Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £22,500,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Labour and Subordinate Departments, in-
cluding sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Fund, Grants to Associations, Local Authorities and others under the Unemployment Insurance, Labour Exchanges and other Acts; Expenses of the Industrial Court: Contribution towards the Expenses of the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations); Expenses of Training and Removal of Workers and their Dependants; Grants for assisting the voluntary provision of occupation for unemployed persons; and sundry services, including services arising out of the War.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
The Government in this Supplementary Estimate are asking for £22,500,000 more than the original Estimate. I am moving the reduction because we on this side of the Committee believe that if those who are to be catered for under the Unemployment Insurance Acts are looked after as they should be looked after, this Vote should be much bigger than it is. The original Estimate was for £53,500,000. Now the Government ask for a further £22,500,000, making a total of £76,000,000. When we are discussing financial matters in connection with the Ministry of Labour I sometimes wonder where are all the gallant forces that used to face the Labour Government when that Government asked for a few million pounds extra for the unemployed. In those days we were told continually that if there had been a really efficient Government in charge the one thing they would do would be to balance the Unemployment 827 Insurance Fund. I sometimes wonder, in view of what has happened since, at the absence of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill).
Whenever the Ministry of Labour in the Labour Government came here for an extra grant, the Opposition benches were packed. The only time when there was life and punch in unemployment Debates was during the time of the Labour Government. The present Minister of Labour and his Conservative predecessor in that office were far more gentle and far more cautious than the people who did not know the Ministry of Labour. Other Members used to give us frowning looks, and point menacing fingers, and talk about waste, and the need for balancing the fund. But look at what has happened since. The people who have had more than 26 weeks benefit have been cut off benefit, and have been subjected to a destitution test, for that is what the means test is. There have been reductions under the Anomalies Act. Many people who are now on the means test have been cut away from the fund proper. There have been many people cut off who are yet on the unemployment registers. There are a quarter of a million people more on the Poor Law. They have been cut off. The fund has been shorn of nearly half its weight. Still the Government have to make a deficiency grant in order that the fund may balance.
As a Labour Government we borrowed. We were told that the National Government would not borrow, that they would make ends meet. I think we are entitled to dig the Government in the ribs just a little, for after they have cut one-half of the unemployed off the fund they still find that they cannot balance the fund. They are still making their grants for what are called transitional payments. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour on Friday made a speech which was very clever, but, if I may say so, it was hardly up to the best traditions of the young Conservatives. The hon. Gentleman is hardly as advanced as the younger Conservatives. My impression of that speech was that it suggested that everything was quite all right, that things were improving, and that the stories we are told about want up and down the country have no basis in fact. 828 The hon. Gentleman really ran away from the whole case.
To-day the Government are asking for a Supplementary Estimate for transitional payments. The original grant was £31,000,000. In spite of these grants, the destitution tests having been applied, we say that there is a great mass of want reaching to the point as we would put it in these days, sometimes of starvation. To some points I raised, about certain cases in Newcastle, the hon. Gentleman replied by simply giving them a negative. He cannot run away from facts in that manner. If he does, I warn the House that there is a body of medical opinion growing up in this country which feels it is in honour bound to state the facts. Quite a large number of people are living on less than 3s. a week per person for food. That is evidence brought forward from plain and cold investigation of the facts of families' incomes, and such points as I raised cannot be repudiated merely by yea or nay on the part of a Departmental chief, whoever he may be. The fact remains that that is the condition of great masses of our people. I refer to this again only because it really struck me on Friday that the Parliamentary Secretary, speaking for the Ministry of Labour, was either too eager to make debating points, or did not appreciate what was happening in the country.
His own chief gave the other day what seems to me, from the point of view of a measure of the standard of living as compared with a year or two ago, to be almost conclusive facts. The Minister said that during the last few years there had been drawn within the ambit of the register men who had never before been out of work. The Minister says—and it is a well known fact—that men are now registered as unemployed who have never registered before. That cannot be denied. It cannot therefore be denied that a portion of the population is worse off than ever before.
The number of those who have been on the register for a considerable period also tends to increase. That is a well-known fact. It is no exaggeration to say that two or three years ago the number of these was about 100,000. I am not making this as a party point. So grave is this matter that the right thing is to get as accurate an estimate as one can of the position in this country, because no 829 graver danger can arise than that the physique and moral of the people should be undermined without the country appreciating what is happening until the danger is right upon us. About two or three years ago the number off work for a year or more was about 100,000. Today it is 500,000. I ask the Committee to mark that fact. These are men and women who have been off work for 12 months or more already, and they have increased by two or three to one as compared with a few years ago. Those 500,000 people represent a good part of our population. Those people certainly must be worse off.
It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary to give figures as to the cost of living. They are very difficult to handle. Everybody knows the old saying that you can do anything with figures. I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour for a couple of years, and I did not pay any attention whatever to the wage figures that come from the Ministry of Labour. The hon. Gentleman cannot deny that wages communicated to the Ministry of Labour are a mere jot of the whole wages of the workers of this country. Only a few organisations make a practice of sending in their settled agreements. The bulk of the agreements are not sent in and registered at the Ministry. I am not making that point as a criticism of the Ministry. It is very difficult to get the full facts for the Ministry of Labour in this country, although it is one of the best equipped that there is in the world. On this matter of wages, the Ministry cannot say the last word. Even if the Ministry got all the agreements, those who are aware of the actual facts know that agreements are only approximate, and that what a man gets is different from what is put on paper. Piece rates for workshops and factories are not registered. I make that point only to indicate that the hon. Gentleman, in dealing with the general wage standard, is not speaking the last word.
There is a standard which is unanswerable—the appearance of the people in great areas as compared with what it was years ago. Hon. Members who are familiar with the great industrial areas have seen them during the weekdays and on Sundays. One thing must have struck them. On Sunday, the day when people turn out and go for walks, it is amazing, 830 on the whole, how decently the people keep themselves in the conditions. It has often been a mystery to me how they do it. But when one gets people normally about the place there is a difference. Men after the War, including ex-soldiers, very often used to dress well, which we were pleased to see. They wore collars and ties and decent types of suits. We were pleased to see the standard going up. These signs, while not everything, were to be welcomed as signs of increasing self-respect. The amazing thing has been to see great masses of people in towns and industrial areas go back to the old type of appearance of years ago. Sometimes they have lost all sense of pride in themselves. The hon. Gentleman can get all the figures, and argue as he likes to prove that they are not worse off, but those in the great industrial areas know that what they see with their own eyes is a demonstration of the fact that really things are too bad, and, behind that, there are great sacrifices in the homes. We say that this Estimate to pay for transitional payments is not big enough, because people are not receiving enough money.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I wonder that the hon. Member, after a couple of years in this House, should put a question of that kind. It is the only way one can make a protest. I notice that the statement of the Minister of Labour, on the occasion that the last figures were sent out, seems to carry with it the meaning that things are getting considerably better. All the Press took that as a very optimistic statement indeed. I hope that it is correct. I have seen too much of the woe of it, from the national point of view, to wish anything else. I think that the point the Minister put on the last occasion is that the season's figures are an indication, to some extent, that there is a big improvement generally. We have also to measure the situation by the number of people who are going on to the poor law. We have to consider the actual number of people who are being struck off the register and this figure does not take account of heads of families. The amazing thing about this last statement of the Ministry is that it makes it clear that while things are improving, the improvement is mainly in 831 those trades which are affected by the seasons—building and all the rest of it. There is an improvement in engineering but, in the main, in the basic industries not only is the tale of woe continued but it is getting worse.
I do not think that there is anything to shout about or anything from which we can take any consolation in the slight improvement shown, if it is not favourably affecting those areas in which the basic industries are centred and which have suffered so much in the last few years. The tragedy of it is that they are getting worse and I think this is an occasion on which we should ask the Government what they propose to do to deal with this question. When are they going to face the fact of the increasing despondency in those areas. I understand that a deputation of representatives from the depressed areas is to meet the Minister of Health to-morrow. I suppose it was purely by accident that that meeting was not fixed for to-day when this Supplementary Estimate is being taken or for yesterday? At all events the Minister of Health meets them to-morrow. He met them a week or two ago and he met them a week or two before that.
The Government have admitted responsibility in this matter, and have definitely promised that they are going to make a special contribution towards these areas, but from week to week they have put off handling the problem. When are they going to give a report to the House of Commons upon this matter? I think that some representative of the Ministry of Health ought to meet that point. It has been our task for some years to deal with these matters up and down this country until the gloom of the situation oppresses us personally, but we are compelled by the facts to persist in raising the question here. We ought to have some statement from the Government to show that they are going to honour their obligations and fulfil their promises in reference to the depressed areas and the question of special grants to meet the necessities of those areas. I do not say that it was done deliberately and of malice aforethought but I wonder if it was quite by accident that the deputation to which I have just referred is meeting the Minister of Health to- 832 morrow, after this Supplementary Estimate has been disposed of, because this is perhaps the last big opportunity we shall have before the Recess of dealing with this subject.
Then, there is the question of work for the people in those areas. It is an undeniable fact that those who live in the coal areas have suffered directly because of the Government's policy. I make that definite charge. The Government realised that fact to some extent when they began making trade agreements with Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the Argentine. We were told that we were going to sell another 80,000 tons a month to Germany. Those acquainted with the facts know that we are not selling a single ton more. Indeed I am afraid that something which I said during a previous Debate has proved only too true and that the Germans are not taking our coal because it is not considered to be of the true Nordic strain. Undoubtedly, political conditions there are operating against us. We are told we are going to get certain contracts—a Danish contract, a Norwegian contract and other contracts. The Government ought to tell us when these things are going to be dealt with and when we may expect to get at least some return as a result of the policy which they have adopted. But it is apparent that next month's figures, whatever they show generally in the country, as regards the great industrial areas which are representative of the basic industries will be found worse than ever.
I do not propose to deal further with this position, except to say that the Government have now about 43 per cent. of people who are claiming benefit—that is the 26 weeks—and I think about 44 per cent. who are receiving transitional payment. Roughly, nearly 15 per cent. are receiving neither benefit nor transitional payment. As regards those who are receiving transitional payment, and who are affected in the great industrial areas of the country, the Government have certainly gone a long way in lowering their standard of life while modern industry limits their opportunities for taking part in any kind of work. As regards the finance of the Insurance Fund, I trust that whatever the Government do in the future they will make the net for revenue to the Unemployment Insurance Fund as 833 wide as possible. There are complaints regularly about the agricultural workers. I hope the Government will include agricultural workers in the next Insurance Bill, but let this be understood, that those who spoke for agriculture many years ago did not want those workers to be included in insurance—there were at any rate two opinions upon the question. We are also being told now about the black coated worker and how much he is to be sympathised with because he does not get any unemployment benefit. I do not take the view that the Unemployment Insurance Fund should only be used when a man wants it. I take the view that everybody should make their contribution and the better a man's position the more reason that he should make his con-tribution.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must remind the hon. Gentleman that he is now getting very near a matter which involves legislation.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I appreciate the justice of your Ruling, Sir Dennis, and your generosity in allowing me to put my point so far as I have done. But, having looked into the question of the finance of the Insurance Fund and into this Supplementary Estimate, I was trying to face the problem of getting the money in a more practicable way. We move this reduction in the Estimate because of the condition to which large masses of cur people have been reduced as a result of the fact that the Government have taken from them between £27,000,000 and £28,000,000 a year. If the Government have improved the position of the fund to any extent at all, they have only improved it by taking millions away from those who are least able to afford it. I said on Wednesday last, and I think it was a moderate estimate, that the Government had taken £55,000,000 from the unemployed in two years. The last Estimates for the Ministry of Labour with the Supplementary Estimates represented about £110,000,000. The Government are now asking for £76,000,000, with this Supplementary Estimate. Then there is the £27,500,000 to which I have referred— £12,500,000 taken from the benefit people by the 10 per cent. cut, and £15,000,000 a year taken from the people who are subject to the destitution test. With the £76,000,000 that works out at £103,000,000 or £104,000,000.
834 The position is that such improvements as the Government have made have consisted of taking money from the great mass of those who are unemployed. We ask the Committee to vote for this reduction as the only way in which we can register our protest. We think that the finance of this Government in this respect is having the effect of lowering the standard of life of great numbers of people who are eager and willing to work. Indeed the Government by their policy have brought a great many of our people to a lower standard of life than those people ever experienced before. If this Parliament and this Government do not wake up to the facts and realise the lamentable position into which many unemployed people are getting to-day, I am sorry to say that I believe that in the clays to come there will be overwhelming and unanswerable evidence of it from medical men—evidence the advance guard of which is already before our eyes.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
On a point of Order. Since this Debate began I have sat here and waited patiently to see if any representative of the Scottish Office would put in an appearance on the Government Bench, but such has not taken place. No Member of the Scottish Office is here or has been here; yet, on looking at the Unemployment Insurance Bill, I find that "Secretary Sir Godfrey Collins" is backing it. My point is that they should be sent for. It is a disgrace that something like unemployment, affecting Scotland as much as England or any other part of Britain, should be before the Committee and the Scottish Office should not be represented.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Even if I could admit that as a point of Order, the hon. Member must not make a speech about it. I have no doubt that what he has said will be taken notice of.
§ Mr. KIRKW00D
Further to that point of Order. Is there no way of doing this? We have had evidence to-day that your predecessor in the Chair exercised his authority, as far as the Members on these benches were concerned, by calling them to order because they were not conforming exactly to Parliamentary procedure in making their speeches. Surely, if those who hold the office that you occupy at present are in a position to 835 call Members of Parliament to order, you have the same authority, Sir Dennis, to see that the representatives of the Government who are backing such an important Measure as this are here, because this is more important that the World Economic Conference. It may not be so dramatic or get such a world-wide publicity, but it is just as important, and, therefore, they ought to be here. I want to ask from you, as Chairman in control of this Committee, Is there no means whereby you can see to it that they remain at the job for which they are paid?
