HC Deb 14 June 1933 vol 279 cc175-283

Order for Second Reading read.

3.15 p.m.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Henry Betterton)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The object of this Bill is to extend for a year the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1930 and Sections 1 and 2 of the No. 3 Act of 1931. The No. 3 Act of 1931 is what is usually known as the Anomalies Act. I ought to explain that the effect of extending the Act of 1930 is automatically to extend the Transitional Payments Prolongation Act of 1932 and also the Determination of Need Act, 1932, since the operation of both these last two Acts is limited by reference to the Act of 1930. The Determination of Need Act, 1932, is, as the House will remember, that which secures 50 per cent of disability pension and 50 per cent. of workmen's compensation and makes certain provisions with regard to the amount of savings which are to be taken into account.

Might I at once, for the convenience of the House, point out what will happen if either of the Amendments now on the Paper is carried or, which comes to the same thing, if the House refuses to give a Second Beading to the Bill which I am now moving? The first result will be that transitional payment to those persons who have not 30 contributions to their credit in the last two years automatically ceases at the end of this month, and these persons would, I have ascertained, amount, as far as one can judge, to about three-quarters of a million people. The second thing is that the statutory protection for 50 per cent. of disability pensions and workmen's compensation and for savings up to the amount prescribed would also cease. The third result would be that the Anomalies Act would lapse, and the protection against the evils which were described in such impressive terms by those who were responsible for introducing and passing through this House the Anomalies Act would cease to be effective and would come to an end.

Another result would be that the adult dependants benefit, which is now 8s. a week, would automatically become 7S. a week, representing a loss of 1s. a week to them; and a still further result would be that the power of the insurance officer to disallow a claim would be revived. As those Members of the House who were in the House in 1930 may remember, one of the provisions of the Act of 1930 was that an insurance officer should not disallow a claim that was in doubt, but that it should automatically go to the court of referees. That power would, as I say, be revived. Another result would be that the automatic right of appeal to the Umpire when the court of referees is not unanimous would go. As the House may remember, the Act of 1930 provided, among other things, that where the court of referees was not unanimous with regard to a decision, there should be a right of appeal to the Umpire. The next result would be that the genuinely-seeking-work Clause, about which there has been so much controversy, would revive. I was responsible to a large extent for the administration of that particular formula, and I confess that it is not one which I want to see revived at all, but the effect of passing either of these Amendments and of throwing out the Bill would be that that Clause would be revived. The last result to which I need call attention is that the provision made in the Act of 1930 for approved courses for juveniles instruction would go.

The hon. Gentleman opposite who will move an Amendment which will have the effect of throwing out the Bill will no doubt explain his reasons for desiring any of these things to happen. Speaking for myself, I want them all to be retained, but, if he or any of his friends have other views, no doubt they will explain why they do not want them to be retained. I am the last person to say that the hon. Gentleman or any of his colleagues on the Opposition Benches have not a right to alter their minds if they want to do so, and I shall listen with a good deal of interest to the reasons which they may advance as to why they want, for instance, the Anomalies Act to go, because that Act, which it now appears they wish to repeal, was passed, in spite of great opposition from hon. Members below the Gangway, by the last Labour Government, and the effect of not passing this Bill would be that it would go.

I want to make it clear that the needs test was not imposed by any of the Acts with which we are concerned to-day. It was imposed by the Order-in-Council of October, 1931, and is not affected at all by anything which we may do to-day. Therefore, so far as the needs test is concerned, if we throw out this Bill, all that will happen is that those applicants who have not 30 contributions to their credit in the last two years will cease to get any transitional payments, and the needs test to which they will be subjected will be the test applied by the Poor Law authorities to whom they must go if they do not get transitional payments. The result will be, therefore, that the charge for these cases, numbering something like 750,000 persons, will become a local charge instead of a national charge, which I should have thought was the one thing which hon. Members opposite were anxious to avoid.

I have, I hope, clearly explained what would happen if this Bill were not passed. Before I return to one or two other matters, particularly the Anomalies Act, about which I want to say something, I will refer to Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, which the House will see is in italics. By that financial provision Parliament is asked to provide the amount which is authorised by the Act of 1930; in other words, an amount to provide transitional payments for those applicants who have not 30 contributions to their credit, and who, but for this Bill, would get no transitional payments at all after the 30th June. As stated in the Memorandum to the Bill, it is estimated that the amount for this payment will be £30,000,000 in a full year and £22,500,000 in the current year, the current year for this purpose being the period between June this year and the end of the financial year in March next.

May I remind the House of one or two figures. My Estimates, which are already before the House, provide for a sum of no less than £54,000,000 as a direct charge upon the Exchequer for insurance benefit and transitional payments. That amount is made up of the equal third's contribution of the Exchequer, which is estimated at £19,650,000, transitional payments £31,400,000, and the deficiency grant, £2,950,000. If we add that sum to the £22,500,000 which we shall require by this Bill, the resultant cost of the Bill, together with the amount which appears in the Estimates, reaches the vast total of £76,500,000, which is a direct charge upon the Exchequer for unemployment. For the purposes of comparison, may I remind the House that six years ago, in the year 1928–29, the expenditure for insurance benefit and transitional payments amounted in the aggregate to £53,700,000, of which the Exchequer's share was £11,800,000. To-day, the expenditure is £115,800,000, of which the Exchequer's contribution is £76,500,000. I do not propose, therefore, in these circumstances, to argue to-day, because I do not think it relevant, the principle of the means test. I would say, however, that the Order-in-Council did not disentitle a single individual to assistance if it was shown that he was in need of assistance. The insurance scheme can only meet its ordinary obligations to unemployed persons, because no less than 40 per cent. of the insured persons never claim benefit at all.

I hope that in the course of this Debate we shall have it stated clearly by those who speak for the Opposition whether they do or do not defend the payment of relief in cases where no need can be established. In this connection, I am just going to say a word, and it will only be a word, about the recent Report I called for at the request of the Leader of the Liberal party and at the request of the Opposition on the administration of the Durham Commissioners. In my view that Report is a justification of my action in appointing the Commissioners and is a justification of their administration. I have examined the scales most carefully and I find that they compare favourably with those in neighbouring districts, and I am satisfied that the Commissioners are carrying out their duties both humanely and with a proper regard to their responsibilities.

Next I wish to say a word about the Anomalies Act because, as I have already mentioned, it is one of those Acts which lapse unless this Bill be passed. The House, therefore, is entitled to a justification of the Anomalies Act. It is not sufficient for me to say merely that it was passed by the Labour Government. I realise the onus which rests upon me of showing that, in our view, it is desirable that that Act should be continued. At the same time I hope it will be made clear during the Debate what is intended by the difference in the wording of the Amendment which stands in the name of the official Opposition and the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). The official Opposition Amendment refers to certain anomalies which have the effect of depriving many unemployed persons of the right to benefit. We should like to know what are the particular anomalies which they have in view. The other Amendment is much more explicit. Those hon. Gentlemen do not want to continue the Anomalies Act at all, and say so in so many words. They are always consistent in this; they are always consistent except in their support of hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway. I would like to know what is the difference in the minds of those two sets of hon. Members. I quite understand what the hon. Member for Bridgeton means, but I am not so certain what the official Opposition mean. If they intend the same thing I would, if I may respectfully do so, offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Bridgeton upon the tremendous influence which he appears to have exercised upon the Leader of the official Opposition, because less than two years ago we sat up all night while the hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposed the Labour Government of the day, moving 35 or 36 Amendments and telling us exactly why they objected to the Anomalies Act.

But, as I have said, that is not sufficient or my purpose to-day. I have to justify the continuance of the Anomalies Act. That involves a reference to a little past history. The Anomalies Act is stated to be an Act for the amendment of unemployment insurance "with a view to the elimination of anomalies." This story has its origin in the first report of the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance, which, incidentally, the Labour party also appointed. Paragraph 104, on page 38 of that report deals with this question of anomalies in these words: The seriousness of these anomalies lies in:

  1. (1) the unnecessary expenditure from public funds to which employers, workers and the State have contributed;
  2. (2) their effect on the repute of the scheme;
  3. 180
  4. (3) their encouragement of methods of industrial organisation which may be harmful to trade and employment in general."
In the next paragraph it goes on to say: The classes of claimants to which our attention has been particularly directed in this respect are as follows:
  1. (a) intermittent, short-time, and casual workers,
  2. (b) married women,
  3. (c) seasonal workers."
In three successive paragraphs the report deals with these different classes of workers. In paragraph 109, dealing with intermittent workers, it says: We accordingly recommend that no claimant shall be treated as unemployed within the meaning of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, who habitually works for only two days or less in each week, and is unable to satisfy the statutory authorities that he is normally employed in regular insurable employment for the other working days of the week. Married women are dealt with in paragraph 119, where it says: Regard must, of course, be paid to the fact that many women work after marriage, especially in those districts and industries where they are customarily employed in large numbers. But we cannot avoid the conclusion that, under the present conditions, married women who have no wish to work have no difficulty in obtaining unemployment benefit, and we are satisfied on the evidence before us that there are many married women receiving benefit who have not since marriage worked in an insurable trade, and, in their existing circumstances, have no intention of doing so. In regard to seasonal workers the report says: In our view a worker who habitually obtains his (or her) living for the year, by work in a seasonal occupation for a part of the year, should not be deemed to be unemployed and qualified for benefit during that part of the year which is the off-season. We therefore recommend that a seasonal worker should be entitled to benefit in respect of unemployment occurring within the season subject to the general conditions applying to all claimants, but that during the off-season a claimant who, from his industrial record, appears to the Insurance Officer to be a seasonal worker, should not be entitled to benefit unless he can prove to the satisfaction of the Court of Referees"— On receiving that report the Labour Government proceeded to introduce a Bill. The then Minister of Labour, Miss Bondfield, said, in introducing the Bill: Hon. Members will see that there they sketch out"— that is, the Royal Commission— in very broad outlines, the lines upon which they think these anomalies should be dealt with. The Government agree, in principle, with these recommendations, and the purpose of the Bill is to give substantial legislative effect to the recommendations contained on page 51 of the Report. That is the object which the Minister of Labour set out to attain, by the drafting and introduction of the Bill. Miss Bond-field then proceeded to deal with the three classes of persons to whom I have referred, namely, the people who work for a short time each week, the seasonal workers, and the married women. This is what she said with regard to the seasonal workers: There are certain classes of workers who do not, in fact, do anything except particular seasonal jobs, and they wait until next season comes round before they come into the employment field again. These, I submit, can be better dealt with by regulation than by any words in a Statute. With regard to those who work a few days a week, she said: It is obviously unfair that those people who do not wish to have a full week's work should be able to draw regularly four days' benefit from the Fund and earn two days' wages in the shops. With regard to the married women, she said: I think that it will have to be made clear that benefit is not a dowry on marriage on account of contributions paid; that it is not a source of income to enable a woman to be economically independent of her husband's earnings, or to supplement the poor earnings of her husband; that marriage does not create a special privilege to escape the normal obligations of a job; that benefit is only due to an unemployed married woman who is still in the industrial field, and will remain so in the same sense in which a man or a single woman remains."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1931; cols. 2104–8, Vol. 254.] So, in each one of these three classes of case, she justified the proposals that she made to deal with them.


What did she say in regard to those cases of bona fide employed persons who lost their jobs because their firms closed down, and who were compulsorily turned into seasonal workers?


I have not that before me, but I will hand the volume of the OFFICIAL REPORT to the hon. Gentleman afterwards, so that he may find it for himself. Not only was it her view, but she was, of course, representing the Government, and she was reinforced in what she said by a previous Minister of Labour, Mr. Thomas Shaw. He said: Let me recall to the House the genesis of this Bill. From every part of the House, without exception, there were complaints that people were drawing insurance benefit by fraud, or, at any rate—though 'fraud' was the word frequently used—were drawing them when they ought not to be drawing them. Those complaints did not come from one part of the House, but from all parts. In another place he said: The Government agreed in principle with the interim report that these were anomalies which ought to be removed. In a final passage, Mr. Shaw said: It is not true to say that the workers are not in favour of this Bill. There is no keener opponent of abuses in the world than the working classes. You cannot help the Unemployment Insurance scheme, you cannot help your own friends, by shutting your eyes to the fact that these anomalies exist."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1931; cols. 2218 and 2228, Vol. 254.] Therefore, it is, I think, perfectly clear that in the view of those who were in office at that time, there were really serious abuses which they sought to remove and to rectify. Accordingly, they brought in their Bill. That Bill afterwards became the Act which I now wish to continue for another year. In Section 1, the Act says: It shall be the duty of the Minister, after consultation with the Advisory Committee constituted for the purposes of this Section, to make…regulations. Later on it says: Before making any regulations under this Section, the Minister shall submit a draft thereof to the Advisory Committee and that Committee shall forthwith proceed to take the draft into consideration, and shall as soon as may be make a report thereon to the Minister. When I was appointed Minister of Labour in the first National Government, in August or September, 1931, the Advisory Committee to which the Act refers—the Act had been passed in July, a few weeks before—had not been set up. I took immediate steps to do what this Act asked, and I set up an Advisory Committee. I took steps to obtain the personnel of the Advisory Committee, as prescribed by the Act itself, and, having done that, I submitted a draft, as the Act also said that I should, to the Advisory Committee. From them I received a unanimous report with regard to the regulations for married women; there was no suggestion of alteration. The only suggestion in that case was that there was a close balance of argument, and they left me the choice between two alternatives. I chose the alternative which was recommended by the Royal Commission, and I am, in general, satisfied that the regulations are working in accordance with the Act. I have watched their working, and only quite recently, within the last two or three days, I received a report as to the working of them. In one or two respects I think that those regulations might be modified, and I am proposing—I have to submit the proposals to the Advisory Committee—to submit certain revised regulations dealing with two of the classes of persons, seasonal workers and married women. I shall get a report in due course from the Advisory Committee who will have considered the regulations which I am proposing to make.

I have no hesitation in asking the House to renew this legislation. I believe that it has removed the abuses which were referred to by the Royal Commission, by Miss Bondfield, by Mr. Shaw, and by many other Members of the Labour party, as will be seen by anybody who cares to look through the OFFICIAL REPORT. I believe that their anticipation of the efficacy of the Act has been justified. As I agree with their view, I propose now to ask the House to continue the Act for another year.

The Bill provides for the continuance, for a further period of a year, of the existing provisions as to unemployment insurance and transitional payments, which otherwise expire on 30th June. Without it, the whole system would be reduced to chaos, and we should have no power after 30th June to make transitional payments to a large number of the unemployed. No one regrets more than I do that I am not in a position today to submit comprehensive proposals dealing with the whole of this matter. That is a matter of very great regret.


Tell us why?


The reason is that the more one looks into this matter the more complex the problem appears. What we are determined to do, if we can, is to found a system which will stand the test of time. I attach great import- ance to that point. This involves, of course, financial and administrative questions, which are all the more difficult owing to the size and the nature of the present unemployment. I would ask the House to consider with me some of the problems which they and I have to face, it has already been announced by the Minister of Health, in his speech in the House on the 12th April, that the Government propose to introduce this Session—and I may remind the House that it is unlikely that this Session will end in July—a Bill dealing on a national basis with the problem of assistance in respect of unemployment, and that it has been decided that the Government shall accept responsibility for assisting all the able-bodied unemployed who need assistance. That will involve an adjustment of the financial relations between the State and the local authorities.

In any scheme dealing with unemployment insurance, it is, in my view, fundamental that the scheme must be placed on a sound financial basis. The essence of an insurance scheme is that it is a contract between the worker and the scheme, by which the worker, in return for his payment of contributions, receives benefit as of right, subject to the fulfilment by him of certain conditions. The conception of a contractual policy can only be maintained if the finances of the scheme are on a sound basis. While conditions remain as they are, the unemployment insurance scheme, which is designed, as is well known, to be the first defence against unemployment, cannot hope to carry the whole burden of unemployment if it is to be maintained in a solvent and self-supporting condition.

Such devices as the granting of overdraft benefit under the name of un-covenanted benefit, extended benefit; or transitional benefit, have, as the House knows, been brought to an end. There will be a large number who are not entitled to benefit merely because they do not satisfy the contributions condition of the insurance scheme, and at present, as is well known, they receive transitional payments. For nearly two years the administration of the scheme has devolved upon local authorities, in accordance with the improvised legislation introduced in the autumn of 1931, and I am very glad to express my view, and the view of the Government, that we owe a debt of gratitude to the local authorities for the way in which they have shouldered this heavy and difficult task. With very few exceptions it has been faithfully undertaken by the local authorities. But it is difficult, as a permanent arrangement, to have a system under which the Exchequer finds the whole of the money and the local authorities assess the need. Moreover, as I have often been reminded in this House, experience has shown that there is a number of local anomalies and variations in the administration of transitional payments, and one of the objects of any new scheme will be to secure a greater measure of uniformity. At the same time, it is important that the House should understand that this does not mean any abandonment of the principle that, whereas persons entitled to insurance benefit obtain it as a contractual right, those who are not entitled to benefit can only claim assistance if they show that they need it. Unless this distinction is maintained, the whole scheme of contributory unemployment insurance falls to the ground.

There is another important problem, which no doubt the House will consider, as I have been considering it most anxiously for several months past. That is whether it is really justifiable any longer to treat persons like agricultural labourers and uninsured railwaymen who need relief in a different manner from those obtaining relief who are in insured trades. There are numbers of workpeople outside the insurance scheme who normally work for wages and who look for work in the same field as insured workpeople, who register for employment at Employment Exchanges, and who are placed by those Exchanges. It would be in accordance with the announcement of the Minister of Health that a scheme of unemployment assistance according to need should cover those persons. In addition to the relief of need due to unemployment, it will be one of our primary objects to maintain so far as possible the employability of the unemployed, and, with this object, we shall continue and develop where possible suitable schemes of training and reconditioning. I am also considering whether we cannot make more satisfactory arrangements for dealing with boys and girls who become unemployed after leaving school. For the general policy of the system of assistance to unemployed industrial workers, the Minister of Labour will be responsible, on behalf of the Government, to the House. I have endeavoured to explain my reasons for asking the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill, and I now beg to move.

3.55 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: whilst realising the necessity for continuing certain temporary provisions in the Unemployment Insurance Acts, this House cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which fails to remove the injustice inflicted toy the reductions in (benefits and the imposition of a means test, and continues in force provisions with regard to certain anomalies which have the effect of depriving many unemployed persons of their right to benefit. The right hon. Gentleman has explained to the House that this Bill really includes four Bills, each of which deserves very serious consideration in itself; but I think the House will have been mostly interested in what he said during the last few minutes of his speech, about the proposals of which he has just given us a kind of shadowy outline. I do not intend on this occasion to say anything about those proposals. In this, as in other matters, we must be cautious enough to wait and see exactly what is meant. But I am not so optimistic as to believe that the right hon. Gentleman's schemes are going to make the situation any better for the unemployed. One thing that he said did surprise me, and I really think we ought to know what was his meaning. The Minister of Health announced some weeks ago that the Government were going to take responsibility for the able-bodied unemployed. That announcement was welcomed with cheers in this House, and it was weclomed particularly by those who represent the depressed areas. It was taken as an indication that the Government were going to take financial responsibility for those able-bodied unemployed who are at present on the Poor Law, and that the depressed areas would be relieved to that extent. Now, however, the right hon. Gentleman says that there is to be an adjustment of the finance between the State and the local authorities. If that means that the local authorities are still going to bear either the whole or a part of the finance for these able-bodied unemployed, it simply means that the areas that most need succour and relief are going to get either little relief or no relief at all. I hope that I have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, and that his statement this afternoon does not mean that what the Government said they were going to do is not in fact going to be done. The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon has given no indication at all to the House that there is going to be during the next 12 months any relief whatever from the very burdensome condition of things borne by the individual unemployed, by their families, and by the local authorities.

The right hon. Gentleman tells us that the scheme which has been put before the House takes time. The Government, with their majority and time at their disposal, have been in office for two years, and the net result of all their work is that the great mass of unemployed are in an infinitely worse position than ever before. There are want and misery on a scale never before known by the British working classes in the history of this country. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour told us this afternoon that the needs test has meant a saving of £20,500,000 since the Government came into office. The right hon. Gentleman in December, 1932, estimated that the needs test was saving £15,000,000 a year. The Government's estimate originally was £10,000,000. We were told on 1st December that they were saving £15,000,000 a year, which means something like £30,000,000 in two years. There has been taken from the unemployed by way of reduction of benefit £12,500,000 a year by the 10 per cent. cut. That means that, on the Minister's own estimate on 1st December, the unemployed of this country have suffered a reduction during the last two years of £55,000,000.

