.
On the question of the repayment of debt, if the Bill is to be given a fair chance, it ought to start with a clean sheet. I do not understand why the Bill should be made a first charge on the Insurance Fund. As a matter of fact, I do not understand why it ought to be imposed on the insurance at all. The accumulation of this debt has occurred at the time of a very deep national depression, such as has probably not been known in this country before, both for the extent over which it has been felt by trades and businesses and for the period which it has lasted. The Government ought to view the national depression as the basis upon which this Bill was founded, and to accept the responsibility of the extra charge. It is not right to lay the burden upon people yet unborn or upon the children of the present generation. To charge the fund will also prevent the increase of benefits for a long time, or prevent the lowering of the contribution. It will be an unfair burden upon unemployed people; it will make their burden heavier to bear—and God knows that their burdens are sufficiently heavy at this moment. The money will be much better spent on restoring the cut in the unemployed people's benefits. It would give 1372 a greater happiness and greater well-being to the people of the country; instead of easing the burdens of the Government, it would ease the burdens of an extremely large number of people and make their life a little brighter after such a long period of depression.
I am speaking now on behalf of my own division. We have a depression as hard as that of anybody in the whole country. All the employment has gone out of the borough of Wigan. Whereas at one time we probably had 20 or 30 collieries, steel works or rolling-mills, to-day there are only two or three. The mines are closed, the rolling-mills are closed, the steel works have gone away, and we find a period of depression in which a large number of people are unemployed. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to get this information for me: the number of people who have been unemployed for over one or two years in the Wigan Exchange area. It will be a surprise to him that so many of our people have been unemployed for so long that they are at the end of their resources from every point of view. The unemployment figures to-day, given in reply to a Question I put down only a fortnight ago, are practically the same as they were in 1931. In order to verify this statement concerning the poverty and depression in our area, I wish to bring to the notice of the House an advertisement which I saw this week-end on the front page of the local paper, the "Wigan Observer":Penny Dinners.—We are opening a soup kitchen this winter at All Saints' Institute? Spring Gardens, Wigan. Many of the children are looking pinched; men and women are going hungry. We are supplying soup on all the days of the week from eleven-thirty to one-thirty p.m.; charge ld. a pint.That brings me back to the time when we had the great struggle in the coal strikes, when no support was given by other people, when soup kitchens were the order of the day, when children were starving. They are starving to-day, and I do not make any bones about it. The people in my area are as badly pinched as any in the whole of the country, though they are not people who squeal; they bear their burdens and fight their fights with a virtue which is very exemplary.
Part II of the Bill virtually takes away from the public assistance committee its 1373 responsibility for the maintenance of the able-bodied poor except as regards medical and institutional relief. I can understand that the Minister may think that this is not a very great change, but when the public assistance committee, which has been doing this work for so long and really understands the requirements of the people, is cut down to giving nothing in the way of relief except medical relief, it will certainly find it very difficult to appoint committees to carry on the work. Part II hands over the responsibility of these committees to a small board covering the country. A right of appeal, however, is given to applicants for unemployment allowances against the decisions of the board's officers—that is the chairmen of the courts of referees. The board will be in. a position to refuse allowances unless the applicant attends a training course, and will deal with the "cases of special difficulty," and must refuse assistance to persons unemployed by reason of a trade dispute. That is another very great hardship, and ought not to be contained in the Bill. I ask the House to visualise a coal strike or a strike in any other heavy industry. Not only the people living in the district are concerned with the stoppage of that industry, not only the people living in the area of the industry are thrown out of employment through that stoppage, but it spreads all over the country. If the Government are going rigidly to carry this particular point through with the Bill, it will impose upon innocent victims throughout the country a very heavy burden which they ought not to be called upon to bear. The new system will be a centralised and intensified system of Poor Law administration worked on a uniform plan throughout the country.
I will leave out the question of the training of men; the chief objection in my opinion is one of which the right hon. Gentleman has been speaking. The local authorities will be compelled to contribute to this fund without their consent. They have not yet agreed to do it. I understand that the London County Council has agreed, perhaps yielding to the blandishments of the Government, but I do not know whether that means that the County Councils Association as a whole are going to do the same thing. Certainly there is no question that the municipal corporations of the country 1374 will retreat from the position that they have taken up. Those who follow the Press will find letters, not only in the "Times" but also in many other news papers, which show the great hardship which will be imposed upon many local authorities by this demand for repayment. The three-fifths is a very heavy burden indeed. It may just at the moment be a temporary relief, but it will probably come back with redoubled force. I am not looking forward to that heavy decline in the numbers of the unemployed which some hon. Members think is just on our doorstep. It is yet a long way from us, and we shall have to bear patiently many of the difficulties which we bear now.
The heavy percentage of local rates paid by the poor is sufficient burden without imposing other burdens upon them. Hon. Members may say that it will relieve them for that moment, but they must not forget that everything which has to be paid by a corporation comes from the rates. Some people seem to think that a corporation has only to go to a bank, write out a cheque, and everything will be done, but I want the House to realise how difficult it is to collect the rates in an area such as that of which r have spoken, where 75 or 80 per cent. of the houses are or were very low rented. The rents, of course, are out of all proportion to what they were, but it is still the unemployed people who have to provide the money to pay the rates and to pay the Government. I should like the Government to give further consideration to that point.
These people are penalised by their rates and obligations imposed by the Government, and the Government should meet their responsibilities without hesitation. They ought to say that they will either find work or give maintenance for all those who are really unemployed and desire employment, and, although many cynical remarks are made in this House to the effect that people do not want employment, I am sure that, if it were possible to get a census of people who desire employment, it would be found that 95 per cent. of those who are unemployed would jump at a job to-morrow. But would they be able to continue in that job, even if it were a regular one, having regard to the extent to which their physical condition has depreciated? The Government ought to take that 1375 responsibility upon themselves, spreading it evenly over the whole country. Taking areas like Wigan, Ormskirk, Southport and so on, you find that some districts are very heavily pressed, while the burden of others is far more easy, and at present the depressed areas have to continue to bear this heavy burden. That is unfair, not only to the districts concerned, but to the country as a whole. In matters of this kind, which are not the making of any individual trade or industry or Government, the whole burden should be spread equitably over the whole country, and one rate should be levied throughout Great Britain in order to meet the demands of the people who are unemployed. That is the only honourable and just thing to do, and I am sure also that it is the only human thing which this Government or any other Government can do to relieve the burdens of these people who cannot carry their own burdens, but have to appeal for the help either of the Government or of the local authority.
§ 7.18 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel CHARLES KERR
I am sure that every Member of the House must feel that he has learned a great deal from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I took the trouble to send this Bill up to the burghs which I represent, asking for the local authorities' comments upon it. I received those comments to-day, and it will surprise hon. Members opposite to hear that they all say that it is a tremendously fine Bill. They do, however, raise one or two points, with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has dealt in his speech, and I now intend to send to each one of them a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT containing the right hon. Gentleman's speech, because there is, no doubt, a certain amount of misunderstanding as to some of the provisions of the Bill.
I agree to a large extent with what has been said by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson). I feel that the whole of the trouble with regard to the unemployed, and the whole of the difficulties which this country is suffering to-day, are not due to the fault of anybody in this country, but are the fault of world conditions. That being so, I feel very strongly that, as the hon. Member for Wigan says, the obligation of providing 1376 money for the relief of unemployment should be spread as an equal burden over the whole of the community. I feel that that is the only way in which these distressed areas can get out of their difficulties. After all, why should one area, which happens to be lucky enough not to have many unemployed, get off more lightly than another? I feel that, if some means could be evolved by which the burden could be more easily and more equally spread over the whole country, it would be just and would meet what undoubtedly in my view is a national obligation.
Before I come to one or two points in the Bill about which I want to speak, I should like to express disagreement with hon. Members on the Labour benches in their remarks about the means test. I do not agree that the means test is unpopular. I admit that I could take hon. Members to many people in my division who consider it unpopular, but I could equally take them to a very much larger number of people of the working classes who agree with the means test. I will tell hon. Members why they agree with the means test. At the time when this country was tottering, there was this fear in the minds of the workers: "If people are being paid money that they do not need in the sense that I do"—I am speaking for the moment as a man out of work and really needing the money, and seeing the debt piling up and the country in a terrible state of crisis—"I wonder whether, when the time comes, if these people are going to get it who do not require it, there will be enough for me to meet my legitimate needs in the future." I have found that many of them could point to certain people in their own areas who were getting unemployment benefit and who never ought to have had it. They are not getting it now. Those people genuinely agree with the means test. I entirely agree with something which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, some years ago now, and which I have never forgotten, though apparently he has. He said that he did not agree with dispensing national money without some sort of inquiry into the needs—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that on any occasion I supported by word or vote the means test that is at present under discussion?
With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I should say that he certainly did by that remarkable statement which he made. I have not the actual reference, but no doubt he remembers it.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me, it is worth while my saying that this means test which he is discussing came in in the Economy Bill which was brought in by Lord Snowden, and in speaking against that Bill I said:This mean, miserable, destitution test means that the children are to keep the parents and the parents are to keep the children. The right hon. Gentleman"—that was Lord Snowden—once said that this business of making the family take care of the unemployed meant that individuals had to bear what was a national responsibility."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th September, 1931; col. 634, Vol. 256.]There were over 200 of us who voted against that Measure, and what I said had nothing whatever to do—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"]—I would only say that the hon. Member's friends have quoted what I said at every by-election. I have spoken at all of them, and have had the statement handed up to me to know whether I made it. My reply was exactly what I said to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), and everybody knows that we have done very well at by-elections all the same.
I feel honoured that the right hon. Gentleman should take the opportunity to vindicate himself in reply to a question put by me, but, really, he has not touched the point I made. Still, we will leave it—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman say that I am supporting the means test—not a means test, but the means test?
The right hon. Gentleman has departed from what I understood him to mean in a certain statement which he made some years ago, and which is now a matter of history. I now know that he has perhaps, though I do not like to say it, rather gone back upon what he meant. If he means now what he meant then, he certainly is in favour of some sort of means test—
—and he cannot get away from that. We have had our little battle over that question, and now I would like to bring before the House one or two points that are omitted from the Bill. One of them is in regard to seasonal workers. We all remember seeing the other day that an arrangement had been come to down in Wales, in a district called Blaenavon, and I think that anybody who thinks out what has happened there has every reason to be proud that he is of the same nation as those people. I consider that it was a magnificent thing for men to suggest that they, who were in full-time employment, should deliberately give up some of that full-time employment in order to benefit their fellow-miners. The point that I want to raise in this connection is that of seasonal workers. Do not those men who have now made this arrangement work for a certain number of months in the year, and receive benefit for the rest of the year? Surely, seasonal workers, of whom I have some in my division, who pay for their stamps for 30 weeks in the year, and have done for years, should not, when they fall out of work, be dealt with under Part II of this Bill. Surely they should have the right to some benefit when they are out of work for the rest of the year. I hope that the Minister will consider this question of seasonal workers. There are a great many of them in this country, and some of them are very badly hit. In particular, those in my division have this year been very badly hit. Perhaps it would be better that I should refer to their case during the Committee stage, but I would like consideration to be given to this question of seasonal workers.
For a good many years I have mixed a great deal with black-coated workers, and I find that all of them to whom I have spoken would very willingly come into this unemployment insurance scheme. They would genuinely appreciate it, and particularly in these days. We know that during the last two or three years many businesses have been wound up, and men of the black-coated fraternity who have been occupying positions of responsibility, where they were getting, perhaps, as much as £500 and £600 a year, find themselves definitely out of work and with nothing to fall back upon at all. I do hope that the Minister will take into consideration the appeal that has been 1379 made by one or two Members to-day that the black-coated fraternity should receive further consideration in regard to unemployment insurance.
The Prime Minister in receiving a delegation of teachers the other day seemed, I think, to create art atmosphere by which one could read into what he said that there was a possibility of some of these cuts being put back in the not too far distant future. I wonder whether there are many Members who would like to see any cuts restored before the cut of the unemployed? They must come first. Many of the teachers themselves have told me that they see a definite deterioration in the children's education through under-nourishment, and I feel that one of the things that we must aim at first of all is to restore the cuts to the unemployed. Particularly now when the cold weather is coming on one knows the extra expense they have to bear in keeping themselves warm. I make the most earnest appeal to the Government, if they find they cannot restore all of the cut, to try to restore a part of it. It should be done, and I believe in present circumstances, with the little improvement that there is all round, the Government would be justified in doing it.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Sir RICHARD MELLER
I do not believe that in any part of the House any special claim can he made for particular sympathy with those who have to go through periods of unemployment. Sincerity is equal on all benches. But when a Measure of this sort is put forward, I think it would be more helpful, and it would certainly be expressing a greater degree of sympathy for those unfortunate people if, instead of carping at and criticising this Measure, we endeavoured to make it the best thing we could in the peculiar circumstances. I think the Government are to be congratulated on the Bill. There is nothing of real substance at all in the criticisms that have been directed against it, and no one can say it is not a great improvement upon any Unemployment Bill that has been on the Statute Book before. As one who championed the principle of insurance in connection with health insurance, I compliment the Minister on having returned to what I believe is the only principle upon which such a Bill can meet the needs from a financial point of view and, 1380 what is also very necessary, promote the confidence which the unemployed person desires to have in regard to a State scheme of insurance. The scheme had got into a state of bankruptcy. The principle of insurance has been abandoned. The economy cut would in all probability never have been made if we had not departed from the principle of insurance. It did not apply to health insurance, and if there had been any ground upon which it could have been applied, it would have been necessity, not because health insurance was a special thing apart from unemployment insurance, but that you had an insurance principle which had been departed from.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
Can the hon. Gentleman give us the year when the strict insurance principle was departed from?