§ The CHAIRMAN
There is no power Vested in the Chair to insist upon the attendance of any particular Minister on the Bench.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. K. GRIFFITH
I think the case against the Government on this Amendment to reduce the Supplementary Estimate has been put by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) with great moderation. Probably his own experience in that Department has given him a fellow feeling, and everybody must feel that there can be no more unpopular task at present, or in any of the recent Governments, than to be Minister of Labour or his Parliamentary Secretary. Some of the facts which it is sought to lay at the door of the Government cannot altogether be fairly put to that address. For instance, the hon. Member pointed out—and it is undoubtedly an important factor—that we have to take into consideration the increase in the number of those who have been unemployed for a year of more. I should have thought that the increase in that number is only natural as a mere matter of the effluxion of time.
If you take 1929 as the last peak year, and 1930 as the year in which the really big slump began, it is only an accident that it was in 1930 that the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street and his friends were in office, but that is the fact, and it was then that the great increase of unemployment took place. For instance, in that year, in my own constituency, we started the year with about 6,000 unemployed, hut at the end of the year there were about 19,000, and now there are very few more—about 20,000. Therefore, I think the hon. Members opposite must 836 realise that the problem with which the Government are dealing is to a considerable extent an inherited problem. They have not invented it. That, of course, does not absolve the Government from the necessity of dealing with the facts that are before them.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Those whom they represent were in control of this country when unemployment developed to such an alarming extent as we are faced with to-day.
§ Mr. GRIFFITH
No. I have just pointed out that that is where the hon. Member's facts are wrong. That is not the fact. It might be convenient for him if it were so, but the development of unemployment has been going on gradually now for a great many years, for which no party can claim to be fully free from responsibility, but when hon. Members on the benches opposite bring these accusations, I think that is the time when they should appropriately remember the very steep rise in unemployment which took place during their period of office.
The Government have just been given leave by the House to carry on, along lines with which we are all too familiar, for an additional space of time. They were bound to get that leave, not merely because they applied their huge majority to it, but because having some kind of bridge to carry over the interval was so necessary that I do not think even hon. Members opposite, if they had known that their votes would be effective in refusing leave to carry on with the legislation now existing, would have attempted to exercise that power. Everybody knew that the transition period must be gone through, but I hope that the Minister of Labour and his Parliamentary Secretary will realise that the House, in permitting the past practices with regard to the administration of their Department to continue for a further period, did so with very great uneasiness. I think everybody who has heard the Debates in which the Ministry of Labour has been concerned, on two days last week and to-day, must have been struck by an uneasiness which was not a party matter at all, not developed merely on the benches opposite, but displayed by everybody who has any familiarity with the distressed areas by representing them, as I do, or who has, like the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings 837 (Lord E. Percy), sufficient insight and imagination to see the other man's point of view. It was an uneasiness which meant that the permission to carry on was only given to the Government on the understanding that something definite should be done.
There is no department of administration by the Government which enters so intimately into the lives and homes of the people of this country as that of the Ministry of Labour. If there is friction there, it is not merely that the Government of the day will incur more hostility along that road than along any other; it means that the foundation of the State is really much more shaken in that way than in any other, because the security of society depends in the long run, not upon the police force, however it may be remodelled, or upon the Army and Navy, but upon the good will of the great mass of the people. However necessary a means test may be—and I have no hesitation in saying that I think it to be necessary—if there is felt to be harshness or unfairness in its administration or application, then much more friction in the State, much more danger to the State, will arise from that kind of thing than any other.
If anyone supposes, through lack of familiarity with the distressed areas, that the means test in any of those places is being administered without friction today, he is making a very grave mistake. Sometimes I think the idea gets about through the newspapers that there is friction only in those places where there is an actual dispute, such as we have seen between the Government and some local authority which is alleged by the Government not to be carrying out its duty. But that is only part of the picture. There is just as much friction, very often, in those areas where the local authority is trying to carry out its statutory duty, only there the local authority has to face the unpopularity itself, instead of passing it on to anybody else. We have to face the fact that at the present day a whole variety of questions, which I might be out of order if I developed, are arising, such as the question of the treatment of ex-service pensions, the question of the estimate that is made of compensation for injury to workmen, the way in which savings are taken into account in estimating the means test, and the computing of the 838 family income, which last is, perhaps, the greatest source of unpopularity.
On all these matters there are grievances arising, not merely in Rotherham and places like that, with which everyone is familiar because they have obtained great advertisement through a dispute; but all over the country countless instances are accumulating day by day, and that accumulation is in the end a matter of the very gravest peril. It is something that cannot be ignored, and it will go on, I am afraid, getting worse and worse unless means can be found to effect some radical change in the whole spirit of the administration. I am not laying anything to the charge of the Minister himself, because I think everybody who has heard him in this House realises his great personal kindness and sympathy towards the people with whom he has to deal, but he has limitations placed upon him which are mainly of a financial character, and those financial restrictions are partly the result of circumstances and partly the result of the general policy of the Government. Therefore, I am making no personal accusation against him, but, as one who has to live to a large extent with this unemployment problem very close to his mind, otherwise I should be false to my duty, I am offering the opinion that if this administration is allowed to go on without amendment, particularly in the respects which I have tried to indicate, there will be a real danger, not merely to this Government, but to the respect in which Parliamentary government is held by the people as a whole.
That is only one part of the problem. There is also the question, referred to by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, of the financial relations between the distressed areas and the Government, and there again the question is not a new one. I remember going as spokesman on deputations which we in the distressed areas have taken in the past, and are to take again, to the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health. I ventured on a deputation to the last Minister of Health, the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), and I got rather more discouraging a reception from him than from the present Minister. The problem, as I say, is not a new one. I have no doubt there are reasons why the right hon. Member for Wakefield would not say more—
§ Mr. LAWSON
It is only fair that the hon. Member should acknowledge that the immediate effect of the 1930 Act was to take people off the Poor Law and pub them on the register, whereas the charge against the present legislation is that it has taken people off the register and put them on the Poor Law.
§ Mr. GRIFFITH
I am prepared to grant to the hon. Member that, for whatever reasons, the situation is undoubtedly very much graver; that is to say, the present Minister of Health and Minister of Labour have a much bigger and more urgent problem to deal with than had the last Government.
It is true that the 1930 Act took large numbers of persons off the Poor Law and made them entitled to benefit, but when the Labour party saw what happened as a result of their action, they passed the Anomalies Act.
§ Mr. GRIFFITH
The point which I was putting was that, although the problem is graver now, in point of fact not merely the Members in this House from the distressed areas, but Members from the local authorities representing the distressed areas, were making just the same kind of demand on the Minister of Health in the last Government as on the Minister of Health in this Government, namely, that which has been our object in the distressed areas all the time, to get the State to recognise that it ought to take over the responsibility for the whole of the able-bodied poor. Now, although I have had many quarrels with this Government and have expressed them, I am bound to say that this is the first Government which has expressed a willingness to undertake that responsibility. It may be that they are not going to do it, but we shall be disappointed. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, but at least some kind of hope has been held out.
I do want to remind right hon. Members on the Treasury Bench what a very great effect the pronouncements that were made with regard to taking over the responsibility for the able-bodied poor had in the country and in the distressed areas. It was regarded as a promise of enormous value. People began to think that here at last was hope. They were disappointed 840 and I was disappointed that it could not be implemented at once. The extent of the hope raised by that promise will be the measure of the disappointment and the disgust if the promise is not carried out. There was held out to us a double programme—a short-term and a long-term programme. The long-term programme is really the thing that matters to us. It is the thing which the depressed areas have wanted under various Governments, and we hope that we are going to see it without too much delay. I think that we are entitled to believe, after what we have heard from the Minister of Labour on the earlier subject of our discussion, that this will be embodied in some way in the reconstructing Bill which we have been promised is to be carried in this Session. I will not go further into that, because I shall be discussing future legislation, but that something will be done along these lines is our great hope.
The short-term programme has never meant so much to me. It is probable that it can be done by administration without any legislation at all, and therefore it is easier to debate, but I have always felt that there were grave difficulties in trying to ease the burden on the distressed areas by some kind of contribution scheme from one area to another. It is hard to decide merely on the figures of the amount of rates in one area or another which are depressed areas and which are not. I gave some figures on a previous occasion which led to the most laughable conclusions as to which of the areas would be called upon to relieve others. When it is a matter of making an appeal to the areas which are really prosperous and well off and to ask them to undertake to make some voluntary contribution, it is asking too much of human nature to expect that they would rush in with any great enthusiasm. I hope this step on the part of the Minister will be taken as a mere necessary formality that had to be gone through, and that the promises that have been made will genuinely be fulfilled. The Parliamentary Secretary's chief was a party with the Minister of Health to this undertaking, and I have no doubt that he would rather anything in the world happen than that he should disappoint or betray in any way the confidence which is placed in him by others. It has to be realised that a considerable measure of confidence was given by this 841 House on the strength of this assurance. There was before us a Vote of Censure moved by the Opposition, and the Members representing the distressed areas, except those belonging to the Official Opposition, voted with the Government against the Vote of Censure because they believed in the undertakings that were made. That, I think, imposes an obligation which I am certain that the Ministers in charge of the relevant Departments are very anxious to fulfil.
I urge that at the earliest possible date we may hear, if it is only of an interim nature, of something genuine being done to tide us over this period. The financial position of some of these local authorities is really desperate. They cannot possibly survive for very long a period of waiting. To that extent I shall be glad to see that the Government have in mind an interim programme until we can see their full plans before us. This whole business is one of the urgent things that the Government have to undertake. Probably in the end those great matters of international policy which we are considering in various conferences are even more important, but they do not come home so much and so immediately to the lives of the people. We have to remember that there are now thousands and thousands of people who are in a state where it is only to the Government that they can look for any assistance. That is the great tragedy of our time. This is not the first time we have had economic difficulties, but in times past there was generally some avenue of self-help that could be explored.
The tragic thing is that the avenues of self-help have been closed up in these days. Emigration, one of the most natural avenues of escape for the distressed individual in this country, whether within the Empire or to other parts of the world, is not worth talking about. Industrial transference within the nation, emigration, in a way, from one industry to another, was examined under a previous Government, but the actual amount that was realised was so small that I do not think anybody could set it seriously against the magnitude of the problem with which we are faced. That means that the great mass of the unemployed people, particularly in the depressed areas, where as the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street rightly said, we have seen no signs of improvement 842 wherever else it may have been felt, can only look to the Government, as they have looked to Government after Government wondering whether there was anybody who could do anything for them. They have waited for a long time with a patience which is a marvel and a matter for admiration. I wonder how long it can go on. I do hope that from this Government there may in no short time come forward some measure of comfort and hope without which it is hard to believe that these great masses can continue to live.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
Although I want to bring a difficulty which has arisen in regard to transitional payments to the attention of the Committee and the Under-Secretary, I always feel that one cannot fairly assess this problem without realising the disgraceful financial condition in which the Opposition allowed the position to drift when they formed His Majesty's Government—a condition of affairs which in spite of the protests of the Opposition it is only fair to say has scarcely been equalled outside the finances of China. The aspect of this question to which I particularly want to refer is one that has on occasions been referred to in the House but has been bandied about much more in the country. It is one of the sticks that the Opposition has found with which to beat the Government, and, seeing that it fulfils that purpose to their satisfaction, I do not think that they care too much about the accuracy of the statements attached to it. This aspect is to the extent to which the means test has been a cause of the disruption of the home, causing those who are receiving transitional payments to move into lodgings or, on the other hand, causing those who are receiving wages to remove elsewhere in order that those who would receive transitional payments, but who were debarred by the wage earners remaining in the home, may receive their determinations. I have endeavoured to find out something of the true position, because it has been voiced to a certain extent by the supporters of the Opposition in Birmingham. It is a matter about which it is difficult to get accurate figures, but, as a result of the efforts of the public assistance officer in Birmingham, we know a little where we stand. I will read a letter which he sent to me under date the 7th April, which 843 will place on record what he discovered. He says:I have now had records kept of cases where a 'nil' or a low determination has been increased owing to the removal of the wage earners from the household. In the 24 relief districts of the city between the 7th February and 31st March, I find that there were 46 such cases. In five cases it was subsequently reported that the wage earners had returned home. It is doubtful whether the whole of the 46 can be attributed directly to the operation of the Transitional Payment Scheme, as in many cases the wage earners were not contributing a reasonable sum into the home for their maintenance. The number of Transitional Payment cases dealt with during the period 1st January, 1933, to 25th March, 1933, was 5,302 new applications, and 27,958 renewals or revisions of determinations.If I may paraphrase that letter, it is to the effect that if we take the five cases from the 46 in the seven weeks which the public assistance officer has investigated, there were in Birmingham 41 cases where the determination of the public assistance committee may possibly be regarded as causing a removal from the home, or six per week when there were no less than 440 new applications per week, or about 1½ per cent. of the new applications. That is a negligible percentage if one takes into consideration renewals or revisions of determinations.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
I was referring to the fact that when these disruptions of the home were investigated, we found in a city like Birmingham that it occurred in less than 1½per cent. of the new determinations. Therefore, I think that everyone in equity would say that that is scarcely justification for some of the loud phrases that have been used by our opponents in this connection. It is not a negligible matter. It is one which I hope that the Minister of Labour will look carefully into, because obviously folk who have their homes manipulated and changed by any State action must feel that they are the victims of some very difficult circumstances.