It is time that we looked into the result of that kind of policy. The hon. Gentleman told us that, under the means test there were reduced payments in 5,000,000 cases, and that payment was refused in 994,000 cases; so that there have been reduced or refused payments in respect of something like 6,000,000 people. The unemployed number 2,600,000, according to the right hon. Gentleman's figures. I should think it is a moderate estimate to say that the total number affected is round about 9,000,000 to 10,000,000, that is, about a quarter of the population of this country. There has been a reduction in the incomes of the poorest of the poor of £55,000,000 directly. The result has been that, not in labour circles, not in party circles, but among people of all parties, men and women in the churches and in all walks of life, there has been a great outcry against the operation of these cuts, and what is called, in a rather mild way, the operation of the needs test. What has been most striking has been some of the evidence coming from medical quarters as to the physical condition of the people. I wish that I could divest myself of my party traditions, and every other thing, in dealing with this question to-day. There is not a Member of this House in any party who does not know that the condition of great masses of our people is lamentable beyond words. It has become so had that it is attracting the attention of medical men. I have in my possession a recent copy of the "Lancet," in which reference is made to areas where there has been for long unemployment. Dr. Mackay, writing to the "Lancet" says: From impressions gained in the outpatient department of the Queen's Hospital for Children, I personally, have no doubt that the health of East End mothers is worse now than a year or two back.…Those of us who work in such hospitals are well aware that in times of stringency the mother is always the first to go short of the essentials of an adequate diet. Anyone who knows anything about public health knows, of course, that attention was drawn some months ago to a statement made by Dr. Smith, head of the Dispensary at Newcastle-on-Tyne. Dr. Smith said: The misery and distress among the sick poor of Newcastle is still appalling. Attention was drawn to that statement. He is at the head of a dispensary run by a committee who represent no parties but who represent just that good nature and fine feeling characteristic of the best type of our citizens. There was so much notice taken of it, that Dr. Smith and his assistants began to make an examination of the reasons for the condition of many of the mothers who came there to see them. They began to investigate the causes of those physical defects. They investigated the incomes of the people. I have a statement here regarding the examination of 230 cases, of whom 125 were persons living on less than 3s. a week for food. I ask this House to consider that as one of the most serious facts ever placed before it. There are other facts in connection with the investigation. They are the logic of the means test. There is no doubt whatever that mothers, and also fathers, punish themselves to give the children food and clothes.

Attention was drawn to a statement by Dr. M'Gonigle, of Stockton-on-Tees—I see that the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Macmillan) is present. It was an appalling statement. Families had been taken out of an old slum area and put into new council houses. There were 700 people concerned. The death-rate was so astounding that they were compelled to investigate the causes. The death-rate in the riverside area, the old area, had actually gone down on the whole, but in the new area it had increased by about 8 per cent., and was much higher than the national rate. When they made an investigation, they discovered that the real cause of it was that the people had to pay something like 4s. more rent than they had paid in the older area, and they had therefore less to spend upon themselves. Who can justify cutting down the incomes of men and women who are so circumscribed, so limited in their income that a few shillings a week make all the difference in the world as to their standard of health?

The right hon. Gentleman says that there is a report just out, and that the House of Commons has no right to spend money unless it gets a report of the result of that spending. We hope to get a full and free opportunity to discuss that report in all its details. There were 74,000 cases dealt with in that report, and they got only 44 doubtful cases out of the 74,000. I think the House will agree that a proper report would mean that at least those who reported would give some indication of the condition of the other people, that they would take out some instances in order to show what really was prevailing. You read the 44 cases and you get a sort of impression that they are very wealthy in that part. Why, the best of them have not enough among them to buy the poorest knacker running at Ascot to-day, or to keep it. I think that the reporters, in order to give a fair report, should have taken out, at any rate, cases showing the real condition of the people in that area, and not the exceptional conditions of the hard saving, thrifty men who are usually good Tories. The Labour party, if they had not given some benefit, would probably have been charged with making some discrimination against their opponents.

The right hon. Gentleman might have told us something else. He might have told the House that the chairman of this Commission who reported could not live on his salary of £l,200 a year, and that he had resigned. The right hon. Gentleman, or the Parliamentary Secretary, might tell the House why he resigned. One of their own kind, a Tory, gets £750 a year to work with him. There is another gentleman of the same type who gets £750 also. Three good Tories. Let the right hon. Gentleman appoint three Labour men to investigate the administration in any Tory district. When we appoint Labour men to posts in Durham it is said that we are giving pals jobs, but when good Tories appoint their own men, it is described as impartiality. I would ask the House to inquire into this type of case, which is an indication of the kind of thing going on.

There was a friend, a neighbour of mine, who served in the Dardanelles, and was wounded. It was thought he was permanently out of the War, but late in 1916 he was sent back to France, and served until 1918. I had a letter from his widow this morning. He got 8s. a week pension. An accumulation of colds, and all the rest of it, brought on phthisis, and in December he was dying. The county public assistance committee gave the family what is the standard. Because of his condition, the doctor gave the man an extra half-crown. The commissioners in January said the family was getting 2s. 9d. too much according to their scale, and they took 2s. 9d. off the eldest boy. The man dragged on. The new commissioner came in in May and said to the public assistance committee that the family was getting 6s. too much in addition to the 2s. 9d., and he said: "If you do not take that 6s. off, we will take 6s. off the eldest boy." The man has died since.

The commissioner, when he reported, should have given cases of that kind. I will give it to the Minister if he wishes it. The commissioner could have given cases by the dozen where brave men and women of the finest character and the finest calibre are condemned to live on the mere offal that they can get hold of, on a standard of life which is unbelievable to the average Member of the House but which must be known to some who are familiar with these areas. I warn the House that, if they attempt to use those 44 cases as they have been used in the Press, to make believe that that is the standard of Durham, we have material at our disposal which we will unhesitatingly use. The fact remains that there are 74,000 cases in which people are living on a standard of life which no one under any conditions could justify.

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman why he will not tell us how much this administration is costing. He knows, from the commissioner to the last unit, how many officials there are employed. He knows almost to a penny how much a year it is going to cost, but he will not tell the House. I venture to say that it is because he dare not. There are a dozen chief administrators who are costing £10,000 a year. If it costs a penny, it will cost £60,000 a year. The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman is spending £l to get Is., and he is making the House and the country believe that there is some sort of virtue in this kind of administration when in fact the only thing that they are doing is to cut the standards of individuals as well as to intimidate those who are administering the Poor Law. I have not been able to get the figures showing the effect of the administration of the needs test upon various localities, but the movement that has grown up during the past year among Members of all parties is sufficient testimony as to what is happening. I know that in Durham since the Government took office the increase in the number of cases dealt with has been about 3,000 a week, and the extra cost of administration has been about £4,000 a week. That is laying a burden on local authorities which they cannot possibly continue to carry.

The right hon. Gentleman said the Government were bringing the local authorities together and that by a certain arrangement they were placing some of this weight on the better-to-do areas. What has become of that arrangement? If the conference has broken down, what are the Government going to do about it? They have admitted by implication the lamentable position of the people in those areas. It is not possible by any words to convey a description of the conditions under which local authorities work in those parts. What is going to happen in the next 12 months? Are these areas which have had an increasing unemployment problem to continue without any help at all? The unemployment figures may seem to be getting better, but in these areas which are asking for help they are getting worse. In the North of England the coal trade is in a state of collapse. They cannot go 12 months in face of a situation of this kind. What with the means test, the reduction of unemployment benefit, the growth of unemployment, and the savage operation of this new thing called "transitional payments" we on these benches cannot see that there is any risk whatever in voting for this Amendment.

I want to say something, too, about the not-genuinely-seeking-work Clause, it is true that that would be restored if the Bill was not passed, but it is also true that, if it was not passed, there would be demolished what is called the fourth condition for unemployment insurance, that is the condition in which it is declared that certain people are not normally insurable. The right hon. Gentleman told me that there were 253,000 eases in which men and women had been cast off the register altogether because of that condition. That is a serious fact. They are men and women, particularly men, of long-dated unemployment. They are middle-aged and elderly, and they do not come back again. They are the kind of people who go on to the Poor Law, and I do not think there is the slightest doubt that the increase in the Poor Law is in the main among men who have been declared not normally insurable. A man came to see me on Sunday morning. He was a very fine type. He is one of those who under the needs test are not getting transitional payments. He is concerned as to how long the little that he has will last. He is about 60 and is a good type of workman. He has been idle for three years. He gets no transitional payments because he has a certain amount saved up. He has been called to go before the court of referees. His main trouble is that, if he is turned down by the court of referees and declared to be not normally insurable, his name will be taken off the register. Not only has he to pay his own stamp for health insur- ance, but he will have to put the employer's stamp on. When he has finished under these conditions his little savings will be gone, and there will be no future for him.

The right hon. Gentleman ought to give the House some explanation of the operation of the not-normally-insurable condition. The truth is that the law has stopped those sleuths who used to interrogate and harry men, but under the fourth condition the same thing is going on as far as the elderly men are concerned. If the not-genuinely-seeking-work Clause is the rule, it is high time that the right hon. Gentleman took steps to stop this interrogation and harrying of men of long-dated unemployment under the guise of the not-normally-insurable condition. It just goes to show that even the most innocent Clauses, under an Administration which means to cut down standards, can be used by Ministers if they wish it. That is exactly the effect of it. While the not-genuinely-seeking-work Clause is involved in the Measure, there is also the Clause which has taken the place of that not-genuinely-seeking-work Clause, and which is being worked in a devastating way among those people.

The right hon. Gentleman gave us a gentle dig or two about the Anomalies Act. We are willing to accept all our responsibilities in these matters, but he slid gently over the account of the regulations. He made regulations, and one regulation in particular, altering the whole intention and purpose of that Act. When he submitted the regulations to the Advisory Committee, they pointed out to him that one of the regulations would have the effect of disqualifying married women who lived in industrial areas and whose unemployment was due to industrial depression. To-day these women have been turned off by the thousand. The Advisory Committee pointed out that such regulation would not do, but the right hon. Gentleman took no notice and issued his regulation, the danger of which had been pointed out by the Advisory Committee. The result is that whole masses of women are being cleared out and are losing benefit. I do not suppose that even the opponents of the Act will say that there was the slightest intention that the matter should be applied in that direction. The Trades Union Congress have written to the right hon. Gentleman and have sent deputations to see him, and they have pointed out repeatedly that he has diverted the whole purpose and intention of that Act. Although the Act is intended to catch a few people, its administration and purpose have been so diverted that we should not have the slightest doubt or hesitation in taking steps to abolish the existence of the Act.

I wish to speak upon another point which illustrates what the administration can do. The right hon. Gentleman was so moved by the protests throughout the country about the penalising of disabled soldiers that he brought before the House Measure to exclude 50 per cent. of their pension from being taken into calculation. I do not know what was his intention, but the wording of the Act says that 50 per cent. of the pension shall be excluded. That was a minimum. It did not mean that you could not exclude more than 50 per cent. That was my impression. I thought that that was the intention. I know that up and down the country there were public assistance committees whose conscience as to the war service of these men was so acute that they actually excluded the whole of the pension. But as a result of the operation of the Act the 50 per cent. has become the maximum. It is rigid, and the commissioners representing the Minister in Durham are most exacting in that respect. They never make it less, but they never make it more than 50 per cent.

The House will remember that the Act was applied also to Poor Law cases, that is, disabled men under the Poor Law. But in the case of the Poor Law, instead of being compulsory, it was permissive. It was permissive on the part of public assistance committees as to whether they should exclude part of the pension or not. I wonder if the Minister of Health can tell us how it comes to pass that public assistance committees in different parts of the country are actually refusing to take any notice of the Act. Disabled ex-soldiers who are on the Poor Law are not getting any benefit from the Act at all. I am told that in regard to public assistance committees in London the Act might as well not have been passed, and that they do not take any notice of it, but include the whole of the pension.

I asked a question of the Parliamentary Secretary a short time ago about a letter sent to the Durham Public Assistance Committee. The interpretation of the letter was to the effect that the committee must include the whole of the pension. When I asked the question I was unable to obtain an answer, but I hope that before the Debate finishes the right hon. Gentleman will give an answer on this matter, because I assure him that public assistance committees up and down the country are acting in such a manner that the Act might never have been passed. It is not that public assistance committees are ignoring it, but it is said that circulars are sent out by the Ministry of Health to the effect that they should not operate it.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me to what circular he refers?


The circular which was sent to Durham about public assistance matters about a fortnight ago. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary a question about it, and he said that it had not been before the Committee yet and therefore he could not deal with the interpretation of the paragraph.


I think that probably the hon. Member is referring to a letter which was sent to Durham and not to a circular.


Perhaps I was wrong in using the word "circular" rather than the word "letter." There is another matter which ought to receive the attention of the Minister. It is the question of reservist soldiers who receive pay. A reservist soldier has perhaps been out of the Army a year or two and receives an allowance every quarter. A young fellow recently came to see me. He had been unemployed for 12 months. He said, "I got a new suit on the strength of this money coming"—I think it was about £3 10s.—"but I should not have got it if I had not expected receiving the money. Now that a good deal of it is being stopped, I do not know how I shall be able to pay for the suit." This is a young man who used to be one of the doyens of the Conservative party, one of the outposts of Empire, and a man who can be called upon to-morrow if need be. It used to be made the special privilege of the Conservative party to protect men of this description. The man receives an allowance and immediately half of it is collared by the public assistance committee. Is that the intention? Is it right under the administration of the right hon. Gentleman that men of this description should be penalised in this way? I cannot think that any Member of the House would justify that kind of interpretation of the needs test. I am afraid that it is only one of the cases which light up a great mass of injustices which operate under this method of dealing with the people at the present time.

I should have liked to ask the Government what they intend to do about the present situation. They will not sanction public works in order to provide employment, or approve of a reduction of hours. They have no policy at all. Never had a Government a greater opportunity. They have a majority of ten to one, and they have an overwhelming part of the Press on their side, and yet after two years of power the net result of their work has been to take £55,000,000 from the unemployed, to take, by means of the Anomalies and Unemployment Insurance Acts, unemployment benefit from 500,000 cases, and to put 250,000 people on to the Poor Law. The depressed areas are infinitely more depressed than ever, and the Government refuse to finance public works or to agree to a reduction of hours. There is not a grain of policy except the policy of the comfortable, arm-chair person whose only object is to increase the misery of the already miserable.

4.44 p.m.


The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has told the House, with the eloquent sincerity with which he speaks, of the misfortunes of his constituents, fortified in this instance by medical testimony of the very serious hardships prevailing in the district which he represents. I can only speak of what comes within the range of my own knowledge, but I could, if I were so minded, give the House examples of a similar nature to those which he has quoted here this afternoon. My knowledge does not enable me to say how general or how far spread they are, but that they exist in my locality, as in his, there is no question whatsoever. They arise, I think, from the fact that all sorts of claims and liabilities fall on individual families which it is impossible for any rigid system to take into account. I will instance one class of case. There are large numbers of people who have obtained their family goods on the hire purchase system. Under the Means Test these people are living in a state of nightmare. They have to look at the food bill with one eye and they have to look for the visit of the collector from the furniture dealer with the other. They have, so to speak, to put a loaf of bread into the scales week by week against the apprehension that they may have to surrender the furniture which is necessary for their existence. I mention that as an example of cases which do exist.

I understood the hon. Member to say that the lot of the working class was harder and worse to-day than it had been at any time in the history of this country. On reflection, I think he will admit that he went a little bit too far in that statement. If he will acquit me of any impertinence, I would say that if he looks at the report of the Poor Law Commission for 1834 he will see there a state of things—


You have to go back a hundred years.


I mention that because it is the first thing that comes into my mind. If he will study that report he will see depicted there a state of things which would make him thankful that he is living even in the present time. I listened with great interest to the reason why he was going to vote for the Amendment, and I fail to see how under any of the difficulties which he mentioned the people would be advantaged if we carried the Amendment. He said that he did not see any risk in voting for the Amendment. I think he used the words, "I think there is no risk." Speaking as representative of an industrial area, I find it far too great a risk to vote for an Amendment which would throw the whole of the present scheme into chaos and which would actually make the lot of very many unfortunate people immediately a great deal harder. There was, however, one observation of the hon. Member with which I find myself in complete agreement, in regard to "genuinely seeking work." I was delighted to hear the Minister say that he did not wish to see the "Genuinely-seeking-work" Clause upon the Statute Book again.

Every word that was used by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street in regard to the present procedure is undoubtedly true, and I can see no reason for it in administration. It seems to me to be an administrative futility, for the reason that people are being disqualified in considerable numbers and are being transferred from transitional payment to the Poor Law, thereby aggravating the difficulties of the local authorities in the depressed areas. If we were in the course of framing a permanent, comprehensive scheme for dealing with these matters, it would be necessary to consider what safeguards might be necessary to see that all applicants for benefit were genuinely seeking work, but under present conditions when it is a fact that for every known job there are scores of applicants and that the very rumour of a job leads to a great concourse of workpeople, what is the point of sending unfortunate people of from 55 to 65 years of age round about, knowing full well that the errand is futile and has no other object than to wear out their bodies and to wear out their boots. To replace their boots in present circumstances is almost harder than finding a job.

From the point of view of administration, I would like my right hon. Friend to consider this matter, because we already trust the applicant for benefit on matters which are even more important than this particular aspect. We trust a man when he signs twice or three times a week and says that he has not been at work on the other days of the week. We do not question his word on that. We trust him when he gives us his industrial qualifications. We trust him when he gives us the numbers of his family and dependants. On all these matters we do not raise any question, and the small number of prosecutions show that the confidence is not in any degree misplaced. The present arrangement is detrimental not only to the individual but to the local authorities, and as a piece of administration it is futile. There is an unfortunate impression, I hope not widespread, that a man may be perfectly honest so long as he is employed, but if he has the misfortune to become unemployed his word is not as good as it previously was. That is a reflection upon a very large body of very worthy people.

I was not convinced with the arguments of my right hon. Friend for the postponement of the major Measure which we had hoped to have before us ere this. It is clear that the establishment of a comprehensive scheme of help for the unemployed which would be acceptable to the nation and tolerable to the needy is urgently needed and is the most important domestic legislation that this Government is called upon to deal with, and none of the reasons for the delay are adequate. The Royal Commission reported last October, after most exhaustive inquiry in which they examined everybody who had any evidence of value to give, and it cannot be said that further delay is going to bring new-facts to light, nor can it be urged that the experience of the Measures we are discussing this afternoon, and which are to be continued, have not been in operation a sufficiently long time for us to learn the benefits and the disadvantages that can arise from them. I fail to see in the Government's programme any legislation of greater importance than that to which I have referred. We know that another great piece of legislation to which the House will have to devote itself before long, the Constitution of India Bill, cannot be brought in until next year.

Some of us have suffered considerable disappointment at the events which have taken place since the pledge was given by the Minister of Health on the 12th April. The Minister of Health, in response to very urgent appeals from all parts of the country on a purely nonparty basis, said that the Government had in view a short-term policy and a long-term policy for dealing with unemployment in the depressed areas. What has happened to the short-term policy nobody knows. Perhaps the Minister will throw some light on that subject. As to the long-term policy, we have had a somewhat sketchy indication this afternoon of what it is to be. The Minister of Health said it was the primary purpose to make the closest connection between Government help and the promoting of the physical and mental welfare of the unemployed. In the minds of those who heard that speech that was something that was imminent, but we find that we may have it before us sometime before Christmas. All the matters under consideration this afternoon and the measures which are carried forward in this Bill will require the most careful consideration, and we shall certainly bring to bear on them the constructive criticism which our knowledge and experience may enable us to give in regard to them.

I listened with great interest to the statement of the Minister in regard to his future intentions. I listened with profound hope that he would give us some signs of approaching this matter from a new angle, and I was pleased to gather some crumbs of comfort in that direction. How much they may amount to time alone can reveal, but so long as we regard unemployment as simply a question of keeping the unemployed as cheaply as possible there is no solution possible. We have given too much attention to the problem from that particular angle and it is time we approached it in some different way. The problem is entirely different from the problem that confronted the pioneers of unemployment insurance. They set out to provide a stop gap and to provide relief and help during temporary periods of unemployment, but the whole condition of things is now altered. The increased dependence of nations on each other, the fact that no country can deal with its unemployed on its own, has altered the whole situation. The rapid growth of machinery and the intensification of its application at a time when consumption has not kept pace with production has produced a situation which raises the question whether unemployment is capable of being dealt with by insurance. That is a matter for argument and I do not propose to argue it now, nor do I hold that view, but it is merely an indication of how very serious and how completely changed the problem is from what it was 10 of 12 years ago.

I have indicated one matter on previous occasions, and it is relevant to mention it to-day, because we are continuing under these proposals arrangements for training youths. The Minister has stated, and I heard it with pleasure, that he proposes to do something very much more important in that line. This is the third time that I have mentioned this subject. I do not want to imitate the bellman in "The Hunting of the Snark," who thought that if he men- tioned anything three times it was necessarily true, but if I mention a subject three times here I do so in the hope that hon. Members may consider that it is worthy of consideration. Having regard to the fact that the growth of machinery will make inevitable a very large increase in compulsory leisure, our policy must be to concentrate that leisure at both ends of the scale in regard to age upon those who will be able to benefit most from it, that is to say, those who are of the educational age from 14 to 18 and those between the ages of 55 and 65. In dealing with the latter class first I do not think that the great mass of those who have been employed for a great period of their industrial life and who have been the backbone of this scheme from its inception are at the present time getting anything like a square deal. When we consider the scheme in its final form we ought to endeavour to give these people a very much clearer run of benefit than they are getting to-day. It is very important that this matter should be linked up with the Old Age and Contributory Pensions schemes and there should not arise the difficulties and gaps which exist at the present time. From the financial point of view it would not be a very great strain.