§ Sir R. MELLER
We departed from it when the scheme was loaded with obligations which it was never framed to bear. You added benefits which were not contracted for at all, and therefore, the actuary who prepared the scheme could not be held responsible for it when you gave greater returns than the contributions would bear. The Government have realised how far you can go with the contributions with a given state of unemployment, and they put their figure, as I believe, having regard to the conditions now and as they are likely to be in the future, upon a very liberal basis. I believe we shall be able to meet anything that comes along in the future, and there will be no doubt as to the solvency of the scheme. What is proposed under the Bill? The great thing, as I see it, is first of all that you assure the contributor of his benefits when they become due, and you also assure to those who are unfortunate enough to fall out of benefit that they will receive treatment no worse, from the point of view of the body before which they have to come, than the person who is [...]entitled to benefit in the ordinary course.
A great deal has been said about the new body that is to be set up to consider the claims of those who are drawn in under Part II. Obviously any body that is set up to consider the applications of men, not for benefit as of right, but from the point of view of need, must have some sort of semblance to a body such as you have under the Poor Law, I care not by what name you call it, but in my 1381 view there is going to be a very great difference between an individual going before the new body and going before a public assistance committee. Prejudice is being introduced into the matter with regard to the body that is to consider it. I believe those who have passed out of benefit and are seeking the assistance which has been promised them will not have the same objection to the new body that they would have to a public assistance committee.
We ought to give the Government an opportunity of getting the Measure through and putting the new proposals into operation without the prejudice that is being imported into it. The Government have been threatened with opposition to the Bill at every stage, and the Opposition will go into the country and fight against it. I am confident that whatever they may say in the country will not affect the very good reception that has been given to the Measure. It widens the ambit of unemployment insurance, holds out hope to the agricultural worker that he is coming in and places the unemployed in a very much better position. It widens the scheme in respect of children by reducing the incoming age from 16 to 14 and insures in a large number of cases of young people between 15½ and 16 that they will be entitled to some measure of benefit in the event of unemployment. The explanation that has been given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, to my mind, completely answered the objections that have been raised by the Opposition. I ask the House to consider this in a generous and proper spirit and to give the Measure the opportunity that it ought to have of affording to the unemployed greater security than they have known for many long years.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
I should like to associate myself with the observations made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman for Montrose Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Kerr) about the expenses falling under the Bill upon local authorities. I acknowledge that local authorities are not generally accustomed to ask for less money than they expect to receive. I am also very grateful indeed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having removed a great many apprehensions that existed, but I think it is still 1382 worth while stating the general principle that, however harmful an Imperial tax may be to industry, it is generally the case that local rates are more harmful still. We shall never be able to absorb a very great proportion of the unemployed in the depressed areas until new industries are established in them, and one of the principal deterrents to the establishment of new industries in those areas is the very high level of local rates.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) said one of the principal objections to the Bill was that it removed the determination of the amount of benefit to be paid from, local officials who have an opportunity of judging sympathetically of the needs of the applicant to the officials of a central board. That is a point upon which there may perhaps be some room for apprehension, but I think the objection is not altogether consistent with the Amendment which the hon. Member was supporting, which demands equal treatment for all unemployed men. If the treatment of all unemployed men is to be equal, there can obviously be no need even for these local advisory committees which it is proposed to set up under the Bill, and the machinery would obviously be more appropriately carried out by a central board. It may perhaps be only a verbal difference, but I should like to draw attention to the interpretation that was given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) of the phrase "work or maintenance." He said:It is a moral claim on time part of the citizen to a chance of support for himself and his dependants, and, if that fails, to honourable and adequate maintenance to keep him within the status of citizenship.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1933; col. 1113, Vol. 283.]That is a definition with which I could find nothing whatever to quarrel, but it does not seem to be at all the same thing as the terms of the official Amendment which, instead of talking about adequate maintenance, demands equal treatment and maintenance for all unemployed men from national funds. We are perhaps entitled to a little more precision from hon. Members opposite as to the exact policy which they wish us to adopt. Do they intend that the treatment of an unemployed man in a declining industry and in a depressed area should be exactly the same as that provided for a skilled 1383 craftsman in the building trade who experiences seasonal periods of unemployment, or for a docker who has a regular average of about three days a week of unemployment throughout the year, or for any unemployed man in a prosperous industry who merely experiences very intermittent periods of unemployment.
§ Dr. SALTER
Surely the hon. Gentleman does not dispute that the human and physical needs of these two persons are the same whatever may be their occupation, and, in the sense of adequate maintenance to which he has just given his approval, does he think that adequate maintenance is at the present time being given to any persons?
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
I shall return to the subject of adequacy in a moment, but I am now on the subject of equality. I have here an extract from the revised edition of "Labour and the Nation," published in 1928, which says:Unemployment is not a single problem, and unemployed workers do not fall into one uniform category. The causes which plunged them into disasters are diverse, and the plans for helping them must be equally various.The Opposition now demand equality of treatment and are taking exception to the diversity of the various methods devised to help the unemployed in the Bill. There is one matter on which the official Opposition have now made themselves clear. It is in their demand for the final and complete abolition of the needs test. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who I am sorry to see is not here, concluded his speech on Thursday by rather a strong statement. He said:When the means test was introduced the nation rocked with indignation on the part of the masses of people, but…when this Bill is passed, the rocking which took place when the means test was introduced will he nothing to the determination of the great mass of the people to see that nothing is left undone until the Bill is rejected and those responsible for it are hounded from public life."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1933; col. 1149, Vol. 283.]That is rather a strong statement coming so soon after an election which resulted in the temporary displacement from public life of nearly all those who resisted the means test. I am very glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman the 1384 leader of the Opposition is pleased with the effect of this propaganda in the by-elections. I was interested to hear what he said, because when I first came into this House two years ago, having been brought here on that wave of indignation against the means test, I was really and genuinely astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman make a speech in which he said that he would not be in favour of giving public money to a man unless he could demonstrate that he needed it.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
The last thing I want to do is to quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman about what he meant, because it has been so much discussed in the last few weeks, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with this. He said just now that he wanted to distinguish between "the" means test and "a" means test, and I would entirely agree with him. I want to distinguish between the principle of the means test and the individual grievances or hardships which have arisen, and which may or may not arise under the new scheme which is to be established. I want to make the distinction plain. When the Opposition present us with hard cases I think that we are generally willing to listen sympathetically and to see whether those cases might not be avoided, but it is an entirely different thing to say, as the right hon. Gentleman has now agreed in saying as against what he said two years ago, that the means test must be abolished altogether irrespective of the amount of money possessed by the man who receives public benefit. I do not think that that is a principle which can be justified by any other argument than this: that the State has a moral obligation to provide a man with work, and that, if the State fails to provide the work which it is morally obliged to do, it ought to compensate the man whom it fails to provide with work by giving him an amount of money equal to the sums which he would have earned if the State had provided him with employment. That is my definition of the principle of work or maintenance. I should by no means say that it ought to be finally for all time ruled out of our calculations. We are making in this 1385 country very great industrial progress in many directions and possibly the changes in our industrial life, in the not distant future, will be more revolutionary than many of us expect. But I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was very sensible when he said that it will be time to consider this principle when it is brought forward by a responsible Government.
The short answer to the demands of the Opposition is that before you can honestly consider a principle of this sort and recommend it to the people you must have a far higher standard of industrial organisation than you have at present. I wish that I could think that the Leader of the Opposition is right when he contends, as he so often does, that we are producing wealth in such abundance that all you have to do to create prosperity is to give people more purchasing power. I think that the answer to the demands of the Opposition are that the additional taxation which would have to be imposed would have an adverse effect upon productive power for which we should not be compensated by the increased consuming power which we should realise by carrying out the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. You have to choose now between paying more unemployment benefit and creating more employment. H you are to increase your financial liability under this Bill, you can only do it either by putting more taxes upon industry or by borrowing more money, either of which will have an adverse effect upon the very problem which we are endeavouring to mitigate. Having made it plain that in my judgment we should be criminally unwise to take the risk of setting back the movement towards industrial recovery which has already begun to be visible by increasing our liabilities under the Bill, I would add that I certainly do not consider the present rates of unemployment benefit are as high as we ought to wish them to be. The circumstances of every area, and, indeed, of every individual vary so greatly that it is not possible to prescribe any ideal rate of benefit, and any question such as "What do you consider the minimum weekly sum upon which an unemployed man and his family can decently live r is an unfair question to which it is impossible to give a concise answer. 1386 But I believe that the administrative machinery established by this Bill will make it very much easier in the future to provide more generous maintenance for those who are out of work without transgressing the canons of sound finance.
I do not think that this Bill will be very difficult to defend against the Opposition either here or in the country. The Minister said on Thursday that he felt an added sense of responsibility on account of the weakness of the Opposition. I am sure those who hope to give any assistance to this Bill in Committee and elsewhere may be allowed on Second Reading to raise any general criticisms which ought to be brought forward. I have only time to mention one general matter which is concerned with the scales of family allowances under the means test. When the needs test was established two years ago the only practical course was that which was adopted, namely, to take advantage of the experience of Public assistance committees and the rules Which they had been in the habit of enforcing. I think it is fair to say that since then, while a few of these committees made no attempt to observe the law, and while some of them acted with difficulty and embarrassment, there are some who, no doubt, from a deep sense of their responsibility, have been administering benefit under the means test, with regulations which are too stringent and which now ought to be relaxed. I have received a number of reports from my area upon the manner in which this Bill is likely to affect it. I will read a short extract from one of them, because I think that it illustrates the point which I wish to bring to the attention of the House. It says:The impression so far is that the local advisory committees will he supine and powerless, lacking representation from the county, town or district councils and having no final power to overturn the official determinations. Early opportunity should be taken by the Government to enlighten the country as to how the new machinery will function. Will the local official fix grants, or will the local advisory committee do so acting under restricted powers from the new board? Will the areas of administration be based on counties, boroughs or districts, or will new regional areas be set up independent of local considerations? Will there be a uniform scale of relief for Scotland or will there be several, say, one for the west of Scotland? These and similar questions are being asked on every hand and in the absence of replies much misrepresentation is taking place.1387Among the men themselves there is a distinct dislike to their being handed over to the power of officials without having their rights more emphatically set out and without having the compensating effect of local authorities to keep the officials in check.The same apprehension, or a very similar one, was expressed on Thursday by two hon. Members both of whom support the Government. The hon. Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne (Sir R. Aske) ended up his speech by saying:The Bill may make better the conditions which I have described in my area. I hope it will;…but it may not. It is a gamble, and I ask myself, what right have I to gamble with the lives of those people." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1933; col. 1138, Vol. 283.]My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid) said:I claim that any six Members of this House, selected at random, are just as capable of drawing up these regulations as anyone appointed from outside this House.And he went on to say:I should regret to think that the regulations about, let us say, the amount of family income to be taken into account, were passing out of the hands of the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1933; col. 1153, Vol. 283.]I think those apprehensions are natural. Although I do not agree that it would be desirable that every detail of administration of this sort should be discussed by this House, I think that we ought now to take the opportunity of saying that the scales of family allowances ought to be more generous than they have been on the whole for the last two years. Hon. Members on the Socialist Benches have argued that the family ought not to be taken into account at all, but only the individuals. The Minister on the other hand, has, I think rightly, maintained that the mutual rights and responsibilities of the family ought to be considered. But let us be careful that in determining to maintain the duties of the family we do not make those duties impossible to carry out.
I will give an illustration of the sort of case which I have in mind. If the son of an unemployed man is married and is living in another house it is recognised that his first duty is to his own wife and family, and he would not be expected to contribute anything to the support of his unemployed parents in another household, but if the son is un- 1388 married and living with his father he is naturally expected to do what he can towards contributing to his father's support. It has generally been the practice of local authorities to allow so much of his wages as are applicable to his own needs and to consider the rest of his earnings as being capable of being devoted to the needs of his family. But supposing that man is endeavouring to save up from his wages in order that he may himself marry and have a family of his own? Is not that a laudable object which ought to be encouraged by the State? If we consider that the duties of a man towards his own wife and children come before his obligations towards his parents, ought we not equally to consider that his prospective duties towards a future family should receive similar or, at least some, consideration? We ought to make more generous allowance over the whole country in this respect.