There are three ways in which this trouble may occur. First we have the parents out of work during their period of transitional payments, with children bringing wages into the home. Take the example of a man with a wife and 844 two children, who would receive a normal determination of 29s. 9d. a week. It is well within the knowledge of the Committee that wages are subject to an allowance of 25 per cent. for personal expenses. If the income of these two children, who we will suppose are in employment is 39s. 8d. a week and we deduct 25 per cent., or 9s. 11d., then 29s. 9d. is left, and in those circumstances the public assistance committee would not be able to find in favour of payment of transitional benefit to this applicant. If, however, those children were to earn 10s. a week more, 49s. 8d., then clearly they would have that whole 10s. left to them. Comparing the two cases, we find that in place of 25 per cent. of the total income of those two children being retained for their personal use when their income is 39s. 8d., if the income rises to 49s. 8d. they are enabled to retain no less than 40 per cent. of their income.
These two examples show, I think, just where the boot pinches. It is in cases where the total income less the permitted deduction is round about the total permissible income for the home that the children leave home and go into lodgings, where they can retain their full income for themselves, the parents being then in a position to apply for transitional payment and must, by the determination of the public assistance committee, receive their full measure. In any possible modification which my hon. Friend may make it is perfectly obvious that he cannot open the flood gates of indiscriminate relief, a procedure in which the hon. Members of the Labour party are such pastmasters, but if he is able by any variation of the transitional payments scheme to keep these children at home, obviously that will have great social advantages, while at the same time not increasing the cost to the State but reducing it. Obviously, there would be a number of cases where the determination could be claimed where, in present circumstances, it would be reduced, but the Minister of Labour would find, I think, that if he were to raise the amount of money not taken into consideration from 25 per cent. to 50 per cent. in cases where the total earned income is round about the total permissible income for the home, he would find there might even be an economy for the State.
845 That is one class of case. The second class is where the children themselves are in their transitional period and are forced out of the home by their parents who are in work. I believe that very seldom takes place, and I beg leave to think that if a parent will force a child out of the home in order that the child may receive transitional payment, it may be as well that that child should be separated from such a parent. Then there is the third type of case, where the person who is in his transition period is placed in a position of difficulty through no fault of his own. I will give the Committee one example of the trouble that exists. A man in Birmingham was liable, under a maintenance order of a court, to pay to his wife, from whom he was separated, 5s a week. He was living with relatives who were in work, and consequently, seeing that the income of the household was assessed as a complete unit, he himself received no transitional payment and had no income. As a result he had not the wherewithal to meet his weekly payment of 5s. to his wife. He was brought before the court and the magistrate, after inquiring into the position, told him that the court would hold the case over provided he left the home in which he was residing and went into lodgings. He did this, and thus received the full determination for a single man, and the court then ordered that he should continue to reside there and to pay the 5s. a week to his wife.
Here we have a case where, if the special committee of the main public assistance committee could have varied the pay to a man who is forced out of the home in which he normally resides by some outside set of circumstances over which he has no control, instead of having to pay the sum of 16s. 3d. per week the State need pay only the 5s. which the court calls upon the man to find.
I have outlined, I hope to the satisfaction of the Committee, three types of case in which there is a tendency for the transitional payment regulations to drive people out of the home against their wish. As I have endeavoured to show, the number of such cases is relatively small, but in a matter like this a minority must not be sacrificed unless the difficulties of administration render it absolutely impossible to remedy the position.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
Surely the hon. Member ought not to draw a deduction from Birmingham and apply it to the whole country. It may be l½ per cent. in Birmingham, but we know that it is a, substantially higher percentage in South Wales and the distressed areas.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
I have not endeavoured to generalise in any way, I would not dream of doing so; but what I do say is that these are the first figures which I have seen dealing specifically with this position. As my hon. Friend will find if he will discuss this matter in his own area, it entails considerable work to discover the exact figures. Here we have figures, and in the absence of any other figures—and I have not heard any given by his friends on the Opposition Benches—I am assuming that these may possibly represent something like an average for the country. I say to the Minister of Labour that this is a matter needing very careful investigation, and if he will give, in particular, the last type of case to which I have referred his sympathetic consideration, I know that all hon. Members will be indebted to him.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
I rise to support the Amendment, and I consider that we are justified in recording our opposition to this Supplementary Estimate. We ought not to have been called upon to deal with a Supplementary Estimate, because the Government have had an abundance of time in which to frame a comprehensive Measure. They received the report of the commission last October, but after nine months we are no further towards the promised legislation, and it is my opinion that if the Minister of Labour wants to draft his new legislation on the lines which he suggested when speaking last Wednesday, that is, to draft it on a sound financial basis, then another nine months, and even nine years, will pass before we see the promised Bill. The Minister cannot expect to be able to put the Unemployment Insurance Fund on a sound financial basis, and if that is the reason why he has not been able to draft his legislation up to the present time I am of opinion that he will find that objection still confronting him when the Autumn Session comes. The Lord President of the Council, speaking on 25th February, said: 847The one nightmare of my life for years has been unemployment. How I rejoice to feel that we have now reached the hour in which we can and ought to start work on this question with vigour and spirit.This is the hour, and it is signalised by the absence of the Lord President. He and other Members of the Cabinet are too busy attending dinners and social gatherings to put in an appearance on the Treasury Bench. Although the hour may have arrived they are more interestingly engaged than in attending at the House to deal with these questions. The Leader of the Opposition seemed to be frightened of the proposed legislation on unemployment and I think he has good reason to be, because the Parliamentary Secretary—I do not know where he is—
§ Mr. BATEY
I am talking upon these matters so that the Parliamentary Secretary may get back before I deal with the principal points on which I wish to speak. The Leader of the Opposition was justified in being frightened of the proposed legislation upon unemployment, because of some remarks that were made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour last Friday. Dealing with this question, the Parliamentary Secretary let us into a little bit of the mind of the Government as to the lines on which they proposed to draft their Bill. He used these words:There must be some relation between the number of contributions paid and the length of time during which a man can draw benefit.If these are the lines upon which the Government propose to move, I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, when he returns to the Front Bench, whether we are to understand from that that only those who are entitled by the length of time during which they have paid contributions are to draw benefit in the future, and that those who are receiving transitional payment now but have no contributions to their credit are to be cut off completely. That is the construction that we put upon the words that the Parliamentary Secretary used. He also said this:You must make some distinction between the man who draws benefit to which he is 848 entitled as of right by virtue of prior con tributions, and the man who is not so entitled."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 16th June, 1933; col. 444, Vol. 279.]If that is in the mind of the Government in drafting the new legislation, I have no hesitation in saying that, bad as we are—we sometimes imagine that we could not be worse off, although things are desperately bad, especially in the distressed areas—God help us when the new legislation comes along. It will simply mean that only those will be able to draw from the Unemployment Fund who have been able to pay contributions, and that all those who, at the present time, are in receipt of transitional payment, are to be completely cut off and put into another category. We know what that means.
In regard to the Measure to deal with unemployment which the Government say they intend to bring in, I believe that we will not see it either this year or next year. We shall need something more than a Supplementary Estimate before we get some such Measure from the Government. The Minister of Labour made a statement last Wednesday that I should like him to clear up, if he were in the House. It is a pity that he is not here. He said: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 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1933; col. 134, Vol. 279.]That seems as though the Minister of Labour, in making that statement, had in his mind another Bill to be brought before the House—a different Bill from what he terms his "comprehensive" Bill dealing with unemployment. It is just as well that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is here, because he may be able to help us on this point. I got the impression that what the Minister of Health meant to do was to wait until a comprehensive Bill was brought in to deal with unemployment, and to deal then with this question of the Government taking responsibility for the unemployed. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health to tell us whether it is in the mind of the Government to bring another Bill before the House to carry out the pledges made by 849 the Minister of Health on 12th April. Are we to look forward to two new Bills before the end of the Session, one a comprehensive Bill dealing with unemployment, and the other a Bill by the Ministry of Health dealing with the distressed are as and the acceptance of responsibility for the unemployed?
Last Friday, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour referred to a speech of mine, made in Durham, in which I was dealing with the Commissioners' report. He said that the Commissioners reported 44 cases, and that they could have made that number 4,400. Instead of the cost of the Commissioners being £60,000, it was expected to be round about £30,000, and the savings of the Commissioners were expected to be about seven or eight times as much. Before I deal with those arguments. I want to say that he was not so guarded as his chief, the Minister of Labour, "was in speaking here last Wednesday. Dealing with the Commissioners' report, the Minister of Labour was so guarded as merely to say:In my view, that report is a justification of my action in appointing the Commissioners and is a justification of their administration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1933; col. 178, Vol. 279.]He seemed to be elated about it and to glory in the fact that he had appointed the Commissioners. It seemed as though he wanted to pat himself on the back, and as though he felt three inches taller because he had appointed those Commissioners and was justified in appointing them. If the appointment of Commissioners to starve a noble people can be justified, the Minister, or whoever was responsible, is entitled to whatever glory he can get. It is not a proper matter about which he should congratulate himself, but something rather on the other side.
What is the report that the commissioners issued? It is not really a report of the work of the commissioners, and it is not a fair report of their work. I do not hesitate to say that it is one of the vilest reports that have ever been issued by a Government Department. It is a waste of Government money to publish it. It gives no account of the cases with which the commissioners have dealt. The report is supposed to cover the three months from 1st December to 28th February. The least that the commissioners might have done was to tell us 850 the number of cases that they had dealt with in the three months, the number of cases in which benefit had been reduced, and the number in which it had been abolished, during that time. They do not do that, and there is not a single word about it in their report. They do not say a word, either, about the amount of money which they consider has been saved, but of which we consider the people have been robbed; and, very wisely, they do not say a word about the amount of money that they themselves have cost. In my opinion the report was issued simply to blacken the characters of the Labour men on the public assistance committees in Durham, and, knowing those men, and seeing the first name on this report, one has no hesitation in saying that this man at least ought never to have issued such a report trying to blacken the character of the Labour men on the public assistance committees in Durham.
Why was this report kept back? It deals with the work of the commissioners up to the 28th February; it was signed by the commissioners in April; but it was not issued until the 2nd June, the day on which the House was adjourning for the Whitsuntide Recess, and when it had been announced in the House that the business on the second day on which we met would be a Debate on the means test. I have no hesitation in saying that this report was deliberately kept back for the purpose of prejudicing public opinion in favour of continuing the means test. Nobody knows better than the Government how obnoxious the means test has been throughout the country, how hated it is throughout the country. They know that they could not carry a single industrial seat where this means test is operating; they know that it would destroy every supporter that they have in every industrial area. At any rate, I am certain that in Durham we should sweep every industrial seat where anyone dared to stand for the means test.
§ Mr. McKEAG
Would the hon. Member be willing to pay public money to applicants without any inquiry of any kind as to their means?
§ Mr. BATEY
I consider that need ought not to be a qualification for insurance or transitional benefit. I believe that a man is entitled to benefit if he is unable to get work, and, certainly in the north of England, this Government is preventing thousands of men from getting work in the colliery industry.
§ Mr. CAPORN
Would the hon. Member apply a test as to whether a man cannot get work, and what would that test be?
§ Mr. PIKE
How is it to be known, without a test, whether he has been offered work or not? For the sake of clarity, let us assume that one of the hon. Member's constituents came into my constituency of Attercliffe. How would anyone administering unemployment insurance in Attercliffe know whether the constituent of the hon. Member had been offered work in his division, unless a test was applied?
§ Mr. BATEY
Nobody likes work. There are many people in this country at the present time who can manage to live without work, and live well. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary is here; I am sorry I started before he came, because I know he was anxious to be here, and wants to reply. I will repeat, while he is here, one thing that I was saying. I was dealing with this report and its being kept back, and I said that in my opinion it had been kept back deliberately, because it dealt with 852 the work of the commissioners up to the 28th February, it was signed in April, and it was not issued until the 2nd June. I said that it was deliberately kept back for the purpose of prejudicing public opinion in favour of continuing the means test. The Parliamentary Secretary said that, although it mentioned 44 cases, he could give 4,400 cases. But the commissioners' report does not give the 4,400 cases, and the Parliamentary Secretary may take it from me that, if they could have given them, they would have done so. They would give 10,000 cases if they could. I do not blame them for having given all the cases that they could, or for giving all the worst cases that they could. The Parliamentary Secretary must remember that, when we were debating the matter before, he threw at us three cases which he considered were bad cases. We said, "We do not object, but give us the names and addresses of the people privately so that we can have a chance of investigating the cases." He would not. Even with these 44 cases we are still in the same position.
The report is unfair because it not only gives the 44 cases where the public assistance committee paid too much, but it says that there are a few cases where they paid too little. I am not sure that those few cases where they paid too little were not just as bad as the 44 cases where they paid too much. It created a false impression in some quarters that the Labour members of the public assistance committee had deliberately punished some people because they were not Labour supporters. What need was there for Labour members of the committee to punish anyone who did not vote for them at the last Election? They could leave that to the National Government which is punishing those who voted for them. I met a man recently in my division who said: "I voted for the National Government at the last election, but never again." He told me the reason. He works on the surface at a coal pit for four days a week, and he has a son 26 years of age. Because he is working four days a week, the commissioners are making him keep his son without any supplementary benefit. He said to me: "I have been a Tory all my life, but never again." I fancy to-day that I can still hear him saying, "Never again." You talk about Labour punishing men, because they do 853 not agree with Labour, but what has the National Government done? The commissioners have given some cases of a man who has a house, or a man who has a few pounds. We generally regard a man with a house or a bit of money as a Tory. It is not often that he votes Labour. The National Government, through the commissioners, is saying to those people: "Although you did send the National Government in at the last election, you have a house. Before you get any supplementary benefit, eat the house. Until you eat it, and swallow the last brick, we will give you no support." I do not believe there were 4,400 cases. The Parliamentary Secretary will excuse me saying I do not believe what he says.