With regard to the continuation of the training of juveniles there is no doubt that if the 1,900,000 juveniles could be taken off the labour market it would have a profound effect on the employment of vast numbers of able-bodied men in the age limits immediately above; the 880,000 young men in the prime of life, for whom no scheme of relief can be any possible compensation for loss of work. It is impossible to say how many of these men might be brought back into employment but it is not unreasonable to assume that 600,000 might get employment, and with the £28,000,000 which would thus be saved a great deal could be done towards training and education, not only for the benefit of the individual but for the benefit of the nation as a whole. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour whether any estimate had been formed of the amount of unemployment in juveniles which would arise in 1936–37, and he informed me that there would be a considerable increase in the numbers available for employment at those years, but that he could go no further than that. I am not able to assert dogmatically the proposition, neither can the Parliamentary Secretary deny it, but I do say that unless there is an expansion in the amount of labour and employment available for juveniles in 1936–37 570,000 boys and girls will be out of work in those years, and that is a state of things which the House of Commons cannot contemplate. That is why I was glad to hear that the Minister of Labour proposes to do something big on this line.


You are optimistic.


We are hopeful, at any rate, and if a spur is necessary in order to overcome any difficulties he will find that we are prepared to give him loyal support. In considering these problems from the financial point of view, as indeed we must, there is one aspect which is sometimes overlooked and that is the steadying influence of our system of unemployment insurance on the general economic position of the country. Between 1929 and 1931 there was a loss in wages of £131,000,000. That in itself is a serious cause of unemployment, because it means a loss in consumptive power. In America over a comparable period the loss was more catastrophic; it amounted to approximately 50 per cent. of the purchasing power of the workers in America. Certain charitable institutions, municipal bodies and others gave a certain amount of relief and doles to the unemployed, but it was a mere bagatelle in comparison to the amount of consuming power which was lost. In Germany the situation is somewhat better. There was a terrible fall in wages and purchasing power, but something like one-eighth of that loss was made good by payments to the unemployed. In this country the situation is quite different. We lost £131,000,000 in wages, but by increased payments of about £71,000,000 to the unemployed, we have made good over 50 per cent. of that loss. We pride ourselves, and quite rightly, that our industries, our works and factories, have been kept going better than in America or Germany, and those critics who look upon these payments as something in the nature of a loss fail to realise how much of our increased stability is due to the fact that we have been more generous in this matter than other countries of the world. Hon. Members on these benches propose to support the Bill, although I understand that some of them desire to raise points on the Committee stage. Apart from that we shall give such support as we can to the Bill.

5.7 p.m.

Captain FRASER

I hope the House will excuse me for returning to a matter upon which I have spoken several times already in this Parliament. I do not want to engage in any controversy on the general subject, because it is clear that no person who is not under the necessity of supporting a party campaign—I say that in no offensive spirit—can possibly be tempted to vote for the Amendment, because the result would be chaos. There is therefore no need for those who support the general policy of the Government to be concerned about the decision of to-day's Vote or to go into any controversy which might arise on the speech made by the representative of the Labour party this afternoon. He did not exaggerate the sad condition of a great many people who are unemployed, but the remedies which he implied would be put into force by his party would, I think, produce even worse results. The issue on this Vote is in no more doubt where this Government is concerned than any other substantial issue, because it still has the confidence of the country. Notwithstanding the results of any by-elections the country believes that the Government is pursuing a policy which does give us an opportunity of coming out of our present difficulties.

I want to deal with the case of the disabled soldier and his pension as it is affected by the administration of the means test. I do not say on behalf of the ex-service man, or of any other people, that there should be no means test. The means test, as applied to the disabled soldier, was not invented by the present Government, but it has meant that men receiving pensions going to the public assistance committee for additional relief are obliged to indicate their present means. I cannot see that there is anything wrong with that in principle. One of the Acts which is to be continued by this Bill, the Determination of Need Act, introduced a new principle. It was a principle of greats importance to the ex-service man, that when he went before the public assistance committee for relief, not for benefit or transitional payment, some part of his pension could be left out in computing the amount that should be given. I am glad to know that this is to be continued under the present temporary legislation. That was a new principle, and while there are some who seek every opportunity to show that this Government have no concern for any ex-service man, or for any other men, they did give him this boon, which was an improvement from the point of view of establishing statutory recognition of the reason why a pension is paid.

A year ago the Government were asked to exclude from consideration under the means test the whole of the disability pension. Some said that and no more; but others, and I was one, did not go quite so far, because we realised that some of the disability pensions are of such a magnitude, relative to the allowances upon which some unfortunate people have to exist, that it would not be reasonable to ask that the whole of a substantial disability pension should be left out of account. I do not regret that this Measure does not include a provision to leave the whole of a disability pension out of account, but I regret very much that we have come to this time of the year and find no general scheme ready, no provision made, to give greater benefits to ex-service men receiving smaller pensions. Under the law a man who is entitled to 7s. 6d. a week national insurance benefit has that completely left out of account when he goes before the public assistance committee, but his neighbour, who may be an ex-service man, receiving 8s. a week in respect of one of the smaller disability pensions, has half of that taken into account.

I cannot see any justification whatever for that, and I repeat the request which I have already made, that the Minister of Labour will take the first opportunity of remedying this matter and that he will go a little further and remedy it up to a 16s. a week War pension. Beyond that it does not trouble me very much if some part of the pension is taken into account, because I do not see how, even in the case of a disability pension, you can expect it to be paid twice, once from national resources and then again from local resources. But where smaller disability pensions are paid I do not see why they should not be considered. If you give a man 8s. a week you do not expect him to live upon it, much less to feed his family. You are compensating him for his injury and the handicap it is to him in getting a job, and you make him an allowance. In principle it is quite indefensible to allow the 7s. 6d. paid under the national health insurance to be left entirely out of account and insist upon half of the 8s. being taken into account. I ask the Government to relieve a good deal of legitimate anxiety not merely by saying that they will consider it, but by saying that smaller pensions up to 16s. will, in fact, be left out of account by order of the Government and not by discretion of the public assistance committee.

Perhaps the House will allow me to say something with regard to the observations of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) on this particular subject. He referred to a friend of his who was receiving a reservist's pension. He introduced the subject immediately after a reference to the needs test, and no doubt an audience which was not aware of the distinction might have supposed that that was another case in which a cruel Government had taken into account a disabled soldier's pension. The hon. Member was, of course, referring to a reservist's pension, which is quite a separate matter. Anyone acquainted with the matter would have known that, but the general public would not have known it from the way in which the hon. Member put it. I am not defending the thing, but I wish to point out that there is a difference between a disability pension and a reservist's allowance.

Another point was this: The hon. Member said there were cases where the result of passing the examination under the needs test had been to cause reductions in the allowances made to ex-service men. I do not think that that is wholly untrue. I do know of cases where that has happened. It is almost inevitable, when you try to introduce uniformity, that it will in some cases lead to reductions and in other cases to increases. I do not think the House must be gravely concerned if that happens. If the uniformity is reasonable and if uniformity is desirable, we must be prepared to meet an occasional hard case in which the result of creating uniformity is to the disadvantage of a particular individual. But my impression is that the public assistance committees as a whole are interpreting that provision correctly and generously. I think that generally they are giving more than the 50 per cent., especially on the small pensions.

The hon. Gentleman seemed to me to misunderstand the point of the difference between "taking into account" and making a payment. The law unquestionably says that half disability pension must be "taken into account." But that does not forbid the public assistance committee, having taken half into account, granting a greater allowance if there is greater need, which has the effect of leaving the whole out of account. The hon. Member should understand that, but he did not state his case clearly. I know of cases where the smaller pensions have been left wholly out of calculation, though they have been half taken into account to comply with the law. I believe that many public assistance committees are leaving these small persons wholly out of account so far as the need payment made to the individual is concerned. If that is true, the cost to the Treasury, or to the Ministry of Labour of making it. compulsory upon all to do that, can be very little. I made an estimate which I gave to the House some months ago, that to make a minimum of 16s., that is to say to proclaim that no pension of 16s. or less should be taken into account at all, would cost about £200,000. That is on the assumption that none of the public assistance committees is giving any of these cases more than they are strictly obliged to do under the law. I believe that many public assistance committees are doing much better than that. Therefore, the cost would be a great deal less than £200,000.

I listened with patience and with a desire to understand the Minister's reasons for bringing forward this temporary legislation. I can well understand that the solution of this whole problem is very difficult, and if in the end there is brought to this House a solution which is better than the present system, which gives people greater faith in the insurance system and in the determination and willingness of the Government to do whatever they can for the people with the resources available, I shall not have minded waiting a few months; but I must confess that I am disappointed that they have not been able to have this matter relating to the ex-service men rectified. It is a question on which a great many of my friends in the House felt very strongly some months ago. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will consider the matter again and do something in that connection.

Finally, a word about the means test and the principle which I feel ought to underlie any insurance legislation. I regret that we have not got the matter before us now in a shape which would make detailed discussion of these proposals possible. I do not think we can leave out of account in any insurance scheme the guarantee which is given to the insured person, that under all and any possible conditions the fund into which he has paid will be solvent. I suggest that it is the right policy to pursue not to give out more than comes in, not to borrow under any circumstances, and to keep the fund solvent. Secondly, I would like to feel that what was paid out bore some relation to what was paid in by the individual. I think it is a little hard to convince the working man that a scheme is fair when he who has paid in for 10 or 12 years draws out exactly the same as he who has paid in for only a few weeks.

Thirdly, I would proclaim as clearly as possible—and here I do not yet despair of securing the assistance of Members of the Labour party—that some sort of means test is a necessary part of any scheme of public assistance. Without it you are heading straight for chaos, and in my judgment for bankruptcy. So far as my constituents or any ex-service men who look to me for advice and guidance are concerned, I believe I can say that what is more important to them than almost anything else in the world is that the State which pays them their pensions, which looks after them as generously as may be, should be solvent in order to be able to go on doing it.

5.26 p.m.


The House always listens to the hon. and gallant Member with close attention and great respect, but I shall not be accused of exaggeration when I say that on this occasion it has been difficult to follow the line of reasoning that he has adopted. I have been trying to understand what it is that he has been asking the Government to do. The hon. and gallant Member rebuked my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) who, he said, had misunderstood the case he was presenting, and the circumstances in which the Government gave public assistance committees the right to disregard 50 per cent. of compensation and 50 per cent. of disability pensions. Let me remind the hon. and gallant Member and the House of the circumstances in which the concession was made. The hon. and gallant Member has represented that the concession was due almost entirely to the generosity of the Government. As a matter of fact it was due to the difficult circumstances in which the Government found themselves as a consequence of having to make some concession in the case of transitional payments. On that occasion so much indignation had been aroused all over the country and in the House about the Government's direction to the public assistance committees in regard to the possession of savings and small property, that they were obliged to make a concession in that respect. They brought in a Bill which enabled public assistance committees, in respect of a small amount of savings and a small income from property, and compensation or disability pensions, to make allowances in calculating income.

Now the Government have had to admit that the position of a man who has never been able to pay into an insurance fund—the black-coated army and the agricultural worker, for instance—and who is now in receipt of public assistance, is not quite the same in respect of his disability pension as that of the man who has paid a contribution to the insurance fund and has exhausted his right to covenanted benefit. Therefore, if in the case of the recipient for transitional payment savings could be disregarded, and disability pension could be disregarded as to 50 per cent., it was obviously desirable and just that the man who had to rely only on public assistance should have the same claim. It was not due to the generosity of the Government. It was due to having to extend to recipients of public assistance the principle that they had already extended to almost the same category of persons in receipt of transitional payment. I simply dot the i's and cross the t's in pointing out that the Minister of Labour, finding himself in an embarrassed position, for the purpose of statutory consistency had to ex- tend the same principle to the second category. But be having extended the principle statutorily, his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has not gone the next step and seen that the benefit is actually conferred on the persons themselves. That is the difference.

There may be two men living side by side. One may be an ex-railway worker, and the other an ex-collier. The ex-collier may be in receipt of a disability pension or in receipt of something from savings. When he goes before the public assistance committee in their capacity as assessors for transitional payment, they can allow 50 per cent. of the disability pension and a certain amount of income from savings to be disregarded in calculating income. But this man's neighbour, who has never made a contribution to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, or the man who has exhausted his title to benefit on the basis of his contributions and is now in receipt of transitional payment, is in precisely the same position as far as his title to relief is concerned. He comes before the same committee and they take the whole of the savings and the whole of the pension into account. I would like the hon. and gallant Gentleman to realise that by putting these two persons statutorily in the same position we have not put them actually in the same position and we shall not do so unless we compel the public assistance committees to adopt that portion of the Act which is now not obligatory but voluntary.

Captain FRASER

I do not challenge the position as the hon. Member has outlined it but I think this position remains. Where the Government is spending its own money it has been more generous and where it is making rules and regulations for local authorities to spend their's, it has not been quite so free but has left it to the local authorities. I think the Government definitely has been more generous than some of the local authorities and that the hon. Member ought to address his complaint to them.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman misses the point. The ultimate statutory custodian of power in these matters is not the local authorities but the Minister of Health. He has been entrusted by the House with certain powers of interference with the public assistance authorities and on many occasions he has interfered. In West Ham, Chester-le-Street and other cases he deposed the old guardians and put commissioners in their stead. The powers which the Minister of Health enjoys and which he exercised in those instances have been carried forward into existing legislation. The Minister has the power and has exercised it in numerous instances of pointing out to the public assistance authorities that they are too generous in their treatment of the poor. In fact, he has secured reductions in the scales of relief. My point is that if the Minister has the power to say that the amount is too much, he has also the power to say that it is too little, though in no circumstances that we know of has the Minister done so.

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. R. S. Hudson) indicated dissent.


The Minister of Health has the power to say it is too little. He has the power of interfering with the public assistance authorities to declare that they are not treating recipients of Poor Law relief in a humane and just manner. It is quite wrong to suggest that he has no power. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman opposite has had any experience of public administration but I have been and still am a member of a local authority and I am sure that if the representative of the Ministry of Health went down to my public assistance authority and said "In my judgment you are not providing adequate assistance for this or that person" the local authority would take those representations into account. But he never makes such representations. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) said that this was a matter for the local authorities and he rebuked us for putting forward purely party considerations. I do not think I misunderstood him. He said he could not understand anybody putting on the Order Paper a Motion of the kind that we have put down except for party purposes.

Captain FRASER

With all respect I said I could not understand anyone voting for it. That is different.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman must not now try to ride away upon a plea of that sort. He said he could not understand us voting for a proposal of this kind because of its possible effect on the position of the unemployed. But he knows very well that if the House voted for the Amendment and against the Bill that would be an instruction to the Government to proceed immediately to deal with unemployment in a more humane way. It is a Parliamentary quibble of the most trivial character to suggest that if we carried the Amendment we would be injuring the unemployed or doing anything but instructing the Government in the way I have indicated. Any Member of Parliament accustomed to the procedure of this House and to the various methods of placing the Opposition in a difficult position knows that we sometimes have to vote against a thing which is superficially good in order to get something else which is really better. That is the position in which the House finds itself this evening. If we are to be rebuked for taking up a party position I would remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman as I have done before that the places where ex-service men are worst treated in Great Britain, are places where the public assistance authorities are in the hands of Conservative majorities and where they have more resources at their disposal than the authorities in the distressed areas which are usually controlled by Labour majorities. If he wants to do his duty by the ex-service men, let him ask the headquarters of his party to bring pressure to bear upon Conservative members of public assistance committees in London and elsewhere which do treat ex-service men in a callous and indefensible manner. It is no use coming to this House and attempting to conceal facts which are known to many of us who are or have been engaged in the day-to-day administration of Public Assistance Committees.

There is another aspect of the matter to which I would direct attention. I would remind the House of the discussion on the recent Vote of Censure. We were rebuked on that occasion, too, for putting down a Vote of Censure against the Government and making no provision for the maintenance of the able-bodied poor as a national charge. The Minister of Health on that occasion made a speech which was a model of lucidity and close reasoning, and the House were satisfied, particularly the Liberal party. The Liberal party were so pleased at being able to vote again with the Government that they accepted the statement of the Minister to the full that the Government had now accepted the principle of making the maintenance of all able-bodied poor a national charge. Some of us reminded the Liberals that in their desire again to run away from a position which they had taken up, they misunderstood the Government's proposals. The Government, we pointed out, intended to bring forward schemes to readjust the finances of the local authorities in relation to grants from the State and, after that readjustment, to make the maintenance of the able-bodied poor a charge upon national funds which would then be augmented by contributions from local funds.

That was the position taken by the Minister of Health. Now the Liberals are saying that the Government is not carrying out its promise. The Government is carrying out its promise all right. It never intended to take the whole burden of maintaining the able-bodied poor off the shoulders of the local authorities. It has never in my hearing in this House promised to do so, and it is not good enough for the Liberals who ran away from the Vote of Censure to say now that the Government is not carrying out its promise. The Minister of Health said—an extraordinary proposition—that he would consult the local authorities and try to obtain their consent to a scheme under which the better-off authorities would make a contribution to a fund out of which the State hoped to make additional grants to distressed areas to assist them to maintain their own able-bodied poor. That was the position taken by the Government, and everybody knew at the time that the Minister was adopting a procedure which was almost certain to end in failure because the better off local authorities could not be expected to agree to such a proposition.

I admit that the Minister of Health is not helpless if they refuse to agree. He has the power to disregard the observations of the better-off authorities, but the method that the Minister is adopting organises against him and against the distressed areas all the more prosperous authorities and makes his task much more difficult. I thought the Minister was anxious to deal with this problem expeditiously. He ought to do so because it is a short-term policy that we are now discussing—the policy of immediate relief—and the assumption was that relief would be given to the distressed areas before the Summer Recess. We are now at the middle of June, and the Minister of Health is still engaged in negotiations with recalcitrant local authorities. The local authorities in more prosperous areas tell him, as indeed they have every right to, that in the South and South-East of England where economic developments are taking place, authorities must necessarily make provision for expansion of local services in anticipation of the migration of industrial populations and cannot be expected, with those additional burdens, to make any contribution to the distressed areas. But the Minister of Health is bound to go on with the negotiations because the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget did not provide any funds at all for this purpose.

We are left with this position then, that the difficulties of the distressed areas are continually growing. Local authorities in those areas are finding it increasingly difficult to carry on the services which are obligatory and the Minister of Health is engaged in futile negotiations with local authorities who ultimately will not be able to come to any agreement. If the Minister of Health is to speak this evening we are entitled to learn from him what stage these negotiations have reached. Does he see any prospect of being able to make proposals to the House before the Summer Recess? If so, will he indicate to the House exactly when he thinks he will be able to do so. If he is not able to do so, in what way is the Government going to implement the promise made in the course of the recent Debate and what proposals do they intend to make to relieve distressed areas of the burdens which have accumulated?

I would remind the House that whereas unemployment is decreasing in certain parts of Great Britain it is unfortunately on the increase in the distressed areas, in the areas where the iron and steel, coal mining and shipbuilding industries are concentrated. It is precisely in those areas that the difficulties have accumulated and we are entitled to ask what relief those areas can expect from the Government, because the situation is becoming almost unbearable in many places. The public assistance rate in Glamorgan is 8s. 8d. in the £ and in Monmouthshire 6s. 9d. in the £. In some of our distressed areas it is higher than the total rate in some of the other areas. We are surely entitled to ask the Minister what his proposals are to deal with this difficult set of circumstances.

Some regret has been expressed because the Minister of Labour is not in a position to bring forward his permanent scheme. He said that after all it is a most complicated matter. It certainly is, because the Minister is not in a position to form a judgment about the volume of unemployment with which he has to deal. The Government are able to form no estimate at all as to the economic situation. It is impossible for the right hon. Gentleman, with whom I sympathise, to provide an unemployment insurance scheme without any reliable estimate of the unemployment situation with which he is going to be faced. That has been the difficulty all the time. Scheme after scheme has been produced, which has had the superficial features of permanency, and the scheme has always been unbalanced by an economic development for which no one has made any provision. I cannot, therefore, feel sorry that such a scheme has not been brought forward, for you cannot expect to get a scheme of unemployment insurance until you have something like a stable economic situation, and that is quite impossible, in the judgment of this party, within the limits of the existing social system. Those who are asking for a permanent unemployment insurance scheme are asking for something that it is impossible for existing society to give.

I am also not very sorry for another reason. We have been told—and many of us regard the statement as ominous—that under any permanent scheme the administration of unemployment insurance benefit is to be entrusted wholly to The Employment Exchanges and to commissioners in various parts of the country. If what is being done in Durham is any indication of what is to happen all over the country when the permanent scheme comes into operation, I hope it will be indefinitely postponed. I have always favoured the maintenance of the unemployed being made a national charge, but I should be the very last person to be pleased about its being taken out of the hands of the public assistance commit- tees if it is to be entrusted to commissioners who will behave like these people in Durham. We, on these benches, support a national scheme for the maintenance of the unemployed, but it must be a scheme for the adequate maintenance of the unemployed. It must not be thought that the party to which I have the honour to belong support a national insurance scheme under which the whole of the unemployed will be made a national charge, if that scheme is to be administered in anything like the way in which it is now being administered by commissioners in various parts of the country.