Let me quote a passage from one pronouncement which I do riot think is likely to be influenced by arty sort of party politics. It is from the Advent Pastoral Letter of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham:Englishmen generally do not wish to be Communists, with the Communist's glorification of the State. They love liberty and independence. But there are many thousands of unemployed whose lot is pitiable and almost desperate. If we were to visit their families who are receiving relief and discover for ourselves the workings of the means test we should le able to understand how it is that it often tends to disintegrate the family and to injure the position of the head of the family.If we agree that the mutual rights and duties of the family are anterior to and higher than those which exist between the State and the citizen, do not let us by the stringency of our own laws make those duties impossible to be recognised amongst the unemployed population. Since I do not think that the Bill contains anything further, either to be criticised or to be amplified, which might not be more conveniently discussed in Committee, I would like to conclude by congratulating the Minister on having produced a Measure which immensely simplifies this very complex problem of unemployment; which goes as far as it is possible to go now, and which will make it easier to go further in the future, towards providing more liberally and humanely for those thousands of our 1389 countrymen who are out of work not through their own fault but through the fault of the industrial system into which they have been born, and whose misfortunes must always have the first claim upon the attention of Parliament.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
One of the outstanding features of the Debate during the last hour has been the fact that Conservative Members of Parliament have started by saying this is a very fine Bill and have wound up by criticising it and then going on to say that it will make it possible at some time in the future for things to be done. I want to call attention to what I regard as a most significant omission from the Bill. We have heard this afternoon from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Statutory Advisory Committee may, at their discretion, bring in recommendations for an increase in unemployment benefit. Does it not appear that the Government have very subtly put the responsibility for restoring the 10 per cent. cut on to the Statutory Advisory Committee and have shirked their responsibility with regard to the promise made at the last election regarding the restoration of the 10 per cent. to the unemployed. There have been many descriptions given of this part of the Bill. The hon. Member for Hillsbrough (Mr. G. Braithwaite), who expressed so much surprise and astonishment at a statement made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), confined his attention to that particular point. I read in the newspapers on Saturday evening a report of a speech which the hon. Member made in which he described this Bill as a lifeboat on the horizon for the unemployed. Although the hon. Member was particularly anxious to correct a mis-statement, I notice that he did not go out of his way to support the Bill. I can tell him and the House that in the industrial districts of Sheffield he will not find any support for the Bill.
With regard to the position of the Opposition, let me make it perfectly clear that we believe that the insurance system has broken down. Great play was made last Thursday of the fact that in the 'original Unemployment Insurance Act, passed in pre-War days, only 2,500,000 people contributed, whereas under this Bill there is likely to be more than 1390 12,000,000. The original Act was never intended to deal with the big unemployment problem that this decade has had to face. After the Armistice one can well remember that when millions of men were being demobilised the National Government of that day did not rely for support on the insurance basis but brought into being the out-of-work donation benefit and gave to anyone who cared to apply, 29s. a week. We say that the insurance system has broken clown. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his reply, sought to twit the right hon. Member for Wakefield with regard to his supposed inconsistency. What my right hon. Friend said was, that if you are going to rely on the insurance principle for dealing with unemployment you ought to have a broader and all-in policy. He said, and we believe, that you cannot deal with 2,500,000 people on the basis of an insurance scheme.
Hon. Members have said that they will be able to defend the Bill in the country. I remember the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour telling us, a few months ago, that we on these benches ought to have guts. He has not forgotten that speech, because it was adequately answered by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). We are prepared to have guts in dealing with our point of view in regard to unemployment, and we are prepared to meet on any platform in any part of the country where unemployment exists, any Member of the party opposite. We are told that this Bill will give more unemployment benefit to large numbers of people. What it is certainly going to do is to give some men a number of extra weeks benefit, but it is going to give to the men who least need it, the most. The man who has been in employment during the preceding five years and has been able to get his stamps has been more lucky than the man who has been continually out of work for five years. We say that it is a clumsy method of calculating extra weeks. You will have an unemployed man trying to remember the number of his stamps in five years, dividing it by ten, then finding how many stamps he has and taking one off for each five, and then subtracting that. We are told that 167,000 people are likely to get additional benefit. We object to the separation of the unemployed. We say that it is nit good enough to separate them into two 1391 classes. Unemployment is a social problem inherent in the industrial system. The individual is not responsible for being out of work, but it is largely a matter of chance as to who works or who does not work in certain big industries. Therefore, we say that the insurance scheme has broken down and that the unemployed have a right to equality of treatment.
Before passing to Part II of the Bill may I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he can explain one or two things in regard to suggested Amendments Can he give the House any information why it has been necessary to include in this Bill the provision that the applicant for unemployment benefit has to prove that he is "available for and capable of but unable to find work "? What evidence can the Minister bring to show that a change is necessary? We remember what took place prior to 1929 when, on a matter of interpretation, tens of thousands of men were thrown off the register of the Employment Exchanges for not genuinely seeking work. I am prepared to concede the point that the Bill does not reintroduce that provision, but it makes it possible still for thousands of men to be thrown off the Employment Exchanges, and we want to know why the change is necessary. Then again what is the exact meaning of Sub-section (2) of Clause 5:An insured contributor who has worked in any calendar week for the number of days or number of shifts which constitute the full week's work for his grade or class or shift at the factory, workshop or other premises at which he is or was last employed shall not be deemed for the purpose of the unemployment Insurance Acts to have been unemployed on any day in that calendar week.What is intended? Is it intended to apply to part-time workers in the mining industry? Are we to take it that where pits are working on a three-day week that there is going to be interference with their unemployment insurance? This is not a Committee point, and if the Parliamentary Secretary can remove the apprehensions which exist on this point we shall be pleased. On Part II of the Bill we part company entirely with hon. Members opposite. We believe that the means test is unfair, unjust, and brutal in its application. The Minister of Labour on Thursday last said that by the 1392 establishment of this board it was intended to remove the stigma of the Poor Law from the recipients. While the unemployed man will be dealt with by a separate body there is no doubt that he will be dealt with on the same principle that has guided public assistance committees. I claim to have had a few years' experience of Poor Law administration in the stormy days in Sheffield when we had thousands of men out of work who had to be relieved by the Poor Law authorities. I learned my Poor Law principles largely from some of the old Local Government Board officers. I learned that it is not the duty of public assistance committees to make people happy, it is their duty to keep them alive, and I remember one remarkably able inspector of the old Local Government Board who used to insist that it was our duty to relieve destitution, not to make people happy; there ought to be a distinction between their standard of life and that of those in ordinary employment. It is pleasing to know that members of the Liberal party, who do sometimes sit upon the benches below the Gangway, have now been converted to the idea that there is a need for a change in the administration of men who do not qualify by stamps.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
May I answer the point put by the hon. Member with regard to part-time work? There is no question at all of changing the position with regard to the three-day shift. The only case is where a man has done a full normal week's work in less than six days; and the only person to decide that is the umpire. In regard to the Poor Law, I will give him an answer when I speak to-morrow night.
§ Mr. SMITH
I am extremely pleased to hear the reply from the hon. Member with regard to part-time workers. The Clause certainly left a little doubt in the mind of a layman as to its exact meaning, 'and as the point was put to me during the week-end I thought that I would try and clear it up. We are opposed to Part II; we are opposed to the means test. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) the other day tried to extract from members of the Labour party what we exactly meant by an abolition of the means test, and asked 1393 whether we would give relief to men with certain incomes. We say that every injustice that may be done by one individual getting money when he does not need it is outweighed by the thousands of hard-working men, out of work through no fault of their own, who will be treated as decent human citizens. The Minority Report of the Royal Commission summed up our point of view very adequately with regard to the means test. They said:It requires the members of a family to support one another while under the same roof, while permitting them to escape this by living separately.What is taking place? You may have a son working and earning 30s. to 40s. a week. His father is out of work, and applies for transitional benefit. A certain amount of the son's earnings is taken into account, with a consequent reduction in the father's benefit. But if that young man cares to go next door and lodge the father is entitled to his full 15s. 3d. per week. The Parliamentary Secretary agrees; but I remember the time when hon. Members opposite charged us with being in favour of breaking up the home. In the Skipton by-election the Conservative candidate had posters out saying "the Labour party stands for the abolition of the King, the abolition of Christianity, and the abolition of the home." What is taking place to-day under the means test? You are compelling members of households to tell untruths in order to get a little extra sustenance. Let me quote 'again the case of the single man, it is worth quoting again. You have a single man in lodgings with an old-age pensioner, whose income is 10s. a week. He may apply for transitional benefit, and because there is an income of the old-age pensioner of 10s. a week that man's benefit is reduced from 15s. 3d. to 10s. per week. Rather than live on the old-age pensioner the man went out one morning, jumped into the canal and drowned himself. It is not right that such cases should occur. Men should be treated decently. In their report on the means test, the Minority Report also said:It spreads poverty amongst households as such.Take the position of a lad who is in work in the mining industry. It makes not the slightest difference what money 1394 the boy earns, in fact, the more he gets the less his father gets, because the family is assessed on the basis of need. This is causing tremendous dissatisfaction in many households where there are young men and women between the ages of 21 and 25. There is certainly room for improvement in this respect. The Minority Report goes on to say:it involves an inquiry into the wages of members of the family, with consequent difficulties with the employers of those at work.We were told by the Ministry of Labour that people were suspicious and afraid as to their position becoming known through having to go to the public assistance committee. This inquisitorial action with regard to members of a family is causing tremendous dissatisfaction up and down the country. The Minority Report also states:It drives out of the house those who will not see their relations suffer because of their presence.Therefore we make not the slightest apology for opposing the Bill. Hon. Members opposite have my sympathy. They looked upon the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a kind of lifesaver. That speech rather cheered them, because it removed some misapprehensions and cleared up some inaccuracies. Hon. Members are prepared to support the Bill without getting on their feet and stating their point of view. They are afraid to let their constituents know exactly what the Bill means. We make no such apology. We believe that the unemployed have a right to be treated decently. We believe that the 10 per cent. cut ought to have been restored. It is not good enough to hide behind the statutory Advisory Committee and say that they may make recommendations. In a House in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer can give £14,500,000 to the brewers he can find sufficient to give the 10 per cent. cut back to the unemployed. We shall fight the Bill on Second Reading, and in Committee we shall do our best to amend it.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. NUNN
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) said that Tory Members of this House had started by describing this Bill as a fine Bill and then had gone on to criticise it. It is always useful to know beforehand what 1395 one is going to do, because that is precisely what I intend to do. I wish to congratulate the Government upon having produced a Bill which certainly goes a very long way towards the attainment of a full scheme of unemployment insurance. It does not go as far as most of us would wish. The hon. Member for Normanton made some reference to that point. I myself have always looked forward to the time when this country will have a really complete scheme of insurance covering health, pensions and unemployment. But that is not the kind of scheme that can be obtained in a short time. I think that within the limits which are necessarily imposed upon them by finance and other considerations, the Government have succeeded in producing what is coming very near to a scheme, satisfactory for the time being at any rate, of full unemployment insurance.
I am rather sorry that the hon. Member for Normanton has said that Members on this side of the House will not speak their mind. I am prepared to speak my mind on this one point: I am sorry that we have not gone the whole hog, that we have not undertaken to put the full burden of able-bodied unemployment upon the shoulders of the whole of the taxpayers. I have always spoken in favour of that and probably I shall always do so. But I did not quite agree with the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), who seemed to assume that in not letting the country as a whole shoulder the burden of able-bodied unemployment we were in some way or other not complying with his desire that we should provide either work or maintenance for the worker. This Bill obviously provides maintenance. The only point at issue is, is the cost of that maintenance properly shared; is it placed where it ought to have been placed? It ought to be on the shoulders of the whole country. In spite of all the criticism that has been made I think that the recognition of what I might call the no-claim bonus system, is not only just but entirely satisfactory. I was not able quite to follow the hon. Member for Normanton. He said—I am paraphrasing his words—that the unemployed should have equality of treatment, and that men who have been out of work for a long time should get more than they would get under the Bill. Of course, that sounds extremely reasonable.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
What I said was that the provision in Part I gave additional weeks of benefit to those who least needed it; that is to say, the man who has been fortunate enough to be in work the preceding five years and has not drawn unemployment benefit, will draw 52 weeks benefit, but the man who has been out of work for five years and who has got to rock bottom so that he is not able to buy even clothes, will get no additional benefit.