§ Mr. BATEY
Certainly Have no doubt about that. I am justifying the public assistance committee. Forty-four cases out of 74,514 is one out of 1,693. That is nothing to complain about. If the Department would appoint an independent committee to investigate those cases, they would now find an immensely larger number of cases that are being underfed. If the Parliamentary Secretary can accept the idea of appointing an independent committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and I will form ourselves into a committee and we will go through the cases that the commissioners have gone through. We will examine them and give a report. We will not charge £1,200 a year. We will do it free.
§ Mr. BATEY
Yes, we will blackleg in that case. We will investigate every case, and we will stagger the country, because the commissioners are simply starving the county. They are robbing thousands of people of money that belongs to them. If you reckon the amount of money that these 44 cases were being paid, it comes to £37 18s. 6d. a week and, in order to save that, they appoint com- 854 missioners costing over £1,000 a week. The Parliamentary Secretary disputed that figure in a recent speech. He said the commissioners were costing round about £30,000 a year. He must have known that that figure was not correct, because in answer to a question in the House it was stated that for the first quarter the expenses of the commissioners were £14,000 and non-recurrent expenditure £2,100. Leaving the £2,100 out, and taking the £14,000 for three months and multiplying it by four gives you £56,000 a year. There is a wide difference between £56,000 a year, not reckoning non-recurrent expenditure, and the £30,000 mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary.
If the hon. Gentleman will do me the honour of reading exactly what I said in the Debate instead of quoting from memory, he will find that there is no discrepancy at all between the two figures.
§ Mr. BATEY
The Parliamentary Secretary cannot run away like that. I did not come prepared to deal with these questions without having his exact words before me. This is what he said:The hon. Member went on to ask what was the cost of the administration and to suggest that the commissioners were costing more than the saving they were making. I cannot tell the exact cost to a penny, but I can tell him that the additional cost for a year would probably be in the neighbourhood of £30,000 and that the saving which we anticipate from their appointment will amount to seven or eight times as much. On that ground alone, their appointment was fully justified."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1933; col. 446, Vol. 279.]
But what the hon. Member omitted from his original statement was my use of the word "additional." The additional cost is £30,000 a year; the total cost is £56,000 a year. I said that the additional cost of putting in the commissioners over the expenditure which would in any case have been incurred by the county council, which is the only thing that matters, was £30,000 a year. That is true. The total cost of the administration under the commissioners is equivalent to the additional cost, plus the original cost under the county council.
§ Mr. BATEY
The Parliamentary Secretary cannot get away riding the high horse in that way. The point in the Debate was this. Here was the expenditure of the commissioners and here was a saving. One was set against the other, when, as a matter of fact, the administration was costing over £1,000 a week or over £50,000 a year. I will leave that matter. But when the Parliamentary Secretary had the £30,000 in his mind, he said that they were saving seven or eight times that amount. If the commissioners were what he called saving—we call it robbery—seven or eight times £30,000 it would amount to something like £210,000 a year. Here is a distressed area, with people in a desperate condition, not able to live, and yet there is boasting of commissioners who save over £200,000 out of these people. That is a condition of things for which no decent man should stand.
I read a report this morning of the reception held at Londonderry House last night. I saw that the Minister of Labour was there. I was not surprised that the Prime Minister was there, because the Prime Minister always prefers Londonderry House to this House. The Minister of Labour would get an altogether wrong impression at Londonderry House last night. Londonderry House is not typical of the homes of the miners in the county of Durham. Londonderry House is connected with the coal industry. Londonderry House is there because of the wealth which has been produced in the coal mines of this country. I should be sorry if anybody who went to the reception at Londonderry House last night got the impression that it was typical of the county of Durham and of the homes of the miners in the county of Durham. The disgrace of it is that there should be a reception and feasting and drinking such as there was at Londonderry House last night while thousands of miners and their wives and bairns in the county of Durham are starving. If the Londonderrys had the money to throw away, as it was thrown away last night, it would have been better spent on the miners and their wives and bairns in the county of Durham than in feeding people who did not need to be fed. The "News Letter," which is the Prime Minister's paper, issued, I believe, fortnightly for the purpose of boosting the Prime Minister, on 10th June in a big black headline, used the 856 Words "The Durham Scandal," relating to an article dealing with the commissioners. The article said that the commissioners made some remarkable disclosures which justified the supersession of the public assistance committee.
§ Mr. BATEY
Oh, you agree with that. I could understand some of the National Labour men standing for that, but I cannot understand the Parliamentary Secretary standing for it. There is nothing in this report which justifies the supersession of the Durham Public Assistance Committee. The article talks about the "shameful abuse of public authority," and says:swelling the unearned income of families considerably richer than their own.That is a tit-bit. It is a little amusing to find this paper talking about the public assistance committee in Durham, after having granted the £37 18s. 6d. per week extra, as "swelling the unearned income of families considerably richer than their own." The pity is that the working class is producing wealth to swell the unearned income of families richer than their own. I should like to know whether the Prime Minister agrees with that article in the "News Letter." He sits for a Durham constituency. He owes his position in this House, in the big chair at the World Economic Conference, and at the public functions to foreign men which he attends every day, to the fact that he was elected to this House by Durham men and women. I want to know whether he agrees with this nasty article which talks about "The Durham Scandal." One of my Friends reminds me that perhaps the biggest Durham scandal that ever took place was the return of the Prime Minister.
I have condemned very strongly the Commission in Durham, but the Parliamentary Secretary has given the impression to me, after what I have read from the "News Letter," that he agrees with the appointment of the commissioners to rob the poor in the county of Durham. I could cite scores of cases where the poor people are being robbed, and if the challenge made by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, to go through the work of the commissioners, were taken up I believe that we could 857 give such a report as would justify my statement. Instead of appointing commissioners to rob the poor, and being so complacent, so happy and so cheerful about it, the Government would have done better to have appointed commissioners to find work for the people. The Government have acted on the wrong lines. They seem to think that it is noble to rob the poor man of 6d. There is nothing noble about that. If they would spend money in appointing commissioners to find work and if the commissioners were told that instead of using their time as they are using it now they should become employment commissioners, their work would be to much better purpose. It is only along those lines that the Government will solve the unemployment problem. Sooner or later they will have to appoint commissioners to find work for men.
One could suggest many ways in which employment commissioners could put (men into work. If I were an employment commissioner I would insist that no man should work more than 40 hours a week until everybody else was in employment. I would not allow some men to work from 70 to 80 hours a week, as they do now, while other men are not able to work for one hour. I would definitely limit the time that men could work, in order that other men could get a job. I would also examine the question of machinery. I would not allow employers to supplant men by machinery, unless they contributed to the support of the displaced men while they were out of employment. I would prevent, as far as I could, machines from being installed to throw men-on the unemployment market. Seeing that there are so many young men who cannot get work I would insist upon those young men having work before young women. I would go to the Post Office and say that unless a young woman could prove that she was maintaining a widowed mother, or an invalid father, or that her wages were absolutely necessary, I would clear women out of employment altogether until all men were employed. The Government must take drastic action before men in this country can find work. Instead of thinking about new Bills and of putting unemployment insurance on a sound financial basis, and instead of appointing commissioners to rob the people, they ought to pay attention to finding work for men.
858 That would be better than paying either standard benefit or supplementary benefit.
The Minister said the other day that one ought not to pay benefit unless the need was justified. My reply is that the Government ought either to find work or pay. There is abundance of money in this country, and I see no reason for not paying. Only to-day we had an instance where by a mere book-keeping item a sum of £200,000,000 was created. There is abundance of wealth in this country for everything except for the poor. If the wealthy classes of this country wanted money they would create the money, but if it is a case of the poor wanting money we are told the poor must suffer, and those who say that are prepared to make the poor suffer. We stand for the unemployed all the time. We stand for the poorest of the poor. We believe that when an unemployed man and his wife get 23s. 2d. a week they are not getting too much. The Government ought to be prepared to pay to those who are transitional cases just as if they were standard cases. Until a man can find work, they ought to pay that man.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
During the time that I have been a Member of this House I have not invariably supported the present Government, and I have also taken opportunity to criticise the administration of the means test, but in spite of those two facts I must confess that I listened with some impatience to the speech of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey). He put forward a doctrine with which I doubt if even the Front Opposition Bench would agree. He said that he stands for work or maintenance without any inquiry, irrespective of private means. That goes even further than the Leader of the Opposition. I always feel a sense of unreality when I hear from above the Gangway opposite these attacks on the means test, because I am convinced that if by any miracle the party opposite were to be returned to office or power at the next election we should have the means test just the same. One would find it very difficult to discover any civilised country or any modern State in which unemployment relief, outside insurance, is paid out without some kind of test of means. That applies not only to the ordinary capitalist or private enterprise States, but it even applies to 859 Soviet Russia. I have here the Soviet "Law of Marriage," and I should like to read a short extract from that law:The duty to support children rests upon both parents. The extent of their contributions towards their support depends upon their respective means. Children must support their needy, incapacitated parents. When parents are unwilling to support their children or children their parents, in the cases provided under Sections 42 and 49 of the present code such persons entitled to support can sue for the same in court.And it goes on to say:An incapacitated grandfather or grandmother is entitled to alimony from his or her grandchildren if the latter possess sufficient means, provided such alimony cannot be obtained from the conjugal partner or the children. Similarly, grandchildren who are under age or incapacitated are entitled to alimony from their grandfather or grandmother if possessed of sufficient means, provided they are unable to obtain such alimony from their parents.That clearly sets out the principle of the family means need which obtains in the one State in which Socialist principles have been applied. I go further and I say that hon. Members below the Gangway if they were in office and were able to apply the principles of Lenin, as they have been applied in Soviet Russia, would have a family means test just the same. There is no country which accepts the principle enunciated by the hon. Member for Spennymoor. I have criticised on several occasions the administration of the means test, and there are many people in this House and in the country who are not necessarily opposed to a means test—who probably are in favour of the principle of a means test—who are very definitely opposed to this means test. We have to distinguish between the principle and its application as we have seen it during the last year and a-half.
There are one or two points to which I want to draw attention with regard to the means test. The first is a comparatively small one; it has not yet been raised in this House. It is the question of public holidays. If you have a family of which most members are unemployed but of which one member happens to be at work, it follows that the family is living largely on the earnings of the one member who is employed. There comes along a bank holiday, or a public holiday, in respect of which he does not earn anything, and at the end of the 860 week he finds that he is 2s. or 3s. or 4s. short of his full wages because of that day's holiday. It may not mean much when the person has only himself or herself to keep, but when you have the whole family living to a large extent upon the earnings of one member the loss of those few shillings may be a very serious matter. I suggest that this is a point which is worth the attention of the Minister of Labour.
The second point is much more important. We have heard a great deal about disability pensions and savings, and about workmen's compensation, but none of these things compare as a grievance with the question of the family allowance, the family contribution. That is the grievance which anyone who represents an industrial area will realise is the greatest cause of discontent. The family contribution, and the way in which it is exacted, contributes more than anything else to the discontent and unrest that has been aroused by the means test in industrial areas. What happens? In most districts the personal allowance that is made to a man out of his earnings is 15s. per week, the rest has to go into the family pool. I know that in some cases the allowance is even smaller, but 15s. is, I think, the average. You may get the most remarkable results. In a recent Debate the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Sir A. Baillie) pointed out that you may have circumstances where a man is better off when he is out of work, because when he is in work and is allowed only 15s., with no allowance for his travelling expenses to and from work, it may mean that from his own point of view he is better off out of work. That is an extreme case, but it happens under the present system of family contribution.
But it raises a much more serious point; it raises a question of principle. One of the mainsprings of our present social system, which hon. Members call the capitalist system or private enterprise, is the differentiation of rewards. We say to people that if they can render better services or more services they shall draw a higher reward. You are destroying that largely by this system of the family contribution, because in effect you are saying to the one wage earner in a household that if he is able to increase his earnings from 30s. to 50s. that in the view of the public assistance committee he 861 himself will derive no direct benefit from that increase because big personal allowance is to be set at 15s., or whatever figure may be recognised by the public assistance committee, and all the rest of his increased earnings must go into the family pool. I suggest that in framing their comprehensive Measure the Government should consider the question of having a scale, or rather taking the matter the other way round, and instead of saying to a man, "You shall have a small personal allowance out of your wages, we expect you to make a certain contribution out of your wages according to the size of your wages. If you are earning 30s. we expect you to contribute 10s. to the family pool, and if you are earning 40s. per week we expect you to contribute 15s."That would be a reasonable contribution to ask, and if we had a system like that we should remove by far the greater part of the bitterness which at present exists in depressed areas.
I do not agree with most that is said by hon. Members opposite, but there is no doubt that in the depressed areas, and I represent one, this issue looms a great deal larger than any other political issue. One frequently has the experience in addressing political meetings in our constituencies, before an audience a large number of whom are unemployed and subject to the means test, that when you endeavour to discuss the Ottawa Conference or the World Economic Conference you are interrupted with shouts, "What do we care about that. Tell us about the means test." The hon. Member who opened the Debate in a very eloquent speech referred to the condition of the people and made a calculation according to which, by the cuts in unemployment pay coupled with the savings of the means test, the unemployed in the past two years are £55,000,000 poorer than they would have been if these measures had never been taken. I was one of those who thought that the cut was necessary in 1931. I said that I thought it should be a temporary measure. I thought that a means test of some kind was necessary. But the fact remains that you cannot take that vast sum of money from this particular class without having a very big effect on their health and their standard of life.