If the right hon. Gentleman has any such intention in mind, he had better postpone it, because the stability to which the spokesman of the Liberal party has referred would be gravely upset if South Wales, Durham, and Scotland were simultaneously treated as Durham is being treated now. The only reason why the right hon. Gentleman has ever got away with it is because Durham is on its own. The only reason why he was ever able to get away with it when Chester-le-Street, West Ham, and Bedwellty were so treated was because they were comparatively isolated, but if the treatment of the unemployed is to be uniformly, over the country, what it is now in Durham, the right hon. Gentleman had better postpone his scheme, because he will not get stability in circumstances of that kind. If such administration is to be universal, many of us will not be spending our time at all in the House of Commons; we will be spending it in the constituencies, organising lynching parties against the commissioners. Hon. Members may smile, but there is a limit to which men can be driven.

In my own district at the moment the full effects of the Government's legislation are being warded off from the unemployed by the administration of a Socialist public assistance committee. The Government are being protected from the full consequences of their policy by their political opponents, but if that cushion is removed, and if the unemployed are fully exposed to the attacks of the commissioners and to the methods of commission administration, and if you say that those commissioners shall have full power in their own district to lay down scales of relief, there will be nothing left for an unemployed man, who no longer will be able to express himself electorally at the ballot box, except to take direct action against the source of his trouble, the local commissioners. We should be doing less than our duty if we exposed the unemployed to that sort of behaviour on the part of the commissioners without attempting to protect them.

I have seen this thing develop in my district before, and there were many ugly scenes as a consequence of it. I want to point out to hon. Members here that men will not indefinitely see their children starving without making some effort to protect them. It is true—it is not sentimentality—but it is awfully difficult in this House to try to bring home to Members something of the state of affairs that exists in the country. They are so accustomed to dealing with statistics and with abstract categories that they fail to see the human reality that lies behind those categories, and hon. Members of this House, whenever attempts are made to bring to their imagination the circumstances that exist in the provinces, are apt to smile. If, therefore, we are unable to influence their conduct by any speeches that we can make here, we shall have to try to influence their behaviour in some other way. We are helpless except to do it in that way, and I want to try to convince hon. Members that the legislation which took away £55,000,000 from the unemployed has inflicted grievous physical hardship upon large numbers of people, that children in working class homes in Great Britain are growing up dwarfed and stunted and under-nourished as a consequence of this legislation, that in my district alone you have school children inspected by the medical officers of health who declare that they are lighter and shorter as a consequence of under-nourishment. Hon. Members cannot face those facts with equanimity.

We are discussing this matter in the House of Commons, and the World Economic Conference is discussing the same matter not far away. The World Economic Conference is discussing unemployment on the assumption that unemployment is the responsibility of society, but this House is discussing unemployment on the assumption that unemployment is the responsibility of the unemployed individual. There is no consistency at all between those two positions. The unemployed man is being penalised because he is unemployed. If the House of Commons legislated consistently with the King's speech yesterday, it would be paying higher rates of benefit for those unemployed the longest, not higher rates to those idle for a few weeks only. Really cur attitude towards this matter must start from some principle. You may regard unemployment as the responsibility of the individual or of the State. This party regard it as the responsibility of the State, and therefore they regard it as brutal and unjust to punish an individual for something for which he himself has no responsibility.

The problem has fundamentally changed. It was possible in the nineteenth century to bring sufficient pressure to bear on an idle workman to drive him to find employment. If he could not find it in this country, he could find it in Caanda, America, Australia, or New Zealand, but nowadays he cannot go anywhere. He cannot become a pioneer. There is no free land for him, and he is not even adaptable, owing to the modern machine production. Nowadays you take a boy from school and put him in a workshop. You can have division of labour only by specialisation, and you make every individual into a mechanic, an engineer, a miner, a textile worker, or something of that kind. You make him a cog in a machine. If there are surplus engineers, it is not possible for that man to convert himself into a pattern maker, or a collier, or a textile worker. The very character of the modern industrial process upon which our capacity to produce wealth is based makes for the helplessness of the individual in face of social circumstances. It is not, therefore, intelligent, it is not scientific, to act as though unemployment is the responsibility of the individual, who can neither run away from his home and find work elsewhere nor make himself into anything other than the specialist which the industrial process has made of him.

Therefore, if we are going to legislate intelligently, our legislation must be based upon the assumption that unemployment is the responsibility of the State, not of the individual. The House of Commons cannot assume responsibility for the maintenance of the unemployed unless it assumes responsibility for employment. The reason why you cannot escape from this contradiction is that you are bound to punish the individual, stupidly, mercilessly, for something over which he has no control because you will not take the next logical step, and it is mealy-mouthed sentimentalism for Members of the Liberal party to get up and talk about unemployment being treated in a new way, unless they will take the next step and say that if the State is going to assume responsibility for unemployment, it must assume responsibility for employment; and if it assumes responsibility for employment, Liberals will have to become Socialists. If we are going to organise, if we are going to have intelligent unemployment legislation, we shall have to have intelligent employment legislation, and the House of Commons will have to assume the responsibility of directing the economic activities of the nation.

It is nonsense in the extreme for Members to argue as though we can get out of this difficulty within the limit of the existing system, and that is why, whenever I listen to unemployment insurance Debates, I feel as though we are discussing the whole matter in an air of unreality. Until you can bring on to the Floor of the House of Commons economic plans, intelligently and scientifically considered, for the organisation of the work of society, this House must always be talking nonsense when it discusses unemployment as a social problem, and because you refuse to accept responsibility for employment, you are driven inevitably to make it the responsibility of the individual man. Legislation of this sort can be defended on one ground, and on one ground only, and that is that British men and women have not yet found it intolerable.

The hon. Member who spoke for the Liberal party talked about transitional payments and insurance benefit as a stabilising element in the social system, and he is perfectly correct. The Government now estimate how far they can reduce unemployment insurance benefit without meeting revolt in the working class. It is based upon no higher principle than that. They have abandoned actuarial considerations, humanitarian considerations, and economic considerations, and are now basing their unemployment insurance legislation upon a purely psychological principle, namely, how much dare they take away from the unemployed without having to meet the consequences? It is our duty as a party—and we are attempting to do it this afternoon—to expose the hollow mockery of this sort of legislation, and to inform the House of Commons that if the system which is being adopted in Durham is made universal, the House of Commons will do it at its own peril.

6.2 p.m.


I have not enjoyed as long a Parliamentary experience as my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) who tells us that it is a Parliamentary quibble to criticise him for voting for an Amendment whose effect will be to transfer 670,000 persons from transitional benefit to the Poor Law. I should not attempt, therefore, to comment upon the relevance of the greater part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the Bill which is now before the House. The burden of the attack on the Bill which has been delivered by him and by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) is an attack on what they term the savage administration of transitional payments not only in the particular case of the Durham Commissioners, but in general. I cannot speak for either Durham or Monmouth, but I am bound to say that in those depressed areas with which I have any acquaintance I have nothing but admiration for the judgment and the care with which the public assistance officers have discharged a most invidious and delicate task, which none of us would like to have imposed upon us. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale attacked the reduction of benefits which has been made since 1931 and the whole existence of the needs test. As for the reduction in benefits, I do not feel disposed to quarrel very violently with what they have said, for they have always maintained that it is desirable to pay a higher benefit to the unemployed, not merely with the object of raising their standard of life, but also because they claim that it will be to the economic advantage of the nation to increase purchasing power in this way.

I rather hold the contrary view, that we have to make a choice between two evils. On the one hand, if we spend too little on the unemployed we shall increase hardship. On the other hand, if we spend more than the finances of the country can bear, whether the money is raised by taxation or by borrowing, we shall add very heavily to the burden and the evils which we are endeavouring to mitigate. The hon. Member said that we were trying to force down unemployment benefit to the lowest level which would not result in a revolutionary outbreak on the part of the working class. I think that it would be nearer the truth to say that we are considering how large a sum we can afford to spend on unemployment benefit without incurring those evils from which we were hardly saved in the autumn of 1931. As I represent a depressed area, I can well understand that my hon. Friend has found in Monmouth that the needs test is not regarded with a good deal of popularity, but I think that if he and I were to visit any area in which a larger number of workmen were fortunate enough to have retained their employment, we should find a very strong resentment against the idea that men who are in work and are contributing towards national taxation, as well as towards unemployment relief, should pay money in order to provide public assistance to those who may, perhaps, be better off than themselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It will be found that a large number of wage earners entirely approve of the principle of the means test, which I believe to be absolutely necessary. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That question was thoroughly canvassed, in fact it was the main issue, in my constituency at the last election.

The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street gave a number of instances showing the hardship resulting from the needs test. I cannot, of course, judge how typical they are, or whether they may in any way have been exaggerated, but it seems to me that if these hard cases are to be substantiated they would reflect on certain individuals only and would have no bearing at all upon the general principle that, if their statutory benefit has been exhausted, need should be established before further benefit is received. That is to say, that individual hard cases, whatever may be said about them, do not affect the general principle of having a needs test of some sort.


The point which I tried to make was that every time we raise these cases before the commissioners they say that they are interpreting the law with regard to the means test.


I shall, in a moment, say something about the law, and whether it is too vague and ought to be made less vague. I think that most of the abuses which the commissioners removed were concerned with expenditure of public money in cases for which no rule was prescribed either by the law or by the Ministry of Labour.


The law lays down principles for the guidance of public assistance committees and the commissioners that, subject to the provisions of the amending legislation, the assessment of transitional payments should not be more generous than the scale of the public assistance committees.


Most of the grievances were concerned not with the amount of benefit that was paid, but with the failure to deduct large sums earned by other members of the household. This Bill is only a short and temporary Measure, and it is therefore a little difficult to know how far we may go in discussing it, but there are two points raised by the Minister to which I should like to refer. Each of them is also concerned with points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale. The Minister said that experience had shown that there were various anomalies and variations in the administration of transitional payments, and that it would be one of the objects of a new scheme to achieve greater uniformity. That is a subject which must be approached with extraordinary caution and circumspection. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) criticised the Ministry for not having more promptly produced a larger Measure, because, he said, that our experience was already sufficient to judge what rules ought to be prescribed for the administration of these cases. I do not think that the matter is nearly so simple as the hon. Member would lead us to suppose.

If we go into one area and inquire of the men who are receiving benefit, or of the officials who are administering it, we may be told that the only complaint against the needs test is not that it exists, but that there are anomalies between two adjacent areas, and that in order to remove ill-feeling more uniform rules ought to be prescribed by the Minister. If we go into another area, not necessarily an area in which administration is least rigid, but one in which the law is carefully observed by the authorities, we may be told that the local officers alone have the necessary knowledge and intimate acquaintance with the circumstances of everyone in the locality in order to administer transitional payments in a just manner, and they beg you not to ask the Government to have more rigid and hidebound rules applied.

I have had lately drawn up a few figures showing the first 2,500 applications for transitional payment made in an industrial town of considerable size on the River Clyde. The total number of households represented was 2,063, and the total number of persons in those households, 8,989. The number of men in employment was 460 out of a total of nearly 5,000 able-bodied men. Eleven out of 12 able-bodied men are on transitional payments and have long ago exhausted their standard benefit. If there were no unemployment benefit, the earnings of one adult male worker would have to provide for about 20 individuals. It is obvious that in an area of this sort, where 11 out of 12 able-bodied male workers are living on transitional payments, where the savings of nearly every family have long ago been exhausted, and where all the effects of poverty are heightened by its long duration, it is reasonable that in the administration of benefit less rigid rules should be prescribed than in those more fortunate areas where the poverty of an unemployed man may perhaps be more easily mitigated by his own savings or by the earnings of his relatives. I am very glad that the Minister has not been too hasty in drawing up that comprehensive Measure to which he referred and which he hoped would be of a permanent nature.

Finally, the Minister told us that the responsibility for all the able-bodied unemployed would be undertaken, I think he said, by the Ministry of Labour. It is obvious that when introducing a temporary Measure of this kind the right hon. Gentleman could not forecast the administrative details of any future scheme which he may have in mind, as, for example, whether the scheme should be administered through the Employment Exchanges, or through some new unemployment assistance committee, as recommended by the final report of the commission, or, as I have heard suggested in some quarters, through the existing machinery of the Poor Law. Clearly, also, it would not be in order for anyone else to anticipate to that extent the details of future legislation, but it is perhaps permissible to picture the state of affairs which would exist if this Bill were not passed into law, or if the Amendment of my hon. Friends were to be carried. In that case 670,000 persons would be thrown on to the Poor Law. Of course, it is a matter of very small moment to them whether the money is found by the ratepayers, as it would have to be found at the present time, or by the taxpayers, as might possibly be the case under some new scheme.

The true function of the Poor Law is to provide for those persons who are in need of assistance for some reason other than the loss of their normal industrial employment through no fault of their own. It does not follow in the least that the receipt of public charity through a public assistance commitee is in any way discreditable to the recipient, but we can well understand the deep and just resentment which is entertained by almost every unemployed working man against the conception that his industrial status should be similar to that of a pauper. The main concern of the vast majority of those who are now receiving transitional benefit is to find work. They cannot obtain work in their own area. If they go to another area the circumstances may be no more favourable, and the facilities for emigration to a foreign country or to a Dominion are now enormously restricted. They have at present no alternative but to return day after day to their Employment Exchanges, and no consolation but the consciousness that they are the innocent victims of an industrial system which cannot escape the responsibility of providing for them in a humane manner as respectable citizens.

Let us suppose that we are about to experience an industrial recovery which will exceed our greatest hopes. Let us suppose that every shipyard and every factory will start work again on full time. Even in that happy event, the mechanical improvements and the labour-saving devices which have been introduced within the last few years have been so great that I doubt whether it would be possible to absorb much more than one-half of the unemployed population in the depressed areas. The establishment of new industries which might absorb the remainder will, I believe, be more rapid than many people suppose, but it will take time, and we must contemplate the probability that for some years at least we shall have to provide for a large class of persons who have been ruthlessly thrust aside into this economic backwater by the stream of industrial progress. What financial provisions may be made for their maintenance, or, what is even more important, what provisions may be made for their industrial training and recreation, will, no doubt, be revealed to us at a later stage; but I am sure the Minister does not intend that they should be made to feel either that they are economically superfluous to their country, any more than their more fortunate neighbours who are at work, or that they are undeserving of the greatest advantages which may be derived from an improved system of unemployment administration.

6.23 p.m.


It is not my intention to follow the hon. Member for Renfrew (Mr. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn) in his very modest and, if I may say so, very moderate-toned speech, except to say that I felt that he, like the Minister of Labour, entertained fears, which are entirely unfounded, of what would happen if this Bill did not get a Second Reading. The Minister spent much time in warning us of the terrible consequences of carrying the Amendment. I fail to see those consequences. If this Amendment were carried, it would, in my opinion, do one of two things, both of which would be very acceptable. It would either bring about a General Election and put on those benches a Labour Government with a majority—


Dream again!


—or, if that should be a dream, it would direct the Government that the House was not satisfied with this method of handling unem- ployment and tell them to set about finding some more humane and more effectual method. I do not fear any of the consequences which the Minister feared. What did rather interest me was the very hearty invitation—and I thought a quite unnecessary invitation—to the Socialists below the Gangway to quarrel with the Socialists above the Gangway. I have never found that there was any necessity to invite them to do that. They are prepared to quarrel without any invitation.


Sometimes you do so.


The hon. Member was not present when the invitation was given by the Minister. Both sides were pressed by the Minister to quarrel with each other.


As my name has been mentioned, I may say that I have as good an average of attendence here as the hon. Member or any of his colleagues, and I had an excellent reason for not being present. May I add that I have no intention of quarrelling with anybody? The paper edited by one of the hon. Member's late Cabinet colleagues has started a quarrel with us, and he must not get on to us about it.


I was not complaining of the absence of the hon. Member. My only point in referring to it was that if he had been here he would have heard the invitation extended so heartily by the Government to the two sides here to quarrel and to leave the Government alone. Our difficulty in dealing with this Measure is that it continues four or five separate Acts of Parliament or substantial Sections of Acts, and in such a case it is easy to divide the House. There are some Members who oppose certain parts and some Members who support other parts, and in such a case a Minister can divide the Opposition as well as unite his own supporters. He invited us to be frank in saying where we stand on various parts of the Bill. I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) would take up the challenge on many of those questions, and I agree with the Minister that it is necessary that we ought to be quite clear as to where we stand in regard to the Bill. The Labour party ought to make its position absolutely clear. Our objection to the Bill is, in the main, that it simply continues what we consider to be an unsatisfactory method of dealing with the unemployed, whether it be the unemployed who fail to get a job under the 26 weeks or the unemployed who do get a job under the 26 weeks.


The 26 weeks question does not come into it at all. Those persons are not affected one way or the other.


I am rather afraid the right hon. Gentleman makes a mistake. The Bill does continue the reduced payment, the 15s. 3d. as against 17s., and in that sense we consider it is unsatisfactory. We should have preferred the Bill to restore the 10 per cent. cut.


The cut was imposed by Order-in-Council of September, 1931. This Bill does not affect that Order-in-Council at all, because the Order-in-Council does not expire automatically on 30th June.


I do not think the difference between us is what the Minister suggests. Our point is that this Bill does not restore the cut, and that it fails to do so is one of our objections to it. He may say that none of the Acts of Parliament referred to in the Bill deals with the cut, but that makes no differ-once to our position. We are opposed to the Bill because it does not restore the cut. The case outlined by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street was that the present unemployment benefits are too low to provide reasonably for the dependants of the unemployed. He gave instances from Durham. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) said he could give instances from Birkenhead. I could quote instances for the whole of Lancashire. A sum of 31s. for a man, wife and four children, after 8s. has been paid in rent, 2s. for coal, and 1s. for insurance, does not leave sufficient money to provide six people with food. That leaves them only 1½d. per person per meal throughout the week. No one would suggest that that is sufficient to maintain able-bodied men and women, or even boys and girls. Because it fails to remedy that position by providing sufficient to maintain the unemployed in physical fitness, we oppose the Bill.

When we leave that aspect of the matter and come to the means test, we say again that we are on good ground. We were asked by the Minister to-day to say where we stand on the means test. Did we think that the person who has been unemployed for 26 weeks, and has failed to get work in spite of persistent effort, ought to continue receiving unemployment benefit on the same scale, and under the same conditions as, the man who has not been out of work for 26 weeks? I do not know why the question was not answered sooner; whether the reason is that some people thought it wise to evade, and that it was parliamentary tactics to evade, I do not know, but we have nothing to be afraid of by saying that we think that the man who has been out of work for 27 weeks is entitled to the same treatment as the man who has been out of work for seven weeks. [An HON. MEMBER: "Irrespective of means?"] Irrespective of means, just as in the case of the man who has been out for seven weeks. Where are we going, with this means test? What does it do? It says that the section of the population who are unfortunately unemployed shall provide for themselves, and not become too heavy a burden upon the rest of the nation who are employed.

We say that Parliament has no right to make that section of the unemployed who have been unemployed longer into a set of untouchables. It is all very well asking who is to provide for them. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said that this party believed that unemployment is a State responsibility. This party believes that it is entirely wrong to say that that section of the community who are unemployed shall be mainly dependent upon their relatives. Whether that is acceptable to the Government or not, I am answering the question of the Minister. We believe that a person who has been unemployed for 26 weeks, and a person who has been unemployed for less than 26 weeks, should have the same treatment.

When we come to the anomalies, I would say that I voted in every Division, during the Debate upon the Anomalies Bill, for the Bill, and that I am still an unrepentant supporter of the Anomalies Act. I do not understand why some of these names are on the back of this Bill. I find the name of the Minister of Labour himself; he never said a word in support of the Anomalies Bill. Neither did the Secretary of State for Scotland, nor the Minister of Health. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury went further. He voted against the Third Reading of the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, whose name I do not see here—I do not know why it is—also voted against the Third Reading of that Bill. The names on the back of this Bill ought to have been, foremost, that of the Prime Minister, and next, that of the Secretary of State for the Dominions, because they were two very loyal supporters of the Bill at that time. We have no complaint as regards the Anomalies Act as an Act of Parliament. [Interruption.] There may be some on this side who have an objection, but I am speaking at this moment for myself. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken did oppose it at that time, like other Members of his party. I see nothing wrong with the Anomalies Act. There were anomalies, and no one can justify the continuance of anomalies without some attempt to deal with them. I agree that that Act may have left some anomalies that ought to have been dealt with, but, in so far as it dealt with anomalies, I supported it then, and I support it now.