§ Mr. NUNN
It all sounds reasonable, but it is not feasible. In the first place the man who has been out of work for a long time has been drawing his unemployment benefit and has been supported while out of work. In the second place, although I think that the amount of honesty to be found in this country is remarkable and not to be found in any other country in the world, it does seem to me that the scheme suggested by the hon. Member would be a direct invitation to persons to do their level best to keep out of work, because as long as they were out of work the bigger their bonus would be. The hon. Member's argument does not seem to hold water. While I am still on the merits of the scheme, let me say that one ought to recognise with gratitude what the Government are doing for young persons by the provision of arrangements for training. To anyone who comes, as I do, from a gravely distressed area, it is a matter of the utmost concern that young people should be hanging about the streets and daily becoming more and more disheartened, and anything which can be done to improve that state of affairs, even though it may be a short step, is a definite step in the right direction.
Then there is the question of the removal of the stigma of the Poor. Law. Hon. Members opposite accept with scant gratitude that which they have been demanding for years. Now that they are going to get removed the stigma which they have made so much of in elections and in this House, the stigma seems to have become quite a small thing to them. It is amazing how a point of view changes from time to time. I remember that before the General Election, when I was nursing my constituency, wherever I went I was told about this dreadful stigma,. I believe there is a lot in it. There is far more in it than hon. Gen- 1397 tlemen opposite like to acknowledge now. I have a very clear recollection of finding three men in a street of about 11 houses, where incidentally there were some 28 people out of work—three men who were moved almost to tears by the idea that they had to go to the Poor Law officer in order to get the money that they required to "Carry on." It is a very great thing, in my view, that that stigma is to be removed. I hope it will be removed. I should like to see an entirely new set of officers.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
But will not the test be a destitution test? Will not the Unemployment Assistance Board have to apply the destitution test which is now applied under the Poor Law?
§ Mr. NUNN
I do not know what the arrangements will be in this respect but I should like, if possible, to have arrangements under which the old public assistance officer would not be the person who is to make inquiries under the new Board. I should certainly like to see some arrangement by which the indigent small shopkeeper for instance, who, is inarticulate and, like all inarticulate persons has to suffer a great deal, and men of that type, will not be compelled to line up alongside those who may be called the recalcitrant workers-because the only worker who will have to go to the ordinary Poor Law will be the man who has shown definite signs of refusing work. I do not like the idea of a trustworthy honest person like the small shopkeeper having to range himself alongside persons of that class in order to get assistance. But I am grateful for small gifts and I am very grateful, as I know my constituents will be, for the removal of the stigma.
1398 Hon. Members opposite have spoken about the need test and we have talked a lot about it in this House. I will not refer to what the Leader of the Opposition said, or is alleged to have said, or what I thought he said in November, 1931, on this point, as the right hon. Gentleman is not present. But it is the case that until comparatively recently, until my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) made a declaration from the Opposition Front Bench, most of us were under the impression that the ideas of hon. Members opposite about the need test were a little mixed, like ideas in general in the country, and that some believed a means test necessary while some did not believe in it at all. I have had considerable experience both in the North-east and the North-west in connection with these matters. I have devoted all my time for the last 8i years to politics. I have done a tremendous amount of visiting and have mixed with the people in the very distressed areas. My experience is that in general they do not resent the means test or need test, in itself. They do resent the result of it, namely, a shortage of cash, but they do not resent the fact that they are required to show that they are in need of assistance. I feel certain that there is no necessity for us to be ashamed of our attitude on this matter.
The other argument, namely, that they ought to get more is a very different matter. That point would be arguable if the finances allowed, but I do not think there is anything in the suggestion that the people generally resent being asked to show whether they have a need or not. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) and also the last speaker spoke of family life being broken up, though the last speaker did not go so far as to echo the philosophy of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale who said the family was no longer a unit in society in this country. That is a matter upon which I am bold enough to hold some doubts. But I do not see how this inquiry into the means of a family is breaking up family life. It is no hardship on a man to be thought willing to support the other members of his family or to help in supporting them. When I was a youngster it was a matter of pride to people that, as they grew up, they were able to support the older members of the family.
§ Mr. NUNN
I see that there is another aspect of the argument. It might be held that a member of a family who has gone away would be called upon under this provision to do something in the way of rendering help but there are serious practical difficulties in the way of such a proposal. That indeed would set up an inquisition and would place the hand of the official upon the neck of the worker. But for practical reasons alone it would be impossible to carry out any scheme to secure from absent members of a family their due proportion of assistance for the other members of a family.
Having said so much in praise of the Bill, I desire to offer one or two criticisms. First there is the question of the new authorities. The proposal to create an Unemployment Assistance Board gives rise to a good deal of dubiety. We are getting a new public department. As an old official I view with increasing suspicion the additions which are rapidly coming one after another to the number of our officials. That is not because I do not regard them as the finest type of men we have in the country; not because I think they are inefficient, but because I think that they have a habit of growing and that that growth necessarily entails expense. It is possible that, with the creation of the new Board, there may be a diminution in the staff of the Ministry of Labour but I should like to see how it works. My impression is that we shall find ourselves with a new department on our shoulders and probably an increasing amount of expense.
There is another argument against this which has been mentioned already but not in the way in which I should like to put it. It appears that the existence of this Board will deprive Members of the House of the opportunity of raising questions in the House. That may not be altogether a disadvantage but Members will possibly be deprived of something 1400 else. It is commonly recognised that one of the chief duties of a Member of Parliament is to act as guide, philosopher and friend for his constituents. Some of us would be only too glad to have a little less of that work upon our shoulders and to spend less time writing letters inquiring into grievances. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour would be very glad, too, if he did not get quite so many letters from me.
It seems that unless the Minister can make some arrangements by which he may be able to approach the Unemployment Assistance Board, we may be depriving the people of a very real help. Our electors are very largely ordinary working people, who do not understand the intricate ins and outs of regulations and who are very often bemused and muddled when they get up against a Government official. They get the greatest possible assistance, as I know from experience, from the officials in the Employment Exchanges, but they are very often puzzled to know what they ought to do, and it sometimes happens that the results of their inquiries through the officials are not satisfactory. Those people have got into the habit of coming to their Member for help, and I think it is the duty of the Member to give that help. Personally, one never thinks, nor does one's agents, of inquiring into the politics of an applicant. If a man comes in with a complaint, we inquire into it, and if it is about unemployment insurance, it lands on the shoulders of the unfortunate hon. Member in front of me. That possibility of getting assistance will be taken away from our constituents, as I see it, and I am not sure that it is a good thing, because it often happens that, through no desire on the part of the Ministry to do the wrong thing, when the political head of the Department gets to work and looks into a matter in his own Ministry, he finds that there is something which enables him to pass a case which has previously been refused. If we cannot go on doing this valuable work for our constituents, while I feel, first of all, that we shall be relieved of a lot of hard work, I feel also that our constituents may perhaps suffer.
May I suggest that the removal of a good deal of work from the Ministry of Labour on to the shoulders of the Unemployment Assistance Board will leave the 1401 Ministry somewhat more free to do a little careful and plain thinking, and there might lie there an opportunity for the Ministry of Labour to be able to devote more concentrated attention than has been possible in the past, for obvious reasons, not on the question of how to relieve unemployment, but on the much more important question of how to make employment? If for no other reason than that it provides an opportunity to the Minister of Labour and his colleagues in the Ministry to deal with that question, I am prepared to welcome the establishment of the Unemployment Assistance Board.
I have a few definite criticisms to make, but they will not occupy long. My first criticism arises on the much criticised Clause 6 and deals with the words "but unable to obtain suitable employment." That has been much criticised, but, as a matter of practice, I think it would be quite possible for the Ministry to devise some simple scheme by which the proof of being unable to find employment could be obtained. I know it is a fact that employers of labour resent being asked to provide certificates. If a man is in a, shipyard and gets a dozen men during a morning asking for certificates, he naturally resents it, but I think it would be possible for the Ministry to have printed books of tickets, with a blank space for the man's name, indicating that he has called, and if those books were supplied on request by the Ministry to employers of labour, some simple scheme like that could easily get over the difficulty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Query !"] I have had some experience in handling affairs of that sort, and it is quite possible to get over those little difficulties. I assure hon. Members that it is quite a practical matter.
My next criticism is on Clause 9, where the expression used with regard to a dependent child is "maintained wholly or mainly." There may le two people who are contributing equally towards the support of one child, in which case neither will be "wholly or mainly" supporting the child. That is perhaps a little point, but it wants looking into. Later in the same Clause, or perhaps it is the same reference, there is a reference as to which I am not quite sure whether it would include the case of a child who is 1402 being supported by a relative because its parents are away from home, in hospital or, it may be, in prison. I think that case has to be safeguarded against—of a child being temporarily dependent upon some relative. In Section 5 of the principal Act, and I think it comes in this Bill too, there is the term "association of employed persons" used in connection with requests for appeals. Such an association may ask for an appeal. That is always interpreted to mean a trade union, and in view of the fact that the trade unions represent, I think, only about one-third of the insured workers, I am disposed to question the justice of putting two-thirds of the insured workers of this country at a disability in respect to this matter of appeals as compared with the one-third. This interpretation of an association of employed persons as being merely a trade union puts my two-thirds again into an unfair position, because very frequently a trade unionist has the additional advantage of having a fellow trade unionist as a member of the appeal court, and I have always failed to see why this distinct advantage should be given to trade unionists.
Then there is a point arising in connection with Clause 37. Assume that a household consists of parents and one son and that, living in the same house, are a daughter, her husband, and a child. The parents and the son are out of work, but the son-in-law is working. I shall be interested to know whether that would be counted as one household or two households. If the latter, it is quite all right, but if it counts one one household, we have the position that the son-in-law has to maintain, not only his wife and his own child, but his brother-in-law, his father-in-law, and his mother-in-law. That is a point which deserves a certain amount of attention. Then in the Second Schedule, in paragraph 4, where it is laid down how the statutory committee is to be composed, there is a reference to "organisations representative of workers," which are to be consulted in the appointment of members of the committee. I am curious to know whether such a body as the Conservative party's labour advisory committee will be recognised as an organisation representative of workers, or whether once again we shall have a bias in favour of trade unions.
§ Mr. NUNN
It is not; it is very real. I should like to put in a plea to the Minister that as soon as the Statutory Committee is formed the position of motor drivers in domestic service should be considered. They are not ordinary domestic servants. I put their case particularly because they are fully qualified men who can go into ordinary walks of life. They should be included under an insurance scheme for they are becoming more and more liable to unemployment with the increase of taxation, and they are fully qualified the moment they leave domestic service to step into ordinary employment. I do not agree with domestic servants being included in an insurance scheme, but I suggest that this particular type of man might be.