It is always represented from the Front Ministerial Bench, when these questions 862 are discussed, that really the unemployed class is no worse off, and we are given all sorts of figures and all kinds of percentages which seek to show that really the unemployed man is better off by 1s. 4d. than he was three years ago, or something of that kind. It is a difficult matter to obtain exact information or an exact comparison between the condition of the unemployed in a certain area at the present time and their condition a few years ago, but I think it is possible to make some sort of comparison and to apply some sort of test if we take the figures for the provision of meals and clothing to necessitous school children. I have here the report of the Committee of the Council on Education in Scotland, which has just been issued. Under Section 6 of the Education (Scotland) Act of 1908 local authorities are obliged in certain circumstances to provide meals and clothing for school children who are in need of them. On page 32 of this report there is given a comparison between last year, that is the period up to 15th May of the present year, and former years.
It is pointed out that last year clothing-was provided to 98,995 children. In 1930–31 the number was only 68,943; and in 1929–30 it was 55,923. So the number has been very nearly doubled in two years. Then if we take the expenditure on food and clothing together, that is the net expenditure, leaving out what is recovered from the parents, we find that the expenditure in the last financial year was £100,091, compared with £72,270 last year and £57,885 the year before that. I know that that is a general survey of Scotland. But I know also the experience of Dundee. In Dundee five years ago the amount provided for meals was £2,200. In the last financial year it had risen to £5,800, and there had to be a Supplementary Estimate.
§ Mr. FOOT
Yes, with foodstuffs cheaper. I suggest to the Government that these are very significant figures. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who opened this discussion that there is a very considerable deterioration in the standard of life of the unemployed in a great many of the industrial areas, and especially in the distressed areas. In a Debate such as this, we cannot go far in 863 suggesting remedies. I have already made certain suggestions in the direction of a more generous application of the means test. If we could get that more generous application, if we could get a raising of the family contribution, that is of the amount allowed to the man in work, it would be a considerable step forward. Secondly, those of us who sit on these Liberal benches are unanimous in thinking that when financial conditions become less stringent, when it is possible to give any relief from the cuts that were imposed in 1931, the first claim on that relief should be the claim of the unemployed, who two years ago were called upon to bear the heaviest sacrifice of all.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
The senior Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) said that if the Labour party were again to form a Government they would introduce a means test. That has been denied time and again from these benches. The Parliamentary Labour party is pledged that, whenever it comes into power, it will remove the means test. The test that will be initiated is the offer of a job or maintenance. That is what the Labour party stand for. I want to warn those who are advocating too much the idea of a guarantee or the offer of a job, because we might be let in for something there. They might offer a man any kind of job. As far as we Socialists are concerned, if we have anything to do with the framing of that idea, that will be safeguarded. It will not be a Case of accepting any old job that may be offered to a man. We hold that if the Government or the employers of the country cannot provide a man with a job, it is the duty of the community to maintain that man and his dependants in comfort. Let me come to what we have been discussing, which is a reduction in the salary of the present Minister of Labour.
To avoid misapprehension I would remind the hon. Member that that is not the case. What we are discussing is a reduction of the Supplementary Estimate, and the Minister's salary does not come within the Supplementary Estimate.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I thank you for that word. It Was just a slip that I made. The Amendment is for a reduction of the Estimate by £100. It gives us an oppor- 864 tunity of attacking the Government, not the Minister. I am not going to throw any bouquets at the Minister. We could remove this Minister and put in another Minister, but that would not alter the treatment that is meted out to the unemployed of this country. It is a far bigger affair than individuals. The present Prime Minister, when he got power, started to face this subject by creating a Minister of Unemployment, and, according to his own statement, he could not have met an abler man for the job on this side of heaven than the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for the Dominions. That right hon. Gentleman told us many tales as to what he was going to do. He went to Canada and was going to create a boom in the export trade between this country and Canada. He even suggested that we were going to get work on the Clyde building seven ships to take the coal from this country to Canada. Those ships eventually turned out to be mystery ships. I pointed out to him at the time that, during the War, we built "mystery ships" on the Clyde and would be able to build his mystery ships, but they never materialised. With all his outstanding ability, the right hon. Gentleman failed miserably and lost his job. Not only that, but the Government of the day, under the present Prime Minister, did away with the new portfolio and the new Department which they had themselves-created. They did so because they had failed.
This unemployment problem will defeat every Government, irrespective of what it is called, until it is tackled along Socialist lines. We then kept plying the Prime Minister with questions regarding unemployment, with the result that he decided to appoint an economic committee, of which Lord Weir, an outstanding Scottish Tory and colliery and engineering employer of labour, was the chairman. Time after time I asked the Prime Minister when we were going to have a report from that economic committee. We have not had a report from it yet. That committee failed to do anything to solve the unemployment problem.
I must point out to the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) that we are not now discussing the Estimate of the Ministry of Labour but a Supple- 865 mentary Estimate dealing chiefly with transitional payments. As the Estimate is a very large sum indeed for that purpose, it is only reasonable that the Committee should treat that service as a new service, but we cannot go into the whole Ministry of Labour Estimate on this Supplementary Estimate, because it does not arise on this occasion, although I have no doubt it will in the near future.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I assure you that the Chairman arranged at the beginning of this Debate that we should have a wide field. Others in the Debate have taken the same wide line as I am taking, though they did not cover exactly the same ground, and I hope you will allow me to proceed. The next step the Government took was to try to solve this problem of unemployment by rationalising the shipyards. That was the policy of the Government under the present Prime Minister. They shut down the shipyards, and in my own constituency they chose not redundant yards but all the most up-to-date shipyards in the world. They not only closed them, but they sold every particle of machinery they could, and what they could not sell they scrapped, so that the people there are left without any hope that they will get a job when trade takes an upward turn. In those districts they know that there is no more work for them. Tens of thousands of as good men as any in the House or any that were at Lord Londonderry's house last night will never work again. It is not the fact that they will not work against that annoys me, because in many instances they have worked long enough, but it is the fact that they do not get the standard of life necessary to maintain decency and comfort unless they are working. They are denied the right to work through no fault of their own.
In my opinion, we are now facing the most serious problem that Britain has to face, and I am satisfied that the calling of this Economic Conference and other conferences which have been called is with a view to taking the minds of the people from their own conditions. That has always been the scientific method. Catherine of Russia said, "When you get into trouble at home have a war abroad." Our Prime Minister has a mind scientific and subtle enough to see that here is a way of taking the eyes of the people 866 off the conditions that prevail at home by calling this Economic Conference. When Labour was in power in this country and Members of the present Government were on the Front Bench, prominent Tories worried them as long ago as 1924 and kept asking them what they were going to do about unemployment. It was then that the Minister of Labour at that time, Mr. Shaw, said that one could not produce rabbits out of a hat. At that time the Tories were blaming all the unemployment on the Labour Government because they were not capable of solving it. The Labour Government could not solve it under the conditions. Can this Government solve it? What did the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) tell the country? He said he could conquer unemployment.
I really must ask the hon. Member to keep to the transitional payments. The Committee has had a very wide discussion, but this is only a Supplementary Estimate and we cannot possibly go into the whole field of the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I do not want to be out of order any more than I can help. I do not want to be up against you, Captain Bourne, and I do not pursue the matter. I would remind hon. Members that we have to face our constituents. We have to face the country. I have been all over Scotland within the last month or two addressing huge meetings and I can bear out the statement of the senior Member for Dundee who said that no matter what else he talked about, audiences in Dundee were always tripping him up about unemployment and the means test. That is the question which the House of Commons ought to face. I know it does not want to face that question. Hon. Members want to live a life of ease. They do not want to hear the story of unemployment. They do not want us to tell them of the conditions created by unemployment insurance as it is operated to-day, by the means test and by the Anomalies Act. The House of Commons, I know, will do all it can to put me down if it thinks it can put me down and will try to keep me from telling here what the country feels on this question and what I am thinking now and what I have thought for some time on the situation of the unemployed.
867 In Scotland, it is not merely the horny-handed sons of toil who are "up against it." We have almost 3,000 graduates of various universities for whom there is no employment. It used to be held out to us that if boys and girls had a good education they were sure to get on and sure to get a place. That theory does not hold good now. We have them roaming the streets to-day. There are those today who have never worked. Do not mistake me. I know what it is to work. I worked until the employers would not allow me to work any longer. Until I was 40 I was in the workshops and could take my place with the best in the workshop and I did not leave the workshop to get a "cushy" job. I was driven out because of the fight I put up on behalf of my class. I know what work means and work is something on which the Members of this Committee require explanation. What we do here is not work, from the workers point of view. Members come and go here as they like. That is the difference between a Member of Parliament and a worker in the workshop. The worker is working at the dictates of another and it makes all the difference in the world when you are a free man and can start your work when you like and stop it when you like.
Workers know nothing about that. They are working at the dictates, in many instances, of individuals who are inferior to them, mentally and physically and that is what makes it hard. That is the difference between work, as the worker understands it, and the work which Members of Parliament do. [An HON. MEMBER: "We have Whips."] Some of them that I know would require, not whips but scorpions to drive them. We are trying to make whips and scorpions that will make this Government sit up, by creating public opinion which will declare that the misery of unemployment is all wrong, and that men who are unemployed through no fault of their own should not be treated as they are being treated. The former Minister for Unemployment who is now Secretary of State for the Dominions said—and he was the first man to make such a statement on behalf of any Government in the world—that there were 1,250,000 men and women for whom neither the Government of that day nor the employers of 868 this country could find employment. There was no work for them no matter how able they were, no matter how temperate they were—they might all be total abstainers and it made no difference—no matter how good they were as workers, no matter what education they had.
We said at the time, and I say it again, that you have no right to treat the unemployed as if they were an army of criminals. They ought to be treated with justice and respect and there is no Member of this Committee, irrespective of his party opinions, who would mete out to any of his fellows, if he had to do it personally, the standard of life represented by 15s. 3d. per week. But that is what you are responsible for—you who claim to be God-fearing men. When the present Dominions Secretary was the Minister dealing with unemployment the number was 1,250,000; to-day there are over 3,000,000 unemployed. This Government cannot get them work. The employers of labour cannot get them work. Then you are committing one of the most hideous sins before God in condemning those men to a standard of life of 15s. 3d. and giving to their children a standard of life of 2s. a week. It cannot be done. You are murderers, that is what you are, murderers and robbers—a Government of murderers and robbers to treat the working class in this way. [Laughter.] You can laugh if you like, but there is not one of your wives who could keep one of your children on 2s. a week, with all your outstanding ability. I would like to see Lady Londonderry attempting to do it on 2s. a week. I would like to see the Queen—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"]—or any member of the Royal Family—
The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) has been long enough in the House to know that he must sit down when I rise. He has also been long enough in the House to know that he must not bring the Royal Family into the Debate.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I have got to be prepared to be reprimanded by you, Captain Bourne. I will accept the reprimand, but that will not stop me from doing it at another time—[HON. MEMBERS: 869 "Order!"] I will accept the punishment willingly that you put on me—[Interruption] —but—
I think we shall get on better if hon. Members do not provoke the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I was pointing out the standard of life that is meted out to innocent men, women, and children in this country—not Indians, not Chinese, not Russians, not Germans, but English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish, our own kith and kin. That is the standard of life under this unemployment insurance scheme that we are discussing. There is no place to which they can go to augment it. 15s. 3d. is the highest, and 2s. to maintain a child. Think on it. Think on a state of affairs like that. This is supposed to be the richest, the most powerful Empire in the world, and this is the condition that it metes out to its unfortunate fellow-countrymen who are unemployed through no fault of their own. I can remember the time when individuals were unemployed because they were not effective, because they were not as competent as others, because they were not as regular in their duties and could not be depended on to get to their work at six in the morning. That is when we started work, and stopped at six at night. Then, when anyone was unemployed, it was said: "Oh, he is not fit, he is lazy," and so on, but that day has gone.
Now you are faced with a situation of millions of decent men and women for whom there is no work, and all that you give them is 15s. 3d. for a full-fledged man. Could that maintain any man here? Is there any man here who believes that he could be maintained, in health, on 15s. 3d.? Does he believe that his wife could maintain a child on 2s. a week? You know you could not. A number of you are still blessed with a conscience and can still hear the "still small voice," and I am doing my best to quicken it, to get you to understand that this House, as well as this Government, is responsible for meting out to these folk these hellish conditions. Every Member in this House, even those who are looking so disgusted at me, would find it hellish if they had to go under these conditions. All their life they have known something better, and they would 870 go and make a hole in the Thames before suffering these terrible conditions. There is no doubt about it, and, that being the case they have no right to impose these conditions on the working class of our country.
Our country, in my opinion, can afford to give everyone in it, whether working or not, a comfortable life. I have proved, and it is irrefutable, that there is no work for these people to do. Therefore, this country is rich enough to give every one of them, whether they are working or not, a comfortable life. There is enough and to spare. There never was such a time in the history of the world as to-day. The great trouble that we are faced with at the moment is not a shortage; we are faced with an abundance, a super-abundance, of everything that is necessary to give men, women and children a comfortable life, and this all-powerful Government is in control of all this super-abundance, of which we are the joint heirs, that has been handed down from age to age, down to us to-day, till at the moment we are living in the age that the prophets dreamed about, an age of super-abundance of everything that man requires to give him a comfortable life. Nobody knows this better than does the Prime Minister, because the chief of this Government knows that everything that I am saying now is God's truth.