My complaint is that the purpose of that Act has not been carried out. It was intended to deal with known abuses, and to safeguard the position of the legitimately unemployed person, by giving the Minister of Labour power to make regulations applicable to any trade, industry or section of persons. On the Second Reading of the Bill, Sir William Jowitt, who was then Attorney-General, said that a form of words could not be devised to apply over the whole country which would not act with very great injustice in some parts, and that regulations drawing a distinction between different places would be needed. We have not yet got them. It is clear that the intention was to give the Minister of Labour power to deal with cases of proved abuse without injury to the interests of the legitimate workers in the same trade or industry. I was pleased to hear the Minister of Labour say that he intends to introduce some modification of the regulations, because that is certainly needed. One has only to read the two special conditions to see that need. The first is, in the case of a married woman: that she is normally employed in insurable employment and normally seeks to obtain her livelihood by means of insurable employment. The second is: having regard to all the circumstances of her ease, and particularly to her industrial experience, and the industrial circumstances of the district in which she resides, she can reasonably expect to obtain insurable employment in that district. I see a danger here. In order to satisfy condition No. 1, there is a danger of her being disqualified by condition No. 2. The unsuccessful effort to get work could be used, under condition No. 2, to say that that was a proof that she could not reasonably expect to obtain insurable employment in that district. The Minister of Labour, in his modification, might consider that point. In the effort to satisfy the first condition one ought not to be penalised by the second condition. The words "circumstances of the district in which she resides" ought to be eliminated. There is nothing to be lost by doing that, and many of our married women would be enabled to show that they were genuinely entitled to benefit in so far as the work that they were doing might not be in the district in which they reside. I hope the Minister in the modification that he suggests will see that both those points are dealt with.

The only other point is in regard to the shadowy forecast we have had of the bigger Bill which is to come forward some time in the autumn. We do not want a continuance of what has happened in Durham. It is true that we in Lancashire have not yet got a commissioner; I do not think we are ever likely to get one, for the simple reason that no commissioner could deal more callously with the unemployed than is being done now. In no county is the treatment of the unemployed worse than in Lancashire. The Lancashire Public Assistance Committee have seen to it that they carried out the letter of the law of the land. They may be justified in doing so. The treatment meted out is not as generous by any means as was given in South Wales or in Durham.


Is the hon. Member speaking of the county public assistance committee or of the borough?


I am speaking now of the county public assistance committee. We have had men transferred from a borough to the county area, and they have had shillings a week taken from them. That gives the House an idea that the boroughs in Lancashire are a little more generous than the county. In the forecasted legislation, I ask the Minister to remember that any extension of what has happened in Durham in the direction of governing unemployed by a commissioner will be resented. Whatever he does in that legislation, I hope he will keep clear of that. We have moved our Amendment because we are not satisfied with the treatment of the unemployed, and we would like Parliament to deal with the question of unemployment in a big and drastic way. The unemployed are not getting a fair deal. They have been asked to carry too large a share of the burden of this country, and they should not have been singled out for that kind of treatment. They have made a sacrifice, on the average, of £27,500,000 each year. It is an insult to the country that they should be asked, in their poverty, to bear that share of the burden. Surely there are people in this country who can carry that burden much easier and with much less injury to themselves.

6.42 p.m.


There is a feeling of disappointment that the Government have found it necessary to require a further postponement of the general Bill to deal with this question. The feeling is largely based upon the anomalies which exist at the present time in the administration under the Act. The scheme for transitional payment is a State scheme, and it should be the first essential of any such scheme that there should be the same treatment of the unemployed who are in receipt of transitional payments throughout the whole country. This question was discussed by a very large and representative meeting of the Members of this House, irrespective of party, representing the distressed areas, and the unanimous conclusion to which they came was that it was essential that there should be equality of treatment in every area in the country, only the variation, as between one area and another, being restricted to matters affecting differences of rent standard and of the cost of living. I gather that the Minister of Labour does not seriously dissent from that proposition. How far apart we are from any such standard as that at the present time. There are the most serious anomalies as between adjoining areas. An hon. Member opposite was rather apt to depreciate any attempt to establish a uniform standard throughout the country. When you apply a different yard-stick in different areas, there is inevitably an injustice done in some of those areas. It is essential that there should be the same yard-stick applied throughout, and some allowance should then be made as between one area and another, limited only to differences in rent standards and cost of living.

A great deal has been said to-day with reference to the administration in Durham, and one has only to look at the North-East Coast to appreciate to the full the point which I am endeavouring to submit to the House—the two counties of Durham and Northumberland and the city of Newcastle. There is, as between these three areas, the most profound difference. Perhaps I might give two or three very simple illustrations. Let me take the case of boys or girls between the ages of 16 and 18. In Newcastle, there is merely an allowance of 2s. a week for a boy or girl between the ages of 16 and 18—obviously a grossly inadequate sum, upon which it is impossible to maintain them at any reasonable level of subsistence. In Durham, the county which is administered by commissioners, one finds that, instead of the 2s. level, boys between 17 and 18 there receive 8s., boys between 16 and 17, 5s. 6d., girls between 17 and 18, 6s. 9d., and girls between 16 and 17, 4s. 6d. Those amounts are reduced in cases where there is a number of such dependants. The same scale applies to the county of Northumberland.

Imagine any State scheme applied to children of those ages in a great city, where rents are high, where the cost of living is higher than it is in the adjoining areas of Northumberland and Durham, and where, notwithstanding those disadvantages, they are only receiving, in some cases, one-fourth of what they are receiving in the county areas. I suggest that illustrations of that kind show the most serious and grievous defects and injustices in the transitional payments scheme as at present administered. May I just give two other illustrations to drive home the point that I am attempting to make? Take the case of a single man or single woman of full age living with parents. In Newcastle, the single adult man receives only 6s., whereas in Durham, under the commissioners, he receives 10s., and in Northumberland 10s. The single woman adult in Newcastle receives only 4s. a week, while in the adjoining area of Durham she receives 10s., and in the adjoining area of Northumberland 8s. Those are glaring illustrations of the injustice which is being brought about by means of the system of transitional payments as at present administered.

When one applies figures on this basis to the family income, one sees that it is still more unfair. According to the Newcastle basis, if an employed woman earning 24s. a week is living at home with her parents, the whole of her income except 6s. is taken into account for the maintenance of the general common household. I do not know of any cases in the county where one finds conditions as bad as the illustrations which I have given. Since these matters are well known to the Minister, I think that in this Bill the opportunity ought to have been taken to rectify injustices of this kind, even during the temporary period. When one has regard, further, to the fact that in areas like those of which I have been speaking, or in large parts of them, which are shipyard areas, where more than two out of every three men are out of work, and where, worse still, the great majority of those unemployed men have been unemployed for long periods, with the result that they have run out of their standard benefit and have not much hope of getting back on to standard benefit, and are, consequently, on transitional payments, one appreciates that the circumstances I have indicated really apply to whole communities of people. I would ask the Minister to expedite his proposals as much as possible, in order to put an end to matters of this kind.

There is one other matter referred to in this Bill to which I will allude, and that is the matter of disability pensions. The Minister of Labour, and also the Minister of Health, during the passage through the House of the Bill in which disability pensions were dealt with, gave the most explicit assurances that as a consequence of that Bill the position of pensioners would not be made worse; but the position of every pensioner in our area receiving less than 12s. a week has been made much worse. Previously, a sum of 7s. 6d, was disregarded in all cases, but now, even in the case of small pensions, however small they may be, the public assistance committee insist on disregarding only half the pension, and taking into account the other half, so that all pensioners with small pensions are now shillings a week worse off than they were before the amending Bill was brought in, and they would have been far better off without the Bill. According to the public assistance committee, that is done because of a circular which was issued by the Ministry of Labour—




When I have protested and informed the public assistance committee of the assurances given by the Ministers, they have referred, in reply, to a circular issued by the Ministry of Labour, and it has been produced to me. I suggest to the Minister that, in considering any further alterations of this Measure, the position of pensioners ought certainly not to be worse in any case than it was before the passing of that Bill. With regard to the present Bill, it is, of course, essential—


If I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman for a moment, I should be very glad if he could give me the reference to the circular which he says has been issued by the Ministry of Labour. I have no knowledge of it. Perhaps he could give me the reference, so that I could trace it.


I shall be very glad to try to get the circular, which was produced to me in Newcastle.


Has not the right hon. Gentleman had any word upon this matter? Is he not aware that it is universal in the country that public assistance committees are limited in that way?


I am referred to a circular which the hon. Baronet said had been issued by the Ministry of Labour, and I do not know anything about it.


I may say that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Denville) tells me that his experience is the same as my. own. I can only say, in reply to the Minister, that the answer to the requests which I have made from time to time that service pensioners should be put back into the same position in which they were before the amending Bill, is invariably a reference to a circular which was issued by the Ministry, and which was, in fact, produced.


Perhaps, as the Debate is to be continued on Friday, the hon. Baronet will be kind enough to get into communication with his people in Newcastle, and have a copy of the circular sent up. I will then deal with the matter in replying to the Debate on the Second Beading on Friday.


I am very much obliged, and I will certainly endeavour to obtain a copy of the circular.


When the hon. Gentleman is replying to the Debate, will he also be good enough to produce to the House every communication that has been sent by the Ministry of Labour to the public assistance committees who administer transitional payments—such, for instance, as the one which was sent to the West Biding of Yorkshire?


From the comments which the Ministers have made, one hopes one may gather that there has been no intention at all that the position of the service pensioners should be worse at the present time than it was before the amending Act, and, if that is the case, I hope the Minister will issue a circular to the public assistance committees making it perfectly clear that the former position should be continued.

6.58 p.m.


I had no intention of intervening in this Debate, but the range of the Debate has become wider than I had anticipated, and, therefore, I am glad to be able to bring before the Minister one point which I think needs most serious consideration. I think that every Member in the House will agree that, when we are considering the question of unemployment or the question of depressed areas, we have to consider the country as a whole, and not merely certain localities; but there can be occasions on which the good of the country and the good of a specified locality may be interwoven, and I think that there is such a case in my own district. In the constituency which I represent we have a training centre for men from the depressed areas. No one can dispute the value of the work that these training centres have done, but I would like to point out to the Minister that constituencies such as mine are very overcrowded, and housing conditions are not good, and, if they continue to become more and more overcrowded, the housing conditions must become worse. Unfortunately, there are in my constituency a very large number of unemployed people, and terrible bitterness is growing up in them because they go week after week, and sometimes month after month, to the Employment Exchange, only to find that men from the depressed areas are time and again given work in front of them—men who have not had to wait as long for work as they have.

In answer to a question I put to the Minister a little while ago he told me that nearly 11,000 people from the depressed areas had been found work in the county of Middlesex since 1929—that was up to March of this year. Nearly 4,000 of these people had passed through the exchange in my constituency. There is, therefore, no question that we are not doing our share for the men from the depressed areas. But has the time not come when we ought to consider whether it is really wise to bring down to areas such as mine these large numbers of men for training when there is a very limited amount of work for the people actually there? Every year some 800 men from distressed areas are receiving training in my constituency. They are given a short course of training and sent out as improvers. They have a very much better chance of getting work than have the local men who are given no such training. I would suggest that it would be wise at this point to look into the question of the expense of running that training centre, the expenditure on the original building, and the expense involved in keeping it running now. It is true we are finding work for some 800 men a year from the distressed areas, but we have to consider how many men from my own area, where this training centre is situated, are going without work be- cause of it, and the terrible resultant bitterness being engendered in these men who are living on the outskirts of London in a very crowded area. I beg the Minister to take this question into consideration.

Every day, and every week, there are hundreds of other men coming down to my locality because they hear work is easier to find in the South, and in the area around London. The outskirts of London are becoming more and more crowded with men from the distressed areas. We want to help these men and if it is found worth while, and necessary, to keep open the training centre in my locality, will the Minister at least consider allowing 50 per cent. of men from my area to enter that training centre each year and to have the benefit of being taught there instead of allowing in only men from the distressed areas? I think that would do a great deal to mitigate the bitterness which men in my area feel with regard to the training centre. This is a question which has got to be considered now—both from the point of view of housing, and from the psychological effect it has on men in areas such as mine. I hope the Minister will give it his very careful and sympathetic consideration.

7.4 p.m.


We, on this side of the House, are told that we ought not to oppose this Bill because, if our opposition is successful, certain consequences will follow. I could not help remembering, while the Minister was stressing that point, the time when the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in another Parliament did not seem to mind what happened to the unemployed. That was at the time we used to have gap periods, and we had to deal with thousands and thousands of men under the auspices of the Poor Law, simply because they were not entitled to have unemployment insurance benefit of any kind. We do not apologise in the slightest degree for this Amendment. We say straight out that the cuts to the unemployed ought to be restored, not because it will mean £15,000,000 of purchasing power, but because it is nothing more than an act of simple justice to restore the cut to these people.

In the election of 1931 the unemployed were told by the supporters of the National Government that, whenever the financial position of the country was such as to enable it to be done, the restoration of the cut to the unemployed would be the first cut to be restored. Many of the unemployed voted for hon. Members opposite because they believed they were going to get work if they got a National Government. I say, without the slightest fear of contradiction, that the 10 per cent. cut was the meanest thing it was possible for the Government to do. When men talk about the equality of sacrifice, and the patriotic necessity for the unemployed men going short with this 10 per cent. cut, because the cost of living has decreased by 11 points, those people should have to live on that amount. In this House hon. Members deal in statistics. They seem to forget the human side of the problem. Other Members on this side, as well as myself, have had experience of unemployment in the days before there was any unemployment insurance. Then we used to have to crowd in the pit yards, and at the factory gates, at five o'clock in the morning, on the off chance of getting a job. The difference between that time and the present is that we had a better chance of getting a job than men have now.

Unemployment insurance was never intended to deal with the unprecedented state of things at the present time. We have a right to ask for the restoration of the cut. A man and wife have on 23s. 3d. to live seven days. Rent, light, food, clothing and everything have to be paid out of it. During the 18 months I was out of this House I met many men who had seen more dinner times than dinners. I want to emphasise this point, and I want to protest as strongly as I can, against what is taking place. The Government are compelling people in the mining villages and in the provinces generally to despair. It used to be the one desire of the housewife that the kiddies should have something new for Easter. They used to take delight in trying to turn the kiddies out decently. I have seen more than one mother shed tears when she could not give her kiddies what she used to give them.

With regard to the means test, my party and the Government are as far apart as the poles. The Minister of Labour asked a pertinent question. It was whether we believe that the unemployed, who have exhausted their statu- tory rights, should be given benefit without regard to means. Personally I have no hesitation in answering that question, but before doing so I would remark that the only people to whom the Government apply the means test, of all those who draw money from the State, are the poor and the unemployed. For a great many years agriculture has been receiving payments without a means test. There is the case of the sugar beet industry which drew £23,000,000 without any means test, and when there were huge profits made in that process. Last, but not least, the coalowners received £23,000,000 in 1925 without any means test, when some owners admitted making from 5s. to 6s. a ton. They welcomed the money as money for nowt.

The means test is wrong for the unemployed. What crime have they committed? They have been out of work for more than 26 weeks, but they are not responsible. They are not the cause of the economic dislocation; they are the victims of it. The method of calculating the income of households has made the means test stink in the nostrils of the people. There are supporters of the Minister's own party in the country who are afraid to go on political platforms and defend the means test. I can say without hesitation that in the West Riding representatives of the Tory party could not go on the platform and defend what is taking place. It was said that the policy of my party meant that we stood for the breaking up of the home. Homes are being broken up by the means test. The method of calculating the income for a home is a scandal.

The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and myself heard of a case at the week-end which ought to be put on record. A single man lives with an old-age pensioner, whose total income is his pension of 10s. The single man loses 15s. What right has any Government to allow an ordinary lodger, who is no relation at all, to live on part of an old-age pension? What right have they got to do it? I will give another case of a man in my constituency. He was 53 years of age, single and a respectable fellow. He lived with an old woman whose income was 10s. a week. This man has drawn his 26 weeks' benefit of 15s. 3d. per week. When he got the papers to apply for transitional benefit he was disheartened, and so afraid of what would happen when reduced to 10s. a week, that he drowned himself in the canal. There are scores and scores of instances which could be quoted and which are an absolute disgrace, especially when we hear a good deal about short-term and long-term policy. As a matter of fact, there appears to be no Government policy for finding men work.

The unemployed have a right to be treated as human bemgs. It costs more to keep a convict in prison for a week than what an unemployed man gets as transitional or statutory benefit. Decent single men have been driven out of lodgings to become inmates of workhouses, and they are costing the rates more than if we had given them 13s. 3d. a week. We have a right to protest. We claim to be nearer the unemployed than the average Member of this House. An hon. Member, who spoke from above the Gangway, said that the men who were actually working were in favour of the means test for those not working. Let me tell him that the circumstances have changed since a few years ago. I remember that during my time of office as Poor Law guardian in Sheffield handling 17,000 men under the Poor Law, when we had a fairly high rate of relief. When wages began to fall, we did find men working for wages almost equivalent to relief, complaining a little. But things have changed. There are too many men thrown out of work now—men who never thought they would have been discharged.

The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. White) talks of the hardship to men who have furniture on the hire purchase system. Let me say that there are other things besides that. Take a man who believed he had security of tenure and the possibility of work for two or three years, wanted to give his family rather better surroundings and paid a higher rent than he had ever paid before, but is now out of work without the slightest chance of ever getting back. That man and his wife will feel that life is hardly worth living. Unemployment, from the point of view of the individual, is a big human problem, and these men and women who are the victims of the capitalist system have a right to ask the powers-that-be for at least a decent standard of life until prosperity returns. We make no apology for our Amendment. We want to urge it as hard as we can. But, when the Minister brings in his new Bill, we hope that it will be a comprehensive one, that it will be better than the present law, and that it will treat those who are out of work on something like a humane basis.

7.17 p.m.


Members of the Labour party who have spoken have made out a case which would be very relevant, and would deserve very serious consideration, if we were discussing, not this Bill but the Bill which the Minister has promised us in the near future. This is not a Bill to make any permanent alteration in the present system. It is merely to tide us over from 30th June until the introduction of the Bill that is to be based on the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I think it is a great pity that we have to pass this temporary Bill at all and that we have not been able to consider the whole thing at one time, but I entirely accept the Minister's explanation that there are very great difficulties and that it is necessary to prolong the existing system. I ask Members of the Opposition to realise that there are many of us on these benches who recognise that alterations, and possibly drastic alterations, are necessary in the present system, and who will vote for this Bill because it is merely a stop-gap Bill. The Amendment says, first of all, that the rates of benefit are too low.

A great deal has been said about depressed areas. I have no experience of the depressed areas. The area for which I sit is by no means a depressed area, and I cannot tell how conditions may be elsewhere, but certainly, speaking for the area which I represent, it is ludicrously untrue to say that the working classes there are worse off than they have ever been before, as was said by one hon. Member to-day. No one would pretend that the reduced rate of benefit that is in force to-day is meant to represent a permanent standard of living or a permanent level for the unemployed, but there is one definite principle that has to be observd in dealing with the rates of benefit for the unemployed. It has been emphasised by the Royal Commission that in any circumstances the rate of benefit must be less than the normal rate of wages for men in employment. We on these benches do not regard the present rates as representing an ideal standard for normal times, and we are not to-day living in normal times. We stand by what was said at the election and, on the return of normal times, one of the very first things to be dealt with must be the rates of benefit paid to the unemployed.

The second point that is dealt with is the needs test, as to which we have had a definite statement from the Minister. It is said that no distinction should be drawn between a man who is drawing standard benefit and a man who is outside insurance. That can only mean that every man who is unemployed, whether within the insurance scheme or not, must draw the same rate, so much for a man, so much for man and wife, and so much for each child. That must be rigid and inflexible and it must apply to every case irrespective of the circumstances of the particular case. That seems to me to be a system which would cause very great hardship. Let me give an illustration of the sort of thing that I have in mind Take a respectable working man of the kind about which we have been hearing. He has, perhaps, refrained from getting married and getting a home of his own. He has, perhaps, preferred to spend his wages in improving his own standard of living. Is he to be condemned for the rest of his life to pay for the wife and children of another man who may be unemployed, who may have run out of insurance and who may be unemployed for a long period of time? You may get perfectly respectable men condemned to go on paying for other people who under any sort of needs test, however administered, would have plenty of money from other sources to provide for themselves.

Not even the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) will deny that some of the cases to be found in the Report of the Durham Commissioners are cases in which the people ought not to be receiving money from State funds. He may say those cases are not typical. One case is sufficient argument for the existence of a needs test. The third point that is taken is that the Anomalies Act ought to be repealed. I listened with considerable amusement to the speech of one hon. Member who said, "We were responsible for the Act, but it is not the Act but its administration that is at fault." That is a very easy way of running away from your political responsibilities to say that the Act that you have placed on the Statute Book is a good Act as long as you are there to administer it, but, as soon as someone else comes to take over the baby, it is bad.

So much for the case made out in support of the Amendment. I desire now to deal with some of the remarks that the Minister made towards the end of his speech. There is, undoubtedly, a certain amount of uneasiness in the country about the needs test. It is due not so much to the existence of the needs test. The vast majority of working men recognise that it is necessary. What, I believe, is resented is what has been called pauperisation, and I believe there is, rightly or wrongly, a certain stigma attaching to public assistance and to the examination which has to be carried on by public assistance committees. I believe a lot of decent working men resent the fact, not that they have to disclose their means but that they have to disclose them to the public assistance committees, and that they are treated on the same sort of basis as paupers. I believe that, if you could only get away from that, you would get away from a great deal of the unpleasantness and the complaints that are associated with the existence of the needs test. One complaint, perhaps rather an ungallant one, is frequently made to me. I have heard a good many working men complain of the presence of women on the committee, it may be women in a better position in life than their own. They say: "What can these women know about us? How dare they ask questions about our homes?" It may not be a valid complaint, but it is the sort of complaint that one gets.