I have one or two remarks to make on the question of seasonal workers. There are a number of men and some women who are compelled by their circumstances to take work which is afterwards classed as seasonal work. I will make myself clear by taking an instance from my own constituency. Lorry drivers and public service omnibus drivers fall out of work, and on going to the Employment Exchange they are told there is work at a place like Keswick, which is the recognised pleasure resort, for driving chars-abancs for the season. They take that work up. This work at Keswick starts just before the ordinary seasonal rearrangements of the big omnibus company in my area, and therefore by going to take seasonal work these men lose the chance of ordinary work in their own line. They go to Keswick for a season and afterwards fail to get any work. The same thing occurs the following year, and after two seasons, when they go for their unemployment benefit, they are informed that they are seasonal workers, and therefore, although they have paid their contributions all through the season, they are not eligible for unemployment benefit. It is true that in this Bill they will be eligible under Part II, but that is a different matter; they are not eligible for the benefit for which they have paid. It 1404 seems to me that these people have a real claim for justice. They are not in any way persons who would normally be employed at special rates of pay for a summer or a pleasure season. They get in some instances less in the pleasure season than in their ordinary work, but they are completely cut off from the opportunity of becoming eligible for ordinary unemployment benefit, mainly by one of the sections of regulations which apply to them. That section says:Having regard to all the circumstances of the case and particularly to his industrial experience and to the industrial circumstances of the district, in which he resides, he can reasonably expect to obtain insurable employment during a substantial part of the off-season.It is obvious that if a man has to go away in the summer-time to get work 'at a place like Keswick, he will not be able when he comes back to discover work in the district in which he resides, and, although that man may be willing to go elsewhere during the winter to get work, he is still not eligible, because the referee holds that as there is not work available in his own district he is not in normal employment, but is in seasonal employment. This is a matter to which the Minister might give serious consideration. I have nothing more to say at this time, but probably other matters will arise during the Committee stage. I want to assure my hon. Friend opposite, who told us that we never expressed our point of view on this side and did not speak our minds, that, although I have spoken my mind about one or two points arising out of the Bill, I still believe the Bill to be the best that could be produced at the present time, and that it is a very great advance on anything we have yet had in the way of unemployment insurance.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Major NATHAN
The speech of the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Nunn) and other speeches from the opposite side make it clear that we are going to have an unusually interesting Committee stage of this Bill. As I have sat here for nine or ten hours on Thursday and to-day listening to the speeches that have been made on this Bill, I have been unable to help observing that many of the supporters of the Government, while criticising the Bill on points of substance and in many of its details, ended, as the bon. Member for Whitehaven has 1405 done, with a saving clause, which seems to have become common form on the benches of the supporters of the Government, that nevertheless, in spite of everything they think it quite a good Bill. The Minister of Labour in that luminous and helpful exposition of the Bill on Thursday defined it as a landmark in our social legislation. He might have pointed out, though he did not, that when it finds its way to the Statute Book it will be one of the curiosities of British legislation. If hon. Members will turn to the text of the Bill, they will find internal evidence that it deals not merely with two entirely different subjects in Part I and Part II, but that apparently the two Parts were originally drafted as separate Bills entirely independent of each other. It happens, I think for the first time in legislation presented to the House, that two Parts of the same Bill have nearly all the Clauses generally indicative of the conclusion of a substantive Bill. Clause 31, for instance, which is at the end of Part I, is an Interpretation Clause, and it is followed in Clause 32 with provisions AB to when the Act is to commence. Then there comes this most unusual Clause, which I imagine will provide considerable difficulties to those who may be charged either as administrators or as lawyers with dealing with a Statute of this kind. Sub-section (3) of Clause 33 reads:This Part of this Act (including the First, Second, Third and Fourth Schedules to this Act) may he cited separately as the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1934.On turning to Part II of the Bill, we find again an Interpretation Clause in Clause 53. In Clause 54 these are provisions as to the application of the Act to Scotland, in Clause 55 provision as to its application to Northern Ireland, and in Clause 56 it states:This part of this Act (including the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Schedules to this Act) may be cited separately as the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934.Many of us have been puzzled as to how this Bill ever came to be called the Unemployment Bill, for it does not properly deal with unemployment, or employment as we might have hoped and expected, but is dealing with the unemployed. Possibly the reason why it is called the Unemployment Bill is that unemployment is the only word which is common to Part I, called the Unem- 1406 ployment Insurance Act, and Part II, the Unemployment Assistance Act, whereas the Bill as a whole is cited as the Unemployment Act. I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary whether there is any precedent for a Bill with Part I and some of the Schedules—coming at the conclusion of Part II—being treated as a separate Bill from Part II and the remainder of the Schedules. I should like to ask, also, whether he has contemplated the difficulties that will arise in practice in dealing with the matter?
§ Mr. HUDSON
So far from causing any difficulty the Bill is designed in order to simplify subsequent proceedings. As soon as this Bill has become law we propose to bring in a Measure consolidating and putting into one Act the whole of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, and that will contain Part I of this Bill, which deals with insurance. Part II of this Bill, the Unemployment Assistance Act, will be a separate Act. I am sorry to destroy what appeared to be a perfectly prepared criticism of the hon. and gallant Member's, but his criticism is completely ill-conceived.
§ Major NATHAN
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I am perfectly prepared to follow my point out and I challenge the hon. Gentleman to say that on the Statute Book of this Realm there can be found any other instance of the same procedure having been followed even where there is to be a Consolidation Act, as I am glad to hear there is going to be in this case. We shall still have an the Statute Book the Unemployment Assistance Act as Part II of the Unemployment Bill.
§ Major NATHAN
Well, I followed the explanation of my hon. Friend, and that is the conclusion to which he led me.
§ Mr. HUDSON
Perhaps ale hon. and gallant Member had better wait and see the consolidating Bill before springing that criticism on the procedure.
§ Major NATHAN
I expect that the explanation is that the Government originally drafted two Bills, having considered these matters as two independent matters, but became desirous of having only one Debate in the House instead of two Debates upon what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said frankly 1407 to-day are two entirely independent subjects. Now I come to the actual provisions of the Bill but at this hour I do not propose to deal with them in as much detail as I might have been tempted to do earlier. As the emphasis of my speech will be criticism rather than approval, I should like to say that I welcome the provisions with regard to juveniles. I only hope it will be found that sufficient accommodation may be provided in time for the youngsters who are leaving school, especially in the "bulge years," which are now upon us, and that we shall not have large numbers of young people without those training centres which the Bill states are to be provided for them. Great energy will be required on the part of the Ministry to ensure that the local authorities create these training centres in sufficient numbers and in sufficient time.
I desire now to turn to the third statutory provisions in Clause 3. The unemployed man who is insured and applies for benefit must prove three things: First, that he is capable of work—that is already an obligation; secondly, that he is available for work—that is already an obligation; and then, thirdly, that he is unable to obtain suitable employment. This last-named obligation does not rest upon him at this moment, and, though I do not stress the point, I suspect this is merely another way of incorporating again the objectionable provision as to not genuinely seeking work. The point to which I specially wish to draw attention in this conection is that under Clause 35 (1, c) which is in Part II of the Bill relating to the unemployed who come under the Unemployment Assistance Board, a man has to prove only that he is capable of and available for work. The result, as I see it, is, therefore, that an unemployed man who has paid his insurance premiums and might expect, on becoming unemployed, to receive the benefit for which he has paid with the least possible difficulty, has put in his way the additional obstruction of having to prove that he is unable to obtain suitable employment, whereas the unemployed man who has paid no insurance premiums at all, or who has run out of insurance has to prove only that he is capable of and available for work. It seems to me that that is a gross inconsistency, and it only shows how the two 1408 parts of the Bill have been drawn up' separately and not satisfactorily coordinated the one with the other.
I put a specific question to the Government, which perhaps the hon. Gentleman will answer when he comes to reply tomorrow evening. Is it the intention that there should be greater difficulties in the way of an insured contributor, in benefit, in securing his benefit than in the way of an unemployed person who has run out of benefit or who is brought under the Unemployment Assistance Board as an able-bodied unemployed man? In the last Parliament, when I was more innocent and less instructed, and sat upon the benches opposite, I was one of those who voted for the "cuts" in unemployment pay, but I did it on the specific understanding, an understanding about which there could be no mistake, that they were for the emergency only.
§ Major NATHAN
I was very simple. I have never apologised and do not apologise now for having acted in that way in the circumstances of those times. I was simple because I believed the Government when they stated that at the earliest possible moment those cuts would be restored.
§ Major NATHAN
Now we find that, as far as it is in the power of the Government to insure it, these "cuts" are made perpetual, and I say that is cheating the Members of Parliament who voted for them, and is cheating the unemployed who accepted them and suffered. It is not as if the fund as at present constituted was unable to find the resources for making good the "cuts."
We have heard a long and amusing speech from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, though I confess that for my part it was not very convincing speech, with regard to the payment to the Exchequer of the £115,000,000 debt, or rather the payment of £2:20,000,000, which is the obligation which the £5,500,000 per year for 40 years actually puts upon the Insurance Fund. I listened very carefully to the speech in order to ensure that I should not fall into error. I still say that the demand upon the Insurance Fund to repay that sum of money is inequitable, because much of the expenditure—I do not say all—was not properly chargeable 1409 against the fund, and would now come under Part II of the Bill. Part was spent on extended benefit in 1928 and 1929, and on transitional benefit in 1929 to 1930. It bore half the cost of transitional benefit. The Chancellor of the Exchequer quoted to-day from the Report of the Royal Commission on this subject. I am not for a moment suggesting that he made only a short quotation for any reason but to save the time of the House, but the quotation was so short as to be misleading. If the report is read in its full terms, it does not in all respects bear out the conclusions at which the Chancellor arrived. I will quote rather more from page 345 of the report than was quoted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It says:It has been argued that the Debt, at least so far as it consists of the cost of uncovenanted, extended or transitional benefit, ought to be transferred from the fund to the Exchequer, since it represents a charge which ought not properly to have boon imposed on the fund.That is what I said just now.It is undoubtedly true,says the Commission's Report,that the machinery of the Unemployment Insurance Scheme enabled a large part of what we may call 'extra insurance' payments to be defrayed out of contributions paid by insured workpeople and their employers and that their contributions were increased, partly to meet this cost.I do not remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer quoting that. Then the Royal Commission's Report goes on to say, on page 346, to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer omitted to make any reference, no doubt through inadvertence:After full consideration of all material facts and circumstances, we recommend that the charge for amortisation should be borne as to two-thirds by the Exchequer and as to one-third by the Insurance Fund.There was no mention of that by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day. This Bill, in the face of a specific Recommendation of the Royal Commission, places upon the Insurance Fund the full 100 per cent. cost of the £115,000,000 with 3½ per cent. interest for 40 years added.
It is not decent for the House to refuse to restore the cuts when the money is there. The £5,500,000 which is to be applied, as the Bill is drawn, to the repayment of the so-called Debt—I believe the miscalled "debt"—should be applied to the restoration of the cuts and 1410 the increase of the benefits. It is useless to say that that cannot be done, because the money is there. The actuary's report shows that that sum of money, applied to that purpose, would answer the requirements and would enable the restoration to be made. There is a reason, apart from the mere equity and justice of applying that sum to the restoration of the cuts, which makes it extraordinarily important that that should be done. The cuts have reduced the benefits to miserable proportions, the benefits payable under the Unemployment Insurance Bill are all too little to become a "ceiling" for payments of this kind. They are likely to create a standard by which payment will be assessed. I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour nods his head in order to negative my suggestion as to the dilemma in which he finds himself. It is very important to get this point unambiguously. Do I understand him to say that it is not the intention or the wish of the Government that the benefits under the Bill should be the "ceiling" for unemployed benefit coming within either Part I or Part II of the Bill? Would he like to answer me now?
§ Mr. HUDSON
If the hon. Member will excuse me, I think it will be better that he finished his speech now, and I will deal very fully and completely with that point to-morrow night.
§ Major NATHAN
I have no desire to entrap the hon. Member. I am sure that he will be far too wary to be entrapped into any admission.
§ Mr. HUDSON
There is no question of traps. I hope to-morrow night to deal with this point very fully, and I do not propose in the slightest to burke the issue. We have a very satisfactory answer.
§ Major NATHAN
We know the hon. Member far too well to suppose that he would burke anything. But I will leave that point for the moment. I will come again to the restoration of cuts, and the "ceiling" which, in my view, is made very well-defined. I want to say a word about the Statutory Committee, and I will not pursue this point very far at this time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in castigating, as he did to-day, some of my hon. Friends upon these benches, for what they have said in regard to the Statutory Committee, failed to attach 1411 sufficient importance to the indication which is given by the Bill as to the line which the Statutory Commission is desired by the Government to take. I do not say that it is a mandatory obligation upon the Statutory Committee, but the House will see that it is intended as a guide to the Statutory Committee as to how surpluses are to be dealt with. I do not understand why it should have been thought necessary to draw their special attention to the fact thatwhere the Committee report"—I am reading from Section 17, Sub-section (3)—that the Fund is and is likely to continue to be more than reasonably sufficient to discharge its liabilities, the report may contain recommendations for the application of any sum…towards the discharge of the instalments under the Debt. That is an invitation to the Statutory Committee to recommend the application of any surplus of the fund to the acceleration of the discharge of the debt. If there should be a miscalculation in the amount of unemployment pay, or the rates of benefit or of contribution, and the fund should be in deficit, the unemployed of present and future generations will have to bear the consequences of that miscalculation, but if the miscalculation has produced a surplus, then, at all events in the first instance, that surplus is likely to go to the acceleration of the repayment of the debt. I do not think that that is right. As the debt arose out of the situation which was common to the whole nation, the burden of it should fall upon the whole nation. A very interesting provision in the Bill is the extension of benefit for 52 weeks, in certain contingencies. It is an adaptation of a provision in the Bill which was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) some 20 years ago, in which, in certain contingencies, contributions would be repaid, with interest. The only comment that I have to make upon this Clause is that I feel it would be well worth while considering whether, rather than extend the period of benefit, it would not be better to increase the rate of benefit for those persons.
In the few moments—all too few for my purpose—which I propose to detain the House further, I will say a word or two 1412 about Part II, Which is really the most important part of the Bill. It is, in fact, so much the more important that the provisions of Part I are rather being allowed to go by default without sufficient consideration and discussion. I regret infinitely that the scope of Part II is so restricted. I do not know whether hon. Members have considered the large classes of persons who are excluded from the operation of this Bill altogether. We have heard something to-day about black-coated workers, and it might be thought that black-coated workers are the only persons excluded from the provisions of this Bill. That is far from being the case. Apprentices and agricultural workers not receiving payment in money; casual workers, home workers, commission agents, pupil teachers, railway clerks, certain Civil Servants, public and municipal employés; fishermen who share the fish and not the prices they get for it—those are all classes of persons excluded from this Bill, in addition to independent workers such as the small shopkeeper, the street hawker, and a class to which reference has been made by one of my hon. Friends, the owner taxi-driver. Altogether the persons excluded from the operation of Part II of this Bill, the persons who are left to the Public Assistance Committees, number something in the neighbourhood of 4,000,000. It is therefore a gross exaggeration to say that the whole of the able-bodied unemployed are brought within the purview of this Bill.