Instead of the Government facing the situation in a generous fashion or even in an intelligent or, as they would say on other occasions, in a British fashion, they have faced it in a cruel and callous fashion and have reduced Britishers to the coolie level. They have satisfied themselves in their own minds that 15s. 3d. is enough to enable a man to live and procreate his species. They bring down his wages to that level because under capitalism it is a fundamental tenet that working-class men should only get enough to enable them to live and to procreate their species. That is the level to which you have got the workers now. My words may be harsh, but they are irrefutable. My colleagues in the Glasgow Town Council have been fighting the public assistance committee to get some concession now while the weather is good, while the sun is shining, believing that now they should make provision for the time: 871When chill November's surly blast Made fields and forests bare.But in Dixon's ironworks in Glasgow they are paying 36s. a week for doing one of the hardest and most laborious jobs that a man can possibly do, that is, handling pig iron and loading it into trucks. For that they get 36s. a week for 48 hours. That is an argument that is used against increasing unemployment relief. Employers can get workers to work for 36s. a week, so they say that it is a mistake to pay £2 a week to a man and wife and three children for doing nothing. Two shillings a week is given to maintain a human being, and then you say you are not reducing Britons to coolie level. When the country gave the Government a doctor's mandate and surrendered itself to the Government, even the unemployed voted for them. All my opponents have fought me clean and straight, and my opponent in the last election distinctly told the people that he was in favour of the cut. Yet the unemployed voted for him. Was it because they were in favour of the cuts? It was because those who had the ear of the working-class at that time said, "We know that this is very hard, and we would not do it unless we were forced, but there is a set of circumstances over which we have no control, and, if you send us into power and give us a powerful majority in order that we may stabilise Britain and get the other powers to recognise that the Government have the people of Britain behind them; we will deal generously with you."
How generously have the Government dealt with them? Unemployment, instead of decreasing, has increased. [HON. MEMBERS:"No!"] There may be here and there instances of a number getting into work, and in the Clydebank area of my constituency there are 3,000 fewer unemployed to-day than in February. That is not the case all over the country, however. I wish that the men who have taken on the responsibility of being Members of the House of Commons at this juncture would face this question seriously and not try to hide their heads in the sand like the ostrich. I wish they would face up to it and not be guided by the idea that unemployment is getting less, and that, as the Lord President of the Council has said time and time again, 872 we are just about to get round the corner. We will never get round the corner until the Government decide to increase the purchasing power of the mass of the people. There is no other way out. The Government have believed in reductions and have always said that this is a worldwide crisis. Every statesman in other countries has faced it from the same angle and have tried to face the problem of superabundance by reducing the purchasing power of their people. We have done so to try to compete with people in foreign countries, and then those foreign countries, in reply, cut down their folks' wages.
In 1929 I introduced a Bill to make reductions of wages illegal. Anybody with any common sense who calmly considers the proposal I put forward at that time will see that it would have saved the situation. Little did the professions think, and little did the Civil Service think, that such reductions would come their way. It was thought that only the horny-handed sons of toil would be affected. It was the present Prime Minister who gave me the cue for my Bill, because before I introduced it, and at a time when the Tories were worrying him, he said "If there are to be reductions it will be a case of reductions all round." The Tories of that day cheered him. It has been a case of reductions all round, lowering the purchasing power of the working class. The only way out now is to increase the purchasing power of the working class. We on these benches say that, to start with, the money of the unemployed, who are furthest down the social scale, ought to be increased.
I suggest to the Government that they should increase the unemployment allowance to £1 per week for a man and 30s. for a man and a wife, with 5s. for each child. I am perfectly satisfied that that is the way out. We have 3,000,000 unemployed, and more than 2,000,000 of them are heads of families. If we were to give that increase there would be an additional 10s. a week in more than 2,000,000 homes. They are desperate for that money. The mothers would spend that extra 10s. in the grocers' shops and in the boot shops. They would spend it in clothing their children and in making preparations for the winter that is ahead of us. There are millions of those folk who for years have not been able to buy a new stitch of clothing or new furniture 873 or bedding. There we have a great market lying at our very doors. Those people would rush to purchase what they need and that would mean that the retail shops —and the co-operative societies would do well under this—would sell out; they in turn would have to go to the wholesalers, and the wholesalers would go to the manufacturers. Inside six months, if not three months, the wheels of industry in this country would be humming as they have never hummed since the War. That is my contribution as a way out.
Members are laughing who have been in power for years and have tried the opposite procedure. They have tried increasing the hours of the workers. I can remember when the Bill was introduced to increase the hours of the miners that a Minister said he would not be doing it if he did not believe in his innermost being—I am quoting his exact words—that by the miners doing a little bit extra it would set the wheels of industry humming. It was from him that I got that phrase. He knew that he was asking something extra of the miners, and that he believed they were not being paid in accordance with the toil which they endured. We have tried all the things which I have recounted; we have increased the hours of the workers, reduced their purchasing power, impoverished them, made cuts even in the education of their children, even in the feeding of their children. We designated the present Chancellor of the Exchequer the "baby starver" because he cut off the children's milk. Everything has been done except trying the humane way, trying a Christian approach. Members here claim to be Christians. What deeds are done in the name of Christianity in this House? They can take it from me that sooner or later the day of reckoning will-come, because as a Scotsman— [Laughter] —I will say what some of the rest of you are if you irritate me—as well as a Briton, I do not believe that my race is going to sit calmly by and submit to being pulled down to the level of the coolie.
I do not believe that Englishmen, Scotsmen, Irishmen and Welshmen are going to sit humbly by and see their standard of life gradually lowered. Every liberty, even the dignity of the House of Commons, is being insulted, and insulted in the most treacherous and callous possible manner. It has been insulted 874 here to-day. We are discussing the most serious question that the House or the country can face. Tens of thousands of the best men and women that the sun has ever shone upon have no place in the scheme of things, and the Government are making no provision to get round that state of affairs. [Interruption.] I am the second Member to-day who has been subjected to nothing but interruptions and insults, because we are voicing the sentiments of the folk whom we represent. It has been the outstanding characteristic of this House to allow one to express one's point of view.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
It requires somebody of my build and physique to stand here and deliver this speech. Hon. Members have tried to put me off, just us they tried to do with the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie). We speak not only on behalf of our constituents, but I am speaking on behalf of 250,000 engineers in my union. [An HON. MEMBER: "They got you back !"] They never turned me down. The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Hartland) has done nothing but try to irritate me all night. Some of you think that he is doing a good service, but I can assure you, from the point of view of the best interests of Britain, that he is doing Britain a disservice. I hope that the Committee will not turn a deaf ear to all the pleadings that have been made on behalf of the British working class. It has to be driven home to this House of Commons that poverty is rampant in Britain, and that there are parts of Britain that are a standing disgrace. It is the duty of the House of Commons to end all those disgraces. I come to the Minister of Labour, because it is his duty now. I know he has not power to find work for the unemployed; that is not his business; we found that out during the Labour Government's term of office in 1924. It is not the business of the Minister of Labour; it is the business of the Board of Trade and others.
But that is by the way. The administration of unemployment insurance is, however, the business of the Minister of Labour and he can go before the Cabinet. I know that the right hon. Gentleman who occupies the post at the moment is not aggressive enough for the job, and 875 therefore I want to push him all I can— I mean that he is not aggressive enough in the Cabinet. I suggest that it is his business, and his Under-Secretary can support him, to tell the Cabinet the conditions that prevail in Britain to-day, and that the money that he has to disburse is no use for the job—it is quite inadequate. Neither the Under-Secretary nor the Minister of Labour could maintain himself on 15s. 3d. I know, because I have gone the whole gamut, that it cannot be done—it is not possible to maintain onself in health. You cannot maintain a child on 2s. a week. That being the case, I want the Minister to go to the Cabinet and tell them how impossible it is, and how worrying his job is. I told the Minister on another occasion that my business here was to leave him with a conscience. If I have aroused one spark of humanity in the Members of the House by my speech to-night, my purpose is served, and I am quite well satisfied.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
It is not my intention to follow the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) into a general review of the whole unemployment problem in all its aspects, but I want to bring to the attention of the Minister three small practical points, with which I believe the Government could deal by administrative action, thereby alleviating a great deal of the suffering and ill-feeling that exists in connection with the administration of the means test. There has been formed in my constituency an unemployed league, consisting of men who are out of work and on the means test, and whose one desire is not any political object, but to do the best they can for themselves as unemployed men, from both the local and the national point of view. They have arrived at certain conclusions, to which I desire briefly to refer because no doubt they apply equally to other parts of the country.
The Ministry of Labour have been trying for some time past to co-ordinate the system of administration in different parts of the country, without, I believe, very much success. What I would propose now is that they should issue a circular to public assistance committees, not by way of an instruction, because I understand that they cannot do that without a change in the law, but as guidance 876 from the Ministry of Labour out of the wealth of their experience, and in particular with regard to the scale on which the means test should be administered. Nothing causes more ill feeling, and rightly and naturally so, in the country at the present time, than the fact that in adjoining areas, or even in the same area with different committees from day to day, cases are dealt with on different lines. You get a scale varying considerably from one district to another. I suggest that the Minister should fix a maximum and a minimum scale, issue it as advice and guidance to all committees and allow them, between the upper and lower level, to use their discretion and to fix it in accordance with the needs of the particular case. That would avoid a great deal of the ill feeling that now exists. I hope my hon. Friend will not say he has no power to do this. I am merely suggesting administrative action by way of guidance, and, speaking with all the authority of the Ministry of Labour, it is bound to have a profound influence on public assistance committees. In fixing this scale some regard should be had to the cost of living.
I hope my hon. Friend will consider whether some guidance cannot be given in the matter of the allowance for children. The chief medical officer of the Board of Education, Sir George Newman, in his report for 1931 referred to this matter and said it might be assumed that 5s. 6d. per head was a reasonable rate, but in the case of delicate children there was a good deal to be said in favour of increasing the milk ration to a pint and a half daily, in which case the supply of meat and fish might be suitably reduced, and substituting butter for margarine. That would raise the cost to approximately 6s. a week. The actual figure that is being allowed is 2s. I hope my hon. Friend will consider whether some guidance cannot be given to the committees considerably to increase this scale, which I think is the worst feature of the whole system. It has been calculated that 60 per cent. of the income of a family living on the subsistence level ought to be spent on food. It is clear that under the present system they are not able to spend anything like that; therefore, they are receiving less food than they are entitled to receive on a proper level. It has further been calculated, as the result 877 of inquiries made in a number of family budgets in London, that 35 per cent. is being spent on rent. That is twice what is allowed in the Ministry of Labour index. It shows a very serious state of affairs when such large sums are spent on things other than food.
The question of the proper definition of family, again, causes a great deal of ill feeling in the country, unnecessarily, because it could be solved, and there should be a general guidance laid down for the whole country. In some areas practically everyone living in a house who is remotely related, or even unrelated, is counted as part of the family. In other cases it is only the father, mother and children. I hope the Minister can lay down that in his opinion the definition of a family should be what is generally understood by the word. There is a very small point on which I think a good deal could be done to ease the ill-feeling. It should be laid down definitely that, wherever there is dissatisfaction with the determination that is made, there should be a personal right of rehearing. I know that is the usual practice, but, if the Minister were to include some reference to the point in his circular and urge that in all cases, unless there was some very strong reason to the contrary, a personal hearing should be given, so that a man could feel that the whole of the facts had been investigated in detail face to face on the committee, it would do a great deal of good. I am making the suggestions in what I hope is a helpful sense, because I realise that we cannot do anything on a big scale to-night to deal with the matter. But I believe that if these points were considered and dealt with we should make the present system, still harsh and unkind as it would be, more bearable than it is at the present moment.
§ 10.31 p.m.
The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) said that he made the suggestions in his speech in a helpful spirit. They might have been helpful on a Ministry of Health vote, but they are entirely out of order on a Ministry of Labour Estimate. I think also that anyone listening to the speeches of hon. Members would find it difficult to realise that we were in effect asking for a sum of £24,000,000 sterling, offset by a reduction in the deficiency 878 grant of £1,600,000, in order to make a total contribution from the Exchequer funds of £76,000,000 towards the support of the unemployed. That particular item has hardly been dealt with in a single speech.
The suggestion of the hon. Member, I am afraid was submerged in the 60 minutes of other suggestions which he was good enough to inflict upon us.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who opened the Debate, made a great point of repeating the accusations of Wednesday of last week when dealing with the alleged decrease in the standard of living and the sufferings which were being incurred by the unemployed. As I said on Friday, no one would deny that there are bound to be individual cases of suffering and hardship when you are dealing with 2,500,000 unemployed for prolonged periods of time, but that there is any general lowering of the standards of living to an extent which would in any way endanger the health of the people of this country is, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health said, entirely untrue. He said that the report which he would render on the state of nutrition was surprising in its encouragement and was a tribute both to the excellence of the national system of dealing with the evils of unemployment and the devotion and common sense of the parents of the country in looking after their children and to the good work done in this matter by local authorities.
The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot), who, I am sorry to say, is not in his place, called attention to the growth in the feeding of school children as an argument in favour of the case that there was considerable under-nourishment. I prefer to regard such a small increase as has taken place in school feeding as showing that there is no ground whatever for the statement that there is any general under-nourishment. It is precisely part of the general provision made by the State and local authorities to pre- 879 vent undernourishment, and, if proof were needed of the excellent way in which the children are at present looked after, he went on to quote from the fourth annual report of the Department of Health for Scotland. I find that on pages 68 and 69 dealing specifically with school children the report says that the proportion of children who were examined in school in the year 1923 whose nutrition was average or above average was 91.9 in 1929, 1930 and 1931 it was 93 per cent., and now it has risen to 94.5 per cent., a striking increase. Taking the number of children whose nutrition was below average the percentage was 7.9 in 1923, and it has now fallen to 5.3, while if you take the percentage where nutrition was very bad, it was 0.3 in 1923, and is now 0.2. All the statistics go to prove that there is no justification for the accusations of hon. Members opposite.