I believe the sort of proposals that are put forward by the Holman Gregory Commission are the right ones, that you should put your unemployed into three different categories. You should have the men who are definitely in insurance dealt with through the agency of the Employment Exchange. Then you should have a second category, which would be a very large one, and would include a lot of people who are to-day outside the scheme, railway and agricultural workers and so on. They should be dealt with through some other agency. At all costs they should not be dealt with by the public assistance committees as we know them at present. I have been tremendously impressed by the spirit of courage with which some of these people have faced their future. I have had men come to me and say: "We recognise that there is very little hope of getting a job within the next few years. It may even be that we shall never get another job." I believe in many cases it is unduly pessimistic, but it is an appalling prospect for these men, and I believe they would face it with much more equanimity and even greater courage if they were being treated as members of a class which was not a sort of scrap heap but a class of industrial workers who were still regarded as being in the industrial world and as being available for industrial work if it came about.

I think that the proper way to deal with the problem is to split it up into three groups and to reserve your public assistance treatment for the people for whom it was originally intended, the people who are no longer to be regarded as being in the industrial market at all. If, his Bill were the last word on the subject of unemployment insurance, I am sure the Minister himself would agree that it would be a bad Bill. But it is not. It is a stop-gap Measure to tide us over until we have worked out the final details of the comprehensive scheme which is to be introduced in the near future. If it is regarded in that light only, it is a perfectly satisfactory Bill. I shall support it because it is purely a temporary Measure, but I hope—and I am sure I have a great many of my friends with me—that the time will be as short as my right hon. Friend can make it before he introduces the new Bill.

7.29 p.m.


It is with some diffidence that I take part in the Debate, for of all the subjects with which this House concerns itself from time to time this one of the relief of unemployment is perhaps the most complex that we have to discuss, and there is no subject which enters into and affects the life of so many people. The Bill, despite all that has been said by the official Opposition, is one without which there would be a tremendous dislocation of our present system. The immediate cessation of social insurance would be no light matter and that, of course, would be the effect of the Amendment. Even granting the necessity of this carry-over Measure, it is to be regretted that, even in such a short temporary stop-gap as the Bill is, there should not have been some attempt to deal with the admitted anomalies of the present system. We are continuing in this Measure the Anomalies Act. I would draw the attention of the Minister to the part of the Act which deals with the treatment of seasonal workers. I will not enter into the merits or demerits of the anomalies of the Act by apportioning blame or praise as the case might be among the people who have to deal with the difficult problems which confront them. I feel that the provisions with regard to seasonal workers have operated in a manner which was never anticipated by the promoters of Bill, and that they are affecting people who are not really seasonal workers.


How does the hon. Member know that they are not seasonal workers? We warned the Government of everything that has happened, and the hon. Member has no right to say what he has said.


I am sorry that I should be upbraided by my hon. Friend for having shown too much clemency. I believe that whatever party occupies the Front Bench the desire which is prominent in the breasts of them all is to do good and to eschew evil. I think that that is also true of the hon. Member's late colleagues.


Why did you oppose them at the election?


I did not oppose them because of their intentions, but I would remind the hon. Member that their intentions outran their discretion. The Labour party have always pursued the pathway of good intentions. Some people are being brought into the classification of seasonal workers whom it was not intended should be included. Take an industrial constituency such as mine. There are young men and young women there, mostly young men, who have worked at certain occupations. A shop girl, for instance, works for a period and then falls out of employment and remains out of work for some time, but, the summer season coming on, she goes to Scarborough to be a waitress. When she comes back again she finds that she is classed as a seasonal worker and is outside the Insurance Scheme. Boys who have been working at various juvenile occupations take up employment for the time being selling ice cream. I have asked the Ministry to tell me the season for ice cream especially in the north country. At any rate, there are young people affected in that way. Whatever may be said about the merits or demerits of the provision in regard to seasonal workers, it was never intended to debar or to discourage people in the industrial areas from taking a job if there was a job to which to go.


To whom was the proposal to be applied?


It was intended to apply to those sections of the population employed in definitely seasonal occupations, such as, for instance, the fisher girls from Scotland.


So that it is right to refuse a fisher girl benefit because she works at her own work and to give benefit to somebody in Durham who does not work at his own work.


I do not wish to indulge in an altercation with my hon. Friend, but when you recognise the seasonal occupation you are entitled to assume that the rate of remuneration will be based on the fact that the workers have to maintain themselves for a year from the seasonal occupation. That, surely, was the intention of the Act, but, whether it is so or not, I hope that my hon. Friend will not discourage me from trying to get a little good out of the evil provision in respect of seasonal workers. I direct the attention of the Minister to the operation of that provision in the hope that we may obtain some remedial regulations in regard to it. The temper of the House and the nature of the occasion do not prompt one to dwell upon the merits or demerits of the present proposal so much as to look forward to the larger scheme which the Minister promises in the not too distant future. When we look towards the larger Measure which we hope is to come, we feel that this is an opportunity in which to make suggestions in order that we may evolve, through our discussions, a scheme which will be permanent and adequate to the newer conditions which will follow upon the great crisis through which we are passing.

First and foremost, there is a general concensus of opinion that in the future the cost of maintaining able-bodied unemployed people should be a national and not a local charge. Those of us who represent depressed areas are a little anxious to know what has happened to the suggestion which was made a short time ago that even in the current financial year some arrangement could be made with the more prosperous areas so that relief might be brought to the more depressed areas. I do not wish to read into the statement of the Minister of Health anything which was not intended, but I would remind the Government that the effect of that statement in the North of England and, I believe, in South Wales, and throughout the highly rated areas, was to create an opinion that the Government definitely promised that they would use some influence to bring relief in that way. I would warn the Government that if that expectation is not fulfilled the disappointment in the depressed areas will be great, and I am afraid that the anger of the local authorities will not be inconsiderable. No doubt, if the case were properly stated, the more prosperous areas would be only too glad to come to our assistance.

My one desire sometimes in this House is to have sufficient power of eloquence to describe adequately the conditions in the North-East of England to the hon. Gentlemen who represent the more prosperous areas. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) drew very largely upon his vision of the condition of the people in the county of Durham. It is no easy matter to represent in this House constituents numbering 40,000 or over when you know that you can go into small towns and find 80 and 90 per cent. of the adult population out of work. It is no laughing matter with us. We walk about with the mental vision of these places before us. I believe that we have only to express to this House an adequate idea of what exists in those areas to bring the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater) and all his colleagues as a great relief expedition to the North of England.

I wish to speak about the outstanding features in relation to the new scheme which is to be submitted. The first essential in such a scheme is to improve the care which we take of the adolescent. The danger which I see in this long depression is that we are not as a nation developing and training the future artisans of this country. We allow the children to leave school. They are not getting into industry, but growing up and reaching a time of life when it is difficult to begin training. In our next insurance scheme we must find a means of so developing our technical education and linking it up with the scheme as to ensure that, not only shall young people be kept out of the labour market, but that they shall be trained in trades and occupations in which they can find a permanent livelihood. Just as we must do that at the earlier part of life, so we must also try to link up our insurance system with a system of pensions of various sorts. The new problem which we have to face is how to concentrate the enforced leisure of so many people into that period of life in which it can be turned to useful advantage and enjoyed rather than suffered. That means that we must develop and enlarge our pension schemes and develop and advance our systems of technical education.

I feel, as I am sure the great majority of the Members of this House feel, that the benefits which are being paid to-day are inadequate for the purposes for which they are intended, and that they are not benefits which can be brought into a permanent scheme of insurance with anything like public approval. The reduction which was made in the benefits to the unemployed when the 10 per cent. cut was put into operation was only agreed to by public opinion in the very stern necessity of the times, and many of us feel that it is more than time that the cut was restored. The benefit which is more inadequate than all the rest is that paid in respect of children. Two shillings a week for a child is not an adequate benefit. I am sometimes amazed that people should try to test the adequacy of that benefit by looking at the statistics relating to child life. It is not from those statistics that you will find the first effect of inadequate benefits in respect of children. This is what happens in a working-class home. The mother goes along doing the best she can for the children, and she deprives herself of necessities before she deprives the children. The result is that, though the children may show no signs of malnutrition, the mother, whose condition we have not the facilities for watching, is suffering, and there is, I believe, definite malnutrition. In any new scheme that benefit, at all events, should be raised very substantially.

There is another aspect of the unemployment problem which can hardly be met by insurance, but to which it is our duty to pay very great attention. It is the case of prolonged unemployment. Even as soon as you get past the 26 weeks' period the needs of the unemployed person, and of the household especially, are growing greater. It is impossible to keep up the renewals necessary in order to maintain the comfort of the home, and some means must be found whereby the benefits are made sufficient to meet the case. There are many aspects of this problem which are worthy of our consideration. I should like to reply to the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser). I am sorry that he is not in his place. He said that in his view a disablement pension could be taken into account because it had not been given for maintenance. Therefore, he stated that a certain proportion of it could be taken into account, and he appealed for the exemption of smaller pensions up to 16s. My view has always been—and I do not think that I shall have cause to recede from it—that the disablement pension is granted as a measure of disablement in view of the permanent disadvantage of the pensioner in seeking employment in the labour market. That being so, it is not a proper thing to take the pension into consideration in assessing needs. It is granted for a different purpose and should be left entirely alone.

I trust that the time is quickly dawning when we shall take a new, better and wider outlook of the whole problem of social insurance. I think we are in danger, because of the large numbers of unemployed people, of looking at this problem as if it were one of maintaining unemployed people, whereas it is a problem of preventing the unemployment of the people. That being so, we have to review the whole of the circumstances of our country and realise that a certain number of our population will not be fruitfully employed because of various causes, the advent of machinery, and so on. Therefore, the central purpose of our future legislation should be to concentrate the period of enforced leisure into those periods of the human life in which it can be enjoyed rather than endured. We have to seek some method of limiting the period of human life which is spent in industry. We have to keep the younger people out of the labour market, and we have to make more adequate provision for those who are old enough to be relieved of the responsibility of heavy industrial work.

7.47 p.m.


In moving the Second Reading of the Bill the Minister did not deal very largely with its provisions, but pointed out what would happen if it were not carried. He asked us on these benches what we would do in place of the Bill. We all realise that there must be some kind of Bill to carry on unemployment benefit. No Government could live for a week if no payment was given. Even the National Government, all-powerful as it is, would never contemplate for one moment the suspension of unemployment benefit. We realise these facts, and we are taking the opportunity when the Bill comes up for renewal to seek to improve it until the time when a permanent Measure can be brought in. We should be lacking in our duty if on this occasion we failed to emphasise what we have done on every possible occasion. One necessity which we emphasise is the restoration of the cuts. On the Budget we urged that necessity, but we had not the same opportunity then that we have now. This Bill continues the cuts. [Interruption.] At any rate, our Amendment, which has been accepted by Mr. Speaker, says that we are not satisfied with the lower rates of benefit, which I assume means putting back the cuts. Whether that be so or not, we take the opportunity of saying why we think this Bill ought to be resisted until the Government can see their way to put back the cuts.

The second question is that of the means test. I cannot understand hon. Members pointing out that we are giving to people who have means something to which they are not entitled—that they have already exceeded the statutory limit, and that we are giving them something from the State that they ought not to have. Let us see where that principle leads us. The unemployment insurance scheme does not depend entirely on the workman. If it was like a voluntary sick society where only the workmen paid, one could understand that argument if they came later for benefit from the State, but the unemployment insurance scheme says that the workman shall pay one-third, the employer one-third and the State one-third. From the beginning the State has decided to give a certain amount of money, and when a man comes out of work there is no question of his means. He may have a lot of money saved up and his family may have money, but the State says: "For a certain length of time we will give you so much per week from moneys, one-third of which has been provided by the State."

When we agreed to unemployment insurance we agreed that for a certain period we would give even a man of means money to keep him. Then we suddenly develop and say to ourselves: "That man has been out of work 26 weeks. Much of his savings have been eaten into. Therefore, we must examine what he has got now." The State also says: "You must exhaust that money before we give you any more, or we will make you live on your family earnings before we see any reason to give more money from the State." I cannot understand anyone arguing on those lines when we have already given State money to certain people. The insurance benefit ought to continue until the man gets work. The man is not out of employment from his own wish, but because the State has not organised itself on a proper basis to find him work. Therefore, so long as he is out of work the State has a right to look after him.

During Whitsuntide I read in the newspapers of meetings where they have been eulogising the thrift of many of our people, pointing out what national savings have done and praising the British workman because he is looking after himself by his thrift. And then we meet here and we say to these thrifty men and women who have been the backbone of the State: "We must penalise you. Because you have been industrious and probably have done without many things that other people have had, because you have been trying to prepare for emergency, for old age and so on, because you have shown yourself to be a good citizen, we are going to make you spend most of that money before we give you any more unemployment benefit." It is mostly hon. Members from the other side of the House who attend these big functions and tell the people how good they are and how valuable they are to the community by their thrift. I hope they will be candid enough to say to them: "Although we praise your thrift, we are going to take some of your money back in order to help us to carry on our business." That is unfair to thrifty people.

I stand here an unrepentant defender against all kinds of means tests. I may be faced in my constituency with cases that have happened in Durham. I shall be told that certain men who have money invested have been getting State aid in Durham. Let us follow that to its logical conclusion. As against the very few who have been found out, there are many thousands against whom nothing can be said. You are spending more State money in trying to find out these people than you are saving and you are creating all kinds of difficulties. There is no need for the means test to be applied in this country. I trust that our speakers will not be afraid at the next election to face this issue. If they really believe in the abolition of the means test I hope they will be courageous enough to say it, and let the people judge it on the merits of the case. If the people say that they want the means test, let them say it at the next election, but I do not think they will. We have already gone too far, and I would like to test the electorate on that point if we get the chance.

Seeing that we have a means test, I should like to point out a few things in its application and to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to explain them. Last week a case was brought to my notice of a young man who was on transitional payment. When he went to sign on at the Employment Exchange on the 7th June he was given a public assistance form telling him that on the day following his pay would be reduced from 15s. 3d. to 8s. He had drawn 15s. 3d. on the previous Friday, and he had no notice about the change and no chance of protesting or putting anything before the committee. The next day he was paid the 8s., but when the matter was inquired into it was found not to be correct. He was told that on the following Friday he would receive 15s. 3d., but that in respect of the week when he only received 8s. he would have to lose his 7s. 3d. I should like to know whether a public assistance committee can put a man on reduced payment without giving him an opportunity of stating his case before them. Will the Parliamentary Secretary give some guide to the people outside on this matter?


If the hon. Member will be good enough to give me particulars, I will look into it.


I will do so. I should like the hon. Member to make a general statement as to what a public assistance committee can do. We agreed in regard to another Measure that in connection with transitional payment 50 per cent. of the disability pensions should not be taken into consideration and that 50 per cent. of compensation should not be taken into consideration, but I find that where a man has a disability pension and a portion of that is paid to his wife as an allowance that principle does not work. For instance, if a man has a disability pension of 16s. a week and 4s. is allowed to the wife from the pension, 50 per cent. of the 16s. is not taken into consideration but 50 per cent. of 12s. is taken into account. Does the Parliamentary Secretary consider that to be fair? The disability pension is given for a man's wounds. If it was not because of the man's wounds the wife would not get anything. Therefore, it must be the disability pension that brings the wife's allowance. If I cannot get the Minister to agree with me I should like to make it known what stand the Ministry take on this matter. It comes very hard on those people who fought for us to be told that they are to be treated in this fashion. I do not care about the credit of the Government, I shall do my best to discredit them, but I want them to do what they can for the benefit of these wounded men. If they do not I shall make all the use I can of the meanness of the Government in dealing with this matter. Our main point is to urge the Government to get on with their permanent Measure, not to waste time. I would urge hon. Members who may not want to vote against this Bill to impress on the Government the importance of getting something done to put unemployment benefit as a whole on a much better footing than it is to-day, to take a much larger view and bring everyone within the scope of the scheme.

8.2 p.m.


As one who supports the Government I cannot say that I have a great deal of enthusiasm for this Measure. I shall certainly support it by my vote, because I realise that unless it becomes an Act of Parliament there is the danger that the relief which is now given to large numbers of able-bodied unemployed will have to be carried by local authorities, who at the present moment have very heavy burdens to bear. I had hoped that by this time we should have been discussing legislation to remove the question of the relief of the able-bodied unemployed from public assistance committees and treated it purely and simply as an industrial problem. I feel strongly that public assistance committees should confine themselves to the work which they have done so well for centuries past, that is, caring for the feeble and the aged, and people of that type, and that the relief of those who are temporarily out of work, the able-bodied unemployed, should be dealt with by entirely different people. I hope that the Government will be able to deal with this question very speedily now. It is a matter which requires immediate attention. I trust that next year we shall see on the Statute Book an entirely different method of dealing with that unfortunate class of person who is temporarily without work and wages.

8.4 p.m.


I do not propose to make any apology to any Member of the National Government for any remarks I may make. [Interruption.] Nor do I want there to be any laughing, because this is a most serious matter. When the Labour Government was in office for a period of nine months, we were twitted by the Opposition that we did not bring about a revolution in our social standards of life. I would remind those hon. Members who laugh and those who do not laugh that the tragedy to-day, in the words of the Prime Minister, is that no matter what we may do we are likely to have 2,000,000 permanently unemployed. That is the problem which confronts us, and which requires serious attention. It is indeed no laughing matter. Those who are well fed, well clothed, and well housed, can take life easily, but the tragedy of life to-day, which may mean the flitting out at a moment's notice by poison or suicide, or by going over into the river, is a serious problem in our industrial areas. From whence I come I can see broken down homesteads, mothers and fathers brought down to the lowest depths by extreme poverty, people who, in normal days, were able to go along nicely in life. Now, in our great industrial areas those who have eyes can see that the problem which daily confronts us is the appalling spectacle of the unemployed. Is it to be said that a great National Government, with a majority of 10 to 1 over the Labour party, who have been in office twice as long as the Labour Government was in office and who twitted us that we were not able to carry various Measures through the House of Commons, are not able to do what they said the Labour party ought to be able to do?

That indictment can be levelled at the National Government; and I make no apology for indicting them. The means test ought to go. It is an insult to the intelligence of anyone. The Anomalies Act should disappear entirely from the Statute Book. The contention is put forward in this House, indeed it seems to be accepted as a truism, that you have no right whatever to expect those who are employed to support those who are unemployed. I never in all my life heard a more ridiculous contention put forward in any assembly, and it is put forward in the British House of Commons; presupposing, I suppose, that all men must be employed. If all men are employed then there is no problem to be dealt with. But when we are told, as we are, on the reliable authority of the Prime Minister, that 2,000,000 people will never again get employment, then the question arises whether the burden which falls upon us is to be a national burden or a local burden. You cannot get rid of 2,600,000 people by starvation or poison; you must keep them, and the question is, is it to be a national or a local charge. To-day it is impossible for distressed areas to bear any further charge and, therefore, this is a problem which must be dealt with nationally by a National Government.

We have been told to-night that the affluent districts are not prepared to assist the depressed areas. A few weeks ago the Government met a deputation from the depressed areas and said that they had a just case. If a just case means anything, if the word of a Minister of the Government is worth anything, it should be implemented. The tragedy of the matter is that we have had nothing but vague promises. More than 18 months have passed and nothing has been done. The vast army of the unemployed have been living on hopes. We have been told that we have a great deal of impudence in moving an Amendment which must have serious consequences if it is passed. All the Amendment means is that men and women in the country will begin to think, and perhaps the National Government will also begin to think how they are going to meet the vast army of the unemployed. Is it going to be said that in another 12 months time the problem will be considered? I am surprised at the apology which has been made from the Liberal benches. With them it has also been sympathy for the unemployed, but when it comes to a question of voting they vote with the Government. The whole thing is ridiculous. Is it to be said that after calling for a sacrifice from the unemployed, after having made a saving of £15,000,000 during each of the last two years, a total of £30,000,000, that we are still to go on under present conditions. The Minister is afraid to move, the National Government is afraid to move. The only thing they are considering is the question of economy. Every man and woman whom you turn distracted, or who goes to a lunatic asylum, costs three times the amount of money paid in outdoor relief.

Can any hon. Member in any quarter of the House justify the attitude of the Government in continuing 15s. 3d. for a genuine unemployed man? There is no Member who will dare say that that is enough for any unemployed man. If so, then there is something wrong in the state of Denmark. The Government ought to make proper provision for these people; and they are not making it. If the Government really meant to do the right thing they would by now have brought in a Bill which would make everyone engaged in employment contribute to the upkeep of the unemployed. There is no question of solvency in a fund in which there are 2,600,000 unemployed unless you can bring in all those industries which give continuous employment. It is impossible to say, as the Minister is saying, that a man who entered unemployment insurance in 1912 and has paid regularly until 1929 has no claim to unemployment benefit because you have given him 26 weeks' unemployment pay. That will not wash.