I have never been able to understand why of two of my clerks, one earning a high salary and the other receiving a modest salary of under £250 a year, the one who is receiving the smaller wage should be able to be insured for the purposes of unemployment insurance and should have what the Minister has called the "stigma of the Poor Law" removed from him, whereas the roan earning £500 or £1,000 a year is not. The latter may come upon evil days. In every business and every profession men, however well they may be doing at one time, may find themselves in devastating distress at another, and I have never been able to understand why the well-paid men should be left to the tender mercies of the Poor Law. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said to-day—I thought somewhat sneeringly—that "the rates are not good enough for them." Give them a chance ! In this connection I was interested in 1413 what would be the cost of adding the black-coated worker to the National Health Insurance scheme, but that is an independent matter. I should like to see the Government, if they will not take these black-coated employés and these excluded classes in compulsorily, at least, say, to the independent trader, the street hawker, the owner taxi-driver and men of that class, and to the better-off black-coated men: "We are not going to make this scheme compulsory for you; come in voluntarily and you shall have all the advantages of the scheme, but it shall not be said of the State that it differentiated between one class and another by excluding the one who is better off from the rights enjoyed by those who are for the moment worse off."
What we are seeking is to secure—to use a phrase which is now well known in another connection—for the unemployed "equality of status within the framework of security." Why should we not have equality of status within the framework of security for all our unemployed? I must confess that I do not like this Unemployment Assistance Board. It is going to be appointed not by the Minister, not by Parliament; it will not be under the control of Parliament; it is to be appointed by Royal Warrant on terms over which the House of Commons has no control and, as far as I can judge, is as irremovable as those who sit upon the judicial bench. Its members will be completely free inside the Regulations made by Parliament. May ask my hon. Friend this question, for answer not now but perhaps to-morrow? When the Draft Regulations are presented to this House, will it be within the competence of this House to amend those Regulations, or will the House be under the obligation of either accepting or rejecting them as a whole? That is a matter of vital importance.
I ask myself, why are these Regulations left out of the Bill'? They form perhaps the most important part of the legislation which we are discussing, and I suspect and fear that the reason why they are left out of the Bill is that the Government did not desire to have a long and detailed discussion upon every item of these Regulations, but desired to put them before the House and have them either accepted or rejected as a whole. But if they do so, will the House be able at a later date to amend those Orders, 1414 or shall we be put in the same position as the Minister of Labour has so frequently been put during the last two years, of reluctantly confessing that he is unable in the face of this House to make any Amendment because the Orders, once made, were not capable of Amendment except by Act of Parliament? I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman here. I shall be speaking not only my own opinion but that of every hon. Member of this House when I say that I greatly appreciate the courtesy, which we wish that all his colleagues would copy in similar circumstances and which he has shown to the House for so many hours in sitting on that bench for the discussion of this Bill. Even the least of us greatly appreciates this courtesy in the Minister of Labour.
Then, again, I should like to know something about the position of the local advisory committees. There is no obligation upon the Unemployment Assistance Board to appoint these local advisory committees at all; they are left entirely in the air and there is nothing in the Bill which determines their functions in any way. I should be sorry to encroach on the indulgence of the House when I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, but I must point out that a board such as is in contemplation is unique in the functions and authorities which are bestowed upon it. It is quite unlike other boards established under the authority of this House, such as the British Broadcasting Corporation or the London Passenger Transport Board, which have certain functions allotted to them, certain work to be done, and have to finance their own expenses, provide their own revenue, and have no guarantee of loss from the State. But here, for the first time, is a board created by this House outside the control of this House, given an unlimited authority to dip into the public pocket without any responsibility to Parliament, irremovable and with no control left in the House of Commons, no possibility even of debating the matter except on those rare occasions when a Vote is brought before the House by the Ministry of Labour. I do not hesitate to say that it is a blow to the whole democratic system in this country. You are depriving the great mass of the unemployed of a safety valve. Sit on the safety valve, and an explosion may very likely follow. We 1415 have long tried to keep ourselves clear of an explosion; do not let it be said that this National Government sat upon the only safety valve still left to the great mass of the unemployed.
I need not repeat what has been said before that the talk about keeping this question of unemployment assistance out of politics is sheer nonsense. It is simply bringing the dole to Westminster, to become one of the acutest issues in every election. The Minister says that he is anxious to remove the stigma of the Poor Law. Does he do it? I suggest that, as far as regards those who are left outside the new Bill and are left within the purview of the Poor Law, he is by claiming to remove the stigma of the Poor Law for those brought under this Bill making the stigma even worse for those left outside. But what about those who are in fact brought under Part II of the Bill? They are to be subjected to the means test, and the same relieving officers may go to the houses of those who are under this Bill as go to the houses of those who are left under the local authority. That is to be found in Clause 37, Sub-section (5). The officers of local authorities may be taken over by the new board; that is to be found in Sub-section (1) of Clause 50.
To-day, therefore, an officer may arrive at an unemployed man's house and say, "I am the relieving officer representing the Poor Law," and to-morrow, having been switched over to the Board, the same relieving officer may go to the same house and say, "To-day I come as representing the Unemployment Assistance Board." There is not much removal of the stigma there. Or an officer may go as a relieving officer to house No. 1 to-day as representing the public assistance authority, and he may go next door within 10 minutes to No. 2 in the same street and say, "I have come here representing the Unemployment Assistance Board." You may have the same man doing both jobs. It will be difficult to get the unemployed to see where the removal of the stigma of the Poor Law comes in there. Again, have hon. Members noticed that under Clause 49 of the Bill all information obtained by the public assistance authorities is to be interchangable with the unemployment assistance authorities? There is not much removal of the stigma of the Poor Law there. Then the provi- 1416 sions as to training centres provide for the payment of allowances to other members of the family than the person unemployed, and the threat of the workhouse in Clause 39 is always held before him. There is not much removal of the stigma there. Some at least of the grounds on which the right hon. Gentleman based himself in presenting the Bill to the House really, upon examination of the text of the Bill itself, will not stand investigation. I say nothing about the families which will oscillate between the Poor Law and the Board, coming under the Poor Law this week and under the Unemployment Assistance Board the next. They will not know in the least to which authority they have to look.
I come to the last matter regarding which I will trespass on the indulgence of the House—although it is a big subject I shall to-night say very little about it—namely, the question of the means test. I come from one of the thickly populated industrial districts of London, where I am always in contact with the unemployed, who number thousands in a small area, and I feel no doubt in saying with a full sense of responsibility to this House that the fact that the means test is what it is is the cause of the profoundest unrest throughout vast numbers of the most decent of our population. They talk about taking a skewer and twisting it round their vitals. That is a sort of thing which they cannot stand. I believe that the existing means test is fundamentally wrong in its conception and its administration in this country. I believe it to be fundamentally wrong to take a household or a family as the unit, and that the correct unit is the individual, who, after all, is the unit for taxation, whether it be by way of Income Tax or Surtax or Death Duties—
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Henry Betterton)
Does the hon. and gallant Member agree that there should be a means test?
§ Major NATHAN
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks that I wish to take up any other position. I always have been, and am to-day, in favour of a test of need applied to the individual; there need be no doubt as to that. But I say that the household is the wrong unit, that the family is the 1417 wrong unit, and that the right unit is the individual. As regards Income Tax and Surtax the individual is taken as the unit of assessment, and as regards old age pensions it is the need of the individual old age pensioner and his need alone, and that of his wife, of course, that is taken into account in assessing whether or not a pension should be payable.
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman also advocate the abolition of family allowances in connection with Income Tax?
§ Major NATHAN
If I may say so, that interruption is not really relevant to the matter under discussion. I stand for the principle that the individual should be the unit, as is the case in connection with Income Tax—[HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] Yes, the individual is the unit upon which Income Tax is assessed. That does not mean that there are to be no family allowances, that no consideration as to family should be taken into account. I would assert to the House, and I hope it may be adopted, the principle that the individual must be the unit by which means are assessed.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. KENNETH LINDSAY
I have listened to a great many speeches, most of which seemed, to my mind, to cancel each other out. One thing upon which I am not quite clear is that, while a cry for boldness comes from hon. Members on the Opposition benches, as soon as something really bold is put before them we have the statement, "This Board is a unique Board; we have never seen anything like it before in history." That is perfectly true. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) made the same sort of remark on Thursday, when he said that these were revolutionary proposals. I think that my first duty is to congratulate the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), or those of his party who are here, on their great moral victory. I had a bit, of it six weeks ago, and I have seen it again in the last two weeks in this House. They have persuaded the official Opposition to abolish the means test from their political vocabulary. I think that that makes the air a little clearer because it is part of that re-definition of issues which has got to take place sooner or later if we are to restore some reality to political dis- 1418 cussions. This is too serious a matter for indulging in quotations of what the Leader of the Opposition said on suchand-such an occasion at such-and-such a stage during the last two or three years.
I should like to try to clarify in my own mind, and possibly in that of one or two others, the principles and leave aside the details that have been discussed to-day. It seems to me, first of all, that there never was a Bill that was more dependent on the spirit of its administration, and the more I study the principles so admirably laid down by the Minister, the more I visualise the actual working in a given area, the more impressed I am with the magnitude of this new administration. It seems to emphasise to my mind the need of some replanning of our whole social services in connection with local government. It is not a simple question. I do not believe it is a party question, apart from the one issue, the means test, which separates hon. Members opposite from hon. Members here. I think it needs the co-operation of all parties to find a workable solution. I think the taunts of hon. Members opposite about insurance are misleading, and that some remarks made on this side of the House are also mis-leading. In strictly actuarial language, I do not believe that insurance is applied to health and unemployment as it is applied to other things. But that does not matter. It is a perfectly sound financial basis. It is an arbitrary relationship if you will, but there is a relationship between contributions and benefits, there is the element of right irrespective of the need basis, there are certain rules and regulations which have to be adhered to and typically English epithets—umpires, referees and so forth. Of the debt itself enough has been said. I do not propose to refer to it. I have an open mind. If there is one thing on which I would appeal to the Minister, whether it is a question of restoring cuts or a question of manipulating the Insurance Fund, the first thing before teachers or any other people are considered, should to my mind be a shilling extra for the child.
This, I believe, is the essence of the problem. We are dealing with two persons. We are dealing with the industrial person who is in involuntary idleness, an ex-wage earner, and secondly we are dealing with the citizen, a social 1419 person and part of a family. The first part of that human being immediately suggests the province of the Ministry of Labour—standard benefits on a mass production scale. The second part suggests individual case work, utilising local experience. I have a practical mind on the question, and I have to try to look at it in terms of an area. On the one side, I can see this vast Ministry of Labour, divisional areas, a network of exchanges, accurate statistical service, all the knowledge of the ebb and flow of industry, and vocational centres. On the other side, I see a rationalised Poor Law service and an intricate machinery of case work connected with local government and the other services. Not only are there those two sides, but we are also faced to-day with a bigger issue, and that is the need for some sort of planned employment policy. I do not care whether it is a question of hours or freedom or concentrating work at those ages when work is best concentrated. I believe that task to be not the task of the House, but of industrial statesmen in the next 10 years.
Apart from these details, may I suggest one or two principles which emerge from this analysis. Firstly, there are in the Bill the beginnings of a policy for dealing with die ages between 14 and 18. Anything that will regulate the flow of juveniles into industry, which will enable training for employment and extend continuation schools, which only survive in London, industry by industry and area by area on a scientific basis instead of this method of raising the school age—anything that will move in that direction is a step forward, and my own experience is that thousands of bad cases are created by maladjusted adolescence. I have interviewed hundreds of these cases, and you can trace it time after time to this period between 14 and 18 when there has been wandering from job to job and no adequate provision. If I had my own way, I would spend all the money on those under 18 before I spent a penny on those over 18. Then we come to the board itself. I think we ought to know a little more about the personnel of the board. Considerable importance attaches to the type of personnel appointed. We ought to know a little more about its scope and its relations with this House, and particularly about those area ad- 1420 visory committees. As advice on scales is prohibited, I imagine that it will be assisting in the question of training more than anything else.
Finally, may I indicate another bias. In so far as the board deals with straight cases—by straight cases I mean where there is not a vast intricate discretionary machinery—I believe the problem is not removed from local to national politics. An hon. Member said that we should have to go back and answer these cases just as much in our own constituencies, and it was just a removal of the question from local to national politics. I say that, in so far as the board is dealing with straight cases, that will not be so. The question is where the borderland comes, what is ',he frontier between those cases dealt with by the board and those dealt with by the Poor Law. Some of us will be interested in some closer definition of that and some of us would like to have a slightly closer definition of a household. I hope I am right in my conception of the working of the two parts, that we shall have in future a Minister of. Labour dealing with insurance cases according to defined codes which is the job of insurance, and we shall have commissions dealing with industrial personnel under a scale devised respectively by a statutory committee on the one hand and by a national board on the other covering the same administrative areas. Here the bias is industrial training, codes and scales, national in conception and devolving its administration locally. That is the one side.