I turn now to the speech of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey). I find it very difficult to argue with the hon. Member, because he goes on repeating arguments which have been shown to be entirely without foundation. He repeated to-day the old argument that he used in Durham, to the effect that the Commissioners could only find 44 cases, that the amount of saving they were making was only £37 a week, and he asked whether it was worth while to pay £1,000 a week in order to save £37 in 44 cases. The number of cases in which the Commissioners have decreased the determinations made by the Durham County Council is about 14,000. In other words, there were 14,000 cases that the Commissioners considered were receiving under the county council more than was necessary, and it is in respect of those 14,000 cases and not of the 44 cases that the substantial saving to which I have referred was made. The hon. Member cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that the Commissioners are only saving £37 and then complain of the fact that they are saving over £200,000 a year. He must make up his mind which of the two arguments he intends to use, because he cannot use both. The fact is, that the additional cost to the country of putting the Commissioners in is about £30,000 a year, and the total cost of administering the transitional payment is 880 £56,000, while the saving is something over £200,000. Therefore, we feel justified in having put the Commissioners in.
§ Mr. BATEY
I said that in the commissioners' report they gave what I believe is all they could give, namely, 44 cases. The amount saved on those 44 cases is £37 18s. 6d. a week, and for that we are paying over £l,000 a week. Naturally, they have reduced other cases but they have reduced those cases because you say that they have to save their expenses and they are doing it to save their expenses.
The hon. Member's intervention proves that I was right when I said that it is no use trying to argue with him because he repeats arguments for which I have shown there is no shadow of foundation. He said that the commissioners were robbing the poor in the county of Durham. That statement is entirely without foundation, because no less than 70 per cent. of the determinations made by the commissioners are at full rates. Therefore in 70 per cent. of the cases they are being treated as generously as they were under the county council, and there can be no question in those cases of robbing the poor.
I hope the hon. Member will allow me to proceed. I listened to him for an hour. In the cases where the commissioners have given determinations at less than full rate or nil determinations, those were not cases where there were no resources coming into the household. They have given determinations at less than full rate in cases where there were other resources or other incomes coming into the household, and it is unfair to describe that as robbing the poor.
There is no need to investigate the cases. The cases have been given in the commissioners' report. During the last three days hon. Members opposite have been continually saying that this Government have done nothing for the unemployed. They are continually saying that the general state of the country is no better than it was before we came into office. The hon. Member 881 for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) was driven to admit that in his own constituency there has been a slight improvement in employment, but he said that was an isolated case and did not apply over the whole area of the country. I am asking for a sum of £22,500,000, making a total provision of £76,000,000. On the last occasion I suggested that one of the reasons why the cut in benefit was necessary was the extravagance of hon. Members opposite, and that that extravagance was one of the causes of the enormous increase in unemployment. If the National Government had not come into power, if the Labour party had continued in power and unemployment had continued to rise as it had risen during the time that they were in office, the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street standing at this Box would have been budgeting for a total expenditure, not of £116,000,000, but of £190,000,000, of which £160,000,000 would have had to come direct out of the Exchequer instead of the £76,000,000 for which we are asking. I cannot conceive that if that had been the case the position of the unemployed would have been as good as it is to-day.
When hon. Members criticise us we are entitled to remind them of what happened when they were in office. Between September, 1929 and May, 1931, every single industry in this country, with the solitary exception of the tailoring industry, showed a substantial increase in unemployment. Between September, 1931, and May, 1933, a corresponding period, the huge majority of industries in this country have shown a decrease in unemployment. The increase in unemployment under the Labour Government in the first of these periods was 1,300,000, while the decrease of unemployment since we have been in office amounts to 240,000. There is, therefore, no justification for the suggestion of hon. Members opposite that things are not better. I do not suggest for one moment that we have definitely turned the corner and I would deprecate any undue optimism at this stage, but we can claim that we have stopped the rot, the degeneration, which was taking place under the Labour Government.
I do not often weary the House with figures, but I ask them to bear with me for a moment while I show the sort of thing that has happened in industry in various parts of the country. I take, 882 first, some typical industries, large groups of industries, in which unemployment increased during the Labour Government's term of office and in which unemployment has decreased since we took office. Take general engineering, which affects many parts of the country. In general engineering the increase of unemployment under the Labour party, from September, 1929, to May, 1931, was 101,000, while the improvement in employment under the present Government has been 31,000. Take cotton, which affects my own County of Lancashire. Under the Labour party unemployment increased by 141,000, and employment has improved under the present Government by 115,000. I hope the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) will listen to these figures.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Does the hon. Member wish us to understand that the Government are responsible for employment and unemployment? Suppose in a few months' time there is an increase in unemployment, are we then to say that the Government are responsible? Does he maintain that there was no world crisis during the period of the Labour Government, and that the crisis with which the World Economic Conference has been called to deal has only arisen since the Labour Government went out of office?
No, Sir. But what I did point out on Friday was that no one has denied the immense influence that world conditions have on this country. We always maintained that we should never succeed in getting employment back to normal until we could get world prosperity restored. What did happen was that, whereas during the two years that the Labour party were in office the conditions in this country deteriorated faster than they did in the world at large, since we have been in office they have deteriorated at a lesser rate. I take one instance, a new instance to-night, the instance of the coal industry. The coal industry was quoted by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, who accused us, or our policy, of being solely responsible for the distress in the coalmining areas. My hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines will have an oppor- 883 tunity of dealing with that statement in full next week. But I would point this out: Whereas the drop in the world export trade of coal amounted to 11.3 per cent. and the drop in the European export trade in coal amounted to 9 per cent., the drop in the British export trade has amounted to only 7 per cent. In other words, the action we have taken as a Government has served to minimise and reduce the shock to our industries compared with the rest of the world.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs said that the case of his constituency was almost unique, in showing a decrease in unemployment. Perhaps it may be of interest to him to know that in May no less than 90 out of 100 groups into which industry is divided for statistical purposes show decreases of unemployment, and no less than 600 out of 700 areas of the country.
One final observation I would offer. The hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin), in a very thoughtful speech the other day, said that he belonged to a generation which had not known the happy days of pre-War normality, which many of the economic professors urge us to hold as a goal at which to aim; and the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) suggested that those who thought that the conditions of employment or the nature of employment of the great masses of our people would be the same in future as it had been in the past, were building on a very unsafe foundation. I think that that is very largely true. There can be little doubt that in the course of the next few years we have to build up some new form of economic organisation. Exactly what that form will be I do not know, nor how long it will take, but of one thing I am certain, and that is that if you are going to do it successfully you will need the very highest qualities of statesmanship, and amongst the essentials of statesmanship is courage, especially political courage, the willingness to tell the public unpalatable truths when it is necessary in the public interest. In the long run, politically, I believe that courage pays, because the British working man likes— to use the vernacular—guts, whether it is in the case of a horse, a boxer, or a politician. I suggest to the Opposition that, judged by the Debates of the last three days, one of the qualities that hon. 884 Members opposite lack is that particular characteristic. I do not say that in any party spirit. It is a matter of extreme national importance.
One of the most disturbing elements in the industrial situation to-day is the definite loss of influence and membership among trade unions. There is no doubt at all that trade unions are failing to make up from among the young the inevitable losses they suffer through retirement and old age. The decrease in the influence and membership of trade unions is not in the best interests of industry, but that it exists is a fact, and, from what I can learn, one of the main reasons for that drop in the membership and influence is discontent on the part of the rank and file with their leadership, and a belief on the part of the rank and file that their leaders are not showing the essential qualities of leadership. The Trades Union Congress the other day, through the mouth of Mr. Citrine and others, stated that the Trades Union Congress intends to defend the institutions of this country under which it has grown and to resist dictatorship from the Left or the Right. I am very glad to hear it, but I suggest that they are going the wrong way about it and that the action of hon. Members, in opposing as they have been doing for the last three days in this House and for several months on the platform Measures which, though unpopular, they know perfectly well in their heart of hearts are necessary in the public interest and inevitable under any Government, is not the way to allay public discontent. Nay, rather it may well be the best method of bringing about that dictatorship which they profess to fear.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The hon. Gentleman, whatever may be said about him, will never be charged with lack of guts or political sagacity. If he had only spoken for about another 15 minutes, there would have been no unemployment problem in this country at all. I clearly remember listening in 1922 to Sir Montague Barlow at a time when we had between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 unemployed. He had so many schemes in his mind and unrolled them one by one that I began to feel that, when I left the House of Commons, there would not be one unemployed man left. The hon. 885 Gentleman is so courageous and optimistic in his expressions about the marvellous things the Government have accomplished in the last two years that he has satisfied his supporters that all is right with the best of all possible worlds. Will he deny these facts? When the present Government took office, we had about 100,000 unemployed who had been out of work for 12 months, but at this moment we have 500,000 who have been unemployed for 12 months.
There were many more than 100,000. The figure when we went out of office was much less than 100,000 and, when the hon. Member and his friends were in office, the figures increased materially. I cannot say off-hand the exact figures, but they were very much above that.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Without quibbling too much, will the hon. Member confess that, since the present Government have been in office, the number of unemployed persons out of work for 12 consecutive months has materially increased and more than doubled? That is not to the credit of the hon. Gentleman. The next point I would put to the hon. Gentleman, who nearly made us agree that unemployment had been solved, is this. Will he agree that, when we took office, we had about 750,000 in the transition stage while at the present moment there are 1,400,000? Does he deny that? The number of people, therefore, who have been out of work over six months has increased from 750,000 to 1,400,000 since the Government took office. Will he deny that the Government have been so marvellously efficient in dealing with the unemployment problem that, while in the first quarter of 1932 we had 1,195,000 receiving Poor Law relief, the number for the first quarter this year was 1,455,000 or an increase of a quarter of a million since the Government took office? I hope hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will bear in mind that the very facetious speeches which the Parliamentary Secretary makes about "guts." do not resolve the problem which confronts the Government.
The hon. Gentleman must not mislead the Committee into thinking that the increase in the number which he has stated to be in receipt of Poor Law relief is in addition to the figures 886 of unemployment which we publish. In so far as they are heads of households or persons normally dependent on insurable employment for their livelihood, they are included in our figures of unemployment and included in the decrease to which I have referred.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am not misleading the Committee and while I am not anxious that anybody should miss his tram or omnibus, all interjections will be thankfully received if the hon. Gentleman can resolve the difficulties of one of the unemployed. I think he will find, however, that he cannot do so by optimistic statements about the increase in the number of unemployed during the Labour Government's term of office and its decrease since. He would lead one to suppose that he is the only person in the world who has never heard of the international crisis. It does not seem to have dawned upon him, even yet, that there is an international Economic Conference sitting somewhere in a museum—probably the proper place for such a conference. The hon. Gentleman on Friday made one of the most remarkable speeches I have ever heard in the House of Commons— sometimes very lucid, frequently on the borderline between hitting and missing the truth. Before recalling some of his statements I would remind him and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury that in this Debate not a solitary Member has spoken in favour of the administration of unemployment insurance. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) invited the hon. Gentleman to have minimum and maximum scales. In other words he agrees with a means test but not this means test.
The hon Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) agrees with a means test but says, "Let us have a better one than this." He says that there is bitterness and resentment which may even bring down the Government. Therefore, he says, do something to mitigate the troubles of the necessitous areas. He repeated to-night what I heard the late Mr. Trevelyan Thomson state time and time again when he was appealing that something should be done for the necessitous areas. We are still appealing for the necessitous areas and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough is a supporter of the Government. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) is also a supporter of the means test but 887 not this means test. He, I think, must have satisfied the Parliamentary Secretary—well, no, that is impassible but at any rate he satisfied me and many other hon. Members—that in Dundee there was real physical deterioration. The Parliamentary Secretary denies that there is any general deterioration and quotes some medical officers' reports. I am not prepared to take even medical officers' reports from Newcastle or from Timbuctoo in face of the experience of hon. Members. The hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) went further and told the Parliamentary Secretary that in the administration of the means test in Birmingham in at least 46 cases, families had been broken up in the course of seven weeks. That is a most damning indictment of the administration of the system by one who is a supporter of the Government.
The hon. Gentleman, however, says that what we require is statesmanship and guts. Well, it requires some guts to break up homes at that rate. The hon. Gentleman made a point on Friday in his speech by saying that the Opposition did not discriminate between a contributory and a non-contributory scheme, but the hon. Gentleman himself fails to appreciate that every Englishman has the right to live, and I do not know whether he is aware of it, but there is no right to die in this country, and if one attempts to take one's own life, and fails, he has soon got an escort, his housing problem is solved, and he becomes one of His Majesty's guests. We say that if he has not the right to die, at least he ought to have the right to work or to live. The hon. Gentleman also said on Friday that we want to get back to an insurance system in which there shall be some relation to the contributions paid and the number of benefits received. We are not hostile to an insurance system, and never have been, but what are you going to do with those who are outside insurance?