Think of it. Twenty-three shillings a week, 15s. 3d. and eight shillings, and then 10s. a week for the rent of the houses that are being built. Another indictment against the Government is that they do not make provision for employing the unemployed. The Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health together are trying merely to effect economy. In Liverpool we sent in proposals for the building of 4,000 houses. That was in January last. In November of last year I put a question to the Minister of Health, and he told me that if any housing scheme was sent in it would receive consideration, if the plans had been already prepared. By that Liverpool scheme we could have provided employment and relieved the local rates. But we have had no reply yet from the Minister as to whether the scheme is sanctioned, although six months have gone by. Procrastination seems to be the order of the day with the Government. They are shaping the wrong way. I am glad to be able to vote against them, though that will not count for much. We are here discussing the lot of 15,000,000 people, the unemployed and their dependents and there are only 20 Members present. The House of Commons is fiddling while Home is burning. If only the people who sent Members here could see what the House is like, and what attention is paid to their demands, they would not waste very much time in elections, but would find some other way of settling their problems. I am convinced that the House does not mean business, and I shall have pleasure in voting against the Government.

8.18 p.m.


I am not sure whether the hon. Member who has just spoken is now, or is about to become, a member of the Fascist party. He has little regard for the House of Commons, and apparently he would favour some more radical method of getting on with business. He appears to have still less regard for my colleagues on the Liberal benches.


None at all.


At any rate it can be said that the hon. Gentleman favours a method by which the man in employment contributes to the cost of the man out of employment.


Hear, hear.


The hon. Member ought to remember that that principle, with which I heartily agree, was placed on the Statute Book by my Liberal friends in years gone by. The hon. Member has little regard apparently for the action of the National Government. I do not know where he has been during the last few months.


Sitting here, and that is the trouble.


Then has he not noticed that unemployment in the last three or four months is "down" by more than 300,000? A week ago it was at a lower figure than it had been during the time when the hon. Member and his friends had charge of the Government. Does the hon. Member forget that the National Government has carried through treaties and negotiations with foreign countries, designed to bring work to those very distressed areas which he mentions? Will he not be fair and give credit where credit is due?


The coal trade is no use to us in Liverpool.


I should have imagined that Liverpool, like any other shipping place, would be glad of any cargo, coal or otherwise. I thought that coal was one of the main cargoes of the shipping trade.


A ship sailed from Liverpool a short time ago, and every gentleman on board, though he carried an ex-chief's ticket, sailed as an ordinary fireman. Would the hon. Member call that prosperity?


The hon. Gentleman has raised a question in which I have a keen personal interest, for my brother happens to be in that trade. Indeed, it was because my hon. Friend is so interested in that particular subject that I have ventured to carry on what is familiarly known outside as a gentle leg-pull. I do not think that any Member of the House can have listened to the opening speech of the Mover of the Amendment without a considerable measure of admiration for his style and agreement with the case that he put forward. There is no Member of the House who has not great sympathy with those who now are suffering from the application of the means test, or more generally from the results of trade depression. Not only in the depressed areas, but in more fortunate districts such as that which I have the honour to represent, unemployment is indeed bringing great hardship and suffering to many homes, and worst of all to homes that once were the typically Scottish homes of respectable and upright people who have sacrificed much to educate their children. It is in these cases often that the suffering and the sorrow are the greatest.

When I listened to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) describing his conditions, I listened to something that I understood and sympathised with. If it was only a case of taking measures to bring more generous treatment to these homes, there would be no disagreement in the House. The administration of the means test is undoubtedly accompanied by unfairness and injustice in odd cases. I do not see how it is possible to avoid it in a huge administration such as we have to carry on at the present time. But when hon. Members advance from that position to an attack on the whole principle of the means test, I find myself in a new position. In listening to these attacks I have been filled with amazement, and I confess with admiration for the histrionic abilities of the hon. Gentleman. They rival the finest actors of the West End. Two years ago they sat on the Government Front Bench, robed in the pure white of public rectitude. At that time they were guardians of the public purse, and a saintly righteousness pervaded their ranks. The Anomalies Bill was urged upon the House with all the fervour of the converted. The present Leader of the Opposition spoke for it and in later weeks vigorously defended the means test. He said it was ridiculous to offer money to people without some method of testing their income. Here is what the present Leader of the Opposition said as to the means test: I am not prepared to give people money year after year without knowing what is their personal position; that is to say that if a person has gone out of ordinary benefit and has means of his own to maintain himself I am not prepared to pay him State money."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1931; col. 446, Vol. 259.] That was the considered statement of the present Leader of the Opposition and when that statement was made the other apostles approved gravely. There they sat, solemnly the other arch-angels of the Treasury. The Front Bench radiated halo. To-day these hon. Gentlemen are cast for a different role. Their business now is to play the parts of public agitators and having been given those parts they say: "Let's to it, with all the vim we have." Financial rectitude—gone. White robes—bundled into the property baskets. Halos—turned off. Who wants a halo in these circumstances? The scythe and sickle shine much more brilliantly in the light of the street lamps—and it appears they will be needed if the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) is preparing himself to be chief lyncher in a few years to come. Now they are brandishing their arms and crying out against this iniquitous regulation, which they themselves imposed in principle not two years ago.

What matters it, they say now, if a man has 21 houses and £250 of income? Give him another 23s. ! Who cares if a family has £3,000 invested in the cooperative society? Give them another £l to keep them from starving. "Need," they say, "what is need? How dare you inquire into a man's needs when you are giving him State funds?" If you want his money to maintain the State, if it is for Income Tax you want his money, you demand from him a full statement of his affairs; there is no sanctity of private possession then. But if you are going to give him money, say hon. Members opposite, you have no right to call for these returns. You may be a mill worker or a millionaire but if you ask for transitional benefit, you must have it. I cannot help thinking that it is an unconvincing case. It smacks, I fear, and I say so with no personal offence, of the party manager. Somehow it does not ring true.

I rose however not so much to refer to my hon. Friends of the Opposition as to make an appeal to the Minister and to the Parliamentary Secretary. I want to associate myself with the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser) in pleading the special case of the ex-service man. I realise that some kind of means test is necessary and, in the normal case I believe that every item of income ought to be considered in determining a person's means. But there is one class of income which seems to me to be outside the range of the referee and that is a disablement pension. Until the introduction of the means test disabled ex-service men were under the direct care of the Ministry of Labour. With the co-operation of committees, composed of representatives of the public authorities and members of the British Legion, attached to Employment Exchanges, the Ministry on the whole dealt fairly and considerately with the ex-service men. And in that connection no Minister deserves more credit from ex-service men than the present Minister of Labour. It was he who a few years ago introduced the 75 per cent. preference for ex-service men in all contracts financed by the Government and that has been an inestimable boon to ex-service men.

The King's Roll Committees have also done good work, but with all that service, voluntary and otherwise, the depression has hit the ex-service men hard and none more severely than the disabled men. I suppose I am like most other hon. Members in that I am called upon on most days to try to find work for some of my constituents. We are all anxious to do what we can but we know how difficult it is to place a fit man, and it is almost impossible to find a job for an unfit man. When the strong and virile are idle, what chance is there for the incapacitated? It is these men who are very often hardly hit by the kind of depression which we are experiencing and it is for those men that I plead with the Minister. When they joined the colours in 1914 they were promised that they would be cared for by the State when the War was ended. They were told that if disabled as a result of their service pensions would be given to compensate them. The pensions were granted at the end of the War and it was clearly stated from the start that special privileges attached to them. The pension was granted primarily for the injury which the man had received. That is putting it mildly because I have here a statement made by the Minister of Pensions in 1918 in which he said: The cash allowance which the State gives you"— that is the disabled ex-service men— is simply compensation for the injury or impairment of health you have sustained. There is no question there of maintenance or of ability to earn a living. The pension was given, as an inalienable right, to the disabled man—something which could never be taken away from him. Rich man or poor man, the pension was his against all comers. Not even the State could touch it and the State cannot touch it yet. The disablement pension is the only kind of pension not subject to Income Tax. A man may have £200 a year or £2,000 a year. It makes no difference. He is not obliged to put his pension into his Income Tax return. It is outside the Income Tax. His disablement pension cannot be arrested for debt. The courts may have ordered him to hand over his whole wealth and possessions to his creditors, but they dare not touch, his disablement pension.

Why were these special privileges given to disabled ex-service men? There is only one explanation, and it is the explanation accepted by a million ex-service men throughout the country. It is that when the nation granted these pensions, they intended that they should be something additional to the man's possessions. He had suffered for his country, he had sacrificed, sometimes a limb, sometimes health, and the honour of the country demanded that he should be compensated for that loss, so as to bring him up to normal, up to the level of his fellows who had been more fortunate. If it was just and honourable then to give these special privileges, it is equally just and honourable now to maintain them. There was a solemn and high contract made with these men in 1918. It is being broken now, and I am sorry that it should be so. By the regulations which this Bill continues, pensions are torn from their place of honour and spread for public examination with interest from investments, with ordinary earned incomes, and with house property. I beg the Minister to realise that the disabled man's pension is something different from all these kinds of income, and is something sacred and high.

There is no more patriotic body of men in the country than the ex-service men now. They are ready to serve their nation, their fellows, in peace as well as in war, but I beg the Minister to realise that the resentment that these men feel against this tampering with their pension is bitter throughout the country, and I am thinking of men of all shades of political opinion, many of them supporters of this Government. They feel that they are being let down, and I believe that the disabled ex-service man is the last who should be let down. It is no good saying that you are only taking 50 per cent. of the pension into consideration. The principle is being attacked, and it is the principle that these men are seeking to defend, a principle that was stated repeatedly in 1918, a principle that was repeated again by the present Minister of Labour in this House in November last, the principle that that pension is something separate, that cannot be touched.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider even now making a change in the regulations. It will not involve very much. The hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras suggested one method—by leaving out of consideration pensions up. to 16s. He said it would cost something less than £200,000. It is very difficult to get the figures, but as far as I can estimate there are only some 20,000 disabled ex-service men on the transitional payment lists at the present time. A third of them are receiving less than 10s. a week pension. To leave all that pension for these men would cost, I estimate, about £100,000, and that is less than a third of 1 per cent. of the charges involved by this Bill—a third of 1 per cent. to honour an obligation. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman as a Minister of the Crown that made these provisions in 1918, as a friend of the ex-service man, and simply as a man, to do justice to these heroes of the past.

8.40 p.m.


I rise to support the Amendment. I think the last speaker, if he will analyse, in to-morrow's OFFICIAL REPORT, the speech which he has just made and also analyse the conduct of some of the members of his party, not only in this House, but on public administrative and local authorities, will probably see the reason why the ex-service man is not getting his just dues. The question of transitional payment to ex-service men was first attacked by the Government that he himself to-night proposes to support, and very recently the Minister who has introduced this Bill has endeavoured, as far as he has been able, to prevent local authorities and other administrative bodies giving to the ex-service man his just dues. When the West Riding County Council, after the passing of the Bill which gave local authorities permission to give to ex-service men or the men on compensation or widows 50 per cent. of their pension allowances when dealing with transitional payment, met to consider its scale of payments and took into consideration that Bill, which my hon. Friend says he has so enthusiastically supported, it was members of his party who refused, and still refuse, to give to the ex-service men in the West Riding of Yorkshire the benefits of that Act of Parliament which the Minister of Health stated very clearly in this House the Government desired them to give.

It is true, as the last speaker said, that in this House there is a lot of acting, and if ever I have noticed any actors in this House, it is in the party that my hon. Friend supports, who in one breath will, on the Floor of this House, use verbal sympathy with the ex-service and unemployed men and in the next breath support the Government responsible for this attack upon them. It is no good my hon. Friend going to the records of 1929 and suggesting that the National Government have done something tangible for unemployment; it is no good his suggesting that 300,000 unemployed people have gone back to work in these last two or three months, which is quite a seasonal thing. The facts are that in the heavy industries, on which men depend for permanent work, we have more unemployment to-day than ever in the history of this country, and men are being dismissed week after week. The hon. Member knows that that is true. In mining, in steel, in shipbuilding, and in general heavy industries in this country there is more unemployment than when the present Government took office.

Can they expect to have it both ways when men like the hon. Member and those who support the Government have been prepared all along the line to press for economy in the administration of unemployment benefit, and to press for cuts in unemployment pay and for the reduction of scales of transitional payment, to the extent that in the last 18 months the National Government boast that they have saved the nation £20,800,000 in the administration of the Orders-in-Council since 1931. If the hon. Member is prepared to continue to support a Government that does that, it is no good his coming here shedding crocodile tears over his ex-service friends who find themselves being robbed of part of their pensions by the Government that he supports. Unemployed men, both those who receive unemployment benefit and those who receive transitional payments, are in a worse condition than they have ever been during the last five or six years, and week by week their condition gets worse. The National Government had a splendid opportunity during the Budget, and if my hon. Friend and the Members who support him wanted to be faithful and true to the unemployed, they could have been so then. When the Budget was introduced, we were told that the Government had finished the financial year with a balance in hand of £19,500,000. We pressed from this side that the first consideration in the disposal of that balance should be given to the unemployed and ex-service men. What did the hon. Member do then?


I supported it.


Did the hon. Member go into the Lobby with us?




Exactly. I know the hon. Member did not. I have just been to look it up and I find that the hon. Member did not. There is plenty of sincerity in this House, but more of it should come from the side which my hon. Friend supports. There was an opportunity in the Budget to give back to the unemployed man his cut and to make the regulations more elastic. What is the Minister doing? I am a member of a county council which as recently as last February reviewed the general administration of transitional payments. The Tories on the county council recognised that the scale was too low and was starving the wives and children of the unemployed men on transitional payments. A committee of that authority was set up, and it consisted of most eminent men who have been in public administration for years. They brought in a scale which they thought would be a reasonable carry over until the Government brought in something more beneficial to the unemployed. That scale had not been in operation many weeks before the Minister interfered with the administration. Whenever a question is put to him with regard to the administration of transitional payments, what is the Minister's excuse? Question after question has been put to him, and he makes the excuse on nearly every occasion: "I leave this to the public assistance committee." When, however, a public assistance committee formulates a scale and endeavours to give uniformity and more humane treatment, he butts in and tells them that they cannot operate the scale and that it must cease.

The scale that has been in operation in the West Riding for eight or nine weeks is being attacked not by the administrative authorities, but by the Minister of Labour, who always says in this House: "I leave it to the freedom of the administrative authorities to deal with transitional payments." He is cutting down the scales in the West Hiding. That scale makes no allowance at all for the pensions of ex-service men or for the compensation of men who have been injured. That is too good for the Minister of Labour, and he says that the scale is too liberal and must be reduced. The result is that there are thousands of unemployed in the West Riding of Yorkshire who find their transitional payments considerably reduced, and they can hardly keep body and soul together. There is more poverty in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the homes of men who are unemployed because of the action that the Minister has taken than there has been in the last generation.

It would be a good thing if the Minister of Labour, who says that the local authorities are responsible for the administration of transitional payments, would face those authorities himself and if there were fewer of those regulations, circulars and letters which are sent by his subordinates operating from Whitehall. To-day I heard him deny, in answer to a question, that a certain circular had been sent to his knowledge to a certain place. I wonder if he is aware of a letter which the West Riding County Council has received. If he is, I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us the reason why the Minister has interfered with the operation of transitional payments in that county. I challenge the Minister to put the West Riding scale before the Members of the House, and I do not think that he will find any Members who will say that it is too liberal or extravagant.

Years before transitional payments were known I took a keen interest in Poor Law administration. I have never seen in all my Poor Law experience men put under a keener inquisition than the genuine unemployed are being put under in regard to transitional payments. There can be only one person who is to blame for that, and he is the Minister who is responsible for the sending out of the circulars with regard to the administration of transitional payments. Neither the Minister of Labour nor any Conservative or Liberal Member can make me believe that the country's finances will not allow us to give better treatment to the unemployed. We had an opportunity when the Budget was before us of replacing cuts to the unemployed and of making transitional payments more humane than they are.

I have always made one claim ever since I was a man, and that is the right to work, and, if the country cannot give me the right to work under capitalism, I claim the right to live. I give every other man in the country the same right. Unemployed men do not want charity; they want their rights, and the man who is in employment, in whatever social scale he may be, has a responsibility for the man who is unemployed. If the Government are not prepared to tackle the question thoroughly, they have the duty of making financial provision for the unemployed and their families. We can say without exaggeration that to-day, after nearly two years of administration of a National Government, they have served the unemployed worse than any other Government ever attempted to do. They have done more than that. They have taken from them benefits galore and have increased the payment of men who are unemployed, and stopped the work schemes of local authorities who, at least, were giving some alleviation to many thousands of men. Building has been nearly stopped by their action and, as a matter of fact, the increase in the unemployed has been in seasonal work and similar industries. Against that there have been thousands of men stopped in the heavy industries, and the Government are not doing a solitary thing towards getting these men back to work.

We make no apology for supporting the Amendment, because we are quite convinced that the Government have not done what they could have done. It has been their policy not to assist the unemployed, but ever since they took office to make them worse off than they were before. There is less work for them to do, and thousands of women and children of honest men in honest homes are being starved by the administration of transitional benefit. Now the Government are interfering with the local authorities on which there are men and women who would endeavour to make the administration humane if the Minister of Labour and his satellites would leave them alone. In the face of all the excuses that the right hon. Gentleman makes, we have now definite proof that it is not the local authorities who are to blame. It is he who is to blame, and we shall want to know from whoever replies to the Debate who was responsible for dealing with this matter in places like the West Riding, seeing that the scale, as it was, was only sufficient to keep body and soul together. I think the country will see, after the experience of the last 18 months, that this Government have been truly condemned in their action towards unemployment.

8.58 p.m.


We are debating this Measure to-night under somewhat unusual circumstances, because, as every hon. Member knows, the whole subject of unemployment insurance is under review and a comprehensive Measure is being prepared which, we understand, will be put before us shortly. The only purpose of this Bill is to continue for a brief period certain enactments which cover portions of the law relating to unemployment insurance in order to prevent the whole law from falling into confusion, pending this new and comprehensive Bill. In these circumstances, the House might have supposed that this Measure would have had a Second Reading by the general consent of the House. However it has proved otherwise. Certain hon. Members have opposed the Second Reading in order that the opportunity might be seized to make an attack on certain features of the existing law. In particular, the attack has been concentrated on these two points, first, the question of disqualification for benefit under the Anomalies Act and secondly, with regard to the operation of the means test.

I should like to make one or two very brief observations on these two heads. First, with regard to the Anomalies Act, as the House will remember, that was an Act produced by the Labour Government and pressed through the House by that Government in the face of considerable opposition. Those who were present during those Debates will remember that among the many reasons heard why the Bill should not be passed, was one that the cases which would come under it were all of so exceptional a character that special legislation to deal with them was not really justified. I think, in justice to that Labour Government which, at that time, had the courage to press forward the Measure—although many of them seem rather ashamed of it now—it should be urged that experience has shown that there was a real necessity for the provisions of that Act. After all, consider what happened when the regulations of the Act were first applied. In the first two weeks some 77,572 people were deprived of benefit under the Act, and of that number nearly all were deprived of it either on the ground that they were seasonal workers or were married women not normally in insurable employment. To be exact, nearly 6,000 came under the seasonal workers' Clause and the other 71,000 under the regulation dealing with married women. So clearly just were the regulations dealing with married women, in particular, that out of these 71,000 cases, in some 30,000 cases the individuals did not even trouble to re-register at the Exchanges, showing that there was no genuine effort to follow insurable employment on their part.

Those hon. Members who are now, for whatever reason, inclined to look askance at the working of the Anomalies Act, should put this question to themselves. If there was no such provision in the insurance law to-day, are they prepared to advocate that a man who normally only follows some seasonal employment is to be on exactly the same footing as the man who normally follows employment which entails continuous work all the year round? In other words, is that man to enjoy benefit in the winter merely because he chooses to work for certain months in the summer? Again, take the case of a married woman. Is the woman who, since her marriage, has made no effort to follow regular insurable employment and does not propose to make such effort, to draw benefit in the same way as the unmarried woman who has to follow insurable employment for her livelihood? I think hon. Members should put those questions to themselves and consider bow they are to answer them when they object to the operation of the Act.

With regard to the other subject of attack, namely, the means test, I think those hon. Members who had some doubt as to whether the means test might be desirable or necessary must have had those doubts removed by the revelations in the report which has been sent to the Minister of Labour by the commissioners appointed to administer transitional payments in the County of Durham. I can understand, when I read that re port, why the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and some of his friends were so anxious that these com missioners should not be appointed, and why they were so anxious that these facts should not be made public. I venture to say it is a long time since there was laid before this House such an exposure of unfitness to administer public funds as this report supplies in the case of the local authorities in the County of Durham. I will quote only two cases from the report. Hon. Members will find on page 11, case No. 6,512, of a household consisting of a man, wife and no children, where the man has £1,000 invested. He goes to the committee and gets 18s. per week. They will find on page 13, case No. 9,009, of a household consisting of a father, mother and one boy of 18 years of age. The father, occupying his own house, pays in consequence no rent, and, being in regular wage-earning employment, receives wages of £4 5s. per week. The boy is granted 8s. per week by the committee. I would remind hon. Members that in these cases we are not dealing with people who not only have had all the benefits that they are entitled to in respect of contributions paid, but who are asking for something more than that. They are asking for further assistance which ultimately has to be provided by the great body of the citizens in this country, including their fellow workers. The cases quoted in this document form a complete answer to anyone who may be tempted to urge that some means test in the administration of unemployment insurance is not necessary in this country. The alternative is that we should have no regard to the means or resources of individuals who come and ask for State assistance.