I am wholly in favour of local government—and would like to see local government administering, through closer co-operation, public assistance, attention to health, school meals and hundreds of other questions which affect the basic needs of service. I do not think that that is at all inconsistent with this Bill. It is a question of where you draw the line; it is a question of the frontier and the emphasis. If this bias is given to the administration it is my belief that the finance will be simple, and certainly not more expensive. The administration will be less duplicated and complicated, the political implications will be minimised, and I believe that greater justice will be done all round. Able-bodied men will be relieved from local finances, and the public assistance committees will still fulfil their proper function.
1421 Finally, I wish to add a word which I know will be unpopular in some quarters, that this, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said, is a bureaucratic Bill. Of course, it is a bureaucratic Bill. It is time that this particular function, as far as able-bodied men are concerned, was dealt with in this way, because the other system has broken down. Other countries noticed this a little while ago. The most characteristic thing in British administration is not only the admirable Civil Service but the voluntary societies. I believe that anyone whose eyes are not completely closed and who is watching events on the Continent, however much he may dislike certain things which have happened, must be aware that unemployment is being tackled in some countries in an entirely new spirit. Here in this island a spontaneous movement has grown up during the past two years Involving nearly 250,000 people. You may say, as one hon. Member opposite said, that unemployment cannot be cured by good will and charity. I do not need to be told that. Nobody needs to be told that in this House. As with all the schemes in the world—and I support the Bill in this direction wholly and entirely—you must have coupled with this great national movement, the voluntary movement, the essence of which is voluntary. We all know of mining villages where when you have relieved people there are still openings for an enormous amount of voluntary endeavour.
I hope that I am not trespassing beyond the bounds of the Bill when I say that there are openings in the machinery of this Bill for fresh inroads to be made into voluntary endeavour. The magnificent lead given in high quarters in this country can well be followed up even with greater intensity during the next two years. I say this because of one piece of experience which is personal. I have seen in connection with one subject in which I have been long interested bureaucratic officials of the Ministry of Labour turn into voluntary workers and go far beyond the hours laid down for them, cooperating with all kinds of machinery in a particular part of England. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) said that we were face to face with a new type of machinery in this country. It is the co-operation of the bureaucratic 1422 machine, the Civil Service, the new types of voluntary machinery. I do not only apply it to human beings, but would wish it to be done in town planning, and other spheres of local administration where local administration is too slow, and we know it. If we 'are stop the rot with regard to human beings and the countryside, we must open our minds to new types of machinery. Finally, I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his courage in bringing forward a Bill which depends entirely on the spirit in which it is administered. I believe that with the co-operation of all parties in this House it will be made the landmark which he has said it can be made.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Miss PICKFORD
I have listened to very nearly every word of the Debate both to-day and on Thursday, and I think that anyone not familiar with the Bill hearing the criticisms which have come from the Opposition Benches would have thought that this was another Anomalies Bill designed to get as many people as possible out of insurance, instead of being a Bill which, for the first time, brings a younger age group of from 14 to 16 into insurance, and will restore to insurance many people who have recently been on transitional benefit, and, quite apart from this, many will for the first time be brought under the ambit of the Unemployment Assistance Board. It is not upon the general merits of the Bill I want to speak this evening. I want to thank the Minister of Labour very particularly for those Clauses which deal with juveniles, and particularly the younger juveniles from 14 to 16.
My excuse for addressing the House at this late hour on a subject referred to a good many times is that I was as long ago as 1926 on a Departmental Committee which was set up by the then Minister of Labour, the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland), and the then President of the Board of Education, the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy). That Committee had to do with education and industry. It had to deal not only with the public system of education in relation to the requirements of trade and industry, but also the arrangements for enabling young persons to enter into and retain suitable employment. We had not been very long con- 1423 sidering that question before we became aware that our attention was directed to this gap in supervision, the gap between the time when the child leaves school at 14, and 16, when for the first time it is brought within the influence of the Exchange by having to contribute to unemployment insurance. But that was not the extent of the gap. It was even greater, because it was not until the child or young person had attained the age of 16 years and 7 months at the least that he or she could be brought to the unemployment centre.
Therefore, there was this gap of at least 2½ years during which no authority was responsible for the employment of those young persons at the most impressionable age. Our committee made certain recommendations for a working certificate which we recognised were only a compromise. It would have been possible to have closed the gap, theoretically, by raising the school age to the age of entry into unemployment insurance, but, even apart from the question of cost, at that time the Hadow Committee was also sitting considering the question of the curriculum and of the division of the schools at the age of 11, so as to get a more realistic curriculum from 11 to 15. Therefore, clearly, it would have been absurd to have raised the school age at the time that the reorganisation of the schools had not begun. We, therefore, put forward the working certificate. I will not enter into the details of that, because it was never adopted, but from that time, in 1926, until now nothing effective has been done either to close or to bridge the gap.
It is true that the Labour Government, in 1930, in the Unemployment Act did bring in a Measure to reduce the age of entry into unemployment insurance to the age of 15, when the school age was raised to 15, but that was never done. That sugegstion had two very grave defects. It would not have closed the gap, as there would still have been a gap between the school-leaving age of 15 and the time when these young people qualified for benefit, a gap of at least seven months if there had not been a single week of unemployment, and a gap which was much more likely to have been anything from nine months to a year. But there was a still more serious defect, and that was that it was a direct blow at 1424 voluntary continued education, either at a junior technical school, a trade school or at a secondary school. One knows very well of the sacrifice that parents make to keep their children on at school or at a technical college until the age of 16 or even up to 18, but in these hard times, with the knowledge that it is easier to get work for a boy of 15 than for a boy of 16, and the knowledge that he would qualify for the unemployment benefit betwen 15½ and 16 would have been a very great temptation for the parents to have removed their children from school before they had attained the age of 16.
May I say how much better the proposals now before us are for the care of these young persons? I want in particular to thank the Minister, because I am the only Member of that Committee who is a Member of either House at the present time and I feel sure that my colleagues would join with me, if they had the opportunity, in thanking the Minister for these proposals, which are free from the objections that I have indicated in regard to the proposals put forward by the Labour Government. They completely close the gap, because the young person has to go to the juvenile instruction centre immediately on leaving school if he or she has not got employment, and it does not militate against continued education, because whether a child is at school or at work it is earning credits for the time when it can receive benefit. It will only be a short time after leaving school at [6 and entering employment before the young person will be able to qualify for benefit. Therefore, it has not the objection which I have indicated as applying to the proposals put forward by the Labour Government.
There is one Clause, Clause 16, which introduces a recommendation which we made on the Malcolm Committee with regard to notification by employers of vacancies. Without such a Clause it is impossible to know what your problem is. Until you know the size of your problem you cannot deal with it, and without such an obligation on the employers to notify, it is impossible to tell what young person is unemployed and to oblige that child to go to a juvenile instruction centre. There is great need for more regular attendance at these centres. According to the last figures 1425 which are available there were on the 23rd October on the register very nearly 90,000 young persons between the ages of 14 and 18 who were unemployed and looking for work, and yet the number attending approved courses or other educational institutions was very little over 15,000. That is very largely due to the fact that there was no machine to bring these young persons to the courses, because there was no compulsion which could be brought upon them.
With regard to the juvenile unemployment centres, I do not think that anyone would deny their great value in preventing deterioration. Whatever the nature of the instruction given, the juvenile is far better there under some control, under some discipline and receiving instruction than in running the streets of our great cities. But there is a very grave defect in the juvenile unemployment centres, or the juvenile instruction centres, whichever name they may be called, because the young people who go there have to be available for employment at any moment. Therefore, it is clear that the curriculum at these centres can only be a question of from day to day or at the most week to week and the amount of instruction, certainly the amount of technical training, that can be given there is very little. I believe that in some centres it has been possible to arrange longer courses but, clearly, so long as the problem of the unemployed juvenile is dealt with in isolation and not in connection with a general scheme of continued education and training these instruction centres must suffer from this defect.
If one takes the long view of the treatment of these unemployed juveniles, surely it is waste of money and waste of good human material to wait until the young persons have drifted into employment, sometimes unsuitable, and have become unemployed before you bring them to the centres and train them for better employment. Surely, it is far better to draw all these juveniles together and endeavour to institute a more general scheme of continued education and technical training. I hope very much from the wording of Clause 13 that the Minister has the intention of using such a power, because under that section these instruction centres are for those young persons under the age of 18 years who have no work, or only part-time or intermittent 1426 work. In dealing with the question of juveniles it seems to me that the Members of the Labour party, and to some extent the Members of the Liberal party which follow the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), have laid far too great emphasis on the necessity of keeping juveniles out of the labour market and not nearly enough on what you are going to do with them while at school. Surely, the more constructive proposal is to consider what is needed for the training and instruction of these young persons.
When the noble Lord the right hon. Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) spoke on Friday last he said that he was speaking for himself and a group of friends, but there are many Members like myself who have arrived at the same point at which he has arrived, though perhaps we have travelled by different paths. We feel certain that eventually the State, with the active cooperation of industry itself, will have to face the question of the general technical education of young workers. This must be done with the active co-operation of the Board of Education and industry itself, but the initiative must surely come from the Ministry of Labour. It has been said time after time in the course of this Debate that the organisation of industry does not follow the lines and boundaries of the local authorities, and it is only the Ministry of Labour which can deal with the question nationally. The question of training and of entry into different trades must be dealt with industry by industry and not locality by locality. The Board of Education has no industrial department, and rightly so, but even if it set up such a department it could never have the up-to-date knowledge or the authority of the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think the hon. Member is now getting rather far away from the Bill and dealing with a matter of which the House has already disposed.
§ Miss PICKFORD
T am anxious to abide by your Ruling. I have read with great care what you said on a previous occasion that an hon. Member must not refer to any questions not under discussion, but I had hoped that the question of the training of juveniles during unemployment was so closely connected 1427 with the general question of training and education that it would be considered to be the same question.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I have allowed the hon. Lady some considerable latitude, and what I meant to say was that I thought that at last she was getting too far away altogether from the duties of the Minister of Labour and dealing with matters which would require entirely different legislation by another Department.
§ Miss PICKFORD
I, of course, bow to your Ruling. The point I wanted to make was that in Clause 13 of the Bill the Minister of Labour is assuming responsibilities for juveniles who have no work or only part-time or intermittent work; he is assuming responsibility for their instruction and training, and I was suggesting that this instruction and training would be more valuable and more likely to keep them from falling into unemployment if it was training which would enable them to take part in a particular trade. I only desire to ask the Minister whether at a later stage in the Debate he will indicate more precisely what are his intentions with regard to these courses of instruction and training, whether in fact he had in mind to cooperate with industry in such a way that the training would be of definite value to these young persons in helping them to obtain employment. In other countries such training courses are provided by the Minister of Labour. It would be possible, perhaps, to vary contributions towards unemployment insurance in such a way that those firms and industries which provided both training and the possibility of employment when these young persons grew up to vary them in favour of these industries, and in favour of those firms which, though not able to absorb their young workers into adult employment, do still give training and instruction during working hours. In that way the machinery of unemployment insurance could be used for the purpose of encouraging training which would maintain the employability of the young persons.
I hoped that in mentioning that subject I was not straying outside the scope of the Bill. I trust that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies to-morrow he will give some indication of what is 1428 intended by these courses of instruction and training, for which. the Minister of Labour has made himself responsible up to 50 per cent. in the case of courses of instruction and up to 75 per cent. in the case of courses of training. The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings mentioned on a previous occasion that the proposals of the Bill seemed to him to be more in the nature of salvage operations. I trust that the Minister does not take that view, and that the proposals that are here put forward are not merely salvage operations for young persons who have started on the voyage of life and have drifted or been wrecked on the shoals of unemployment, but that he will use the machinery which already exists as guiding lights—the machinery for the giving of advice to young persons—for bringing them back to training centres; but still more that he will use the opportunity which this Bill gives for a safe course of navigation for these young persons on their voyage of employment in life.
This Bill is a great new advance. The Minister has far greater opportunities for the guidance and the training of these young persons than he has had before, and I trust that the Clauses will not be framed in such a way that they continue to treat the problem of the unemployed juvenile in isolation, as it has been treated before, but that when the right time comes they can be interlocked with a general system of training.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
It has been usual for Members who have addressed the House in this Debate to congratulate the Minister of Labour on the wonderful effort which he made last week and I do not wish to be different from other Members in that respect. We on this side agree that the Minister had a very difficult task and made the best job he could of it. But although we congratulate him on his effort that does not mean that we agree either with the speech which he delivered or with the proposals of the Bill. I have been somewhat amused during the Debate to hear the intellectual giants on the other side of the House spending such a large part of their time in speaking of the failures of the Labour Government. A Labour Government is something unique in their experience. We are supposed to have had 100 years of uncorrupt government 1429 in this country—that is since the passage of the Reform Act in 1832—and for two years out of the 100 a Labour Government has been in office. One would imagine, listening to our political opponents here and in the country, that unemployment was due to the fact of the Labour party having been in office.