Again, the hon. Gentleman says that we must have a system in which there is some cleavage and distinction between men who are in and men who are outside the employable field. We have no objection to that, but what we say, and shall insist upon as long as we are here, is that if, as a result of an economic system over which millions of workpeople 888 have no control, they are denied the right to work, then at least those people, whether in or outside insurance, are entitled to live. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that his administration is preventing certain people having the privilege of living. They have the privilege of a slow, terrible starvation, but not the privilege to live. The hon. Gentleman said on Friday that he noted with interest that all their supporters, that is to say, Conservative supporters, presumably, agreed thata definite cleavage and distinction should be made between employable men in the industrial field and those who cannot be so classed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1933; col. 443, Vol. 279.]Will the hon. Gentleman tell us in what category the men are who cannot be classed as in the industrial field? Does he refer to the 1,400,000 in the transition list? Is there an age limit? Is there to be a physical qualification? Are we to determine whether or not they are in the industrial field by good looks or by their political faith? At least we are entitled to know, and that prophecy of the hon. Gentleman rather disturbs me as to the contents of the Government's new Bill when it is brought in. We can distinguish between an insurance scheme and one that is not. We understand, of course, that an insurance scheme can only pay out what it receives in, but we also understand that men who are willing and anxious to work are entitled to live if you fail to provide them with reasonable means by which to live. Referring to the means test, the hon. Gentleman said:My own opinion is that a single case of those quoted in their report by the commissioners …is sufficient justification, by itself, for the means test."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1933; col. 445, Vol. 279.]One single case satisfies the hon. Gentleman, out of all the millions of cases where justice or less than justice is done. Will this case satisfy him? It is the case of an old lady of 73, an old age pensioner in receipt of 10s. a week. She has a workman of 53 lodging with her. He is a highly respectable workman and, through no fault of his own, his colliery is closed down and he is out of work. He receives his 15s. 3d. for 26 weeks and falls under transitional payment. His case goes before the public assistance committee, and they reduce the amount to 10s. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that? It requires some "guts" on the 889 part of the Parliamentary Secretary to justify that. This is not even a family means test. There is no relationship between the old lady and her lodger, who for a long time has been good enough to maintain her to the extent that the 10s. failed to do it. This man is deliberately robbed by the hon. Gentleman's administration. What happens to him? He knows that he cannot live, and he jumps into the canal and takes his life. I put some part of the responsibility for that life on the hon. Gentleman.
Here is the case of another man 38 years of age, who is also living with an old age pensioner. He has fallen into the transitional payment stage and his 15s. 3d. is reduced to 14s. That leaves the old lady and her lodger to manage as best they can on 24s. a week out of which they have to pay 8s. rent. There is no relationship between the old age pensioner and the lodger. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that sort of administration? He must agree with it because, not content with that, his Department and the Ministry of Health jointly condemned the West Riding County Council for having been too generous, and this is the sort of generosity that they are displaying in their administration of the means test. Let me give another case, because I want the hon. Gentleman to say honestly and conscientiously whether he agrees with this sort of thing. This is a case in my division at Rossington of a man with five children up to 15 or 17 years of age. Only one is working at a colliery, working one week and missing one. The total transitional payment should be £l 9s. 3d., but, because the boy earns £1 9s. 8d.—of which 15s. 4d. is deducted at the colliery office, leaving him 14s. 6d.—the £1 9s. 3d. is reduced to 16s. Therefore, there is £1 10s. 6d. to maintain eight persons, including the one who is working. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is generous?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Twelve shillings and sixpence is for rent. Then unemployment insurance and national health insurance 890 are deducted; his old age pension contribution is also deducted, although he is not likely to live to receive it. Altogether the deductions total 15s. 4d. Does the hon. Gentleman deny that?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I said the 12s. 6d. rent, unemployment insurance, national health insurance, pension fund, Doncaster infirmary contribution and the rest do make up 15s. 4d. per week. The net result is that there is 30s. a week to support eight people. Does the hon Gentleman agree that that is fair or generous? The hon. Gentleman wound up his speech by saying:The conclusion that I draw from that is that there are certain elements within our control, that it was the extravagance of the administration of the Labour party that caused the increase in unemployment and the reduction in the standard of living, and it is the husbanding of national resources that we have been responsible for that is improving the situation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1933; col. 468, Vol. 279.]Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is husbanding the resources of the State to act in this way in the case of a young man of 19 working down a pit, with a father and mother and five brothers and sisters, reducing them to 3s. 9d. each per week? It requires some guts to justify such administration.
I think the hon. Gentleman strayed very near to the borders of economising truth when, in referring to the value of the present unemployment benefit, he tried to make out that owing to the fall in the cost of living the cash payment is actually worth more than it was in 1924. He said:At the time the Labour party were in office, in spite of the relief that they granted to the unemployed, by the steps they took to promote relief works, and so on, the real wages of the people steadily fell."— OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1933; col. 454. Vol. 279.]Here is a volume written by Professor J. H. Richardson, of Leeds, for the International Labour Office. Professor Richardson says:The Ministry of Labour has estimated.Then he proceeds with a long paragraph that I need not read, and gives a long tabular statement wherein he shows the real wages from 1920 to 1931 based, note, on figures supplied by the Ministry of Health. In 1928 real wages 891 were between 3 and 6 points above 1914. In 1929, our first year of office, real wages were a 6 to 9 per cent. increase. In 1930 real wages were between 10 and 12 per cent. increase. In 1931 real wages were 16 per cent. above 1914. Will the hon. Gentleman deny those figures? If not will he take an early opportunity of withdrawing Friday's statement?
They seem to correspond very closely with the second set of figures I gave. The first set of figures I quoted from the figures issued by the Trade Union Congress. They took into account real wages allowing for unemployment and short time and I pointed out that if we took actual full time wages the increase was, speaking from memory, 22 per cent. and that very closely tallies with the figure for real wages; but that only takes account of men working full time. But the figures I quoted were from figures issued by the Labour party themselves.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
When replying to a Debate the hon. Gentleman ought not to be so near the border line between telling the truth and missing the truth, because if he wanted to be fair and honest to the House he would have quoted—
The hon. Member has accused me of sailing very near the wind. I cannot really allow that to pass. In winding up I went out of my way to be completely fair; and in order that I should not get any advantage from the official figures from my Department I quoted figures issued by the Trade Union Congress, and more could not be done.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I should hesitate a long time before I challenge the hon. Gentleman's honesty or anything approaching that, but the OFFICIAL REPORT is there. This is a cutting from the OFFICIAL REPORT. If the hon. Gentleman quotes some document which does not state the facts or figures which are produced by his Department that is his funeral, and not mine. He states that the real wages of the people "steadily fell," whereas he must see from this tabular statement provided by the 892 Minister of Labour that real wages steadily increased.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
—because in regard to those figures from which the hon. Gentleman was quoting on Friday, I put down two questions to the right hon. Gentleman to-day, asking for the comparable figures for this year. I have them. The comparable figures for this year, about which the hon. Gentleman boasted, showed that the cost of living having continued to decrease since the Government took office, was now round about 136 instead of 144. The real increase in wages, over the pre-War standard, is 21 to-day and, as 21 is higher than 16, the hon. Gentleman says to the Committee "Although real wages steadily decreased while the Labour Government were in office, the moment we took office, they steadily increased." He quotes Ministry of Labour figures which are 21 points up, on the 1st January this year, to make that point. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that, when replying to a Debate, it is not wise to quote one document because certain figures are contained in it, and some other authority where an opposition figure is possible. It is better, after all, to stand stolidly by the truth. It would not be out of place, if Ministry of Labour figures are to be used for these Debates, that all Ministry of Labour figures should be used, not some of them, as was the case on Friday last.
I apologise to the Committee for keeping it upon this subject. I have sent for a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT of Friday, and I find that I started off by quoting my authority, which was a Labour publication and not mine. I go out of my way to be fair to the hon. Member, not by quoting any authority of my own, but by quoting one of his own documents. I said:The Labour Research Bulletin shows that, at the time the Labour party were in office, in spite of the relief that they granted to the unemployed by the steps that they took to promote relief works and so on, the real wages of the people steadily fell."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1933; col. 454, Vol. 279.]If the hon. Member for Don Valley will look at the Labour Research Bulletin, 893 he will see that, from 1929 to 1930, the figures actually fell. If the hon. Gentleman will cast his eye along that column of the "Bulletin," he will see that the last two figures show a rise. My recollection is, speaking offhand, that when we went out of office the figure was 104, and that when the Labour party went out at was between 98 and 99; now it is 103.5. I have the figures here. Those are figures based on the value of wages, taking into account and making allowance for unemployment and short time.
I am going to ask him to take only full-time wages, that is not allowing for unemployment. If you take the actual full-time figure, you will find that there is an increase of 22 per cent. What I said I stand by.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
All I want to say to the hon. Gentleman is this: I hope that hon. Members will at least appreciate that I have not raised this point exclusively for the purpose of scoring a debating point. What I think ought to be done is that, if an illustration is being given over a period of time to prove either one thing or another, comparable figures from the same period ought to be given for all; but, instead of that, the hon. Gentleman says, because it suits his purpose for the moment, whether the document spells the truth or not, whether it comes from the Conservative party, or the Labour party, or Bolshevik Russia, or anywhere else, that these figures are the truth because they come from the Ministry of Labour. At all events, this volume is written for the International Labour Office, and this information is supplied by the Ministry of Labour.
I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman, with all respect, to maintain this accusation of bad faith on my part. I quoted figures for real wages, allowing for unemployment, published by the Labour Research Bulletin, and I quoted my authority. As a matter of fact the actual figures, making the same allowances, issued by my Department, corre-
§ spond almost exactly; but, in order to be perfectly fair, I quoted these rather than my own authority.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
As the hour is very late, I do not want to carry the point further, except to repeat these figures. The hon. Gentleman rather suspected that I had some ulterior motive in quoting only part of them. With this quotation perhaps he will agree, and I think hon. Members in every part of the House will agree, that I was justified in raising the point. The document says:Over the whole period from the beginning of 1921 to the beginning of 1931 the level of real wages averaged only about 3 per cent. above the level of July, 1914. The position in June of each year from 1920 to 1931 is shown by the index numbers of weekly full-time wages, of money rates, and of real wages, which are tabulated below.I invite hon. Members to read the hon. Gentleman's speech in last Friday's OFFICIAL REPORT. I invite them to take this document, which is a Library document, and look at page 19 for the quotation I have been making. They will find that from 1929 real wages gradually increased. I claim for the Labour Government no credit for that, because the real increase was wholly due to a fall in the price level. The hon. Gentleman ought not to claim credit for the real increase in 1933, for he knows that it is in spite of all the Government's works that the cost of living has continued to decrease. They have had restrictions, Customs duties, quotas, and all sorts of schemes to increase the price level, but because the price level has beaten the Government in all their works by still falling and it has increased real wages, the hon. Gentleman turns round to the House and says: "We alone did it. We are the statesmen with guts." I invite him to re-read his last two speeches and sit down and reflect for a few moments.
That a sum, not exceeding £22,499,900, be granted for the said Service.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 39; Noes, 196.895
|Division No. 235.]||AYES.||[11.26 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Grundy, Thomas W.|
|Banfield, John William||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Hirst, George Henry|
|Batey, Joseph||Dobbie, William||Jenkins, Sir William|
|Buchanan, George||Edwards, Charles||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Kirkwood, David|
|Daggar, George||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George|
|Lawson, John James||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Leonard, William||Mainwaring, William Henry||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Logan, David Gilbert||Maxton, James||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Lunn, William||Milner, Major James||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|McEntee, Valentin L.||Price, Gabriel||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|McGovern, John||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Mr. John and Mr. Groves.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut-Colonel||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Penny, Sir George|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Guy, J. C. Morrison||Petherick, M.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, B'nstaple)|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Hales, Harold K.||Pike, Cecil F.|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Hanley, Dennis A.||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western lsles)|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Harbord, Arthur||Ramsbotham, Herwald|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Hartland, George A.||Ramsden, Sir Eugene|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Ray, Sir William|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Heneage, Lieut-Colonel Arthur P.||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Bateman, A. L.||Holdsworth, Herbert||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Hornby, Frank||Robertt, Aled (Wrexham)|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Howard, Tom Forrest||Robinson, John Roland|
|Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Howltt, Dr. Alfred S.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Borodale, Viscount||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney. N.)||Rosbotham, Sir Samuel|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Bowyer. Capt. Sir George E. W.||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Russell. Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Jamleson, Douglas||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Brown,Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Salt, Edward W.|
|Browne, Captain A. C.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Samuel, 'Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Buchan, John||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Burnett, John George||Knight, Holford||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwe ')|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecli||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Castle Stewart, Earl||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Slater, John|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Llddall, Walter S.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Chapman, Col.R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-in-F.)|
|Christie, James Archibald||Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Smith, R. W.(Ab'rd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Clarke, Frank||Mabane, William||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Clarry, Reginald George||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G.(Partick)||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Clayton, Sir Christopher||McConnell, Sir Joseph||Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)|
|Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Stones, James|
|Cook, Thomas A.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Storey, Samuel|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||McKeag, William||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||McKle, John Hamilton||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Magnay, Thomas||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Malialleu, Edward Lancelot||Thompson, Luke|
|Cross, R. H.||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset,Yeovil)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H, D. R.||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Dower, Captain A. V. G.||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Martin, Thomas B.||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Dunglass, Lord||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Elmley, Viscount||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Milne, Charles||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Mitchell. Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chlsw'k)||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Fox. Sir Glfford||Morris-Jones. Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||Morrison, William Shephard||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Ganzonl, Sir John||Nall, Sir Joseph||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Gledhill, Gilbert||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Glucksteln, Louls Halle||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Gower, Sir Robert||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Windsor-Cilve, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Greene, William P. C.||Peake, Captain Osbert||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Pearson, William G.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Peat, Charles U.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Blindell and Mr. Womersley.|
Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee to sit again To-morrow.