Whatever principles may or may not be included in a system of unemployment insurence, there are two that must be included in any such scheme, no matter by whom brought in, if that scheme is ever to work. The first principle is that a man, in order to obtain benefit, must be willing to work and unable to find it. That, of course, is the extreme opposite to the doctrine suggested to-day by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) to the effect that unemployment is something for which an individual has no responsibility. The other principle that must be followed in any scheme of unemployment insurance that is to work is that, where regular benefit is exhausted and further assistance is asked for, need must be shown. So far as I can see, after listening to the greater part of the Debate to-day, if those considerations are borne in mind, there is precious little in the case against the Bill.

9.9 p.m.


I have a considerable measure of agreement with the hon. Member who spoke from the Opposition side of the House, and who said that all of us were, in some form, responsible towards the unemployed. We can only measure our responsibility by a means test; otherwise, the unmeasured responsibility may be a burden so heavy that one would push it aside out of sheer terror of it being thrust upon our shoulders. When we under- take the serious responsibility of measuring the need of our fellow men, and when we have that measure put before us, it is a burden which we say we will willingly shoulder, but it must be apart from the arena of political cantroversy. Such a means test will be regarded as a first step towards the united treatment of the unemployed. We are told, in the memorandum to the Bill, that we are to spend on it a sum of £22,500,000 in the current financial year. Before we lightly vote that sum, we should consider for a moment who are to have the actual handling of that money. Whatever we may say in this House in the way of abstract principle, and in the form of party propaganda, when we get down to brass tacks we have to consider whether that £22,500,000 will be well and humanely distributed.

I can give my personal testimony that in my constituency, in which the unemployed are vocal and speak English, and broken English, I have received, in the last two years, neither a vocal nor a written complaint of inhumane or bad administration by the officials of the Ministry of Labour in the constituency. I cannot think that Stepney is represented by the very pearls belonging to the Minister, and that in the rest of the country there are artificial pearls acting as Employment Exchange managers. I am perfectly sure that those who work in the Civil Service in my constituency are a fair sample of those to he found in the rest of the country. These servants, on a quite modest wage, who are not in the limelight and receive little kudos, work with a wonderful team spirit, to meet a human need that is as pressing and as touching as ever were the needs of man, in regard to the unemployed who are thrust into their lap, and the flexibility of their administration is, to me, a perpetual source of wonder. The Employment Exchange manager frankly enters into Conference with any body in this country who can help the unemployed. Their own experience is put at the service of all those who are properly interested. This Amendment might well be rejected by the House if we are certain that the £22,500,000 will be administered in as humane and efficient manner as all the other millions which we have put at the disposal of that silent, but most efficient, branch of the Civil Service.

I hope that I may say one or two words to the Minister on behalf of the ex-service men. They are a diminishing body. At public functions those men used to fill the hall or meeting place from the front to the back benches, but now a poverty-stricken few sit on the back benches, hiding their rags and their shame. Their good deeds are almost forgotten. They would bless this House and thank the Government if their poverty were removed from the cold light of the actuarial temperament.

9.13 p.m.


I have listened to the Second Reading Debate, and I am very much struck with the moderation with which the attack upon the Bill has been developed by the Opposition. They have stated their case with restraint, and in a spirit of great courtesy to the House. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who opened the Debate on the Opposition side, laboured under the difficulty that I know he feels very much indeed, as we all do, who come from parts of the country such as that which I represent. He referred to my own constituency where the medical officer of health, speaking about people who have been removed from a slum area into a new area, suggested that their bad condition of health might be attributed to the increased rent charged. The town council, within the last week or two, have met that matter by a general reduction of rents in the district. It is a Tory council.

As the Debate proceeded, I observed that many matters of general interest were dealt with. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) went, as usual, into a general propaganda, but the virulent attack which I expected to be developed to-day on the Government has not appeared, and, in fact there now seems to be a lack of Opposition Members to go on with it. At first I was inclined to attribute this to a policy of moderation, but I am not sure, after the speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), that it has not been fear of the other part of the Opposition that has moderated the statements of the official Opposition. The hon. Member for Ince came to deliver a philippic, but ended by delivering an apologia. Although in the official Amendment it is fairly easy to get away with reductions in benefit, after all we shall never know exactly what happened in the last Labour Government—who was for it, and who was against it. It may still be possible to get away with arguments against the imposition of any form of needs test, although it is rather difficult to explain some of the declarations of the Leader of the Opposition as to whether public money should be given to persons without any inquiry at all into their needs; but, when one comes to the question of anomalies, I can understand that the Opposition come to this matter in a very humble spirit, and await, probably with some trepidation, an attack that may develop upon their record in regard to that question.

I rose mainly with the object of making one or two suggestions on more general considerations. I am bound to say that I also have been surprised at the equanimity with which this Bill has been received by the House in general. I thought there would be more criticism of the Government in regard to the necessity for introducing this stop-gap Bill, and I think that in all quarters of the House there is a good deal of disappointment that it has not been possible to introduce during this part of the Session the Measure to deal with this important question. After all, it is now a considerable time since the Royal Commission reported. It is nearly a year since they presented a preliminary report, which had an important political effect. I think the sympathy of the House is with the Minister in this matter, because we all know the long and rather unhappy tradition of the law relating to unemployment insurance. There have been many commissions, many alterations, many plans, and many new principles, and we realise that the matter is one which involves very important questions of principle as well as immensely complicated questions of detail. At the same time, I think the House as a whole feels disappointed at the delay, and certainly it would be indignant at the delay if it were thought that this great question was becoming the sport of rival claims of Government Departments, or that the delay was due to inability on the part of the Government to make up their mind as between various schemes that have come before them. For good or for ill, they must make up their mind. I very much hope they will realise that the House and the country demand that this question should be dealt with rapidly, and are not at all happy at the delay which has occurred, because one of the results of the delay is the loss of a great deal of time in putting into effect the new scheme which we believe will deal with this matter more satisfactorily than the present system.

One important statement of the Minister to-day was his repetition that the Government had decided that, as I understood it, the able-bodied unemployed should in future be regarded as a national charge. One of the very few pleasures of politics is to see what started as heresies becoming accepted as dogmas. We now see this principle accepted in every part of the Conservative party, but, as the Parliamentary Secretary will remember, it did not commend itself with the same favour to the Government of 1924–29. When the Minister comes to reply, I hope we shall hear from him a declaration of his intention that all those who are employable in the field of industry at all, whether insured or uninsured, shall be regarded as coming under the control and care of the Ministry of Labour, and that that principle will be maintained in the new plan which comes before us.

There is one other important question to which I would like to direct the attention of the Minister, and that is the question of juvenile unemployment. We had recently a rather gloomy, but still, I think, not too pessimistic forecast of what our unemployment might be in a few years' time. The present figure is very serious, and, of course, owing to the increase of births 14 years ago over the immediately preceding period, there is a danger that within the next few years there will be a very serious increase in juvenile unemployment. It is serious enough now at something in the neighbourhood of 200,000. I hope that the Minister will maintain in his scheme the principle that all those who enter the industrial world as they leave school shall be included in an insurance scheme under the Ministry of Labour, and that there shall not be the present gap, which operates, as we think, to the great disadvantage of juveniles. At the same time much wider provision should be made for the care and training of those who are at any time unemployed. I think that the House and the country will accept and support strict regulative action. We shall be quite prepared to support regulations as to attendance at a training centre, or as to boys and girls availing themselves of any opportunities that the Ministry can give them, as a condition of drawing benefit. We are only too anxious to urge the Minister to give them those opportunities. This important question ought now to be settled once for all, and in a way that will bring these young people under the care of the Ministry from the time when they enter the industrial field and become available for employment.

There are many other important matters to which I have not time to refer. This is not the time to refer to the wider aspects of Government policy. We hope that they will be reflected in a reduction of unemployment. But, whatever may be the effect of the change which may take place in the world over the next year, or the next two years, we all know that there will be a great amount of unemployment. We urge upon the Government to bring forward their comprehensive scheme with the least possible delay. We hope it will be an imaginative scheme. What is really breaking the hearts of the unemployed is not so much the actual physical suffering they undergo. After all, we provide a far higher standard of support for our unemployed than any other nation in the world. Putting aside the case we have to make from one side or the other, we are proud as patriots, I think, to know that we as a nation are able to make this very high standard of provision. What is really breaking the hearts of many of the unemployed, and causes so much alarm to those who care for the national character, is the deterioration which is going on, moral as well as physical, among the younger people in particular, who have never had the opportunity of employment.

I had hoped that by now the Minister would have been able to come forward with a much wider method of treatment for that class of people, that we should have had camps with some system of recruiting—something to get some kind of life going in the now depressed and almost stagnant areas of England. I think that in his Measure he could lay down his great principle as to the treatment of the able-bodied unemployed in future, and could also provide for a much more imaginative treatment of juvenile unemployment, getting young people taken into the care of the Ministry, and attaching conditions of training to them. If he could also go further and really get some kind of organisation which would give some hope to men between 18 and 25 who have now been two or three years out of work—get them to organise themselves into some kind of living organisation, by camps, by training corps, by working corps and by all kinds of schemes now before the Ministry—he would do a great deal to overcome the immense loss of moral, which is one of the most serious effects of this prolonged period of unemployment in many parts of the country.

9.28 p.m.


The Debate has run for some time and quite a number of speeches have been delivered for and against the Bill, but there is one thing upon which practically every Member seems to be agreed, and that is that something must be done to relieve the distress brought into a large number of industrial areas by the means test introduced by the National Government. The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down introduced a matter upon which I also have had some thoughts. The Government have now been in existence almost two years. They brought in their Transitional Payments Bill to deal with the position arising out of the national crisis, and the fact that they are to-day introducing a Measure to extend the operations of that Bill is in itself an indication that they have not yet solved the particular problems which they claimed were before the country and which constituted the national crisis. That in itself is a condemnation of the Government, if no other condemnation existed—that having introduced a special Measure to deal with a special set of circumstances, they find themselves compelled, two years afterwards, to extend the operations of that Measure. I should have thought, with the hon. and gallant Member, that, instead of introducing a Measure of this character, which is to prolong the operations of the Measure of 1931, the National Government would have found themselves capable of bringing forward a consolidated unemployment insurance Bill based upon the final report of the Royal Commission. That report has been in their hands for a considerable number of months, and the Bill ought by now to have been in the hands of the draftsmen.

There is another issue which I want to take up to the Ministry of Labour. I remember a Debate in the early part of this year in which the Prime Minister made a certain statement which it would be well to quote. He was intimating to the House certain things which he and his Government were going to do. In that Debate, which took place on the 16th February, he said: The Government are a National Government. It is not necessary for the hon. Member to wait until he makes another speech in this House. There is now machinery, which has been set up by the Government, under which every practical proposal of a businesslike character that can be made is considered, not by Ministers, for whom a Member might not have a great regard, but by a conference of leading business men who are assisting us to find ways of stimulating British trade at the present moment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1933; col. 1307, Vol. 274.] I ask the Parliamentary Secretary when the House is going to receive any report from this committee of business men who in February of this year were stated to be busily engaged in examining schemes for the purpose of providing work for the unemployed. What scheme has been brought forward by that committee? Can any Member of the Government, can the Member of the Cabinet who is present at the moment, indicate to the House that any report has ever been placed before him from any committee of business men such as was suggested by the Prime Minister—any workable scheme that would provide employment for any of the unemployed who are signing on at the Employment Exchanges? We find the responsible head of the Government coming to the House and talking such nonsense as that—because it is nonsense if no results can be shown. He and the Government have had ample time to prove that they were really sincere by bringing forward the schemes which he said were being examined by this committee of business men. The fact that that statement was made by the Prime Minister in February and that now, in the month of June, four months later, we are discussing the extension of a transitional payments Bill, is in itself ample proof that the Prime Minister was not placing before the House an accurate statement of what was being done by his Cabinet.

One or two Members, in their evident desire to defend the Government in the various omissions as well as the commissions of faults of which it has been guilty, took exception to certain things which they alleged were done by the Labour Government. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis), who left the House immediately after delivering his speech, suggested that the Labour Government was responsible for numbers of people who were struck off benefit under the Anomalies Act. Evidently he was unaware that the Anomalies Act merely gave the Minister power to issue regulations. It set out certain types of workers whose cases were to be examined, but the Minister was to receive the power to issue regulations dealing with those categories of unemployed workers. The regulation which has been responsible for throwing a very large number of those people off benefit in an unjust fashion, when according to some people they were entitled to benefit, was issued by the present Minister.


Are we to assume that, if there had been no change of Government, the Labour party Minister of Labour would not have issued such a regulation under the Anomalies Act and would not have turned off any unmarried women? If not the hon. Member's argument does not lead anywhere.


My argument leads thus far, that the Minority Report of the Royal Commission definitely and deliberately charged the Minister of Labour of this Government with framing regulations which have thrown off unemployment benefit thousands of women who, they declared, were justly entitled to have that benefit. The present Minister of Labour sent the draft regulations to the Advisory Committee set up by the National Government, which sent them back with suggestions for amendment. The regulations were issued as complete regulations without any amendment having been made. I have here a document issued by the Ministry of Labour, a report on the operation of the Anomalies Act. This is what they say: The Advisory Committee reported that they had no amendments to suggest to the draft regulations affecting casual workers and other persons receiving high earnings for a portion only of a week or dealing with intermittent workers, i.e., persons whose employment was for not more than two days a week. They recommended, too, that the draft applicable to seasonal workers should be replaced by a recommendation in the terms appended to their report, and this recommendation was adopted.


The hon. Member has contradicted himself. Just now he said we did not accept any of the Amendments suggested by the advisory committee. He has just read out something showing that we did in fact adopt the Amendments.


The hon. Gentleman is just too previous. I stated that the draft regulations were submitted by the present Minister of Labour to that committee, which sent them back with suggested amendments, and that the Minister issued the regulations without any amendment. That is my statement. What I have read out is the statement of the Minister, and I am now challenging him to produce the draft regulations and, when they are produced it will be found to be exactly the same as the regulations that were issued in their final form. That is my challenge to the Minister, and it is borne out by the minority report. I go further than that and I say definitely that either the Minister or his officials with his approval drafted the regulation dealing with married women in such a contradictory manner that, where they approved the first part of the regulation, they contra-dieted the second and, if they approved the second part, they contradicted the first, and made it almost impossible for any of them to get any benefit whatever because of the contradictory nature of that regulation. That is also borne out by the minority report. Does the right hon. Gentleman wish me to read it? Has he not read the report?


Of course I have.


Then he knows that what I have said is perfectly true. There is the definite statement in it that the Ministry is responsible for putting thousands of women who are entitled to benefit off benefit, women who were looking for work and willing to accept it, and refusing to give them any satisfaction whatever.


The hon. Member's contention, as I understand it, is that when we published the draft regulations they were not the same as the draft regulations that had been suggested to us by the advisory committee. What happened was that we submitted the draft regulations to the advisory committee and they suggested certain alterations in the draft. If I understand the hon. Member correctly, he alleges that we did not accept the alterations suggested by the advisory committee and that we published different regulations. I have before me the report of the advisory committee on the draft regulation. It reads as follows: For these reasons we recommend that draft regulation 2 should be replaced by a regulation in the terms of Appendix 2 which are based on the alternative draft. That draft regulation is given in Appendix 2, and that is the actual regulation which was published by us, accepted by us and approved by the House. Therefore, there is no shadow of foundation for the allegation that the hon. Member has made.


The hon. Member must bear in mind that there is another recommendation dealing with industrial circumstances which was not accepted by the Minister. There is no doubt about it.


I apologise to the House for interrupting. There was a draft regulation (No. 2) dealing with seasonal workers. After we had submitted the original draft and the Advisory Committee returned an alternative which they had prepared, we accepted the alternative, in spite of what the hon. Member seems to believe. The alternative which was suggested by the Advisory Committee is the present regulation. As regards married women, the Advisory Committee said that the balance of argument between the two alternative drafts was so close that they did not make any recommendation, but would leave the decision to the Minister. The Minister, in those circumstances, accepted the wording proposed in the original interim report of the Royal Commission.


In regard to a matter of this kind, where a document is introduced, I shall not pursue the subject further to-night. I shall produce the document which states the regulations which they seek to amend—the words they wish to put in—in proof of the fact that the Minister himself issued the regulations in the form in which he submitted the draft to the Committee. I shall produce in this House a decision given by the umpire upon a case which came before him in which he draws particular attention to the fact that the Minister did not think it necessary to amend the draft regulations in the terms submitted by the Committee to whom the draft had been submitted. I will submit both of those documents. One night next week I shall put a question to the Minister upon the matter and submit the documents to the House in a supplementary question, if permitted by Mr. Speaker. We cannot allow this matter to go on in this fashion, because the Minister has endeavoured to throw too much of what should rest upon his own shoulders in respect of the numbers thrown off unemployment benefit on to the shoulders of the late Labour Government and Members who sit on these benches, when, in fact, the full responsibility rests with the present Minister and the officials of the Ministry of Labour.

There is another question I wish to ask. Is he prepared to publish all the correspondence which passed between the Advisory Committee and the Ministry of Labour upon the question of the draft regulations, and the final form in which the regulations were to be issued? I put that question to him across the Floor of the House. Since the Parliamentary Secretary has, on two occasions at least, interrupted what I have said, we had better have the matter cleared up now. I asked whether that correspondence will now be published? I ask for an answer now.


The hon. Member had better deliver his speech, as the matter can better be dealt with as a whole.


Will the Minister produce the correspondence? The matter cannot be completed unless that is done. I am now asking for it to be done. Will the Minister answer the question?


I am not going to answer anything until I have heard the whole of the speech of the hon. Member. The matter will be dealt with adequately on Friday as a whole.


I hope that the correspondence will be produced then, because that and a few other things have not yet been made public. Here is the contradictory regulation to which I have referred. Here is the statement made by the Royal Commission: As a result of the Regulations, the few who were claiming benefit without any particular intention of wage-earning have been got rid of, but at the price of disallowing thousands of women, fully paid up contributors, genuinely seeking work, and in many cases in financial need of it. They suffer from the industrial depression in common with the rest of the unemployed, and like them, would be back at wage-earning again if the opportunity occurred. I am reading a quotation from the Minority Report of the Royal Commission. They are pointing out the contradictory nature of the regulations issued by the right hon. Gentleman.


I prefer the Majority Report.


If the right hon. Gentleman prefers the Majority Report he must also take the animadversions of the Majority Report with regard to the same regulations, because the majority took exception to the regulations issued dealing with married women. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) said that the married women ought to be got rid of. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am not saying that the hon. Member said that married women should be got rid of as married women, but that married women as applicants for unemployment benefit should have been got rid of. I will put it that way. He made a point of what should be done, and stated that they must show that they were capable of work and willing to work. One of the conditions which those women have to fulfil before they can receive unemployment benefit is that they are willing and able to work, and that they are fully paid up so as to obtain statutory benefits, or, if not, that they are in a position of reduced circumstances to obtain transitional benefit. Those are conditions which have to be fulfilled. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Colchester that that is something which is new has been a condition of unemployment benefit which has been in existence for a considerable number of years.


Will the hon. Member allow me—


We expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come in shortly. I know that the Minister of Labour does not like this sort of thing. I wish to put before him the point of view regarding the position of unemployment in Scotland, and I ask him whether anything is being done to assist in overcoming the depression in Scotland? If one takes what is looked upon as the industrial area, that is, the three counties of Renfrew, Dumbarton and Lanark, he will find practically half the insurable workers in Scotland, and it is in that particular area where we have the worst of the unemployment. I will give one or two of the figures. In Dumbartonshire. 44 per cent. of the insured workers are unemployed, in Lanarkshire 32.5 per cent., and in Renfrewshire 31.5 per cent. In those three counties there are 654,160 insured people, almost 50 per cent. of the insurable workers in Scotland.

So far as unemployment and transitional benefit are concerned, large numbers of people who have been thrown off unemployment benefit have gone on to parish relief and increased the numbers there. From the Ministry of Labour Gazette we obtain figures which show startling results. In Glasgow the increase is 1,930 per 10,000 of the population. The figures for Edinburgh are proportionately large, and the figures for Dundee and Aberdeen are also increasing proportionately. That is due to the fact that large numbers of individuals are receiving no statutory benefit and no transitional payment and are being compelled through lack of employment to place themselves upon parish relief. I hope that the Minister will consider these matters and will bring in a consolidating Bill instead of the trumpery Measure now before the House. If he does so, I am sure the House will give every facility for the speedy passage of such a Measure.

Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Captain Margesson.]

Debate to be resumed upon Friday.