I have had more than 50 years' experience of industrial life and I do not remember a time when there was not unemployment. As far as we are concerned, we would not think of blaming any of the Tory or Liberal Governments who have held office for 98 years out of the last century or suggesting that they had taken upon themselves sole responsibility for the situation in which the country finds itself to-day. In any case, I would remind hon. Members that the Labour Government was led by the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Tory party to-day and if he makes as good a job of leading the present Government, as he did of leading the Labour Government, I wish them luck of their choice. A couple of years ago during a Debate in this House references were made to the right hon. Gentleman by hon. Members opposite who then described him as one of the enemies of the country. Now they hail him as one of the saviours of the country. God save us from many of our saviours.
Before proceeding to deal with the main proposals of the Bill I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to tell us exactly what is meant by the Fifth Schedule which refers to the constitution and proceedings of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Paragraph 6 states that the members are to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund and so forth but we would like to know whether any provision has been made for dismissing any member of that Board, or whether the matter can be dealt with by Parliament at all, or whether the members of, this Public Assistance Board are to be treated as though they were judges. I should like an answer to those questions to-morrow. Apart entirely from the merits or demerits of the Bill, I think it will be agreed that the Government are assuming an unemployed register of 2,500,000—[HON. MEMBERS: "No !"]—and that brings us to the position at the beginning of the present century, when the late right hon. Campbell-Bannerman, who was then 1430 Prime Minister, stated that there were 13,000,000 on the verge of starvation. A generation almost has passed since then, and in spite of what may be said by individual Members on the other side, there is no questioning the fact that the Government anticipate a continuance of 2,500,000 people unemployed. [HON. MEMBERS "No !"] I hope to show that it will be difficult for them to provide for any other sort of situation than that.
We are sometimes told that there has been a considerable improvement in the position, mainly due to the coming into office of the present Government. We are asked to believe that many thousands more men have been employed, and I frankly admit that a large additional number of men have been employed. It would be peculiar if that were not so. I believe that, according to the unemployment index for the month of October, there is an increase in the number of insured persons of roughly 750,000, or an increase of 12 per cent, in the number of insured persons, according to the Government's own figures, but in the northern counties of England the increase in the number of persons employed during the last two years is only 2 per cent., and that means that in the last two years there has been a considerable number of thousands of persons, young and old, willing and anxious to work but who could not find it, in the northern counties of this country. As a matter of fact, the unfortunate position is that we have two nations in this country to-day.
I have taken the trouble to look up the unemployment index for October of this year, and I find the somewhat remarkable position that in the counties of Cumberland, Durham, Lancashire, Northumberland, and Yorkshire, the five northern, industrial, mining counties of England, with 191 Employment Exchanges, 103 of them have over 20 per cent. unemployment. That is not the whole position. There are 48 of these areas in those five counties with over 30 per cent, of unemployment in October this year. This Bill is not going to mend that state of affairs and make it any better. Compare that position with the position in the counties of Buckingham, Bedford, Berkshire, Cambridge, Dorset, Hereford, Hertford, Huntingdon, London, Middlesex, Norfolk, Oxford, Rutland, Somerset, Surrey, Suffolk, Westmorland, 1431 Kent, Wiltshire. Most of them are parasite counties. In these 19 there are less persons unemployed than in the counties of Durham, Northumberland and Cumberland. That is not a very happy position, even for Tories. It is not anything to boast about, and it, puts those of us who come from those northern counties in the position of knowing something more about what unemployment means than they do.
We have been born and bred among men who are now suffering from unemployment, and we have something more than mere sympathy for them. That is all that can be got from some hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is a tragedy so far as the industrial and mining counties of England are concerned. Although we may differ in our points of view on many matters, all Members are anxious to see the country of which we are citizens progress to a much greater extent than it is doing at the present time. Surely it is 'not unreasonable on our part to direct attention to the difference between conditions obtaining in one part of the country as compared with those in another. Take the case of Wales. That was a very patriotic part of the country about 15 years ago. It produced the South Wales Borderers and other regiments, and you had nothing but praise for the South Wales men during the War.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I gave as much as you did, and a wee bit more. In Wales there are 73 Exchange areas, and in October 70 had over 10 per cent. unemployment; 59 had over 20 per cent.; 41 over 30 per cent.; 24 over 40 per cent.; 17 over 50 per cent.; and 8 over 60 per cent.; yet we are being told by Members representing the London area and Surrey and other counties which are more or less unaffected by unemployment, that there is not any room for men being transferred from Wales to this part of the country. They have to be confined to their particular areas, where they are unable to find employment, and the nation of which they form a part, and which they have played a responsible part in creating, says they are to be doomed to starve because we can neither give them work nor the means of maintaining themselves.
1432 The position in Scotland is not much better than in Wales. It is infinitely worse than in England. I would remind some hon. Members on both sides of the House that a very strong feeling is growing up in Scotland in favour of separation from this Parliament. [Laughter.] Well, there is the example of Ireland, which is not the brightest page in our history, is not anything to boast about. In a few years from now, in all probability, those who are laughing will be wishing we had acted differently and not caused that country to separate itself, as it is proposing to do at the present time. I am one of those who believe that we from Scotland have given a great deal more than we get. We have given this country quite a large number of Prime Ministers. The man who got you out of the mess in 1929 is a Scotsman, so it is as well to be kindly in your thoughts regarding that part of the island. In a few areas in Scotland we find one-half of the total number of unemployed. The hon. Member who laughs may get something to laugh at in Sheffield when the next election comes on. This is a matter on which I feel very strongly.
I have drawn attention to the disparity between one part of the country and another, and I do not think there can be any justification for a continuation of such disparity. In Scotland the unemployed are mainly situated in the counties of Ayrshire, Dumbartonshire, Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire. In those four counties there are 62.5 per cent. of the total unemployed. Sometimes members wonder why there should be demonstrations and suggestions of a Communist movement. I wonder what some of my Tory friends would do if they were living under the same conditions as the men there. I know some little of the history of our country. Oliver Cromwell was a bit of a Bolshevik. I remember, also, that the men who took the greatest part in the change over from the Stuart to the Hanoverian period in this country were not the working classes, but belonged to the middle and upper classes, who are mainly responsible for the jeers we sometimes hear coming from the other side of the House when we are making a reference to the situation in unemployment.
I look upon unemployment as the most important matter of our generation, and it is essential, if we are anxious to make the world better than it is, that we should 1433 give fair-play to our own people. There should be a great deal more co-operation than there is. When we talk about co-operation we suggest taking the trade unions into consideration. They know something about this unemployment problem. [HON. MEMBERS: "They have a means test."] I have no objection, nor has anybody on this side, to co-operation, but one of the difficulties with which we have had to contend is that, during the whole course of our political and industrial life, people like hon. Members on the other side are willing to take our assistance but never willing to give us an equal share of responsibility. You cannot settle the unemployment problem if you intend to do it in a partisan way and from one side of the House, because then it is approached from an entirely different angle from that which I have suggested. So far as hon. Members on this side are concerned, play the game straight and open, and you will find that you will get, not so much criticism, but a good deal more co-operation than you have had in the past, and more than you are entitled to if you continue the present partisan policy.
I come to the question of the means test, which has been referred to by quite a. large number of hon. Members. Members of the Labour party are never in sympathy with or in support of the means test. We are only a couple of years in front of you. You are not in sympathy with the means test, and we were not in sympathy, when it was recommended. We were not in sympathy two years ago, any more than we are now. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Hon. Members must show a little more restraint when another hon. Member is addressing the House.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I am trying to show the House that there are, unfortunately, two nations in this country. More than half of the population are not affected by unemployment, and are living in counties and areas which are mostly parasitical. What is London London sucks from the nation wealth that is created in every other part, and it has only 10 per cent. of unemployment, whereas there is 30 per cent. in Liverpool 1434 and 30 per cent. in Glasgow. Is any hon. Member prepared to say that art individual member of the community in London is superior to any individual member of the community in Liverpool or in Glasgow? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I should say not. [Interruption.] Hon. Members act as though they believed they were. It costs just as much to live in Liverpool or in Glasgow as it does in London. Hundreds of thousands of persons are affected by the application of the means test in the part of the country from which I come. So I am justified in saying that, so far as the means test is concerned, the Labour party have never been sympathetic to it in any sense whatever. Anyone acquainted with the record of the trade union movement will know that for nearly 100 years, when dealing with this question of unemployment, it has never failed to put on record that it believed that it was the business of the State to provide either work or maintenance. That has been our position all along—until we got some intellectual members inside the party.
The means test does not apply in so far as providing maintenance is concerned. I know that some hon. Members of this House voted far a shilling a week to be paid for the children of the unemployed. They have been influenced mainly by Socialist propaganda in their own constituencies to recognise the need for a considerable increase even on the allowance to the children, of more than a shilling a week. I have heard it said here to-night that many of the supporters of the Government who are more or less mild critics of it at the same time have said that one of the things that must be done to-night is to increase the allowance for the children. I am suggesting, too, on behalf of the trade union, Labour and Socialist movement that you should increase the allowance both to the children and to the wives. I look upon it as an absolute disgrace, with nothing that can justify it, in a Christian country like ours that we have the hardihood to stand up and say that a woman, perhaps our own wife, if she happens to be unemployed, shall be maintained on 5s. a week, when every one of us knows that it is absolutely impossible.
I am not here to do more than make my protest against the evil conditions under which we are now living and to 1435 intimate to the Government that, so far as we are concerned, we shall, when this Bill is in Committee, do our best to have it amended along more reasonable lines than it is on at the present time.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
We shall if we can do so. We are quite willing to test the country, and the best means of testing the country is on this question of the Unemployment Bill, to let the electors see whether they believe in the continuance of the means test, as is intended in this Bill. If the Government majority remains true to its party and the Government, there is no doubt that the Bill will become the law of the land, and we shall have to abide by the decision when the Vote is taken. But I can promise you that the time will come when the question will have to be referred to the electors, and they will decide who shall be the next Government. If we are to be the next Government we shall remove the means test absolutely. There is no question on which there is so much feeling throughout the country, and every hon. Member from an industrial area or who represents an industrial constituency must be aware of the feeling of deep hatred animating the minds of men and women belonging to every section of the working classes, whether they are working at the present time or not—emanating from them with a determination that, once we get the opportunity of dealing with the question as a Government, we shall as their representatives remove this blot from the Statute Book. It is a blot, and I hope that the time will soon come when we shall have the opportunity of dealing with this matter in that way.
There are many matters to which I should have liked to refer, but most of them have been referred to by other Members, and I am very pleased to find that there is a consensus of opinion on both sides of the House in favour of some amendment of this Bill. I sincerely hope that, when the time comes to discuss the matter in Committee the Members from London, and Surrey, and all the other counties where unemployment is not a very serious matter, will be prepared to take a much more reasonable and human view of the question than unfortunately is the case at the present time, or has 1436 been the case during the two years for which this Government has been in office.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I have listened with attention to a portion of this Debate, and while the hour is late, I still regard two or three minutes as being very useful. At the very outset I would congratulate the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) on his declaration that the Labour party are now prepared at the earliest possible moment to remove the means test. They have been converted almost a week from approval of a means test to antagonism against it. At their last annual conference they relegated the question of the means test and the Anomalies Act to a committee to inquire into, in order to save the faces of the leaders of the Labour party in the last Government, and, if you are to take the statement of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean), the people who matter are the people at the annual conferences, and not the leaders of the Labour party in this House. At the 1931 conference, the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) moved, on behalf of the Independent Labour party, the abolition of the means test—
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I am more serious than you are. At the 1931 Conference, when the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs moved, on behalf of the Independent Labour party, the entire abolition of the means test, the Labour party, on the advice of Mr. Tom Johnston, the late Lord Privy Seal, who moved the Motion for the Labour Party Executive, proposed that they should only stand for the abolition of the application of Poor Law relief to the means test, and not for the abolition or elimination of the means test in its entirety. We are prepared to accept, in connection with this question, a death-bed repentance, but the Labour party are beginning to be seriously perturbed at their own rank-and-file members. There is a danger of the army running away from the leaders, and the leaders being left with no army, and, therefore, they have said, "No matter what we believe, let us tell the rank-and-file that we are going to accept their declarations, because we are losing at by- 1437 elections." All the declarations of the past have been in favour of the means test, and I desire—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.